Category Archives: Books

3:44 Hotel Lobby, 2nd day of trip

I hope I didn’t wake anyone up when I tried to sneak out of our hotel room twenty minutes ago. Not a very propitious way to begin the second day of a road trip with the grand kids.

A few years ago when I was fighting the Duluth School Board I often got up at odd hours to write when my head was full up and I needed to empty it out. I’ve been out of that habit for a couple years now. My good health would prefer to get a good night’s sleep.

I found myself on the edge of cranky yesterday morning. We hadn’t packed anything in advance and that meant we had to pack everything with two giddy little ones underfoot. We didn’t get out of town until 10 AM which left me plenty of time to file for the School Board. I didn’t because I hadn’t forewarned Claudia that I was once again thinking seriously of making a spectacle of myself. I’ll still have a couple days to file upon my return in about ten days.

If you are wondering that I would post this here there is a simple explanation. Claudia has never read my blog. She has never read my Not Eudora columns. I have read a couple of them to her. That’s about it. Its probably not that ignorance is bliss…..but then again maybe it is at least peace of mind – for both of us.

That reminds me I haven’t read my recent submission to the Reader for my Not Eudora column. I better reread it to see if its still cogent a couple days after the submission……wait just a moment please! Gosh. Its OK. No obvious edits seem to be needed. I hope the Readers staff member I emailed it to got it.

Despite the late packing our trip is not disorganized. I did buy a fancy box to store our clothes in and had roof racks put on the top of our Chevy traverse the day before we left. There had been a mix up at the dealership about ordering the racks so that was a bit of a last minute hiccup but I held my breath and the hiccups stopped. The only thing I hadn’t managed was ordering travel books for me to read out loud. I did a last minute google exploration and had three I proposed to buy to my fellow adults – Blue Highways, Travels with Charley and Little House on the Prairie.

After we had a rollicking time eating pizza at Sioux Falls Chuck E Cheese I had the family drop me off at a Barnes and Nobles a little way from our hotel and bought all three before walking back. I even had time to jump in the pool with the boys and splash around before bed. The littlest fellow at 3 and a half was a little to young and pre-bedtime squirrely to read the first chapter of Little House without constant interruptions. I did tell the boys that my Grandfather lived in a sod house (its almost true) and that his Grandmother Claudia’s Grandmother crossed the plains in a covered wagon when she was four. I had thought the book was about the Author’s family traveling to South Dakota but it turned out to be Kansas. That’s OK. The Great Plains is all flat and dry.

As for the other books I don’t know how much of them I’ll read. They are road books. I well remember reading glowing reviews of Blue Highways about ten years ago. Turns out I read them thirty years ago. That was a shock. A more recent reviewer on the great website “good reads” pointed out that the blue highways (secondary roads) found on maps had changed greatly in the last three decades. Another mentioned Travels with Charley written 30 years earlier by a sick and elderly John Steinbeck when we seemed on the verge of nuclear war. Charley was his wife’s dog. However much I read of these books, and I only plan to sample them, they will be an excellent follow up to Life on the Missippi which was a paean to changing times in the 1800’s and Warmth of Other Suns which is about the “Great migration” northward of southern Black-Americans that took place between 1915 and 1970 near the close of the Civil Right’s Era.

These aren’t all the thoughts that woke me prematurely early this morning but mentioning them will put any other entries on our own road trip in good context. I’ve also been doing a lot of imagining how nice it would be to teach again. I’ve got lots of ideas on how to make a class of 50 bored high school history students come alive. I can imagine some very fun historical navigation with Cell phones and Google in such a class.

I’ve also got Eukaryotes on the brain. A recent discovery of some fossils hints that they could go back 3 billion years on Earth and re-piqued my interest in them. They are all about sex, evolution and another billion years of road trips. Maybe I can go back to bed now.

Today, we will stop at Mitchell, South Dakota’s Corn Palace. The boys are so excited about it. Well, they are 3 and 5. We will come to rest in Badlands National Park at the end of our day. Until we get to our destination the boys will watch movies on video players. That’s a lot more engrossing than watching a sea of grass pass by your wagon every day for a month.

Who are you all?

Two or three long winded posts this June. Almost Nuthin! Still an increase in visitors. The first three months of this year had an average of a little over 1,200 visitors back when I was actually writing on a daily basis. Then I stop writing regularly in April and get 4000 visitors followed by 5,000 in May. June saw over 6,000 visitors! I’m almost afraid to resume writing lest I drive the visitor numbers down……which reminds me of a joke:

I regularly beat my head against a brick wall. When someone asks me why I do it I explain that it feels so good when I stop.

I used to collect butterflies. My Mom helped me mount a dozen of them in a deep picture frame when I was in high school but in a few years a bug that eats dead things got in and all the wings fell off as it consumed the desiccated bodies. Now there was some damned point I was going to make…..what was it? Ah Metamorphosis……and not the Kafka kind.

I’ve always liked the metaphor for a butterfly caterpillar transforming itself into a pupa and then emerging as a butterfly. Over the years I’ve found a few and brought them home to open in our house. I’ve been stewing a lot for the last three months of relative writing inactivity. I stew less when I let my fingers fly to input blog posts. Well, I’ve done a fair amount of reading in that time as I mentions in my threadbare if ponderous June posts.

I think silence and meditation are a good way to purge oneself of too much verbiage at least until you want to take a dive back into verbosity. I did finish Twain’s Life on the Mississippi so that entry in my books page is now accurate. I got 300 pages into “The Warmth of other Suns” before I had to turn my attention to the repair and maintenance of two houses prior to our leaving on a short family vacation. I finished priming a picket fence yesterday and planting strawberries in my garden. Now I’m ready to depart with my daughter and the grandsons. Off too North Dakota.

I’ll set the marvelous Warmth aside until I return. I’m too far into it to start reading it out loud to my daughter as I have been to Claudia. It should pick up nicely when we get home again. The trip we take to the Black Hills will be very much a second decade of the new century trip with our two little boys hooked up with devices to watch movies and play games while we cross the prairies on the Interstate.

We’ve got lots of things to do in the Black Hills to make them put their gadgets away but that doesn’t mean the adults won’t want to keep their attention off the long drive. I just looked for some possible books to read along our Journey. The first that came to mind was Blue Highways. I remember reading glowing reviews of the book but was more than astonished to learn that had been 30 years ago. One of the Reviewers at the Great Reads website mentioned that it reminded her of Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. That’s 30 years older yet. It was written in about 1963 or two years before my Dad began taking his family on marathon trips across the U.S. and Canada “to get his kids to all 50 states”. (He nearly did it but I had to get to Hawaii on my own. That was a great trip from which we returned with a little bonus who will be starting his PhD program in a month’s tiime down in St. Louis.)

The two travelogues encompass far more than the Dakota territory and I’ve also suggested “Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder. My wife’s family lived and farmed in South Dakota a few decades after “Little House” and my Mother’s father grew up on a farm in dusty central Kansas at about the same time as the book. I’ve never read Wilder’s books. They are probably too old for our grandsons aged 3 and 5 but not for me.

I’m waiting for my wife and daughter to weigh in before choosing.

I’m not expecting to document my travels on the blog. Haven’t done that since going to Denmark in 2006. Maybe I’ll post a couple of pictures if I take the computer. Too big a hassle on the Samsung phone.

Welcome to my new Japanese and Turkish readers

My traditionally local (Duluth area) readership has been disappointed (or pleased) by my recent dearth of posts over the past couple of months. I don’t know if they have given up on me or not as they have in other times of my silence. That’s because their absence has been covered up with new readers who have visited despite my recent quiescence.

In recent years I’ve averaged roughly a thousand different readers each month. For reasons I can’t explain that has jumped dramatically since my fingers fell silent in April. Since that time Lincolndemocrat has gotten on average 5000 visitors a month.

I noticed that starting some months ago I began getting larger page views from overseas. The data for the first half of June 2013 shows that my Japanese and Turkish readers are in hot pursuit of the US readers. The list below from my stats page lists the top seven nations peaking in on Duluth, Minnesota’s Lincolndemocrat:

…………….Pages, hits, bandwidth

US us 2,591 3,514 59.52 MB
Japan jp 1,721 1,721 10.47 MB
Turkey tr 1,266 1,266 4.72 MB
Mexico mx 993 993 3.11 MB
Ukraine ua 885 885 4.51 MB
Peru pe 623 623 1.95 MB
China cn 586 595 22.18 MB

Why should people from these nations flock to my webpage which spends so much time badmouthing the local school board and a Fortune 500 firm from Milwaukee, Wisconsin? I suspect it is because of my use of our nation’s most beloved (except by today’s Republicans) President’s name. If so, Thank Abe! What a great name it is. No doubt Spielberg’s recent movie has encouraged Google inquiries far beyond our nation’s borders.

Its not the new readership that may prompt me to break my recent silence. It turns out my fingers like to pull words out of my brain and spread them on the Internet. My last major silence took place two years ago over the month my wife and I visited Australia. That was a time I resumed reading after the Red Plan Calamity had hung me out to dry. The trip to Australia prompted a major spurt of reading most of it Antipodes related. I’ve recently had another spurt of reading which can be confirmed by checking out my “my reading list” page on my old website. I’ve read books (cover to cover) at a rate of one a month so far this year.

I’m currently juggling books on Lincoln on Twain and the Greatest Migration in American History; that of black Americans fleeing the inhumanity of the South after World War 1.

My most recent post mentioned Life on the Mississippi, the book that made America take Mark Twain’s humor seriously. I cheated by putting it on the reading list. I was only half done but had no doubts that I would conclude it. It was written a few years before the Supreme Court confirmed in Plessy v Fergusson that the South had free reign to pass Jim Crow laws. The consequence was the migration which is described in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. I read almost fifty pages of Warmth to Claudia today. I ordered it from Amazon last December.

I’m looking through two other books only one of which I’m certain I will finish. Both were purchased at my recent, and second, stop at the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois. In two days I’m half way through Lines of Contention, Political Cartoons of the Civil War. It will be a nice addition to my book on the cartoons of the years of Harry Truman. The other is the latest printing of Herndon’s Lincoln. William Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner and he decided to defy Victorian convention and write about his longtime friend warts and all. I devoured thirty pages of Introduction by his latest editors and nibbled into the first chapter. I was afraid the writing would be stilted but it is amazingly direct and fresh. I still don’t think I’ll get it read now but I can see why it is the book all Lincoln Historians rely on to know the real Lincoln.

I should also mention the other book I devoured very speedily. Polk, The Man who Transformed the Presidency and America by Walter R. Borneman was a fast read. I bought it and a dozen other books a year ago after consulting internet lists of good reads. Polk pretty much finished off America’s borders adding almost 40% to its landmass by fudging a war with Mexico that Abe Lincoln took the lead in attacking in his one stint as a Congressman. It cost Lincoln his popularity back home because Illinois was in a very expansionist frame of mind at the time.

All this reading has put me in a mood to do some writing. It may not all show up here in the blog. I was recently asked to resume my column in the local tabloid. I’d cranked out a hundred columns over a four-year period before I hung it up. At the end of June I’ll submit another and offer them up every other week. The publisher wants me to limit myself to 650 words which is a couple hundred fewer than I generally wrote before. He’s not confident in his reader’s attention spans (or maybe my captivating writing).

And let me be honest. The last time any nation other than the US ranked high on LincolnDem’s list it had to do with some sort of spam operation.

Where have you readers been all this time, you little Dickenses?

The title is a paraphrase of something my daughter’s first daycare provider told me she heard another child’s Mother say.

Joyce from across the street no only took in children like ours but also took in children that the county sent her on an emergency basis. One such child was found abandoned and brought to Joyce for overnight care. The next day the Mother showed up having been told by the County, after spending the night away from home, where they had taken her child. The Mother bent down to her frightened child and said teasingly, “Where have you been all night you little Dickens?”

Its been six or so weeks since I last posted. Its not a great way to keep one’s readership going. Nevermind the millions of posts one can plumb by leafing through the extensive column to the right showing entries going back to 2006. Internet readers want fresh meat and I’ve not provided it. I may not provide much more for a while leaving this short explanation until I find my fingers again.

I’ve been enjoying one of those fertile periods of mind where lots of information is playing around between my ears. I’ve read several books and put two of them on my old webpage’s page for the books I’ve read from cover to cover. I started doing this in 1999 and could do it because I’d been keeping track of such reading since my third year of marriage after I’d lost my first teaching job. (There’s a story there. Can’t recall whether I’ve ever written it up in a post)

One of the two new editions I read out loud to Claudia, The Book Thief. Its the second book by Zusak I’ve read to her. I don’t think I listed the first, “The Messenger” on my book list because I’ve not included young adult fiction like, for instance, the seven Harry Potter books I’ve also read out loud to my wife. Neither did I include another such book by Jack Gantos which I also read out loud this Winter. I did include the Messenger because its clearly a book that straddles the fence between adult lit and books about young people. Hell, the narrator of the book is Death himself, and a jolly grim story teller he is. He was very busy during the years of the Second World War. It brought tears to my eyes at the end for a show of humanity which always has a good chance to paralyze my reading voice as I wipe my dripping cheek.

I’ve cheated a little on the second addition, The Barbarous Years by Bernard Bailyn. I stopped reading it a month ago as I busied myself with another project and had a heck of a time motivating myself to finish the last 60 pages. I still have thirty to go, one last chapter, but I’ve swatted away half that yesterday and today. The last chapter promises to be a good summing up of the founding of British America and the last bit of the chapter I concluded at 4AM this morning (couldn’t sleep) was about the beginning of the infamous “triangle trade” that put Godly puritans on a path to flood America with African slaves.

That’s a subject I’ve never been able to step away from for long. I’ve got the newly purchased “The Warmth of Other Suns” sitting on the reading table next to me but it has been pushed back on my menu by another book that I just started reading to Claudia.

We traveled to St. Louis last week to see my Brother’s family. It wasn’t just to renew family ties but to scout out the digs where my son will soon be moving to pursue a doctorate Degree. Yes, my school hating son, graduation averse son has nearly completed a masters degree and has secured a post in the prestigious Washington University. If you are a long time reader you may dimly recall this ancient column on my publicity shy offspring.

I thought I ought to find a new book to read out loud while we traveled south and Mark Twain’s “Life on the Mississippi” came to mind. I knew it was one of my Grandfather Robb’s favorite books. He was a great admirer of Twain and he was contemptuous when the NAACP attempted to have it banned from some libraries because it had the “N” word in it.

Claudia did most of the driving down and back and I managed to finish almost half of the book. It should be the next one I add to my webpage reading list. I have enjoyed reading it and it has piqued my interest again in Mark Twain. On the second day I discovered an interesting old book mark. It was the stub of a ticket dated 1984 for the Six Flags Over Mid America theme park in St. Louis. We had bought the ticket 29 years ago on the same trip where I’d stopped to visit Twain’s old home in Hannibal, Missouri.

While there I’d purchased “Life…” but set it aside unread for nearly three decades. I had to go hunting to relocate it before our latest trip to St. Looey. The first trip was three months after the birth of our son. It had been a cold winter and Claudia was near the end of her three months of maternity leave. We wanted to “find spring” so we decided to take a trip down the Mississippi to find it in the more inviting Missouri environment. We must have regaled our three year old daughter with tales of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer on that trip because she came back to Duluth convinced that her real parents were Becky Thatcher and Jesus’s Father Joseph.

My most vivid remembrance of that trip was a stop on the way North to Galena, Illinois where US Grant had a home and had run a fallen on hard times as a Harry Truman-like small town merchant before saving the Union. The remembrance is aided by a photo of picnic we enjoyed under a cupola in a Galena Park. We’re all in the picture which must have been set for a delayed exposure so I could get in the frame with Robb nestled in a bassinet.

Nine years later we would take another trip down the Mighty Mississip with our kids in tow during a terrible flood year and make a second stop in Galena to look in Grant’s former home. Robb locked himself in the car at that stop telling us he didn’t want to “see the house of another dead President.” That just about killed my social studies teaching heart. Did I mention that he’s studying chemistry?

Well, back to cases… I’m enjoying Twain’s Life. It came to my head when MPR’s Cathy Wurzer mentioned that Twain had visited St. Paul 100 years ago to do research for his book about the Mississippi. I have heard no mention of Minnesota yet. I did turn the last couple of pages and saw St. Paul’s name leading me to wonder if our state was an afterthought. Twain was a pilot on the river from its most commercially important stretch between St. Louis and New Orleans.

Its about the Olden days long gone from before the Civil War and the ruination of commercial river traffic. Its a paean to passage of time that is easy for a sixty-year old guy like me to appreciate. Blacks are mentioned a couple of times in none to flattering a way although I can’t recall the offensive N word being used. That got me to thinking about how Twain ended up living next to Harriet Beecher Stowe, the little lady that Lincoln so famously claimed (maybe) “started” the Civil War. The book has me rethinking Twain and what he was up to. Perhaps, like LBJ, he spent a lifetime hiding behind a popular prejudice only to expend his later years blowing it to smithereens.

In the third of fourth chapter Twain announces to the reader that he has spent about five years writing a book (to become Huckleberry Finn) about characters from his youth and expects to spend another five years at it. This encouraged me because I’ve been sitting on a book for well over five years and can easily imagine it might take me that many more to actually finish it. It also gave me a chance to read a very funny selection from the book in progress which he inserts in this early chapter.

Suddenly I find myself wanting to pour through a chronology of this ex confederate writer who abandoned the sacred cause of the South early in the war to look for gold out west. Perhaps its also wetted my appetite for my own book writing as I’ve just dashed off a rough couple chapters of the very first book I started thinking about writing a quarter of a century ago when I’d made a hash out of my teaching career. I started writing “The Worst Teacher in the World” but gave it up when I couldn’t quite see how to proceed with it. I think I see that way now or at least its early stages and with a possible race for the school board to encourage me maybe I can crank it out in a hasty couple months. Unlike the book on Minnesota Politics that I’ve saddled myself with a book about my sorry teaching and school board career will require very little research. If I do undertake it the writing of it will undermine my immediate interest in writing for the blog.

Oh, its not that there haven’t been plenty of things for me to grouse about. I’ve resisted several juicy stories about the Duluth Schools. One was a remarkable admission that the energy savings weren’t all JCI cracked them up to be. I suspect that the story was built out of lies and that the energy savings are much worse than the story hinted at. Its primary contributor is already a notorious liar. Then there is the annoying news that Hermantown is proceeding with having JCI build it new schools, annoying in part because it seems Duluth’s new Super who bemoans the way things were handled in Duluth seems to have a wife on the Hermantown Board hell bent for leather to use JCI’s services in her community.

What intrigues me about being on the Duluth Board however, has very little to do with the Red Plan other than thinking our way around the disaster to once again offer a good education. It has occurred to me that the unfulfilled imaginings I had back when elected to the Board in 1995 might be a little more possible to do now that the District is desperate for some good news and since the terrible federal NCLB initiatives are being put to the side. What better time for me to tell the world how NOT to be a really bad teacher by avoiding the mistakes I made?

Even if I decide not to run for the School Board that wouldn’t be a bad motivation for writing a book.

(this post really should be proof read and edited but I’m really not into blog posting right now. I’ve got two books to finish reading another to commence and I haven’t even mentioned the herculean labor I’ve undertaken over the past month to organize a lifetime’s worth of family photos. I think there’s a book in them too!)

My 2 book cents pt. 1

The Barbarous Years has me in its clutches. I’m a little surprised that 500 pages of our colonial pasts first century has me quite so mesmerized. I’m not surprised by the summary but the details are well described by author/historian/Pulitzer winner Bernard Bailyn.

I just finished the chapter on the early years of Maryland first set up as a place of refuge for British Catholics under the cover of permitting religious tolerance for the Protestants who had taken over England after Henry VIII had to get his marriage annulled. All this began to unravel during the Puritan rebellion led by Oliver Cromwell. I have a think book or two on him but I’ve never dug into them for the decades they’ve gathered dust on my shelves.

The thing I love about periods in my life where I get into reading are the felicitious moments where the contents of one book bump into those of another or something I learned in a documentary. As I washed dishes a lot of these thoughts and others related to books and writing swirled in my head just like the soapy water I swirled in last night’s dirty wine glasses. I feel impelled to connect some of the dots here.

The Barbarous Years

By coincidence this book was mailed to me yesterday and I read its short introduction before going to bed. Then today this short excerpt from it ended up as a post in the Daily Dish.

The list of books written by author Bailyn demonstrate that I’ve found a real expert on the subject.

Hell’s Kitchen

I just got back from an overnight flight from Duluth. I was pleased to see my home intact as we drove up 21st and pleased to see my troublesome elephant still holding a Confederate flag albeit a badly sun-faded one.

I’m not sure most folks would consider the Twin Cities all the great an alternative at the end of February let alone for a single evening but we wanted a break in our routine. It didn’t hurt that neither Grandma or Papa had a smidgen of sleep the night before with our delightful little grandsons joining us in bed just after midnight. They wiggle a lot. Continue reading

Biding my time till nighty night

I’m solo with my grandson’s tonight. Little one is a bugger to put to sleep. It’s ten past nine and I’ve read him and his older brother two Vegietale books and played a Toy Story and Thomas the Tank engine CD and now finally a Raffi sleepy time music CD. I’ve poured a glass of wine and am waiting until I might be free of “Papa?” interruptions. Raffi used to work wonders.

The wine will go with episode 5 of House of Cards and maybe 6. I’ve been texting back and forth with Claudia getting advice on how to win the battle of the zzzz’s. We both want to watch Kevin Spacey together 2,000 miles apart.

I did manage to complete reading my first first book for 2013. I added it to my list while Thomas the Tank Engine was chugging along.

Reading vs. fund raising

I’m in the midst of a fascinating chapter in the book “Black Sea” which is explaining much to me about the sorry history of Poland-Lithuania.

I’m so pleased that I’m not in Congress and expected by my party handlers to spend five hours on the phone each day selling my soul to rich people begging them for 2014’s political donations.

Because I get to read I get to grow my brain instead of see it atrophy like the brains of Congressmen.

The author writes of one of his historical characters Adam Mickiewicz perhaps the most loved Polish poet:

“He never saw either Warsaw or Krakow, the two capital citys of historic Poland. It is as if Shakespeare had never visited Poland.”

He goes on to say that the poet spent long hours visiting at the home of an admitted spy for Poland’s occupier, Russia: “It was still and age in which a fine fellow was a fine fellow, and his politics came second.”

God forbid that any of our Congressmen would do the same. It would cut into their time at the phone bank or intellectual growth. Since they have no idea what’s going on in the world thank goodness the Party gives them talking points so that their ignorance doesn’t become too apparent when voters ask them questions.


I was rather surprised to bump into this blog about what is happening at the moment in Mali a huge North African nation that is witness to the latest depredations of Al Quaeda.

Much like the video We are the world which was taped with dozens of Western music artists this one shows the following video of Mali’s famous musicians singing against the incursions of the Islamists.

The thing I found interesting is the fact that the verse is being sung in at least four of Mali’s indigenous languages. This unity despite ethnicity reminded me of the message in the book I’ve been reading “Black Sea.” That message is that muti-culutural life can be so easily stamped out. Continue reading

My Book list swerves

I thought I had read more books than the recent post listed. At a book store this afternoon I saw yet another book that I finished this year, The Swerve. Its great. I’ve just added it to my lifetime reading list. I wonder if that list includes James Clavells “Shogan.” I just remembered reading that one too a few days ago. I read it back in the 1970’s. (Just checked. Shogan was included)

While I was updating the old website I also explained how this year’s snow sculpture got built. I’ve been explaining the process each year for those who wonder how they get done. I’d like to encourage others to try their hand at it. Each of my sculptures gets built in slightly different ways depending on the weather, the subject, the time available and the amount of snow.

My Book list for 2012

I just finished my last cover to cover book for the year the one on Thaddeus Stevens. That prompted me to fumble around with my old website I stopped updating it regularly when I started this blog in 2006. That was also the year I set up a Facebook Page. Both of them were intended to give my second fleeting campaign for Congress some Internet legs. The Blog took. Facebook faded, however, I may reconstitute it as a close family and friends site since my daughter posts a steady stream of photos of my grandsons on her Facebook Page. Geez, I hate being forced to shed my comfortable old fuddy duddy.

Long ago I tried to recall all the books I’d read (other than the many children and young adult books I read to my own kids) over the course of my life. It wasn’t so hard to do this because I began compiling a reading list when I was 29. Other than two years of my Red Plan fight I kept reading a steady stream of mostly nonfiction works. My snowbizz reading list page is here and this is the list of the 2012 additions:

Walter Mondale, The Good Fight…………………Walter Mondale
Hubert Humphrey a Biography……………………Carl Solberg
Lyndon Johnson The Passage of Power…………….Robert Caro
The Political Career of Floyd B. Olson………….George H. Mayer
Lincoln, Team of Rivals……………………….Doris Kearns Goodwin
The Devil in the White City……………………Erik Larson
Thaddeus Stevens 19th Century Egalitarian……….Hans L. Trefousse

I think its complete but I also thought it was complete last night but then this morning I remembered the Robert Caro book so I had to go back and add it to the page.

The first two books were read for background on the book I’ve been laboring and stalling over for the past six years. It helped derail my 2006 campaign for Congress. This year my travails over some lousy contractors derailed my research on the scandal. Oh yeah, it also was a good excuse to drop my threatened third run for Congress. That threat helped boost my loyal readers in January and February from 8 to a dozen but the readership steadily dropped after that. It’s funny, but it looks like December’s readers will top all other months this year. I may end up with 13 for the month! That’s probably bad luck. Some of them, like my Buddy, have to hold their noses when they peer into Lincoln Democrat.

I’ve basically been retired since I was about 35. You’d think I’d have plenty of time to write my own books but since I turned a real retirement age I’ve sort of gone into super-retirement and been busier than ever. Finding time to research and write a book just keeps getting harder. Even now I feel a little guilty because the two cutest grandson’s in the world are down in the basement mesmerized by television.

Ah, but this post was supposed to be about the update of my reading list. A post about this year’s progress (or lack of it) on my my own writing project will have to wait until I get a little more grandson time.

Today’s Random thought

If the Jews are God’s “Chosen People” does that mean Christians are his self selected people? If so that leads to a second thought. Which self selected ones? (are God’s people)

This thought was prompted by a very interesting seven minute interview with the author of The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture on NPR. My twelve recently ordered books are already arriving at my door according to my house sitters so I won’t be ordering this but Claudia thought it would be a good one for her Sunday School study group.

Those book lists

I’m sure there are more good lists to be found on the Internet, e.g. Britain’s Booker Prize, but these four gave me a good start.

Good Reads (History)

National Book Award (Histories and Bios)


Amazon Books Presidential Biographies (among other book searches)

I also have hundreds of books acquired over decades sitting on my shelves waiting for me to brush the dust off of. I love used books stores, the Duluth Public Libraries book sale and book reviews. I’ve stuffed many reviews of interesting books in a file folder and up until a couple years ago compiled a list, started in 1999, of books I’ve read in their entirety.

I’ve come to the conclusion that reading books from beginning to end can be a bit of a fetish. I’ve dived into fifty or more books as I’ve researched my prospective history and only finished a half dozen of these from A to Z.

Hard Truths

I just read a very short critical essay by Simon Schama on the fabulists and mythologizers at the recent GOP National Convention:

Here’s one paragraph:

In Mitt Romney’s breathtakingly edited version of the recent past, Republicans secretly rejoiced at Obama’s election, while only reluctantly coming to the conclusion that his policies had wrecked the economy. Yet history tells us that four years ago the American financial system was hanging over the abyss by the thread of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) that a Republican administration and secretary of the Treasury had put in place, and for which the hypocritical deficit chickenhawk Paul Ryan had voted, even as he strained every muscle to get his district’s share of the stimulus package that he now denounces Obama for perpetrating. And recall also that the whole near-terminal calamity was caused by the unregulated derivative market whose freedom to destroy what’s left of the American economy the likes of Ryan and Romney cannot wait to reinstate.

At the bottom of the post is an editor’s note that explains that when this was first posted it claimed that as Nixon’s Secretary of HUD (Mitt’s Father George) did his best to foster segregation in US Housing. That was corrected. It was just the opposite of the essay’s first claim.

I recommend the essay as much for its authorship as its content. The note explaining that it originally contained such a glaring mistake is just one more reason to take it seriously. Any historian who admits to passing on historical errors is offering evidence of his/her devotion to truth as opposed to a vanity for never making a mistake. Schama points to a great many historical mistakes made by speakers at the GOP convention many of which have been repeated ad nauseam by commentators since the convention. I presume loyal Republicans will be as indifferent to them as race horses wearing blinders.

Coincidentally NPR ran a very interesting story this morning on a scientific investigation into the possibility that humans can willfully forget painful or inconvenient truths. Apparently they can. (I could have told you that. The fuzziest period of time in my memory, post toddlerhood, are two miserable years of teaching in Proctor right after I graduated from college.)

As for the author of the post. I have two Schama books one on the French Revolution and one on the Dutch Tulip bulb mania. I’ve not gotten around to reading either of them yet. I well recall walking through the building on Columbia University’s that houses most of its History faculty. I was looking for historian Eric Foner’s office when I saw Schama’s name plate on a near-by door. Columbia has a serious history department and has since my Grandfather George Robb got his master’s degree from Columbia in 1915.

This summer has been lost to me for my own history writing. I’ve been preoccupied with contractors and grand children. To clear my mind I began reading history books and just finished the fourth one in two months. Three of them were by historians who have earned Pulitzer Prizes. The first was Swerve, followed by Caro’s Passage of Power, then Goodwin’s Team of Rivals on Lincoln and I just wrapped up with a short book by another noted Historian Michael Beschloss’s Presidential Courage.

I’m so smitten reading addictive histories that I’ve spent the past few days going over lists on the Internet of highly regarded histories and ordered eleven of them last night. (all at deep discounts for used books) I don’t know how I’ll read them and research my own book now that the school year has swallowed up my Grandchildren again. Even so, while I’m waiting I’ve started another book that’s been on my shelf for the past eight years: Sea of Glory. The preface and first chapters are cracker jack.

Here’s the list from Amazon:

An Army at Dawn 1st (first) edition Text Only
Rick Atkinson

Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe (P.S.)
Laurence Bergreen

Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian (Civil War America)
Hans Louis Trefousse

1920: The Year of the Six Presidents
David Pietrusza

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America
Russell Shorto

Mr. Speaker!: The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed The Man Who Broke the Filibuster
James Grant

Polk: The Man Who Transformed the Presidency and America
Walter R. Borneman

The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War
Fred Anderson

The Routledge Historical Atlas of Presidential Elections (Routledge Atlases of American History)
Yanek Mieczkowski

Batavia’s Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History’s Bloodiest Mutiny
Dash, Mike

Black Sea
Ascherson, Neal

The Internet has simply made possible things I was reaching for with great difficulty 40 years ago. Some examples of my early efforts:

All through my college years I asked everyone I knew which professors they most enjoyed so I could take the most stimulating classes I could.

As a sophomore I was on a committee established by the Student Senate to run a massive teacher evaluation program of the entire college faculty by students. We had questionaires printed out for all students and asked them a series of questions about their teachers and then printed a thick booklet for interested students to use in signing up for classes. Coincidentally, my Dad was the president of the Teacher’s Union and told me that a lot of the faculty was worried about the possibly unfair appraisal by students who had gotten poor grades.

For a few weeks after I graduated I went to dozens of highly regarded teachers and asked them which historical books they would recommend I read to further my education (I ended up reading very few of them)

I often rationalize that my failure to be a very successful politician is due at least in part to my penchant for honesty which I hasten to add is not the same as truth. The former is riddled with prejudice but has the virtue of acknowledging the flaw. Truth is truth although just what is true is hotly debated by both honest and dishonest people.

As a junior high school kid I recall being very interested in the story of Faust and Mephistoples. Faust trades his soul to the Devil for unlimited knowledge. I was very interested in such knowledge even though I knew my puny intellectual powers could never attain it. (It turns out that Faust also gets unlimited pleasure in the bargain but I only know that from reading the link to Wikipedia that I just provided. That’s not what interested me back then although I was also giving a lot of thought to the Lotus eaters in Homer’s the Odyssey)

The books I’ve ordered are meant to fullfill two wishes. I want them to be 1. page turners and 2. a wealth of information to fill gaps in my past reading. Unlike Faust I’ll never be omniscient but at least when I kick the bucket my soul will not belong to someone else like the GOP. They wouldn’t know what to do with it anyway – they’ve been shortchanging Lincoln’s soul for ages.

2AM – 5/9/2012 – Orderliness in lieu of accomplishment

My eight loyal readers have often read in my posts a claim that I am more interested in writing a book than getting elected. I still think that’s true. My recent blogging quiescence began with a month of intensive final organizing of materials related background research. I was partly driven by the death of my principal eye witness, Don Boyd. As Don grew weaker I worked, not on writing, but on making sure ever last scrap of information he provided me would be instantly retrievable. I’ve pretty well accomplished that task.

Don’s passing also gave me a new sense of freedom. For the past four of six years I kept telling Don that I wasn’t sure I could finish the book before he died. It turned out to be true. Still as Don grew more infirm over the past year I made some furious attempts to crank out random selections to the book. All the “bookin it” postsin LIncolndemocrat are a reflection of that mania.

Over time it became apparent to me that to do the book justice I had to start at the beginning and move on. In the last two weeks of Don Boyd’s life I figured out what the first chapter had to be and even began it. I also have a pretty well worked out chapter plan for everything that follows. Now I need to do some interviews.

Thursday and Friday I’ll go down to the Twin Cities to do just that. Claudia’s going. She will visit museums. I will research. We have a good reason to want to be out of town. Our house sounds like the internal workings of a factory as workment undo the damage I did thirteen years ago. More on that in the next post.

After I finished putting all of Don Boyd’s information in order (including 500 or so pages of my own hand written notes) I decided to finish organizing my house. I’ve been tidying up nearly forty years worth of debris from my married life for the past ten years beginning shortly before I quit the School Board and met Don Boyd. This clean up was badly sidetracked by my war with the Duluth School Board during the dark days of the Red Plan and other personal family crises but those are past me now.

I do have one corner of my attic crammed with five or six tubs of Red Plan records that I can’t part with yet in case I’d like to write a book about the war. I also have a file cabinet with a lot of paper left over from my school board days. That will be easier to throw away when I get around to it. Even so, I managed to get my entire house put into good order during the recent blog lite hiatus.

I did still have one organizational weak point our second home where my grandson’s live. I maintain a second workshop for house repair. My last week of organizational mania at my house was directed at my workshop. For the past couple years it was the one room I refused to clean. It had become useless as a workshop. If I needed a screwdriver to tighten up the cover of an electic outlet it took me ten minutes to wade through the tiny workshops debris to reach one on the peg board. The workshop was my id. It had become a jungle. It’s confusion made every home improvement task a nightmare and probably doubled the time it took me to do home maintenance. No more. Over a week’s time I cleaned it and organized it and its better than its been at any time for the past ten years. I even gave the work bench a fresh coat of paint.

I was almost ready to begin by book research again until I decided to fix my front steps. The tumult that sprang from that project drove my wife and I over to our daughter’s house where helping her organize her home has proven much more tranquil than staying in our home. Tomorrow will be the third day of our escape from our house. I’ve almost gotten my second workroom as organized as my first. Claudia has worked wonders with my daughter’s closets. Goodwill will get another visit from us this afternoon.

Tomorrow we will escape out house yet again. Now its time to explain the reason we need to escape.

Caro Syrup

If my eight loyal readers didn’t anticipate this I’ll make it clear. My book is not going to be finished this year. I concluded over a month ago that to do it justice it would take a minimum of two more years. That’s on top of six off and on years of researching it. That means it won’t be a practical way for me to solicit contributions for my campaign for Congress.

I still haven’t decided for sure whether to file. Goodness knows I have my doubts that Cravaack can be defeated by the three announced DFLers. This ain’t Jim Oberstar’s old District and none of them are Jim Oberstar and even Jim lost the support of the MCCL in his hour of need. If Cravaack’s challenger goes down to defeat and I finish my book in two years I can certainly use it to raise cash to run against Cravaack in 2014.

I recently read this article on the biographer I stand most in awe of, Robert Caro. He and his wife, an archivist, have essentially given their life over to reconstructing Lyndon Johnson’s life and retelling it in what was first supposed to be a three volume set. I’ve been waiting for the fourth and final volume for ten years. In fact, I need it for my own book to put Hubert Humphrey in better context. It turns out that Caro is going to have to turn his life’s work into a five volume set if he lives long enough to complete it. The new volume four may be her this summer or fall. I may be another decade older before the last one is finished.

It reminds me of the time I visited Texas and we paid a call on LBJ’s old home in 2006 as I was beginning to research my own history. Lady Bird was still living there and she was sitting out front as our tour bus drove by. One of the National Park Rangers at the site told me that Caro had almost died after finishing the third volume and the Ranger was afraid he’d not get to read the continuing saga if Caro didn’t take better care of himself.

Lady Bird stopped talking to Caro after he published this Pulitzer winning first volume. I’m afraid that the dozen or so remaining insiders to my story won’t be very eager to talk to me either. If not, the Newspapers and courtroom testimony will have to do.

Doc Martin and Herman Melville

Someone, I can’t recall who, recommended Doc Martin, a British television series, to me. Its available on Netflix. Claudia and I have been enjoying every episode we’ve watched for the past week. Its four years worth of episodes will be over with all too soon as we watch two or three a night if possible.

I only saw a single episode tonight because Claudia was off too a bible lesson at church. So I watched the American Experience on PBS. It was excellent. The subject was the Era of whaling and its sub story was about the trajedy of the Essex and the career of Herman Melville. He’s the author of Moby Dick.

I read two-thirds of the book as a senior in high school. It was probably more than most of my fellow students struggled through. In my case I pulled out a pocket notebook and jotted down the words I did not know as I encountered them in the book. I used it to broaden my vocabulary. Tonight’s American Experience helped me appreciate the novel beyond the vocabulary I picked up from it.

Melville gave up on writing after it was published. It was an epic destined for immediate oblivion because Americans were besotted by the Gold Rush of 49. They couldn’t have cared less about fishing for whales even if that was the industry that had made it possible for them cross the continent when the smell of gold got back to the Atlantic.

If I was running around campaigning for Congress I couldn’t be watching this programming. I figure this is why so many Congressmen are clueless. They never have any time to do anything but campaign and raise money.

Oh yeah, I also recorded a youtube with some of that singing I promised but at ten minutes it was longer than youtube would let me post. Too many songs at one go I’m afraid. Thank goodness.

Bookin it – Yeah, so I lied about not posting

I regretted my promise even as I was making it. I stewed about it and came up with a compromise with myself. I’ll post after 10pm if I’ve been good. I have been attending to the book despite its having been a weekend with my grandchildren. I put three pages together on Saturday and 2 pages together today thereby finishing a rough draft for Chapter 1. I’m very pleased with it. I hope to have Chapter two whipped into good shape by Wednesday since I don’t have any planned tasks to work on. I begin it with six pages already completed and all my notes on the subject matter fully organized for quick review.

I’m debating posting bookin it posts with samples of text. Let me know what you think with an email: