Feel-Good Fiction Can Temporarily ‘Trump’ Bad Feelings

While many of us plan to oppose the Donald Trump presidency in all kinds of ways, we also occasionally need some escape from the awful news of his election. Toward that end, I’ve come up with a number of novels and short stories that might serve that purpose.

Those feel-good works contain happy endings and/or inspirational content and/or loving relationships and/or very funny material and/or other positive things. They may also include downbeat moments and some of the angst we feel in real life, but they leave us feeling mostly optimistic about the human condition.

Most of Fannie Flagg’s novels are pretty darn sunny (while not ignoring racism, sexism, violence, and other harsh things) — with perhaps the sunniest of all A Redbird Christmas. That book doesn’t start in an upbeat way, but, when an ill man living alone in wintry Chicago moves to a small Alabama town, things eventually get quite cheery while skirting the swamp of too much sappiness and sentimentality.

Also opening in a grim way and then making readers feel wonderful is L.M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle, about a young woman whose life gets infinitely better after being told she’ll die soon. Some very comical scenes, too.

Finding blissful romance is a part of both The Blue Castle and A Redbird Christmas, and in other novels such as Terry McMillan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back. The bliss may or may not last in the unwritten future after the novels end, but it’s sure nice to see in its initial stages.

Then there’s the release of endorphins you’ll experience when laughing through the pages of Charles Dickens’ funniest novel, The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club. Also hilarious are Colette’s Claudine at School, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Terry Pratchett’s Unseen Academicals, P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves/Bertie Wooster novels and stories, etc.

The pleasures of being a kid growing up in a small town are nostalgically conveyed in Ray Bradbury’s mostly heartwarming Dandelion Wine. There’s also nostalgia, and some sentimentality, in James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips and its story of a beloved teacher. Another teacher tale, E.R. Braithwaite’s To Sir, With Love, has its inspirational moments, too, as the protagonist’s students eventually take to his unorthodox classroom approach. (Braithwaite is still alive at 104!)

David Lodge’s Paradise News promises nice things in its very title before telling the story of an Englishman finding love during a stay in Hawaii. The titles of John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday and Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company also accurately promise some happy happenings within.

Then there are utopian novels, such as Edward Bellamy’s time-traveling Looking Backward, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Aldous Huxley’s Island — the last book a sort of counterpoint to that author’s dystopian Brave New World.

There are also novels that mix the downbeat and upbeat, but the upbeat moments are so wonderful that readers finish the books feeling more good than bad. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one famous example (the iconic Jane-Rochester romance certainly helps), and Jane Austen’s novels are also sort of in that category.

Some feel-good novels are depressing for almost the entire book before a mostly idyllic ending helps redeem things. Such is the case with (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s exceptional So Much For That, which has a tropical-island conclusion that radiates lovely vibes.

Heck, even totally downbeat novels can leave us with some positive feelings if we see things like resilience, kindness in difficult circumstances, and so on.

Short stories? Those that would bring a smile to your face include Mark Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” Herman Melville’s “I and My Chimney,” O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief,” Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost,” and (until the ending) Bret Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” to name just a few.

Obviously, there are tons of other feel-good novels and stories I haven’t mentioned. What are some of your favorites?

And…Happy Thanksgiving!

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’ve finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

92 thoughts on “Feel-Good Fiction Can Temporarily ‘Trump’ Bad Feelings

  1. Happy belated Thanksgiving Dave and crew. I’m grateful to have gems like this place keeping the art of blogging alive!

    I’ll keep my selection short. Candide. Yes, Candide! After all the TURMOIL, hardships and the realization of ones desires the protagonist rejects his early beliefs but finds a new way of thinking about the world around him. The satire may have been a condemnation of optimism but when one cultivates one garden, something good is bound to bloom.

    I read Candide in HS so I may be remembering the central message wrong but this is my story and I’m sticking to it 😀

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    • A Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, “I love Lucille,” and thank you for the kind words!

      “Candide” is a GREAT addition to this discussion. Voltaire’s work is satirical and deep and all that, but it’s also entertaining as hell. I still have the (now-ragged) paperback from college in an edition combined with that author’s “Zadig,” which is also good but nowhere near as good as “Candide.” Loved the way you described it and analyzed it!

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  2. I would recommend starting with Terry Pratchett’s book Truckers (the first in a triology of short books about a city of gnomes living in the basement beneath a mega-mall, who are doubtful about the existence of the world outside the mall)…no offence to Unseen Academicals, which is a good parody of football fandom and hooliganism, but it was already written well past the author’s prime

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    • Thank you, Joseph!

      “Unseen Academicals” is the only Terry Pratchett novel I’ve read, and I took it out of the library at random from the Pratchett shelf. Pretty good for a past-prime book, and I know the author was also sick from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease by then. I put “Truckers” on my list, and look forward to experiencing Pratchett in his prime!

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  3. PG Wodehouse comes immediately to mind, as a consummate weaver of entertainingly diverting tales. In the years between the great wars of the 20th century, he provided a steady diet of gentle laughter to all who would read his accounts of guileless simps under the thrall of allowance-dispensing great aunts, circumspect butlers with foresight beyond all reckoning, social club contre-temps of minutest peevishness, the perils of flapper romance, the crushing eternity of country weekends. Enthusiasts of Wodehouse cropped up throughout the English-speaking world, and beyond, there being, at least for a while, a group of readers in Central Europe who called themselves the Drone’s Club, and threw dinner rolls at each other with an abandon borrowed straight from the books.

    Employing a marvelously controlled and charming authorial style,Wodehouse created a world of nostalgia out of the stuff of light musical comedies popular on London stages before the First World War, and mostly, never looked back. He has often been described as a sort of oblivious confectioner of farce, indifferent to the economic and social forces roiling throughout the world.

    But there is more to him than that, though there is that, at least a bit. He managed, as well as anyone trying, to make a joke out of the dark appeal of Robert Moseley, self-appointed head of GB’s fascistic Black Shirts, in his creation of Roderick Spode, “amateur dictator”, self-appointed head of the Black Shorts. Wodehouse described Spode as appearing “as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment” (these quotes come from the wikipedia entry for the character).

    During the German invasion of France in 1940, Wodehouse was caught abroad and placed under an informal house arrest, allowed to leave after he made a broadcast in praise of the hospitality of his captors, which caused him more than a spot of bother at home upon return.

    So even the most able of entertainer in prose, oblivious though he might have preferred most often to be, could not altogether escape from the world at war.

    And neither can we, but for a while, readers who would wish to depart for someplace better than the fix we are in right now.

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    • jhNY, I loved the linguistic tour de force in your first paragraph, and in the rest of your comment. Yes, Wodehouse’s works are VERY feel-good, even though, as you mentioned, he couldn’t escape a personal brush with the catastrophic real world in 1940.

      Another example of a writer’s “involvement” with the Germans after the Nazi invasion of France is described in this paragraph from the Internets:

      “There were cases where personal ties trumped ideological divides. In a letter written in February 1942, Colette, the popular French writer, thanks Karl Epting, head of the German Institute, for helping to save her Jewish husband, Maurice Goudeket, who had been arrested by the Gestapo. A footnote says she repaid the favor in February 1949, when she testified on Epting’s behalf at a military tribunal in Paris.”

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      • “Another example of a writer’s “involvement” with the Germans after the Nazi invasion of France” See also Gertrude Stein.

        Don’t know exactly why, but as I was writing my comment above, I was reminded of Jean Renoir’s masterpiece of French cinema, The Grand Illusion (1938), which is set, largely, in a series of prisoner of war camps, and around a foursome of prisoners, one of whom is a monomaniacal scholar of Pindar. Through privations of all kinds, unannounced inspections and shifts from camp to camp, the scholar keeps his large volume of Pindar close to his breast, taking consolation from the tome when he can. He plans, he tells Von Rauffenstein, head of the last prison into which he is sent, to write a major work on his subject. Von Rauffenstein, examines his skull with interest before declaring “Poor Pindar.”

        Sometimes our literary consolations, while satisfying ourselves, disconcert others, who might find the devotion to our subject touching, but our comprehension suspect, like a cat lying on a set of encyclopedias in a window to catch sunlight on a summer day.

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          • Fixed!

            “Sometimes our literary consolations, while satisfying ourselves, disconcert others” — so true, jhNY. Fans and non-fans of Jack Reacher can attest to that. Or those who find comfort in sentimental authors like Nicholas Sparks and Mitch Albom, while others cringe at the thought of writers like that…

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            • Re that Mitch fellow: I am among “others”. Reacher, as you know, I find crucial to my endurance of the travails of airplane travel. My appetite for his capacity to right wrongs is voracious then– I’ve read hundreds of pages awaiting my time on the tarmac, then aloft, in mere hours.

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              • Thanks, jhNY! As you know, I’m a big Reacher fan, too. I can think of few other books/series that would make flight-related delays and dead time almost welcome! (And there is “dead time” indeed for various no-longer-breathing characters in the Reacher novels.)

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  4. And if, in a slightly different category, you really want feel good material, play lots of country songs backwards: The singer gets his woman back, his dog comes back to life, his stolen and wrecked pickup truck gets returned unscathed and no one has the blues any more. It’s pretty miraculous.

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  5. Hi Dave,

    Like Brian, I think any literature that you enjoy can be a good escape from all that’s currently wrong with the world. It doesn’t even need to be particularly well-written. I enjoyed “Twilight” despite the poor writing, and it’s still a bit of a go-to when I need some literary comfort food. I’m not sure why, but it tugs at my heart strings a bit, and a good cry always makes me feel better.
    In fact a lot of YA fiction can make great escapism literature. Despite series like “Harry Potter” and “His Dark Materials” having some adult themes, they’re still kind of simple stories. Easy to get lost in without needing to put in too much thought. And the hero generally wins, no matter the circumstances.

    Other feel good novels might include satiric books like “Catch-22” or kind of absurd books like “Confederacy of Dunces”. And of course any good fantasy novels will transport a reader to a different place. And even if it’s a “Song of Ice and Fire” type world where people are getting their heads chopped off, it’s still cheerier than what we keep waking up to.

    I’ve just started Diana Gabaldon’s second “Outlander” book. I’m not loving it, but she’s writing through the eyes of two different characters, one male and one female. And it got me wondering whether you’ve ever written a blog about authors who write characters that they don’t personally identity with. Maybe a different gender, colour, age, etc.

    We don’t really do Thanksgiving in Australia, but I hope you and your family have a great time ❤

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    • Yes, Sue, literature one enjoys doesn’t have to be great lit and doesn’t necessarily need to be upbeat.

      A terrific point about how novels in the relatively straightforward YA category can be pleasant reading because of those books not being that complex. I’m thinking, by way of example, of L.M. Montgomery’s absolutely wonderful “Anne of Green Gables,” which I’ve read three times in the past decade or so.

      Novels like “Catch-22” and “A Confederacy of Dunces,” while very or somewhat disturbing in parts, are so hilarious that one has to be entertained into “feel-goodedness.”

      And — LOL — reading about characters getting their heads chopped off does sound more positive than anything associated with Trump. 🙂

      One post I did that matches some of what you asked about in your second-to-last paragraph is this one: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-astor/when-authors-create-title_b_4392434.html

      And thank you very much for the Thanksgiving wishes (even though Australia doesn’t do that holiday)!

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      • Thanks for the link, Dave. I thought you had done a post like that before. I think I may have even commented, but of course, there’s no way to know 😦

        I also meant to comment that if people are too overwhelmed to contemplate a new novel at the moment, they might think about reading a blog instead. There are some great ones out there that are a wonderful source of entertainment. Well, at least one great one!

        I’m reading a YA fantasy book at the moment, and you’d think that would be a great Trump escape, however right at the beginning, the leader of the elves is thinking to himself “The purity of the elven race was a gift of the gods, with its longevity and its serene majesty. Now that purity was threatened – by human blood, to be sure, but also by ideas of intermingling, trade, artisanship, social tolerance. The nation faced a very crucial time indeed. In the west, he knew, elves and humans had begun to intermarry with disturbing frequency, giving birth to a whole bastard race of half-elves.” I’m almost expecting the elven leader to build a wall to make the elven homeland great again!

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        • You’re welcome, Sue! You may very well have commented under that post before HP deleted everything everybody said. Amazing how many un-progressive things that “progressive” site has done… 😦

          Wow — that YA fantasy book you’re reading does sound like its author may be gunning for a Trump cabinet post! Though of course the book could be satirizing that way of thinking. “I’m almost expecting the elven leader to build a wall to make the elven homeland great again!” — LOL!!!

          And thank you very much for your kind words about the blog! Given how much I’ve mentioned Trump lately, I guess I haven’t been completely escapist. 🙂

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  6. My personal feeling is that any literature, if it’s well done, is a welcome escape from the madness of the current political/national situation. Literature is a form in which structural unity exists, art and beauty exist, even art made from ugliness possesses its own beauty and there is meaning and fullness of the experience of someone else’s drama and/or comedy. Either way, it’s an alternate world. Even non-fiction books about previous times are balms and welcome diversions from anything recounting the events of today. I know I need to keep aware of what’s happening now but I can’t stand to watch any video footage of Trump, especially now, and I’ve successfully avoided him so far, catching my news from snippets of quotes and headlines. Just the facts, man. But what are the facts when a suspect news media manipulates what it wants us to see and read and hear? So all literature, music and film is a welcome escape for me, as it always has throughout my life. It sustains me and feeds my soul. If it’s an addiction then let me never kick the habit.

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    • You make an excellent point, bobess48, and very eloquently. Thank you.

      The better novels, even if downbeat, allow one to escape into another world, as you note, and can make us feel good for no other reasons than experiencing a great work of (writing) art and admiring how the characters deal with adversity. Classics such as “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Mill on the Floss,” “Arch of Triumph,” “Invisible Man,” “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “The Portrait of a Lady,” etc., etc., are depressing as hell yet somehow uplifting.

      Still, once in a while, a mostly happy book is welcome.

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  7. More great suggestions from you and your readers. I chose to escape into A Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich. She tells interrelated stories of a mixed Native/White community in ND. They survive lynchings, explorers dying on the trail and more, but maintain their equilibrium all the way through. I also checked the mini-series “John Adams” from my library. These brave men and women sacrificed all for a dream. The trials were unbearable to our generation, but worth the effort to see a new nation formed. I’m keeping focused on the fact that our nation has been through some terrible situations over the last 400 + years and prevailed. I’m trying to keep focused that we will survive this too.

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    • Thanks, energywriter! Various commenters (including you) have definitely been adding to my to-read list with this topic. 🙂

      “A Plague of Doves” sounds excellent, and perhaps even more poignant than it already is given the sickeningly more public white-supremacy attitudes we’ve been seeing these days.

      I guess we’ll survive Trump, but it’s going to be a painful time — especially for people of color, Muslim-Americans, the LGBT community, and various others.

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    • ‘The Plague of Doves’ is next on my reading list. We had a reader profile assignment that came out of our recent Staff Development Day in which we were supposed to create a reader profile of ourselves, citing three of our favorite books, three of our least favorite books, and the genres that we like the most. We turned those in and got assigned the profile of another staff person. The guy that got me suggested Camus’ ‘The Stranger’, Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf’ and Erdrich’s ‘Plague of Doves’. Having already read the Camus and Hesse novels, I chose the Erdrich novel. I’ve been interested in her for several years but haven’t gotten around to reading her yet so I’m grateful for the opportunity to finally give her a try. FYI–For what it’s worth, the three favorites on my profile that I cited are Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer’ and Marilynne Robinson’s ‘Housekeeping’. Three of my least favorites are Stephenie Meyers’ ‘Twilight’, Ernest Cline’s ‘Ready Player One’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes Was Wrong: Reopening the Case of the Hound of the Baskervilles’ by Pierre Bayard. So out of all of that, my profiler chose ‘Plague of Doves’. Go figure.

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      • What a great assignment, bobess48! And coincidental that the book you’re about to read was mentioned here!

        You listed three excellent favorites — all of which I’ve read or reread recently or relatively recently (you of course recommended “The Moviegoer” to me). I haven’t read any of the authors whose books you chose as least favorites. Avoiding the “Twilight” zone and all that…

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    • Thank you for the kind words, Susan!

      As I’ve mentioned, my “technique” is to mix novels I read recently and novels I read longer ago, and look at Wikipedia plot summaries to refresh my memories about the latter set of books. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Cathy! Yes, very glad we have literature to provide something of a respite. I’m assuming Trump and his administration won’t go “Fahrenheit 451” on us and start burning books. Though lighting a match to “The Art of the Deal” is tempting…

      Canada! That country’s leaders, while far from perfect, seem so sane and tolerant compared to many of ours — especially in this Justin Trudeau era.

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    • Cathy, both my sister and I are big fans of Louise Penny’s novels. We both have read every book in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, including her most recent one, “The Great Reckoning.” We also both agree that we’d recommend folks to start reading the 4th or so book in the series because each one is even better than the previous one (generally not my usual thinking when it comes to fairly lengthy mystery series). Any idea if she will continue writing these novels with such an interesting group of characters after the death of her husband?

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  8. For warm, fuzzy feel good feelings I’d recommend Plainsong, The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Language of Flowers.

    If you want a feel good children’s novel I’d recommend Wonder.

    For laughter and humor I’d recommend Where’d You Go Bernadette? and Today Will be Different by Maria Semple. They’re hilarious.

    The Book Thief and A Thousand Splendid Suns are about life under the kind of oppressive regimes that people have compared to a Trump presidency but they feature loving relationships and touching examples of human kindness that prove that even in the darkest of times there are people who will retain their goodness and help each other. I’m tearing up now just thinking about those books.

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    • Thank you for all those great recommendations, Kira! I haven’t read any of them — though I’ve read a couple of other novels by the same authors (“This One Is Mine”/Maria Semple and “The Kite Runner”/Khaled Hosseini). And my daughter recently read “Wonder” for school, and loved it!

      “…even in the darkest of times there are people who will retain their goodness and help each other” — very well said, and something millions of people will have to hold onto in the four (hopefully not eight!) scary years to come.

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  9. Hi Dave, it’s odd that you chose this topic this week, as I was talking to my best friend since first grade the other day and she asked me for recommendations for books for her to read that weren’t non-fiction or downers or too “heavy.” She just had a knee replacement done and wasn’t recovering well, and in addition had to have one of her beloved Shelties euthanized because of an acute disease that there was no hope for. The first books that came to mind were a few authors that I just finished reading, one by Maria Semple, who wrote “Where’d You Go Bernadette,” and anything by Liane Moriarty. I’ve mentioned them many times on this blog, but these are mostly books that I’ve read at least twice each and never fail to make me laugh or at least smile. Most of my escapist reading are mysteries, some of which are humorous, good entertainment, or just puzzles that are fun to solve.

    As for Trump, I keep repeating my mantra from Semple’s latest book when I wake up, “Today Will Be Different,” but it doesn’t work and in some ways is even worse than the day before. I don’t know if you saw last night’s cold open on SNL with Alec Baldwin as Trump and Kate McKinnon as his very harried and distressed campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway. It was another classic that apparently Trump was raging about, right after his rant about the cast of “Hamilton” and Pence’s appearance at the show and asking for an apology.

    My sister and I were commiserating the other day about the election, and she plans, as do I,. to make donations to Planned Parenthood (some having been doing it in the name of Mike Pence — ha!) and the ACLU.

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    • Kat Lib, it sounds like your best friend really does need lots of escapist fiction. It’s so hard when multiple bad things happen during a short period of time.

      The one Maria Semple novel I read (“This One Is Mine”) was enjoyable; “Where’d You Go Bernadette” and anything by Liane Moriarty have yet to make an appearance at my local library. 😦

      And, yes, mysteries can be nicely escapist. I just finished Walter Mosley’s “Devil in a Blue Dress” (which will inspire my Nov. 27 post) and, while there were plenty of harsh elements in the novel (most notably, racism and violence), it was so well done that it took my mind off things for a few hours.

      I did see that “SNL” cold open. Terrific indeed. I was also thinking that the wonderfully talented Kate McKinnon probably won’t be able to play Hillary Clinton that often in the future. A shame, because she’s brilliant in that role. But her Kellyanne Conway was really good. And almost-never-apologize Trump demanding an apology!!! Can that loathsome man be any more loathsome?

      I LOVE the idea of people making Planned Parenthood donations in Mike Pence’s name! And they’re donating more than a pence…

      Excellent comment by you!

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      • Just as an FYI (which makes me sound like I’m back in the business world as it was used more often than I can say, and sometimes just meant CYA), my friend Bill picked up a whole bunch of Reacher novels at the Goodwill recently which he is passing onto me as he finishes one; I haven’t read any of them yet as I’m still engrossed in the Flavia De Luce mysteries. If jhNY checks in, I must say that the one book I’m almost finished with does give the title of “As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust,” the proper attribution to “Cymbeline,” by Shakespeare, at the very beginning of the book, but I just somehow missed that. Thanks for pointing that out to me!

        I have yet to find anything good coming out the last week about the Trump presidency; in fact it just gets worse every day with his picks for advisors and his Cabinet, not to mention his conflicts of interest, which he, Pence and his other sycophants seem to think no one cares about!

        If I don’t reply again, I wish you, your family and all of the commenters here a very Happy Thanksgiving!,

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        • Wow, Kat Lib — much potential Reacher reading in your future! I’m very curious to hear what you think of some of those Lee Child books, if you end up reading them.

          I agree — absolutely nothing good coming out of the vile Trump camp. If anything, based on his administration picks so far, he’s even more reactionary than his reactionary campaign indicated. And all the conflicts of interest, as you note. What a total nightmare. 😦

          A very Happy Thanksgiving to you, too! (If we can all forget about Trump for a day.)

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        • Re Cymbeline: You’re welcome! (I never would have recognized its origin myself, had I not read the Kenner book I mentioned.)

          Perhaps you have concluded, as I have done, for the time being at least, to take Trump at his word. He really means to do all the horrible things he said he’d do, with the help of all the horrible people with whom he has surrounded himself, and with the resentful cooperation of our failed Fourth Estate.

          On the other hand: Happy Thanksgiving!

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          • jhNY and Dave, My knowledge of Shakespeare is regrettably insufficient other than Julius Caesar in high school, which I already mentioned. In some grade (perhaps junior high) we had a school trip to see a live performance of Romeo and Juliet. For some reason I have this memory of it starring Shirley Knight as Juliet, but perhaps it was someone else. I also have memories of studying Hamlet and King Lear, but not sure when, but most likely college. Lastly, when I was in Europe in 1969, during our stop in Avon on Stratford, we saw a play at the Avon Theatre which I’m pretty sure was Pericles. The best part was just being in that theater.
            So for whatever reason, while in Stockholm during that European trip in 1969, I came across a used bookstore and bought a copy of the Collected Works of William Shakespeare put out by the Abbey Press. I carted it around in the one canvas suitcase we allotted ourselves, and since then I’ve moved it so many times I can’t remember. I have yet to read anything in this book because the print is so tiny I’d need a magnifying glass to do so!

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            • I’m not very knowledgeable about Shakespeare’s works, either, Kat Lib. But that’s an interesting history you have relating to The Bard.

              Books with print tinier than Trump’s hands are also non-starters for me. 🙂

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            • Had similar experiences through high school, but took a course on Shakespeare in college. I need to return to my own book of his plays, as after all, it’s been decades, and I was only so attentive in class…

              Cole Porter (from Kiss Me Kate) may inspire you to tackle more of the Bard of Avon, and it does seem to confer advantage:

              The girls today in society go for classical poetry
              So to win their hearts one must quote with ease
              Aeschylus and Euripides
              One must know Homer, and believe me, Beau
              Sophocles, also Sappho-ho
              Unless you know Shelley and Keats and Pope
              Dainty Debbies will call you a dope

              But the poet of them all
              Who will start ’em simply ravin’
              Is the poet people call
              The Bard of Stratford on Avon

              {Refrain}
              Brush up your Shakespeare
              Start quoting him now
              Brush up your Shakespeare
              And the women you will wow

              Or, you might enjoy Shakespeare’s sonnets, if you haven’t read them– some of the best poetry in the language, and short, teensy even, as compared to the length on any of his plays.

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              • My Shakespeare course in college opened my eyes to the profundity of his work. We read ‘Richard II’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘King Lear’, ‘Twelfh Night’, ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘The Tempest’. Even though the instructor talked like a gay Andy Griffith and chain-puffed cigarettes like a chimney, he explored various ramifications of language, down to the ambiguities of one word choice. He also taught the plays based on a book by E.M.W. Tilyard, ‘The Elizabethan World Picture’, which viewed humans as somewhere on the great chain of being between the oyster and the angel. According to this explanation, humans are comprised of four basic humors, corresponding to the four elements. Shakespeare characters fell at different points along that spectrum. Anyway, this exposure forces me to resort to spaced out hippie cliche–“it blew my mind, man” and “It was cosmic”. And it really was mind-expanding to a naive twenty-year old like me.

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                  • The English professor would definitely NOT be smoking in the classroom these days. I don’t know how I stood it in that classroom. We snickered among ourselves about how gross his big coffee table size ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare’ was, smudged with ash and soot. None of us would dare touch such a filthy book.

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                    • Ugh. Reminds me of when I covered various local meetings in my late-1970s newspaper-reporting days, when smoking was still allowed in government buildings. Other reporters, attendees, and the officials themselves at the front would be puffing away for hours, and my clothes would be reeking of smoke by the time I left despite my not doing any of the smoking.

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                    • When I was in college, teachers and students could puff freely in the classrooms, and did. I harbor fond memories of blowing smoke-rings in the back of a comp lit class, and watching them drift across the width of the room and up, slowly up into the air vent. Of course, I can also remember when doctors would discuss your health with a cigarette in hand.

                      My Shakespeare teacher was a nice-enough gentleman who had managed through many years of his teaching the course to boil down what he conceived to be the overarching theme of all the plays: appearance versus reality. Well, yes, I guess.

                      My ancestors, on my mother’s side, were oystermen on the Chesapeake Bay. I guess they were linked perfectly in place along the great chain of being, being betwixt exactly, more or less, oysters below, angels above.

                      Quit smoking around 30 years ago. To all I may have offended, or worse, sickened, directly or indirectly, I sincerely apologize. In my defense– I haven’t owned or driven a car in 35 years, so perhaps I might be forgiven a bit for my prior pollutions.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • jhNY, not driving for so many years definitely puts you on the plus side of the eco-friendly ledger. 🙂

                      Glad you quit smoking! My four-pack-a-day father did as well, but probably too late — he eventually died of some stuff that was probably at least partly smoking-related.

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                • This is another “Reply to All” comment (there I go again back to my business background) to jhNY, bobess and Dave. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation about Shakespeare. I’ve been interested in poetry especially since my beloved brother self-published a small collection of some of his poems (“Recollections”) that was illustrated by a friend, I think, in 1966. jhNY, I’ve read all of Shakespeare’s sonnets and loved them, while appreciating the fact that they were much shorter than his plays (I also have a fondness for Haiku, even shorter than a sonnet!). It’s been ages since I saw the movie “Kiss Me Kate,” so I don’t remember that Cole Porter song, but as Dave said, it was very clever. I took quite a few courses on Greek and Roman civilization in college, so I’ve read many of the plays and epic poetry, but I don’t recall any quotes off the top of my head. But I will never forget, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Bobess, I had to laugh at your comment about “spaced out hippie cliché.” It makes me think of how I chuckle every time I listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s “Feeling Groovy,” which is quite often because I love them and their songs, especially “The Sound of Silence,” one of my very favorite songs ever.

                  Dave, perhaps I’ve missed it (or forgotten, which happens quite often these days), but have you ever had a column specifically about poetry? I think that would be very interesting. Another class I took in college was “Modern Poetry,” although it was in 1968/69, so the term “modern” is relative.

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                  • Thanks, Kat Lib, for the interesting thoughts.

                    I’ve never done a blog post focusing on poetry, for the simple reason that I haven’t read enough poetry (especially in recent years) to pull it off. But…but…because of your suggestion, I’m now thinking of writing such a piece, which would be sort of rudimentary — after which the commenters would add a lot of stuff I’m clueless about. 🙂 Not sure I’d do it…

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                    • That’s OK, Dave. The subject has been on my mind for a short time this year because of: 1) My best friend from grade school and beyond had this year brought me her copy of my brother’s poetry booklet which had unaccountably been lost by me somewhere along the way; 2) the Nobel Literature prize going to Bob Dylan for what I’d considered song lyrics; and 3) the death of Leonard Cohen, who actually issued a book of poetry years ago and had written many song lyrics that to me were just as, or more poetic, than Dylan’s. As to me, I must admit that I always have been more literal-minded when if comes to both poetry and lyrics, so I’m not the best judge of either.

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                    • I think I probably said this before but there were a few more ‘literary’ songwriters than Bob Dylan that merited a Nobel Prize for Literature if they were going to give it to someone from the musical field, including Leonard Cohen. For one thing, he wrote two novels (‘The Favorite Game’, ‘Beautiful Losers’) and a few collections of poetry before he ever began recording or perhaps even writing his songs. Leonard, being somewhat older than Bob and others from the war years generation, had begun his writing career in the 50’s, at least ten years before his first album came out (1967). I know Dave that you have devoted at least one previous blog post to literary allusions in songs (such as Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” and “rejoyce”, recorded with Jefferson Airplane. Treating poetry head on though would be a departure though I, along with you, have read far too little of it consistently over the years to be sufficiently knowledgeable to discuss it as I do fiction. Don’t know what I could add to such a blog but I’d give it a try.

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                    • Thanks, bobess48, for the offer of possible commenting help if I do a poetry post! You and I seem to have roughly the same knowledge of poetry. 🙂

                      Yes, a few other songwriters could merit a Nobel if the judges were going to go that route — Leonard Cohen (as you just mentioned) and Joni Mitchell (mentioned in a previous post), to name two. It certainly helps make a case for Cohen that he was an author before he was a singer-songwriter.

                      That literary-allusions-in-songs piece, from back in The Huffington Post days: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dave-astor/songs-with-literary-refer_b_4602793.html

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                    • Unfortunately, bobess48, HP wiped out all the comments under my blog posts (and I assume many others’ blog posts) a couple of years ago. No prior notice, of course. So many great thoughts lost. 😦

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                  • Haiku, eh? Here’s something I wrote, the form 5-7-5 stretched to thrice-long:

                    Crossing the river
                    At night, the wake fans out
                    Behind like torn lace
                    Or old snow melting
                    But standing at the ship’s bow
                    I see only the dark
                    Under the water
                    Fish may live without knowing
                    There is air above

                    Liked by 1 person

                • Not all side with Porter; Eliot, for one, who wrote as if convinced that women were more intent on the statuesque, or possibly the statue-maker:

                  “in the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.”

                  ps Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, Dave!

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    • Dave, I lost track of where and to whom I was responding to, so I’m going to perhaps go back to the beginning and start anew with what may be repetitive comments. Your blog has been on my mind since I started writing about poetry this week and mentioned Haiku. jhNY, you have posted a lovely poem of yours, and I’m embarrassed now to post my own attempt at Haiku (5-7-5) for an 8th grade English class assignment:
      “A place for crying
      And a place for happiness
      My very own room”
      My only defense is that at that time I wasn’t aware of Virginia Wolff and her essay “A Room of One’s Own” (unless subliminally), as well as that growing up in a household of 2 parents and 5 older siblings could be problematic at times when seeking out privacy. As I type this, I’m staring at two framed large studio photos on my wall — one of my 3 brothers and one of me and my 2 sisters — taken about 65 years years ago. The happiest one of us all is me, as I’ll readily admit to being super-spoiled!
      The only other English class assignment that I did much better on at that age was one on satire, in which I turned “Miniver Cheever” into “Miniver Cheapley,” which is alas forgotten forever (if I’m using that word correctly)!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Kat Lib, for posting your comment outside what was becoming a very long thread. 🙂

        I like your Haiku a lot. You wrote that in 8th grade? Impressive! Especially given that you were yet to know about that Virginia Woolf work. Being part of a large family definitely does make it hard to find some needed privacy.

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      • Nicely done, at any age!

        In My Room by the Beach Boys (1963) and There’s A Place by the Beatles (1964) might have inspired you way back then, or possibly Somewhere from West Side Story (1957), since it was the inspiration for McCartney when he wrote There’s A Place.

        Of course, there’s an even better chance your inspiration came from within, or rather without– having no room of one’s own, one does tend to see the value of such a place.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I still have the “45” vinyl of “There’s a Place”! It’s on the “B” side of something; would have to go through my modest collection of singles (about 100 or so) to find out what. The Beatles did have some interesting lyrics, even in their earlier, “simpler” days.

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          • According to wikipedia, it’s the b-side of Twist and Shout.

            “”Twist and Shout” is a 1961 song written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns (later credited as “Bert Russell”). The song was originally recorded by The Top Notes. It first became a chart hit as a cover single by the Isley Brothers in 1962. The song has since been covered by several artists, including the Beatles…”

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, jhNY! That sounds right — “Twist and Shout” is one of a half dozen or so Beatles singles I purchased from roughly 1964 to 1968, probably for about 99 cents apiece at my local record store.

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              • The single of “Twist and Shout”/”There’s a Place” was one of the first singles I heard other than those big hits “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You”, etc. that they made their impact with in America along with their appearances on Ed Sullivan. Either one of the kids next door or the little girl I played with next door to them owned the single and I went over to hear the record on a little record player. These songs sounded a bit different from the others I heard because they were slightly earlier, having come from their first album, ‘Please Please Me” rather than those other singles which came out later in ’63. “There’s a Place” lodged in my brain though and is one of many from the Fabs that I hear over and over in my head. The two part harmony of John and Paul is outstanding as it is in many others of their songs. The vocal harmony of the Beatles was a sublime sound.

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                • VERY well said, bobess48. You evoked some memories for me, too — listening to Beatles singles (after putting those yellow plastic thingies in the big holes to make them little holes) on a small tan record player I could fold up like a suitcase to carry around.

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                • “. The vocal harmony of the Beatles was a sublime sound.”

                  Yep, yep and yep. One of the minor miracles on film: the Beatles at Shea Stadium. The sound system for that concert was little more than stadium horns– and probably all the group had to hear of themselves was coming from their amps, which would be nearly inaudible in the din of the place from further than a very few feet away. Yet the vocals are pretty much on-pitch always, harmonies intact, even though, as is occasionally obvious from John’s vocal exclamations, the crowd couldn’t hear the band any better than the bans could hear themselves.

                  Probably another example of how the relentless show schedule and noise at the Star Club in Hamburg paid off in later days.

                  And also, close emulation and admiration of the Everly Brothers, which incidentally is especially apparent, though generally in evidence throughout the Beatles’ early days, in the production and arrangement of Please Please Me.

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                  • Singing and playing as well as they did in all of those live recordings and films are the true proof if anyone needed it of their professionalism as well as their almost psychic understanding among themselves what note or beat to sing and play when. In environments not quite as noisy as that Shea Stadium cavern (as well as that miniature Cavern in Liverpool), such as the Ed Sullivan Show the performances are outstanding. Regarding their harmonies, just watch them perform “This Boy” on Sullivan. Those three-part harmonies are just about as good as the studio originals. And the Everly’s were a big influence as well. In fact, some of the earliest pre-Beatles rock’n’roll that I actually liked (there wasn’t very much of it) were the Everly Brothers. The Hollies were another excellent British Invasion band that owed a huge debt to the Everly’s as well. But the professionalism of the Beatles can not be overstated. I’ve seen numerous bands play live with sound systems infinitely better than anything the Fabs ever had and they just can’t keep it all together nearly as well.

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                    • bobess48 and jhNY, the Beatles did indeed have talent to burn, and the struggling period before their astounding success was definitely great training for what was to come. Also, one can certainly understand why touring became too frustrating for them after a while — the relatively primitive sound systems, the hysterical crowds, etc. Still, as you both note, they sounded fantastic live despite that.

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                    • “Just watch them perform “This Boy” on Sullivan. Those three-part harmonies are just about as good as the studio originals.”

                      Likewise, with the Everly Brothers. There’s an lp, which I acquired in the ’90’s, called All They Had To Do Was Dream, which is a collection of out-takes from Cadence sessions, as I recall. It’s pretty much the fault of somebody else every time they need a take 2– the vocals are always good.

                      Then again, before splicing and over-dubbing, nearly every star vocalist or instrumentalist could be depended on to make uniformly acceptable performances.

                      Liked by 1 person

              • Bert Berns died young, 38, and was not around to toot his own horn in the golden years, and yet, from wikipedia:

                “Berns made numerous contributions to popular music, including “Twist and Shout”, “Piece of My Heart”, “Brown Eyed Girl” (as a producer), “Here Comes the Night”, “Hang on Sloopy”, “Under the Boardwalk” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”.

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        • I was actually quite lucky in that my childhood home had five bedrooms and a finished basement rec room, so my parents were always shifting us kids around, and for much of my growing up years, I actually did have my own room, except for the period that I shared with one of my sisters. But there was always so much activity going on; in fact one of our neighbors called our home the “Queen Mary,” as every night all of the lights were on in all three floors. For some reason, one day I came home from school and my mom wasn’t there. I went around turning on every TV and radio and our stereo. My mom was nonplussed when she came home, and I said, “But, Mom, it was just too quiet!” The last time I ever did that! 🙂

          Dave, I know we’ve talked before about song lyrics that get stuck in our heads. So yesterday I was in my usual Black Friday funk, especially bad this year, and I was awake all night, and perhaps I was thinking about early 1960’s music. However, instead of the Beach Boys or the Beatles (both of which I adore), I got stuck on all the Lesley Gore songs I could remember on a constant loop, “It’s My Party,” “Now It’s Judy’s Turn to Cry,” and actually a very good “You Don’t Own Me.” Tiring of that, I switched over to the song, “I Want to be Bobby’s Girl,” but I couldn’t remember any of the other lyrics or who even sang it (it was Marci Blaine in 1962).

          I did have a very nice Thanksgiving and hope that you did as well!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nice that your parents had a large house for their large family, Kat Lib. And SO funny — your story about making that house as noisy as possible, and the house being nicknamed the Queen Mary! 🙂

            Black Fridays CAN be depressing — all that materialism, and then Trump’s election this month. Yecch.

            Lesley Gore’s songs are indeed memorable, and I would add to your excellent list “California Nights.”

            Glad you had a good Thanksgiving, and I did, too!

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            • I had this very weird thought as I walked back into my home a short while ago from taking Willow out. My TV was on and emanating from it was Lesley Gore singing “You Don’t Own Me,” and it seemed as though my thoughts from the other night had somehow transferred over to my TV. OK, I guess I have my tinfoil hat on today. 🙂 Don’t be alarmed, Dave, it was actually used for a commercial for an upcoming new TV show.

              I did finally listen to “California Nights” today, and you’re right that it was a very good song, but I guess it’s hard to go wrong with something written by Hamlisch/Liebling!

              I also just saw you’re going to have a poetry blog post in the coming weeks, which I’m very much looking forward to. I’ll obviously be posting tonight or tomorrow for whatever you’ve been cooking up for this week’s blog.

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              • Kat Lib, a telepathic or televisionpathic coincidence!

                As for “California Nights,” that is indeed some serious songwriting cred. 🙂

                New blog just posted about novels set in California! The completed poetry post still slated for 12/4 or 12/11.

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            • An early Quincy Jones project, was Lesley Gore, and quite a success. California Nights came later, produced by Bob Crewe, and co-written by Marvin Hamlisch. It’s one of my faves from the era too.

              from wikipedia:
              “Her record producer from 1963 to 1965 was Quincy Jones. Jones’ dentist was Marvin Hamlisch’s uncle, and Hamlisch asked his uncle to convey several songs to Jones.”

              Gore even sang an abbreviated version of the song on the teevee show Batman!

              Hamlisch also wrote Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows for Gore. Both he and the producer, I understand went on to bigger, if not better things.

              Liked by 1 person

              • As always, you’re a fount of fascinating information, jhNY. That dental connection!!! And it’s amazing how far back Quincy Jones’ career goes.

                (I loved that campy mid-’60s “Batman” TV series.)

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  10. Dave, I’m so glad you pulled together this list. I’ve been so glued to my phone and reading articles that aren’t exactly the *most* nutritious. I think when bad news hits, it can feel like we don’t have the attention span to dive into a novel, but when we do the rewards are extraordinary. I’m happy to see Sweet Thursday (aptly titled, as I imagine many of us had very lousy Wednesdays) on the list. It’s just one of my favorites. 🙂 Hope you’re doing well in the news storm, Dave. Happy reading, everybody.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Afternoon Sufficed! Well put — and I hear you. After Trump’s election, my fiction reading was way down for about a week because I was so upset at the result and because I was morosely spending too much time reading articles about it. Feel-good novels such as “Sweet Thursday” ARE a good escape, yet the better ones have plenty of substance, too.

      As you know, but, for the benefit of some others reading here, “Sweet Thursday” is basically a sequel to “Cannery Row.”

      Liked by 1 person

    • Slowing down in a crisis state and attempting something like reflective repose is probably the best way to think when action, any action, seems so compelling. Reading things longer than tweets and captions is a good way to get there. Of course, there are times when thinking leads to some daunting conclusions– like now.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. And a very Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Dave!
    Thanks for all you’re suggestions, and just in time for a much-needed respite from the politics I’ve focused on for far too long for anyone’s sanity. I’m making a list for my next trip to the village library. You’ll be there with me. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, ALOE VERA, for the Thanksgiving wishes and your kindly expressed comment — and you’re very welcome for the suggestions!

      I hear you — it’s almost unbearable to follow politics these November days, although you, I, and many others still do because it helps to know exactly what’s going on. Someone like Trump getting elected destroys a lot of faith in humanity. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

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