A Novel Exploding With Themes (and Some Grenades)

As regular readers of this literature blog know, my “modus operandi” is writing themed pieces rather than, say, book reviews. Almost every time I read a novel, it gives me an idea for a theme, and then I try to remember various other novels that also fit into that theme.

Well, I just read a book that reminded me of MANY themes I’ve written about in the past. So I thought I’d go with that this week.

The novel is Tales of the South Pacific by James Michener, an author (recommended by several people credited in the comments section) I finally tried last month. Michener’s 1947 book checked off so many previously discussed themes that I decided to list ten of them, along with some other novels that fit those themes.

1. Tales is among a relatively small group of debut novels that became VERY popular bestsellers. A notable recent example: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (originally Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in England).

2. Michener is one of those authors whose first novel was published at a relatively advanced age — in his case, 40. But even that was several decades short of Harriet Doerr’s age (74) when her Stones for Ibarra debut came out.

3. Tales is among the many novels that are semi-autobiographical with a heavy dose of fictionalizing (Michener was a U.S. Navy man in the South Pacific during World War II). There have been countless other semi-autobiographical novels, but I’ll name just one: Saul Bellow’s Herzog, which I also read this month.

4. Michener’s book is one of those “fish out of water”/”culture shock” novels that place characters in unfamiliar settings — in this case, American soldiers based on South Pacific islands. Another of the numerous “fish out of water” novels is Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky (Americans in North Africa).

5. Tales is among the war novels by military veterans who give readers a “you are there” feeling and don’t sugarcoat what warfare is like. Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is one of the most obvious examples.

6. Michener’s book is among the famous novels that are edgier than many readers expect them to be. Also the case with Herman Melville’s Pierre.

7. Tales is a very multicultural book, surprisingly so for its time. A more recent novel with that welcome element: Zadie Smith’s White Teeth.

8. Tales is basically a collection of short stories that coalesce into a novel — an interesting sub-genre of fiction. Another example: Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.

9. Michener’s book is among the novels that have won the Pulitzer Prize. So many other excellent ones: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

10. Tales is among the fictional works that inspired a production more famous than the book itself. In this case, the Broadway musical South Pacific (based on just a couple sections of Tales) and two South Pacific movies (one theatrically released and the other created for TV). Daphne du Maurier’s short story “The Birds,” made into the iconic Hitchcock film, is among the other works somewhat overshadowed by subsequent adaptations.

What are some other novels that fit into the above ten categories? Any thoughts about Michener books you may have read, as well as his authorial abilities in general? As many of you know, Michener went on to write many more books — including long, heavily researched, often geographically specific novels such as Hawaii, The Source, Centennial, Chesapeake, Space, Texas, Alaska, and Mexico.

(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, which will probably be published during the first quarter of 2017. But I’m 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. 

105 thoughts on “A Novel Exploding With Themes (and Some Grenades)

  1. Regarding Item 10:

    Saturday Night Fever began life as a dodgy magazine article; turned into a blockbuster on a shoestring. Among the most profitable movies, I’d bet, all-time. The Robert Stigwood Organization produced and financed it, start to finish.

    The apparent sociological profundity contained in the film gave rise to much commentary and even more enthusiastic imitation upon release, but…

    from wikipedia:

    “The story is based upon a 1976 New York magazine article by British writer Nik Cohn, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”. In the mid-1990s, Cohn acknowledged that he fabricated the article.A newcomer to the United States and a stranger to the disco lifestyle, Cohn was unable to make any sense of the subculture he had been assigned to write about; instead, the character who became Tony Manero was based on a Mod acquaintance of Cohn’s.”

    from wikipedia:

    “Anti-mimesis is a philosophical position that holds the direct opposite of Aristotelian mimesis. Its most notable proponent is Oscar Wilde, who opined in his 1889 essay The Decay of Lying that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. In the essay, written as a Platonic dialogue, Wilde holds that anti-mimesis “results not merely from Life’s imitative instinct, but from the fact that the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression, and that Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realise that energy.”

    What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art. As in an example posited by Wilde, although there has been fog in London for centuries, one notices the beauty and wonder of the fog because “poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects…They did not exist till Art had invented them.”

    Nor did, I’m guessing, Brooklyn Italian disco dancers in cream-colored suits– that is, till Travolta showed the way. Having been here in NYC at the time, I can assure you there were legions post-film.

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    • I had no idea, jhNY, that the “Saturday Night Fever” film was based on an article — and a fabricated article at that. Fascinating!

      Thanks for the great comment, and for the “life imitates art” ruminations! (John Travolta was born in northern New Jersey, but we won’t hold that against him… 🙂 )

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      • “(John Travolta was born in northern New Jersey, but we won’t hold that against him… 🙂 )”

        A little sorry to learn this, as I hoped his local accent, when he was called upon in roles to employ it, was the product of his craft. Always, to my ear, sounded overdone…

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          • I’m learning more about the Garden State than I ever thought I needed to know! Turns out the name of your town, Teaneck, is of unknown origin, according to wikipedia, though the Dutch and Native Americans have each been blamed.

            Then I remembered I had an uncle who used to live in Tenafly, so I looked it up. According to wikipedia, it turns out “the name “Tenafly” itself is derived from the early-modern Dutch phrase “Tiene Vly” or “Ten Swamps” which was given by Dutch settlers in 1688.”

            Ten Swamps! Now that’s the Jersey we New Yorkers prefer to imagine!

            As it’s Christmas, or very nearly, I would like to give you a present, actually two. This, for me, is soul music of the highest order. Enjoy!

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            • Well, that’s some great horn-playing in both clips. Thanks!

              Yes, some unusual Dutch or Native American names in Bergen County. Hackensack is another. I know Tenafly a bit — participated in a cross-country meet there, or near there, at the regional high school that includes Tenafly students. And, going back to music, Lesley Gore was raised in (ha!) Ten Swamps — one of which may have been given to Creedence Clearwater Revival for their “Born on the Bayou” song.

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  2. Spoiler alert – this comment will have little, if anything, to do with this week’s blog. But I felt like a bit of a ramble, and I don’t think Dave would mind too much, or at least would be too polite to say anything if he DOES mind…

    Sadly, I have spent the last four weeks forcing myself through the second of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” books. Now I know everybody is different, and people enjoy different things for different reasons, but for me, it was just 700 pages of pain. Implausible characters doing implausible things, and badly written to boot! But I finally got to the end, which happened exactly how I’d predicted, and I decided I needed to treat myself, so I’m again re-reading Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. I read the first book in one day and enjoyed it SO much despite it being at least the fourth time I’ve read it. Some ways that it *almost* fits into this week’s topic: while the first volume of “The Dark Tower” wasn’t a debut novel, it was one of King’s earlier stories. It’s not even a little bit autobiographical, but it does feature Stephen King as a character, which is kind of weird. Not fish out of water – but New York locals do find themselves ripped out of NY. Finally, “The Dark Tower” is multicultural in places which is causing all sorts of internet angst about the casting of the upcoming movie.

    Like everybody who comments here, I have a quite lengthy TBR list, however I have decided to deviate from it over Christmas (in case the nearly 4000 pages of “Dark Tower” re-read wasn’t deviation enough!) and read either “The Brothers Karamazov” or “Three Wishes”. I read “Crime and Punishment” last year and have fallen in love with Dostoyevsky, and think it might make a great Christmas tradition to read him each summer. Liane Moriarty is topping all sorts of lists in Australia at the moment, and has been recommended to me by commenters here, so I’d also like to give her a shot. Maybe I’ll do both…

    Oh, and there’s a grenade or two in “The Dark Tower” as well!!

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    • Wow, Sue — you threaded references to a number of the 10 themes I mentioned in my post. Impressive. 🙂

      Sorry the second “Outlander” book was such a slog. Though I haven’t read “The Dark Tower” series, virtually every Stephen King novel I HAVE tried has been compulsively readable. Maybe the only exception was “Cell,” which didn’t get good reception from me…

      Good luck with either your Liane Moriarty or Dostoyevsky reading! As I think we’ve discussed, “Crime and Punishment” is riveting from start to finish (you know that), while “The Brothers Karamazov” is more uneven. But the good parts of “TBK” — and there are many — are magnificent. Too bad Dostoyevsky died before writing the next two novels in the trilogy that “TBK” was supposed to be the first book of.

      As for your last line, well, there must be a “Grenades R Us” store near some authors…

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  3. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are some other novels that fit into the above ten categories? —

    Your blog post about Nobel Prize in Literature recipients (“Novelists and Other Nobel-Nabbing Names,” Aug. 7, 2016: http://bit.ly/2ieZ3Bg) led me to count the number of prize-winning authors with whom I am familiar (36), and your blog post about Pulitzer Prize recipients in either the Fiction (1948-2016) or the Novel (1918-1947) categories here similarly led me to count the number of prize-winning books in these classifications with which I am familiar (16).

    Excluding John Cheever’s “The Stories of John Cheever” (1979) because it is not a novel but a collection of short stories, three novels already mentioned by you and four novels best unmentioned by me, my Elite Eight favorites among the Sweet 16 are as follow:
    • E. Annie Proulx’s “The Shipping News” (1994).
    • John Updike’s “Rabbit at Rest” (1991).
    • William Kennedy’s “Ironweed” (1984).
    • John Updike’s “Rabbit Is Rich” (1982).
    • John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces” (1981).
    • James Agee’s “A Death in the Family” (1958).
    • Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea” (1953).
    • Thornton Wilder’s “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” (1928).

    — Any thoughts about Michener books you may have read, as well as his authorial abilities in general? —

    I enjoyed James A. Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” when I came across it early in the last quarter of the last century of the last millennium, but it did not cause me to do a deep dive into his oeuvre, so I am completely ignorant of his other novels. However, I greatly appreciated late last year his “Foreword” in W.S. Kuniczak’s translation of Henryk Sienkiewicz’s masterly Trilogy — “With Fire and Sword,” “The Deluge” and “Fire in the Steppe” — whose second book appears to have been especially helpful to Michener while he was researching his own “Poland.” The admirable Michener’s generosity does not seem to have been limited to his philanthropy. Nice!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

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      • — You are VERY well-read, J.J.! —

        Compared to the average bear, yes. Compared to either my friend CK One or you, not so much.

        — I’ve gotten to four of your pre-March Madness “Elite Eight,” and admired them all. —

        Based on my eidetic memory — I mean, idiotic memory — I am guessing the four you have read are “Ironweed,” “A Confederacy of Dunces,” “A Death in the Family” and “The Old Man and the Sea.”

        (Meanwhile, I was happy to see this week your billboarding of the “Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers” publication window: Looking forward to it!)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, J.J.!

          Hopefully the average bear at least reads food labels when scavenging garbage pails. So much added sodium…

          Very close — you got three of four! I haven’t read “A Death in the Family” but have read “The Bridge of San Luis Rey.”

          As for my book (thanks for mentioning it!), I’m using a self-publishing company that estimates a possible release date in February 2017. The manuscript is being copy-edited now. After working on the dang thing on and off since 2011, I’m very relieved it’s (mostly) done.

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          • — Hopefully the average bear at least reads food labels when scavenging garbage pails. —

            Please be advised that here in the heavenly precincts of Hell’s Kitchen — frozen over at present, by the way — the average bear much prefers pic-a-nic baskets over garbage pails.

            — Very close — you got three of four! —

            And this is why I have not been chosen to be a contestant on “Jeopardy.”

            — As for my book (thanks for mentioning it!), I’m using a self-publishing company that estimates a possible release date in February 2017. —

            I am marking my Calendar now!

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            • Ha, J.J.! Manhattan is a (the?) capital of good eating!

              I think you would do VERY well on “Jeopardy.” Have you tried out, or whatever the process is?

              Hopefully February for the book, but it could of course end up being March or later. Which brings us back to the aforementioned March Madness…

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              • — I think you would do VERY well on “Jeopardy.” Have you tried out, or whatever the process is? —

                Nope. So this is another reason why I have not been chosen to be a contestant on that game show.

                — Hopefully February for the book, but it could of course end up being March or later. —

                I am adjusting my Calendar alerts accordingly.

                Liked by 1 person

                  • Dave and J.J, I don’t know if either of you still watch Jeopardy on a regular basis or at all, but I’ve been following the latest shows religiously, as I’ve been captivated by the story of Cindy Stowell who taped shows back in August that are now finally airing this month. She had stage 4 colon cancer when she first tried out as a contestant, with the hopes of earning at least $100,000, which she wanted to donate to cancer research. When I first started watching her shows, I (as everyone other than a very few did) wondered just how far she would go, knowing that she died on December 5th before her shows aired. She was a great champion, winning 6 shows, very calmly and intelligently. Last night was her last one, which she lost by $3,000; but she did meet her goal of over $100,000. I was weepy through the whole show, especially at the end when Alex did a short “In Memorium” segment. To be so brave to go through the grueling process of taping so many shows in one or two days, especially since she was on pain killers and had a blood infection/fever going on. I’m truly in awe of what she accomplished.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Kat Lib, I used to watch “Jeopardy” once in a while, but not for years. I did hear about that gravely ill contestant — such a wonderful, courageous thing she did before her tragic death. It must indeed have been an intense experience to watch the shows she was in. Fantastic that she met her money-raising goal!

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                    • Howdy, Kat Lib!

                      — I’ve been captivated by the story of Cindy Stowell who taped shows back in August that are now finally airing this month. —

                      Although I have not been a dedicated follower of “Jeopardy” fashion since the days of Art Fleming, I remain a faithful online reader of multiple newspapers, including the New York “Daily News,” where I first learned a couple of weeks ago of the unusual circumstances surrounding Cindy Stowell’s initial appearance on the show. Of course, the “News” was not in a position at that time to report that she was a six-time champion, which is a pretty remarkable achievement. If one has to advance to Absolutely, Positively Final Jeopardy, then one could do worse than to go out such a winner.

                      J.J.

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                    • Dave, one the clues from the show the other night (after Cindy’s run) was something about this person (I can’t remember what), but up popped a picture of our favorite “sleep expert,” AH. I was glad that none of the contestants knew who she was (sorry, that sounds petty, doesn’t it?).

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  4. Great presentation of how Michner’s work covers a lot of territory. Tales is one that I haven’t read but will be looking for at the library. In years past I was on a Michner kick and read several as they came out. I usually skipped his first historic/geographic section. Then I read Centenial from page one and learned that a beaver who died in another geologic age played an important part in the current story. What a sneaky way to get us to learn our history!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, energywriter!

      I love the way historical fiction can teach us history — entertainingly. Anyone reading your comment will certainly be intrigued by how that long-gone animal affected things.

      I will definitely try Michener again — one of his “epics.”

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  5. Thanks for this column, Dave, and I’m delighted you’ve now been introduced to James Michener! I read “Tales” a very long time ago and need to re-read it. It actually was the first Michener work I read, and I went on to read many of his historical epics … I believe I’ve read “The Source” at least four times. It introduced the Middle East to me in a way that prompted me to follow up with Thomas Friedman’s excellent book “From Beirut to Jerusalem” which I think should be required reading for every member of Congress. I think I read “Tales of the South Pacific” because I was a musical theater buff and was curious about the background material for the musical (which also won a Pulitzer Prize, by the way). This was before I began directing musicals, and the musicals I loved most to direct were those rooted in literature.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome, Susan, and thanks for being one of the people recommending Michener!

      Historical epics, and historical fiction in general, are often a great/entertaining way to learn about the past — and, from what I’ve heard, Michener was a master at that genre. Some nonfiction history books almost read like novels, but others can be on the dry side.

      There are indeed a number of books, by Michener and others, that should be required reading for members of Congress. They could only help expand the minds of that mostly sorry bunch.

      I can see why you liked musicals rooted in literature during your theater-directing career. That kind of musical can definitely have an added dimension. Heck, there was so much to Michener’s “Tales of the South Pacific” that the famous “South Pacific” musical only used a small portion of the novel.

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  6. I wonder how “Tales of the South Pacific” compares to “Islands in the Stream” by Ernest Hemingway? I haven’t read “Tales of the South Pacific”, so I’m just guessing.

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    • And I haven’t read “Islands in the Stream,” lulabelle, so I can’t compare, either. 🙂

      The “exotic” settings in “Tales of the South Pacific” reminded me a bit of W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Moon and Sixpence,” the end of (Ms.) Lionel Shriver’s “So Much for That,” and Herman Melville’s “Typee” and “Omoo.”

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  7. I’ve read some of Michener’s books and enjoyed them all. To name a few, I’ve read “The Source”, “Centennial”, “Chesapeake”, “Texas”, and “Space”. While writing “Space”, Michener visited Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. However, I wasn’t lucky enough to meet him. One of the sentences from the book sticks with me – “The future of the space program was entrusted to a bunch of cotton pickers from Alabama.” I was one of those cotton pickers.

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      • Typo fixed!

        You’ve read a LOT of Michener, Mary. I can see how “Space” must have been a particular thrill, given your work in that area. Sorry you weren’t able to meet Michener during his visit to Marshall Space Flight Center.

        I loved the way you segued from Michener’s quote to your comment’s last line!

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        • lulabelle, I was looking at my to-read list this morning, and just realized that earlier this year or last year you were among the people to recommend James Michener. So I edited my “credit” comment near the bottom to add your screen name. Sorry I didn’t include you when I first posted the column.

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  8. While I’m on a comment tear, I was somehow sent an email from “Daily Kos,” today that seems to be what I’ve been looking for when it comes to comments on leftist/Democratic issues. One of the links provided was to the Nobel Prize ceremony and Patti Smith singing “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fail,” on behalf of Dylan. She was doing great until the 2nd or 3rd verse when she forgot the lyrics, which she asked to have a do-over. I was in tears, and she was absolutely great for the rest of the song. I still think Leonard Cohen was as deserving, but they are both so wonderful it’s hard to pick a favorite.

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      • I hav`nt watched the clip or payed any attention but now I should find it and watch. Patti Smith is awesome and she did a great service to all representing Bob Dylan who could not attend. I love his lyrics when others sing because I don`t understand a word of what he sings and he is not musical either.

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        • Well said, bebe! As has been discussed before, people who have sung Dylan-written tunes (Patti Smith, Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds, etc.) usually do a better job of it than the often-unintelligible Dylan. I’m still annoyed that he didn’t bother going to the Nobel ceremony.

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              • I used to work for a very famous singer/songwriter. When I met him, he’d been a music celebrity for four decades. The wariness was the first thing I noticed about him, a product of the fact that for forty years nearly everybody he met had a great idea for him or his money or his time. Wore him out as a social being, and as a result, he does not enjoy a reputation as an engaging personality– because he isn’t one.

                The frenzy of renown cuts both ways.

                I’ve never met Bob Dylan, and I admire him more than I enjoy him– degustibus, etc.

                But working for a man of close-to-equal fame opened my eyes a bit. Like the fellow says, walk a mile in my shoes– but for most of us, the pressure and pulling and the feeling of always being on display is something we could not imagine, especially over many decades.

                I remember, while in the songwriter’s employ, seeing a cardboard box in a corner office with the year’s date on it. It was labeled “sorry no’s”. Turned out there was a box for every year like that one, filled letters from charities and fans and promoters and on and on and on– to which his secretary had written a letter or regret– a “sorry, no.”

                And this a celebrity known for charity work and financial support of worthy causes– but there only so many days in a year, and so many hours in a day.

                Dylan may well have been sweet enough at twenty, but time has likely worn him down. Nowadays, in the words of Sam Goldwyn, you’ve got to take the bitter with the sour.

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                • You eloquently offered a perspective very much worth thinking about, jhNY. I guess many mega-celebrities DO get weary of all the pulls on their fame, time, and money. But an invitation to accept a Nobel Prize in person is not someone begging for a charity donation or something. I think even someone as jaded and defensive as Dylan could have let his guard down for THAT! 🙂

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                  • It’s an honor that I agree he might have handled with far more grace– BUT then consider: It looks to me like a portion of the Nobel folks’ consideration revolved around an attempt to make themselves seem more relevant and responsive to modern culture. In other words, Dylan was chosen in part to make the Nobel Prize look good, and part, the biggest part in all likelihood, to honor Dylan. Maybe he didn’t like being in the way of the committee patting itself on the back. Of course, I can’t know this– it’s just a guess.

                    The relentless volume of everybody’s interest in the things you could do for each other– including very many good things– I think after a while fatigue sets in, and perspective tightens up, and in Dylan’s case, it has tightened too much to include the Nobel ceremony. A half-century is a long time in the limelight.

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                    • jhNY, there may be something to that — Dylan not wanting to participate in what could be partly a Nobel committee publicity grab. (But perhaps a tad ironic to pick Dylan as someone relevant to modern culture. He’s certainly relevant and VERY influential in a way, but also practically a dinosaur in the world of music…the half-century-plus you mentioned.)

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  9. Hi Dave, I didn’t think I had much to offer on this column at first. I mentioned that my father loved reading those very long novels, especially “The Source.” The only one I really remember was “The Drifters,” about young folks traveling around Europe and Northern Africa, around the same time I was doing the same in Europe. However, I went to the Wikipedia page about him and realized that he was born in one of my old (but fairly recent) stomping grounds, Doylestown, PA, as well as having died where my alma mater was, the University of Texas at Austin. He also graduated from Swarthmore College, near where I live, and taught at the Hill School in Pottstown, PA, that I also lived near here and in the early 1990’s. I knew Pearl Buck was from this area, but I didn’t realize (or forgot) Michener was so tied to here as well. I don’t think I ever read “Tales from the South Pacific,” but I certainly remember the film, and the revival Broadway play of same was the last one I saw before I couldn’t attend them any longer. Very interesting connections to where I now live!

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    • Hi, Kat Lib! That’s an impressive number of Michener connections you have! Thanks for sharing them.

      One of these days I’ll read one of his later, longer novels, which he apparently researched a LOT. Amazing he was able to write so many lengthy books.

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    • Sorry, but I forgot to mention in my previous comment, about your comparison of “Olive Kitteridge,” as a Pulitzer Prize winner to “Tales of the South Pacific,” which was extremely good. You also mentioned Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” which absolutely terrified me. I once lived in a rental twin home in the middle of a cornfield in Bucks County, PA. I was on the phone with my parents one Sunday morning in the autumn, when I looked out and the entire property was completely taken over by “the birds,” and scared me to death!.

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      • Yikes, Kat Lib — your own personal, almost-Maurierist-Hitchcockian experience!

        Connected short stories-as-novels can be quite interesting. Another favorite in that format is Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.” I guess Ray Bradbury’s great “The Martian Chronicles” sort of fits into that category, too.

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        • Dave, I agree with you about “The Martian Chronicles.” Thanks for the link you sent me of Patti Smith, Bruce & U2, which did work! I was able to find another version, which must have been the actual televised clip from the show, and they all sounded so much better.:) I’ve already become a major Patti Smith fan. If you get a chance, you might want to look on YouTube for a performance of hers from the “Democracy Now!” anniversary telecast from earlier this month. She does two songs of hers, “The Peaceable Kingdom” and “Power to the People,” with Michael Stipe (from REM, which you probably know) briefly doing some of the backing vocals. Sorry, I didn’t mean to hijack the comments from your column about Michener, but I’ve been so engaged with digging through my CDs and watching YouTube clips the past few days, it’s been hard to focus on books or much else. I had a long phone conversation this evening with my best friend who lives in Durham (who’s the biggest fan of Springsteen that I know) mostly about music and musicians. She informed me that Patti Smith has a Philly connection as well as Michener– she grew up in Germantown (a section of the city) and then Deptford Twp., NJ.
          As for the gray hair, several of the clips I’ve watched of Smith, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, and even Michael Stipe have gray hair, so I’ve definitely been feeling my age (especially since I don’t “get” most of today’s pop music). I gave up dyeing my hair when I went on SS disability, as it was the first thing that came to mind when scaling back my expenses. Fortunately, most people ask me if my hair is natural or the work of a professional hair stylist (who told me she couldn’t reproduce it even if she tried. Gee, what just popped in my head was the supposed Shakespearean quote “Vanity, thy name is woman,” I find isn’t even correct; it’s actually “Frailty, thy name is woman,” from Hamlet).

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          • Kat Lib, I’m glad the link worked for that rather ragged video, and that you found a better version of it! I’ll try to watch a little more Patti Smith in the next few days. I do like R.E.M. a lot, with two of their CDs in my modest collection. And, yes, Ms. Smith’s upbringing includes the respective states we live in!

            No worries about “hijacking.” 🙂 Interesting tangents are always welcome! It’s perfectly natural to get very interested in certain music for certain periods of time. For me the last few weeks, it’s been the classical-rock band Renaissance, which had its heyday in the 1970s.

            Members of the bands we grew up with definitely have gray hair today, unless they dye it. Michael Stipe now has quite the beard, too, a la the post-retirement David Letterman.

            Shakespeare seems to have a quote about almost everything, doesn’t he? 🙂

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            • Dave, I was amused, as well as gratified after all my references to her in the last 3 columns (including this one), that Joan Baez is going to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It seems that the HOF has been considered something of a joke by people, but hey, if they’re going to induct hip-hop/rappers, then she certainly qualifies in my book!

              Liked by 1 person

              • You have every reason to smile and feel gratified, Kat Lib! Great news that Joan Baez will be inducted, and that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems to be expanding its views on what singers, bands, and musical genres are deserving. (I was also happy to hear that Yes finally made the cut — an absolutely brilliant band of virtuoso musicians in its 1970s heyday.)

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          • Oh thanks for ‘this Kat Lib, no I missed this one. I have also become once again a big supporter of her music . I am so glad she still has her powerful yet melodious voice, simply love listening to her. Sadly I don’t have any of her CDs and these days they are becoming obsolete. I love listening to them we have serround system in our home and when alone I crank up the volume.
            Actually as I just mentioned to Dave, there is a memoir available from last year.

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            • bebe and Dave, here’s a funny anecdote my girlfriend (who grew up with me in Philly) was telling me the other night about Patti. She and some of her North Carolina friends were watching some sort of program that included an interviewer asking Patti who she considered her greatest influence, and she answered Bertie the Bunyip. Her friends were all confused as to who this singer or band was, but my friend fell on the floor laughing, because probably only someone of our age that grew up here would know:
              “Bertie the Bunyip was the lead puppet character on the popular American children’s television series The Bertie the Bunyip Show in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the 1950s and 60s.He was portrayed as a black-colored seal-looking character with a duck-bill-type face. For children he was cute and friendly, getting into harmless situations.) 🙂

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                    • Ha! By the way, I just listened to 3 songs of Renaissance – “Mother Russia, “Carpet of the Sun,” and “Northern Lights,” and I have to say, Wow! When you mentioned them to me, it triggered a memory from the late 70s or early 80s, when I heard them for the first time on a special concert on some radio station and loved it, but in those days I didn’t have the discretionary funds to pay for too many albums, so they dropped off my radar. I love both classical and folk, as well as rock music, which their music incorporates into their distinctive sound. And Annie Haslam’s voice is so very exquisite. So thanks for that, Dave. Is there one CD that you’d recommend above others (if they still are being sold out there) ?

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                    • So glad you enjoyed revisiting Renaissance, Kat Lib! Their music really HAS aged well, and, you’re right that Annie Haslam’s voice is incredible. Also, the band’s bassist and keyboard players were virtuosos, and the acoustic guitarist (Michael Dunford) wrote most of the music (along with non-band-member lyricist Betty Thatcher).

                      The CD I’d most recommend (available on Amazon — I just checked!) is their “Live at Carnegie Hall” double album, which includes “Mother Russia,” “Carpet of the Sun,” and several other short and longer songs. The two longest ones (“Ashes Are Burning” and “Song of Scheherazade”) run about 25 minutes apiece, and are amazing.

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                    • I’m not sure where this comment will be posted, but I went onto B&N’s website today, and found “Renaissance Live at Carnegie Hall,” which is now sitting in my shopping cart just waiting for the gift card to arrive so I can get it for free. There were so many different reissues of it (and prices), especially when comparing to Amazon’s offerings. However, free is free, so hopefully the remastered import from Germany will be as good or better than most. I think the song I heard on a radio show a long time ago must have been one of the longer ones like “Scheherazade” or “Ashes are Burning.” I went on Wikipedia to look up the band and good heavens, I couldn’t believe how many iterations of this group there have been. It was making me dizzy just looking at them and the timeline. I see there is a CD called “Blessings in Disguise,” that is noted as more of a solo recording by Annie Haslim. Is that worthwhile to order, do you think?

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                    • Free is good, Kat Lib! I’m guessing that reissue of “Live at Carnegie Hall” will be fine.

                      Yes, Renaissance went through countless changes — way too many! But the best lineup was the one that stayed together from roughly 1971 to 1980, and “Live at Carnegie Hall,” originally released in 1976, featured that version of the band at its absolute peak. Annie Haslam still fronts the band today, but none of the other members are from the 1970s. Unfortunately, two of those ’70s members have died. I’ve seen a couple of YouTube videos from recent years, and time (as it will to everyone) has affected Haslam’s voice somewhat.

                      I’ve only heard one or two solo songs by her, and wasn’t that impressed. But I might have heard the wrong ones! 🙂 So I can’t say what “Blessings in Disguise” is like.

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          • Perhaps you’d enjoy reading a bit o’ poesy on vanity, from Ezra Pound, Canto LXXXI:

            The ant’s a centaur in his dragon world.
            Pull down thy vanity, it is not man
            Made courage, or made order, or made grace,
            Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down.
            Learn of the green world what can be thy place
            In scaled invention or true artistry,
            Pull down thy vanity,
            Paquin pull down!
            The green casque has outdone your elegance.

            “Master thyself, then others shall thee beare”
            Pull down thy vanity
            Thou art a beaten dog beneath the hail,
            A swollen magpie in a fitful sun,
            Half black half white
            Nor knowst’ou wing from tail
            Pull down thy vanity
            How mean thy hates
            Fostered in falsity,
            Pull down thy vanity,
            Rathe to destroy, niggard in charity,
            Pull down thy vanity,
            I say pull down.”

            Well, perhaps ‘enjoy’ isn’t the word I should have employed…

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              • Thanks (I think!) for this. I was actually amazed about how many quotes have been made about vanity. Perhaps because it’s a word that I don’t hear often any longer?

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                • I’m guessing you haven’t spent much time lately in furniture stores, as there, ironically, vanity, in table form, is available with or without mirror. Most customers nowadays insist on the mirror. Pretty sure the Kardashian model is entirely composed of mirror.

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                    • Dave, you and jhNY are both so funny, or I should say, witty, on top of being so knowledgeable about books, music, and other interesting things. I got a surprise last night of several more gift cards to B&N, so I ordered the Renaissance CD, a CD with “Horses” and another Patti Smith classic album, her memoir “Just Kids,” and two other well-recommended memoirs from this year (“When Breath Becomes Air” and “Dog Medicine”). In anticipation of my next gift card, I’ve put Smith’s 2nd memoir “M Train” into my cart. It got very good reviews, and I was sold when I read that she talks about her fondness for detective shows. In case I don’t reply to another comment, Happy Holidays to you and you family!

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                    • Thank you, Kat Lib. 🙂

                      Nice that you got several gift cards and have been using them for some great purchases! I’d be interested in hearing what you think of the Renaissance CD after you have a listen!

                      Very Happy Holidays to you as well! (I’ll still be posting a new column Sunday night despite it being Christmas Day.)

                      Like

      • Something sorta similar happened to me 50 years ago on a canoe trip. As we passed close by the face of an overhanging cliff, the cliff erupted in angry birds, swallows I think, given the nests I saw, many directing themselves at high speed at our heads. Had to duck down into the bottom the canoe until we drifted past. Took about 15 seconds– but as you might imagine, seemed longer! Couldn’t understand their upset– after all, I look nothing like Tippi Hedrin.

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        • Well, jhNY, I must say that at the time I had blonde hair, was 5’6″ to Tippi’s 5’5″, and of Scandinavian descent who lived for a time in Minnesota, so you can understand my terror!

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            • Very funny as usual, but it took me a few minutes to understand your reference, which is to Tippi ‘s being an animal rights activist with a special interest in African lions. Yes, as it turns out, I didn’t even have a kitty cat at that time, my current kitty would probably not be any protection at all, because she doesn’t seem to even notice all the birds in my yard lately since I put up a few bird feeders.

              And yes, you’re right about the bathroom vanity cabinets, of which I now have two (with mirrors!), but in talking about the original meaning of the word vanity, I think today people are more likely to use one of the latest buzzwords: “narcissism.”

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              • I was but making jokes re vanity, and with my Hedren ref.

                But then I looked up vanity in wikipedia and saw its evolution, itself interesting:

                “Vanity is the excessive belief in one’s own abilities or attractiveness to others. Prior to the 14th century it did not have such narcissistic undertones, and merely meant futility.”

                As in Ozymandias, that futility, I’d say. Or Peter, 1:24: “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.”

                ‘Narcissism’ is a Freudian coinage, according to wikipedia:

                “Narcissism is the pursuit of gratification from vanity or egotistic admiration of one’s own attributes….Narcissism is a concept in psychoanalytic theory, which was popularly introduced in Sigmund Freud’s essay On Narcissism (1914).”

                Like much in Freud, it derives from a classical allusion, Greek, involving a boy with too much time for reflection, and a pond.

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                • Yes, I remember the Greek myth, having read a lot of their mythology, as well as the Romans’ (Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”). I read about “narcissism” again back six or so years ago, when I couldn’t understand how my supposed “BFF” was acting so selfishly towards me when I became disabled, as though I should be the grateful one for her deigning to allow me to be her best friend. That’s when I first read about Freud’s coinage, but the “Vanity is the excessive belief in one’s own abilities or attractiveness to others” was also applicable to our lopsided friendship. That’s when I got out of a very unhealthy relationship. Sorry to bring such personal issues into our discussion, but hey, it’s that time of year that brings about reflections to such things. Happy Holidays to you as well, jhNY and your wife!

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                  • Happy Holidays to you, Kat Lib!

                    Ovid’s Metamorphosis is a book that from its creation till today has never been in danger of being lost to the ravages of time. It is, apart from Bible passages I’d guess, the text most copied and passed around by monks throughout the Dark and Middle Ages. My favorite translation, probably because it was my first time reading Ovid, is Rolfe Humphries’. I own Ted Hughes’ also, but haven’t taken to it as I’d hoped. I aspire to own Golding’s version, of which I have read a few passages, but, to date, I have never run across one in my travels.

                    As for that narcissism biz– ouch. I am glad you made your way past that relationship.

                    Here’s hoping for a wonderful 2017!

                    Liked by 1 person

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