Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Blogging Note

Hello, I must be going
I cannot stay
I came to say
I must be going
I'm glad I came
But just the same
I must be going

Thanks, Groucho Marx, for letting me use the lyrics from your song. The words become an easy to use announcement about my forthcoming break from blogging. 

So, friends, until I and my wife feel better, until we’ve completed our move from the coast to mid-Mississippi, and until I find some reasons for restarting the blog, I say, “Hello, I must be going / I cannot stay / I came to say / I must be going / I’m glad I came / But just the same / I must be going.”

Tea for Two

I’m recovering from Mohs and reconstructive surgery on my nose yesterday, and I’m carefully sipping cups of hot tea. Perhaps you will enjoy a cup with me. Read about our shared beverage in the following archived review from BookLoons:

Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West    
by Beatrice Hohenegger
Amazon.com order for
Liquid Jade
by Beatrice Hohenegger
Order:  USA  Can
St. Martin's, 2007 (2007)
* *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

Many years ago, when the late Johnny Carson was the reigning czar of late night television's The Tonight Show, the affable host and his longtime second-banana Ed McMahon performed an occasional routine with a simple premise: McMahon - if I recall correctly - would make reference to something and say that it contained 'Everything you could possibly want to know' about some subject; Carson would top him with some ostensibly humorous though insulting rejoinder, 'Wrong, you are buffalo breath!' And then Carson would proceed to entertain his audience by offering up a number of humorous tidbits based on whatever significant (or insignificant) premise McMahon had just introduced.

Well, with that having been said by way of circuitous introduction, we now have before us a book that would have been absolutely unusable in the well-received Carson-McMahon shtick: Liquid Jade. Its irrelevance for Carson and McMahon, and therefore its real strength and appeal, you see, lies in its exhaustive and entertaining thoroughness. Yes, 'Everything you could possibly want to know' about tea is, in fact, contained in this interesting, new book.

Frankly, I have to admit that I had no idea that there was so much to say about tea. In a book that the publisher calls 'the story of western greed and eastern bliss,' we can trace the entire history of one of the world's most ubiquitous beverages. Read Beatrice Hohenegger's anecdotal history of tea and learn - among many other things - about:

China's discovery of tea's invaluable health properties
The Taoist belief that tea was the elixir of immortality
The English introduction of opium to China in exchange for tea
The tea industry's connections in the 18th century with the practice of slavery
Buddhist Japan's spiritual connections to tea

  Covering everything from the mythical birth of tea to the tea ceremony to the tea bag, and including everything in between by also focusing on tea's relationship to medicine, politics, culture, and religion, Liquid Jade is 'a lively exploration of the world's most consumed beverage - in all its historical and cultural aspects.' So, do yourself a favor and serve up a steaming cuppa for yourself, relax in a comfortable chair, and spend a few hours with this refreshing narrative history.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more NonFiction books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews

Monday, January 15, 2018

Tudors (2013)

January 15, 1535: Henry VIII declares himself head of English Church. 
On the occasion of the anniversary, I offer you the following book review from my archives:

Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I    
by Peter Ackroyd
Amazon.com order for
by Peter Ackroyd
St. Martin's, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book

First things first: Peter Ackroyd's latest offering is the only book you need to read if you want to understand one of the most fascinating periods in English history - the 16th century.

Beginning with an extended focus upon the ruthless Henry VIII (for 40% of the book), touching briefly upon the youthful Edward VI (for barely 10% of the book), looking only momentarily at the abbreviated reign of Lady Jane Grey (the usurper remembered by nearly no one), and focusing far too quickly upon Bloody Mary (another 10% of the book), Ackroyd finishes his presentation with an examination of the powerful Elizabeth's reign (the final 40% of the book).

It must be noted that Ackroyd's overarching theme throughout this book is....

.....Read the rest of my 2013 BookLoons review via this link.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Abraham’s Curse (2008)

Abraham’s Curse: The Roots of Violence in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Bruce ChiltonAmazon.com order for
Abraham’s Curse
by Bruce Chilton
Doubleday, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, e-Book

Let's face it, violence is ubiquitous and persistent throughout human history, and the violent impulse has appeared in many forms, including but not limited to 'a knife thrusting or slashing, punches thrown, a firearm discharged, or an explosion detonated.' Bruce Chilton, author of many scholarly articles and books, including the acclaimed Rabbi Jesus and Mary Magdalene, now offers a fresh and disturbing perspective on violence, the behavior (arguably the unique province of humans) that has been a part of every society, beginning with mankind's earliest primitive beginnings and continuing through the present as a frightening religious conflict threatens to engulf the world.

Chilton begins his persuasive argument in Abraham's Curse - a provocative work of religious scholarship - by offering a powerful analysis of the famous Abraham and Isaac story as it is found in Genesis 22. The story of Abraham's absolute obedience of God's command to sacrifice his innocent son Isaac, as most readers of the story would agree, is one of the most disturbing of all Biblical stories; after all, at least three important issues arise (and remain disturbingly unresolved) in the story. First, readers must confront the question about why God would order Abraham to kill his beloved son (a child who had represented an important covenant between God and his loyal servant Abraham). Second, and perhaps more challenging, readers must deal with the horrifying problem of why Abraham would so willingly and so quickly acquiesce to the bloody sacrifice of a small child. And a third issue arises when we more closely examine the thoroughly unsettling fact that in some interpretations of the ancient story, Abraham actually killed his son.

The Abraham and Isaac story is much more than an idiosyncratic ancient tale of obedience and sacrifice in an early monotheistic society; it is representative of ancient traditions in which sacrifices in the name of religion (even the actual sacrifices of children) were common and accepted practices in societies (which is born out through the author's presentation of anthropological evidence). More significantly....

....Continue reading the rest of my BookLoons review via this link.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Summoned by David, Solomon, and the Holy Bible

First, here is a reprint of my 2006 review from BookLoons:

David and Solomon 
by Israel Finkelstein & Neil Asher Silberman
Amazon.com order for
David and Solomon
by Israel Finkelstein
Free Press, 2006
Reviewed by Tim Davis

David, as every Sunday school child can tell you, was the young fellow who armed himself with a slingshot and some stones, and then he marched out onto the field and killed the Philistine giant Goliath. As an adult, David - as everyone even marginally familiar with the Holy Bible can tell you - went on to become the divinely protected king of ancient Israel. And as serious students of Hebrew scripture (the old testament) can tell you, David was also remarkable for having been a poet, political strategist, conqueror of Jerusalem, protector of the Ark of the Covenant, notorious violator of religious morality, founder of a great dynasty, and ancient precursor to the Christian revision of Davidic traditions.

Students of the Holy Bible also know that Solomon - son of David and the beautiful Bathsheba - succeeded the legendary David and reigned during an era of remarkable peace and prosperity; celebrated in Hebrew scripture as wealthy, wise, and powerful, Solomon - the builder of the magnificent Temple in Jerusalem, the insightful judge, and the author of proverbs - would, through the centuries, become the legendary ruler during 'a golden age of spiritual and material fulfillment that might, one day, be experienced again.'

Those are the apparent facts according to the primary source - the Holy Bible - but what is the truth? Can archeological record and findings; other extra-biblical primary sources (contemporary to David's and Solomon's purported reigns); and post-Davidic records, texts, and commentaries shed any additional (or different) light on the lives of these two iconic figures? Authors Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman - authors of The Bible Unearthed, the fascinating assessment of the Bible's historical accuracy - seek to answer those and other questions in David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible's Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition.

Readers of Finkelstein's and Silberman's exquisitely detailed and persuasively argued narrative may actually be surprised when they discover the real David and Solomon. At the same time, however, Finkelstein's and Silberman's reverential treatment of their subjects in no way interferes with traditional scriptural reading and appreciation of the David and Solomon stories; in fact, Finkelstein (archeologist at Tel Aviv University) and Silberman (archeologist in Belgium, and contributing editor to Archeology magazine) offer an innovative way of reading the Holy Bible which will invite a new appreciation for the ways in which the David and Solomon traditions have enriched Western culture's concepts of freedom, religious values, and political leadership.

David and Solomon is, in fact, not so much a book about who David and Solomon were in ancient Israel, but it is actually the story of what David and Solomon would go on to become (and how they came to be those icons) in our cultural history. Finkelstein's and Silberman's meticulously researched and nicely augmented book (with important appendixes and bibliography) is enthusiastically recommended for anyone who cares at all about Biblical scholarship, Judeo-Christian cultural traditions, and the ways in which myth, legend, history, and faith become ineffably fused in the human psyche; moreover - at the risk of offending someone - David and Solomon is even more highly recommended for anyone who believes that the Holy Bible is the whole story.


And there is this personal postscript:

The Holy Bible summons me. Its stories, personalities, themes, mysteries, and paradoxes fascinate me. If truth might be found anywhere in the world, I suspect great truths are discoverable in that book. Frankly, denominational religions do not much interest me, but the Holy Bible and its spiritual messages do interest me. In fact, with the challenges of life, age, and illness now wearing me down, the Holy Bible makes a lot of sense. 

Tell me: does all of that make sense to you?

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Little Stranger (2009)

The Little Stranger by Sarah WatersAmazon.com order for
Little Stranger
by Sarah Waters
Riverhead, 2009

Formerly a grand estate built in 1733 in Warwickshire, England, Hundreds Hall has been home to the Ayres family for the past few generations, but as the action of The Little Stranger begins in the summer of 1947, Hundreds Hall is surrounded by an 'unkempt landscape,' and it stands as a 'poor neglected house {that has been} quietly sliding into decay.'

When the nearly forty year old narrator, Dr. Faraday, is summoned to the Ayres estate because of an apparently ill servant girl, he remembers having been there with his servant-class mother when he was a young boy thirty years earlier. He distinctly remembers that parts of Hundreds Hall were off-limits to him because of who he was and other areas had 'the feel of a castle dungeon.' That recollection should have been a warning to him about what was about to happen to him during the coming months....

Spectral phenomena, gruesome accidents, and mysterious deaths lead Dr. Faraday to realize that there is indeed something very dangerous going on at the dilapidated estate....

.....Read the rest of my BookLoons review via this link.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

"The World is Too Much with Us" (1807)

Here is "The World is Too Much with Us" (1807) by William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreath├Ęd horn.

And here is my personal postscript:

This Italian sonnet -- with its highly structured meter (iambic pentameter) and rhyme scheme (abba/abba/cdcdcd), somewhat formal diction, classical allusions, and wistful tone -- has long been one of my favorite poems. And in my present circumstances in life, I find special contemporary relevance in Wordsworth's attitude toward the decadence and wastefulness of his era. Moreover, as I now live (at least for a while longer) a stone's throw from the Gulf of Mexico, I read Wordsworth's poem as a reminder that a solitary walk on the beach might be just what I need right now. Perhaps Proteus -- Poseidon's son -- will rise from the surf, change shape, and tell me something about the future. Perhaps Triton -- another of Poseidon's sons -- will summon and entertain me by blowing upon his conch shell. In any case, I ought to wander on the shore and see in Nature a few things that just might make me less forlorn.

Moreover, reading this poem this morning, I remember using it often in syllabi during my 15 years as an adjunct teacher of literature and composition. Then, letting my mind wander, I wonder how I as a feckless fellow from a western Pennsylvania coal-mining town went from gas company ditch digger (as an 18-year old in the early 1960s) to college teacher (as a 54 year old near the end of the 20th century). The many career paths taken in that journey now boggle my mind. Perhaps I will have more to say about that pilgrimage and my multiple careers in upcoming postings.

However, all of this leads me to ask you a couple of questions:

(1) Am I misreading Wordsworth's tone in this poem?
(2) What poets and poems do you turn to when you need to be made "less forlorn"?