Category Archives: book review

From the top of Mount Sinai to the shore of the Planet: ‘Charlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon’, by Marc Eliot – book review

Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last IconCharlton Heston: Hollywood’s Last Icon by Marc Eliot

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The movie stars, along with other celebrities whose livelihood is predicated on physical attributes, are not my usual figures of admiration. A biography or a memoir of personality, especially a film star, with an ostentatious narrative of “Rag-To-Riches” or “Angst-to Enlightenment,” is not a read I delve into, nor a mental pacifier to appease revolting boredom. In consideration of those mentioned above, it is a deviation from my staple reading sustenance that I read this biography of Charlton Heston by Marc Eliot to my liking and that I resolved to write about it to my surprise. After all, who would have resisted reading the elevated version of the Vanity Fair offering insightful glimpses into a story of the epochal screen face in the backstage?

Charlton Heston (1923-2008) was an American actor whose impressive performances as Moses in “The Ten Commandments” and “Ben-Hur” conferred upon him armigerous status in the show business. But do not let the screen persona cloud his real-life persona as the author, a close confidante of the Hestons skillfully and fluidly relates in the book. Heston was a smart businessman, as well as a controversial figure whose political stance shifted from democratic liberalism to republican conservatism as he rode along the crest of tidal waves of time. It was Heston’s modus vivendi in adhering to his set of values and principles in the ethos of times that he believed would keep him alive and purposeful until his sense and faculty of mind would permit him. He had a reasonable degree of the screen star paranoid, which dictated the livelihood and selfhood.

In addition to the life of the Hollywood titan, the intelligence about the movie business, the cast, and behind-the-curtain tidbits related to the films Heston starred is a bonus gem of the book. For example, the reason that the west coast became the capital of the movie industry was that Thomas Alba Edison, President of Motion Picture Patents Company, expelled the prurient nickelodeon movies produced mainly by the Jewish moguls from New Jersey and New York. There is more to it. Orson Wells’s chronic bouts of erratic behaviors; Sophia Lauren’s general tardiness on sets; and Richard Harris’s perspective on Heston as being irrevocably stuck-up are amusing introspection on the personas of actors and actresses that do not seem too surprising. I believe that they played off the gleam of their real personalities in the guise of the fictional characters on screen.

This book is a comprehensive, well-written book that tells about the star of the silver screen whose roles in the movies are so monumentally remarkable that his tale of life is worthier than any of Hollywood scandals or paparazzi pictures showing celebs in lousy appearance. The contained passion from the phosphorescence of his blue eyes, the arduousness of his forward chin, and the powerful torso made Heston as the perfect Pygmalion that even the most stubborn director cannot oversee or denigrate. He was one of the few actors whose laconic flatness worked up internal aspects of the characters through voice and a minimum of gestures that did not come across as a flamboyant flair of or a lack of method acting. For this reason alone, this book is worth reading.

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‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories From the Sketch Book’, by Washington Irving – review

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories From the Sketch BookThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories From the Sketch Book by Washington Irving

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Washington Irving is more of a representative American writer than many contemporary readers, general or academic, wont to think of in spirit and style with an agenda to set the new distinctive culture in Postcolonial America. He is also a forebear of self-indulgent American narrative style in the manner of indolent solipsistic monologue principally via stream of consciousness. Independent of the genre, unpretentious of caliber, Irving is a freelancer writing when he could, not when he should, in the vanguard of American literary pioneers including Robert Waldo Emerson, Henry Thoreau, Herman Melville, and Ernest Hemingway. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Other Stories from The Sketch Book is emblematic of Irving’s unique literary bent that fuses American consciousness’s singularity and the commonality of the universal mind. The book is a fascinating collection of 35 stories written by the curious spirit of whimsical and perceptive observation of people, places, and events – real or imagined, American or international – that grab the reader’s attention without distraction.

Irving is, first and foremost, an engaging raconteur with a dazzling combination of erudition and heart crisscrossing the boundary of time and culture. He is an American version of Homer and Aesop in creating legends in the likeness of truth and anchoring it in reality with ingenious storytelling skills and knowledge drawn on a wealth of letters and original scholarship. To illustrate, the story of “Roscoe” represents a new model author unassuming of his learning and generous of sharing it with the public. “The Art of Bookmaking” is an amusing tale of literary poacher witnessing a fantastic literary masquerade of great writers of all time coming alive in the British Library gallery. Irving criticizes the British intelligentsia’s snobbishness that belittles honest-to-goodness American hospitality toward strangers but extols the joy of British folks in ‘The Inn Kitchen.’ Irving’s admiration of Shakespeare’s natural wit and genius use of the language transcendent of ages and societies is touchy-feely in ‘Stratford-on-Avon’ without blind idolization of the Bard. Besides, Irving’s perspective on American Indians is a heartfelt testimony against sordid mistreatment of them by his civilized proud countrymen without a sanctimonious statement in the selfishness of the lettered case.

Irving’s honest narratives speak of the practical purpose of language of literature, which he tries to attribute to the bedrock of American literature. The social function of language as the active medium of cultural transmission that embeds the amiable and noble feeling of humanity becomes the foundation of Irving’s cultural agenda of establishing unique American culture independent of the old world’s cultural and political authority in consequence of the Revolutionary War. His use of the war exploits inventive thematic elements of folklore and history in the background of a tremendous chaotic break with the Empire via circuitous engagement. In this regard, Robert Waldo Emerson is a direct descendant of Irving to confirm the American literary baptism in the Living Streams of Knowledge that always flows in new, functionary divides.

The book is Irving’s textual testimony to the American literary and cultural independence trying to mark itself in the world’s literature following its seismic detachment from the mother country as if to rebel against the authoritarian upbringing that would stunt the growth of the child. However, contemporary American intelligentsia seems to betray Irving’s advocation of the inclusiveness of language. It’s either too cerebral or overtly esoteric with an excessively complicated play of words that do not consider general readers in mind. Knowledge is free to all, and by the charity of sharing the light of education, the cultural enterprise thrives in the continuation of civilization. Writers are extraordinary because they represent humanity by the medium of words from intellect with a heart across the divide of time. For this reason, this collection of stories defies the encroachments of time, regaling the posterity with the pleasure of vivid storytelling dipped in wit and erudition that is remarkably American in the bliss of eternal youth.

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‘Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History of Lore”, by Thomas White – review

Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and LoreWitches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore by Thomas White

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Edmund Burke’s canonical adage of “Superstition is the religion of the feeble mind” fits the American perspective of witchcraft as well as other supernatural views on the world. No wonder literature and media are chockablock with adolescently burlesque images and sensational accounts of the mysterious phenomena in comparison with the European approach to the subject matter in terms of historical and social contexts. However, Witches of Pennsylvania: Occult History and Lore by Thomas White is an excellent antithesis to the stereotypical American attitude toward the thematic that should merit its place in the history of American civilization. The book is concise in its volume but rich in the spirit that deserves its academic and cultural contribution to the history of the New World.

The book treats the thematic of supernatural accounts of witchcraft and magical folk (the equivalent of the British Cunning Folk) with a sense of respect for the belief tradition held by the Germanic settlers of Pennsylvania and the origins of it in academic approach. Based on his close and observant reading of the multidisciplinary subjects from history to religion, White fills the erudition pages after pages with many unknown historical facts about witchcraft before the infamous Salem witch trial in Massachusetts and the lasting legacy of the supernatural belief still alive among the common folk. The omission of the witchcraft elements found in other cultures, such as African-American and Native-American, is not a supercilious gesture disregarding their values charged with ethnic pride or cultural jingoism. It is to isolate belief tradition in the form of folk magic and witchcraft from a cultural identity of ethnic traits that many people like to associate. Instead, it intends to distinguish it from the established religion that has deeply affected the psyches of the ordinary people, which ultimately has become a folk religion of its own with efficacy.

Whites provides insightful intelligence about the use of folk magic as a sense of control in the world beyond human control. Recourse to supernatural means of relieving the malady of hearts is the last straw a person can think of in a recurring series of losing streaks without jeopardizing his/her self-esteem. The story of Hex Hollow, for example, is the most well-known and representative of the subject matter, manifesting the effects of folk religion on the psyches of the residents in the predominately German-American region. To dismiss the culprits of the case as good-for-nothing superstitious crybabies looking for figures to blame for their unlucky strikes of lives is, therefore, an arrogant display of willful ignorance of the truth about folk religion and its impacts on the psychosomatic functions of individuals. The best illustration of such evidence comes in the form of The Long Lost Friend by one John George Hohman, a German-American Catholic printer, bookseller. It is an impressive collection of herbal remedies, magical healings, and charms that have been known for their potency for years with wide perennial circulation. The book is still going actively available on Amazon.

This book is an excellent read for those craving for academic perspective on witchcraft and magic folk existent in the U.S. without the assistance of parapsychology, paranormal investigators, psychics, and mediums, distinct from the genuine witches, wizards, and hex doctors. It is a collection of supernatural events and narratives recorded in case law and annals of history, told in a plain language comprehensible to eager readers of mysterious knowledge. You will find the book read fast as if you were cast a spell on by its arresting attention and wondrous truths about the existent world we still do not know in its entirety.

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Dokkaebi: the gullible goblin

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Ireful old woodcutter castigating a not so menacing Dokkaebi

The Dokkaebi is a mischievous, playful fairy-like spirit that is equivalent to the western counterparts of leprechauns in capricious temperament and of goblins in formidable appearance. The legend says it that an old broom made out of dried bush clover with bloodstains on will turn into a Dokkaebi, who will hold a spell over the mind of an unfortunate passer-by at night in the field or on the mountain. Befriending with a Dokkaebi can bring you a fortune at a house that he has lived as your protective spirit, but you must live there for precisely ten years only. Otherwise, the Dokkaebi will leave you with the ruins of your fortune and health. There are still people in Korea who believe this belief tradition by offering the Dokkaebi buckwheat cakes, spirited beverages, and steamed pork when they open businesses and move into new houses. Some people even report seeing them when walking alone in the thoroughfares or any lonely path where lights are dim at night between midnight and 4:00 am.

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A Dokkaebi likes to challenge a passer-by with a wrestling match.

The Dokkaebi may seem to possess the caprice and whims natural to fairy-folk. However, it embodies the human characteristics of compassion, selfishness, naivety, shrewdness, durability, and formidableness. The Dokkaebi reflects the pathos of life indelibly embossed in the collective consciousness of the Koreans. They have endured the anfractuous national tragedies and yet maintained their unique language and culture.

Faerie tales often belong to the days of yore before the advents of industrialization, and the fairies are either imaginative creatures or exaggerated figures of fashionably esoteric religions in the west. Still, the Dokkaebi is a living spirit in the minds of the Koreans and has wept and laughed with Koreans.

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A tiger is a Korean totemic animal that can mimic human voices.

P.S. This post is my solipsistic response to #FariytaleTuesday, whose theme for today is the Asian fairies/spirits in folklore. The community is inundated with the wondrous tales of Japan and China but scarcely Korea. Koreans, like the Irish, love to talk and laugh with precious human sentiments, which result in the creation of the Dokkaebi. The Korean culture, as evidenced in the language, is closer to the cultures of the Ural-Altai language family, including the Finnish, the Japanese, the Turkish, the Hungarians, and the Mongolians.  Since there seems to be a scarcity of Korean spirits represented in the tweets, I felt responsible for writing about this playful Korean spirit with human characteristics.

about Emily Bronte

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The 19th century has produced many a scintillating woman writer whose world of imaginations is beautifully interwoven by the gossamer strands of feminine sensibilities and literary sensitivities tinged with a passionate spirit addressing to that of the reader transcendent of times and spaces. Her world is one enchanting realm of the felicity of beauty, the ire of desire, and the tenacity of will in the witchcraft of words. Such a world belongs to no less a writer than Emily Bronte herself, the elder sister of Charlotte Bronte, who was born on the 30th of this month in 1818. This brief essay about Emily Bronte intends to manifest her commendable trait that is deemed inspiring to aspiring writers who feel estranged from the literary cliques that do not see the hidden jewel of their inner worlds.

Educated mainly at home by reading of the books in her father’s library, Emily Bronte was something of an autodidact who was always seen with a book popped open and a notepad on her side while attending her daily chores at home. Her lack of formal schooling due to her weak disposition and introvert nature might have made her a poor speller. Still, her protean imaginations compensated furnished the marvelous world of her ideation carved by alluring latticework for her literary casements to her stories. Her fascinating imaginativeness creates the vivacities of the emotions, real and alive. Emily Bronte is a forerunner of Beat Generation, whose trailblazer Jack Kerouac championed a tenet of a stream of consciousness in writing. Kerouac, whose mother tongue was French, struggling with the English syntax, urged would-be writers to write without grammatical constraints impeding the flow of thought. The editing should come after the birth of an idea, which proceeds the mastery of grammar. In this regard, Jane Austen and Leo Tolstoy, who were also imperfect in grammatical aspects of writing, are in the libertine society of Emily Bronte and Jack Kerouac. They prove that imaginations precede imperialism of grammar.

The lionization of Emily Bronte as an austere, astute literary Titaness in our time, obviates her weakness. It gives her a status infused with intellectual solitude of a learned woman writer and egoistic charge of modern-day celebrity writer. It reminds me of the way William Shakespeare, who was also mostly self-educated, is now revered in the grand fortress of the lofty academia as a figure of cultural and intellectual sophistication denoting one’s social status. So many people adulate the greatness of Emily Bronte and her Wuthering Heights in a simulation of her literary style and the romantic notion of solitude while diminishing her human characteristics that they regard dull and prosaic. She attended the household drudgery and took care of her sickly elderly father even in his peculiar habit of firing guns in the air from the top floor window in the parsonage as a warning to the Luddite civil unrest. Besides, she was not an academically brilliant student during her brief school years in childhood.

I believe that Bronte would feel uncomfortable and discombobulated by such a famous rhapsody of blind admiration without understanding her personality and character that may not appeal to the readers and writers who do not see the beauty of doing simple things in daily life. Emily Bronte was neither Sylvia Plath, a woman of a privileged background whose poetry does not touch the hearts of universal readers, nor Emily Dickinson, a voluntary recluse ensconced in the solitude of leisure. Emily Bronte was an extraordinary writer in the semblance of ordinariness. She possessed imaginativeness that eclipses the brilliance of the other fashionable literary women writers of all ages. That is why her literary world is ao appealing to universal readers and writers, professionals, or amateurs.