Tag Archives: book reviews

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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‘A Journal of the Plague Year’, by Daniel Defoe – review

A Journal of the Plague YearA Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The biblical cyclicity of history proclaims that what is happening now happened before because there’s no new thing under the sun. As I agree with the cyclical history theory, I prefer stories that confirm the continuity of human nature, which results in this felicitous book I came across on the Kindle store. The precedent epidemic scares and the response to them in Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, a classic 1722 account of the Black Death that devastated England from 1664 to 1665, do not read no less different than ours. Defoe’s recounting of the plague successfully resurrects the spirit of the epoch as his narrator guides the reader to the places and scenes of the seismic event in the capacity of a charitable and knowledgeable guardian of posterity, making them surprisingly familiar with ours.

It is a literary eye-witness account of what happened during the resurgence of the bubonic plague that had ravaged Europe hundreds of years earlier in the semblance of a nonfiction narrative. Even though Defoe was only five years old when the plague swept England, his fictional narrator feels very real and the account telltale as though it had been written it in the spirit of Veni Vidi Vici. So much so that the story seems more veritable than the counterpart of Samuel Pepys, whose narrative feels comparatively prosaic without the personal charm of the narrator. The reader will also learn that the 17th-century modus operandi of dealing with a pandemic is not that far from the current 21st-century preventive measures of social distancing, personal hygienic disciplines, and other relevant systematic societal restrictions.

Defoe holds up a mirror to his posterity that shows what it was like during the epidemic scare and what the people from days of yore did to sail through such calamity as a wise and warm advisor to our current global pandemic situations. In fact, while I was reading the book, I was surprised by how similar the cautious measures decreed by the authority were then to our own now. In my opinion, this book replaces Boccaccio’s The Decameron as a must-read during the pandemic, because of its power of reality drawn on empirical oral accounts so close to the lives of the ordinary folk that we can relate to our own time.

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‘Fairies: A Dangerous History’, by Richard Sugg – review

Fairies: A Dangerous HistoryFairies: A Dangerous History by Richard Sugg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are classes of spiritual beings according to the races of the supernatural world that humans have arbitrarily defined with ostentatious pedanticism. For we treat the otherworldly guests of honors, such as archangels, angels, principalities, vampires, werewolves, trolls, big-foots, and even extraterrestrial aliens with awe-inspiring reverence. In contrast, fairies are regarded as sort of the underclass, juvenile guests reluctantly invited to a terrific festival of supernatural beliefs. Such spectral discrimination, argues author Richard Sugg in his Fairies: A Dangerous History, results from the fact that unlike demons, angels, and other ethereal beings of educated Christianity, fairies are in want of respectful scholarship codifying their existence and nature, cultural influence on arts and literature, and spiritual elements of faith/belief traditions in lettered authority.

The book is a meta treatise on why the author himself believes in the existence of the belittled mystical beings. Sugg takes us to the remotest area in Shetland to listen to a nonagenarian man whose vivid memories about fairy sights are amusing. Thenceforth, the author brings the readers to the fantastic feasts of fairies as seen and described by William Shakespeare and Edmund Spencer as the rulers of the Vegetable Kingdom in their Elysium of poetic fancy,. Sugg keeps us hooked on pages after pages filled with his magic spells of words because he sees and believes in fairies with their own dangerous history. It is dangerous because the truth about them is theologically reasonable, spiritually potent, culturally dominant, and physically palpable.

In sum, this book is one fascinating account of fairies that serves the author’s purpose of educating and entertaining readers. The book is filled with the glamour spells of the erudition of the author. This book is something of the authorial account of the Fairy Folk.

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