Sentenced to Life


  • Author: Clive James (1939)
  • Title: Sentenced to Life
  • Published: 2015
  • Trivia: Born in Sydney Australia James later gained a place at
  • Pembroke College, Cambridge to read English Literature.
  • Trivia: Read this collection for Challenges 2017
  • Trivia:   Deal Me In Challenge  Four of Clubs
  • #DealMeIn2017


  1. These are poems written by the Clive James, Australian author, critic,
  2. broadcaster, poet, translator, memoirist and once chat host on television.
  3. These are poems written by a dying man...
  4. For much of his early life, James was a heavy drinker and smoker.
  5. He recorded in May Week Was in June his habit of filling a hubcap ashtray daily.
  6. He admitted smoking 80 cigarettes a day for a number of years.
  7. Never losing his way with words
  8. ..James described himself as “near to death but thankful for life”
  9. I read these poems just one a day and each one stopped me in my tracks.
  10. Thea Astley wrote (Australian writer) that poetry is
  11. “..the need to express emotions suppressed by the monotony of habit.
  12. I always enjoyed Clive James…his wit, sarcasm and his literary talents.
  13. Knowing he is still able to inspire us during his last years is admirable.
  14. No self-pity just look at life and see what is has given you and
  15. still can give you as long as you take the time to see.
  16. I read one line and think of it daily:
  17. “No bird can touch down in the trees.
  18. Without me seeing them. I count the bees….”

Last thoughts:

  1. I will keep re-reading these poems
  2. ….to convince me how important it is
  3. to live each day as if every day was your last.
  4. This collection of poems  is truly a #MustRead.
  5. I have added some snippets of a few of the poems that linger in my mind:
  • …and to go to bed and still have so much to say
  • On how I came to have so little time.
  • Grasping at straws I bless another day, of having
  • felt no much less than all right.
  • For I could talk for an hour alone on stage
  • And mostly make it up along the way
  • But now when I compose a single page
  • Of double-spaced it takes me half the day
  • But in my mind the fires are dying fast.
  • Breathe through a scarf. Steer clear of the cold air.
  • Think less of love and all that you have lost.
  • You have no future so forget the past

Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Uncategorized


Democracy in America



  1. Tocqueville, a French aristocrat, took it upon himself to describe and explain
  2. …in great detail to his fellow Europeans the American experiment in democracy.
  3. Goals: vol 1 – explains change from aristocratic  –>  democratic
  4. Goals: vol 2 – describes the effects of democracy
  5. Focus:  is an analysis of why
  6. republican representative democracy has succeeded in USA
  7. while failing in so many other places.

Volume 1:

  1. Strong point: This book made me aware of
  2. US national treasure: The Constitution.
  3. I learned  the importance of the Supreme Court!
  4. 9 Judges:  have immense political power
  5. in US that is not found in other countries!
  1. I had no idea of the risks involved with an election year where
  2. there are only 8 Supreme court justices!
  3. What happens if there tie vote in the
  4. …Supreme Court to decide the election?
  5. A lower federal or state court would make a ruling.
  6. There is no judgment from the nation’s highest court.
  7. This is just another reason why it is so
  8. important to learn how the government works.
  1. Strong point:
  2. I never expected De Tocqueville to be such an elegant skilled writer!
  3. He expressed great idea at times in powerful 5-7 word
  4. sentences at the end of chapters sealing the end resolutely and meaningfully.
  5. #MustRead even for people who don’t like history!

Volume 2:

    1. This second part of the book emphasizes the
    2. influence democracy has on the sentiments of America
    3. De Tocqueville compares several topics:
    4. literary industry, language, poetry, history,
    5. theater and parliamentary speakers in aristocratic vs democratic societies.
    6. De Tocqueville closes the book with a
    7. repeated warning about  despotic democratic regime.
    8. it could be MORE oppressive than its dictatorship.
    9. Freedom of speech does not exist.
    10. De Tocqueville argues no actual freedom of opinion exists
    11. ….because of the effects of the ‘tyranny of the majority’.
    12. But Americans have the workings of freedom written
    13. into laws and The Bill of Rights
    14. freedom of the press, religion, speech,
    15. …assembly, innocent until proven guilty etc.
  1. Last thoughts:
  2. This book is a crash course in basic knowledge of the
  3. purpose, structure, operation of the national and state governmental systems.
  4. It was an exhausting read….best read slowly.
  5. We all have had some instruction how the US government branches work
  6. …and this felt like a refresher course
  7. US Government 101 and Political Science 102.
  8. I read Constitutional Sound Bites to help met with my reading.
  9. It explains the Preamble, The Constitution and The Bill of Rights
  10. …at a basic word for word level.  Very helpful!
  11. The most important thing to remember while reading
  12. …Democracy In America is
  13. apply what De Tocqueville says to our present time!
  14. It will astonish you how significant and instructive
  15. this book is even after 181 years!
  16. Why should you read this book?
  17. Citizens must know how government works
  18. be involved, informed and intelligent!

Posted by on January 16, 2017 in Uncategorized


An Angel Walks Through the Stage


  • Author: Jon Fosse (1959)
  • Title: An Angel Walks Through the Stage
  • Published: 2015
  • Table of contents: 28 short essays, 123 pages
  • Trivia: Challenges 2017


  1. I stumbled upon this book by accident.
  2. It is a series of essays written by one of the greatest
  3. …modern Norwegian novelists and playwrights.
  4. Tone: passionate, fresh, smart, genuine, and inspirational
  5. Style: informal, intimate
  6. Fosse touches on subjects as:
  7. There is good and  bad literature.
  8. We must listen to the the voice without speech.
  9. This is the silent voice present in good literature and drama.
  10. Fosse describes his writing room where he is convinced walls have souls.
  11. We learn about the intriguing link between Ibsen – Joyce – Beckett !
  12. This book is a Nordic gem that I read in an afternoon.
  13. #MustRead ….this is one is a ‘keeper’!


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Posted by on January 14, 2017 in Uncategorized


A Cat’s Meow essay by Brodsky


  • Author: Joseph Brodsky
  • Title:  A Cat’s Meow
  • Published: 1997
  • Trivia: Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature 1987
  • Trivia: Read for Nobel Challenge
  • Trivia: Brodsky  was a former poet laureate of the United States.
  • Trivia: Read this essay for Challenges 2017
  • Trivia: Deal Me In Challenge –  Four of Spades
  • #DealMeIn2017

What did I read?

  1. I read A Cat’s Meow by Joseph Brodsky
  2. Speech delivered for a symposium
  3. Foundation for Creativity and Leadership

What was the message in the essay?

  • Brodsky wants to describe the ability we have to
  • create new ideas, rules, methods  interpretations etc.

How did I read this  essay?

  1. The most difficult part of reading Brodsky was defining his words.
  2. What is objectify? – (give expression to an abstract notion)
  3. What was creativity – (ability to go beyond traditional ideas)
  4. I did something different this is time.
  5. I read all the topic sentences first.
  6. I wanted to create a ‘helicopter view’  before I started reading.

What is the structure of the essay?

  1. Part 1 –  19 paragraphs
  2. Part 2 –  31 paragraphs
  3. Part 3 –    7 paragraphs

What does the title of the essay mean?

  1. Absolutely nothing!
  2. Brodsky compares the sound made
  3.  by ‘creativity’ …with a cat’s meow.

Did I disgree on any points?

I disagree:   Brodsky argues:  (prgh 21-22; part 2)

  • “… our discoveries are projections of what we contain within… upon the outside.
  • A human being doesn’t so much obtain knowledge as secrete it from within.”
  • I have difficulty accepting this concept.
  • In my opinion discoveries are made by giving attention to the slightest clue.
  •  It has nothing to do with secreting projections from within.
  • Nonsense!


  1. This essay was not an easy read and I was prepared for that.
  2. But I was not prepared for the
  3. — incoherent analogies
  4. — lack of style I expected from a Nobel Prize winner
  5. — informal use of English in a formal essay
  6. — ridiculous statements ‘out of the blue’
  7. They were not anticipated and confusing lines of development.
  8. I read the essay word for word — paragraph for paragraph.
  9. In the rest of the review I have noted some weak points.
  10. If you have the time you can look them over.
  11. I could not find one strong point in the entire essay!

Last thoughts:

  1. All I want to say is
  2. …I worked very hard to decipher Brodsky’s essay.
  3. Was it worth the time an effort?
  4. No.  I was very disappointed in his writing.
  5. I know I should give him another chance
  6. ….but I will not do it.
  7. He is off my reading list….for a long time.

Weak point:

  • Weak point: repetition of previous ideas…
  • Example:
  • (prgh 7part 2  previous in –>  phgr 6 part 1)
  • (prgh 8 part 2 previous in –> phgr 5 part 2)
  • Brodsky makes part 2 unnecessarily confusing
  • …by repeating 2 previous ideas
  • by just switching position of words in sentences!
  • This is a sloppy way of appearing clever.

Weak point:

  • Rhetorical questions
  • A few questions in an essay are fine….but Brodsky  ‘stuffs’ part 2
  • with 6 consecutive paragraphs (nr 9-14)
  • …totaling  22 rhetorical questions!
  • Responding to an essay question with more questions is annoying.
  • These are tiresome to read and
  • …they shift the burden of answering the question to the reader.

Weak point:

  • Brodsky does not carve out a good sentence.
  • Example: (prgh 19, part 2)
  • “In other words, in order to recognize anything you’ve got to have something
  • to recognize it with, something that
  • will do the recognizing”
  • Now, even I could do better than that!

Weak point:

  • Contamination: phrase is altered because of mistaken associations
  • with another word or phrase.
  • Brodsky writes
  • “…suspicion is often the mother of truth.” (prgh 20, part 2)
  • I know Benjamin Disraeli’s quote:   Silence is the mother of truth.
  • I know C.S. Lewis’s quote:               Suspicion often creates what it suspects.
  • But I never heard of                            Suspicion is the mother of truth!

Weak point:

  • Brodsky writes part two as a so called ‘footnote’ .
  • Now in my book a footnote is
  • …a minor comment added at the bottom on the page.
  • Brodsky uses his ‘footnote’ as the
  • …largest part of the essay, 31 paragraphs.
  • Is this another attempt to be clever?

Weak point:  

  1. Bare with me here…..
  2. I was determined NOT to let Brodsky bamboozle me with his words!
  3. Brodsky completely loses me in part 3
  4. ….he’s gone over to the dark side!
  5. I will not let Brodsky discourage me.
  6. I will sit here and translate his jumbled thoughts.
  7. He will not defeat me with his  ‘fancy words’ !
  8. I will do it!
  9. This is my transltion of part 3. (see below)

Part 3: paragraph 1

  1. We are living creatures in a world on inanimate (lifeless) things (matter)
  2. Brodsky argues the ability to create is nothing more than matter’s attempt to articulate.
  3. Here Brodsky implies matter (things) can speak.
  4. If and when matter ‘speaks’
  5. it is by chance….and with help of  mouthpieces (geniuses).
  6. They are the ones who are ready to notice (perceive) a truth.

Part 3: paragraph 2

  1. Brodsky argues that matter speaks through
  2. ….art or science as a matter of compulsion.
  3. Brodsky tries to ‘dazzle’  me  with the next line:
  4. “This may sound like an anthropomorphic fantasy…”
  5. ….which is nothing more than a fantasy  in which one ascribes
  6. human attributes to a thing (matter).
  1. I continue using human attributes to describe ‘matter.
  2. ”Matter’ feels mental exhaustion
  3. due to compulsion to ‘speak’.
  4. ‘Matter’ is less dense….is thinning out.
  5. With each passing moment chance is becoming more apparent.
  6. Although we cannot call forth or evoke chance
  7. ….Chance is registered with the lab technicians instrument or
  8. …the poet’s pen….who have trained powers of observation.

Part 3: paragraph 3

  1. Scientist and poets  can cultivate that attitude of mind of
  2. …being constantly on the look-out for the unexpected…for chance.
  3. The ability to make or to create depends on the
  4. ..range of things that someone knows.
  5. Bordsky call is an opened horizon.
  6. Chance favors the prepared mind.

Part 3: paragraph 3-4-5

  1. Brodsky drifts off into a very confusing analogy about creativity including
  2. a beach, grain of sand, the dunes,
  3. …shoreline, the breakers, erosion of the beach.
  4. I have no idea where he gets this from
  5. ….but I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
  6. I close ‘my translation’ with these word
  7. What do we need for creativity?
  8. Memory – essential so we do not repeat what already has been created
  9. Imagination in language – create new forms of poetry, literature, music, art
  10. Ipso Facto! (…so say I!)



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Posted by on January 13, 2017 in Uncategorized


Thea Astley: Inventing Her Own Weather



  1. This book is a gem.
  2. Karen Lamb has done years of researchinterviews with
  3.  Thea Astley (1925-2004)
  4. …and studied her correspondence to create a
  5. detailed picture of Thea the woman.
  6. Lamb reveals  Astley’s alter Egos in many of her books.
  7. Karen Lamb has done an excellent job writing
  8. …about a public person who
  9. intentionally wanted to remain private.
  1. Strong point:
  2.  Astley’s childhood had a great influence on her writing.
  3. Catholicism formed her but she refused to bow dogmatic rule.
  4. She often deflected questions about her religion.
  5. Using her visceral wit…when asked she said:
  6. Catholicism was “good for my metaphor gland.”
  7. Astley’s life is in her books: girl, woman, wife, mother and author.
  8. Real towns are given fictional names (try to find them),
  9. her passion for music is in
  10. titles, metaphors and even influences characters.
  1. I was ready to dive into her last book…Drylands
  2. thought to be her alter ego’s last installment.
  3. Now I know I must  start at the…beginning
  4. Girl With A Monkey (1958)
  5. Only them can I follow Astley’s life from beginning to end.

Last thoughts

  1. It is worth the time and effort to read
  2. …about a great author before delving into their work.
  3. If I had not read this book I would have
  4. ..missed all the subtleties.
  5. Discover Thea Astley’s writing
  6. and find the common sense and sting!
  7. How’s this for sting?
  8. Four ages of women: bimbo – breeder – baby-sitter – burden!
  9. How do I know I’ve read a great book?
  10. I feel it on my skin….goosebumps.
  11. It’s involuntary, unpredictable…I cannot make it happen.
  12. Like a skin shiver…this book caught me by surprise.


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Posted by on January 12, 2017 in Uncategorized


Who Killed Tolstoy? essay by Bautman


  • Author: Elif Bautman  (1977)
  • Title: The Possessed
  • Published: 2010
  • Table of contents: 7 essays; 304 pages
  • Trivia: Bautman is published in Haper’s;  The New Yorker Magazine
  • Trivia: Read this essay for Challenges 2017
  • Trivia: Deal Me In Challenge –  Four of Spades
  • #DealMeIn2017

What did read?

  1. Who Killed Tolstoy?  by Elif Bautman.
  2. The title of this essay just jumped off the page.
  3. Bautman follows the golden rule of  an essay: ask a question.
  4. This gets the reader involved.
  5. Yes I was mentally involved but not satisfied.

How did I read this essay?

  1. I read it very carefully looking for 
  2. …the point she wanted to argue.
  3. Bautman begins with an anecdote related to her topic.
  4. She is about to attend an International Tolstoy Conference
  5. …on the grounds of
  6. Tolstoy’s estate Yasnaya Polyana.

What was the structure of the essay?

  1. 15% anecdotal (flight, lost baggage, clothes)
  2. 5% conference (scholars, tea, banquet)
  3. 40% history Tolstoy
  4. 40 % field trip Chekhov and relationship with Tolstoy


  1. This felt like a frustrating read because I kept asking myself:
  2. “When does the introduction end and the real essay begin?
  3. Strong point: I think one of the best things about this essay is
  4. ..I was forced to ask myself:
  5. Does every essay have to have a point, thesis message?
  6. What am I not seeing in the essay?
  7. Strong point: Bautman introduces me to the personal essay.
  8. After all the searching for a ‘point’ I realized there isn’t any!
  9. Strong point: What saves this essay for me is Bautman’s
  10. extensive knowledge about Tolstoy and Checkov.
  11. Her focus was not academic but rather to emphasize her
  12. emotional journey as she tries
  13. …to discover if Tolstoy really was murdered.
  14. Style: informal; casual
  15. Tone: talented; witty – connecting through observations; informative;
  16. Weak point: the ending felt hurried as if she wanted
  17. …to get back on the field trip bus to get a good seat.
  18. She tries now to recaputre the spark of the mystery. 
  19. But as Bautman admits ‘My heart wasn’t in it anymore.’
  20. There are people with motives and opportunity
  21. ……but she is still looking!

Last thoughts:

  1. Nowadays most essays are first composed as
  2. journalism of one kind or another.
  3. That is not how Montaigne did it!
  4. I’m making an adjustment:
  5. …removing Bautman from my reading list.
  6. She does not have the gravitas I am looking for.
  7. Searching for some new names...


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Posted by on January 11, 2017 in Uncategorized


The Shepherd’s Life

James Rebanks (aka the Herdy Shepherd) with one of his Herdwick tups CREDIT Phil Rigby

Summer: 40%

  1. Youth – joys of helping grandfather on the farm.
  2. Farm worker  – finally freed from prison, the local school.
  3. Farewell – beloved grandfather is a caged animal after his stroke.
  4. He lives in Rebanks, his voice, his values, his stories and his farm.

Autumn: 23%

  1. School  – acceptance at Oxford.
  2. Disaster – Hoof and mouth disease, farm culled during the epidemic.
  3. Rebirth – farm is beginning and end for Rebanks,
  4. …it isn’t a matter of life or death
  5. …it is far more important than that.

Winter: 19%

  1. Flocks – care and feed them in  winter whiteout.
  2. 9-to-5 – temporary job combined with weekend farming,
  3. …..try to get that mortgage for farmhouse.
  4. Rules:
  5. It’s not about you it’s about the sheep and land.
  6. Sometimes you can’t win.
  7. Shut up, and go and do the work.

Spring: 18%

  1. Lambing – Countless things to worry about, so much can go wrong.
  2. This is nature not some cute movie.
  3. Haggling – negations, sipping tea waiting for the lower offer
  4. …that ‘hangs in the air’, bids and counter-bids.
  5. New grass – the fields warm the workload eases, lambs are
  6. …fat and bouncing around like bored restless teenagers.
  7. Tup feverShowing of prize sheep hoping to win the  Edmondson cup.
  8. Shepherds work hard transforming the
  9. …sheep from work clothes to their Sunday best.

Strong point: readability… just get swept away with  this book!

  1. The general rule is to keep sentences short and compact.
  2. Rebanks follows this rule to the letter!
  3. His sentences are correct, coherent and easy to read.
  4. He describes his land and animals  so vividly
  5. ….you can feel the blustery winter wind blowing and
  6. …see the flashing silver of flocks of fieldfares.
  7. Rebanks often ends a paragraphs with a flourish...
  8. …sentences that linger, food for thought.

Strong point:  images

  1. Rebanks brings visuals into his prose.
  2. Each reference calls to mind many images:
  3. Breughel painting (winter).
  4. He compares the snow lashing his face on a quad bike
  5. …becoming perfect warp speed lines like those
  6. ...scenes in  Star Wars when they flick the throttle and the stars transcend.

Most memorable phrases:

  1. History of our landscape is the history of nobodies.
  2. Intelligence is not always found in books.
  3. The past and present overlap in intertwine.
  4. We must always be ready to adapt, adjust and change.


  1. Heartwarming autobiography told in simple prose.
  2. The love Rebanks feels for his ‘larger-than-life’ grandfather
  3. …and hard-working father is palpable.
  4. Rebanks wisely adds:
  5. “….realizing how little you know and
  6. …how many things you’ve been wrong about.”
  7. This book has an unique blend of warmth and joy
  8. …for family, farm and land.
  9. Style: natural and informal.
  10. Rebanks has an intriguing style.
  11. The natural elements play havoc on the sheep and
  12. …Rebanks described his ‘personal weather’
  13. ...the highs and lows that swept through his life.
  14. I enjoyed his writing that at times revealed him
  15. …to be a little bit of ‘cheeky bad-ass’.
  16. But this just made him such a personable storyteller.

Last thoughts:

  1. This is a 2-for-1 sale
  2. ….an entertaining, informative and poetic
  3. autobiography  AND education in Sheep Care and Behavior 101.
  4. This book was absolutely delightful.
  5. I got ‘goosebumps’  reading the last pages
  6. ….and a bit envious of Rebanks’ shepherd’s life.



Posted by on January 9, 2017 in Uncategorized

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