Friday, March 29, 2019


...continuing the Year in Books. (See my prior blog of February 9, 2019 for the first entry).

So approaching April, here's what I have read since early February.

NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND by Bill Bryson The primary premise of this book is to recount the author's walking over what seems like all of England, and a bit of Wales and Scotland. There are part of Notes from a Small Island that are truly engaging, interesting and informative.

And I really wanted to read this book--being a confirmed Anglophile. Also because my daughter and her family live in London (while we live in Pennsylvania, USA).

Some of the events described, conveyed in the author's droll inimitable style, are laugh-out-loud funny. Other parts made me want to send him a train ticket, or offer him a lift. Those parts seems to deal primarily with slogging here and there. After a while, I just wanted the journey and hence the book to end.

I confess--there were enough unfamiliar place names that sent me scurrying off to Google maps--just to see where they were.

All in all--my reaction is a very mixed one. I liked the book AND I desperately wanted it to end.

GOD’S SECRETARIES:The Making of the King James Bible By Adam Nicolson

This is the second time I have read God's Secretaries. I first read the book when it was published in 2001. I loved it then! And I loved it now on this re-reading.

What strikes me is what I recalled from the first reading, and what impressed me on the second reading. On the first reading, I was taken with the description of actual process. Who were the translators, how were they assembled, how did they go about their work, etc.

The second reading I saw more on the historical context. How the translation came to be, why James I would want such a translation, what was the political and religious milieu of the time. I had completely forgotten that the infamous November 5 Gunpowder plot occurred while this translation process was underway. That plot is emblematic of the religious conflicts that in part helped produce the King James translation of the Bible. The second reading was every bit as satisfying as the first.


While the subject of this book is supremely important, the title does not deliver on the promise that it raised. It does present "letters" to the author's Palestinian neighbor--not one specific person, but Palestinians who live in various places with Israel--the West Bank, Gaza. Etc. Perhaps, I misunderstood the book's purpose. I presumed the letters would show an understanding and sympathy for the Palestinian neighbor--and to some extent the book does that. But as to who is at fault, Halevi puts the blame on the Palestinians.

Do not think this book will deal with BOTH sides of the seemingly intractable issue. True, the author deals extensively with persecution of Jews through the ages. And he deals with how modern Israel came into being. Understandably, the author who now lives in Israel is most sympathetic to the Jewish perspective. He touches on aspects of the Palestinian perspective. 

But in the end, I came away with the sense that the Jewish perspective is right, and the Palestinian perspective is derailed by frequent attacks on Israel. 

Perhaps the most powerful chapter is titled "Isaac and Ishmael." This chapter deals with the seemingly intractable path to peace. For one side to win, the other loses, and vice versa. But for on side to not give, the other side won't either. It's like a Moebius strip--you start on the inside and as you follow the path you end up on the outside. And vice versa.I am no more hopeful that this ever simmering conflict can ever be or will be resolved.

BECOMING By Michelle Obama

What an enchanting memoir to read. It is in many ways an autobiography...not so much detailing the pace of life chronologically. But Michelle Obama does give you wonderful insight into her family beginnings--growing up in South Side, Chicago; being inspired and challenged by her parents and her older brother. She also recounts her education.

As she moves through the account of her life--her childhood, her education and early career, her meeting Barack Obama, then getting married and having children--she gives insight into each of these steps. You learn what motivates her, what gave rise to her very discipline drive, and what is important to her. During her sections on the White House years, you see a more personal family side of what it means to be the First Lady. 

The latter portions of the book deal with philosophical aspects of the events in her life. So, in addition to autobiography and memoir, you get to see how Michelle Obama thinks.Perhaps understandably, the earlier portions of the book are more straight forward, filled with details, while the latter portions of the book are more contemplative.

Well worth a read--and I can say--I miss someone with such grace and class helping to lead our country.