book“In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

— George Orwell

We live in an age — the relativity of truth — in which Orwell’s adage seems as dated as monocles or top hats. Just as Darwin’s theory of evolution led to Social Darwinism, a philosophy pitting one human being against another with survival of the fittest as the supreme law for success, so Einstein’s theory of relativity changed popular philosophy and cultural mores as radically as it did the study of physics.

bookOne of my bookshelves is reserved for books that I have not read, but that I am saving for some special event. What I want is the pleasure of reading without a deadline hanging over my head. I actually buy books and put them on the shelf, reserved for “when I get the flu.”  

Joe has been on that shelf for more than 15 years. Each time I take it down and read a page or two, I put it back. “No, that is too good to waste by “speed reading.” Take your time. OK, the time has come.

bookNote to readers: this is one of the few times I have written a column addressed to one sex — or gender, if you prefer that term. This one is for the guys facing the next holiday.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and there they are, shuffling through the checkout line of the grocery store in the late afternoon, men holding roses and boxes of chocolates, each of them looking sheepish and angry. The embarrassment stems from the fact that they have once again forgotten Valentine’s Day, the anger from Valentine’s Day itself.

bookDuring the past 60 years, I have maintained a hearty appreciation for what is called “fantasy/horror” literature. I guess it began with the dark little fairy tales of Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen and yes, the Grimm Fairy Tales, and it extends to the current works of writers like Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Angela Carter. My favorite fantasy/horror stories were created by Ray Bradbury, Jonathan Carroll and Stephen King, and if I can qualify my preferences still further, I have a special love for stories with a carnival/circus setting.

bookIn French Women Don’t Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure, Mirielle Guiliano produced a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and became an international sensation, with her book translated into 37 languages. 

Now Guiliano is back with another book regarding les femmes francaises. In French Women Don’t Get Facelifts: The Secret of Aging with Style & Attitude (Grand Central Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4555-2411-2, 259 pages, $25), Guiliano takes her readers into the secrets of dieting, nutritional supplements, exercise, makeup, rest, and fashion that can help women (and men) fight the effects of aging.

bookWhen people ask me what I’ve been doing this fall, I tell them I’ve been on a reading jag — reading new novels hot off the press. What I’ve found is that there have been a lot of very good books that have come out in the last year, including some by some very talented new writers who are just coming on the scene. 

bookFor many of us, the bells ringing in the New Year carry a bittersweet tune. We look forward to better times, which means we’ve gone through some hard times. We make resolutions, which means we have found faults in ourselves. Here in the South, we eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day in the hope that these will bring good luck, implying that the past year brought some bad luck. (Note: one research study found that black-eyed peas cause the least amount of flatulence. Seconds, anyone?)

bookOne of the oldest traditional folktales, ‘Godfather Death,’ exists in all cultures; however, the tone of the stories may vary from bleak and grim invocations of death’s certainty to humorous tales of tricksters who scheme to avoid death’s coming. Death becomes personified as a shadowy figure who comes to collect “his due.” 

Along the way, Godfather Death has inspired memorable creative works: film (“The Seventh Seal,” “On Borrowed Time”) and even Appalachian folk tales (“Soldier Jack, the Man Who Caught Death in a Sack”). However, one of the most provocative variations is “The Fool Killler.” In these tales, Death has been transformed into a terrifying agent of divine justice.

bookIn 1977 I fell in love with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

That was a year of deep reading for me — Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Faulkner, Flaubert, and so many others — but it was Gatsby I loved. The novel obsessed me, not so much for its characters or its plot or its literary symbols as for the rhythms of its sentences and the juxtaposition of unlikely adjectives and nouns.

bookOne of the things that I admire about the New York Review of Books is a special honor that they reserve for what they call the “lost masterpieces of American fiction.” In effect, they acknowledge that occasionally, a major literary work goes unacknowledged. Sometimes, a decade or more goes by and then a noted American critic or author asks, “How did you miss this one?” It seems to have flown in under the radar, undetected and then passed into oblivion. 

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