Time and Place Transcend in the 2013 book TransAtlantic

Colum McCann weaves a transcendental mediation in the book TransAtlantic. This experiment in time, historical figures, and the stories of a maternal line of one family spans the years 1844 to 2012 in a non-linear way, leaping from era to era in North America (Canada and the United States) and the western Europe (Ireland and England).

The reader is immersed in historical fiction with an insight into two British airmen, Jack Alcock and Arthur Brown, making the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic after the first world war in 1919, Frederick Douglass speaking in Ireland with bewilderment at being treated with human dignity while observing the ravages of the Irish Potato Famine of 1845-1849, and finally former Maine Senator George Mitchell helping negotiate the Northern Ireland peace accord between 1995 and 1998. The first movement of TransAtlantic is a meditation on history and identity with two regions connected in spirit and identity.

TransAtlantic 2(Colum McCann)

These disparate events are brought closer together and made more intimate not by any logical connection but by looking around and seeing a single family of ladies on the periphery of Douglass, Alcock, Brown, and Mitchell taking on a larger role in making the world smaller. The second major movement of the book opens with this quote from Wendell Berry‘s poem The Rising:

“But this is not the story of life.
It is the story of lives, knit together,
overlapping in succession, rising
again from grave after grave.”

The historical figures connect to The Rising by being the interconnection of the three threads made by the historical figures. There is Lily Duggan, mother to Emily Ehrlich. Emily Ehrlich is the mother to Lottie and grandmother to Hannah. It is Lily that is moved by Douglass’ words about possibility and freedom that prompts her to head to America with a child who dies in the Civil War. Emily is born of Lily’s marriage to John Erlich.

Emily learns to read and write, and writes a letter of thanks to Isabel Jennings, who had hosted Frederick Douglass in Ireland all those years ago. Emily had asked Jack Alcock to deliver it with his transcontinental flight. Alcock failed in this deliver, and returned the unopened letter from 1919 to Emily ten years later when Lottie with her mother Emily were writing an anniversary story.

Lottie meets a man that she later marries while conducting the Alcock anniversary interview and photo shoot with her mother. The family fortune for Lottie and her daughter Hannah is comparatively small when measured against the wealth enjoyed by Emily. This partly happened because Lottie’s husband was less well-to-do. Hannah’s son Thomas is killed setting decoys for a hunting event at the cottage where she and Thomas lived. As Thomas theoretically died at the hands of soldiers that would swear by the peace negotiated with George Mitchell, Hannah finds some measure of peace after the loss.

Finances grow devastatingly worse for Hannah. Hannah wants to sell the letter written by Emily since it might reveal something that would damage the reputation of Frederick Douglass. The sealed letter was forthcoming with only the mysterious answer of a slight thank you for services offered while visiting the Jennings household. Hannah’s stay at the cottage was further coming to an end, and she waxes reminiscent of the lives of her lady ancestors who came before her:

“The tunnels of our lives connect, coming to daylight at the oddest moments, and then plunge us into the dark again. We return to the lives of those who have gone before us, a perplexing mobius strip until we come home, eventually, to ourselves.”

TransAtlantic becomes a contemplation of the endeavors, struggles, and sad tragedies of life. The narrative style of the book will challenge many readers with an intellectualism that almost defies the transcendentalism that it feels like the author, Colum McCann, was pursuing. It feels like this book will mostly be appreciated by bookish, professorial types of readers. As a result, my rating is 3.5-stars out of a potential 5.0-stars.

Matt – Wednesday, January 24, 2018.

 

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Vladimir Nabokov’s joke in 1955’s ‘Lolita’

It might sound funny to learn that the first thing that prompted me to read the book Lolita by Russian Vladimir Nabokov was a song by the British pop rock band The Police. The shoddy technique used to rhyme cough with Nabokov starting at the 2:13 mark in Don’t Stand So Close to Me prompted me to go to a 63-year-old book 38-years after the release of the lyric that sparked the interest.

Lolita 2(British pop rock band The Police)

The foreword to the book Lolita by John Ray, Jr., Ph.D. makes it clear that you are about to get into morally objectionable, taboo subject matter of sexual relations between 37 year old Humbert Humbert and 12 year old Dolores “Lolita” Haze. In admiring the execution that Nabokov had in developing something he deems commendably executed, Ray excoriated Humbert Humbert, or H.H.

“No doubt, he is horrible, he is abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, but is not conducive to attractiveness. Hr is ponderously capricious…A desperate honesty that throbs through his confession does not absolve him from sins of diabolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman.”

While obscene terms are not used in this book, the story tells of criminality and obscene thinking and behavior. The fact that this is so clearly the language and thinking underpinning the moral depravity of the subject matter is clearly deliberate from the authorial perspective. As pointed out by reviewer Ian “Marvin” Graye on Goodreads, emphasizing the initials of Humbert Humbert (H.H.) in German initiates the concept that we as readers are the subjects of a joke.

“To this day, I cannot look at Humbert’s initials “H.H.” without pronouncing them in German, “Ha Ha”, and wondering whether the joke is on us.”

The framing of the narrative of Lolita has it that Humbert Humbert was due to stand trial so had the luxury of time to prepare a defense with his lawyer. The detailing of the death of Dolores “Lolita” Haze’s narcissistic mother Charlotte, the ongoing sexual contact between a predatory H.H. and a wayward Dolores across state lines, and H.H.’s murder of Clare Quilty for subsequent sex with Dolores are all tales of confession that we as readers are ostensibly cast as jurors, thus allowing us the “joke” of dignity for working through the moral objections of reading difficult subject matter.

I came to the book Lolita because of a remembered lyric from a song by The Police. The investment in the song was one of less than four-minutes in the random times it would come to the radio. The book prompted an emotional and intellectual investment of a measured duration closer to 12-hours worth of reading. While ostensibly both deal with inappropriate relations, the book feels like it has taken a fuller measure of hurt for prolonging the investment.

Lolita 3(Humbert Humbert words to Dolores “Lolita” Haze)

If the investment truly was one of a joke on the reader, than I feel poorly played as a receiver of the joke. In execution, I must indicate a well-played articulation of language, structure, and the aims of executing sympathy for a character I fully want to consider unsympathetically. That H.H. dies in prison as a part of the novel feels almost satisfying.

I give the book a rating of 3.25-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Gold Books)

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, you learned with my last blog that we exceeded that goal. 17 books received a bronze rating. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated three books with a rating of 4.5 stars or higher.

Ranking at 5.00 stars in 2017 included this one (1) top ranked book that stands alone as the most significant and accomplished book that I read this year:

winesburg-ohio-1

As I said in the opening paragraph of the review that you can link above still holds true for me now.

“Sherwood Anderson really accomplished something in tone, language, structure, and accessibility with Winesburg, Ohio that really tickled me. The detail and insight into character here are contemporary because they influenced 20th century American literature.”

If for no other reason than enjoying a book with honest narrative, consider reading Sherwood Anderson.

Ranking at 4.50 stars in 2017 included these two (2) books:

The truth-telling of Night by Elie Wiesel is the emotionally-wrenching firsthand telling of survival through unspeakable psychological trauma when faced with the most atrocious forms of hate and violence perpetrated by humans against humans.

The overriding purpose of the material in Night is that you need to feel and experience it firsthand to truly emotionally connect; these emotionally real and dark qualities that Wiesel shares honestly with raw detail demand the high-rating granted this book.

Do not allow the lack of detail with the included review diminish your consideration for reading Night. For the graphic and psychologically necessary quality of the learning, engage this book with one or more readings.

night

The ground of The Noonday Demon contemplates entrenched taboos of culture and place from a different though also truth-telling perspective. This firsthand sharing of Andrew Solomon‘s depression, mental illness, and anxiety bring in other people’s experience while also incorporating scholarship. The overriding sense of advocacy combined with sincere attempts to convey the depressive experience connected with me.

The linked review includes perhaps a bit more information than I would want to include if reviewing the book again. Capturing detail on the nature of depression and anxiety, the causes of depression along with Solomon‘s disagreement of said causes, and other subjects like self-medicating, suicide, and the role of society in supporting those who suffer are all relevant advocacy items.

The goal to understand the real human quality underpinning disease makes this sincerely offered book worth the reading. That my high-rating props up the book by advocating for its quality, if nothing else, should offer you some curiosity and interest in reading The Noonday Demon.

Noonday Demon 1

The above listing of books reflects the gold listing of books that I read in 2017. The bronze listing was published on Friday. A silver listing followed yesterday. In a bit more positive tip of the hat to my year in reading than Joan Didion experienced with The Year of Magical Thinking, I found this to be a year of magical reading.

Matt – Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Silver Books)

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, you learned with my last blog that we exceeded that goal. 17 books received a bronze rating. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated these 15-books with a silver rating of 4.0 stars.

Ranking as a silver rating with 4.00 stars in 2017 included these fifteen (15) books:

Something that strikes me is that each of these books had something to teach me that was both unique and distinct from some experience that I had experienced previously.

Mans Search for Meaning 1

In the Garden of Beasts and Man’s Search for Meaning both look into the larger experience of World War Two from quite different perspectives and motivations. Seeking a relationship with the cultural concept of America is at the core of A Walk in the Woods and  Team of Rivals, at least for my reading of these two works this year.

a-walk-in-the-woods-1

A deep and soul-searching self-examination were important for the works by Joan Didion and Khaled Hosseini. The larger arcs of history were examined in Dava Sobel and Virginia Woolf, both for women and for culture. Dickens and Ishiguro share a cultural review of wealth and British culture, stoicism, and an interest in uplift.

A Room of One's Own 3

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is perhaps a demonstration of the best newer author that I have read on the list of those included in our list of writers. The many perspectives and internal dialogues are quite engaging, nuanced, and prompts me to want to seek out more. For this result, I offer praise.

The Secret History

The above listing of books reflects the silver listing of books that I read in 2017. The bronze listing was published yesterday. A gold listing will follow soon.

Matt – Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Year 2017 in Reading: 35 Books (The Bronze Books)

When challenged to read books in 2017, I joined friends who had set individual targets  based on their interest level and the challenges life had in front of them. Three friends proposed to read 15 books. Three really ambitious readers proposed reading 50 books, 60 books, and 75 books in succession with varying degrees of reported success. In fact, I had one friend that reported reading a few hundred pages per day to the tune of 379 books read.

In joining a friend in the aim to read 24 books, or two books per month, we both exceeded our goal by landing in the thirty-plus books range. On a rating scale of 1-star to 5-stars, Matt with Matt Lynn Digital rated the 35-books mostly as worthy reads.

Five (5) books landed with ratings of less than average, which is to say at 3.25-stars or less.  Eleven (11) books landed at average with a rating of 3.5-stars while one (1) landed at slightly above average with 3.75-stars. These seventeen (17) books will be collected into this remembrance of 2017. Simply follow the links for a fuller review of any particular book.

Ranking as above average at 3.75 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Having written in a style reminiscent of Agatha Christie, I particularly liked the notion of there being two mysteries in a single book to unravel. One might remember that I spent an entire blog post in 2016 reviewing the Agatha Christie books read in 2016.

Magpie Murders 1

Ranking as average at 3.5 stars in 2017 included these eleven (11) books:

I stayed mostly in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries with these books, with Candide being the notable exception.

Candide 1

Ranking as just below average at 3.25 stars in 2017 included this one (1) book:

Live By Night 1

Ranking as slightly below average at 3.0 stars in 2017 included these three (3) books:

My ranking of James Joyce came as the biggest disappointment here as I had hoped for something that would resonate more fully with me. Perhaps the larger issue here was my coming to the book in my forties rather than as a younger man.

ulysses

Ranking lowest at 2.50 stars in 2017 included this book:

That final book lands in the pulp fiction genre; the book itself was recommended by Stephen King, whose writing has some quirks to it though has been entertaining to me. The bottom line for this book for me is to realize that not all influences to authors that entertain me are books that I would want to read.

At the Mountains of Madness 1

The above listing of books reflects the bronze listing of books. A silver and gold listing will follow shortly.

Matt – Friday, December 29, 2017

Behind children’s literature with Paddington, Rosie and Jim, and the Lore and Language of Schoolchildren

In 2017, the world lost figures of substance in children’s literature. We take this moment to remember the folks that helped us meet A Bear Called Paddington, the lovable dolls Rosie and Jim, and a folklorist who, with her husband, brought us The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.

Michael Bond created the character Paddington, who the world first met when the book A Bear Called Paddington was published in 1958. Paddington We lost Bond in June of 2017. In the New York Times’ sharing of this news, we learned of warm feelings from the publication.

“Certainly the character participated in some typical British activities in his books. They included London theater, a cricket match, a visit to a waxworks museum, a riding competition and antiques shopping on Portobello Road. Paddington also had a known predilection for marmalade sandwiches. But most important, he is unfailingly polite with a strong sense of morality, and he always tries to do the right thing.” Anita Gates

Children 2(In illustration of Paddington bear)

A second live action movie in the Paddington universe, namely Paddington 2, releases in late 2017 or early 2018 for much of the United States.

Pat Hutchins gained recognition early on for Rosie’s Walk, which first introduces us to the characters that would inhabit the british television programming for Rosie and Jim. We lost Ms. Hutchins in November after a battle with cancer.

Children 3(Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins)

The characters Rosie and Jim are described by the following Internet Movie Database descriptions, which again gives us a quite proper insight into a British sensibility when discussing children’s literature.

“Rosie and Jim are two rag dolls that magically come to life when no-one is looking. They explore different aspects of Great Britain as they travel along the canal network aboard the narrow-boat “Ragdoll” with the boat’s owner.” IMDB

Children 4(The characters Rosie and Jim)

Iona Opie joined her husband Peter as a folklorist and collector of children’s literature. We lost Ms. Opie in late October, though her influence in research is felt with The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes and The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.

The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes offers “over 500 rhymes, songs, nonsense jingles, and lullabies traditionally handed down to young children,” according to the book listing in the opening paragraph of this blog.

Children 5(The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren)

The Lore and Language book is aimed at adults and seeks to leave “the nursery, with its assortment of parent-approved entertainments, to observe and investigate the day-to-day creative intelligence and activities of children”.  The themes within aim to “bring to life the rites and rhymes, jokes and jeers, laws, games, and secret spells” of children in making language a real and living thing that parents can share with their kids.

Children 6(Iona Opie, left, Pat Hutchins, center, and Michel Bond)

Literacy in general, and the subject of children’s literacy in the fuller context, has taken a sad turn with the loss of three influential members of an important club this year. With this post of love, Lynn and I aim to remember a trio of masters. It was also in the discussion of how to purchase for a recently born member of our family for the holidays that this theme takes on greater meaning for Lynn and I.

Matt – Saturday, December 23, 2017

Six weapons of psychological influence with Robert B. Cialdini

It feels to me that I have been empowered with my own personal ministry of defense to the way of world. The tools, or weapons, of influence that have been formally introduced to me with clear descriptions of those weapons with down-to-earth stories to illustrate the way those weapons are used in the world at large. With Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, American social psychologist Robert B. Cialdini introduced me and anyone that reads this book on the psychology of persuasion a keen sense for common sense ways to interpret and function in the western world.

Over the course of seven chapters and an epilogue, Cialdini reviews the six categories that he has learned about and researched during his academic career and while teaching in the marketing department at Arizona State University. Each chapter feels readily accessible to me, and tends to draw you in with some kind of analogy that demonstrates the concepts intended for your understanding.

Influence Psychology of Persuasion 2(Robert B. Cialdini)

In the book’s opening chapter, the concept of using the presented categories of influence gets into the concept of substituting some single piece of representative information into a consistent shortcut for fully analyzing every situation that you are presented. An illustrating point that stood out for me what the concept of selling consumer goods in a store.

Pieces of turquoise were not selling in a vacation stop at the price intended. Many of the activities to sell these were not working until such time as the price point was doubled. The turquoise then flew off the shelves because people equated high price equals with high quality.

As you can guess, the bargain that was really present was for consumers that would have received more value with the original price more reflective of reality. The remaining chapters go into examples like this that, in turn and with increasing degrees of cleverness or manipulation, demonstrate how those aware of the psychological tricks in play can wield psychology as a weapon for or against the consumer.

The second chapter gets into reciprocation, or the notion of repaying in kind what another person has provided us. The third chapter gets into commitment and consistency. To quote Cialdini directly, it “is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”

Influence Psychology of Persuasion 3(The six tools, or weapons, of influence)

In discussing social proof in chapter four, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion points out that people will often look to what others consider acceptable to consider what the appropriate course of action should be. A seemingly harmless example of this would be a laugh track on a television program, such as one might hear on the popular CBS Television series The Big Bang Theory. A more harmful example of social proof might come about when, among a crowd of bystanders, nobody helps when a person goes into an epileptic seizure that could be aided with emergency assistance.

Liking gets discussed in chapter five using examples like Tupperware sales, referring friends in charitable solicitations, and even in combination with people tending to rely on the social proof of people they like over the social examples of folks they dislike.

In chapter six, Cialdini gets into the notion of how thinking sometimes does not happen to the proper level because of the perceived authority of one person over another. A comedic example of this effect was in the citation of medical dosing mistakes by Temple pharmacology professors Michael Cohen and Neal Davis. The case in point attributed the deference to an attending doctor’s authority when a nurse treated a patients right ear ache by placing the ear drops as directed into the patient’s rear end.

The seventh chapter of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion gets into scarcity. The notion in play is that people tend to crave that object of a potential loss more than an equivalent gain in value. That is, people tend to favor harder to possess things than easier to possess things. Folks also tend to hate losing freedoms. It is this notion that makes things available for a limited time.

As Cialdini pointed out in the epilogue, much of this reviewed book aims at drawing out examples wherein single, highly representative pieces of the total can be helpful shortcuts while also leading us to clearly stupid mistakes. The notion for where mistakes happen reflects how Cialdini thinks these psychological points have been made into weapons. I give Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Wednesday, November 22, 2017