The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America #MattKracht

It’s SPRING and if you live above the equator that means that the weather should be getting warmer and the dumb birds are hopping around and making their usual incessant noise and pooping on your cars and waking you at ungodly hours. I say “should’ because it is supposed to snow across most of North America this week and dumb because, hello? Who wakes up before the sun rises on purpose!?! 🙂  Yes, I love birds. I adore them. I feed them and attract them and I really do have a backyard wildlife habitat. Like the book, The Field Guide to Dumb Birds of North America, I’m just being cheeky.

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Matt Kracht has written a very funny, tongue in cheek guide to some of the most common birds found in North America. He has humorously renamed them so that we might easily remember them. For example, there is the White Breasted Butt Nugget, the Western Meadow Jerk or, simply, the damn crows. He tends to feel about crows the same way I do. The entire page is filled with Caw, Caw, Caw, Caw, Caw….. Yes, that really is all that you need to know about the damn crow, isn’t it?

iu0UIMXQJMKracht also accompanies each delightful paragraph of information with his own personal illustrations. Okay, some are better than others depending on how well he likes the bird. I won’t even show you the illustration of the crow which resembles something a two year old with a black marker might draw in a fit of rage. Again, very aptly done when considering the caw-caw-caw of the crow. Most, however, are beautifully rendered as you can see below:
black capped prickadeeDespite the irreverence, the information throughout the book, the details, the drawings – with a few noted exceptions – the maps, and the highlights are very informative. If I were teaching children about birds…. okay, well, there is some mild cursing but aside from that, I can assure you that kids definitely would remember these birds better than they would a regular field guide. Absolutely! I know that I will! It also makes for a terrific coffee table book and conversation piece. Guests have adored it! I adore it! I haven’t laughed this hard or this much in a very long time!!

Thank you to #netgalley, #ChronicleBooks and @MattKracht for my copy of #TheFieldGuidetoDumbBirdsofNorthAmerica and to Christopher @Plucked From the Stacks for recommending this book to his readers. Also, if you’ve never seen The Big Year  starring Jack Black and Steve Martin, also about birding, I highly recommend it. It is one hilarious movie!

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Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary- Banned Book Week

It’s banned book week – a week in the US where we celebrate the beauty and truth in the books that others found controversial. There are few American authors, in recent years, who has been questioned and banned more often in our schools than Howard Zinn.

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Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary is a compilation of entries from Zinn’s journal  that he wrote while he was teaching at Spelman College in Georgia during the winter/spring of 1963-64. This is, of course, during the rising strength of the Civil Rights Movement with Georgia being at the hub of the student activism. Being an activist himself, his years at the college allowed him a closeness to the student activists across Georgia and, ultimately, the south. While Zinn wrote about his time at Spelman in a previous publication, it was only after his death when his papers were opened and released that his journal was discovered. Through his writings, one can see how Zinn was instrumental in bringing about legal social change that he had hoped would lead to a different mindset regarding racial interaction and racism as a whole.

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In truth, Howard Zinn is one of my favorite authors. There are few of his works that I haven’t read. His book, A People’s History of US, was and still is a mainstay in our home and was used to teach US history in our homeschool. It is often banned in schools when parents discover that it is a truthful account of this nation’s very sordid history rather than simply perpetuating the  myths with which Americans have been indoctrinated by the white elite. His writings always are an unvarnished, well documented commentary on our nation and its people and this diary certainly is no different. It is a tough, truthful look at the deep south and the struggle for African Americans to gain the freedoms that all Americans should enjoy without question. It is a personal account of the protests, marches and sit-ins that were occurring during this time. Having lived through this period and later as a protestor who has campaigned for equal rights for all, it was especially interesting to see our experiences retold. However, the message throughout his book is this: the struggle has not ended, racism in America still is rampant and, sadly, it is growing in fervor once again.

If there is one point that I want to convey in this review it is this: this is not your average non-fiction book, none of Zinn’s books are that. They are written with the average person in mind, they are readable and always they are eye opening and enlightening.

I highly encourage you to read Howard Zinn’s Southern Diary and afterward to pick up a copy of A People’s History of the US. I guarantee you that you will be shocked and will understand why educators are fighting to have it taught in their schools and, conversely, whey the anti-intellectuals do not want it there at all. It is a great read for Banned Book Week 2018.

Huge appreciation to the University of Georgia Press, #RobertCohen and #Edelweiss for my review copy of this amazing book!

The Assassination of Robert F Kennedy: Crime, Conspiracy and Cover-Up by Tim Tate and Brad Johnson

In 1968, Robert F Kennedy was elected as the Democratic party’s presidential candidate. Immediately afterward, he was shot and killed in the kitchen of the California hotel in which he was staying. Sirhan Sirhan, a Syrian, was arrested and convicted – but the story doesn’t end there. 

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Tim Tate, an investigative journalist and documentarian, along with Brad Johnson, an award winning writer and producer, could not accept the government’s account of the events of that fateful day, a day which transformed the very fabric of our nation.

1968 was a volatile time in American history: civil rights marches, feminist marches, the murder of Martin Luther King; the nation was being torn apart at the seams. The calm in this storm, often, was Robert Kennedy – Bobby – the younger brother to JFK, former Attorney General and darling of the Democratic Party. His murder and the subsequent government inquiries shocked the American people to their core. Sirhan Sirhan, a Syrian nationalist, immediately was taken into custody, charged and convicted of the crime. He has not, however, waivered through the years regarding his innocence.

Before this book was written, RFK, Jr, Bobby’s son, met with Sirhan Sirhan – alone – for hours, just the two of them talking.  Attorney RFK, Jr. asked pertinent questions as any attorney would do. RFK, Jr. came away convinced, without doubt, that Sirhan Sirhan did not fire the fatal shot into his father’s head. He is asking for a re-opening of the case.

As an historian and an admirer of the Kennedy family, I have read extensively about the family, each son, a few of the daughters and both assassinations – RFK and JFK. I know that while John was the flashier of the two brothers, Bobby was the reasonable, thoughtful, quiet one. I also have read Bobby’s journals during a mid-east visit that he and John took before JFK was elected. While JFK was “squishy” on mid-east matters, particularly on the Israel-Palestine issue, Bobby was steadfast in his support of Palestinian and Muslim rights. He wrote extensively regarding his doubts and questions pertaining to Israel’s policies against Palestine and Syria – and no, the Syrian problem is not a new thing, but rather was exacerbated during this time. Bobby supported Syria and the people there. Which begs the question, why would a Syrian kill the only presidential candidate who publicly supported their cause?

Aside from the political fall out that such an act would cause, the forensic evidence never has matched Sirhan Sirhan. In all of the photographs taken, Sirhan is standing in front of RFK when the shot was fired. This is well documented. Yet the bullet fired was to the back of Kennedy’s head. This alone should have raised doubts into the government inquiry, and for many it did. However, no amount of questioning would alter the government’s findings: Lone shooter, Sirhan Sirhan.

Tate and Johnson have conducted extensive research into all of the areas of this assassination and they have presented a well laid out, thoughtful review of the murder, arrest and subsequent inquiry. They concluded, as did RFK, Jr., that Sirhan Sirhan might have been complicit in the murder, but he was not the actual murderer. This does, of course, imply a conspiracy. While I don’t actually believe in conspiracies, as such, I do believe in government machinations and cover-ups. The US has thousands of government cover-ups on record now that once were considered “conspiracies” to the lay American. When governments lie in order to create war against innocent people, an inquiry into the death of a “bothersome” political candidate isn’t far-fetched at all. Remember, too, who ultimately went on to win that election and ask yourself, in retrospect, if he was a trustworthy man. Hardly.

In an interview with The Washington Post, as well as many other venues since, Robert Kennedy, Jr. has pointedly stated that Sirhan did not kill his father, that there had to been another gunman in the room and that a new investigation must be opened. I cannot think of a greater endorsement for this cause than his statement.

I already have admitted to being a Kennedy fanatic and, most likely, would have read this book regardless. It is, however, an excellent book, thoroughly researched and expertly written. The writing is so engrossing that I could not put it down until I turned the very last page – and then I went online to read more! It covers not only the assassination, but the tumultuous times surrounding it. It has been fifty years since this tragedy and it is past time that, as Americans, we address this issue.

I never have been more grateful to receive a book to review than I was this one! My appreciation to @TimTate and @BradJohnson, not only for the book but for their time spent on its research. Thank you, also, to Thistle Publishing Co. and #Netgalley for this opportunity.

 

To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment

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Like a true political junkie, I devoured Laurence Tribe’s books when I was at University. God Save This Honorable Court still is one of my favorite go-to books when I am castigating the current Supreme Court. Tribe’s knowledge on the US Constitution is without rival and it is exactly for that reason that I wanted to read this book. No one knows more than Tribe about the US Constitution, the role of the Supremes and the constitutionality of our government.

From the beginning of To End A Presidency, Tribe sets out his agenda: not to convince you of the need for impeachment or to dissuade you from desiring one, but rather to inform you of the constitutionality of an impeachment against the current office holder, the history of past impeachments and why they seldom, ever, are successful.

For those Americans who are calling for impeachment, and I definitely fall into this group, this is very good resource. Tribe explains exactly what would happen, how the framers of the Constitution knew this would happen and made a guideline for it and also cautions on the timing – it is a long arduous process.

The most chilling aspect of the book is the chapter on consequences. Not since the mid-1800s, prior to the US Civil War, has America been so sharply divided. Even then, the sheer hate for our fellow Americans was not as pronounced as it is now, nor was it daily exacerbated by the media. Should there be an impeachment of a president about whom the nation feels so strongly, there will be upheaval. Tribe cautions that, unlike in the past, this is a decision that should not be made lightly nor should Americans think that their troubles will be over once the current president is impeached. Given the current heightened emotional state of Americans, there will be riots and, quite possibly, another civil war/revolution. That is not to say that impeachment should not happen. America currently is nose-diving, hurling itself, toward Fascism and the loss of our Democratic-Republic form of government. Tribe earnestly suggests that Americans take long hard look at both sides: Fascism vs Revolution/War within our own borders. As for me, I know which side I’m on. Fascism is not an option – it never has been. It never will be – no matter what the cost.

Tribe is an excellent writer who does so in much the same way that he lectures. He is easy to understand and very engaging. I highly encourage ALL Americans to read To End a Presidency, be informed, know and understand what is at stake and, above all, to stop sticking your head in the sand, refusing to see what is happening in this country – on both sides.

Building the Great Society

It’s Wacky Wednesday here at Macsbooks, where anything goes as far as reviews. I have a pile of unread non-fiction, politically bent books that I feel I need to work my way through, one of which is Building the Great Society: Inside Lyndon Johnson’s White House.

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“We have the opportunity to move, not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society.” Lyndon Johnson

I find that reading and reviewing books about recent history often is difficult for two reasons: not enough time has passed since the events themselves and our own opinions and thoughts about the event cloud our judgement. Keeping both of those things in mind, I found “Building the Great Society” to be a thoroughly documented, well written synopsis of Lyndon Johnson’s inner sanctum, his dealings with Congress at the time and ultimately what became his legacy – The Great Society Legislation.

Johnson was not a favorite president, he wasn’t even well liked at the time. He gets blamed, often, for the US involvement in Vietnam and, to an extent rightly so since it was during his tenure that the war escalated. However, this book is not about foreign policy and the Vietnam War gets very little coverage. This is about Johnson’s domestic policy for which he is not given nearly enough credit.

It is important to remember that one of the most popular presidents had been assassinated, the world, including the US, was rushing head-long into a civil rights movement that was growing more violent by the day, and the Cold War had been escalated by both Eisenhower and the USSR. All of this was placed on Johnson’s shoulders with the death of Kennedy. Building the Great Society walks us through the various pieces of legislation that, quite literally, put a grieving country back together again and through its expansion into social programs helped, not only the poor, the African Americans, but introduced the first vestiges of rights for women. As hard as it is to imagine or remember, prior to the 1960s, women were not allowed to have their own bank accounts, own their own property without having a man – husband, father, uncle – SOME MALE – cosign with them. When we think of domestic policy in the 60s, the very basic human rights that we take for granted today, simply did not exist then. Sadly, far too many Americans assume those rights always have and always will exist for all. Clearly, they have not and will not.

I never was a fan of Johnson when I was younger. It is only recently – visiting his library, reading books such as this one – that I have come to understand his, and his wife’s, contribution to America. Whether you like him or not, know nothing about his presidency or simply would like to know more, I highly recommend Building the Great Society. It is a thorough and unbiased look at the Johnson years.

Much appreciation to the author, Joshua Zeitz, #Netgalley and #Penguin-Viking Press for my copy of this book.

 

 

A Little to the Midwest

On this “Southern Saturday,” we move to the Midwest. Sadly, there are not nearly as many amazingly talented authors from the Midwest region as there are from the south but both have an agrarian feel to their writing at their roots. So, in my world, they are combined.

Throughout history mankind has used to myths, stories – if you will – to explain the inexplicable, to retell events that are monumental or to drive home lessons that desperately need to be learned. Some of these were in the form of pictures (cave drawings,) some set to music, still others were passed down orally and told and retold through each generation, across lands and waters and continents and generations. It is how mankind has learned. It is how we have adapted.

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In “More Than True,”  poet Robert Bly surmises that fairy tales have been a way for man to learn very valuable tools of civilization. Using the ideas of philosophers as varied as Kierkegaard to Carl Jung, as well as interspersing his own poetry throughout the book, Bly closely examines six well known tales, such as The Frog Prince, and looks deeper at their hidden meaning.

At this juncture, if the reader is not familiar with Bly and his work, it might be good to note that he is the leader – the Leader – of the mythopoetic men’s movement. This is the movement that suggested that “men” had lost their masculinity due to the industrial revolution, the five day work week and <gasp> the feminist movement. In order for these wayward, lost men to regain their masculinity they had to go to sweat lodges, retreats (male only of course) and drum circles. Yes. That’s correct.

This movement is important to this review for two reasons: First, his primary supposition is correct. There is wisdom in fairy tales. Anyone who has studied the “flood narrative” that most have read in the Bible, knows that it is found in every civilization, in every culture, throughout time, although few include Noah or an ark. If you’ve ever said the children’s poem, “Ring Around the Roses,” then you have told the story of the Bubonic Plague which was told and retold through stories, myths and even in rhyme. So the premise is correct. However, the poems that Bly has chosen has been carefully done so in order to further his errant beliefs regarding this men’s movement. He uses the hierarchy of needs by Carl Jung to prop up his own ideas of masculinity when Jung was an existentialist who couldn’t have cared less about gender issues.

All of that to say and explain why this book was fascinating and frustrating and a complete failure for me as a psychology major and as an historian. I absolutely do not recommend this book. The very last thing this world needs is more men sitting around a circle getting hyped up on testosterone and beating drums!

 

 

 

A Subversive Gospel:Flannery O’Connor and the Reimagining of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth

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Wednesdays at Macsbooks will be set aside for the unusual books – the children’s books, non-fiction, quirky or seldom read genres. After spending a year, 2017, rapidly reading the hottest best sellers, I needed a time to get back to my roots of reading books for the sheer love of reading. This has included simple titles, love stories, historical fiction, scholarly writings and science fiction. I’m definitely not a one genre type gal and I hope that is reflected throughout this blog. With that said, let’s talk about Ms. O’Connor.

At university I floundered, no wait, I explored…. several academic degrees before (finally) graduating with a double major, double minor. I actually had enough hours in literature to add an addition minor in lit and it was due entirely to Flannery O’Connor. I followed her through American Literature, Great Female Writers, Southern Literature and more. I simply could not get enough of Flannery O’Connor and her eclectic writing style. Imagine how exited I was when I discovered A Subversive Gospel, a new look at O’Connor’s writing and the influence that her devout Catholicism played on her writing and her characters.

In A Subversive Gospel, a very readable academic book, Bruner examines O’Connor’s works through the microscope of her religion and asks that you, the reader, do the same. He points out that much of O’Connor’s work was heavily influenced by Baron Friedrich von Hügel and Thomas Aquinas  – and it was – as well as by her own devotion to the Catholic church and her fascination with the Catholic saints. Bruner then suggests that O’Connor’s writing shows the reader God’s grace through the ugly, malformed and the sinner which is far more great a grace than one seen through the eyes of the saint. It is an interesting premise for which he has much research and scholarly backing. It is a well written and thoughtful book. However…

After studying O’Connor as much as I have done over the years and loving her and her characters as I have, I must add that it was O’Connor’s writing that led me to leave the church entirely. Through her eyes and her writing I saw the church and the South as it truly was – a place not filled with beauty but of underlying darkness. O’Connor struggled with illness throughout her adult life, as have I. She was devout, as was I, and through her writing I often saw a woman, much like myself, who knew what we were supposed to believe but knew there was an underbelly of something else lying there. She showed her readers that underbelly, the darkness, the cruelty, the ugliness that was the church, the south, its people. IF you are a very religious person and you want to see a very religious, devout woman, then that is what you will see in her work – I suppose – as Bruner has done. IF you are a woman, raised in the South, raised in a community of misogyny, of racism, in a world where anyone who is not white, male and perfect is condemned, then I suspect that, as I did, you will think this book is an interesting read but full of rubbish. O’Connor was a strong woman who was marching against her time, against her culture and through her work she still is. I will not reduce her to a religious paradigm. She was far too talented for that.