Tuesday, December 23, 2014

My Favorite Reading in 2014

These are in no particular order because each one is special in its own way.  To see a few of my comments, visit my Goodreads page: www.goodreads.com 
Literary Fiction
1.       All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2.       Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
3.       Nora Webster by Colm Toibin
4.       The Paying Guests by Sara Waters
5.       A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
6.       Girls in Their Married Bliss by Edna O’Connor
7.       The Son by Jon Nesbo
8.       Police by Jon Nesbo
Short Stories
9.       Dear Life by Alice Munro
Memoir and Biography
10.   Country Girl by Edna O’Brien
11.   Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan

Sunday, October 26, 2014

What Happened When I Judged a Book By Its Cover

The Big Crowd by Kevin Baker

by      February 2014
It was the book cover, a watercolor depiction of New York City skyscrapers, that drew my attention to "The Big Crowd." As I stood in the aisle of the bookstore reading the inside jacket, I realized the story was about former New York City Mayor William O'Dwyer and his younger brother Paul, a noted New York attorney. I knew I had to get the book because of the O'Dwyer link to my own family.

The O'Dwyers were friends of my grandfather, all of them from Bohola, a small town in County Mayo, Ireland. I recalled my mother telling me about the visits Bill made to their home on Madison Street in Brooklyn in the years before he became mayor.

"The Big Crowd" is historical fiction about the years between 1940 and 1953 when corruption was rampant throughout the city, and when the names of Murder, Inc. criminals filled the pages of the newspapers. This is a look at how sometimes the good guys make accommodations with the bad guys in order to get things done. I was young during these years but I do remember how Bill O'Dwyer fell from grace when corruption rumors surrounded him and especially when he married the fashion model Sloan Simpson(Slim Sadler in the book.).

In the 1980s, I happened to mention to a friend, a writer for the Irish Echo, that my sister and I were planning a trip to Ireland and, of course, would visit Bohola. He told me to call Paul O'Dwyer at his Wall Street office to let him know. I didn't see why, but I called anyway and left a message. A few days later Paul O'Dwyer called my home. He encouraged me to visit a group home for the disabled that he helped to establish in Bohola. Of course, I would. Then he went on to tell me he remembered my grandfather and an uncle who had moved to Cleveland and established an insurance firm. I was amazed at his memory for such details.

So it was with these memories that I turned the pages of this book. There are many familiar names here, some of whom, like Cardinal Francis Spellman, do not fare well. And Robert Moses, credited for the area's highway system who seems like an unpleasant person to do business with. "The Big Crowd" is historical fiction, but the barebones are accurate and a good history lesson.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

“It will cost you an arm and a leg.”

 Certain common phrases entered our vocabulary in an interesting way. Take, for example, “It will cost you an arm and a leg.” 

I learned its origin a while ago on a trip to the Brandywine Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. As the docent led the group through the home and studio of the famous Wyeth family – illustrator N. C. Wyeth, his artist son Andrew and artist grandson Jamie, she stopped at a portrait done during the 19th century by a possible Wyeth ancestor.

 The portrait showed only the man’s head and shoulders. The docent explained that in those days if a client wanted an artist to paint a fuller depiction of himself, he would have to pay more. If he wanted his arms shown, there would be an additional charge and a full-length painting would increase the cost considerably. Therefore, the suggestion of a higher price – “It will cost you an arm and a leg.” 

If you’re a word detective or know the origin of a common phrase, I’d love to hear from you.