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The Seven Books In Seven Days Challenge - an "Other Stuff" post!

02-26-2020 | By Jeff Day |

The tag line on Jeff's Place is "Music, Hi-Fi, and Other Stuff". This is an "Other Stuff" post.

My friend Andy Moore invited me to join the "Seven Books in Seven Days Challenge" on Facebook. 

As a prolific reader, I thought Andy's invite was an opportunity to reflect back on some of my favorite books over the years, and the fond memories they provided. 

Many of you love literature as well, so I thought I'd share this subset of my favorites with you, and if you wish, share a couple of your favorites in literature with me in the comments section.

Book One Day One - Henry David Thoreau's "Walden"

I love to read, and I enjoy reading a wide variety genres, as the abundance of books around my house attest to.

Henry David Thoreau's "Walden"

My first book recommendation for day one was a book that excited my imagination as a youngster: Henry David Thoreau's "Walden" was an epiphany for me (followed closely by "Civil Disobedience"), and changed the way I viewed the world.

Henry David Thoreau was a part of the influential transcendentalist philosophical movement - the first notable American intellectual movement - that occurred in the 1820s and 1830s in the United States.

Henry David Thoreau. Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The transcendentalists included notable authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Walt Whitman, Amos Bronson Alcott, Louisa May Alcott, and of course, Henry David Thoreau, as well as many others.

Louisa May Alcott. Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Perhaps more than any philosophical movement in United States history, the transcendentalists would go on to shape the evolution of the "Idea of American Civilization" with their forward thinking ideas.

The transcendentalists influenced the liberalization of American theology with their ideas that democracy should accomodate many different religious practices, or the lack of any religious practice.

The transcendentalists promoted a cultural evolution that included an emphasis on literature, painting, music, sculpture, and architecture.

Margaret Fuller. Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The transcendentalists initiated discussions about social reform issues related slavery, poverty, and women's rights.

The transcendentalists put into practice educational theories that taught people how to think, instead of just relying on rote memorization.

The transcendentalists promoted the education of all people, including children and women (a controversial social subject at the time), and espoused widespread literacy and public education, which they believed would help people with the development of "their better selves". 

The transcendentalists advocated for a style of politics that addressed social issues of poverty, disease among the people, as well as other forms of social suffering. 

The transcendentalists contributed much to the idea of an inclusive American Civilization, and their ideas influence the evolution of social movements to this day.

The transcendentalists' beliefs, hopes, and idealism have been battered and wounded by the rise of materialism, industrialism, unfettered capitalism, the war machine, racism, misogyny, religious intolerance, the debt bondage of workers due to neoliberal economics, and political brutality, but continue to be a powerful force of good and inspiration to the present day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Public domain image.

To quote Professor Ashton Nichols of Dickinson College, "... the movement has had a direct influence on a wide range of literary, social, and political movements. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., are direct philosophical descendants of Thoreau. Ecumenicism, women's rights, and environmental awareness are modern ways of thinking that owe a direct debt to the(se) remarkable individuals ... Modern America still owes a great debt to such thinkers as Emerson, Thoreau, Alcott, and Fuller, whose ideas lasted throughout their own lives and beyond." 

For more information about the transcendentalist movement, I highly recommend Professor Ashton Nichols's "Emerson, Thoreau, and the Transcendentalist Movement" course that is available from The Teaching Company HERE

For more information about "Walden" check out the Wikipedia link HERE.

Book Two Day Two - Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast"

For my second book on day two I chose Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast".

Ernest Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast"

Hemingway bought a home in Ketchum, Idaho, in 1959, which was not too far from where I grew up as a little boy in Boise, Idaho.

Hemingway working on his book "For Whom the Bell Tolls" at the Sun Valley Lodge, Idaho, in December 1939. Public domain photo by Lloyd Arnold, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Inspired by Hemingway, as an undergraduate student at Boise State University I would drive out  through the pine tree filled mountains past Idaho City towards Ketchum, stop in a scenic spot, and write essays for the English / creative writing class I was taking at the time.

Hemingway bird-hunting at Silver Creek, near Picabo, Idaho, January 1959; with him are Gary Cooper and Bobbie Peterson. Public domain photo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Hemingway had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for “The Old Man and the Sea” in 1953, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954 for "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in "The Old Man and the Sea", and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style." (Wikipedia)

By the time Hemingway had moved to Idaho he had become quite a troubled individual, and eventually committed suicide while living in Ketchum in 1961 at the age of 61. 

While I adore pretty much all of Hemingway's writing, Hemingway's memoir "A Moveable Feast" really lit the fires of my imagination.

Hemingway's memoir was set in the time of his youth when he was a struggling writer in Paris in the 1920s. His accounts of this period are wonderful, and touch upon interactions with his contemporaries like Hilaire Belloc, Aleister Crowley, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and many others. 

"A Moveable Feast" was published in 1964 posthumously by Hemingway's fourth wife and widow, Mary Hemingway, three years after Hemingway's death in 1961.

Woody Allen's "Midnight In Paris"

"A Moveable Feast" was also the inspiration for the 2011 Woody Allen film "Midnight in Paris" where a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to write his first novel is transported back in time to 1920s Paris, and rubs shoulders with some of the characters from "A Moveable Feast", as well as a few others, at a party for Jean Cocteau - highly recommended as well!

More on Hemingway HERE.

More on "A Moveable Feast" HERE.

More on "Midnight in Paris" HERE.

Book Three Day Three - John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie: In Search of America"

For my third book on day three I chose John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie: In Search of America".

John Steinbeck's "Travels With Charlie - In Search of America"

John Steinbeck is known for his novels set during the Great Depression (August 1929 – March 1933), a time just after my own parents were born (1923 and 1925).

I have heard much about the difficulty of those times from my parents, Jack and Jaine, who grew up in the relative poverty of those difficult times. Having little to nothing of material worth, they felt like they had "struck it rich" by rising through many difficulties into the middle class during their lifetimes. Good people of little material means.

Steinbeck's novels like the "The Grapes of Wrath" (winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize), and "Of Mice and Men" artfully describes the difficult conditions people went through during the Great Depression. 

Although I love all of Steinbeck's writing, and any of his books would have easily qualified for a mention in this challenge, "Travels With Charlie" is special for me, as I love a good trip, and more importantly, Steinbeck explores serious questions about America and how it was changing. 

John and Elaine Steinbeck in 1950. Public domain photo, courtesy of Wikipedia.

Steinbeck wrote in "Travels With Charlie", "Thus I discovered that I did not know my own country. I, an American writer, writing about America, was was working from memory, and the memory is at best a faulty, warpy reservoir. I had not heard the speech of America, swelled the grass and trees and sewage, seen its hills and water, its color and quality of light. I knew the changes only from books and newspapers. But more than this, I had not felt the country for twenty-five years."

Thus, Steinbeck painted the name "Rocinante" on the side of his pickup & camper in sixteenth-century Spanish script - the name of Don Quixote's horse - and then embarked on his journey with his poodle, Charlie, to discover America. 

What did he find? Well, you'll have to read the book for that. 

Paul James from Australia visits Jeff's Place

I can tell you though, that I would like to do a trip to discover America. I have been thinking about this since Paul James visited me, coming all the way from Australia.

In fact Paul James did a trip that John Steinbeck would be proud of. Paul started on the East Coast, travelled his way across the USA with many stops along the way. Paul made it all the way to the West Coast, then took a quick out of the way trip to visit me.

Doc Leo (left), Paul (right).

While Paul visited, Doc Leo stopped by as well, and we had a nice time visiting. I was enchanted by the stories of Paul's adventures he shared with as he traveled across the USA.

Thank you John Steinbeck and Paul James for sharing your adventures of discovering America, and you've inspired me to go out and discover America myself at the earliest opportunity! 

Book Four Day Four - "The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth"

For my fourth book I chose "The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth" from Copper Canyon Press.

The Complete Poems of Kenneth Rexroth

I love the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth, it transports me to a wondrous place in my imagination. 

Rexroth was a central figure in the "San Francisco Renaissance" period, referring to the time in the 1950s when San Francisco became a central point the avant-garde of American poetry.

Rexroth's name might remind some of you of the Greg Brown album "Covenant", and the song on it titled "Rexroth's Daughter" (a favorite of mine) that was popular some years ago.

Greg Brown's "Covenant" album.

The song's origin were described by Brown - as best I remember it - as follows: His father was a backwoods Pentecostal preacher, and Greg learned to play music in his Dad's church. Greg's Mom loved the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth, so that's how Greg became aware of Rexroth.

"Rexroth's Daughter"

So the song was inspired by Greg's Mom's love of the poetry of Rexroth, but is not about her directly. Interestingly, Rexroth's poetry can get a bit racy in places, so Greg's Mom not only had good taste in reading Rexroth, but she was obviously able to reconcile her love for the poetry from the avant-garde  poetry scene in San Francisco. I'll be she's a cool lady!

Book Five Day Five - Louise Penney's "Kingdom of the Blind"

For book five I chose Canadian mystery novel author, Louise Penney's, "Kingdom of the Blind".

Louise Penney's "Kingdom of the Blind"

I love reading books in the mystery genre just for a fun respite from the "serious" non-fiction books that have dominated my reading of late.

I adore Ms. Penney's imagination. This book is part of her "Chief Inspector Gamache" series of mystery novels, and actually I could have just as easily chosen any one of her books from that series for a recommendation - they're all great reads.

I love the creativity of Ms. Penny in character and plot development, and the way she weaves important contemporary social themes into her novels.

Not to be missed for fans of mystery novels!

Book Six Day Six - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes"

For book six I chose Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. Need I say more?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes".

This is a two-volume annotated set of all the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Conan Doyle. It fills in a lot of period details one might not be aware of as you progress through the stories. A good one for Holmes aficionados!

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" from Granada Television starring Jeremy Brett.

Also, for those who want to watch what is in my opinion the best Sherlock Holmes stories ever released on film I recommended Granada Television series starring Jeremy Brett. Fun!

Book Seven Day Seven - Robert E. Howard's "Conan"

For book seven I chose Robert E. Howard's "Conan".

Robert E. Howard's "Conan"

When I was a little boy my favorite book genre was a subset of the fantasy genre, the "sword & sorcery" genre.

Exciting adventures, battles between good and evil, a touch of the supernatural, with a little romance thrown in from time to time.

Authors like Clark Ashton Smith, Michael Moorcock, L. Sprague de Camp, Karl Edward Wagner, all wrote in this genre, but the "grandaddy" author that defined this genre had to be the troubled Robert E. Howard.

Robert E. Howard (1934). Public domain photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Howard was a favorite of authors like Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, David Gemmell, Eric Nylund, John Jakes, et al, all admiring Howard's writing and paying tribute to him.

Robert E. Howard brought us tales about Conan the Barbarian, Solomon Kane, and Kull of Atlantis, for example.

The Texan, Howard, was a boxer, bodybuilder, short story writer, poet, novelist, epistolean, and wrote in the genres of sword and sorcery, westerns, boxing stories, historical, horror, and southern gothic stories.

So my final posting is a tribute to Robert E. Howard with his most well known character, Conan.

Conan became so popular that even after Howard's death by suicide at age 30 (1936), that numerous authors took up the torch to write dozens of Conan stories based on Howard's character.

This particular book is compilation of all Howard's Conan stories and is a must have for the S&S collector!

Well, that's all for now, and I hope you'll get a chance to read one of these delightful books.

As always, thanks for stopping by, and may the "tome" be with you! 

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