Sunday, 24 January 2016

Deal Me In Short Story- Thomas Pynchon

Entropy by Thomas Pynchon

The Deal Me In
Short Story Challenge
This was the story I picked at random through the Deal Me In Short Story Card Challenge.  I didn't enjoy it much. Probably because I didn't understand it. So after I read it I needed to look in Wikipedia and Google and see if what I thought about it was correct or not. Fortunately I pretty much figured it out without knowing it.

This is the book I choose a story from the
15th of every month.
It was first published in 1960 and it is very much a 60's story from what I remember of the American 60's. The time period in the story is February 1957 and the location is an apartment in Washington DC.

There is a lease breaking party going on. There are several musicians walking around. While they are playing a 54 year old man is chanting about thermodynamics. More university students continue to arrive. It seems like a typical university weekend party in someone's unit.

The main protagonist is holding a baby bird cupped into his hands. This made no sense to me as I doubt he would find a fledgling in February in Washington DC.  The names are Saul and Meatball Mulligan. The dying baby bird stood for several ideas in the story.

You might ask what Entropy means?  I did. According to a dictionary online it is a measure of the loss of information in a transmitted signal or message. I imagine people who studied physics would know this.

In this story it is a metaphor for the discussions people are having and also as the evening progresses the baby bird is quietly slipping away. This story is full of metaphors. There are almost too many to bear. But if I remember people of the 60's were really into metaphors.
From Wikipedia

During the party a group of policemen arrive at the door. Instead of saying, "Hey, turn the music down" they walk through to the kitchen and join the party. There are drugs and alcohol and many deep and meaningful conversations happening in every corner of the room. The descriptions make one feel as if they are sitting in a chair in a corner watching everything.

What did I learn from this?  Well if you're having a deep and meaningful conversation while at a party imbibing in drugs and alcohol you are probably going to sound less profound than you think. There will probably be a lot of gaps as your mind struggles to organise itself. Entropic brain I guess.

The themes are the slipping away of many things that come and go in a pop culture and drugs give you quite a different view point of the status quo.  Conversations aren't connected much, life at times seems sporadic in a drug culture. There is also a bit of bad humour but of course the participants don't know it. I picked up on it.

There turns out, as the party progresses to be a complete breakdown of all of the systems of control.

Like I said, it is very sixties.

I liked that I had no idea about anything Thomas Pynchon related and now I have read several documents on the web about him I feel I know a bit more about him.  It was an interesting exercise.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Weekend Wrap Up 17 January, 2016

I can't believe we're already over half way through the month of January.  I wish the calendar would slow down a bit. This has been a pleasant week as there are still groups I belong to that are on holiday until Feb or March so I have had lots of time to read, walk the dogs, play with photoshop.

This week was a funny week weather wise. We had one day where the temp was well into the 30's (90'sF) and the very next day it was down to 12 (50's F).  One night all the windows would be open and we'd by lying on top of the covers, the ceiling fan going. (Odie thinks the ceiling fan might come down during the night and get him so he usually hides under a blanket when it is on)  The next we were hunkered down under blankets. That is the joy of Tasmania's weather. If you don't like the weather just go to bed because it will be different when you wake up.
You can barely see the river through the smoke haze.
Just a very light outline.

The city of Hobart is currently under a smoke haze from the bush fires happening on the west coast. Everytime the fire department puts out a total fire ban warning across the state all the arsonists in the place jump to attention and start lighting the place up. Though I understand these west coast fires are from lightning.

Usually we have a view of the river Derwent out the front living room window but this morning we could barely see it.

Books on the go?  Well I have been reading and listening All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I am only about a third of the way through it but need to finish it soon as our book club is discussing it the first week of Feb.  So far I am really enjoying it. I would expect it to be a very good book as it won the Pulitzer Prize and I generally enjoy those award winning books. Will do a post on it after the group meets.

I read another book in the Alex Cross series by James Paterson on the day that was too hot to concentrate. I know people think James Paterson is not literary and they kind of curl their lip if you say you read one but I saw an interview with him.

He was asked why he doesn't write more literary masterpieces and he said simply that he can't so he writes what he is good at which are good thrillers and he makes a mega ton of money. So I say "Good Onya James."

I started his Alex Cross series years and years ago and love the family of Alex, an African American police detective who lives with his family in Washington DC.  He has a wife, a few children and a wonderful 90 some year old Nana who I really like. Over the years I have been with him when his first wife was murdered, his children were born, his second wedding. He solved some horrendous cases with his friend Sampson and I enjoy the area around DC. Some books are also set in North Carolina where he still has family.  His family seems very real to me. His first Alex Cross mystery was published in 1993 and was called Along Came A Spider.
The one I just finished was Cross Justice and was the 22nd  in the series. I have now read all 22 of them. I don't read his other books but I do follow this series as I began it such a long time ago.
Thomas Pynchon

It was also time to pick my Deal Me In 15th of the month short story and it was one from Thomas Pynchon called  Entropic.  It was a difficult story to get my head around at first. I read it last night and at the end of it I needed to sit and think a bit. Then I researched it on the web and now I have a much clearer understanding of it. Thomas Pynchon was an interesting writer. He was born in 1936.  I will do a separate post this week on this short story.

The rest of the week was pretty uneventful. I did meet a friend for a coffee at Fuller's Book store and did enjoy looking around the shop. I bought a great photography book to help me with my photography lessons.  I plan on going through some of the exercises in it but that might come to this post a bit later. The coffee is always good. So are the desserts but I did resist. Still have Christmas fat on me.
The coffee shop is at the back on the left. Best book
shop in Hobart by far for new books.

I did a bush walk with the dogs the other day and we had a good time with them and the camera. They are finally not pulling on the lead so much and are used to me stopping and making them wait while I focus the camera. It has been a good exercise for all of us.

I also completed Lesson 8 of my Photoshop course. Learning this software is a real bugger. But after spending 2 days studying this particular lesson I got through it and my exam score was 88% so I was happy with that.  The answer I gave for the question wasn't wrong, it just wasn't the best answer. I hate how they do that.  Five more classes to get through.

I didn't make it to the cinema so no news to report on that front though there are several good movies appearing I wouldn't mind seeing. Overall I would say the week was a good one albeit quite quiet. That's okay. I like quiet.  I hope all of you had a good week and enjoyed some reading enjoyment.

May the Penguin continue to have a good life.......

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House

The Residence: Inside the Private Worth of the White House.

Today the Penguin and I finished this book and we're still talking about it. It was lots of fun. The author, Kate Andersen Brower went to a lot of trouble to write this.

There really hasn't been much written about the inner workings and the staff within the white house especially as you see there are more than 100 people who work there.

When you think about how  many people are needed to take care of one family the numbers are amazing.

We had head ushers and more junior ushers, butlers, maids, cooks, chefs, electricians, plumbers, hairdressers, garden staff and mechanics just to name a few. Every time someone turned around they ran into another person. Then there were nannies and educators for the children.

The white house has six stories though you might  not know it because of the way it is arranged. There are mezzanines here and there. The presidential family pretty much stayed on floors 2 and 3.  There is a bunker underneath it for security.

It seems once staff were hired they stayed there a very long time. Some as long as 40 to 55 years. The staff positions are not advertised but rather gained by word of mouth. One butler had 9 other family members who worked there.  Police checks of course are vital. The other skill they had to have was the ability to keep their mouth closed.  If they talked to anyone outside of the white house they were sacked immediately. The loyalty of the staff was first and foremost and the author reiterated this point ad nauseam. No matter what was happening in the world they kept their head down, mouth closed and got on with the job at hand.

The time period went as far back as Truman and even Lincoln got a mention but the book mainly focused on John Kennedy's presidency through to Barrack Obama's.  

It is like an enormous Downton Abbey but with many more staff.

Some of the historical points were mentioned. The Kennedy assassination was a big one of course and the author writes how staff were affected by this. Very sad.  9/11 comes up in the last chapter. But rather than a chronological list of presidents, first ladies, children and events being the main focus, what was most interesting was the personalities and the families of the people who worked there. I especially loved the Ushers and Butlers. Most butlers were African American who worked there for very long periods of time. Decades. They were great grandsons of slaves and their histories were very interesting. Several of the main characters that were discussed told of their childhoods in the south and how they managed to get to Washington DC and live and work in the white house.

One butler who was there 55 years was buried in Arlington Cemetery when he died for service to quite a few presidents at the request of Jackie Kennedy to Lady Bird Johnson.

Interesting points included the personalities of the presidential families. Who was lovely and popular (Bush families, both Sr and Jr) and who was more difficult and needed kid gloves (Hilary Clinton and Nancy Reagan). It told who was traditional and did things by the book (the Johnsons) and who was casual and ran around in jeans and t shirts (Kennedys) The staff loved the Kennedys especially the young children, John and Caroline.

There were some funny moments too such as when staff might walk in on Reagan who was starkers or Kennedy who had naked women running around the second floor when Jackie was away.  Though it is not written from a sordid point of view, it is written simply with tongue in cheek and staff had to try hard not to laugh. The things these people saw and heard.
The Author: Kate Andersen Brower

The book has an extensive introduction, chapter notes for each chapter, a well documented bibliography and complete index.

The author, Kate Andersen Brower spend four years covering the Obama White House for Bloomberg News (as stated on the jacket cover). She is a former CBS News staff and Fox news producer. She lives outside Washington D.C., with her husband and their two young children.

In preparation for this book she read copious amounts of books, newspaper and periodical articles and interviewed one hundred staff members of the White House for this book.

It is well organised, entertaining, enlightening and informative. I thoroughly enjoyed it and read it in record time.

The Penguin when
he emerged from the
Lincoln Bedroom
(silly bugger)
The Penguin had fun too. He seemed quite fascinated with the Lincoln Room where the Gettysburg Address is homed and he loved it the day Elvis Presley popped in simply because he was in the neighbourhood. A lot of things like this happen.

That's it for this book. I would certainly recommend it to others.

May the Penguin be with you........

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Weekend Wrap Up 9 January 2016

It's been a really pleasant week. Not too much on but enough so I didn't get bored.

Books:  I finished the Gilded Hour by Sara Donati.  I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly.  A library book I ordered before Christmas at the came in this week so I am more than half way through that.  It's called
The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House by Kate Andersen Brower.

I am reading it quickly as I am finding it incredibly riveting.  I won't say much about it as I am not finished but I was surprised there are 100 people that work in the White House.  Some of them have been there as long as 40 to 55 years The loved the Bush senior family the most for their down home friendliness and lack of discrimination and the ones they disliked the most was Hilary Clinton for the temper tantrums, door slamming and unrealistic expectations she had of the staff to finish jobs within certain time limits. She said she and Bill had the most passionate and volatile relationships. Either passionate love or throwing vitriolic barbs.

I imagine a few of them won't be happy to have her back if she wins this next election this year. Then I have no idea what Donald Trump would be like in this White House environment either.  They might need extra staff to just take care of his hair though they are hair dressers on staff. 

If you enjoy even the slightest bit of politics this is a very fun read.  More to come about this fun book  during the week hopefully.

Another fun thing I did was to go see the  movie Suffragette with a good friend and then have a light meal in the theatre's cafe afterwards.  The State Cinema in Hobart is a very old theatre and it has been open and closed several times during the last 100 plus years. But now it has been completely redeveloped. It has 8 smaller theatres, a rooftop theatre that is outdoors in nice weather, a beautiful independent book shop attached to it and a wonderful cafe with excellent food at reasonable prices. It is no wonder the place is packed all of the time.
Movie Suffragette 

Suffragette is a disturbing film of what life was like for women in London, England in 1902. It is based on a true story of the fight women endured to get the vote. I forget the exact date now but it was the 1920's before they got the vote. At the end of the film they had a list of when all countries gave the vote to women. New Zealand was first and Australia was second in 1902. The United States was quite a bit later, I believe 1920 after World War I.   I just never believed Australian politics could be in the forefront of other countries but it certainly was back then. 

Although women still have a ways to go especially around equal pay issues with men they have certainly come a long way from London's 1902 when they could not even have ownership of their children.  I might mention Saudi Arabia is only now discussing the vote for women at the time this movie was made. It has now been approved and women have voted in their first election in 2015.

Today was a visit to Salamanca Market in town. It was incredibly crowded as my friend Kate and I tried to wade our way around the stalls. A cruise ship is in port so that always dumps several  thousand people into the city. We sat at our table with our coffees and picked out the American tourists. You can always spot them as their shirts generally match their pants, usually capris on the women and the men look extremely clean cut.  We could also hear the accents as their walked past us. They were having a wonderful time so we thought that was a good thing.
Salamanca Market 8:30 - 3:00 every Saturday year around
I was looking for Penguin books. There is a book shop in Salamanca, that is independently owned but I don't generally shop there. I find the staff to be snooty at times and I have heard the woman in the shop make fun of the people who buy certain books after they leave the store. She especially doesn't like people who come in asking for books by the Dalai Lama. I always buy my books at Fullers Book shop which is also independent and has been in business for decades. Friendly staff, helpful and I am in there so often when I walk out the door, the owner yells out, "See you tomorrow!" which makes me laugh. 

However the Snooty book store has a section of second hand books.  I found a second hand Nancy Mitford Penguinn book I don't  have. The price wasn't marked.  I asked the owner how much he wanted for it. (I won't pay more than $5.00 for a Penguin in great condition as this one was.)  
"Ten dollars. "  he said.  I said, "Don't be ridiculous, it's an old Penguin. I'll give you $5.00 for it." He threw his hands in the air, laughed and said "Okay".  Then he added "It's a Nancy Mitford and she's very popular". I said back to him, "Only with people who buy books regularly or collect old books or read blogs." The common person who comes in here doesn't even know who she is."  He just looked at me and handed me  my change for a $10.00 note. I chuckled under my breath as I left. 

I found a few other books I liked at the market stalls once we started walking around with the cruise passengers. 

They are:  A Short Story about Drawing by Andrew Marr. He chats about the pleasure he gets from drawing, how he approaches it, what he likes to draw. A very informal conversation about the joys of it all. The only thing I draw is the clothes on the Travellin Penguin and that's only because he can't run around these pages naked.

Just Like That: a novel by Lily Brett I had never seen before. I really enjoy her books. The last book I read of hers about life in New York City was delightful and I loved her book about Lola Bensky. I have a couple of others of hers on my shelf. Most of her books are auto or semi-auto biographical. She is an Australian who lives in New York city. She is also the child of parents who were in Auschwitz and she addresses the issues children of these parents have growing up. I guess you couldn't complain about how tough something was as the parents would laugh at you. There is also guilt associated with children of parents who were prisoners of war because of what they endured.

Penguin Plays No. 1289: Three European Plays. Ring Round the Moon by Jean Anouilh; The Queen and the Rebels by Ugo Betti and In Camera by Jean-Paul Sarte (first published Penguin)

The $5.00 Nancy Mitford first published Penguin No. 1181 Madame de Pompadour. 

The Virago Book of Women Gardeners Edited by Deborah Kellaway As Read on BBC Radio 4. I like the informal discussions within these pages. I am also on a Virago Book kick and enjoy these books by female writers.  Of course I can't read any of these until the Triple Dog Dare of TBR books finishes 1 April. 

Saturday evening is also our Twilight Motorbike Ride. We meet at a place on the other side of the river Derwent at 4:30 and usually are home by 8:00 pm. before it gets dark.  I am thinking I might do this as the weather is warm today, 26 C (82 F) and little wind. I will include a photo of where we meet. It is very pretty. 

Last but not least, our cats Uncle Buck and Cousin Eddie have been following me around all week.  Since we had a couple of cool weather days we sat around the house and both of us read quite a bit. So Bucky and Eddie were very happy to be near us. 
Uncle Buck (left) and Cousin Eddie are never far from a lap.
I hope you find interesting things to do next week.  May the Penguin be with you........

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Short Story: Kong At the Seaside by Arnold Zweig

From the book: A World of Great Stories (Stories from around the World)

Kong At The Seaside by Arold Zweig  (A German short story)

The Penguin and I had to hold our breath over this story.  It was kind of tense.

We arrived on the beach to discover Kong running along the surf, wanting to jump into the water but he was not allowed.

Kong is an Airedale Terrier. Willie is his 8 year old owner. Willie won't let Kong go into the water.
Following more slowly behind is Willie's father only called Groll.

Kong is exhuberant at the beach and runs through the sand sculptures of a young girl, about the same age as Willie. The dog stands on her spade.

She has a complete tantrum and tell her father who is nearby that she wants him to buy the dog so it may be shot for ruining her play. She claims if this does not happen she will throw her plate off the table at dinner time. She is obviously a spoiled little brat with a lot of money in her family.

Well, the Penguin and I were appalled at what she wanted to do to Kong.  She told her father to offer the boy 15 pounds.  His father tells the boy that for that much money he can get the bicycle he has wanted. Tassles, horn, little storage compartment.  But the boy replies "no", he loves Kong. 

The girl then says to her father to offer 20 pounds. With that Willie can have not only the bicycle but a canoe and maybe a watch he had his eye on. The boy only pulls Kong closer to himself.

The bid arises to 50 pounds. The father of the boy at this time is amazed at the idea of so much money. "You can buy the bicycle, the canoe, the watch and a tent. The boy is worried and reiterates how much he loves Kong and he will not do it. 

Finally the offer goes to 100 pounds. The father is rather excited by now. 100 pounds!  I can invest that money and you will have a college education when you are older and your sick mother will have money to go to a reputable sanatorium and be made better. 

At this the boy says, "And now I think, the incident is closed."

This is where the Penguin and I leave you.  Was the dog sold?  Was he shot? How does the boy handle it? What in the world happens next?

NB: The Theme- It is one thing to have much honour when you have a full stomach but if you are poor, without much, honour may be sold cheaply.

However the Penguin and I will put  you out of your suspense:  If you would like to read this story please open this link. 


Wikipedia article about Arnold Zweig is a good one so if you're interested to know more about him you can read it (HERE).

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Weekend Wrap-up 2 January 2016

I cannot believe we are in a new year but I love it. It is like sleeping in new bedding, eating off from clean plates and running down hills with the dogs in fresh grass.

This is the inaugural post of Weekend Wrap-up where I share what has been and what might be each and every weekend.

First things first. Sheila of Book Journey (here) wants to know where all of her readers are from and what is the first book of the year they are  reading.
1.  I live in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia so I hope to add this continent to her list of other reader's countries and continents.
2. The book the Penguin and I are travelling through today is the Gilded Hour by Sarah Donati.


We are in New York City in the1880's. We are still hearing stories about the American civil war.
Sophie and Anna are half cousins who live in a large family home in New York with their aunt.  But...Sophie is an obstetrician and Anna is a surgeon.  Sophie is a woman of colour and Anna is a caucasian. Sophie has come from Louisiana to live in Manhattan with Anna and her aunt and their housekeeper and gardener (who are a married couple). 

Sophie is in love with Cap who has tuberculosis and although they do marry they stay on separate sides of the room from each other. Cap is dying and Sophie and Cap are about to go to Europe for a new experimental treatment program Cap will participate in.

Both physicians work with the poverty stricken New York new immigrants and birth control is the biggest issue. There is an important man in town, Anthony Comstock (an evil do-er) who tries to trap physicians into giving women birth control information. The doctors he uncovers end up in prison for a couple of years because distributing this information is currently illegal.  This side of the story is very interesting and makes one realise how very difficult it was for women who kept producing children whether they wanted them or not.  

On a fluffier side Anna falls in love with a police detective of Italian descent.  There is a lot of walking together, hand holding, sneaking away for quiet interludes and Anna trembles a lot. The trembling actually gets a bit over acted. The Penguin and I roll our eyes. But we like both of them and want them to be happy.

The story began with Anna, covering for Sophie in checking the newest immigrants that have come into New York on a ship. There are four young children from Italy who have lost their parents onboard due to the typhoid epidemic that swept the ship. Many of the immigrant children arrived in New York as orphans. That is when the protestant and Catholic churches stepped in and farmed the children out. In this case there are two girls and two boys who are immediately separated by the church.  Because there is such chaos at the wharfs a police officer needs to be there. This is when DS Jack first spies Anna (across a crowded room?) 

Anna cannot help think about these children and manages to adopt the girls into their household. But...the quest is now on to find the boys. The sisters cannot be consoled until their brothers are with them. The story continues.

I usually talk about a book just before I finish it because that way there are no accidental spoilers being talked about by the Penguin and I.  We do have loose lips at times when it comes to books.

This book is for my new book club I have joined and I meet with them (meet them all) at the Grand Chanceller Hotel lobby the last Wed evening of January.  I am to walk around the lobby and look for a book in the middle of a table.  Is that exciting?  I want to make a good impression so I am reading the book.  I have mixed feelings about the book. We are enjoying it very much. It is a serious topic. The themes are around the poverty of the New York immigrants (in this case Italians and Irish). The themes around women's rights has a lot to offer. Female surgeons in the 1880's gets a lot of discussion. Birth control, illegal abortion, wealthy vrs the poor. The role of the churches in determining what happens to these orphaned children. They end up in work houses, sent west to farms, put into orphanages where quite a bit of abuse happens.

Then there is the fluffy side.  Will Cap recover from his tuberculosis? What will happen after Cap and Sophie move to Europe?  Will they actually make it because now one of their patients has died of a botched abortion and old what's his name, Mr. Comstock, wants them tarred and feathered. The legalities have delayed the European cruise for them.

Will Anna stop trembling and enjoy her marriage to the detective? Will the sisters of Cap accept a sister in law of colour even though she is a well respected doctor?  Will they find Lea's and Rosa's brothers? All they have to go on is the curly black hair and blue eyes, unusual in Italian children.

This book is a romp through American history, in lovely New York city- did I also say this is the decade the Brooklyn Bridge is being built and the grand opening is spectacular with fireworks? I liked that part. The Penguin loves fireworks.
I will finish this book before too long and then onwards we go into the tunnel that is to be 2016.
Next up for the Penguin and I this coming week. We need to read two short stories related to the Deal Me in Challenge and see if they have anything in common. They are from two different books, one being a World Short Story read so that might be fun. The stories have been picked. I will read them in the next day.
I have a 7 day photography game going on with the Hobart Photographic Society on our Facebook page.  We have to submit an image a day for 7 days. I  have uploaded for 4 days now. That has been fun. I have been taking my two dogs, Molly and Odie on walks along with my camera and photographing things that grow along the walk.  Odie is so bad on the leash, pulling my arms out that this is good for him. I walk him for about two or three minutes, tell him to "Wait!"  He must hold still while I focus and snap the camera and then "Walk on".  He is getting better but we have a ways to go. It is very hard to focus on a bird on a wire, you have one shot before it flies away and Odie is pulling on my camera arm. I am getting very good at taking pictures of blur.  However I did mange this beautiful maroon red leafed tree. It didn't fly off and I was happy with this photo. 

What does Odie and the wind have in common?   
Just look at that face. 
Next week?

Well let the good times roll. More reading. 
  1. Finish The Gilded Hour. 
  2. Review the 2 short stories. 
  3. Start on my Fuller's Book group book for first week of February. (All the Light We Cannot See)
  4. Finish two lessons from the Photoshop course. (I have 6 more lessons to go, however I might only do one as I have forgotten quite a lot over the Christmas period and need to review the past two lessons. The layering is really tricky.
  5. I just remembered, I also have the non fiction vintage Penguin book about New South Wales to finish for the Classic Club spin.  aaahhhgggg
  6. Meet my friend Kate for a coffee while her daughter does a driving lesson Wednesday (so we don't have to think about Sarah on the road in a car..another ahhhhhggggg)
  7. Finish the photographic challenge (3 days to go). 
That should do it.   In closing:   May the Penguin Go With You.