October 16, 2017

Reading Uncertainly? ‘H Is For Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald

H_is_for_HawkThe New Yorker ads trumpet admiring words: “Riveting;” “Breathtaking;” Dazzling;” “Captivating.” May I offer a modest dissenting view?

Helen Macdonald’s new novel about her response to the death of her father in England and her adoption of a goshawk to help her overcome her misery is, in fact, an orgy of compulsive introspection. She draws heavily on the earlier history of T. H. White, the author of the Arthurian novels, including The Once and Future King, and, more importantly, his own story of self-awareness, The Goshawk. 

White also tried to tame a bird, much less successfully than Macdonald.  This self-assessment actually becomes a triple biography: of Helen Macdonald, of T. H. White, and of Mabel, the hawk she trains.

Macdonald begins by arguing that “I was a different animal. . . . . Like White, I wanted to cut loose from the world.” She quotes Marianne Moore: “the cure for loneliness is solitude,” just Helen and Mabel. She sees England as “an imaginary place.”

The essence of this book is found is her words: “Sometimes when light dawns it simply illuminates how dismal circumstances have become.” But some 300 pages of gloom?

But Helen Macdonald does write lyrically. Her observant eye notes and her mind translates what she sees into phrases often reminiscent of James Joyce in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake (the more coherent ones!). The English countryside comes alive with her descriptions: clouds, flowers, grasses, and, above all, birds..

And so does Mabel, her adopted goshawk, come alive, so much so that at the end we are rooting for her future, not Helen’s. She is in fact the one intensely interested in her outside world. The goshawks, ospreys and eagles wheeling in the skies above Lyme make me think of Mabel.

Editor’s Note: ‘H is for Hawk’ is by Helen Macdonald and was published by Grove Press, New York in 2014

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Sympathizer’ by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The_SympathizerHow often do we take sides while harboring a suspicion that the other fellow’s view actually has some merit? Nguyen’s narrator, never named, but referred to as “The Captain,” states his position at the outset: “ … I am also a man of two minds … I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.”
The Captain is a Vietnamese, ostensibly working for the American forces at the tail-end of the Vietnam (or “American,” as it is called there) War, while acting as mole, an undercover agent, for the Vietcong and the northern forces. Born in North Vietnam of a Vietnamese mother and a father who is a Roman Catholic priest, he leaves for the south and is immediately enmeshed in contradictions. One of the first is the obvious double-meaning of the word “father.”
There he becomes part of an unusual three-man team, the “we” of this compelling take: Bon, an ardent anti-communist, Man, an equally committed communist, and The Captain, who deliciously equivocates through the saga. It is, in fact, a perfect elaboration of the yin and yang culture that dominates the Far East, from the I Ching, to Lao Tse and Confucius. Forces seemingly in opposition are in fact complimentary — they cannot exist without one another.
Nguyen, in the role of The Captain, argues men of “utter conviction” are “insufferable,” noting “The General”, to whom the narrator reports, “ … was a sincere man who believed in everything he said, even if it was a lie, which makes him not so different from most.” The narrator then goes on to puncture every conceivable balloon of human fatuity. We live, he claims, in a litany of contradictions.
Witness another character, “The Congressman”, who berates the “controls” of communism but then describes his “democratic” system as even more autocratic, using censorship and control, because, as he says, “Americans are a confused people.” The Captain comments: “ . that omnipresent American narcotic, optimism, the unending flow of which poured through the American minds continuously whitewashing the graffiti of despair, rage, hatred, and a nihilism scrawled by the black hoodlums of the unconscious.”
Here is a delicious story of the last days of that War and what followed in both the United States and Asia. “We are all puppets in someone else’s play.” And the story is often hilarious, too. The Captain describes, in three joyful pages, his attempt to masturbate with a dead squid!
Nguyen ends with yet another double meaning, “Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” as The Captain finally realizes the two senses of this phrase. But he remains “the most hopeful of creatures, a revolutionary in search of a revolution.” A thriller in one sense but a social commentary in another and a challenging counterview to this year commemorating the end of that War.
Opposite ideas are indeed complimentary!
Editor’s Note: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen is published by Grove Press, New York 2015.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan

The_Children_Act“Who am I to judge?” asked Pope Francis last year, when asked about the Roman Catholic Church’s view of homosexuality. An excellent question, as our lives are full of “judgments” rendered by a wide variety of personalities.

So with interest I turned to Ian McEwan’s latest novel. I’ve read most of his work, thoroughly enjoying his language, characters and situations, set in today’s England. The Children Act opens with a highly respected High Court judge, Fiona Maye, age 59, having a profound disagreement with her professor husband of many years, over his announced decision to have an affair with a younger colleague, just for the excitement of the sex. Her personal life is now in turmoil.

But her professional standing as a judge couldn’t be higher. She has a case for immediate decision involving Adam, a 17-year-old boy with advanced leukemia, who, along with his Jehovah’s Witness parents and the elders of his church, refuses a life-saving blood transfusion. His doctors have appealed to the court and she is about to decide. Fiona rules in favor of the physicians and the boy’s life is saved. Most of us would applaud this decision, but was this a rational decision? The story unfolds from that point. Who is she to judge?

McEwan traces Fiona’s thoughts as she tries to weigh the conflicting opinions, beginning with her own religious beliefs: “Religions, moral systems, her own included, were like peaks in a dense mountain range seen from a great distance, none obviously higher, more important, truer than another. What was to judge?”

After ruling against the parents, their church and the young boy’s own beliefs, and saving his life, she rationalized, “… that churchmen should want to obliterate the potential of a meaningful life in order to hold a theological line did not surprise or concern her. The law itself had similar problems when it allowed doctors to suffocate, dehydrate or starve certain hopeless patients to death, but would not permit the instant relief of a fatal injection.” So we have both “the law” and its interpreters trying to do their imperfect best …

This conundrum drew me back to Richard Posner’s Reflections on Judging, which I read in 2013. He too sees a “rising complexity” in our judicial systems, amplified by a “dizzying advance in technology” and in scientific knowledge. So is our judiciary system responding appropriately to these advances?  Unfortunately no, according to the good judge, who plies his trade on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, as well as being a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.

His considered opinion (in proper nautical language!), “The judiciary navigates the sea of modernity, slowed, thrown off course, by the barnacles of legal formalism (semantic escapes from reality, impoverished sense of context, fear of math and science, insensitivity to language and culture, mangling of history, superfluous footnotes, verbosity, excessive quotation, reader-unfriendly prose, exaggeration, bluster, obsession with citation form) – an accumulation of many centuries, yet constantly augmented. There is little desire to give the hull a good scraping.”

Fiona wrestles with her decision in the midst of her personal crisis, weighing all the future possibilities. Therein lies the remarkable and surprising aftermath in Ian McEwan’s compelling story.

If you are interested in the entire art of judging, do read both Ian McEwan and Richard Posner.

Who am I to judge? Uncertainty bedevils us all!

Editor’s Note: Review: Ian McEwan’s ‘The Children Act’ is published by Nan Talese/Doubleday, New York 2014 and Richard A. Posner’s ‘Reflections on Judging’ is published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2013.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Sea Room’ by Adam Nicolson

Sea RoomWhy do islands so often seem to be symbols of disconnection when, in fact, they illustrate multiple connections to the past, present and future?

Adam Nicolson, a privileged Englishman (Eton, Cambridge and Parliament) explores these thoughts through the medium of the three rugged Shiant (pronounced “Shant”) Islands, in the middle of The Minch, a rushing, spilling, tumultuous tidal spillway between the mainland of Scotland and the Hebrides islands off its northwest coast. They were purchased by his father, deeded to him and are now the possessions of his son.

But, as he cautions early in this story of the seasons in Scotland, “My islands are not a place from which to exclude others … Land … is to be shared.” And so he does in this captivating exploration of essentially three rocks “owned” by millions of birds: puffins, kittiwakes, fulmars, gannets, and eagles comprising a veritable, “… theatre of competition and enrichment.”

I first heard of the Shiants through Robert Macfarlane, in his story of trekking and sailing both land trails and waterways, The Old Ways (Penguin, New York 2012), when he and a friend sailed a small lugger from Stornoway, on the Island of Lewis, to spend two idyllic days and nights there. He too found them far from lonely with the evidence of past habitation, the teeming avian population (primarily puffins) and a copy of Nicolson’s Sea Room about the islands’ former residents.  Macfarlane noted the, “delusion of comprehensive totality … a boundedness” of islands, in light of the reality of their connectedness to the sea, to other islands, to the mainland, to history, and to present inhabitants.

“Sea room” to me, a long-time sailor with modest service in the U. S. Navy, means always maintaining proper distances between my ship and the shore, other ships, and especially the bottom. To Nicolson it also connotes a “room,” a place near the sea, from which to appreciate both motion and stability.”

And he does appreciate the seasons. “Spring here is always beautiful for those uncertainties … It is the season of uncertainty … Summer … is languor … Autumn hangs on like an old tapestry, brown and mottled, a slow, long slide into winter … and winter itself, of course, has persistence at its heart, a long, dogged grimness which gives nothing and allows nothing … “

This is a very human exploration. Nicolson’s approach: “I never think things through. I never have. I never envisage the end before I plunge into the beginning. I never clarify the whole. I never sort one version of something from any other. I bank on instinct, allowing my nose to sniff its way into the vacuum, trusting that somewhere or other, soon enough, out of the murk, something is bound to turn up. I’m wedded to this plunging-off form of thought, and to the acceptance of muddle which it implies.”

Nicolson advocates “ … an excited ‘what next?’ as the motivating force in life, a stodgelessness, an inability to plan.”

His enthusiasm, however, in investigating the past of his islands leads too often to simple conjecture. In 11 consecutive pages, I found the following words and phrases: “a possibility – perhaps – maybe – no record – almost certainly – might have been – probably – is it? –  one can only imagine – no way of telling – guesses – may have been used – may well be – suggests – may be dated – would have been seen – another version – might well have been – fragmentary at best.” Almost a fictional novel , but he remains a thoroughly engaging tour director for the Shiants and the lore of Scotland.

So isn’t it time to explore our islands? How many of us have been ashore, lifting rocks and staring at the mainland, on some of the Lyme islands: Selden Neck, Brockway, Notts, and the evocatively named Calves, Goose and Rat? What are their histories?

I think I will try one of them this summer …

Editor’s Note: Sea Room by Adam Nicolson is published by Harper Perennial, London 2001

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘How The Mind Works’ by Steven Pinker

How_the+Mind+WorksWhy is reading, at least for me, so soothing, stimulating and confusing, all at the same time? Why does my mind react so strangely at times to what I am reading?

Four years ago, I tried Steven Pinker’s monumental (some 800 pages of small type!) suggestion that we humans are actually becoming less violent, in The Better Angels of Our Nature. So it was only natural that I stepped back in time to read How The Mind Works, his equally long tome of 1997, updated to 2009, describing the innumerable quirks and ramblings that emanate from inside our heads.

A noted professor of psychology at Harvard University, Dr. Pinker attempts, and succeeds, I think, in synthesizing, “An emerging view of human nature,” one replete with frequent humor, quotations from numerous other sages (ranging from Plato and Pascal, to Bierce and Mencken, including Monty Python, Peanuts and Woody Allen!), and solid scientific evidence.

But he begins on a “note of humility,” saying, “We don’t understand how the mind works and I have not discovered what we do know about how the mind works.”

He cautions, “… our minds are not animated by some godly vapor or single wonder principle.” We do know, “the mind is a product of the brain and the brain is a product of evolution.” That leads him to “the central idea … that the mind is a system or naturally selected organs of computation.” He notes, “We increasingly understand ourselves in terms of the inner workings of our minds, their origins in the natural world, and their interplay with the contents of culture and civilization.”

Pinker explains further: “The mind is a system of organs of computation, designed by natural selection to solve the kinds of problems our ancestors faced in their foraging way of life; in particular, understanding and outmaneuvering objects, animals, plants and other people.”

Many of his succinct “definitions” made me come to a complete halt, frequently with a laugh, followed by serious reflection:

The tongue: “a boneless water balloon, controlled by squeezing.”

The computer: “the most legalistic, persnickety, hard-nosed, unforgiving demander of precision and explicitness in the universe.” (Could a computer actually become a “thinking machine?”)

Life: “a series of deadlines”

Winter: “the best insecticide”

Our brains: “… take up only two percent of our body weight but consume 20 percent of our energy and nutrients.”

Information: “…  the one commodity that can be given away and kept at the same time.”

Mathematics: “… ruthlessly cumulative.”

The stock market: “a large industry of self-appointed seers hallucinating trends in the random walk of the stock market.”

Jewish dietary laws: “Talmudic sophistry and bafflegab”

Status: “the public knowledge that you possess assets that would allow you to help others if you wished to.” (But Pinker notes that these “assets” must be conspicuous to be of any use …)

Music: “an enigma – a cocktail of recreational drugs that we ingest through the ear to stimulate a mass of pleasure circuits at once.”

And humor: “an anti-dominance poison, a dignicide.”

But “problems continue to baffle the modern mind: consciousness in the sense of sentience, the self, free will, knowledge, and morality.” Pinker suggests that you “step outside your own mind for a moment and see your thoughts and feelings as magnificent contrivances of the natural world rather than as the only way that things could be.”

And comments in conclusion, “Our bafflement at the mysteries of the ages may have been the price we paid for a combinatorial mind that opened up a world of words and sentences, of theories and equations, of poems and melodies, of jokes and stories, the very things that make a mind worth having.”

We human beings, surmounting by our minds, are extraordinary, complex and yet strange adaptations.

What a read!

Editor’s Note: ‘How The Mind Works,’ by Steven Pinker is published by W. W. Norton, New York 2009.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? Kenko, “Essays in Idleness,” from The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko, (1332?)

KenkoOccasionally, I find myself compelled to drift into the past, seeking older words of wisdom. I was therefore drawn to Kenko, a Japanese Buddhist priest who wrote these words some 700 years ago: “The pleasantest of all diversions is to sit alone under the lamp, a book spread out before you . . . “ How true!

In these Essays, he leads with repeated cautionary admonitions: “The most promising thing in life is its uncertainty,” following that later with “A man is more likely to seem a true master of his art if he says, ‘I cannot tell for certain.’ “  And he concludes: “The one thing you can be certain of is the truth that all is uncertainty.” Yet today how often do we hear politicians, commentators, and ourselves state “absolutely,” “exactly,” “emphatically,” “certainly,” and unequivocally.” So much for uncertainty …

Here are a few more delicious Buddhist quotations:

  • “People tend to exaggerate even when relating things they have actually witnessed, but when months or years have intervened, and the place is remote, they are all the more prone to invent whatever tales suit their fancies, and, when these have been written down, fictions are accepted as fact.”
  • “What a foolish thing it is to be governed by a desire for fame and profit and to fret away one’s whole life without a moment of peace. Great wealth is no guarantee of security. Wealth, in fact, tends to attract calamities and disaster. Even if, after you leave enough gold to prop up the North Star, it will only prove a nuisance to your heirs . . . . The intelligent man, when he dies, leaves no possessions.”
  • “If you trust neither in yourself nor in others, you will rejoice when things go well, but bear no resentment when they go badly. You will then have room on either side to expand, and not be constrained.”
  • “In everything, no matter what it may be, uniformity is undesirable. Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting, and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.”

So this brief comment is deliberately left incomplete, to encourage you to try Kenko!

Editor’s Note: Kenko, “Essays in Idleness,” from The Tsurezuregusa of Kenko, (1332?), as edited and translated by Donald Keene, is published by Columbia University Press, New York, 2nd edition, 1998.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘Let Me Be Frank With You’ by Richard Ford

let me be frankLet me be frank with you, Frank: you are a bystander, a passive yet sensitive observer of the daily stream, but frustratingly disconnected!

“Frank,” of course, is Frank Bascombe, Richard Ford’s complex and compelling character who has now reached the age of 68. Ford first introduced him to us in The Sportswriter in 1986, when he, his wife and son moved from New York to “Haddam,” New Jersey (in reality Princeton, without the university) as he tried a new career as a novelist. That failed, his wife divorced him and he lost his son.

Frank resurfaced in Independence Day in 1995, when he took his second son for a quick tour of the Halls of Fame in Springfield and Cooperstown, just before the Fourth of July. This one included a delicious put-down of the town of Deep River! He had then become a real estate agent in Haddam.

And in our Millennium Year of 2000, in The Lay of the Land (published in 2007), Frank found a new wife, only to see her depart, had prostate surgery and, in this three-day story, tried to celebrate Thanksgiving as a 55-year-old in his new home on the Jersey Shore, still working in real estate.

Let Me Be Frank With You is the fourth in the series (doesn’t this remind you of John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom?) and we find Frank back in Haddam, his second wife returned, as he interacts, still passively, with four unusual characters.

The first is Arnie Urquhart, a college classmate whose Jersey Shore house (it used to be Frank’s) has been demolished by Hurricane Sandy (Sandy, it seems, is a major character in this set of novellas). The second is Charlotte Pines, a woman he finds knocking on his Haddam door, an ex-resident of that house in which her family was killed. Then we reconnect with Ann Dykstra, his former wife, who has returned to Haddam to an “extended care facility” to cope with her onset of Parkinson’s. And finally we share Frank’s visit with Eddie Medley, an old friend who is in the final stages of dying.

Throughout these sessions Frank remains the foil, yet a remarkable observer of every facial tic, bodily motion and surrounding sights, smells and sounds: crows jousting in a tree, a trash truck grinding debris, auto horns, laughter next door. He just never seems connected. He’s open to everything …

But his stock answers in conversation are: “I don’t know. Maybe.” “It makes me realize how remote I am.” “All is frankly enigma.” He is an aloof reporter experiencing a syncopation of senses and sounds, in the middle of brief conversations.

Frank acknowledges his advancing age: “ . . .  the ‘gramps shuffle’ being the unmaskable, final-journey approaches signal.” And “as you get older things slide away, like molasses off a table top.” And “ . . . life’s a matter of gradual subtraction.” And someone asking of you “Are you okay?” He thinks: “No more grievous words can be spoken in the modern world.”

His self-description: “I am: a man who doesn’t lie (or rarely), who presumes nothing from the past, who takes the high, optimistic road (when available), who doesn’t envision the future, who streamlines his utterances (no embellishments) and in all instances acts nice.”

But Frank winds into all this a marvelous sense of humor, often acidic: An “extended care facility: Nothing’s bleaker than the stingy, unforgiving one-dimensionality of most of these places; their soul-less vestibules and unbreathable antiseptic fragrances, the dead-eyed attendants and willowy end-of-the-line pre-clusiveness to whatever’s made life be life but that now can be forgotten.”

Hurricane Sandy seems to be the primary stimulant of Frank’s aging recollections. As he notes, “There’s something to be said for a good, no-nonsense hurricane, to bully life back into perspective.”

But Ford’s Frank Bascombe lives on! Will we see a fifth view of him one day soon … perhaps at 80?

Editor’s Note: Let Me Be Frank With You by Richard Ford is published by Harper Collins, New York 2014.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150

About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Innovators’ by Walter Isaacson

The_InnovatorsThis is the remarkable and intricate story of the computer, the Internet and the World Wide Web, all of which transformed and continue to alter this globe. It is a story of human collaboration, conflict, creativity and timing, from Ada, Countess of Lovelace in 1843 to the more familiar names of Vannevar Bush, Alan Turing, John Mauchly, John von Neumann, Grace Hopper, Robert Moore, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Tim Berners-Lee, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, and, of course, “Watson,” the almost-human Jeopardy contestant of IBM.

Isaacson stresses the importance of the intersection of individual thinking combined, inevitably, with collaborative efforts.  Ideas start with non-conformists, in many of whom initiative is often confused with disobedience. But it is in collaboration that we have found the effectiveness of the Web, a “networked commons.”

These changes have come about through conception and execution, plus “peer-to-peer sharing.” Isaacson cites three co-existing approaches: (1) Apple with its bundled hardware and software, (2) Microsoft with unbundled software, and (3) the Wikipedia example of free and open software, for any hardware. No one approach, he argues, could have created this new world: all three, fighting for space, are required. Similarly, he believes that a combination of investment works best: Government funding and coordination, plus private enterprise, plus “peers freely sharing ideas and making contributions as a part of a voluntary common endeavor.”

In his concluding chapter, Isaacson raises the question of the future for AI, artificial intelligence. Stephen Hawking has warned, yet again, that we may create mechanisms that will not only think but also re-create themselves, effectively displacing homo sapiens as a species. But Isaacson is more optimistic: he sees and favors a symbiotic approach, in which the human brain and computers create an information-handling partnership. Recent advances in neuroscience suggest that the human brain is, in many ways, a limited automaton (see System One of Kahneman). But our brain, with its ability to “leap and create,” coupled with the computer’s growing ability to recall, remember, and assess billions of bits of information, may lead us, together, to better decisions.

His final “five lessons” are worth inscribing:

  1. “Creativity is a collaborative process.”
  2. “The digital age was based on expanding ideas handed down from previous generations.”
  3. “The most productive teams were those that brought together people with a wide array of specialties.”
  4. “Physical proximity is beneficial.”
  5. To succeed, “pair visionaries, who can generate ideas, with operating managers, who can execute them.”

Isaacson’s final lesson:  humans bring to our “symbiosis with machines . . . one crucial element: creativity.” It is “the interaction of humanities and sciences.”

And we wouldn’t have LymeLine without the Innovators!

Editor’s Note: “The Innovators” is published by Simon & Schuster, New York 2014.

Felix Kloman_headshot_2005_284x331-150x150

About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

 

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘On Aggression’ by Konrad Lorenz

On_Aggression_book_coverAre we naturally “aggressive?”  What a way to greet the spring!  Today’s headlines seem to indicate that we simply cannot avoid creating friction among human beings.  This sent me backwards in time to re-read Konrad Lorenz’s monumental On Aggression, first published in German in 1963 and in English in 1966.

Lorenz defines aggression as, “the fighting instinct in beast and man, directed against members of the same species.”  The forms, objectives and examples of aggression include:

  • behavior
  • preservation of the species
  • physiology of instinctual motivation
  • the process of ritualization
  • how instinctive impulses function
  • mechanisms evolution has “invented” to channel aggression to harmless paths
  • social organization (“anonymous crowds”)
  • bonds of “love and friendship”
  • the “virtue of humility”
  • counter-measures against the malfunctions of aggression (including examples among fish, birds and four-legged mammals).

He concludes: “aggression . . . is really an essential part of the life-preserving organization of instincts.”  And our own-species aggression is “essential for its preservation.”

The “principle of the bond” seems to require some degree of aggressive behavior: we apparently need something in common to be defended against outsiders, such as territory, brood, opinion and, most dangerously, ideology. Aggression thus becomes “necessary to enhance the bond.”

And “ the danger to modern man arises not so much from his power of mastering natural phenomena as from his powerlessness to control sensibly what is happening today in his own society.”

Is there a ray of hope?  Lorenz thinks it is possible.

First, our, “insatiable curiosity is the root of exploration and experimentation …  a linking of cause and effect … the conscious foreseeing of the consequences of one’s action.”  This “unrelenting demand for causal understanding” may well lead to a “scientific enlightenment [that] tends to engender doubt in the value of transitory beliefs long before it furnishes the causal insight necessary to decide whether some accepted custom is an obsolete superstition or still an indispensible part of a system of sacred norms.”  Our inquiring minds may often be too far ahead of how we react!

And why are our young so often at the center of disruptive behavior?

Lorenz suggests an answer.  “During and shortly after puberty, human beings have an indubitable tendency to loosen their allegiance to all traditional rites and social norms of their culture, allowing conceptual thought to cast doubt on their value and to look around for new and perhaps more worthy ideals … At the postpuberal age some human beings seem to be driven by an overpowering urge to espouse a cause and, failing to find a worthy one, may become fixated on astonishingly inferior substitutes.”  Shades of the Middle East today, one might venture …

But he is, nevertheless, optimistic  — Lorenz suggests some preventive steps to counter our natural aggressive instincts.  First, he reiterates the famous Chilton/Socrates admonition to “Know thyself,” acknowledging some obstacles:

  1. unawareness of our evolutionary origin
  2. reluctance to admit that our “behavior obeys the laws of natural causation” (there is no “free will!”)
  3. a heritage of “idealistic philosophy”

His conclusion: “Truth, in science, can be defined as the working hypothesis best fitted to open the way to the next better one.”  Nothing is “absolute!”  And, finally, allow humor to play a major role: do not take ourselves too seriously.

There is nothing quite like stepping back in time to re-read some earlier thoughts …

HFK_headshot_2005_284x331About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History” by Elizabeth Kolbert

The_Sixth_Extinction

Rats! Is there a real possibility that rats may be the species that survives the human race? Elizabeth Kolbert suggests such an outcome in her engrossing perambulation around this modest earth on which we live, since we may well be living at the start of the “Sixth Extinction.”

Science tells us the earth has experienced five earlier “extinctions,” when many living creatures, small and large, disappeared because of a major change in the earth’s constitution or because of an errant asteroid. But these five occurred approximately 450, 375, 250, 200 and 60 million years ago, in a universe that is 13.5 billion years old.

So we are minute upstarts on this planet. But, as a thinking and intensely curious species, we’ve tried to understand that long past, plus our present and a most uncertain future.

Kolbert’s question: are we creating our own Sixth Extinction?

Like Pogo, she suggests “the cataclysm is us!” “Since the start of the industrial revolution,” she writes, “humans have burned through enough fossil fuels—coal, oil, and natural gas—to add some 365 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Deforestation has contributed another 180 billion tons. Each year we throw up another nine billion tons or so . . . . The concentration of carbon dioxide in the air today . . . is higher than at any other point in the last eight hundred thousand years. . . . It is expected that such an increase will produce an eventual average global temperature rise of between three and a half and seven degrees Fahrenheit . . . (triggering) the disappearance of most remaining glaciers, the inundation of low-lying islands and coastal cities, and the melting of the Arctic ice cap.”

Then add to that “ocean acidification.”

We know that all species on this planet are interdependent, but are humans also an “invasive species?” Yes, we seem to be collective problem solvers (much like ants, according to E. O. Wilson) but we seem to be unable to solve our biggest problem: us! “Though it might be nice to imagine there was once a time when men lived in harmony with nature, it is not clear he ever did!”

Is it possible, then, as Kolbert suggests, “ . . . a hushed hundred million years from now, all that we consider to be the great works of man – the sculptures and the libraries, the monuments and the museums, the cities and the factories – will all be compressed into a layer of sediment not much thicker than a cigarette paper?”

Kolbert visits locations all around this earth – some 11 countries – very much like Alan Weisman’s research for his Countdown, exploring current rates of extinction. One is on an island in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia, looking at the erosion of coral. Another is the decline of bats in the eastern United States. Still another is the Panamanian golden frog. Together, she says, they indicate we are a part of the Anthropocene epoch, during which we may well become extinct.

This is a sobering analysis of current practices and signs. She acknowledges the possibility that “human ingenuity will outrun any disaster that human ingenuity sets in motion.” But I’m left with the likelihood that our friend the rat, who has hitchhiked to almost every piece of this earth with us, and who successfully scavenges our debris, may survive us. As Ratty pronounced, in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows (my paraphrase), “Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing — half so much worth doing as simply messing about with humans.”

Her book is “one of 2014’s best” according to The Economist.

HFK_headshot_2005_284x331About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008). A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings. His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘Fire and Ashes’ by Michael Ignatieff

Fire and Ashes by Michael Ignatieff

I admit to a lifelong fascination with the people and territory of that land just north of the United States.  I first drove through Alberta and the Yukon in 1952, on my way to Alaska, and then sailed up the St. Lawrence River on a Navy cruiser to Quebec City in 1954. Since then I’ve spent considerable time in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec, with side excursions to Victoria, Banff, Edmonton, Trenton, and Beaconsfield. So it was only natural to buy an early copy of Michael Ignatieff’s description of his six-year foray into Canadian politics.

Who can ignore this description of Canada: “ten provinces and three territories strung out like birds on the wire of the forty-ninth parallel?” And its political uniqueness: “ . . . the fact that we didn’t have capital punishment or a right to bear arms; that we believed in group rights to protect the French language and aboriginal title to land; the fact that we believed a woman’s right to choose should prevail; the fact that a bilingual national experiment, always under stress, forced us constantly, as a condition of survival, to try and understand each other and reach common ground.”

Ignatieff first ran for Parliament in 2005, resigning a professorial chair at Harvard and returning to the land of his birth after many years abroad. He later became the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, one with which his family had early close connections, only to lose a national election in 2011. The book is his analysis of those years and the nature of politics in a democracy. He concludes with a “renewed respect for politicians as a breed and with reinvigorated faith in the good sense of citizens,” and “ . . . what is right about the democratic ideal: the faith, constantly tested, that ordinary men and women can rightly choose those who govern in their name, and that those they choose can govern with justice and compassion.”

But how can mere mortals stand for leadership positions? “Politics tests your capacity for self-knowledge more than any profession I know,” Ignatieff says, going on to offer “self-dramatization is the essence of politics,” playing on a perpetual stage. He also urges development of listening skills: “listening, being deeply able to deeply listen to your fellow citizens, is the most under-rated skill in politics.” And “standing” is equally important: “When you first enter politics, your first job is to secure your standing, the authority to make your case and ensure a hearing.” That is especially true for newcomers, who will certainly be attacked for their “lack of experience.”

He also argues for civility in political life, something all too lacking recently. But is it possible to treat someone, civilly, as an “adversary” when that person treats you as an “enemy?”

The “virtues” of successful politics include “adaptability, cunning, rapid-fire recognition of Fortuna, the keen intuition that a situation has changed and that what was true is no longer so, together with the noble capacity to lead, to charm, to inspire.” Politics is then “the baffling combination of will and chance that determines the shape of life.”

I now know something more about my Canadian friends and their country. Oh, Canada!

Editor’s Note: Michael Ignatieff’s ‘Fire and Ashes’ is published by Harvard University Press, Cambridge 2013

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer.  He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).  A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history.  But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.  His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly: ‘Flash Boys’ by Michael Lewis

Flash_BoysWhat on earth is “the stock market?” It is something in which I have participated for almost 60 years, first as a most modest buyer of stocks, then through the investments of growing pension and profit-sharing funds, and finally, today, trying to stretch my dwindling IRA to cover our modest expenses as my wife and I enter our eightieth years. Throughout this time I’ve maintained a trust that the “market system” is reasonably fair.

Michael Lewis pops that balloon. In his mesmerizing story of high frequency trading on the world’s stock markets, but especially in the U. S., we learn that customers are “prey,” that “people are getting screwed because they can’t imagine a microsecond” (a millionth of a second), that “moral inertia” is the dominant trait, and that “ the entire history of Wall Street was the story of scandals.”

And yet, what the so-called high-speed traders were (and are) doing is “riskless, larcenous, and legal.”  The story seems to be the result of “human nature and the power of incentives,” plus the incredible complexity of today’s markets, a complexity whose outcomes are totally unpredictable — witness the recent series of “flash sales” in which markets drop precipitously and then recover, all within moments.

And how do the brokers, banks and traders respond, other than in their natural, self-admiring language?  They have learned the “art of torturing data” to try and persuade their customers they are entirely honest!  Lewis’s conclusion … “the stock market at bottom is rigged!”

But where on earth can we safely invest our funds?  My mattress is already stuffed!

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman


About the author:
 Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer.  He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).  A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history.  But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.  His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Narrow Road to the Deep NorthRichard Flanagan, an Australian writer born in Tasmania, whose father survived labor for the Japanese in the Second World War, has written a compelling, mesmerizing and thoroughly memorable novel of that period.  And it is the 2014 Man Booker Prize winner!

The Aussies in the story are led by Dorrigo Evans while his physician officer tries to save his troops from starvation, disease and beatings as they attempt to build a rail line for the Japanese through the jungle from Siam to Burma.  They are controlled by a few Japanese, consumed with love for their country, their emperor and for the poet Matsuo Basho, whose most famous work is the title for the book.

You will remember the names: Darky Gardner, Rabbitt Hendricks, Rooster MacNeice, Wat Cooney, Gallipoli von Kessler, Jimmy Bigelow and their captors,  Colonel Shira Kota, Major Tenji Nakamura, Lieutenant Fukihara and The Goanna, Corporal Aki Tomokawa.  Flanagan follows many of them, plus Evans, in shifts of perspectives and time, from present to past, with uncanny ability to maintain our interest and understanding.  But did any of them really understand what they experienced?

It is a story of obedience and disobedience. The Aussies (and many of us from the West) are intuitively and culturally critical of authority: when an order is issued, their (our) first instinct is to ask “Why?”  The Japanese, and many Eastern cultures, in contrast, are taught to revere “authority.”  Their reply to an order is an immediate “Yes!”  Flanagan explores this natural friction, one that seems to continue even after the war.

Dorrigo Evans’ inability to connect with family and friends after the war is explained with these words:

“It did not fit within the new age of conformity that was coming in all things, even emotions, and it baffled him how some people now touched each other excessively and talked about their problems as though naming life in some ways described its mysteries or denied its chaos. He felt the withering of something, the way risk was increasingly evaluated and, as much as possible, eliminated, replaced with a bland new world where the viewing of food preparation would be felt more moving than the reading of poetry; more excitement would come from paying for a soup made out of foraged grass.”

Evans goes on: “Adversity brings out the best in us  . . .  It’s everyday living that does us in.”  And he gives us the perfect conclusion to this novel: “A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book.  A great book compels you to reread your soul.”  The Narrow Road to the Deep North comes close to “the elegant mystery of poetry.”

And it is the poetry, the haiku, of Matsuo Basho that intrigues both Evans and his Japanese captors.  So that inevitably led me to his The Narrow Road to the Deep North (in Japanese: oku no hoso-michi) his story of a 1689 walk from Edo (now Tokyo) north along the east coast of Japan, then northwest through the mountains, and finally southwest by the Japan Sea.  In it are some of the poet’s most memorable haiku. Consider these:

Furuike ya  Old pond

Kawisu tobikomu  Frog jumps in

Mizu no oto  Sound of water

Flanagan incorporates Basho with a line late in his novel: “ . . .  the fish fell into the sound of water.”

Natsugusa ya  Summer grasses

Tsuwamono  domo ga  All  that remains

Yume no ito  Of mighty warriors’ dreams

And Flanagan’s final sentence: “Of imperial dreams and dead men , all that remained was long grass.”  I suspect I may well have missed other allusions to the poet’s famous haiku.

And for a more recent view of Basho’s walk, try Lesley Downer’s story of retracing his steps in the early 1980s.

A novel to read, reread and think on.  Rightio, mates!

Editor’s Notes: Book details are as follows:
Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2014
Matsuo Basho, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, translated by Nobuyuki Yuasa, Penguin Classics, Baltimore 1966
Lesley Downer, On the Narrow Road, Summit Books, New York 1989

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer.  He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).  A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history.  But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.
His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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Reading Uncertainly? ‘The Old Ways’ by Robert Macfarlane

the_old_ways_robert_macfarlane_206x320What a refreshing and stimulating view of the practice of walking, “as enabling sight and thought rather than encouraging retreat and escape; paths as offering not only means of traversing space, but also ways of feeling, being and knowing.”

First suggested by our schoolteacher son, Robert Macfarlane’s mesmerizing and lyrical stories of his walks along the English Downs, sailing and hiking in Scotland, plus other walks in Palestine, Spain and Tibet are a paean to movement, observation, thought and imagination.  As he says, “paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being.”  They then become a “labyrinth of victory,” of personal freedom. “Walking is a means of personal myth-making.”

I agree completely!

Walking, especially solo treks, can restore serenity and sanity, curiosity and calm.  Macfarlane’s words reminded me of my hiking England’s South Downs and its Way in 1978, during an autumn sabbatical in West Sussex, from Cocking and Graffham, where we were living for four months, around Bigham Hill and on to Arundel, where a pub and a pint rewarded my effort.  I also recall with fondness my many treks on the “public footpaths” of England, on the “wanderwegs” of Germany and the Appenzell of Switzerland, around Sydney Harbor in Australia, the Milford Track in New Zealand and, closer to home, in the Nehantic State Forest of Lyme, Conn.

And his words pulled back into memory Jonathan Raban’s ‘Coasting,’ his story of sailing counterclockwise around the British Isles, and Paul Theroux’s ‘A Kingdom By The Sea,’ his clockwise walk around England, both in 1982 (the two travelers met by chance in a pub on their respective journeys and had little to say to each other!)

Macfarlane’s remarkable memory and descriptions of his travels become almost Joycean at times.  Here is his sailing departure from Stornoway Harbor:

“ . . . hints of oil, hints of hooley.  Sounds of boatslip, reek of diesel. Broad Boy’s (the boat he travelled on) wake through the harbor – a tugged line through the fuel slicks on the water’s surface, our keel slurring petrol-rainbows.  Light quibbling on the swell . . . . Seals . . . their blubbery backs looking like the puffed-up anoraks of murder victims.”

Strangely, though, Macfarlane never mentions or quotes Baudelaire and his famous flaneur, another exponent of the joy of setting one foot in front of the other, without worry of time and course.

He concludes with a lovely Spanish palindrome: “La ruta nos aporto otro paso natural” (The path provides the next step.)  The “old ways” are indeed “rights of way and rites of way.”

Editor’s Note: Robert Macfarlane’s ‘The Old Ways’ is published by Penguin Books, New York 2012.

Felix Kloman

Felix Kloman

About the author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer.  He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).  A 20-year resident of Lyme, he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction that explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history.  But he does throw in a novel here and there. For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farms Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.
His wife, Ann, is also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a bubbling village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visit every summer.

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