JON MEACHHAM’S, “HIS TRUTH IS MARCHING ON: JOHN LEWIS AND THE POWER OF HOPE.”

Jon Meacham is a wonderful historian and his biography on President George H.W. Bush was one of my favorite biographies I read over the last five years.

His new book, “His Truth Is Marching on: John Lewis and The Power of Hope,” is a powerful and enthralling piece of work that concentrates on the life of Mr. Lewis from about 1954 to 1968 with an afterword by John Lewis (which I read over a number of times it was so moving) that he wrote shortly before his death just a few months ago.

My definition of a hero is a person who stands up for what is right, takes a bullet for a friend or an innocent civilian, when he/she could have just as easily walked away. John Lewis meets my definition of a hero, not just once, but so many times that I lost count. He believed in the gospel of non-violent protest that Dr. Martin Luther King preached. They were friends and he would grieve when Dr. King was assassinated, and when Robert F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, President Kennedy, and so many others who died in some measure because they believed in the simple statement, “That all men are created equal.” That blacks should be able to sit at a lunch counter and be served, that blacks should be allowed to vote without worrying about getting their heads beat in, that segregation in the schools, transportation, and housing was wrong, dead wrong. That the “Jim Crow Laws” were disgraceful, insulting, and an injustice that was allowed to survive over a hundred years since the end of the Civil War.

John Lewis is a Civil Rights icon and deserving so. His body is a testament to his belief in non-violence and justice for all. He was beat up so badly so many times that it is a miracle that he wasn’t among the dead heroes mentioned above. Inside the very movement he led, he was occasionally criticized for being too nice, but he never gave in to the splinter groups that said it’s time to fight back with force. He was steadfast in his beliefs and in the end he was victorious, even if that victory is still not complete.

People will argue that America is not the prejudice society it once was, that we have had a black President and I am quick to remind them that blacks were among the first race of people to come to America over 350 years ago. If allowed the freedom that other settlers had, there probably would of been many black Presidents. 

The America I see today still has a long way to go, and Dr. King’s ‘dream’ still has not been realized, and sadly it seems that we have taken a number of steps backwards in the fight for racial justice.

“1876” BY GORE VIDAL


What can I say, that I have not already said about Gore Vidal? He is undeniably one of the great American writers of the twentieth century, along with Toni Morrison, Capote, Hemingway, Faulker, Baldwin, Fitzgerald, O’Hare, and so on. I also am confident that he would agree, but not agree totally with my assessment of the other great writers I mentioned.

“1876” is in a sense the third novel in the series that critics have come to name “Narratives of Empire.” The first was the one on Aaron Burr and the second on President Lincoln. Many of the fictional characters from the first two books have made it into the third, and many in the third have made it into the fourth, fifth, and sixth. You do not have to read them in order, actually the ones I have read were out of order, yet their impact was still great.

His fictional characters, like Mr and Mrs Sanford are fascinating, and the character of Charles Schuyler and his daughter are great. But it is his portrayal of President Grant, President Hayes, and Governor Tiden of NY who was literally robbed of the Presidency by the Republican party. At a mere two hundred thousand dollars the sec. of states, election board members, and governors had no qualms about changing the vote tally, and declaring the loser the winner. Yes, 1876 was undeniably one of the most corrupt moments in our country’s history, but compared to the present day insanity it seems like a lot of nothing.

Mr. Vidal, when asked about his portrayals of such real life figures as Grant and Hayes, and the many inaccuracies in his portrayals simply says, “It’s the way I see them. It is fiction, and in my reading of history, it is the way I see them.” A daring statement from any writer, but he’s not any writer. He is simply brilliant, and I highly recommend this book and the series. 

“HARRIET TUBMAN,” BY ANN PETRY

Ann Petry’s, “Harriet Tubman, Conductor of The Underground Railroad,” is written in simple prose. In fact, it was originally written for children. But, don’t let the simplicity of the style fool you. This novel, about this extraordinary, courageous woman, is quite powerful and educational and important.

Ms. Tubman helped free over 300 slaves from Maryland plantations during the 1850’s, traveling mostly at night, silently drudging through forests, wading rivers, and stopping at safe houses set up to shelter and feed the runaways on their way to freedom in Delaware, Philadelphia, New York and Boston, and eventually Canada when the Courts in the United States and the government passed “The Fugitive Slave Law” which made it a crime, even in the free states, to help and hide escaped slaves. 

The Safe Houses, were run by Quakers, free slaves, and white men and women of conscience who understood that slavery was wrong and sacrilegious. During the Civil War Ms. Tubman served as a scout, a nurse, and gave speeches on the subject of slavery, and after the war fought for the right of women to vote. She was never able to read and write, as a slave the plantation owners did not want their free labor educated. It could only cause problems, which makes Ms. Tubman’s accomplishment the more remarkable.

In our current time of social unrest, with movements like Black Lives Matter and the ME TOO movement, it is important to remember the sacrifices made by such individuals because without their courage and foresight such movements might not exist. Social Justice in America has been a slow process, but if things seem bad now, they were a million times worse back two hundred years ago when Ms. Tubman’s was born, property of a plantation owner. 

Knowing one’s history is very important, and Ann Petry’s book is a guide and an education and shines a light on a part of American history that is quite ugly and that children and adults would benefit greatly from knowing as much as possible about.

“PROPERTY,’ BY VALERIE MARTIN

Very simply, one of the best books I have ever read about slavery through the eyes of a wife’s slave owning husband.

Very simply, one of the best books I have ever read about slavery. I will undeniably be reading a lot more of Ms. Martin’s work. The story is told through the eyes of Manon Gaudet, a self-absorbed wife of a sugar plantation owner whose husband’s relationship with Sarah, a beautiful, young, slave has Manon left feeling resentful and unsatisfied with her life.

“THE NARROWS,” BY ANN PETRY

“The Narrows,” by Ann Petry is the type of book one could easily discuss in a College Literature class for a week or more. It is the type of book that a Professor could have his students write an essay on, allowing them countless directions and possibilities that they could choose to expound upon.

It is a novel filled with amazing, unforgettable characters, many whose presence in the book only take up a few pages of the 430 pages that compromise the book.

It is a book without a conclusion because one is left with many unanswered questions, but whose characters are so well defined that you could come up with countless possibilities of how they will seek revenge.

It is a book that focuses on the racial divide between blacks and whites, the divide between the super rich and the people living on the other side of the river. It is about the destructive nature of tabloid journalism, and the social stereotypes that still exist to this very day.

It is a book I wish never had to end. It is simply brilliant.

GORE VIDAL’S, “EMPIRE.”

Never a dull moment in Gore Vidal’s novel, “Empire” which takes place mostly in Washington, DC at the turn of the 20th century. For starters, Mr Vidal’s characterization of William Randoph Hearst is something to marvel at. At a time where the term, fake news, has become popular, Mr. Hearst’s brilliance, lack of morals and willingness to make stuff up to sell newspapers and himself is almost in the same league with President’s Trump’s ability to write his own narrative with little or no facts. Mr. Hearst’s ability to do all this is because his super rich mother gives him all the money he wants. She is the money behind all the newspapers that he owns, and whether she actually knows what he is doing with his newspapers is never outlined in the book. The power of the press, as described by Mr. Vidal, is all consuming and as powerful as the Presidency of the United States.

Mr. Hearst is just one character in this book, whereas the characterization of President Theodore Roosevelt is almost cartoonist and an insult to my intelligence. T.R. was very likely the smartest President in the history of our country. He read on the average two books a day, wrote numerous novels, was an expert on numerous subjects, and above all else he was one of the first Presidents to break-up cooperate monopolies and trusts in the U.S. In Mr. Vidal’s version of the man, he is a war monger, empire builder, loud and boisterous and whose accomplishments don’t add up to much, such as the successful negotiations by Secretary of State Hay to end the Russian and Japanese war, the building of the Panama Canal, and the building up of our military and especially our navy are minor accomplishments in the grand scale of things.

“Empire,” despite the depiction of President Roosevelt is a compelling narrative and its depiction of Washington, DC, and its underbelly of corruption is mesmerizing, and the depictions of historical figures such as Lincoln, President McKinley, Henry Adams, Sec. John Hays, and Henry James are masterful.

Vidal is a treasure, even if I don’t agree with his depiction of President Roosevelt.

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ANN PETRY’S, “THE STREET.”

Wow! What a great book, and let me repeat that, what a great book. A few months ago, I never heard of Ann Petry but my god can this woman write.

“The Street” takes place in Harlem during 1944, while World War 2 is still going on and the analogy between life in Harlem and the war is subtle but it is impossible not to draw parallels. Lutie, the beautiful black heroine of the story asks, Boots, an admirer why he isn’t off fighting in the war and he replies, “And for what country should I be fighting for? The one with the segregated army (meaning the US) or the Germans?”

The city that Lutie and Boots’ live in is just as segregated. Harlem of 1940’s and before is where the blacks live, in poor housing, limited job opportunities, and where all the crime takes place and then there is the rest of the city where the whites live and the only blacks in the neighborhood are maids or cooks.

Mr. Petry’s book is a brutally honest representation of the troubles blacks had in moving up and out of Harlem and into places where their children could get a good education, stay safe, and live in places bigger than shacks. I strongly, strongly recommend this book. There is no holding back.41vZsWb+RiL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

“PAL JOEY,” BY JOHN O’HARA

I wish I could say that I loved this book, especially since the last four books I’ve read by Mr. O’Hara I considered classics, but that’s just not the case. “Pal Joey,” was originally serialized in the New Yorker and it became famous as a Broadway play (a separate part of this book and the lyrics by Lorenz Hart are simply fantastic) and later a film starring Frank Sinatra, which I have not seen.

The novel is a series of letters from Joey to his pal, or occasional ex-pal Ted, signed Pal Joey. He recounts his exploits, people he has met, pretty women who he is seeing, who he affectionately calls “mice,” and shady business deals he is involved in, while making a name for himself as a nightclub singer in the bitter cold city of Chicago. At times, just barely surviving, but always just a step away from being back in New York and on top. The letters are filled with error littered slang, which I am quite familiar with and whose magic disappeared for me a very long time ago.

Like I said, I did not really like this book, but then that is just my opinion. It is undoubtedly one of Mr. O’Hara’s most popular works, but simply not to my liking.51DoA2GBWSL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_

 

GORE VIDAL’S, “WASHINGTON, D.C.”

Published in 1967, pre Watergate and Trump, Gore Vidal’s “Washington, D.C.” must of caused a great51cLTJHq0+L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_ stir, but who better than this great writer to cause a stir and foresee the future. The American public has always had a mistrust of its politicians…. Mark Twain has more quotes on their corruption and stupidity that he could have easily come out with a sizable book on simply his political quotes.

But, before this novel was published the American public’s mistrust was simply that, mistrust. The level of corruption and at the highest levels of our government might have been discussed within the Washington social circle and in New York, but the public as a whole had very little knowledge.

Mr. Vidal’s novel takes place during the FDR, Truman, and the Eisenhower administrations, and the names of prominent politicians, Secretary of States, and Military Generals are mentioned quite abundantly throughout the novel. The fictional characters, Senators Day and Clay, and the publishing tycoon Mr. Blaise Sanford, are fictional in the sense that Mr. Vidal does not use their real names, but anyone with a passing knowledge of political history would have little trouble figuring out who he is talking about. It is these characters who make up a big part of the story, but it is the wives, the hookers, the media, the alcoholics, and the parties constantly being thrown that gives this novel so much energy and so much brilliance. In the hands of a less talented writer, this novel, might seem obsolete considering the circus currently going in Washington and the growth of the media, but in the hands of Mr. Vidal it is a classic without a shelf life. I loved this book and highly recommend it.