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Book Notes

March 13, 2014

Wouk has amazing body of epic work

One of the problems with eulogies is that they only seem to occur posthumously. I often wonder why people who have produced something noteworthy aren’t honored until after they die and don’t get to hear the acclaim they deserve. In that vein, I want to recognize an aging classic novelist while he is still with us.

Herman Wouk is amazing. He doesn’t simply write books. He writes epics. He has a way of producing historical novels that are entertaining, engrossing, and educational at the same time. I have only had a small taste of his writing but it has had a profound effect on me. His novels on World War II greatly increased by knowledge and fascination with the subject and led to reading many more books on the conflict.

Wouk’s breakthrough novel in 1951 was “The Caine Mutiny” which he later adapted into a successful Broadway play and all-time classic film. It is based on a small section of the Navy regulations that states that relief of a ship’s captain due to stress, illness or mental incapacity is conceivable but should never happen without proper authorization unless conditions make it impractical. Wouk invents a plausible scenario where such an unlikely event occurs during a typhoon.

The movie became a classic due to the great performances of Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray. It’s an impressive look at personalities and how men interact in close quarters. It also has an unforeseen plot twist at the end that provides a lesson in how perception can outweigh reality.

Wouk went on to write such best sellers as “Marjorie Morningstar” and “Youngblood Hawke” (both of which I admit I haven’t read) but then came up with his twin World War II classics, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” These two books give a thorough history of World War II through several fictional characters that span around 2,000 pages. The amount of research and depth in his writing is staggering. Wouk published “The Winds of War” in 1971 and didn’t come out with the “War and Remembrance” until 1978.

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  • Despite good reviews some movies disappoint Sometimes a popular movie can be difficult to evaluate. It may be a hit at the box office, receive great reviews, and earn multiple Oscar nominations. But what if it didn't really do it for you? How do you rip a film that clearly appeals to the masses? I faced that dilemma with one of the top grossing releases of 2013. I guess I learned that everyone has different tastes.

    August 14, 2014

  • Comparing HOF, Coop, now and then The Baseball Hall of Fame is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and it's amazing how much the Hall has grown since it first opened in 1939. An estimated 48,000 fans journeyed to Cooperstown to watch the induction ceremonies two weeks ago. The annual Hall of Fame weekend has become a major tourist attraction as floods of Hall of Famers and ex-big leaguers descend on the village to celebrate, reminisce, and sign autographs (for a fee). It's all quite a change from its humble beginnings in 1939.

    August 7, 2014

  • Biography of Neil Armstrong shines light on space program We just celebrated the 45th anniversary of the first lunar landing. We all remember Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, uttering those famous words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.â€� It was an exciting time for our country and the world. There was talk of a mission to Mars by 1980. Instead, we haven’t been to the moon since 1972 and manned space exploration has become an afterthought. What happened?

    July 31, 2014

  • Early 'blahs' sometimes hide a gem There are often films that sound rather "blah" when you first notice them and have no interest in seeing. It's usually due to the preview either being really stupid or the producers wanting to avoid giving away too much of the plot. If it's the latter category you must be careful. Sometimes there's a gem of a movie hidden behind the facade.

    July 24, 2014

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    July 17, 2014

  • MacNeil reading highlights novels Several weeks ago I had the good fortune to attend a talk by Robert MacNeil at the Guilderland Public Library. MacNeil is best known as the former co-host of the MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. He retired in 1995 but has continued to write both fiction and non-fiction. His talk at Guilderland focused on two of his novels, "Burden of Desire" written in 1992, and its sequel, "Portrait of Julia," which was published last year.

    July 10, 2014

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    July 3, 2014

  • Authors not afraid to think like freaks Conventional wisdom is something we automatically take for granted. It can be something as simple as assuming there is no cure for the common cold or political polls being a good indicator of who will win an election. Common assumptions of course can be wrong but we usually just accept them as fact. However, in many cases it would be much better to think "outside the box" and consider an alternative way of looking at the world.

    June 26, 2014

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