Category Archives: writing

The Monday Book

The review today is by Paul Garrett

Stephen Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire, The Afghan Campaign and Tides of War, about the Spartans, Alexander the Great and Alcibiades, respectively, returns to ancient history with his latest effort, A Man at Arms.

Teleman of Arcadia is a Greek mercenary who once served in the Roman army’s famous Tenth Fretensis Legion. He is dispatched by the Roman consul in Palestine to intercept and stop by any means a dangerous insurgent, said to be carrying a letter that could cause the downfall of the Empire.

When Teleman becomes allied with the man and his daughter, a mute, the mercenary and his little band of unlikely heroes must defend themselves against bandits, Arab mercenaries and The Roman army itself to deliver the letter, which is a missive from the Apostle Paul to the Greek city of Corinth.

Pressfield’s book The War of Art about overcoming “resistance” has nearly taken on the lofty status of Natalie Goldberg’s classic Writing down the Bones or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I have always thought his books about writing to be better than his stories. This book is no exception.

His prose is hard to take sometimes, as his motto seems to be to never use a one or two syllable word when a three or four syllable word is available. I have nothing against what Hemingway called “ten-dollar words” back when that was a lot of money. As a writer of fiction myself, I can sympathize with trying to come up with a word that will evoke the exact meaning or feeling one is looking for, but in an action novel, multisyllabic utterances decelerate the deciphering of the manuscript. It’s sort of like trying to run through ankle deep mud. There are also a few escapes and close calls that stretch credulity.

The book’s saving graces are Pressfield’s insistence on historically accurate portrayals of characters and setting, the many surprising plot twists, the riveting action sequences, and the insight into what it must have been like for the early Christians as they faced seemingly overwhelming odds to keep their nascent religion alive. Though perhaps not Pressfield’s best effort, A Man at Arms is still an entertaining read.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, out of things to read, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

The Monday Book: THE LONG WINTER by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I found THE LONG WINTER at a thrift store, one of my first fun outings in a year involving non-socially-distant hiking. The title looks different when you’ve emerged from your chrysalis, post-vaxx and post-winter weather, to go do something with a friend.

Most American school children read this book before they graduate middle school. As a child I had the boxed set and devoured them over and over. It’s a little odd to read them as an adult and realize how much sweetness hides some truly terrible things.

Last night I read LONG WINTER in one sitting. How did I miss that sense of threat that pervades every chapter, as the family ticks down from the last of the butter to the last of the milk to the last of the flour to the last of the potatoes, to the last of the burnable fuel? The dawning realization of the townspeople that the train was not coming, the train that was their literal supply line, anchoring them out on the prairie with the safety of coal and already-ground wheat and other “new-fangled” things like kerosene. Ma’s ingenuity at producing a button lamp from axle grease. Pa buying the last two cans of oysters in town for Christmas dinner. The hay sticks that they burned as fast as they made them; twist hay to have the warmth to twist more hay.

And the darkness. The robbery that Pa participated in to get the supplies he came home with.The dying of the lamp on Christmas Night. The inability to buy flour or lumber at any price because “Banker Ruth bought it all.” What happened to Banker Ruth when winter was over, one wonders?

The heroism of Almanzo and Cap, going to buy wheat from a man in the middle of nowhere, is offset by the fact that Almanzo walled up 150 bushels of wheat before they left. So no one could ask him to buy it.

It is a different book as an adult than as a child. I’ve observed there are several rewrites and washouts of these American classics over time, based on racist overtones and the charming overwrites of things like being illegally in Indian territory, or quite possibly murdering a railroad employee, etc. You know, these are still American classics. Just, now that I can see what wasn’t meant to be visible to children, I appreciate Wilder’s two-layer genius in writing all the more. She told the whole story, twice at the same time, for two different audiences. Gonna go back and read the rest of these now.

Yep, American classics: fear, prejudices, frontier justice, snowball fights, family spirit, and all.

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Filed under book reviews, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, small town USA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction