Friday, November 4, 2011

Monterey, California the art of historical recreation...A Book Review

No More a Stranger  A Story of Robert Louis Stevenson  written in 1946  by Anne B. Fisher  is what she liked to call a "re-creation." She researched for six years to write this story of the four months in 1879 that Robert Louis Stevenson spent in Monterey, California.

I was almost put off by the romantic cover and already knew the basics and was not further interested in Stevenson's personal life, so I wasn't sure the book would hold me. 

 But ultimately this book is  a story of old Monterey, a town that is in many ways the belly button of  California history.   While this story is told in the third person and is a subjective narrative of  204 pages, the rest of the volume is sixty pages of chapter notes with photographs and sources, a bibliography, acknowledgements and an extensive index.

 I began looking at  the sources first and  saw  that the author  had worked hard to diligently unearth her chronicle and that she had faithfully annotated it with her written and oral sources and included contemporary photographs of many of the characters in the book.  It is a mark of scholarship standards of old to go to original source material and to truly show your source and I began to trust that a definitive picture of  cultural and historical significance was to be found in this story.

As the author says in her biographical notes:
Many readers of this book will wonder how much of the story is true.  It is all based on fact.  No character is imaginary-not even the horse.  Incidents happened as described, and anecdotes related were those actually told.  The only fictional episodes which enter into the story are some conversations which had to be filled in to retain the continuity. 

The people who encountered and helped RLS on his way were all hard working immigrant pioneers and the variety of people groups is well represented in this story.  In some ways this tale is about how much story itself is valued for quite a community had to rally around the twenty-nine year old "ink-slinger"  to keep him alive.  Even his $2.00 a week salary  at the local paper was from a secret hat passing  at the restaurant where RSL  found food, warmth and a friend in French proprietor Jules Simoneau.

No More a Stranger was first published in 1946 by Stanford University Press.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

You'd generally get to somewhere Else if you ran very fast for a long time...

 as it was told to Alice in the Wonderland she encountered:
'Now! Now!' cried the Queen. 'Faster! Faster!' And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.
The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, 'You may rest a little now.'
Alice looked round her in great surprise. 'Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!'
'Of course it is,' said the Queen, 'what would you have it?'
'Well, in our country,' said Alice, still panting a little, 'you'd generally get to somewhere else — if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing.'
'A slow sort of country!' said the Queen. 'Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.
If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!' 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Words Escape Me but DNA Prevails

They do...words escape...but butterflies, Monarchs in particular, have captured my imagination of late.

 My only net is  my camera and my desire to understand them a little better.  I am fascinated that every fourth generation of Monarchs is like Methuselah, they live longer.  Most Monarch butterflies live for about two to six weeks, but every fourth generation, the ones born in the fall, live for several months.  They migrate to hibernate in warmer climes through the winter.   I marvel at these little wings and how many miles, they fly; 1000 to 2500 miles in some cases... to come back home.   Even the butterflies who have never been "home" before know how to get is DNA as a relay race organizer. 

Well, you know if you really want to know about butterflies you can google them and read a proper entomological and scientific explanation of what I just garbled out.  As I said, words have been escaping me.    Here is my self portrait that I drew this morn...a bird in a nest of letters, nary a word in sight.

D N A must be in there somewhere...

I haven't written much of late.  I haven't even written to my daughter  because I miss her and knowing she is, off and on, a little homesick, out on her adventure...well  if I say how much I miss her ...
But this blog is for her, isn't it?   Of course.
Okay, here is the truth....I missed her so much that I even played a hand of on-line scrabble with her kitty...
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Today I am going to a garage sale of a sweet lady who is returning to her home-land.    The other day I was helping her with a simple task and suddenly she took a phone call...rapid fire she chattered away in her native tongue. I did not understand a word...except I could hear how deep a resonance the mother tongue has in her heart.   She ( my friend's  request to keep her departure a bit quiet on the web has me being impersonal here) has lived in the United States for thirteen years.  This land gave her shelter  from the kidnappings and dangers of her native Columbia.  Many of her friends and much of her family have moved away...but not her parents... and now, like a butterfly, she returns.   She has reduced the accumulation of the years down to four boxes to ship home; that and a heart full of memories and hopes and an awareness of  the truth  that her path did not fully open up here.   She described the dreams she has and that she returns to her land with her dreams still asking.  She says she has created a situation where it is hard to leave but knows she must not stay...
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  
Did you ever  play connect the dots?  You follow the numbers and draw the lines between each numbered dot and then maybe the picture will be a bird in a nest sitting on letters that won't quite make the words she wants.... to express her love and hope for those she loves....

The day calls, I look out the window and see what I see?  There is a little sailboat on the blue. As my dear runaway- to- the-circus daughter says....onward.  I guess if she can write about being homesick, it is okay for me to admit that I miss her proximity here mightily... and this doesn't even get into the much closer but still not quite nearby other "story."  This post is for you too.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Framing One's Perspective

     There's a dead tree in the view.  It's just as tall as its living neighbor, but green no more.  How one looks at a dead tree, feels about it, may be important.  That tree has held that spot for many years and for now there is a dead tree in a very lovely view.

It has reminded me that life cycles are not neat, the comings and goings are unexpected and then the view is changed.


It's important not to consider the view imperfect.  
There are so many young trees striving to get established...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A favorite way of writing.

I was oblivious to and yet comforted by the surrounds...a dear friend took this picture of me.
Away for a few days at a mountain retreat I found myself free to be writing.
Where do you like to write?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Snippets after Shut Down

I belong in bed.   I had actually shut down my computer.  I have been set to a purpose that is an honor and very hard  but a write purpose task.  To write a eulogy... I know there are all sorts of experts in the field, tips on how to write a eulogy abound  on the internet, but what is needed is heart.  Brevity, clarity, organization and hopefully a voice to read can all come...but heart for he who is gone and for each one who feels  his loss ( and I am such a one myself)   is really all I care about at this point.  And I came to a place where I knew it was time to retire and trust the rest of it to tomorrow.

And then I was told there were two new blog posts from my traveling daughter and I fired this computer back up and ignored the exhaustion ahead signal lights that had been flashing for so long the batteries are almost stone...  One of her posts was so long and so brilliant and painful and funny and convoluted I know I will read it again in the morning.  The other, the latest one was short, a snippet she said...a day that had not held time for writing but she typed out a little marker for the trail...and so both  in support of  her and because I am encouraged by her, I have hereby officially written a snippet too.  Good night.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Write to know what you know...

I stumbled upon this quote from John Henry Newman 
'I think that writing is a stimulus to the mental faculties, to originality, to the the power of illustration, to the arrangement of topics, second to none. Till a man begins to put down his thoughts about a subject on paper he will not ascertain what he knows and what he does not know, still less will he be able to express what he does know.'

I know for me that writing is a time where I am steeped in knowing that I am not alone in this universe.  
In this private time of grief I cannot now share ...but this affirmation of how part of prayer a writer's words can be. 

for David

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Boundaries in Blog Land

Ah, time to write...I'll just start a post and even though I 'll have to save it and add to it later, it will be like a  magnet to draw  together some of the thoughts that pass through so quickly unless I  pen them down as able.  Even if capture is incomplete, I stand a chance of some themes coalescing. 

Nothing got posted here in June. 

 I wrote and then typing in the near dark early one morning, deleted one June post I had considered calling "Weeds for Words" about the seasonal mandate of the sprouting earth and how weeding, planting and pruning had usurped keyboard time.  Living in a garden and being outside is lovely and of course it is the keyboard that should be considered the usurper.  My handwritten journal has not suffered for entries but it seems to become more and more a sequestered reality.  A family death, concern for the next generation, strange dreams, stranger encounters, political observations, cultural clashes: I can bring  a proper light to such subjects, but the first dashed thoughts  usually need to at least marinate for a while.  I would never do in the world of journalism  where the rush to scoop beats many factors  of much greater importance.  

Boundaries are important. 

 Often times boundaries are viewed simply as restrictions, look at the implications of the word "sequestered"  used above: to isolate or hide away or to take legal possession  of...  but in fact,  clear boundaries can facilitate clarity and freedom.

I wrote recently to one of  the dear hearts of my life how impressed I was with her increasing ability to use words to describe her inner terrain.  It struck me  what a growth it is to keep the internal terrain in a gentle focus while juggling the multitude of external demands. Boundaries are inextricably tied to one's ability to do and give in the world at large and then retreat to recharge.  There is a difference between giving of yourself and not giving yourself away. 

Although I didn't post here in June, I read many other people's web log entries.  I try to be generous in my willingness to  respond and comment.  I suppose I have scattered an essay or two across the blogosphere at the feet of other's blogs... that's the opportunity available to us: sharing and encouraging and being encouraged and learning from each other.  I hope soon to reference to and highlight of few of the blogs I have found noteworthy.

 While writing and reading blogs I've thought a lot about the  dilemma of personal censorship.How does one  identify internal censors, blinders, screens, misbeliefs? How does one sneak up on one's self to get a good candid shot?  It's a good trick, to lay down some of your defenses while you write about them in all their ardent hiddenness at the same time.
The delight of self encounter in the very act of writing is good stuff.   Balancing requires that one neither be too easy or too hard on one's self...  
 Ironically, our internal restraints, judicious restraints,  are part of potential openness and relaxation, we must say "No" to protect the "Yes" we have already committed to.
And sometimes the best of the candid shots are for our eyes only... and our shots of others...our understandings of others...respect and compassion for self and goes a long way.  But not restraint to the point of not sharing, not giving...

What exactly do I mean by judicious restraints and boundaries?  I don't mean internal police. I don't mean a ball and chain.  I don't mean political correctness.  So many negative stereo types exist...

Trust is an important part of judicious restraint. I see internal surrender that then allows us to be free because we can trust we are barefoot where we should be barefoot and well shod for other terrain. It's the restraint that knows how edgy reality can be and even when I'm not paying super conscious attention to it, it informs me where the edges are. It's a restraint that is at the ready, you can climb mountains with it and when you start to slip the instinct leaps in every muscle. It needn't rob you of moment to moment entering in; in fact I think it gives more energy for doing so.  

Yes, there is a beautiful field of wild mountain flowers that one can reach without  as the old saying goes, "throwing all caution to the wind."
Other adages come to mind, we learn not to throw out the baby with the bath water and  not to overcorrect on a curvy road.
The body is a great teacher of boundaries. We are "fearfully and wonderfully made."  The cells, as I  remember their description from long ago biology classes, have a wall that is a semi-permeable discerning membrane.  A healthy cell boundary knows how to let  the good stuff in and separate and excrete unusable components.

Our bodies know we should try to avoid toxic realities, not over extend ourselves, that we can't safely embrace or hold onto impurities.  There's no room for what doesn't support life as a  pure flowing exchange where it is nutrients in, waste out to build strong cells, strong tissues, further organized as organs of purpose...multiple purposes, co-ordinated with an over- arching goal of letting yourself be a real,vulnerable and safe, available  and composed,distinct and unique person; a valuable existence validated  by God's love.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Tomorrow will worry about it self

The view from the cottage...the evening of May 30th, 2011


 I think of things that should be done, could be done, must be done...things I want  to do...might write, have written and not shared and as I watch the sun go down I realize that tomorrow is the last day of  May and then I remember that tomorrow will worry about itself.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Alarmists Were Predicted Long Ago

Recently a woman I know was trying to factor some fearful predictions into some economic decision she needed to make.  It’s hard enough for Lily to navigate realms of finance not having been entrusted with singular or even mutual decision making before being widowed, let alone with someone whispering in her ear that she should sell everything she has and just stock up on supplies.
Of course I’m aware of earthquakes and up-risings, and “down-troddings” and wars and rumors of war on a daily basis but I don’t tend to pay much attention to people who think they can give time lines for the future.  
I was concerned as she described to me a man who was not currently living up to his financial obligations but was offering her financial advice and either basing it on or peppering it with time tabled predictions of various global disaster scenarios.  As a result of his certainty she now felt confused and uncertain as to what she should do.
 As much as I was concerned about Lily making a hasty decision about her largest financial asset, in some ways I was more concerned that she thought she would have to be a Bible scholar to sort through this man’s predictions and the seemingly direct line of implications he drew to her circumstances. I’m no scholar myself, but I knew the Gospel according to Matthew addressed cosmic predictions.
Jesus was asked directly by his disciples what are the signs of the end of the age.  Matthew 24:3 records that  Jesus began his answer this way: "Watch out that no one deceives will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed..." 
What a great place to start while figuring things out, “See to it that you are not alarmed..."   Not only is not being alarmed a desirable state of being, the 'see to it’ language intrigues me.  It’s an invitation to look inward.  Yes, what are you doing in there, getting alarmed and to what end?  
I’m struck with the emphatic quality of the instructions of Jesus to his questioning disciples. “Watch that no one deceives you and see to it that you are not alarmed.”  I really can’t imagine any realm where this isn’t good advice.
I find it interesting that before the end of the eons is discussed, or even the precursor times of trouble are described, a mindset is mandated.  If you think about never being alarmed or anxious about anything, you know that it is not something most of us embody all that well.  
So if you are going to read Matthew chapter 24 about earthquakes and famines, and the end that is not yet, if you are going to read the hard words about persecutions and fleeing seems important to first soak in the admonition to watch that no one deceives you and see to it that you are not alarmed.  If you don’t read the chapter, but just wander around in the world and listen to the opinions and predictions of others, it seems the right response as well.
In Matthew chapter 24,  there are thirty-five verses describing days of distress before Jesus describes "the Son of Man appearing...." 
and then he says, ( 24:36)  “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."      
 I sure don't know, do you?  It sounds as if we are neither expected nor supposed to know about the future, and that is certainly one of the things that I wanted to remind Lily; people telling us when something will happen in the future is not validated by the very book they purport to interpret.
 Jesus does say (verse 42) that one should keep watch.  Pay attention, keep watch. But watch for what?  In Chapter 25, Matthew records Jesus launching right into a series of stories starting with his parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Those women weren’t sent out to watch for or prepare for disaster, they were waiting on a bridegroom. That’s the first example that follows all the hard to read about trouble, a story about having enough oil to have light in your lamp no matter how long you have to wait in the dark for the promised arrival.
I know I’m more than capable of imagining all manner of difficult things that may, but haven’t, happened.  Perhaps I have to fight that tendency because a few hard losses and difficult trials did come my way early in life, but maybe not, maybe it is just how I am; perhaps it’s how many people are?  As I read these familiar stories, I glimpsed the futility of trying to be prepared for woe, except by being faithful day by day and being ultimately prepared for joy.  How many dollars per barrel do the oils of gladness or gratitude go for?  
So going to this storied chapter that I have been exposed to my whole life and read any number of times, with concern for someone else really struggling with fear, was a great reminder for me how important it is to not be distracted by what you think you know.  How easy it is to gloss over the essence of something.  How easy it is to focus on the earthquakes and wars and stars falling from the sky, and miss the admonition to neither be deceived nor alarmed. 
It’s true that there’s plenty of trouble to go around and it isn’t that I don’t believe in being as prepared as able, I do, but preparedness and routine caution is not the same as anxiety. When people make global predictions others’ anxiety is generally what they are preying upon.
If troubles we don’t yet have worry us we are likely to miss the opportunities of today.   The Bible says that there is trouble sufficient unto the day and that there will be troubles, but Jesus is very clear with his disciples that no man knows when specific events will come and then illustrates in three parables, the parable of the 10 virgins, the parable of the talents and the parable of sheep and goats, a ready focus.  The examples are each so straight forward.  Have oil for your lamp so you can be ready with light, be a good steward of all that is entrusted to you, feed and visit the poor, the sick and the imprisoned, and by all means be watchful and ready.
Suffice it to say that I was glad that I didn’t undertake to answer Lily’s request for help “straight off the hip,” rather than use the very book being loosely referenced.  She was quick to respond to my letter about what one could readily glean from these  two chapters and wrote back that she had received “...peace in the eye of the storm.”  
 I had to laugh at the effective way her expressed need had caused me to it sit down and study a bit.  I can always use all the reminders myself.

Monday, May 9, 2011

An art in itself: handmade hand written personal correspondance

I opened a blue box tied with burgundy string.   The storage unit had housed for 5 years many things we could not take with us or sort through before moving for  a new job.  What had I saved?  It must have been something I had put away years before the move itself.

Such funny little cards, made so long ago...I also found a small packet of letters that I wrote to my grandmother.  I won't look at them now.  But I will.  She saved them, then I saved them.

A little box of treasures...worth nothing and everything.   Before the children were making cards and pictures, the box received missives sent to them from loved ones long gone now...dear familiar handwriting sending love to new babies and with little checks enclosed, I am sure.

This last weekend I received beautiful that traveled across the sea and got here just in time for Mother's Day. Handmade with handpicked flowers from the alps...yes, I got the message.  And another card from the southern boundaries of our land with a thoughtful note and photographs from some of the days memorialized in the old blue box.  What is it that causes us to write the words that say what is  already known?  Shaping and sharing our thoughts and feelings that they may for a time travel and have the weight of matter?   I see how this box came to be; how could I toss these artful little love packets away.

Ephemera only and yet ...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

When do you write? In the Morning and the Evening

In the same way that photographers and painters prefer the light of morning and afternoon, I find those to be times I am drawn to writing.  

 In the morning light breaks into the garden and invites close exploration.

I don't take many photographs while I am working...but the monologue is running. 

When evening approaches the horizon is done.  What have I done with it?  Do I have more energy to focus...
reflections come...accomplishments are reviewed, tired muscles talk, hunger surfaces.  The glory of the day settles as sun and color melt away into night.

   Time needs honoring, or the day's creative opportunities  slip away..
There is morning and evening and the long full day in between them.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Live and Become .. so hard to do in so many places...

What a powerful movie...  full of history we either never hear or forget too quickly...full of feeling for what happens to children as people groups tear at each other...

I watched this tonight and I don't want to spoil the story line.  In 1980 the black Falashas in Ethiopia are recognised as Jews and airlifted secretly from a camp in the Sudan to  Israel. This is the story of a  9-year-old Christian boy  who is put on that plane by his mother to live and become.   

This movie touches on many primal aspects of individual and social becoming. It is about heart for life, it's about loss and overcoming, it's  about family, nations, identity.  It is about purpose and it is about faithfulness in the heart of a child.  It is a French film and it adroitly gives credit to many people of various leanings when they care, take a stand, tell their story, tell the truth or help others.

I think this movie came out in 2005..but I am always behind the times when it comes to movies. 

This is however a movie that I can get behind.  I recommend it highly.

Just the title 

is a lot to think about...


it is what we should always want 
for others...yes?

When the movie was over...I saw an article that a friend had posted on her facebook...about a woman in Libya named Eman al-Obeidy

who approached some cloistered foreign journalist in a hotel to tell what abuse she had suffered.

So...may she and the others she was pleading for Live and Become.
~that's my prayer~

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Creative Process Stunned ?

Tumultuous times have a direct impact on my sense of purpose in writing.  There doesn't have to be any actual interruption in my personal daily life...tragedy has such a long arm in our small world.

 I have a drawer full of fiction, chapters that I've put tremendous work and heart into, that I haven't worked on since September 11, 2001.  Fiction seemed a small voice in the  aftermath days, and yet the subjects my characters faced were, albeit set in a different era, the same; clashing beliefs and cultures, losses in war, and love's journey through despair to hope.

 I thought I would eventually pick things up and write on, and I may have, but health threats to my own life, healing time and then a new job that required moving and a new life style continued what I hope is only a hiatus.

While I work full time, and writing has to dance around both the duties and joys of daily life, I have been, in private journals and these two blogs that I have been scribbling, warming up to committing more time and energy to the life I find in writing and the giving to others it represents.

This week I recognized a familiar sense of chill deep inside myself as I watched the news reels of the devastation that shook, flooded and  burned the island country of Japan which now struggles with the specter of possible  nuclear power plant meltdowns.

I cannot dig through the rubble, or fly helicopters.  My heart flies out though and then the creative processes get a busy signal.  Yesterday I did some simple hand work, repairing some small cloth items.  The calming effect was powerful.  I was searching for that insulation that allows all that is to be acknowledged, no ignoring the great external heats of various dangers in the world, while  keeping kindled a proactive awareness  that while it is yet called today, I should do what I can in all the realms that speak purpose to me, despite the multiple dwarfing effects of events across the wide world.  Yes, the axis of the earth has shifted yet again, but we must each keep our footing and press on.

As I sat here, typing up these little thoughts, just outside my window on the path into the forest, I heard a sharp crack and looked out to see a limb crashing down.  It is just a small limb, but it fell perhaps 60 feet with little warning.  One sharp crack and it crashed right where I walk  from one house to the other.  How glad I am that I was taking these few quiet moments to ponder what I allow to deter me from spending more time writing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

3 Minutes or less: Life Lessons from America’s Greatest Writers ~ a book review

    What would you share about the subject of illusion in three minutes or less?  It’s a great writing challenge, isn’t it?  Would you be interested in reading what some of America’s favorite authors wrote on that subject when invited to share a prepared speech with such a time limit? 
     Perhaps your favorite  American author has spoken at an annual PEN/Faulkner gala. 
3 Minutes or less: Life Lessons from America’s Greatest Writers is an anthology of over one hundred and fifty such essays published in 2000 by Bloomsbury.  Every year has had its topic. The collection includes eleven different topics each addressed by ten to twenty different authors. 

     Eudora Welty delivered one of my favorite essays of the collection on the topic of beginnings.  She speaks of her sense of her own internal timeline and experiences of being freed of clock time. 

Remembering, we discover and most intensely do we experience this when our separate journeys converge.  Our living experience at those meeting points is one of the charged dramatic fields of fiction.”

  Welty shares a passage from her novel,  The Optimist's Daughter,  that focused on confluence
“...which of itself exists as a reality and a symbol in one…Of course, the greatest confluence of all is that which makes up the human memory, the individual human memory.  My own is the treasure most dearly regarded by me in my life and in my work as a writer.”

     I felt intense freedom reading Russell Baker on the topic of illusion.  I won’t steal his thunder or explain why he says, “Our best use and our peculiar gift, if we have any, is our ability to sustain the precious illusion that the teller of the tales is not the author.”  

     Susan Richards Shreves shares the prescription given her as a young writer to tell the truth about the way things are, knowing that writing is none the less an optimistic act requiring hope about the way things could be. She illustrates this with a very personal story from her family’s history that left me with indelible images of the power of the imagination.  

     Other well plumbed topics included are Obsessions, Heroes, Confessions, Reunions, and of course Endings.  

     Some of the writers privileged to contribute to this anthology through their archived speeches are William Styron, Annie Dillard, Larry McMurtry, Rita Mae Brown, Maurice Sendak, Jane Smiley, William Kennedy, Sue Miller, Allan Gurganus, Jane Hamilton, and Thomas Flanagan to name just a few you might readily recognize.  

    From the clever and the confessional to the inspiring and profound, all of these essays are worth the three minutes they take to read and many of them invite reading again and again.  

     And having read, perhaps you’ll be inspired to organize and write what you would share in three minutes or less on a topic such as  First Love, Journeys,  A Lesson, or The Sense of Place.       

Sunday, January 16, 2011

What's Wrong with the Press of Daily News?
A Book Review

Back in November I borrowed How the News Makes Us Dumb The Death of Wisdom in an Information Society, by C. John Sommerville.  It was sitting on the shelf in the guest bedroom in the home of a friend who was taking exceptionally good care of me on an overnight stay.

There were many books I could have chosen but I picked up this one because I didn't like the title.  I don't like being told I am dumb, even when I'm  aware of the severe limitations anyone of us has, myself most certainly,  in vast and multiple realms.  Shouldn't I be reading more news to learn more about the world at large?  Why did my friend have this book?

I read chapter 1 before I fell asleep and got interested enough that I wanted to continue.

My friend, an avid reader, told me in the morning that she had not read the book yet herself, but was quite willing for me to borrow it and read it first.  She said the title had already reminded her to keep her reading heavily weighted in the history, biography and literature realms. When I got home with the book, I got busy with other things, but this last week, after a particularly heavy week of news reading, I picked the book up and was again drawn in and questioning my own response to, and my occasional immersion in,  the available daily leads and speculations of the media.

It isn’t as one might suspect, a book about the alleged bias of the news, be it conservative or liberal editors in question. It’s not about techniques of linguistic or factual manipulation. It’s not about journalists using events or people to become celebrities themselves. Nor is this book focused on the sheer incompetence of some journalists or the daunting tasks of what it would take to be an expert in the multiple realms that journalist wind up covering. It’s not about the sound bite oversimplification of television news or the concentration of news to a few corporate chains. Sommerville says that while all these issues worry him, that all these critiques have already been written as well as futile recommendations to improve the news industry by people who believe that daily news is important.

Critique of the news media is certainly not new.  Sommerville suggested  a snippet of Thomas Jefferson's critique could be stitched on a sampler.  Wanting to see the context I searched  the world wide web and found that when John Norville wrote to Thomas Jefferson  in 1807  "It would be a great favor, too, to have your opinion of the manner in which a newspaper, to be most extensively beneficial, should be conducted, as I expect to become the publisher of one for a few years." he  received a reply in which Jefferson first recommended authors to read on government and history, then very specifically critiqued  newspapers:
 To your request of my opinion of the manner in which a newspaper should be conducted, so as to be most useful, I should answer, `by restraining it to true facts and sound principles only.' Yet I fear such a paper would find few subscribers. It is a melancholy truth, that a suppression of the press could not more completely deprive the nation of its benefits, than is done by its abandoned prostitution to falsehood. Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. . . . I will add, that the man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods and errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.  (see Jefferson's complete letter at

Sommerville's book isn't new either. It was released in 1999. The irony is the fact that the examples are not up to date and that actually helps demonstrate the thesis of the book. As he says in his preface,        “Items in the news always seem a little homeless and disconnected when we stumble on them later. We have forgotten what they once meant, what the bigger picture was. That is because the news industry succeeded in destroying the context of those items, which is the best way to make money off them."

Sommerville, also author of a more academic book on the history of the news industry, says that in the three hundred year history of the industry it has developed in line with its essential nature and now at maturity demonstrates its essential flaw. His concern is the way in which “daily news” deconstructs our experience of the world and blocks the higher mental processes.

The industry isn't likely to go away. Those news deadlined columns will  be written, the air time will be filled even if the story isn't known yet; the news is a changing tide with waves of conflicting information  flooding in daily. As it says on the back of the book,  this is a book for those "dissatisfied with the state of the news media, but especially for those who think the news actually does inform them about the real world."

So if the news can’t be fixed, and Sommerville does make a good case for that, and one wants to be aware and informed on important events, wants to be an informed citizen in ever widening circles, local community, state, nation, the world, what is one to do?  Here's part of Sommerville's answer:  “If news were just one of the many things that we read each day, it wouldn’t have the same impact. If we would read science, the classics, history, theology or political theory at any length, we would make much better sense of today’s events.” Page 16.
This book is really about changing our relationship to the news media and that starts with being more aware of  how the news media is a flawed vehicle of social bonding and how important it is to be in our world rather than simply observe it through the lens of the news industry.  Sommerville thinks we, the consumer, have acquired an addiction, and news people are just supplying the market.

It is a short book, 150 pages.

“It will take a short book to show all the ways that dailiness constitutes a bias all by itself. Of course dailiness is necessary if we are to have a news industry. And that is why the news can’t be fixed. Consuming this industry’s ‘news product’ actually makes us dumb.” Page 10  

Sommerville's last chapter,Virtual Society or Real Community,  makes it evident that he is a historian and a caring citizen of this day.  He is an encourager and has real suggestions for how you can "personally learn to inhabit your world instead of just observing it...  Let's not think what we must all do. That is the way of the news-addressing us in the anonymous voice of an imagined public..."

I'll be giving this book back to my friend this next week when I get a chance to see her again in person.  Maybe she will read it now...maybe you might too?  Or if you don't, maybe you will read a good biography or get into a subject in depth...plunge into your own life and interests in some way that your world and the world of those around you is richer.  Tell a good story...we all need to hear one.