Reader's Link - August 2010 Staff Picks Archive

Moving to Brooklyn?

Brooklyn Follies

Title: Brooklyn Follies
By: Paul Auster

"I was looking for a quiet place to die." Why would anyone want to read a book that begins with that sentence I asked myself. Fortunately, I read the next few pages and was hooked. This is not a book about death and dying; this is a book about the celebration of life and living as the author introduces us to the characters who inhabit the Brooklyn neighborhood near Prospect Park. Nathan Glass thinks he has found a place to contemplate the end of his life. Instead he finds wonderful people who involve him in their lives, and he is able to reconcile his past. Enjoy spending some time in Brooklyn.

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted on Aug. 30, 2010 at 9 a.m.

Smiley's Honor-bound Labor

The Honourable Schoolboy

Title: The Honourable Schoolboy
By: John LeCarre

Recently, I have re-read John Le Carré’s The Honourable Schoolboy, and gained some deeper understanding of George Smiley, a unique British character who plays an essential and indispensible role whenever a crisis occurs, but is forever forgotten by bureaucratic machines for any career promotions or advancement, despite every single victory he won for the Establishment. We can find such a similar fate in John Clifford Mortimer’s Horace Rumpole, an ageing barrister who defends his clients tirelessly and fearlessly throughout his long professional career. However, the title of QC or Circuit Judge forever eludes him.

Though the Cold War was long over, the creator of George Smiley has turned to other themes for his literary creations. For some mysterious reasons, the character of George Smiley has some eternal haunting effect, especially through the trilogy. In Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (1974), Smiley is called from his retirement to unmask a mole at the heart of the British Secret Service. In The Honourable Schoolboy (1977), Smiley is recalled to salvage and restore the Service’s ravaged network sabotaged by Karla, the head of Moscow Center. In the final book, Smiley's People (1979), he is called again to be the architect of Karla’s surrender.

Keeping intact its consistent suspense, excitement and techniques of espionage, The Honourable Schoolboy has further developed the complex character of George Smiley by reconfirming his firm set of ethics and honors, “I honestly do wonder, without wishing to be morbid, how I reached this present pass. So far as I can ever remember of my youth, I chose the secret road because it seemed to lead straightest and furthest toward my country’s goal.” (p. 532-533).

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted on Aug. 19, 2010 at 3:54 a.m.

The Making of Modern Paris, or, the demolition of prime real estate?

Haussmann, His Life and Times, and the Making of Modern Paris

Title: Haussmann, His Life and Times, and the Making of Modern Paris
By: Michel Carmona

This is a critical biography of the ultimate urban planner, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann. A re-evaluation of the controversial urbanization of Paris, Dr. Carmona (professor of Urban Studies at the Sorbonne) does a fantastic job of laying out the truly hideous public hygiene problem, famously described as "a choleric swamp", and the wretched traffic situation of early 19th century Paris before the big plan, "Grands Traveaux," transformed Paris forever. Haussmann was a bureaucrat but also a man of vision, and being a political ally and intellectual friend of Napoleon III, helped to get things moving along. Under Haussmann's direction, the cramped, crime-ridden tenement buildings were replaced with an even skyline design of maximum six story high apartments. He made a clean sweep of the dark, winding medieval streets and Paris became a network of wide, tree-lined boulevards newly illuminated by gaslight. He oversaw civic improvements such as a fresh water supply system, and the plan and construction of railway stations meant a more efficient distribution of goods and benefited the entire country. Haussmann also had built the large public gardens and fountains enjoyed today. However, the author doesn't just accentuate the positive; the demolition and construction took a very long time, displaced tens of thousands of people, was a huge financial mess, and generations of people are still furious! Perhaps the tourist/visitor will walk about holding a photo-illustrated guidebook describing the city as it was and as it looks now, for the neighborhoods "saved from demolition" are much treasured. (Also available in the library is "Walks Through Lost Paris; a journey into the heart of historic Paris" by Leonard Pitt, 2006.) Haussmann is buried in Le Cimetière Père Lachaise near Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Delacroix, Oscar Wilde, Isadore Duncan, Marcel Proust, and Gertrude Stein.

View similarly tagged posts: non-fiction,history,biography,art,travel
Posted on Aug. 12, 2010 at 1:51 a.m.

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