American


Samuel Clemens and his friend John T. Lewis in 1903 (Library of Congress)

While showing a picture of Lewis and himself, Twain remarked:

“The colored man. . . is John T. Lewis, a friend of mine. These many years – thirty-four in fact. He was my father-in-law’s coachman forty years ago; was many years a farmer of Quarry Farm, and is still my neighbor. I have not known an honester man nor a more respect-worthy one. Twenty-seven years ago, by the prompt and intelligent exercise of his courage, presence of mind and extraordinary strength, he saved the lives of three relatives of mine, whom a runaway horse was hurrying to destruction. Naturally I hold him in high and grateful regard.”

John T. Lewis was born a “back freeman” in 1835, Carroll County, Maryland, where he lived the first twenty-five years of his life. At the age of 18 he joined the Church of the Brethren, becoming a lifelong member. In 1860 he moved north to Adams County, Pennsylvania, then settled in Elmira, New York. There he married Mary Stover, who was born in slavery.

Author Rating: A+

The Ferryman Institute (Read 11/15/2016) Highly recommended

I absolutely love this book. It is perfect. (Well, there was one typo toward the end but hey).

It’s the story of Charlie Dawson who has labored for 250 years helping people cross over after their death, never failing at his task but heartbroken by the effort. It is well paced, hilarious at times, and utterly convincing in the universe revealed. I won’t give away any more than that because you want to discover it for yourself.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read this lovely book and look forward patiently to whatever Colin Gigl comes up with next.

Author Rating: C/B

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards (read 8/1/2013) Recommended

Surprisingly well written, delightful and engaging light entertainment. First published in 1966, this is the first novel in Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” series, featuring James Mackintosh Qwilleran (Qwill), a former crime reporter who, as the story opens, is hired to write about the art scene for an unnamed city’s newspaper, and introducing Kao K’o-Kung (Koko for short), the cat in the title. Although never formally stated in her books, the geographical settings in the series are thought to be modeled after Bad Axe, Michigan, where Braun lived until the mid-1980s.

UPDATE:  While the first book was a pleasure to read, those that followed … not so much.  Braun was unable or unwilling to continue Qwill as she had begun, and the books that followed hang on nothing but the thin thread of novelty.

The rest of The Cat Who novels are as follows:

Ate Danish Modern (1967)
Turned On and Off (1968)
Saw Red (1986)
Played Brahms (1987)
Played Post Office (1988)
Knew Shakespeare (1988)
Sniffed Glue (1988)
Went Underground (1989)
Talked to Ghosts (1990)
Lived High (1990)
Knew a Cardinal (1991)
Moved a Mountain (1991)
Wasn’t There (1992)
Went Into the Closet (1993)
Came to Breakfast (1994)
Blew the Whistle (1995)
Said Cheese (1996)
Tailed a Thief (1997)
Sang for the Birds (1998)
Saw Stars (1999)
Robbed a Bank (2000)
Smelled a Rat (2001)
Went Up the Creek (2002)
Brought Down the House (2003)
Talked Turkey (2004)
Went Bananas (2005)
Dropped a Bombshell (2006)
Had 60 Whiskers (2007)

Braun also had published three collections of short stories:

The Cat Who Had 14 Tales (1988)
The Private Life of the Cat Who… (2003)
Short and Tall Tales (2003)

Author Rating: Not Yet Read

Charlie Pierce introduces an author new to us — Charles Portis, author of five novels:

  • 1966:  Norwood
  • 1968:  True Grit
  • 1979: The Dog of the South
  • 1985: Masters of Atlantis
  • 1991: Gringos

Additionally, a number of Portis’ essays and short fiction pieces have been published in one volume titled Escape Velocity: A Charles Portis Miscellany.

You can read Portis’s The Forgotten River, one of the essays in Escape Velocity, here.

Author Rating: A

Bonecrack (read 3/20/2013) Recommended

What a wonderful quick read! Originally published in 1971, this terrific short novel of mystery and suspense has held up well. Before trying his hand at novel-writing, Dick Francis had a career as a jockey and he brings that inside knowledge to bear without becoming bogged down in the minutiae of the sport. The only disappointment comes from not wanting the story to an end.

Author Rating: C

1876 (read 3/24/2013) Not recommended

“Gore Vidal is a great writer.” You’ve heard that, right? If the rest of his works are of this caliber, he’s highly overrated. I threw it down after getting 1/3 of the way through. Nothing happens! A guy and his widowed daughter get off a boat in New York, they stay in a fancy hotel while he looks for work as a writer. Time goes by and he gets jobs, but we never see anything happen. Every other sentence is “I’m just like Rip Van Winkle, oh, I shouldn’t say that, it’s boring.” I was hoping to learn something about American history while being entertained but I was neither entertained nor enlightened.

Author Rating: C

Where I’m Calling From (read 4/14/2013) Meh

I wanted to like this, I really did. I was supposed to like this, I really was. While I found the writing engaging, the stories left me feeling that I neither liked nor cared about any of the characters.

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