Books for Younger Readers

My parents would not buy Sib and I toys. However, almost any book could be requested and would follow us home, if the library did not have a copy. Mom and Dad also practiced the vertical censorship system – books that were “too old” for us lived on the very top shelves or way back behind other titles, and were out of sight and out of mind. There were very few of those, as I discovered when I actually went browsing for them when I was a teenager. So I read anything available, including a few that I probably should have avoided, or have waited until I was older to read. Some of the WWII combat histories, especially of the Pacific War, are nightmare inducing. Fantastic books and highly recommended for adult readers or those who want to know what warfare is really like, but probably not great for the average 14-year-old. But I also read Young Adult books, and still remember and recommend some of them today. Continue reading

Rotating the Closet

Rotating the closet it only slightly more productive than rotating the cat. It only happens twice a year, as opposed to whenever the words don’t want to flow. Although I have found a way to prolong the experience, that being moving woolens in and out of storage as well as rotating the closet.

You see, I still follow the old adage about “no white shoes before Easter, no white shoes after Labor Day.” And I have some Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes that can only be worn with white shoes. So in late spring, then get shifted to the front of the closet, the dark and heavy stuff goes to the back, everything gets checked for moth damage, loose buttons, hanging hems, loose trim, and so on. I also go through and decide if certain things need to go to better homes. Last year, for example, I finally got rid of a Leslie Faye suit I’d had since [redacted]. It still fit, and the colors looked wonderful on me, but 1) the 1980s kept calling and asking for the jacket back, and then 2) the Dallas Cowboys defensive line equipment manager e-mailed to see if I’d be willing to sell the shoulder pads. It had passed through vintage to “dreadfully dated.” Continue reading

Reading India and Africa: Or Why Alma is a Bit Odd, Part ???

What happens when a child grows up reading Kipling, and hearing the stories of Jim Corbett and Peter Capstick while reading the Old Mother Westwind books and The Song of Hiawatha and Seabird and The Tree in the Trail? They might start reading other things on their own, books like John Masters’ Bugles and a Tiger and The Road Past Mandalay or Viscount Slim’s Defeat into Victory. And reading Capstick for themselves, leading to Karamojo Bell, and H. Rider Haggard and Talbot Mundy and Boys’ Life Book of WWII Stories and Korea Stories And circle back to Kipling and M. M. Kaye! Oh no, you’ve created an Alma!

Continue reading

Polymath or Just Unfocused?

I have been accused (?) informed (?) on a few occasions that I am a polymath—that I have a very broad range of knowledge and skills and am competent in several fields. I have some doubts about that, myself, but the polite response is to thank the speaker and change the topic.

For starters, I’m not as skilled as people think. Second, I don’t know as much as people think – I have a bird-bath knowledge base. It is quite broad. It is also quite shallow once you get away from “my” field. Third, the combination of the first two means I can give the impression of competence as long as I’m not asked to actually do X or expand on Y. That doesn’t make me a polymath. It makes me unfocused. I’m rather like a shotgun, but less useful in the real world. Continue reading

Collecting the Pieces: Comparing Chronologies

Quick! Which classical composer was writing at the same time as the American Revolution? How does the expansion rate of the Mongol Empire compare with the spread of the British in South Asia? Can you compare water management systems across time? Should you? Why is European deforestation particularly bad when compared to China, the Moche, or the Mississippian Cultures? [Hint: It’s not. Europeans re-forest. The others didn’t, or don’t.]

Welcome to my world. I’m one of those dreadfully annoying history people who insist on having data in order to make comparisons across time. We tend to do terrible things to popular wisdom about history. Continue reading

Book Review: Economic History of China

von Glahn, Richard. The Economic History of China: From Antiquity to the Nineteenth Century (2016) Kindle edition.

It is rare that I stumble onto an academic book, start reading, and say, “Where have you been all my life?” This is one of those few books. Richard von Glahn’s magisterial economic history of China ties together land use, the political economy, religion, military history, and trade in a highly readable narrative that will appeal to the Sinologist and interested lay-reader alike. Well-written footnotes, good maps, and useful tables and charts in a very well formatted e-book make this a useful tool for those looking for more detailed information or with access to the wide variety of sources, while the readable style makes it accessible for non specialists. Continue reading

And the rains fell . . .

“The rain it falls upon the just, and on the unjust fella. But mostly on the just, because the unjust steals the just’s umbrella!”

The rains finally reached the Panhandle starting last Sunday. The latter half of August has been moist, with almost weekly storm-lines rolling through and leaving about an inch or two a week at Redquarters. Then the perfect rain making combination formed. High pressure to the east and a low to the west combined to suck moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico and pump it up over the area. Daytime heating and little upper-level disturbances combined with the moisture and instability to make rain, mostly long slow rains. Although parts of Amarillo got an inch in 30 minutes or so on Tuesday morning, leading to the usual underpasses going under water, and people rediscovering that “Hey, at 50 MPH my tires don’t touch the road. Cool!” Crunch. Usually followed by, “No, really, it didn’t look slick, honest. I was only going 30.”

I-40 is the bridge over the troubled waters.

I-40 is the bridge over the troubled waters.

The problem, so to speak, is that Amarillo only looks flat. Some parts do have a definite lack of topographic relief, but others once contained playas, or are at the bottom of slopes. And Amarillo sprawls, oh does it sprawl. Most of that sprawl is paved or roofed, and does not absorb water. But rain has to go somewhere, usually the street if it falls fast enough.

2015. The tree was/is in a yard.

2015. The tree was/is in a yard.

Most of Amarillo does not have a problem with houses getting waterlogged, and it takes a pretty good downpour to cause trouble, or saturated soil such as developed last year (The Year of the House-Eating Playa).

What do you mean, "Did I check the pump?" I thought Bob was supposed to check the pump. No, I don't know how to use SCUBA gear, why? (Actually, this pit is the remains of a playa that once covered about a square mile or so and serves as a major drainage catchment.)

What do you mean, “Did I check the pump?” I thought Bob was supposed to check the pump. No, I don’t know how to use SCUBA gear, why? (Actually, this pit is the remains of a playa that once covered about a square mile or so and serves as a major drainage catchment.)

Happily, with the exception of the Brief Downpour of Doom, the rain has fallen slowly and steadily over most of the area. I say most, because parts of the southeastern Panhandle got 9″ over three days, which is a wee bit excessive. Lake McKenzie and Lake Greenbelt are coming up fast, just in time for the long weekend, Lake Meredith should start rising this afternoon and all the plants are looking good. Temperatures have been in the 60s and low 70s instead of the low 90s. Four days of rain and the entire world seems to be green, as layers of grey and white cloud slide past and soft pats of cool rain pitter against my hat brim. It is too soon and too well absorbed for mosquitoes thus far, and we need about another half inch and two or three weeks delay (start of wheat planting) before the farmers begin to complain.

"Since the rain, oh things look so much better, Darlin'. Since the rain, Darlin' you should see it now." Ian Tyson "Since the Rain"

“Since the rain, oh things look so much better, Darlin’. Since the rain, Honey, you should see it now.” Ian Tyson “Since the Rain”

Book Review: The Sun in the Morning

Kaye, M. M. The Sun in the Morning Kindle e-book $7.99

I first encountered M. M. Kaye via Kipling, notably her illustrated, annotated collection of her favorite Kipling poems. Her father, whom she called Tacklow, served in the Indian Army (the British Army in colonial India), and knew people involved in some of the stories Kipling recounted, or the places he described and the stories behind them. Kaye grew up loving Kipling, and India.  I read her large, and excellent, novel The Far Pavillions for a college class. It wasn’t on the reading list, but the prof approved it, in part because it was so long, and in part because the author and topic met her requirements.

Fast forward [redacted] years, and I had begun researching more about colonial systems and empires. Lo and behold, it turns out that Kaye had written her autobiography, about the first part of her life, and the first volume focused on her early childhood in India before and during WWI. Gold mine! The topic I wanted by a fantastic writer. If I can ever evoke the feeling of place as well as she did, I’ll be rich as Croesus.

So, The Sun in the Morning is about M. M. Kaye’s childhood. it begins in Simla, the hot-season retreat of the Raj, those British government officials who could flee the plains and the dreadful heat of Delhi, Calcutta, and other steamy, sickness-plagued areas. Simla lies in the foothills of the Himalaya, surrounded by forests and flowering bushes. Only one motor vehicle had reached the area, and in many ways Simla in 1918 might well have been Simla in 1868. Kaye’s parents rented houses there, several different ones over the course of the years, and each had its own personality, spirits, and other things.

Kaye grew up in a world where all adults looked out for children, English and otherwise, and being too young for caste and race, she and her sister poked their noses into everything, trotted around with their Indian nanny (ayah), had adventures in the woods, and absorbed the history and feel of the Raj. Kaye evokes the time and place beautifully, and generally resists the temptation to insert the present day into her past. All was not wonderful delights, but still, it was as close to idyllic as one can imagine in the real world.

Her description of Delhi, the hunting camps, and other sights is equally fascinating and evocative, and it is easy to see why she was such a popular author in her prime. You will learn a lot of history from this book even if you don’t intend to. She does not shy away from the less pleasant side of life, and her account of the results of the Influenza of 1918-1919 are  . . . not for the romantic or easily disturbed. Death was part of live in India, for all the residents, no matter their place of origin.

The last third or so of the book is about her misadventures in boarding schools in England after 1918. Her father did not earn much or have much retirement, and so they scrimped and made do. Kaye collided with the English school traditions and was too stubborn (we’d say self-confident) to bend, with predictable results for her social life. Once in a while her bitterness shows through in this section, and in the last pages where she muses about the raw favoritism her mother and others showed to Kaye’s younger sister. However, as she herself points out, if you have read Kipling’s autobiographical short-story “Baa Baa Blacksheep”, you will know just how mild her problems were compared to those faced by other children of the Raj.

The little volume reads quickly, especially if you are at all familiar with India and some of the vocabulary of Kipling and the Raj. Readers new to the place and time might find some bits head-scratching and others a bit disturbing, and will probably want a map with the pre-1948 names so they can see where Kaye was and what she was talking about. The book is suitable for readers age 12 and up, although younger readers might find the bit about influenza scary, and will be puzzled by some of the references and the section about the Prince of Wales.

Recommended for those interested in a child’s view of the Raj, about the last pre WWII generation, and about colonial India or M. M. Kaye in general.

NOTE: I purchased this book for my own use and received no benefits or remuneration from the estate of the author or from the publisher.