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review 2019-12-21 03:40
The Walls of Jericho, by Paul I. Wellman (c) 1947
The Walls of Jericho - Paul I. Wellman

Disclosure: I obtained the hard cover book club edition of this book from my father's and/or grandparents' collection.  I never knew the author nor had any communication with him.  I am an author of historical romances (including western Americana), contemporary gothic romance, and miscellaneous non-fiction.

 

The Walls of Jericho was one of those book club edition books on my dad's shelves that I discovered in my early teens and immediately fell in love with. 

 

 

I'm not sure that at that age I completely understood everything that was going on in the book, but subsequent readings over the years never really changed my impression.  I consider it on a par with Brat Farrar: perfectly executed down to the finest details.

 

I included what appears to be a typical late 1940s cover on another post, and here it is again, for context.

 

 

The reader in possession of the dust-jacketed copy would immediately understand this is early 20th century by the motor cars.  But without the dust jacket, even the book club edition contains the setting, and the tone of the book's environment.  I found my old copy today, and scanned the endpapers.

 

 

The book itself is a little fragile, so the scan isn't as good as I'd have liked, but I think the impression is clear of the small town in the rural Midwest. 

 

Wellman gives his readers one more insight into the story's overall environment with a short introductory note and disclaimer:

 

 

I grew up with books like this, whether they had their dust jackets or not.  And later with paperbacks that had illustrated covers and little notes from the authors at the beginning, so the reader always had a hint about the book.

 

I think this is something too many of today's self-publishing authors don't take into consideration.  Whether it's a result of writing sites like Wattpad or fanfiction writing, I don't know, but the example of Yvonthia Leland's catastrophe seems to indicate that not being a reader familiar with the traditional book product leaves the writer at a serious disadvantage.  It's not enough to write a story and then publish it.  There's more to preparing the product that's going to be put on sale to the public. 

 

So after all that packaging, what's the product like in this case?

 

I put The Walls of Jericho in my personal fiction canon for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost because it's an excellent story.  The young lawyer David Constable comes to Jericho, Kansas, to set up his practice.  He makes friends with the publisher of the town's newspaper, Tucker Wedge, and between the two of them they shape Jericho's future.  Not consciously, of course, not deliberately, but that's just the way things happen to happen.  They begin as strangers who become friends, then they become rivals.

 

The second reason The Walls of Jericho became one of my most-reread books was that it's such a terrific study of characters.  On the surface, the narrative is about Kansas, about rural western Kansas that's very different from the eastern part of the state with its capital city and other metropolises.  But the landscape, for all its harshness, is really just another character playing a role along with the human beings on the stage.  Sometimes she's the villain, sometimes she's the hero.

 

The third reason, or maybe it's a secondary reason to the second reason, is the way Wellman played his women characters.  Although one of his biographers complains that writing women is one of Wellman's weaknesses, I have to disagree, at least in terms of the women in this book.  They are strikingly different -- Belle and Algeria and Julia and Margie, among others -- and yet they aren't caricatures or flat, two-dimensional stereotypes.

 

Or at least they don't come across that way.

 

If there's a weakness in the women characters, there is even more so in the male characters.  Dave is almost too honorable to be believable, but he's made believable by the way the other personalities play off him.  He and Tucker begin as equals, but that's not good enough for Tucker . . . or for Tucker's wife.  Algeria is stronger than Tucker and yet she knows she is also weaker.  Belle Dunham is much weaker than the men in Jericho, but she is also stronger.  What intrigues me on a much later reading of the book is how aware the women are of their contradiction, and how unaware the men are.

 

Or most of them anyway.  At least for a while.

 

After my first reading of The Walls of Jericho in the early 1960s, I probably reread it a dozen or so times into the early 1980s.  I don't think I've read it all the way through, cover to cover, since moving to Arizona in 1985.  The book and its cast of characters must have stuck with me even more than I remembered.  Just this afternoon, after finding my poor, worn, slightly water-stained book club copy, I got quite a jolt.

 

The county attorney, "a waddling, fat-faced, fat-nosed man, with piggy-shrewd eyes and a nondescript mustache," had an embarrassingly familiar name.

 

Over the course of this afternoon, I've skimmed through parts of the book, probably for the first time in 30 years or more.  Tonight I'm going to relax in bed with it.  I think I carried a 40-pound bag of dog food just a little too far this morning and I'm getting the expected back spasms.  Time to take an extra ibuprofen and pamper myself.

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text 2019-08-11 22:45
Of teenaged girls, the 1960s, and life

From Where the Girls Are by Susan J. Douglas.  Douglas is a few months younger than I am, but when I read this opening page in 1998, as I was embarking on yet another college attempt at almost age 50, I recognized all of this.  The diaries in spiral notebooks really hit home.

 

I was never a cheerleader, and I never bleached my hair.  I never rolled my hair on beer cans, though the brush rollers I used did teach me how to sleep on my face.  The boyfriend whose visit is prominently recorded in the first entry of my diary on 11 August 1963 was never much of a neanderthal, never to my knowledge wore a surplus army jacket (he went into the marines for a while), but remains to this day highly self-satisfied.  If I haven't changed my essential character in 56 years, neither has he.  That's not necessarily a good thing, but it's still true. ;-)

 

Despite all these superficial disparities, Douglas is spot on.

 

Life is bizarre.

 

 

 

 

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text 2019-07-21 22:01
Crowdsourced History Reading -- Miscellaneous Addenda

TRAVEL HISTORY

* Colin Thubron - The Lost Heart of Asia

(Central Asia; post-USSR trip with historic sidelights)

* Mark Twain - A Tramp Abroad

(19th century; Germany, Austria, Italy)
* David Dary - The Santa Fe Trail: Its History, Legends, and Lore

(19th century; US)

* Terry Townsend - Jane Austen's Hampshire

(19th century; England)
* Elizabeth von Arnim - The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rügen

(19th century; Germany)
* Victor Hugo - Le Rhin (The Rhine: A Tour from Paris to Mayence by the Way of Aix-la-Chapelle)

(19th century; France and Germany)
* Thomas Jefferson - Memorandum on a Tour from Paris to Amsterdam, Strasburg, and back to Paris

(18th century; France, Germany,  and Netherlands)
* Annette Fimpeler - Die Schifffahrt und ihre Fahrzeuge auf dem Niederrhein

(Middle Ages through 19th century; Germany and Netherlands -- unfortunately not in English)

 

(NON-TRAVEL) FIRST HAND ACCOUNTS AND OTHER PRIMARY TEXTS

* Isak Dinesen - Out of Africa / Shadows on the Grass

(20th century; Kenya)

* Gregory Doran, Antony Sher - Woza Shakespeare!: Titus Andronicus In South Africa

(20th century; South Africa during Apartheid / touring Shakespeare)

* Bernal Díaz del Castillo - Historia verdadera de la conquista de la Nueva España

(16th century; the classic eyewitness account of the conquest of Mexico)
* Gabriel García Márquez - Vivir para contarla (Living to Tell the Tale)

(20th century; Colombia)

* Xinran - The Good Women of China

(20th century; China)
* Reginald Fleming Johnston - Twilight in the Forbidden City

(20th century; China)
* Vladislav Tamarov - Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier's Story

(20th century; Afghanistan and Russia)

* Clea Koff - The Bone Woman: A Forensic Anthropologist's Search for Truth in the Mass Graves of Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia, and Kosovo

(20th century; Rwanda and Former Yugoslavia)

* National Museum of the American Indian / Smithsonian Institution - Stories of the People: Native American Voices

(19th-20th century; U.S.)

Rina Swentzell, Luci Tapahonso, Tony Chavarria (eds.) / Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (Santa Fe, NM) - Here, Now, and Always: Voices of the First Peoples of the Southwest

(20th century, U.S.)

Maria Grammatico - Bitter Almonds

(20th century; Italy)
Marcel Pagnol - La gloire de mon père

(19th-20th century; France)

* Voltaire - Letters on England

(18th century; England)

* Oscar Wilde - De Profundis

(19th century; England)

* Heinrich Böll - Irish Journal

(20th century; Ireland)

* Evelyn Doyle - Tea and Green Ribbons

(20th century; Ireland)

* Hildegard of Bingen - Selected Writings

(Middle Agles; Germany)

* Otto von Bismarck - Gedanken und Erinnerungen (Thoughts and Reminiscences)

(19th century; Germany -- Bismarck's memoirs)

* Joseph Roth - What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-1933

(Interwar; Germany)

Thomas Mann - Tagebücher (Diaries) 1944-1946

(20th century; U.S. and Germany)

* David E. Murphy / Sergei A. Kondrashev / George Bailey - Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War

(Cold War; Germany, U.S., and Russia)

* Richard von Weizsäcker - Address on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the end of WWII, May 8, 1985

(20th century; Germany -- to the best of my knowledge, in German only)

 

 

MISC. OTHER HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY

* C.W. Ceram - Gods, Graves & Scholars: The Story Of Archaeology

(chiefly the history of (worldwide) archeology as a field of its own from the 18th century onwards, but with individual chapters hearkening back to earlier times; e.g., re: Prehispanic America and Mesopotamia)

* William Dalrymple - The Last Mughal

(19th century; India)

* Peter Finn, Petra Couvée - The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book 

(20th century; Russia)

* Mary S. Lovell - Straight on Till Morning: A Biography of Beryl Markham

(20th century; Kenya, Britain, U.S.)
* María Rosa Menocal - The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

* Patricia Buckley Ebrey, Kwang-ching Liu - The Cambridge Illustrated History of China

* Régine Pernoud - Aliénor d'Aquitaine

(Middle Ages; France and England)

* Frank O'Connor - The Big Fellow: Michael Collins and the Irish Revolution 

(20th century; Ireland)

* Tom Standage - The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine

(18th century; Europe)

* Muriel Spark - Emily Bronte: Her Life And Work

(19th century; England)
* Daniel Stashower - Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle

(19th-20th century; Scotland and England)
* Florian Illies - 1913: The Year before the Storm

(20th century just pre-WWI; Europe)

* Joseph J. Ellis - His Excellency: George Washington

(American Revolution)

* Truman Capote - In Cold Blood
(20th century; U.S.)

* Dean King, John B. Hattendorf - Harbors and High Seas: An Atlas and Geographical Guide to the Complete Aubrey-Maturin Novels of Patrick O'Brian

(more than a guide to the novels, this is actually quite a neat little book with a lot of background on early 19th century naval warfare and commerce generally, as well as the history of the (worldwide) locations metioned in O'Brian's novels -- including places in Africa, South America, and Asia)

 

@Chris: I'm going to add these myself. ETA: Added.

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text 2019-07-17 23:46
Crowdsourced History Reading -- TA's List No. 10: Stragglers and Addenda
Ancient Egypt - David P. Silverman
A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya - Linda Schele,David A. Freidel
Joseph Fouché: Bildnis eines politischen Menschen - Stefan Zweig
Debt: The First 5,000 Years - David Graeber
A Brief History Of Time: From Big Bang To Black Holes - Stephen Hawking
The Story of My Life: The Restored Edition (Modern Library Classics) - Helen Keller,James Berger
The Gulag Archipelago Abridged An Experiment in Literary Investigation - Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
An Autobiography - Robert Herrick,Agatha Christie

* 5 books that didn't seem to fit onto any other list, and

* 3 addenda which will also go, retroactively, onto the "first hand accounts", "women's history" and "literary and cultural history" lists.

 

THE STRAGGLERS

* David P. Silverman: Ancient Egypt
* Linda Schele & David A. Freidel: A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya

* Stefan Zweig: Joseph Fouché
* David Graeber: Debt: The First 5,000 Years
* Stephen Hawking: A Brief History of Time

 

THE ADDENDA

* Helen Keller: The Story of My Life
* Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Gulag Archipelago

* Agatha Christie: An Autobiography

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text 2019-07-17 23:28
Crowdsourced History Reading -- TA's List No. 9: Primary Sources

This is largely a recap; most of these have already appeared on one or several other lists.  So instead of cross-referencing, this time I'm just going to put the new entries in bold.

 

(Note: These are primary sources other than first hand accounts.)

 

* Cicero: An Attack on an Enemy of Freedom (Philippicae)
* Suetonius: Lives of the Twelve Caesars
* Various Authors: Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: An Anthology of Medieval Texts
* Christine de Pizan: La Cité des Dames (The City of the Ladies) / Le débat sur le roman de la rose (The Debate on the Romance of the Rose) / Le ditié de Jéhanne d'Arc
* Moderata Fonte: The Worth of Women
* Martin Luther: Basic Theological Writings
* Elizabeth Tudor, Leah Marcus (ed.): Collected Works
* Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: La Respuesta (The Answer)
* John Stuart Mill: On Liberty
* Montesquieu: L'esprit des lois
* French Constitution of 1791 and Premiers articles de la constitution (1789)
* Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (France, 1789)
* Thomas Paine: The Rights of Man and Common Sense
* Declaration of Independence (U.S.A., 1776)
* Constitution of the United States (1788)
* Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay: The Federalist Papers
* George Washington: Farewell Address
* Abraham Lincoln: Gettysburg Address
* Émile Zola: J'accuse
* Mary Wollstonecraft: A Vindication of the Rights of Women
* Virginia Woolf: A Room of One's Own
* Dorothy L. Sayers: Are Women Human?
* Thomas Mann: Deutsche Hörer! Radiosendungen nach Deutschland aus den Jahren 1940-1945 (Listen, Germany! -- Letters to German listeners broadcast on BBC in 1940-1945)
* Charter of the United Nations

* Statute of the International Court of Justice

* Universal Declaration of Human Rights
* Grundgesetz für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1949) (German Constitution)
* Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter from Birmingham Jail / A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches
* Simon Sebag Montefiore (ed.): Speeches That Changed the World

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