This is the next group of books set aside for donation to the local library. I’ll be dropping this set off on September 15. If anyone wants any of these between then and now, let me know, and I’ll get it to you. As always, re-reading these books brings back happy memories. I hope they find good homes.
The Stuff: This is a collection of eighteen horror short stories, published originally in various magazines between 1950 and 1971. They include the title story “Duel,” which was made into a movie in 1971 about an eighteen-wheeler menacing a driver on the interstate. Other stories of note are: “Little Girl Lost,” which became a Twilight Zone episode; “Born of Man and Woman,” Matheson’s first professionally published story and not for the faint of heart; and “Steel,” which also became a Twilight Zone episode, albeit with a different ending.
As with all collections, these can be uneven, and not everyone enjoys horror, but these are good tales. The book came to me by way of my friend Tracy with the explicit request that once I finished it, I should donate it. So, Tracy, this book goes to the donation bin after a bit of a delay. Thanks for your generosity.
Bio: Richard Burton Matheson (1926 – 2013) was an American author and screenwriter. He is best known for his 1954 novel, I am Legend, adapted for film three times: in 1964 as The Last Man on Earth, in 1971 as The Omega Man. and in 2007 as I am Legend. He also wrote the stories—and sometimes the scripts—behind many of the original Twilight Zone shows, including “Terror at 30,000 Feet” and “Little Girl Lost.”
Author: Richard Matheson (1926-2013)
First published: 2003
The Stuff: Mavor discusses archaeological digs on present-day Santorini, one of the Cyclades islands in the Aegean Sea. In the 16th century BCE, a volcanic eruption devastated the island. The ancients then referred to it as “Thera.” Early in the book, he recounts discussing the theory that this island, the Minoan civilization, and the catastrophe that befell it survive as distant memories in the stories of Atlantis. The primary proponent of the theory was Angelo G. Galanopoulos, whose book, Atlantis: The Truth Behind the Legend, came out the same year as Mavor’s.
Mavor’s book is replete with black-and-white photos of landscape, digs and finds, and line-drawn maps. This is interesting, but hardly all one can learn. Asking to track down the source of a legend is a rather tall order, however.
Bio: James Watt Mavor, Jr. (1923-2006) is described in the book blurb as an “oceanographic engineer” long associated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution of Massachusetts. In World War II, he served in the Navy. He was one of the designers of Alvin, a deep-diving research submarine, and the author of The Sacred Landscape of New England’s Native Civilization, in addition to the present book.
Title: Voyage to Atlantis: The Discovery of a Legendary Land
Author: James W. Mavor, Jr. (1923-2006)
First published: 1969
The Stuff: “Evolution is the most profound and powerful idea to have been conceived in the last two centuries,” begins Mayr’s foreward. Many chapter titles posit questions: “In What Kind of World Do We Live?” and “What is the Evidence for Evolution?” The book is laid out like a textbook, organized by topics—but with no quizzes or chapter summaries. The breadth and depth of the non-technical information are astounding. Black-and-white illustrations abound. The book concludes with that modern phenomenon, a list of FAQs.
This is not a light read to the non-specialist such as myself, but one that is interesting and worth the time and energy needed to get through it.
Bio: Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a German-American evolutionary biologist. He specialized in the study of birds. In his 1942 book, Systematics and the Origin of Species, he defined “species” as a group of individuals that can breed among themselves but not with others regardless of whether they look alike, which is the definition still in use. At the time of the writing of the above book (at 97!), he was Professor Emeritus in the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University.
Title: What Evolution Is
Author: Ernst Mayr (1904-2005)
First published: 2001
The Stuff: This is an autobiography undertaken when the writer was in his early 30s. He describes his childhood, his family, and his schooling. During the summer before he was to start classes at Columbia University, Merton visited Rome. There, he saw frescoes in the ancient shrines that, he writes, he first felt compelled to discover the person called Christ: “And thus, without knowing anything about it, I became a pilgrim.”
The book’s title is taken from Dante’s depiction of purgatory as a seven-story mountain that souls must climb to obtain paradise.
I read this years ago at the recommendation of a friend. Merton writes captivatingly, but I don’t think I could read it now. I’m too much of a heathen.
After the invention of this here internet thingy, I learned things I couldn’t know about Merton when I first read the book. He exhibited symptoms of depression and anxiety—hardly moral failings—that add sadness and poignancy to his life story. While undergoing back surgery, he fell in love with a student nurse. He wrote of the affair in his diary, identifying the nurse only as “M.” This, too, strikes me as sad.
Bio: Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a Trappist monk, writer, and social activist. Born in western France to artist parents, he converted to Catholicism and studied at Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia University in New York. He taught for a while and entered a monastery, where he began writing and eventually met international spiritual leaders.
Title: The Seven Storey Mountain
Author: Thomas Merton (1915-1968)
First published: 1948
The Stuff: This is a chronological account, written by the editor of Time magazine, of the events around the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement that began in April 1989 and ended in a massacre in June the same year. Estimates of deaths vary from several hundred to thousands. The death of Hu Yaobang following a heart attack brought about the protests. Hu had been a long-time Party official and General Secretary from 1982 to 1987, though forced to resign because his reformist tendencies, favored by students, did not sit well with other Party officials.
In light of the recent Hong Kong protests and suppression, this seems more timely than ever. However, my copy—which I bought and read not long after the tragedy—is a paperback with yellowed pages. While it’s still perfectly legible, it will end up on the dime rack at the library bookstore.
Title: Massacre in Beijing: China’s Struggle for Democracy
Edited by Donald Morrison
First published: 1989