Before Christmas, I got a box in the mail.  In the far-north outpost he now calls home, friend and blog commenter Loosehead Prop found a stash of old novels in a used book emporium.  One was the 1948 bestseller, Dinner at Antoine’s, by Frances Parkinson Keyes.  I fell asleep reading it last night.  It’s a murder mystery from another time and contemporary readers might find it quaint.

Though her novels have fallen out of favor over the years, Keyes was a prolific writer.  During the 1940’s and 1950’s, she wrote almost a novel a year.  Her novels were carefully researched and often included an explanatory foreword, outlining people she interviewed and places she visited while crafting her stories.  She wanted her work to be authentic; in writing Joy Street, a novel about Boston society, she lived temporarily in the city.

Old novels tell us things about the past, both in their words and in their tones.

New novels can tell us things about the past, too.  I just finished the 2014 bestseller and 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

The fictional novel, set in Germany and France prior and during World War II, was made up of short chapters about a cast of characters.  One of my work counterparts told me she didn’t care for it.  She said we all knew how horrible things were in Europe during the second World War.

I gave the book a 7 on a scale of 1 – 10.  I enjoyed the chapter construction and the way the author wove the story through time, going back and forth through years before and during the war.  And speaking of time, it took Mr. Doerr 10 years to write this novel.

Given the book’s stature, many have written about it.  I will leave further critique to the experts.  Read it.  It’s not War and Peace, but it’s worthy of your time.

I had planned to write a short “minimalist” post about virtue signaling today and I got distracted by books.


I saw this taped on a car’s rear passenger windows in a Freeport parking lot on Christmas Eve Day.  Who doesn’t value those noted virtues?

I was tempted to wait in my junky old Jeep to see who drove the vehicle but I had miles to go.  Would a man or woman who valued “courtesy” look different from one who did not?  Would it be the person holding the door for another following them out of the store?  Oh, wait…that would be “practicing” courtesy.  That’s different than “valuing” it.

And that, dear blog readers, is my last snark of 2016.  Let’s do more than value and signal beautiful virtues in 2017.  Let’s practice them and keep our good deeds to ourselves.

Happy New Year to you, too!

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5 Responses to Bestsellers

  1. Loosehead Prop says:

    I find it hard to read books from the 20th c. anymore. The sheer immensity of the destruction is unfathomable to people now. Even one of my three all-time favorite books, Patrick Leigh Fermor’s “A Time of Gifts,” calls for substantial willpower, chronicling his footpaths through the ruins left after the First World War, footpaths through a world that was completely obliterated by the Second World War.

    I’m glad you enjoy your books, there are plennnnnnnnnty more where they came from!

    • LP, can you elaborate what you mean by “destruction?” Do you mean the destruction of nations through war? Or something else? Fermor’s book is on my list of books to read, by the way.

  2. Loosehead Prop says:

    Polyglot Paddy Fermor, having gotten a bit too friendly with the school’s scullery maid’s daughter, set off to walk from England to Istanbul, crossing to the Netherlands in a snowy December, 1932. He knew the European fondness for the itinerant student and counted on it, but early in his travels he was taken in by one of the remnants of the European aristocracy shattered by the First World War (perhaps kin to one of your classmates). That lady wrote letters of introduction to her “family” spread all through the aristocracy of Germany and what had been the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Fermor spent his trip alternating between old castles with ancient libraries and hay-filled barns. The Europe Fermor walked across and described so lovingly is gone, the castles and libraries are gone, the peasants are gone, the families he stayed with are gone, destroyed by the Second World War, by decades of communist misrule, by post-war industrialization.

    What’s that Stalin said, a single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic. Tens upon tens of millions of Europeans and Russians killed the first half of the century. Whole peoples and ways of life destroyed in the name of some abstract ideal, almost always funded by banks in London and New York City.

    The First World War cemented the end of government of, by and for the people in the USA, although it wasn’t the cause of it–the Federal Reserve and the Income Tax, joined at the hip, began in 1913, and the drumbeat for war in Europe began immediately, even though it took another three years of sheer hate for all things German in the press to finally con America into entering on the side its own people opposed.. Again, the past is buried under a sea of progress, or crap culture that turns all American history into some medieval morality play of whitey and the slaves. Nor should we ignore Asia, where the Maoist movements were even more deadly than the Leninist-Stalinist movements. It was a horrid, blood-soaked century, even though we and our generation were safely isolated from its worst consequences, so isolated that we somehow believed GWB when he said they all wanted to be like us and go shopping.

    Long and doleful thoughts, but suited for this afternoon as the wind kicks up the incoming snow. Thoughts that nearly no other American is thinking, that’s for certain.

    • Ah…thank you for clarifying. It’s stunning how much there is to learn about just the past century, let alone BC and AD. Why we spend a nano-second on other people’s business vicariously through social media is beyond me.

  3. Loosehead Prop says:

    Just call me Cassandra. Your original post hit the nail: practice the virtues and carry on.

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