So What Are You Reading?

Reviews of Books.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Sands of Time: A History of Hilton Head Island

The Sands of Time: A History of Hilton Head Island by Margaret Greer
Margaret Greer, who lived on Hilton Head Island, wrote this 11 chapter illustrated popular history of the island from its geological formations to the mid-1980s. In 70 pages she covers the island's history and still finds room for both color and black and white pictures on at least every other page.
Chapter I, The Land Made Ready, is a one page geological history of the formation of the island. Chapter II, The Indians, covers in three pages the native American Yemasee tribe's presence on the island and the legacy of names left by them. In Chapter III, The First Europeans, the 16th century Spanish landings and attempts at settlements are discussed in three pages. The French landing in 1562 gets four pages in Chapter IV. This is followed by the three pages of Chapter V on the Spanish return to the area in the late 16th century. Chapter VI, The English Come to Stay, devotes seven pages to the 1663 explorations of Captain William Hilton, who gave the island its present name, and the English settlements that followed.
Chapter VII, The Planters, in four pages talks about the first plantations established on the island. Chapter VIII, The Golden Age, spends nine pages talking about the period from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War and the ante-bellum plantation system that developed then. Chapter IX, The Civil War, is the actual heart of the book with 18 pages devoted to the battle for Hilton Head and the Union presence on the island after their victory.
The 100 years between the Civil War and the post World War II developments into a resort, when the islands were home to "native islanders," descendants of freed slaves known as the Gullah (or Geechee), are covered in the eight pages of Chapter X, Sleeping Beauty, half of which are devoted to photos. The concluding Chapter XI, The Modern Age, covers in eight pages the development of the resort community from 1950 to 1988.
Painted in broad strokes, The Sands of Time is a brief and general historic introduction to Hilton Head Island. well-illustrated and short, it serves this purpose well. A Sources page listing eight items is a good place to start looking for more information.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nymphs of the Valley

Nymphs of the Valley by Kahlil Gibran
Kahlil Gibran is an early 20th Century Lebanese writer who is best known for his 1923 book The Prophet. The dust jacket flap says this small volume of three Arabic stories were found amongst his papers by his translator and made available in English in 1948. The original 1906 Arabic version was published in New York by Al-Mohajer with the title Ara'is al-Muruj. Wikipedia lists it as his 2nd published book. PoemHunter.com - The World's Poetry Archive's Classic Poetry Series 2008 article on Kahlil Gibran describes these stories as expressive of Gibran's "anti-feudal and anti-clerical convictions." The dust jacket to the British edition describes them as follows.
"The setting of all three is the Lebanon. The first [Martha] tells the story of a poor and innocent village girl who is seduced and stranded in the city. On her deathbed she is consoled by a youth from her native village. The second [Dust of the Ages and The Eternal Fire] is a story of reincarnation; two lovers parted by death in ancient Baal are joined together in life two thousand years afterwards. The third [Yuhanna the Mad] is the portrait of a true Christian in rebellion against the vested interests of the monasteries. And he who has real wisdom is said by the world to be mad."
All three describe a Lebanon that is part of the crumbling Turkish Empire where the powerful and the poor are widely separated. Gibran, like Tolstoy, sees the corrupt church in league with the government and the rich, robbing the poor of what little they have, to maintain their status and wealth. His heart is with the poor villagers and these stories tell a timeless message of love and humanity struggling against wealth and privilege.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Modesty Blaise

Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell
Modesty Blaise started out as a comic strip character created by Peter O'Donnell in 1963. The comics were produced until 2001, and O'Donnell wrote a 13 book series of novels and collections of short stories that started with this book in 1965 and ended in 1996. There have even been two or three movies made featuring her character. I became intrigued with the series when I saw the 2004 movie My Name Is Modesty starring Alexandra Staden.
In this first novel, we meet Modesty after she has retired with a fortune from a life in the underworld. Her loyal sidekick Willie Garvin has gotten himself into trouble, and a couple of British agents let her know his situation hoping that in return she will help them with a situation that can use her particular talents. After saving Willie, she agrees to help the agents with a payoff to a Middle Eastern sheik of 10 million British Pounds worth of diamonds being transferred from South Africa. When two of their agents are killed, they fear that the jewels are being targeted for a heist along the way.
The story was written 50 years ago, and it may not appeal to a younger audience. O'Donnell pays great attention to detail, creates a strong female lead character, and has a skill at developing interesting secondary characters throughout the story. Similar in appeal to the early James Bond novels.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Folk Medicine

Folk Medicine: A Vermont Doctor's Guide to Good Health by D. C. Jarvis
Dr. Jarvis spent his medical career serving the rural state of Vermont and studying the folk medicine practices he found there. The results of his lifetime work in this area are published in this 1958 book aptly titled Folk Medicine. To read it today is to go back in a time machine to visit a rural doctor of the first half of the 20th century who is studying the folk medicines of his time. He speaks of people growing up close to the land, small farmers eating their locally grown crops and the products of their animals. He never mentions a veterinarian, and he cares for the farmer's animals as much as he cares for the farmers and their families.
The Vermont soil is low in potassium. He personally added granite dust from the stone cutters in Barre to his garden soil because granite has potassium in it. People were shorter in Vermont because they ate foods grown in this potassium-deficient soil.
One of the things he discovered in his research into the folk medicine practices of rural Vermont was the many ways that the people compensated for the low potassium in their diet. The major one was a reliance on a drink made of apple cider vinegar, often mixed with an equal quantity of honey and diluted with water. Much of the book is devoted to this simple drink and the many beneficial effects he ascribes to it. He claims the benefits come from vinegar's acidifying effects on the body, the healthful sugars present in the natural honey, and the many minerals, particularly potassium, contained in both ingredients.
Vermont farmers of Dr. Jarvis' time didn't go down to a local grocery and buy a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a jar of honey. They got a barrel of fresh-pressed apple cider, most likely from their own trees or a neighbors, and let it ferment in the barn, past the hard cider stage, until it turned to vinegar. They got their honey from local bees. Today you would have to look far and wide to find anyone with a vinegar barrel somewhere around their property; today vinegar is made in a factory in 2-3 days rather than the back yard in 6-12 months.
Dr. Jarvis was writing for a time and place that do not exist anymore, but our need for potassium still remains essential, and food is its primary source. The kind of vinegar the farmers brewed in their barns is made by a few health food companies, and fortunately almost everywhere in America you can find local sources of honey. The modern diet is built around supermarkets instead of gardens and livestock. Much of our food is manufactured, where efficiency and shelf life are industrial concerns. We take multivitamins and supplements, often added to our manufactured foods, to meet our nutritional needs. A vital connection is lost in all of this with the life of the soil and the plants grown in it. Could a drink made from raw, organic, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and honey make a difference to our lives? I would like to think so. Is this magical thinking? At this time you could it is, since I haven't found research to back it up, but as a librarian I know how to look for information.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Tomatoland

Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit by Barry Estabrook
Tomatoland is an investigative report on the Florida agricultural businesses that supply winter tomatoes to the supermarkets. Most of the book focuses on a city most people don't know which is a drained swamp just 42 miles inland from Naples Florida called Immokalee.
The book looks at labor conditions and efforts that have been taken to improve them. It investigates the major growing firms and the agriculture techniques required to grow tomatoes in Florida, including the heavy use of fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, many of which are dangerous to humans.
The book also looks at an organic farmer in Florida who is proving that these methods can work there. A Pennsylvania farmer who grows Heirloom Tomatoes for New York City restaurants is also highlighted. The book begins and ends with a search for the tomato's earliest relatives in the dry mountainous soils of Mexico and South America.
If tomatoes are more than something red you add to your diet, if you love tomatoes for their taste and dread the winter products in the marketplace, if you care for social justice for farmworkers and their families, then this is a book to savor with a fresh garden tomato sandwich before the frosts of winter ends the season of local joy.