Bob Schwartz

Month: September, 2016

Books: It’s Ramadan, Curious George

It's Ramadan, Curious George

Something can be significant and cute. It’s Ramadan, Curious George is that.

Published this past May, the book is a way to introduce little ones to the possibility that others believe differently, that there are other religious and cultural traditions than their own. In this case, a Muslim holiday is introduced through the antics of that famous playful monkey. (George distracts his hungry friend by playing checkers with him.)

Day of Fasting

H.A. and Margret Rey, the creators of Curious George, were German Jews living in Paris when the Nazis invaded in 1940:

Knowing that they must escape before the Nazis took power, Hans cobbled together two bicycles out of spare parts. Early in the morning of June 14, 1940, the Reys set off on their bicycles. They brought very little with them on their predawn flight — only warm coats, a bit of food, and five manuscripts, one of which was Curious George.

The Reys made it to New York with the manuscript. The first Curious George book was published in 1941 (this is the 75th anniversary). The rest is history, and a part of the lives of millions of kids (and their parents).

It is possible to help make the world better one book, and one monkey, at a time.

Books: W.P. Kinsella

The Essential W.P. Kinsella

The writer W.P. Kinsella has died at the age of 81. He is most famous as the author of the novel Shoeless Joe, which was turned into the beloved baseball movie Field of Dreams. (The book is infinitely better.)

That was only a small part of his work. He wrote many other books and stories, some about baseball, some about indigenous Canadians on the reserve (reservation), and others. All his work was by parts unique and charming and funny, filled with a lot of magic, because Kinsella was such a gifted literary magician.

I looked for an obituary to quote that didn’t spend most of its time talking about Field of Dreams. Not many of those. I also looked for an obituary that didn’t mention his personal life, which seems to have been untidy and ragged in some ways, as he apparently could be a difficult person, as talented artists are wont to be. He may have been difficult, but reading his work is easy, so what does it matter, at least to readers?

Many of his books appear to be out of print, as interest in his work has faded. His death has brought him more attention than he had for years, which is the way it goes. The good news is that last year a collection of his stories was published. Here is the publisher’s description of The Essential W.P. Kinsella:

This career retrospective celebrates the 80th birthday of baseball’s greatest scribe, W. P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe), as well as the 25th anniversary of Field of Dreams, the film that he inspired.

In addition to his classic baseball tales, W. P. Kinsella is also a critically-acclaimed short fiction writer. His satiric wit has been celebrated with numerous honors, including the Order of British Columbia.

Here are his notorious First Nation narratives of indigenous Canadians, and a literary homage to J. D. Salinger. Alongside the “real” story of the 1951 Giants and the afterlife of Roberto Clemente, are the legends of a pirated radio station and a hockey game rigged by tribal magic.

Eclectic, dark, and comedic by turns, The Essential W. P. Kinsella is a living tribute to an extraordinary raconteur.

And from a starred review in Publishers Weekly:

The career of the incomparable Kinsella is beautifully represented by these 31 short stories, including, of course, “Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa,” the haunting tale of a baseball fan’s obsession with a long-dead star that was developed into a bestselling novel and then the film Field of Dreams. Other charming baseball fantasies include “The Night Manny Mota Tied the Record,” in which a fan agrees to sacrifice himself to bring back the recently dead Yankees star Thurman Munson, and “Searching for January,” which concerns an encounter with the deceased Roberto Clemente. Alongside these stories are several more realistic and mostly gentle satires, such as “The Fog,” that present the escapades of several indefatigable members of Canada’s First Nations. “The Grecian Urn” concerns a couple who can inhabit the interior worlds of great works of art. “K Mart” is the touching tale of three boys who use baseball to escape from their unhappy lives. Kinsella is a masterly writer of short fiction.

If you love good writing, please give W.P. Kinsella a read.

Late Harvest Moon Poem

Late Harvest Moon Poem

The harvest moon unseen
Shining in a dark cloudless sky.
Looking now
The sun struggles
Clouds rain.
It was there then
Will be again.
It will not be
The last one I miss.

It is a tradition to write poems at the time of the harvest moon. Missed it, and so this is born late. Okay, because the time and weather have changed, as they always do.

Praying for Everybody. Even Trump.

I ran into a neighbor this morning, someone who goes to morning prayers every day.

Me: How was davening (prayer) today?

Him: Good. I prayed for everybody. Even Trump.

Me: Thank you. That’s the Yiddishe (Jewish) way.

And so it is.

Harvest

Harvest

I dug furrows
Some deep
Some straight
And others.
Seeds buried
Or strewn
Where they fell.
Rained when it did
Sun and moon.
Harvest now
Wondering whether
The crop or me
Was supposed to grow.

What If There Had Been Hacked Watergate Emails?

The issues surrounding the release of hacked emails from the Democratic Party and related entities are many and gray. If you hear anyone say that all the answers are clear and that there are simple bright lines is either not thinking it through, has some vested interest, or is one of the people who lost their job at the DNC.

To help clarify, consider this. What if there had been emails covering the entire Watergate conspiracy, rather than just the tape recordings that emerged after the fact? What if those emails were hacked and released while the cover-up was still ongoing? (This is not to say that the current situations even approach such gravity.) Would we be wringing our hands because high-level private and confidential communications had been stolen? Would we be happy that what Gerald Ford later called “our long national nightmare” would have been over sooner? Maybe we would be a little of both.

In coming days, as the next batch of leaked documents and data is released, some will be quick to condemn the leaks or to exploit the leaks. The best we can do, hard and unlikely as it is in such situations, is to think it all through carefully. Because like it or not, this is what the future looks like.

Hillary Clinton Has the Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu

Huey "Piano" Smith

Hillary Clinton and her campaign aren’t known for their grasp of pop culture. Back in 1992, the Clintons chose Fleetwood Mac’s Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow as the campaign theme song. As much as you might like Fleetwodd Mac, by that time it wasn’t the height of hip. (Note however, that Hillary never did stop thinking about tomorrow. It’ll soon be here.)

Admittedly, Huey “Piano” Smith’s R&B classic Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu is not exactly new school. But it never stopped being cool.

So don’t you think the whole Hillary pneumonia thing could be going much better for her if she had just explained:

It’s true, my doctor told me on Friday that I had the rockin’ pneumonia and the boogie woogie flu. Yes, I wanted to jump but I was afraid I’d fall. But now, I wanna scream, I want you all to know that I feel better than fine.

I don’t know about you, but that’s all the medical report I would need.

Tuning Fork

Tuning Fork

Tuning Fork

Strike and resound
A single perfect note
Against which
Our poor play is practiced.
The texts are ancient
Thoughts in a case
Replaced by the
Younger and fresher.
This tuning fork
Centuries old.
Bring me a gadget
A gizmo
To give me my pitch.
Ah but
The warm simple beauty
Of the vibrating metal
Is the practice
Before the practice.

Worst Job in the World: Defending Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump

Terrible jobs can have their rewards. In the case of supporting political candidates, it’s some combination of money, power, friendship or being a true believer.

Even with those possible rewards, you have to think that defending, excusing, explaining or just talking about some of the things that Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump do or say, or have done or have said, has got to be one of the worst jobs in the world. So to those who have taken on that job, we can only guess what you go through, and we hope it’s worth it.

Petals

Fallen Petal

Fallen Petal

Petals

The petals have
Begun to fall
This one still
Moist and colorful
Soon dry and brown.
At first
Mindlessly discarded
Now retrieved.
The stems
Will be bare.
What then?