The unbelievable kindness of Mr. Rogers

My online dictionary defines hagiography as “the writing of the lives of the saints, adulatory writing about another person, or biography that idealizes another person.” The dictionary adds that the last two terms are “derogatory.”

While reading Maxwell King’s The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers (Abrams Press, 2018, 405 pages), that word kept coming to mind. Sometimes it seems Mr. Rogers, the host of television’s Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, floats off these pages wearing a halo and wings, strumming a harp and singing “It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood.” Was Maxwell King, former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, former CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation, and one-time director of the Fred Rogers’ Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, mesmerized by Rodgers? Could a nationally known figure, a star, really be this kind?

Graham Greene, redemption, and us

Let’s start the new year with some old books.

We begin with two suppositions.

First, you are a good person who abides by a moral code. Whatever its source, this code serves as your set of principles, an ethical standard you cannot violate without damaging your soul. The code is your Ten Commandments, your Constitution, the offering on the high altar of all that you hold true and good.

Making a small dent in the book pile

So many books, so little time.

Many booklovers may have uttered that old saw with a sigh, but in my case these words have never been truer. On my spare desk a stack of books sits waiting for review, three more wave to me from a bedside stand, and two are calling to me from the steps leading from my apartment to the upstairs. Here are books from three different libraries, books sent in the mail for review, books picked up from the library sale. In addition, I am still working my way through Will and Ariel Durant’s The Story of Civilization, trying to read at least half an hour every day in order to finish the 11-volume series by the end of the year.

Playing with a net: ‘Formal Salutations’

When I was teaching homeschool students in AP Literature, I would on occasion ask them to write a sonnet. The first time I did so, I promised to write a sonnet with them. The writing of that sonnet hooked me, and I eventually composed around 30 such poems. Below is one of them, “To My Errant Cousins.” Robert Frost, who famously said that free verse is like playing tennis without a net, provided my inspiration.

What a woman! Why I love Camille Paglia

Fierce. Honest. Libertarian. 

Those are just three of the reasons why author and professor Camille Paglia has fascinated me for years. She speaks her own mind, uses logic rather than histrionics to make her arguments, and is unafraid of blowback from her critics. Though a lifelong Democrat and a supporter of Bernie Sanders, she refused to vote for Hilary Clinton, regarding her as a “liar.” She has called into question climate change, despises political correctness, rejects the postmodernism that has wormed its way into our universities, and has taken to task our current obsession with transgender issues.

A fine novel about a fascinating literary era

The writers who lived and practiced their art between the two world wars of the twentieth century continue to exert a powerful pull on today’s imagination. Woody Allen’s film “Midnight In Paris,” which include a dozen or more celebrities of 1920s Paris; “Genius,” the movie about Thomas Wolfe, reviewed earlier this year in The Smoky Mountain News; the biographies devoted to such figures as Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald all reveal a continued infatuation with that era.

Cookbooks make nice holiday gifts

So there I was on a Wednesday afternoon in October in one of my favorite spots in town: the public library. I’m running my eyes along the “New Books: Nonfiction” shelves when the cookbooks grab my attention.

Now, I myself own several cookbooks: a Betty Crocker that has seen much better days and opens automatically to the recipe for quiche; The Pat Conroy Cookbook, probably my favorite, not because of the recipes, but because of Conroy’s zest for food and anecdotes about his life; A Man, A Plan, A Can, which I recommend to anyone who doesn’t know a spatula from a ladle; a much-stained Moosewood Cookbook; and several others. I enjoy cooking on occasion, as long as the recipes are simple and forgiving, meaning that if I put too much sauce in the lasagna or not enough spices in the chicken soup, the food will still be edible.

Book explores Trump’s election victory

Want to know why Donald Trump won the 2016 election in one of the most stunning upsets in American history?

Some blame Russian meddling. Some blame Hilary Clinton for running a bad campaign. Some may blame the increasingly radical politics and tactics of certain Democrats.

Halloween suggestions for the young and old

In 2015, online blogger Amanda Russo posted a humorous piece “Why Halloween Is Actually A Pretty Weird Holiday.” As Russo says, this is the day we encourage our kids to take candy from strangers, long a no-no taught by generations of parents to their children. We threaten our neighbors with “Trick or Treat.” We spend a good chunk of change to give away treats, often to people we don’t know. We erect cemeteries in our front yards, carve pumpkins into spooky faces, and hang plastic skeletons from the trees. We sometimes terrorize our family and friends by putting on horrific masks, hiding, and then springing out at them. 

A book for those who wonder what ails them

Time to move away from novels and histories, and look inside some general gift books.

First up is How Psychology Works: Applied Psychology Visually Explained (Penguin Random House, 2018, 256 pages). Here is a compendium of various disorders, advice, and information about such topics as forensic psychology, safety in the community, nationalism, and performance anxiety.  Illustrations on every page, the use of statistics, clear talk about such topics as binge-eating, tics, and sleep disorders, explanations regarding the symptoms and treatments of dozens of afflictions: this is a marvelous collection.

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