July 24, 2019

Poem: “Towers loom”

Towers loom By Patrick T. Reardon Loop towers loom behind their gleam, and I can take you to the parking lot just off Dearborn Street where the Mayor and reporters went down into unflooded freight tunnels (although that lot is likely gone now, 26 years later). Alex and I drove south to north from city border to city border through alleys of Chicago, world  alley capital. I saw a garage sale chair and came back later to buy. If you walk under the Loop and follow the tracks west down Lake Street — the soldierly tromp of steel frames to oblivion — you follow my brother’s walk as a twelve-year-old through a Sunday summer afternoon (through black  hot neighborhoods where young men and old, grandmothers and skip-ropers saw him as a gray -dungareed shaman, magic blond boy), up back stairs, to the Leamington second floor, 52 years before self-murder. Younger, he and I crawled around the new-poured  foundation of a Washington  Boulevard building, so muddy and our bikes, we had to walk  them home to the double- spanking for the double of us by Dad, on the porch, then after the bath in bed. Up Western from 79th Street, I drove to Chicago (800 north) and turned left, out to the reporter job in Austin.  A right turn, and, in a mile, Ashland, where, thirty  years later, I walked with Sandra the grit Chicago that […]
July 22, 2019

Essay: Soul Seeing: “The holiness of beauty is a glimpse into the heart of God”

The other day, I was at the First Communion of my great niece Maeve, and I was again struck, as I often am, by the holiness of beauty. Maeve is a beautiful eight-year-old — of course, aren’t all eight-year-olds beautiful? and holy? — and she was one of nearly sixty kids who were receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist in her parish church, St. Mary of the Woods, in Chicago. It’s a low-slung worship space, built in the 1950s when Catholic church-building in the newly settled suburbs and on the edges of the city eschewed traditional architecture.  In an effort to keep costs down and experiment with new ways of raising the human spirit to God and toward community, the designers of St. Mary of the Woods put the altar along one very long western wall, facing some two dozen rows of pews under a ceiling that was only 20-25 feet above the floor.  It is a space that would have flirted with the sterility of a conference center meeting room except for one thing. Along the western and northern walls are eighteen floor-to-ceiling stained-glass windows filled with abstract colors in and around myriad leaf shapes — the “woods” of […]
July 17, 2019

Book review: “The Book of ‘Exodus’: A Biography” by Joel S. Baden

In 1955, early in his struggle for civil rights, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. likened the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision to the destruction of the Egyptian army in the biblical book of Exodus: “The Red Sea opened, and freedom and justice marched through to the other side.  As we look back we see segregation and discrimination caught in the mighty rushing waters of historical fate.” Three decades later, the Exodus story — God leading the Israelites from slavery and oppression in Egypt through many years of wandering in the desert to the Promised Land — was a foundation stone of an entirely new reading of the Bible, called liberation theology.  The Latin American theologians and activists who developed this then-radical Catholic approach argued that Exodus shows a God who is always on the side of the poor and who wants everyone to live free from all kinds of slavery.  In this context, sin is whatever people do to keep themselves or others enslaved.  Although the Vatican initially condemned this thinking, which implicitly put the church hierarchy with the “Egyptians,” liberation theology has come to permeate much Catholic thinking, particularly that of Pope Francis. Addictively readable and […]
July 15, 2019

Book Review: “The Art of Bible Translation” by Robert Alter

Many readers are likely to dismiss Robert Alter’s The Art of Bible Translation as inside-baseball for Bible scholars.  After all, the Bible is the Bible, right? Well, not really.  The Bible means different things to different faiths.  For Jews, it’s the Hebrew Bible. This, with some adjustments, is included in the Christian Bible as the Old Testament along with the Gospels and other books of the New Testament. Over the past two centuries, Bible experts from both religions, operating separately and together, have worked to better understand the language, culture and times of the writers who produced these works.  The goal: create translations that get closer to what those writers were saying — to the meaning of their words.  For both faiths, the books of the Bible were divinely or spiritually inspired, and it’s extremely important to get right the lessons they transmit about God and humanity. A proliferation of Bible translations There has been a proliferation in Bible translations since the middle of the 20th century, each striving to be as accurate as possible in taking the words from the ancient languages and putting them into English.  Of course, scholars being scholars, there are endless debates on the best […]
July 10, 2019

Book review: “Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography” by June Purvis

Emmeline Pankhurst was a prim, proper, middle-class Victorian Englishwoman who, on a day in early July, 1914, a few days before her 56th birthday, was rearrested by authorities for her work promoting the campaign to bring the vote to British women. She was rearrested under what was called the Cat and Mouse Act, a government effort to solve the knotty political problem of what to do when Pankhurst and her followers were arrested and then refused to eat or drink. These women, the government felt, couldn’t be permitted to go on such hunger strikes (although men were) because think of the bad publicity if a women died this way.  To say nothing about the creation of a martyr. Violent force-feeding was employed, but that left the women nearly as physically debilitated as the hunger strikes themselves.  In at least one case, an emetic was smuggled into prison in the hopes of causing the force-fed food to be regurgitated. So, a year earlier, the Cat and Mouse Act had been approved by the House of Commons, the House of Lords and King George V.  Under it, writes June Purvis in Emmeline Pankhurst: A Biography, “suffragettes or ‘mice’ in a state of […]
July 8, 2019

Book review: “Christian Flesh” by Paul J. Griffiths

The cover of Christian Flesh by Paul J. Griffiths is a warning that this book of moral theology is not for the faint of heart. It is a detail from Caravaggio’s 1601-1602 painting The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, and it shows the heads of the resurrected Jesus and the doubting apostle nearly touching and the Savior with a grip around Thomas’s hand.  Jesus has pulled the hand to the wound in his side, just below his left nipple, so that the disciple’s extended forefinger has entered the wound up to the first knuckle. (In John’s gospel, this is what Jesus tells Thomas to do although there is no indication he actually does it.  Caravaggio, as usual, amps up the drama.) The painting is visceral, raw and, some would likely say, crude.  So, too, is Griffith’s book. “Sweat, blood, spittle” The beliefs of Christianity, particularly Catholicism, are rooted in the dual nature of Jesus as God, part of the Trinity, and as a real, flesh-and-blood human.  Yet, that flesh-and-bloodness is often given short shrift, except for the passion and crucifixion. There is a kind of daintiness with which the physicality of Jesus is approached.  Yes, we can imagine him talking to […]
July 3, 2019

Book review: “Unnatural Causes” by P.D. James

Sylvia Kedge, the young physically impaired woman who was the secretary of murder victim Maurice Seton, has just had an emotional melt-down, and one of the policemen is pushing her wheelchair down a path as detective Adam Dalgliesh of Scotland Yard watches. He had discovered that he did not like her and was the more ashamed of the emotion because he knew that its roots were unreasonable and ignoble.  He found her physically repellent… He wished he could feel more sorry for her, but it was difficult to watch, with a kind of contempt, the way in which she made use of her disability. This scene is from the 1967 crime novel Unnatural Causes by P.D. James, and it contains more psychological nuance and insight that all of the pages of all 70-plus books by Agatha Christie. The forumla I mention Christie because, in the 1960s, when James began writing mysteries, she was the gold standard.  She and other mega-seller authors, such as John Dickson Carr, had developed a highly popular and highly entertaining formula which emphasized the puzzle aspects of the crime.  They were, in essence, daring their readers to solve the mystery before the all-knowing detective made his […]
July 1, 2019

Book review: “Medieval Children” by Nicholas Orme

About midway through Nicholas Orme’s fascinating Medieval Children — a history of what it was like to be a child in Europe in medieval times leading up to the Enlightenment — he notes that an engraving from 1659 shows a boy playing with small balls, called bowling-stones. We would call them marbles, but that word, he points out, didn’t come into use until later in the 17th century. It got me thinking about marbles which had a short moment of interest for me in my childhood — round and hard, made of glass (I guess), and used for games.  I don’t think I played many games with them.  In my recollection, they were just fun to roll around in my hand or in a bowl or a cloth bag.  They clicked together nicely.  I admired them as objects. Marbles That got me wondering if kids today play with marbles.  I’m sure they’re being sold somewhere to someone, but how widespread are they as a child’s toy in this era of digital entertainment?  And in this era of heavy parental protection against all dangerous things, such as swallowing small round objects? (As a young boy, my brother Tim once swallowed a […]
June 23, 2019

Book review: “The Secret of Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

Well, OK. Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, published in 1967, has sold millions of copies over the past half century.  But it’s not the book she submitted to her publisher. That book had an extra, 18th chapter which, upon the publisher’s urging, Lindsay cut from her manuscript. The shortened Picnic has captivated five decades of readers with its many, complex mysteries over what happened to three teenage girls and their mathematics teacher when they disappeared during a Saint Valentine’s Day, 1900, school excursion to Hanging Rock, a famous geological formation in the Australian state of Victoria. Several days after the disappearance, one of the missing girls was found unconscious but was never able to recall what had gone on during the time she was missing. None of the other three was ever seen again. Did they? Could they? What if? Generations of readers have been left to wonder and speculate over the deliciously vague details of the story — Did the girls plan this?  Did they get away or die?  How was the teacher connected to this? Picnic seems to bring the reader right to the edge of understanding….and then leaves the reader there.  It might be enough to […]
June 23, 2019

Book review: “Picnic at Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay

To my mind, the most masterful touch in Joan Lindsay’s very well-crafted novel Picnic at Hanging Rock is the disappearance of the self-contained, seemingly logic-driven mathematics teacher Greta McCraw. Sure, the main focus of the story is on the three senior students from Appleyard College — the highly competent Miranda, the extremely rich Irma Leopold and the very smart Marion Quade — who, during a St. Valentine’s Day picnic at Hanging Rock in the Australian state of Victoria in 1900, go away from the main group on a walking exploration of the famous geological formation. Suddenly, a younger girl Edith Horton comes stumbling back to the picnic site, her dress ripped by branches and brambles, laughing and crying and babbling that she’d left the other three somewhere up on the Rock. In the ensuing chaos of the rest of that day and the days that follow, much happens: An immediate search fails to turn up the three girls. Michael “Mike” Fitzhubert, a 20-year-old English heir, who was captivated by a glimpse of Miranda on the fateful day, goes searching for the girls on his own and nearly dies in the effort. But he’s able to get his coachman friend Albert […]
June 12, 2019

Book review: “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe published The Right Stuff in 1979, a full 52 years after Charles Lindbergh, the first celebrity flyboy, shocked and captivated the nation with his aerial deering-do, crossing the Atlantic all alone in his single-engine Spirit of St. Louis, from Long Island to Paris in just over a day and a half. His fame opened doors for him, but also led to the kidnapping and murder of his toddler son Charles Jr. For the subjects of Wolfe’s book, the seven astronauts of NASA’s Mercury program, the first U.S. manned space flight venture — Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton — celebrityhood brought great access to “goodies,” such as a social standing that had them outranking just about everyone except the President.  Glenn eventually landed in the U.S. Senate where he served for 25 years.  Grissom, however, was killed in a 1967 capsule test for the Apollo program, along with two post-Mercury astronauts. Rapidly receding By the time Wolfe wrote his book, the Mercury program was rapidly receding in the nation’s rear-view mirror. After all, its five flights had lasted just two years, from May of 1961 to May of 1963.  […]
June 10, 2019

Book review: “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” by Robert Heinlein

The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag, published in 1959, collects Robert Heinlein’s novella of the same title plus five short stories — all of which exist in Twilight Zone territory. The Rod Serling show, which premiered the same year as this book, specialized in stories that were weird and grotesque, only occasionally having to do with science fiction. It’s not inconceivable that this Heinlein collection was put together to piggyback on the popularity of the Twilight Zone although there’s no indication in the packaging of the issue I read.  It’s also worth noting that, as far as I have been able to determine, Heinlein never wrote for the show in any of its permutations. Only one of the works in this collection, “ ‘All You Zombies’ ” (originally published earlier in 1959), could be described as clearly science fiction.  It has to do with time travel.  In this case, though, Heinlein seems to be layering conundrum upon conundrum upon conundrum in what seemed to me to be a send-up of the whole if-a-man-went-back-in-time-and-killed-his-father subgenre of speculative fiction.  Only in this story, the complications are much more complicated. Twisted The other works in this collection exhibit a range of styles and […]
June 5, 2019

Book review: “Sarah the Priestess: The First Matriarch of Genesis” by Savina J. Tuebal

The book of Genesis in the Bible has a lot of odd stuff, like incest:  Abraham and Sarah aren’t just married, but they’re also brother and sister.  Abraham lets Sarah become a member of the harems of not just one, but two kings.  Jacob is married to two sisters, Rachel and Leah.  Lot’s daughters — whose mother was turned into a pillar of salt outside of Sodom and Gommorrah — get him drunk on two consecutive nights and have sex with him in order to have children.  Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel were each described in the Bible as “barren” for decades, but their husbands did not divorce them as was the practice of that era.  During those decades, Sarah and Rachel told their husbands to have sex with a handmaid to conceive an heir. Also, Abraham is the patriarch, the one who made the initial covenant with God in which, later, the Jewish people saw themselves as God’s chosen.  Yet, Sarah seems to make a lot of decisions that he goes along with, such as banishing her former handmaid Hagar and the teenage boy Ishmael whom Hagar conceived with Abraham, in Genesis 21: The matter distressed Abraham greatly, for it […]
June 2, 2019

Book review: “Alas, Babylon” by Pat Frank

Published in 1959, Alas, Babylon was among the first wave of novels to speculate about how the world, and the United States in particular, would look in the aftermath of a nuclear war. It was not a pretty picture. Actually, for Randy Bragg and his circle of friends in central Florida, life isn’t so bad — at least, in comparison to how it is in the places that took direct H-bomb hits and in the places where the weather isn’t as temperate. They have fresh well water, abundant fish, corn crops, a doctor, a variety of useful skills, a short-wave radio, a location uncontaminated (pretty much) by the nukes and their fallout, a willingness to work together and a leader (Randy). Still…. Grim and grimmer Life after what’s called The Day is lived without electricity, except that which can be supplied by batteries that, pretty soon, die, and without rapidly diminishing supplies of gasoline, liquor, medicine, and with the rise of highwaymen and epidemics and radiation poisoning, and without any official forces of law and order. Alas, Babylon depicts a best-case scenario, circa 60 years ago.  It’s grim. Much grimmer, though, today.  Over the past six decades, nuclear opponents built […]
May 27, 2019

Poem: “Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969)

Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969) By Patrick T. Reardon skeleton ancient network burned out the final sparks of life and music linger on true fire dies hard (he honeys his tenor sax for sweet Jesus) high priests surround the dying saint melodic prayers reverencing the final moments heavenly prayers to earth in rhythmic religion the monster is beyond life melody’s dying thread is out of place with tired nerves and sinews full of awe Patrick T. Reardon 5.28.19 This poem was originally published in Back Door in 1970.
May 27, 2019

Book review: “Stick” by Elmore Leonard

Nestor and Stick are talking about dreams. For most people, Nestor Soto is a scary dude — a Paraguay-born, Cuba-raised, Miami drug lord, also called El Chaco, a free-basing, voodoo-worshipping stone face whose similarly creepy father-in-law is his enforcer. Stick, aka Ernest Stickley Jr., a 42-year-old Oklahoman, just out of prison for armed robbery, is smart enough to know that Nestor is frightening.  But he also knows or has intuited that the safest thing for him to do is to go into this particular lion’s den and explain that he’s not a threat to tell police about Nestor’s involvement in the murder of one of Stick’s friends.  Nestor takes a liking to Stick’s chutzpah and his reasoning, and the two end up talking about their dreams.  Elmore Leonard writes in his 1983 novel Stick: Nestor dreamed of a jaguar that had walked down the deserted main street of Filadelfia, the town where he was born in the Chaco region of Paraguay.  The street was deserted because of the jaguar, the people watching the wild animal from windows and from doors that were open a few inches.  This jaguar was very likely the one that had killed several cows, a goat […]
May 24, 2019

Book review: “Working: Researching, Interviewing, Writing” by Robert A. Caro

For more than half a century — for 52 years, to be exact — Robert A. Caro has been working full-time to research, understand and write about power in America. He has done this by looking at the lives of two men.  First, it was Robert Moses, the unelected holder of a host of appointive offices that he used to reshape the face of New York City — and the result was Caro’s 1974 book The Power Broker (1,336 pages). Then, he turned his sights on Lyndon B. Johnson, one of the greatest and worst of American presidents — and the result, so far, has been four installments of a series titled The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power (1990), The Means of Ascent (1991), Master of the Senate (2003) and The Passage of Power (2013).  A fifth and final volume is in the works, and Caro has told Time magazine that he has already written about 100,000 words.  That sounds like a lot, but, with Caro, it isn’t. When he wrote The Power Broker, Caro submitted a manuscript that was deemed to be too long, and, as he notes in his new memoir Working, he had to […]
May 22, 2019

Book review: “Night of Masks” by Andre Norton

Andre Norton’s 1964 novel Night of Masks is a claustrophobic reading experience — and not in a good way. This book followed her novel Catseye, published three years earlier, and, like that work, its central character is a resident of the Dipple, a ghetto area of the planet Korwar, a seedy slum where refugees and deportees from forty worlds have been unceremoniously dumped.  Some serve the purposes of the rulers, residents and visitors to the playground world; others simply scrape to survive. Catseye was a well-made sci-fi adventure, hinging on the ability of Troy Horan to communicate telepathically with animals.  It was his ticket out of the Dipple and into a place on the edges of the luxurious lifestyles of well-to-do Korwar people. In fact, his time in the Dipple, in terms of the book, is very short.  An opening chapter, and then he’s in the better part of town. No special skills The hero of Night of Masks, Nik Kolherne, is also from the Dipple, and, like Troy, he is finding a way out of there in the first few pages of the book.  Unlike Troy, however, Nik doesn’t have any special skills.  In fact, the bottom of his […]
May 22, 2019

Book review: “Royal Books & Holy Bones: Essays in Medieval Christianity” by Eamon Duffy

For the general public, Christianity before the Protestant Reformation is viewed as a fairly monolithic institution.  Yet, in Royal Books and Holy Bones, Eamon Duffy explains that, nowadays, historians of the medieval period think in terms of the plural “Christianities” of that era. Duffy, a professor of the history of Christianity at the University of Cambridge in England, writes that such scholars tend “to interest themselves in the rise of ‘micro-Christendoms’: the radically different and sometimes seemingly incompatible forms in which the Christian impulse, if it ever had been one impulse, metamorphosed and diversified as it adapted to changing times and new disparate cultures.”  As a result, research has moved away from looking at Popes and theological debates to an examination of these Christianities as “a set of practices, the religious strategies adopted by the people of the past to make sense of their daily existence.” Academic mumbo-jumbo? All this might seem like academic mumbo-jumbo to modern-day Catholics.  But think about it: Even without considering the Protestant-Catholic divide, there are, within Catholicism today, a wide range of approaches to the faith.  Yes, the Pope and the bishops claim the final say on theological issues (although they don’t always agree).  Still, […]
May 15, 2019

Poem: “She broke”

She broke By Patrick T. Reardon She broke my arm when I was a baby. It wasn’t my arm but call it an arm. It mended crooked, at an odd angle, thickened, clotted, stiff instead of supple, a wrinkled butterfly wing, an antelope limp. I could not swing a baseball bat or brush a lover’s hair. I still have the broken arm. My brother’s hurt was worse. He died of it. She tattooed her scripture on my spine, her gospel proclamations on the inside of my skull, her dire psalms on the bottom of my right heel, on the sweep of my right hip, black etched lines, leaking, insinuating. The tree grows out of my chest, another from my forearm, my jaw, my left shin. Syrup tapped, dripped, fermented, sold, re-sold.  A forest where Abel kills, Noah drowns, the Messiah leper never gets the ghost back. Let me open the apartment door of her limping mother in the kitchen, baking bread, breaking bread, the afternoon sun jeweling soil and backyard dung and growing things and creeping things and the newborn and the dying and the dead. Her bread was sprinkled with flour. Two candles under a throat to bless away. […]
May 13, 2019

Book review: “ ‘They Say’ : Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race” by James West Davidson

Born a slave during the Civil War, Ida B. Wells was among the first generation of African-Americans who, in the wake of emancipation, had to define themselves in a radically new way — and had to fight back attempts by the mainstream white society to impose on them a definition from the outside. As James West Davidson writes in his stellar ‘They Say’: Ida B. Wells and the Reconstruction of Race, freedom for blacks threatened to upend the white assertion that African-Americans were lesser human beings.  Race — and the separation of the races — suddenly became much more significant. The struggle arose out of the vacuum created when emancipation eliminated the legal categories of slave and free.  If the law of the land prescribed a status, slave, which could be upheld and regulated, race was a useful concept but not necessarily paramount. Once the legal props of slavery disappeared, however, it became much more difficult for one group of people to justify keeping another in an inferior position.  Race was the key.  A line was drawn — a color line, as Wells called it — that during the 1880s and 1890s was increasingly buttressed by new laws, customs, and […]
May 9, 2019

Poem: “Stone fence”

Stone fence I built me a stone fence by stacking one glass of Maker’s Mark whiskey on another, interspersed with large lumps of ice, mortared with sweet cider. I built me a stone fence in a circle and, when it was done, leaped inside the circuit and fell down the well to the center of the Earth where I met Buddha, Our Lady of Light, the Queen of Clubs and St. Augustine who wanted to get on the wagon but not just yet. I built me a stone fence across the face of northwest Ireland as if to corral the island’s saints, fairies, snakes, nuns and travelers in the backroom of a pub where the constable is writing poetry, and I long for coffee. I built me a stone fence and went out on Main Street in noonday sun where Johnny Raptor, wanted in seven states, called me out, and, as I drew, my skull was thundered with a screaming headache that no hangover remedy was ever going to calm. I built me a stone fence and then crawled under the weight of it all into my sympathetic grave. Patrick T. Reardon 5.9.19 This poem originally appeared in the anthology […]
May 8, 2019

Book review: “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler

Halfway through Raymond Chandler’s 1939 hard-boiled, highly praised novel The Big Sleep, the rich and wild Vivian Regan turns Philip Marlowe in the front seat of their parked car and says: “Hold me close, you beast.” Eighty years ago, that must have had a different resonance.  It must have had an edge of shock for the reader — a married upper-class woman throwing herself sexually at a gumshoe, her father’s hireling. Today, though, it brings to mind generations of comedies and comedians who have parodied that sort of line to the point that what it raised in me wasn’t shock but a laugh. In minor ways, The Big Sleep is a victim of its own popularity and acclaim.  It spawned waves and waves of imitators, bad and good.  To read it today is to read it in the context of all those who were influenced so deeply by the book. It’s also a bit of a victim of its age.  Marlowe, the book’s narrator, is disgusted at the two gay characters in the story, and his denigrating comments make a modern reader squirm.  Because Chandler is presenting Marlowe as a rare decent person in a world of betrayal, selfishness, greed […]
May 1, 2019

Book review: “The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age” by Christopher Hibbert

Elizabeth I, especially early in her 44-year reign, had a lot of nagging health problems, but, notes Christopher Hibbert, she hated to be ill or to be thought to be ill. One time, she had an extremely painful toothache. Her doctors and members of her Privy Council — the equivalent of an American President’s Cabinet — told her the tooth had to be extracted, but she refused.  She kept saying, “no,” until “the Bishop of London allowed the surgeon to pull out one of his teeth to demonstrate the ease with which the operation could be performed.” “Highly strung” Elizabeth I dominated England as its queen for the entire second half of the 16th century, a time that came to be called the Elizabethan Age. She was intelligent, strong-willed, devious, vain, affectionate and enigmatic, holding her throne for more than four decades during an era when women weren’t supposed to wield such power. She was also a human being, and that’s the Elizabeth who is the subject of Christopher Hibbert’s luminous 1991 biography The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of the Golden Age. (By the way, for another look at this book, see my review in the Chicago Tribune in […]
April 24, 2019

Book review: “Witches Abroad” by Terry Pratchett

In Terry Pratchett’s 1991 Discworld novel Witches Abroad,  Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick have an adventure in “foreign places,” in particular, Genua, a New Orleans-ish place that a witch named Lilith with a fondness for mirrors wants to change into a kind of Disneyland on steroids. You can tell while reading this that Pratchett had recently gone to New Orleans and fallen in love with the tastily weird food of that one-of-a-kind city. You can also tell that he had a bee in his bonnet about the sickly saccharine fairy tale stories that the Walt Disney studios specialized in — the sort in which everything happens just so, the bad queen/witch/mother gets her due, and the heroine and her savior (a girl, after all, needs a savior) live happily ever after. Or else Lilith is trying to inflict stories on Genua in the same way that Vladimir Lenin, Joe Stalin and their crew inflicted totalitarianism on Russia and its satellites.   You will be happy — or else! There’s also a swamp woman named Mrs. Gogol and a zombie named Saturday who are trying to inflict their own idea of a story on Genua. And there’s a young girl […]