October 31, 2016

Book review: “The House on Mango Street” by Sandra Cisneros

There is a universal quality to Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and also something very specific. This is the story of Esperanza Cordero, and, at its heart, it is the story of every child who has gone through the very difficult transformation into becoming a teenager with all its excitement, fear, challenge and risk. No wonder it’s read in so many high school classes. At the same time, the book’s strength as literature is that it tells the story of a unique girl in a unique place — a Mexican-American girl in the neighborhoods of Chicago whose life is focused not only on the changes in her body but also on her need to figure out how to maneuver in the broader world. Esperanza lives in a community that is made up of newly arrived immigrants from Mexico and first-generation Americans, but also includes black and white people from such places as Texas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Puerto Rico. There’s even Ruthie, an emotionally fragile woman, who wears a babushka, the colorful traditional Russian headscarf that, in mid-twentieth century Chicago, was ubiquitous as a means of protecting the hair of women of many backgrounds from the wind. Ruthie, tall […]
October 24, 2016

Book review: “White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg

Well, this book is a mess. Given its title, White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Louisiana State University history professor Nancy Isenberg would seem to be a book about a certain group, or class, in American society. But, throughout the book, Isenberg adamantly and continually avoids defining that group. A lot of times, it’s poor Southern whites, but, at other times, it’s only some poor Southern whites. Sometimes, it includes poor whites from elsewhere in the country, such as Maine and California. And, sometimes, she’s not talking about white trash at all, but about the fact that, from the beginning, there was the stratification of classes in the British colonies and then in the new United States. She is shocked — just shocked! — at the reality that there are rich and poor in this nation, and that it’s hard for the poor to rise up the economic ladder as, ideally, they are supposed to be able to do.   Other, better books I acknowledge that this book, riding its White Trash title, may lead to other, better books. Isenberg’s text hints at what some of those books might be: A book on the treatment […]
October 19, 2016

Book review: “The Children of Men” by P.D. James

There is something of a happy ending to The Children of Men by P.D. James, but that’s only if you don’t think past the final page. On the plus side, humanity has suddenly found a way to dodge a catastrophic extinction event, albeit one that, at the start of the book, has been playing out for a quarter of a century. On the negative side, people are still people, and that’s a bleak reality for James. This is one profoundly desolate novel, and James had no business at all conjuring up a feel-good conclusion. I think she wanted to find hope despite her dark view of human nature. Her perspective is pretty dark, such as the take on marriage given by her narrator Dr. Theodore “Theo” Faron, an Oxford don and very much a bloodless prig. He is asked if he loved his wife at any point during their now-ended marriage, and he responds: “I convinced myself I did when I married. I willed myself into the appropriate feelings without knowing what the appropriate feelings were. I endowed her with qualities she didn’t have and then despised her for not having them. Afterwards I might have learned to love her […]
October 17, 2016

Book review: “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore

A Dirty Job is a book about death. And it’s hilarious. It’s Christopher Moore, after all. As with all really funny books, there’s a deeper meaning to the laughs in A Dirty Job, published in 2006. Think of Terry Pratchett’s ridiculously humorous novels about his fantasy Discworld which grapple with real-life issues such as racism, pollution, technology, war, stick-up-the-ass-ness and, yes, death. All the time, Death. (Well, he is a major character in the series.) Reading A Dirty Job, I couldn’t help but wonder what Pratchett and Moore would have thought of each other and how they might — or might not — have gotten along if they’d met. (Alas, Pratchett died in March, 2015.) Their books are the products of writers with a skewed vision of the world and, for all their great humor, a sorrowful one as well. You can’t laugh if everything in life is just  hunky-dory.  Tragedy, though, betrayal, pain and, yes, again, death — these are what bring on the hilarity. Either that, or it’s a weepfest.   Side job A Dirty Job opens and closes with a death. In the first pages, Charlie Asher’s wife Rachel dies, leaving him with their newborn daughter Sophie. […]
September 29, 2016

Book review: “Della Robbia: Sculpting with Color in Renaissance Florence” by Marietta Cambareri

Six hundred years ago in Italy, Luca Della Robbia created an artistic technique that permitted him to fashion what might be called three-dimensional paintings or brightly colored sculpture. It was a technique that resulted in glazed terracotta works that today remain as vibrant as when they were first fired. He and his nephew Andrea and Andrea’s five sons formed a workshop that, over the course of more than a century, produced hundreds of small and large glazed terracotta sculptures. They had a handful of competitors, some of whom apparently learned the secret of the Della Robbia glazing method while working for the family. The early works, particularly those of Luca, often featured figures in white against a rich, blue background. Later ones from the workshop worked in a broader range of colors. However, by the middle of the 16th century, the Della Robbias were gone and their competitors as well, and no other artists arose to follow in their footsteps. None, it would seem, had learned the secret formula. The art of the Della Robbias, in this way, is locked into a certain era of the past (from about 1440 through 1560), reflective of the tastes and concerns of that […]
September 27, 2016

Book review: “Rodin” by Raphael Masson and Veronique Mattiussi

I have a key question about Rodin by Raphael Masson and Veronique Mattiussi, but, first, I need to commend the Musee Rodin and the publisher Flammarion for selecting the relatively obscure marble sculpture Danaid for the cover of the book. Rodin is one of the artist-victims of modern pop culture — Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci are among the others — who have produced a piece of work that has embedded itself into the broad culture and the public mind that it becomes unseeable as  art. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is an example, and Michelangelo’s David. Rodin is twice victimized with The Thinker and The Kiss. For millions of people who know nothing of art, such works have come to represent “ART” and are accorded a certain reverence that makes it nearly impossible to approach them with a fresh and open mind. In addition, the images of these works have been appropriated for billboards and t-shirts and key-rings and parodies and myriad other purposes. They are no longer themselves. They are an accumulation of millions of messages that they have been employed to convey. Anyone attempting to see them as a work of art must fight off a bombardment of preconceptions and […]
September 22, 2016

Book Review: “Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters.” edited by Mary McFeely and William S. McFeely

There is a famous photograph of Ulysses S. Grant, sitting on the porch of his home in upstate New York on an obviously very cold day in 1885, writing his memoirs. He appears a forlorn figure. He is in a rush, cranking out as many as 50 pages a day, even as he is suffering greatly from the throat cancer that eventually spreads to the rest of his body. He is in a hurry because con-artists have taken him for his life savings, and the only way to ensure his family’s future is to complete this manuscript so that his friend Mark Twain can publish it. He finishes on July 18, and, five days later, he dies. His Memoirs — which focus heavily on his experience in the Civil War and not at all on his presidency — are a best seller, netting his wife Julia more than $420,000, or about $10 million in today’s dollars.   “I am a verb” Out of copyright today, the book, reprinted by many publishers, still sells. I am partial to the carefully prepared and artfully presented 1990 Library of America edition, edited by Mary and William McFeely. In addition to the memoirs themselves, […]
September 16, 2016

Book review: “Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939” by Adam Hochschild

In the book world, there is developing a subgenre of history-writing that takes an event or a place in world history and examines it from the perspectives and perceptions of the Americans who were present. An example from 2010 is Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour by Lynne Olson.  A year later came The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough. Now, here’s Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 by Adam Hochschild. It seems to me that there are positives and negatives to this approach. On the plus side, the presence of Americans in the text makes it easier for American readers to relate to the topic.  It’s as if these fellow citizens are stand-ins for us.  They are coming from a world we are familiar with and finding themselves in a different place.  Their reactions are, in some way, our reactions.  Or, to use a piece of jargon, we at least know where they’re coming from. This permits us as readers to take in the history more easily, as if we were experiencing it.   A story-telling tension There is a tendency, anyway, in modern […]
September 14, 2016

Book review: “Sensing Chicago: Noisemakers, Strikebreakers, and Muckrakers” by Adam Mack

Historians have always focused on the facts of the past — What happened? They have also studied the reasons behind those facts — Why did it happen? Above all, they have sought to figure out how the past has shaped the present — What did it mean? Today, there’s a new genre of history-writing that asks a question that has long been over-looked or little reported — How did it feel? This is called sensory history, and it examines how things smelled and sounded and felt for someone who lived in a certain place at a certain time in the past, as well as the causes of those smells, sounds and physical feelings; the meanings that people of the time attached to those sensory perceptions; and the impacts that the senses had on the decisions that people made, individually and as groups. In other words, it’s doing all the same things that historians have been doing when examining, say, the life of Abraham Lincoln or the fall of the Roman Empire, but, in this case, focusing on sensory experiences. The question of how things looked has long been woven into the usual approach of historians.  The physical sense of taste […]
September 8, 2016

Book review: “Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings” by Thomas Merton, edited by Jonathan Montaldo

  Lessons from Thomas Merton in the pages of the 2001 collection of his writings, Dialogues with Silence: Prayers and Drawings, edited by Jonathan Montaldo: Merton experiences prayer as something not isolated in a place or into words. Instead, he writes: My God, I pray to You by breathing. He recognizes that reaching out to God requires something beyond — above? deeper than? — human limitations: I will travel to You, Lord, through a thousand blind alleys. You want to bring me to You through stone walls. Love is an act of will, or at least vulnerability. But it is also — maybe in its essence — being. The trees indeed love You without knowing You. Without being aware of Your presence, the tiger lilies and cornflowers proclaim that they love You. The beautiful dark clouds ride slowly across the sky musing on You like children who do not know what they are dreaming of as they play. God is Being, too, as Merton notes that as the clock ticks and the thermostat stops humming, “God is in this room. He is in my heart.” And Merton tries to open himself to God if he can first overcome “my sin […]
September 6, 2016

Book review: “Pennant Race” by Jim Brosnan

It’s midway through the 1961 major league baseball season, and Jim Brosnan, a right-handed relief pitcher of the Cincinnati Reds, is talking with Joey Jay, the staff ace, about when the challenge hitter with pitches. Brosnan relates the short conversation in his second baseball book Pennant Race and then steps back and tells the reader: Of course, when I don’t think I have good stuff — and there are such days — I don’t see how I can get anybody out. Usually I don’t. Brosnan, who was a pretty good pitcher during his nine years in the big leagues, is nothing if not rawly honest and drily witty in Pennant Race (published in 1962) as well as in his earlier baseball book The Long Season (1960). Both explain what it is like for a professional baseball player to go through a season of gamesplaying. And more than that — what it’s like for any high-performing athlete to try to harness the mystery of his or her skill within the context of the business, competition and fishbowl of major sports.   An elegiac quality There is, in fact, an elegiac quality to Brosnan’s writing, an underlying melody of loss. Just behind […]
August 25, 2016

Book review: “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a sad, bleak book about a man who finds near the end of his life that he has wasted it. On the second to the last page of this 1989 novel, Stevens, an English butler who, during an auto trip through the countryside, is musing about events in his life, decides that he needs to stop thinking so much about his past. “I should adopt a more positive outlook and try to make the best of what remains of my day.” His solution is that he will work even harder at learning the skill of bantering.   “Dignity” Stevens, the son of a butler, is a man who has taken on the role of the butler to such an extent that, as he relates, he is never off-duty unless he is alone. And, as his ruminations in the pages of this novel show, he is not really ever himself even when he is alone. Certainly, he is unwilling to let himself experience his feelings or, for the most part, even recognize their existence. His life is focused on being a “great butler” which, for him, means embodying the character trait that […]
August 24, 2016

Book review: “Hombre” by Elmore Leonard

I’m not sure how Elmore Leonard’s Hombre, published in 1961, reads for a young person today. It seems to me that there is something universal to it that would make the short novel interesting and even thought-provoking for a millennial — or anyone, for that matter. Something about personal integrity. Essentially, a motley group of people, riding in a stagecoach to Bisbee, Arizona, are confronted by bullies in the form of four robbers. The bandits are after a fairly hefty fortune that Dr. Alexander Favor, the Indian agent, is carrying. As it turns out, Favor has embezzled the money and is trying to flee with his wife before anyone catches on. But the robbers have caught on. The result is a chase, mostly on foot, through the mountains of southern Arizona. Hombre is a novel about the veneer of civilization and the real thing. Favor and his wife Audra, for instance, are the most genteel of the stagecoach riders. Yet, it becomes clear that Favor loves his money more than his wife. And his wife doesn’t love him at all. The real thing, in terms of civilization, has to do with looking beyond sentimentality and wishful thinking. It has to […]
August 22, 2016

Book review: “Sorrow Road” by Julia Keller

Sorrow Road is Julia Keller’s fifth novel set in fictional Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, and centered on the county prosecutor Belfa Elkins. If you want to get a sense of this series, just go about halfway into the new novel, to the point at which a couple of sheriff’s deputies have made a grisly discovery: And then the heavy-duty flashlights illuminated a gruesome tableau. The two old women lay on their backs at the base of a tree about three-quarters of a mile away, on a white mound of snow, limbs twisted like an Egyptian hieroglyphic. They were holding hands. That last touch, the two murdered women holding hands, is an example of Keller’s courage as a storyteller. It’s the sort of detail that most modern writers, especially those who want to be taken seriously, writers with ambitions of creating literature, avoid like the plague. It’s too sugary a detail, too sentimental, right? Too hokey. Except, in the right hands, it’s not hokey. Connie Dollar and her friend Marcy Coates, the deputies could see, had been chased through the snow by an assailant who had already slit the throat of Connie’s dog and carried a loaded shotgun to use on […]
August 15, 2016

Book review: “A Simple Blues with a Few Intangibles” by George Wallace

Reading George Wallace’s collection of 48 poems A Simple Blues with a Few Intangibles is a kaleidoscopic, whirligig experience. It is a rushing, often breathless torrent of images, allusions, emotions, evocations and even snippets of song lyrics — “it’s all in the game” and “trampled out the vintage” and “up against the wall Motherfucker.” There is much about this collection that brings to mind the improvisation of energetic, experimental jazz. Maybe those are the “intangibles” of the title. For sure, the poems themselves are far from simple. At the core of this book seems to be a frenetic effort to live in the face of death. We are, Wallace writes, “a cornfield/of harvestable souls.” We are the fruit, and we are the pickers. Wallace’s poem “Hauling Peaches to Paradise” concludes this way: …it’s a bee’s life, ain’t it, I mean the price of admission to an execution in the park, go ahead keep saying you’re done if you want but you’re not — you’re hauling peaches to paradise, too — what a joke — all toil in the all-hallowed orchard.   “Handled me” This book is filled with mythic figures, such as the woman of “Concrete Jaime” who is so […]
August 10, 2016

Book review: “A Canticle for Leibowitz” by Walter M. Miller Jr.

Science fiction seems to be about the future, and, a lot of times, it is. Writers will grapple with the nuts and bolts of how a spacecraft might be constructed and noodle ideas about how the various laws and theories of science will hold up for people who are traversing the Universe. They’ll imagine how life on a planet with a different sort of gravity and a different sort of atmosphere might evolve and how human beings might react to these differently evolved beings. Because it is not just science but also fiction, sci-fi will also involve some sort of tension — a tension, for instance, as simple as that of the stereotypical Western with good guys and bad guys fighting a battle for dominance, or maybe a tension that’s based on the daunting challenge of staying alive in a brutally dangerous cosmos. In other words, an adventure of some sort. A story.   A deeper purpose Most science fiction has a deeper purpose as well, and that’s to use the mirror of an imagined future world to look at life in the present day. This occurs in two ways. First, a science fiction book will wrestle with the issues […]
August 3, 2016

Book review: “The Stupidest Angel” by Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore’s 2005 novel The Stupidest Angel tells the story of one extremely clueless — albeit extremely powerful — angel who visits the California coastal community of Pine Cove to carry out an extremely spectacular miracle. Which goes, you guessed it, extremely wrong. Not to worry. He eventually carries out a second miracle to fix all the problems — such as zombies and terrors and horrors and deaths — that the first one created. It is, after all, a Christmas book. But, before you go jumping to conclusions, you need to know that, on some unmarked page before page one, Moore issues an Author’s Warning: If you’re buying this book as a gift for your grandson or a kid, you should be aware that it contains cusswords as well as tasteful depictions of cannibalism and people in their forties having sex. Don’t blame me. I told you. Well, maybe not exactly “tasteful.”   “A choir of suffering houseflies” True, The Stupidest Angel features sex in a graveyard, and an evil developer who lets nothing, including death, stop him, and a naked warrior princess who’s off her meds, and, well, yeah, a lot of elements that would be difficult to define […]
August 1, 2016

Book review: “The Long Season” by Jim Brosnan

Jim Brosnan’s books about two years in his life as a baseball player — The Long Season, published in 1960) and Pennant Race (1962) — were the first and last of their kind. The books were the first time an active player wrote about what it was like to go through a baseball season — and off-season. Brosnan, a right-handed pitcher, took readers inside the clubhouse, the dugout and the bullpen and allowed them to listen in as he and his teammates grouse, kibbitz, strategize, scheme and ponder the greater and lesser questions of life. They opened the door for many other books including the Ball Four by Jim Bouton, a scandalous tome for many baseball traditionalists, and for generations of ex-players who went into the broadcast booth to tell listeners and viewers what was really happening on the field and in the minds of the ballplayers and managers. Yet, none of those books and none of those color commentators have come anywhere close to being as achingly honest about what it’s like to play professional baseball as Brosnan. These books, covering the 1959 and 1961 seasons, are love letters to baseball. And also forthright, unguarded descriptions of the physical […]
July 26, 2016

Book review: “King Lear” by William Shakespeare

Talk about Shakespeare’s great King Lear tends to focus on the action of the play and its meaning. A self-satisfied monarch, blind to the consequences of his actions, splits his realm in two, giving half to one daughter and half to the other. To his third and dearest daughter, he gives nothing. Her sin: Failing to flatter him enough. This is a play about loyalty and disloyalty, about parents and children, about wisdom and foolishness, and about the many forms of madness — arrogance, greed, anger, ambition, dementia and pride. It is a play filled with murders and hangings and a suicide and not one but two eyes being ripped out. It is a lot like the Book of Job in the Bible in which the central character rails at the unfairness of life. It is a story about pain and stupidity and the cruelty of being a human being, prone to failure. King Lear is also a work of great literary beauty, and that’s what I want to focus on. This is, of course, Shakespeare, so we expect great poetry. Here, though, there is a concentrated fierceness to his words that make them seem like knife slashes or the […]
July 18, 2016

Book review: “A History of Loneliness” by John Boyne

John Boyne’s 2015 novel A History of Loneliness was a difficult book for me to read, mainly because it deals with the crimes of hundreds of pedophile priests who preyed on young boys and teens, but also because it is a flawed book. Given the subject, I don’t think it is inappropriate for me to start this review with an apology. I apologize to all the victims of molester-priests and their families. I am ashamed that these men corrupted their positions of trust in the Catholic Church. I am ashamed that hierarchical leaders of the Catholic Church turned a blind eye to their crimes for so long. I am ashamed that my church which teaches love, compassion, community and strength of character was the setting where these men carried out violence on innocent children. These men sinned, and, because I am a member of a church in which they operated, I am a sinner, too. These crimes, as committed by rogue priests in Ireland, are the subject of A History of Loneliness. Its central character is Father Odran Yates, He is not one of the pedophiles, but he goes through more than three decades of his priesthood ignoring all of […]
July 15, 2016

Book review: Two very different books about the history of paper — “The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention” by Alexander Monro and “Paper: Paging Through History” by Mark Kurlansky

Two new books about the history of paper — both tell the same story, right? Well, not really, and, in their differences, the books reveal much about the writing and reading of history. Consider this paragraph from Paper: Paging Through History by Mark Kurlansky: It was a macabre scene on the deserted, wind-swept killing fields of the Napoleonic Wars before the burial details went to work. Ragmen picked through the dead, stripping off their bloodstained uniforms and selling the cloth to papermakers. That’s a paragraph that will grab your attention. It opens a chapter that looks at the problems that paper mills in Europe had in finding enough rags to serve as the raw material in the creation of their product, a problem ultimately solved by the use of wood pulp. Now, look at this poem from 811 A.D. by Chinese writer Bai Juyi that Alexander Monro quotes in The Paper Trail: An Unexpected History of a Revolutionary Invention. It has to do with the death of his three-year-old daughter Golden Bells: A daughter can snare your heart; And all the more when you have no sons. Her clothes still hang on the pegs, Her useless medicine lies by her […]
July 13, 2016

Book review: Two books about maps — “Cartographic Grounds,” edited by Jill Desimini and Charles Waldheim, and “Mind the Map,” edited by Antonis Antoniou, Robert Klanten and Sven Ehmann

The stark white-on-black image on the cover of Cartographic Grounds: Projecting the Landscape Imaginary, edited by Jill Desimini and Charles Waldheim, is beautiful and mysterious. Is this Antarctica? Or somewhere within the Arctic Circle? The birthplace of icebergs perhaps? No, this map by Bureau Bas Smets has nothing to do with ice. It shows the delta that is formed by the many rivers meandering along the border between Holland and Belgium on their way to the North Sea. This is an example of a figure ground map in which everything else left out so that two elements — in this case, the black of the water and the white of the land — can be seen with hyper-clarity. Here, there is also one more piece of information displayed. There is, across the white of the land, a scattering of much less distinct splotches of gray which represent urbanized areas. This is a map that was created to help in the planning for the future development of this low-lying region where flooding has been a concern for centuries.   “Great dreams” More than 80 years ago, Gilbert Grosvenor, the longtime editor of National Geographic, said: “A map is the greatest of […]
July 11, 2016

Book review: “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis

I finish C.S. Lewis’ 1952 book Mere Christianity with great sadness, respect and hope. Across more than six decades, Lewis is talking to me and anyone else who will listen about his Christian faith. Those many years, nearly as long as my lifetime, seem a great chasm between Lewis and me — between his experience of the world and mine, between his experience of his faith and mine. That’s where the sadness comes in. Lewis writes, for instance, that “Selfishness has never been admired.” Yet, I live in a world in which, for a little more than $4, you can order a bumper sticker for your car to proclaim to the world your belief that “He who dies with the most toys wins.” He writes that “the Christian rule is, ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’ ” While I affirm the need for faithfulness in marriage, I cannot agree that, outside of marriage, total abstinence is the only choice. He writes that “Christian wives promise to obey their husbands. In Christian marriage, the man is said to be the ‘head,’ ” and then goes on to argue that this is only logical. I can’t […]
July 7, 2016

Book review: “Shaking Hands with Death” by Terry Pratchett

Shaking Hands with Death is a very small book, only 59 pages in length, and only 41 of those pages are the words of Terry Pratchett. The rest is taken up with an introduction in which Pratchett’s personal assistant Rob Wilkins explains how the book came to be. It is a sad story, lightened by Pratchett’s great humor and infused with his passion. Pratchett was the author of more than 50 comical fantasy novels, most centering on his imagined Discworld. He sold more than 85 million copies worldwide in 37 languages — or as he says in Shaking Hands with Death, “a very large number of inexplicably popular fantasy novels.” Then, in 2007, he learned that he was suffering from Post Cortical Atrophy (PCA), a rare version of Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 59, and he was very angry. Over the next eight years, he wrote and published eight major books, six of which were centered on Discworld. He died on March 12, 2015 at the age of 66.   “His fury” Shaking Hands with Death is the text of a televised address that, with the help of a friend, he gave on February 1, 2010, in which he described his […]
July 1, 2016

Book review: “The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove” by Christopher Moore

“No! Bad dragon!” Molly, wielding a broadsword, has just saved two clueless church ladies from being eaten by Steve, a Sea Beast who, at the moment, looks like a mobile home. (Shape-changing is just one of Steve’s many talents.) Now, she’s chewing him out while trying to shoo the spacey women away. Yes, Christopher Moore’s The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove isn’t Moby Dick. Like Herman Melville’s masterpiece, this piece of merriment is centered around a largish fish. But, in Moore’s case, the fish is a huge, 5,000-year-old remnant of prehistory who eats whales for breakfast. Not only can he can swim in the sea and crawl on the land, but when the mood hits, he can become a she. Indeed, relatively recent, while he was a she, one of her (his?) babies — very ugly, even for a baby — was hooked by a couple of black blues singers. This resulted in one (who later, not surprisingly, was given the nickname Catfish) watching the other, Smiley (who, it must be admitted, wasn’t very good at channeling the blues, hence, the nickname), get eaten by the Sea Beast who, many decades later, was given the nickname Steve by Molly. Got […]