Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Visit to the Detroit Institute of Arts

We recently visited the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), close to Wayne State University in downtown Detroit. It would have been Diego Rivera’s 125th birthday. The Institute contains one of his most famous works, The Detroit Industry Murals.

Rivera’s known for his giant murals painted on the sides of buildings. The Detroit Mural, started in April of 1932, required eleven months to complete, and consisted of twenty-seven panels. Diego Rivera’s works can be defined in three M-words, Murals, Mexican, and Marxist. Many of the panels depict Mexican indigenous roots to its modern culture. In the other panels, he shows Detroit’s industry and technology and its association with the worker and management. His creations exhibit a Marxist underpinning.

Being that his works were completed in the 1930’s, and Marxism was an extremely dirty word in America at the time, controversy surrounded Rivera and his murals. Upon completion of his work in Detroit, the Rockefellers commissioned him to do a mural at Rockefeller Center entitled Man at the Crossroads. In this mural he placed a portrait of Vladimir Lenin attending a May Day parade. The Rockefellers ordered the mural destroyed.

The Ford family commissioned the Detroit Murals. When asked why they did not take offense to the murals, and have it destroyed, Edsel explained, you can hire an artist, but you shouldn’t control the artist’s freedom of expression. Thankfully, the Fords did not destroy this painting and the American public has access to Rivera’s talent.

In addition to the mural, the DIA houses a tremendous amount of other artistic materials. One of the special collections currently on exhibit is Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus. This exhibit is running through February 2012, and requires an additional ticket. It includes 64 of Rembrandt’s drawings, paintings and prints portraying Jesus and events in the Bible.

Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010 contains fifty contemporary photographs of Detroit’s urban prairies, a nice way of saying Detroit’s dilapidation. It shows her closed factories, abandoned schools and houses in a new light. This collection is very touching, and the talent fantastic. One would think it would be depressing, but it is actually uplifting. It shows Detroit’s desire to rise from the ashes and become the Paris of the Midwest once again.

The collection of European paintings is also wonderful. It contains works from Renoir, Monet, Degas, Rembrandt and Bellini. These are but a few of the masters on display. We only had three hours to tour the collection, and it was not enough to do it justice. Definitely give yourself more time.

As you are leaving the Institute, snap some pictures of Rodin’s, The Thinker. He is positioned out front, and reminds people that art is about the effect. If art doesn’t elicit a response from the viewer then it has failed.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Audio CD Review: Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

This is a review of the audio CD, Neil Gaiman’s, Anansi Boys narrated by Lenny Henry. I laughed all the way through the first CD and the laughs kept coming. The recording runs about 10 hours, and it was published in 2005. Henry does a fantastic job of narrating the story.

Anansi Boys fits best in the fantasy genre, and tells the story of Fat Charlie Nancy. His father was a God, Anansi (Spider). In Caribbean and West African lore, Spider is the trickster similar to Coyote in Native American cultures. He annoys and bests the other Gods by making them look stupid. His powers come from his wit, music and humor. This story contains lots of humor.

Gaiman created outstanding colorful characters such as Fat Charlie’s father. Mr. Nancy is a flamboyant gentleman from the Islands. He wears a green fedora and yellow gloves. He particularly likes to sing and dance, but not work. Henry’s narration brings the characters to life.

Fat Charlie has gone through life with the foregone conclusion that if anything bad can happen, it will. Because of this, he carries a conservative outlook on life, and hates to draw attention to himself. The slightest disturbance brings on a bout of embarrassment, and his father proved superior at causing embarrassment. Given all that, he is fairly happy with a good job and planning his wedding. Then his father dies.

Even in death, Mr. Nancy embarrassed Fat Charlie. He died while singing Karaoke. He fell off the stage face first into the large bosom of a blond from the Midwest on vacation in South Florida. While my description sounds mild, Gaiman’s rendition will have you crying tears of laughter.

Gaiman’s humor is not the humorous fantasy puns of Robert Asprin’s Myth adventure series or Piers Anthony’s Xanth books. Gaiman pokes fun at society, greed and people’s foibles. I’m sure my fellow commuters thought I was deranged as I set in traffic laughing.

At his father’s funeral Fat Charlie learns about his brother, Spider, a demigod. Fat Charlie doesn’t really believe in this God stuff nor does he believe he has a brother. A short while later Spider, trickster, enters Charlie’s life, and the troubles begin. Spider skates through life, and doesn’t think or care about others. Spider’s only concern is being happy. He doesn’t even care about his brother.

Anansi Boys contains romance, ghosts, murder, mayhem and West African folklore. Neil Gaiman packs his story with lots of humorous situations, and enjoyable characters. Don’t miss this one.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Book Review and Analysis: Agatha Christie, Hallowe’en Party

Most people prefer to read current books and best sellers. I tend to look for new authors and old authors. When reading an old author, it is important to realize the time context in which the author existed.

Agatha Christie (1890-1976) writes English mystery novels. Towards the end of her career, she dealt with the social changes of the 1960s. In Hallowe’en Party (1969), she writes about a world undergoing challenges to the social norms especially towards children. She dislikes the suggestion that children commit crimes mostly out of boredom, and their lack of respect towards other people. At the same time, an increase in sexual crimes against children horrifies her. She also touches on the sexual revolution engulfing society with a brief discussion on lesbianism.

Hallowe’en Party tells the story of a young adolescent, Joyce, murdered at a Halloween Party in a small English town. At this party, they still did things like bobbing for apples, and playing parlor games. Somebody drowned poor Joyce in a pail of water used for the apples.

Everyone in the town assumes it was a random act of violence, perhaps a sexual deviant. After all, they lurk behind every bush since the law doesn’t adequately punish them.

By this point in Christie’s career, she has a stable of characters to choose from. In this book, she calls on Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver. Both her characters are aging, but still at the top of their game. Poirot is Belgian, and a bit of a dandy with patent leather shoes, derby, cane and waxed mustache. Ariadne is a famous mystery author with a Finnish detective. You may think Agatha has written herself into the story.

The duo team up to bring justice for poor Joyce, but not before her younger brother joins her on the River Styx. The story has many twists and turns to lead our sleuths astray. Is a random act of meanness? Has a pedophile run amok? Could it be money or love?

Like all Christie’s books, Hallowe’en Party is entertaining. Consider it forty-year-old cozy mystery book. It’s light and fun with a bit of social commentary.  It is not a spooky book with ghosts and goblins, but it does have several murders, and a couple of villains.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Haunted Halloween

Fall celebrations meet us on every corner. The sun’s shifted on the horizon, and the days grow shorter. Temperatures grow cooler.  Many baseball teams have closed the clubhouse until next year. Halloween looms around the corner. For the next couple of weeks the blog will cover scary books and fall festivals.

Let’s start with a book review of Haunted Halloween Stories: 13 Chilling Read-aloud Tales by Jo-Anne Christensen.  She wrote it for the YA audience. Haunted Halloween provides entertaining haunted stories good for telling orally at parties and sleepovers with the lights turned low. Turn off the electronics, and enjoy some face-to-face social activity.

Camp Wannapoopoo will appeal to young boys. Marty, now thirty-seven, entertains us with a story about a ghost he encountered at camp as a youth. This story also deals with the trending topic of bullying, and holds a few good lessons.

Molly Goodacre haunts the general store. Molly has been murdered, and she’s trying to apologize to her friend. She desires to explain events leading up to her death. Christensen wrote this story for an older audience than Camp Wannapoopoo.

Ever had a run of bad luck, wish you could get rid of it. Even tempted to pass it along to someone else, just so long as it didn’t affect you any more. In The Tip bad luck flows from one person to another via an artifact. Christensen weaves a story of vagaries of life, and how much success or failure depends on luck.

People are willing to pay lots of money to attend addiction spas to stop smoking.  Sharon caught help with her smoking addiction by vacationing at Bertie’s B &B. She got the smoke scared out of her in One Sure Way to Quit.

Even ghosts like to take a vacation at the beach. Read this humorous tale about a ghostly realtor that caters to the dead in the Presence. You’ll enjoy this ghost story told from a different viewpoint.

Haunted Halloween Stories contains a collection of stories good for sharing at a gathering of 10 to 15 year-olds. Published in 2003, and about 200 pages, this book is fun and enjoyable.

Photos and text by Bruce G. Smith

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Anne Sexton Poetry

A brief change of pace for the blog, Carpebiblio offers a piece on the poet Anne Sexton. She suffered from a series of mental issues resulting in attempted suicides. She was successful on October 4, 1974. Today, doctors would prescribe a medicine cabinet full of drugs, but in 1960, she wrote about her troubles in poetry. She wrote about intimate subjects, her husband, her family, and many dealt with sexual liaisons. Her writing was her cure, she wrote about her depression and struggles with mental illness.

During her life, the expectations and roles of women in the United States evolved. She struggled with being a good wife and mother that cared and nurtured the family, like the world expected of her. When in reality, she wanted a career and independence. Her writings reflect this inner struggle. She wrote about topics pertinent to women such as adultery, menstruation, masturbation, and abortion.

Some of the analyst readings suggest this struggle manifested itself as a sexual hunger. However, her life also corresponds to the invention of the pill, and a sexual revolution in the United States. Today her actions ad writings may not seem as shocking or controversial as they did in the early sixties. They still may not be fully embraced or accepted by society, but they might not be considered as shocking. While her works may have been controversial, she won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967.

Sexton builds her collection of poems, Transformations, around the children’s stories of the Brother’s Grimm. She turns the stories into a series of modernized poems looking at the actions of women in society and sex. Among others, she modernizes Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Hansel and Gretel. You won’t get these confused with the Disney version.

The reader will not confuse Sexton’s collection of Love Poems for an Elizabeth Barrett Browning collection. Instead you will find For My Lover, Returning to his Wife, In Celebration of my Uterus and The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator.  In the late sixties, the sexual revolution was in full force, and even polite society talked about subjects once considered taboo.

Not many people read poetry. Their experience with poetry is the lame and tame reading teachers forced them to read in high school. Sexton’s brand of poetry may change your opinion.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bok Tower Garden Blooms

Bok Tower Gardens provides carillon music and flowers year round. Many people may think of Florida summers as too hot to spend time outdoors, and too hot for flowering plants, but that is not the case. This past weekend the temperatures only achieved the high eighties, he writes with a grin. Below are pictures of just four of the many plants offered by the gardens in late summer and early fall. If you get hot, the museum, gift shop and cafe offer opportunities to take a break from the heat. In the cafe, I generally go for an ice cream cone or chicken salad on a croissant.

Beauty Berry

'Disney' Red Ginger Lily

False Blue Ginger

Black Pearl Ornamental Pepper

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Galloping Gourmet Gets His Hands Gritty

The Galloping Gourmet, the PBS gastronomic tease, Graham Kerr, turns over a new leaf with fresh and healthy concoctions. In his Growing at the Speed of Life, he charms us with his wit and gardening adventures. However, his gardening tips make gardening sound much more difficult than reality. The book’s strong point, as the reader would expect, rests with his cooking tips.

Learn how to prepare fresh nutritional gastronomic treats from the garden. I learned many things including how a microwave works and why it changes the textures of foods. I also learned some tips on boiling potatoes and steaming veggies. I was surprised to find out, I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. In the boiling section, he suggest slightly boiled peas with a few mint leafs, and a touch of sugar. I had to try it. Tasted great.

The recipes start on page 62 and run through 294. Kerr provides the reader with recipes for everything grown in the garden including vegetables, grains, fruits and spices. My mouth is salivating for some bumbleberry strudel.

The latest food craze involves eating lots of different fresh food items. They contain lots of micronutrients and antioxidants. According to Whole Foods, Bok Choy and Kale contain some of the highest cancer fighting micronutrients. Kerr’s devotes a section to each of these. The reader learns the growing conditions for each crop as well as pest complications. He gives us nutritional information, and three to four recipes for each.

These days I try to not eat processed or preserved foods. Markets provide just about every fruit and vegetable fresh year round. When items are in season, I try to buy local since they generally have a better flavor and nutritional value. If possible try to grow some of your own. I grow container tomatoes, much better flavor than the supermarket.

Tonight I will be dining using one of Kerr’s recipes, salmon with fresh cucumber sauce. As Kerr says, dine FABIS (fresh and best in season).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rosa Parks Bus

James F. Blake  bus driver's seat
Behold the infamous seat from which James F. Blake told Rosa Parks she needed to move to the back of the bus on December 1, 1955. While Montgomery City Code, chapter 6 section 11 gave Blake the right to tell her to move, her subsequent refusal sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, and began the civil rights movement in the United States.

The Montgomery Improvement Association elected pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to president of their group and leader of the Montgomery Bus Boycott movement. King’s success in Montgomery gave him the momentum to strive for more rights for African Americans.

Consider the situation, what if Blake had been easier going, and hadn’t enforced the rule. He may have lost his job, but the boycott may not have occurred, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. may never have gotten involved in the civil rights movement.

Rear Seat of the Bus
Secondly, this was before cell phones. The event happened on a Friday afternoon, during rush hour. Imagine today, a bus driver pulling over with a full load of passengers to use a phone and wait for the police to arrive so they could arrest Rosa. Do you think, it would happen today?

It is simply amazing, how Rosa Parks’ refusal, and the subsequent actions worked together to result in one of the most important events in U.S. history. Rosa Parks was not the first rider to refuse to move. It had happened on other buses in Montgomery, but none had the same result. For some reason, Rosa Parks’ refusal galvanized the community to work together to end legal segregation.

After the incident Rosa Parks and her husband lost their jobs, and could not find employment in Montgomery. Today, people consider her a hero, but in 1955 many people in the United States considered her a troublemaker or worse. The Parks moved to Detroit, where she died at the age of 92 on October 24th, 2005.

It was on the Cleveland Avenue Bus, number 2857 that Rosa Parks and James F. Blake had their encounter that made history. The Henry Ford Museum paid $492,000 for the bus, and an additional $300,000 to restore the bus to its mint condition. The bus is now on display at the Henry Ford Museum.

(Pictures and text by Bruce G. Smith)

The Cleveland Ave Bus number 2857

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Nevada Barr’s, Burn deals with a difficult subject, and one that generally makes people mad or at least uncomfortable – child molestation, kidnapping, and child prostitution. She digs into the pedophile trade. Who needs vampires, when you have pedophiles?

The story starts in Seattle and shifts to New Orleans. Anna Pigeon, Barr’s main protagonist and a National Park Ranger needs some well-deserved rest and relaxation. She rents a place from her friend, Geneva, a blind blues singer, who also works for the park service with the heritage musical program in the French Quarter.

Barr knows New Orleans, and she passes that knowledge along to the reader as they follow Anna through the shadier streets hunting for a pair of missing children.  The children have possibly become sex slaves.

This book is down and dirtier than Barr’s previous books. It’s a raw story, and she makes the reader feel uncomfortable. She forces the reader to experience the horror of children being forced into heinous acts and positions by the City’s powerful and elite.

This was a difficult book to read because of the content and the style. Barr used three voices in the beginning and the book did not flow. Once Anna and Jordan met the book flowed better, and the story progressed quickly. Burn’s content challenges the reader to take action on the issue of pedophilia, to scream out at the atrocities perpetrated against children in our society.

According to the Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, 67 percent of all victims of sexual assault reported to law enforcement agencies were under the age of 18, and 34 percent were under the age of 12. One in seven victims of sexual assault were under the age of 6 ( The CPIU site seems to have the most reliable statistics, I could not find reliable statistics regarding underage sex slaves.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon

Nevada Barr’s primary protagonist, Anna Pigeon makes a great character. She is a gun-toting National Park Ranger. Pigeon may be short in stature, but big on guts and independence. Her travels have taken her all over the United States. She has been out west, north to Isle Royale, and south to the Natchez Trail. She has explored caverns, fought alligators and braved the Lake Superior winters.

Burn is Barr’s current book, and places Anna Pigeon in harm’s way in New Orleans. The town is slowly recovering from Katrina, but Pigeon finds herself the recipient of a possible curse. Read the book to find out. Anna is in New Orleans to recover from harrowing escapades in Texas and Isle Royale. She is looking for a little relaxation in the Big Easy, but instead she finds a stinky situation underneath the town’s recently applied veneer. Burn will be coming out in paperback May 24th.

Barr currently lives in New Orleans with her husband and assorted cats and dogs. Her resume includes a stint in the National Park Service serving at the places she now writes about. She also has some formal training as an actress, and worked in the business for eight years. Nevada Barr was born and raised in, drum roll, Nevada. Hmmm, imagine. In addition to her writing, Barr also paints. Her artwork is online at Paper Tiger Productions, Art by Paxton, the alter ego of Nevada Barr.

Aspiring Author Tip: An article by Susan Larson in the Times-Picayune, March 26, 2009, quotes Barr, “Every story has already been told. The only thing you can bring to it is whatever is idiosyncratically yours.”

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Alex Kava - Damaged

Alex Kava writes psychological suspense novels.  She published her first book A Perfect Evil in 2000. FBI profiler, Maggie O’Dell hunts down a child serial killer in Platte City, Nebraska. Nick Morrelli, local lawman on the scene assists Maggie in many ways despite local family complications.

Ten years and eight O’Dell novels later, Maggie’s a seasoned veteran. She’s been exposed to biological hazards and majorly twisted serial killers. In the beginning of Damaged, we find Maggie washing off cerebellum spatter from her latest case. No sooner does she get out of the shower, and the FBI sends her to Pensacola, Florida to investigate miscellaneous body parts packaged like deli meat and packed in an ice cooler floating in the ocean.

For good measure Kava adds Homeland Security, FEMA, Coast Guard and military to the government soup to keep the plot interesting. However in a rare literary occurrence the various departments actually play well together. Wounded veterans from Afghanistan in the military hospital suffer from an unknown disease that is proving fatal, and a category 5 hurricane bears down on Pensacola. O’Dell must determine if a serial killer stalks the beach, and if so solve the case before the evidence washes away.

Kava’s next book, Hotwire, is scheduled for release in July 2011. Maggie O’Dell gets called back to Nebraska to investigate the mysterious death of a group of high school students. Meanwhile on the East Coast a deadly mysterious disease infects an elementary school. Could the two incidents be related? Probably.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Romeo the Whooping Crane, Homasassa Springs State Park, FL

Romeo the whooping crane became a bit of a celebrity this year. He was part of the migrating population that comes down from Wisconsin, but he fell for one of the Springs' year round boarders, named Peepers. Whooping Cranes mate for life, but Romeo lost his mate to a bobcat, and Peepers caught his eye.

Lu the Hippo at Homosassa Springs State Park, Florida

Lu the Hippo
Lu short for Lucifer was a Hollywood movie star in the 1960s, and Lu picked Homassasa Springs Florida as a retirement spot. Since State Parks can only have native inhabitants, former Governor Lawton Chiles made Lu an honorary citizen when the State bought the Park in 1991. Generally hippos only live forty or fifty years, but Lu already surpasses that landmark birthday. He was born at the San Diego Zoo, and turned 52 on January, 26, 2011.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bok Tower Gardens

The Book Posse headed to Lake Wales to visit Bok Tower Gardens, a National Historic Landmark. The Posse enjoyed the acres of flowers, tranquility and communing with nature. They also enjoyed the ice cream and the weather. But mostly they enjoyed not hearing the constant hum of traffic.

In the spring the azaleas are starting to bloom along with the magnolias and camellias. The Gardens cover about 50 acres. They were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted from 1924 -1928.

Visitors can thank the vision of Edward William Bok; because of him this piece of land has been preserved and the tower built. It stands 205 feet tall. Construction started in 1927 and was completed in 1929. It weighs about 5,550 tons, and is built of steel, marble and coquina, a type of limestone containing shell and coral fragments.

The tower’s bells play carillon music several times a day. It has sixty bronze bells ranging from sixteen pounds to over eleven tons. It plays a full concert at 1:00 and 3:00 pm as well as tunes on the hour and half-hour. Sit by the reflection pool, listen to the music, and watch a pair of swans frolic in the water.

The tower is located on one of the highest points in Central Florida, around 300 feet above sea level. There is some debate as to whether it is the highest point or the second highest point, but regardless, the vista from the hilltop is one of the grandest in Florida.

The Gardens sit on an ancient sand dune system called Lake Wales Ridge. The ridge itself sits on top of an iron deposit. The sand and soil display a reddish tint from the oxidized iron.

The Window by the Pond exhibit and the Pine Ridge Nature trail offer an opportunity to observe animal life. The Window overlooks a manmade pond, and provides bird watching opportunities. Along the Nature Trail the Posse spotted gopher tortoises, a raccoon and various reptiles. The Gardens are part of the Great Florida Bird Trail.

Edward William Bok (1863-1930) immigrated to the United States from the Netherlands at the age of six. He edited the Ladies Home Journal from 1889-1919. He won a Pulitzer price for his autobiography The Americanization of Edward Bok (1920).

We can thank Edward Bok’s desire to preserve Earth’s beauty making it available to others and for the existence of Bok Tower Gardens. They offer a beautiful place to visit, relax, and step back to a more sedate time.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Books for Valentine's Day

There may have been as many as three men named Valentine martyred by the Romans prior to 300 A.D.  Pope Gelasius recognized them by officially declaring February 14th St. Valentine's Day. It wasn’t until 1381, that Valentine’s Day became associated with the holiday of amour. The grand master of words, Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Parliament of Fowles to mark the engagement of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia.

While there is little evidence the martyred Valentines were overly romantic, a pagan celebration of fertility, Lupercalia, also occurred in mid-February. As time passed the two celebrations became one. In 1969, Pope Paul VI removed St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman Catholic calendar, but this didn’t stop people from celebrating.

Readers may choose to skip the crowds at the restaurants and movie theaters, and spend the evening celebrating with a good book. Here are a few ideas for the romantics and non-romantics.

A couple of romantic classics include Gone with the Wind and Pride and Prejudice. Margaret Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize for her story of love and the Civil War in Gone With the Wind. Scarlett O’Hara wants the man she can’t have and loses the one she needs in Mitchell’s historic tale. Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice explores romantic love and familial duty through the eyes of the five Bennet daughters as their mother negotiates matches and marriages for them.

Try a combination of fantasy, adventure and romance in The Princess Bride by William Goldman. The story features pirates and giants, a kidnapped princess, and a dashing hero. For the adventure lover, there’s plenty of swordplay and battling evil on the high seas, and for the romantic love conquers all.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger combines the paranormal with love. The hero, Henry Detamble travels back and forth through time, meeting his wife, Clare, at different times and ages throughout their lives. More intriguing is Niffenegger’s use of point of view, moving smoothly between the stories of the protagonists and creating a complex story of love and “what if.”

For the historical fiction fan The Outlander Series by Diane Gabaldon feeds the love of history and the romantic at heart. Jamie and Claire Fraser were born two hundred years apart yet found a timeless love in the Scottish Highlands. Gabaldon entwines time travel with authentic historical events and likeable characters into a story that will make the reader laugh and cry at the same time.

Have a happy Valentine’s Day, and enjoy a good book.