Tales of the Asylum

The ruins of Severalls Hospital

One day in the early 1960’s I came home to find that while I was in school my grandmother had been whisked away in an ambulance and taken to a mental hospital. The news followed several unsettling days, days of half heard whispered adult conversations, days when my grandmother kept to her room and my mother placed her meals on a tray outside the door. I learned a phrase I only half understood, paranoid delusions, but somehow I knew it meant my grandmother had gone mad. 

It all started one evening when our neighbor came to the door. I was doing homework in the kitchen and overheard the conversation. She explained that she waited until my Continue reading “Tales of the Asylum”

On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders

Witchfinders – no, not characters in our contemporary political drama. But it could be that hearing cries of “Witch Hunt” almost every day for two years was what led me to this particular book on my shelf.  Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill is a mesmerizing account of a seventeenth century English witch hunt, one of the most vicious on record, led by two Essex gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. Hopkins earned the title Witchfinder General and became something of a folk hero in the villages and towns of East Anglia. Through torture and intimidation he extracted confessions and false witness accounts from terrified people, mostly women, arresting a total of 250 presumed witches. Over a hundred were publicly hanged.  Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders”

On My Bookshelf – The Marxist Brontes?

Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontes by Terry Eagleton, published in 1975. Quite what this book is doing on my bookshelf I have no idea. I must have acquired it long, long ago judging by the antique fashion in literary criticism it represents. Back in the 1960’s when I was educated at an English university the term “dialectical materialism” was tossed around with abandon by anyone wishing to seem a true intellectual. Marx was dragged into analysis of just about anything. But the Brontes? Surely not. The wild romantic moors of Yorkshire seem a world away from theories of an oppressed proletariat and dominant bourgeoisie locked in class struggle. Or are they? I don’t remember reading the book in the past but I decided to dig in and see if Marx can really shed light on the Bronte novels. Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Marxist Brontes?”

My Favorite Books of 2018

Of the fifty odd books I read this year I’ve picked a handful of favorites, all but one published this year. My two fiction choices are both beautifully written stories of wartime, one set on the Eastern front in World War I and one in London during and after World War II. I was stunned that neither of them made the New York Times or Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year list. My nonfiction choices are both histories, not surprisingly as I read a lot of history. What these have in common is that I knew absolutely nothing about the subjects beforehand and they were both revelatory. Next my favorite guilty pleasure of the year and my favorite older book discovery. Continue reading “My Favorite Books of 2018”

On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day

The Execution of Guy Fawkes by Nicholas Visscher

One of the oddest questions I’ve been asked since moving to the U.S. is “Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in England?” Yes, this was a real question. I resisted the temptation to answer “Yes, we celebrate that the Puritans left and took their repressive ban on dancing and merriment with them!” More tactfully I said “No, but we have our own November holiday, Guy Fawkes Day.” That met with blank stares. So I explained that Guy Fawkes was a guy who plotted to blow up King James and the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He was part of a Catholic plot to restore the true faith in Protestant England. “You mean you have a day to celebrate a domestic terrorist?”  “No, no” I hastily corrected. “We burn him Continue reading “On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day”

Resistance in World War II

Paris, deutsche Wachtparade
German troops on the Champs Elysees in Paris 1940

My latest blog for my former professional home, Montgomery County Public Libraries, is a companion piece to my post on Churchill’s V sign. I introduce a selection of books on World War II resistance in Europe and reveal my favorite fiction and nonfiction books of the year so far, which just happen to be on the same theme. Also, the next book up on my nightstand, by one of my favorite authors:  Resistance in World War II

On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto

Slant Manifesto

Subtitled Catholics and the Left this worn little paperback sits on my bookshelf like a relic of another age. It was a time when English Catholics looked to Marxist thought to inspire a full expression of their faith. Released in 1966 by the Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward, Slant Manifesto is a compilation of writings by the founders of Slant. Slant was a journal published from 1964 to 1970 by a group of Catholic Cambridge undergraduates and Dominican priests, many of whom went on to become leading intellectuals and theologians. In the introduction to the Manifesto Neil Middleton explains that the group “is engaged in the exploration of the idea that Christian commitment at the moment carries with it the obligation to be socialist.” A sample of the chapter headings is a rough Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto”

On My Bookshelf – The Cailleach of Sligo

The Cailleach of Sligo

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I pulled from my shelf this book of Stories and Myths from the North West of Ireland by Michael B. Roberts. Last summer I bought it at the Liber Bookshop in Sligo just a few days after we had the privilege of touring ancient sites in the area with the author. Roberts is an anthropologist and storyteller who has dedicated his life to preserving and renewing the myths of his people for future generations. We could Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Cailleach of Sligo”