Fifteen All-Time Hits from RALPH
Every day our server lets us know about our "hits,"
those black-and-blue spots on our home page
that tell us who is reading what from
our more than 5,000 reviews, readings,
articles, poems and miscellany online.
What is interesting about this inventory is that
many of these pages from up to twenty years ago
are still being called up repeatedly
by our captious (if not lovable) readership.
Here are the top fifteen culled by them
from our last month's inventory.

An Epic Tragedy
Diana Preston
She was a gorgon of a ship, 785 feet long, with a beam of 85 feet, four boiler rooms, four propellers, designed for 2200 passengers and a crew of 850. The Lusitania could go twenty-five knots, and after it was launched in 1906, it was the fastest passenger vessel afloat, being able to cross the Atlantic in just under five days. She burned 1,000 tons of coal a day, and had four smokestacks, one of which was fake: the more funnels, it was thought, the faster the ship.

She was built by the Cunard Company, who had been transporting people across the Atlantic since 1840. She was underwritten by the English government, a product of the need to compete with France, Germany and the United States for domination of the seas. She was named by a Professor G. G. Ramsay who recalled the "evocative names of such ships as the Umbria, Etruria, Campania, and Lucania." Cunard named the Lusitania after Roman Portugal.

The disaster occurred in 1915, as a result of being hit directly mid-ship by a torpedo fired by a German U-Boat (officially the U-20). The Lusitania sank in eighteen minutes. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew, 1,198 died of injury, drowning or exposure, including 49 children. As the author notes dryly,

    Compared with daily casualty figures at the Front, the Lusitania fatalities were tiny. But world reaction to what had occurred off the Irish coast Friday 7 May 1915 was enormous.

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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
G. Edward White
The old man was a Transcendentalist and a wit --- and a man who lived damn near forever. His son lived damn near forever, too, but he didn't write any funny books unless you consider The Common Law or The Collected Legal Papers as knee-slappers disguised as tomes on jurisprudence.

In truth, as a judge --- and as a man --- Junior was a bit of a prig, which reminds me of Samuel Johnson's famous dialogue on prigs with Mrs. Knowles, as reported in The Life of Johnson.

    Johnson: Mason's a Whig.
    Mrs. Knowles: (not hearing him distinctly): What! a Prig, Sir?
    Worse, Madam; a Whig! But he is both.

Junior was probably a bit of both, too. We think of him as the progressive jurist, but this book tells of some opinions that belie this.

Such as Buck v. Bell, a Virginia law that allowed for the sterilization of residents of state mental facilities (Holmes voted to uphold the law). Or Northern Securities Co. v. United States, which sought to dissolve a oligopolistic, predatory holding company (Holmes voted against the suit).

He also voted to uphold the conviction of Eugene V. Debs who, in a public speech, railed against the WWI draft. Debs was jailed under the Espionage Act of 1917, and O. W. Holmes, Jr., that scamp, found nothing wrong with sticking perorating peaceniks in the pokey.

Late in life, Holmes may have come out in support of other forms of freedom of speech, but, at the same time, he confided to a friend: "I regarded my view as simply upholding the right of a donkey to drool."

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The Best American Essays
of the Century

Joyce Carol Oates
Robert Atwan, Editors

(Houghton Mifflin)
Then there's the matter of "They All Just Went Away," by Joyce Carol Oates. By including it, the editors are saying that it is one of fifty-five best American essays of the century.

The Century.

Incest is best, right?

Actually, the story does have a touch of incest, but it has something more important: the feel of something tossed in the salad-bowl by one who has no trouble stringing 2,000 or 3,000 words together on a hot Wednesday afternoon. "Now what should I write about?" Ms. Oates asks herself. "Remember, this is going to be listed as one of the best essays of the century." How about ...

Yes, that's it! Those peasants who lived down the way from us when we were growing up --- poor white trash named Weidel. There were some brothers in prison, the father beat up on the wife something awful (bit of boxing lore here), they say he did something bad to the daughters (there were rumors) --- and finally, he burned down the house. That's the ticket: noisome neighbors in our almost perfect small town of Millersport, N. Y. contrasted --- good literary trick --- with a normal and happy family.

How to cook it together quickly (we don't have much time: there are those classes at Princeton, a book review due next week for the NYRB and that speech at the MLA). How about some lists --- lists are big now --- like what was left over after the Weidel house burned up?

    Children's clothes, socks and old shoes heaped on the old sweater of Ruth's, angora-fuzzy ... a naked pink plastic doll. Toppled bedsprings, filthy mattresses streaked with yellow and rust-colored stains.

And then ... the aftergrowth on the walls: "trumpet vine, wisteria, rose of Sharon, willow ..." And what did the old man use to go after his wife? "A butcher knife, a claw hammer, the shotgun."

Yes, lists are good, and good for filling up space, but there has to be philosophy somewhere here, brain-juice. How about ... let's ask ourselves, what is a house anyway? How about

    a structural arrangement of space, geometrically laid out to provide what are called rooms, these divided from one another by verticals and horizontals called walls, ceilings floors.

27 more words (and I like that bit, not rooms, but "what are called rooms.") True, this might not make it in the philosophy department: it's just another list in disguise. So how about ... how about something on ... ah ... reality? How about

    For to be a realist (in art or in life) is to acknowledge . . .

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Cynthia Berger
Research by psychologist Norman Li has revealed that besides full lips and soft skin, the one element that makes children and other animals attractive to the rest of humanity is the relative size of their eyes. Thus marsupials (or babies) with squinty eyes are less endearing than, say a Burmese cat or a Cocker Spaniel (or Paris Hilton).

By this logic, owls should be the most lovable of them all, but after reading Cynthia Berger's catalogue of their eating and living habits, I think you'd be better off with a lemur or a platypus.

Take your typical strigiformes diet. Gopher stew. Voles on toast. Lemming squash. Nuthatch fricassee. Duckling soup. Moth paste. Cats flambé. And, yuck, the common dung beetle.

According to Ms. Berger, the Burrowing Owl goes about the prairie picking up "cowpies, horse manure, dog dirt, whatever" and "arranges the smelly treasures around the entrances to their burrows." They also line the inner walls of their little cellars with this crap.

Some nosy scientists thought they were dragging this foul mess home to fool their predators, who would leave off digging in and stealing their eggs because it all was so revolting. Not so. The Burrowing Owl has a vast appetite for dung beetles. Dung beetles go to, well, where the shit is. It's a drive-in restaurant for the owls, except instead of going through the golden arches to get a hamburger, the hamburger crawls up to your front door. In case you have a fondness for crunching beetles, this is an ideal arrangement.

Owls also are addicted to eating rats and mice. And they don't just tear them apart: When the Barn Owl catches a mouse, it "just swallows it head-first ... no dainty small bites."

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Freud's Mexico
Into the Wilds of Psychoanalysis
Rubén Gallo
(MIT Press)
Gallo's attempt to psychoanalyze the master psychoanalyzer may give one the feeling of overkill.

The main complaint we have has to do with the groaner that is attached as the last sentence to Chapter Five,

    What we do know is that the two boys played an elaborate homage to Spain, Cervantes, and the two canine protagonists of the "Colloquy," and therefore whatever they did, whether in fantasy or in reality, they did in Spanish, doggie style.

This is a gorgeously produced book, exquisitely and subtly designed. It is so easy now for those of us in the 21st century to ridicule such concepts as the Oedipus Complex, penis-envy, and the picturing of the unconscious as such a black hole. We forget, at our peril, that Freud was as important, as Gallo points out, as Marx in creating a structure with which to overturn the stifling, complacent world of Victorian Europe.

His mastery was in his style. Norman Mailer said that Das Kapital and The Interpretation of Dreams were two of the best novels of 19th Century Europe. The Interpretation of Dreams is, indeed, a dream of a book; even now, it takes the crucial internal drama of our nighttime lives, offers a mirror so we can see clearly what all of us often use to protect ourselves from the gods within.

As I was reading this, it occurred to me that Freud's Mexico is not so much concerned with Mexico but with a state of mind, one man's brilliant vision of the self that is all of us. Combined with Freud's tremendous writing ability, it allows us access to the singular truths that drive our hearts, our souls ... and our spirit.

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Mother Tongue
English & How It Got That Way
Bill Bryson
All of this is by way of coming around to the somewhat paradoxical observation that we speak with remarkable laxness and imprecision and yet manage to express ourselves with wondrous subtlety --- and simply breathtaking speed. In normal conversation we speak at a rate of about 300 syllables a minute. To do this we force air up through the larynx --- or supralaryngeal vocal tract, to be technical about it --- and, by variously pursing our lips and flapping our tongue around in our mouth rather in the manner of a freshly landed fish, we shape each passing puff of air into a series of loosely differentiated plosives, fricatives, gutturals, and other minor atmospheric disturbances. These emerge as a more or less continuous blur of sound. People don't talk like this, theytalklikethis. Syllables, words, sentences run together like a watercolor left in the rain. To understand what anyone is saying to us we must separate these noises into words and the words into sentences so that we might in our turn issue a stream of mixed sounds in response. If what we say is suitably apt and amusing, the listener will show his delight by emitting a series of uncontrolled high-pitched noises, accompanied by sharp intakes of breath of the sort normally associated with a seizure or heart failure. And by these means we converse. Talking, when you think about it, is a very strange business indeed.

And yet we achieve the process effortlessly. We absorb and interpret spoken sounds more or less instantaneously. If I say to "Which do you like better, peas or carrots?" it will take you on average less than a fifth of a second --- the length of an eye blink --- to interpret the question, consider the relative merits of the two vegetables, and formulate a reply. We repeat this process hundreds of times a day, generally with such speed that often we have our answer ready before the person has even finished the question. As listeners we can distinguish between the most subtle gradations of emphasis. Most people, if they are reasonably attentive, can clearly detect the difference between that's tough and that stuff, between I love you and isle of view, and between gray day and Grade A even though the phonics could hardly be more similar.

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The Hindoo Fly
J. R. Ackerley
I swatted a persistent fly this morning and it fell with a broken wing, and some internal rupture no doubt, and lay on the ground on its back, desperately moving its little black legs. I gazed down at it with something of an Indian conscience, or at any rate with that fearful fellow-feeling with which we are likely to regard even our worst enemy at the approach of the common foe.

Nearby, a colony of ants had its home, and there was a great coming and going round the entrance, where the colonists were taking in stores of the crumbs that had fallen from my table. Running hither and thither in their spasmodic spurting way, sometimes quite erratically it seemed, as though they relied upon some other sense than sight, they hurried off with their burdens into their mysterious underworld, the entrance to which was a narrow cleft between the flagstones of my verandah pavement, or emerged, often as many as a dozen at a time, suddenly, like a puff of dark smoke, or as though shot up in a lift.

The fall of the wounded fly, almost into their midst, with a pretty deafening thud one wouId have thought, did not seem to discompose them in the least, and one or two of them, unburdened, passed and repassed quite close to it on their indefatigable journeyings without appearing even to notice it, though above their own small noises, scuffle and patter of ant feet, shrill of ant voices, it must surely have been kicking up the most infernal rumpus.

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Eleanor Lerman
This is what life does. It lets you walk up to
the store to buy breakfast and the paper, on a
stiff knee. It lets you choose the way you have
your eggs, your coffee. Then it sits a fisherman
down beside you at the counter who says, Last night,
the channel was full of starfish.
And you wonder,
is this a message, finally, or just another day?

Life lets you take the dog for a walk down to the
pond, where whole generations of biological
processes are boiling beneath the mud. Reeds
speak to you of the natural world: they whisper,
they sing. And herons pass by. Are you old
enough to appreciate the moment? Too old?

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Let Us Now Praise
Famous Men

<James Agee
Walker Evans

(Houghton Mifflin/Mariner)
In addition to what some might call the excesses of description --- the exact shape and feel and color and texture of a pair of overalls take the better part of a page --- we have precise word-pictures of three families, their children, their houses, the rooms, the furniture, the walls, the chicken coops, the land, the land under the houses, the roofs of the houses, the feel of the sun, the heat in the kitchen, the dying trees, the dust, the withering crops.

In the hands of a lesser writer, these could be dumb beyond belief; in the hands of this poet --- for he is a poet, and a musician --- they often take surprising turns that pull one in. To those of us who have lived in or at least visited this part of the world, the prose brings back a flood of sensual memories. Here is the single dresser in the Gudger's shack:

    The bureau was at some time a definitely middle-class piece of furniture. It is quite wide and very heavy, veneered in gloomy red rich-grained woods, with intricately pierced metal plaques at the handles of the three drawers, and the mirror is at least three feet tall and is framed in machine-carved wood.

So far, so good --- we know that bureau, and we have seen the likes of it. Now Agee will personalize it:

    The veneer has now split and leafed loose in many places from the yellow soft-wood base; the handles of the three drawers are nearly all deranged and two are gone; the drawers do not pull in and out at all easily.

Not only has he given our bureau age and substance --- he has plopped in a word that almost sounds out-of-place (drawers that are "deranged") but which, as we continue, turns perfect, the necessary connotations of crazy, undisciplined, askew:

    The mirror is so far corrupted that it is rashed with gray, iridescent in parts, and in all its reflections a deeply sad thin zinc-to-platinum, giving to its framings an almost incalculably ancient, sweet, frail, and piteous beauty, such as may be seen in tintypes of family groups among studio furnishings or heard in nearly exhausted jazz records made by very young, insane, devout men who were to destroy themselves, in New Orleans, in the early nineteen twenties.

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Ku Klux
Langston Hughes
They took me out
To some lonesome place.
They said, "Do you believe
In the great white race?"

I said, "Mister,
To tell you the truth,
I'd believe in anything
If you'd just turn me loose."

The white man said, "Boy,
Can it be
You're a-standin' there
A-sassin' me?"

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A Unicyclist's Guide to America
Mark Schimmoeller
(Chelsea Green)
Who is this Schimmoeller anyway? He graduated from college and got an editing job at The Nation and then he drifted back to his family's place in Kentucky and sooner or later met Jennifer and they built a place in the woods off the grid: water from well, solar stove, cabin built from a near-by timberland. One of the most charming passages is Mark leading a would-be assessor (they're trying to get help from the Nature Preserves Commission) up to and through his house:

    The ground directly ahead slopes almost immediately downhill past plum and redbud and gets swallowed again by woods. To the right, a mowed path leading to the garden goes past highbush blueberries in raised beds and next year's firewood, cut, split, stacked, and covered with tin. To the left, on the east, is our cedar board-and-batten house. Steppingstones lead him to the back door, which is made out of cedar as well --- in the same board-and-batten as the house --- with a clear window. The lever handle is inset in a bit, due to the fact that this door we built last winter turned out to be thicker than standard.

Once inside, everything described minutely, and the smell of cedar everywhere cinches it. Someday, I swear I'm going to go to Kentucky and see this house on my own. If I can ever find it --- even though Slowspoke convinces me that Mark Schimmoellar is so retiring that when I approach the house he'll probably be hiding in the root-cellar. I'd probably have to put out an APB with the Kentucky State police just to find him.

This is not only the tale of a man on a unicycle, one who has turned his back on freeways and power plants and supermarkets and television. More, it's a man who has honed a fine edge to what he has learned: what works, what doesn't work, what you need, what you don't need in life; details that end up making Slowspoke a classic.

We have here a man who can write so endearingly about carrots down in his root-cellar that you want some right now: "In this dish of January carrots there's a portion of that sweetness that the first fall frost gives the carrots; yet the sweetness is complex enough to suggest the possibility of bitterness, and an image of the feathery green tops comes to mind, how touching them can coat your hand with their sharp smell. Oregano tweaks the carrots' complex sweetness to release in the mouth the feel of a humid summer day."

    But in my mind the taste also includes the transition from summer to winter, the change in temperature --- not the quick change from day to night, or from month to month, but the change that happens in the earth, in the cellar where they are stored, where it appears that nothing is happening. Yet in the winter the cellar feels like fall; in the summer, like spring.

It's a little like going from North Carolina to New Mexico. On a unicycle.


Because it's just something that you just have to do, all the while knowing that it cannot be pushed, rushed or --- even --- avoided.

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The Eden Express
A Memoir of Insanity
Mark Vonnegut
(Seven Stories)
When Mark Vonnegut graduated from Swarthmore College in 1969, he was at his wit's end. What to do? He certainly didn't want to be a part of the American Way --- either on the murdering fields of Vietnam or in the board rooms of corporate America.

So what he did was to pack up his despair in his old kit bag and took it and his girlfriend Virginia off to the Canadian woods to a farm located just up from Vancouver, British Columbia. (Their VW was named "Car Car" because in those days, we gave dopey nicknames to everything --- people and dogs and cars alike.)

There, he and his hairy friends with their peace love and harmony (and tie-dye clothes and long hair and dope) settled in to become at one with nature and leave all this Nixon-war-capitalism-repression business behind.

Only Vonnegut --- yes, son of you-know-who --- forgot one thing. He forgot the mot inscribed in one of the great travel books of those years: namely, "Where ever you go, there you are." For he had in his brain the seeds of self-destruct, schizophrenia --- which came into full bloom on the farm, for farm (which they called "Farm") was off in the boonies, with little more than shacks, trees, dope, total isolation, and lots and lots (and lots) of rain and gloom (nine months of the year, they don't tell you about the black skies of Vancouver Island in the travel brochures).

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The Klondike Quest
A Photographic Essay: 1897 - 1899
Pierre Berton
(Boston Mills Press)

As we noted in our review of Avalanche, one historian called the Klondike March "one of the weirdest and most useless mass movements in history." Lemmings, weighed down with foodstuffs, bedding, clothing, and, of course, pans for the gold. As a true story of real men looking for a phantom, it's a tale that can't be beat. Boston Mills Press has included here more than 200 photographs, some of them breathtaking, some funny, some wistful, some horrifying ... and some downright sad: The faces at the bar in the Monte Carlo Saloon [see full review] do not look to be happy campers.

It was the end of many dreams. Friends of many years went unflaggingly over the "Golden Steps;" camped on the edge of Lake Bennett with its swarms of black flies, fleas, and mosquitoes; finally made it up river (and up the rapids) to Dawson.

It was then that the madness took them over. A madness that made them split with lifetime friends, relatives, fellow-travelers. In some cases, they cut the supplies in half, split sleighs down the middle, tore bags of flour in half, and, in one case, cut a frying-pan into two equal but useless pieces.

"100,000 left for the Klondike," they say, "40,000 made it to Dawson City, and 4,000 found gold." And, probably, 40 came away rich. If that many.

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The American

Marion Elizabeth Rodgers
(Oxford University Press)
Those of us who had the misfortune to be conceived during the Great Depression had to live through an even worse depression known as "The Eisenhower Years." Students who were in school or university were saddled with poltroons who believed, somehow, that they should murder free speech and thus save the country: John Foster Dulles, Alan Dulles, Rep. Francis Walter, Senators Joseph McCarthy and Pat McCarran, J. Edgar Hoover. They used the menace of "Reds" to wreck the Bill of Rights.

In high school we were forced to hide under our desks during mock atom bomb attacks. In college, we were wary of writing or even thinking outside the box: speaking one's mind on politics was tantamount to being disloyal to the Land of the Brave. After school, many of us hid in alcohol or seventy-hour work weeks.

But at the same time a few of us were discovering thinking that began to show us a way out of such puerility: Paul Goodman, Richard Hofstader, Richard Wright, Allen Ginsberg, Alan Watts, James Baldwin, and, most of all, the astute, literate observer of the "booboisie." In those uneasy times, Mencken's writings were treasures, delivering us from the humbugs who spouted their virulence in the pulpits and the halls of Congress.

  • When the president of Rutgers University blamed a wave of student suicides on "too much Mencken," Mencken's proposal that there be a wave of suicide among college presidents was greeted "with a roar of student approval."
  • On being asked his opinion of the candidate of the Progressive Party, Henry L. Mencken said "Everybody named Henry should be put to death ... If somebody will do it for Henry Wallace, I promise to commit suicide."
  • On American culture: "It is obvious that the man of vigorous mind and stout convictions is gradually shouldered out of public life ... This leaves the field to the intellectual jellyfish and inner tubes."

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The Collywobbles
About eighteen months ago, my stomach went out on strike. And it wasn't panty-waist stuff ... I mean, it was.

It was those complaints you hear about endlessly in the ads: "bloating, heartburn, gastrointestinal distress." I was suddenly beset with a stomach that had a mind of its own, a former good citizen that had taken care of business and kept things running smoothly, with élan, for the past seventy years.

Before the decline and fall of my breadbasket, anything could go into the maw. Whole beeves, heaping dishes of spicy frijoles, rich cheesy plates of this and that, chilies stuffed with ground round, bacon cheeseburger supremes, frosty cake with creamy butternut sauce.

Now, because of my new intestinal war, I was forced to sip a glass of mineral water, eat a small plate of rice, nibble on a cracker ... and then find myself fit to be tied. Everything I et ends up in a swirl of ache running from back to belly. I sometimes find myself wishing that I had just died and gone to heaven.

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New Directions Anthology of
Classical Chinese Poetry

<Eliot Weinberger, Editor
(New Directions)
To most of us English majors from so many years ago, the poet Ezra Pound made no sense whatsoever. We tried to figure out whatever appeared in our anthologies. We often wondered if our professors could help: they usually couldn't. We worked valiantly to understand the complex turns and twists of his words, especially in the very obscure later Cantos. For most of us, he was --- should we say? --- too pure. Especially for those of us who favored T. S. Eliot, e. e. cummings, Stephen Spender, D. H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas (or even Edward Thomas).

Pound was the poet's poet but to us he came from another planet. Not the least of his bizarre activities was his broadcasting over Italian short-wave during WWII long eulogies for the Mussolini government. Many of us had gone into English Literature because of hope and beauty and the flowers and the sun flooding the wheatfields and the night sky flooding us with the Eternal. Here we were being civilized, studying to be the New Romantics and all the while the thought of one of the preëminent poets of English Literature of the 20th century making apologies for the first fascist regime in Europe struck us as weird indeed. We could be in love with the drunken Dylan Thomas throwing up during his readings and then going out trying to dandy young ladies who attended his parties, but speeches In Praise of Benito Mussolini? No.

Be that as it may, Donald Halls' anthology Contemporary American Poetry from fifty years ago carried several poems by Pound, and one that touched us was a translation from the 8th Century Chinese poet, Li Po. Not only could we understand it, we could be moved by it. Pound called it "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter." For many of us, it gave us a push to find out more about the verse coming from the Mysterious East.

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Metaphysical Odyssey into
The Mexican Revolution

Francisco I. Madero and his
Secret Book,
Spiritist Manual

Catherine Mansell Mayo
(Dancing Chiva Literary Arts)
Mayo's book gives us a peek into the somewhat unusual faith of Francisco Ignacio Madero. He was a believer in spiritualism, and was familiar with many of the important figures of the 20th Century's transcendent world: Allen Kardec, the Fox sisters of New York, C. W. Leadbeater and Helena Petrovna Blavatsky.

Madero had told his fellow religionists that he believed in the concept of "involution" --- the soul's unending progress, made possible by one's own attempts to do good, to help others not only in this lifetime but in the many lifetimes to come.

Madero was thus a firm believer in reincarnation, possibly due to his readings of, and his faith in, the Bhagavad Gita. The Gita is the Hindu equivalent to our Pilgrim's Progress . . . but a helluva lot more action-packed, poetic, and profound. And long. (It runs 700 verses).

Despite being a narrative of a war between two families, it preached of our sacred duties to humanity and --- ultimately --- how we can find inner peace and possible liberation from the devils of our fraught, mad-making, soul-consuming day-to-day, what we know of as "life." Mohandas Gandhi referred to the Gita as "my spiritual dictionary."

§   §   §

Francisco Madero not only knew and revered the Gita, he was a student and practitioner of what was then called "spiritism." This included belief in the healing power of hands, psychic surgery, astral projection, and an all-enfolding divinity. To quote Madero, he was able to see the godhead each night by just looking up at "the material of the cosmos, the nebulæ and the innumerable suns and planets [which] constitute a living body, the part of God that is material and visible."

    Thus, the Milky Way is like an artery through which circulates the life which has given birth to a great part of the Universe and constantly renews it.

Madero believed that we are able, if we wish, to communicate with the many invisible beings around us. He told friends that La sucesión presidencial en 1910 was dictated by a spirit named "José." At the time he was writing --- or listening to dictation --- of this volume, he was also picking up on the words of yet another book, the Spiritist Manual. It has been translated here by C. M. Mayo, and makes up the last 100 pages of this volume.

The putative author was "Bhima" --- a character from the Bhagavad Gita --- but, as everyone knew, the scribe was Madero, acting as secretary to José.

It's a fascinating document. Suspend your disbelief, dear reader, and spend a few moments with the Spiritist Manual . . .

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My Year of Hypnosis, Hormones,
Dark Chocolate, and Other Adventures in
The World of Anti-Aging

Lauren Kessler
Kessler has written a peppy book on the billion dollar industry of Americans keeping young (and peppy) and sexy long after they should have been sent off to Geezerville or laid in the grave. What is original here over the thousand or so other titles on Staying Young is that Kessler elected to use her own body as the litmus.

Kessler is around sixty years old --- she refuses to tell us exactly --- and during the year of her study, she puts herself through a variety of special diets (including "superfoods), tried a variety of supplements, contemplated medical procedures, used a selection of "exotics," almost made it through the "complete raw food diet," did "detox." And, best of all, at least for the readers, she consulted dozens of "experts."

In the anti-geezer biz, there are two main types: the pushers who come to Las Vegas or Orlando and infest late-night television for the chance to sell us something. But attendees also include some of the best scientific geeks, solidly educated professionals who have real scientific studies to inform and enlighten. The key site for this sometimes comic dialectic is the semi-annual conference of the International Congress on Anti-Aging Medicine and Regenerative Biomedical Technologies. (The umbrella organization is known as A4M --- the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine.)

Counterclockwise details the many options available to those of us who want to be young, lovely, sexy, and buxom again. We find that this pursuit of youth can at times be ridiculously silly, sometimes dangerous, often costly ... and certainly unnerving.

Take, for instance, the options available in going under the knife. Turning back the clock can involve "elective surgery, needles, cannulas, drains, silicone bags, autologous fat transfers, compression garments, scars, keloids, and the unhappy knowledge that you let vanity win a battle that can never be won."

The biggie is called "full body lift."

    This is the mother of all plastic surgeries, up to nine hours in the operating room with four or five surgeons, more than a dozen incisions, and, depending on whether it's performed at a doctor's surgical facility or in a hospital, an $18,000 to $40,000 price tag.

"The procedure removed extra skin and fat from the belly, hips, butt, back, arms, and outer and inner thighs ... [The doctor's] banter was unnervingly lighthearted as they recounted the one square yard of skin they have removed from a recent patient and the 10 feet of sutures that were necessary to sew the lady back together again."

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