Ways of Escape: Books in Prison

Reading Journey Into The Whirlwind, Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg's classic account of her years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, I read of her boundless gratitude for books and reading, when they were available to her.  I thought of my best thank-you note ever, which I received from an inmate at the Leon County Detention Center when I ran the bookmobile program.  1084 pages, he says!  I am pretty sure that I had brought him Atlas Shrugged.

In the same vein, there was this story on prison libraries today on NPR's Weekend Edition-


A new sub-genre: Nazi Noir

I was in the middle of David Downing's final novel in his John Russell series set in WWII Berlin, Potsdam Station, when I read Bill Ott's excellent round-up of World War II crime fiction, A Hard-Boiled Gazetteer to World War II, in the May 1st issue of Booklist.

I made a display a couple of years ago, noticing the trend, not limited to WWII.  I called it "Murder in Wartime", and I included recent crime fiction set in wars going back to the American Civil War.

There weren't many surprises for me on Ott's list.  I had at least sampled most of them.  Alan Furst deserves the credit for opening the vein of Nazi Noir with Night Soldiers, (1988).  Philip Kerr followed soon after with March Violets, (1989).

Not mentioned by Ott is Rebecca Pawel's Sgt. Tejada series set in post-civil war Spain, beginning with Death of a Nationalist, and also Winter in Madrid by C. J. Sansom.


Virus Panic Shutdown!

This was the scene Friday afternoon, after a rapidly propagating "fake virus alert" program called "MS Scanner" prompted the county's computer techs to take down all public -access PC's at the main library:  Internet workstations and catalog computers alike.

These viruses have become more formidable over the last year or so.  Disk protection software that wipes all changes on reboot is no longer sufficient. The new viruses log a PC's IP address, and continue to send pop-up windows to "warn" the next user about non-existent infections.  Any interaction with the pop-up window, even clicking on a "do not install" button or closing the window will enable the program to install.  We've had a lot of trouble with programs called something like "XP Antivirus".  And many of our public-access users are so innocent, believing that these messages are real.

"MS Scanner" is a new one.  According to the techs, it can find the IP addresses for other PC's on the same network once it gets a foothold on the first one.  Only the wired, fixed workstations were affected.  The library's WiFi service was not affected, so patrons with laptops and users of our library netbooks were fine.


Meet the New Optimists - Newsweek

 Meet the New Optimists - Newsweek

How about some good news?  I couldn't resist posting this.  Isn't that a beautiful photo?
As the United States struggles through its worst economic crisis in generations, gloom has seized much of the heartland. The optimism that came so easily to many Americans as the new century dawned is significantly harder to summon these days. There is, however, a conspicuous exception: African-Americans, long accustomed to frustration in their pursuit of opportunity and respect, are amazingly upbeat, consistently astounding pollsters with their hopefulness. Earlier this year, when a Washington Post–Kaiser–-Harvard poll asked respondents whether they expected their children’s standard of living to be better or worse than their own, 60 percent of blacks chose “better,” compared with only 36 percent of whites...
Certainly, the Obama presidency has fueled euphoria in black circles. But even before Obama came on the scene, optimism was building—most notably among a new generation of black achievers who refused to believe they would be stymied by the bigotry that bedeviled their parents. Obama’s election was, in effect, the final revelation—the long-awaited sign that a new American age had arrived. “It blows away the nationalist argument that the system is white and racist and won’t ever change,” scholar Manning Marable told me shortly before his death.
I see this every day at the main library downtown, where many of these young "black achievers" do all their coursework on our public-access computers, and increasing numbers of them are coming in with new laptops to use our free WiFi. 


The Professor's Picks

I've written about The Professor before, how I was relieved when he returned to the library after an absence.  Since the retirement of DL last month, I've been helping with book requests, and I came upon several from him.  As usual, they were for books about the Holocaust.  He has his own library card now.  I was curious to see what kind of presence he had online.  Was he a published author?

What I found right away were his postings on Amazon: a profile, Amazon reviews, and a book list.  Of himself he says:
I am not a "typical American", loathe football, violence, SUVs, big-screen TVs, and Christian religious fanatics, especially creationists. I consider myself a secular humanist, and I believe in the Enlightenment values of reason, human rights and universal equality. I love Paris above all cities, for its culture of enlightened hedonism. I love the sea, strong European coffee, and hotels with great room service.  I love to read challenging fiction and literary criticism, (Eric Auerbach's "Mimesis" is one of my favorite books.)  I also love film especially French, and books about film, as well as modern history and psychology. I used to teach writing, and now write myself.
He reminds me of my French history professor, Paul Halpern, who believed that the best of all worlds would be to have lived in Vienna or Paris at the end of the 19th century, (presumably as a professor).

In 2009 he posted a "literature lover's" list of "The Best:  Books You Will Come Back To":
This is my list of favorite books which are so rich I return to them again and again. They are that "cut above" ordinary literature, either because of exquisite writing or deep ideas or both. Some are well-known, some hard to find but worth it. Take a chance and challenge yourself! You'll be glad you did.
It's a good list, and an original one.  I noticed Grossman's Life and Fate, about which he says:
The epic Russian novel of the 20th century, following the fortunes of one family through revolution, civil war, brutal purges, disillusionment, and the monumental struggle of war with Germany. Lyrical, realistic, clear-sighted but never cynical, Grossman never loses his moral compass or his humanity. An amazing book.
I knew the book, and I decided to read it on the strength of his recommendation.  What an interesting list, the fruit of one man's reading life.  Check it out.


Home Alone

Almost midnight and R. is still at the capitol.  And now she's just called to say she's on her way home.

I couldn't have asked for better company this week than the memoirs, diaries and essays of playwright and actor Alan Bennett, in Writing Home and Untold Stories.  Someone donated Writing Home, and finishing it I found we had Untold Stories in the collection.  I have spent the long evening hours alone this week reading them.

I didn't think that I had heard of him, though I realized as I read that I had seen a couple of things by him, The Madness of King George and An Englishman Abroad.  And he had played Sillery in the television production of A Dance to the Music of Time, which I have on DVD.

I can't entirely connect with his stories of the theater and of the worlds of art and music.  To read his appreciations of this or that performance or exhibit only makes me aware of how little experience I have of those things.

In late middle age, as he deals with the deaths of his parents and of his mother's sisters, he reflects on his family and his childhood in Leeds, and it is these pieces that I most enjoy.  There is something about stories by writers who have "escaped" from gritty working-class worlds in the north of England that attracts me.  The Nottingham of Alan Sillitoe and John Harvey.  Bennett's account of his uncle Clarence, who died in the First World War, is especially fine.


Last Week of Legislative Session!

The end of the most grueling and trying session of the Florida Legislature that my wife can remember for 20+ years is upon us.  If all goes well, Friday will be the last day.  I ate supper alone all last week, and probably will this week too.  Unbelievably, R. didn't have to go in this weekend, so we got to be together.  She bought groceries on Saturday, and took a nap in the afternoon.  We went out to Ted's Montana Grill, luckily going early, before parties arrived from FSU and FAMU graduation ceremonies.  On Sunday I did laundry and took Claudius the cat out, while R. prepared a casserole for the coming week.  R. took another nap.  For supper I grilled the steaks she had bought, while she made mashed potatoes and a salad.  We walked around the block.  I took the garbage bin to the curb, and we cleaned up the kitchen.

EWTN was rebroadcasting the beatification of Pope John Paul II at 8 p.m., so we settled in to watch it.  I was baptised as an adult into the Episcopal Church in 1980, and I might have been content there, had not John Paul II summoned me in a dream in 1985.  He handed me a book, while looking at me doubtfully, as though I would be unable to profit from his gift.  In 1989 I was received into the Catholic Church.  Some years later, I again dreamed of him.  I looked on with the Virgin Mary as he seemed to be wracked with suffering, in great distress.  In waking life I found John Paul II intimidating, too demanding, in the way an Anglican might with a fanatical Pole or Spaniard.  But when he died in 2005, we were in awe.  Clearly, he would be John Paul the Great.