Reviewing “Solaris” the novel, not the movie. Author, Stanislaw Lem.

I have something for you. It’s called Fantastic voyage into fantasy.

We have an IBCafe Book Club, (International Books Cafe) that we Zoom into once a month, so we have been reading “Solaris,” the novel by Stanislaw Lem. And what a ride!

Throughout the novel there are technical space and science [fictional] vocabulary to get through, but if you can keep your mind organized you can probably decipher the meanings.

This novel–one might say–is an allusive comparison to a play by Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot,” in that it can be construed in various ways depending on the reader, and depending on the reader’s point of view or outlook on life. Those kinds of books are always exciting because they move one to research some of the theories and the vocabulary and make it deeper than the author may have ever intended.

In general, love is penetrable no matter what space and time one finds oneself, and that is all I will say about this. You must read the novel in order to sense the theme of “…and death shall have no dominion…” (poem by Dylan Thomas.)

After you read it, then see the movie, with George Clooney, Natasha NcElhone, Viola Davis & Jeremy Davies; a great cast.

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A New Beginning, 2021

It is not that it will be so drastically different, to be detached from 2020, for as we know there are more scares to deal with already at the beginning of this year. It is merely that we can try and feel like we are starting afresh with our groups, clubs, debts, or credits, or whatever else we need a fresh start with.

That being said, I will be posting each new book our club–IBCafe Book Club (International Books Cafe Book Club) — will be reading and offering a review of the book read.

We begin this year with a grand blast of thrills in the story of “The Life We Bury” by Allen Eskens. We will be finishing up (I hope) January 24th, 2021 on a Zoom meeting, then beginning our next read after that. Stay tuned! Read reviews on each of our books, follow us here at, and GOOD WILL READING!

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The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

Just finished this book. It was a long and glaring bore for a while, like many cats in a dark room. But one way you can tell a book is good is when it sticks in your mind. I keep thinking about the characters and wondering what they could have done differently to make their lives mean better. I keep thinking what the author should have said or did about such and such, having a conversation as it were with the author in my head.

If anyone wants to know how wealthy and upper middle class college students behave, this is a great book to read. You will also find out how shallow, how sorrowful, and how screwed up they can get being on their own.

With tons of liquor, drugs, sex, and freedom, the old phrase makes sense: give them enough rope and they’ll hang themselves. But as I said, a book is good when you cannot get it out of your head. I feel a certain sympathy for those kids, a certain care for their thoughts and a certain hatred toward their professors who train their minds to believe in ancient literature, but don’t help them with current life.

It is worth a read. It is 523 pages worth of harrowing thought processes from strange young people who delve into murderous behavior, but the consequences are appropriate in the end. Now I know why we have so many screwed up rich people, and so many suicides. Thanks Donna Tartt. By the way, she won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, so read it, it will wake you up a bit.

While we’re at it, let me mention: this is the second book I’ve read of this author. She is astute, amazing, a great writer, which is why I keep coming back to her. I need to read another of her books, she keeps getting accolades for her work, and I see why. The next book, after this one, and “The Goldfinch,” I am going to read: “The Little Friend.” I will let you know how that one goes, I already told you about “The Goldfinch,” loved it.

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Falling in love, and out of love, with a new Author

Sometimes we read an author for the first time and are in awe of the  exuding talent. We read the novel for the first time, and sometimes we’ll read the same book again, simply because we have fallen in love with the author’s work. So you go out and purchase another book by the same author who, by all standards of publisher credentials, is supposed to be the new and quintessential author of our time.

 That is what happened to me with the author, Donna Tartt. Here’s what I said after I had read “The Goldfinch,” the book that made me feel I was in the presence of a great author and potential classic novelist of our time.

I am looking forward to reading her first book, “The Secret History” because not only does she reign in storytelling, but her turn of phrases, her metaphors, and her way of telling it, glistens with a cup full of romanticism; she uses the English language masterfully. You will certainly attain your money’s worth of a read, as many others agree, for she has won the Pulitzer Prize in the year of its publishing, was considered one of the best books of the year by tons of authoritative journals, magazines and on and on.

Okay. So I began reading “The Secret History,” the novel of which attained Pulitzer Prize level commendations. I was beside myself, salivating, as it were, to be able to join the ranks of those who praise and worship the acceptional author. And so I did. I read, and read, up until about the 215th page.

And then it happened. 

I began to realize I was forcing the energy to continue reading. There are 521 pages, probably 200 pages too long. If I have to listen to those lazy-privileged spoiled kids any longer, I will go insane in my mental reading life.

It got so bad for me that I put the book down after every couple of paragraphs, sometimes for a couple pages, depending upon how enduring I was at the moment, and finally I put it down for good. The problem? Too long an effort to characterize the protagonist and his gang of misguided college gangsters.  I probably will get back to it, but it’s the longest read I have ever taken for one book. I’ve read books of many more pages than this one, which is 521.  Believe me, it’s not because I don’t like to spend quality time reading–I love spending days and days reading and wish I could read forever more, doing nothing else.

The first time I experienced this terrible dread of tedious characterization and plot comps is “The Winds of War.” That was 885 pages long! (I don’t read anything other than hard covers, why? Because, I plan to keep every hardcover in my library for future family). I had put that one down as well, but later picked it up again, and with renewed interest found myself enraptured by it.

It so happens the culminating anxiety of  WWII, how it began before it began, and the slow cooking climax, was heartwrenching in that I began to realize how often we try to be courteous at the risk of allowing morally wrong incidences to occur without our acting upon those wrongs. In this case, however, there were many reasons why we did not. I relished in the characters and their trials and tribulations getting through the Nazi regime. I finally finished that novel with great admiration for Herman Wouk and found myself once again in love with an author. I purchased the second of the series, “War and Remembrance.” I am almost afraid to read it, knowing how long it took me to finally read the first of its genre. This one is 1031 pages long! But if the novel is good enough: the longer the better.

 I sometimes wonder if it is something in the author that will not let go of a plot complication because for some neurosis of the author’s own. I lamented over the trouble the protagonist of “The Secret History” went through, not being “one of the others,” that being the most obvious problem he had. But since the protagonist is speaking in hindsight of the finale (that which is normally supposed to surprise everyone in the end) I find myself weary to make the entire trek back and through the history of it all because I already know what they’ve done.

Yet, it is true that we do not know HOW or WHY specifically, or if something occurred that topped the incident off, as we already know WHO it is, and he is somewhat of a flawed, despicable whiner anyway. I had my suspicions as to why they singled him out, but nonetheless, why so many pages of the lamentations of his irritations? I guess I could answer that by what happened to him. Ultimately, the reader has that one quality that makes authors hopeful: curiosity.

In fact, I think I have just talked myself into going back to page 215. I have decided I am curious enough to find out just exactly what finally pulled the tiger’s tail in order for them to act upon the deed. I suppose one might ask oneself: what is it that makes for a group to agree upon  criminal acts? This is reminiscent of Dostoyevski’s “Crime and Punishment,” only not with one person but an entire group of acquaintances/friends (not sure which one really).

And so I go back to the drawing board. I still like “The Goldfinch” better (so far). But PLEASE! I ask you NOT to see the movie “Goldfinch.” The movie is a terrible rendition of the book. The book has deeper meaning, while the movie is just another love story with a tiny hint of the deeper meaning. I hope when I get to the end of “The Secret History” I will once again regain my love of the author, and look forward to her next novel. What has just made me realize something: while I read “The Goldfinch,” I remember too, I tired of it a ways into it, stopped reading and picked it up again, finding my way back into its good work. So, yes, I will pick up “The Secret History” again.

After I finish reading, and while I wait for her next book, I will probably go to “War and Remembrance,” by Herman Wouk. And by the way, I never reviewed another book by a new author. That is for the next post.

I hope I can get back to “The Secret History” and that it will keep me engrossed as “Winds of War” finally did. I will let you know how it goes.

One thing is for sure: reading is such a great activity for the brain. Reading exercises the soul as well; to cause the reader to wonder and to make positive claims for what one believes, or does not believe about the human condition.

Ciao for now.

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Review of John Grisham’s “The Rooster Bar”

John Grisham has a wickedly mischievous mind. If I did not know any better, I’d think this book might be about his own youth. But then again, I do not think he lives in some island and owns some bar.

The Rooster Bar is a pretty fast, and fun read for those of you who are seeking to just have a couple of evenings doing nothing. The story is interesting in that it speaks to a lot of college and education students who are bewildered about the school loan issue. Yes, it bewilders me as well. I wonder why we don’t hold these danged schools accountable if they offer to give you loans and tell you that you will be able to get a job in the field that you take coursework under, and then you don’t, well…. the loans should become zilch.

That is just what these students thought because they not only began a host of criminal behaviors because of the loans but it especially began when they lost a friend over such an event regarding career busts.

Trust me; you will enjoy it. Just don’t take it too seriously.

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“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott

This is not a fictional novel, but it’s a good read.

The book is written by an Author/writer, Anne Lamott, who is depicting a sort of journal/essay, hence a creative non-fiction? Yes. Very much makes one feel like one is traveling with the writer to decipher the moods, the emotions, the many facets of noveling, writing, thinking, comparing notes, and just plain talk about the work and projectile of book making and reading and writing.

I enjoyed this book very much because I felt like Anne Lamott was actually conversing with me intimately about the trials and tribulations of living under such a label as writer and thinker.

If you want to be inspired, reflective, cognitive of what you do when you write, read a writer like Anne Lamott; read this book “Bird by Bird.” The name significes an event, but it is a metaphor for each individual and their journey. It’s good for you, and besides: it’s a quick read, as long as it takes to sit with Anne [virtually], have a cup of java or two, chatting at some cafe. Same thing, she writes like she likes you.

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A working personality


These days it is hard to find people who can be themselves. Why? They are so used to watching “reality” shows, they begin to take on personalities of their favorite reality celebrities. In fact, if you took any person who is addicted to reality shows, away for a year, you can bet they will have no idea who they are, and how to act naturally, without attempting to take on those personalities they are used to watching or any personality that they come in contact with! So, the argument here is: which influences first, society or television?

Long ago, people did not see television or have computers. Sure, there were a lot of seemingly meaningless personas out there: deadpan personalities, little sense of humor, and naive approach, but they were also the actual person’s character; they were less obtrusive, less insulting, less clownish, and less contriving, so it was okay–in other words, it was not pretentious.

People that did have personality were those who chose to go into performance type jobs mimicking other people of those kinds of characteristics, or artistic or sales jobs, or religious leaders. Now, everybody wants to get into the act! Everybody wants to claim they are artistic, creative, personable, and so on, only it is not really them, but their celebrities–and there are too many of those who consider themselves to be celebrity quality, too. Most specimens on television have absolutely no talent, but they are given so much kudos from producers of shows, that they believe themselves to be talented.

It is no wonder the most productive countries are so energized in public, considering themselves to be a country of celebrities, but most of them are heavy on depressants than any other of the “third world countries” in the world. You can argue that it is because third world countries cannot afford the drugs, but go and meet these people and you will find out they are simply and authentically kind and calm, simple, and straightforward, and they are genuinely pleasant and happy being alive, even when they have minimal items of pleasure. What destroys them is the larger countries that NEED, NEED, NEED, and TAKE, TAKE, TAKE from those small, unsuspecting, simple countries.


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Review: “Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

“The panic that overtook me then was hard to explain. Those game days broke up with a swiftness, a sense of losing blood almost, that reminded me of watching the apartment in New York being boxed up and carted away: groundlessness and flux, nothing to hang on to.” (p.303)

While the title presupposes a story about the famous painting by a Dutch painter of the 1600s, it is really a trope that threads throughout the novel, indicating how one who has been traumatized, needs some kind of connection to that life before the trauma. I might add here that I am a fan of theme. For me, this book is significant as an example of classic proportions because it speaks to a formation of the human soul. This is what struck deep inside me.

This is a story about a young fourteen-year-old boy whose life in the backdrop of New York City is routine and phlegmatic. Abruptly his life changes from a protected child into a motherless frightened kid, into finally a drugged out, piteous orphan, after meeting and living for a short period with his father.

His drugged out existence informs us, without ever really saying it, how one can become a sad and lonely human being; all this beginning within a few moments, as his mother is blown away by a bomb in the museum they were visiting for a while before he and his mother keep an appointment with his school principal. Talk about a twist of fate.

This is a true bildungsroman and the reader will find that the main character, as well as all the other characters, will resonate throughout, and long after when the reading is finished. I could not stop thinking about the author, the character, and the many situational ironies, consequences of fate, and so on–all of which made me thankful for the happy moments we all receive here and there before any kind of trauma exists.  For those others who may not be so fortunate, or who may be beleaguered by hard circumstances that force choices one might never have taken had one never experienced sudden tragedy–my heart has been touched forever.

I am looking forward to reading her first book, “The Secret History” because not only does she reign in storytelling, but her turn of phrases, her metaphors, and her way of telling it, glistens with a cup full of romanticism; she uses the English language masterfully. You will certainly attain your money’s worth of a read, as many others agree, for she has won the Pulitzer Prize in the year of its publishing, was considered one of the best books of the year by many authoritative journals, magazines and on and on.

The psychology in the novel, by enlisting a host of diverse characters, demonstrates a child’s loss and how that child who suddenly becomes orphaned may lack love and guidance and the way in which people survive in spite of loss but inherit an anomic character, such as the main character Leo. This is an interesting term, anomie, and is further explained in sociological definitions: 


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The Great Monopoly

Who on earth owns my sites anymore, I don’t know!

I thought it was me but there is now “one place” to find them all, completely unrelated yet all on “Gravatar” in all their unrelated glory.

I have five sites and two WordPress potentials, asking if I’d like to bring them into full exposure. How on earth did they get my commercial/real estate site from “LinkU” marketing company, “” from Blogger, and the other three sites of my bookstore and blog as editor, “International Books,” “,” and “Shakespeare on Demand???”

To boot, I keep getting these surprise posts from Google, “on April 2, we will be bringing down your site.” WHICH ONE? How does Google have WHICHEVER one?

I know it’s me in some way as well. I should have cleaned this up a long time ago. I need my real estate site completely separate from my creative sites, which ought to be my socalnovelist, at the blogger site, and the WordPress bookstore sites (2).

I want to add my bookstore site to my bloger site and create ONE site with pages of IBCafe, Shakespeare on Demand, The Plot Thickens, and Socalnovelist, and as soon as my real estate marketing site finishes hosting me (April) I will do a page on my name’s site on that too.

Cal anyone tell if I’m going BananaBizerk from all these “quiet” corp. shifts?

The “free” doors are closing my friends, and soon you will pay dearly just to have ONE site on the “free” internet. All of these giant corps have become gatekeepers, and we are lost in the shuffle of the game.

Okay, I go now, to prepare for the “battle of monopoly” of my own making, bringing all my sites into one place…I hope.


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Review: Letters from Alaska

Letters From Alaska: A Novel Trilogy

(Book II)

Author, John Shields (2008)

ISBN: 978-1-4357-3093-9

Price: $17.04, Paperback, 349 pages


Author, John Shields’ book is exceptional; he is a highly descriptive writer, in the genre of academic fiction. There is no question as to what his book is about. Shields’ prose is written as precise as a careful surgeon. His structural narrative with the minds and movements of his characters and plot, exhibits the theme clearly, and is well balanced. This book is second in Shields’ trilogy, which illustrates the middle years of the life of the protagonist, Ansley Perkins, as he was the intellectual collegiate, yet inexperienced young man, whose intellectual philosophy in the Postmodern view manifest fully in these college days, displaying his disconcert with the status quo as he views society in the light of the 60s in America: Viet Nam, Civil Rights, and animosity toward our country’s political machine. Shield’s knowledge of the subject is comprehensive.


Book II of Letters From Alaska depicts the collegiate community and Hippie Generation, being described through the eyes and intellect of graduate student, Ansley Perkins, an astute and ingenius young man who himself personifies the time period as it has never been understood before. Events, such as the war in Viet Nam, the Civil Rights Movement, the Hippie experience and the profuse hedonism of the 60s—sex, drugs and rock and roll—all reflecting the age of Postmodernism—are constructed precisely within the mind of the protagonist, who begins his journey in Alaska, at Alaska University, forming the ideas that he believes are a natural reaction to the professions of American patriotism, conformity and convention. It seems Ansley’s vision is to change the world and return man to man’s true place in nature and the universe, by examining traditional America head on. He is constantly challenging his peers, parents, and students with controversial behavior and claims, like outrageous poetry, like crow screetches, sarcasm, cynicism about professors, teachings of societal flaws to students; but also, courageous outbursts, and sincere searching through the newly developing postmodernist ideology.    Ansley de-constructs every traditional idea and rails every chance he gets, against the status quo, to prove mostly to himself that he will not fall into the same patterns as those before him, one of the reasons why he chose Alaska University, teaching in a wilderness setting, yet unspoiled by the larger American society. He is obsessively concerned with man and society’s destination—he is obsessively concerned with his own life and his choices.

“It’s like the Freudian ego,” and I put ‘ego’ on the board beside Freud’s name. ‘Ego is the false self,’ I said; ‘ego is the mere appearance of the true self. It’s what stands there waiting to be adorned by roles and labels; it’s what bounces off society’s reflective screen. How society regards us is how we are to regard ourselves. There is no reality apart from society.’ (61)

Ansley relishes in his new wildlife surroundings, while being given classes to teach, and while working on his master’s degree, amidst the Alaskan wildlife. He is ever entranced and raptured by its natural state and beauty: “Rabbits abound; birds: an exceedingly large and rotund variety of pale gray jay. Mice, I imagine, amongst the mushrooms and fecund leaves; perhaps a shrew or two nosing around. No snakes. No snakes in Alaska.”(11) But he also has those yearnings in him that try to understand where he comes from, who and what his roots are, and why he has to listen to anyone or anything about the things he considers to be his own consequence and direction.


Ansley is the quintessential consciousness of the Postmodern Ideology at work. Throughout the book he analyzes his peers, his professors, his family, his fiancee’s family, and every one of the establishment. The reader explores the spirit within the man of the 60s generation—you can’t get any closer to the 60s than this, from the standpoint of an educated revolutionist in. Though subjective and from the standpoint of a particular type of man, it is a perspective and voice from the 60s generation, nonetheless.  Ansley is anti-establishment, anti-war, and anti-conservative American thought at the boiling point of the post-modernist unrest. His motive seems to be to prove himself capable of living on the fringe of society, while not really believing in it, and not really accepting it, yet using it as he chooses. He wrestles with the need for it, the need to be in it, to work within the confines somehow, without being actually touched by it.


While Ansley still lives within the confines of society—like frequenting established eating houses, drinking and carousing with his friends, and enjoying the vehicles made by the grand machine of conformers, he still scoffs at all that there is, in favor of some  primal return, and we see that Ansley Perkins is not only highly intelligent, but highly young and inexperienced in life, wanting to create in himself a kind of man different than the men he knows through his father, Suzanne’ father, and his sister’s husband, and other sell-outs.


This book, only one of  the trilogy, will give you a deep understanding of one specific subculture of the 60s and its concepts about life and society, as well as one man’s personal growth, personal love, and personal identity.


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