The Return by Joseph Conrad

The ReturnHaving come to respect this famed author, I was insistent on reading more of his work and without any specific recommendation, discovered this early piece.

Purportedly hated by Conrad, I consider The Return to be a brave and honest account of a man’s well contained vulnerabilities.

Conrad captures the thoughts and actions of an isolated and somewhat oblivious man upon his return home and his actions upon reading a letter left behind for him.

The young married Alvan Hervey seems to have regard for nonone but himself and is quite unaware of his lack of caring.  Like a spoiled child, he sees all things around him only through his own view and does not even think to try another perspective.

Alvan’s wife, unnamed in the story, is exasperated with her husbands’ lack of human connection and is saddened by his failure to comprehend how his behavior affects those around him.


They were afraid to hear again the sound of their voices; they did not know what they might say–perhaps something that could not be recalled; and words are more terrible than facts.  

This submissive assent given with such readiness did not soothe him did not elate him; it gave him, inexplicably, that sense of terror we experience when in the midst of conditions we had learned to think absolutely safe we discover all at once the presence of a near and unsuspected danger.  

A ny time spend with Mr. Conrad would be enlightening.  Perhaps we’d sail, perhaps we’d stroll, perhaps we’d just simply sit in silence until the stillness drove us to conversation.  I’d love to share that his words had the profound effect he longed to convey.

My rating for The Return is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Sherwood Anderson’s Poor WhitePoor White

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The Happy Hypocrite by Sir Max Beerbohm

The Happy HypocriteAfter my introduction to Beerbohm via Zuleika Dobson, I promised to revisit this master storyteller and am pleased to say I have done so with my reading of The Happy Hypocrite.

While some second acts have been disappointing, this was certainly not one of them.  After this venture, I am ready for more and am saddened that Sir Max Beerbohm is not a more familiar name outside literati.

Also referred to as A Fairy Tale for Tired Men, this is a tale of Lord George Hell, a selfish man who deceives others shamelessly and while considered a man who has it all, realizes he has nothing.  Rather than a tale of redemption, however, Beerbohm uses his mastery to weave an ironic tale of raw humanity in all its ugly colors.

Lord George Hell, the book’s namesake, leads a privileged life and suffers no guilt as he cheats those around him.  His life, however, has become blasé and his search leads him to a very young actress who has her own naive expectations.

The object of Lord George’s desires, Jenny Mere, is looking for a man with the  face of a saint.  She believes she can only truly love such a man and no other.  Only 16, she is young, beautiful and naive.

Signora Gambogi is a fiery Italian mistress of Lord George and sees what lies ahead.  She is not at all please with George’s infatuation and attempts to reveal his true identity to the unsuspecting Jenny.

A meeting with Sir Beerbohm would be heavenly.  Perhaps he’d recite this tale as I’m sure his voice would add another level of perfection to this fairy tale.  If I had enough nerve, I’d ask him to put create some sketches for The Happy Hypocrite.

My rating for The Happy Hypocrite is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Joseph Conrad’s The ReturnThe Return

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The Iliad by Homer

The IliadAfter reading and thoroughly enjoying The Odyssey in college, I vowed to read its predecessor and finally came round to it.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy The Iliad with the same rapt delight as I did The Odyssey.  Perhaps Homer is best read, in parts, with a group who can then share their introspections.

Reportedly written in the 8th century BC, it is a Greek epic poem written about the battles of the Achaeans and the Trojans during the well-known Trojan War.  While the writing was surprisingly easy to digest, the multitude of characters was not and the battles, depicted with graphic gore seemed endless.

Achilles, a brutal and headstrong warrior is merciless and swift in his role in battle.  He abhors Agamemnon for taking one of the women he has kidnapped and claimed for his own which creates a festering rift between the two.

King Agamemnon is self-centered and quick to judgment, often to the detriment of his soldiers.  He seems unfazed by the carnage around him and seems only to have concern over his own needs.

Beloved friend to Achilles, Patroclus is extremely devoted to him, yet doesn’t share his zealousness for battle.  The ties that bind their relationship are known by all which leads to the demise of one.

Zeus, the king of the Gods seems disinterested in the war and only after his wife Hera’s urgings, takes action to intervene.  He tries to maintain neutrality and to set the stage for the other gods to do the same, but is convinced by Achilles’ mother to support the Trojans.

A meeting with Homer would surely be delightful.  A stroll through modern-day Greece would likely prove unnerving so we’d steer clear and focus on the mysteries of this famed poet’s life.  I’d love to ask him about his simple, yet lengthy poetic style.  Perhaps he could educate a new generation of up and coming bards.

My rating for The Iliad is a 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Sir Max Beerbohm’s The Happy HypocriteThe Happy Hypocrite

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Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

Around the World in 80 DaysWhile I anxiously awaited word last week from a loved one travelling around Russia for 8 days, I embarked on my own journey by perusing the very entertaining Around the World in 80 Days.  It was the perfect distraction, but worthy of much more than being considered a diversion.

Verne spins a tale in which the reader will become so absorbed as to believe they are a part of the journey that must conclude in precisely 80 days.  A master storyteller with the ability to captivate, entertain and provide some world history along the way, Verne deserves all the praises sung for him.

Phileas Fogg, an enigmatic bachelor living in London makes a gentleman’s bet with some friends from his club and sets off on an 80 day adventure.  As the journey unfolds, so does the man, layer by thin layer, until his inner identity is revealed.  Proof positive of slow and steady winning the race.

Newly acquired servant, Jean Passepartout, is looking for a simple and routine  arrangement.  Thinking he has found just that with the disciplined Fogg, he is set to packing before he has time to second guess his decision to work for the man.  Passepartout, like Fogg, is revealed bit by bit and is not the man he at first appears to be.  He shows great courage by coming to the rescue at the last moment more than once.

Aouda is a beautiful Parsee rescued from being set ablaze in a ritualistic sacrifice.  When her intended delivery to a relative in China falls flat, she invariably joins the race for the world journey.  Her gratitude and admiration toward Fogg grow and develop into much more.

A meeting with Mr. Verne would not be isolated to a single location, but rather would consist of various locales and modes of transport.  Perhaps he’d share his ability to study the law while penning great works.

My rating for Around the World in Eighty Days is a 9 out of 10.

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Next up, Homer’s The IliadThe Iliad

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Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby DickIts accolades are well deserved and I’m glad I finally got around to taking on this whale of a tale…pish posh, I couldn’t resist.

Moby Dick is quite lengthy, but Melville doesn’t blather on without intent.  He seems determined to provide the reader with a thorough education in all things cetological and somehow does so without acting the pedant.

A determined captain seeks his revenge against the white whale that took not only his leg, but his sanity and takes along an unsuspecting and somewhat motley crew.

The book’s narrator introduced with the infamous line, “Call me Ishmael”, is a naive young man when he sets out on the Pequod for what he hopes will be an adventure that turns into much more.  Like the best of observers, he fades in the background, barely a grunt and not much noticed by the crew, but able to see, in great detail, all that is unfolding before him.

Queequeg, reportedly a cannibal,  befriends Ishamael and shows him that differences in culture and religion do not preclude men from sharing a bond.  Queequeg is a harpoon sharpshooter and exhibits great acts of courage and bravery, gaining the respect of the entire crew.

Captain Ahab is a man blinded by vengeance and cares only for exacting the justice he believes is his due.  His recklessness endangers his crew, yet he seems unaware or unconcerned with their safety and leads them blindly into the depths of danger at sea.


Nothing exists in itself.  If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more.  

…and Heaven have mercy on us all–Presbyterians and Pagans alike–for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.

But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself.  

There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own. 

And some certain significance lurks in all things, else all things are little worth, and the round world itself but an empty cipher, except to sell by the cartload, as they do hills about Boston, to fill up some morass in the Milky Way.  

It should go without saying that my meeting with Mr. Melville would be aboard ship, with no particular destination in mind.  His early years as teacher would make it easy to extract all the knowledge that seems overflowing in this great man.  I’d particularly like to hear about his time on a whaler and other adventures at sea.

My rating for Moby Dick is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty DaysAround the World in 80 Days


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Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

Gravity's RainbowI’ll start by saying I may not be qualified to review Gravity’s Rainbow since I can’t, with good conscience, claim I read the book, but rather slogged through it.  A book of such renown and volume required more than my typical week and like others recently, I gave it a two-week allowance.  Alas the extra time did not provide the hoped for concentration I desired.

Perhaps I’ve become a bit stodgy or like some members of the Pulitzer Board had difficulty with its coprophilic focus.  It would be too easy to refer to it as a rather shitty book so while I should not, I just can’t resist.

Following World War II, we meet an oddball cast of lascivious and deceitful characters as they attempt to uncover secrets of a mysterious German weapon.  From there, the frenzy begins and doesn’t let up…

Since I doubt Mr. Pynchon would agree to meet with me, I’d have to create a diversion to allow such an encounter.  Perhaps he has returned to his Long Island roots where I could lie in wait…What would I ask of such a man?  How he meant his work to be understood would be a good start for me.

My rating for Gravity’s Rainbow is a 1 out of 10.

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Next up, Herman Melville’s Moby DickMoby Dick


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Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

IvanhoeThis was not necessarily a book I was looking forward to.  I feared the language would prove distracting (it was not) and the swashbuckling tiresome (it was exhilarating).

Set in late 12th century England, the Saxons and Normans are in constant battle during  the absence of King Richard I who left to fight the Crusades and failed to return.  There is trickery, thievery, and battles galore.  An assorted cast of characters keeps the tale moving, albeit a bit confusing at times, due to their sheer volume.

The book’s namesake, Ivanhoe, disowned by his Saxon father, Cedric for following King Richard I, a Norman, returns disguised seeking his love, Rowena, a ward to Cedric.  Ivanhoe is a man’s man and a lady’s dream; brave, honest, and chivalrous.  An easy man to cheer on.

Lady Rowena, is thrilled with Ivanhoe’s return, however, Cedric attempts to marry her off to Athelstane, a Saxon in the hopes of maintaining the royal Saxon line.  Rowena is a kind and decent woman, but she puts her foot down and refuses the advances of Athelstane defying her guardian and showing  fortitude.

Rebecca, the beautiful Jewess is a tragic heroine.  She falls in love with Ivanhoe as she nurses him back to health yet disguises her true feelings knowing a relationship is not realistic due to their religious differences.  She is accused of sorcery and put on trial and could be sentenced to death, but for the appearance of…Ivanhoe, who duly returns her favor for saving his life.


A moment of peril is often also a moment of open-hearted kindness and affection.  We are thrown off our guard by the general agitation of our feelings, and betray the intensity of those, which, at more tranquil moments, our prudence at least conceals if it cannot altogether suppress them.  

I’d love to ask Sir Walter how he found the time to produce such works while working, raising a family and being politically active.  Perhaps he’d share tidbits of his early fascination with tales and how he developed his writing so prodigiously.

My rating for Ivanhoe is an 8 out of 10.

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Next up, Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s RainbowGravity's Rainbow

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