I finally read Roots ! I’ve been meaning to for … oh, 37, 38 years. I do get to things, eventually.

Loved the book. Since the TV show – the 1970, original TV show – paid short shrift to Kunta Kinte’s life in Africa, I was surprised by and entirely sucked into the long chronology of how Kinte grew up, year by year or rain by rain. As he matured into such a fine young man, I kept hoping, ridiculously, that the story would change; that he would not be chained and captured. It was so unfair! Like watching La Boheme and praying that this time, the lovers don’t part. Not in spring, not ever.

Also really interesting to me, since I had my hands on the Official 30th Anniversary Edition of the Pulitzer Prize-winner, was the extra material. A talk by Haley to other Readers Digest authors about how he wrote. I loved it.

haleyHaley had joined the Coast Guard as a young man and spent 20 years on ships. After switching to the life of a freelancer, he still loved to be on ships, and he used to book himself onto the kind of freighters that take only a dozen passengers, along with their shipping containers, on long journeys. Passengers that would be no trouble, and who kept to themselves. Haley wrote all of Kinte’s life while on one of those ships, with his notes spread out around his bunk. He wrote at night and no one disturbed him. No one cared what the crazy American was doing.

The reason I have intended to read Roots for so long? It changed the way everyone thought: not just about race, but about ancestors and taking pride in the past. The airing of the TV miniseries Roots pretty much created the whole genealogical industry, if it can be called that. Before Roots, most families neither thought of cared about “their roots.” Suddenly, and I remember this clearly, everyone wanted to trace their family tree. Magazines and clubs and eventually whole companies (not to mention the Mormon Church) coalesced to service them.

In some instances, Roots forced people to take a hard and honest look at their past. Teachers in all sorts of schools began addressing the truth about slavery and a lot of myths were debunked publicly. Before Roots, we had Gone With the Wind. That was the narrative. After Roots, textbooks carried pictures of men with horribly scarred backs, and drawings of how captives were chained to planks on slave ships. Those pictures had existed but no one wanted to display or talk about them before.

I guess it was the cruelty of slavery that was brought into the light because of Roots. Anyone over 60 remembers being taught in school that the Civil War was fought over “states’ rights,” not slavery, and that owners usually treated their slaves well, if only because those slaves were an economic investment. They ate decently and doctors were called in when they were sick. How nice. That’s all we learned.

No one was taught about the sugar plantations were men and women were simply worked to death in a few short years, or the horrors of the Atlantic crossing that killed so many before they got to North America. No one talked about the very obvious fact that by the time photography came along, most American slaves looked a lot lighter than Africans. No one talked about those horrible scarred backs.

And how about African culture? Haley spent a good chunk of Roots bringing Kunta Kinte to manhood in Juffure, a Moslem town with strict social rules about how people behaved. As you read, you think well of him and his family, even while bristling at the sexism engrained in the society. These were people who strove to instill values, learning, and pride in their children.( And honestly, in 1750, were there any societies anywhere that weren’t sexist?)

Before that book, any idea of civilization in Africa was dominated by National Geographic pictures, the kind that featured naked tribal folks dancing and displaying ropes of beads. Old cartoons (meaning, cartoons produced through the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s) taught everyone that Africans were silly savages or headhunters, and no one bothered to change that impression.

By the way, those old cartoons portrayed not just Africans, but American blacks as minstrel show characters and other stereotypes. The most racially offensive cartoons disappeared in 1968 (here’s an article about that), but again, those of us over 60 can remember some pretty vile and derogatory images.

The m9780385037877-usiniseries based on Alex Haley’s Roots got the whole country talking about race. White people suddenly saw black people as having a cultural past and present, and black people saw the reality of slavery in a way that personalized their own history. The evils of slavery and racism were unavoidable; and the public discussion pushed everyone into the arena. You could keep your mouth shut, but you could not avoid hearing about it.

This was huge! Roots dominated conversations at work, school, and home – for months. And when the discussions tapered off, we had changed. We thought about things differently.

How many books have that sort of influence?

I am aware that the historical truth of the novel  has been questioned, most ungraciously. And that there were accusations of plagiarism over part of it, and a large settlement paid. But to me, that does not take away from its impact or Haley’s accomplishment. Roots caught fire in this country. It changed American thought. Dang, what writer could wish for more?

Went to a breakfast meeting with other writers this morning, and here’s some of the Useful and Fascinating Things I Learned:

  1. 99Designs is actually, as good as it sounds. A friend tried it: she needed a cover for a book she’s writing and was willing to pay their asking price ($395, I think). Within two weeks, she had 26 covers submitted by participating artists. She had no trouble narrowing the field down to the few best, because a couple of artists had been so quick to respond and there had been discussions with them about what she wanted. The nice thing about 99Designs is that,since you have already agreed to pay the winning designer the money, you are free to talk back and forth with any or all of them. She not only got a cover that she loves, but a professional relationship for more work in future, because the cover designer was able to recommend a cartoonist to illustrate another book!
  2. Another site that two of our group had tried and enjoyed is, where up and coming (i.e., amateur) artists can post work.It may be significant that both these folks were male, and when one warned that some of the work was edgy and x-rated, the other chuckled. In any case, they suggested it as a place to find artists with a style you like, you might be willing, even eager, to do a cover at low rates.
  3. I should never, ever go anywhere without at least bookmarks and business cards. Blew it again!

I will try to be better at posting. My life is like whack-a-mole: just when I manage to fit effective tweeting into it, I find I’ve been neglecting Facebook. I bring that up to snuff and suddenly I haven’t blogged in a long time.

Same with housework. I’m cooking regularly, but suddenly realized I have no clean clothes to wear because I forgot to do laundry. I start reducing the clutter but then the dishes get out of control. IfI cared I’d be upset. But I’d rather be writing.

“You will so love it.”

“Once you get used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.”

“You WILL have this. Just admit it and get one.”

“It will make your life so easy.”

That is what everyone has been saying to me for the past few years about their smart phones. You know, the appendages that stick to their hands and face? The reason no one talks to you or says hello? The appliance that keeps people from realizing that they are walking into fountains, that every stranger in the store now knows their business, that their kids are running into the street and … yeah, I’m exaggerating, but only a bit. Only that last one.

I have a phone, an older model about an inch and a half wide by three inches long. It fits in any pocket, even those silly little fake pockets. By iPhone standards, it is almost mechanical. It rings, I push one of a dozen buttons. The buttons depress. They are not button icons on a screen, but real buttons. I know how to use that phone, even if I do hiss obscenities at it occasionally.

No more. I have been gifted an Android and my service was transferred. I must use the new phone.

It’s very sleek but it doesn’t fit in my pocket. When it rings, I fumble to answer and push the green button on the screen repeatedly, but the phone keeps ringing. At me. Taunting me.

Sometimes it spits. Blrrrrrt! That could mean anything:  I could have a message, a calendar event is imminent, a stranger wants to play WordCrack. Or something else entirely.

R2D2 made funny noises too but they were cute. We understood him. This Android is an alien tease.

I spent an afternoon entering phone numbers of friends, and they’ve all disappeared.  Instead, every person who ever sent me an email fills up my contact list, but none of them have phone numbers.

I can’t tell when the battery is low because the icons on the top of the screen are too small. Maybe those icons would answer all my questions, if only I could see them clearly.

Those of you over 30, remember when we all started buying phones? The rationale for such a purchase was safety. We weren’t going to use the phone; we just wanted to have it in case the car broke down on a deserted highway and we needed to call for help. Now I’m not exaggerating. That was the selling point in the 90s. Get a phone; you’ll be safer.

No one got a phone so they could be tracked down by their office 24/7. No one got a phone to play games or keep calendars. We just wanted to be safe.

Shall i let this rude but charming flirt of a phone run my life? Aw, shucks . . . NO!

I don’t need a buzzer to tell me that I have to be at work in 30 minutes. I have been showing up at work on time since Apple computers were assembled in the Jobs’s garage. I do not need to take Facebook and Twitter with me when I get coffee or visit friends. I have sat across the table from enough silly people who ignored the company in front of them to stare at their screen, or dropped out of a conversation to look up points of trivia that no one really cared about.

Like the Tony Awards last week. One person at our small viewing party could not put her phone away.

“What are you doing? Are you playing a game?”

“I’m on imdb. You guys wanted to know what TV show Ken Howard was in.”

She looked up Long Day’s Journey Into Night (the movie), and Meg Ryan’s plastic surgeries. Even when the rest of us asked no questions, she was on her phone. Not talking, just staring at the screen as her thumbs twitched away.

After Frank Langella’s acceptance speech (lovely) I wondered aloud who won the Oscar the year that he was nominated for Frost/Nixon.

“I’m down to 3% of my battery!”

“You don’t have to look it up. I just wondered.”

Actually, what I wondered was if anyone remembered that performance or wanted to discuss it. You know, discuss . . . like we used to do before we all carried glowing almanacs and encyclopedias with us?

“No, here it is. Daniel Day Lewis, There Will Be Blood.”

What could I say but “Thanks”?

I’m pretty sure she watched the Tony’s later, on her phone. Once she’d charged it up.

And yet, the Andriod is making my life easier. Here’s how:

Because it doesn’t fit in my pocket, I no longer take my phone everywhere with me. I leave it on the table when I walk my dog.  I stash it in the side pocket of my purse,  out of sight and hearing. I stow it far away from my bedroom so its incessant chimes and chirps and spits don’t keep me up all night.

And I’m fine. I enjoy my walks without the phone. I never think about it when it’s stored away. For the first time in 16 or 17 years, I don’t have a phone with me every minute. It’s like being young again. (Remember, I was young long before cell phones. I was even middle-aged long before cell phones.)

I finally realize: I don’t need it.

Unless, of course, my car conks out on a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair. Then, you know, maybe it’ll come in handy.

If I can figure out how to use it.


Imagination is a good thing, but right now  I’m thankful for its limits.

Can I imagine a loud, pounding, neon-lit nightclub full of kids fresh out school, everyone laughing and dancing, drinking and flirting? No problem. But not the rest.

When I first heard about Orlando, I thought of a club like those here in the West (where those under 21 are not allowed inside if alcohol is served), and a sudden burst of violence and gunfire, like an explosion, taking fifty lives outright. That was bad.

But the interviews and details show that it was much, much worse. The shooting went on for three hours. People were huddled in bathrooms, soaked in blood, feeling each other die. The survivors endured through those long, dark hours before the killer was brought down and they were taken to safety.

(Safety? Will any one of them will ever feel safe again?)

The truly worst part: These people were 19 or 20 years old, for the most part. 19 or 20.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to go through horrific hours of terror, pain, and death  But when I try to factor in 19 or 20 year old, sense and thinking rebel. That just can’t happen.

In 1984, a gunman opened fire in a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, CA, killing 21. That included children, even a boy on a bicycle. I don’t think such a shooting had ever happened before. A fast food restaurant in the afternoon? Children and families as targets? Unbelievable shock came with the idea that this would happen again, because now people knew that it COULD happen. The genie was out of the bottle.

So we’ve got Columbine and Sandy Hook, and now Orlando. Terrorist tie-in or not, a guy goes sickly crazed, arms himself, and targets the innocent.

I wonder how people who want to preserve the right to own assault rifles can sleep at night.**

How will the survivors ever sleep soundly at night?

A takeaway that should be mentioned: a bouncer at the club, a young ex-marine, broke open a door and helped up to 70 people get out. He credits his training and experience in Afghanistan for his quick reaction, and doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He lost several friends that night. His name is Imram Yousef.

a PS

** I’ve given more thought to the remark about “how do people who want to preserve the right to own assault rifles sleep at night.” It was arrogant. Of course they sleep at night, because they believe they are right,  just as I believe I’m right in thinking that such arms should be banned. The fact that a weapon exists does not mean we all have the right to buy one and keep it. If we were talking about nuclear warheads, everyone would agree that private citizens don’t have the right to own them. So, we draw the line over what we have a right to own in a different place.

Right now, I think we all have to reconsider where we are putting that line.

My copy of Travels with Charley in Search of America is declared to be, by some effusive back-cover writer, “a moving elegy for more innocent times.”

No, it’s not.

It’s not, because the book is not an elegy. An elegy is a lament for the dead. This book is quite the opposite.

It’s also not a moving elegy for more innocent times because the year 1960, when John Steinbeck took off in search of American, was not more innocent. No way no how.

America in 1960 was about to see the rise of Martin Luther King and other leaders, demanding to be included in America. The fact that much of the country was treated differently than white males testifies that innocent — which I believe means “not guilty of a crime or offense” — is not an accurate adjective to be applied here.

I am impatient to the point of offensiveness with lavender-scented pablum being smeared over the past so that we can all pretend it was better than now. Not true! And if you are ever tempted to buy into such a distorted picture, please step back. Take a good look at all the horrors you are excluding from your nostalgic remembrances of olden times. You may have been an innocent child, but the times were not innocent. There were predators. There was cruelty. Men abused their authority. People stole and called others names. Racism and sexism were the status quo. Our sins had not piled up to the point that they could no longer be ignored, but they were there. Maybe you were sheltered, but that doesn’t make the epoch innocent.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. I’ll go read more of my book now.


Stilettos, it seems, are emblems of both lurid sexuality and feminism.

“Heels as power. Heels as sex, co-opted in the name of professionalism. Heels as, in all that, ambition. Avery Jessup, the hyper-ambitious Fox News reporter on30 Rocksummarized the thinking perfectly: “Flats,” she declared, “are for quitters.” ”

That comes about a third of the way through “Arch Enemies,” an engaging essay in The Atlantic on Very High Heels by Megan Garber, who admits she wears them, and wonders why throughout this marvelous article.It includes a history of high heels, which are a surprisingly recent (and masculine) invention.

A toast to he mystique, the danger, and the idiocy of stiletto heels!

The story kicks off with a visit to Thesis Couture, where a designer, late of SpaceX, has recruited (meaning in this case, hired & paid) rocket scientists, an orthopedic surgeon, and others to help design a more comfortable 4-inch heel for about $1000 a pair. And the waiting list for these still-in-the-prototype-stage-heels stands at 10,000.

The piece ends with a list of younger movers and opinion-shakers who are literally kicking off their heels. And a few who aren’t. Taylor Swift, for example, performs in Very High Heels.

For the record, I loathe such shoes, with that special loathing I reserve for anything that causes me intense pain yet implies an unreachable, magical world of coolness could be mine if I could only endure the agony a bit longer.

The writing of “Arch Enemies” is wonderful. In my opinion, heels are unworthy of Ms. Garber’s talents, and of the talent assembled by Thesis Couture to design them. I would love to see them all turn their attention to solving world hunger or global warming.

I do not like book series.

I avoid them, though I’ve been fooled a few times. The Eyre Affair by Joshua Fforde fooled me. I enjoyed it but I did not ever read the second novel in the series. Figuring out about 3/4 of the way through the book that this was an SF detective story with sequels already published took the momentum away. Spoiler Alert: Thursday Next is gonna be fine because she’ll be in the next book; her sidekick and pet dodo will also survive.

Of course there are serial exceptions to my antipathy: Harry Potter, LotR, Sherlock Holmes, and more. These are well-written, excellent books!

Most series, though, fall far short of the standards set by these wildly successful and worthy tomes. Allow me to list the reasons why.

1. Too often, a series’ only purpose to sell more of the author’s books

bookseries1A good book will prompt me to look for more by the same author. It doesn’t have to be a retread of the same book.

Sadly, my patronage doesn’t seem to be enough to keep most writers in business (possibly because I use the library more often than I buy). This could be a trend. So authors and booksellers find new, innovative ways to get readers to buy.

Among both Indie publishers and the big NY houses, a book series is the new black. Authors are taught that this is the path to success, just as they were taught 10 or 20 years ago that they must open their book with a bang to hook the reader, or 80 years ago that they should never end a sentence with a preposition.

Every author who’s ever read a bit of advice on a writers’ site or gone to a seminar knows that the current modus operandi for making money (by which I mean, of course, simply being self-supporting, not necessarily rich) is this:

  1. Write a novel, then a second novel with the same characters and setting, then a third and fourth -— as quickly as you can.
  2. Publish first novel.
  3. After 30 days (at which time it no longer qualifies for Amazon’s Hot New Release list), publish the second book. Make first novel free and advertise the hell out of it.
  4. After another 30 days, release third novel.
  5. Another 30 days, release 4th. By this time you’ve probably bundled novels one and two and are giving the set away.

That’s the way to do it, I’m told.

Never mind quality, editing, proof-reading, or any of those time-sucking dinosaurs. But DO pay for a sexy cover. That sells the book, after all.

These books often make money. They’re sold to people who just want a quick escape with familiar characters who will come out on top in the end. They’re not great literature. Pulp fiction has rarely achieved that status, but who cares?

2. Series volumes are predictable

Unless you are reading George R.R. Martin, you can be fairly certain that the hero of a series will keep escaping the bad guys. The heroine will not get her pretty self killed, the detective will solve the case, and the adventurous youth will grow in wisdom.

And if you are reading George R.R. Martin, you have nothing to do but brush up on your sigils and make bets with fellow readers about whether the book will follow the TV show plots, at least until the next book emerges in, well, whenever. May I suggest you pick up a classic by Robert Heinlein to pass the time?

I digress. The point is that little varies in the formulas of most series books, because the author doesn’t want to change a pattern that works. Most especially in mystery series. Readers supposedly like it that way. No upsets, no surprises . . . .

But a story is not real life! This is the world of imagination and drama! Books should keep you guessing and turning the pages. They should startle you. The last thing a book should ever be is predictable. That’s dull.

I admit, others disagree. My mother read and reread Earle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason books till she died. She loved that they were all so alike, she was never quite sure if she was reading the same one over and over. I think the real reason she kept reading them was that she had a crush on Raymond Burr.

For myself: I DON’T have to know what’s going to happen in the end. In fact, I prefer to be surprised.

lr-short-33. You cannot recreate the wonder, charm, and surprise of the first book

The first time one reads about sandworms and bene gesserits, or Highland mists and romps in the standing stones, or even of societies that rank and order their citizens by whatever part of the color spectrum they can see (Joshua Fforde again), it’s mind-expanding. Magical. Exciting. Like falling in love. Ah, me.

Reading the second book is kind of like going back to the romantic glen that’s become a bit more damp and smelly over the years. The setting is just not as exotic as it was that first time. You’ve seen it, or at least you’ve imagined it all before. Whether it’s intergalactic smugglers, shape-shifting teachers, or romantic, sexual tension, by the second book we’ve been there already.

4. Lately, the first book in a series simply ends half way through (which brings us back to reason #1)

I paid for and downloaded one of the many books my Kindle advertises, even though I knew it was part of a science fiction series. It looked intriguing. What I got was half a book.

The story was fast-paced, the characters, for the most part, believable. I had minor complaints, like blank lines in the middle of scenes (clearly, I was meant to pause here) and hyphens where they didn’t belong, but nothing so awful that I was tempted to stop reading. One of the many characters was in great danger, and shocked by what he saw. Others, in different parts of the world, had barely started their dramatic journeys. Nothing was pointing towards an ending of any kind, but the book stopped. Just like that.

With a big ad for the second book.

That’s sleazy. I can’t think of a better word for it.

I will not buy the second or third book, out of sheer spite for the author. How dare he or she treat a reader that way!

Lord of the Rings, written 70-odd years ago, did stop each book in the middle of the story, though not at a cliffhanger. Resolution did not come till the very end. It was an epic tale told by a master, and really should be viewed as ONE book, too big to be bound. (One book to grab them all, one cover to bind them?)

But unless your last name is Tolkien, do not try this with your own work. It’s manipulative.

Summing Up:

Not all series are lacking in interest, but I don’t read most of them. Ever hear the phrase “So many books, so little time?” That’s the way I feel. There are millions of books out there, but I only have a couple of hours a day to read. I don’t want to waste my time with the second-rate ones.

I want my escapism combined with a story that enriches me. I want to read books by authors that took time with them. Years. If an author hammers out a novel a month, I will avoid him or her like the proverbial boil-producing plague.

I want to thrill over brilliant prose, not obsess over the constant typos, misused words and commas. I want  to feel a character’s angst, not marvel at its libido or derring-do. I want to learn something from each book. Maybe it’s about human nature and resilience, or maybe the author will take me to a world so different and spectacular that I’ll gasp, right there in Starbucks. Maybe I’ll cry.

Do me like that, baby, and I’ll tell all my friends to buy your books. Isn’t that what writers want?


00011060A picture-laden post on my other blog, History Los Angeles.

Since a multi-million dollar design was just picked to re-do downtown Los Angeles’ Pershing Square YET AGAIN (jeesh!) I posted a ton of pictures from its first century, the 1850s through the 1950s.


I’m watching an episode of Independent Lens on PBS titled.”My Nazi Legacy.”

The narrator/producer (who sounds uncannily like the late Alan Rickman), a lawyer named Philippe Sands, rolls out the story of two men, each born in 1939 to high-ranking Nazis. Both grow to be decent men as far as I can tell, each deeply ashamed of the atrocities their parents were part of.

From Jist News,

From Jist News,

One man, Nick, grew up hating his father. He carries, to this day, the last photo of his father, taken after the man was hung: a photo of his corpse. Nick has no problem repudiating his father as a killer and monster. In the top left photo, that’s Nick on the right, and his father is shown on the bottom right.

The other man, Horst, is more fragile, living in a fantasy world where his father remains good. Horst believes his father wanted to protect the people in Poland and the Ukraine and that he hoped Hitler would change his mind about the killing of Jews. Horst is sitting in the big photo, and his handsome father is on top right.

Narrator Philippe Sands is in the center of the top left photo. His family lived in the Ukraine. They were Jews. It doesn’t end well: 79 of 80 family members died before the end of the war. Sands’ grandfather, a child, is the only person who survived.

The stories of the two German men are interspersed with family photos and home movies, switching often to film of the home/lake/schloss/town as it is today. Effective and moving. And bleak.

One point of the documentary seems to be to break down Horst. He is so pitiable, trying to hold onto his image of his “good”  father without losing sight of the horrors committed. Sands is coming to grips with the destruction of his family in the Ukraine, and I almost have the impression that he didn’t foresee how deeply he’d feel his role in this story. Sands seems to be trying to keep his distance from his own tragedy, while pushing Horst to accept his.

Sands event talks about this: “When I hear him speak of his father’s good character and actions, I hear him to be justifying the killing of my grandfather’s entire family.”

One scene, filmed at what was the synagogue in Zhovkva, Ukraine where Sands’ family prayed, has much emotion held at bay. The centuries-old structure is empty. No Jews are left to fill it. They were all killed or driven out 70 years ago, and that includes Sands’ family. Horst insists that he can feel the place will be filled again. No one can break that protective image. But Sands is also keeping reality from crushing him, arguing with Horst like a lawyer.

It is Nick, so direct, who asks Sands what he is feeling here. And Sands answers by describing scenes he must have played in his mind over and over. Anger comes out, but still controlled. He is always the lawyer, putting words between himself and the darkness.

I really like Nick, incidentally. Nick has a bit of his hated father’s grandiosity, in a good way. He doesn’t mind the camera, the attention. He is self-confident, and despises the old man with an uncomplicated rancor that is almost refreshing.

No one could make these characters up. Their story eats at me.

Another Father & Son from Nazi Germany

untitledThey remind me a little of the son of a Nazi art dealer that you may remember. Hildebrand Gurlitt (right) was was the art dealer, one quarter Jewish. He nevertheless became a valued procurer for Hitler and his projected showplace of art in Linz. Gurlitt survived the war; he used his hidden Jewish heritage and played the victim after the war–poor me, I was only trying to survive. I lost so much because of the Nazis. I helped so many Jews by buying their art so they could get money to leave the country . . . but he made a HUGE fortune, paying pennies on the dollar (or franc) for valuable art, taking advantage of desperate families who had to get away from the Nazis.

Gurlitt died in the 1950s in a car accident. You can read about him here — actually, this is a review of a new book about him, but it lays out the bare bones of his story.

His son, Cornelius, barely a teen when the war ended, held onto his father’s art for years. He’s really the one I’d expect you to remember, even though Gurlitt was mentioned in books like The Monuments Men. (Now, of course, he is the topic of a couple of books for sale on Amazon.)

gurlitt_2902847bCornelius was “discovered” by the authorities and by the media around five years ago when he was on a train. He had a great sum of money. That’s not a crime but it is suspicious. He lived off the grid in Germany–got no pensions, no health care, etc. –I think he didn’t even had a bank account. So the authorities investigated. They were looking for tax evasion crimes. Instead, they found a cache of treasured art in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment worth around a billion euros.

Articles refer to him as socially autistic. For most of his 80 years, Cornelius protected, hoarded, and reveled in the art collection left by his father. Once he was discovered, he quickly sickened and died, broken perhaps. He insisted that his father had fairly paid for all the art, saving it, and that it was not looted.

I should mention that of the more than 1400 works of art, only four have been declared “looted.” Cornelius left it all to a museum, which is taking great pains to prove or disprove whether the art was stolen..

So what does that tell us? That the sins of the father continue to haunt, even cripple their children.

Like many kids, I used to pretend my Daddy was president. Cause I thought he was wonderful and I wanted to live in the White House like Caroline Kennedy. But what if your father was a Nazi? What if you were a fairly decent person who had to deal with that?

I feel for Horst and for Cornelius. Is it a crime to try and protect the childish image of your father as a good and praiseworthy man? To me, Horst and Cornelius just never grew up. I bet there are many men like them, who never grew out of idolizing their fathers. But we hear about these two men because their fathers accommodated Hitler.

My dad was a carpenter who never could have gotten elected to the City Council, let alone be president. Lucky me.

My Life on the Road and
Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles

Lookee! I read what Emma Watson read & You Can Too!

Lookee! I read what Emma Watson read & You Can Too!

Gloria Steinem’s new memoir, A Life on the Road, surprised me. All I knew about Steinem was her role as an early and eloquent, no-nonsense spokesperson for feminism, and the founder of Ms Magazine. I had no idea how she’d become one of the major faces of the women’s lib movement in the 60s and 70s. Now I do.

This book is not about feminism, though. It’s about growing up with a loving father who spent 3/4 of the year on the road – with his family, towing a travel trailer. It tells how Steinem became a touring public speaker, how her experiences shaped her and what she’s learned from them. She was present at Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, and was involved in political campaigns for the Kennedys as a journalist and a volunteer. Mostly, though, she writes about brief encounters with college students and cab drivers—the small incidents that make up her life.

Steinem doesn’t drive. She says: “… being isolated in a car was not always or even usually the most rewarding way to travel. I would miss talking to my fellow travelers or looking out the window. How could I enjoy getting there when I couldn’t pay attention?”

And paying attention — listening — is important. I have a notebook page full of quotes from the book, but this one shows up in other reviews: “One of the simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.”

David Ulin reads his book at Vermin on the Mount.(

David Ulin reads his book at Vermin on the Mount.(

David L. Ulin is the former book critic of the Los Angeles Times and writes for many magazines. Sidewalking: Coming to Terms with Los Angeles is a collection of his own essays about walking in L.A. It is not about our city, but about the concept of our city; not about the streets and local history but about how we view those things. I felt as if I weren’t the target audience, in spite of my love for Los Angeles history. I suspect the book was written more for academics. For example, he sketches, very quickly, a few facts about  Angel’s Flight or the St. Francis Dam disaster, just a sentence or two to support his point about  L.A.’s changing self-concept. If you know the history already, that may be enough. If you don’t know it, though, the book is frustrating.

Ulin’s thesis is interesting: that streets in L.A. are private spaces masquerading as public spaces. We make them private because we travel them enclosed in our cars, never making contact with street life itself.

While he convinced me and I agree, it’s odd, isn’t it, that his presentation lacks personal contact, and keeps readers at a distance.

Steinem’s thesis seems to be that the road one travels keeps one human, no matter the vehicle.

Ulin’s book is about ideas: how do we define and experience our cities and roads? Steinem’s is about personal encounters that make up a life on the road.

Very different books, but with this message in common: You can’t know a neighborhood, a city, or a country by driving through it. You must get out of your car.

(This review — or most of it — was first published in the monthly newsletter LA Mentary)