September 5, 2014

On Books and Bookstores

My current read: Paul Johnson's Churchill
Churchill is one of the "Penguin Lives" short biographies in which famous authors profile famous people in 200 pages or less. Biographies and memoirs are my first choice in reading matter. But most of today's biographies are far too long for me.

I've read several of the Penquin Lives and been disappointed in some that seemed heavy on facts but light on the anecdotes and commentary that make biographies interesting. But Paul Johnson does an excellent job of combining narrative with critical appraisal and human interest stories.

The portrait above was done by Sir William Orpen, one of Britain's finest painters. He painted it at an especially low point of Churchill's life, Johnson points out -- during World War I when Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty until the disastrous Gallipoli campaign precipitated his removal from government. 

The portrait is considered the best-ever of Churchill. When it was finished, Churchill sighed, "It's not the picture of a man. It is the picture of man's soul."

I'm thoroughly enjoying the book and  find Johnson's writing superb. I've considered rereading Johnson's Modern Times, but it's 880 pages long.

"So Many Books, So Little Time"
Currently on my bedside reading table is Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit which runs 910 pages... 782 if you exclude notes and index. It's been sitting there for months, and I can predict it will disappear unopened in my next fit of downsizing. 

Virtually all my reading happens in bed -- before my afternoon nap and my nighttime slumber. Since I fall asleep readily, it probably would take the rest of the year to finish Goodwin's biography. 

I may never get to the book. But I'll continue to fault our current president for his failure to make use of the "bully pulpit" the way Teddy Roosevelt did. 

A Confession
I'm embarrassed to admit that I recently went to Kramerbooks to select good reads about 200 pages long. I came home with six of them and just stacked up three of them next to Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit. The pile of three new books is just as deep as Doris's single biography of TR.

I keep saying I need to make more time for book reading, but it never happens -- except when I'm traveling. Ever since my years touring Europe on 15-day Eurail passes, I've done more reading on trains than anywhere else.

I'm a restless type and find it difficult to stay planted in one spot. But I find that as long as the train's moving, I can sit and relax for hours.

Kindle surfaced during the years I visited Nepal twice a year... for weeks at a time. In pre-Kindle days, I traveled with two suitcases -- one filled with books; post-Kindle, I was back to one.

Before going on my cruise around South America this spring, I bought the new Kindle -- a mistake. As so often happens with these new-and-improved devices, the fancy bells and whistles make it difficult for the technology-challenged like me to perform simple, basic functions -- like turning it on and getting back to the page where I'd left off. The designers of these modern gizmos never heard about K.I.S.S. -- Keep It Simple Stupid.

I read non-fiction, and I like being able to underline sentences and make notes in the margins... and then dog-ear the page I was reading before closing the book.

Two Life-Enhancing Bookstores
1) Washington's Politics & Prose

Bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble -- and many independent bookstores -- are falling by the wayside because of competition from Amazon and Kindle. But Politics & Prose, the beloved independent bookstore in Washington's Chevy Chase neighborhood, continues to thrive. 

It's an important stop for authors on book tours, and is viewed as a "sacred space" for Washington's liberals. I heard Davis Brooks, the Republican columnist and commentator, speak there one night, and he began by saying he wasn't sure if he'd need a visa to get in. That's unlikely; he's viewed as the liberals' favorite conservative. Sarah Palin might find it more difficult. 

Before I stopped driving, I went there frequently for evening author talks. I also went -- a ten-minute drive from home -- for lunch in their cafe every other Friday so that I could get out of my cleaning lady's way. 

I'm sure this family didn't need a visa:

It would be nice if that bag contained a copy of Kearns Goodwins' The Bully Pulpit.

2) Kathmandu's Summit House 
During my 10+ trips to Nepal beginning in 2000, I always spent some time in the capital, Kathmandu, although my main residence was in Pokhara. When in KTM, a regular stop each day was the Summit House in Thamel, the crowded tourist section. 

There, I'd pick up the International Herald Tribune. In time, I got to know the Thapa family. They owned the shop, and most family members worked there.

Son Nimesh came to the U.S. for his college education about a decade ago. He attended Truman University in Kirksville, Mo. and spent summers working in Ocean City, Md. On his comings and goings, he'd often visit Washington and stay at my house. When he graduated from Truman, he enrolled in the Masters Degree program at American University, within walking distance of my house. He's been in residence here now for about five years.

He was married back in Kathmandu in March, 2012. Now, Nimesh, his wife Bhawana, and I are a happy family.

Here's Nimesh's mother and his older brother Ritesh at the bookstore. Ritesh and his wife, both medical doctors, have just returned from studying and working in China. They're now working in a Pokhara hospital. 

Here's Nimesh during his first visit to Washington with the founders of Politics & Prose -- Barbara Cohen (next to Nimesh) and Barbara Meade. They did not discuss merging their two bookstores.

Here are Nimesh's parents and grandparents on their recent visit to D.C.

1 comment:

Dick Fisher said...

After reading several thick books about Churchill, I thought I had heard most of his famous quotes. But I heard one today on NPR that was new to me, and one of his best. He said, "When you're going through hell, keep going."

That's obviously what you're doing.

Dick Fisher
Age 82 (Caregiver for a wife with Parkinson's)