“A Tale of Two Turtles” (Mary B. Cooper) A Review

tortoisetales01Perhaps it’s a second childhood for me, but Mary B. Cooper, children’s writer and illustrator, has captured my full attention. “A Tale of Two Turtles” tells of two turtles, one thoroughly satisfied with his life and another, an unhappy misfit who finds happiness  — thanks to a little deception by the happy turtle.  The simple moral is profound and I shall not divulge it.  “A Tale of Two Turtles” is  out-of-print I believe, but available in used and rare book stores. Ohioans might be  especially lucky to find it.  I found it at prices like $115.  If my wife had not acquired the tale from Ms. Cooper back in our Ohio years, I would buy it this day at that price or higher.  This tale is worthy  the attention of Aesop himself.  It transcends its genre.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken

Facebook Twitter Email

GRAMMAR: Is the Pluperfect Tense Endangered?

Is the pluperfect tense endangered?  I fear so.  More and more I notice the simple past replacing it.  Now, the past tense
is relatively easy, but some people do not know how to handle an event that occurred before a past event.  I hope that these people do not believe all past actions happened yesterday and really do understand that stuff may have happened the day before yesterday — perhaps even the day before the day before yesterday.  Good grammar at least indicates that one knows these realities in life.

In the example below (which happens also to be in the subjunctive mood, but that’s another matter), the correct verb is
“had never occurred.”

EXAMPLE: “As indicated by the Heisman Pundit, eight quarterbacks are currently ahead of Miller in the race. This is understandable after Miller missed nearly three full games in September with an MCL injury. If the injury never occurred, perhaps momentum could have carried Miller to New York even without gaudy numbers.”   ( See http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/writer/jeremy-fowler/24248215/ohio-states-braxton-miller-hoping-for-late-heisman-push

Facebook Twitter Email

Surviving Progress Movie Review (2012) | Roger Ebert

“Surviving Progress” is a bright, entertaining (!), coherent argument in favor of these principles I have simplified so briefly. It’s self-evident and tells the truth. It is an irony that the actual victims of the process are often those most in support of it. Think of the opposition to “tree huggers.” In Brazil, they are seen as a cause of unemployment in the lumber and logging industries. Actually, they are opposed to the nation essentially tearing its wealth out of the ground and shipping it overseas, resulting not only in unemployment but in devastation.

via Surviving Progress Movie Review (2012) | Roger Ebert.

Facebook Twitter Email

Insights into Academic Life via a Joanne Dobson Mystery

I have only just read Death without Tenure and The Maltese Manuscript by Joanne Dobson, literary mystery writer of the Karen Pelletier series from Doubleday.  I intend to read the entire series.  They are literary, academic mysteries of intriguing, suspenseful plot and excellent characterization.  They are also warm, sensitive and full of humanity. Brilliant Karen Pelletier, the sleuth, by virtue of stubbornness, determination, and professional passion pretty much asks for all the difficulties her curiosity brings upon her.  But she perfectly captures my ideal image of the teaching Ph.D. who really cares about her students.

As part of my ongoing desire to shed light on the realities of academic life to would-be English professors, I add Dobson to my collection of references.  Like the graduate students Pelletier teaches, I was incredibly naive many years ago.  I dreamed of the professor’s life, but many years later I wondered why.  All told I passed four years in the university, taking courses and notes in anticipation of  writing a dissertation and then leading an idyllic life teaching and writing; especially challenging the minds of my students.  Life in the university eluded me no matter how hard I deluded myself.

Certainly Dobson spins a great tale, but along the way her insights into academic life are lessons from which I might have benefited.  I’m not sure I would have dropped out of grad school because of  them — but I might have. How youth deceives itself!  She depicts truths that only the rarest of tenured faculty would convey to a graduate student.  One has to have the ears to hear and eyes to see.

Here’s one example of  Dobson’s satire of academic jargon. At a dinner party in the Maltese Manuscript(p.83),  Harriet, a member of the English faculty, asks of Sunnye, the famous detective novelist, “As a woman author suppressed by the cultural  strictures of partriarchal capitalism, do you find murder provides you with a transgressive symbol system for an anti-essentialist social critique?”

“Sunnye stared at her. ‘Murder?’  she queried.  ‘Are you asking me if I condone murder?’

“Only as a mode of hermeneutical rhetoric.”

“The novelist turned abruptly to me[Karen Pelletier].

‘What’s she talking about?’

‘I[Karen] translated. “I believe she’s asking if you write about murder in order to protest the male-dominated power structure of modern life.”

“She pursed her lips, annoyed. ‘Why doesn’t she say that?”

As far as I am concerned Dobson’s work and Karen Pelletier  meet the highest purpose of the best literature — to teach and delight.  David Milliken

Facebook Twitter Email


Erin Morgenstern, author of The Night Circus, says most everything she writes is a fairy tale in some sense. But, oh what a fairy tale this is! I picked it up because I wanted something different. A novel about a circus seemed a good contrast with the thrillers and mysteries I had been reading. Now that I have known this savory indulgence for more than cotton candy or carmel corn, I wonder why I ever hesitated at the bookstore. Had I known that conceptually  the novel would tap the myth of Prospero, I would not have hesitated. The Tempest has been with me for years. Other magic seems to be drawn from another system still a mystery to me. This novel has plenty of mystery, too


The Night Circus is allegory, theatre, carnival, fairy tale and more. The good prince and princess are there as are a cauldron and white hot fire. There’s a strong case here for the princess saving the prince, however. There are fairy likenesses and demons, an illusionist, contortionist, acrobats and fortune tellers. Glasses break and wine hangs suspended in air then reassembles in a glass with neither a drop lost nor a mess made. Good struggles with evil; and beautiful, perhaps sublime resolution of conflict occurs. Here is a story of unrelenting, magnetic love between two beautiful creatures whose delectable, consummation comes after years not hours. Marco and Celia grow older than the reader thinks. There’s a power struggle that may or may not be eternal. Angelic and devilish manipulation of the innocent and the not so innocent prevails — but only for a cycle.


Morgenstern’s imagination and powerful aestheticism remind me of Pater’s Marius, the Epicurean, as does the exquisite fare at midnight dinners. One makes parallels with Gide’s The Immoralist  and whether or not two driving mentors have gone too far with their selfish indulgences remains a persistent question.


The Night Circus has no schedule and pops up unexpectedly in cities all over the world, creating thousands of followers known by their red scarves. What schedule there is, is known by word of mouth. In the end when The Night Circus faces extinction, there is no doubt that not only do the performers need The Night Circus for a worthwhile life, but the reader of the 21st Century should know he needs magic at any age to be happy. Bailey, the young, simple man, who gives up everything to run off to the circus and save the show becomes a very necessary next proprietor. It will be better for him if he never becomes a fanatical, heroic magician. His passion leads him to happily do what he is instructed to do by wise veterans now worthy of trust who have learned their lessons and survived by wit and luck. David Milliken.

Facebook Twitter Email

Henry James’ The Reverberator, reviewed. – Slate Magazine



Photo: Henry James

“Pretty pre-socialite May Marcy McClellan’s father had run for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1864 and later became governor of New Jersey. Her brother would, in 1904, become the mayor of New York City and beat William Randolph Hearst for his second term; he had “drifted” into politics, as his Times obituary hilariously put it, upon becoming close with Tammany Hall figures while a politics reporter. Which is to say, she was fancy.” — more —

via Henry James’ The Reverberator, reviewed. – Slate Magazine.

Facebook Twitter Email


When I think of gun culture in America, I spin off to the Wild West and that makes me think of the book(1949) and movie called “Shane”(1953). Book and film merge in my mind.  Shane can only look like Alan Ladd.  Shane is the laconic, reluctant gunfighter,  a man with shadows living in the shadows of silence.  In the book he doesn’t even tote a gun until after the real danger has arrived. One feels this kind, dangerous man wants to retreat from some earlier, deep melancholy of his own. He’s trapped in his past.  “A man is what he is,”  Shane says to Joey(the little boy played by Brandon DeWilde), ” and there’s no breaking the mold.  I tried that and I’ve lost.” *


And in the uncivilized West, Wyoming Territory in particular, self and home defense were absolute necessities.  The Joe Starrett (Van Heflin) family, homesteaders, live out on the plains, a hundred miles from a sheriff.  And while the Indian threat doesn’t seem to be serious in this story, a farmer still needs firearms for hunting, varmint control and self-preservation in an essentially lawless land.  The looming threat here is Ryker and his hired cowboys.  Ryker is acattleman who wants to rid the range of sod busters so he can create his cattle empire.  Sooner or later fear will becomes palpablel in the person of the gunfighter, Jack Wilson. No one could play stark evil better than Jack Palance.


In the book the first suggestion of guns appears when Joey Starrett starts to help Shane stow his gear.  Shane quickly relieves the boy of his saddle roll in which  Shane’s grand, single action Colt is wrapped. And later when Joey is playing with an old broken down Colt, Shane says, “Listen, Joey, a gun is just a tool.  No better and no worse than any other tool, a shovel — or an axe or a saddle or a stove or anything. Think of it always that way.  A man is as good and as bad as the man who carries it.”  Of course, Shane has become an awesome model for Joey.


Shane the reluctant, anti-hero boasts only once when he wants to dissuade Joe Starrett from taking on the gunfighter Wilson.  Shane’s gun is a fact of life and an icon of Shane’s very being — but nothing to be worshiped.  In the end after Shane triumphs  he refers to the gun he has just used as a “good tool.” Here is the epitome of a good man with a gun.  He is not a paranoid or a romantic avenger.  Good Shane’s gun is a good tool — like the axes he and Joe Starrett use to passionately remove an old tree stump and like the stove Marian Starret(Jean Arthur) uses to bake her apple pie — especially after the failure of her first effort. In some ways the stove is a very effective weapon against rampant testosterone in the Starrett home.  We all have good tools.


Having viewed the film many times, I’ve finally read the book. Until recently I did not  know the film was based on Jack Shaefer’s novel.  Anyone who enjoys the film, should read the novel. Neither is better than the other.   They are different and both are superb, simple, classical works.  If I needed a good man with a gun, it would be Shane.  I would want him to come back and ride by my side.  Violence in “Shane” amounts to verbal bullying, fist fighting and one final gun duel.  Good wins. Bad loses. Bullying gets its comeuppance.  And yet, Shane, expert gunfighter himself, projects a grim outlook on violence.  The justness of his cause cannot be denied. Rancher and gunfighter deserved their fates.

But this is art and a far cry from some stupid, raging domestic shooting in a kitchen between feuding spouses. It has nothing to do with a gun left carelessly within reach of a child.  I can’t imagine Shane using his gun under the influence of anything but his skill, principle and will. Shane’s gun is not an indispensable extension of his ego. In fact Shane would forsake gun fighting if he could. A gun in “Shane” has noble use.  At the same time there’s reality in the despicable meanness, ambition and greed that threatens a prairie village.  Only a gun can clean it up.
* I refer to the book and use quotations  from it.

Facebook Twitter Email

The Decline of American Monuments and Memorials – Hillsdale College – Imprimis

“Monuments and memorials today are discursive, sentimental, addicted to narrative literalism, and asking to be judged on good intentions rather than visual coherence. This change began, ironically, with a critique of the overwrought memorials of the Victorian era. In reaction, the first generation of modern architects decided that we needed an entirely different vocabulary of monuments. So when modernism went about dislodging the structures of traditional society, culture, religion, and the political and social order, it also began dispensing with the arches and columns that paid tribute to that order. This was not easy, however, because modernism was concerned with the future and monuments are retrospective.”  . . . more

via Hillsdale College – Imprimis.

Copyright © 2012 Hillsdale College.

The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the following credit line is used: “Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.”


Facebook Twitter Email

Thoughts on John Barth’s Every Third Thought

As I browsed new books at my library, I had first and second thoughts about reviewing John Barth’s Every Third Thought. God, Barth again? Do I really want to? Do I really want to visit the floating enigma again? The man must be in his eighties. Well, shit, you’re and old fart, too; try him one more time. He’s teased you for years, why not once more?

So, I checked out the book, for reasons probably as inexplicable as my decision to write a Master’s thesis on Barth back in 1970. Oh, I’ve dabbled in Barth since then; but one cannot really dabble in this author any more than he can dabble in James Joyce — not if you are a just reader. I didn’t know this when my thesis adviser voiced some reservations about the use of my time. “Study Swift instead,” he said. But back then, I was an artist, too. We were all creative sophomores.

It’s a small book, but still capable of delivering moments of boredom as Giles Goat Boy delivered in spades. (I learned to like Giles.) And George Giles redeemed himself, just as G.I.N. did. After all, the Barthian experience is still an aesthetic one. In Barth there’s probably a reason for boring dear reader — just as Anastasia’s violent rape had its purpose in Giles. This latest story tells us about G. I. Newitt (G.I.N.) and his wife/muse Amanda Todd, an English professor, boys and girls exploring each other in the attic and somebody’s fascination with coincidental events linked to the number 77; the seasons, both calendar and philosophic. The surprise ending for the first time in my reading of Barth, brought me close to tears. Passion and sorrow amidst the meta-fictional caper make a very conventional statement in the work of this unconventional, original writer. Growing old is no caper.

What still remains in Barth are the auto-biographical hints, no sooner given than fused into some other purpose or effect. Who is John Barth and where is Barth’s Barth? Where has the Narrator gone now? The reader still knows that while he’s reading a masterpiece, he’s also captured by a master magician (Prospero?). There’s no breaking the Barthian code which a young graduate student thought he might do over forty years ago. Barth is a writer’s writer, assuredly and a determined reader’s rubik’s cube.

Read it, but if you read it, read it twice, thrice or more. As usual, Barth is no quick read.

Thank you, Professor Barth, for your floating enigmas,

David Milliken



Facebook Twitter Email