A Forgotten Eccentric, Poetry and Spies: Great Reads from Wertheim Study and Allen Room Authors
I'm so jealous of my reading that when anyone recommends a book, even though I say thank you, in my dark heart I throw it to the ground and go back to the dead ones, usually Balzac, Dickens or Sylvia Townsend Warner (who?)
But lately, as factotum to the Research Study Rooms, i.e. Allen Room and Wertheim Study, I've had a change of reading habits and switched to LIVING AUTHORS!
Wertheim Study alumnus Mark Adams wrote a fascinating book. I had never heard of Bernarr Macfadden, yet there he was, a very big presence, from a lonely mid-West beginning in 1868 to a penniless death in the Jersey City Medical Center in 1955. But in-between, what a story. Mr. America: How Muscular Millionaraire Bernarr Macfadden Transformed the Nation through Sex, Salad, and the Ultimate Starvation Diet says it all. He walked barefoot whenever possible and as long as possible, fasted or went on milk diets, ran for the governorship of Florida, and, his most lasting achievement, began the physical culture movement, which he called physcultopathy (sounds Lovecraftian to me). I recommend you read the appendix, in which Mr. Adams tries out these theories, or watch his YouTube short. Great Caesar's Ghost! - the method actually works (maybe).
Academics are part and parcel of the Wertheim Study's clientele, but besides exploring artisinal workshops of 18th century South Carolina, they sometimes write poetry. A few weeks ago I abandoned my too faithful friends Telly and Fridge, and went to Central Park (being Texas born I can take the heat better than New York sissies) to read Karen Weiser's To Light Out, a slim volume of beautiful and challenging poems, produced by the most-excellent Brooklyn-based Ugly Ducking Presse. Here is the first third of one of the poems:
But a name of excess greets us
in the winnowing out of thought
there's too much around us, dear cricket,
we are merry signed to a lamp
caught in the crouching feet of a fire
An idea is being held to contemplate it;
slam the book, put down the violin
and warm your exhausted proboscis
in the trestle bed of an emotional fire
And just now I'm reading The Good German by Joseph Kanon (Allen Room). It is grim, as should be any tale of Berlin in 1945, and very grounded in the city itself. Whether this is accomplished solely by research or actually living there, I don't know, but one has the feeling of being there in the rubble, among those very real and desperate people: GIs, ex and not so ex Nazis, heavy Russians, booze and harsh words, black market cads, despairing Brits, etc. Quite a read.