Saturday, July 29, 2017

Has Homegrown Hitler Found His Goebbels and Himmler? With Update

Has Homegrown Hitler found his Goebbels and Himmler?

Joseph Goebbels
His latest appointments--a brutal communications director and a former General as chief of staff--certainly reflect his dictatorial tendencies. Anthony Scaramucci, the communications director clearly wants to be HH's propaganda minister, his master's mouthpiece, in complete control of information unfettered by truthfulness.

But his lack of media experience, the over-the-top threats of a paper bully as exhibited in his now infamous rant to Ryan Lizza, and the distinct possibility that he isn't very smart, may limit his effectiveness.  His dictatorial tendencies and loyalties are clear enough, though.  Of his boss, "Scaramucci told CBS, “I don’t know if he’s going to get what he wants next week, but he’s going to get what he wants eventually, because this guy always gets what he wants. O.K.?”  With some so far invisible ability to learn, and especially some dumb luck, he could become dangerous as well as disgusting.

Himmler
The appointment of Homeland Security chief and former Marine General John Kelly to be chief of staff is maybe of another order.  Most of the early stories are fairly measured, and commentaries tend to question whether he or anyone can bring discipline to this White House.  But that may not be where the danger lies.

Kelly first of all got the job by proving his loyalty to some of HH's worst tendencies on immigration, as well as his efficiency.  Even joking that HH should use a ceremonial sword on "the press" is enough to set off alarms, if not a full red alert.  So whether Kelly can run the White House isn't the chief question; the question is whether he may wind up running the country, as a General carrying out the wishes of Homegrown Hitler.

According to some reports, Kelly has exhibited dictatorial tendencies and reach as Homeland Security chief.  What has seemingly saved this country from HH's dictatorial wishes being carried out to a greater extent has been his incompetence and inconsistencies.  Now what will he be able to do with a General as his chief executive?

While this may be a groundless fear, in fact Kelly has not been tested at this level of power.  One key to his intentions may be what now happens at Homeland Security.  Will he try to keep control of it, from the White House?  The first tipoff will be the person appointed to officially take his place--how close to him, and how independent.

When I use the analogy of Goebbels and Himmler, I'm not saying that these appointees are as bad, or are likely to be.  The point is that they are primed to fill the roles of Goebbels and Himmler in the Nazi regime (of master propagandist and master administrator), and in any other totalitarian regime.

Still, this General in the White House along with other recent news has prompted other alarming thoughts.  I was particularly struck by a comment by Jill Lawrence in USA Today in the content of decrying the craven chaos in the White House:

"And that might be the least of it. While this administration wallows in a self-absorbed cycle of insults, betrayals, firings, lies, leaks and incompetence, North Korea is building nuclear capacity and on Friday launched a ballistic missile capable of hitting our cities. Somebody needs to be president. I just don't know who that will be."

Homegrown Hitler's surest way to sustained dictatorial power has always been military--with the pretext of a terrorist attack or attack on US forces (a ship off the Korean shore, say, be it real or invented), to start a war.

Now look at where we are: HH and his party are politically both in conflict and reeling.  His poll numbers are down, and his fears that federal investigators are closing in are up.  This past week, even congressional Republicans began boxing him in to prevent any firing of Mueller or even attorney-general Sessions.

Meanwhile, North Korea is again making headlines that tend to simplify matters by claiming that their missiles can reach the US.  The generally accepted estimate that their ability to dispatch a nuclear warhead on such a missile and accurately hit a target is five to ten years away usually appears at the bottom of a story, if at all.

Most analyses say essentially that there are no good options in forcing North Korea to relent, which is not what Americans want to hear.  If fears are stoked sufficiently, starting a war may seem to be just what HH needs.  With other more obvious options cut off or not working, he may believe it is worth the risk.

 Worth it to him, that is, and his power.  If it works, his poll numbers go up, he's at last given the deference of his office while the invisible investigations disappear from the news.  Besides, the hundreds of thousands of casualties will be mostly Korean, North and South, if all goes well that is.  What this does to the country and the world doesn't matter much to him.  This is the guy who took America out of the Paris agreement to save the planet because the president of France bragged that he won their handshake tussle and it pissed him off.

HH can't do this by himself.  His White House is divided against itself.  Much if not most of the federal government doesn't trust him.  Even in the best of times a president has problems getting orders followed, and there are stories out there about discussions within the government and the military about whether to obey HH's.

But now there's a General in the Oval Office.  That may be enough to tempt HH to start a war.  It's not yet likely, but I believe the chance of such attempt in the next year is above 50%.  Kelly may be the key factor.

"Somebody needs to be president. I just don't know who that will be."  Could it be General Kelly?

Postscript/update: Two relevant articles in Politico on 7/30: historical background on the power of presidential chiefs of staff, notably the previous General to serve: Alexander Haig, in the Nixon White House, who ended up pretty much running the presidency.  And a piece detailing how the previous chief--Reince Prebus--was the sole connector to the Republican party, its officeholders, funders and conservative organizations.  This is significant because it was the White House direct connection to at least some viewpoints, and the political support for particular issues.  Now there's just a General. 

Also Sunday, New York posted a piece about North Korea that references tweets by reporter Laura Rozen indicating that some "Strangelovian" alternatives are being discussed in the White House regarding North Korea,  and that the White House wants a win on the North Korea issue this year.

On Monday, Eliot Cohen in the Atlantic expressed his misgivings about the appointment of General Kelly, in similar if less spelled out terms as I did here.  And one question I raised got answered: Kelly got Scaramucci fired, so no, he won't be HH's Goebbels, at least not as communications director in the White House. 

Meanwhile, in Slate, Joshua Keating joins me in suggesting HH might well start a war because he feels stymied domestically and haunted by investigations, though he does so in a more scholarly manner. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Heroes and Villains

Senator John McCain's week is already becoming legendary.  Diagnosed with brain cancer, he made a dramatic reappearance in the Senate, and was the deciding vote to take up the Republican unhealthcare bills.  He promptly made a speech castigating the secret, cynical and increasingly corrupt process led by Mitch McConnell and maintained by his fellow Republicans.

 He reminded them that matters of this weight and complexity require the regular committee process and open discussion, and that matters that involve virtually every American and a significant chunk of the economy require at least an attempt at bipartisan legislation.  Then he stunned his colleagues by being the deciding vote that brought down the last Republican unhealthcare plan, and ended this particular long nightmare for the time being.

McCain's first vote should not have been a surprise.  When asked earlier if he would vote to take up the bill he replied "I always do."  That's part of the regular order of how Senate business is conducted.  His vote against the plan mostly supported what he said in his speech, which Andrew Sullivan considers was significant in itself:

"And I wonder if historians will one day look back and see Senator John McCain’s speech last Tuesday as some kind of turning point. Diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer, McCain nonetheless returned to give one of the best-scripted speeches of his career. Excoriating the chaotic process by which repeal of the ACA was being forced through the Senate, McCain reminded his fellows that they are the president’s equals in the government of this country and not his subordinates. He appealed for a bipartisan fix for a national problem, and for a return to regular order. He spoke for a mere 15 minutes, but they remain worth watching several days later. He seemed for a few moments like an actual voice of authority in a capital where all such authority has withered into mere positioning or cowardice. And in the early hours of Friday morning, McCain appropriately provided the critical vote to kill the skinny repeal of the ACA. It was, in some ways, his finest hour."

(Parenthetically, I find myself agreeing with Sullivan, the former conservative, not only on the Republicans but on excesses of the left, particularly the stifling of free speech, and on Democratic failures.  His column from two weeks ago merits serious consideration.)

But lost in all the attention on McCain was the courage of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who defied actual and meaningful threats from the Sec. of Interior and backed by the apprentice dictator in the White House, threatening to screw the state of Alaska if she didn't play ball on unhealthcare.  It was no small threat.  Interior essentially runs more than half the state.

Murkowski, who in 2010 fell in the primary to a far right fellow Republican but spectacularly won on a write-in vote, cast an essential no vote on unhealthcare anyway, when fellow Republican Senators who knew better took the coward's way out.

It's significant that the threat got big play in Alaska itself, and worth noting that administration outrages make the local press, too, in areas where the apprentice dictator looks for his constituency, as in Long Island Newday's coverage of the a.d.'s encouraging police brutality.

He also made a lot of waves in middle America with his bizarre speech to a gathering of Boy Scouts, where scouting and its traditions are as close to sacred as anything secular.  The Borowitz satire that the Girls Scouts obtained a restraining order preventing the a.d. from coming within 300 feet of their gatherings, had the unfortunate ring of an actual news story.  As did the tweet he imagined the a.d. issuing in response:“Failing Girl Scouts bad (or sick) guys,” Trump wrote. “Mints, cookies terrible. Sad!

As for villains in this unhealthcare saga there are at least 49, but the most pernicious needs to be named: Mitch McConnell, who now holds the record for the most evil perpetrated by an American over the past nine years.  Even without formidable ongoing competition in the White House, let's hope he's done his worst.

Obamacare Lives


The last ditch, post-midnight effort by Republicans ended in failure when Senator John McCain joined the only other Republican Senators with an ounce of courage: Senator Susan Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski in voting no on the last gasp version of a Republican unhealthcare bill.

The vote was viewed with triumph and optimism by Jonathan Chait, so since that's pretty rare these days I'm passing on excerpts:

"I remember where I was and how it felt when the House of Representatives held the deciding vote to establish the Affordable Care Act. It was a feeling of elation, but, sitting in my living room by myself, an oddly solitary one. I ran out into the street of my residential neighborhood, half-expecting jubilant V-J Day-style crowds. But it wasn’t just that my neighbors were at work. The months and months of legislative grinding had cast a pall of depression over even many enthusiastic Obama-voting liberals, who saw the health care law as hardly worth celebrating.

The death of Obamacare repeal, in the early morning hours of Friday, July 28, was a very different experience. “Nothing in life is so exhilarating,” as Churchill is reputed to have said, “as to be shot at without result.” Obamacare has gained not only positive approval in broad opinion polls but a genuine mass following. Hundreds of thousands of Americans rallied to its defense, making its repeal impossibly painful for the Republican government that had once assumed it would sweep the law away in a January lightning strike."

Republicans in power will weaken Obamacare, Chait cautions, but America will never go back to the way things were done before Obamacare became law of the land.

"The desire on the right to destroy Obamacare will probably never disappear. In 2005, 70 years after the establishment of Social Security, confident Republicans sought to privatize the hallowed program. That, too, was a painful failure. And there is a lesson in this. While elections swing back and forth between right and left, there is a reason that the United States is more humane place today than it was 25 or 50 years ago. Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare have survived. Legalized child labor, supply-side economics, and unlimited pollution have withered. Ideas that bring real improvement to peoples’ lives have more staying power than ideas that do not.

Obamacare has brought life-changing access to modern medical care to 20 million Americans. It will endure."

Yet there is that other reality to face, and it becomes starker every day.  Check out this remarkable opening to Eugene Robinson's Washington Post column this morning:

"The Court of Mad King Donald is not a presidency. It is an affliction, one that saps the life out of our democratic institutions, and it must be fiercely resisted if the nation as we know it is to survive.

I wish that were hyperbole. The problem is not just that President Trump is selfish, insecure, egotistical, ignorant and unserious. It is that he neither fully grasps nor minimally respects the concept of honor, without which our governing system falls apart. He believes “honorable” means “obsequious in the service of Trump.” He believes everyone else’s motives are as base as his.

The Trump administration is, indeed, like the court of some accidental monarch who is tragically unsuited for the duties of his throne. However long it persists, we must never allow ourselves to think of the Trump White House as anything but aberrant. We must fight for the norms of American governance lest we forget them in their absence."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Zombies v Vampires


The Republican attempts to kill healthcare and millions of Americans along with it have several times been given up for dead, but they keep coming back, led by McConnell, a description of whom as "reptilian" gets us in the ballpark but understates the reality, as abetted by the snarling Homegrown Hitler. A new poll this week shows that HH is dangerously close to being weakly approved by one-third, with his strong base down to 25%, a few ticks away from Nixon's at the moment he resigned. He has lost ground in all the battleground states he won, and half of those polled don't believe he'll make it to the end of his term. In other words, politically he's dead. And yet, there he is.

And there he or someone like him will always be, because they are one version of the living dead. They are the Vampires.

Vampires, from their earliest 19th century emergence in popular storytelling, were always aristocrats: Count Dracula and so on. Even in more recent imaginings in decadent New Orleans or among suburban teens, they are among the 1% or so. Blood-sucking capitalists, vampire capitalism. Today they are the Plutocrats--a perfect name for them. Pluto the god of the underworld, where the gold is, and the dead, so he is the god of both wealth and death.

The very rich have always pulled the strings but now the US has an officially plutocratic government of billionaires. It used to be that the laws against conflicts of interest kept the very wealthy out of government, but it turns out there are no such laws after all, and the wealthy get to keep their businesses  and use their high government positions and access to the federal coffers to make more money. As Jonathan Chait points out, our apprentice dictator defines conflict of interest as not swearing loyalty and fealty to him.

Presiding over all this is the adult family of the apprentice dictator, all of them pretty obviously vampires. I mean, look at them.  (But not here--none of their photos have appeared on this site since election day, nor any of their names except within quotations.  Nor will they ever.  I'm not feeding them their lifeblood if I can help it.)

The other undead are the zombies. As reimagined by George Romero--who died last week--they are the living dead who swarm in huge groups, eager to eat the brains of the living, turning them into zombies.

 Zombies have captured the popular imagination in recent years, and no wonder. If vampires are the 1%, zombies are the 99%, fighting each other for the dregs. Zombies are "the precariat"--holding precariously onto some semblance of respectability-- or those who have already fallen off the precipice. To be joined by 16 to 26 million of the precariat, depending on which Republican unhealthcare bill eventually becomes law, if any.

So who are the brainless living dead out to eat everybody's brains? We're tempted to suggest they are the people who show up at Homegrown Hitler's rallies. The adults at least--turning the Boy Scouts into Homegrown Hitler Youth I hope was not as real as it was scary.

Here the origins of the zombie myth is instructive. It comes from Haiti, where through sorcery, plantation bosses were able to dig up fresh corpses and turn them into slaves to work the fields, or commit crimes if needed.  Zombies were portrayed as mindless slaves of their masters in stories before Romero's Night of the Living Dead.  And though it seems to have created the template for all the succeeding zombie dramas, nobody called them zombies in that movie. They were mostly called ghouls.

In political and economic life, the rich few have been able to expand power by getting the unrich many to fight their wars, and to keep power by somehow convincing them their plight was caused by others even more unrich than they.  The Vampires have been using their Zombie armies for centuries, and their Zombie voters.

Romero actually made a related political point in Night of the Living Dead (as Brent Staples pointed out recently) by showing the living in endless squabbles and conflict when confronted by the relentless undead, and the hero who leads them --a black man--is shot dead by someone in the posse, who assumes he is a zombie.  Staples:

"But for Mr. Romero, these effects were incidental to his broader theme: how mutual contempt and tribal self-interest so often prevent people from banding together in the face of a mortal threat. The flesh-eating dead, at least, come together in mindless self-interest. But the embattled residents of the farmhouse bicker and betray one another even as the darkness closes in. Mr. Romero viewed them as a metaphor for a society so deeply invested in petty enmities that it failed to see it was being swallowed alive."

The metaphorical equivalence of Vampires as the plutocratic wealthy and Zombies as the unrich came to me some months ago, as it must have to others--like s/f writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who came up with roughly the same formula and actually trademarked the title Zombies V. Vampires.

Right now it seems the Vampires still have a tight hold on their Zombie followers, but they know that could change, and recently a self-identified Plutocrat came out in public and said so. Nick Hanauer in Politico:

"Since Election Day, I’ve been overwhelmed by anguished calls, emails and conversations from you, my wealthy friends, who, for the first time, are confronting the real possibility that our cozy utopian, urban, pluralistic lifestyles may be in peril. I share your fear. And with good reason.


Three years ago, in these pages, I warned you that the pitchforks were coming. I argued that 30 years of rising and accelerating inequality would inevitably lead to some sort of populist revolt that would disrupt the fantastic lives we elites enjoy. I cautioned that any society which allows itself to become radically and indefensibly unequal eventually faces either an uprising or a police state—or both.  And here we are."


All the rich may fear an uprising, but not all of them, I fear, fear a police state.  Though given ample opportunity to see a more equal society works better for all, many of them can't stop sucking all the blood they can get.  If there's a tax they must avoid it or end it.  There isn't a wage that can't be lower. There isn't a lie that can't be spread if it means a destructive industry can squeeze out more money for a little longer. And if there's a way to even temporarily keep raking in the blood with slave labor overseas, they do it, and pretend it's not their fault, it's that dreaded Invisible Hand, against which they are powerless.

Now the Vampires, pretending to be on the side of the Zombies, are in power, and the comparative economic quiet could well be deceiving--it's only been six months but with the progress made by the Obama administration being reversed, and even older institutional structures being smashed, the damage may be suddenly obvious, and it could be quite bad quite quickly.  It may take more than the promised industrial jobs not materializing, but even that could make the Vampires sweat, if the Zombies get restless.

Then we'll see, but Zombies v. Vampires may not be a fantasy after all.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

My Book House

These days I live in a house of books.  There are book shelves in nearly every room, and in the two rooms where I spend the most time alone, overflowing bookcases line several walls in each, from floor to nearly the ceiling.

Growing up most of a continent away, there were always some books in our house (though none in most other homes I visited), and I always had books to hold and look at.  I had Golden Books of the 1950s, and other child-size books like Little Toot and The Little Red Caboose.  But I also had a library of particular book-size books.  My first house of books was My Book House.

Officially called The Book House For Children, they were illustrated anthologies of verse and prose edited by Olive Beaupre Miller and published under its own imprint in Chicago.  The first set came out in a series beginning in 1920, and some version would continue to be published until 1971.

The set that I grew up with was published in 1943.  The prior 1920s editions were six thick volumes but by the 40s the same basic material was in twelve volumes of more than 200 pages each. They were deep blue, thinner but larger in size to better accommodate illustrations.

We had fifteen books in all, for the set included a Parents' Guide Book and two extra volumes, the orange Tales Told in Holland and the lighter blue Nursery Friends From France, both unchanged from 1927, when they accompanied the original sets as "My Travelship."  There was a third Travelship volume called Little Pictures of Japan, but I don't recall we had it, possibly because it wasn't offered in 1943 since the US was at war with Japan.

Our set must have been acquired at my birth in 1946.  I believe my mother's sister Antoinette, who was a teacher, either gave us the set or advised my mother to buy it.  It became central to my childhood and that of my sisters, Kathy and Debbie.  I have the set now, and evidence of each of us survives in the books themselves: my scrawls of the alphabet and attempts to print my name in pencil and crayon, a number of blank endpapers in the Parents' Guide volume decorated with Kathy's drawings, and a clutch of napkins stuck in one volume upon which Debbie wrote and drew--and signed, when she was seven.

We were not the only ones who grew up with these books, of course.  In recent years they've become a favorite of home schoolers. Writers remember them. Novelist Jim Harrison mentioned the Book House set several times in his fiction and nonfiction.  Larry McMurtry writes a few words about it in his autobiographical Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen, which I've recently read and which prompted these musings on my early experience with books.

For me now, the color, slight shine and heft of these volumes, the very touch of their cool surfaces, still define "books."  As I view their contents, browsing by the light of the floor lamp that had once been in my grandparents' living room, now nearest to the shelves where these books repose, I can be taken back to earliest impressions, especially by the relationship of these evocative, colorful and now singular illustrations to the text.  


The content is comprised of verse and prose, often by (or adapted from) classic authors from many countries. The twelve volumes were arranged in a graduated sequence of readings for children from babydom to early adolescence.  This approach is codified in a general way by the Parents Guide Book titled In Your Hands.  It provides advice and information in a direct and informal tone, like the then wildly popular books by Doctor Spock.

Once I'd learned to read I don't recall my mother offering any guidance as suggested, but she seems to have heeded some of the suggestions on reading to babies.  (I have the advantage of having my own very real memories confirmed by watching her with my younger sisters, particularly Debbie, who was born when I was 8.)

For example, the book suggests how to hold a baby's arms and clap while mother recites "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man" (which sounded more like "patty-cake" to me) and how to play with the babies toes for "This little piggy went to market." It's exactly how my mother did it, although she sometimes added a rhythmic bouncing as she held me on her knee, which I believe was important in showing me that whatever else words in such arrangements were about, they were first of all about rhythm and music.  


Since my mother's own babyhood was in Italy and the Italian language, and I was the eldest child of two eldest children in the vanguard of my generation,  I believe she was following this book's instruction, including gradually getting me to chant along, and to anticipate the words and rhymes.  The rhythmic bouncing, however, was probably homegrown. Since I remember my grandmother doing that with us, she probably had done so with my mother. But other instruction she ignored, just as we ignored many of the other selections in that first volume, In the Nursery.

I know that we used this book even for these common nursery rhymes because I remember poring over the illustrations.  Many of the illustrations were comical, many quite literal, many romantic in a 19th century style.

When I look at them now, I feel the resonance of their magic then. Like the animals around a music stand under the verses about the sounds they make ( Bow-wow," says the dog; "Mew, Mew," says the cat; "Grunt, grunt," goes the hog; And "Squeak!" goes the rat.)  Or the cow flying over the moon accompanying "Hey diddle diddle," the subject as well--as my mother once pointed out to me--of our cookie jar.

After fifty pages of common nursery rhymes, there are successive sections of short rhymes from Scotland, Wales and Ireland; Norse, Italian, Spanish, Swiss, South American, Mexican, Polish, Swedish, Chinese and East Indian nursery rhymes, and one Japanese lullaby, before national and regional rhymes from America, including American Indian Songs.

Then another set of short sections of German, French, Dutch, Czechoslovakian, Canadian, Russian, and Hungarian rhymes, and a Roumanian lullaby.  Rhymes from Finland, Africa; rhymes from Shakespeare, verse from Keats, Robert Burns, Tennyson, Christina Rossetti, Robert Lewis Stevenson.

Some of the verses get longer before the book turns to prose, and explores childhood experience in a neighborhood, on a farm, in a big city and so on, sometimes in stories similar to those found in an early grade reader, sometimes adapted from authors like Hans Christian Andersen.  Ending up with tales from Greece, Rome and the Bible.  All in this first volume.

This resolute international inclusiveness, the combination of folk stories, myths and work of classic authors, set one pattern for further volumes.  Olive Beaupre Miller would change the mix over the years, but this edition seems to preserve some authentic cultural fragments, perhaps otherwise lost, with no apology for how puzzling many selections were and are.


Volume 2 is appropriately named Story Time because it introduces stories rather than anecdotes and descriptive narratives, including fables (Aesop and otherwise), folk tales from many cultures (one retold by Tolstoy), Bible stories ("Noah's Ark") and classic tales (Peter Rabbit, the Nutcracker) interspersed with verses, including two by William Blake, one ("Owl and the Pussycat") by Edward Lear, and one by the Indian poet Tagore.

Some stories have morals and messages, but they aren't all "The Ugly Duckling" and "The Little Engine That Could" (which are included.)  The one that stayed with me is "The Gingerbread Man" (who in the story is called the Gingerbread Boy.) The Gingerbread Boy comes to life, leaps out of the oven and over 8 madcap pages inset with illustrations, he laughs and outruns everybody.  Until the last page when he reaches the river, still being pursued, and accepts the fox's offer to carry him across on his back.  As the water gets deeper the fox counsels him to jump up on his shoulder and then his nose, until the fox eats him.

Not exactly a strive and succeed sort of story, but the impact of it hit me with the final illustration.  Most of the figures had been cartoonish, except the fox in the final one, which is rendered with startling realism.  I'm surprised now to see how small this illustration is, down at the bottom of the page, because it made a big impression on me, when my mother read me the story.

The illustration in this book I most loved however was of the Sandman holding his wondrous umbrella over a sleeping child.  The umbrella reminded me of a similarly shaped and decorated lampshade on a table lamp at my grandparents.  (I believe my sister Kathy has it now.)


Volume 3, Up One Pair of Stairs was transitional--I remember reading parts of it myself.  I learned to recognize words on my own, but didn't really read until taught to do so in first grade, where I was in the Rosebuds reading group, the most advanced one.  We started with the classic Dick and Jane readers, though possibly a Catholic edition.

This volume of My Book House has more and longer prose stories, and the illustrations have changed.  In the first two volumes the colors were bright and varied, with variations of reds.  Though I believe they all were done with a four-color process (illustrations using similar colors appeared together), the palate mostly became restricted in this and subsequent volumes to shades of blue and orange as well as black and white, and more like art deco.  They were less prominent usually, deferring to the text, but not always.

Both my sister Kathy and I especially remember the final selection, "Water Babies," with verses based on the story by Charles Kingsley.  A kind of fairy tale that I can now see is touching upon issues of innocence, socialization and nascent sexuality, its illustrations probably seemed daring to us, as they modestly portray the nudity implied in the text.

By volume 3, the books in my set are also in better shape, showing less handling than the first two.  Now I seem them as treasuries, but at the time they competed with schoolbooks and later with comics and library books.  But I did read selections in all of the volumes, often in bed and especially when restricted to bed by my many childhood illnesses (mumps, chicken pox, measles twice as well as colds, flus, etc.)

In volume 4 (Through the Gate) I'm sure I read about Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill, Johnny Appleseed and the Fisherman and His Wife, a cautionary tale about greed.

Volume 5 (Over the Hills) wove in more history, with several pieces about Abraham Lincoln (and the Gettysburg Address verbatim), along with Jack and the Beanstalk, a poem by Emerson, and William Dean Howell's "The Pony Engine and the Pacific Express" (I especially loved stories about trains, like those I could see a few blocks from my grandmother's house.)


Volume 6 (Through Fairy Halls) emphasizes magical worlds, though hewing close to impressive classical sources, such as libretto for operas, a tone poem by Debussy, Shakespeare (prose telling of A Midsummer Night's Dream) and Dickens, and stories about Leonardo da Vinci and composer Felix Mendelssohn.  The versions of stories we would know in more popularized form like Hansel and Gretel and Sleeping Beauty are closer to original sources.  Again, a mix of international tales, including Alaskan, Hawaiian, Northwest and Winnebago Native tales, and  poems by Basho and Eugene Field.

Now when I browse subsequent volumes I see poems, excerpts and rewritten tales from authors and works I've since read.  If I read these as a child, their influence was subconscious, but then much of education is.  There are bookmarks left in them (one indicating 1962) by one or another of us.

The one volume I remember best is the eighth: Flying Sails.  At some age--perhaps 11 or so--I became passionately interested in tales of ships and the sea, and voyages.  And of all the stories in this volume, the one I recall definitely reading first there is "Gulliver's Travels to Lilliput."

 Comparison to Jonathan Swift's text shows this to be only lightly edited and condensed, so Swift's voice is preserved as well as the now classic story.  Again I remember reading it here because I recall the illustrations.  But these illustrations are not so numerous, and the story lasts for some forty pages.  The point being that while I was transported by the wonder of the story, I was given the opportunity to absorb its literary merits as well.


Volume 12 (Halls of Fame) is devoted largely to biographical sketches of authors, including authors of famous fairy tales with suggestions of their hidden historical references.  It notably includes a long, illustrated retelling of Goethe's Faust.  This final volume ends with an index to the entire set, plus a child development index that sends the parent or reader to appropriate pages for views on bravery, courtesy, imagination, shyness etc.

These books existed in my life within a context that prominently included movies (especially Disney), radio (early on) and television, as well as phonograph records.  (I still have my battered 78 version of Tubby the Tuba.)   But the point is that books were represented, and not just picture books or school books (which barely registered as books.)  My Book House provided living examples of what books are, and the template for my further and continuing explorations of these nurturing, magical objects.