Archive for Leon Uris

Books to Spare

Posted in Book Buying, Reading List with tags , , , , , , , on April 9, 2012 by jaclemens

One of my bookshelves is called “books to spare.” It’s a shelf only in digital designation; in reality, no one shelf could contain them all. Nor should it, as the books don’t belong together. The only identifying trait they share is this lack of belonging. Unfit for other collections, these misfits have been given places in mine.

It began with Mila 18 by Leon Uris, a book rescued after it was discarded by a public library (literally dis-carded, its card pulled from the catalog). This poor broken-backed book made its way from the library’s shelves to my mother’s to mine.  It was one of the first books that took me beyond myself, so I took it with me as I moved out into the world. As a university student I worked in the Preservation department of the Marriott Library, where I was able to repair and re-bind many books, including this one.

In the years since I have accumulated some four dozen titles I can identify as books to spare. Among them are more worn hardcover Leon Uris titles, Russian lit, poetry, and art books. Some are prize-winners. There are signed books that were consigned to bargain bins. Two are in my top ten, some I may not get around to reading. I just finished Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae by Steven Pressfield, a mass market paperback I bought used. Some are remainders, others are clearance, many are library books taken out of circulation. The library held another semi-annual sale last week, and I took in The Raw Shark Texts, Atala and René, Escape From Sobibor, and Heavy Sand.

The most valuable is a 1923 edition of King Arthur and His Knights illustrated by Louis Rhead, handed down to me by my grandmother. I entrusted it to the capable hands of my friend Tomomi in Preservation, and she restored it beautifully for future generations. I have no intention of selling it or any others, but I do pick up some in order to pass them along, such as a cheap paperback copy of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom — in Russian! It’s all about matching the book with the right owner; some books need not be read – only spared – to be appreciated.


Out The Nose

Posted in Fiction, New release with tags , , , , , , , on October 4, 2010 by jaclemens

I was a fan of the tv show Frasier. Dr. Frasier Crane was a psychiatrist and the type of refined aesthete who would discuss his blend of bath salts on his radio show with the quip “Love does enter through the nose.” This naturally leads to his being lampooned by other radio hosts, but as it turns out he was not the first psychiatric proponent of such a theory.

Dr. Wilhelm Fliess, a German otolaryngologist, devised a theory of reflex nasal neuroses, which drew a direct link between the nose and the genitals. His friend and confidant Dr. Sigmund Freud espoused this radical thinking. Freud recommended that his patient Emma Eckstein undergo a procedure that Fliess concocted with disastrous results for the young woman’s face.

Peering through the curtains at the side of this historical stage is Dr. Jakov Sammelsohn, an oculist and errant Jew who chases Fraulein Eckstein into Freud’s orbit. Sammelsohn entreats Freud to introduce him to the hysterical young woman, and Freud only relents in the interest of analysis. Eckstein’s condition has manifested an interest in Sammelsohn, and Freud employs him to draw it out. Is it Eckstein’s condition, or can it be Ita, Sammelson’s spurned wife, returning as a dybbuk to possess Eckstein’s body? Was it the dybbuk’s departure or the doctor’s delusion that dealt the damage? Old World disbeliefs vie with “modern medicine” in this new interpretation of a famous case by Joseph Skibell.

Sammelsohn’s second encounter with a great thinker is also female-driven. He doesn’t take to his fellow oculist Dr. Zamenhof’s linguistic aspirations until he meets Loë Bernfeld, an ardent supporter of the universal language Esperanto. A language intended to cross all cultural barriers becomes the language of their courtship, proving that it can change the heart of one man if not all mankind. Esperanto’s embrace is directly related to Loë’s embrace of Yakov, as its rejection.

Later in life he travels to Warsaw with the ill-conceived notion of taking one of Zamenhof’s daughters as his wife. History moves about him once more and he is enclosed within the Warsaw ghetto. This third section held the most appeal for me – Mila 18 by Leon Uris is a sentimental favorite – although it was the least satisfying. It’s not without its otherworldly charm, but it has the feel of a tacked-on dénouement rather than a full third of the book. That was my impression from reading the advance reader’s copy (furnished by the fabulous Phoebe Gaston) at any rate; the finished product is likely another first-rate publication from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Literally Life Changing

Posted in Quote of the Day with tags on March 8, 2008 by jaclemens

At a veritable crossroads in my life, when I was unemployed and living in a motel, I turned to Leon Uris, one of my favorite authors, for guidance. I was reading Mitla Pass for the first time, and this is what I found:

One of the cheapest commodities in the world is unfulfilled genius. All of us want to be known as a unique individual, the one who broke out of the pack. So, you offer yourself up as a sacrifice and what you’re afraid of is losing and being thrown back into the pack. One question taunts you. Do you want to have, or do you want to be?”

I copied that quote down and put it on the mirror of my motel room. My answer to that question got me out of the motel and back on track. It literally changed my life. How has literature impacted your life?

Top Ten Books

Posted in Top Ten with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by jaclemens

There are many ways to slant a top ten list, but this is my straight up Top Ten Books list (arranged alphabetically by author):

1. Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

6. On Writing by Stephen King

7. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

9. Mila 18 by Leon Uris

10. Trinity by Leon Uris

While no individual title by C.S. Lewis has cracked the list (I have yet to acquire Allegory of Love, so it may still happen), his collected works are certainly among my favorites.