The Quiet American

Like many other novels reviewed in these pages, I first watched The Quiet American on a DVD obtained from my local library. The adaptation I watched was filmed in 2002, starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser. An earlier film adaptation was done in 1958, starring Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave.

The book was written by Graham Greene. My copy is only 180 pages — both indications I’d enjoy an evening or two of good reading. All in all, although the film was interesting and worthwhile, I preferred the book.

Read – The Quiet American


Electoral Reform for America

United States Capital Building

It is clear from the past four years (if not from the past few decades), the United States government is dysfunctional. I argue it was designed to be that way. Its Republican structure makes change difficult. Sometimes impossible.

In order for a law to be passed by Congress, it must be approved by a majority of 435 members in the House of Representatives. Then it must pass with a clear majority in the Senate (currently meaning 60 Senators voting for the bill, out of a body numbering 100 in total).

Read – Electoral Reform for America

Ardnish was Home

This is the first in a trilogy of novels about Ardnish, a rural area in the Western Highlands of Scotland. More particularly, it is a novel of the First World War, the Gallipoli Campaign and a love story involving Louise Jones, a nurse from Wales,  and Donald Peter Gillies (‘DP’), a young Scottish soldier in the ‘Lovat Scouts’ who hails from Ardnish.

It is a short book, just 244 pages, and well worth your while (if you choose to read it). It is written in a lovely way, with parts of it telling of the escape of Louise and Donald Peter overland, and by boat, from the peninsula of Gallipoli all the way to Malta.

Read – Ardnish was Home

Jake and ‘The Kit’

Carving? Are you Crazy? I’m only six!

A couple of weeks ago, Ken told me his grandson, now age fourteen, expressed an interest in woodcarving. Ken felt he should encourage this and was keen on buying Jake a ‘carving kit’ to get him started. He also had a cutout of a ‘boot’ at home—a good project for a beginner. Ken would give this to Jake when they met.

Over the course of a few Saturdays, he would work with his grandson on the boot. If all went well, Jake would have a fine carving to set on the mantle, a good reminder that carving is a skill that can be taken up by almost everyone.

Read – Jake and ‘The Kit’ 

Witness for the Prosecution

‘Witness for the Prosecution’ is a lovely film, as well as an enjoyable book. I watched the 2016 film version recently, set out in two parts on Acorn TV. I purchased the book shortly thereafter.

There were also film adaptations of the book in 1957 and 1982. I watched the earlier one when I was a youngster. I expect at least one of these three films should be available at your local library. And if not there, you can purchase or rent them through Amazon. The book is also widely available at libraries and book stores.

Read – Witness for the Prosecution

Lowdown on the Lockdown

Socializing in the Early Days after ‘The Big Stop’.

It’s a pity I didn’t take this picture in March, when Ken Beckberger and I drove up to Brooklin once or twice a week, to sip lattés and chat in the Tim’s parking lot, often for two or three hours. Clearly we were starved for conversation and company. With winter coats, hats and scarves, we each sat in our respective cars, holding court through the driver’s seat window, until our bladders told us to head home for a washroom break.

Read – Lowdown on the Lockdown

News of the World

Jefferson Kyle Kidd is seventy-one at the time of this story. The year is 1869 and Kidd earns his living in post-civil war Texas, reading the news in small towns and cities in the northern part of the state. I mention the north because the south of Texas had readier access to newspapers and magazines from the East and abroad.

The civil war ended several years earlier and Texas is now under military occupation (and a corrupt one at that). The roads are unsafe. Desperate men roam the countryside. Indian attacks on travelers and small farmers occur randomly. It is a dangerous time to live in Texas, particularly outside the larger towns or cities.

Read – News of the World

Why not Carve a Little Guy?

Festus and Virgil

Although my friend, Don, claims his birds are a work of art, and my brother-in-law favours relief carving, I often wonder why they don’t turn their minds to something that might be a little different—carving little people.

Most of my figures are 4 inches in height and no more than 1¼ inches square. I buy the wood—in one foot lengths—from Heinecke Wood Products. It is shipped promptly in boxes of 24 pieces (more or less), allowing easy storage on a shelf in your basement. Even including delivery, I estimate my wood cost for each carving at no more than $1.75.

Read – Why not Carve a Little Guy?

The Scarlet Letter

I first read The Scarlet Letter while studying at university in the 1960s. I liked the book, but never gave it a lot of thought, until Ray brought it up over lunch recently.

This is something that Ray often does. He mentions one of the great books from the past, and we spend time talking about it over coffee. It is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. All the more so, because both of us had read a number of these classics when we were young.

Read – The Scarlet Letter

The Road not Taken: Covid-19

We are now in the ninth week of a Covid-19 lockdown in Ontario. It started on March 17, 2020—and as of Victoria Day, very few shops have reopened. Many will never reopen. Aside from grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other essential businesses, we seem to have given up on our economy. It is no longer considered important.

The government prints money, shovels it out the door and prevents many lower-income people from earning a living.  There will be a large price to pay for this economic folly. There are now 2 million more people unemployed today than in February. The April unemployment rate is 13%. It’s possible this will rise to 20% (or more) in the months to come.

Read – The Road Not Taken: Covid-19


Just before Christmas, my brother (who lives in Australia) was good enough to send me a book for holiday reading … a mystery story. It amounted to some 485 pages: normally too long for my tastes. But the typeface looked friendly and the dustjacket promising. I started reading later the next day.

This is the best book I have read in a long, long time. It has a complex, interesting plot, tells a intriguing story of a small town in the Australian outback and is a page turner to boot. Who could ask for more?

In the first few pages, we quickly learn that one year earlier, for no apparent reason, the Anglican priest in Riversend, Byron Swift, shot five people dead on a Sunday morning, just prior to church services.

Read – Scrublands

The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: A Look at the Sixties

This past week I read a short obituary claiming Dick Smothers died this spring. This proved to be a hoax! He is alive and well, and currently a little over 80 years of age.  His brother Tom, age 83, is also living. Both are long retired, although they do turn up from time-to-time for the odd TV appearance. Dick lives in Florida and Tom in California.

As luck would have it—a few days later, I came across another reference to the Smothers Brothers. I listened to ‘The Draft Dodger Rag, a tune performed by Tom and Dick (together with George Segal) during the late 1960s. After hearing this song, and feeling a little nostalgia for my youth, I decided to see what I could find out about the two brothers, and their life and times.

Read – The Smothers Brothers: A Look at the Sixties

We Fought for Ardnish

What a lovely novel! What an unusual way to tell a story. I highly recommend this book. I discovered it by reading a newspaper review late last year. I was drawn to the picture on the cover, and since I hail from an old Scottish family, I thought I would give it a try.

I ordered it from Amazon on December 28th, and just short of two months later, it arrived in my post. A long time for a simple paperback to find its way to a buyer.

Read – We Fought for Ardnish

An Unwanted Guest

This book is a page turner, a good old-fashioned story of multiple murders at a remote lodge called Mitchell’s Inn in upper New York State. The book reminds me of the Agatha Christie novel ‘And then There Were None’.

The inn “boasts spacious old rooms with huge wood burning fireplaces, a well-stocked wine cellar and opportunities for cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing or just curling up with a good murder mystery.”

Read – An Unwanted Guest

University Reform: Long Overdue

University Campus in Upstate New York

With Ontario facing large budget deficits for the foreseeable future, there is fertile ground for cost cutting in its bloated university system. A few years ago, the Liberal government decided Ontario’s Colleges of Education were producing too many graduates. Rather than cut the enrolment directly, they did so in a way to increase overall costs (for students as well as the taxpayer). The one-year Bachelor of Education was expanded to two years.

Given that teachers were trained over two short summer sessions in the 1960s, when there was a shortage of them, it beggars belief that a two year program is necessary. It was a policy, cynically designed to preserve jobs at Colleges of Education in Ontario.

Read – University Reform: Long Overdue