Book Review

Registration is now open! The Port Jefferson Free Library, 100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson hosts an Author Panel featuring Sarah Beth Durst, Catherine Asaro and Kelley Skovron on Wednesday, Dec. 14 at 7 p.m.  

Join them for an evening filled with mystery, interstellar fantasy, misfit animals, and a ghost with a vengeance. Hear from these award-winning authors about their newly published novels, writing process, behind the scenes info, and more in this panel-style event. 

Moderated by Salvatore J. Filosa, Head of Technical Services and Marketing & Outreach Librarian,  newly released titles to be discussed include: The Jigsaw Assassin, 2022,  published by Baen Books, by Catherine Asaro (perfect for adult readers); The Shelterlings, 2022, published by Clarion Books of Harper Collins, by Sarah Beth Durst (perfect for kids); and The Ghost of Drowned Meadow, 2022, published by Scholastic, by Kelley Skovron (perfect for kids). 

The event is open to all. To register, call 631-473-0022 or visit portjefflibrary.org/authors.

Paul Newman
Based on interviews and oral histories conducted by Stewart Stern; Compiled and edited by David Rosenthal

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I’ve always had a sense of being an observer of my own life.”  — Paul Newman

Paul Newman starred in over seventy films, including Cat on a Hit Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting, The Hustler, Absence of Malice, and many more. From 1986 to 1991, the iconic Newman sat down with writer Stewart Stern (best known for the screenplay of Rebel Without a Cause) for a series of intense interviews. In addition, Stern spoke with friends, relatives, and colleagues for their perspectives. Newman’s driving force in the project was public revelation: “I want to leave some kind of record that sets things straight, pokes holes in the mythology that’s sprung up around me, destroys some of the legends, and keeps the piranhas off.”

For whatever reason, the book was left unfinished. Newman passed away in 2008, and Stern in 2015. They left behind an archive of fourteen thousand pages. 

David Rosenthal has compiled and edited the chronicle into The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (Knopf Doubleday). Presented as Newman’s memoir, Rosenthal intersperses Newman’s very personal perspective with the additional interviews. The intense, riveting work reflects a man of fascinating contradictions whose legacy lives on in cinematic history and far-reaching philanthropy. Newman’s daughter, Melissa, describes the book as “… a sort of self-dissection, a picking a part of feelings, motives, and motivations, augmented by a Greek chorus of other voices and opinions, relatives, navy buddies, and fellow artists. One overriding theme is the chronic insecurity which will be familiar to so many artists. Objectivity is fickle.”

The book is predominantly chronological, beginning with his difficult childhood. “My brother [Arthur] chose to remember the good things from our childhood, while I best recall the failures and the things that didn’t go right.” Newman grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in an almost pathologically dysfunctional middle-class family, with an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother. (Later in life, he cut ties with the destructive matriarch.) 

Insecurities, including a sense of intellectual inferiority, plagued him from a young age. “I wasn’t naturally anything. I wasn’t a lover. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a leader. I measured things by what I wasn’t, not by anything I was. I felt that there was something lacking in me that I couldn’t bridge, didn’t know much about and couldn’t fathom.”

The book follows Newman in college years before and after World War II. There are tales of his early years onstage, a great deal of drinking (including being thrown off the football squad because of a town brawl), and more than fleeting references to his personal life. Of the theatre work, “I never enjoyed the acting, never enjoyed going out there and doing it. I enjoyed all the preliminary work — the detail, the observation, putting things together.”

He met his first wife, Jackie Witte, in a Wisconsin summer stock, and they married in 1949. (Witte speaks frankly but without rancor about her marriage to Newman.) He admits they were relatively clueless: “We were two very young people trying to act grown-up.” They had three children: Scott, Susan, and Stephanie, before divorcing in 1958. Newman highlights his struggle in coming to terms with what it meant to be a father, particularly to Scott, who would die at age twenty-eight from complications due to drug and alcohol use.

After a short and unfulfilling stint at Yale Drama School, and with very few credits, he landed a small role and understudy job in the Broadway production of William Inge’s Picnic (1953-54). Eventually, Newman stepped into the main supporting role. During the run, he met Joanne Woodward. When Newman asked director Josh Logan if he could move into the lead, Logan responded, “I’d like to, kid, but you don’t have any sex threat.” However, this would change over the next several years. “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature. She taught him, she encouraged him, she delighted in the experimental. I was in pursuit of lust. I’m simply a creature of her invention.”

The volatile, off-again, on-again affair with Woodward eventually dissolved his marriage. Newman and Woodward married in 1958, a union that lasted the rest of his life. The book covers the highs and lows of the famous couple, giving a less hagiographic view of the relationship that endured many personal and professional highs and lows. They would have three children: Elinor, Melissa, and Claire.

Newman details his film career, beginning with The Silver Chalice, and carrying on through some of the most famous movies in motion picture history, working with some of the highest-profile directors, actors (including his good friend Robert Redford), writers, and producers. He generously praises his many collaborators and often denigrates his own talents. Luminaries such as John Huston and George Roy Hill have nothing but admiration for his talent and professionalism.

Throughout, he touches on his politics (including work with the Civil Rights movement), his passion for auto racing (which began with the 1969 film Winning), and his many charitable endeavors. An entire chapter addresses his drinking, which he confesses could be heavy and destructive. In time, he gave up hard liquor, but there is a sense of inconclusiveness in his alcohol-related revelations. 

Over the years, Newman became less responsive to the outside world, reducing his communication to the fewest words possible. However, he is forthcoming about his frustrations with the press and fans and his reluctance to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

The final chapter is both revelatory and ambivalent, reflecting a complicated man struggling to find a center. “But I am convinced that this is only a dress rehearsal.” Newman continued to evolve and grow over the remaining years of his life, finding joy in work and family. This book — “part confessional, part self-analysis” — gives an incredible glimpse into the mind and heart of an enigmatic and fascinating individual. Pick up a copy at your favorite bookstore, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

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As a tribute to Paul Newman, the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will host a special event celebrating the publication of The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. The evening will feature a screening of Newman’s most enduring film, the 1961 sports drama The Hustler followed by a discussion with Paul Newman’s daughter, Melissa Newman. Tickets are $43 for film and discussion; $25 for the film only. To order, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Waxing On, subtitled The Karate Kid and Me (Dutton Books), is a smartly written memoir of the career-making role that raised Ralph Macchio from up-and-coming actor to teen icon. He shares his professional arc in the tightly written chronicle, emphasizing the Karate Kid trilogy and the current Cobra Kai. And while he accepts that Daniel LaRusso may have pigeon-holed him in the industry, he consistently expresses appreciation for the opportunity and the people he met along the way.

Ralph Macchio with a copy of his new [email protected]_MACCHIO (INSTAGRAM)

Before The Karate Kid (1984), Macchio appeared in a handful of films, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, as well as a recurring role on television’s Eight Is Enough (1980-81). He was living on his native Long Island when he landed the audition for The-Karate-Kid. Dubious, given the cartoonish title, he flew back to Los Angeles. He then began the round of auditions, callbacks, and martial arts training before being officially cast in the role (originally surnamed Webber but changed to suit Macchio’s “East Coast” quality). 

Eventually, after reading with possible co-stars, producer Jerry Weintraub contracted Macchio for the original film and potentially two sequels. (Among noteworthy Daniel contenders were Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., C. Thomas Howell, and Kyle Eastwood.)

The Karate Kid’s screenplay took its inspiration from a newspaper article about a picked-on boy and how martial arts helped him deal with his bullies. The script relied on the twin themes of bullying and mentorship. The universality spoke to a large swathe of the potential audience and helped maintain its unflagging popularity for nearly forty years.

Macchio is a straightforward, entertaining storyteller, open and direct. Whether discussing the casting process that was months in limbo or the hours of physical training, his descriptions are vivid and personal, presented with warmth and gratitude.

He devotes three chapters to each of his co-stars: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi; Elizabeth Shue, his love interest, Ali Mills; and William Zabka, Daniel’s nemesis, Johnny Lawrence. He makes clear his love and admiration for the three individuals as actors, collaborators, and people.

Morita, in particular, is singled out for his contribution. At the time, the actor was best known as a stand-up comedian and for his stint as Arnold on Happy Days. During his audition, Morita introduced the famous hachimaki (headscarf), explaining its significance. Along with the crane, the cloth became one of the film’s most memorable images. Eventually, Morita won the role of the Okinawan sensei, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Macchio attributes much of the film’s success to Oscar-winning director John G. Alvidsen (Rocky, Save the Tiger, Lean on Me) and writer Robert Mark Kamen (Taps, Gladiator). He generously praises both men’s patience and support of the young actor, often recrafting the role around Macchio’s persona. “As an actor you often want to ‘disappear’ into a role. You feel you can demonstrate your range by losing yourself in the character. In this circumstance, ‘disappearing’ meant not being able to discern where Ralph ended and LaRusso began.”

He acknowledges The Karate Kid as a movie of its time, referencing John Hughes as well as Back to the Future. “There was an innocence, an adolescent openness and vulnerability, that we don’t often see as much in films today. Perhaps it was a simpler time. Perhaps it was a superficial representation, but it certainly had its place.” 

Macchio reflects on the 1984 release at the height of blockbusters. The Karate Kid shared the same summer with Ghostbusters and Gremlins, just on the heels of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 

The Karate Kid was a “small” movie in comparison. And yet, it landed big due to the approachability of the Daniel LaRusso character. “For whatever reason, I felt far more like a local hero and much less like a movie star. I was treated like the guy who won the high school football game on Friday night. The kid who lived next-door. Not a celebrity you would see on the red carpet or in magazines.” 

For years, Macchio resisted a return to the franchise even though many ideas (some downright bizarre) were proffered. “Without actual material to judge, I wasn’t willing to take a next step and get involved, officially, on any project connected to The Karate Kid. It was always easier (and safer) to say, ‘No, thank you.’” He feared that anything that “missed the mark” would tarnish the legacy. 

He writes candidly about the 2010 remake, the How I Met Your Mother appearances, and the YouTube The Karate Kid: Daniel is the REAL Bully. He acknowledges these and other cultural moments kept the characters alive. 

Writer/creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg changed his mind with the proposal of Cobra Kai. The team’s respect for the source and welcoming involvement of Macchio’s and Zabka’s insights and expertise helped the project progress. In 2018, the excellent series debuted on YouTube Red before finding a home on Netflix, with the fifth season released this past September. 

Much of the latter part of Waxing On focuses on the new incarnation. The experience has been a joyful one: “I can’t express how much fun it is to play the yesterday in the today of these characters.” 

Throughout the memoir, Macchio meditates on a range of topics, including the cavalier dismissal of Shue’s character between the first and second films, his scandal-free life, the impact of the crane kick, career dry spells, and even the filming of the famous fly catching bit. 

As Macchio stated in a recent panel discussion: “When you make a movie that twenty or thirty years later people still obsess and debate about, therefore continuing to keep it relevant and important … it’s awesome!” In Waxing On, Ralph Macchio offers a welcome, often funny, and always engaging glimpse into the world of one of the most enduring family films.

Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me is available at your local Barnes & Noble or online at www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com.

Author Sarah S. Anker at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a copy of her first children's book. Photo by Michael Toscanini

By Melissa Arnold 

Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated. 

“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”

Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well. 

Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.

In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages. 

How did you get interested in writing? 

My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.

Why did you decide to write a book for children?

I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.

What is this book about?

Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution. 

When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?

I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.

Why are these issues so important to you?

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well. 

What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?

Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.

What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark. 

Who is the illustrator for this book? 

The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.

Is there an age recommendation for this book?

Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well. 

What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?

Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.

Do you plan to write more books in the future?

This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well. 

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Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing. 

Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at www.ankerbooks.com.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Author Sarah Beth Durst

Like many sisters, Even and Odd shared many things:

            Their bedroom.

            Their closet.

            Six pairs of flip-flops.

            Use of the living-room TV.

            And … magic.

This is the intriguing premise of the gifted, award-winning Sara Beth Durst’s young adult novel, Even and Odd. Sisters Emma and Olivia Berry live in Stony Haven, Connecticut, having moved from the magic land of Firoth. The siblings’ powers manifest on alternate days. Thus, Emma’s nickname is Even, and Oliva’s is Odd.

As they grew, the girls took separate paths. Even has passionately embraced her training and is studying for her level five exams for the Academy of Magic; she wants nothing more than to enter the magic world as a hero. Odd’s interests are grounded in the “real” world; she spends her free time working at an animal shelter and sees her sorcery as a burden.

Durst is a consummate world builder. Her nearly two dozen books contain original mythologies, complete with unique and imaginative rules, histories, and limitations. (Three of her previous, very different novels were reviewed in this paper:  The Stone Girl, in May 2018; The Deepest Blue, in June 2019; and The Bone Maker, in May 2021). With Even and Odd, she has created a universe where the known overlaps with the enchanted. And while books about wizards cannot help but recall a bespectacled boy with a lightning scar, Durst’s current offering—with its wry, contemporary wit and easy charm—echoes Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn and Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. She writes with a smart sense of humor, penning characters larger than life but wholly relatable. As in her previous works, her dialogue is crisp and honest and always rings true.

The Berry family runs a border shop, “close to the gateway between worlds,” serving the magical community when its members are in the mundane world. In addition to supplies, it is a source of information. For example, visitors “from Firoth could ask basic questions, such as ‘What is an airplane, and is it going to eat me?” The local gateway is behind Fratelli’s Express Bagel, owned by a wizard who looks like “a carb-and-cream-cheese-bearing Santa Claus.”

A normal day immediately shifts when it appears that “magic [is] on the fritz.” Even is briefly stuck as a skunk when she is not able to reverse a transformation. While investigating the gateway, Even and Odd become trapped in Firoth. Teamed up with an energetic young unicorn traveling under the name Jeremy (real name “Shimmerglow”), they confront the villainous Lady Vell, who is draining the magic for nefarious purposes.

The unleashed turmoil has caused shifting geography, with homes landing in dangerous locations, stalked by creatures displaced from their habitats. The author subtly offers a portrait of refugees seeking haven and even a hint of vigilante justice as the population begins to question the ability of the Academy of Magic to cut through its bureaucracy and deal with the dire situation.

The book contains a wide range of unusual beings: Haughty elves, friendly centaurs conducting research, flower fairies that sting, mermaids that screech, and a curmudgeonly but helpful goblin are among the denizens.

While the action is brisk and the adventure is always engaging, Durst’s ability to balance the magical realm with true family dynamics elevates the novel. Even and Odd are close but clash. “For me to be surprised,” quips Odd, “you need not to be predictable!” They seek their parents’ approval and yet yearn for independence. The author wisely chooses for the children to hope that the adults can fix the situation (so often eschewed in literature for young people).

Durst also delves into the doubts that plague Even. She frets over the upcoming magic test:

I have to be ready [] not taking [the exam] would feel like saying she wasn’t as good as kids her age who had magic every day. Maybe even like saying I’ll never be as good as them […] It would be admitting that the little voice of doubt that nagged at her was right, that practicing every other day wasn’t ever going to be enough, and she’d never be ready to be a hero.

Once in Firoth, Even and Odd learn starling facts about their origins. They face a surprising revelation that gives an understanding of the history of the unheard of split magic. This leads to further introspection but does not deter them from entering danger for the greater good.

Even and Odd is a wonderful book about and filled with enchantment. Durst deals with misguided and false assumptions about self, but also the ability to learn and grow. The story’s heart celebrates inherently different sisters who are bonded by love. Even and Odd embraces the normal and fantastic and weaves a shared magic all its own.

Award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. Pick up a copy of Even and Odd online at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com.  For more information, visit sarahbethdurst.com.

'Jewish Noir II'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Pinpointing “noir” is challenging. Generally, explanations include terms such as “tough,” “cynical,” “dangerous” and “bleak.” However, these words could also apply to a range of works. This crime genre, which leans towards the dark and pessimistic, has an alchemical combination that defies a narrow definition. While often associated with hardboiled detective fiction (Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane), this is not necessarily an accurate association. Conceptually, “noir” focuses on flawed individuals who are often morally questionable or corrupt. Greed, lust, and jealousy mix with societal alienation resulting in situations from which the characters cannot extricate themselves.  

In any case, defining “noir” is not essential to appreciate the exceptional Jewish Noir II (PM Press), subtitled “Tales of Crime and Other Dark Deeds.” Edited by Kenneth Wishnia and Chantelle Aimée Osman, the collection of twenty-three compelling, sharp, and haunting tales encompasses an eclectic and page-turning mix. 

As indicated by the title, the over-arching element is Judaism. But the editors offer a range of perspectives, from religious to cultural. Some stories feature Jewish identity at their core; in others, the elements remain peripheral. In an age steeped in fear and a global rise in antisemitism, many of these short pieces — subtly and directly — address the toxicity embroiled therein. Osman indicates in the introduction, “What I do know is that this anthology is important. And the stories in this book apply to everyone.”

“Taking Names” (Steven Wishnia) uses the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire as a framing device to highlight “corruption [as] the most truly diverse aspect of New York City politics.” Like many of the stories, the language is rich and distinct: “The spokesperson for the Laborers, a skinny guy who looked like he’d lifted more textbooks than cinderblocks …” Antisemitic backlash from a reporter’s story results in a tragic and violent turn. (Later in the volume, “Triangle” (Rabbi Ilene Schneider) uses the tragedy in a wholly different and perfectly unsettling tale of an Angel of Death nurse.)

“Sanctuary” (Doug Allyn) focuses on the horrifying impact of a newly graduated medical student and the liberation of Buchenwald. A granddaughter inherits a necklace and a packet of blood-covered documents in “The Cost of Something Priceless” (Elizabeth Zelvin). With the traditional noir edge, “Only a fool can expect the cost of acquiring treasure to be paid in full. Blood has a tendency to leak and go on leaking. So do reputation and deceit.” The story of twin generational treachery concludes with a sharp stinger of a final line. The brief but potent “The Black and White Cookie”(Jeff Markowitz) takes on segregation.

The book deals with Jewish people worldwide — even as far as Trinidad and China. Violence is consistently present, both casual and deliberate. Humor flows liberally throughout, often to create an illusion quickly shattered with a deft plot twist. “Wishboned” (Jill D. Block), with its mix of fantasy and Philip Roth, deftly skewers the bar mitzvah sphere: “That was his cue, once again, that paying for a bar mitzvah is like buying a brand new sports car and driving it straight off a cliff.”

“The Shabbes Goy” (Craig Faustus Buck) is one of the book’s truly noir entries. The Jewish elements weave tautly into a narrative of plotting femme fatales and an abusive husband. “To Catch a Ganef” (Lizzie Skurnick) blends Alfred Hitchcock Presents and O. Henry in a smartly multicultural story. “Paying the Ferrymen” (E.J. Wagner), an account of a wronged wife, also feels like an ode to that 1950s series. “Inheritance” (Terry Shames) leans into a Ladies in Retirement tone, with a nursing home setting and vengeful relatives. 

Drawing on biblical sources, “Brother’s Keeper” (Eileen Rendahl) presents a private investigator and a moral dilemma utilizing the Cain and Abel story as both a parallel and mirror image. In contrast, “The Almost Sisters” (Ellen Kirschman) contains a more ethnic reflection: “If there is a gene for pessimism it will be in Jewish blood. I heard it a million times, keynehore, don’t relax, don’t get too happy, something bad is coming.”  

“Crossover” (Zoe Quinton) broods on conversion and a suspicious mikvah death, the permeating darkness in the water giving a sense of unease.

One of the most unusual entries is editor Kenneth Wishnia’s “Bride of Torches,” a bloody account of tribal battles. While the vivid tale reaches back into ancient history, its unique voice helps fit in with this modern anthology. Equally remarkable is “The Just Men of Bennett Avenue” (A.J. Sidransky), a mystical procedural drama.

“The Hanukkah Killer” (Robin Hemley) balances the portrait of a murderer — “eyes that, if they were windows to his soul, you would have wanted nailed shut” — with the vivid portrait of an old neighborhood, with its family illness, dysfunction, and poverty.

The closing story, “Hunter” (Jen Conley), follows a therapist struggling with a threatening and most likely sociopathic patient. The details are striking and disturbing — the eeriness of a burning cigarette suggesting an ominous watcher — and contrast brilliantly with the social issue — a community’s reaction to the encroachment of Orthodox families. The story’s final line is appropriately chilling and the perfect coda to this collection.

While Jewish Noir II takes mild liberties with the definition, this is a minor quibble in this amazing collection of tightly written, powerful, and must-read stories. Pick up a copy online at Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com. 

In conjunction with the book, Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, 120 Main St., Setauket will host Stories Light and Dark: An Evening of Jewish Noir on Thursday, Oct. 13 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Join Kenneth Wishnia and other contributors for a spirited discussion of the diverse themes in the Jewish Noir II anthology. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event at a discount, plus a bonus story collection offered free with each purchase. To register, call 631-941-4080

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“We can safely assume that one of the greatest threats to existence on the planet is distancing from the natural world.”

Karen Lloyd’s collection Abundance: Nature in Recovery (Bloomsbury Publishing) asks us to “bend closer” in viewing the planet. She wants the reader to see “the holes humans have created” during this current geological age (the Anthropocene). She uses her observations to “work out what [she’s] not been looking at but should have seen.” The book balances a healthy wonder with the perception of the losses incurred during the modern era and the destruction caused by human beings’ willful intent or, at the very least, ignorance.

In fourteen intriguing essays, she addresses a host of issues. She concedes that often problems are “hyperobjects”— concepts, ideas, and things that are so vast as to evade intellectual and emotional grasp. These include the biosphere, climate breakdown, evolution, capitalism, and politics. What makes her writing exceptional is that while she acknowledges this limitation, it has not stopped her from exploring them with insight and depth, offering both simple and breathtaking awareness.

The book is unique in its point of view. It is not a traditional dissection of environmental issues. Instead, it is a mosaic of thoughts and experiences. Lloyd focuses on the ecological but draws on art, photography, poetry, history, and personal anecdotes to build her case. Hers is an unusual, affecting, and effective approach. Her language is vivid and rich, even dealing with the depletion of the landscape and the entanglement resulting from modern encroachment. But, always, her anthem is that the natural world should be the center of our existence.

Her consideration of wildlife drives much of Abundance. She regards animals both as they are and in an anthropomorphized stage. When describing eight American brown pelicans rescued from an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, she sees, “the disposition of the pelicans is that of a Pieta, although without the central protagonist.” For Lloyd, the “act to save birds and other species from ruination caused by humans is not only a profound sense of engagement with our imagination but illustrates that human agency is also the dynamic of repair.”

She cites a range of examples of organizations repairing the damage, like the Wolves in the Netherlands Project, which is about coexistence. Here, Lloyd brings up the issue of doing as opposed to “we can talk about anything as long as we don’t have to live with it.” She details her scrutiny of birds and beavers and the many impacts of the “man-made mess.” Each account, whether pastoral or harrowing, is a visceral reminder to witness: “At what point did it begin to form, this void inside us that caused us to forget how to see?”

Engagement is the cornerstone and foundation, urging people to let their children experience the natural world and not through a screen. She recounts her adventures with a contrast of hard facts and beautiful metaphors, frank observations, and lyrical expression. As indicated, Lloyd highlights the human need for comparison. “To make allegiances between images and ideas. To render the metaphysical, the supra-human in form and word.” Thus, vultures look like Lawrence Olivier got up as Richard the third. Lapwings sport Robin Hood caps. A black-winged stilt summons the image of Audrey Hepburn. A pair of hoopoes flare like Incan gods. Her frustration with misinformation reveals a wit that tips towards gallows humor as in the discussion of Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, followed by hilarious but pointed imaginary discussion between beavers fleeing their home.

Enjoying a plate of olives on a beautiful Friday night, she wants to forget the danger new olive plantations represent to the bird population because of the drying of the land. She learns that wind turbines designed to fight climate change pose are a threat to the avian population. “… Electricity is progress, and green energy is more progress still. Even though there will always be a cost, I’ve chosen to be more upfront with myself about this. I still want electricity. I still want to eat olives.”

She is unusual and unusually brave in her honesty and continues to unpack the big questions. Whether meditating on the extinction of a species in our time, analyzing agribusiness, or pondering predator control, she never loses sight of the contradictions and complexities. There is raw bravery in both her awe and exasperation.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: “Consider the situation from all sides. Keep hold of the bigger picture. Tune out the interference and the white noise. Tune in to the ways and means in which the landscape communicates. Pay attention to what it needs to perform its work efficiently.” Lloyd’s thoughts, hopes, and perspectives are complicated. But they are a valuable reminder to open our eyes and minds to the world we have … while we still have it.

Pick up a copy online at www.Amazon.com or www.BarnesandNoble.comm.

Audubon lecture

Join the Four Harbors Audubon Society for an autumn lecture via Zoom on Wednesday, September 28 from 8 to 9 p.m. Guest speaker and naturalist, artist, writer Julie Zickefoose will discuss her latest book, Saving Jemima: Life and Love With a Hard-luck Jay, the intimate story of how an orphaned bird can save a soul, which she wrote and illustrated after spending nearly a year healing, studying and raising a young blue jay for release.

From the press release:

Naturalist/artist/writer Julie Zickefoose thinks of herself as an unsung, minor, rather dirty superhero. Her superpower: saving small, economically worthless wildlife that would otherwise die. An orphaned jay named Jemima was one such foundling. Spending nearly a year healing, studying and raising the young blue jay for release opened the door to their world for Julie. She began writing and illustrating Saving Jemima: Life and Love With a Hard-luck Jay immediately upon becoming her foster mother. More than a wildlife rehab story, it’s the story of life, love and dealing with great loss; of finding grace and redemption in bonding with a wild bird.

Julie Zickefoose lives and works quietly on an 80-acre wildlife sanctuary in the back country of Whipple, Ohio. She is a prolific writer and painter and Advising Editor to BWD Magazine. Her heavily illustrated books include Natural Gardening for Birds, Letters from Eden, The Bluebird Effect, and Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest. Saving Jemima: Life and Love With a Hard- Luck Jay, the intimate story of how an orphaned bird can save a soul, is her newest book.

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This special event is free and open to all. Reservations required. To join this Zoom presentation, you must register in advance by clicking on the link here. Afterwards you will receive an email with link and instructions on how to join the presentation. For more information, visit www.4has.org.

'Right and Left' by William Sidney Mount (1850)

By Tara Mae

Idyllic, intimate scenes of small town life and sublimely serene landscapes. Warmly illuminated faces, too often absent in American fine art, immortalized for generations. William Sidney Mount’s art both embraced and defied the standards of the 19th century. 

Through this prism, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization (WMHO) will present a special program titled “William Sidney Mount and Long Island’s Free People of Color” at the Brewster House (c. 1665) in Setauket on Saturday, Sept. 24.

The cover of Katherine Kirkpatrick and Vivian Nicholson-Mueller’s new book.

The talk by Katherine Kirkpatrick and Vivian Nicholson-Mueller, co-authors of The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas, will explore the identities and lives of the 19th century Black, Native-Black and Black-White people who Mount portrayed in many of his works as well as their ties to the Three Village community. 

During the presentation’s two sessions, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. and 2:30 to 4 p.m., Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller will discuss researching and writing their book, which delves into some identities of Mount’s most notable subjects: people who are largely missing, erased, otherized, or caricatured in American art of the 1800s.

Each session will be followed by a Q&A segment, book signing, artwork presentation, and tour of the Brewster house. 

“[Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller] put forward research that makes you want to ask more questions and think about who these people were…What were their lives like? Who were the other people that lived here? What were their relationships like?” said WMHO’s President Gloria Rocchio.

The event will be held at the historic Brewster House in Setauket, which Mount painted in ‘Long Island Farmhouses’ (see cover photo)

Among the individuals that the book and presentations will highlight are Henry Brazier, the left-handed fiddler in Right and Left (a portrait that is a stark departure from the racist caricatures of Black fiddlers typical of the time); George Freeman, the lively musician in The Banjo Player; Robbin Mills, the attentive outside audience in The Power of Music; and, Rachel (who’s last name will be discussed at the presentation), the poised fisherwoman in Eel Spearing in Setauket. 

Mount’s portrayal of these people is noteworthy in its normalcy. Rather than racist caricatures, at the time a prevalent American representation of any nonwhite person, he painted people as they were: members of the local community. 

So it is arguably a bit jarring to learn that, despite what much of his art might imply, Mount was not a abolitionist, an incongruous revelation that Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller address in the book and will acknowledge in the talks.  

“Mount was a complex man,” Kirkpatrick said. Despite the multitudes he contained, Mount’s artistic aims appear simpler: inspired by historical paintings he admired, Mount painted what he knew. 

‘Long Island Farmhouses’ by William Sidney Mount (1862-63)

And, Mount knew Long Island, particularly the Brewster house, which is now owned by WMHO and was restored in 1968 to appear as it did in his painting Long Island Farmhouses which is now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mount even parked his mobile studio on the Brewster property while painting other farmhouses.  

Beyond his appreciation for the landscape, Mount was also acquainted with the Brewster house’s inhabitants. George Freeman of The Banjo Player and Rachel, of Eel Spearing in Setauket, who may have been a Brewster, were just two residents that Mount painted, according to Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller. 

While some structures featured in his landscapes, like the Brewster House, have had both their facades and histories preserved, not much has been cohesively published about the people who populated his paintings, many of whom were friends, neighbors, and townspeople. 

‘The Power of Music’
by William Sidney Mount, 1847

Rocchio sees “Color and Canvas…” as a way of correcting the apparent information vacuum. “I am looking forward to seeing people’s reactions to learning more about who lived and worked in the Brewster House…Any time we can bring out new information about the properties that we own, we are incredibly interested in the projects,” Rocchio said. 

It was such a search for knowledge that first drew educator and genealogist Nicholson-Mueller to the project. While on a quest for genealogical discovery, she learned that she is probably a descendant of Mount, the Brewsters, and many of the people he captured on canvas, including Mills, of The Power of Music. 

Having already bonded over a shared loved of history after meeting at the home of a mutual friend, she teamed up with Kirkpatrick, a historical fiction and nonfiction author, who grew up in Stony Brook. 

‘The Banjo Player’ by William Sidney Mount (1856)

“The research was a gift to myself; and it is Vivian’s and my gift to the people of the Three Villages, St. James and Smithtown. The details we put together will broaden people’s perspectives and knowledge of familiar places,” Kirkpatrick said. 

Each woman already had connections to the WMHO and were looking to work on a project together. Kirkpatrick is the author of Redcoats and Petticoats, a children’s book told through a young boy’s perspective about the British occupation of Long Island during the American Revolution and the Culper Spy Ring. Research and other projects have put her in contact with the WMHO over the years. 

Nicholson-Mueller has worked as a volunteer docent for the WMHO at the Thompson House, another historic property it owns. She has also conducted research on the Brewsters and Thompsons.

So, history is both a personal interest and professional passion for Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller. “Color on Canvas…” is a continuation of their efforts to make the past come alive for modern audiences by broadening the palette of people’s understanding.  

“I am hoping that people learn about Mount as an individual; about the lives and history of the people of color who lived in Brookhaven during this period and have heretofore been neglected or ignored,” Nicholson-Mueller said. 

Tickets to “William Sidney Mount and Long Island’s Free People of Color” at the Brewster House are $8 per person; space is limited and anyone interested in attending must register in advance by calling 631-751-2244. 

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There will two additional local events to celebrate the book launch of The Art of William Sidney Mount: Long Island People of Color on Canvas: 

On Sunday, October 2nd, the Long Island Museum, 1200 Route 25A; Stony Brook, will host an Author’s Talk on Oct. 2 at 2 p.m. It will include a presentation by Kirkpatrick and Nicholson-Mueller as well as a book signing, banjo and fiddle music, refreshments and a gallery tour, where The Banjo Player and Right and Left will be on display. Fee is price of admission. Visit wwwl.longislandmuseum.org.

On Monday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m., the Three Village Historical Society will host a Zoom lecture with the authors. The event is free for TVHS members, with a $5 suggested donation for nonmembers. Registration is through www.tvhs.org/lecture-series. For more information, call 631-751-3730.

'Chronicles of a Nature Photographer'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In John Hanc’s forward to John P. Cardone’s Chronicles of a Nature Photographer (Waterview Arts), he states the book “reminds us that, just on the other side of the highway, deep in the recesses of, say, one of our magnificent Long Island State Parks, are the streams and brooks, the marshlands and estuaries that still provide a home to birds, animals, plants, flowers.” This beautifully explains Cardone’s celebration of nature in a book that offers his passion in prose and imagery.

Author John P. Cardone

Cardone is a vibrant storyteller with a pastoral bent. He defines “chronicles” as “documenting personal experiences over time in a historical fashion.” But he offers more than just an account, infusing the fifteen chapters with wry observations, wit, and honesty. As a result, his revealing narrative is wholly personal. “Let me start by saying that everything you read here is true and with no exaggeration or embellishment.” 

In the first chapter, Cardone begins with his fascination with the hummingbird. He juxtaposes his struggle with cancer and his journey with stem cell transplant with his desire to photograph these elusive birds. Eventually, with his wife’s help, Cardone builds a hummingbird garden during his recovery (which also coincided with the pandemic). He draws a subtle connection between the opportunity to capture images of these rare creatures and his eventual healing. 

From the very start, Cardone offers a thorough background on his subjects. His knowledge is impressive and seems vast, but he articulates with an accessible and almost conversational tone. He gives enough explanation of his photographic process without overwhelming the reader with technical details. He has ventured out in all weather, in all conditions, capturing a host of animals and settings, fascinated by the range of species, markings, and habitats. 

He makes a strong case for flowers as subjects. “… I can tell you that what photographers generally agree upon is what affects a photograph—and most will say light, color, and composition. With flowers as your subject, you have all of these and more.” Whether the focus or used as a framing border, this chapter contains incredible photographs — all vivid, rich, and colorful.

Of course, the greatest joys of the book are the color photographs, 175 in all, which are elegantly reproduced. A glorious study of an osprey landing on its nest, its wings slightly expanded, sits across from a regal American bald eagle, almost posing for its portrait.

From photographing insects with interesting angles and unusual compositions to vast landscapes and waterscapes, Cardone attains remarkable results. In Chapter 12, “A Bird in the Hand,” he shares personal pictures of his family on a visit to the Elizabeth A. Morton National Wildlife Refuge in Noyac. The final chapter has nearly two dozen glorious photos of wild horses.

‘Chronicles of a Nature Photographer’

The author’s sense of humor permeates the entire text. Whether introducing the white-tailed deer (“Love Them or Leave Them”) or expounding on his love of photographing turtles (an exchange with his four-year-old grandson, Noah, who references Raphael and Leonardo), Cardone finds whimsy and delight in his art and his life. The quests — such as his search for the snowy owl — present both small and big joys, along with surprises. (The day he photographed this particular owl as well as a harbor seal.) 

While the book focuses predominantly on his Long Island experiences, Cardone ventures as far as the Rocky Mountains. He first visited the Rocky Mountain National Park during his military service (1969-70) when stationed at Fort Carson, eight miles from Colorado Springs. He then purchased his first camera and learned how to develop black-and-white film and print with an enlarger. Fifty years later, in April 2017, he returned to the Rocky Mountain National Park, photographing elk, moose, bighorn sheep, screech owls, and a range of scenic views.

There is a certain Zen to Cardone’s approach: “Sometimes, as a nature photographer, I will take a long pause and just soak up the beauty of what I’m seeing. Being in the moment is a mindfulness practice that can help calm you.” This crosses over into his pleasure in the planning of excursions. (Currently, he offers two kayaking tours of Carman’s River: one is a photography tour and the other a naturalist tour.)

Cardone is an artist, a fan, but above all, a teacher. The book reflects someone who stands in awe of nature but embraces its possibilities. He seeks deeper understanding and communicates both the encounters and the underlying zeal. His ultimate goal is to inspire the reader to “put [his] hiking boots on and get out in nature. It’s all there, just waiting for you to visit. And if you are a parent or grandparent, to nudge the children in your life toward loving nature as well.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

A resident of Ronkonkoma, author John P. Cardone is the founder of the Long Island Authors Group, a nature photographer, a wildlife photography instructor, and a lecturer on nature topics. Chronicles of a Nature Photographer is his sixth book and is available online at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. To learn more about John, his books, and his nature work, visit his website at www.WaterviewsBook.com.