Category Archives: Book Reviews

Thoughts on literature, books, and stuff like that

Read This Book: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury, who recently passed away, is one of my favorite authors.  His dystopian tale of a world where books are outlawed, Fahrenheit 451, should be required reading for Americans in a time when political correctness threatens free speech and thought.  Furthermore, Bradbury has written some of the best science fiction and horror tales that you will find.  From the Martian Chronicles to Something Wicked This Way Comes to the October Country; Bradbury has an impressive catalog.

However, it is his loosely autobiographical book Dandelion Wine, a simple tale of two brothers growing up in a small Midwestern town during the summer of 1928, which has become my all time favorite Bradbury book.

The story is focused on the Spaulding brothers:  Doug aged 12 and Tom who is 10.  As they spend the early summer days helping Grandfather make dandelion wine.  Taking the simple – and what is often cast off as a pesky weed – and turning it into an item that brings joy; and that is really the theme of the entire book.    

Each chapter is a slice of life from small town America.  The boys’ imaginations run wild as they see magic in the world around them.  For example, after the boys listen as the local Civil War veteran regales them with tales of adventure and battle, Doug and Tom start calling Colonel Freeleigh “the Time Machine.”

Early in the summer Doug discovers that he is alive and he is excited to be so.  But as the end of summer draws near, Doug becomes despondent.  Just as the seasons are about the change – Doug realizes that his life is beginning to change as well.  He is growing up.  He is growing up and people will move away, family members will eventually die, and nothing will ever be as perfect as those first few days of summer 1928, ever again.

As I read this book, I had a lot of vivid memories of my own childhood – running around my own small town with my brothers and my friends.  Looking back, sometimes childhood seems like a dream – and certainly Bradbury infuses this novel with a dream-like quality.  As Douglas desperately tries to keep it always summer, I am right there with him, hoping he’ll somehow pull it off.  That he will find a way to make it stay forever now; eternal summer for Douglas and these carefree boys.

The book is full of incredible characters described in wonderfully funny and sad chapters.  I intentionally avoided this Bradbury book all my life because I was always drawn to his ghost stories.  But I am so glad I picked this book up and read it this year.  No, it’s not a ghost story – but it awakens the ghosts of times past, that are hidden within all of us.

I’ll not spoil the book by saying that the dandelion wine, like warm memories of family and friends, is safely stored in the Spaulding’s cellar by the end of the story.  It is
there to get them through the sadness of fall and the cold of winter. 

What a book Mr. Bradbury wrote!  I’d easily put it in my top 5 favorite works of fiction.

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Read This Book: Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler

Darkness at Noon examines the show trials and executions conducted by Josef Stalin in the late 1930s.  The story is told through the sad eyes and sharp mind of Rubashov – a man imprisoned for crimes against the Communist Party and crimes against the state.

It is a fairly short, tightly written work consisting of the story a man restrained physically by a prison in the Soviet Union.  However, he is also restrained spiritually by guilt over his own participation in cruel communist executions and he is restrained intellectually by regret over his realization that everything he believed to be true as a communist, is actually a pack of lies.

Ultimately, it is a great story – an individual against all odds standing up the full-force and brute strength of a totalitarian regime.   A cruel, heartless communist regime resistant to any appeal to non-Marxist thought.

Is an individual a multitude of one million divided by one million or is the individual much more than that?  Do the ends justify the means – even if it means killing millions?  Is it better to be clever or decent?

These are some of the questions this loyal party member Rubashov wrestles with, all while being falsely accused of treason. 

Darkness at Noon is a masterpiece and it has the distinction of influencing Orwell’s 1984.

I originally read this book back in the 1980s and I am glad I gave it another read over the last week.  It is an important and profound book – and ultimately a sad story.  Especially when one considers how many people were murdered by Communist governments and revolutionaries, all promising a “more just world.”

I highly recommend it.