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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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The Black Lamb Review of Books XIV

Volume 14, Number 3 — June 2016

June 1st, 2016


Welcome to Black Lamb’s annual book issue, featuring reviews and articles about books and reading from our thirteen-plus years of publication. Here you’ll find everything from Proust and Charlotte Brontë to Oprah and archaeological adventure novels, not to mention books about classical mythology and classical protest singers and essays on such semi-forgotten writers as Richard Bissell and Isaac Stephenson.

You’ll also have an opportunity to savor the youthful reading adventures of several of our contributors as well as a piece on reading in prison. And of course, we include, as always, our column of Honorary Black Lambs and our delicious lamb recipe. Enjoy! •

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Ross | Link to this Entry

The censor

You can't be too careful with the wrong sort of book

June 1st, 2016


In the endless search for someone else to blame for my own mistakes, I have only recently hit on the idea of blaming the novels I was encouraged to read when I was young. I realize now that at high school when I should have been reading hard-headed realists like Borges, Kafka and Genet — healthy reading for any teenager, I reckon, especially Genet — I was wasting my time on the sentimental twaddle of the likes of Evelyn Waugh or E.M. Forster, and among the youngreadercontemporaries, Iris Murdoch or early Angus Wilson. These degenerate hangers-on around Bloomsbury just reinforced in me so many of the silly and self-harming attitudes that were already widespread enough in the England of the Sixties and Seventies. Their prudery, snobbery and arrogance led me to waste, absolutely waste, at least four years of my youth — and it’s all their fault, and none of it mine.

Because of them, it never even crossed my mind to study anything useful at university. It wasn’t that I ruled out the possibility of doing law or economics, subjects that would really have suited my cast of mind: the notion just never entered my head. The careers advisory woman at school at some point, I think, mentioned the words “accountancy studies” in my presence, and I must have laughed rudely in her face. Instead, I read Music — which means history of music, listening to the stuff, not playing it — selected as a subject for reasons I had pondered carefully, as I thought.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Darrel | Link to this Entry

His stretch on the river

A great forgotten writer

June 1st, 2016


I learned three-quarters of what I know about writing from reading Richard Bissell, God bless him. — Elmore Leonard

Everyone who calls himself or herself a writer is asked from time to time, “Who is your favorite writer?” The writer may be prepared for this interview question and answer the same way every time, but the truth is more likely less monogamous. The position of favorite writer may change from year to year, from mood to mood, from book to book. Perhaps a more insightful question, with a more constant answer, would be: “Which writer first made you want to be a writer yourself?”

bissellI confess that like many teenage would-be writers of the 1950s, I imitated Salinger shamelessly. I also gobbled up Robert Nathan, laughed out loud at Patrick Dennis and Max Shulman, and was dazzled by Truman Capote. But from the moment I first read him, the writer who turned me on the most, the one who made writing seem not only worthwhile, but fun, was Richard Bissell.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Memorable Miss Osborne

The first time I cried over a book

June 1st, 2016


To single out one book, any more than a whole library’s worth of them, as being of most influence on one’s development — as reader, writer, and human being — is like having to list your favorite kisses from an unforgettable lover. But I can simplify the process by counting on one hand the books which, read before age twenty, had such a powerful effect on me that the impressions remain vividly: Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind (which I found in my Southern grandmother’s house when I was eleven and read without stopping over the course of two days and a night); Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me the Waltz (the copy given to my mother by her analyst, who curiously thought Zelda’s unhappy story would make inspiring material for my mother’s own recovery from missosbornethemopa nervous breakdown); Ferdinand Mayr-Ofen’s The Tragic Idealist (a life of so-called Mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, which set me on course for studying and writing historical biographies and put me in love with the handsome young monarch pictured in the frontispiece); and Dame Rebecca West’s Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (which, with West’s painter’s eye and composer’s ear for coloring and orchestrating ideas and images to produce breathtakingly beautiful moods and insights, had a huge influence on my own writing style).

Yet it was a children’s book, not quite fit for the above list of masterworks, that made the greatest, longest-lasting impression: Wilson Gage’s Miss Osborne-the-Mop.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Menzies | Link to this Entry

Charlotte triumphant

A must-read

June 1st, 2016



It was 196_, during that humid, pre-cable summer between third and fourth grades, when my mother gave me her copy of Jane Eyre. Whether dear Mammá did so for my edification or merely to quell my restive humors, it mattered not; for upon learning that Charlotte Brontë was obliged to adopt the masculine nom de plume Currer Bell to hide her gender, I was filled with an indignation that compelled me to read on….


How cruelly our orphan’d heroine suffered at the hands of her scornful aunt and vile brute of a cousin! And when Jane dared defend herself, she was summarily rewarded with a blow to the head and confined to a haunted bedchamber. Still, her courage inspired me; and thus when my parents insisted that I wash the dinner dishes while my brothers brontecharlotte(hearty and dexterous lads both) were at liberty, I protested. “Fie, goodly sir and madam,” I cried, “but never shall I tolerate such gross injustice!” Suspension of privileges, however, proved even less tolerable, so for the next fortnight I played scullery maid… till one day dear Mammá (she of the breakfast and luncheon dishes) threatened a rebellion of her own, leading to dear Papá’s immediate purchase of a Kenmore dishwasher with Pot Scrubber Cycle.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Gendelman | Link to this Entry

Sic transit horror mundi

Reading in prison

June 1st, 2016


The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World
by A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster, 2004

I take for my inspiration the somewhat geeky, wannabe metrosexual (“Why do they think I’m gay?”) A.J. Jacobs, Senior Editor of Esquire and author of this quirky memoir, which chronicles Jacobs’s ambitious project of reading the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Jacobs’s book is loosely organized by letter of the alphabet. Within this purported order, it proceeds in cheerful disarray, which suits my reading preferences just fine. Few things appeal to me as much as aimless wandering, and Jacobs happily wanders haphazardly through the Britannica, plowing through volume after volume, trying to gain unstructured knowledge. While Jacobs does achieve some wisdom through this project, he mostly proves himself a hopeless dilettante.

Dilettantism works fine for me and my fellow prisoners; it goes hand in hand with the disordered chaos of our lives, much of which is governed by acronyms: ADD, ADHD, XYZ, WHATEVER. The more convulted, the less direct, the more puzzling and specious, the better we like it. It is something we can identify with. Excepting Jacobs’s flights of intellectual fancy, and his obsession with Mensa membership, this book is for us a perfect, jumbled read.ⁱ

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Suess | Link to this Entry


How Boys' Own, Blyton, and Biggles brought me up

June 1st, 2016


Wany years ago, when I was a shy Anglo-Norwegian lad in rural Victoria, Australia, I’d retreat from the heat, or snuggle into cold nights by the fire, with a trove of battered old books. We lived in a ramshackle wooden house with windows full of cobwebs — we never swiped cobwebs because the spiders would eat the flies. Our dark and peeling walls were held up with crayon drawings in every room. The floorboards had a few holes, and we had to worry about the occasional reptile that might come in under the kitchen. I remember one, a venomous, four-foot tiger snake, his tail visible under the kitchen cupboard. We lured him outside with a saucer of milk and Mum chopped his head off with a shovel.

We had no money and no television. Instead, Mum got us books from the local Church of England Opportunity Shop. I remember many of them: an encyclopaedia from 1905 or thereabouts; a little red book called Every Fact a Boy Should Know, from which I memorized the length of rivers, the height of mountains, and how to write the Greek alphabet; The Children’s Book of Famous Lives, in which stineguyreadingSocrates drank his cup of hemlock, Sir Francis Drake singed the king of Spain’s beard, and Florence Nightingale was kind to soldiers. I read about the heroes of Greek mythology, stories of Baldur and Loki and Odin, sea yarns like The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk and Olaf the Sea Bird by Major Charles Young. I had several thick Boys Own Annuals from an empire that had withered away several decades before my time. I possessed a pile of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five adventure stories and a scuffed brick of books by the prolific author Captain W.E. Johns, concerning the adventures of Captain James Bigglesworth of the Royal Air Force. I had an old atlas to consult, in which the dominions of the British Empire draped like a crimson mantle across the shoulders, waist and loins of Terra Firma. Red China was yellow, Africa was a patchwork of colonial colors, Soviet Russia was grey, and Nazi Germany was an enormous bloated brown tick engorged on the blood of Central Europe.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Lossius | Link to this Entry

A decent man

Betrayal in Wisconsin

June 1st, 2016


Recollections Of A Long Life: 1829-1915
by Isaac Stephenson
Privately printed 1915.

I like reading books that no one has heard of. The 1950 memoirs of Valentin R. Garfias, Garf From Mexico, was limited to 2,000 copies, one of which was discarded by Cal State University, Hayward, ending up at a Salvation Army store. An excellent read — and if you do read it, you are one of only dozens, like Spix macaws.

stephensonisaacIsaac Stephenson’s autobiography is easier to obtain — there were three copies available on eBay the last time I checked — but there is a good chance I’m the only person on earth reading it right now. That makes me Martha, the 1914 passenger pigeon.

Is it an important work? Very important. Just because something is obscure says nothing. Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat languished for more than a century before it was rediscovered. And what about Moby Dick? So there.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Roberts | Link to this Entry

Think again, Oprah!

I'll take over

June 1st, 2016


She can’t find a book a month. That’s what she says, can’t find a single book each month that floats her boat, that makes her quivery enough to bump its sales by a googol or two. The publishing world goes into a tizzy and the Today Show steps in to plug the hole. Great, just what we need, Al Roker reading his own schmaltzy parenting guides and Katie recommending bios of “important women.”

Oprah is a gazillionaire and can do pretty much anything she wants, but something just doesn’t add up here. Could that Jonathan Franzen mess have soured her on the whole picnic? Is she simply too busy to read anything but bank statements and thank-you notes from Dr. “I’m-as-famous-as-you-are-now” Phil? Or did Halle Berry’s lachrymal Oscar win persuade Ms. Winfrey to give acting another try, thinking to erase the stench of Beloved?

She doesn’t find enough books she feels “absolutely compelled to share.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Browning | Link to this Entry

Mighty Marcel

You've either read it or you haven't

June 1st, 2016


Call me a Proust snob. Whatever. I’d rather be that than one of these “well-read” people who’ve never had the experience of A la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) or who tell you they’ve read “some of it,” meaning three of the thousands of pages.

No. You’ve either read it or you haven’t. Reading “some of it” is like reading “some of” a James Patterson novel, or watching “some of” a movie or a World Series game. You might have a sense of it, but that’s all. In the case of Marcel and A la recherche, you’re nothing but a poseur. Hey, it offends me. And I feel bad for you, because you don’t know what you’re missing.

proustcartoonNot that no one’s read it, not by a long shot. In the Book of Lists, years ago, A la recherche du temps perdu was voted one of the ten greatest works of all time, as well as one of the ten most boring (boring for people who like bombs, blood, and bimbos). All the scholars have read it, as well as millions of lowbrows like me. Well, thousands, maybe. Because, like I say, you don’t count unless you’ve read the whole thing.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Patton | Link to this Entry

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