Daniel Okrent, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition

Cover of Daniel Okrent's Last CallDaniel Okrent’s Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is ostensibly a history of America’s attempt from 1920 to 1933 when, in response to the 18th amendment, the nation outlawed “the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors.” In actuality, Okrent has written a careful, readable and interesting history that looks closely at the roles of the temperance movement, the women’s emancipation movement, and the burgeoning interest in civil rights for all in the context of the rise and fall and rise again (after December 5, 1933 when the 21st Amendment reversed the 18th) of spirituous liquors and the saloon, the brewery, and the speakeasy.

Okrent’s history begins on January 16, 2011, the eve of Prohibition, when streets were running with booze and customers were doing their best to stash or imbibe all they could. The rise of the Temperance movement had close ties with election politics (and funding) and with growing “nativist” attitudes as the flood of European immigrants brought their love of brewing and beer, creating beer magnates like Adolphus Busch (of Budwiser fame) who, like many other German brewers suffered from World War I anti-German sentiments.

One of the most interesting aspects of Prohibition in terms of where people drank and how is the way co-ed drinking became acceptable via the development of restaurants who also functioned as speakeasys, and the close ties between drinking establishments and jazz (and eventually led to racial integration, of a sort), and even the popularity of the cuisine of Southern Italy, as plates of pasta were accompanied by servings of homemade wine and grappa at Italian boarding houses that doubled as speakeasys. Another fascinating result of Prohibition was the rise of Coca-Cola (“The Drink That Cheers But Does Not Inebriate”).

This is a fascinating, well-written and well-documented history of an era. Along the way, Okrent explores (and explodes) several myths, including the one we’ve all hear about Joseph Kennedy and bootleg, and exposes the more seamy underside of the Temperance movement.

(Scribner, 2011)

Daniel Okrent has a website. There’s an excellent NPR interview of Okrent about Last Call.

Mhani Alaoui, Dreams of Maryam Tair: Blue Boots and Orange Blossoms

Cover of Dreams of Maryam Tair by AlaouiWe received an advance review copy of Dreams of Maryam Tair several weeks ago. I have reviewed and enjoyed reading other fiction by Arabic authors, so I was delighted to have the opportunity to review this. I was even more pleased when I read the author’s bio on the back cover. Mhani Alaoui is a native Moroccan who spent twelve years in the US, studying literature and the recent history and cultures of the Arab world. She has a PhD in anthropology from Princeton University. When she first returned to Casablanca, she worked in private industry, but then decided to devote her time to writing.

Dreams of Maryam Tair is Alaoui’s first novel, and a very impressive debut it is. It is a shining example of Arabic magic realism, very much in the tradition of One Thousand and One Nights, as well as a family saga, a political novel, and a feminist novel. Later I will offer you some examples to demonstrate how beautifully Alaoui has pulled off this very difficult feat.

But first, let’s start with a little geopolitical context, just in case your knowledge of Morocco is as limited as mine was before I read this novel. Wrapping around the northwest corner of Africa, Morocco has coastline on both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country lies directly across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. Many of the so-called Moors who lived on the Iberian Peninsula during the period of Muslim domination originated in Morocco, and many returned there when they were expelled from Spain in the late fifteenth century. Because of its location, Morocco was always of great interest to France and Spain, and in 1912 these countries became “protectors” of different regions of the country, although Morocco legally remained a sovereign nation ruled by a dynasty of sultans.

In 1956, Morocco achieved independence from France and Spain. In 1961, Hassan II became King of Morocco; he remained in power until 1999. Under his rule, the country experienced a great deal of civil unrest, to which his regime responded with extreme severity. In June 1981, when the action of Dreams of Maryam Tair begins, there were riots throughout the land over dramatic increases in the price of bread and other foodstuffs. Casablanca, where much of the action of Dreams of Maryam Tair takes place, is Morocco’s largest city and a very active seaport located on the Atlantic side of the country.

From the first page to the last, magic realism pervades Dreams of Maryam Tair. Sheherezade, the fabled storyteller from One Thousand and One Nights, is a recurring character, presiding over the action and occasionally making appearances to offer advice or protection. Most often she appears as a pipe-smoking old woman but occasionally she assumes other forms, such as a magic carpet rider dressed in black leather and sporting long silvery electric hair or a woman with “spiky pink hair and pointy boots” (258).

After the demonic blackbirds who arrest Maryam’s mother Leila are through with her, she arrives at the tin shack of the witch Zohra, who recognizes her from dreams and helps her heal. Leila is pregnant as a consequence of a prison rape. Zohra becomes the midwife and, when the child Maryam is born, Maryam’s protector and teacher. To help her keep the malevolent spirits who haunt the Tair home at bay, she summons Hamza, a giant whose right hand is the color of ashes, whose left hand is the color of new green plants. Yes, Hamza is both Destroyer and Creator.

Maryam is a magical child; Sheherezade knows of her destiny before she is even born. She carries the scent of orange blossoms with her wherever she goes. At her naming ceremony, she receives both blessings and a curse. While Zohra travels on a broom, Maryam has a rusty old bicycle that she calls Aoud Errih, which means Wind Rider, and she can indeed ride the wind on it. On her way to rescue her great uncle who is imprisoned in a mental asylum, she receives a pair of blue boots that give her strength and enable her to withstand the dark forces that wish to entrap her there, as well. When she receives a dream-message calling her to the land of the cedars, she and Zohra travel there together and encounter members of the strange and savage butterfly tribe. Angered by the butterfly people, Maryam grows as tall as the cedars, becoming the embodiment of the Berber warrior-goddess, Al-Kahina.

Maryam’s story is inextricably tied to the saga of her family. Leila’s father Ibrahim Nassiri is descended from an aristocratic Moorish family exiled from Spain in 1492. Leila’s mother Aisha is a daughter of the Sahel, a direct descendent of the Prophet Mohammed but also of Lilith, the first woman. From her mother, Aisha inherits a fragment of a manuscript imbued with strong magic. When Ibrahim brings home a second wife, Aisha uses the power of the manuscript to cause that woman’s death, and the death of every new second wife Ibrahim brings home. Their ghosts are some of the malevolent spirits that haunt the Nassiri home. In part as a consequence of Aisha’s actions, the family falls under a curse, and Ibrahim’s business suffers. Ibrahim’s younger brother Mehdi, a respected medical doctor, hides a secret that eventually results in his arrest and commitment to the mental asylum from which Maryam rescues him.

Leila’s husband Adam, who grew up a poor orphan, taught college math before his arrest. When he returns from his time in prison, he is like “a shell licked clean by the demons” (57). Adam and Leila’s relationship, already shaky before their imprisonment, fell apart completely after they returned, and shortly after Maryam’s birth they divorced. Adam married another woman, Shawg, who had been dating Leila’s brother, Driss. She gave birth to twin sons, Shams and Hilal, who always smelled of “wet clay and earth” (155). As Shawg is a contemporary version of Eve, the twins are contemporary versions of Cain and Abel, destined to “turn against each other to bring destruction upon the world” (157).

Based in a politically turbulent milieu, Dreams of Maryam Tair has strong political elements. I’ve already mentioned the demons who arrested Leila and Adam. I’ve mentioned Maryam’s great uncle, who was involuntarily committed to the mental asylum Birsoukout for violating the country’s moral code. As Maryam rides toward this accursed place, Alaoui observes that the road she takes was once “famous for its harboring of dissenters . . .” (180) who are now enslaved by progress. In 2011, when the final action of the novel takes place, many young adults take to the streets to protest not just the price of bread, as their parents did, but also “the price of injustice, the price of tyranny” (205–206). Many of them suffer the same fate their parents did, arrest and imprisonment.

It would be difficult for a woman writing about contemporary life in an Arabic country not to include some elements of feminism in her work, and Alaoui aptly fulfills that expectation. The story of the Biblical Adam and his first wife, Lilith, who would not bow to God’s will, appears in multiple forms throughout Dreams of Maryam Tair. Sheherezade is a strong and wise and powerful female, almost a deity. When Shawg starts reading One Thousand and One Nights, she is both shocked and enthralled by its references to female sexuality, noting that “Arabs do not describe sex with such relish” (159). Zohra the witch is another very strong and wise and powerful woman. She passes her strength and wisdom along to Maryam, although the young woman Maryam becomes has plenty of power of her own. The adult Maryam teaches American and English literature at an all-girls’ high school in Casablanca, no doubt passing on the values of feminism to her students.

This is a marvelous, deeply magical book that I greatly enjoyed reading. Honestly, my only problem with it is that the narrative timeline jumps around, and sometimes it was difficult to know where the story was taking me. But I understand the purpose for that.

Interlink Books is an imprint of Interlink Publishing), specializing in world history and politics as well as world literature. Their catalog includes many other works of Arabic fiction; I look forward to reading and reviewing more from them.

(Interlink Books, 2015)

Our Host

We’re considering creating a position of Estate Host to handle our hosting of various groups at Kinrowan Estate. It’s very profitable for the Estate to host groups like the Emerging Polities of Europe conference or the Women in Black music festival, but we really need someone to be the focal point for guests to go to answer questions about the Estate, handle problems, and just be there to make sure everything goes smoothly.

What’s New This Fortnight

We’ve got the Green Man Pub refurbishment done and so Reynard reached into his private stock he keeps in his office to pull out something he said would make for a potent toasting spirit. He then put two glasses used for drams of whiskey down on the bar, but this was a different spirit that a traveller that stopped here gave him some years back. It was moonshine from Bigfoot County, one of those places nigh onto mythical as it was still remote from modern society. Damn it was the strongest thing I’ve ever drank bar none. It even made arrack, an Asian drink made from fermented palm heart, taste mild by comparison. Didn’t stop me from requesting a second pouring!

Every All Hallows’ Eve, Linus in the Peanuts sits in a pumpkin patch on Halloween night waiting for the Spirit of the Great Pumpkin to appear. Well ‘The Great Pumpkin Waltz’ from that animated Peanuts special and many more hits from other animated Peanuts specials are the subject of Gary’s review of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s Peanuts Greatest Hits. As Gary writes:

Now for the casual fan who only wants the hits, or for the completist, they’ve compiled a “greatest hits” disc that does indeed hit the high points. Its 12 songs also include some more obscure bits from the decade in which Guaraldi composed music for more and more Peanuts specials until his untimely death in 1976 at age 47.

Baseball, a sport that’s perhaps descended from cricket and rounders, is an American invention that’s spread around the globe over the past century. If you’re interested in knowing more about its American history, you should read our HedgeHog’s review of Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns:

Ken Burns’tremendous eleven-part documentaryBaseball: A Film by Ken Burnscovers the sport in magnificent detail from its earliest incarnations as played before the American Civil War, through the beginning of this millennium. Burns talks about teams, about the game itself and the evolution of rules, customs, and strategies. He talks about great players, tragedies, and triumphs over the last nearly two centuries of this quintessentially American game.

We’ve got a long tradition of reviewing banned books be they Joyce’sUlysses, Bradbury’sFahrenheit 451 or Gaiman’sStardust, so read on as HedgeHog shares her thoughts on Banned Books week this year and what it means to her.

From Ovid to Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg, poetry like prose has a long history of being banned or challenged. So it’s appropriate that Lisa reviews the 4th edition of The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics:

At 1,639 folio-sized pages of text, and 5.7 lbs, even in softcover, it is cumbersome at best. It’s just as well then that it’s still the ultimate source for data on, asThe Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poeticsitself notes, “the history, theory, technique, and criticism of poetry from earliest times to the present.” There are over 1,100 alphabetical entries, more than 250 of them new for this edition, in addition to a massive overhaul of extant entries.

And finally, we’ll leave you with this classic.

Roland Green, Stephen Cushman et al, Eds. Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. 4th Edition.

Cover of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and PoeticsThe Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics is a massive tome, perhaps as much as three or four times the size of the second edition. At 1,639 folio-sized pages of text, and 5.7 lbs, even in softcover, it is cumbersome at best. It’s just as well then that it’s still the ultimate source for data on, as The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics itself notes, “the history, theory, technique, and criticism of poetry from earliest times to the present.” There are over 1,100 alphabetical entries, more than 250 of them new for this edition, in addition to a massive overhaul of extant entries.

This is a much more international reference reference than previous editions, with entries ranging outside the poetry and poetics of Europe and North America, to include terms and forms and poetic traditions (but not poets) from languages like those of the indigenous peoples of the world, African languages, the languages of India, and many of the languages of China. That has meant, in some cases, shorter entries on the more obscure and arcane terms associated with European poetry, but I think the change is a good one. Core entries are still thorough (seven plus densely packed pages on metaphor, for instance).

Another much welcomed change has been the inclusion of an index, and a very thorough index at that, in addition to the alphabetical list of entries divided by general topic preceding the A–Z entries of the Encyclopedia. The typography too is much improved, and while the longer entries are still dense, they are much more readable. Subsection headings are helpful in navigating the individual entries, and cross-references are both numerous and appropriately chosen. Individual entries are by a range of scholars, not just the editors, and they tend to be authorities in their various era and languages specialties (for instance Harvard Celticists Patrick K. Ford and Aled Jones on Celtic Prosody). The bibliographies at the end of each entry have also been updated, making The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics still the authoritative starting place.

There is an ebook version of Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, in both Kindle and ePub formats, which I am curious about, given the slight awkwardness in handling the printed book. You can see some sample entries from the Princeton University Press site as downloadable .pdfs including entries on electronic poetry, rhythm, translation and verse and prose,

(Princeton University Press, 2012)

Celebrating Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, 2015 runs from September 27 through October 3, 2015. The American Library Association describes it like this:

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types — in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.

tangoAttempting to ban books is nothing more than attempting to ban ideas. Here at Sleeping Hedgehog, we’d like to celebrate the freedom to read, write, and think challenging thoughts by sharing some of our favorite banned and/or frequently challenged book recommendations.

alexieJ.K. Rowlings’ enduring Harry Potter series was the number one most challenged book between 2000 and 2009. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by renowned poet and writer Maya Angelou was the third most-challenged book, that same decade. Other books that just keep on challenging the hearts and minds of readers everywhere — and making lists of books some people find so objectionable they don’t want anyone to be able to read them — include Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves, Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and Morrison’s The Bluest Eye.

HUCK-JPGIf you’re looking for a few more dangerous ideas to explore, here’s a list of the ten books most frequently challenged in the USA in 2015. The ALA lists the 100 most frequently challenged books, by decade. You can also follow @BannedBooksWeek on Twitter.

Celebrate your freedom to read and support the exchange of new ideas: read a controversial book this week!

Where Our Food Comes From

Eating local doesn’t limit our dining options much. Oh we order herbs and spices, teas, coffees, chili peppers, even noodles and rice from sources outside of Scotland, but pretty most everything else comes from within a few miles of our Estate — on one side of the border or the other.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, PBS


Yogi Berra

I discovered the joys of baseball fairly late in life: The crack of a bat on a summer evening, lanky young men loping around the grass making each catch and toss look effortless, excited kids wearing their mitts, sitting in the outfield bleachers scuffling with each other, trying to snag the occasional foul ball or home run.

Summer is winding down, now, and our local minor league team has finished up their short season. Major League fans are looking forward to baseball’s World Series, which begins October 27th. The seasons of and around baseball provide a thread that runs through the American calendar.

Famed Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra, died yesterday. Berra was 90 years old, and has been a baseball constant, through the decades. Well-loved announcer Vin Scully tweeted: “As long as people talk about the game, whenever they mention the name Yogi Berra, they will smile.”


baseballKen Burns‘ tremendous eleven-part documentary Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns covers the sport in magnificent detail from its earliest incarnations as played before the American Civil War, through the beginning of this millennium. Burns talks about teams, about the game itself and the evolution of rules, customs, and strategies. He talks about great players, tragedies, and triumphs over the last nearly two centuries of this quintessentially American game. The documentary includes nearly 24 hours of footage, interviews, stills, and commentary, and the end result is an absolute work of art. I’ve watched the entire thing from beginning to end at least three times, now, and every time I see it, I appreciate the attention to detail and obvious love of the game lavished on every single moment of Burns’ footage.

"Say it ain't so, Joe..."

“Say it ain’t so, Joe…”

Burns discusses team names — like the Brooklyn Trolley-Dodgers, later to become just the Dodgers. He looks at great players — players like Yogi Berra —and great scandals, like the alleged Black Sox fix of the 1919 World Series. He examines the evolution of equipment and techniques. He nods to the early Robber Barons of baseball and today’s swashbuckling free agents.

Baseball is an unabashedly sentimental game, steeped in tradition and superstition and proud of its beginnings. This is a game where the players remove their caps and hold them over their hearts for the playing of the National Anthem. Small boys hanging over the fence can get a nod from a world-class player on his way to the dugout. No matter how far the game has evolved, it remains quintessentially steeped in nostalgia. To go to a local game is, in some ways, to take one’s place in an unending stretch of American tradition. If you hold your breath and close your eyes, you could be listening to a game Anywhere, Anywhen. The gentle rhythm of the game itself as well as the cold beer in paper cups, the hotdogs sharp with the tangy smell of mustard, belong to more than a century of baseball custom. Burns captures that sense of the game, and the customs surrounding the game, with intensity and eloquence.

Yogi Berra, record ball

We’ll miss you, Yogi

Ken Burns has given us a remarkable gift, in this documentary. When the season is over, and winter sets in, we can cozy up at home and watch it again and again, dreaming of spring, when it all begins again.

And regarding Mr. Berra? I can only agree with Ken Burns: “Yogi Berra was one of the greatest HUMAN beings to play the game. I will miss him terribly.”

So shall we all.

Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns is available streaming on Amazon Prime, for sale as a boxed DVD set, and can be rented via Netflix.


(Ken Burns, PBS, 2010)

Vince Guaraldi Trio, Peanuts Greatest Hits

Cover of Vince Guaraldi Trio's Peanuts Greatest hitsThe reissue campaign of Vince Guaraldi’s piano trio music for the Peanuts TV specials franchise continues with this new compilation. So far the A Charlie Brown Christmas special has been remastered and reissued, and in 2014 Concord issued on Fantasy the original recordings for the soundtrack of a film about the life of Charles Schulz that never aired. Now for the casual fan who only wants the hits, or for the completist, they’ve compiled a “greatest hits” disc that does indeed hit the high points. Its 12 songs also include some more obscure bits from the decade in which Guaraldi composed music for more and more Peanuts specials until his untimely death in 1976 at age 47.

Anybody who’s ever watched the Peanuts specials will recognize the hits that are up front, starting with the most familiar, the danceable “Linus and Lucy,” the jaunty “Charlie Brown Theme,” the sunny “Baseball Theme,” and the more melancholy “Oh, Good Grief” and “Happiness Theme.” And I’m glad they included “Skating,” the theme from the skating scene on the Christmas special, it’s such a perfect evocation of a carefree winter day, with forward momentum that won’t let up.

The “Great Pumpkin Waltz,” “Thanksgiving Theme,” “Christmas Is Coming” and “Christmas Time Is Here” are less well known but deserving of inclusion. The latter is present in two versions sandwiched around “Skating”: a lovely blue instrumental version and one with vocals by a children’s choir that’s pretty cool, too. “Little Birdie,” an homage to the character of Snoopy’s friend Woodstock,” features horns and vocals by Guaraldi himself. You can listen to “Little Birdie” on Concord’s YouTube channel.

The story’s been told many times of how TV producer Lee Mendelson heard Guaraldi’s Grammy-winning instrumental hit “Cast Your Fate To The Wind” on the radio while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge and knew he was the right musician to supply music for his Schulz documentary. The world’s a slightly better place because of that serendipitous encounter that brought cool West Coast jazz into lots of people’s lives along with the Peanuts characters and stories. This Peanuts Greatest Hits collection is an example of Guaraldi’s very accessible jazz that never sacrifices its integrity.

(Concord/Fantasy, 2015)

Kinrowan’s Bees

Bees are cousins to the wee winged fairies some of us see here in the summer. Or so says Tamsin, our resident hedgewitch. You’re surprised that we’ve got a hedgewitch living here? Don’t be, as we’ve had one on staff for centuries now. She’s hardly the strangest of the staff here, but that’s a tale for another time.

So let me tell you about our bees.