Welcome to The Once Lost Wanderer. The name is derived from two poems: Amazing Grace by reformed slave trader John Newton, and All That is Gold Does Not Glitter by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

There is but ONE Universe - NOVA this week

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

It should not be surprising that a book blogger is a logophile – lover of words – but just to be clear, I will affirm that, I am indeed a logophile.

Most of the time, that’s a lot of fun. There are, after all, lots words out there to play with.

However, there are other times, when being a logophile can be highly annoying, like when I hear or read gross misuse of words. Such as: there, their, and they’re; to or too (people don’t often get “two” wrong, just the other two); pronouncing the word nuclear as NEW-CUE-LER; adding a qualifier to unique, ie “very unique”, “slightly unique”; cavalry vs Calvary; etc.

These are like fingernails on a chalkboard to me.

But one of my favorite blunders to hate is any reference to an “alternate universe” or “other universes” or universes (plural).

These are particularly egregious because the users often insist they are not incorrect.


I know that sounds dogmatic. Yep!

There IS only one Universe. It literally means everything. You can’t have everything – and then all the other stuff besides everything. No one speaks of “alternate everythings” or “other everythings”. In fact, when I wrote this, the word processor put a red line under "everythings", indicating it is not a word – because it cannot be plural. You can’t have two separate piles of everything.

Similarly, you cannot have more than one Universe. You can’t have the totality of all things that exist – and then a few other things.

You can speak of parallel galaxies, or distant worlds, or other star systems, or the restaurant at the end of the Universe – but please – only ONE Universe.

Disclaimer – I’m just having fun with words. NOVA this week is just an excuse for me to write. Although, to be clear, there really is only one Universe.

Live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

The Wanderer

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (89 down, 11 to go)

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning. ~ Thornton Wilder from The Bridge of San Luis Rey

What a charming little tale – though I almost feel ghoulish for saying so. It involves a bridge collapse and the death of five souls, and the execution by burning of the monk who chronicled their lives…

And yet, it still comes out as charming. Not without some grim reading first though. This little book grew on me slowly. I knew nothing of the plot and thought perhaps it was some sort of adventure or military tale.

Nope. It is the story of an ancient Incan bridge, in Peru that collapses in 1714, five souls who perish, and the Franciscan monk who witnesses the tragedy.  

Brother Juniper made the resolve to inquire into the secret lives of those five persons, that moment falling through the air, and to surprise the reason of their taking off.

Brother Juniper was apparently obsessed with how divine providence selects souls to be affected by such events. Once before, he had devised a mathematical formula attempting to put a value of the worth of souls that had perished in a different tragedy, but as you might guess, he found little to satisfy his passion.

He thought he saw in the same accident the wicked visited by destruction and the good called early to Heaven. He thought he saw pride and wealth confounded as an object lesson to the world, and he thought he saw humility crowned and rewarded for the edification of the city.

But Brother Juniper again tries to find reason in the circumstance and spends six years researching the lives that were lost. I could try to synopsize their tales, but what stood out was Brother Juniper’s devotion. I think Brother Juniper loved humanity. In the end, he writes a book about the five and expostulates his premise on the mysteries of providence. The book and author are burned for heresy. Brother Juniper approaches his earthly judgment calmly.

He was willing to lay down his life for the purity of the church, but he longed for one voice somewhere to testify for him that his intention, at least, had been for faith; he thought there was no one in the world who believed him. But the next morning in all that crowd and sunlight there were many who believed, for he was much loved.

Brother Juniper, in his devoted and tender way, focused on the souls who were lost, but the narration then turns to the survivors – those whose lives had been touched by the victims – and oh then – there lies the charm.

One such survivor comments:

“Now learn,” she commanded herself, “learn at last that anywhere you may expect grace.” 
Oh and, one copy of Brother Juniper's book is spared; it mostly collects dust in a university library.

I have hinted before that I care more about a great story than for polished writing. Thornton Wilder however, accomplishes both. His prose is nearly poetry and was a pleasure to read. The excerpts below, even without their context, are offered as evidence.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Bridge of San Luis Rey won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 and was the best selling-work of fiction that year. At a bit over 30,000 words it is considered a novella, and I believe the shortest work on my 100 Greatest Novels list.

This is the first time I’ve read The Bridge of San Luis Rey. I've read a bit of Wilder, long ago reading bits of Our TownHave you read this novel? this author? What did you think?


“I may see you Tuesday,” says a Limean, “unless the bridge falls.”

Doña Clara was in the hand of malignant Nature who reserves the right to inflict upon her children the most terrifying jests.

…but the servant loved the master because he could quote from any of Cervantes’ prefaces and because his tongue had a little Castilian salt about it still.

…his passion for overseeing the lives of others, his worship of beautiful women, and his admiration for the treasures of Spanish literature.

But there arose out of this denial itself the perfume of a tenderness, that ghost of passion which, in the most unexpected relationship, can make even a whole lifetime devoted to irksome duty pass like a gracious dream.

She had a new way of fingering a wine-glass, of exchanging an adieu, a new way of entering a door that told everything.

All night they talked, secretly comforting their hearts that longed always for Spain and telling themselves that such a symposium was after the manner of the high Spanish soul. They talked about ghosts and second-sight, and about the earth before man appeared upon it and about the possibility of the planets striking against one another; about whether the soul can be seen, like a dove, fluttering away at the moment of death; they wondered whether at the second coming of Christ to Jerusalem, Peru would be long in receiving the news. They talked until the sun rose, about wars and kings, about poets and scholars, and about strange countries. Each one poured into the conversation his store of wise sad anecdotes and his dry regret about the race of men.


Monday, August 28, 2017

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (88 down, 12 to go)

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

This is the saddest story I have ever heard. ~ opening line of The Good Soldier

And that opening line about sums it up.

To be blunt I didn’t like this story. Ford Maddox Ford can certainly write, and sometimes good writing can compensate for a less than compelling story – but for me – in this case – it didn’t.

It is the story of American expatriates John and Florence Dowell and their nine-year friendship with the English couple Edward and Leonora Ashburnham.

John is a fool; Edward is a letch, Florence is a manipulative adulteress, and Leonora is almost likeable, or nearly pitiable, but not quite. They’re all a mess and I didn’t care for any of them. I think maybe I was supposed to feel sorry for the narrator – John – but I didn’t. John at least felt sorry for everybody including himself.

Ya know what? Yuck! I’m done. Some excerpts below will give you a few more insights. The last one, the one about the cow, is not critical to the story, but it might have been the best part of this story.

This novel is very short. That was good. The title refers to Edward Ashburnham who was a British officer and by all accounts a credit to the Army.

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


This is the first time I’ve read Ford Madox Ford or The Good Soldier.

Excerpts – all the words or thoughts of the unreliable narrator, John Dowell:

But just think of that poor wretch….I, who have surely the right, beg you to think of that poor wretch. Is it possible that such a luckless devil should be so tormented by blind and inscrutable destiny? For there is no other way to think of it. None. I have the right to say it, since for years he was my wife’s lover, since he killed her, since he broke up all the pleasantnesses that there were in my life. There is no priest that has the right to tell me that I must not ask pity for him, from you, silent listener beyond the hearthstone, from the world, or from the God who created in him those desires, those madnesses…

Perhaps one day when I am unconscious or walking in my sleep I may go and spit upon poor Edward’s grave.

…you may consider me even to have been an imbecile.

And yet I am so near to all of these people that I cannot think any of them wicked. It is impossible for me to think of Edward Ashburnham as anything but straight, upright and honourable.

I have come to be very much of a cynic in these matters…

Leonora loved Edward with a passion that was yet like an agony of hatred.

You see, he was really a very simple soul – very simple.

So here I am very much where I started thirteen years ago. I am the attendant, not the husband of a beautiful girl, who pays no attention to me. I am estranged from Leonora, who married Rodney Bayham in my absence and went to live at Bayham. Leonora rather dislikes me, because she has got it into her head that I disapprove of her marriage with Rodney Bayham. Well, I disapprove of her marriage. Possibly I am jealous. Yes, no doubt I am jealous.

Not one of us has got what he really wanted. Leonora wanted Edward, and she has got Rodney Bayham, a pleasant enough sort of sheep. Florence wanted Branshaw, and it is I who have bought it from Leonora. I didn’t really want it; what I wanted mostly was to cease being a nurse attendant. Edward wanted Nancy Rufford, and I have got her. Only she is mad. It is a queer fantastic world.

Is there any terrestrial paradise where, amidst the whispering of the olive-leaves, people can be with whom they like and have what they like and take their ease in shadows and in coolness? Or are all men’s lives like the lives of us good people – like the lives of the Ashburnhams, of the Dowells, of the Ruffords – broken, tumultuous, agonized, and unromantic, lives, periods punctuated by screams, by imbecilities, by deaths, by agonies? Who the devil knows?

Let me come to the 4th of August, 1913, the last day of my absolute ignorance – and, I assure you, of my perfect happiness.

I chuckled over it from time to time for the whole rest of the day. Because it does look very funny, you know, to see a black and white cow land on its back in the middle of a stream. It is so just exactly what one doesn’t expect of a cow.