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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Books: Robert Pinsky, who was Poet Laureate of the United States for three years, has written a biography that is both scholarly and tender of The Life of David. Joan Shaddox Isom's Offerings in the Snow is rich in sentiment, but avoids sentimentality and full of delightful moments that are both funny and endearing. In David McCullogh's 1776, the attention to detail and circumstance bring alive just how overwhelming resistance to the English must have seemed to the people of America.

Cinema: Angela Pressburger debuts her DVD reviews with a roundup of cinematic views of Women Around the World. Consult her suggestions for Recent DVDs to Enjoy Over the Holidays and Suitable for the Whole Family!


The Life of David

by Robert Pinsky

Schocken Books (division of Random House), 203 pp

The Life of David is the first in a new series of books on Jewish themes. Robert Pinsky, who was Poet Laureate of the United States for three years, has written a biography that is both scholarly and tender. Mr. Pinsky treats his subject with the respect due to the mighty King David, warrior, statesman, and poet, but at the same time he humanizes David the man, investigating the paradoxes evident in the conduct of that long life.

Pinsky brings his formidable intellect and experience to bear on his subject, relating David’s humanity not only to his own times, but to the values and failings of humankind in general. The author’s broad scope allows reference, both historical and modern, to great thinkers throughout recorded history. He quotes writers, poets, and psychologists, but most of all, he quotes extensively everything concerning David that is written in the Bible and other ancient texts. He also quotes from some of the Psalms, and notes ones that may have come from specific periods in David’s life.

Pinsky’s David emerges as a flesh-and-blood, complex individual, a man of enormous gifts and great charm, but also a man of enormous failings. It is a measure of David’s greatness that he seems to learn from his failures, and to move on with his life. David seems always to have seen himself as a person of power and destiny, beloved of his God. The study of his machinations in achieving the ultimate power of kingship over a unified Israel is fascinating.

Also fascinating are the relationships of the principals in this story. For instance, who knew that Goliath was probably David’s cousin, through his great grandmother, Ruth? Who knew that the beloved Jonathan, killed with his father Saul at the battle at Mount Gelboa, had a lame son named Mephibosheth, to whom David showed great kindness?

I would not call this a book one cannot put down. Despite its fascinating subject, the intensity of Pinsky’s writing can become exhausting. You may need long pauses to digest the richness of ideas, facts, and suppositions. The beauty of the writing and the interesting approach will keep you going back for more. If that’s not enough, the little bits of erudition also fascinate: for example, the aside that “kith” is cognate with our word “couth” and carries a sense not just of kinship, but of “right doing” or “right thinking?”

This reviewer learned a great deal about a subject she thought she already knew pretty well, and what better recommendation can anyone give than that?


Offerings in the Snow; A Christmas Story
by Joan Shaddox Isom
Foxmoor Press
Available by special order from

This charming little story was written by Senior Women Web’s own Joan Shaddox Isom. It is the Christmas memory of a grandfather who grew up in a Depression-era family that lived in the Ozarks. Following a series of accidents and setbacks that have robbed the season of its joy, the family is badly in need of a few small miracles. A year before this story begins, the narrator’s father, in an effort to provide a Christmas dinner for a poor neighbor, accidentally brought about the circumstances that caused the death of the neighbor’s little daughter. He has been struggling with a heavy load of guilt ever since. Additionally, he has wrenched his back, and has been unable to work much in his job as a Forest Service ranger. Times are very tough indeed.

The story is told by Robby, the third son (now a grandfather), who describes his young self as all thumbs, a child who suffers from being very unlike his rough-and-tumble older brothers. He’s a sensitive child, who loves to write and draw and make up stories. His perception of himself as a loser is tied to his deep desire to please his father, a desire that seems always to come crashing down in defeat when his plans go wrong. When his efforts to make a wagon for his little sister, Cubby, result in the death of her beloved puppy, he, like his father, carries a huge burden of guilt.

Despite the unhappy circumstances, Offerings in the Snow is not a depressing book. It is rich in sentiment, but avoids sentimentality. In fact, it is full of delightful moments that are both funny and endearing. The little family may lack material wealth, but they have an abundance of love, and the kind of make-do spirit that those of us reared during the Depression and World War II will recognize at once.

It wouldn’t do to give away the particulars of the story. Suffice it to say that miracles do indeed happen, and in the process, Robby and his father reach a few small epiphanies of their own.

This little book will make a heart-warming Christmas gift for someone you love.


Reviews of 1776, Angela Pressburger's DVD Reviews of Women Around the World Films and Films to Enjoy Over the Holidays


Culture Watch Archives

©2005 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb

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