What are you reading the week of January 11, 2020?
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I'm hoping to finish The Paranoid Style in American Politics, an astute collection of essays on the crazier aspects of American politics, this evening. The final two essays tackle a period of American history on which I've always been confused: the populist Free Silver movement of the late 19th century. The only thing that I remember from school is William Jennings Bryan's "Cross of Gold" speech. The rest was mystifying to me. Guess what, it was a bunch of crazies with wacko theories of economics egged on by rich silver miners. Several rich silver mines had caused the price of silver to drop, and the mine owners wanted to be allowed to take silver ingots to the US Mint and have them struck into silver dollars. But the value of silver in such a dollar was lower than the face value because of the depressed silver prices. Free coinage would have given them a tidy profit on every coin. They sold the public on the idea as way to recover from the depression of 1893. "All we need to recover is to mint more silver coins!" The effect would have been to devalue the dollar, line the pockets of the rich silver producers, and make the value of the average man's wage worth less.
As I noted in last week's thread, I'm now in the early goings of Being Mortal by Atul Gawande.
I hope you're feeling OK soon, Fred. I've got that second shot coming up next month.
I am just in the first couple of chapters of The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. So far I'm liking it quite a bit.
>1 fredbacon: Hope you feel better soon, Fred! Vaccines can be unpleasant.
SPY by Danielle Steel
(London, India, etc./1940s-90s/historical fiction/a young woman moves from a life of privilege into a life of intrigue/British narrator)
Blackberry Winter – Sarah Jio
Book on CD performed by Tara Sands.
From the book jacket: Seattle, May 1933. Vera Ray kisses her three-year-old son, Daniel, good night and reluctantly leaves for work. She hates the night shift, but it’s the only way she can earn enough... In the morning … a heavy snow is falling. Vera rushes to wake Daniel, but his bed is empty. His teddy bear lies outside in the snow.
Seattle, present day. On the second of May, Seattle Herald reporter Claire Aldridge awakens to a late-season snowstorm. Assigned to cover this “blackberry winter” and its predecessor decades earlier, Claire learns of Daniel’s unsolved abduction and vows to unearth the truth – only to discover that she and Vera are linked in unexpected ways.
I had heard such good things out Jio and this book in particular, so I was looking forward to reading it. The premise is interesting, though I figured out the connection between Claire and Vera long before any of the characters did.
Both these women irritated me. I got tired of hearing how poor Vera was, how hard she struggled, how dedicated she was. I got bored with Claire’s marital drama, with her apparent inability to confront her husband and her boss. Yes, I understand she was suffering a depressive grief, but it seemed out of character for what the blurbs promised me: a mystery, twists and turns that would shock and enthrall me. In both cases there were several opportunities for the women to take some action, to assert themselves and possibly change their fortunes. Time and again they failed to do so. The personal travails of these women held the story back, forcing the reader to slog through all these personal dramas much as the people of Seattle slogged through piles of snow.
Tara Sands did a pretty good job reading the audiobook. She set a good pace and her diction was clear. Despite the constantly changing time frame and narrative point of view I managed to easily follow the parallel stories. (Although, I do think this would be more easily done in a text format.)
Man’s Search For Meaning – Viktor E Frankl
Digital audio narrated by Simon Vance
I first read this book when I was in college and it has remained with me ever since. When a book group hosted by a local university announced this as one of their picks I immediately signed on for the discussion.
This is both a memoir and an inspirational lesson in how to survive and thrive. Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl relates his experiences in Nazi concentration camps and shares the experiences, too, of his patients, to show that, while no one can completely avoid suffering, we can choose HOW to deal with and process those experiences to find meaning and a renewed sense of purpose.
I was struck by a few things that I’d forgotten or overlooked the first time I read it. Frankl had some serendipitous encounters even in the midst of the horrors of the concentration camps. The advice to shave closely, for example, helped him give the appearance of a healthier person, thus saving him from being culled from the group as too weak to work. Additionally, his attitude of acceptance seemed to give him the strength to endure. Over and over again he chose to remain and face his fate, rather than try to escape.
The book is divided into two parts. The first is more memoir of the times he spent in the camps. The second part goes into detail on how he developed and refined his theory of logotherapy. While the second clearly builds on the first, I thought it was less interesting than the memoir section. I found section two more academic rather than personal, and therefore it had less impact.
Simon Vance does a marvelous job reading the audiobook. His diction is clear, and he sets a good pace and an appropriate tone for this serious and insightful work. Still, I did read sections of it in text format, and I think it is best experienced by reading the text.
How's your story-collection TBR? Fatter now, I hope.
Ng’s story surrounds the Lee family, in particular Lydia, their daughter who has died. The story goes back and forth in time including the meeting and marriage of Marilyn, who is white and James Lee who is Chinese. Their marriage is not going well and their children struggle as the only American Asians in their town. But when their daughter dies it consumes them and threatens the family structure while they attempt to find out what happened to Lydia. Well written and hard to put down.
Followed that up with an early review of Fine, Thanks, by Mary Dunnewold. As a cancer survivor who also lost an adult child to the disease, I found it reflected many of my own experiences, and exposed me to some alternative viewpoints. It's definitely worth reading -- almost everyone is touched by this disease one way or another, either as a patient or as the friend or relative of one.
Next up is Larry McMurtry's The Last Kind Words Saloon. I don't have any preconceptions about this, other than a general fondness for most of McMurtry's stuff.
It came as no surprise to me that I found this book well written, eye-opening and thought provoking, seeing as how much my wife enjoyed it and learned from it and how much it's been praised here on LT. I basically gulped the book down over a weekend. On the other hand, I don't know how much new I have to say about it. What Gawande has to say about the history of the nursing home and independent living movements is extremely interesting and makes a lot of sense. The most powerful sections are those in which Gawande relates the slow evolution of society's and modern medicine's attitudes about end of life care and the transfering of priorities from fighting every symptom and the physical safety of patients to listening to what patients actually want, and how our priorities evolve as we register that our time is becoming limited. At any rate, Being Mortal is indeed a very powerful piece of writing that gave me a lot to think about as I crash and burn my way toward 65 in a few months.
* “Mark S. Watson of the Baltimore Sun Tells the Story of the Seven Martyrs of Arlon” from A Treasury of Great Reporting: "Literature Under Pressure" from the Sixteenth Century to Our Own Time edited by Louis L. Snyder
* “Bloodhounds Don’t Draw Blood” by Edwin Diehl and Walter Karig from Magazine Digest - August 1949 edited by Murray Simmons
* The chapter on the San Francisco Giants from 1963 Official Baseball Almanac by Bill Wise – Finished!
* “’Appy ‘Einrich” from Leaves in the Wind by Alpha of the Plow (a.k.a. A. G. Gardiner)
* “Maximum Security” from Creek Walk and Other Stories by Molly Giles
* “The Air: President Johnson Models the New Microphone, the Governor of Michigan Brandishes an Issue, the Ship of State Sails On, & Other Melodies of the Nineteen-Sixties” by Michael Arlen from the December 2, 1967, issue of The New Yorker Magazine
As noted, with the reading on the chapter about the San Francisco Giants, I finished the fun and fascinating (for fans of baseball and baseball history) 1963 Official Baseball Almanac. Back in the day, Major League Baseball used to publish an annual pre-season round-up and look-ahead to the coming year. With the internet and all, I'm not sure if these books still come out. This is a neat, pocketbook-sized volume put out by Signet. There's a chapter for each of the 20 teams then in existence. Each chapter contains a chatty, light-hearted encapsulation of team's 1962 season and off-season (i.e. what trades they'd made) with a rundown of which players are likely to contribute in '63 and how each team is likely to do, plus full-page profiles of from one to three of the team's important players. It's fun to read these predictions with the knowledge of hindsight, some 57 years later!
Next for me will be To a Distant Island, James McConkey's 1984 memoir and musing on Anton Chekhov's long and grueling journey to Sakhalin Island on Russia's eastern fringe to visit and study the horrific penal colony there.
The Bester book is still on my bed table with a bookmark in it, whilst I read something more absorbing - A Treacherous Paradise by Henning Mankell. I had forgotten how much I love Mankell's writing, and his descriptive language is excellent. The story is historical fiction - young Swedish woman en route to Australia in 1905 jumps ship at a port call in Mozambique and stays there.
Just finished reading the absolutely lovely Kitchen, about transcending the existential angst of loss.
Next up for reading is the first installment of the trilogy, The Rosy Crucifixion, Sexus, by Henry Miller.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate―Discoveries from a Secret World by Pete Wohlleben.
Catfishing on CatNet: a Novel Naomi Kritzer
About to start the YA novel Jackpot Nic Stone
Another Doig and Mankell fan here. One of my favorite Doig novels is The Whistling Season, a book in praise of American public education and father/son/male relationships. And Daniel by Mankell, is a profoundly imagined novel about the power of home and the sin of racial exploitation.
They may be very unlike literary stars but they both light up the reader's firmament, don't they?
>23 perennialreader: >27 Limelite: >31 ahef1963: My favorite of Doig’s, and a book so good that it makes me want to hug it, is This House Of Sky, a memoir of his youth. And now I’m reminded that I need to read Ride With Me, Mariah Montana and finish the trilogy.
My current book is Little Fires Everywhere.
OK, back to McConkey. In the mid-80s, McConkey decided to write a memoir about his family's year in Florence, Italy in the early 1970s. McConkey was on sabbatical from his tenure at an unnamed university, driven away from the school by the late-60s turmoil on campus that he had found himself drawn into but ultimately repelled and distressed by. While in Italy, he came upon a volume of Chekhov's Sakhalin letters and became fascinated, going on to read everything he could find of these letters and of Chekhov's life. From the letters, McConkey imagines and creates a novel-like narrative for Chekhov's journey, interspersing known facts with his own fancy. He makes an admittedly conjectural examination of Chekhov's motivations and psychological evolution during his travels. But this is, as I said up top, ultimately a memoir. McConkey endeavors to thread his own memories of his family's stay in Italy throughout his telling of his Chekhov tale. The problem here is that while the thematic connections between the two story lines were evidently clear to McConkey, he fails, in my view, to present them effectively (or at all) for the reader. I would recommend this book only to those with a particular interest in Chekhov's life.
* "Mary Baker Eddy" from American Heroines: The Spirited Women who Shaped Our Country by Kay Bailey Hutchison
* “El Tim” from A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
* “Rebels Ahead!” a letter from the collection The Hero of Medfield by Allen A. Kingsbury from The Union Reader edited by Richard B. Harwell
* “On the Horse of Dawn” from Tierra del Fuego by Francisco Coloane
* “Books: My Mind Was Without a Shadow,” an essay about Norwegian author Knut Hamsun by John Updike from the December 2, 1967, issue of The New Yorker Magazine
I've now started The Black Camel by Earl Derr Biggers. This is the fourth of Derr Biggers' Charlie Chan novels, originally published in 1929. I've really enjoyed the series so far.
Two girls from different backgrounds swap places--one to study medicine, the other magic. Trouble is brewing in the kingdom and the two must discover the truth.
Previous read: The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell
Samantha, an American grad student, goes to read English literature at Oxford. She also has to deal with her Bronte legacy.
Here Today, Gone Tamale – Rebecca Adler
First in a series. Josie Callahan has lost her journalist job in Austin AND had her former fiancé unfriend her on Facebook. So, she returns, tail between her legs, to Broken Boot, Texas. She’s living above her Aunt and Uncle’s restaurant and waiting tables to make ends meet. The town’s Wild Wild West Festival is a big tourist attraction, and businesses count on the increased traffic to keep going. But when a local artist is found behind the restaurant, one of the restaurant’s staff is arrested for her murder. Josie doesn’t think the Sheriff is up to the task of investigating, so she uses her reporting skills to ferret out information that will point to the real killer.
As cozies go, this is okay, but the plot is weak and Josie seems too clueless to be a big-city reporter. I did like a number of the supporting cast, including her pet long-haired Chihuahua, Lenny. But I was irritated beyond words that the publishers and/or author didn’t bother to use the proper spellings / alphabet for Spanish words that are used – e.g. Senora vs Señora. That’s just lazy.
I’ll probably read another just to see how the possible romantic dilemma works out. And there are some decent recipes included at the end.
The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man – Jonas Jonasson
Book on CD performed by Peter Kenny.
From the book jacket: It all begins with a hot-air balloon trip and three bottles of champagne. Allan and Julius are ready for some spectacular views, but they’re not expecting to land in the sea and be rescued by a North Korean ship, and they could never have imagined that the captain of the ship would be harboring a suitcase full of contraband uranium, on a nuclear weapons mission for Kim Jong-un….
The scenarios are every bit as ridiculous, outlandish, and unbelievable as in the first book, but I just love the way Allan just “goes with the flow.” Nothing really upsets him; he keeps his wits about him and manages to cleverly work his way out of a number of dicey situations. Along the way there are encounters with a number of world leaders, including Donald Trump and Angela Merkel (among others).
It’s a fast, fun, romp of a novel that had me giggling in places.
Peter Kenny does a fine job performing the audiobook. I really love the way he interprets Allan, but his Kim Jong-un is almost unintelligible, and his Donald Trump is not even close to begin accurate.
The more that I learn about the immune system, the more comfortable I feel with these sorts of reactions. The whole point is to trick your body into responding as if it were under attack. I had a fever and body aches and chills for brief period of time, but those symptoms are just the result of the innate (or early) immune system kicking into gear. It only lasted ten to twelve hours, probably less. The adaptive immune system takes a couple of days to ramp up, but it won't even start unless the innate immune system is activated first. The two systems are triggered by different things. It's why vaccines have the various adjuncts added that anti-vaxers rail about. They're there to kickstart the immune system enough to invoke the adaptive response.
I'm amused by people who tell me, "I took the flu shot once, and it gave me the flu." Not really, but yes, it probably felt like it for a day. That's a good thing! It means that it did it's job.
There There – Tommy Orange
In his debut novel, Orange explores the world of today’s Urban Indian; people who may be registered with a tribe in Oklahoma or New Mexico, while living in Oakland California. These are people who struggle with the issues of the urban poor, while also trying to work against stereotype, and still connect with and celebrate their native culture.
Orange tells the story through the lives of a dozen different characters, all of whom are going to attend the Big Oakland Powwow. Some struggle with substance abuse and/or alcoholism. Others have issues of abandonment. Some have embraced their heritage despite little or no support from family. Others have turned from a culture they feel has failed them. Their lives are interwoven by coincidence, thin threads of DNA, circumstance, proximity and/or their shared desire to attend the powwow. They are in turn angry, desolate, hopeful, joyous, loving, confused, determined, generous or mean.
I did feel somewhat confused by the work, mostly due to the many characters and the constantly shifting point of view. Still, Orange’s voice is unique and powerful. And I look forward to reading more from him in the future.
Update on second reading
I listened to the audio the first time, but chose to read the text for my second reading. If anything, the impact of Orange's writing is greater when reading on the page. Made for a stimulating book club discussion, though the majority of our members did not like the book.