Showing posts with label Books read. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Books read. Show all posts

Friday, December 30, 2011

Last books of 2011, continued from yesterday

This completes the post I started yesterday.  It is as though I have saved the best for last.    Rating from  * lowest to ***** highest  but here I have included more commentary and photos. 

The Scalpel and the Soul  by Allan J Hamilton MD, FACS, paperback, 
published in 2008, 241 pages, *****
This was another selection from our local book club and an outstanding read.  Based on the medical experiences of a neurosurgeon who specialized in brain tumors and the science of psychoneuroimmunology at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center.  He explains the difference between a doctor and a surgeon and beginning with his trip down the Ogoue River in Africa as a Schweitzer fellow, we learn about the link between the supernatural and medicine. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with a medical professional and of bedside manners.   The writing is exceptional, pg. 28, "Some folks never listen to the little hairs when they stand up on the back of the neck.  I listen hard to those hairs, because they're my intuition.....There's a distinction between a decision and choice.  ...superstition, I choose to believe it."   Through stories based on actual patients we learn so much about what lies beyond  modern medicine and its miracles. My favorite patient tale is the gypsy queen, whose family takes her to the roof of the hospital so that her spirit may leave and be free from the body a process facilitated by Dr. Hamilton after the nurses complain about all the candles the family set up in the patient's room.  His patients are  terminal, at the best he buys them some time with surgery  but often these tumor recur.  This is an amazing read, very different than anything else I've read in years, when I started it I feared it might be too technical with medical terminology that would lose my intetest, that was an unreasonable suspicion.  

His final chapter has 20 rules for patients with explanations of each one; here are 1--10:
1 Never under estimate luck--good or bad;
2 Find a doctor who cares about you; 
3Never trade quality for quantity of life; 
4 Live your life with death in it;   
5 You cannot dodge the bullet with your name on it,   
6 Ask your doctor to pray with you,
7 Never believe anyone who says "nothing will go wrong"
8 Don't be turned into just another patient
9 Listen to your favorite music
10 Never let hospital rules interfere with patient visiting hours

 Pg. 167, "What one is to become is largely predetermined by forces beyond our control, ...we ride our destiny....the sensibility of discipline and self determination draws its inspiration from an earlier stage in life for which we are hardly able to assume responsibility."   He explains that luck and hope are flip sides of a coin and gives a harrowing example of what occurs in medicine when hope is removed.  However he does not advocate sugar coating nor deluding oneself in a terminal status, he acknowledges there is a time to not pursue further treatment.   I am purchasing  another copy of this book to give to our wonderful family physician at Mayo.  I hope he will be as intrigued as I was.  It is brave and different  for a prominent physician to write such a book, especially in these times of health care reform; his acceptance of the unknown and alternative medicine makes him distinctly different. 

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys, 
published 2011,   343 pages  ****

I bought this at a Border's Bookstore that was closing in PA and when I opened it to read, I was surprised to see that it is actually  targeted to young readers.  This novel is based on a true but dismal part of history, 1941  in pre World War II Lithuania when the Russians invade and incarcerate the peopless  of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  The world ignores their deportation  to concentration camps and worse in Siberia.  How some endure and how many do not rivals the holocaust.  The world looked on and turned its head, concentrating on Hitler and ignoring Stalin's brutality.  This is the author's first novel and is a page turner, narrated by the 15 year old Lina who is preparing to study art when the doors t o their home are broken down and the family  taken away.  I am donating this one to our local library. 

The Greater Journey  Americans in Paris  by David McCullough    published 2011,  
460 pages,  +76 pages source notes, +19 pages Index      ***** 
The front  jacket
If I selected one book to be my very top nonfiction read of the year this marvelous, wondrous book must be it.  I enjoy everything that McCullough writes with his intense research, reminiscent of James Michener.  This book details  the stories  of the prominent and aspiring American artists, writers, doctors, pre-med students, politicians, architects and other professionals who go to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to study, learn and fine tune their skills while experiencing the broadening they believe can only come from Europe.  The go to experience the "prestige of age"  and they do so in a different way,  Pg 20.."Even without the impertinence, the whole requirement of passports--the cost, the vexatious ceremony of it all was repugnant to the Americans. one carried a passport in America, not even foreign visitors. " There is such a difference between the Europeans and the Americans and many of these travelers had never been away from home before, never experienced  the older cultures, there was no guarantee of success.   On pg 67 Nathaniel Willis describes his fascination with faces and how one could "always recognize an American.There was something distinctive about the American face, something he had never noticed until coming to Paris....the distinctive feature ...,the independent self possessed bearing of a man unused to look p to anyone as his superior in rank, united to the inquisitive, sensitive, communicative expression which is the index to our national character."

Inside  the book cover
I learned so much reading this book that covers history of the time, the arts, artists and more about authors, for example James Fenimore Cooper was an advocate for Polish freedom. The famous pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk launched his career in Paris at age 15. The experiences of  George PA Healy, Samuel FB Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Henry James  are only a few of what we read in this volume.  It is interesting to live through the popular rise of the automobile.  I wondered why McCullough emphasized Augustus Saint Gaudens, the sculptor and on pg 455 in the Epilogue I learned that Homer St. Gaudens  was  the director of arts at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA.  Likely more data was available through that resource and McCullough is from Pittsburgh.  I could not pick one favorite tale in this book, the world's fair, the Eiffel tower, the revolutionaries. I shuddered  reading about  the early days of medical practice and how poor it was, even in Paris, where they went to learn.  I wonder how much worse it was here in the states, lack of sanitation and so on at that time.  This is a book I will keep and read again sometime, there is so much here. It is McCullough's latest contribution to the history and art lovers among us.  

Front of the book
A local friend, a retired high school teacher told me about  a favorite history book she used in her class for advanced seniors literature, "My Thirty Years Backstairs at the White House"  by Lillian Rogers Parks,  published  first in 1961.  It has been out of print and Cheryl advised me if I ever saw it to grab a copy.  I found it was republished with  annotations by Sam Sloan  in 2008 and now own it.  A fantastic read about the history of the  White House presidents and first ladies  from the Tafts to the Eisenhowers, from 1909-1960 and told by Lillian a seamstress and personal maid with notes and stories from her mother, Maggie, who was the chief White House maid.  They cherished their "full time" employment and served with honor although their compensation was always meager.   Summary intro  by Sam Sloan, page 9 and Pg  98 in the book: "After 30 years in the White House, Lillian's final take home pay was $103.60 for two weeks.  A single mom in the kitchen was supporting wo children on $48 per week.  Lillian was supporting her mother,  Maggie, whose pension was $111 per month.  During all these years Lillian and her mother had been supplementing their incomes through the tips they received.  Whenever there was a party or an event in the White House, Lillian or her mother would work the coat check rooms and would recieve tips.  Mrs Truman always made sure that the guests left tips and if they did not,  Mrs. Truman would cover it herself. was a cruel blow when Mamie Eisenhower decreed that the White House servants were not allowed to receive tips.  Many of the servants had to take outside jobs in order to be able to afford the honor of working in the White House "    I thought  the 1981 TV miniseries, Backstairs at the White House, was based on this book but learned it was not as it had historical privilege while the original 30 Years is all fact.   All 346 pages of this book are resplendent with history, tidbits, humor, reflections and personal anecdotes all perspectives from the domestic servants although all very discreet. 

Lillian worked for 30 years at the White House, beginning as a seamstress in the days when mending and alterations were the norm, her mother, Maggie Rogers,  preceded her with 30 years service and for 10 years their service overlapped.  Maggie often brought the young child, Lillian along to work because she had no place to leave her.  Lillian, born in February 1897,  had polio at age 4 and walked  the rest of her life with crutches as  shown on the book cover photo; she lived to be 100.  She does not say much about her retirement or even the date/year although it is assumed to be 1960 during the Eisenhower time. If there is any presidential family of disappointment it is the Eisenhowers.  She thought he would be friendly after the "I like Ike" campaign slogan, but infact he was not and Mamie reveled in running a formal military like household with perfection, even requiring the carpets be sept to not show any foot track prints.  That kept the help quite busy sweeping each time someone entered and left a room.   The stories are accompanied with historical photos, and backstairs wisdom, it precedes the current "The Help" in a far grander setting.   It's a book I will keep and browse through again.  ****

Before I found "30 Years..." I found an old copy of Upstairs at the White House, My Life with the First Ladies by J.B.West who served as assistant and Chief Usher of the White House between 1941-1969, published in 1973,  368 pages.  I read this book first and absolutely enjoyed it.  I recall hearing about it when it was released but hadn't read it then.  As I have said before, there are plenty of wonderful old books to be read, it  need not be a current best seller.  I frequent  book sales where  $1 to 50 cents are top prices for these books; and I volunteer at our local used "bookshelf room" where we accept and sell used books to raise $$ for our local library.  Working there gives me  pick of the litter that we accumulate between monthly sales.   This book is a warm anecdotal, historical look at the lives of six Presidents and First Ladies,  Roosevelt's through  Nixon's, from a very discreet gentleman, Mr. West.  It is a perfect companion to "30 Years...."   I learned a lot about the White House workings and the duties of a chief usher, a position that  remains today and how the usher announces all who meet with the president.  Photos of the bedrooms of the presidents and first ladies are inside the cover front and back and many other photos are throughout the book, "profusely illustrated with photographs" as the jacket inside reads.  The book is historic itself because the inside original price is only $8.95 a fine hardback first edition!  Between both books, reading about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt was the most amusing to me although the funniest stories were about the temperamental French chef's brought in by Jacqueline Kennedy.  

Sometimes we forget the drama and accomplishments of the first ladies but  Mr. West does not.  Page 367, "All the First Ladies I've known have been exceptionally strong in spirit.  They came in that way, because they'd been able to share their husbands' grueling political road to the White House......And each of them has performed a great public service to the people of America, filling a role that is nonappointive, nonelective, certainly nonpaid, the most demanding volunteer job in America."  After reading both books, about the families, the personalities, their friends and pets, I wonder if some staff could carry these forward with a sequel, or if it has been politically banned.  Both books are written with dignity; avoiding sex and scandals although the 2008 update to "30 Years." acknowledges the Roosevelt mistresses.  Both books reflect history from a close internal perspective and I recommend both as great comfortable  reads.  *****    

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Up to date on Books Read

"When you sell a man a book, you don't sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue--you sell him a whole new life." Christopher Morley

A stack of books grows higher by the week alongside my computer, books I have read from late October until now, books  I have just set aside until I have time to review them for the blog......but as I posted  a week back time is running out and my stack gets taller.   I will have a new blog in 2012 solely to record my readings and my reviews.  For now, to expedite the process and  move books into either  donation bags or, if a keeper,  to the shelf in our home  library, I am borrowing a technique from Kat Mortenson and assigning stars  *****  to rank the books,  with 1 low and 5 high:

5 ***** being a top notch read and a book I loved.  
No * indicates a book I did not finish,  which means it is  really  a poor read and  had no interest for me; oh does this mean I really have a 6 point rating system? 
1 * will mean a book I plowed through under some protest. 

I suppose  that technically I have six ranks from No to *****.   There would be few books with No and few with *****, most somewhere in between. 

It has taken me awhile to learn to discard a book that does not hold my interest, I have so many books to read and so little time to do so that it's not worth wasting my eyeballs on a bad one.  Why did I think I had to plod along when  the pages and words held no interest? 

 What I find enjoyable in reading and which will be my criteria in rating reflect my personal preferences.  I am not a fluff or what I term fiction comic book reader nor do I like science fiction.  I like to sink into a book like a nice comfy leather chair, so a novel has to envelop me.  My first preference is always non fiction or historical, memoir and biographies are first choice.  I look for excellent writing and research, well developed characters who appear lifelike with their tales, a sense of historical accuracy,  historical, memoirs that evoke emotion while reading, or a book that teaches me something.  I am as I have said many times before a life long reader from the time I learned to read as a tot.  I am never bored, lonely, or without something to do to entertain myself so long as I have a good book. 

No I do not e-read nor do I have any desire to do so, being the proud owner or stacks of books and a marvelous home library.   I never pass a book sale without picking up something.  You will see several on the list below that are used, older.  A book does not have to be on a current best seller list to attract my interest.  I have been exposed to wonderful books I might not have found nor read through my local book club where we meet monthly to discuss.

 Title,date published/comment             Author          Rating

Marilyn and Me-Sisters, Rivals, Friends 1992   Susan Strasberg       **               
Almost tedious reading but some interesting  pages
and reverie about the authors famous  parents. 

The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay  2010          BeverlyJensen       *****      
A novel saga over 7 decades beginning in 1916,
sisters from Nova Scotia who immigrate to
America.  Fascinating and humorous in parts. "She was
worn to the shape of a gnarled tree...." describes their
paternal grandmother.

The Knitting Circle    2007 paperback             Ann Hood                           *****
  Our book club selection; a novel with great
characters and their stories and the grief of losing a child.
Based on the author's life.    

Left Neglected                 2011                    Lisa Genova                             *** 
 She wrote "Still Alice" about dementia, which I enjoyed. This
novel is about a condition resulting from an auto accident
where the left side of the body does not respond.

Lit                 2010 Paperback                  Mary Karr                                     **    
Her 3rd memoir and the least interesting despite its glowing
reviews; about her days in  alcoholism.  Dreary

The Quilters Apprentice    2000 Paperback     Jennifer Chiaverini                ** 
A ho hum novel, my curiosity about the process of learning to quilt
 dragged me along.  First book in the Elm Creek Quilt Series.

Our Story: The Quecreek Miners     2002     told to  Jeff Goodell                 ***
 Concise, true tale of these PA coal miner
 spent trapped underground for 77 hours

The Seventh Life of Pauline Johnson   2001        Katy King                 No stars
  If this isn't the dumbest book it is close to it. The author
hawked it at a craft show; it has been on my shelf for years
to be read.  Supposed to be a  mystery/ recipe book.

Blind Your Ponies         2011 Paperback           Stanley Gordon West             *****
Our book club selection.  Outstanding novel about  a high school
boys long time loosing basketball team, and their town. 
Excellent characters and writing by a MN author. Selection of the title
and what it represents is a story itself.  Will read more of his books.

Four more books to add  but will post more later, I intend today with the others.  I'm off to walk  to Curves and not waste the fresh air of  this beautiful, balmy  sunny day!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Books Update Review of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"

I've not been posing my comments or book reviews but merely adding my reads to the side bars.  Life has kept me far too  busy in too many areas and so somethings had to go.  However I have been actively reading through my stacks, new purchases and books chosen by our book club, so  take a look at my  sidebar where the reads and authors will show up.  Later I will review another great read, "Blind Your Ponies" by Stanley G West, a  Minnesotta author who has a talent for great wriitng and outstanding character development.  Our book club selected  "Blind Your Ponies", the title derived from an Indian legend, for October; at first I grumbled, "oh phooey  a novel about highschool boys!"  I was so taken in that I devoured it in over 4  nights, it is a huge book but I was captured immediately about basketball, the small town in Montana and the use of Don Quixote analogies by the central character.  Since we will not discuss it until October I will hold my comments.  Be satisfied to know that I  have added Guest as another author to read more from, he writes literature rather than a book, which is one of my criteria  in reading.  

Another  excellent read I finished last month is Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and  Sweet" that was marked so cheap at Border's going out of business sale in PA I could not resist it.  I recall Sandy telling me that it was the  2011 chosen read by the Woodland, CA  community and at that time it rang familiar; I was sure  I'd read it, I was wrong.  This is the beauty of book stores and sales where one can pick up a book and  browse the pages, something not available in quite the same way online or on those  automatic reader things; well I recognized the story line and quickly recalled that for some  reason I'd not read this book published back in 2009 in paperback by Random House.  So it went into my sack and what a great buy it turned out to be.  I do prefer non-fiction, political discourse, biographies and or history  to fiction or novels unless I am reading for brain drain occasionally.  I suppose  that when I did not read this before I had something more interesting in the non-fiction genre to  take up my time.   When I read good fiction like this considered literary and I learn something, I consider it time well spent, not just dusting off the cobwebs of the brain cells.  I also  appreciate the research by the author to get historic details correct and a perspective of the times. .

I am glad I read it this time when it showed up in front of me.It is  set in  about 1942 in Seattle, WA and is the tale of Henry Lee a young Chinese boy, a back look through Henry's life whose wife has been terminally ill, Henry recalls life in Chinatown and his father who insisted he be Chinese, not mistaken as Japanese. His father wants him to get an American education but will insist that he be sent off to China for final years of schooling.  Henry gets a scholarship to an English elementary school where he meets Keiko, a young Japanese girl also chosen by scholarship which is stretching the word because both Henry and Keiko are  serfs at best  in the kitchen under the heavy arm and eye of Mrs Beatty.

 I am  familiar with Asian sects, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong  and know something about differences in their cultures and even the differences among the same culture  for example Chinese Cantonese compared to Mandarin.  I also  understand the various prejudices and prides  among the cultures. So I readily understood Henry's Chinese father making him wear a button sign to school, "I am Chinese"  as World War II looms.  Keiko who is an American born lives in Japantown.   A deep bond develops between Henry and Keiko but the resettlement of the Japanese to interment camps after Pearl Harbor eventually separates them.  Before that happens, Henry who is very interested in Jazz music, smuggles Keiko into a black jazz  nightclub and there the two children see some of the rising prejudice against the Japanese.  While the book is fiction,  the places are real, the Panama Hotel, Bud's Jazz Records in Seattle, and more.

Characters and writing are excellent in this book, besides the two there are several other memorable Marty, Henry's son; Ethel, Henry's dying wife; his father and mother parents who absolutely love their only son; Keiko's parents, Mr and Mrs Okabe; Mrs. Beatty who turns from villain to helpmate, Chaz an American boy who torments Henry,  Sheldon the black street musician and so many more who weave through his life.  It is a grand sad story with  a certain bitter sweet ending.  A good read for a couple evenings at only 285 pages and then a Reader's Guide discussion with the author.  

Great lines among the many on the pages:
pg. 4  But in the end, each of them occupied a solitary grave.  Alone forever.  It didn't matter who your neighbors were.  They didn't talk back.

pg. 5. Maybe the clock was ticking?  He wasn't sure, because as soon as Ethel passed, time began to crawl, clock or no he was, alone in a crowd of strangers.  A man between lifetimes. 

pg. 9.  I try not to live in the past, he thought, but who knows, sometimes the past lives in  me.

pg .34. ..choosing to lovingly care for her was like steering a plane into a mountain as gently as possible.  The crash is imminent; it's how you spend your time on the way down that counts.

pg. 36.  The International District was just a small town.  People know everything about everyone.  And just as in other small towns, when someone leaves, they never come back.

pg. 64.  ..a lot of people just don't  want to go back.  Sometimes that's the best thing to do--to live in the leave something behind.  To move on and live the future and not relive the past.

pg. 127.  This is where he lives but it will never be his home.

pg. 128. ..sigh of disappointment.  A consolation prize, of coming in second and having nothing to show for it.  Of coming up empty; having wasted your time, because in the end, what you do and who you are, doesn't matter one lousy bit.  Nothing does.

pg. 204.  His father had said once that the hardest choices in life aren't between what's right and what's wrong but between what's right and what's best.   

A good book, somewhat historical, somewhat romantic, somewhat fatalistic.  It would be a good movie with the right characters but then a movie never has the depth of the written words in the book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Reads Kitchen House and Burning Sea

I am remembering my summers of childhood and adolescence when I journeyed on foot up and down the hill to the town library for my week's stash of books  to read.  I would check out the limit and bring them home and start reading on the front porch.  I had extremely advanced reading skills and if left alone, not bothered for chores by Mom, I could  finish a book in a day or two.  We never bought books in my family, only the occasional comic book but the library was my resource and free.  Today I have a massive home library and  buy books here and there readily. One woman in my book club asked me what I did with all the books I buy and this does get to be a dilemma because I cannot keep them all; I donate to our local library book sales where we raise funds for the library, I pass along books to friends, and I donate to the library at the church where our book club meets. There is never a book sale to be passed by and there are many older books worth reading.  I still read rapidly but also can absorb the information rapidly and to scan over drivel. 

I am so into my summer reading swing once again and just finished two more books, both excellent stories, both novels.  While I prefer non fiction, I  do appreciate  a novel that teaches me something and both these books did; well if the research that goes into the book is good, there is often something to learn.  That is why James Michener is my all time favorite author.  It is unique today to find authors who research their subjects so thoroughly as both these authors did.

First "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom, published by Simon and Schuster in 2010, 377 pages, selected  by our book club, a story set in post colonial  (1790's) Virginia about Lavinia, an Irish orphan girl who becomes an indentured servant to the tobacco plantation owned by the captain of the ship on which she'd been migrating with her parents and brother.  When both parents die the children are separated and sold off.  A seven year old girl is alone, that is Lavinia who is sold to the captain.  Lavinia is raised with the black slaves particularly by Belle who runs the kitchen house where the meals are made for the family.  True to the history of the era, there was a separate house behind the plantation where meals were cooked.    The novel spans the life of the Captain, reaches back to the time of his parents and then forward to his son and is narrated alternately by Lavinia and Belle.  It is  a good tale with many intriguing characters, Mama Mae, Papa George, Uncle Jacob are all slaves to the household and compared to the field slaves, they are better off.  The captain's wife and mother of Marshall and Sally battles opium addiction and finally loses herself in it after Sally's tragic death.  The story calls attention to  some of our nation's history that I had forgotten, that of the indentured servants, mostly white Europeans, many Irish  who lived on the plantations and were part of the slave community despite their white skin.  This is not a pleasant story in many parts but it is well written and compelling reading.  The characters do not always do what the reader thinks they will and that draws us along.

Grissom is a new author to me, but I would read other of her books; she explains in her extensive Author's Notes and Conversation at the end of the book  that she felt guided by voices from the past to  develop this tale while she was researching the history of the area.  Pg. 368, " I tried on a number of occasions to change some of the events (those that I found profoundly disturbing) but the story would stop when I did that, so I forged ahead to write what was revealed.  I am forever grateful to the souls who gifted me with their sharing." She explains that she wrote the prologue in one sitting after being inspired by a map she found while renovating an old plantation tavern in Virginia.  When asked if she will write a sequel she says perhaps.  She took the names of the slaves found in her research for the numerous characters.  She offers advice to aspiring writers, first to read and to have an excellent foundation in reading and then to persist.  I am sorry that I will miss our book club  discussion about this  good read, but we will be gone.  I give this 4 ****

"Beside a Burning Sea" by John Shors, 429 pages, published in 2008 by the New American Library,  sat alongside my evening reading chair for a few months while I read other books; I'd start and then go onto another read for the book club or  another book I just had to read.  So I determined I would complete it soon and I am glad I did.  This is a World War II novel about the survivors of a hospital ship, Benevolence, that is torpedoed in the Pacific by the Japanese.  The survivors reach an island  and strive to stay alive.  Excellent characters are developed including the ship's Captain and  his nurse wife, Isabelle, her sister Annie another nurse, Jake, Ratu, a villain, the nefarious and traitorous Roger, and Akira,  a Japanese prisoner of war who bonds with his captors striving to survive on the island.  Akira is a poet who was conscripted for the Japanese army and the author weaves this theme through the tail by introducing each chapter with a haiku, such as this one for Day 11, The Island,                           "Man thinks himself strong,
                                             Until the sky reminds him.
                                              Ants explore green trees"
Annie is engaged to another back home but finds herself drawn to the quiet depth of Akira.  There is a reader's discussion guide at the end of this book making it useful for discussions.  Evidently Shors first wrote, "Beneath a Marble Sky" which I shall seek out at a sale and may have since released his third novel, "In the Footsteps of Dragons."

 He writes very descriptively,  pg. 237., " The rain came not long after dawn, dripping from a somber sky as if a trillion wet towels hung above.  A schizophrenic wind started and stopped and changed directions. The wind's uncertainty seemed to infect every creature on the island with a similar sense of bewilderment.  Birds flew toward distant horizons and then flew back. Frogs ceased to croak.  Insects were suddenly nowhere to be seen.  Even the fish that usually darted about the shallows sought deeper water."    On Friday evening we had tornado style winds at  60 mph, and then a power outage that lasted all  night  until Saturday at 8:30AM; it was a humdinger storm right about the time I was reading that paragraph.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Aches, Medicare and 3 Books

Later today or this eve I will get to my Sepia Sat posts, but for now I need to cool off inside.  I am just in from my too late in the morning walk, because the morning  sun was hot and temperature was 83 at 8:00AM; nevertheless I sweated out my  nearly 45 minute  walk including uphills and came back beet red faced and sweaty.  So it is time to cool down inside before I clean up and attack the rest of the day. 

We have usually Chamber of Commerce summer weather here in  southeast MN,  80 degrees and clear blue skies (no smog or pollution) is just fine with me.  But today and tomorrow until a thunder storm approaches we face the 90's and that feels hot.  Jerry reminds me "no sun filter here."   I am not a fan of hot weather anyway which is one reason we left CA and the hot "but dry", they claim Sacramento area scorches of 100 degrees on up.  Don't kid me  dry or not, 100 is hot. 

I have been recovering from back strain or sprain  from excessive vigorous weeding and that  bothersome right Achilles tendon again, so  I have a couple ice bags to use across neck, shoulders, and down the back and then on the tendon.  Although this week's  annual  check up at the doctor finds me good to go, the aging parts act up and take their time to heal.  The Achilles tendon shall remain  one of those chronic troublesome aging things, treatment would be worse as it would involve wearing a destabilizing boot on that foot,  and as the song goes, "fuhgedaboutit!"  Spell check wants to correct that word to skateboard.:-)

This week I received a strange bill for $17 for the balance on  my mammogram  from the Mayo clinic where we get our health care.  That service has always been fully covered between Medicare and my  supplemental insurance so I thought this worth a phone call to the billing office.  I learned that  this was from 2010 which I had not noticed on the statement and that Medicare, despite all it does not do let alone efficiently, is going back and reprocessing claims from some time ago, making adjustments and causing general mayhem for doctor's billing offices and I suppose for the poor unaware folks  who are generally baffled by all medical paperwork.  The woman told me to disregard the bill that the computer sends these out and it needed to catch up to the prior payment by my  supplemental insurance.  She also warned me that I might receive other bills and to question or ignore them while Medicare churns the paper work.  What a waste of time, resources, and my taxpayer dollars yet still.  I recalled that a few weeks ago I had received a summary claim on Uncle Carl for services last November from the Home Health Agency after he'd been discharged back to the care facility from the hospital.  That one is stranger yet as Medicare had  previously paid the bill for $4200 and now was readjusting and paying $4600 to the provider!  I suspect that seldom happens and the provider is likely delighted.  But the question remains, "Why is Medicare mucking around like this?"  As if they do not have enough to do paying and processing current claims!  The woman I spoke to said they don't know how long this will go on or if Medicare is only doing this in certain regions or what to expect next.  Now isn't that just dandy, more government in action.  I do feel sorry for unsuspecting folks who will be stirred by this process and worry about paying some additional medical bill.  This is one benefit of my career in state government health care financing, I know what's weird when I see it and I am able to navigate billing systems, frustrating as it may be, such knowledge is power.

I finished reading a few more books to add to my side bar.  Just last night, I turned the last page 435 on one of my go to author's David Baldacci, an excellent story teller, "The Camel Club."  I have not ever had a disappointing read by him and in this book different yet again, I think he must be meeting with another of my favorite authors, Vince Flynn.  The Camel Club published in 2005 introduces Oliver Stone and his friends who exist on the fringes of Washington, DC to seek the truth about the country's business.  This is a mystery, thriller, terrorist, suspenseful novel at it's best.  Until I read this,  my  favorite Baldacci  read years ago was "Wish You Well."  Now it is a toss up.  Somehow I had jumped sequence because I first read the second in this venue,  which is not a series,  with the same four characters, charter members of the club, Oliver, Caleb Shaw, Reuben Rhodes, and Milton Farb but in this they join forces with Alex Ford, a secret service agent against a sinister plot of terrorists and ideologues that threaten the stability of the nation and the world.  I don't want to ruin the story for anyone, but this twister kept me glued to the pages and in today's topsy turvy  world with  repetitive crises in the Mid east, this work of fiction could be predictive.

Oliver, whose true identity is revealed in this book, claims they chose camel because camels have great stamina and never give up, but Reuben, reveals  page 432",, in the  1920's there was another Camel Club and at each meeting the members raised their glasses to oppose Prohibition to the last drop of whiskey."   As always Baldacci writes well and introduces spectacular characters. Besides the four, there are ever so many more characters such as Djamila,  a Muslim nanny, an Iranian posing as an Egyptian undercover of her peaceful job;  two sided  secret service agents who bring the country to the brink of the unthinkable; the ideologue Muslims who have infiltrated and settled into unsuspecting areas of employment waiting their moment; Brennan, the President of the United States, who is from a small town outside Pittsburgh, PA where terror manifest,  North Koreans, Carter Gray  the US Intelligence Czar appointed by the President  (this book was written before we had Czars...) and more officials and agents.  Camel Club is suspenseful and  kept me guessing to identify who are the villains and who are the champions and that suspense kept me reading.   Pg.154...."..he became Oliver Stone, a man of silent protest who watched and paid attention to important things...."  Pg. 40 describing the issues faced today, ..."not a war of professional armored battalions vs. turbanned rabble in the streets toting rifles and RPGs.  And it was not simply  a difference of religions.  It was a  battle against a mind-set of how people should conduct their lives, a battle that had political, social, and cultural facets melded together  into an exceedingly complex mosaic of humanity under enormous strain."    Pg. 69.."ignorance and intolerance, in pairs, never  one without its evil twin."  Pgs 100-101  well describe the history of the Muslim and  mideast turmoils  from the Syrians, Chechniyans, Mindanos, Kuwait, Lebanon,  Afghanistan, Morocco, Kurds, Iraquis, Baathists, Taliban, Mali and Senegal and more.   Baldacci has  summarized the escalation of problems the world faces today.   I fully recommend this thriller and as I said, I hope it is not predictive.    

Even though my book club  lately is choosing new best sellers, I  am plowing through my shelf of sale books picked up here and there proving that there are plenty of older books to read.  I read the 197pages of Mitch Albom's  "For One More Day"  from 2006  in an evening.  It is a decent read, nothing spectacular but Albom has established a niche for himself as a spiritual type writer, easy reading with fans who like this sort of book. I admit being intrigued by the story line of the relationship between a mother and son and "what would you do if you could spend one more day with a lost loved one?"  The story is told in  retrospect about Charles "Chick" Benetto  by his adult daughter who says, "because there was a ghost involved, you may call this a ghost story.  But what family isn't a ghost story?  Sharing tales of those we've lost is how we keep from really losing them. "    At one time I used to  save my first edition books, but this is one and not one I will keep.  I do think the old First editions have some value compared to these current quick prints.

And the last for this post, Helen Fielding's,   2003, "Olivia Joules and the Overactive Imagination" is a mystery with traces of comedy over 306 pages that I enjoyed .  I'd classify it as a chic read with Olivia's antics.  Olivia is a journalist with a reputation for excuses and  difficulties meeting deadlines who meets the handsome Pierre Ferramo, who may be an international playboy or a terrorist.  The cover describes this book  well, "stunning, sexy  and decidedly female a new player has entered the world of international espionage armed with her own pocket survival kit, her Rules for Living, her infamous overactive imagination and a very special underwire bra."     On page 30, we get a glimpse of how Olivia can crank it out when her deadlines loom, "In the capitol of England the worlds of fashion, music, TV, theater, movies, literature, newspapers and politics combine in one small city like a writhing knot of snakes.  In America these areas are separated out into capitals of their own..."  

Olivia's 16 rules for living offer  good advice to get all of them, read the book:
  • #2 No one is thinking about you.  They're thinking about themselves, just like you. 
  •  #10 Only buy clothes that make you feel like doing a small dance.
  • #13 Don't expect the world to be safe or life to be fair. 
  •  #15 Don't regret anything.  Remember there wasn't anything else that could have happened given who you were and the state of the world at that moment.  The only thing you can change is the present, so learn from the past.  
In Olivia the author may have a new sleuth to entertain women readers kind of a  comedic Nancy Drew for  grown ups.  I look forward to more antics and will pass this book along to a friend who will enjoy it. 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Catch Up on Reads

I am still catching up on our PA trip and things inside and outside aka  gardening here at home, but I see a stack of books which I have read and not yet listed on this blog.  Well this time I will temporarily skip my reviews and simply post the books to the sidebar.  First along the trip when I was coveting reading time and not finding it, after the funeral and on the way home, I did complete another Vince Flynn book.  Vince is one of my favorite authors and superb writing fiction about terrorism and the ability of the US to prevail, perhaps this restores the good old days of American superiority, a time when our leaders were patriotic and had our country's best interests at heart.  Vince is a MN author and I thank Curt whom we met a few years ago in Branson for recommending him.  American Assasin is one of his latest books about how Mitch Rapp, the Jack Bauer type character became our top notch secret weapon against terrorists.  I found this book hardback at the Salvation Army thrift store in Decatur, IN for only $2.  What a bargain for another thriller that wends back in time to how Rapp is recurited and trained and prevails to become our American champion. 

Sue's Memories of Home by Sue Sword and her work with the Christian Appalachian Project, her childhood in Appalachia amidst poverty when the people had  no realization that they were poor.  This little book was swift reading and at times amusing as the girls venture to the old hermit's home.  I remembered an old lady living in a shack up the hill from step cousin's in PA and how we fancied her some sort of witch.   It is a very quick read and amusing at times. It is also a reminder that we do not need to go half way around the world to find poverty and shower it with our philanthropy; poverty  which exists and thrives in areas  today in this country, and not inner cities. 

Little Princes by Conor Grenan was our book club reading selection, a true story about rescuing the children of Nepal from the child traffickers.  It was OK reading, nothing revealing although the author has his own perspective of being there at a carefree time in his life.  It is about the Little Prince's Home established to rescue these children and return them when possible to their families deep in the mountains.  The families sold off their boys and girls to  these child traffickers thinking they would have a better life; in reality the children were sold off as slaves and worse.  I will be curious what the other women thought about it.  I found it ho hum reading.  Not one I'd have chosen.

The 6th Target  another fiction mystery by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro featuring detective Lindsay Boxer and the Women's Murder Club.   I enjoy mysteries and if I am reading fiction these rank up there.  I remember one of many quotes in this book, "overcrowded like a shot glass stuffed with a fistful of crayons"  page 35 showing the good writing amidst the mystery.  One "insane" shooter on the ferry to Alcatraz turns himself in meanwhile children of the wealthy  in the CA Bay Area are being abducted.  A good twister as Patterson usually writes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

January Reads Three Books

Three books I read in January:

I grew up hearing about the great Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889  from family and school history classes; it was the most tragic event  anyone had ever encountered  or heard of in times reflective of industrial growth, a flood that destroyed a town and the area, a disaster that  was never to be forgotten. Somehow, despite my lifetime of reading many of the twice Pulitzer Prize winning author, David McCullough's books, I'd  missed this one, from 1968 so when I found it on the discount shelf at Barnes and Noble, into my purchase stack it went.  McCullough wrote this over 268 pages in a documentary style with the precision and  detail we expect from this wonderful social historian.  All those lost or killed in the flood are memorialized in the book.  It is a  portrait of life in  19th century America, the westward expansion of the country and in the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania area, which  was a booming coal and steel town populated by hard working families, many of whom were immigrants. There is a fascinating description of the building of the railroads over the mountains and the use of levers.   It was the time of certain class division, the haves and the have nots; in contrast to the coal miners and steel workers were the tycoons, great contemporaries Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon.  Johnstown  is in the Allegheny mountains about 60 miles south east of Pittsburgh; construction of Pennsylvania's historic canals, arrival of the Pennsylvania railroad in  the 1850's and the establishment of the Cambria Iron Company led to the boom of Johnstown which before had been a short stop on the way west.   By 1889 there were  nearly 30,000 people living in the boroughs of the  Johnstown valley.  (Today many of  PA areas are referred to as boroughs, I love that word. ) In the mountains above Johnstown, an old earthen  dam was rebuilt to create a lake for an exclusive summer resort, the South Fork Fishing and  Hunting Club privately owned and  patronized by the tycoons from Pittsburgh.  Despite warnings and skepticism about the safety of the dam, nothing was done. People came to accept that the dam could burst and the town could go, they thought nothing of it.   Then came the storm  moving in from the west from Kansas, Nebraska,  Indiana, unceasing rain, run over rives and on May 31, 1889 when the dam burst and the wall of water thundered down the mountains smashing through Johnstown and killing more than 2000 people.  It was a tragedy that became a national scandal but which also provided the first domestic mobilization of the Red Cross under Clara Barton.  People living  through this really thought it was the end of the world and if the devastation of the  flood waters did not do them in, the  following devastation from fire and epidemics did. 

This is a book for historians and sociologically  or geographically interested readers with bits of humor spicing up the data, photos, sketches and  presentations.   It is amazing to  see the poor quality of the photos from then and more amazing that there were any.  One photo in the book jogged my memory immediately as I recognized the familiar famous photo shown through the early 1960's in PA over the years of my youth, the tree spearing the house.  Here it is in the bottom photo of a page I scanned from the book.   Click on the photo to enlarge it and read about the scene.

I enjoyed this description of Dr. Robert Jackson's founding of a town before the Civil War on pg. 45...."The main attractions at Cresson, aside from the mountain air and scenery, were the iron springs, the best-known of which was the Ignatius Spring, named after the venerable huntsman, Ignatius Adams who first discovered its life- preserving powers and whose ghost was said still to haunt the  drinking this water, dwelling in the woods, and eating venison, Ignatius lived nearly to the good old age of 100 years...Jackson was against whiskey, slavery, and what he called the present tendency to agglomerate in swarms or accumulate in masses and mobs.  Those gregarious instincts which now impel this race to fix its hopes of earthly happiness on city life alone, would, he was convinced, be the undoing of the race.  Life in the country was the answer to practically every one of man's ills...."  I suspect  Dr Jackson would consider our modern mega cities proof of the decline of the human race! 

As I read I wondered about the liability of the tycoons and the resort owners for the failure of that dam; they were not the original builders but they did perform some adjustments.  I learned on pg. 259 that  the few lawsuits that were filed against the club were all futile.  Certainly not what would happen in today's litigious society and sympathetic courts.  McCullough raises this question too speculating that by today's standards, courts and awards to plaintiffs would have been immeasurable and would have changed the industrial growth of the United States.  

In  the concluding pages McCullough summarizes the Johnstown disaster (pg. 262) "while there is no question that an act of God  (the storm) brought on the disaster, there is also no question that it was in the last analysis, mortal man who was truly to blame. And if the men of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, as well as the men of responsibility in Johnstown, had in retrospect looked dispassionately to themselves, and not to their stars to find the fault, they would have seen that they had been party to two crucial mistakes.  In the first place they had tampered drastically with the natural order of things and had done so badly.  They had ravaged much of the mountain country's protective timber, which caused dangerous flash runoff following mountain storms; they obstructed and diminished the capacity of the rivers; and they had bungled the repair and maintenance of the dam.  Perhaps worst of all, they had failed--out of indifference mostly --to comprehend the possible  consequences of what they were New England newspaper wrote: the lesson of the flood is that the catastrophies of Nature have to be regarded in the structures of man as well as its ordinary laws....The point is that if man for any reason drastically alters the natural order, setting in motion whole series of chain reactions, then he had better know what he is doing.. What is more, the members of the club and most of Johnstown went along on the assumption that the people who were responsible for their safety were behaving responsibly.  And this was the second great mistake."    I added this bold face because it is a statement to caution us today, how do we know when people in positions of responsibility are  really behaving responsibly despite our  24/7 media?   The Johnstown Flood is another of those books that generates pondering as well as informing. 

A friend recommended the high paced, fiction, political intrigue/action books by Vince Flynn as something I might enjoy and I finally did pick up one which will not be the last, when I want to read action.  The paperback , "Transfer of Power" introduces Mitch Rapp, a new CIA operative in counter terrorism, someone who has been around the bend more than once. It reminded me of the TV series hero, Jack Bauer on "24".  In this thriller terrorists have taken possession of the White House, the president has been evacuated to the safe bunker and the vice president is in charge. Rapp is dispatched with an old timer to access entry unbeknown to the terrorists who are holding hostages and killing them.  I avidly turned all 549 pages and have added Vince Flynn to my Facebook likes. Having a career in  state government though not in espionage I laughed at and recognized this author's descriptions reflecting accurate perceptions.  Pg. 130, "After several minutes, Rapp conclude that no one in Baxter's  group knew their head from their ass, and in the process of coming to this conclusion, he also discovered a correlation between their opinions and the conviction with which they stated them.  It seemed that the less someone knew, the more forcefully he tried to state his case."   

My friend told me that the author has consulted with the government's  counter terrorism teams on request.   This is double the action of the old James Bond which I read so long ago.  I wonder why there have been no movies made of these Flynn novels, however they would not be near the delight held in the reading.   I found a lot of information about the author on the web/Wikipedia showed that he  lives  here in MN!  How have I missed this..."  best-selling American author of political thriller novels. He lives with his wife and three children in the Twin Cities. He is a frequent guest on the Glenn Beck news program on the Fox News Channel.  He also served as a story consultant for the fifth season of the 24 television series.  Flynn is a graduate of Saint Thomas Academy (1984) and the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) (1988). Post graduation, Flynn went to work for Kraft Foods as an account and sales marketing specialist. In 1990, he left Kraft to pursue a career as an aviator with the United States Marine Corps. One week before leaving for Officer Candidate School, he was medically disqualified from the Marine Aviation Program.  In an effort to overcome the difficulties of dyslexia, Flynn forced himself into a daily writing and reading regimen. Quotes Flynn: "I started reading everything I could get my hands on, Hemingway, Ludlum, Clancy, Tolkien, Vidal. I read fiction, nonfiction, anything, but I especially loved espionage."  His newfound interest in such novels motivated him to begin work on a novel of his own. While employed as a bartender in the St. Paul area, he completed his first book, Term Limits, which he then self-published.  "   Well no wonder it reminded me of Jack Bauer!  I will be supporting this local author whom I learned of from a CA friend!

My third and last book completed in January is "The Sea" by John Banville; a book I picked up at a sale because the cover called to me, the synopsis of the story sounded good and  the writing appeared exceptional.  I knew nothing about the book nor the author. This book was one I read in segments, often leaving it sit for weeks, although it was only 195 pages, short enough, yet it is so lyrical in  choice of writing and almost difficult to read.  Maybe it's because the author is Irish and used many words with which I was not familiar, but  which so intrigued me that I held a dictionary nearby.  Often the words were not in the American dictionary sending me to the Oxford Annotated. Words like revenant, leporine, strangury, proscenium, recreant, marmoreal, integuement and more.... Now that is not usually the way I like to read, but this book kept calling me back.  The story overall is melancholy, about  Max Morden, a widower, middle aged Irishman who returns to a seaside town where he spent summers as a child to quell his grief.  He reminisces about the Graces a wealthy family he met as a boy and a family through which he experiences his first love and encounters death for the first time.  At times reading this, I wondered why he persistently switched back and forth between then and now, but I kept on and was more than rewarded with the outcome and the surprise ending. 

Just a few select quotes, to give a taste for the writing:  Pg. 164  "Memory dislikes motion preferring to hold things still."    Pg. 47, "Claire snuffled and delving in a pocket brought out a handkerchief and stentorously blew her nose...It depends I said mildly on what you mean by suffering. "  Pg. 48, "  What is it about such people that makes me remember them?  His look was unctuous yet in some way minatory.  Perhaps I had been expected to tip him also, as I say: this world."    It is a book that I would not recommend to anyone for light reading, but it is the most beautifully written mystical book I have read in years.  It was a trip into reading wonderful literature, for which this author is  known.  I'd never had read nor known of this book if I did not browse book sales wherever I find them.   

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

You  might get tired of hearing this, but I LOVED this book, all 398 pages of the story, 8 pages of Acknowledgements and 50 pages of notes; I do not recall reading a book through  including the notes in recent times or ever other than James Michener's later  books, in fact Laura Hillenbrand, the author reminds me of Michener in style and depth of research.  "Unbroken"  on the best sellers lists currently is the story of Louie Zamperini,  noted runner in the Berlin Olympic games and in 1943 an Army Air Corps  Lieutenant, bombardier on the Green Hornet, a B-24, which is shot down in the Pacific.  Louie, Allen Philips, the pilot and Mac, the tail gunner survive the crash and float on a raft for 46 days before being captured by the Japanese and taken prisoner in May 1943.  Actually Mac does not make it  and is buried at sea by the two men.  I have read much about World War II because of my father but little of my readings have been about the war in the Pacific.  When I first heard this book was in  process I knew I would have to read it because Laura has written only one other book, "Seabiscuit" which I absolutely enjoyed and have kept in my library and I enjoyed her detail and writing and research.  I have likely heard about Louie Zamperini but not paid attention but as I learned that it was a B-24, same plane as my father's I knew I'd b reading this book.

Louie Zamperini
Louie is still alive today at 94 in southern California.    How he or any of the men captured by the Japanese as POW's survived and endured is beyond belief.  As Zeke Jennings wrote in his review of this book,  "Think back to the worst experience of your life. Chances are, it pales in comparison to what Louis Zamperini went through..."  To state that they were tortured is an inadequate understatement and to know that some could and did survive is a testament to human endurance and something greater than all of us.

This book has a great deal of detail and drawings of the B-24's the complexity of those early days of navigation and the problems with that bomber, the best that the US had at the time.  Pages 59-60 describe the early B-24's and the personal qualities needed in men who flew them and by page 61 the research specifies the deadly accidents attributable to that plane in the early days of navigation.  I had learned about the accidents in training and of course lived with that legacy but reading it again gave me chills.  By page 82 the affect of human errors and miscalculations is discussed along with the faulty fuel systems and the fact that the  24's were notorious for fuel leaks; I can relate to that.   On Page 84,  I learned that 52,173 Army Air Corps men were killed in combat in World War II and in the Pacific those flight crews had less than a  50/50 chance of survival.   I learned that by design the B-24's could not ditch  but sank immediately due to their open fuselages.  There were rarely funerals held for the  B-24 crews, rarely  bodies were found and during the Pacific  missions  1/4 of a barracks could be lost at once.  "The men were just gone and that was the end of it."   

But this book is about Louie, his boyhood in Torrance, California, his Olympic triumphs,  his education at USC, his enlistment in World War II, and his captivity, endurance and release and tormented existence following the war where he turns to alcohol and then his  big life release as he is saved at a Billy Graham crusade in southern CA.  It's hard to describe Louie, a man with a sense of humor and determination that sustains him through movements from bad to worse in the Japanese camps, beatings,  isolation,  starvation, and unceasing nightmares.  The Bird, a Japanese soldier, so named by the POWs is Louie's primary menace in the camps and becomes his civilian nightmare.  The Japanese knew of his Olympic fame and enjoyed all the more subduing him.   When  Louie was released and being rehabilitated and ready to be sent  home from Okinawa he is so enjoying meeting up with former colleagues that he asks to stay just a bit longer to  see more of them. He is partying too and enjoying life again, though still battling dysentery and other physcial problems.  Everyone had believed him long dead  because the Japanese never reported that he was held captive and the Red Cross  never verified men in the camps; any man missing was declared dead after 13 months.   Louie got a big kick out of surprising them and watching their faces and hearing their words when they saw him in person!

The horrors and atrocities the  prisoners endured are unimaginable.  That any of them survived is a miracle.  I learned that the POWs in the  Japanese camps were executed  when Allied forces approached, that the Japanese  preferred to kill the men rather than turn them back to their countries.  Pg. 314-315 cite "Japan held  some  132,000 POWs from America, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Holland and Australia.  Of those, nearly  36,000 died, more than one in four.  Americans fared particularly badly: of the 34,648 Americans held by Japan, 12,935--more than 37% died.  By comparison only 1% of Americans  held by Nazis and Italians died. Japan murdered thousands of POWs on death marches, and worked thousands of others to death in slavery..."  Back in civilian life, these men did not get the counseling and treatments pervasive and  given today; what is  known today as Post traumatic  stress was not recognized. That they made it through hell barely prepared them fro their freedom and return to life.   Pg. 349, "Their dignity had been obliterated, replaced with a pervasive sense of shame and worthlessness." But Louie survives and ultimately thrives, marries, has children and outlives his brother,  sisters and wife .  In his 70's he takes up skateboarding and the book includes a photo of him on a skateboard at 81!  He runs the torch in five Olympic games including  one in Japan where he runs it past the former POW camp site.  Louie founds a nonprofit Victory Boys Camp for lost boys whom he takes fishing, swimming, horseback riding, camping and skiing.  One ungovernable boy is such a problem that Louie had to be deputized by a sheriff to gain custody of the boy.

Pg. 384, "Well into his 10th decade of life between the occasional broken bone he could still be seen perched on skis merrily cannonballing down mountains.  He remained infectiously, incorrigibly cheerful..."  He believes that everything happened for a reason  and all things eventually  come to good.    When he contacted Laura to write his story he reasoned that if she could describe an old horse, she could surely tell his tale.  She does this so  eloquently and has chosen the photos and events as carefully as her words.  The Epilogue is very touching  with summaries of the lives of Allen Phillips  and Bill Harris, a marine POW who stays in the Marines and becomes a Lt. Colonel but who disappears in the Korean War in 1950.   

Recently there have been news stories featuring Louie which is timely with the release of this book.  I knew it was one I'd want to read and it is one I will keep and treasure.   I absolutely recommend it.  Resilience, survival, and faith.  As I am  putting this on  my blog as my first completed book read in 2011, I have just learned that Universal Pictures has acquired screen rights to Unbroken.   Wouldn't it be great to see Louie in the film? 

For more about the author, who is a favorite of mine, check out  Wikipedia at

or this link 
and read of her struggle with chronic fatigue syndrome in    A Sudden Illness -- How My Life Changed as published in the New Yorker.  And this link about  her

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The School of Essential Ingredients Chic Read

"The School of Essential Ingredients" is  Erica Bauermeister's first novel.  It was a quick read in 2 nights and  not what I expected.  From the title and scanning it at Sam's Club I thought it would be about cooking and perhaps recipes woven around a story ala  Diane Mott Davidson mysteries.  It is not, but it  is occaisionally entertaining.The author uses her reptoire of words  but  strangely at times.  It is wordy with odd comparisons, adverbs, adjectives and analogies. Almost as if she is filling up space on the pages to make a book, a story.    Certainly  some thought must have gone into the descriptions or else she threw words onto the page like darts at  a wall and where they stuck that's where they stayed.  Descriptive to a stretch at times, but easy light reading.  A chic book.   Fast reading, almost at a scanning pace hoping for interest to catch me, I kept waiting for something to take hold.  Oh well it did not, yet the words kept me going.  Each chapter features a different student in Lillian's cooking class.  Descriptives of cooking were interesting and maybe I learned something-- i.e., to coat  shredded cheese  with cornstarch so that the cheese will melt more smoothly?  Never heard that before, so who knows.

I thought I had found a novel mixing gourmet cooking  with words,  as on pg. 11   "....smells were for her what words were for others, something alive that grew and changed....."  Sadly this chapter describes Lillian's mother who goes off the deep end, deserting her at the young age of   9 or so and retreating to nothing more than reading books.  This might have been a hint, does this author like books or not?  She seems to blame them almost for her mother's  delusions and eccentricity.

The characters were shallow, a widower, an aged couple, a foreign exotic missing home, etc.  and all too brief, perhaps I'd have enjoyed  them more if there were depth to a few rather than the gamut for many.  When  a story from one character might reach a point of interest.  the  author threw words out like this on pg. 202...."struck her with the intensity of a perfume she had long ago stopped wearing, drifitng across a room she never intended to traverse."  Desciptive words indeed but what in the world is she saying?    Or this phrase,  "fecundity of late summer melons and gauzy lettuce..."  Huh?  I have eaten grown and enjoyed many lettuces, and don't recall any ever being gauzy.  Lettuce which is gauzy may not be a good thing, bugs have  laced up the leaves and they are not edible!   Maybe that's what bothered me about the writing,  surreal to nonsensical and at times just not believable.  

The novel has it's short spurts of inspiration, pg. 209, "If you live in your senses, slowly with attention, if you use your eyes and your fingertips and your taste buds, then romance is something you'l never need a greeting card to make you remember..."  these are Lillian's words to her class over Valentines Day.   It's just merely an ok read; I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone.  Maybe very light readers.  This is what comes from browsing the aisles of Sam's Club and taking a chance.  I have much better waiting on my shelf to read and certainly better  waiting for rereads.

Olive Kitteridge

I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout  last month but  have not had time to post my review.  My cousin, Carol, recommended it because I absolutely adored  "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."   In a way Olive is similar but  still very different.   My final verdict on this book though, is uncertain.  I did enjoy reading it and noted several phrases but didn't like the ending.  The  descriptive writing is outstanding, but a peculiar darkness  seeps in at times.  The link to this post indicates that this won a 2009 Pulitzer; a merited achievement.   While the main character is Olive, a  mathematics school teacher in Maine in her  sixty's, it looks back over the area and features  short tales about many characters.   I kept waiting for Olive to appear prominently  or heroically in each story but that was not the way it happened, sometimes she was annoying but each character  reveals more about Olive's character and the area. the town, the times the choices people make.  I am not sure whether I admired or pitied Olive.   The book is a significant  commentary about people, aging and life;  perhaps on the more quiet morose side, but certainly from Olive's eyes with many memorable lines.   I love the description of hope.  Actually I hilighted many lines in the book

Pg. 35,   "Does everybody know everything?......Oh, sure, what else is there to do?"

Pg. 60.  "..that must be the way of life, to figure something out when it's too late..."

Pg. 122.  "..when the years behind you are more than the years in front of you...."

Pg. 125  " picked up speed, then  most of it was gone..."

Pg. 126   " of the things about getting older, so many moments weren't moments but gifts...."

Pg. 162  "..quietly, joyful....Most people did not know enough when they were living life, that
they were living it..."

Pg. 203  " hope...The inner churning that moves you forward...."

And in  the  beginning of the book, a comment on pg. 33 during Kevin's look back at his childhood home, "States and traits....Traits don't change,  states of mind do."   That stuck with me, confirming that  often there is nothing to be done;  things about a person that  cannot ever change no matter what influences are pressed on the person.   No manipulation or intrusion by someone else really changes traits. Distinguishing wisely and truthfull accepting traits is part of the wisdom we can gain on our life journey.   

Olive Kitteridge is a book to ponder on, especially the  ending comparison  page 270 of two lives as Swiss cheese  slices, "..pressed together, such holes they brought to this union--what pieces life took out of you."