Monday, December 21, 2015

Savage Beauty - Nancy Milford

subtitle: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay

"My candle burns at both ends;
     It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends--
     It gives a lovely light."

Do you remember this rhyme?  It was written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who went mostly by her middle name, Vincent, and was a torch bearer for the young women of the 1920's.  She was the most famous poet of the Jazz Age and flaunted convention - she smoked in public, had many lovers and was a prolific poet, receiving the Pulitzer Prize in 1923.  Millay was known for her sonnets and also wrote plays.

Her poem "Renascence" [deliberate spelling] won her attention at 20 years old and the controversy over it not being awarded the top prize in the Literary Year magazine brought her to the attention of a patron who paid for her education at Vassar.  She moved to Paris in 1921 and married a man 11 years her senior who took care of her and their domestic needs the rest of their lives.

The author of this biography previously wrote the biography of Zelda Fitzgerald.  She had access to the letters and drafts of Millay's and worked extensively with her sister, Norma, in the writing of the biography.  The author uses the letters and documents to show the effort Millay expended in writing her poetry and to illuminate her experiences that led to the poems.

I think it was a thorough, accurate, and detailed record of Millay's life that got bogged down at the end in presenting her letters instead of interpreting or commenting on them.  

Published:  2001  Read: December 2015  Genre: Biography

City of Women - David R Gillham

This novel was the suggestion for one of my reading groups for December.  It is a thriller that tells the story of the mostly female population left in Berlin at the end of WWII and how they struggled to survive.

There is a lot of detail on the city of Berlin, impressing me with the research that the author apparently did to be authentic to the time.  It became tedious as the book went on, however.

There was not a character in this book that I really liked.  The main character, Sigrid, is a middle aged woman married to a German soldier with a nasty mother-in-law and suspicious neighbors.  Everyone is reporting and turning on each other.  Sigrid befriends a young woman in her apartment building who turns out is assisting with smuggling Jews out of the country and enlists Sigrid in the effort.  Sigrid is taken in, partly due to her passionate affair she'd had with a Jewish man she meets in a theatre.

Our group had a long discussion on the effects of war and the mentality of a population that would allow the annihilation of a people.  It was instructive to discuss how the economics of Germany after WWI paved the way for the hatred and fear of Hitler's regime. I was impressed with the need to understand history in the long term perspective.  Most of all, I found myself asking, "What would I have done?"  Would I have been brave? Would I have tried to stay uninvolved?  Would I have resisted?

Published: 2012  Read: December 2015  Genre: Historical fiction

To Have or To Be - Erich Fromm

This one has been on my TBR (To Be Read) list for a long time, I'm sure it was a recommendation from one of the blogs I follow on simplicity or finances.

The original text was written in 1976 and this version was published in 1997 as part of the World Perspective Series.

Fromm's thesis is that if we understand the difference between having and being we will see the advantages of simplicity and realize spiritual wealth.  He begins with illustrating how the idea of possession has crept into our language (example - "I have a problem" instead of "I am troubled") and leads to alienation from who we are.

"The attitude inherent in consumerism is that of swallowing the whole world.  The consumer is the eternal suckling crying for the bottle".

He suggests that reading a novel can be done in the mode of having or being and when read in the being mode the reader "enhances their knowledge and deepens their insight into human nature or gains knowledge about themselves".

He explains that in the being mode "private having (private property) has little affective importance, because I do not need to own something in order to enjoy it or even in order to use it" Sharing creates "one of the deepest forms of human happiness: shared enjoyment".

He contrasts pleasure and joy with joy being "not the ecstatic fire of the moment...but the glow that accompanies being".

He suggests that "most consumption engenders passivity; that the need for speed and newness, which can only be satisfied by consumerism, reflects restlessness, the inner flight from oneself...that looking for the next thing to do or the newest gadget to use is only a means of protecting oneself from being close to oneself or to another person".

The book is complex, addressing not only the individual but society and government.  Definitely food for thought.

Published: 1976  Read: December 2015  Genre: Philosophy, Sociology

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Your Money or Your Life - Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin

I think I first read this life changing book back in 1996; it may have been even earlier.  It was written in 1992 at the height of the "greed" decade, those years when it was all about making more, getting more, having more.  It influenced my thinking ever since.

Joe Dominguez was a wall street financial analyst who retired at 31 years of age.  He and Vicki championed the idea of financial independence or "FI".  They have a detailed step by step plan from starting out with understanding how much you *really* are earning and what you are selling your life energy for to suggestions for investing in treasury bonds (not so lucrative these days, but still secure and paying).  Their steps to FI are succinctly:
1) reduce and keep your expenses to what you need
2) save the rest of what you earn
3) invest your savings in income producing assets

When the income from your savings cover your expenses you will have reached FI. Basically, you end up paying yourself.

Their approach was more than just about money.  It was about living sustainably and looking inside of yourself for fulfillment, rather than consuming and buying to soothe yourself.

Some notes I made back when I first read the book:

p 26    Beyond enough is clutter
p 28    Clutter is also meaningless activities, like TV, that add nothing to your life
p 35    Once you're above the survival level the difference between prosperity and poverty is simply in our degree of gratitude.
           *Money is what we trade for our life energy.
p 232  Breaking the link between wages and work - I'm paid to work as a manager, but I am a ____(fill in the blank)?  What do I love?
Your worth comes from who you are and what you give.  The real sign of success is the inner knowing that you achieved what you set out to do.
I felt so strongly about these principles that I made a practice of giving the book as a gift at graduations and weddings, much to the chagrin of my family, I suppose.  Money seems to be the last taboo subject, when it should be something we educate our children on early and often and discuss with friends and family what works and what doesn't in getting to financial independence because who wants to work their whole life?

I still pick up copies when I find them in used bookstores.  Read it and see if it doesn't put you on a different path too.

Published: 1992  Read: 1996, 2000, 2015  Genre: Non-fiction, finance

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Almost There - Nuala O'Faolain

Another used bookstore find.  I'd read the wildly popular first book by this journalist turned author, titled "Are You Somebody?" back in 2003 and I recognized the author's name.  Nuala wrote her first book as a memoir of her life up until about age 50.  She'd grown up in Ireland with an alcoholic mother and detached father, one of nine children.  This book was the continuation of her story, written when she was in her early 60's.

Her books talk of her loneliness, her "sour" disposition, her struggles with love and life.  Some quotes:
"The lonely life pays off...And because it is lonely you think you deserve it - you never really confront the fact that solitary pleasures erode your ties to the human race".
She has an ongoing struggle with the memories of her mother:
"The fact that it was our mother who wouldn't allow us to mean anything to her, that it was our mother who gave us daily proof of as much dissatisfaction with her lot as if she'd been a queen sold into slavery, opened my feeling in the memoir to all comers...What there is to say about fathers is specific, but what there is to say about mothers is easily generalized." 
She reflects on the impact of her mother's rejection on her own inability to accept the daughter of her partner, John:
"I didn't even know she [her mother] was inducting me into her own resentment of children.  And if I had known, I would have thought it doesn't matter - that I could re-educate myself anytime.  What if I can't?  What if I can't lift this weight off my heart?"
 I liked this observation when she's talking about money worries:
"Middle-aged people do eventually catch up with as much money as they need." 
She goes on a family vacation with her siblings and reflects on the family relationships:
"My days had purpose because I had the others to report to in the evening, even if I made my reports fairly short - only someone who loves you personally tolerates a full account of your experiences.  My sisters have been listening to me all my life and vice versa, and there's a limit to how interesting we find each other." 
There's irony and humor hiding vasts amounts of pain in her stories.  Through it all, she struggles to enjoy her life.  I was sadden to learn that she died in 2008 of lung cancer.  She spoke with a voice that many could relate to.

Published:  2003  Read: November 2015  Genre: memoir

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Paris Wife - Paula McLain

I picked this up at the used bookstore because I'd read a blogger's review.  I hadn't known that it was the story of Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley and had passed it over before.  Hadley was almost six years older when they met in their 20's.  Their marriage was spent mostly in Paris during the jazz age, among friends like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  They had a son (one of three sons of Hemingway; he had two others with his second wife) and she was his muse during the writing of his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

I enjoyed reading of how passionate Hemingway was about writing and how much he struggled to write and get published.  At one point his wife brings all his writing to him and loses the valise carrying the papers.  It was a crushing blow and seems to have been a turning point in a relationship that was already deteriorating.

Hadley is portrayed as a traditional woman who lived a sheltered life and never embraced the wild, reckless life of the 1920's after WWI.  She was his steady anchor as he threw himself into life, running with the bulls in Paloma, skiing in the Alps, drinking in Paris.

A good read.

Published: 2011  Read: November 2015  Genre: Historical fiction

The Yacoubian Building - Alaa Al Aswwany

This is a story of the lives of people living in Cairo, Egypt in a large and and once exclusive, fancy apartment building and those living on the roof of the building in what used to be storage units for the apartments.  It describes the contrast between the newly rich and the desperately poor living in the same space but very different worlds.
I liked learning a little bit about the culture of  contemporary Egypt and the day to day lives of the people.  None of the characters are very likable, all conniving and manipulative and backstabbing.  There are multiple character threads that come together a little too neatly in the end.  The book was made into a movie that I might seek out.  A different read.

Published:  2004 (American version)  Read: November 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-06-087813-9

The Almost Moon - Alice Sebold

I had liked the author's book, Lucky, her memoir, and was impressed with her fiction, The Lovely Bones, for its unusual viewpoint and exploration of dark evils.  I remember liking her raw style and honest reflections on her feelings.  And with a story that starts with the protagonist admitting to killing her mother, I thought this book would be a good read.  It falls far short because it blunts the normal reaction of horror and dismay at the character's actions an seeming to excuse them as a consequence of a dysfunctional family.

It's a strange story as the daughter, a mid-50's woman, tries to keep her mother's death a secret, then recruits her ex-husband to help tell their children and seduces her best friend's son.  Not recommended.

Published:  2008  Read:  October 2015   Genre: fiction

ISBN:  978 0 316 06736 2

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Room of One's Own/Three Guineas - Virginia Woolf

I recently had someone inventory all my books which made it easier to see which ones I need to get rid of and which ones I haven't read in so long I can't remember them.

I'd read a fictionalized biography of Woolf earlier this year and though it would be a good idea to read (or re-read, like I said, I can't remember) the author herself, so I pulled this one from the shelf at home.

A Room of One's Own makes the case for a woman of the early 20th century being able to become a writer and be independent if she were to have a fixed income and a room of her own away from the demands of household life in which to write.  Woolf was writing about the educated, upper class women of her time who she saw as shackled by the definitions of a woman's place and restricted from earning an income.  It was originally written as a speech given at a woman's college.

Three Guinea's was written later in 1938 and responds to requests for donations from three separate entities.  In her response, Woolf gives explanation as to why the causes being appealed were related and why her help as a woman would be different from that of the patriarchal expectations of the writer.  It is written almost as a dialogue between herself and the requester and we are invited to eavesdrop.

It was easy to see why this book has endured and its appeal to feminist and pacifist.  Both stories contrast the nature of militaristic (male) society with that of the (peaceful) female one.  Woolf's missteps in only viewing the issue from the point of view of the upper class society to which she belongs but it doesn't entirely distract from her message.

It took some time to read as I found myself pondering if things are that much different these days and if so, is it for the better?

Published:1929 (A Room of One's Own) 1938 (Three Guineas)  Read: November 2015 Genre: Essay

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Coincidence - J. W. Ironmonger

The perfect book to take on a cruise; philosophical yet not too heavy. A young woman comes to a professor who analyzes the probability of what seem to be coincidences, to assert her belief that she is predetermined to die based on the coincidences that have aligned in her life.

The professor takes on her case to disprove coincidences as a case for predetermination and the existence of a God.  The book explores the meaning of serendipity, luck, miracles and our tendency to look for non-randomness in a random world.

The woman advocates coincidences as evidence of someone being in control claiming that "everything happens for a reason but not always a good reason"and argues that he "can't dismiss my views simply because they make no sense to you".

The professor points out the lazy logic of claiming something was caused by something that happened before it just because the result occurred after the initial event; the Latin being "post hoc ergo propter hoc" literally "after this, therefore because of this".

There's a lot of strange happenings in the woman's life and the story gets messy and runs down some dead ends making for a sloppy path to the end.  The professor falls in love; he confesses that someone must be in control of everything but finds it hard to believe.

My take away was that we are all responsible for our own problems or at least the attitude we take toward them.

Published: 2014  Read: October 2015  Genre: Fiction, Philosophy

ISBN-13: 978-0062309891

Act One - Moss Hart

I picked this up at the half price book store for my October trip but finished it before I left!

Moss Hart was a famous playwright and theatre director in the 30's and 40's, dying in the late 50's, married to Kitty Carlisle of the "What's My Line" game show. His auto-biography is considered a classic in the description of life in the theatre. It's an intimate portrayal of his difficult early poverty with alcoholic and disturbed parents and his escape from that life to the magic of Broadway.  I enjoyed the insight into play writing and the collaborative method he used to create many of his plays.

He does come off as rather pompous and overwrought, working himself into a tizzy with worry and doubt.  He was a tremendously hard worker and relentless in writing for his audience.  In any case, the story vividly reveals the behind the curtain activities of the theater and the people who create it. If you know anyone who wants a life in theatre, this is a good gift.

Published: 2014 (2nd edition, originally 1959  Read: October 2015  Genre: auto-biography

  • ISBN-13: 978-1250050892

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Insane City - Dave Barry

I was away on vacation in October and read several books that I need to catch up on.

Dave Barry is a journalist turned novelist out of Florida.  I like his zany sense of humor and the predicaments his characters bumble through.  This book is a story of a groom's (Seth) bachelor party and wedding preparation against that of a Haitian woman and her children trying to get to America.

The madcap hi jinks of Seth's buddies and the quirky characters he meets trying to get back to his wedding after a night of drunken revelry made me laugh out loud.  Seth is marrying a rich, gorgeous Wall Street type attorney with a millionaire Daddy who is none-to-pleased with his soon to be son-in-law.  All these "problems" are contrasted with the story of Laurette, a woman escaping from Haiti with her young children, left adrift in a boat of the shore of Florida and found bobbing near the beach by Seth as he wakes with a hangover.

Seth persists in doing what's right by Laurette despite the harassment of his father-in-law and disapproval of his wife-to-be.  Dave Barry is not all a funny man and makes some serious observations about what is really a problem in our lives.

Published:  2013  Read: October 2015  Genre: Humor

  • ISBN-13: 978-0425264720

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Ex Libris - Anne Fadiman

Sub-title: Confessions of a Common Reader

What a delightful little read!  This is a collection of essays on reading, owning books, loving books, sharing books.  The author has thousand of books along with her husband's.  Her parents had thousands of books and both of them were writers.  It was a pleasure to share her love of reading, book ownership and her experiences of growing up and growing old with books.

She has an essay on merging her and her husband's libraries after they were married that's funny.  There's also a tongue in cheek piece on plagiarism that's quite clever.  A little gem that all readers should seek out and enjoy.

I particularly liked the essay where a used bookseller told the story of getting the entire collection of a big reader who had died.  When they brought the collection to the store, they divided it up by topic and the bookseller says:

"...and somehow, all of a sudden they weren't John Clive anymore.  Dispersing his library was like cremating a body and scattering it to the winds.  ...I realized that books get their value from the way they coexist with the other books a person owns, and that when they lose their context, they lose their meaning."
Published:  1998  Read:  October 2015  Genre: Essay

ISBN: 0-374-52722-9

Friday, October 9, 2015

Secondhand Souls - Christopher Moore

I finished my contract for work and I've been binge reading, a not so bad experience!  I finished this book in one day, how heavenly to read and read and read for as long as I wanted!

Moore writes strange, darkly humorous tales with fast, wise-cracking dialogue.  I've read most of his previous books so I snatched this one when I saw it at the library.

How to describe a Christopher Moore story?  In this one, his hero, Chris, is trapped in a 14 inch high cobbled together body made of spam and mechanical parts wrapped in a shiny robe, the result of almost being killed in a previous book by the forces of evil, three harpies from hell.  The hero's daughter is the queen of death, though only 7 years old.  She's being cared for by a lesbian couple and watched over by neighboring Chinese and Russian? grandmothers.  Chris's girlfriend has an army of meat puppets under her Victorian style home that she makes outfits for.  They are all riled up when the forces of evil return and start stealing souls instead of allowing them to pass on to heaven.  Weird?  That's just the start of it.

I always laugh out loud at Moore's books and the absurd, fantastical, irreverent characters and story line.  Not for the faint of heart.

Published:  2015  Read:  October 2015  Genre: Fiction, humor

The Anchoress - Robyn Cadwallader

I love learning about obscure pieces of history that reveal so much about the times and lives of the people who lived in the times portrayed.  This is the story of a young girl who chooses to live in a cell, called an anchorhold, that is attached to the outside of a church.  She is nailed in, never to leave the cell again, to practice a life of devotion and servitude.  She has a narrow angled window in the church wall, called a squint where she can see the altar in the church to view the sacraments being shared.  There is another window draped in a heavy curtain through which a maid servant cares for her needs.

This was a common practice in medieval times.  The story is set in 1255.  Sarah is deeply sadden by the death of her sister and chooses the life of the anchoress to shield herself from the world.  She finds however that the world still penetrates her isolated existence.

The author is a scholar of medieval history and her knowledge is woven into the life of Sarah and her reactions to her choices.  Highly recommended.

Published:  2015   Read: October 2015  Genre: Historical fiction

ISBN:  9780374104252

Shadow Divers - Robert Kurson

Subtitle: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of WWII

I waited too long to read this book.  My BFF recommended it ages ago and I finally got it off my TBR list and got a copy from the library.  It was a great read.

It's the story of two men looking for shipwrecks in the sport of "deep wreck diving". Dangerous to the extreme as well as competitive, they find a sunken submarine off the coast of New Jersey and seek to identify it.  

I really enjoyed the relationship of these fiercely independent, risk-taking men.  Their dedication to the search and their persistence despite dead ends and roadblocks and tragedy made for a good read.

Published:  May 2005  Read: September 2015  Genre: Adventure, Non-fiction

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Gorge - Kara Richardson Whitley

Sub-title: My journey up Kilimanjaro at 300 pounds

The library near my home has shelves of books right inside the entry that are "new and notable" releases.  I picked up this one in the non-fiction area as I'd heard of the title.

Kara is a large (she's honest, she says "fat") woman, 6 ft. tall and has been as heavy as 360 lbs. She's not a proportionately large woman; she has  "three feet wide hips" as she describes them when trying to put on her hiking pants.  Her story is about climbing Mt Kilimanjaro three times to raise money for AIDS orphans in Africa.  It's truly about her experience being an athlete despite her size and her struggle with food addiction.  It's brutally honest and revealing and made me want to shout, "hurray!" for her courage in telling what it is like to live being overweight.

More than anything her story made me see that how a person looks, especially overweight people, colors all our thoughts and beliefs about them.  I realize how my thinking has been colored by mass media to see overweight people only from one dimension - they're fat. We don't see them as a person or even expect them to have a personality, skills, knowledge, talent or capabilities of a normal weight person.  And if we ourselves are overweight, those beliefs are projected to ourselves.

Kara describes soothing herself with food, getting food for others and then eating it all herself, sneaking the evidence.  And she also talks about working with a trainer, doing a half-marathon, and lifting weights to get ready for the treks.

At one point during the hike, she overhears the guides and porters joking about her.  She confronts them the next morning, smiling but determined not to accept the ridicule of others and letting them know their joking was hurting her.  Her struggle to stand up for herself without being mean or angry was inspiring.

Kara is a motivational speaker and journalist and lives in NJ with her two daughters and husband,
Read this book, it will make you think.

Published: 2015    Read: October  2015  Genre: Memoir

ISBN: 9 781580055598

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Teatime for the Firefly - Shona Patel

Another suggestion from one of my reading groups and for this one we get to meet the author!

The story is set in India in Assam in the 1940's where there were large tea plantations.  The main character is an independent thinking girl who marries a manager of one of the tea plantations.  The first third of the book tells or her growing up an orphan raised by her grandfather.  After her marriage we're taken to her life on the plantation.

I felt that the character changed personality and was inconsistent with her portrayal as a single woman, almost as if the story had been written about two different people.  I liked learning about the plantation life and India though there is only tangential mention of the strife and struggle for independence as the story becomes the tale of the couple.

I could use a pronunciation gazetteer for the Indian names of things, or a dictionary at the end.  The picture painted of the life of the couple was very vivid and detailed.  Worth reading.

Published:  2013  Read: September 2015  Genre: Fiction

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee

I liked this book.  I know, the literature critics didn't and I have to agree with them, it is not well written, or more accurately, it doesn't feel like it was edited closely.  That said, it is another viewpoint on the Finch family, from all accounts, the original approach taken by Lee.  It reads like a young woman rejecting her upbringing, her eyes opened by living in New York, and realizing the very human flaws in her adored father.  I felt the book might have been "closer to the bone" for the author than To Kill A Mockingbird.

It took a while to get into the story and the initial relationship of Jean Louise and her family and boyfriend seemed to bog down.  I liked this quote about family relationships, she doesn't get along with her Aunt:
"...they had never been able to sustain fifteen minutes' conversation with one another without advancing irreconcilable points of view, invigorating in friendships, but in close blood relations producing only uneasy cordiality."

It's over half way through the book before the crisis of the story is revealed.  The story proceeds much quicker from that point as Jean Louise moves on to become  her own person.  She comes to see her father as a human being rather than a hero.  Her Uncle explains to her how her father and her are different:
"'ve a bigot.  ...'One obstinately or intolerably devoted to his own church, party, belief, or opinion'.  What does a bigot do when he meets someone who challenges his opinions?  He doesn't give.  He stays rigid.  Doesn't even try to listen, just lashes out. You turned and ran. ...You said, in effect, 'I don't like the way these people do, so I have no time for them.'  You'd better take time for 'em, honey, otherwise you'll never grow."
As the back jacket states "Every man's island, Jean Louise, every man's watchman, is his conscience.".

Worth reading no matter how high the pedestal we've put Harper Lee on.

Published: 2015  Read: September 2015  Genre: Fiction

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Our Souls at Night - Kent Haruf

This is a lovely story, the last book from the author before he died.  The story of two widowed friends, a man and woman, getting together for company.  It's sweet and touching and oh so believable.  What will old age be like?  Read this and explore the possibilities.

Published:  2015  Read: September 2015  Genre: Fiction

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Unspeakable - Meghan Daum

I enjoy browsing the "best pics" that the library puts out right inside the entrance.  This one popped out at me and I'm glad I picked it up.  The author is a Generation Xer, known for her first book "My Misspent Youth".  This is a group of short stories or essays reflecting on her life many years later.

She's unconventional and speaks out on things that aren't normally said out loud (her chapter entitled "Matricide" about her mother's dying is a good example).  She chooses not to have children and reflects at one point on her and her husband feeling sad after she has a miscarriage:

"Were we sad because we lacked some essential element of lifetime partnership, such as a child or agreement about wanting or not wanting one?  Or were we sad because life is just sad sometimes -- maybe even a lot of the time?  Or perhaps it wasn't even sadness we were feeling but, simply, the dull ache of aging?  Maybe children don't save their parents from this ache as much as distract from it.  And maybe creating a diversion from aging turns out to be the whole point of parenting."
It was an interesting read and I'll think I'll look for more of her writing.

Published: 2014   Read: September 2015  Genre: Memoir/Essay

Saturday, September 5, 2015

One Summer in America - 1927 - Bill Bryson

By all accounts, 1927 was a memorable year in America and the author set out to blend all the events of the time into a coherent story line.  Bryson takes historical events (Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic) sports (Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig memorable seasons with the Yankees), politics (Calvin Coolidge's presidency and the rise of Herbert Hoover), and the rise of the Hollywood movie industry and tells how they launched lasting impacts on America and the rest of the World.

One seeming omission that rankled my reading of the book was scarce mention of significant accomplishments and contributions of women.  Where was Margaret Mead or Margaret Sanger? Jane Addams? Amelia Earhart?  It reminds me that history becomes what is recorded and if it is recorded by men, then the contributions and stories of women may be overlooked or diminished.

Some parts I noted:

"[Pinedo, an Italian aviator, doing a cross country tour after an Atlantic crossing] On April 6, en route to a civic reception in San Diego, he landed at a reservoir called Roosevelt Lake in the desert west of Phoenix...a youth lit a cigarette and threw the match in the water..." and his plane was engulfed in flames.

He describes the use of the new Standford version of the Binet-Simon test, which eventually became the modern IQ test and says "it is interesting to reflect that the IQ test was invented not to determine how smart people are, but how stupid."

Overall, the book was a good read, providing a snapshot of the U.S. at that time and the influences and impacts of the events.

Published:  2013  Read: August 2015  Genre: History, Non-Fiction

ISBN: 9 7807 919401

In Defense of Women - H.L. Mencken

This is a very old book I got from the collection of my friend, Teddi, who passed away and left me her books.  H. L. Mencken was a critic and writer who commented on society.  This book is satirical at first, with a tongue in cheek take on women as the superior gender and men being bamboozled by their actions.

His thoughts on women and marriage:

"She seeks a husband, not sentimentally, but realistically; she always give thought to the economic situation; she seldom takes a chance if it is possible to avoid it."

After several chapters he seems to applaud instead of criticize the evolution of the female gender and changes to praise.

In describing the "New Age" [the coming 1920's] he points out that:

"There already appears in the world, a class of women who, while still not genuinely averse to marriage, are yet free from any theory that it is necessary...who, with their economic Independence assured, either by inheritance or by their own exactly as they please, and make no pother about it."

I wish I'd known Teddi had this book when we could have talked about it.  It would have been a lively discussion.

Published:  1922  Read: August 2015  Genre: Essay

Monday, August 31, 2015

We Are Not Ourselves - Matthew Thomas

One of my reading groups chose to read this book for our monthly meeting.  It's the story of a family, Eileen, an Irish first generation American, her husband Ed, a science teacher and professor, and their son, Connell, growing up and living in America from the 1940's through to today.  Eileen aspires to have a better life than her parents; her husband resists her dreams and dotes on their only son.

As a young girl, her father takes her to see how the better half lives, beginning her desire for a better life:
"There were places, she saw now, that contained more happiness than ordinary places did.  Unless you knew that such places existed, you might be content to stay where you were."
Reading of Eileen's ambitions for her husband reminded me of the classic movie where an ambitious wife pushes her country doctor husband to perform an operation on a boy to advance their standing in the community (I can't remember the name of it).  I felt a dread building as she pushed and pushed and he resisted.  It felt like a crisis was imminent.  She believes he's having a mid-life crisis when he spends hours listening to old records.
"It was the kind of thing she imagined people did when they came to a point where the roads to the past and the future were equally muddy - retreat to the high ground of a major project."
When the real problem is revealed she wonders why it's happening.
"It hadn't happened for a reason, but they would find something to glean from it anyway.  There didn't have to be a divine plan for there to be meaning in life."
The mother/son relationship is rocky, with Eileen pushing him always to do better.  Connell is a teenager and then college student as their tragedy unfolds and finds it hard to reach out to his mother and realizes:
" was easier with girlfriends.  He threw all his affection at them and hoped that some of it would stick, maybe even come back to him, though if it didn't he gave it anyway, he gave it more, even, because everyone had something that needed to come out."
I enjoyed the author's descriptions of every day things, he painted pictures of their lives with small authentic details:
"She had never had a cigarette.  Aside from the pure brain-dead imbecility of subjecting yourself willingly to an avoidable carcinogen, she had always found them vile, noxious, smelly things -- except for a brief period in high school when she loved a boy who smoked and she was intoxicated by the aroma..."
At one point, Eileen goes through Ed's wallet and the author lists all the credit cards, membership cards, bits of paper and pictures that tells us so much about the man and our modern way of life.

This is a touching, tough and loving story of family and striving for a better life while living with the one we have.

Highly recommended.

Published: 2014  Read: August 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 9 781476 756660

A Grief Observed - C. S. Lewis

This memoir of an experience of grief has been on my TBR list for a long time.  I think I'd postponed looking for it because I thought it would be long and heavy reading.  To my surprise, its less than 100 pages.  It 's essentially Lewis' journals written after the death of his wife of less than 5 years from cancer.  They had married when he was well into his forties,  She was divorced, with two boys.  She brought them to England to be near Lewis who she had corresponded with from America and become a close friend and admirer.

C.S. Lewis was a well-known Christian apologetic, someone who defends Christian beliefs with reason and logic.

My edition had an introduction by Madeleine L'Engle, author of "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Two Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage", and a fellow Christian writer of Lewis's. She was critical of the book which put me off initially - if you read it, skip her introduction until after.

The book is a journey through grief and loss and coming to terms with a crisis of faith.  His "observations" are universal.
"This is important.  One never meets just Cancer, or War, or Unhappiness (or Happiness).  One only meets each hour or moment that comes."
A good part of the book is about him questioning his faith in God and questioning his own doubt.
"Sooner or later I must face the question in plain language.  What reason have we, except our own desperate wishes, to believe that God is, by any standard we can conceive, 'good'?
"From a rational point of view what new factor has H.'s [his wife's] death introduced into the problem of the universe?  What grounds has it given me for doubting all that I believe?  ...If my house has collapsed at one blow, that is because it was a house of cards.  The faith which 'took these things into acocunt' was not faith but imagination".
In the end, he recognizes he has been on a journey and his faith has been with him all along.
"My jottings show something of the process[toward getting through grief] but not so much as I 'd hoped. the warming of a room or the coming of daylight...when you first notice them they have already been going on for some time."
One quirky note, one of his friends actually gave him a copy of the book to read (it had been published under a pseudonym).

Published: 1961  Read: August 2015  Genre: Memoir

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

H is for Hawk - Helen Macdonald

This is the best book I have read in a long, long time.  It's a memoir of an English woman studying at Cambridge.  Her father dies suddenly and to deal with her grief, she decides to train a goshawk, a large predatory bird.  She was fascinated with birds from an early age and had become a falconer and trained other hunting birds in the past.  The goshawk is considered difficult to train and she wanted a challenge.  She interweaves the writings on the subject of training a goshawk by the author of The Once and Future King, T. H. White with her journey through her grief accompanied by the goshawk.  
Her book is part memoir, part natural history lesson, part biography.  It sounds strange and odd and even unappealing.  Yet the way she describes the world after losing her father, her relationship with the goshawk, who she names "Mabel", and her analysis of T.H.White's book, The Goshawk, are remarkably rich fascinating and moving.

Some quotes I marked that illustrate her power of description.

"I thought about the book [The Goshawk] cautiously, ran my feelings over it the way you feel for a hurting tooth with your tongue."

"The hawk is on my fist.  Thirty ounces of death in a feathered jacket..."

[On her child-age reaction to reading a critical review of The Goshawk and T.H.White by the falconers' community]
"I was on the right side, was allowed to dislike this grown-up [the author] and consider him a fool.  It's painful to recall my relief on reading this [the review], founded as it was on a desperate misunderstanding about the size of the world.  I took comfort in the blithe superiority that is the refuge of the small."
"Now that Dad was gone I was starting to see how mortality was bound up in things like that cold, arc-lit sky.  How the world is full of signs and wonders that come, and go, and if you are lucky you might see them.  Once, twice.  Perhaps never again."
She isolates herself from other people and submerges in the hawk's world.  She is suffering and wants to be more hawk-like:  aloof, unmovable, independent.
" 'We are outsiders now, Mabel,' I say, and the thought is not unpleasant.  But I feel ashamed of my nation's reticence.  Its desire to keep walking, to move on, not to comment, not to interrogate, not to take any interest in something peculiar, unusual, in anything that isn't entirely normal."
She begins to realize she is slipping, depressed, unable to shake her sadness.
"We carry the lives we've imagined as we carry the lives we have, and sometimes a reckoning comes of all the lives we have lost."
As she gets help and begins to see a way forward she reflects:
"There is a time in life when you expect the world to be always full of new things.  And then comes a day when you realise that is not how it will be at all.  You see that life will become a thing made of holes.  Absences.  Losses.  Things that were there and are no longer.  And you realise, too, that you have to grow around and between the gaps, though you can put your hand out to where things were and feel that tense, shining dullness of the space where the memories are."
The hawk has taught her things:
"Of all the lessons I've learned in my months with Mabel this is the greatest of all: that there is a world of things out there - rock and trees and ...all the things that  They are all things in themselves, but we make them sensible to us by giving them meanings that shore up our own view of the world.  In my time with Mabel I've learned how you feel more human once you have known, even in your imagination, what it is like to be not."
A wonderfully written, different and daring book.

Published: 2014  Read August 2015  Genre: Memoir

ISBN: 9 780802 12341

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Traditional Food From Wales - Bobby Freeman

I've been researching my Welsh heritage of late, joining the local Arizona Welsh Society and ordered this cookbook recommended in a Wales facebook page.  It's more than a cookbook.  It's a history of Welsh cooking with a good dose of history and lore.  I enjoyed reading the recipes and the stories.

I wish I could sit down with my two great-grandmothers (Kathleen Jones Chapin and Harriett Davis Bossert) and discuss Wales, the Welsh people and cooking.

Some quotes I noted:

"...the traditional dishes were passed orally from mother to daughter, and since the Welsh have good memories for the spoken word, it would be seldom necessary to write the recipes and methods down."

Matti Thomas published a collection of very old Welsh recipes, 1928

"Although people everywhere in early times relied upon herbal medicine, in Wales there was a special reliance based on the herbal learning of  the Meeedgon Myddfai  - the Physicians of Myddfai, virtually unknown outside Wales but greatly respected within the Principality.  Myddfai is a small villae near Llangadog in Dyfed. The physicians wrote the Red Book of Myddfai."

[Welsh style] " ..tea will always be served in pretty, flowered china cups with gold about their rims; and with the tea will come...freshly-baked cake and scones with home-made rhubarb or gooseberry jam.  ...the Sunday rice pudding is still a feature."

Sounds yummy right?  I'm going to try out the recipe for the pudding.

Published:  1997   Read: August 2015  Genre: Cookbook

ISBN 0 7818 0527 9

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Euphoria - Lily King

Last fall I attended the Southern Festival of the Book in Nashville TN with my friend.  I thoroughly enjoyed listening to authors explain how they go about writing a book, editing it and getting it published.  I particularly was impressed with Lily King.  She makes extensive preparation when writing, drawing maps, chronologies, family trees and other diagrams of her story.  I put her story based on the life of Margaret Mead and her two husbands on my TBR list.

Margaret Mead was married to one man when she went into the jungle to do anthropological research and met the man that would become her second husband.  With that kernel of truth, King creates a fictional imagination of their relationship and a different ending.

The book teaches a lot about anthropology in the early 20th century.  Each of the main characters has a different gift that makes them suited for anthropology.  One of the men is gifted in learning new languages and the woman in connecting with the natives they are studying.  I liked this quote about communicating without knowing the language:

Quote: "You don't realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don't have it, how it gets in the way like an over dominant sense.  You have to pay much more attention to everything else when you can't understand the words.  Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away.  You then rely on their words, and words aren't always the most reliable thing."

 I liked the realistic portrayal of the challenges of doing research and the emerging science of anthropology.  The relationship between the Margaret Mead character and her future second husband slowly unfolded and the strain of her first marriage was convincingly told.  But overall I was disappointed.  It was not a story of the real Margaret Mead and her men.  It was a story of a similar situation with different personalities and outcomes.  I don't know what was fact or fiction.  I think the book jacket and promotion was misleading.  I might try another of the author's books.

Published:  2014  Read: August 2015  Genre: Fiction

Miracle at Augusta - James Patterson & Peter de Jonge

I picked this slim novel up at the library on the new releases shelf.  I got it because it was about golf at the Masters Course in August, Georgia and my DH is an avid golfer who always watches the tourney.  It wasn't until I started reading it that I noticed the author was the prolific JP, who has been writing books with the help of other authors, who trade off of his popularity. It was a fun read and gave me a little bit of understanding of golf terms and strategies.  I even got DH to read it, though he thought it was a little, "touchy, feeley".  It's the story of a young teen who is being picked on in high school.  The harassing is observed by a golfer who is on the decline and has made some poor choices and consequently is suspended for a time from playing professionally.  The golfer takes the teen under his wing and they sneak onto the Augusta course to play a round of golf.

It was fun to read and I might try some other "golf" stories.

Published: 2015  Read: August 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 9 780316 410977

Saturday, August 8, 2015

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

This bestseller was chosen for the September pick in one of my book clubs.  It's the story of two young people - a blind girl from Paris, Marie-Laure, who is detained in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France near the end of WWII and Werner, a mechanically gifted German boy swept up in the war.

The introduction advises that the walled city of Saint-Malo was bombed almost to oblivion after the Normandy invasion to root out the last of the German army.  Right away, I'm dreading an entire story that's going to end in a city, and presumably it occupants, being destroyed,  But then, we're taken on a hop scotch of time between the two characters building to...the inevitable meeting and tragedy.

I thoroughly dislike the writing style that goes back and forth each chapter between two stories. It's contrived to keep you reading to get to whichever story you prefer.  The author skips around in time too, making us keep track of multiple vignettes that eventually begin to come together the last 50 or so pages.  It's like reading a mystery or a thriller.

The prose *is* lyrical ...but there's an adverb for every verb and an adjective for every noun,  My greatest complaint is that by writing beautifully the author minimizes the horror of the war. It's as if he paints a wash over the reality and defaults to stereotypes of the besieged French and the cruel Germans so he can write a pretty story.  It's just too touching to have a blind girl lose all she loves and too predictable to have a German boy become a mindless solider that does one heroic gesture.

The book jacket has praise from fellow authors, not critics, a warning in my experience.  Too say the least, I didn't like this one.

To complicate things further, there's a sub-plot of a cursed jewel that Marie-Laure's father is given and a German officer is determined to find.  The officer is a caricature of every Nazi soldier.  That's the problem with all the characters, they are too simple, too flat, too predictable.

If you want to read something about living in Europe during a German occupation and the soldier's on both sides, I'd recommend The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.

Published:  2014  Read: August 2015  Genre: fiction

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Mrs Grant and Madame Jule - Jennifer Chiaverini

I picked this up in the libarary as a new read without renewal, which I thought would mean a good book that many want to borrow.  Not the case in my opinion.  It's impossible to tell fact from fiction since the author gives little explanation of the research she did for the book. Grant is lauded as a great and good man and he and Julia having a wonderful love story.  The slave girl's story appears to be entirely fiction, based only on the fact that Mrs Grant did have a slave maid throughout the Civil War.

It was easy to read and did provide some facts on the battles of the Civil War and their chronology.  But it appears the author read a few stories and embarked on the book she wanted to write with little concern over distinguishing facts from fiction.  Not recommended.

Published: 2015  Read: July 2015  Genre: Historical Fiction

ISBN: 0525954295

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd

I'd been on a two week vacation with hardly anything to read (ack!!) and my sister gave me this for the ride home.  I've read a couple of other of the author's books (The Secret Life of Bees in 2002, The Invention of Wings last year) and recognized her style early on in this book.  Her writing has a languid, lush language that's a little bit too descriptive for my taste.  I'd prefer more narrative and dialogue.

The Mermaid Chair is the story of a middle aged woman, a recent empty-nester who goes back to her family home on an island and has an affair with a local monk-in-training.  The opening line is great:

"In the middle of my marriage, when I was above all Hugh's wife and Dee's mother, one of those unambiguous women with no desire to disturb the universe, I fell in love with a Benedictine monk."

It's told in first person as a remembrance of her time on the island and the relationship and why it came about.  I like the twists and turns and as she struggled with finding out what she wanted from life now that she was not defined as only a mother and wife.

At one point she ponders the meaning of soul: "...a squashy substance, like a piece of clay or dental mold, which collected the sum of a person's experience--a million indentations of happiness, desperation, fear, all the small piercings of beauty we've even known."

At another point she contemplates life without her husband: "What if there were no more Hugh in my life?  No more of these small antics, the moments we'd pieced together to form a history?  But were these habits of love--or love itself?"

Another nice line "The mind is so good at revising reality to suit our needs."

And then there's the monk, thinking about the purpose of the monastery" "they'd been picked for a hidden but noble experiment--to see if people might actually be able to live in genuine relatedness, to see if perhaps God had made a mistake by creating the human species."

A good read for the end of my trip.  Thanks, sis.

Published:  2005  Read: July 2015  Genre: Fiction

The Invisible History of the Human Race - Christine Kenneally

sub-title: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures

This is a hard book to describe.  It uses current DNA research to explain how the human race has evolved and how our understanding of this evolution affects our thinking and living.

I noted the following passages while reading the book over several weeks:

[Explaining why people pursue genealogy] "It's a feeling of breaking though a wall.  Of the frustration of wanting to know more about your family and your past and what people's lives were like, and where they came from, and who they were, and what their personal stories were, and feeling like you're never going to be able to uncover that.  Once you have that feeling of that great mystery, any piece of information feels like a treasure trove.'s a form of connection that you though you were never going to have."

I can relate to that quote.  There's just something about connecting with my past and the people who's genes I share that is fascinating and satisfying and deepens my understanding of who I am.

[About a study that asked people to estimate how much they would change in the future]  "People have a tendency to think of the present as a watershed moment at which they have finally become the person they will be for the rest of their lives...dubbed the phenomenon the 'end of history illusion'.  History is always ending today."

I don't know that I agree with that statement.  If anything, I think I can always change (for the better) in the future.

[In a discussion about a study on Western values] "Western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic nations (WEIRD)"

"It also made me wonder how silence is passed down".  I liked this statement.  Secrets and not-saying can also be passed down in families.

[On a Emory University study exploring the value of family history in the lives of children] "...knowledge of family history appeared to indicate how resilient the children usually means that they have strong connections with mothers and grandmothers...the stories of a family add up to ... an intergenerational self."

To me, that statement makes the case for sharing family stories early and often.

"It is said that autosomal DNA [the kind Ancestry analysis uses] can take you back at least five generations.  The probability of identifying a third cousin using autosomal DNA is roughly 90 percent, a fourth cousin 50 percent, and a fifth cousin 10 percent."

The author talks about the analysis done in 2011 and 2012 by Eran Elhaik who collected historical data from DNA samples.  He now works at the University of Sheffiled and the company Prosapia Genetics has been created based on his analyses.  Prosapia claims to pinpoint the village where your ancestors came from 1,000 of years ago.  There is much controversy about its results and testing.

Another observation of the author's I liked is that DNA is a palimpsest, i.e., a layering of information on top of one another, as in medieval vellum.  " stories are layered over old ones, and we can learn more by understanding when and how they were written over one another.  DNA and our life experiences make our bodies palimpsests.  As we learn how to interpret the body in the context of its genetic code, we begin to understand how the hand of fate, the choices of families, and the enormous journey of DNA through deep time affect our lives right now."

Her closing thought is "Your genome is just the first hand that life deals you.  How you play it is up to you."

It was an eclectic mix of different disciplines and the application of DNA information.

Published:  2014  Read: July 2015  Genre: Science History

ISBN: 9 780670025558

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Same Time Next Week - Leo Gutkind

Sub-title: True stories of working through mental illness

Leo Gutkind is the editor of this group of essays from therapists and patients dealing with mental illness that I picked up from the library.  I want to see if I can take a class from Gutkind since he teaches at ASU, one motivation for reading this book.

I found the contrast of the therapist's viewpoint and the patients worthwhile insight and would recommend the book for anyone touched by mental disease.  One theme is clear; regardless of the therapy, therapist, patient or diagnosis, dealing with mental illness is most successful when compassion and human connection is the priority.

One therapist early in the book sums it up, saying:

"...some people benefit greatly from a good therapist; some from finding the right medication; some, from a seemingly spontaneous improvements; some, from a combination of the above.  Having a loving and responsive mother or significant parental figures seems to be preventive, having a loving and caring adult partner is restorative.  Progress seldom comes in a straight line: courage determination, and patience are required in large measure."

I learned from another writer that a mother having the flu during pregnancy is a risk for schizophrenia:

"...up to 14% of schizophrenia cases would not have occurred had influenza in early to mid-pregnancy been avoided, and the viruses and other infections in the first trimester of pregnancy could increase schizophrenia risk as much as 700%."

Some authors provided suggestions for connecting to someone suffering with mental illness that I thought was good advice for any interaction when trying to empathize:

"When John introduced himself by saying, 'I am not a schizophrenic,' I didn't confront the odd statement by saying, 'Are you concerned about being called a schizophrenic?'  Instead, I attempted to join him by saying, 'I am not a noun either.'  I wanted to relate rather than confront." [my emphasis added].

There was a story about the effects of exposure to violence, even on TV or video games is harming because the "images seem to remain long active in the brain:

"...watching horror films lead to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in many young persons.  Many of these symptoms can linger for decades."

One of the last stories makes a meaningful point:

"every time we fall in love or make a friend, hold someone tight or choose a muffin, get pregnant or buy new underwear, paint a room or eat a sandwich; every choice we make to stay, to treat ourselves as valuable people, to connect more and more with this thing that can end only in loss, in death, loneliness, holey underwear or shit; every time we choose connection, we are risking loss.  But every time we do not chose connection, we are ensuring it."

Published:     Read: June-July 2015  Genre: Non-fiction

ISBN:9 781937 163198

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Capital in the 21st Century - Thomas Piketty

When was the last time you read something to understand a viewpoint?  Remember reading a textbook for class that presented historical data analysis to identify trends and then predicted the impact of those trends on the future, ending with recommendations for addressing those future outcomes?  That is, when did you last read something that made you think hard?  This book was a real exercise for my thinking.

I remember taking a class my junior year of college called “Money and Banking”.  It was heavy on economic theory (M1 and M2, as I recall) and pushed the limits of my understanding.  It must have planted a seed though because when I heard of this book I reserved it at the library to see what all the fuss was about.  It has stirred a lot of discussion about the best ways to address the inequalities of wealth in the world.

To start with, you have to accept that there are inequalities (there will always be the poor among us) and that it is something that should be addressed because it leads to conflict.  

I’m all for some having more than others.  It just doesn’t make sense to me that everyone with their individual uniqueness should have exactly equal levels of wealth, as measured by income and capital, so I’m not advocating the dreaded “redistribution of wealth” theory.  

It’s the extremes that I believe should be eliminated, and not just at the bottom of the pile.  “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer” is not inevitable in my way of thinking.  For Piketty, his research indicates it may be and he proposes ways to prevent it.

Specifically, he recommends a global, progressive annual capital tax that would impact the highest income levels. This would be a tax on wealth, i.e., what you own in terms of land (the traditional asset), goods (buildings, houses, companies) and financial investments (stocks, bonds and the like).  The proposal has created a firestorm of controversy that no doubt has others struggling to read this tome, which is a good exercise in my opinion.  His recommendation rests a lot on the assumption of continuing low growth for the foreseeable future, something his critics have pounced on. 

Piketty comes to his recommendation by analyzing income and capital and labor wages and growth rates over the last three centuries, since the beginning of modern industrial civilization or the late 1700’s to the present.  This is no small feat.  There’s lots of scholarly explanation that requires re-reading and breaks from reading to process, sort of like interval running.

There are many more tidbits drawn from his research; I made note of those that struck me and list them for my own reference.  I’m glad I struggled through this book and would recommend it for those looking for a 10K level of reading.

Published: 2014  Read:  June-July 2015  Genre: Non-fiction, Economics

Quotes and notes:

P22 over a long period of time the main force in favor of greater equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills.

Capital income ratio – concept that income is a flow of good produced and distributed in a timeframe (usually a year) and capital is a stock, the total wealth owned at a particular time that came from wealth either appropriated or accumulated over time.  The ratio of a nation’s capital to income (he represents with the Greek letter “B”) has historically been that capital is 5 to 6 times greater than income.

Definition of the word “autarky” - the quality of being self-sufficient. Usually the term is applied to political states or their economic systems.

Diffusion of knowledge has been main contributor to global growth and equality.
[This book contributes to that growth]

P 88 according to UN, India will be most populous county in the world by 2020.

P 121 the advantage of owning things is that one can continue to consume and accumulate without having to work

P 224 some people think we’ve gone from a civilization based on capital, inheritance and kinship to one based on human capital and talent…capital has not disappeared.

P 244 Inequality in respect to capital is always greater than inequality in respect to labor (wages).  Income from capital distribution is always greater than income from labor.

P 246 Intergenerational warfare has not replaced class warfare.

P 278 [wealth was concentrated (held by a small % of population) before WWI – WWI and II readjusted playing field due to highly progressive tax on income and inheritance that did not exist before 1920 but it has been re-established almost to the same levels by 2010]    Bottom line is there are more with ridiculous income from labor in 21st century.

P 279 Income from capital rises sharply and income from labor decreases rapidly at top of income levels.

P 290  In U.S. the top 10% share of wealth went from 30-35% of national income to 45-50% from 1970 to 2010.

P 297 In his mind, no doubt that the increase in inequality contributed to the financial crisis of 2008-09.  From 1977-2007, richest 10% in US got 75% of growth.  Top 1% got 60% of the increase in income.  Bottom 90% ratio of income growth was less than 0.5 % per year.  Low growth was a major factor.

P 302 The top 0.1% (centile) of the population by income or wealth consists of top managers (of organizations)

P 307 Over long run, education and technology are decisive determinants of wage levels.

P 333 Change in senior management compensation has played key role in evolution of wage inequality

P 335 phenomenon of “pay for luck” – when sales and profits increase for external [to the organization] reasons, exec pay rises most rapidly.

P 375 Inequality of wealth would not return to 19th century levels because of taxes, decrease in capital’s share of income, the rate of return on capital and income rate of growth compared to 19th century.

P 377 Inheritance will predominate over savings (r > g) because the rate of return on capital is greater than the growth rate

P 406 For cohorts born 1970-1980 inheritance is 22 to 24% of total resources.  Baby boomers had to make it on their own.

P 416 Thinking in the 19th century was that if there had not been a sufficient wealthy minority, no one would have been able to worry about anything but survival.

P 417 Thinking in the 20th century was that without high pay to execs only heirs of large fortunes would be able to achieve true wealth, which is unfair and therefore high pay is a form of social justice.  This is meritocratic extremism, the idea that pay levels are awarded based on merit and contributing to social justice is part of the merit.

P 421 In 1970-80 cohort, 12-14% will receive inheritance equivalent to a lifetime of labor income received by the bottom 50%.

P 444 [recommends] a progressive annual tax on the largest fortunes worldwide [to close inequality gap]

P 453 Inflation is a tax on wealth that is not invested.

P 463 [argues that ownership of a country by other countries is less a threat than ownership by its own and the world’s super rich.]

P 477 Historic increase in government tax revenues during the 20th century were used to pay for the creation of the social state.

P 478 Fiscal revolution of 20th century made possible the social revolutions of access to education, health and security in retirement (public pensions).

P 479 total social spending of 25-35% of national income – reflects constitution [creation] of the social state.

P 480 fundamental social rights – access to education, health and retirement.

P 486 No easy way to achieve real equality of education.

P 489  PAYGO systems [like social security where past generation supports/pays for the present] will continue because converting to other method leaves a generation out.

P 490 One of the most important reforms for 21st century to make is to establish a unified retirement scheme with equal rights for everyone regardless of complexity of career path.

P 512 Skyrocketing exec pay is explained by bargaining model [lower marginal tax rates encourage negotiation for higher pay].

P 514 – the New World may be on verge of becoming the Old Europe of 21st century’s globalized economy [because of trend toward lower progressive income tax].

P 521 Proposes a global progressive annual capital tax fed by automated reporting of all assets, not just income.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Lobster Chronicles - Linda Greenlaw

Sub-title: Life on a very small island

This is a little gem I picked up in the used bookstore.  The author grew up on a small island in Maine, worked many years as a fisherman and then captain of a fishing boat in the ocean and in this story returns to her hometown to try lobster fishing.  She's real and honest and loving of her neighbors, family and friends.  The life of a lobster-woman is the backdrop to the relationships of the people of the tiny island.  A quick read from a spunky gal.

Published:  2002   Read: June 2015  Genre: Auto-biography

The Seven Daughters of Eve - Bryan Sykes

Sub-title: The Science that reveals our genetic ancestry

I ordered this via Amazon because it was a layman's description of how mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down from mother's to their children.  Daughters pass it on to their daughters and the author contends that it remains relatively unaltered for thousands of years.  The record of his research and findings was fascinating and I hope to do a mtDNA test someday.  He goes into detail of how mitochondrial genetics, classified all modern Europeans into seven haplogroups.

Like other reviewers, I thought he departed from scientific findings to fanciful interpretation in "describing" each of the seven lines of mtDNA he traced in modern populations.  It's still a compelling read for those interested in DNA research and application.


p. 28 - Like more familiar instruction  systems such as language, number or computer binary code what matters is not so much the symbols themselves bu the order in which they appear."

Question: what other simple instructions systems are there?

p. 71 - using mtDNA to disprove descendants of Russian czar

p. 126 - Neanderthals are not our ancestors

p. 128 - explanation of mules and why Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal may have split

Published: 2001  Read: June 2015  Genre: Science

Water Witches - Chris Bohjalian

Picked this up at my friend's house in Memphis on the way back from the John C Campbell Folk School.  A young girl, her mother and aunt are dowsers - they find water for wells for people.  The world of the dowser in modern times in Vermont where they live is played out against a battle between environmentalist and a ski resort.  I enjoyed the writing and the folksy portrayal of small town life.  The relationship between father and daughter is central to the story and keeps the narrative moving until the central conflict is resolved.  Good read.

Quote: [grandfather on building something for his grandchild]
"I'm enough of an optimist to build the thing...but I'm not stupid enough to ever expect to use it."

Published:  1995    Read: June 2015  Genre: Fiction


Monday, June 1, 2015

Chasing Daylight - Eugene O'Kelly

Sub-title: How My Forthcoming Death Transformed My Life

Now that's a sub-title that makes me pick up a book.  The author, CEO of KPMG, a global accounting and financial consulting firm, finds out at 55 years old that he has inoperable brain cancer and less than six months to live.  He chooses to apply the skills, talents, and attitude that led to his success in life to having a successful death.

It was disconcerning at first to see the business skills and practices I'd worked with in my career being applied to dealing with death. But the author knew what he wanted to do - go out as successfully as he had climbed to success in life.

Some quotes that illustrate where he came from, how he functioned at work:

"I cultivated the ability to make big shifts quickly.  When something in my life no longer worked I could abandon it with little sentiment,"

"One sanctuary from all the intensity was golf.  ...I admired what the game called for: honor, personal accountability, precision, mental disipline, and endurance."

"Just months before and for my whole life before, I had been used to --and expected-- people operating at a very high standard....our indexes for evaluating people was conpetency."

He applied his ability to "make big shifts" to recognizing he needed to be more forgiving of himself and others. "And what if I didn't shoot par?  If things didn't go as planned?  That would have to be good too.  There was always something that could make even a bad day or a bad round good.  One nice shot.  One kind gesture.  Something."

He rethinks his beliefs about commitment. "In business...your commitment was routinely measured by how many hours you were willing to work".  He understands after dealing with his suddenly shortened future that commitment is really about depth.  "..commitment is measured not by the time one is willing to give up but, more accurately, by the energy one wants to put in, by how present one is." He reflects "Before my illness, I had considered commitment king among virtues.  After I was diagnosed I came to consider consciousness king...For one thing it could help others to understand the end better.  Maybe we'll discover that death is even something worth embracing."

I could see as the story went on that he was, in his last few weeks, embracing the real priorities of life; family, friends and being involved in the present moment.  "Soon I realized to identify whole breeds of people who did not live in the present, despite what they may have believed.  They lived either in the future or in the past, or maybe nowhere at all....People who don't listen, who ask questions without waiting for the whole answer."

He embraces simplicity.  He observes that many of the people he knows "have no clear timeline to stop what they were so busy at, to step back, to ask what exactly they were doing with their life. Part of me understood that they couldn't stop, because if they did stop they would stop being relevant.  But being relevant was not relevant.  At some point its time to transition."

He applied his same organized, goal oriented mind to what he called "unwinding" from the relationships in his life.  He began with "the outer circle", saying goodbye, saying why people mattered to him, sharing the good memories, reaching closure.  It's something encouraged in hospice to help those dying to accept their circumstances and he was more peaceful with the relationships in his life by making the effort to reach out and end those relationships in a deliberate way.

The book's last chapter is written by his wife, Corinne.  At the end, he was doing all he could to help her and his children, and himself to  experience a good death.  A powerful, moving read because the author stayed true to who he was, without apologies, and embraced the changes he recognized he needed to make before his life closed.

Published: 2006  Read: May 2015  Genre: Auto-biography

ISBN: 0-07-147172-3

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Adeline - Norah Vincent

Sub-title: A Novel of Virginia Woolf

This is the story of the last years of writer Viriginia Woolf's life before her suicide at 41 by drowning. The author, Nora Vincent, was unknown to me though when I researched after finishing the book, I remember hearing of her early work, "Self Made Man" where she had posed as  a man for 18 months in an immersion journalism style of research.

Her research for this book appears extensive as she weaves the lives of Virginia, who's given first name was Adeline, and her Bloomsbury group of intellectuals of the late 1800's into an interpretation of how and why Woolf ended her own life.

I had read and applauded Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of Her Own years ago but had never delved into her other books.  This story makes me want to read more of her writing to see what she produced from a tortured mind.  

Vincent's prose is lyrical, written I'm sure with a thesaurus by her side.  It can be distracting admiring the writing without remembering the flow of the story but not to where I quit reading.  I knew what happened in the end but how the characters got there and what they thought and felt kept me engaged. 

The relationship between Virginia and her former child self, who she refers to by her given first name, Adeline, is a technique that gets a little awkward at points, over-stressing the impact of childhood abuse on the future mood swings of the adult Virginia.  

I enjoyed the book for the beautiful use of words, the portrayal of this famous group of people through believable dialogue and descriptions, and the admiration of the genius of Virginia Woolf.

A couple quotes: 
[Virginia explaining to her husband her thoughts on writing]
"She [Virginia] said that perhaps every writer is meant to express only one idea, one mood, one version of what this strange human experience is about, and that he spends his life and work repeating it over and over.  If he is fortunate, once or twice he gets it absolutely right."

[Virginia contemplating suicide and bemoaning the difficulty of death]
"When a fetus comes alive in the womb," she'd asked, "what tells its heart to start beating?"..."and when it does begin," she'd added..."why then?  Why exactly then and not a moment before or after?" ... "And why cannot death be a painless as that?  Or as timely?  The music simply ending, as it began, without struggle, without knowledge, without thought.  Why must the life be shaken out of us when it has been so softly, so smoothly put in?"

Published: 2015  Read: May 2015  Genre: Biographical fiction

ISBN:  9 780 544 470200

Sunday, May 24, 2015

A Lesson Before Dying - Ernest J Gaines

This book was another used bookstore find.  A young black man is convicted of a murder that happens during a convenience store holdup.  He was just along for the ride but the real robbers are killed along with the store owner and Jefferson has no one to back up his claim that he was not involved.

The story begins with his conviction where the defense appeals for mercy by describing him as "a be put in the electric chair" and with that twisted logic, not worth sentencing to death.  The conviction is pronounced and he's taken to jail.  His family appeals to Grant, a man who got out of the poverty of their lives, went to college and returned to teach in the town where he grew up.  Jefferson's godmother appeals to Grant to teach him to be a man as he goes to his execution.  Grant is a reluctant teacher, almost cowardly.  He sees himself as a realist and dismisses her wishes as pointless. Nevertheless, he goes to the jail, bullied into it by his aunt, the godmother's best friend, and finds Jefferson convinced his life is not worth any more than a hog's.  Grant keeps visiting and a trust develops that brings Jefferson dignity in death.

I liked how the story unfolded slowly and kept me wondering if Grant would be able to reach Jefferson.  The characters are real people, trying to do the right thing.  Twenty years after being published the treatment of African-Americans in the South has been portrayed in many other stories. This one makes the heartbreak painfully real.

Published:  1993  Read: May 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 9 780375 702709

World Gone Water - Jaime Clarke

This was a strange book, I don't know what to think of it.  I picked it up in the library, intrigued by the jacket description and reviews.  It's a continuation of a previoius novel, Vernon Downs but it stands on its own.  The protagonist, Charlie Martens, describes his friendships in the present and harks back to those in the past.  He seems dull and clueless and then suddenly he reveals streaks of violence.  He seems to yearn for the "normal" life -- a wife, family, job, home and just doesn't get why he can't have it.  It's edgy in a calculated way.  For Arizonians, it's interesting because the author lived here and graduated from UofA.  He weaves a lot of landmarks and names from Phoenix into the narrative that kept me reading.

Published:  2015  Read: May 2015  Genre: Fiction

ISBN: 978-0-9858812-8-3

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bipolar Disorder - A Guide for Patients and Families

Bipolar disease has affected people I'm close to and its a confusing, disheartening condition.  This book is the latest (3rd) edition to discuss the ongoing studies being done by John Hopkins University. I found it encouraging and easy to read and understand and recommend it to anyone wanting to have a greater knowledge of the subject.

The diagnosis and symptoms are presented clearly and helpfully and explain how difficult it can be to get a clear diagnosis that is followed by the appropriate treatment.   The explanation of the drugs used in treatment, their interactions and side effects are understandable, clear, and complete.    The importance of appropriate, patient specific medication combined with essential counseling therapy really helped me understand the benefits.  There is a chapter on dealing with bipolar and other physical conditions and different life situations.  The best part I felt is the advice for families and patients for dealing with the day to day frustrations and challenges in the chapters on getting and staying well.  This is a complex condition and the ongoing research in genetics is offering promise in providing more specific treatment and greater understanding.

Published: 2014  Read: May 2015  Genre: Science (Medical)

ISBN: 9 781421412061

The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown

This is the story of the young college men from Washington State who won the 1936 Olympic rowing championship held in Germany during Hitler's rise to power.  But only the last 25 or so pages is about that triumphant race near Berlin.  The rest of the book is about the boys themselves; their early lives and exhaustive detail of their rowing training during college.  Their are brief interludes that keep us up to date on what is going on in Germany while they prepare for the race back home in Washington.

I felt the story was way too drawn out with repetitive portrayals of the main rowers.  The book could have easily been half the length.  I appreciate that the author did lots of research but he didn't have to cram every piece of it into the story.

Published:   Read: May 2015  Genre: biography

ISBN: 10-1-59413-775-X

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My goodness, it looks like I haven't done any reading in over a month!  I took a trip to my birthplace in March and was completely absorbed in researching my ancestors, exploring the towns where they lived and experiencing the area as it is today.  I did pick up a couple books and will try and catch up on logging my reading for the past several weeks.

This book was a gem.  Told as a series of letters between a newspaper columnist who wrote upbeat pieces during WWII in London and the inhabitants of Guernsey, an island off the coast of England, it educates and inspires.  During the war, the island was occupied by the Germans for several years and the people there were isolated from news with dwindling food and supplies.

We're treated to a friendship, a courtship, a community of survivors that are slowly revealed in the exchange.  I delighted in the way the characters unfolded and how their quirks and personalities were so pointedly portrayed in their quick retorts and poignant stories.

Some examples:

"He's got that way of believing his opinion is the truth, but he's not disagreeable about it.  He's too sure he's right to bother being disagreeable."

"Emily [Bronte] had to make Heathcliff up out of thin air!...Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life."

The author does a masterful job of letting people reveal themselves as they tell stories of others.  I marked many pages that were tender:

"[People] thinking to comfort me, said 'Life goes on.' What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn't, it's death that goes on."

"Have you ever noticed that when your mind is awakened or drawn to someone new, that person's name suddenly pops up everywhere you go?  My friend Sophie calls it coincidence, and Mr. Simpless, my parson friend, calls it Grace.  He thinks that if one cares deeply about someone or something new one throws a kind of energy out into the world..."

The journalist ends up going to the island to gather their story, thinking it might be her next book that her publisher and friend is waiting to be drafted.  We know the trip will lead to a book and more.

A highly recommended read.

Published: 2008  Genre: Fiction
ISBN: 780385341004

Moby-Duck - Donovan Hohn

In January 1992 a container ship rocked in a violent storm in the sub-Arctic ocean and dumped 12 containers the size of 18 wheeler semi-trucks into the ocean.  At least one burst open and spilled thousands of yellow plastic ducks, intended for children's bath toys.  The author, intrigued by the story, set out to find out where the ducks ended up.  His journey and education on the ocean, shipping, and the people who study it is the story of this book.

It's a strange mixture of hard science, quirky character portrayals and a personal odyssey, introduced in each chapter with quotes from Moby Dick, Thoreau's writings and environmentalists.  I learned about the Pacific Garbage Patch, which isn't a huge concentrated dead zone of debris but an area of the Pacific where the currents swirl and idle, where plastics that make there way to the ocean may linger.
I learned to how complex the oceans are, more like a liquid atmosphere with its own climates and storms raging below the surface.  I learned about "The Tragedy of the Commons", a concept that "in a finite world of diminishing resources...the freedom of individuals will not lead hopefully to progress but fatalistically to destruction".  The environment, shared by all, will be exhausted by the rational pursuit of individual prosperity.  Only a decline in population or consumption can avert it.

The author shares detailed facts and his novice experiences while traveling with oceanographers, environmental clean up crews and commercial ship captains and becomes dabbles philosophically in the impact of the spill and its meaning in our world.  He reveals too an adventurous recklessness that takes him from his family for weeks at a time from shortly before his son's birth, making him seem sometimes as irresponsible as the polluters he's investigating.  In all a different read.

published:  2011  Genre: Non-fiction
ISBN: 780143120506