Jan/Feb 2020 ~ What non-fiction books are you exploring?
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A new year = new non-fiction adventures for us!
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St Clair
(unusual stories of 75 fascinating shades, dyes and hues)
This fascinating, if somewhat over-detailed, work about World War 2 by journalist Waverly Root was published in 1945 after the end of the war in Europe but before the Japanese surrender. However, some of the chapters were written even before V-E Day and so speak of the war in Europe as still ongoing. The "Secret" of the title refers to the fact that Root's primary themes are not the military conduct of the war (although that is certainly referred to), but the diplomatic, propaganda and economic machinations of the various powers, both public and, as the word suggests, clandestine. Although Root writes about events and power relationships all over the globe, his two main theses are that a) France was betrayed by traitors highly placed within their government and military who were themselves fascists and wanted to see the Republic eliminated and that b) the U.S. State Department made one wrong-headed move after another, particularly when it came to their decision to legitimize the collaborators within the Vichy government and freeze out De Gaulle and his Free French movement as much as possible, despite the fact that Vichy was willingly cooperating with the Axis and De Gaulle was actually fighting alongside the U.S. and England. The book's final 140-page chapter details at great length the ways in which this dynamic played itself out in France's vast colonial territories before, during and after the Allied invasion of North Africa. Root's thesis about why the State Department was so consistently pointed in the wrong direction was that the department was basically a clubhouse of Ivy Leaguers and others of the patrician class who had little comfort with or respect for the average American and, in actual practice, the ideals of Democracy. He believed that these men were more comfortable with their fellow rich kids within the Vichy government and not particularly uncomfortable with the fascist leanings.
This volume is, in part, an account of the author’s experiences during a bicycle trip from Oregon to Patagonia. The trip also serves as a framework for discussion of his central concern, which is to discover how he, as a gay man, can better reconcile his natural desires with his lifelong, devout Christianity.
It came as no surprise to me that I found this book well written, eye-opening and thought provoking, seeing as how much my wife enjoyed it and learned from it and how much it's been praised here on LT. I basically gulped the book down over a weekend. On the other hand, I don't know how much new I have to say about it. What Gawande has to say about the history of the nursing home and independent living movements is extremely interesting and makes a lot of sense. The most powerful sections are those in which Gawande relates the slow evolution of society's and modern medicine's attitudes about end of life care and the transfering of priorities from fighting every symptom and the physical safety of patients to listening to what patients actually want, and how our priorities evolve as we register that our time is becoming limited. It certainly led me to think back somewhat ruefully about my own father's six months on a respirator at the end of his life circa 1990, and our family's attitude about the steps being taken to lengthen his life, and compare that with my mothers last years, just a couple of years back, spent in a pretty decent, all things considered, assisted living facility as she descended into dementia. Happily, the family trust was such that my sister and I were able to get her the additional on-site care that kept us from having to move her to a full-on nursing home. At any rate, Being Mortal is indeed a very powerful piece of writing that gave me a lot to think about as I crash and burn my way toward 65 in a few months.
The back of the book contains stats and standings tables from the 1962, and a full listing of all-time baseball records as they stood at that time.
These almanacs sound cool.
Always one of the fastest and wildest pitchers in baseball, Koufax, who couldn't get his curve ball across the plate, won only 36 games and walked five men per nine-inning game in his first six major-league seasons. Then, in 1961, Koufax developed control--and started to win ballgames. He was 18-13 and still struck out 269 hitters. "He shortened his stride on his front foot," says pitching coach Joe Becker. "That helped his control. Batters used to read his pitches. He showed the ball when he brought it up. Now he hides it and takes his time. If his finger is better, he'll be one of the all-time greats."
OK, back to McConkey. In the mid-80s, McConkey decided to write a memoir about his family's year in Florence, Italy in the early 1970s. McConkey was on sabbatical from his tenure at an unnamed university, driven away from the school by the late-60s turmoil on campus that he had found himself drawn into but ultimately repelled and distressed by. While in Italy, he came upon a volume of Chekhov's Sakhalin letters and became fascinated, going on to read everything he could find of these letters and of Chekhov's life. From the letters, McConkey imagines and creates a novel-like narrative for Chekhov's journey, interspersing known facts with his own fancy. He makes an admittedly conjectural examination of Chekhov's motivations and psychological evolution during his travels. But this is, as I said up top, ultimately a memoir. McConkey endeavors to thread his own memories of his family's stay in Italy throughout his telling of his Chekhov tale. The problem here is that while the thematic connections between the two story lines were evidently clear to McConkey, he fails, in my view, to present them effectively (or at all) for the reader. I would recommend this book only to those with a particular interest in Chekhov's life.
A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump's Testing of America
by Philip Rucker
I'm a choc-a-holic ~ I have a bottle of Crème De Cacao Liqueur!
This error-filled era is one Americans are going to be paying for
in blood and treasure for many generations to come.
We seem to be living in Postman's nightmare, in which the office of the president serves as ringmaster in chief for the national circus that makes it increasingly easier for Americans to amuse themselves to death. There are many cultural and social reasons why 40% of the country feels disrespected (and I've checked dozens of books on that topic into Librarything)--I understand their glee in getting a chance to share some anarchy. But a lack of adult attention to the mundane details of life results in compounding problems.
Lewis' "Fifth Risk" makes a unique and important point about the degree to which we rely upon the national government, for food, and weather reports, and other seemingly mundane services that are actually quite important for the functioning of our infrastructure and society. I don't want to bias my impressions of the "Genius" before I've read it, but I think its completely fair to observe that executive dysfunction has negative impacts, many of which are not immediately obvious, and will play out over time.
General observations ~
At some point after he left the administration, Reince Priebus observed that what was happening in the West Wing was much worse than what the public was witnessing. This book corroborates that observation. Rucker and Leonnig use their research findings to show that Trump is keeping his promise to be a human hand grenade in Washington. Because he has his own brand of reality, keeping questionable ideas from germinating in his mind is a lost cause. The authors use first-person accounts which allow the reader to decide if what occurred is admirable and lawful behavior for an American president and the leader of the free world. Do a majority of Americans want this type of leadership style to become the norm in our 21st Century republic?
For me, this book and American Carnage by Tim Alberta are the gold standard when it comes to exposing the underbelly of Trump's presidential era and the GOP's long-standing suicide mission.
UPDATE: added John Bolton's ~ The Room Where it Happened ~ to my list today!
Lynn Vincent and Sara Vladic
This book tells the tale of the WWII ship Indianapolis. During the war this ship had a secret mission to deliver one of the atomic bombs that was used on Japan to help end the war. After that mission, a Japanese submarine attacked the boat causing it to sink, losing the lives of many of the crew. Despite the heroic actions of Commander McVay and the lack of help from the Navy, he was court martialed for not following procedures. Many of his crew was upset with the charges and it took years to have someone look into and dispute the charges. This was so interesting and there was also a wonderful special on PBS that led me to read the book. I recommend both. Check out more information at https://www.pbs.org/show/uss-indianapolis/
Currently reading Orphan of Islam which is quite hard reading about a child of Pakistani father, white mother who suffers abuse from his extended family and in a religious school.
I say, "sort of" because this book is not just about Miller, or about Tosches' search for Miller, which was really what I was expecting: sort of a travelogue that would take us through the American south with Tosches as he did his research, followed up leads and reported not just on what he'd found out but also on the experiences he'd had, the people he'd met and places he'd seen, along the way. What the book is instead is mostly Tosches' presentation of the research he, and others, have done on Miller and his life and career. What we get for much of the book are details about recording dates, songs and bandmates. Tosches will often then spin out the narrative to provide information about the careers of those bandmates, and then about the careers of people they've performed with, across the realms of minstrelsy, blues and early jazz, black and white. This all could be quite dry if one doesn't already come to the material with one's own love of music and fascination with American music history. The effect of all this is a tapestry of information, a weaving together of the almost infinite strands of influences and counter-influences in American music. Tosches, in fact, is not shy about bringing his strands all the way back to the ancient Greeks, to Homer and his unknown influencers. The dead voices of the book's title are all of those unknown ones, the musicians, particularly American, who's names and faces are lost to our recorded national history and to our memory, the ones who came before and created the foundations of all we now know. Tosches relatively frequently writes quite rhapsodically, and quite wonderfully, about all these threads, connections and reverberations.
I learned a lot, a whole lot, about music history, about minstrelsy, and about the confluence of musical influences that have worked together to create the great, expansive body of American music. I've even come to appreciate those dead voices that Tosches evokes. But in the end I'd only recommend this book to people with a very focused interest in the subject matter.
By the way, the reference to the town's two names comes from the fact that the town in its early days was always known as Greenwood. However, there was another town some distance to the north with the same name. When the U.S. Post Office modernized, they would not offer local post offices to two towns with the same name in the same state. So the Mendocino County town of Greenwood changed its name to Elk. However, the road that goes from the town of Philo (pronounced Fie-Low, not Fee-Low) in Anderson Valley that runs over the mountain and down to the coast is still called the Philo-Greenwood Road.
Anne Helen Petersen
Petersen writes an engrossing book on the way the world views certain women that buck the traditional roles of mother, wife and female role model. Told through the stories of various women, including Serena Williams, Hillary Clinton, Lena Dunham, Melissa McCarthy and others in the public eye, this book will astound you (or not) about the treatment of women and the double standards that they have had to deal with.
The California Deserts: An Ecological Rediscovery by Bruce M. Pavlik is for folks interested in what scholars can tell us about desert biota, geologic features, and ecology, with some humanist perspectives added in too. Lots of wonderful pictures of life forms and landscapes, and some colorful maps the scientists must have had fun creating.
I am a big fan of Malcolm Gladwell and this book did not disappoint me. Gladwell discusses the differences in how people communicate and what can go wrong when our communication styles don’t match. I thought the chapter on the arrest of Sandra Bland quite disheartening and definitely a case of miscommunication.
I'm reading Love Lives Here: A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family by Amanda Jette Knox
Mindfulness for Chocolate Lovers: A Lighthearted Way to Stress Less and Savor More Each Day by Diane R. Gehart (4+ stars)
James Robert Parish
Written in 2006, this book can certainly be updated but as a movie buff, I had seen many of the movies in the book as the author breaks down the reasons each movie failed. There are a couple of movies in the book that I did enjoyed. I liked Paint Your Wagon and Last Action Hero but I definitely agree that Showgirls, Robin William’s Popeye and Ishtar were completely terrible. This book is definitely for movie fans. It would be interesting to see a updated version of this book!
Helen Grigsby Doss
Set in the 40’s this is the true story of the Doss’s who were unable to have any children. Reaching out to an adoption agency they eventually were able to adopt one child. When they went back to try for another adoption, they were told they could only adopt one white child so Helen reached out to other agencies that had different race or mixed race children. They, eventually, through sheer determination adopted a total of 12 children. Wonderfully written and so inspirational, I sped through this book. 1954
Interesting article on the family- https://pages.uoregon.edu/adoption/topics/familynobodywanted.htm
be sure to catch their appearance on groucho marxs show. Loved how warm and kind he was to them.
I found this on a website but for some reason can't find the link- I think this was posted in 2008
"If memory serves - Donny is now a computer wizard, as are Teddy and Diane, Timmy is in real estate, Alex joined the Air Force and now lives in South Korea with his wife, Susie and Dorothy are artists, Laura (now spelled Lora) is a beautician, Rita cares for old people, Elaine is a housewife, and Richard was a farmer before he died of cancer. Gregory, I'm sorry to say, died tragically after a mugging.(Those last two apparently died before the mid-1990s, as you'll see
below.) Helen's update in the book is not much longer than what I just wrote.
Also, Teddy and Timmy were in Vietnam - and returned.
From what I understand, despite conflicting reports of dates, Carl and Helen divorced in 1964 (sadly, it's not too surprising, when you read the book) and he died of cancer in 1994. Helen said that he lived to see most of his grandchildren (there are now 37). She has remarried. Most of the adoptees are now grandparents themselves!"
Author Robin Ha’s graphic novel is the true story of her coming to America with her mother after being raised in South Korea. Since she only speaks Korean, she has a hard time adapting to the United States, let alone learning an unfamiliar complicated new language and trying to make new friends especially in high school where the students aren’t the friendliest. Well done!
>61 mnleona: I love travel narratives written early in our history by the people who journeyed on them. A great example is Nobody said not to go by Emily Hahnabout a young woman and her friend who drive cross country, in the 20s! The author ended up with a career writing for New Yorker
One of my favorite books was Orlean's book on Rin Tin Tin and so I was excited to read The Library Book and I was not disappointed. This book concentrates on the fire of the Los Angeles Public Library in 1986 and the chief suspect in the case. However, she does not tie herself down to that topic but also talks about the history of libraries and some of the people responsible for building and influencing libraries. Highly recommended!
Finished Mobituaries and really recommend it. A collection of people famous for a variety of things, put together by Rocca as a memoium to them. I was uncertain about this one - I love him on NPR, but know he can get a little over the top. Needn't worry, his obits are charming, interesting and yes a bit out there, but always always sympathetic to the people he is writing about. That kindness is what really stands out for me. Its also a very good book to read if you want to dive in quick and then put it down. Easy to come back to. Enjoy!
Elton John relates his amazing career as a song writer, composer, singer, film maker and the incredible ups and downs of his life through childhood to the present. Well written and hard to put down.
Read while sipping Shackleton Blended Malt Scotch Whisky.