Category Archives: books

The Chess Gambit

Several baboons responded on Tuesday to a comment about the 6-part Netflix mini-series called The Queen’s Gambit. It’s based on a book by Walter Tevis (who is also author of three other books which became movies: The Hustler, The Color of Money and The Man Who Fell to Earth).

Apparently chess sets have been flying off the shelves, both in-store and online. I have located our set here, a Christmas gift years ago from son Joel. I’ve never really taken to chess – though Husband has tried to teach me, I never thought I had enough…  desire, mental acuity, or stamina to be a competitive player.

Because of this movie, I’ve become aware that women have been serious chess players for centuries first documented during the Middle Ages – this from Wikipedia:    “Chess games between men and women were a common theme of European art[2][3] and literature in the fourteenth through 18th centuries.” By the 19th Century, the field was dominated by men, and “during the 20th century, female players made significant progress in breaking male dominance on the game.” The first female International Grandmaster was Nona Gaprindashvilli, who received the title in 1978.

Back on the home front:  It wasn’t that I thought women in general wouldn’t be good at chess, just me. I am willing to rethink that and, with a long and at-home winter facing me, I think I just might take another stab at chess. I will, however, need to do a quick room-arrange to accommodate a table where we can leave a chess board up. And wouldn’t it be fun to paint our own chess board right on some old table?   

Here’s a puzzle:  Imagine you’ve decided you need a chess set and there are none to be had in all the land. By what art or craft would you create the board?

What found objects around the house could stand in for the various pieces – pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, king, queen ?

OR:

Because you may be home-bound for several weeks (or months), what other sort of learning might you tackle, that you would otherwise not have attempted?

Mrs Pollifax: Spy

I just saw a headline (yes, big enough to warrant a headline) that the tv series Friends is doing a reunion show in the spring.  I never saw an entire episode of Friends when it was originally airing – the bits I did see didn’t make me want to tune in.  But between what other people talk about and all the various commercials, I know enough that I’m thinking an enjoyable reunion show almost 20 years after the fact will be hard to pull off.  I’m sure I’ll be passing.

But there are a few bits of entertainment that I would like to have seen more of —  Mrs. Polifax, Spy for one.  There are boatloads of Mrs Pollifax books by Dorothy Gilman but just two movies.  The first one came out in 1971 with Rosalind Russell and Darren McGavin.  It’s clever and a bit silly, but just what I need every now and then.  Rosalind Russell was perfect but a follow-up was never made.  Then in 1999 Angela Lansbury starred in The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.  Good enough to waste a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon but that was about it; she was too old for the part and the movie took itself much too seriously.  It really just felt like an episode of Murder She Wrote

The 1971 version is currently available on Amazon Prime and I will admit that I’ve watched it several times since March.  I wish that Rosalind Russell had made a few more of them!

Anything that you would have like to see more of (or read more of)?

RIP Sir Sean

I knew it was coming but seeing the headline that Sean Connery had passed away still hit me hard.  I was only three when he played his first leading movie role in Darby O’Gill and the Little People but I remember seeing it in theatres when I was about eight and I was stricken.  I’m pretty sure I’ve seen everything he has starred in, good and bad.  I even watched Zardoz on purpose because he starred in it. 

As you can imagine, he was THE James Bond as far as I’m concerned.  I do like most of the others but Sean will always embody Bond for me.  I know the movies are seriously outdated at this point (well, what isn’t these days?) but I will still watch one if I come across it while channel surfing.

In fact, I’ve just gotten a notification that Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure in DVD has arrived for me at my library.  I’m not sure if I’ve seen it before, but I’ll be especially watching for Sean Connery playing one of the bad guys.  Then hopefully I can find a few more of his supportive roles in the next few weeks.

Any Sean Connery movies you’ve seen?  Anybody else who you’ve seen (or read) all their work?

Endings & Beginnings

A couple of weeks ago, Steve sent me an article about the most reviled book endings of all time – with lots of reader opinions and contributions.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/bad-book-endings/2020/10/21/b238374c-12dd-11eb-ba42-ec6a580836ed_story.html

I, of course, have opinions about this as well.   I cried for hours at the end of Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.  I know it probably had to end this way to have any impact, but it still broke my heart.  The same for A Separate Peace by John Knowles. 

The Silent Tower by Barbara Hambly got thrown across the room when I came to the end.  As I was getting closer and closer to finishing the book, it wasn’t coalescing like I thought it should be.  I realized at the last page that it was setting up for the next book.  I hadn’t known it was going to be a series and I was spitting mad.  Eventually I calmed down enough to read the rest of the series and I liked it fine enough but I’ve always remembered the book flinging.

I know several people who didn’t like the ending of Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell but it turned out that none of them have actually read the book; they’ve only seen the movie.  I contend that if you’ve read the book, then you know that by the end Rhett is completely done with Scarlett.  No going back for him.  This is the reason that I never read Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley – just so wrong.

Lots more, but it’s your turn.

Any book endings that you abhor?  Or that you particularly fancy?

I Need Book Advice

My mom, Nonny, is really doing well with shelter-in-place.  She has always been superb at doing what the doctor recommends – always.  I think I’ve probably said here before that if the doctor told her to stand on her head every Tuesday and spit wooden nickels, you’d better have a bucket to collect those nickels every Tuesday. 

At 88 she is taking covid precautions very seriously.  She is staying in, staying away from neighbors, only going shopping when absolutely necessary and then she goes the extra mile (sprays the inside of her car, wipes all products off when she gets home, wears a mask, etc.)  She is not an online person, so she’s watching a lot of tv and doing a solitary walk every afternoon.  She’s mentioned a couple of times over the last couple of months that she is “out of books”.   Despite the fact that she introduced me to libraries as a child, she is not a library person.  Although I’ve suggested she find a close one, she is worried about hanging about in a library and bringing home potential contaminants.  Telling her that she can talk to a librarian about how they are handling covid to possibly reassure her hasn’t helped.

I thought I would get her some books, but I’m stymied about what to send.  I know that her favorite author is Mary Higgins Clark.  I know that she likes mysteries and thrillers but not things that are “too dark”.  Too much graphic violence and sex is right out as well. 

So if I go to the bookstore to pick up some titles for her, what should I get???

Following My Pajamas

I ordered some new pajamas on September 22, and, because there is really very little else to do here and because I have no life outside of work, I took great amusement following their progress from Maine to North Dakota via FedEx.

It took more than two weeks for them to arrive. They left the warehouse in Maine on 09/25 and arrived in Massachusetts that same day.  Five days later they were in Connecticut.  As I recall, it isn’t very far from Massachusetts to Connecticut.  I hope they had fun in the interim.

By 10/1 they were in Clyde, Ohio and then Chicago.  By 10/2 they were in Fargo. I live 300 miles from Fargo, and for some reason they left immediately for Billings, Montana,  which is 600 miles to the west of Fargo.  They left Billings on 10/3 and travelled 300 miles back east,  arriving in my town at 9:00  pm according to the package tracker.  They appear to have meandered around town for twelve  hours. I imagine them at the Spur Bar, having a couple of beers before climbing wearily back into their box. They were checked in at the FedEx warehouse in Dickinson at 9:00am on 10/4, and were delivered on the morning of 10/5.

I wish I could get the story behind all the delays and the visit to Billings and what they did in town for twelve hours between Saturday night and Sunday morning. They are really nice pajamas, but I wish it didn’t take so long to get things out here.

What stories, book series, authors, famous people, movie series, trends, or comic strips do you follow?

Christmas Is A Comin’

We purchased scads of stories on audio cassette tapes when our children were young. They listened to them as they drifted off to sleep. Daughter says she still has to listen to audio books before she can go to sleep.  Some of these were stories narrated by famous actors.  Meryl Streep narrated Peter Rabbit  and The Tailor of Gloucester.  Danny Glover narrated How the Leopard Got its Spots.  Jack Nicholson narrated The Elephant’s Child and How the Camel Got Its Hump.  The stories changed as the children got older, and there were crime mysteries, old time radio shows, and, finally, recordings of novels like  A Wrinkle in Time and the Lord of the Rings.  They all sit now in the basement in boxes.

In our effort to get rid of stuff, we are going to have these stories transferred to electronic files and CD’s, and give them to our children for Christmas. Our grandson is old enough now to appreciate stories. It will give us the pleasure of passing on these wonderful recordings and make space in the basement shelves.

Christmas is coming, and we are starting to plan for quiet visits with our son and his family in Brookings. Our daughter is flying to Sioux Falls for a wedding at that time, and we will see her in Brookings, too. It will be a quiet and very much appreciated time together.

What are your plans for Christmas?  What are your ideas for gifts? What stories do you think are essential for children to hear?

Bird Stuff that happens while we sleep

I really don’t know where and when I got interested in birds. I don’t consider myself a “birder” who has a list to check off of birds I’ve seen, though I do sometimes write down if I see a new one. And I try to identify the songs for as many as I can, with the help of the internet, and a book that contains a tiny tape recorder:  The Backyard Birdsong Guide.

I also like reading about birds – What the Robin Knows, H is for Hawk; Suburban Safari; One Wild Bird at a Time… (OK, I haven’t finished them all, but they’re under my roof.)

A friend has alerted me that end of September is an extremely good time to hear migrating birds flying (way) overhead at night:

Migration alert: high intensity migration predicted for the night of 28-29 September 2020

To quote from this 9/28 article by Andrew Farnsworth:

“We estimate that 594 million birds will take flight tonight across the contiguous. And there will be additional, similarly large flights, in the coming nights! This will likely represent one of the largest series of migration nights of the year for this contiguous US.

For those in areas under heavy migration advisories, this will be a great opportunity to experience nocturnal migration by listening at night to vocal birds in flight, or by observing the following morning for new arrival and departures. In the highly urbanized areas, especially cities in the central and southern US, it is also particularly important to turn off lights at night to avoid attracting birds into hazardous conditions in which they can collide with buildings and other structures.”

And here, in 24 seconds, you can see Nocturnal Migration Flows from January – December… it’s quite dramatic:

And from Colorado State University’s Aeroeco Lab, are US maps of migration forecasts for the next several nights:

https://aeroecolab.com/uslights

“Aeroecology is the study of airborne organisms and their utilization of the lower atmosphere (i.e. aerosphere).”

What connection/interest, if any, do you have with birds?

Is there a bird that you would go out of your way to see? … or get out of your bed to hear?

I’d Sure Like to Meet…

Today’s post comes to us from Minnesota Steve

In 1960 when I saw To Kill a Mockingbird, I knew it was a great film that would become a classic. I also knew—or thought I knew—that Gregory Peck must be a thoroughly decent man, not just an actor who played the role of a decent man. And yet, that second notion is actually not as obvious as it often seems. Not all great actors are ethical, friendly or likable in real life. Happily enough, Peck turned out to be as nice as the part he played. His costars have praised him endlessly for his generosity and kindness. Time has been as kind to Peck’s reputation as it has to his most iconic film.

But being a great performance artist is difficult, and not every performer who reaches the high levels of artistry is as likable as Gregory Peck. While it is understandable that fans want to believe their favorite performers are also good people, not all performers are as likable as they are talented.

Some accomplished performers have complicated reputations. John Lennon, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Pablo Picasso are often mentioned as people you might admire but would not enjoy being close to. In the world of business, Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Elon Musk and Henry Ford are usually considered difficult human beings, if not worse. I used to dislike Bill Gates, but either he changed or I was badly informed. He seems admirable now.

Steve Goodman is an interesting person in this context. Goodman was funny, smart and easy to like as a performer. And yet I’ve read that his close friends knew he could occasionally be one of most annoying persons on earth. One person saying that was Goodman’s wife, Nancy, who loved him deeply.

Similarly interesting is the singer Loudon Wainwright III. Several people close to him have accused him of being a shoddy human being. One person expressing that opinion is the singer himself. While he has admitted to philandering and other mistakes, Wainwright’s open way of discussing them makes him more interesting or even likable.

My daughter has met several authors, and it wasn’t always good. Bill Holm and Michael Ondaatje behaved like jerks at book signings. Louise Penny, by contrast, could not have been more friendly and fun.

Garrison Keillor has been an important personality in my life for 56 years. I am a fan of much of his work, but not of the man himself, for I know he can be discourteous or even cruel. It is a cliché that humorists are often gloomy, unpleasant people, but remember, sometimes clichés are true. The charges of sexual harassment complicate the reputation of a man who was already highly complicated in my mind.

While it is difficult to know what celebrities are like in real life, with some performers you just know in your heart that they are someone you would enjoy as a friend. Bonnie Raitt has so much compassion and respect for other performers that I can’t imagine not liking her. Similarly, Emmylou Harris is unfailingly generous with other performers. Who could possibly dislike her?

Who among famous people would you like to know as a friend? Why?

Bathroom Reading

Last week I was coming to the end of Travels with a Tangerine by Tim Mackintosh-Smith (a travelog in the footsteps of a famous Middle-Eastern traveler, Ibn Battutah) and I came across a passage that made me laugh out loud.  The author has found a battered copy of a reference book that had been in his home when he was a child:

“I checked.  It was the same edition as my father’s – Nelson’s Encyclopedia of 1913 – and had the same slightly animal odor that clings to reference books long thumbed.  People had often hinted to my father that it was out of date…but he remained loyal to those tatty maroon volumes, his contemporary.  I ran my hand along the spines.  I too was fond of Nelson’s, companion of many happy hours on the loo. (How deprived are the squatting nations!  Defecation and ingestion of knowledge are such complementary activities.)”

I laughed because, as an adult, I am also a bathroom reader.  My most ambitious bathroom choice was back when I was still at the bookstore.  In those days, when we did returns to publishers, we stripped the front cover off the mass market paperbacks and sent just the covers back; it was cheaper to publish a new paperback if needed than to pay return postage on a whole book.  One of the perks of working at the bookstore was that we could help ourselves to the coverless books (called “strips”) on the understanding that it was for our own reading pleasure and not for profit.  So it was that War and Peace ended up at my house without a cover.  I figured that if the book were in the bathroom I would actually read it, since I wasn’t sure I would pick it up off the nightstand!   Every couple of weeks, I would rip off the pages that I had already read and toss them.  It wasn’t like I was going to keep a strip on any of my bookshelves (with my real books).  Over the course of the next year, War and Peace got skinnier and skinnier until I was down to about 25 pages and I took it to the bedroom to finish off.

For several years it has just been National Geographic, Smithsonian and Scientific American in the bathroom, but now that I’m furloughed, I’m caught up with my magazines, so have a book in the basket as well — Lost in the Arctic by Lawrence Millman.  I think I may have gotten this book from Clyde or Bill or maybe Steve; I rarely buy books so it had to come from somewhere!

Are you a bathroom reader?  Willing to share your current bathroom tome?  Or your most ambitious read (bathroom or no)?