Category Archives: books

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)?

How’s That Again?

The most informative sections of our local newspaper are the District Court record and the obituaries. When you live in a small community  it is important  to know who died and who got convicted of what.

Yesterday I was hastily scanning an obituary of an 86 year old farm wife from a tiny village south of our town when I ran across this sentence: “Lorraine loved doing the polka with Christ.”  That sure stopped me in my reading! What a wonderful image!  I never knew Jesus did the polka. I wondered if he did the Fox Trot and the Lindy, too.  More careful scrutiny of the obituary reveled that her husband’s name was Christ, as in Christoph,  and it was he with whom she loved to polka.   I was sort of disappointed,  but it sure brightened my day.

When have you misread  or misheard something? What are some funny misprints you have read lately.  What is your experience with the polka?

 

 

 

A Different Point of View

I thought about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on our recent trip to Brookings, SD, as we drove through Edgely, ND and Aberdeen, SD on our way.  Frank Baum lived in Aberdeen around the time he wrote the book, and the girl he used as a model for Dorothy was his niece who lived on a god forsaken farm near Edgely.  (That girl’s daughter became the first woman senator from ND). The area is pretty swampy and remote, in the James River Valley, close to the Red River Valley, but without the good soil. I confess I never read Baum’s  book, but I really liked Wicked, which was the story told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West.

I liked Jane Eyre as a teen, but I really liked Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, which is the story told from the point of view of the first Mrs. Rochester.

I suppose one could argue that writing a story from the point of view of another character from an established novel or story is an easy way to make a buck, but I think it is so interesting  to consider. I also don’t know how they figure out copyright and royalty issues, but it must be doable.

What novel or story would you like to see written from another character’s point of view? What novel or story would you like to see written from the point of view of a character from a completely different novel or story?

Breakfast Naan

Even though I have a strict rule about cookbooks (if I buy one, I have to get rid of one), it doesn’t stop me from checking them out from the library.  I love reading through cookbooks, seeing what different chefs/authors do, with new or old ingredients and techniques.  It’s been a while since a cookbook has been tempting enough for me to want my own copy, but I usually find one or two recipes that I like.

I found a Naan Breakfast Pizza recipe recently that I thought would be fun to adapt to my kitchen.  It turned out great.  Here is how I made my version:

(this is for one, but you can certainly make more at one time)

½ naan bread (I’m only socializing w/ the dog these days so I used garlic naan)
1 tablespoon ricotta cheese
1 egg
2 strips vegetarian bacon
2 tablespoons grated gruyere cheese
1 scallion, chopped
4-5 grape tomatoes (or any other kind of tomato you like, or have on hand), chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

  • Grease a pan (or spray it).
  • Spread the ricotta over the naan, making a slight “well” in the middle
  • Crack the egg into the “well”
  • Arrange the bacon around the egg
  • Sprinkle the gruyere, scallion and tomatoes over the naan
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Stick in a 400 F oven for about 10 minutes – until the egg is the way you like it.
  • Enjoy!

Have you tried anything new lately?

RIP Grant Imahara

I saw the sad news that Grant Imahara has passed away, from a brain aneurysm at the age of 49.  Although he worked for 9 years behind the scenes and Lucasfilms and Industrial Light & Magic as well as winning the third season of Battlebots, he is probably best known as one of the co-hosts of Mythbusters from 2005 to 2014.

I started watching Mythbusters right about the time that Grant started and I was hooked from the beginning.  This was about the time in my life when I was really starting to embrace my interest in science or as my baby sister says “my nerd stuff”.  As I know I’ve talked about here before, I spent decades of my life trying to mask my intelligence.  Even though I was the “smart one” in the family and did well in school, I never highlighted any accomplishments and purposely didn’t gravitate to things that were too nerdy.

But by the time Grant came into my life I had begun to realize that being interested in science, being a big reader, watching shows like Mythbusters was nothing to be ashamed about.  I loved the show and I was always amazed at Grant’s ability to whip up a robot whenever it was needed, from a baseball pitching machine to a robot that could fling a metal rimmed hat at a statue (a la James Bond).

So I will always be grateful to Grant for helping me along a path that has made me happier – I (and the rest of the world) will miss him.

Anything around your house you would like a have a robot do?

Here’s Your Hat – What’s Your Hurry?

My local library has begun to accept books back – there is a big bin outside the door during their open hours.  The books will be “quarantined” – until they are out of quarantine, they will stay on my account.

When I called the library last week to check out one of my curbside holds, I asked about the returns and the librarian told me to please not bring all 28 at one time.  So I’ve been stopping by and dropping off 4 or 5 at a time every day.

Yesterday on my way home, I passed a mother and daughter who were clearly headed toward the curbside check-out.  The little girl looked to be about five, maybe six.  At first glance I was thinking “why does this kid have on a hat in this hot weather?”  Then as they got closer, I saw that it was a unicorn hat.  “Aaaah…. never too hot for a unicorn hat!”

Forget the weather, forget hat hair.  What kind of hat will you wear today?

To Baader-Meinhof or Not to Baader-Meinhof? That is the Question.

Photo Credit:  Hulki Okan Tabak

A few weeks ago a friend came over for some socially distant muffins and tea.  We had a wonderful time chatting in the backyard about all kinds of things.  At one point she recommended a series called “Walking Through History”.  The host walks around Britain and archaeologists and historians pop out of the surrounding country add information as he walks.  Sounded like my cup of tea so I searched it out.

I didn’t actually binge watch it but over the next couple of weeks, I had seen them all.  The host, Tony Robinson, seemed vaguely familiar, so I googled him.  Turns out he is SIR Tony Robinson, an English actor and host and he seemed familiar because he played Baldrick in the “Black Adder” show a gazillion years ago.  I read through his entire Wikipedia page and found that he has had a fascinating career of acting, presenting and writing and has made charity part of his life’s work.

I’m waiting for a DVD of Black Adder from the library (to re-watch) and have checked out Bad Kids: Naughtiest Children in History .  It was very funny – a kids’ book about various ways in which kids are raised (and punished) in various cultures throughout history.  There are quite a few children’s books about history in his bibliography.

Another thing that caught my eye in his biography was a television show that ran for 20 seasons on BBC called “Time Team”.  A group of archaeologists and historians (and Tony Robison as presenter) go someplace in Britain (often invited by a town or home owner) to look into the history of some ruin – they give themselves 3-5 days and then present their findings.  It took me a bit to find it, but eventually I did – on demand cable – all 20 seasons.  It’s fascinating.  I’ve watched 2 seasons so far.

So imagine my surprise when this morning, while reading In the Woods, a murder mystery that takes place in an archaeological site by Tana French (which has been on my shelf for a few years and I’m just getting to), I found this:

“How’s the dig going?” Cassie asked sociably.
One corner of Mark’s mouth twisted sourly.  “How do you think?  We’ve got four weeks to do a year’s work.  We’ve been using bulldozers.”
“And that’s not a good thing?” I said.
He glared at me.  “Do we look like the f***ing Time Team?”

French then adds a couple of sentences explaining Time Team for those readers who don’t happen to be binge watching it this week.

I’m sure a mathematician can probably explain the odds of this occurrence, but I’m thinking there just has to be magic involved.  And maybe dragons.

For what kind of show would you like to be a presenter?

Up Late

With the possible exception of the folks who are directing the decisions about library services for Hennepin County, I’m not sure if anybody else is paying as much attention to the library situation as I am.  I’m checking the website every day or so, massaging my hold list, checking the status of anything coming available to me and just generally watching the news.

So I know that I don’t have to rush through anything – nothing that has been checked out since March 14 is due yet and won’t be due until a minimum of three weeks after libraries begin to open back up (no date on that yet).  I’ve actually read all but one of the physical books that I have checked out (just picked one up yesterday from curbside pick-up) and I only have two audiobooks that aren’t finished.

That knowledge did not keep me from staying up late on Sunday night however.  I was reading The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King, one of my favorite series and the clock was advancing towards my usual bedtime, about 10.  Normally I say to myself, “keep reading until you fall asleep” and this works pretty well but the book was good and I wasn’t getting tired.  I just kept going.  11 o’clock, midnight…. one… two…   I felt like I was a kid reading under the covers, doing something illicit and I had to remind myself that I can stay up as late as I want.  It’s not like I have anything specific that I have to be out of bed for in the mornings.

Finished at 2:45 a.m.  Enjoyed it thoroughly and although I was a little droopy on Tuesday, it was worth it.  I went to bed at 8 that night.

What’s the last book you remember staying up late to finish?

What To Read Right Now

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown.

When Toni Morrison died on August 5th last summer, I was amazed to realize I’d never read anything by this Pulitzer (and Nobel!) Prize winning author. Then I watched, on CBS Sunday Morning, and excerpt from an NPR interview, and promptly read three of her books to get a sampling of her writing. They were not an easy read.

What I’ve realized in the past few weeks is that, while I’ve heard myself say I love to read about women’s lives (and lately some men’s, too), I’ve read precious few books about black women’s lives, most by Morrison, Maya Angelou, and Alice Walker – either fiction or memoirs. There have been tons of posts on FB, etc., about what it is like to be African-American in this country (not to mention Native, Hispanic, Asian) – stories that try to explain what the term “white privilege” means, and I think I’m just beginning to understand.

Something  PJ said the other day on the Trail spoke to me:  “At the moment I’m immersed in learning more about American history, race relations, politics, and the changing vocabulary and strategies that have been used over time to divide us along racial, economic, and political lines. I’d much rather be doing something else, but it feels as if it’s my civic duty to be as informed as I can be so I can better understand what’s going on all around us.”

To that end, I’ve ordered James Baldwin’s Collected Essays, after hearing a conversation about him with MPR’s Angela Davis. I came upon this “Anti-Racist Lit. Starter Kit.”

It can be argued that we need to do much more than try to fix it by “throwing a book at it”. But like PJ, educating myself is what I can do right now.

Do you have any recommendations for books we could read right now, to further understand what needs to change in our culture?