As far as books go, here is what I read from January through March of 2021:
- Kristen Hannah, The Great Alone. This was for book club and I thought it was an interesting novel. Set in 1970’s Alaska, it tells the story of the Allbright family, who become homesteaders in rural Alaska. The father, Ernt, is a Vietnam veteran, suffering from PTSD after his time as a POW. He is abusive to his wife, Cora, and their daughter, Leni, escapes in books and her friendship with another boy her age. There’s a lot of tragedy - much of it due to Ernt’s violent temper. I thought it was a good read, overall, though I found parts of it implausible.
- Willard Manus, The Pigskin Rabbi. This tells the story of a young man who has become a rabbi to satisfy his family tradition, but who really wants to play football. He ends up becoming a quarterback for the New York Giants and the team plays up the Jewish angle with calls in Yiddish and team yarmulkes and so on. That could be amusing, but the book is also filled with rampant sexism, mostly having to do with a character nicknamed “The Hook” after the size and shape of his penis. I also could have lived without the extensive descriptions of football games. Eminently skippable.
- Jeff Lindsay, Double Dexter. The Dexter series is probably better known in television form, but I find the books quite readable. In this one, Dexter is seen on one of his “play dates” and the guy who sees him tries to emulate him, planning to finish with Dexter as the victim. While I had figured out some key plot points I still enjoyed the breezy writing. If you can handle feeling sympathetic towards a serial killer, this is an enjoyable series.
- Sarah Dunant, Fatlands. Hannah Wolfe is hired to take a teenage girl around London and investigates when the girl gets killed in a car explosion. Her father was a scientist developing animal feed and Hannah discovers some scary secrets about his work. Along the way to saving the day, she makes some incredibly bad decisions, without which there wouldn’t be much of a story. The book is diverting enough for what it is, but there are better mysteries out there.
- Shakti Gawain, Developing Intuition. One of my mother’s neighbors had given me a couple of boxes of books and this was among those. It takes 150 or so pages to say, essentially, “relax, meditate, and trust your feelings.” I just saved you from having to read this.
- Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman. I don’t usually read plays, but I am cleaning out books. I’d read this some 40+ years ago, but didn’t really remember much of it. For example, while I’d remembered Willy Loman confronting his failures and those of his sons, I had completely forgotten his rivalry with his next door neighbor, his affair with a woman in Bston, and (most surprisingly) his suicide plans. I found myself thinking most of all about how the world changed since this play debuted in 1949. Would Linda be working to support the family now? Would Willy and his sons be Trump supporters? I don’t think I could have predicted just how the American dream collapsed.
- Alexander McCall Smith, La’s Orchestra Saves the World. This is a sweet story, set mostly during World War II. La is a young woman whose husband has committed adultery and died in an accident. She’s settled into rural England and manages to find peace and deep friendship (and possible love) with a Polish man who works on the same farm where she does war work by tending chickens. Only, he may not be exactly what he claims to be. While I enjoyed the book, I had some qualms about the ending which I found both preachy and implausible. Still, it was enjoyable to read.
- Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History. I’ve read several of Kurlansky’s book and managed to sell my book club on this one. Like his other books, this is dense and full of fascinating facts about an everyday subject we don’t usually think about. I especially appreciated his worldwide focus, as he wrote about China and India (e.g. Gandhi’s march to the sea) and Africa (salt caravans to Timbuktu!), as well as the Western world. Everywhere, salt is a major economic driver and often the trigger for wars. There’s a lot here, from the first scientist to observe plants having sex to the scuba diver who herds tuna in Sicily being called the “big bastard.” It isn;t a quick read, but it is a worthwhile one.
As for goals I read 8 books (as noted above), entered the Style Invitational twice, got one story to tellable condition, and have under 2 classes to go on the Smithsonian world art history program. So, not too shabby.
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