Friday, September 30, 2016

Tempest-Tost

Tempest-Tost by Richardson Davies  288 pp.

This is the first book in the "Salterton Trilogy" and I have no plans to read the following two. There is nothing wrong with this novel per se, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere. In spite being set in Canada, it is a very British manor & village style story. The Salterton local theater group is planning to stage "The Tempest" and invade a local estate to the dismay of the owner and his gardener. The rest of the story involves the various characters and the ups and downs of their various attempts at pairing up. In spite of a miscellany of problems with the production and the lives of its actors, the show must go on. There are humorous moments in the book but, for me, there's not enough meat there to recommend it.

Memories of the Great and Good

Memories of the Great and Good by Alistair Cooke   288 pp.

This is a collection of articles written by Cooke profiling 23 men and women who were prominent in their field of endeavor. Some were taken from interviews, while others were obituary articles. Included are politicians, actors, generals, scientists, authors, and others who gained fame in one way or the other. Cooke considered all to be remarkable in their own way. Cooke reveals his wonder at the media silence about FDR's disability, commends LBJ's backroom acumen, has a chatty interview with the retired President Eisenhower, and is a little too complimentary of then California governor, Ronald Reagan. Cooke's writings about Erma Bombeck, actor Gary Cooper, and journalist, James Reston are heartfelt and complimentary. He is wholly sympathetic to P.G. Wodehouse's unfortunate duping by the Nazis. But he saves his greatest accolades for golfer Bobby Jones and Winston Churchill. This is an engaging book, ideal to read in short sittings.

Porcelain

Porcelain: A Memoir by Moby, 406 pages

Electronic artist Moby (best known for his 1999 album Play) recalls his professional career, from the days of living with squatters in a former factory in Connecticut while dreaming of being a NYC deejay to touring the world for his first album, from awkwardly and soberly dancing at raves to the creation of Play. It's a fascinating story, filled with more debauchery than you'd probably expect from the bald vegan. He makes clear his dedication to animal rights, as well as his evolving religious beliefs only rarely coming across as holier-than-thou; indeed, when he tells a story in which he does seem uppity, he quickly checks himself. I'm not sure I could handle the rockstar lifestyle he lived in the 1990s (which is when this memoir largely takes place), and I get the feeling that some of the stories are a bit embellished (nobody can remember their conversations, much less the exact words, when they're eight tequila shots into a full night of partying), but it was still an enjoyable read.

Bonus for audiobook listeners: Moby reads it himself, and provides the opening and closing music.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The end of average

The end of average: how we succeed in a world that values sameness / Todd Rose 247 pgs.

How is average determined?  Measure something a bunch of time, add it up then divide by the number of subjects.  Unfortunately, when it comes to people, what you get fits no one.  The author tells of airplanes designed in the early days of aviation when crashes were prevalent.  Someone finally realized the cockpit designed for the "average" pilot fit no one and was the cause of many failed flights.  Engineers were told to go back to the drawing board and re-design so the cockpit was easily adjustable.  Originally they said it could not be done but they soon figured out how to make it work.  Now envision this type of system in other places.  School is designed for the average student, most work places are designed for the average worker, healthcare is maximized for the average patient...but wait, just like those pilots, nobody is really "average."  What does this mean for all of us?  We need to figure out how to make these structures work for us as individuals. Sometimes this can be done, sometimes it can not because the system is too entrenched.  This book really give you a new way to look at some aspects of society that we all think need fixing and realize just how off track many of the suggestions really are.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

After Disasters

After Disasters by Viet Dinh, 265 pages

After an earthquake in India, domestic and international rescue workers and aid volunteers flood the area to provide medical assistance, feed and clothe survivors, and help build temporary shelter for those who have lost their homes. After Disasters tells of the aftermath of this earthquake through the stories of four men: Indian AIDS doctor Dev, British search-and-rescue worker Andy, former pharmaceutical rep-turned-aid worker Ted, and Piotr, a seasoned aid worker who is still fighting psychological demons from his time working in Bosnia. Their stories and pasts dip and weave around each other, creating a beautiful (though definitely not cheery) depiction of life after disasters. This is Dinh's first novel, though he's won an O. Henry prize for his short stories; I look forward to reading those, and to seeing what he has to offer in the future.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lily and the Octopus

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley  305 pp.

Christa blogged about this book earlier. This is a tale of love. Love of a man for his dog and the emotional roller coaster he must ride when he knows his time with her will soon end. Ted is a gay man whose greatest love is his dachshund, Lily. Ted and Lily have Monopoly nights, days at the beach, long walks, in depth discussions, and those things that devoted pet companions do. Their happiness is in jeopardy after the appearance of the "octopus" (tumor) on her head. Ted has angry conversations with the octopus who is determined to take Lily from him. The octopus becomes an obsession that soon inhabits Ted's waking and dreaming life. During this time, Ted's relationship of several years falls apart. Of course, there is the unhappy part when Lily must be euthanized, which was tough to read since I lost one of my furbabies to a brain tumor a few years ago. In spite of it all, there is the promise of a happy ending for Ted.

As You Wish

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of "The Princess Bride" by Cary Elwes  272 pp.

Cary Elwes starred as Westley, the dashing hero in the film adaptation of William Goldman's The Princess Bride.  Goldman wrote the screenplay, Norman Lear produced the film, and Rob Reiner directed it. In this book Elwes tells his own story of being hired and then performing in the film. There is much about the hours of lessons and practice involved in preparing the sword fight. Of course, there are many tales of scenes that were difficult to shoot because of the cast and crew getting the giggles. He also includes anecdotes and commentary from many of the others involved in it: Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), Robin Wright (Princess Buttercup), Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), Carol Kane (Valerie), Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), Fred Savage (the grandson), and Mel Smith (the albino). To me, the best parts of the book involve the late professional wrestler and actor, Andre the Giant, who played Fezzik, the giant. Everyone in the cast speaks of what a wonderful, if hard drinking, man he was. Besides being about the film, it is a terrific tribute to a true giant of a man.

The Wrong Stuff

The Wrong Stuff: The Adventures & Misadventures of an 8th Air Force Aviator by Truman Smith  368 pp.

Truman Smith was just 20 years old when he was sent to England to serve as a B-17 pilot. Between April and July of 1944 he flew 35 bombing missions over Europe, including during the D-Day attack on Normandy. The missions,were arduous, many lasting 8 hours or longer, under heavy anti-aircraft fire. It was not unusual to return to the base in England with 100+ bullet holes in their plane. When not flying, Smith and the rest of the flyers tried to live as much life as possible in the belief they wouldn't survive the next mission. Smith chronicles various escapades in London and other places, usually involving an excess of alcohol and sometimes women. Every time they reached the number of missions that would allow them to be moved to duty other than bombing missions. Smith is truthful about the comrades who were injured, killed, and/or suffered mental/emotional issues from the stress of their jobs. This is a view of World War II that is not shown in most historical literature.

Walking the dog

Walking the dog / Elizabeth Swados 388 pgs.


Carleen Kepper is a convict and a lifer.  Although she was not present at the scene of the crime, she was involved in an incident where two cops where killed and one severely injured.  It was basically a rich girl prank that went to far...Carleen was too into drugs and her hardcore boyfriend (although she was also married at the time).  In a stroke of luck, Carleen is paroled and is now a dog walker.  She really does have a way with dogs.  But she is also a very wealthy artist whose works are worth millions.  Prison has a way of changing a person.  Now that Carleen is out, she would like to get to know her daughter who was conceived during one visit when she and her husband decided to divorce.  Does this all sound completely wacky? Let me assure you that it is!  But it is also wonderful. Carleen is on of the most interesting characters I've discovered in a long time.  Her daughter Pony is also amazing as are most of the others in the book.  Great read for anyone who enjoys a little bit of chaos in their books.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Time to take flight

Time to take flight: the savvy woman's guide to safe solo travel / Jayne Seagrave 279 pgs.

Written for women traveling alone, the author gives tips, hints and first hand accounts of her travels.  Then she lists cities she recommends for travel adventure. The recommendations are divided into North American and European locations.  She tells you in just a few pages why the city made the cut, what to look for while there, give recommendations on where to stay and how easy it is to find quality public restrooms.  I like the way she boils it down.  Her audience is a "mature" woman, so don't look for the best night life or how to hook up.  Not that she is against it, just not her focus. A great book if you are the in the demographic.