Monday, January 14, 2019

The Other Einstein

Albert Einstein's complex contributions to science always baffled me, yet I respect that his work was pivotal in laying the foundation for many scientists who followed.  This book adds another dimension to Einstein's discoveries, and along with that dimension comes many questions.  

Mitza Maric tells her own story - a brilliant girl living in the 1800's expectations that women are meant to cook, clean, bear children, and generally make a life for their husbands. Complicating matters is Mitza's slight limp, a defect that causes her parents to believe she will never marry.  Her father encourages her love of science, and eventually Mitza is admitted to the Polytechic Institute where the all male student body is dubious of her, at best.  Among the students she meets there is Albert Einstein.  He courts her and eventually they marry.  

From there, Benedict weaves a story of a Mitza as a major contributor to Einstein's work; however, history does not bear that out. Most experts deem her assertion to be "speculation".  

I enjoyed this book but wish I had done some background digging before reading.  For me, an author writing historical fiction with a real person as the central character,should be as accurate as possible in the portrayal of the individual and of significant life events.  This differs from an author who puts a fictional character in an historical setting.  Yet both are fiction and both require suspension of disbelief for the book to speak to a reader.

The story of Albert and Mitza engaged me That has not changed, but now that I know about the unsubstantiated claims made by Benedict, I view it differently.  As fiction - thumbs up.  As historical fiction - I'm still debating.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Wonderful World of Evergleam

I haven't posted for quite a while (long story, perhaps for another time) so I hope you're all still out there reading.  For my part, I will say it's good to be back.

Several years back, celebrated local art photographers, Julie Lindemann and Johnie Shimon, published Season's Gleamings, known locally as "the little pink book".  Their fascination with the Evergleam trees culminated with a stunning collection of tree portraits.

Now, Theron Georges, a Texas pilot, has given us a compliment to that book.  The Wonderful World of Evergleam features full color photos, along with a myriad of well researched information on everything from production specs to advertising.  He even includes tips on how to spot a phony evergleam.

Did you know....

Instructions for Assembly of Stainless Aluminum Christmas Tress cautions: DO NOT DECORATE THE TREE WITH 

The branches should always be handled by the stem end only and the tree should be stored "meticulously"

The trees were manufactured from 1959-1971 - 12 years

The holiday favorite "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is blamed by some for the demise of the aluminum tree

Trees had individual styles and names.  For example "Blue Frost" bears a resemblance to the ermine spot pattern seen in age-old royalty portraiture

And...did you know there was an unofficial song written by several of the line-workers.  You can sing along to the tune of "Glow Little Glow Worm".

This book is packed with facts, photos and memories.  So, how does a guy from Texas come to write about something so unique to Manitowoc?  You'll have to read the book to find out.

Shameless plug...these will go fast so message me on FaceBook or call to reserve a copy (682.7040).  Only $29.95 for this beautiful,keepsake book, in a protective slipcover.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Chilbury Ladies" Choir

Who doesn't enjoy a good soap opera once in a while, especially when the suds bubble up in England?  Nothing tops a bit of British tittle-tattle.  Ryan's book has it snatching, baby swapping, naked rich girl and questionable artist, sneaky midwife, vindictive little sister, bossy church lady and so much more.

To be honest, I was hoping for more substance, closer to the tone of PBS' Home Fires, but I got over that disappointment quickly. With many of the village men fighting in WWII, the women of Chilbury have to get on and get along.  Those tasks prove difficult for the assortment of personalities attempting to maintain traditional roles in a society where tradition has been uprooted and uncertainty is the norm.  

With no promise of tomorrow, the young people grow up quickly and begin taking risks that compromise the values they once held. The diverse ensembl tells us their stories through letters and diary entries, twisting in and out and around each other.  

I know I'm making vague statements here, but the book starts right out with purposeful action and I can't say too much without spoiling the story.  There are secrets kept my many women in Chilbury, and you may find yourself asking why.  Several women have opportunities to turn an individual over to the authorities, but choose not to.  The choir, the ladies choir, functions as a metaphor for these women who have only each other to lean on in challenging times.  Loneliness and fear are present in every minute of every day in their lives and the women cope to establish harmony.

Yup.  Predictable - so I made a game of it.  Each time I found myself saying "I bet she's going to...." I'd jot down the page I was on and watch for the realization.  So far...right on all accounts.  The author sneaks in some literary references also, most quite nicely hidden.  Watch for illusions  to Macbeth, Frankenstein, The Importance of Being Earnest, Our Town, The French Lieutenant's Woman, and a blatant reference to Anna Karenina. These have been fun to track as well.  Yes, fun!  Some people golf, some people do other stuff for fun.

A few men turn up in the plot, but with a few exceptions, they are not very likeable.  That aspect of the book troubles me, along with the fact the the choir director uses a baton!

My book group will be discussing this title in two weeks.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Best #1 Kids Say the DARNDEST THINGS (B.V.V. Certified funny)

(You might see a blip of Bill Cosby at the opening of the is just that, a blip.)

Retro reading weekend.  As I pulled out an old favorite from my bookshelf,  I found a forgotten title lodged behind it.  My mom's copy of Art Linkletter's Kids Say the Darndest Things is a mess.  No dust cover, cracked spine, pages yellow and falling out, but heck, that little Charles Schultz drawing on the cover proved too irresistible.  Rebecca will have to wait till I'm feeling nostalgic again.

She had marked passages throughout book with brackets, stars and circles.  I could find no common connection among these passages, and wish I could ask her.  It made me smile to think I continue her practice of marking in books, although we now have highlighters, which I believe, she would have enthusiastically employed.

The book compiles insights shared by children on Linkletter's TV show, "House Party."  The vast gulf between their world and ours leads to all sorts of unpredictable comments as you will see if you watch the video.  Knowledge we take for granted, or events and ideas we interpret as common place are all fodder for their their young, curious, discovering, and inventive minds.  

Rather than quote from the book., I plugged in the above video for you.  I remember my grandmother having great admiration for Art Linkletter, referring to him always a Mr. Linkletter.  I seem to recall some sort of controversy surrounding him in his later years, but let's leave that tabled for now, darn it.

Up next - The Chilbury Ladies' Choir.  60 pages in and totally enjoying it, even though the alternating formats -letters, journals, traditional narrative - took some getting used to.  I'm keeping my eyes on one particularly devious character.  I wonder what she's up to.  She's so overconfident that she is bound to get herself into a heck of a mess.   Light, pre-summer reading.  I only wish Wisconsin's weather gnomes would cooperates so I could do some deck reading.  Soon.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Death Stalks Door County

What a difference a week makes.  Last week were were snowed in, and then digging out. This week we're thinking about summer in Door County.   For me, Door County evokes thoughts of wood smoke and quiet places.  Patrica Skalka captures all the warm, smoky DC ambiance, but not so much when it comes to quiet places.  In fact, the DC of her mystery series is anything but quiet.

In Death Stalks Door County, the first in a four book (maybe more) series, we meet Dave Cubiak who has recently moved to Wisconsin, and taken a job as a park ranger in Peninsula State Park.  Cubiak, a former Chicago homicide detective, smoker, drinker, and all around crusty old soul, has some healing to do after the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter.  However, six murders in quick succession draw him out his personal grief and set him back on the gumshoe track.

The murders, occurring on the cusp of DC's festive and profitable tourist season, threaten the otherwise happy culture enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.  I love books with lots of local color and Skalka provides plenty of that.  She also provides a crafty murder mystery with enough red herrings to keep the pages turning.  

I know that I will read the rest of the series, eventually.  But I will save them for those long winter days when the most perfect afternoon is spent reading and dreaming about summer days Up North. 

Patrica Skalka recently spoke at the Manitowoc Public Library, sharing insights into her series, and into her writing process.  It was like a mini master class in story arc building.  Although the event was respectably attended. I couldn't  help but think about the wonderful opportunity missed by members of Friends of the Library, dozens of local book, and writer groups, library employees, mystery lovers, Door County enthusiasts, and readers in general.  We all have be be diligent and keep our eyes and ears open so we can take advantage of all the fine literary,  visual art, and theatre offering in our community.  PSA done!

Monday, April 9, 2018

So Many Books!

Like most of you, I always have to TO BE READ stack of books, often more than one, stashed in various locations at home and at LaDeDa.  Seldom do I commit to reading those piles  though, instead, randomly choosing a title when needed.  However, this is a pile I will commit to.  I will tackle each one.  I will read the entire stack beginning now.

In order of importance?  Maybe.  The top three are book discussion picks, so they are my get-at-it-now books.  This slim  Making Oscar Wilde title is making me very happy.  At least once a year, usually in summer when most people opt for breezy beach reads, I check out 1000+ page Wilde bio from the library with good intentions of finally winning the battle with that quintessential work on one of my favorite playwrights.  I return it unopened each year.

  Midnight the the Bright Ideas Bookstore was suggested by a friend so when I finish he and I will email chat about it.  

Teddy Bare?  I actually have two copies of this book and with the Chappaquiddick movie out soon, I thought I'd read this and refresh my memory on the event. Rumors swirled when the book was first published that the Kennedy family had stopped any further printings.  When I found two copies at St.Vinnie's years ago, I was sure I had a gold mine - rare books, controversial.  I knew it was only a matter of time before I could sell them and run away.   Now I know that the author most likely self published and could only afford a small run.  Sadly, I will not be able to afford a tour of Europe on the $3.73 this book is going for on resale sites.

 Meet Your Dog - I just figured that since I'm 15 years into a commitment to Mrs. George Burns, I ought to know a little more about her dog-ness.

With that pile in front of me, I'm not quite sure where to turn, or in this case, which page to turn first.  Perhaps I can (horrors) break one of my many reading rules and tackle more than one book at a time. 

 Recently I ran across an article detailing how to manage multiple books. These are the writer's be the judge.

Read a thriller.
 And stay up all night reading it.

Start easy. .
Enjoy a cup at your local café and ease into the day.

 Read on your commute. 

 Listen to audiobooks while you’re at work. 
No one will suspect that you’re not actually working, and the time will fly by.

 Read while you eat. 

Run and read. 
This is not going to happen.

Stuck on a book you don’t like?
 Stop wasting time and put it down

 Never, ever be caught without a book. 

Now that I've made my public declaration of what I will be doing with the next week, I better get moving. I am part way into Killers of the Flower Moon, a troubling account of the murders of many Osage Indians. More on that next week.

Keep your fingers crossed for me on Monday as I am starting with a new piano teacher.  She has some strict studio policies, including "no swearing".  Jeeze Louise. I'm good for at least one fiery outburst per lesson as I talk myself through a piece. " B flat. B flat. B flat.  It's still a ##%$ B flat. Play the ^##% B flat." 

 I'll try to curtail my enthusiasm and hope to be  welcomed back for a second lesson.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Word is Murder

This ranks up there as one of the most fascinating, artfully crafted mysteries ever!  Anthony Horowitz authored the Alex Rider series for young adults, and served as screenwriter for several PBS Masterpiece Mystery! shows including  Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War.

The first chapters confused me.  Was the author going to spend the entire novel talking about his personal writing history?  Was the personal information ever going to connect with the story arc or had some editor somewhere simply mislabeled the introduction with the early chapter titles?  

Before long, though, I realized that Horowitz has more than intimated himself into the novel, he places himself at the center of the action as a novelist working with a detective to solve a crime.  It's all very meta.

Mrs, Cowper walks into a funeral home to arrange future services for herself.  Six hours later she is dead.  Murdered.  Several murders follow, all tied to a ten year old accident that killed on young boy and resulted in life long injuries for his brother.

Disgraced ex-detective, Daniel Hawthorne enters the picture, as he frequently does when the London police are stumped.  Hawthorne, arrogant, surly and secretive, enlists the help of Horowitz, thinking that the author will follow him as he solves this complex case, and ultimately write a best selling novel about the investigation. The push and pull that erupts between these two often slows the movement of the investigation (but not in a bad way), with both parties questioning the efficacy of the relationship.  Told in first person, Horowitz lets us in on all sorts of writing and publishing secrets while being critiqued at every turn by Hawthorne.  It is this very difference in styles that eventually brings together a obtuse mixture of parts leading to a solution. 

The narrative unraveling of the case is a fine homage to Agatha Christie and  all traditional gumshoe detectives who rely on cunning, intuition, and sometime law-breaking to solve crimes.

Next up -  Killers of the Flower Moon

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The Hate U Give

Wow!  Did I ever feel sheltered, ignorant, and fortunate after reading this book.  My friend, Steph, has been an advocate for The Hate U Give for a year or so.   Our tastes often intersect, so I figured it time to follow her lead on this book.   I found myself immersed in a storm  of chaos,  fear, and inequality so powerful that I it hardly seems possible to exist in the same world I occupy.  But it does.

Angie Thomas' book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, shedding blinding light on an issue that should no  longer be part of our human history.  16 year old Starr has witnessed two deaths in her young life.  The first was at age 10, the second was the intentional murder of her friend, Kahlil, by a white police officer.  

Kahlil is stopped for a minor traffic violation in a neighborhood associated with thugs and drug dealers.  Neither Kahlil, nor his passenger, Starr, is armed, yet the officer drags him out of the car, and in short order, shoots and kills him.  

Starr is left to deal with the aftermath of being a witness, knowing that in all likelihood, the officer will not be charged.  Complicating matters is Starr's life, balancing between two different worlds.  She lives in a poor, African-American neighborhood, but her parents have chosen to send her to a fancy suburban prep school. Kahlil's death opens a flood of terrors for her, including recognizing how removed her school friends are from the reality of her day to day life.  She questions her own loyalty to her neighborhood, her family and her race.  

Of course, there are elements I did not like, but writing about them would just be a bunch of blah blah blah compared to the significance of this well told, important story.

thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend

I'm a sucker for books about books, usually.  The first time I read this book, I found myself skimming, skipping pages, yawning.  To be fair, I had just read several book-centric novels in a row, and enough was enough.  I bit my tongue when my book group choose this title, but the girl scout in me said to buck up and give it a brave effort.  Well, wasn't I surprised to find an endorsement form Nick Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs?  That was enough for me to clear my mind and give this book a fair second shake.  

Predictable.  Feel good. Cozy. Silly.  Sure.  All of that is true, but it all comes in an artfully written homage to small towns populated by oddball and eccentrics.  My only criticism is that Sara, the little Swedish girl at the center of the fun, has brown hair.  After losing her bookstore job in Sweden, Sara travels to America to meet her much older pen-pal.  In the book's first of many  surprises, Sara arrives in Broken Wheel on the day of Amy's funeral. Broken Wheel townies adopt Sara quickly and,  in short order she opens - you guessed it - a bookstore.  

Little by little, as each resident finds his or her voice, the town becomes less dependent on the respirator of sameness that had long sustained them.   Signs of life begin to stir, along with long buried secrets.  

For me, the fun came from the characters, each one being someone I know or have known.  There's the crusty diner owner with a rifle under the counter), the gay bar owners,  the sullen, but big-hearted confirmed bachelor,  the church lady....all have their moments to shine, and all add to heart and plenty of fun to Broken Wheel.

Personally, this tops my book about books list, right up there with 84 Charing Cross Road.  This book won't change your life, but it is so down to earth that you might just find your town, your friends, you relatives or even yourself within the pages.