Sunday, January 4, 2015

An Ode to Sam (1918 to 2014): For Many Years

1989

For Many Years


I knew Sam For Many Years
He was the quiet Man in the Room


Many Years ago, Sam and Babe gave us money to help buy a House
And For Many Years, we lived in that house


For Many Years, Sam and I did projects around that house
For Many Years, that meant two (often more) trips to the hardware store


Sometimes we went together, sometimes not.


The projects always got done


For Many Years, each year Sam and I spent sometimes two, sometimes three or four holidays together, and often other weekends too


For Many Years, Sam and I were together more than Bert and I were together (except for the years with baseball trips and the Olympics)


For Many Years, Sam and I played cribbage and For Many Years I won more games than I lost (except if you asked Sam, who quietly thought otherwise)


For Many Years, Sam was the quiet man in the room
Then once and only once, many years ago, Sam got very loud
We never talked about it afterwards


For Many Years, Sam and I shared a love of literature, fiction and non
For Many Years, Sam got first pick of the books I passed along
For Many Years, Sam went to the library, and in return he quietly passed along his recommendations


For many many years, Sam quietly offered us financial help: mostly at tax time
For many years we said no, and then one year, recently, we said yes and Sam quietly sent money


For many years, Sam followed the blog. Early on, Sam made his only quiet comment: How come he always describes every meal and how much it costs?


For many years, “THB” often quoted Sam’s only comment


For many years, you never heard Sam complain, even when you knew he was hurting


For Many Years, Sam was the quiet man in the room


He’s in this room, sitting quietly in the background

Where he’ll be For Many Years

Friday, January 2, 2015

2014 Books


Dedications
To the writer who influenced me the most and the man with whom for many years I shared a large love of the written word 
Jackie circa 1990

Sam in 1989


Preface
Dreams: THB has a thing about authors using “dreams” to somehow convey or move the story along. THB does not find it realistic, more a gimmick (who remembers his/her dreams, let alone in such detail). THB thus skips sections when an author goes off into dreamland.


Top picks (8, Old Filth Trilogy = 1 top pick and 3 books in the overall totals): THB liked these books a lot, listed in order of appeal to THB (top most favored)


In order: #1 through 8
Being Mortal, Atul Gawande: In the last year, THB and DB had surgeries and both our parents suffered. This book has been extremely helpful in understanding what to do when it looks like you or someone you know is dealing with mortality.
The Sixth Extinction, An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert: This book explains why THB has become a collapsarian. The world as we have known it for the last 200 years is heading off the cliff. Scary, and totally predicted (i.e., not a surprise to scientists) for over 70 years after the detection of burning of fossil fuels was changing the atmosphere at ever increasing speeds.
Detroit: An American Autopsy, Charles LeDuff: A home-town reporter returns to cover two recent years in the corpse of Detroit, a city beyond the pale. In conjunction, watch Low Winter Sun to see a part of the story in 10 gritty episodes (THB does not think the book and series are connected other than being set in Detroit, which is enough).
Mumbai New York Scranton: A Memoir, Tamara Shopsin: An illustrator describes her immediate before and after illness. Crisp, funny, and a life made easily recognizable. Also, Shopsin makes a guest appearance in Your Voice In My Head (see below)!
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Anthony Marra (novel): Most of the action takes places during the recent wars in Chechnya; the intersection of three (or is it two) families caught in the conflict. Much of the book reads like good poetry (THB actually reads some poetry every week, so must be an expert…true!). And, Marra lives in Oak-town!
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, David Mitchell (historical novel): THB tried to read Cloud Atlas and failed, miserably. Thousand Autumns, published 7 years later, is a look back at the Dutch trading settlement in Japan around 1800, and transcendent in the portrayals of the xenophobic Japanese and the range of Dutch adventurers stuck on an island in Nagasaki harbor, trying to make their fortunes in an alien and forbidding culture.
Love, Nina: A Nanny Writes Home, Nina Stibbe. Hilarious, so funny THB is pretty sure it couldn’t really be the actual letters sent by Nina (who is a goofball) to her sister over a period of 5 years when Nina was 20-25 years old, and yet there are real (some very famous) people she interacted with on a regular basis, so a lot of has to be true, right?
Old Filth Trilogy (Old Filth, The Man in the Wooden Hat, Last Friends), Jane Gardam (novels). The life of a couple and a competitor that spanned the demise of the British Empire and invented the phrase Failed in London Try Hong Kong (though most of the book is told in flashbacks and almost none takes place in Hong Kong, mostly in England). Beautifully written, a tragicomedy with the first book published in 2004 when the author was 76.


Recommended (36): Enjoyed, listed in no particular order (well, actually the order read)
How to Be Black, Bartunde Thurston: An LB reco. It’s hard to describe; the guy is black and yet it is hip/ironic/snarky like a white guy wrote it. Is it post-racist? Thurston sez that ain’t happened yet. Would/can THB know hip white from hip black? Not a chance. Though, THB does know W. Kamau Bell (one of the “panel” members quoted often in the book). Maybe THB is hip! The Macinator: How to Be Black

Your Voice in My Head: A Memoir, Emma Forrest: An author and screenwriter reveals her struggles with being bipolar. And, lots of namedropping, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan references, and a visit to the Shopsin NY eatery (see Mumbai New York Scranton above). Another reco from the Macinator
Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey, Simon Armitage: A contrived journey along the Pennine Way in England (through the Yorkshire Dales to the Scottish border), with poetry readings every night (and new poems mixed in). Lots of self-awareness and self-deprecation and atrocious weather (it’s England in summer time!).
Telex From Cuba, Rachel Kushner (novel): the 1950s in pre-revolution Cuba as told from American POV – the adults and children “stationed” there to run the sugar and nickel mills.

The Oath, A Surgeon Under Fire, Khassan Baiev: A memoir by the person that the one of the lead characters of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is based on. On its own, recommended as a extremely disturbing story of life in Chechnya during the two wars, moves to Highly Recommended in conjunction with the novel (THB read the novel first). Also an interesting view into how different the Chechen culture is from our own: historic relations with Russia (not good!), bride stealing, what they think of as a mild form of Islam, big families, country life, and always being thought of by others as terrorists think: Boston Marathon bombers).
The Last Man in Russia: The Struggle to Save a Dying Nation, Oliver Bullough. Using a priest whose life spanned pretty much the length of the Soviet Union, the author illustrates the fate awaiting those who cannot liberate themselves from totalitarian governments: the obvious issue being shorter life spans and lower birth rates (quite a topic for THB while in the hospital)

The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code, Margalit Fox: Not for everyone, this is the story of how a set of tablets was deciphered, focusing on the guy who found the tablets (hoarding them from other scholars), an American female professor who did a ton of the analytics, and the unusual Brit who did the final cracking. THB likes these types of exploratories, learning something and enjoying the chase.
Communion Town: A City in Ten Chapters, Sam Thompson (novel): A dystopian view of London (name changed to protect the scary and intimidating neighborhoods) in some odd time (in the past?). A few of the chapters are tremendous, some a bit overwrought. 
In the Body of the World, A Memoir of Cancer and Connection, Eve Ensler: a firecracker of a person and playwright (Vagina Monologues) survives cancer and continues on her journey to save women (current focus: Congo). Fast paced, scary, and clearly a woman who collects very loyal friends (and has a well-known adopted son only 7 years younger than her).

Lark and Termite, Jayne Anne Phillips (novel): set in 1951 and 1959, the story of two sisters and their shared men and children (of the title), as told mostly by four of the main characters in the few days where most of the action takes place. 
A Tale For the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki (novel, paperback): A package from Japan floats up onto an island of BC with a diary, letters (in French) and a watch. The blocked novelist that finds the “history” tries to unravel the mystery. Philosophical, modern and WWII Japan, current technology, bullying, and small-island life all captured as the mystery unfolds.
The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit: What an odd book! Interwove myths, personal stories, mythic stories as told by others, stories from/of the animal world, personal illness, a parent with Alzheimer’s, and a motto to live by: Never turn down an adventure without a really good reason, and a bit about Iceland (on THB’s list this year, too).
Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, Reza Aslan (audio, read by author): Jesus the: bastard, Nazarene, bandit, Jew, King of the Jews, messiah, magician and/or miracle worker, exorcist, Son of Man, Son of God, creation of Saul/Paul, Christ (Greek for messiah), enemy of the established Jewish religious order supported by Rome, misrepresented by all but his brother James.

To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care, Cris Beam: Between descriptive and prescriptive. The author teaches creative writing at Columbia, is a foster parent, and involved with organizations promoting foster care for transgender kids. Seems to strike the right cord between following specific foster children and parents with the history of foster care, the current state, and what might be done to improve the process. Overall, very scary how many foster youth end up on the streets homeless.
Nostalgia, Dennis McFarland (novel): Set in 1864, a star of the new sport, base ball, volunteers for the Union side, sees 3 days of action in the Battle of the Wilderness, survives, and suffers PSTD. The battle and recovery narrative is very moving, and the restorative powers of paying attention to the devastation of war (here with Walt Whitman realized as a fictional caregiver) can also be very powerful.
Still Life With Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen (novel): Chic-lit complete with a 60 year old woman meeting up with a sensitive younger (is 15 years or so younger too young?) man, recovered wealth, self-realization that the simple country life is more rewarding than the impersonal city life, a stray friendly dog, and a father that tolerated an unloving mother; even a son that shows the right amount of humor and empathy. Well-written, simple sentence structure, recommended if you like this kind of book.
The Secret Race: Inside the Hidden World of the Tour de France, Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle: THB is a big Tour fan, so this may be more neutral to you non-bikers (and you better know who you are). Here’s the message: all athletes (including horses) have been doping for a long, long time, especially from about 1995 to 2010, and Olympic athletes for a lot longer (see E. Germany, 100%). And, Lance is a BULLY.

Slow Getting up: A Story of NFL Survival From the Bottom of the Pile, Nate Jackson: A bit later than Tyler in getting to drug usage, some of which is a no-go in cycling and in pro football perfectly legal (and recommended by medical staff).
Bury This, Andrea Portes (novel): soooo slight, soooo fast a read, an excellent sit-by-the-pool mystery read, you’ll forget about it with a day or two.

Clever Girl, Tess Hadley (novel): The highlights of a British woman's life, full of lots of unwed mothers whose childre seemingly come out all right. Starts in the mid-1950s and ends 45 years later. Three of the chapters appeared in the NY'er as short stories; the only one THB remembers is the one with sex in it (of course!).
Prayers for the Stolen, Jennifer Clement (novel(): Set in modern day Mexico, a depressing poetic view of how immigration, the drug business (big money, corruption, guns) and lack of law have altered and even the smallest villages, as told through the coming-of-age story of a teenage girl. A very fast read, even for THB.

Amsterdam, Russell Shorto: An American that relo’d to Amsterdam about 7 years ago and has written a tilted history of the city, through the prism of liberalism as a form of tolerance. Very well done, and an especially good read if you’re coming to town. 
Man With a Blue Scarf, or Sitting for a Portrait by Lucian Freud, Martin Gayford: Chronological diary  from 2003-05 of periodic sittings and many dinners and a few lunches with one of the 20th century’s great artists.
Little Failure, a Memoir, Gary Shteygart: A Russian immigrant (age 7 or 8) to US, a single child (of a single child, his father), asthmatic, parents who didn’t get along until he moved on to college, Jewish, druggie and drunk, and a non-stop writer from age 5. A father figure and psychoanalysis and his own determination to be a writer move him to succeed as a writer, and maybe as a person.

Inside a Pearl, My Years in Paris, Edmund White. Frank Langella wrote  a book on “famous men  and women” he knew, which THB liked a lot. This is similar, though with a lot of famous gay and French people that White knew; THB did not know pretty much all the French folks yet the style and gossipy nature was very appealing. Set mostly in the 80s, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, by a guy who slept with thousands and thousands of men and wrote about it a lot, this might be his third memoir and there’s at least one biography.
The Leftovers, Tom Perrotta (novel): the basis for the new TV show. Well conceived, and a decent story driving the reader through the 4th year after 2% of the world population suddenly disappears. While not a comedy (as some reviewers claim), the book is still not quite as melancholy and depressing as the TV series.
Life Is a Wheel: Love, Death, etc., and a Bike Ride Across America, Bruce Weber. One of the obit writers for the NYT decides to ride from Portland to NYC in 2011, blogging the trip as he goes. Many meditations about his life and the changes from a similar trip in 1993 as well as snippets of other bike rides he’s taken, eulogies he’s delivered, etc. A bit melancholy, slightly philosophical,  the new love of his life (not his bike), (THB is a bit jealous, the riding through America is a bit like visiting a lot of national parks)


Redeployment, Phil Klay (short stories): For you astute THB followers, you’ve already realized THB pretty much never reads a full book of short stories. THB thinks he somehow missed that this was a collection when reading the review. Good thing; this is an excellent book, stories that ring true (like THB would know) of the individuals caught in the impact of for the most part in combat in Iraq and a bit of Afghanistan.
Partick Leigh Fermor, An Adventure, Artemis Cooper: Begun in Hawaii, contued in E-ville, finsihed in Heathrow. A biography of a British travel writer, famous (?) for a series of books about Greece and two volumes of memoir from a walk through Europe in the mid 1930s when the author was just 18. Fermor was a savant: he spoke many different languages, memorized many songs and poems in many different languages, traveled widely (rarely staying in any one place for long), didn’t attend university, and was fully capable of drinking and carousing all night long. Also capable of extremely insensitive acts and kindness to the underdogs. A war hero for the successful kidnapping of a German general on Crete that had no bearing on the outcome of the war (the Allies were well on their way to victory).
Lost and Found in Johannesburg, a Memoir, Mark Gevisser: THB must be subconsciously drawn to memorable memoirs about digging into family history as written by gay Jewish middle-aged guys. Hmmmmm….these guys must also be balding! This one is very timely as it covers the last 40 years in S Africa and gives THB a lot of insights for the trip. Gevisser, a journalist and Joburg native, was also a victim of a house invasion in 2012 and gives the details of what happened and the aftermath.

Open City, Teju Cole (novel): A melancholic early 30s American of Nigerian descent, in the final steps of becoming a psychotherapist, roams the streets of New York and Brussels mulling over his past while walking long distances (and having come a long distance) and the differences we all experience. To THB, the biggest difference is the one the narrator cannot seem to understand: between his actions and his emotions. Makes a handsome companion to Lost and Found in Johannesburg, where Gevisser (who quotes from Open City) is also measuing differences and distances (literally and figuratively).
The Forgiven, Lawrence Osborne (novel). Very well written, a jetset week-end long party in an outer village of Morroco. On the way to the party, a Brtitish couple is involved in a car accident where a local (fuck-up) is killed and the husband (an alcoholic doctor and twat) has to go with the grieving father, who has come to pick up his only son, to an even more remote village for the burial.
In the Light of What We Know, Zia Haider Rahman (novel): A story of two friends, one of whom is a lawyer and investment banker (like the author), one Pakistani-Brit and one Bangladeshi-Brit, with the Banga-Brit relating to the Paki-Brit what has been happening to him over the course of his life. Brilliant (in the Brit-brilliant sense) flow of words (and not all that much action until near the end of a long story and long book. 


On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City, Alice Goffman: A dissertation turned into a book, and it shows. Given that, it is an in-depth view of life in the Black inner-city, one that most of cannot understand or know like Goffman does, as she imbedded herself for years in a part of Philadelphia rife with crime.
Elephant Company: The Inspiring Story of an Unlikely Hero and the Animals Who Helped him Save Lives in WWII, Vicki Crake: The man who loved elephants, in Burma from the 1920s until after WWII. Especially good if you’re planning or have been on a trip to Africa and Asia to see elephants.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, Jeff Hobbs (audio): Can a brilliant, intuitive kid with huge potential escape the hood? Written by Rob’s Yale roommate, Rob at times sounds too good to be true and at the same time clearly was not able to see that risk-taking was not in his best interest either.


Neutral (29): Something of value, not enough to actively encourage reading (or listening)
The Cry, Helen Fitzgerald (novel): maybe a Neutral Plus/Recommended Minus. Small, intimate story about how a man can destroy all around him by being a careless and politically adept shit. As told by the two woman who he partnered with, who were dramatically impacted after swallowing his lines of devotion.
Thirty Girls, Susan Minot (novel): Another Neutral Plus/Recommended Minus. A  fictionalized story as told through two characters: a 37 year old female journalist and one of the schoolgirls abducted by the forces of Joseph Kony, a Uganda renegade leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army with some pretty crazy ideas (though he himself is a minor character). The young Buddha character is killed off near the end, which seems a very unnecessary plot device to THB. A few days after THB finished this book, 253 girls were abducted from a state school in Nigeria by an Islamist group. Life imitates art?


The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton (novel): LONGGG, by about 300 pages too long, first 500 not bad
A Small Corner of Hell, Dispatches from Chechnya, Anna Politkovskaya (paperback): Moves to recommended if you read A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (see highly recommended list). Hard to imagine what goes on in Chechnya unless you believe, as THB keeps promoting, that Putin is the ultimate thug and lives of others matter not at all. Not surprising, on October 7, 2006, Politkovskaya was shot and killed in the elevator of her apartment building, an unsolved murder.
The Apartment, Greg Baxter (novel): very melancholic, all 195 pages
I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place, Howard Norman: memoir of a few major events/time periods, well told and most involving a love of birds. THB also read a novel 20 years ago by Norman called the Bird Artist (and with faint recall thinks it was pretty good as well).

Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City, Geert Mak: Recommended if you’re in Amsterdam. And, translated, something THB usually (almost always) avoids
The Last Days of California, Mary Miller (novel): unfortunately, the narrator doesn’t make it to California.
The Kept, James Scott (novel): a mother than steals babies and her remaining “child” go on a hunt to find the killers of the rest of her “family”

The Dogs of Winter, Kem Nunn (novel): Surfers tangled up with N. California Indians, chasing the big waves (no, not Mavericks), lots of bodies and sanity checks.
The Cancer Chronicles, Unlocking Medicine’s Deepest Mystery, George Johnson: Nothing quite unlocked yet; chapters 7 and 10 only ones worth reading. Don’t smoke or gain too much weight, don’t worry about environmental causes.
An Unnecessary Woman, Rabih Alameddine (novel): One long chapter as told by a Lebanese woman looking back at her long life absorbed in books, family dynamics of Lebanese society, and the trevails of ongoing war as it affected Beirut.

Year Zero: A History of 1945, Ian Buruma: Decent overview, nothing remarkable; highly recommend Wages of Guilt, Memories of War in Japan and Germany.
The Faithful Scribe: A Story of Islam, Pakistan, Family and War, Shahan  Mufti: Not enough on Pakistan and War, too much on family.
Dust, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (novel): From Brits in Kenya to locals today, trying to understand two deaths years apart. Very poetic style, a bit too farfetched in the resolution.
Son of a Gun: A Memoir, Justin St Germain: Ten years later, a son tries to make sense of the murder of his mother by his (3rd or 4th ?) step-father. Not particularly well written, it does strike a chord of anguish in not resolving long held emotions of detachment.



Holding on Upside Down: The Life and Work of Marianne Moore, Linda Leavell: The poet had quite the revival in the 50s and early 60s after a long career of almost no recognition outside the poet world. And, a very odd life, mostly spent living with her mother and the two of them wishing her brother was also there.


Cambridge, Susanna Kaysen (audio): by the author of Girl, Interrupted (a memoir published in 1993), is this one memoir or fiction? Mild, even tempered review set in the author/narrator’s years 9 to 12, mostly when “Susanna’s” family is living overseas.


Priscilla, The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France, Nicolas Shakespeare. A young beauty, one great female friend, an impotent first husband, an absent father (another crazy story in itself), a narcissistic mother (ditto), an overly jealous second husband, and an inability to see how to help herself except through the men in her life. Much of the action takes place mostly before and during WWII, where halfway through the book the author (Priscilla’s nephew) reveals how while she was living in Paris she was sleeping with, among others, fairly senior non-military Axis sympathizers/robbers.


The Long and the Short of it: The Science of Life Span and Aging, Jonathan Silvertown: A meta-magazine article fluffed up with a bunch of literary references and silly metaphors. Still, enough information to consider reading instead of keeping up with the periodicals.



Silence Once Begun, Jesse Ball (novel): the author, in the guise of a journalist, tells a fable within a fable, set in Japan. The story of a man who manipulates others into a series of actions in order to make fools of society. The actions take place in th 1970s, the story is being told much later.
All Our Names, Dinaw Mengestu (novel): Morose, two intertwined stores as told by what THB would call mild depressants. THB loved a prior book by Mengestu, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, read that one instead of this one


A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain, Adrianne Harun: Set in a small Canadian town with both Native Americans and loggers, oil guys and some very bad people, with the main characters 5 17 year olds trying to be good. Best part is when a dying uncle tells stories, worst part is the ending (not unusual).
The French Intifada, Andrew Hussey: More the history of France and North Africa and how the colonizers end up paying the long view price for colonialism. Extrapolated, this is not going to end well for France of  the countries of N Africa.
Off Course, Michelle Huneven (novel): How a woman is consumed by an affair with a married man. THB liked Blame better, an earlier novel by Huneven.
The Divorce Papers, Susan Rieger (novel, audio): THB should’ve done a bit more research before buying this audio book because it is a series of memos, e-mails, court related documents, and letters read by the characters that wrote them (or attached them), making it an odd audio book: many readers! Story line: young female criminal attorney is assigned a divorce case and interwoven in her case is the impact of her parents’ divorce 15 years ago. Hollywood ending, of course.
Be Safe, I Love You, Cara Hoffman (novel): Iraqi  war 2 vet returns to her home populated with disabled vets of other wars, and is a danger to those around her. Her younger bro comes to the rescue in a Hollywood ending. 
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal, Ben Macintyre: A oft-told story well told.
The Burning Room, Michael Connelly (novel): The last Bosch book? Should be, nothing left in the tank

In the Something Else category (2 + a special request!):  

Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in popular beliefs in the sixteenth and seventeenth century England, Keith Thomas. Way more than you’ll ever want to know about 16th and 17th century England and what misled the natives into thinking they knew the answers. Long, very long, really long.

Serial: Podcast in 12 episodes (not all the same length), with Sarah Koenig as host, producer, and lead journalist. The unraveling of a high school murder from 1999, with the convicted ex-boyfriend involved via phone from prison. Highly recommended, great for storing up and binge listening on long drives.

The author of all the books in the photos is now E-available (including a few in French for you cross-culture types)…Help out a poor blogger by contributing a few pennies in royalties to the author’s account?


Not Recommended (and high likely not finished – 18):  
Want Not, Jonathan Miles (novel): Lecture not (at least not for one chapter in three)
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (novel): THB now 0-2 with Tartt. Good news: she’s only published one other book
Cuba and the Night, Pico Iyer (novel): Pico’s first novel, not his finest showing
Americanah, Chimamanda Adichie (novel): Nigerians in America and the struggle between cultures; THB made it 50% of the way and then a whole new slew of characters showed up. Is the lack of knowledge of a culture illuminated by stereotypes or are they real types and THB is just ignorant.
The Flamethrowers, Rachel Kushner (novel): too much interior thoughts of a dull character and one of those time-shifting-by-chapter books. Too bad, THB loved Telex from Cuba.
Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery, Robert Kolker: sex workers get killed and then…and then…nothing but more and more about they got killed and how dysfunctional their families were/are.
How Should a Person Be?, Sheila Heti (novel): Not this narcissistic, self-centered, self-absorbed, and incapable of completing much of anything. THB actually finished this book, to his shame and regret.
The Death of Bees, Lisa O’Donnell (novel): well, really a Scottish farce
Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Final Assignment, Paul Conroy: A photographer documenting the last two (interwoven) assignments with Marie Colvin, journalist. Somehow turns a writer into a person that never uses a polysyllabic word.
Year Zero, Rob Reid (novel): A double THB mistake, bought this book by same name instead of one by Ian Buruma, and it was awful (aliens from space trying to buy license to music???)
The Splendid Things We Planned, Blake Bailey (audio): memoir, unrelenting story of two unlikeable and very drug-and-drink-addled brothers. Unusual in that the reader can often make a book sound better than it reads. Not here!
The Queen of the Tambourine, Jane Gardam (novel): Unfinished. Silly. Not near as good as the Old Filth trilogy (though there are incredulous moments in Old Filth, they have some character basis). Letters from the same demented woman about her neighbors.
The Reef, a Passionate History of the Great Barrier Reef, Iain McCalman. THB must have badly misread the review, this book is not about the reef, it is a series of trite rehashings of castaways and overblown stories of explorers (and not of the reef, about the explorers). THB tried skipping, even that didn’t work, he didn’t get past the 1800s and that was 2/3s of the way along.
A Time of Gifts: On Foot to Constantinople From the Hook of Holland to the Middle Danube, Patrick Leigh Fermor: Alert readers of this list will recognize that THB read a bio of Paddy Fermor. How could a guy that overwrote a travelogue like this earn a bio? His life sooooooooo much better than the output of his life.
No Book But the World, Leah Hager Cohen (novel): too self-referential and the story within the story isn’t enough to drive the plot along
Frog Music, Emma Donoghue (novel): cartoon characters
Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled…Beth Macy: THB should know better, when the subtitle goes on forever the book needs serious editing
A Replacement Life, Boris Fishman: too much recent immigrant shtick, way too much



Total Books: 95 (Trilogy = 3)
THB (of course) sorted the books:
-        8 Top Picks: 4 fiction, 4 non-fiction  (Trilogy = 1)
-        36 Recommended: 14 fiction, 22 non-fiction
-        29 Neutral: 16 fiction, 12 non-fiction
-        2 Something Else: 2 non-fiction
-        18 Not Recommended: 11 fiction, 6 non-fiction




Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Observations:

Observations:

THB checks off the animals



Animals, birds and sightseeing: For the viewing of animals, there is quite the industry built up, in Addo NP, Chobe, and greater Kruger. And, an emphasis on environmental and poaching controls. Like watching a giraffe walk (they move both legs on the same side at a time), it looks awkward and yet is enchanting. Are we spoiling the thing we’re there to see? Are we adding a burden on to in some cases the already stressed animal population?

The animals for the most part are very used to humans and the viewing trucks and boats (baboons in some places are very skittish because the locals shoot at them periodically) and so you get to see “natural” activities. Again, with few exceptions, the lodges and park personnel are not feeding the animals (they may be setting out water holes), so the relationship between carnivores and vegetarians (ok, herbivores) and the other animals and plants is pretty much what would happen without humans around.


The economic benefits are there for those in the tourist industry, which again for the most part is employing locals. The poaching is a big problem for tusked elephants and rhinos and the locals who work in the industry; the implication is that the poaching is done by high-powered gangs.

What does THB really think? It’s awesome, the access is great, you can do it fairly economically, and the guides for the most part are extremely helpful and very reverential to what’s on display (again, not all, the guy driving us around Chobe was just awful).

Wait, THB is concerned it is like being in huge zoos, and that there’s something off-putting about watching animals just live out their lives in front of people all day long, except the vast majority of animals in the bigger parks never see humans and the parks are kept relatively free of human intervention. Awkward and elegant?

And, no matter what, the birds are great!!! Go for the birds, don’t think about any of the bigger animals. Birds, birds and more birds! The birds are more endangered from the larger environmental disasters of tainted water and reduced territories, which is pretty much what you might now call human degradation of the planet.
Light Switches: what an odd topic, yet somehow throughout our travels the light switches were rarely in a spot they would be in any other country (true for both SA and Botswana). Across the room from the door (and none at the door), some worked a number of lights at same time in disparate locations, sometimes three small switches together that worked lights in different parts of the room (e.g., one for toilet in separate room and the same switch worked the light in the shower; three in a row for bathroom, shower, and somewhere else entirely). And of course, many hotel rooms came with just one plug for the entire room. Don’t get THB started on electrical outlets.

Townships: Clearly, there is still massive de facto apartheid in SA. Is there freedom of choice on where to live? Is there freedom of choice on whom to associate with? Is there freedom of speech and press? It seems like it though there is no way THB as a tourist can scratch the surface (e.g., THB had only one or two conversations with blacks living here). It’s a start...on a long journey.

Are people of all races mingling in public places? Certainly, though in most public places whites outnumber blacks (and blacks far outnumber whites living in SA). In the V&A mall in Cape Town on Sunday, it seemed like a huge melting pot, with no dominant race. While most of the “service provider” class are black, it is not an “always” condition by any means. What we can’t see is what their home life is like. The townships we could see ranged from shanties to small well-built houses (very uniform, almost all painted beige), with electrical wires strung to all. We did not see any “whites” in the Knysna township. Blacks are often seen walking along major roads, and the “secondary” transportation system of jitneys and group taxis is very evident. 


We did not visit or even see the massive townships around Johannesburg (the haze around Johannesburg is awful, you could barely see anything).


The meals: We drank tap water everywhere in SA. Only at the upscale restaurants the first few days did they try to foist bottled water on us (our fault for accepting, we quickly learned to ask for tap). Food improved after the first few days. Why? THB is not exactly sure. Partly by picking better restaurants, partly the first few days included the Kamieskroon Hotel, which turned out to be way below average (no matter how Alex talked it up), 

partly because we started eating more fresh seafood, partly we supplemented with local treats (biscotti, Neighbourgoods market goodies), partly STSC was outstanding (and not buffet-style). On other hand, THB is definitely buffeted out.

South Africans: The people seemed uniformly friendly to downright cheerful, in a very pleasant way. Almost every waitron was accommodating and upbeat. The only real exception was at the Breakwater Lodge, and they were generally besieged. As Ella said, why not choose to be happy and make the most of your situation. That seemed an almost universal attitude. And, no matter where we ate, nobody was rushed. At times, our American let’s-get-going attitude was challenging (to us), you couldn’t ruffle the S. Africans. While we saw vendors roaming in traffic, we saw only one or two panhandlers (one a 10 year old girl in front of a supermarket in Port Elizabeth; it was so surprising THB asked M if she was panhandling; yes, confirmed M).
Some whites expressed such biased views of blacks that to us it seemed overtly racist. Something we never hear in US. Well, other than from guys who own NBA teams. Clearly it gets said in US, just not with anyone we hang out with.


Non-South Africans: Far less interaction in Botswana and Zimbabwe than all our time in SA, and a mixed reaction. Some very friendly, some surly (Zimbabwe in particular, and lots of street hustlers in Zim).

English: Everyone spoke English (at least, everyone we talked to, DUH!). Even the three year olds in the pre-schools in the townships are learning English. The English in foreign schools is not just a second language that no American can understand, it is fluent English complete with idioms. And, thus, it is the common language for just about anyone (world-wide) under 40.


Planning: D took on the lion’s (and elephant’s and hippo’s) share of the before and in-trip planning work, and was genial and open to making changes as we went along. What a treat!! He also did way more than half of the driving (and not just from self-preservation after watching THB stay left...hmmmm, actually maybe it was self-preservation). Much appreciated by M, DB and THB.

Misconceptions: We did not understand how beautiful the first half of the trip would be! The binoculars got quite a workout, and we brought heavy self-focussing ones...very justified, and easy to share. That’s without big game. And, the vistas (outside of haziness of the Kruger area) were awe-inspiring. Point Lobos may be the the prettiest state park in America; it can no longer claim to be the prettiest state park in the world.

Tourists: the obvious: schools are back in session and so we see almost nobody between ages 5 and 22. THB thinks the largest groups of tourists are Germans (we do some random research, this was confirmed by everyone in the tourist industry we asked) followed by Dutch and British Commonwealth types, then maybe Americans and French. Again, almost impossible to tell since one foreigner speaking English sounds pretty much like another to THB.

Companionship: Other than the first two nights and the last night, THB and DB spent just about every waking hour (and some dozing hours) for over 3 solid weeks with M and D. We met almost exactly 25 years ago when they spent two weeks at the same spot in Bordeaux we did; LB and KB were 8 and 4 and CB 10. Through the years, we’ve visited them in the Yorkshire Dales and they us for maybe a total of 10-15 days. 


Amazingly, the best description of how it worked out: we are highly compatible (and THB is sure both couples wondered ahead of time if it was going to work out for this intensive a trip). What can you say: they laughed at (and even repeated) some of THB’s jokes, what could be better than that!

At Sausage Tree, one of the other guests asked how we have stayed friends for so long with such little contact and THB replied: THB sends them thousands and thousands of words and pictures every year (i.e., the blog) and in return THB and DB get a very nice hand done Holiday card from M and D: perfect!


Conclusion: SA is more a first world county than third world country if you are a tourist. Things are cheap here. Transportation is good. Food is good. The sights are terrific. People are very friendly and accommodating, and open and generous of spirit. If you’re not a tourist? THB thinks SA is on some continuum that looks like progress and yet can’t be sure: lots of crime in Johannesburg, mostly separate education and transportation enforced by the existence of townships, what the health support is like (two-tiered?), how blacks are treated in white areas?



A great trip! Highly recommended


BIRDS
ANIMALS
Pied crow
Springbok
African penguins
Dorpa sheep
Ostriches (coupling)
Rock hyrax
Cape Cormorants
Goats
Cattle Egret
Baboons
Black oystercatcher
Meerkats
African Sacred Ibis
Eland
Blackheaded heron
Right whales
"Executioner" - Fiscal Shrike:
Bushbuck
Black plover
Bottlenose Dolphins
Bright emerald bird
African elpephants
Egyptian Geese
Vervet monkeys
Pale Chanting Goshawk
zebras
Red Necked Spurfowl
Kudu
Hadeda Ibis
Warthog
Blackwinged Stilt
Red Hartebeest
Blue-checked Bee Eater
Lions
Yellow-bellied Greenbul
Cape Buffalo
Fiscal Flycatcher
Blackback Jackal
Southern Masked Weaver
Tortoise
Glossy Ibis
Giraffe
Red Bishop
Leopard
African Fish Eagle
Hyena
Wire tailed swallows
Hippopotamus
African Jacana
Steenbok
Grey CrownedCrane
Impala
Red billed Oxpecker
Red Lechwe (deer)
Marabou Stork
Sable Antelope
Yellowbilled Kite
Monitor Lizard
Spoonbill
Crocodile
Blacksmith Lapwing
Waterbuck
Darter
Puku (antelope)
Goliath Heron
Striped Mongoose
Southern masked Weaver
Rainbow Koppie Skink
Cape Glossy Starling
Dung Beetle
Spur Winged Geese
Tree squirrel
Whitefronted Bee Eater
Black Rhino
African Skimmer
Side-striped Jackal
Pied Kingfisher
Dwarf Mongoose
Southern Bald Ibis
Freetailed Bat
Fruit Bat
Flap Necked Chameleon (1 of 2 types in Kruger)
Southern Whitefaced Scops owl
Sharpe's Grysbok
Wahlberg's Eagle
Millipede
Go-away bird
Southern Yellow-billed Hornbill
Bluehelmeted Guinea Fowl
Greyheaded Bush Shrike
African Harrier Hawk
White-backed Vultures
Magpie Shrike
Red-eyed Dove
Hamerkop Heron
Lilac-breasted Roller bird
Redcrested Korhaan
Southern Black Tit
Red-headed Weaver
Dark-Capped Bulbul
Bearded Woodpecker
Grey Heron
Pel's Fishing Owl
Brown-hooded Kingfisher
Crested Barbet
African Hawk Eagle
Brown Snake Eagle
Three Banded Plover