bookmark: navajo autumn

Navajo Autumn: A Navajo Nation Mystery – R. Allen Chappell

Many years ago I found the mystery writer Tony Hillerman. With his descriptions of Navajo culture, traditions and ceremonies, he showed me a way of life with which I was unfamilar and, at the same time, fascinated with. Obviously I was not alone, as he had a rather large fan base, which also happened to include my mother. It was a sad day when we knew that no more Hillerman books would be forthcoming.

I had not really been looking for a substitute for Hillerman’s books, but while looking through the offerings in Amazon’s Prime Reading program, I came across this book which, with “Navajo” in its title, drew my attention. Read the reviews, decided to give it a try. Glad I did.

Though not as in-depth or as involved as some of Hillerman’s books, Mr. Chappell has acquited himself well. This was a quick book to read. Though simple enough in plot, it still carried me into the world of the story. There are several more books by this author in the “Navajo Nation Mystery” line and I am looking forward to reading them.

Finished 5/18/17

bookmark: north haven

North Haven – Sarah Moriarty

This was a pretty good story with interesting, if sometimes frustrating, characters. Then again, if a book can get you to want to smack a character upside the head, I guess it has been successful in portraying that character. There is an interesting family dynamic at work here and the author plays the characters off well against each other.

Additionally, it would seem that the old adage of “write what you know” is in play, as the author creates a very convincing locale and seems very familiar with the activities in which the characters participate. It all benefits the story.

Well-written and interesting, I have to admit that I found the ending just a little too abrupt, with a couple of things unresolved at the end that I would like to have had some hint as to how they turned out. I didn’t have a problem with the ending, just the completeness of it. For a summer read, it was an enjoyable novel.

Finished 5/13/17

bookmark: the ice diaries

The Ice Diaries: The True Story of One of Mankind’s Greatest Adventures – Captain William R. Anderson, with Don Keith

When I was a kid, one of the few things in the adult world that captured my attention was the USS Nautilus. I suppose this was because pretty much everyone at that time was interested in it. In the dim reaches of my memory, I seem to recall wanting to get a model of the submarine to put together, but I won’t stake my life on that.

The USS Nautilus was not just any submarine: it was the first nuclear powered submarine. It caught the world’s attention by the science-fictiony method of power and by all the records it broke due to it’s unique abilities enabled by that power source. For us in the United States, it was a matter of national pride in the time of the Cold War.

While the main story of Captain Anderson’s book is the Nautilus’ efforts to circumnavigate the Arctic Sea via the North Pole under the Arctic ice, he relates much more of the history of the Nautilus than this. Having previously told this story, this version benefits from much information having lost its Top Secret classification, allowing the author to give us much more detail.

This is a non-fiction book, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good story. I have to admit, though, that I’m a bit prejudiced. During the Vietnam War, when it became apparent that I was going to be up for the draft, I thought about joining the Navy with an eye towards serving on a submarine. Things didn’t work out, but that didn’t dim my interest in submarines. This book just helped feed that interest a bit. It’s a good tale written by the captain of the submarine, who had an obvious pride in the submarine, its missions and its crews.

Finished 4/30/17

bookmark: the sound of a wild snail eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating – Elisabeth Tova Bailey

When you can’t do pretty much anything, then anything that you can do becomes your world. This is where the author found herself when she started observing a snail that was living in a pot of wild violets that a friend had brought into her from outdoors. With this simple beginning, an interest in snails in general grew, resulting in this book.

It is not a long book, nor is it an exhaustive scientific study of snails (although the author refers to several of them), but rather a gathering of the high points about snails. It’s an in-depth amateur’s treatise on snails, and a very readable one, but it is also a testament of the power of curiosity to help heal someone during a devastating illness.

I learned more about snails than I ever knew before, and I also learned that I do not want to get the illness that the author got. If you are a curious sort and have a little time to spend with a snail and a young woman confined to bed, I would recommend this book. My wife actually gave me this book to read during my own convalescence (not nearly as severe as the author’s). Thanks, hon.

Finished 4/15/17

bookmark: reluctant genius

Reluctant Genius: Alexander Graham Bell and the Passion for Invention – Charlotte Gray

This was a fascinating biography of Alexander Graham Bell. Before reading this book, I knew what you typically learn in school; that he invented the telephone (with the help of Watson, “I need you,” of course). The truth is, he was so much more than that.

Given the ability to have actually known someone in history, some men (and women) in history you don’t really care whether or not you ever knew them, others you would definitely not want to know, but Bell I would have loved to have known.

He was a fortunate man in having the people in his life that he did. If not for that, he would have been like a lottery winner that ends up bankrupt five years after winning $100 million. His determined work on the telephone and the people who worked to protect his financial interests in it allowed him to pretty much do what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Man, what a great way to live a life. I actually envied him for that.

As well as relating the life of Bell, the author covers the other people in his life, and they are interesting figures in their own right. His wife, Mabel, was certainly the rock in his life, and the person who facilitated Bell’s ability to work on his own interests regardless of financial pay-off. In addition, though, there are people from the world of the deaf, including a close relationship with Helen Keller, which took me totally by surprise. He was also involved early on with Maria Montessori and her method of teaching.

As I said before, a fascinating biography. I recommend it to anyone who would like to have a little more depth in their knowledge of Alexander Graham Bell and the times in which he lived.

Finished 3/25/17

The Complete What Ukulele Players Really Want To Know – Barry Maz

This book is kind of a distillation of all the knowledge that the author has gathered from and used in his web site – Got A Ukulele – a great site, btw. Described as an owner’s manual for the ukulele rather than a teaching resource, it covers pretty much anything you want to know about owning and playing an ukulele. If you are new to the uke, this is good “get your feet wet” book to read. Don’t forget to check out the web site, too.

Finished 2/15/17

playing instruments

I listen to music more at work than anywhere else. It’s the one time that I am in one place for an extended period of time when I am alone (more or less), and music helps the day go by a little easier. This morning I was listening through Amazon Music (no plug intended, just what I happen to use) to music by Henry Mancini. Yeah, I’m an old fart, I thought that went without further explanation. Anyways, on came one of my most favorite pieces of music – Moon River – and I thought I would just make a note of it here. It was a favorite of mine when it first came out and it has not lost it’s appeal. Just my kind of wistful, longing imagery.

There are other songs that I like and that have influenced me, most often by making me want to learn a musical instrument. I love Stranger on the Shore, by Acker Bilk. I mistakenly thought that he was playing a saxophone, when he was actually playing a clarinet in a lower-register style. It was enough to make me think that I should play a saxophone, so I briefly did so in junior high school. Like all of my musical instrument attempts though, this shortly fell by the wayside.

Another song, Sleepwalk, by Santo & Johnny, got me on the guitar path, though that was years in the coming. The first time I ever heard the song was at my uncle’s wedding, played by the wedding band. (A long time ago, my friends – and heck I was only, what, ten?) Anyways, once again, I mistook the instrument. I thought the slidey part of the music was a regular guitar. I didn’t realize that it was an actual slide guitar. Hell, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. Anyways, along with every other kid’s ambition to play the guitar in the ’60s, I was inspired by that song. While I never made it to anything near real proficiency on the guitar, I have one and I intend to play it at least moderately well . . . eventually.

My interests haven’t been limited to pop music. Being Norwegian, when Song of Norway came out (a movie about the life of Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg), I just had to learn the piano to play Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor. I was nineteen or twenty at the time and still living at home with my parents. Since I was working at the time, I had the means to buy a piano. Actually, I had the means to put money down on a piano and make payments on it. Like so many things in my life, the payments lasted longer than my interest and eventually the piano went back. Imagine the dismay of the delivery men when they showed up with the piano and found that I had to have it put in my bedroom – on the second floor! Then imagine them being pissed off that a short time later they had to come back and move it down from the second floor. Not one of my better decisions in life.

What other instruments have I played? Well, again for a short time, I played the violin in grade school. In retrospect, I feel bad for my parents during that period. Practice time must have been a real joy for them. I have also played the banjo and still intend to relearn it. I took lessons for the better part of a year and enjoy it, but it sits in the closet at the moment.

My latest kick, however long it is going to last, is the ukulele. It’s really popular right now, but I didn’t even realize this when I decided to try it. I just wanted (what I thought would be) an easy instrument to play well and that would get me back to playing the guitar and banjo. I smashed my middle finger on my left hand with a hammer some time ago and broke the bone in the tip of my finger. It has been extremely painful trying to play the steel-stringed guitar and banjo ever since. Part of my theory of getting back to them is that if I play enough on the nylon-stringed uke, my finger will build up enough callus and resistance to pain to allow playing steel strings again. If not, my uke wasn’t a big investment. To tell the truth, though, playing the uke well is as much a challenge as a guitar or banjo and I’m enjoying it in its own right. We’ll see how long it takes for me to give that up, too.

I do think that the ukulele is probably the last instrument that I am going to attempt to play. Um, well, other than that hammered dulcimer that I’ve been thinking about building for many years. If I ever retire, maybe there will be time for that, too. Somehow, I kinda doubt it.

bookmark: jonathan strange & mr. norrell

Jonathon Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke

Capitalizing on our penchant for stories about magic, this is a moderately entertaining book that should have been split into either two or three books or edited down to one more manageable volume. Set in the 1800s and revolving around the idea of English (as in England) magic, the story offered something different and is a good story. The length of it, however, gets a little tedious after a while.

The author uses one of my very least favorite writing affectations; the footnote. I’m sorry, but I feel that footnotes do not belong in fiction. There are those who think that, handled well, they expand the story, but to an anal retentive like me who has to look at the footnote, they destroy the flow of the story. Sure, I could just ignore them and read the story, but it always feels like maybe I’ll be missing something important to the story. In this book, I don’t think that the footnotes are a necessary part of the story and could be ignored. Towards the end of the book, I did start to skip them. It seems to me that authors who use footnotes in fiction, as in this book, have spent so much time creating their own little universe in which their book lives that they just have to share the background material they have imagined to support that universe. Just tell the story and be done with it. Let the story pull you into the universe you have created; don’t beat me over the head with a stick (or footnotes) to try to convince me. But, different strokes for different folks, and you may enjoy them.

Even after making to the end of the book, it had one of those endings that screams, “Sequel.” I won’t give it away, but it is obvious that there is more to come. If not, then you will just have to be satisfied with a story that does not wrap up all the loose ends. It wouldn’t be the first book to do that.

This story has been produced as a mini-series in Britain, and is available (or at least was, at the time of this writing) on Netflix (or is it Amazon Video?). I haven’t watched it, but apparently it has the slight variations that all films have from the original source material. At least it won’t have footnotes.

Finished 1/27/17

blizzard of ’67

Fifty years ago today was the great Chicago snowfall of 1967 – twenty-three inches of snow before it was over. I was sixteen. The only thing that I directly remember is walking to my job at Jewel as a stock boy. The snow was already about ten or so inches deep and there were no cars moving on the side streets of our small town to the west of Chicago. It was a major effort to walk through that snow. I finally made it to the store and found people stocking up on whatever they would need (or could get) for the next several days.

Part of my job was to round up the shopping carts, but that was impossible to do. Instead, as a customer would leave, they would pull their car around to the door and we would load the groceries from there. I know that the store was not open long after I got there, maybe only three or four hours or so. It was to the point that every store around was shutting down just so employees might have a chance to get home. To tell the truth, I don’t remember how I got home. I’m not sure if I had to walk home again or if one of my parents came and got me, or if I got a ride from someone else. My memory fails and my parents aren’t around to ask, even if they could remember.

I just checked the calendar for that date and found that January 1967 has the same dates as January 2017. That means this happened on a Thursday. I assume I was home because the schools closed for the day, otherwise I would have walked to the store from the high school, but I do distinctly remember walking from home. I sure wish my rememberer would work better than it does.

Once again, we are remembering the fiftieth anniversary of something that I actually lived through. How depressing. Heck, looking at the record of the ten greatest snowfalls in the Chicago area, I have been alive for a full half of them! Well, at least I’m alive to complain about being old, so I’ve got that going for me.

bookmark: walking the nile

Walking the Nile – Levison Wood

Some people are driven to monumental accomplishments, or perhaps failures. But the small and mundane are not their bailiwick, such as it is mine. Walking the length of the Nile River certainly falls into the category of a monumental effort, and clearly the author of this book is driven to such extremes. Yet even he failed to accomplish all that he wished, due to civil war in South Sudan and restrictions regarding travel around a certain dam on the Nile. Still, he covered the greatest part of the length of the river, which is something that I would never even contemplate doing, let alone be able to do. Kudos to him.

This book is the story of his journey, the dangers of which, if anything, are understated. He was fortunate to have some good traveling companions along the way and also benefited greatly from sponsors. Indeed, he probably would not have been able to walk the section of the Nile through Egypt without some large last minute contributions. Africa may be a place of beauty, but it is also a place of tribal, political, and religious conflict, and that takes extra effort (and money) to work through.

Scattered through the pages are bits and pieces of history, which make the book more than just a slog along the Nile. Mr. Wood also touches upon current ecological and cultural conditions, raising important questions about both. Everyone outside of Africa thinks that it should be kept as some pristine, fence free, protected nature preserve, while the native population needs to clear land and protect it in order to progress into the modern (relatively speaking) world. You can’t have your cake and eat it, too, and some of the situations in this book point this out rather well.

Gratefully, I can leave major expeditions such as this to people like the author, and read about it from the comfort of my living room. Long distance learning works for me, and this book taught me several new things.

Finished 12/30/16