bookmark: summer people

Summer People – Brian Groh

One recent summer day, I had a sudden craving to be reading an actual book. I had visions of reading in my back yard with a pleasant summer breeze keeping me cool, a cold drink on the side, as I enjoyed the summer reading experience. So what better way to fulfill this desire than to stop by the library. The only question is, what book to read?

I didn’t want a classic, or mystery, or science fiction – I wanted a light summer read. I did pick up a Ray Bradbury book (yes, a murder-mystery – see previous bookmark), but that wasn’t what I originally wanted, so I kept looking. Scanning the shelves I saw a title, Summer People, and thought, “Sounds perfect!” I scanned the book and decided it would work.

And indeed, it was a light, casual summer read. It is about a young man who gets hired to accompany an elderly woman to her summer home in Maine. It is his story of gaining a bit of maturity through the things that he deals with during his stay. Any guy who has ever been a young twenty-something year old can relate to at least some of what he goes through.

With some of the extreme things that happen one might expect a grander denouement, but instead is handled more like taking things in stride. Perhaps that is more real to life but it doesn’t generate a great deal of emotion.

In the end this book fulfilled its purpose. I wouldn’t have lost any sleep over never having read it, but it scratched that summer reading itch.

Finished 7/20/17

bookmark: death is a lonely business

Death Is a Lonely Business – Ray Bradbury

I love Ray Bradbury’s writing. Dandelion Wine is one of my favorite books. I love to read it in the middle of the winter because nothing can bring me into summer as quickly as that book can. His forte is description. He uses just the right words in just the right way to make you hear, see, smell, touch and taste that which he is describing. It’s a great technique, but somehow it just did not translate well to this murder-mystery story.

I suppose it’s because I’m used to the Dragnet style of terse question and answer. Mysteries, detective stories and such seem to benefit from a tight structure, at least in my humble opinion. Flights of rhetorical fancy can get in the way. Maybe that’s just my take on it. Go, read the book, and tell me I’m wrong.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it. There’s not much Ray Bradbury that I haven’t read, so it was nice to find something new. It’s a great mix of nostalgia, quirky characters and mystery, told from the point of view of the main character, who, suprise, surprise, is a writer. An easy perspective for Mr. Bradbury. Despite any criticism over style, it’s still worth reading.

Finished 7/12/17

bookmark: good clean fun

Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop – Nick Offerman

I’m not a fan of the television show Parks & Recreation, so I don’t know if I would have been able to pick Nick Offerman out of a line-up or not. The way I became familiar with Mr. Offerman was through woodworking, not his acting, although I suppose one of the reasons he has gained recognition for his woodworking is through his association with acting. I don’t recall exactly how I came to know about Nick’s woodworking, but I think he did a guest spot on a DIY type show. Anyways, I found he had written a book about woodworking and I thought it might be worth reading. It was, though it’s different than any other woodworking book I’ve read.

I would call this a stream of consciousness book. You will find out about the author’s own woodworking life, as well as those of several of his associates, relatives and other prominent woodworkers. Nick also discusses actual woodworking, writing about tools, wood, and methods of work. There are projects in the book, too, if any of them strike your fancy. They didn’t apply to what I am doing in woodworking, but they may to you. There are other bits here and there, too, such as a recipe or two and some philosophizing on life.

The book is written with a certain off-handed sense of humor and self-deprecation that adds to the presentation of the material. It is, indeed, “good, clean fun,” as woodworking should be. Particularly if you are a newer woodworker, it may prove inspirational. In any event, it is entertaining.

Finished 6/17/17

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.