bookmark: so long, marianne

So Long, Marianne: A Love Story – by Kari Hesthamar

I have just recently discovered Leonard Cohen’s music, or at least thought so. It was the renewed interest in his song Hallelujah that was the starting point. It was one of the songs that my ukulele teacher used for a lesson. I hadn’t heard it before but I knew that it was popular. I didn’t realize at that time that it was an old song.

Later I was watching television and came across a public tv program called Tower of Song, a celebration of Leonard Cohen’s music on the anniversary of his death. I was impressed by the artists doing the retrospective of Cohen’s songs, particularly the song So Long, Marianne, sung by Adam Cohen, Leonard’s son. I bought all of Cohen’s studio albums (well, CDs) and was surprised to hear on the earliest one the song Suzanne. Son of a gun, I remember that from my slightly younger years. I didn’t know that was him.

As a characteristic example of synchronicity, this book showed up on a list of books recommended to me, and with my new-found interest in Cohen I decided to see who this Marianne was that so captivated Cohen. It opened a window into the culture of the times – the late 50s, 60s and early 70s. It’s the story of a woman who struggled to find her own way in the world.

The book details Marianne’s early relationship and marriage to Axel Jensen and her meeting Leonard Cohen and her life with him, as well as much that took place in her life when she was not with these two men. In the end, it’s the story of a woman who thought, at least originally, that she was going to find herself in someone else. It really sounded like a story of the sixties.

The book ended abruptly. I was kind of expecting a bit more of the rest of her life after these relationships, but I guess the story was supposed to be about those relationships and not a full biography. The author does provide a few paragraphs outlining the rest of Marianne’s life, but not with anything like the detail in the rest of the book.

The book provided me the information I had been looking for, which was what the relationship was between Leonhard and Marianne. If you are interested in the same thing, read it.

Finished 10/13/18

bookmark: a separate peace

A Separate Peace – by John Knowles

This is a book about the friendship between two young men in a fictional boys’ prep school called Devon located in New Hampshire during the war years of 1942 and 1943. It has been called a “coming of age” story and has been compared to Catcher in the Rye as a book in that genre.

It’s been many, many years since I have read Catcher in the Rye, but I think I enjoyed it more than this book. Not that this book is terrible, but I found it hard to relate to the characters who appear to be involved in an emotionally co-dependent relationship. Perhaps I just never had a best friend like either of the two main characters, or perhaps I just have never been in a school atmosphere such as they experience.

The only real chance I had to experience that would have been in college, but going to a college close to home allowed me to save money by commuting to school rather than living in a dorm. While this may have saved money it did keep me from having that living-away-from-home experience that may have facilitated closer and deeper friendships. And, of course, not being able to stay in college for more than a year and a semester didn’t help either.

The book has a sad ending, but like the main character, I didn’t have any emotional response to the denouement of the story. He should have. I didn’t. I suppose there are people who can sympathize with the characters and appreciate the story and it’s ending.

It was well-written enough to keep me reading to the end, and it was an exposure to life in a boys’ school during the years of World War II, which was interesting. If I hadn’t read this book, though, it would not leave a big hole in my life.

Finished 9/29/18

bookmark: the shack

The Shack – by William Paul Young

If you are a Christian, it is possible that you will find this book relevant to your religioius beliefs.If you are an atheist, you can either take this book as a fairy tale with a moral, or not take it at all. If you follow some other religious tradition, you may come away with something from this book or not. Couched in a shell of a story, this book is really a discussion of what it is to be a Christian and to put your faith in God.

In some ways the structure of this book reminds me of Atlas Shrugged, in that at its core is an expression of philosophy – Galt’s speech in Atlas Shrugged, and the dialogue between the main character of this book and the father, son and holy ghost (though by other names). I think Atlas Shrugged supports its philosophy with much more story, but the central philosophy is what really counts in both books.

On an intellectual level I believe that I could understand what this book was saying, and appreciate that for Christians the book could have deep meaning. For me, it was a decent story and an interesting window into the beliefs of others. I was not swayed to reconsider my personal beliefs, but then again, if I experienced what the main character experiences, I might be persuaded otherwise. Somehow, I don’t see that happening.

Bottom line, if you have no interest in being exposed to or undetstanding Chritsian beliefs, don’t bother with the book. If you are a Christian, you could get something out of this.

Finished 9/23/18

You’ve Been So Lucky Already: A Memoir – by Althea Black

I guess I must like to read autobiographies by borderline (and not so borderline) dysfunctional women, and this was one more such book. Granted, the author at the end of the book seems to have found a path to a life she would like to live, but given the sturm und drang she went through in the first part of her life, I might lay odds that she won’t be in a good place for long. Still, I can’t help but hope that she finds her happiness and it sticks with her.

I’m skeptical of fringe medical practices, and part of the author’s story is dealing with an illness that no regular medical doctor is able to diagnose. Resorting to the always reliable medical information on the internet, she finds several possibilities for her symptoms and even treats herself on that basis. She gets frustrated when medical doctors don’t take her self-diagnosis seriously and so caroms from one self-diagnosis to another. Finally, she finds her “cure” through a “functional medicine” doctor. This is the renaming of “holistic” medicine to make it sound more technical and less hippy-dippy.

Now, I will not say that regular medical practice has all the answers, but I do believe that many of those practicing “functional” medicine rely on disproved theories and unsupported treatments. But this world is full of people looking for answers for what they believe ails them, and if the standard medical profession doesn’t work for them and they find their answers in somewhat questionable practices, more power to them. This author seems to have finally found an answer that she is happy with and that appears to be helping her, and good for her.

This is a relatively short book and is well written. Even when I was skeptical of her pursuit of a diagnosis, I still wanted her to find something that would give her relief and a happy place to be. And her illness wasn’t the total content of the book. You could read about her deep depression early in her life, too. Like I said, I must like reading about dysfunctional women. This book fulfilled that need, I guess.

And I truly do hope that she is well and happy and stays that way.

Finished 9/15/18

Violin Making, Second Edition Revised and Expanded: An Illustrated Guide for the Amateur – by Bruce Ossman

I’ve developed a bit of a fascination with stringed instrument making. In my fantasy life, I am doing it. In reality, I have been reading about it. I would like to change my fantasy into reality and this book could help do that, at least as far as violin making is concerned.

When you think about making a violin (that is, if you ever think about making a violin), you think that it must be a very difficult thing to do, otherwise those old masters’ violins wouldn’t be selling for the fortunes that they are. But when you read a book like this, you realize that it might be easier than you thought. Well, if not easier, then at least possible.

As the title states, it is an illustrated guide for the amateur violin maker. The book breaks things down in such a way as to give the average woodworker a fighting chance at creating a real violin. The thing to keep in mind is that you are not going to create something equivalent to a professional violin the first time around, or at least it’s not likely. Accept this fact, approach the project with an open mind and a willingness to learn, make mistakes and correct mistakes, and you’ll wind up with at least a passable instrument. If all you want to do is to be able to say that you have made a violin, then voilà! You’ve done it! On the other hand, if you want to make another and another, then you have taken your first big step of making the first one.

If you expect a deep dive into making a violin, you won’t find it here. You will find everything you need to make your first violin. It is one man’s straight forward approach to accomplishing this, and I believe it will work. I can’t say for certain because I have not done it yet, but I am planning on it and this book will most likely be the basis for most of my building techniques. (Of course, being of the mind that you can never have too much information, I’ve also bought a few other books on making violins. Review of those to follow later.)

If you are interested, make sure you get the second edition of the book. There’s not a lot of difference, but it has been updated. Also, while you can make a violin entirely with hand tools, there are a few tools you may need to buy, and a bandsaw and drill press aren’t bad machines to have. You may also want to find other references for putting a finish on your violin, as this book doesn’t cover that subject in depth, though you will find it adequate for your first effort.

Finished 8/25/18

Old Time Banjo Craft: 5 String Open Back Banjo Making – by Robert Browder with Mac Traynham

This is a short book, less than fifty pages, and is more a rough guide to making an open back banjo than a definitive reference. The book is short on detailed illustrations or photographs and the organization leaves something to be desired, requiring you to go back in the book to review something you have already read in order to get an idea of what is currently being described.

Could you make a banjo using this book? Sure, but unless you are familiar with the process, I think you will find yourself scratching your head in a few places. Still, when you are making a musical instrument, it is always nice to have as many references as you can so that one may fill in where another is weak. To that end, this book is useful, though a bit overpriced, in my humble opinion.

Perhaps a more useful book would be Constructing a 5-String Banjo: A Complete Technical Guide, by Roger H. Siminoff. I even have a spare copy if you want to buy one off of me. I forgot I had a copy and bought another.

Finished 8/14/18

As I Knew Him: My Dad, Rod Serling – by Anne Serling

The first thing to know about this book is that it is not a biography of Rod Serling. Rather, it is the story of the relationship between Rod Serling and his daughter, Anne, as she remembers it. Certainly there is much biographical material about Rod and Anne, but it is supporting material about their relationship, not the primary focus. That is not to denigrate the book in any way. It never purported to be an objective biography. Indeed, that’s what drew me into reading the book.

I read the first bits of the book using Amazon’s “Look Inside”feature and got caught up enough in it to want to read the whole thing. In part, this was because I could relate to her description of the grief she went through when her father died. While I did not suffer grief over the death of my father in the same way that the author did, grief is universal, and I could relate her story to other deaths I have had to deal with.

It is obvious that Anne and her father, Rod, were very close. A family of four, they seemed to pair off with her sister close to her mother, and Anne close to her father. It many ways, it almost seemed like an unhealthy attachment to her father. But hey, that’s just my impression, and I certainly don’t mean that there was anything improper about the relationship, just that her reaction to his death seems to reveal an emotional dependence that was a little too strong. I’ve never had a daughter, so maybe I just don’t understand the father/daughter dynamic.

I don’t know who I would recommend this book to. Perhaps to someone who has had a difficult time dealing with a death, or someone who just appreciates stories about relationships. It is well written and in many places you can really relate to the pain she is going through. It isn’t all about his death, though, so that shouldn’t be the whole point to reading the book. The author writes about much of her childhood, which appears to have been a pretty idyllic one at that. In truth, the book is more of an autobiography and perhaps should be read for that reason.

As I got into the book, I started to wonder if you could write a biography about just about anybody and make it interesting enough that someone would want to read it. Rod Serling certainly had a unique life, but then again, everyone has a unique life. I suppose, though, that it is the more famous among us that people want to know about, not us unknowns.

Well written and worth reading if the subject matter appeals to you. I am glad the author eventually came to grips with her grief. All deaths leave a mark that will forever endure. Eventually, though, we all must learn to accept and move on, as the author has done.

Finished 8/10/18

bookmark: the joy luck club

The Joy Luck Club: A Novel – by Amy Tan

I received a note that one of Amy Tan’s books was on sale on Amazon. It sounded interesting, but as I occasionally do, I decided that I would rather read her first book, or at least the first book that had been popular. In this case, it was The Joy Luck Club. Good thing I decided this, too, because my wife got the same note and bought the other book. By the way, I was somewhat shocked to see on the cover of the book I read, “25th Anniversary Edition,” and is actually older than that. Come on, really? It can’t be that long ago. I guess I am old.

Like many books written by and about people raised in different cultures, I am sure I missed some nuance to these stories. But even so, not only is it very interesting to learn about and vicariously experience a different culture, it also reveals the very common human nature of us all, regardless of culture.

China has a very long history with which I am passingly familiar from an academic perspective, but this book tells of more recent history as it directly affected the lives of the characters. I would wager that most Americans don’t know much about China at all, other than the stereotypes passed on through popular media. I wonder if this book was helpful in dispelling some of those stereotypes.

Like all good books, this book provided more than just a good story, it provided food for thought. We are all rather insular in our own little worlds. It is hard to have a perspective beyond our needs and wants, and harder for some than others. A book like this gives you an appreciation for the fact that you will never be able to fully understand a culture that you have not grown up in. It makes you question why you should think that you know what is the proper way for all people to live, based on just your own life experiences. Perhaps there is room for other norms of civilization. Am I just stuck in an American way of thinking, or should the principles of individual freedom be the universal standard for all? I’m afraid I can’t see it any other way. I do not find it possible that demands for self-sacrifice from others should supersede our own individual best interests. Still, perhaps there is wiggle room that can accommodate some cultural norms.

So before I get way off track here, let me say that I did enjoy this book. Not in the sense that the book was filled with only good things, but that in the end people survived and became more than perhaps even they thought they could, even if to all others they appear to be “normal” people. I guess we all have our stories, and these were some compelling stories of lives beyond my realm of experience.

Finished 8/4/18

a violin? am i nuts?

So I went and ordered a violin. Knowing my propensity towards starting things and not finishing them, and acknowledging the fact that my aging body may not let me continue to do some of the things I can do now, I limited my purchase to a beginner violin. I tell you, you can really spend some bucks on a violin. Way more, actually, than would be justifiable by any level of playing that I may reach.

I think I made a wise selection. I did buy it through Amazon, but I corresponded with the supplier of the violin before I made my choice. There are many low cost models available, but I wanted to make sure I got the best value for my money, so I decided to order a violin which would be supplied already checked out and set up by a luthier. I did not want to have to guess whether I was setting it up correctly or not, because for right now I plan on teaching myself, so I won’t have a teacher to check out the violin for any mistakes I made.

So yes, I am planning on using the internet, books and DVDs to learn. I may consider finding a teacher if I am confident that I will keep playing, but that is far from given. I suppose it would actually be smarter to have a teacher from the beginning because it may help avoid developing some bad habits, but I’ll take my chances.

I have to admit it I approach playing the violin with more trepidation than any other instrument I have learned (and am learning) to play. I failed at it in sixth grade, but I have matured a little bit since then. Still, there seems to be a lot to learn to get to the point where I can play some of the things that I want to play. When an online teacher say that you shouldn’t even begin trying to do vibrato until a year after you start learning, I say that I may not have that long! That makes things a little daunting. Still, what do I have to lose except a few dollars? If it doesn’t work out, I can always sell it or contribute it to someone else who might like to learn but can’t afford even a beginner violin.

Maybe someday I will actually be able to play something decent on at least one of the instruments I own. That list includes guitar, banjo and ukulele, and now violin. Or maybe I’ll just continue to futz around with them until I can no longer do so, with no expectations of excellence. Sounds about my speed. I gave up on the piano and saxophone long ago. While it would still be nice to know how to play the piano, it is not on my radar at this time, and I will leave the saxophone playing to my brother-in-law, who is a professional (and a damned good one, too).

By the way, if you ever consider buying a violin, the people at fiddlershop.com (also on Amazon) were good to me and I recommend them. They go over the instruments before they send them out so that you can just touch up the tuning and play it out of the case when you get it. Mine is supposed to arrive today and if I have any problems I will come back and say so in this post, but I don’t expect any.

It’s kind of exciting to get a new instrument, but I still feel a bit foolish thinking I can learn to play the violin with any quality at all. Let’s hope that I can at least get better than I was in sixth grade. I’m not holding my breath, though.

boomark: to kill a mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird – by Harper Lee

I thought I had read To Kill a Mockingbird before, but my memory is not so bad that I would forget this book. Perhaps I confused seeing the movie with reading the book, but if so, I still did not remember the story as well as I thought I did.

I read this book, first, to see if I had read it before, and second, because I had read Go Set a Watchman and wanted to see how the two books compared. Theoretically, Go Set a Watchman is the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird, but I don’t see it. Yes, there are a few passages that are almost word-for-word in both books, as well as other passages that are very similar but not quite word-for-word, but the stories are very different. To Kill a Mockingbird does seem more cohesive than Go Set a Watchman, and is perhaps more polished, but Go Set a Watchman had a different focus that was just as compelling.

If you have never read To Kill a Mockingbird (and it used to pretty much be required reading back in my school days, which is why I thought I had read it), I would suggest that it is time to read it now. Its main theme of tolerance and understanding is very relevant in these days of political and social intolerance. The lesson is there, but learning it and applying it isn’t so easy for many people.

My memory of the story was that it was all about the trial. (I’m trying to not be a spoiler, if you want to read it and haven’t.) It is actually more expansive than that. It’s a study in human nature in general and of small town life in Alabama in the 1930s specifically. Without being in your face about it, it covers racial, gender and class conditions in the south at the time, and unfortunately is still relevant today in much of the United States.

The story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl, whose innocence (and commonsense) play off the other characters. Contrary to the view that the story is partly about loss of innocence, I think that it more about learning. Perhaps you can argue that it is all the same thing, but one can still have an expectation of the best in people (innocence, in a sense) while knowing that not all people will be at their best.

I was really glad to have read this book. It is one more book that I have added a physical copy to my library. Given my age and the number of books I want to read, I may never read it again, but maybe some day after I am gone someone will go through my books and say, “Hmm, I always meant to read this,” and put it on their pile of books to take home. Since you likely don’t know me, don’t wait until I am gone to raid my library. Go to the public library and check it out. I believe you will be glad you did.

Finished 7/21/18