bookmark: commonsense instrument care

Commonsense Instrument Care – by James N. McKean

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is only about taking care of your violin, viola, and cello (and generally applies to upright bass). It’s a short, little book easily read in an evening. If you want to be discouraged from playing any of these instruments, read this book. In no time you will become convinced that your instrument will self-destruct, probably within months of obtaining it. And lord knows you do not want to buy an old instrument unless you are wealthy enough to maintain it (then again, you have to be wealthy to buy one of these in the first place).

Seriously, though, these instruments sure seem to require more care than, say, your guitar. Or maybe it’s just because I already am familiar with taking care of that type of stringed instrument that violin care seems a bit intense. It is a good overview of the various things that may/will need attention during both set-up and the life of your instrument. Most of the care advice tends to run towards “take it to your local repair shop,” but I suppose most violinists would rather be playing than repairing, so that advice may work for most. Once again, though, be prepared to pay for your instrument several times over in repairs and maintenance if you keep it for very long.

It’s good to get a reality check when you take up an instrument like the violin. This book provides it.

Finished 7/14/18

Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus – by Wayne Erbsen

Not being content to be a poor student of the ukulele, I’ve become desirous of failing to adequately learn another musical instrument, that being the violin. Now, I know there ain’t a prayer in hell that I’ll ever play the violin in any fashion that would be pleasing to the ear, but that hasn’t stopped me playing anything else. I must admit, though, that the best thing I play is the radio.

So, since becoming a concert violinist is absolutely nowhere on my radar, what else can you do with a violin? Well, you can call it a fiddle and play old-timey music with it. Sounds like a plan, so this book seemed like a natural choice to learn that style of music.

Now, I don’t even have a violin (or a fiddle) so it does seem a bit premature to read a book about learning it, but sometimes reading about something can be enough to either encourage you to pursue it further or discourage you enough to make you drop the idea altogether. In the end, I was encouraged, realizing that I should be able to make music on the violin without needing to study it for twenty years first. A good thing, ’cause I doubt I have twenty years left in my life.

There are many songs in the book to practice on, but I obviously wasn’t able to do that. I did read all about them and read all the rest of the book which, as the title implies, is for the total newbie. It’s good information written in a casual style that doesn’t put on airs and make you feel like it would be a waste of time to try to learn how to fiddle.

The book comes with a CD of the songs in the book. I may be an old fart, but I like it when the book comes with a CD. It is really irritating when I have to go find them on-line somewhere and then figure out how to get them to my computer. If you contemplating playing the fiddle, or even the violin, this might be a good starting point for you, as I think it will be for me.

By the way, I have actually played the violin before, but it was way back in grade school and the short time I played it felt more like torture than pleasure. I think my parents probably felt the same way as I don’t recall them protesting too violently when I wanted to give it up. At this point in my life, I wish I had kept it up back then, but I’ve never been one to force myself to keep on doing something I have lost interest in. That’s one good reason why I’m not going to spend a fortune on a violin. It’ll make a nice wall hanging, though.

Finished 7/8/18

bookmark: the road to little dribbling

The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain – by Bill Bryson

I do enjoy Bill Bryson’s writing. He has a sense of humor similar to mine, except that he is better able to put it into words. This book was no exception.

I can see where some people might not be a fan of this type of book. You really have to be able to appreciate seeing someplace that you will probably never see, through someone else’s eyes. I happen to be that kind of person. You learn a little, laugh a little, and live the author’s good (and bad) experiences vicariously. Besides that, Bryson does an awful lot of walking to see the sights and my knees would never be able to hold up to that much hiking.

As to the title, there is no Little Dribbling, though they do seem to have more interesting place names in England. Did I mention this is the author’s south to north tour of he adopted home country of England? It is, kind of. He actually meanders over a lot of it. Curiously, he seems to give short-shrift to the northern part, Scotland. Whether there is actually less to see there or he was just getting tired of writing this book, I don’t know. I did wonder, though, as the pages were becoming less and less in the book, how he was going to include everything that was left to see. Personally, I think he did a bit of a jump to the end. Maybe his editor thought the book was getting too long. Whatever the reason, I was sorry to not see better coverage of the north.

Bryson and I are about the same age and so share some of the same crabby old man tendencies, but I found that I had to forgive him his statist tendencies. For some reason, he thinks that government is able to run things better than the free interaction of people. I suppose England is a good place for him. He should, and apparently does, feel right at home there, even having gone so far as to have taken British citizenship, which makes me question the subtitle. At this point, Mr. Bryson is more Brit than American.

While an occasional comment or concept was contrary to rational thinking (that is, my way of thinking), I still enjoyed the book and would welcome the chance to sit in a pub and have a drink with Bill. I think, however, that I will pass on warm beer and political discussion.

Finished 7/7/18

bookmark: go set a watchman

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel – by Harper Lee

I recall that there was some controversy when this book was published, but I was not particularly interested in reading it, so paid little attention to it. I recently received an email offering books that I might be interested in, and it included Go Set a Watchman. Ready for a bit of fiction after reading a biography of Jim Henson, I decided to check the book out of the library. It was definitely worth it.

The first thing I was struck with, and I even commented upon this to my wife, was the easiness I felt reading the book. For some reason, I just felt very comfortable with the author’s style. Now, part of the controversy of this book is that it is supposedly the first draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. It may read as such, but Ms. Lee’s style is, to me, easy to read and if I were the publisher first receiving this novel, I would definitely have followed up on it, too.

I think that I have read To Kill a Mockingbird, but I don’t have it on the list of books I have read, and having previewed a bit of it, I don’t recall the passages I read at all (though I have, of course, seen the movie). It is on my list of books to read (again?) now, so that I can compare it to Go Set a Watchman.

I felt that Go Set a Watchman was an insightful bit of cultural history. It has always been hard for me to understand how this country was established as a “free” country when slavery was allowed to continue. I know not all people at the time supported slavery, but that it wasn’t disallowed by our very constitution has always seemed to have been a great lapse of principle.

Still, slavery existed, and even the Civil War did not, and could not, entirely eliminate the idea of the negro as an inferior race from all minds. This story illustrates the mental gymnastics that some people had to perform to be able to support their views of black people at the time. It is interesting how strongly those mental gymnastics resemble the attitudes of those in government today who still maintain that blacks (and, for that matter, native Americans) are incapable of taking care of themselves and must have “protected” status conferred on them by the government.

This book was enlightening to me as it presented a time, place and culture with which I have had no personal experience. While it certainly needed refinement to achieve a final product, I think the novel has merits of its own. It serves as an expansion of some of the ideas expressed in To Kill a Mockingbird. I recommend it as a way to broaden your understanding of the racial tensions that existed, and still exist, in our country.

Finished 6/29/18

bookmark: jim henson: the biography

Jim Henson: The Biography – by Brian Jay Jones

I have always admired Jim Henson. He always seemed to be a person who was doing what he enjoyed doing, and making a living at it. This biography of Mr. Henson supports that assessment.

I, like much of the world, was shocked when Jim Henson died suddenly in 1990 at the age of 53. I was one with the millions who said that he died much too young, and knew that the world was diminished by his passing.

Many people decry the constant barrage of advertisements one receives through the multitudes of avenues available to marketers today, but I am always happy to be exposed to books which I have not read, and often not even aware of. Such was this biography of Jim Henson. After admiring his work for so long, I thought it was time to read about his actual life, and an interesting life it was.

I have always admired people who find their path and pursue it to the end. I am not one of those people, so perhaps there is a bit of envy of those who have that capability. Jim Henson had it in spades. As much as I admire that quality, this book also reveals that there is a cost for that quality, and that no individual is flawless. Still, other than dying young, Henson’s life on the whole had more fun and excitement in it than I will ever have in my more extended lifetime.

While revealing Jim’s quirks and personal idiosyncrasies, this book was not a critique of his life as much as a report of it. It did nothing to diminish my respect for Jim Henson. The only criticism I have of the book is perhaps that it is too detailed, but I guess if you want a complete biography, it is hard to leave out anything out.

I suppose biographies are not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you, like me, find value in the insights into the people you admire or who have affected the course of human kind, then this book may be for you, too.

Finished 6/12/18

bookmark: izzy & lenore

Izzy & Lenore: Two Dogs, an Unexpected Journey, and Me – Jon Katz

I don’t claim to be exclusively a cat or a dog person, as I am, in fact, both. Indeed, I have lived with multiples of each in my lifetime and enjoyed those relationships very much, though some were more challenging than others. But death has taken its toll and I no longer care to have my heart wrenched again by the departure of a canine or feline friend. Be that as it may, I can still experience those relationships vicariously through John Katz, as long as no dogs die.

Izzy and Lenore, a border collie and a Labrador retriever, are the main dogs in the story, but they are not the only characters, as the title alludes. The story is really about Jon Katz’ experience as a hospice worker and his struggle with depression, which would not be complete without the inclusion of the dogs that served with him in his work, and comforted him in his depression, or if not comforted, at least helped him to deal with it.

At a time in my life where hospice care has more relevance than it ever did, I was touched by his descriptions of his experiences. It really made me think about that time when we all come to an end, how we choose to deal with it, and how it affects those around us. I hope that if I ever need a hospice worker to call on me, that he will bring a dog, too.

Depression has been no stranger to me, so I could relate to Mr. Katz in that regard, though I don’t think I have ever been as affected by it as he was in this story. Perhaps it was the depression that many of us face as we come to consider the more mature years of our lives, and the inevitable and eventual departure from it. In any event, not only do no dogs die, but the author makes it through his depression, perhaps wiser for it.

I don’t kow what you would be expecting in a “dog book,” but if you have ever lived with a dog, you will be able to appreaciate both Izzy and Lenore, and may even find yourself wishing for such a relationship again. I know I did.

Finished 5/12/18

bookmark: the four agreements

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom (A Toltec Wisdom Book) – by Don Miguel Ruiz

In my lifetime I have read many, many self-help books and listened to many, many self-help recordings. At this point in my life there is little (anything?) new that is written that I haven’t already read or heard. That includes this book. However, that does not mean that this book wasn’t worth reading. Every so often you need to have your mind refreshed with some of the stuff you have read before, and I read this book for just that purpose.

It seems that no matter how many self-help books I have read, I have never been able to entirely internalize the points that I find make good sense and should be things to live by. It’s hard to teach even young dogs new tricks once the old tricks have been so thoroughly ingrained as to comprise ones core being, let alone an old dog like me. Be that as it may, the four agreements the author presents would be good to follow, or at least try to keep in mind as one continues on in life.

The four agreements are these –

– Be Impeccable With Your Words
– Don’t Take Anything Personally
– Don’t Make Assumptions
– Always Do Your Best

While you should read the book to see what the author has to say about these agreements and how he couches his discussion in terms of his Toltec ancestors, these agreements essentially mean using the power of words to enforce the positive, don’t internalize the actions or words of other people, don’t assume that you know what someone else is thinking, and don’t assume that your interpretation of someones words is the same as their interpretation, communicate clearly and do not allow misunderstandings to gain power of their own, and have the integrity to do your best, to the best of your current ability. All good principles to live by, though difficult in practice.

This is a pretty short book, and if you have not heard these idea before, they could be life-changing, if you can consciously keep the principles in mind. I wish I were that person, but this old fart is a bit set in his ways. It never hurts, though, to look outside your rut every once in a while. This book did serve as a reminder that we actually do have the power to change ourselves, if we are up to the challenge.

Finished 4/15/18

bookmark: make your own ukulele

Make Your Own Ukulele: The Essential Guide to Building, Tuning, and Learning to Play the Uke – Bill Plant

I have so many hobbies that I would like to do that it borders on the ridiculous. Now I have to add in making my own ukuleles, and maybe guitars, and maybe banjos. Oh man, sometimes I think I’m a little nuts when it comes to varied interests.

Anyways, to build a ukulele you need to learn how to build one. There are many books on making guitars, but darn few about ukes. Of course, if you learn how to make a guitar, making a ukulele should be no problem, but I was looking for something specifically about ukuleles. (Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t also buy a scad of books on guitar making.)

The author covers making two types of ukuleles – a “cigar box” version and a traditional soprano. While some might argue that the book is a little light on details, it does give enough information for those with a bit of woodworking experience to build their own ukulele. If you want precise, extremely detailed instruction, this book might not be for you, but it provides good information and I think it is worth owning.

If you think you are going to learn to play the ukulele with this book, in spite of the title, this is not the book for you. It provides only a glimpse into beginning to play the ukulele. The author has written a separate book on playing the ukulele, too, but I have not read it. It’s not like you can’t find a hundred books on playing the uke, though, as well as a wealth of info on the internet.

And speaking of the internet, you can easily supplement the information in this book by seeking out videos and other instruction on-line for building ukuleles. What a great time to be alive if you are looking for information!

For what it is worth, the type in my edition of the book is terrible. They used a small font with a very light stroke that is hard for this old fart’s eyes to read. I needed just the right light and right distance to be able to read it. This obviously is not the author’s fault, but the publisher’s. What were they thinking?

There are at least two other books on building ukuleles and I would recommend that you get those and this book if you want to make one. It never hurts to have more information on hand when you get into a project like this. Those books are: Ukulele Design and Construction: A comprehenisve guide to construct a Hawaiian Ukulele For Any Woodworker by D. Henry Wickham and The Ukulele by Denis Gilbert.

Finished 3/24/18

thought for the day – march 22

The older I get, the more people I have to miss in my life.

bookmark: last bus to wisdom

Last Bus to Wisdom – Ivan Doig

For some reason I’m always ready for a road story, so the title of this book pulled me in right away. I guess I make up for the lack of adventure in my own life vicariously through the tales of others. In this case, I would need to put myself in the place of an eleven-year-old boy who often has knowledge beyond his years.

As a bit of a spoiler, the title – Last Bus to Wisdom – is not a metaphor; Wisdom is an actual place. I didn’t get any sense of the characters in the story developing any particular wisdom in their travels, though they definitely gained experience. What you are left with is an adventure story, and that’s not a bad thing to have. This book is one that I would recommend for the proverbial “summer read.” Something that is fun and entertaining but that doesn’t benefit from searching for a deeper meaning or from questioning actions or events.

This is the first book that I have read by Ivan Doig and it appears to be the last book he wrote. It is a bit of an homage to his native Montana and to that way of life. It interested me enough to put Mr. Doig on my list of authors to read in the future, assuming I have enough time left in this life to read all the books I want to read. From reviews of his other books, it sounds like his other stories would be as entertaining as this one.

Finished 3/16/18