bookmark: the violin maker

The Violin Maker: A Search for the Secrets of Craftsmanship, Sound, and Stradivari – by John Marchese

If you have no interest in violins, I would suggest that this may not be a book for you. I, on the other hand, am interested in violins and found it to be an interesting look into the world of violin making.

It is pretty amazing that these music boxes made of bits of wood and string are such complex, yet simple, constructions. Even more amazing is that there are violins made long, long ago that are still being used and that are so valued that no musician can afford to buy one without either an inheritance or a patron. Indeed, many of the violins made by the old masters are owned by collectors and temporarily loaned to more renowned violinists for their use.

The book superficially follows the making of a violin by an accomplished craftsman, Sam Zygmuntowicz, for a well-known violinist, Eugene Drucker. It does not cover violin making in great detail, so don’t expect to be able to follow along and make one yourself. This book is more about the spirit of violin making.

As well as the making of the new violin, this book covers some of the history of the old violins, the Amatis, Stradavaris and Guarneris, as well as some of the violin players who use these old violins. These violins and their players exist at a level far above most violinists, but one wonders if the practical value of the old violins is a bit overblown. That is also touched on a bit in the book.

I started to learn the violin when I was in sixth grade, until I realized that it was going to be real work before I was able to play anything worthwhile. Like so many other things in my life, that reality led me to give it up rather quickly. I regret that. I now own a violin of my own with the thought that someday I am going to learn enough to turn out at least one tune, but we will see. As well, I would love to actually make a violin, whatever the quality may be, just to be able to say I have done it. Obviously this book had an appeal to me. If you are of like mind, or at least have an interest in music, perhaps it will appeal to you, too.

Finished 3/4/20

bookmark: paddle your own canoe

Paddle Your Own Canoe: One Man’s Fundamentals for Delicious Living – by Nick Offerman

I suppose that someone actually interested in the mechanics of being an actor would be interested in this book. Perhaps someone as ego-driven as Mr. Offerman. Unfortunately I am not that person. Instead, most of the behavior described in the book describes an obnoxious person more interested in his own “hijinks” than in being a decent human being. Of course, since the author devotes a great amount of his book to his youth, one can make some allowances for being an asshole “back in the day.” The problem is that he revels in his past assholeness, rather than seeing the youth that he was as someone with the morals and manners of a self-absorbed child.

So why did I read this book? Well, Mr. Offerman is an accomplished woodworker, and as such I was willing to follow up my reading of his book, Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop. Secondly, because I had read that book, I was given this book as a gift. Personally, if I am to recommend one of these books to someone, read Good Clean Fun.

As a disclaimer, I must admit that I am, indeed, an old fart, and as such find a lot of the author’s discussion of his sex life and his language grating on my sensibilities. I am guessing that I am not his main audience. Still, I like to think that I am somewhat liberal in my acceptance of human nature, so I actually found my reaction to his writing a bit surprising. I guess I’m more “old-fashioned” than I think I am. In one chapter he says he will keep it cleaned up for his mother, but loses that ability half way through the chapter. I am sure his parents are proud of his accomplishments, but I wonder how they really feel about this book. I would be shaking my head after reading it if the author were my son.

Since I read the whole book, obviously there is some worth to it. He makes a few good points. If I had not read it, though, it would not have been a loss.

Finished 2/29/20

bookmark: jane eyre

Jane Eyre – by Charlotte Brontë

I was surprised at how good I found this book. Sure, it is considered a “classic” and as such must be good, but I do not find that to be universally true. For me, this one was a real page turner.

Yes, it is dated, but that’s part of its charm. The only issue I had was related to this datedness. Some of the word usage is not what it is today. It would have been nice to read an annotated version, but I don’t even know if there is such a thing. Even when I tried to look the words up in my Kindle version, there was often either no definition or a definition that seemed totally unrelated to how the word was used.

Beside enjoying the story, I now understand references to Mr. Rochester, Thornfield, and other names. I’ll be able to answer a few more Jeopardy questions.

It’s also a fascinating look into the morals, ethics and culture of the time. There was more than one time that I wanted to ask Jane Eyre what the heck she thought she was doing, but I’m operating from my current perspective, which would probably be totally foreign to their way of thinking.

After finishing the book, I looked into the lives of I was surprised at how good I found this book. Sure, it is considered a “classic” and as such must be good, but I do not find that to be universally true. For me, this one was a real page turner.

Yes, it is dated, but that’s part of its charm. The only issue I had was related to this datedness. Some of the word usage is not what it is today. It would have been nice to read an annotated version, but I don’t even know if there is such a thing. Even when I tried to look the words up in my Kindle version, there was often either no definition or a definition that seemed totally unrelated to how the word was used.

Beside enjoying the story, I now understand references to Mr. Rochester, Thornfield, and other names. I’ll be able to answer a few more Jeopardy questions.

It’s also a fascinating look into the morals, ethics and culture of the time. There was more than one time that I wanted to ask Jane Eyre what the heck she thought she was doing, but I’m operating from my current perspective, which would probably be totally foreign to their way of thinking.

After finishing the book, I looked into the lives of Charlotte Brontë and her family. I confess I didn’t know anything about them, so was saddened to find out how, and how early, their lives ended. I could see several features of their lives that were used in this book.

You never read it either? If you’re a jock who only likes to read Sports Illustrated, you might not be a good candidate to read it. If you appreciate something with a little more depth and emotion, give it a try.

Finished 11/23/19

We Have Always Lived in the Castle – by Shirley Jackson

A truly odd story. Perhaps it goes some to explaining the mysterious spinster sisters who lived in that odd house in your neighborhood. An interesting look into a fantastical and insane mind, and her enabling sister.

Finished 11/1/19

bookmark: murder out of turn

Murder Out of Turn – by Frances Lockridge and Richard Lockridge

This is the second book in the Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries. I read the first book in the series a couple of months ago. Obviously it was entertaining enough to warrant reading the second book.

This book carries over many of the characters from the first book, which gives it some nice continuity. The story involves the murder of two women at a lake where several of the characters have cabins, including the Norths (thus their involvement again).

Again, this is a “fun” mystery book and I will keep the series in mind when I’m looking for another mystery to read.

Finished 10/11/19

The Good Life According to Hemingway – by A. E. Hotchner

I make no excuses for liking Hemingway. I’ve read much (most?) of his work and would happily read more. This book is not a Hemingway story, nor is it a story about Hemingway, but rather Hemingway quotes as recalled by his friend A. E. Hotchner, as well as old photographs of Hemingway.

This is not a very long or difficult book, but it is interesting, providing additional insights into Hemingway’s character and life philosophy. If you like Hemingway and enjoy biographical information about your favorite authors, this is worth reading.

Finished 9/19/19

bookmark: tune in tokyo

Tune In Tokyo:The Gaijin Diaries – by Tim Anderson

I’ve had a bit of a fascination with Japan. I suppose it’s because of the differences in our cultures, though perhaps it is in part because of my son’s interest in Japanese sword arts. I accompanied him to lessons and read Musashi and other similar books while I was waiting for him. Or maybe I think Japanese girls are cute (insert dirty old man emoji here).

When I came across this book, which is about an American who moves to Japan to teach English and his experiences there, I thought it would be an interesting introduction to what it would be like to live there. It was, in spite of the author being gay and having a slightly different perspective than I.

It’s extremely unlikely that I will ever visit, let alone live in, Japan, but it still was interesting to see Japanese culture in their own country through the eyes of an American. If you are uncomfortable with sexual references you might not appreciate this book, but I don’t have that hang up. If I was a younger man, after reading this book I might give Japan a visit. For right now, just reading about it is enough.

Finished 9/6/19

bookmark: the norths meet murder

The Norths Meet Murder – by Frances Lockridge and Richard Lockridge

The older you get, the more you know. Not because you are necessarily more educated, but because you have simply lived long enough to have been exposed to years of popular culture. To me, people like Bob Hope and George Burns have relevance, whereas my grand-nieces and nephews have absolutely no idea who they are. Well, I just came across something that I knew nothing about, even though it was very popular even when I was a kid. That is the series of mystery books based on the characters of Mr. and Mrs. North. Not only was it a popular book series, it was a popular radio show, early television show, play and a movie.

I don’t recall where I first heard of these books, but I thought they sounded like they could be entertaining. Of course, in a series of twenty-six books, I wanted to start with the first one. Nothing worse than jumping into the middle of a series. This first book in the series was written in the 1930s and it was fun seeing the culture of the time through the book.

Was this “fine literature?” No, but it was entertaining. It was fun getting to know the main characters, and all the other characters for that matter. It involves a murder that happened right above the North’s apartment. Indeed, they discovered the body, which created the opportunity for their involvement. If you are a mystery book person, I think you would enjoy this series.

Finished 8/17/19

bookmark: life expectancy

Life Expectancy – by Dean Koontz

It is a pretty rare occasion that I get wrapped up enough in a book to want to do nothing but read it, but this book fell into that category. I had read a blurb about the book that piqued my interest. It said that the main character’s grandfather made a death-bed prediction of five terrible days that his grandson would experience in his life, and had made this prediction at the same time that his grandson was being born. That short summary was enough for me to check the library for an available copy, and once into the book, the story just pulled me along.

Dean Koontz is a well-known author who has written many books. I must confess that I have not read any of his books before this (though I do seem to recall possibly reading one long ago, but would not swear to that) but will definitely seek out his other books when the urge hits for a really good story. I would expect his other books to be as good.

Likable characters – even the bad guys had their good points – and a fast moving plot kept me glued to the book. A appealing life’s philosophy added to the appeal of the book. And, hoping not to be a spoiler here, an ending that didn’t disappoint helped a lot. To finish a book in two days is practically unheard of for me, but that’s how much I enjoyed the book. I better allow for that when I read another book by Mr. Koontz.

Finished 7/28/19

The Marvelous Misadventures of Ingrid Winter – by J.S. Drangsholt

I would prefer to not keep company with the main character of this book, nor anyone within her business sphere. If you are into addle-brained, neorotic, self-centered people, you may like her, but I’ll take a pass. There were too many times reading this book when I wanted to reach out and slap Ingrid Winter up the side of the head in a most likely failed attempt to wake her up out of her self-absorbed existence.

On the other hand, the book was easy to read. The educational system political machinations that form a large part of the plot to this book surely come from the author’s personal experiences as a teacher and ring true, the same as office politics in any business. In the end, I did finish the book, so I guess it wasn’t too terrible sticking it out.

To each his own, I suppose. Maybe I’m not Norwegian enough to appreciate the story, which was originally written in Norwegian. Let’s mark it up to that, rather than weariness of reading about a woman who will probably never get her shit together in life.

Finished 7/26/19