Archive for December, 2016

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

bookmark: lab girl

Lab Girl – Hope Jahren

This is an interesting, well-written book about a somewhat, um, quirky, scientist. A woman scientist, as I am sure she would want me to mention. On one hand this book is an autobiography of an everyday person, on the other hand it is an exploration of the life of a person who has had to face her own personality disorders. In other words, it is a book that most of us could write about ourselves, if we were as capable of doing so as this author.

There have been times in my life that I wished I had a driving interest in something, anything, that would blossom into a career. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), my life has been a revolving series of hobby interests which, while fulfilling, have not yielded even a hint of a career. Instead, my “career” has been jobs for which I have an innate ability, but little interest. In contrast, Ms. Jarhren seems to be one driven by the need to do what she does. It seems to have been a path she could not have avoided walking even if she had tried. Indeed, for her there is no division between a work life and a personal life; they are one and the same.

An integral part of her life, her lab mate, Bill, plays a major role in the book. If she were on drugs, I think that he would be called an “enabler.” He seems to have no more of a life outside the laboratory than the author does, or at least until she got married. I guess it’s great to find someone else you can share your passion with, and yet odd that she didn’t fall in love with anyone until she found someone who was not intimately involved with her everyday lab work. Other reviews I have read of this book consider Bill as interesting as the author, and I guess that is not far from the mark.

Included in the stories of the author’s life are bits and pieces about soils, plants and trees, the author’s life work. As a person who appreciates science, I found these bits as interesting as the rest. I could easily have been a scientist (indeed, I did work as a lab assistant in college and worked for a short time in a pulp and paper lab) and can relate to this information and to Ms. Jahren’s fascination with it.

Perhaps the subject matter would not alone have been enough to drive the popularity of this book, but the author’s writing is really very good. It is obvious that she is just as capable writing as she is in the lab. As the author relates, her mother involved the author in her English studies and thus seems to have inspired a love of language in her daughter. It shows, and makes the book eminently readable.

Finished 12/22/16

free to choose

You know what? I’m tired of being a fat man. I don’t want to be a fat man. I’m not going to be a fat man any more.

No one is making me be a fat man. Sure, I have no choice about the getting old part, but I do have some say in the being fat part, and I say it’s time for a change. All I have to do, really, is eat less calories – and the right calories – than I burn every day. I’ve done it before, so it’s not like I don’t know that it can be done.

I’m just tired of my body hurting, my knees and hips in particular. Yeah, I’m going to need some replacements, but my body would move so much easier and with less pain if I weighed less and I wasn’t eating crap that caused inflammation.

So I’m going to stop eating crap and get my body into the best shape that it can be, even if it is nowhere near where I wish it could be. That’s it. No further discussion. Just do it.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper – Phaedra Patrick

As I get older I tend to appreciate books which portray life in our later years in an optimistic light, and this is one of those books. Through the the mystery of a found charm bracelet, the main character eventually works through his grief over the loss of his wife and sees that there is still more enjoyment in life to be found.

I wonder how the author could write about bereavement so accurately. I suppose there is plenty of literature about it and it wouldn’t be hard to research, but it sounds like she has seen it first hand. Certainly I was able to relate to her writing all too well. That kind of grief is something that rips you into little pieces, leaving you to try to reassemble yourself bit by tiny bit. In the end, you do it, but somehow there is always a piece missing, a piece that cannot be replaced.

This was an enjoyable book, well written and with lessons for both us old farts who face these kinds of situations and for our families who cannot yet really understand what we are going through. By the way, if you’re not familiar with British words or phrases, the typical American might be thrown off occasionally, but to me it just added to the charm of the book (pun intended).

Finished 12/5/16