Archive for January, 2019

A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel – by John Irving

Some novels tell a story straight through, from beginning to end, in a linear fashion with a clear plot and familiar characters. This is not one of them. Instead, we are required to jump back and forth between expatriate John Wheelwright’s current life in Canada and his memories of his earlier life and his friendship with Owen Meany. There is a mythic quality to the story of a boy who prophesies his own end that elevates it beyond mere storytelling.

The primary focus of the book is ostensibly Owen Meany’s life, but in reality is an exploration of belief. Taking place in the 1960s and 70s, the Vietnam War plays a major role in the story and in particular drives the novel’s narrative and provides the denouement.

The character of Owen Meany is outrageous, in the sense of being beyond the usual. This is a person very different from a normal child, and those around him appear to sense this. As the reader, you are required to suspend your critical thinking just as we need to do when reading many fantastical stories.

If you are interested in a book that will challenge you, not in the sense of hard to read, but requiring thought, than this is a good one to read.

Finished 1/25/19

thoughts inspired by bees

The ad says, “20% off beekeeping supplies. One day only!” I cannot help but be intrigued. I’ve always thought that keeping bees would be one of the necessary, and enjoyable, skills that homesteading would require. Alas, I’ve no need for bees now, and I doubt that my neighbors in the city would be pleased with a hive or three sitting in my backyard. Maybe when I retire . . .

Again, alas, that prospect is currently so far on the horizon that at best it appears to be a mirage. A shimmering, beautiful dream of a life directed by my own passion of the moment, rather than the needs and demands of an employer. But, to round out a trinity of “alases,” life without income would be more unpleasant than life without choice (and yes, I know everything is a choice).

A couple of months ago I wrote a “bookmark” on Eric Idle’s book, Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography.” I mentioned something I got from the book – doing what you enjoy for a living rather than merely working for a living. Right now, toleration of my work is the best I can come up with, and each year brings less tolerance. Despite advice I’ve heard too many times, I have not managed to “love my work.”

So, what would I suggest to my eighteen-year-old self, regarding a livelihood? It doesn’t matter. Any such advice would be wasted on that boy. As intelligent and capable as he was, he was immature and ignorant of the real world, almost afraid of it. To have done anything other than the safe and sure plodding in which he engaged would have subjected him to more anxiety than he could handle.

Perhaps I would have to go back further and advise that child’s parents to let him go out and make his own choices, and his own mistakes. Perhaps I should kidnap him and bring him to live with a more adventurous family that would encourage his individuality and appreciate his differences, rather than trying to force him into some image they imagined proper for their son.

Any change to my life would have to be made at a very early point, as I have certain childhood memories of events that I am sure warped my life in ways that were never expected, warped in ways that can never be unwarped. Or perhaps that’s just me making excuses for my own failing to direct my life in a more meaningful, satisfying way. Perhaps no amount of change in my early life would make up for my inherent psychological failings. Nature versus nurture.

I guess these ramblings illustrate why I have had little inclination to write anything other than “bookmarks” here. I’m kind of a one trick pony and while a pony’s tricks might be entertaining once or twice, the hundredth time around it gets pretty old. Even I get tired of what I write here. I would wish that I had something interesting to write about here, but the fulfillment of that wish would more likely be something devastating, rather than rewarding. And who wants to read about that? Hell, who wants to experience that?

bookmark: hell’s princess

Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men – by Harold Schechter

Spoiler Alert – right up front – if you read this book expecting “the mystery of Belle Gunness” to be revealed, you will be disappointed. But I have to admit, the author did say in the title that it was a mystery.

Some people walk into a public place and become a mass murderer by shooting several people. Others become a mass murderer by killing several people one at a time over an extended period. This book is the story of Belle Gunness, a mass murderer of the latter type.

While this book did leave me wanting a resolution to the mystery of Belle Gunness’s actual fate, it was still a very interesting retelling of her story. It covers the known details of her murders and covers the trial of the man convicted of the arson theoretically responsible for her death. That’s the mystery, by the way – whether she actually died in the fire or set the fire herself and then disappeared forever.

The publicity and public spectacle of the whole story at the time is illustrative of humankind’s fascination with the macabre and the lengths to which people will go to involve themselves, however peripherally. I guess I can’t hold myself too far apart from those people, as I read the book with the same interest as the average citizen back then probably followed it in the newspapers.

In addition to the direct story of Belle Gunness, the author offers a good amount of background history. For example, being of Norwegian descent, I found it fascinating that Chicago was, at one time, such a center of Norwegian immigration. Too bad it couldn’t have had one less particular female immigrant.

If you are a history buff, or a true crime devotee, you may find this book interesting. If you live in La Porte, Indiana, you’ll find a good bit of local history here. While I would still like to have had some resolution to the mystery, as I am sure most of the people involved in the case would have liked, it was a good book.

Finished 1/5/19

new year 2019

Here I sit, once again, at the beginning of a new year. While it is always good to be able to reach this milestone, in the back of my head this old fart wonders how many more he will see. In spite of all evidence to the contrary, I hope that this will be a good year. I’ve even managed to encourage myself to make a few changes next year. Note, I said “encourage myself.“ I did not make any resolutions. Those are as useless as a condom that’s been dropped in the gravel and run over by a car (not that I worry about that at this point in my life).

Some of my encouragement comes from necessity. I have to ask myself how comfortable life is going to be in twenty years if even now I have to struggle to either get down on or up off of the floor. Cleaning house for our New Year’s Eve party had me painfully writhing around on the bathrom floor to wash it. Good grief, I was like a beached whale! So I am encouraging myself to lose some weight and get some exercise. I’ve even gone so far as to order an exercise program that I think will work for me. Rather than tell you about that now and have to admit to my failure later, I’ll let you know in the future if I have succeeded, even in any small way.

Fighting my natural tendencies, I need to do something other than just plop my ass down in my chair after I get home from work. There is so much that needs doing around the house, not to mention the hobbies I keep buying tools and supplies for, treating coming home from work as the end of my day just does not make sense. I am encouraging myself to do something with my evenings other than devote them to television (and nodding off in front of the television).

Lastly, with encouragement from my bank account, I need to get the finances whipped into shape. They aren’t bad, but I could be doing better, and doing more instead of buying more would be a step in the right direction. You would think that at this point in my life I would have everything that I could possibly want, but it’s so easy to yield to Amazon’s siren call. Also, combining encouragements, spending less on fast food will be good for both my budget and my belly.

So, Happy New Year to you all. I hope it is a good year for you, and for all. That it will most likely suck is just another part of getting old, but hell, if you can’t roll with the punches, you might as well lie down and give up. I’m not there yet.