**spoiler alert** I reread this classic on a recent trip to Cape Cod. It chronicles Thoreau’s travels to Cape Cod during the mid-nineteenth century. I...more**spoiler alert** I reread this classic on a recent trip to Cape Cod. It chronicles Thoreau’s travels to Cape Cod during the mid-nineteenth century. I read the 1951 edition, which I picked up in a used bookstore years ago. Commentary is by Henry Beston, author of “The Outermost House,” a book reminiscent of Thoreau’s “Walden,” but about Beston’s residence on Cape Cod 100 years later. Illustrations are by Henry Bugbee Kane, a popular nature illustrator of the time. Commentary that reflects the similarity in philosophy and lifestyle between Beston and Thoreau and the old-fashioned charm of Kane’s line drawings both enhance this edition.
I was struck both by how much Cape Cod has changed and how much it has remained the same. Thoreau starts off describing a shipwreck of newly-arrived Irish immigrants, dead bodies and ship salvage on the shore, rescue efforts, and stunned survivors. It is almost unimaginable these days to encounter such tragedy on a beach walk. He talks of lighthouse keepers and their duties keeping lanterns lit, now replaced by automated beacons.
Equally unimaginable is visiting the Cape by stagecoach when there was only one “road,” really just a packed dirt path that only went as far as mid-Cape. Thoreau walked the rest of the distance to Provincetown, despite cold and rainy weather.
Today we think of Provincetown as home to artists, shop owners, gays, and a few fishermen. Thoreau describes a town of fishermen and elite landowners. The one road (now Commercial Street?) had a fishermen’s homes and the saltworks on the seaward side and the well-to-do landowners' homes on the landward side. Also on the landward side were two planks on which people walk to avoid mud and dust. Just as today, Thoreau describes walking down this street as a social activity in which one encounters more of the townspeople the longer one walks.
The book is sprinkled with ironic and humorous observations. He describes with many witticisms the ubiquitous use of Provincetown residents’ yards and gardens to dry and preserve fish. After some less-than-savory details of the process, Thoreau quips that as townspeople cure the fish, so visitors are cured of eating it.
Despite all of the social changes on the Cape, Thoreau’s descriptions of the ocean, bay, beaches, and vegetation show us a Cape Cod much like today. He speculates that the optimistic descriptions by the Pilgrims “or their reporters” of a lush fertile land were false and that the land had always been as it was in Thoreau’s day. This seems validated in the lack of change between Thoreau's day and today.
This is an enjoyable read for any Cape Cod visitor who enjoys nature and history. (less)
I didn’t expect to like this book so much. A book that examines life, death, and survival in unthinkable circumstances could either be too dry or over...moreI didn’t expect to like this book so much. A book that examines life, death, and survival in unthinkable circumstances could either be too dry or overly graphic. I thought I’d skim it and pick up some survival tips, but was fascinated by the variety of case studies and the different ways in which the author analyzes them. He begins the book with the story of his father who crash-landed a bomber behind German lines in WWII, breaking many bones and emerging from his plane to find a local farmer aiming a gun at his head. We don’t find out how his father survived till the last chapter (his challenges were far from over), and this is just one of the amazing survival stories. It is interesting that some of the non-survivors died under less serious conditions, indicating that acting like a survivor can save one’s life.
The author himself intrigued me: biological lab scientist, extreme sportsman, rescue worker, and professional accident analyst, he explores brain and bodily response as well as emotional and perceptual factors that affect survival. His explanations can be quite technical, but he illustrates his points for laypeople. “My daughter’s dog reminds me of the amygdala,” he states casually about part of the brain, elaborating with examples of how she moves to action without rational thinking.
It is perhaps not surprising that the rational mind is of limited value in survival and can play tricks on us where we perceive what we want to believe. Of more value are humor, awe and appreciation of the surrounding environment, perseverance, and “making a plan but not being married to the plan.” Interestingly, children under age 6 have a high survival rate, and Gonzales explains this by saying that these children are more responsive to their environment and their bodily needs such as sleep. They are not apt to use their rational mind to create the inflexible “mental map” that gets adults in trouble. Older children, up to age 12, have the poorest survival rate, as they do create mental maps but lack adult emotional control and reasoning skills to make a plan.
Looking back to the time I survived being lost on a mountain at night in a thunderstorm without protective gear, I see that I employed several of the strategies he suggests to survive. I forced myself to control my panic, was acutely aware and in awe of my environment, made a plan, worked the plan, changed the plan as conditions worsened, kept my brain occupied with thoughts of the future. I also learned to bring a flashlight and extra layers on future day hikes.
Gonzales gives a lot of survival tips and summarizes the most important at the end. The stories are inspiring and full of ideas for survival. Just about anyone can benefit from reading this book. We never expect an accident, but being prepared can save your life. (less)
In this first novel by Marie Phillips the classic Greek gods and goddesses are alive and living not-too-harmoniously in a rundown mansion in London. T...moreIn this first novel by Marie Phillips the classic Greek gods and goddesses are alive and living not-too-harmoniously in a rundown mansion in London. Their power is waning and they’ve been forced to take modern jobs in their areas of expertise, from phone sex worker to TV psychic.
When a family squabble breaks out between Aphrodite and Apollo, an act of revenge inadvertently sets the world awry and involves two shy would-be lovers. Can these timid mortals rise to the occasion and save the world?
A hilarious, irreverent, and fun read for those who can take religion lightheartedly. (less)
This collection of mountaineering essays was published to popularize John Muir’s writings in the UK. Starting with the original compilation entitled “...moreThis collection of mountaineering essays was published to popularize John Muir’s writings in the UK. Starting with the original compilation entitled “John Muir: Mountaineering Essays,” edited by Richard Fleck in 1989, Graham White adds commentary by academics and mountaineers about John Muir’s mountain activities.
The introduction by the editor provides an entertaining summary of Muir’s life and perspective on Muir’s influence on later mountaineers and on wilderness preservation. Some of the other commentary-style essays are not as interesting. I found the selections of Muir’s writing somewhat uneven as well. “Mountain Thoughts” is pure poetry in the best sense, and some tales of climbs without jacket, food, or modern equipment describe nearly impossible adventures excitingly. But some essays contain long passages that get boring, naming large numbers of plants with minimal descriptions—the fault of the editor, not of Muir himself, who wrote primarily for his own enjoyment and records.
In one very exciting essay by Samuel Hall Young, the author is rescued by Muir within a short distance of the summit of an Alaskan mountain after dislocating both shoulders in a fall. Young describes the rescue in great detail, how Muir must climb all the way around the mountaintop to access Young safely, singing all the while to calm his companion. Then Muir uses one hand and his teeth to grasp the injured man’s clothing and swing him onto a tiny ledge. The long descent is graphically described as is the difficult process of re-locating Young’s shoulders during and after the rescue. Even more telling is Muir’s essay on the same topic. Muir glosses over the details of his extreme rescue, presenting it as an unfortunate incident in which he acted as anyone would. He discreetly leaves out what Young reveals—that Young had dislocated his shoulders several times before and had purposely not told Muir prior to the climb, thinking rightly that Muir would not have allowed him to climb had he known.
This book is a worthwhile read for all John Muir fans, as some of the essays are sublime. (less)
My friend KT added the book to her to-read list and its concept seemed to compliment other self-help books I’ve found useful lately, which show that o...moreMy friend KT added the book to her to-read list and its concept seemed to compliment other self-help books I’ve found useful lately, which show that one way to improve your life is to “trick” your subconscious mind into believing that your life is better already. Convincing the subconscious that circumstances are good can bring improvement in those circumstances. Improving your emotions and thoughts improves your life. What makes this book different is that it offers actual techniques for getting happy and staying happy even when current life events are discouraging and not what you want. The premise of all of these sorts of books is that you must focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.
Esther and Jerry Hicks set the stage with the ideas that we create our own reality with our beliefs and emotions, that we “vibrate” at a frequency that attracts events reflecting our beliefs, and that we can “raise our vibration” to attract better experiences. Next there are chapters on our bodies, homes, relationships, work, money, world, and government. Examples of common negative beliefs are given in each area. An “emotional guidance scale,” with 17 steps from powerless to powerful is used as a tool, the idea being to move up the scale.
Next are chapters on techniques for moving up the scale. The techniques are described, and the negative beliefs from previous chapters are used to demonstrate their use. In “segment-intending,” the subject looks forward to the next segment of her life, imagining what it will be like when the obstacle is gone. In another, instead of feeling bad because the subject doesn’t have what she want, she thinks “wouldn’t it be nice if” the thing she wants comes to pass. This gives the desire more light-heartedness instead of discouragement. In “turning-it-over-to-the-manager,” the subject turns her problem over to a manager, either her subconscious or the law of attraction, asking that the problem be solved, and thanking the manager for helping. The “focus-wheel” technique is my favorite because it involves making a wheel-like diagram and writing an encouraging statement on each spoke of the wheel, then heartily circling your intention in the middle. The “book-of-positive-aspects” has the subject writing or saying good things about the current situation. There are also techniques that are specific to healing the body and getting out of debt.
This book was supposedly channeled from an entity called Abraham. He answers some questions from audiences in the last chapter. While I don’t necessarily believe in channeling, or that unembodied beings know more than we do, I did find some of these techniques useful, regardless of their source. If you’re into self-help, it is well worth perusing the book and experimenting with techniques that appeal to you. (less)
Written in 1968, this cookbook is an interesting historical snapshot of typical mainland Americans’ taste in food and judgment of other cultures. Writ...moreWritten in 1968, this cookbook is an interesting historical snapshot of typical mainland Americans’ taste in food and judgment of other cultures. Written by quirky and somewhat egotistical restaurant owner Trader Vic, the recipes are pretty much inventions of his own based upon influences from areas in which he traveled. He does not tell us much about the cultures from which the foods come. Certain foods that are popular now are dismissed, for example, “sushi…is a favorite Japanese tidbit but is a seldom acquired taste with Americans.” He uses MSG liberally in dishes influenced by Hawaii, Japan, Indonesia, and Mexico, as well as China. Reflecting typical middle-American food in the 1960s, recipes frequently feature meat and dairy. Most recipes would not be considered healthful, or in many cases delicious, today.
There is some detail in the description of traditional Hawaiian foods, and a few traditional recipes have been adapted to the 1968 mainland kitchen. Otherwise, most of the recipes have only slight relation to the cultures from which they purportedly come. The chapter on Texan foods was satisfying because it contained Mexican influences without pretending to represent Mexico, whereas the chapter on Mexico discussed food from a purely tourist perspective.
I enjoyed chapter on San Franciscan food because the typical San Franciscan restaurant foods in the 1960s were so different than foods today. Anyone care to go out for calves’ liver stroganoff, rabbit stew, deviled chicken, or poached salmon with red caviar-whipped cream-hollandaise-wine sauce? The chapter on (mixed alcoholic) drinks shows how time has changed Americans’ taste for even these, for example eliminating egg whites and evaporated milk as ingredients.
Even though the casual racism that ran rampant in earlier generations is represented as a part of history here, and most of the recipes are not useful today, I enjoyed this blast from the past. The “San Franciscan” rice pudding with raisins, bananas, mandarin oranges, pineapple, orange marmalade, and sherry might be worth whipping up some rainy day! (less)
I picked this book up in the airport before a trip, but put it back on the shelf. I didn’t think I wanted to read a book about Tab Hunter, though it s...moreI picked this book up in the airport before a trip, but put it back on the shelf. I didn’t think I wanted to read a book about Tab Hunter, though it seemed to be well written, candid, and portray a life much different than I’d imagined. On my next trip, two weeks later, all copies but one had sold, and I promptly bought the last one. “Confidential” was so engaging that I didn’t crack the book I’d meant to read on vacation.
Tab Hunter is completely different from the person I’d imagined him to be. He faced challenges that required more maturity than his years could afford him. Barely of school age, he and his brother lived by themselves for weeks on end while their divorced mother worked onboard ships to support them. Fawned over by girls in his high school and later by Hollywood because of his looks, he was shy, introverted, and mainly liked horses, an interest he cultivated throughout his life. He resented Hollywood’s treatment of him as a “pretty boy,” analyzing the characters he portrayed and taking other actors’ advice for bettering his acting ability while striving unsuccessfully for more complex roles. He struggled to understand his sexuality as his church told him that he was bad. He makes bad choices, loses loved ones, becomes a target for bribery by former friends, maintains his Catholic faith, and grows up and grows old under the harsh scrutiny of tabloid writers.
The book is surprisingly well written, each chapter ending such that the reader can’t wait to start the next chapter. Art (Tab’s real name, which he prefers) writes of lifelong friends and family members as well fellow Hollywood employees. He shows a surprising sense of humor. His tone is mostly polite yet frank, leaving no question what he thinks of various actors, agents, lovers, directors, and family members at various stages in his life. I am glad that his partner suggested that he write the book, and gave him a solid answer when he asked, “Who would want to read a book about Tab Hunter?” There is a good chance that you will! (less)
Although I agree with the basic premise of this book--that writing down goals and aspirations can help to manifest them--I did not find the book very...moreAlthough I agree with the basic premise of this book--that writing down goals and aspirations can help to manifest them--I did not find the book very helpful in doing this. It might be more helpful for a non-writer or for someone who has never consciously set goals in order to achieve them.
The format is short chapters followed by exercises. Not all chapters and exercises are related to writing, which makes the title a bit misleading. There are chapters on inventing rituals and starting a goal-setting group. There is also a chapter on how writing near running water is inspiring, which seems more like the author’s preference than a general writing rule. Writing chapters include such topics as setting goals, addressing fears, scripting your daily life, and writing letters to God.
The author uses stories from her own life and that of friends and clients to illustrate each chapter. Some of these stories were long and too specific to be of help in doing the exercises at the end of the chapter. For example, the “getting ready to receive” chapter is all about one woman’s letters to her soul mate in the years before she mets him. If you want to receive anything else, this chapter is of limited value, and also I found the lengthy letters embarrassingly personal. I would have liked to see more examples of writing to receive different things, with fewer words in each example. Many chapters were like this.
This book might be worth checking out from the library, as I did. The chapters are short, and maybe some of the writing exercises will inspire you to write, as a few did for me. (less)
A friend loaned me this book because she knows I like James Michener. After witnessing a bullfight in Spain when I was young, I had to agree with Tom...moreA friend loaned me this book because she knows I like James Michener. After witnessing a bullfight in Spain when I was young, I had to agree with Tom Lehrer that, “I hadn’t had so much fun since the day…that my brother’s dog Rover…got run over…” I suspected that there was more to bullfighting than met the eye, even though such a sight will never meet with my eyes again. I was fairly successful at laying aside my prejudices to enjoy this short (for Michener) book.
Simple yet beautiful two-color line drawings compliment the text. Illustrator John Fulton portrays the world of bulls and bullfighters so well that it is no surprise to learn that he is an American matador based in Seville.
Michener speaks in first person, casting himself as an American sports journalist on assignment. His descriptions of the styles and personalities of the four most popular matadors and his own relationship with the bull rancher are intriguing. His enthusiasm for the sport is obvious, and though his language is not extremely graphic, he does not sugar-coat the more brutal aspects of bullfighting.
**spoiler alert!**Michener tells a tall tale of an old rancher, Don Cayetano, formerly among the most famous of bull breeders, producing bulls that fought bravely and honorably in the ring. Don Cayetano’s reputation had slipped throughout the years, and he prays to the Virgin Mary to restore quality to his bulls and honor to his family name. Even as he prays, his nemesis Lazaro Lopez, the cowardly gypsy matador, who seeks to dishonor the bulls, also prays, and their conflict drives much of the plot.
I was enjoying the book quite a bit but really did not like the ending. If Hollywood ever makes this a movie, they will change that. (less)
This is James Michener’s first book, hammered out on an old typewriter in a Quonset hut on Vanuatu during WWII. He hadn’t written before, but the inte...moreThis is James Michener’s first book, hammered out on an old typewriter in a Quonset hut on Vanuatu during WWII. He hadn’t written before, but the intense exposure to the pressures of war and Michener’s curiosity about human character under such pressure inspired him to stay up nights on end telling stories. Michener tells the stories of Americans of all military ranks from varied backgrounds and their interactions with each other, island natives, and island colonials. These tales are told in first person, and are loosely based upon his wartime experiences.
The book is written as a series of short stories with various characters reappearing throughout the book. Written in 1946, the book starts out with the building of a runway on a fictional island and ends with the aftermath of storming of a beach on another fictional island. In between, there are the (not cleaned up) stories from South Pacific, the famous musical adaptation, stories that were too risqué for screen adaptation in 1949, and other that reveal that the character of a man has nothing to do with his military rank. The stories are told with humor and humanity.
It’s easy to see why this book won critical acclaim and the hearts of readers in the post WWII era. I recommend it for anyone who is new to Michener’s books because it’s a simpler saga than many. If you’ve seen the play or movie, read the book to find out the real story about Emile De Becque’s children--the grown women who were not in the movie. (less)
This short (< 30 page) self-help volume was written in 1926 by an anonymous author who was “highly successful and widely known for his generosity a...moreThis short (< 30 page) self-help volume was written in 1926 by an anonymous author who was “highly successful and widely known for his generosity and helpful spirit.” RHJ deliberately kept it short to make his method easy to read, understand, and use. He presents a simple 3-step method to accomplish goals with enough supporting details for the reader to determine their goals and start towards attaining them immediately. He doesn't pad the book with fluff, plus the book costs only $3, so what’s not to like? As for the method: it works!(less)
It’s complete pleasure to read a nonfiction book that reads like a well-written novel. I found myself saying many times, “I’ll just read one more chap...moreIt’s complete pleasure to read a nonfiction book that reads like a well-written novel. I found myself saying many times, “I’ll just read one more chapter,” but finding it hard to stop. Hillenbrand did an enormous amount of research before writing “Seabiscuit,” and even her extensive Acknowledgments and Notes sections are fascinating reads.
This is the classic story of an underdog (underhorse?) becoming a champion despite much criticism, played out during the Great Depression. It’s about the fatefulness of an abused underachieving horse meeting a trainer and jockey who understand him, and their collective ride to dizzying heights.
The cast of characters is fascinating and well-developed. Indeed, it would be hard to invent more interesting characters. There’s the West’s first car dealership salesman who states “era of the horse is dead,” but invests in racehorses when son is killed in car accident. And a taciturn and misunderstood man who performs miracles with “problem” horses. Then there’s an obsessed jockey who can’t quit even when blinded and crippled on the racetrack, and his perfect chemistry with an unusual horse with whom he becomes a winner. This jockey has an unlikely manager and even less likely romantic partner, and his best jockey friend has luck as good as his is bad. Finally there’s a horse who would rather be eating or sleeping, who uses psychology to defeat other horses in practice and on the track, and who is well-known for hamming it up in front of the camera.
The photos complement the story. We get a sense of the personalities of both horse and trainer as Seabiscuit pricks up his ears and fans his tail for the camera while Tom Smith averts his face. Jockey Red Pollard reads the newspaper and Seabiscuit pushes it aside to “say hi” after a workout. Seabiscuit and War Admiral run neck-and-neck at their long-anticipated showdown race. Most celebrated jockey George Woolf and most celebrated horse Seabiscuit blaze over the finish line at Pimlico. The author sorted through hundreds of photographs, and chose well.
Hillenbrand’s meticulous research is revealed in chapters that supplement the plot. Subjects include the history of horse racing with emphasis on the 1930s; the jockey’s grueling life in the 1930s, including extreme measures employed to keep weight down; horse training; horse psychology in terms of how horses relate to one another; and even diabetes treatments in the 1930s. These supplementary chapters are woven beautifully into the plot at appropriate times.
With Hillenbrand’s rhythmical, succinct prose and ideas flowing logically, this book was hard to put down, even though I didn’t want it to end. Highly recommended! (less)
Santa Teresa, a 16th century Catholic nun, tells of her spiritual progress as she comes to union with God. This Catholic classic has become increasing...moreSanta Teresa, a 16th century Catholic nun, tells of her spiritual progress as she comes to union with God. This Catholic classic has become increasingly popular throughout the past 500 years. Writing at the command of her Confessors (male priests who want to review and judge her spiritual experiences), she expresses herself humbly, self-effacingly, and even apologetically. She writes in simple, down-to-earth language, with some humor that was at the time risqué. Like most Spanish women of that era, she was unschooled. This makes her frank approach all the more charming. Her writing style is of the period, so I had to approach the book in small segments at first to fully appreciate it.
Society in 14th century Spain gave women little power. The reader can clearly see that some Confessors don’t believe any woman can become enlightened, and some even try to discredit Teresa for their own self-elevation. Others are fair and evaluate her experiences without regard to her gender. She is inclined to believe all of her confessors and not judge them.
The heart of this book is Sta. Teresa’s description of the four stages of prayer and union with God that she experienced. She describes the difference between rapture and union with God. Some say that these descriptions are erotic. What I find most interesting is that the stages she describes in her Catholic experience are similar to those that I’ve heard Hindus describe as they come to know God. In that way, Sta. Teresa seems to describe universal spiritual truths through her experiences.
Sta. Teresa also tells of how she reformed the Carmelite nuns to observe greater austerities. In the time of the Crusades, when many people died because of their beliefs, Sta. Teresa proposed the reform against the wishes of most nuns in her convent. She stuck to her beliefs even when authorities said to desist, and describes how God told her to persist. After great danger, she eventually won favor and was able to found the Discalced Carmelites.
Sta. Teresa has inspired Catholics, women, and spiritual seekers of all kinds with her writing. This is not a fast or easy read, but it is profound and enlightening. (less)
The book’s title says it all. Bergers, a real estate investor with plenty of experience in “flipping” homes, rates the relative value of home improvem...moreThe book’s title says it all. Bergers, a real estate investor with plenty of experience in “flipping” homes, rates the relative value of home improvements in terms of resale price. Ratings run from one star (weak) to five stars (strong). This subject might have been quite dry, but the author's anecdotes and unpretentious writing style, plus the design of the layout, make it enjoyable. There are sections on overall improvements, indoor and outdoor improvements, electrical, heating & plumbing. Each interior room is individually examined. Finally, Bergers uses a case study of a home he bought to improve and resell, thoroughly demonstrating his rather complex method of determining ROI (return on investment) for all of the improvements made to the home compared with the resale value added. He also provides a helpful sample contract to use with subcontactors and glossary of terms.
Two of his basic tenets are: The more visible the home improvement, the greater the value added. To add maximum value, an improvement must be in line with the neighborhood. For example air conditioning, which is not too visible, can nonetheless add great value if the climate and neighborhood are such that many nearby homes have air conditioning.
Some of the valuable improvements are obvious (painting and cleaning up the yard), but there are some surprises, like adding insulation is of low value but adding a closet organizer is of high value. And my idea of adding a gazebo to our property, rated a strong value-adder, is a lot less impractical than I’d thought.
This book is a great reference for new homeowners (such as myself) as well as “home flippers.” Since home improvements are rated by area of the home rather than by value of the improvement, a list of improvements by rating at the end would have been a good addition. However, the author does provide a useful and complete index. (less)