This is one of my favorite books of all time - I frequently go back to re-read it.
I love it for several reasons. Least important is that I first readThis is one of my favorite books of all time - I frequently go back to re-read it.
I love it for several reasons. Least important is that I first read this just after moving to California, an hour's drive from Cannery Row. The book also contains many wise and thoughtful comments about human nature, both the good and the bad parts....more
Of all the things we can do during our time here on Earth, the worst thing you can do is try too hard to be safe. It's only when we accept some risk aOf all the things we can do during our time here on Earth, the worst thing you can do is try too hard to be safe. It's only when we accept some risk and strive for the sane (or fun) management thereof, many of us would maintain, that you become fully alive. Motorcycling is an excellent way to shred delusions of immortality, its reward being the most fun you can have without an enamored Scarlett Johansson and a hot tub.
However, one down side to motorcycling is that there are significant periods of time where we can't engage in this holy madness. Work, which provides the vital source of monetary fuel for our two-wheeled love affair, simultaneously encumbers a significant amount of saddle time. The weather can also interfere, though here in the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with a climate where you can at least get out for a spin around town almost all year round.
What gets us through those dark days when our mounts stand idle? Motorcycle writers do, by helping us remember dreams that we've already lived and plan for our dreams of the future. The best writers can even make us feel like we do while riding, articulating the wordless howls of joy that sound deafeningly in our helmets when a ride is JUST right. That's why those of us who love books as well as motorcycles are constantly on the prowl for the next Peter Egan, Austin Vince or Ted Simon. Recently, I was fortunate enough to discover the writing of Jack Lewis and these words are meant to get you as excited about finding more of his work as I am.
I've probably read a number of articles by Jack in Motorcyclist magazine, since returning to riding. I first realized his talent while browsing bookshelves. I then discovered, to my consternation, that he is also a member of a local motorcycling email list, where a mad job market has consigned me to being a lurker for several years. Later, I found one of his books, "Coming and Going on Bikes" in eBook form and purchased it for my Nook reader. I'm here to recommend that you purchase this astoundingly inexpensive eBook and enjoy it as soon as possible because it is really a very enjoyable reading experience.
In the first section, "Riding Home : Coming Back to the World", Jack writes about his return from Operation Iraqi Freedom III and his travels aboard a classic BMW motorcycle as he takes the long way home. When he buries the SKS bullet that could have killed him in the deep waters of a reservoir, you'll want to cheer, as you will again when he reaches his home. And it will make you long for the day when our other brave men and women find their way home.
"What kills Us : Calling in the nine-Line" speaks to motorcyclists who are combat veterans and who are, disturbingly, dying in motorcycle accidents at rates approaching 50% over civilian riders. As Jack illustrates, motorcycles are like weapons in that learning to use them WELL will provide years of riding enjoyment. This is much more appealing than the image of these fine riders dying through lack of the skills that motorcycle riding demands. Seriously people, we want you to come home safe so that we can spend years attending rallies with you!
"Stalin's Revenge" presents interesting information about the BMW-derived Russian-made Ural motorcycle with a sidecar. "Hacked on" follows, with a description of a sidecar class that makes the idea of trying three wheels on a lark sound like a real blast.
"The Bike That Changed My Life" looks at a bike that provided the author important learning opportunities, a Yamaha dual-sport (a versatile type of motorcycle that's very popular these days). "Stoned to the Bone" follows, with an account of a publicity test ride the author made of the F800GS, one of BMW's most popular models in recent years and one that I contemplate possibly bringing home in a couple years (unless an analogous Triumph model gets to me first).
Finally, "Dancing with the Devil" looks at the act of motorcycling as a way of choosing real living over the nearly obsessive quest for sanity that seems to obsess our culture. Motorcyclists know that the avocation they love may someday result in serious injury or death, accept and strive to manage this risk at a level that makes sense to them, accepting the moments of pure joy and adventure and judging that enjoyment as better than a life where fear sets the boundaries of our lives instead of us. It is a thoughtful look at what makes motorcyclists tick.
Now please go and buy this book immediately. ...more
Disclaimer: The review you’re about to read will not be an astringent, detached, hypercritical review. This retrograde, gun-happy USan loves Canada anDisclaimer: The review you’re about to read will not be an astringent, detached, hypercritical review. This retrograde, gun-happy USan loves Canada and I have enjoyed this book massively. If you’re looking for a jaundiced review with the hidden agenda of eliminating the crypto-fascist sport of Curling, please look elsewhere.
Some books seem to have their own personalities: verbose, chatty, dry or moody but they leave you feeling as if you’ve just sat down and talked with the author, instead of absorbing second hand something they typed into a machine. This is one such book and its personality is a pleasant one, deeply informative and very witty. It’s like running into a favorite teacher after you’ve spent 20 years learning your own lessons and finding them still as engaging and interesting as you remember.
The funny thing is that this book shouldn’t be so engaging: its 800 pages cover a wide variety of topics in great depth. The credit for the accessibility of this information can only belong to its author. Seriously, I’ve got a shelf full of books about Western Canada and this is one of about 2-3 that I’ll fit into my backpack when I motorcycle up to the Rockies this Summer. If I could only take one, this would be the one.
As for the handbook’s contents… pick a topic and it’s probably inside. It covers the geology of the Canadian Rockies; life zones, weather and seasons; plants and animals; human history and things to do during your visit; safety, first aid and futures. There are 800 pages of this information here and I find myself reading through it avidly.
So far I’ve been attempting to convey the book’s tone. Let me describe a bit about its content, which is clearly planned out to engage people who are visiting for whatever reason and help them enjoy and LEARN from their visit, as much as possible. At the risk of seeming hyperbolic, this is a book that can enhance your visit to the Canadian Rockies, no matter what your original purpose in visiting was.
First off, after looking at how much of each type of content is provided, I find it quite interesting that some 2/3 of the book’s 800 pages are concerned with 1) the geology of the area and 2) its plants and animals.
The geology section describes the various types of rock found in the park and how natural forces created and placed them, their locations and formations being further shaped by the slow sculpting of glaciers. When you’re looking at striking rock layers on a rock wall (or a lonely, mysterious glacial erratic) and wonder how they got there, the geology section can help you really understand the story that those rocks represent.
Moving on, fully half the book is devoted to plants and animals of the park. Accompanying the words are a wealth of high quality drawings and photos of those plants and animals. Mushrooms, ferns, and trees… every kind of animal, from earthworms and the ubiquitous mosquito to grizzly bears and even a wry, witty description of that wacky mammal, Homo Sapiens. Information about indigenous animals describes their habits and behavior; drawings of their skulls, footprints and droppings are included so that hikers can decipher some of the drama that has recently occurred where they are walking.
Any visit to the park will be deeply influenced by the weather, be it daily precipitation, seasonal accumulations or melting of snow. Details regarding what might be expected in various life zones, e.g., sub-alpine woods, burn zones, the mountain summits themselves, are presented.
In regard to the human history of the Rockies, information is provided about all the human history there: not just the 250 years or so or transplanted European history but also known history of native tribes and peoples who have lived or passed through the area.
Certainly anyone who will make the effort of visiting the Canadian Rockies has some purpose for doing so. However, the handbook also details some of the author’s favorite sights and places. There are vistas to view and say “Awe” (in fact Yoho is a whole park devoted to that) and some of the best recreational opportunities in North America. The very best are detailed here. It must be noted however that no information about Curling opportunities is presented.
While this area is deeply gorgeous and fascinating, there are things that can bite you here, both figuratively and literally. There’s traffic to be aware of and all the normal risks of whatever outdoor recreational endeavors you choose are obviously present here as well. The handbook describes many of these and provides some basics on first aid should somebody be hurt.
Finally, the handbook includes plenty of information on how to keep the park safe from damage caused by you and some steps that can help protect these fantastic resources and sites for future generations.
Let me conclude this review by emphasizing that with all the detailed and sometimes technical information presented in this handbook, it is a deeply entertaining and enjoyable read, due to the deft writing and wry humor of Ben Gadd. I am using the handbook to help plan my visit this Summer, taking it along with me for information and entertainment and will certainly use it after wards, as a resource when I write about my trip. ...more
Last year, I returned to motorcycling and started thinking about riding up to Alaska. In the course of researching that ride, I purchased this book (tLast year, I returned to motorcycling and started thinking about riding up to Alaska. In the course of researching that ride, I purchased this book (thinking I'd want to find neat places between here and there) and ultimately discovered what an astounding destination Western Canada is in its own right.
I've since made one weekend trip up to Lillooet and am planning a longer trip up in 2009. I now have about a dozen books about Western Canada but this is easily the best reference...I take it everywhere. Nice work! ...more
This book by Carl Adams is a book whose publication I've been looking forward to for months and have to confess some worry that it wouldn't be very goThis book by Carl Adams is a book whose publication I've been looking forward to for months and have to confess some worry that it wouldn't be very good or would be dry and too technical in nature. But this book was worth the wait and it's already given this dual-sport novice a lot of food for thought.
When you take the book into your hand and it falls open, the first hints that you've got your hands on a valuable resource come to you. To start, its introduction was written by motorcycling legend Malcolm Smith, the jovial and amazingly talented focus of many parts of "On Any Sunday"...a renowned international motorcycling hero for several decades. Across from this introduction, the Mr. Adams' acknowledgement indicates that his royalties have been assigned to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, a generous act and also one that automatically makes any reader a charitable contributor. It was a deft touch and one which virtually makes the reader a part of this book's success. The tone of his remarks about choosing a dual-sport (a choice I am in the process of making for the first time) also conveys well the romantic nature of motorcycling.
Motorcycles are about dreams, dreams of freedom and dreams of adventure. That is obviously something that this author understands well because he frames what could be a dry technical treatise about bike and part selection criteria into a search for which motorcycle will best suit your individual motorcycling dream. Do you want to rack up a lot of miles on tarmac, ride until the road ends and then continue on trails or focus on riding on trails all the way? Yet, while appreciating the individual choice that a dual-sport represents, the author also clearly and concisely presents the criteria to be considered while making that choice. It was very nicely done.
From the choice of motorcycle type, the author then proceeds logically to looking at gear selection, a matter made more complicated than selecting street gear by the more diverse climactic conditions in which trail riders can find themselves. Many street riders ride only during good weather but a minority ride year round and dual-sport and other off-road riders seem to have a lot in common with those riders. A look at how street and off-road riders' needs differ is presented, followed by technical details about motorcycle setup for on and off-road use. Tires and suspension setup in particular are looked at in detail.
From equipment selection, the author switches over to a look at how riders need to rework their "mental software" to handle situations different from the street riding they may already be used to. Two chapters go on to discuss specific basic and more advanced off-road riding skill, skills different from the ones street riders use. These chapters are followed closely by one whose topic is trailside repairs, a vital skill to cultivate for those who may be riding where no one else will pass for weeks.
Finally, having engaged the reader at the start and then progressed to a very thorough review of technical information, the author returns to looking at the fun aspects of dual-sport riding: organized clubs and events (riding is a solitary activity which is often enriched when shared with other people), how to ensure that trails remain open for off-road riding by working with others, essential navigational skills and information about some of the ins and outs of trips and distance touring.
This book is a very valuable technical look at an aspect of motorcycling with which I am just starting to become familiar. But even more than that, it is now a new favorite book and one which I anticipate using as a reference for a long time to come. Well done! ...more
Being a liberal Democrat, I joined the NRA with deep reluctance over 10 years ago, fearing that I would be surrounded by right wing zealots and KKK meBeing a liberal Democrat, I joined the NRA with deep reluctance over 10 years ago, fearing that I would be surrounded by right wing zealots and KKK members. Instead, I found that I had lucked into membership in one of the country's finest organizations. This book provides fodder for anyone curious about those reasons.
The NRA was formed after the Civil War by those who understood that our heritage as a nation of rifle experts had declined substantially. Personal weapons are a soldier's life insurance and the NRA has done much in the World Wars and after to ensure that our soldiers have the best chance possible to stay alive through combat and come home safely.
Shooting is stereotypically a male sport, yet it is also one in which women can compete with men with complete equality. In fact, this book revealed that women have been competing with men successfully at shooting sports since 1906! Since I collect old NRA magazines, I have always been struck by the equality with which male and female competitors have been presented in issues I have seen back into the 1930s and 40s.
I happen to also know that the NRA accepted an NAACP chapter as an affiliate in the FIFTIES, when chapter members were threatened by a police force riddled with KKK members. This vision of equality is shared by the unfairly maligned Charlton Heston, who was an active civil rights fighter.
The NRA and its educational programs are largely responsible for the steep drop in fatal gun accidents between 1970 and 1990, a FIFTY percent drop from 2400/year to 1200/year.
The NRA has been forced by gun hating politicians and lobbyists to become a no-compromise lobby for our rights. It is only sensible that they fight for our rights with the same tenacity that the ACLU and Planned Parenthood do. Really the ACLU has sold us out by ignoring gun rights and I feel that the NRA is identical in value, scope and success to Planned Parenthood. Both support freedom with responsibility and both have my praise for this. ...more
For most of my life I haven't thought much about Belgium, either positively or negatively. Their beer is pretty tasty and there wasPersonal Background
For most of my life I haven't thought much about Belgium, either positively or negatively. Their beer is pretty tasty and there was a certain sympathy about the country being used as an invasion route by the Germans in two World Wars. The European Union is based there. But I didn’t know much more than that.
As Adam Hochschild describes in “King Leopold’s Ghost”, however, there were hints of something unsavory that wasn’t widely discussed. I remember being at the house of a friend in the early 1980s playing Trivial Pursuit with his family and the distasteful way he responded to a question with a name previously unknown to me: the Belgian Congo. There was a hint in his answer of some deeply unsavory history but the nasty legacies of imperialism that still haunt our lives are in the news daily and I never really looked any more deeply into it.
But those were the days before the Internet and now it's easy to start looking for information about a book or movie and have it lead into some serious reading about historical context - information that would have required weeks of research is now available in a few minutes. In my case, a search for information about Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" lead to 1) a surprising comment very critical of it as racist and 2) a reference to Adam Hochschild's book, "King Leopold's Ghost."
To put it bluntly, "King Leopold's Ghost" is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. I also feel that it is one of the most important books I have read recently, for reasons which I will delve into presently. Never forget? But people have...
King Leopold's Ghost
"The title of "King Leopold's Ghost" comes from this stanza in Vachel Lindsay's poem, "The Congo":
Listen to the yell of Leopold's ghost Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host. Hear how the demons chuckle and yell Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.
The focus of the hate in that stanza, King Leopold II, was the second king of the Belgians. A monarch with contempt for his own country, which he characterized as "small country, small people", Leopold was obsessed with joining the colonial "gold rush" to claim bits of Africa. After considering various harebrained schemes such as draining lakes in the Nile delta and claiming the new land as a colony, Leopold found success by cynically exploiting the concerns of Europeans and Americans aflutter about the exploitation of Africa by Arab slave traders. At a conference in 1876, Leopold manipulated representatives from these countries into establishing the International African Association, with himself as "temporary" chairman.
Never pulling punches, the book notes the hypocrisy in that concern coming from countries which had until recently taken slaves from anybody who would provide them...
Through the work of the ruthlessly violent Henry Morton Stanley, Leopold hoodwinked rulers of some 450 Congo basin chiefs into signing trade agreements, title to their land...and an agreement to provide labor to the organization/country that was to become known as the Congo Free State. In essence, Stanley obtained their ill-informed consent to be robbed blind and have their people used as slave labor.
The Congo Free State lasted from 1877 to 1908. Supposedly intended to fight slavery and enhance the lives of Congo natives with free trade, it instead became a slavery-based organization which drained the riches of ivory and later rubber trees and fed them back, primarily, for the enrichment of King Leopold. And it was a particularly brutal form of slavery, with a heavy accent on murder, rape, hostage taking and mutilation. Its symbols became the stump of a slave with a hand or foot cut off and the chicotte, a sharp-edged whip made of dried hippopotamus hide. Punishment with the chicotte was often lethal.
Eventually word filtered back about what Leopold's "anti-slavery" organization was doing in Africa, international pressure began building to curtail these abuses. Brave voices spoke out based on the horrors they had seen: Roger Casement, George Washington Williams, William Shepard and Hezekiah Andrew Shanu. E.D. Morel never left Belgium but deduced that the system involved slavery by seeing weapons and soldiers but no trade goods be sent to the Congo and valuable ivory and rubber return. Some of these early ancestors of Amnesty International paid with their lives, either in fighting to end slavery in the Congo, opposing World War I (Morel) or for Irish Independence (Casement). Mark Twain and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle opposed the Congo Free State. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness", considered racist by some is clearly against Leopold's organization and supportive of the Congo's natives.
In the end, Belgium was shamed into taking over the Congo Free State through the distasteful expedient of buying it from the avaricious Leopold. Abuses lessened, though it never became a beacon of civilization. When the region became free in 1960, the departing Belgians patronizingly challenged the Congolese to "justify our confidence". Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba's justifiably bitter counter-speech, while no doubt satisfying, probably sealed his fate when he was later arrested and murdered by rival elements within his government, with the complicit support of the United States AND the United Nations.
An African Holocaust - 8 to 10 Million Dead
Survivors of the Nazi Holocaust are wont to use the expression "Never again!", with one of the evils they must face being the occasional reappearance of those denying the Holocaust. And surely part of our duty as humans is to be aware of some of the worst atrocities the human race has been capable of, in order that we can avoid similar horrible directions in the future.
Yet there is widespread unawareness that the rape of the Congo by Leopold and Belgium cost a toll of lives comparable to Hitler's Holocaust and how Belgium's contemptible rationalization and quibbling about the details of that death toll continues to this very day. Belgium is home to the Royal Museum for Central Africa, which has been conducting a petty feud with Hochschild since this book was published, focusing legalistically on whether genocide was the intent of Belgium's atrocities.
The human race can do better that this but not until we look unflinchingly at the truth. And the opportunity to do so provided by this book's window on a grotesque and horrible injustice makes it a tool to aid in finding truth....more
Every time I come back to Spider Robinson's books after reading other books, it's like catching up with an old friend and DAMN, he/she is still terrifEvery time I come back to Spider Robinson's books after reading other books, it's like catching up with an old friend and DAMN, he/she is still terrific company.
Spider's writing is engaging, clever and deeply humane...qualities far too rare in this age where the main alternative to non-readers with short attention spans seems to be people whose primary purpose in life is to show how clever they are.
Spider is clever but also such a humanist that I think his work will stand the test of time. The long term. I'm talking, serious classics....more
About 20 years ago, a good friend introduced me to Richard Brautigan. I'm adding this review of one of his best known works so that I can also share iAbout 20 years ago, a good friend introduced me to Richard Brautigan. I'm adding this review of one of his best known works so that I can also share it with a friend.
'The Abortion' is the story of a man working in a small, private library in San Francisco. However, this library isn't one that provides books for people to borrow. This library is a place where your bring a book that YOU have written. The librarian helps you enter it into the register and then you leave your book for storage at one of its facilities. (This idea of a library where you leave your books clearly strikes a chord with a lot of people: there is an existing Brautigan Library in Washington state by the Oregon border: http://www.thebrautiganlibrary.org/.)
That is the high level view of that theme. The author's description of it is much more intimate and playful, making you *see* what it would be like in such a cozy, small library. It is the middle of the night - there is a quiet welcome when the library door opens so that an elderly woman can register her book. She lives in a small hotel room with no windows and her great joy is raising flowers inside by candlelight. She has written a book about it...in crayon...and included drawings of her room alight with candles and flowers, as well as some sketches of people in the hotel.
The author goes on to describe Richard Brautigan bringing in 4 books in sequence and looking more tired and drained with each one.
The story develops by describing a woman bringing her book, which speaks about how she hates her body. She feels that she is trapped inside this body, a very shapely figure which draws all kinds of overwhelming attention wherever she goes.
But Brautigan's play with words describing these events and the growing attraction between the librarian and this woman *cannot* be missed. Reading the book is like watching playing sea otters. Here are some examples:
"She said the word 'happy' as if she was looking at it from a great distance through a telescope."
"For some strange reason, I don't mind you looking at me. Actually, it makes me feel good. But stop acting like a bandit when you do it."
"I brought a book tonight denouncing my own body as grotesque and elephant-like but now I want to take this awkward machine and lie down beside you in this strange library."
"I had finished with the top of her and now it was time to start on the bottom. There certainly are a lot of parts to girls."
"The menu said good morning to me and I said good morning back to the menu..."
"Landing at Los Angeles was like landing inside a diamond ring."
As the story progresses, the two lovers debate their future together, a future complicated by a pregnancy which they are not ready for...
This story has been a favorite for quite a while now and I cannot recommend it highly enough. Do yourself a favor and enjoy it too!...more