Every day I get an email from a service called, “Bookbub,” which lists special deals on digital books. Early on I would find a really good book, evenEvery day I get an email from a service called, “Bookbub,” which lists special deals on digital books. Early on I would find a really good book, even books on my book wish list, so I bought a bunch. However, I’m a big supporter of actually books that I buy from independent booksellers and from the biannual book sales from the Pikes Peak Library District. So I made a rule that I’d only buy digital books at $1.99.
I found that Bookbub helped me stock up on non-fiction books on my list, like “Quiet,” “The Black Count,” “Wild,” Henrietta Lacks,” and “Thinking, Fast and Slow” … all great books, acclaimed and award-winning.
There are a lot of books, historically speaking. And only so many hours in a day, so I don’t want to read bad books. I do my research of must-read, best of lists, book reviews and so on. When I get to a bookstore or library sale, I can spot a great book from my wish list and research. But sometimes ‘great’ books aren’t great to me. All-time classics or modern classics can be award-winning, but over the years I’ve learned that the critics tend to honor books that ‘break the mold’ and discuss difficult subject matter. And sometime the acclaimed non-fiction books are written stiffly by super smart academics.
Bookbub has helped me to find new favorite books. Every once in a while a cover will catch my eye. Maybe it’s the title or the design or the tiny description, which might make me look deeper. And I’ll take a chance on a new title. Doesn’t happen often.
Last year a couple books became new favorites, “The Art Forger” and “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.” So when a new book hit my email and the description said, “If you liked Harold Fry, you’ll like this book.”
You don’t need to hit me over the head.
I liked Harold Fry and I did like “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” by Gabrielle Zevin. Here’s how much … I read the first 200 pages on my iPad on a flight from Colorado Springs to Los Angeles, like a hot knife through butter. I liked the characters, the setting and the story. And I liked the writing. It was simply and clearly written. After suffering through two books that were not simply and clearly written, “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” was a breath of fresh air.
The story focuses on reading, writing, books and stories, and the world of storytelling, book selling and a memorable scene involving an author’s reading. Many, maybe all of the main characters, are initially unwanted or misunderstood, and through a series of unlikely events, the evolve and find their place in the world.
From the Washington Post: “Gabrielle Zevin has done something old-fashioned and fairly rare these days. She has written an entertaining novel, modest in its scope, engaging and funny without being cloying or sentimental. On top of that, it is marvelously optimistic about the future of books and bookstores and the people who love both.” ...more
Considered the best spy novel of all-time, featuring Cold War espionage, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” shows what similarly amoral lengths bothConsidered the best spy novel of all-time, featuring Cold War espionage, “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” shows what similarly amoral lengths both sides will go in the name of national security. Time magazine named the book in its top 100 novels list, saying it is “a sad, sympathetic portrait of a man who has lived by lies and subterfuge for so long, he’s forgotten how to tell the truth.”
I liked the economy of the writing. Classic. I felt pulled into an era of paranoia and hopelessness....more
One of the greatest stories of all-time, in my opinion, is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated crew of the Endurance. Shackleton was an eOne of the greatest stories of all-time, in my opinion, is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his ill-fated crew of the Endurance. Shackleton was an early 20th Century polar explorer, but is probably better known today for his leadership abilities in unthinkable circumstances.
Multiple films, documentaries and books were produced at the 100th anniversary of the Endurance adventure.
The ship was crushed in the shifting ice pack in the Antarctic. The crew of 28 set up camp on the ice, and then they relocated via lifeboats to a desolate island of ice and snow, Elephant Island. Shackleton and a few men attempt to go for help by sailing to a whaling station on South Georgia Island 800 miles away. Despite sailing through ridiculous conditions of hurricane force winds, gigantic waves, minimal food and no navigation but the stars, they make it to the island. But shit, they’re on the wrong side of the island and they have to scale snow-capped mountains, which they do with no map in 36 hours. Shackleton then finds a ship that will assist in a rescue of his men stranded on ice island, but it takes four attempts due to the ice. But they finally get there and save everyone. The whole thing took about three years, 1914-1917.
Those years became known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.
Shackleton was certainly a hero, but he was also unsuccessful in his major exploration attempts.
“The Last Viking: The Life of Roald Amundsen” by Stephen Bown tells the life story of a guy who got the job done ... Roald Amundsen, the greatest polar explorer of all-time ... first to the South Pole, first to the North Pole, who successfully navigated the Northwest and Northeast Passage.
Shackleton’s bad luck was epic and really incomparable, but bad luck was fairly routine in polar exploration. There was a good chance that you were going to suffer and suffer for a long time and suffer to the brink of death. But there were nations lining up to explore the globe and achieve great feats.
Roald was inspired as a young man to do big things. He saw how well received fellow countryman Fridtjof Nansen when Nansen returned to Norway after crossing Greenland. Roald thought, “That’s what I want to do.” He slept with his windows open in the winter. He got the training that he needed to work on a ship and later to captain a ship and an expedition. He was laser-focused and learned from those who went before him and put those lessons into practice.
He went on several expeditions to very cold places; most of them took years.
The most riveting section of The Last Viking centered on the race to the South Pole. I was aware of the basic details of the story from a leadership class I took. In the class, Amundsen is portrayed as the sensible strategist and the hands-on leader and was compared favorably to the British expedition in every way. So it appears that history may be coming around at long last for Amundsen.
In 2011, the world celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Amundsen’s feat. Everyone on the crew kept journals and everyone lived, so there are a lot of great details, but those journals were written in Norwegian and it wasn’t until the anniversary that this treasure trove was finally translated and made available in English. In Roald’s official books of his exploits, he downplayed the difficulties of the missions.
The author did a good job of researching the man and the times. Amundsen is a flawed man, but what he accomplished is indisputable. He had financial problems. He had public disputes with business partners. He had affairs with married women.
The British Royal Geographical Society held sway in much of the scientific community and when their boy ended up taking an eternal ice nap, for whatever reason, they discredited Amundsen. Not disputing the feat, but his motivations and tactics. They depicted him as being relentlessly ambitious, which I think is comical, and that he wasn’t motivated by pure scientific goals, which is also funny. That was a guise that these explorers used to get funding. The larger goal was to get to the Pole. Amundsen had the best plan and he executed.
America did not care about that scientific stuff. Amundsen toured the U.S. over and over, telling his stories over and over. The New York Times wrote over 400 stories on Amundsen.
But because of his often poor financials, later in life, he had to cede total control of his expeditions. The pilot of the airship, the Norge, that flew to the North Pole was Italian named Nobile. He was a military man and he was under orders from Mussolini to go get some glory for Italy. That story was unbelievable and almost funny too. Getting to the North Pole turned out to be the easy part, the exit flight over uncharted territory was fraught with dangers.
My grandfather was born in Trondheim, Norway. In 1906 at the age of 17, Andreas Haave boarded a ship for America, all alone, speaking no English. I was going to like Roald Amundsen and The Last Viking no matter what, but I like the book and it sparked a larger interest in me to learn more about my Norwegian roots and my new interest in the heroes of that age … the polar explorers, the aviators … that spirit.
One of my favorite parts about the book was Roald’s relationship with Nansen, his inspiration who became his mentor. In fact, Amundsen borrowed Nansen’s famous ship for the South Pole expedition. The ship was named Fram, which is Norwegian for ‘forward.’ I like that. I like that a lot.
Fram is on display in its own museum in Oslo. I’m going to have to visit. ...more
Stories from a concentration camp survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. This riveting, brutal inside account, beautifully written by Polish poet and journStories from a concentration camp survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. This riveting, brutal inside account, beautifully written by Polish poet and journalist Tadeusz Borowski, has become a masterwork of world literature. Borowski, not a Jew, was a political prisoner. He tells the stories of being forced clean out the box cars of dead babies after the new arrivals were separated in two lines … those going to slave labor, those going to the gas chambers … and later was put to work in a Nazi medical experiment hospital.
My daughter is a college student studying the Holocaust. She left this book at home and I picked it up. The stories are horrific, but they also give you an insight on how people can brutalize others and desensitize themselves to that brutality. The Germans wanted their prisoners to feel less than human, but in these concentration camps everyone became less than human. You had to be resilient to survive, but also, probably more so, lucky. Most people died from illness or starvation or being worked to death. Mr. Borowski was put to work and in the end he survived the camp, when he walked out alive, but he did not survive the injustice of the world, jumping from the frying pan into the fire with another thoughtless political system in Poland that eventually led him to end his own life.
What would the world have gained beyond this book from Mr. Borowski, if he had been allowed to live free?...more