Friday, October 24, 2014

Finished: Westlake's "Trust Me On This"

Still on my Westlake-Block obsession, bouncing back and forth between the two, and just finished Donald Westlake's Trust Me On This. It wasn't as great as most Westlake novels, but even a lesser Westlake is better than most of his contemporaries.

Goodreads gave it a surprisingly high 3.84 out of 5:
When a serious young journalist discovers a bloody corpse on the way to her new job at a sleazy tabloid paper, she is soon dodging bullets and matching wits with her enigmatic publisher.
It's a 4 out of 5 at Amazon. I scored it a 6- on the 10-point Haugometer.

Westlake is just one of the best. I'd have given anything to have enjoyed a cup of coffee with this guy. His ability to weave a tale, combined with his sense of humor, always leave me in awe. Simply a great author, RIP. Fortunately, he was such a prolific writer, I still have several dozen of his works to enjoy down the road.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A letter from Ole, seriously

So my mom's cousin David Renli is one of those gynecology guys who's always poking around trying to learn the most personal details of people's lives and then when he runs across something new he posts it on Facebook for everybody in the family to see. Wait, did I say gynecology? I meant genealogy. Silly me.

In his recent research he ran across an old dude from Canton who gave him a letter, which was written by my great-great-grandfather Ole O. Renli. It was translated from Norsk so some of the words are probably over the head of you NNs (Non-Norwegians). But it's pretty interesting. Thought I'd pilfer it from our cloistered group so some of you might enjoy. FYI, my mother's maiden name is Renli.

The funny thing is when I first started reading it, I thought it was going to be one of those Ole joke letter things. You know, the ones that start: "Lena, I'm writing this slowly cuz I know you don't read very fast." This isn't one of those, but I was more than suspicious for at least a few sentences.

Here's the legit letter:
To: Knudt O. Folkedahl, Western Done Co. Wisc. 
From: Ole O. Renli, Canton P.O. Lincoln Co. SD. 
Written 26th of Jan, 1879 
Good Friend. Your letter has been received and read with pleasure. And it is good to see your health is pretty good., and I can say the same with God’s help. My family has increased since I came to Dakota. We have three boys so now we have 4 boys and 2 girls and all are well shaped and has done well to date. I have a quarter of land that I have deed to, and I have 60 acres too.  I have built myself a Fremhus 24 foot long by 14 foot wide and 12 feet high and painted it white on the outside. Bought farm tools and everything is paid for. When I came here I had ‘(mit Oxetox and one Kovogna)’ and 20 dollars. That was all. Now I have four horses, 2 black ‘(hoppers)’, one 8 and one nine years old which I have had for four years. And 2 kolter three years old this spring. (some unreadable text) Also have 5 cows, 4 calfs, 4 pigs, 10 sheep and some chickens. I got 500 bushels of wheat – 600 bushels Havre oats and almost 200 bushels of corn and some potatoes.
Most of the people around here are well off. Big Knudt has 2 quarters of land and is well off. Now he is getting married to his brother’s widow. She has 2 quarters so they will now have 4 quarters together. And they have one Drenge Barn together and she has 2 boys from before. So now they have 3 boys and not married yet.  They are getting married in 3 weeks.
Ole Ulderikson is here with family. Engenret Hofoflon is here with his family and later others. I don’t have room for.  Old Tolef is well and active. Little Knud was sick almost a year and was breast fed most of the time and Astri 14 days and was buried after Knud. 
We now have 7 miles to train station. We have not had much snow. No snow now.
You are all greeted so much from us and also most of all you Knuds with family from our family.
Ole O. Renli

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Weekend Link-Ohhhh-Rama

Here are some stories worth reading after you get bored reading about Ebola. It's a high bar we set here:

** I am blessed with a circle of friends who likes to send me sheep articles. As much as I should explain why, if for no other reason than to keep sordid rumors from beginning, I won't; because sordid rumors about me are kind of fun. The Lindsay Lohan one has dogged me for years.

And this story is actually very interesting: White House Sheep, a History. In 1918, President Wilson wanted sheep. But trouble lurked.

** This woman, unlike her similarly named American counterpart, became famous for actually doing something besides taking naked selfies: A woman known as "Rehana" has become a hero across the internet as news spread that the Kobani soldier has reportedly killed more than 100 Islamic State terrorists single-handedly.

And if you were the kind of cad to notice such things, she's kind of a hottie too.

** In my defense, I didn't publish a book in 2014. National Book Award finalists named.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
Lila by Marilynne Robinson
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

In reading the summaries of all five books in the fiction category, four of them will be added to my wish list for Christmas, with "All the Light We Cannot See" piquing my interest the most. "Lila" looks like the only clunker among the group, so I'm guessing it will win.

** Harry L. Katz, co-author of "Mark Twain's America", weighs in on the best Twain books.

** Seems like Brazil has its share of ungodly prolific writers, including this crazy old coot.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Settle down, boys and girls

When Minnesota gets weird I don't worry too much because, well, it's Minnesota. Can you say Ventura, Dayton, Franken?

But when Nebraska starts going goofy I start to worry that it could spread north. Case in point, Lincoln, and I'm not even talking Bo Pelini.
In a new initiative orchestrated by Gender Spectrum and the Center for Gender Sanity, public school teachers have been urged to stop calling students “boys and girls” and instead refer to them as “purple penguins,” or some other suitably bestial name. 
Fortunately, The Federalist delivers some sarcasm smack and targets Nebraska numbskulls: We Must Revise Classic Literature To Promote Gender Inclusivity

Monday, October 6, 2014

Finished: Lawrence Block's "Tanner's Tiger"

I scored a signed, limited-edition reprint of the master Lawrence Block's book Tanner's Tiger which was originally written in 1968.

Block is best known for his two series that feature Matthew Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr, but this is one of his shorter and earlier series, I think eight books that feature Evan Tanner, a guy who never sleeps, speaks five languages and works for some shadowy, unnamed CIA-kind of outfit. It's relatively short, 220 pages of big typeface for 50-over readers, was clever, witty and imaginative. Oh, and silly. So I liked it. I'd give it a 6- on my 10-point scale. It's a 3.57 of 5 on Goodreads' scale.

Block wrote an afterward to the book over 30 years later which is one of the funnier things I've read in a long time. The man has written a plethora of novels. He's a character himself. I follow him on Twitter and enjoy him immensely.

The best line of the book was about a drunk pilot saving the day in bad weather conditions: "Never in the course of human events has any man earned so much acclaim for making so many people vomit."

By the way, is a pretty cool website if you are looking for book lists by authors and other nerdy stuff. Their taken on Tanner's Tiger pretty much nails it:
Tanner is well-traveled, a master of disguise and subterfuge, accustomed to navigating the hidden geography of the world's most dangerous countries and territories. Borders and bureaucracies mean nothing to him. Passports and visas are but a trifle to a man who speaks countless languages, with contacts in subversive organizations that span the globe. Tanner's been smuggled out of Turkey, fled the Soviet Union in an experimental aircraft, and escaped from a bamboo prison in Thailand.  
Now, he's been given his most difficult assignment, to infiltrate a country motivated to repel his every attempt to enter, a country which will imprison him, drive him underground, and cause Tanner to call upon his wits and contacts as never before.  
That country is Canada.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Happy anniversary, baby

Today my wife celebrates her 26th year of marriage to me, which explains why she's stumbling around the house at 7 a.m. with a bottle of Jack Daniels in one hand, her left eye twitching uncontrollably, and mumbling: "God grant me the serenity ..."

But as with most things, my mantra is: "She'll get it over it."

Unlike the "silver" anniversary last year, Yahoo (not my wife's name) tells me: The 26th Wedding Anniversary does not have any traditional materials or symbols associated with it. So I didn't have any guidance on what gifts to buy this year. Besides how do you top last year's silver toaster? I'll tell you how, by making one up. Seems I read somewhere that the 26th anniversary is the "soy" anniversary; so a bottle of Kikkoman it is!

And a dozen roses never hurt. If I learned one thing in marriage, it's that flowers cure a lot of ills. I have noticed that the suitors of my daughters seem to have figured that out too, so chivalry is not dead, it's just wilting; mostly because it's awfully tricky to find that sleeping patient in the hospital with a door open so you can quick run in and grab the flowers without them noticing. Takes practice, especially since they've beefed up security so much in the maternity wards. But after 26 years, I got it down.

So when people ask what the secret to a relatively long marriage is, and I think 26 years qualifies, I tell them:

1 - Flowers.

2 - Time away from each other. Hey, I'm not stupid, I know it's possible, though unlikely, that I can get on a person's nerves once in a while. So when she wants a "Girls Weekend Away" with her sisters, I frown and say: "Okay, I suppose." Then when the door closes, I high-five the dog, break out the fireworks and turn on the Cinemax.

As I'm not a particularly social person outside of work, where I have to be social, I'm not big on hanging out with her co-workers and family; not because I don't like them, but because they are people, and sometimes, a lot of times, I just don't want to be around people. So we agreed early on that there would be "got to"s. Those would be gatherings I "got to" go to. Otherwise, I'm invited to come with, but don't "got to." That works out well, because almost all of those "got to"s are ones I would go to anyway: Christmas, birthdays, weddings and a family reunion every five years. It saves on guilt, hurt feelings and pressure.

3 - You have to be a team, and while there's no "I" in team there is a "me." Don't let them tell you otherwise. But as a team, we divide up the duties, she pays the bills (don't even ask me how much we pay for cable or cell phones; heck I don't even know how much I get paid, I haven't seen a paycheck in 10 years, it just goes in the bank, I assume I get paid) and she does the laundry (though I contribute on those occasions when the stinking pile of sweaty running clothes on the floor next to my side of the bed gets too rank for even me to handle) and I do the outside stuff, like mowing and shoveling and gardening and walking the dogs and, umm, other really hard stuff.

But mostly the team part comes in on those rare occasions when it seems like the world around you has lost its mind and you two are the only ones who are sane. There have only been a handful of times when it's come to that, but there's something special about having one other person in the world who gets it. So when the day is crashing in around you, you can hug them with the knowledge that you can pull up roots at any second and go land on a houseboat in Florida or in a remote cabin in Montana and you'd both be perfectly happy.

That's when you know you made the right choice 26 years ago. And I did.
Pass the soy.