Thursday, October 26, 2017

Reading list interrupted

My newest thing is to try to weave some biographies into my reading repertoire. My current rotation is about ten crime fiction novels, then a classic book, ten more fiction novels, and then one religious book. So I wanted to broaden my horizons a little more without delving into 800-page tomes like The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. More power to those who do, but I don’t have the upper body strength to hold those books the required time necessary, nor the patience or attention span.

And I didn’t want to do presidents, because those are all usually epic length, and also because everybody reads them and most have been studied to death and I have a working knowledge of most of them. So I’m leaning toward famous people, who I wouldn’t normally read about, don’t know a lot about beyond the rudimentary, but who also seem interesting and might teach me something.

So with that in mind, I knocked off Arnold Palmer’s A Life Well Played: My Stories.
Palmer takes stock of the many experiences of his life, bringing new details and insights to some familiar stories and sharing new ones. This book is for Arnie's Army and all golf fans but it is more than just a golf book; Palmer had tremendous success off the course as well and is most notable for his exemplary sportsmanship and business success, while always giving back to the fans who made it all possible. Gracious, fair, and a true gentleman, "Arnie" was the gold standard of how to conduct yourself in your career, life, and relationships.
I liked that he actually seemed to have written it himself. If he had a ghost writer it wasn’t a very good one. It was a little clunky at times, not as smooth as Doris Kearns Goodwin, but very interesting in a down-home gentlemanly way.

My main takeaways were that Arnie was a very competitive person, holds a couple grudges, loved his dad and his wife a lot, and is just a really, nice, old-school type of person who is not terribly impressed with the way society is headed. (It was like looking in the mirror with a lot less distance on the drives.)

It met my qualifications to be included in the rotation: quick read, interesting and I learned some stuff. Go figure.

I’ve also picked up a couple bios for the to-be-read file, including Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel, and Charles Lindbergh – Writer, Inventor, Pilot. I’ll keep you posted on those, but not until I knock off three or four of my usuals, or as I call them, the good stuff.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Finished: Craig Johnson's 'The Cold Dish'

I scored tickets to hear Craig Johnson speak at Black Hills State University last week. So I figured I better read one of his books.

He’s the author of the Longmire book series, which was turned into a television series. It’s sixth and final season (though Johnson hinted at some one-off movies down the road) hits Netflix on Nov. 17 (if I recall correctly, but probably don’t.)

I found Johnson to be very humorous, down-home, humble. He provided great insight into the characters, the writing process, the actors and the biz. It was well worth the money (tickets were free).

While Johnson practically lives in my backyard (Wyoming) and I love the Netflix series, I’d never read one of his books. Not sure why, but maybe was thinking they really weren’t up my alley for murder mysteries. Might’ve even been a little uppity myself, thinking they were more Louis L’amour-ish, and those were from my junior high days.

Anyway, picked up his first in the series, The Cold Dish. And loved it. Might be front-runner for my favorite book I read in 2017. It had all the stuff I like if you combined Dean Koontz-Lee Child-Lawrence Block: murder, mystery, sex, love, spirit worlds, good dialogue.
Walt Longmire, sheriff of Wyoming's Absaroka County, knows he's got trouble when Cody Pritchard is found dead. Two years earlier, Cody and three accomplices had been given suspended sentences for raping a Northern Cheyenne girl. Is someone seeking vengeance? Longmire faces one of the more volatile and challenging cases in his twenty-four years as sheriff and means to see that revenge, a dish that is best served cold, is never served at all.
I ended it late the other night and just sat thinking about the book. It’s like the book ends with Walt Longmire, suffering, half-drunk, sitting on the porch of his Wyoming ranch home, with his best bud, who’s just given him an iced tea instead of a beer, and you’re thinking about the book and gradually come back into the real world. But you don’t want to, you want to go back to Wyoming, but you can’t, because the book is over and you’re back in reality and you gotta go to work tomorrow and you're grumpy the book ended because it was so good.

I was also annoyed that I didn’t pick out the killer in the book until way too late.

Not sure if I liked the book more because I’d met the author, or if I would have liked it just as much without having met him. I guess it doesn’t matter. I liked it and will be picking up the second book in the series.

Goodreaders give a 4.1 out of 5. Amazonians a steller 4.5. The Haugenometer about hit 8 on this one but will settle with a 7+ on the ten-point scale.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

When the comics page and news page mix

I wonder at which point the late-night “comedians” became news.

Every morning on my news feed I see stories of what these supposed consciences of America had to say the night before. I don’t read the stories, because I don’t really need to be preached to by a guy whose previous claim to intellectual stardom was filming women in bikinis jumping on trampolines. (I didn’t know he had that show until recently, but probably would’ve watched highlights.)

I don’t remember radio newscasts reporting what Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or even David Letermen said. As a former journalist I’m just trying to get my head around why these jokers are taken as serious people. Nobody reports what Weird Al Yankovic thinks of the latest breaking news.

I haven’t, except in passing, watched any of them, so maybe I’m missing out on their genius, but I doubt it.

My television viewing habits are probably not considered mainstream. I was a pretty devoted Letterman viewer back when he was funny. Then he hit a period, from which he never recovered, when he turned bitter and mean and just wasn’t funny anymore. The only times I’ve watched late night since were those rare occassions when Prince would perform. Then I turned it off.

I don’t watch any of the other goofs either: Samantha Bee, Jon Stewart, Bill Maher. Give me the old school actually funny and cutting edge people, like George Carlin, Dennis Miller or Chris Rock, and I’ll watch. I don’t care if they’re lib or conservative. I’m really not afraid to have my ox gored, but I do like comedians who will gore everybody’s oxen. Not just one side

I also don’t watch the nightly news, network or local, nor do I watch the Sean Hannities or Rachel Maddows of the world. So you might think I’m an uninformed person, but you’d be wrong.

I have a news station on all day at work, usually muted. My Twitter feed is filled with newsies. In my job I hear politics, from every possible point on the political spectrum, from 8 to 5. So when I get home, the last thing I want to hear is talking-head blowhards, who frankly most times know less about the topics than I do.

For me, until the early darkness returns, my evenings involve working out (usually with dogs in tow) and gardening, then reading and writing. If the television is on during those times, it’s usually a baseball game or a music channel. Not that I don’t have my TV vices, like NCIS and Big Bang Theory reruns, but they don’ preach to me. (I get that on Sundays.)

I really think listening to cranky/angry people every night can’t help but make you cranky/angry yourself. So I try to avoid it because I don’t need any help in that area.

On that front, I’ve made a more recent effort to eliminate those types of people from my social media too. I recently discovered the mute button on Twitter, so I don’t see some people’s post but they still get the pleasure of seeing mine. The handful I muted are mostly complainers and virtue signalers. I followed them expecting something different. On Facebook I “mute but follow” several as well. If they’ve been ranting pro or against Obama or Trump over the years, they’ve most likely met that fate.

The new thing (to me) which I really like is Snapchat. I only do that with a handful of friends. The best part though is the family group, where me, the wifey and kids can get some pretty goofy, more private, free-for-alls going on that always bring a smile to my face.

That seems to be my goal. A few more smiles, a lot less politics, make Mark a happy, or at least less grumpy, boy.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Finished: Daniel Silva’s ‘House of Spies”

“House of Spies” is the 17th in the Gabriel Allon series. It has to be tough as an author to keep things fresh for that long, but Daniel Silva does a good job. Gabriel keeps growing as a person and a professional (he's now director of Mossad) and the world’s problems never cease.

At 544 pages, that’s a pretty heavy load for my attention span but it flew by quickly as the world’s intelligence agencies join forces to bring down an ISIS plot. This one isn’t as Gabriel Allon-centric as most of the novels, but he’s still the main dude. And a good one.
Allon's career began in 1972 when he, Eli Lavon and several others were plucked from civilian life by Ari Shamron to participate in Operation Wrath of God, an act of vengeance to hunt down and eliminate those responsible for killing the Israel athletes in Munich. Wrath of God is referenced in the books throughout the course of his life.
One of the things I really like about Silva’s books is the afterward he includes. It shows the amount of research he puts into these spy thrillers and also touches on some of the real problems the world faces. Also, while Silva never names the president of the United States you can tell which ones he’s referring to. Surprisingly, he’s quite critical of Obama, or at least his efforts in the war on terror. I say surprisingly because I assume Silva is a liberal, given that he’s a journalist from California and married to CNN’s Jamie Gangel. But you know what they say about assuming.

This was another home run by Silva. I gave it a 7 of 10 on the Haugenometer. Amazonians are hot for it as well, with a 4.6 of 5.
But House of Spies is more than just riveting entertainment; it is a dazzling tale of avarice and redemption, set against the backdrop of the great conflict of our times. And it will prove once again why Daniel Silva is “quite simply the best” (Kansas City Star).

Friday, October 6, 2017

A garden with lots of twists

Last week when we were in Illinois, our daughter took us to a really cool place called Allerton Park about 20 minutes outside Champaign. The 12,000-acre park is considered one of the Seven Wonders of Illinois, along with the Cubs, Rob Blagojevich and Chicago’s murder rate.

It was built on the private estate of Robert Allerton and is now managed primarily by the U of Illinois. Allerton made his money in hogs, parlayed that into the Chicago Stockyards and founder of First National Bank of Chicago. Basically, his family was rich. And he had a son who was an artsy-fartsy guy and began creating this landscape which includes forest, grasslands, trails, a mansion, gardens and sculptures.

Befitting a splendid Georgian manor house, the Formal Gardens feature extensive plantings and over 100 ornaments and sculptures to discover.
“He created a picture in the garden. Yes, he painted with vegetation instead of oil and canvas.”
 Being a sophisticated liberal arts dude myself, I found the place to be “really cool.” I’m sure that’s what the Allerton family was going for. "Hey, Alice, let’s build a really cool place hicks from South Dakota can come to and walk around."

According to Wiki:
It has been described as "a vast prairie turned into a personal fantasy land of neoclassical statues, Far Eastern art, and huge European-style gardens surrounding a Georgian-Revival mansion" .
I liked that it was a very eclectic place. You could be walking by a huge peony garden, then down a hiking trail for half a mile and come across a huge bronze sculpture of a bear attacking a man. Then through the forest and out into an herb garden or into a Buddhist sculpture garden or Chinese maze garden.

Pictured here are the Fremiet sculptures:

Two bronze sculptures by the French artist Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910) were returned to Allerton Park in September 2016. The sculptures are not original Allerton pieces, but were donated to the University of Illinois in 1959 and subsequently placed along the park trails. They were loaned out for a traveling exhibition in 1980, moved from the park to the Krannert Art Museum in 1988, and finally placed in storage until new settings were created in the park.

Popularly called Gorilla Carrying off a Woman and Bear and Man of the Stone Age (Denicheur d′Oursons), they depict violent encounters between animals and Stone Age people.[33] Subject to controversy since they were created in 1885 and 1887 because of the violent subject matter, they are, however, immensely popular with park visitors who enjoy being surprised by finding them in the woods along the Orange Trail.

All in all, this was the type of place for a romantic get-away with the significant other or a nice family outing. You can take an hour or a day. It was pretty cool.