Monday, December 25, 2023

The books gifted this year

 Per usual, the old man gifts the kids and their significant others a book each Christmas. Quite a bit of thought goes into this as some are bigger readers than others. So, to get some to read the books have to be spot on. (And, as an aside, audio books are not books; they're radio stations without music.)

The toughest to buy for is the youngest, Luke, who'd rather watch a YouTube video than hold an actual book in his hands. For him, just to be mean, I bought the thickest book, but it's about his hero: Elon Musk. The biography by Walter Isaacson is 688 pages, but it also functions as a bathroom reader, since there's not really a plot to follow. Fortunately, Luke goes to the bathroom a lot so should get it finished in 2024.

From the author of Steve Jobs and other bestselling biographies, this is the astonishingly intimate story of the most fascinating and controversial innovator of our era—a rule-breaking visionary who helped to lead the world into the era of electric vehicles, private space exploration, and artificial intelligence. Oh, and took over Twitter.

His wife, Kayla, is a more prolific reader, but I don't really have her genre or interests nailed down yet. For her I bought "Notes on an Execution." Not quite as dark as it sounds.

Ansel Packer is scheduled to die in twelve hours. He knows what he’s done, and now awaits execution, the same chilling fate he forced on those girls, years ago. But Ansel doesn’t want to die; he wants to be celebrated, understood. 

Through a kaleidoscope of women—a mother, a sister, a homicide detective—we learn the story of Ansel’s life. We meet his mother, Lavender, a seventeen-year-old girl pushed to desperation; Hazel, twin sister to Ansel’s wife, inseparable since birth, forced to watch helplessly as her sister’s relationship threatens to devour them all; and finally, Saffy, the detective hot on his trail, who has devoted herself to bringing bad men to justice but struggles to see her own life clearly. As the clock ticks down, these three women sift through the choices that culminate in tragedy, exploring the rippling fissures that such destruction inevitably leaves in its wake. 

Blending breathtaking suspense with astonishing empathy, Notes on an Execution presents a chilling portrait of womanhood as it simultaneously unravels the familiar narrative of the American serial killer, interrogating our system of justice and our cultural obsession with crime stories, asking readers to consider the false promise of looking for meaning in the psyches of violent men.

For my daughter, Rylee, a grade-school teacher, I chose: "Book Lovers" by Emily Henry.

Nora Stephens' life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

For her husband, Stetson, who is wrapping up his dissertation: "Such Kindness" by Andre Dinis III. (When you have "III" behind your name, people know you're smart.)

A working-class white man takes a terrible fall.

Tom Lowe’s identity and his pride are invested in the work he does with his back and his hands. He designed and built his family’s dream home, working extra hours to pay off the adjustable rate mortgage he took on the property, convinced he is making every sacrifice for the happiness of his wife and son. Until, in a moment of fatigued inattention, shingling a roof in too-bright sunlight, he falls.

In constant pain, addicted to painkillers at the cost of his relationships with his wife and son, Tom slowly comes to realize that he can never work again. If he is not a working man, who is he? He is not, he believes, the kind of person who lives in subsidized housing, though that is where he has ended up. He is not the kind of person who hatches a scheme to commit convenience-check fraud, together with neighbors he considers lowlifes, until he finds himself stealing his banker’s trash.

Who is Tom Lowe, and who will he become? Can he find a way to reunite hands and heart, mind and spirit, to be once again a giver and not just a taker, to forge a self-acceptance deeper than pride?

The eldest child, Katie, has been on a fictional other worlds journey. For her: "Fourth Wing" by Rebecca Yarros.

Enter the brutal and elite world of a war college for dragon riders from New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Yarros

Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history. Now, the commanding general―also known as her tough-as-talons mother―has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.

But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.

With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter―like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.

She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.

Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.

Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda―because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.

Her fiance, Kwinn, is another non-avid reader who has to be particularly targeted. For him: "The Savior of Deadwood" by David Wolff.

Arriving in Deadwood just days after the death of Wild Bill Hickok in early August 1876, businessman James K. P. Miller found the months-old mining camp in turmoil. By the time of his own death in 1890, Miller had gained a reputation as the "savior of Deadwood" for his efforts to bring prosperity to the area.

 Yet, while Deadwood denizens such as Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Seth Bullock became Western legends, Miller faded into obscurity. After fleeing his native New York in disgrace, Miller sought to redeem himself to his family and strike it rich in the West. Living under an assumed name in Montana Territory, Miller gained valuable experience in the grocery trade. He ventured to Deadwood soon after its founding in 1876, and, using his birth name, opened a successful grocery firm and exchange bank with a partner. The business endured a disastrous fire, a flood, and a series of dramatic economic ups and downs. 

Eventually, Miller became the town's preeminent promoter and developer, advancing several large projects and persuading outside investors to join him. He even played a key role in convincing railroads to build in Deadwood, bringing a permanency that few would have predicted. Author David A. Wolff has pieced together the largely untold story of how Miller helped turn a rugged gold camp into a permanent settlement. The Savior of Deadwood follows Miller's career while granting fresh insight into the early history of one of the most legendary towns of the Wild West, highlighting how violence, relations between settlers and American Indians, economic changes, and political battles shaped the modern Black Hills."

Read on peeps!

Friday, December 22, 2023

The Haugen holiday newsletter

 Welcome to the annual Haugen Holiday missive in which I give an electronic run-down of the parole status of the various Haugen hooligans. (You richies who mail your Christmas cards and own private jets really impress me given the USPS has proposed its fifth postage increase since 2021.)

This past year in Haugenland was like most, a mixed bag of good and bad. Mom's husband Tom passed away just before Memorial Day in Missouri, so we navigated the whole death in the family thing and were fortunate to get her almost immediately into an assisted living center in Milbank, SD. She enjoys the newly-built facility as much as anyone can under the circumstances and has my sister and family nearby. She's had more visitors in the past six months from Canton and LeMars and sites in between than she ever had in Missouri, so that's good.

Nothing like the buzz kill of starting off a holiday newsletter with some death and destruction, eh? That's life. It ain't all Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce fairy tales. (Over-under on that fiasco is July 1 and I'm taking the under. You?) It seems when Aaron Rodgers "ruptured" his Achilles in Week 1, the NFL execs needed to find a new drama queen for the season, and since Joe Exotic was still in prison, they trotted out TayTay and Trav.

But we Haugens have our own young lovebirds. We call them Layla - Luke and Kayla. A year of wedded bliss under their belts, they continue to live in northern Virginia with Klaus, their German Shepherd. Kayla is food safety supervisor for the Wegman's supermarket chain (any of you remember the Safety Dance by Men Without Hats? Another reason '80s music was the best.). Luke is still a catcher of bad guys and if you're a psycho creep doing dirty deeds you just might run into him or his buddies someday.

This summer Stetson and Rylee upgraded from their loft apartment to a house just a couple blocks from the University of Illinois campus. But enough about them. The star of that union, the one who puts the bubbly in Champaign, the "Noise" in Illinois and the "Grand" in grand-daughter is Josie Jayne. Coming up on 2 years old in a couple months, she's already been accepted to MIT and qualified for the 2044 Olympic games 400-meter run, but remains humble, which you kind of have to do until you're at least potty trained. She's a heck of a singer though and likes her kitty and dogs.

Our other son, Kirk, tore his Achilles last month and while we love him to death he's become kind of an anchor on our financial situation so it's likely we'll send him elsewhere this summer.

The eldest child, Katie, and her boy-toy, Kwinn, will be tying the knot this March in Florida in an exclusive beachside affair. She continues directing all things west of The River for our congressman; while Kwinn continues searching for the gold nugget of his dreams.

As for Momma H, she's still working for the back-cracker. They have a new high-tech shock therapy machine she's trained on, so if you see me out and about drooling from the corner of my mouth more than usual, you'll know why. She also got a new knee this year - wore out the old one kicking me. And she saved her friend's life by giving her the Heimlich at lunch one day. Just the usual year for her.

Not much new with me. Still working for Senator Thune. It'll be 19 years in January, far breaking the record of my previous longest job tenure of 5. I'm also grudgingly facing down the big 6-0 in six months. Pretty much approaching the golden years with Dylan Thomas' words in mind: "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Meaning? Stay out of my way.

As for the doggos, it was kind of a rough year for ol' Huckleberry, as he celebrated his 11th birthday with a few more aches and pains than usual. He continues to mostly ignore the new pup and has claimed my lap now that Stanley isn't around. Crazy Finn, the lab, isn't one of those guys who eases into the day, like me. He hits the ground running and doesn't stop until dark, but he keeps me somewhat fit.

And I'd like to throw out a special gracias to some friends who really made my year and kept me from going totally insane: Jeff & Jill, Steve & Dallas, Abby, Theiner, Carl and the Thursday night poker boys. Ya'll, with Cinnamon, Saphire and Sandee, kept a smile on my face, though I hide it well.

Finally, may your holiday season be safe, soul-filling and fun; and may the New Year bring you the courage to break your resolutions early! 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The latest scores

Here are my most recent reads - very average (as the Haugenometer score below them indicates). But a couple quotable quotes I enjoyed:

"The Big Bad City" by Ed McBain (1999)

"The End of the Night" by John D. MacDonald (1960)
"Like most small-bore, pretentious men, Riker Owen shows the tendency to strike an emotional attitude and then, using that prejudice as a base, draw vast, unreasoned, philosophical conclusions."

"Boone's Lick" by Larry McMurtry (2000)
"There was no sign of Ma, and no sign of our mules, either, but there was plenty of sign of Sheriff Baldy Stone, a short man who had grown very round in the course of his life."

"Fuzz" by Ed McBain (1969)
"Her face was spanking pink from the cold outside, and she exuded health and vitality even though she seemed quite upset by her husband's disappearance."

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Meanwhile, in the world of rock n roll ...

 This is a cool story: Rock Gods Call Him When They Need a New Thunderbolt

“He’s very enthusiastic,” Jagger said, “to the point of being too enthusiastic, sometimes.” At one of their earliest meetings, Jagger remembered, “I said, ‘Look, I can deal with this, but when you meet Ronnie and Keith, you have to dial it down a little bit.’”

And there's this: Pussy Riot on the Run From Vladimir Putin

“Have you seen our schedule?!” asks founding member Maria Alyokhina, huffing a strawberry kiwi vape, who also goes by Masha.

“There’s no time for poisoning!” says her bandmate Olga Borisova with a laugh.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023

I'm c'raven' more House of Usher

 Wifey and I are about halfway through the Netflix series, The Fall of the House of Usher. My wife screams about three times per episode.

It's not going to be for everyone - gory, gruesome, scary, weird. But I have to say, it fits Edgar Allan Poe to a T.

While the Fall of the House of Usher was only a short story, readable in about an hour, the TV series is eight one-hour episodes. So there's not really much of a plot they are sticking to. I almost feel like they took the name Usher just so they could cash in on Poe's name.

Still, the writers very much stuck to the genre of Poe - macabre and spooky. I'm really enjoying it, mostly for that reason. Some of the names of the characters are cleverly pulled from Poe works, like Pym and Grampus. Probably something only nerdy English majors would notice.

My mind also wonders to weird places like: What would Poe's review of the series be? He was initially best known as a literary reviewer and one of the most critical. He would slice and dice people up with an acid tongue. I suspect he would do the same with this televised effort.

But I won't. I'm liking it.

Poe influenced many famous writers and is credited with inventing detective fiction. He literally invented an entire genre! That's crazy to me. 

I'm 90 percent certain my next tattoo is going to be a raven. If this series ends on a high note, it may be sooner rather than later. It's got me jazzed about EAP. Hey, it's better than a Taylor Swift tattoo, right?

Thursday, December 7, 2023

Anonymous quote I ran across ...

 "I'd rather be the oldest guy in the gym than the youngest guy in the nursing home."

And, let's hear it for the girls

 Xochitl Gonzalez wonders: What Did Hip-Hop Do to Women's Minds. From The Atlantic:

I’d heard these songs hundreds of times over the years, but that day—as a woman in her 30s making a playlist for a man who’d recently had a baby girl—I was suddenly hearing them anew. The volume seemed turned up for every mention of “hoes” and “bitches,” like someone had taken a sonic highlighter and run it over every verse about devious, promiscuous, and generally disposable women.