Saturday, December 03, 2022

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White was first published in 1959 and over 10 million copies have been sold of this short book with rules of writing. Strunk was a professor of White's and self-published The Elements of Style in 1919. White forty years later expanded on Strunk's rules for the new book.

It's got a lot in less than 90 pages, with the things that stood out noted below:

Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's - this is true even if the name ends in s, so "Charles's friend" is correct.

To form the contraction for "it is," write "it's."

In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last - this is a serial, or Oxford, comma.

Do not join independent clauses with a comma - if clauses are grammatically complete, they should be separated by either a semicolon or period. 

Use the active voice. Put statements in positive form.

Use definite, specific, concrete language. Omit needless words. Be clear.

The number of the subject determines the number of the verb - don't combine singular and plural.

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Express coordinate ideas in similar form - this is the principle of parallel construction.

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Avoid split infinitives - write "to inquire diligently" rather than "to diligently inquire."

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs (verbs that have "ly" added to the end).

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

The Mosquito Bowl by Buzz Bissinger

The Mosquito Bowl by Buzz Bissinger is a solid book subtitled A Game of Life and Death in World War II. Bissinger chronicles how the 4th and 29th Marine Regiments of the 6th Marine Division played football against each other on Christmas Eve in 1944, with 15 of the 65 players killed while taking Okinawa in 1945.  

The game came about as there so many great college football players in the two regiments. The Marines who played on Guadalcanal included a great roster of college football talent, drawing from former All-Americans, captains from Wisconsin, Brown, and Notre Dame, and nearly twenty who would be drafted or play in the NFL. 

The subsequent Battle of Okinawa was one of the bloodiest of the 20th century, with roughly 3,000 people (American and Japanese troops along with Japanese citizens) dying every day during the eighty-two-day campaign that began on April 1, 1945. The 15 killed at Okinawa was by far the largest number of American athletes to be killed in a single battle, and Bissinger notes in the preface that his father part of the Okinawa invasion, with him also in the 4th Marine Regiment. 

Bissinger chronicles in the book how the loss of American life at Okinawa could have been lessened if better command decisions were made. Also, he covers how the Japanese were so willing to die, either soldiers in battle or civilians killing themselves and their families to avoid what their government told them would be torture at the hands of American troops. Additionally noted was the numerous kamikaze attacks by Japanese pilots, suicide missions against US ships.

It's a solid book and some of the fallen Marines written about were John Jackson McLaughry, David Schreiner, Tony Butkovich, Bob Bauman, and George Murphy. Of these men, the only one of them to survive the war was McLaughry, who died in 2007 at the age of 90.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel is the sixth novel from Mandel, with two of the prior ones Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel

This latest work is a time-travel novel, cutting across centuries with various characters that eventually connect together and while I enjoyed The Glass Hotel more, I did like how Sea of Tranquility includes reference to some of the same characters as from that book.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

The River of Doubt by Candice Millard is a solid book subtitled Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey. Millard chronicles well the ex-Presidents 1914 voyage down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River and it was a remarkable tale of a harrowing journey.

The co-commander of the expedition was Colonel Candido Rondon, a man Roosevelt respected greatly, and a hero to Brazilians. The fierce determination of Roosevelt to the mission of the expedition at the cost of his personal safety was striking, along with how dangerous it was. They spent months in the wilderness, dealing with disease and near-starvation. They continually lost their canoes, both ones they brought and ones they made, replacing those lost or not suitable for use on the perilous waters. 

Roosevelt is a fascinating character. He was an enfeebled child, and built his body up through determination, action, and hard work, things that became a constant for through the years. Roosevelt undertook the Amazon journey in part to try to get over a failed presidential bid, with the loss to Woodrow Wilson leaving him doubting himself. He went to Brazil with his son, Kermit, and the expedition was wildly optimistic starting out, with provisions way too heavy and selected for comfort and enjoyment. 

The actual route taken was not the original plan of going down a well-known river. It was Brazil's minister of foreign affairs who proposed the path down the unknown river, knowing that was the sort of thing that would appeal greatly to both Roosevelt and Rondon. Except for the indigenousness tribes, only a few people in history had ever reached the headwaters of what would become named the River of Doubt. The expedition faced grave danger from the local tribes, and Rondon made a point of trying to have relationships with them, even if that meant he or his men be killed. He refused to let his men retaliate against the Indians as he felt forming these relations even more important than exploration. The men often had to portage around rapids, cutting through the jungle and carrying everything. Then the rapids they did try to pass through could be exceedingly dangerous, and led to to the death of one of their crew. Another of their crew killed a fellow member, and then was almost certainly killed by the Cinta Larga Indians as he abandoned the expedition. 

When Roosevelt was on the brink of death from malaria and a bacterial infection as the result of a gash on his leg and considering ending his life to ease the burden on the expedition, it was his desire to see Kermit, one of his sons, survive the voyage that kept him going. They spent six weeks on the river before seeing signs of non-Indian life, they came across- rubber tappers, those who took from the Amazonian rubber tree. Roosevelt lost 55 pounds on the journey, a quarter of his body weight. 

The Winners by Fredrik Backman

The Winners by Fredrik Backman is a really good novel that closes out Backman's three-book series that began with Beartown and then Us Against You. This latest book by Backman provides an excellent capstone to the story on the people in a remote, hockey-mad Swedish community and its rivalry with the neighboring town.

Backman seems to have had the entire story in mind throughout writing the books, as some details in the third hearken back to things in the earlier novels. The Winners is a satisfying and poignant read that covers well struggle, pain, and connection.

Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner

Heat 2 by Michael Mann and Meg Gardiner is an entertaining novel that follows up on the 1995 movie directed by Mann and starring Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Val Kilmer. The book covers years before and after the movie, with backstories on the main characters and showing what occurred following the original story.

Along with being a good book, it's an interesting concept, with it a book follow up to a movie, one that's both a prequel and sequel, and the plan is to turn it into a film.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Serious Face by Jon Mooallem

Serious Face by Jon Mooallem is an excellent book of essays by someone whose writing I enjoy quite a bit. Mooallem wrote Wild Ones and This is Chance and provides in his latest book thirteen different pieces of writing that he's done, some of which I had some before and some new to me.

Mooallem's writing strikes me as interesting and profound, with his stories often providing unexpected twists and a different look at things than expected. In Serious Face, stories he tells include the following...

"We Have Fire Everywhere" about the fire in Paradise, CA and people fleeing it.

"Why These Instead of Others?" about a twenty-something Mooallem being in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska and his friend needing Coast Guard rescue after a tree fell on him, causing near-fatal injuries.

"A House at the End of the World" about B.J. Miller, who started in San Francisco the Zen Hospice Project for people with terminal illnesses.

"The Outsiders" about two men helping people as they leave prison, picking them up as part of the Ride Home Program of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and easing their transition from jail. 

Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta

Tracy Flick Can't Win by Tom Perrotta is an enjoyable novel by the writer of Election, published in 1998 and turned into the Reese Witherspoon-starring movie of the same name. In this decades-later follow up, Perrotta brings us back to Tracy Flick's life and her aspirations. The book is written in an interesting style, with chapters jumping between characters and points of view in the writing and comes to an interesting close. It's a fast and fun read, especially for those familiar with the character of Track Flick that Perrotta wrote some thirty years ago.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Ruthless Tide by Al Roker

Ruthless Tide by Today show cohost Al Roker is a solid work of nonfiction subtitled The Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood, America's Astonishing Gilded Age Disaster. The book chronicles the man-caused disaster that killed more than 2,200 people in May 1889. Roker notes how the South Fork dam in Pennsylvania giving way unleashed some 20 million tons of water on the areas below it, with a current that traveled 30 miles an hour, with swells as high as 60 feet, down the narrow Conemaugh Valley, 14 miles to Johnstown.  

The earthen dam replaced a previously failed one, with the rebuilding of the natural structure not addressing its deficiencies, on the South Fork Creek that joined into the Little Conemaugh River. The dam created a private lake for the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club that included as members Andrew Mellon and Andrew Carnegie. It wasn't that nobody thought the dam wasn't safe, but those in charge proclaimed that it was. When water tops an earthen dam and spills over it, the face of the dam is worn away, eventually bringing it down. The structural failure of the dam was it not having a good way to release water, preventing it from reaching the top of the dam. A spillway was built into the dam for that purpose of releasing water, but wasn't enough, and its ability to release water was mitigated by a fishguard built in front of the spillway. It was to keep in the lake prized black bass fish that members went after. In part because of the fishguard, the spillway could only release water passively. 

The region was battered by a heavy storm, with the man-made lake filling up fast and by the time people at the dam in charge of it decided to try to remove the fishguard, it was too late, and the spillway had become clogged by other debris as well. Water went over the dam, cut grooves out of it, and it gave way, emptying the lake over the course of 30 to 45 minutes, leaving acres of mud. Johnstown was first pummeled with water and then fires started, with a stone bridge in Johnstown remaining standing, and exacerbating the death and destruction as it created a funeral pyre of sorts, with people and debris piling up and burning there. 

It's also fascinating reading about the events after the disaster, including Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross coming on scene and establishing what the organization was capable of, and has continued to this day. Also, the disaster had effects on the legal system, creating greater liability where it due. While members of the South Fork club and people who ran it largely escaped liability in lawsuits filed, laws were changed to reflect that those who altered a natural environment had greater responsibility for any harm that was caused. 

Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris

 Happy-Go-Lucky by David Sedaris is his first new collection of essays since Calypso was published in 2018. 

It's an entertaining and poignant book that features stories about New York City during covid lockdown, time with his partner Hugh, and the death of his father. 

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Funny Farm by Laurie Zaleski

Funny Farm by Laurie Zaleski is a well-written, interesting, and heartwarming memoir subtitled My Unexpected Life with 600 Rescue Animals. She owns and runs the Funny Farm Animal Rescue in New Jersey and tells in the book the story of her life from a young age interspersed with stories of animals on the farm.

Zaleski grew up under very different circumstances that most, with her mother at the age of 26 leaving her abusive husband and taking Zaleski and her two siblings to scrape out a living in a rented shack in the woods. Her mom, Annie McNulty, was persistent and resourceful, taking on whatever work she could get in order to have food. She also brought home animals from her job cleaning cages at the local Animal Control. The family had little money, but over time would have in and around their house animals including dogs, cats, chickens, roosters, geese, raccoons, goats, sheep, pigs, and a horse. 

While her mother was a good and kind person, caring for animals in need and raising her children well even with them having no money, Zaleski’s father was a horrible one, almost certainly killing their dogs and horse as an act of revenge for his family leaving.

Zaleski is a good writer and it’s a nice story she tells, one of grit and care. The stories of her animals at the Funny Farm rescue are great ones, including those of oddball animal friendships, with Hope the blind kitten and Jello, her seeing eye duck, Lorenzo the llama and his donkey friend Jethro, and Yogi the steer and his alpaca friend Cooper. Also wonderful are the stories of first Chucky and then Tucker, dogs with megaesophagus. It was difficult for them to keep food down so they had to sit upright in a “Bailey Chair” that induces food to slide down and actually provide nutrients to the body, rather than being immediately thrown up.

She writes how kids see the rescue animals, during school assemblies and at the farm, and hear their stories of both getting along with others different than them and helping others with infirmities. It’s a great message and also compelling reading about inner-city kids being exposed to animals and a different way of life.

Monday, July 11, 2022

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin

The Children's Blizzard by David Laskin is a solid work of nonfiction about the storm that hit the Midwest on Thursday January 12, 1888. It was known as the "Schoolchildren's Blizzard" because many of the dead were caught outside after leaving school, with estimates of the tool between 250 and 500 people.

Laskin notes how the storm came across the prairie through the Dakota Territory and into the new state of Nebraska. It caused the temperature to drop 18 degrees Fahrenheit in 3 minutes and couldn't really be said to be snowing, it was fast blowing crystals attacking people's exposed skin and flimsy clothing. In the region that would soon become South Dakota, there were deaths from the storm in 32 of the 34 counties east of the Mississippi River. Laskin provides fascinating writing on how for someone coming out of extreme cold exposure, abrupt movement can bring about cardiac arrest and death as the cold heart extremely sensitive. So many things came together for bad that day, ideal conditions for a huge storm, people exposed to it in what started as the first beautiful day in a while, and a failure of weather forecasting, done by the Signal Office, part of the U.S. Army.

The area the brunt of the storm was felt in was populated by immigrants, many German or Scandinavian. They were enticed by the Homestead Act, where the U.S. government gave adults 160 acres in exchange for five years of farming, and found a hard life, one that required their children to do a tremendous amount of labor to try to help the family scratch out a living. Along the way they encountered extreme weather, insects in the form of enormous grasshopper swarms that would destroy crops, fires that would devastate their fields, and solid ground that often wasn't conducive to farming.

In writing about the storm of 1888, Laskin provides fascinating content about the physics of weather and about the people, he tells so many interesting stories of schoolteachers making decisions of whether to send their students out in the conditions or keeping them in, or trying to take them to safety. About the stories Laskin told of people dying, he noted in the afterword using poetic license to describe what someone might have thought, said, or did prior to dying, with his choices based on interviews or accounts of people's personality. It seemed this somewhat detracted from the effort as the book contains in some parts text that it didn't seem possible to actually be known. Laskin also covers how in the aftermath of the storm, newspapers had their stories with more of a heroic bent to them, in part due to pressures to not dissuade people from moving to the region and stemming the population growth there, something which happened anyways. Drought came several years later to the area, then a financial panic and depression that caused those who had borrowed against their homesteads to go bankrupt. By the late 1890s, over 60% of the pioneer families had abandoned their homesteads. It was hard living in a region, with one of the more calamitous events to strike it chronicled well.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens is a well written and interesting novel that's a surprise mega-success. Its got over 12 million copies sold as of January 2022 and came out in the summer of 2018 to little advance acclaim, written by a first-time novelist. Owens is a retired wildlife biologist in her 70s, with her previous works nonfiction accounts of the decades she spent in Botswana and Zambia.

The book is set in the marshes of North Carolina between 1952 and 1969 and covers the story of a girl born exceedingly poor, living apart from society in a shack outside of town and forced to live on her own after first her mother, then siblings, and eventually father exit her life, leaving her to fend for herself from the age of ten. Her life and fleeting interactions with other people is chronicled by Owens and it's an engrossing story, blending together family trauma, natural history, romance, and mystery, and has been made into a movie executive produced by Reese Witherspoon.

The book has so many elements I love, it's good writing from Owens, about someone with a life completely different than I'm familiar with as she's living on her own in a fringe society of people eking out a life in the swamps, with the natural world heavily featured, and written by someone who lived in Africa among animals and who wrote an unexpected bestseller. It's great stuff and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Africa in My Soul by Cheryl King Duvall

Africa in My Soul by Cheryl King Duvall is a good book subtitled Memoir of a Childhood Interrupted.

Duvall was ten when her parents went to become missionaries in Africa, leaving behind in Georgia her fifteen year old sister and taking she and her two younger siblings to Nigeria. Her sister had to stay back and live with strangers, not because there wasn't a religious school she could attend in Africa, but because it wasn't the right type of religious school.

Duvall in Africa was stuck in mission boarding schools for 9 months of the year, under the care of people who forced the missionary kids to refer to them as auntie or uncle, and was the victim of an episode of sexual abuse by a doctor at the mission. Her story shows awful it is when parents think they're making sacrifices, in this case to become missionaries, but really they're making them on their children's behalf. 

The book shows the hardships Duvall faced in Africa, and also how the continent an amazing place, one full of beauty and also people who turned on one another, with there a civil war while she in Nigeria.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders

Love is the Killer App by Tim Sanders is a solid read from 2002 with the subtitle How to Win Business and Influence Friends. The idea put forth by Sanders is to be what he calls a lovecat, someone who gives freely to others, and the book is organized into three sections: your knowledge, your network, and your compassion. 

About your knowledge, Sanders writes that to be able to share information, you first have to acquire it. It's about books, reading lots of books, having a system to remember what you've read, and then passing on details to those it can help. 

About your network, Sanders notes to keep track of your contacts, write down details about the people you interact with so that you remember. Collect relationships and then connect people with one another, follow up and make introductions. 

About your compassion, Sanders quotes a definition of love as being the selfless promotion and growth of the other. He writes of the need to care, be human, and tell people things that matter which you may otherwise guard. Also highlighted is that compassion comes back; it refills those who give it.

Going back to the section on knowledge, Sanders notes to let reading be the thing that propels you, it doesn't require genius, and then you learn things, share them with your network, build out that network and help others. It's a good read from Sanders and some of the books he recommends are the following:

Net Gain by John Hagel and Arthur Armstrong

Information Masters by John McKean

The Brand Mindset by Duane Knapp

The Experience Economy by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin

Customer Capitalism by Sandra Vandermerwe

The Innovator's Dilemma by Clayton Christensen

The Anatomy of Buzz by Emanuel Rosen

Getting in Your Customer's Head by Kevin Davis

Toward a Psychology of Being by Abraham Maslow

Leading the Revolution by Gary Hamel

Building Brandwith by Sergio Zyman and Scott Miller

Race for the World by Lowell Bryan, Jeremy Oppenheim, Wilhelm Rall, and Jane Fraser

Differentiate or Die by Jack Trout and Steve Rivkin

The Profit Zone by Adrian Slywotzky

Making it Happen by Mackenzie Kyle

The Circle of Innovation by Tom Peters

New Rules for the New Economy by Kevin Kelly

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard is a solid work of nonfiction subtitled Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest. Simard is a professor of forest ecology and she writes an autobiography about her life and work with trees in British Columbia, where she grew up in a family of foresters, with logging a big part of their lives. 

She describes the forest as a living organism, one where trees share with one another what they need to survive. She writes how rather than reducing certain types of trees, diversity is needed for a healthy forest, something that goes against the "free to grow" way forests previously had managed, with killing alder to to try to foster the growth of more valuable pine. Simard writes how trees are connected through a fungal network of mycorrhiza, and how if you kill the mycorrhizal fungi that connects the trees, you ultimately reduce the health of the entire forest, pine and all. 

The book jacket notes it as "a story of love and loss, of observation and change, of risk and reward" and it's a good mixture of ecology and personal memoir. Simard provides a dual narrative about connections, those in the forest and those in her life with those she loves. It's a compelling story which has been optioned for a movie starring Amy Adams and more can be learned about at

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel is a well-written and interesting novel from the writer of Station Eleven. This book includes characters from Station Eleven and accomplishes the same feat of a sweeping story that includes characters through the years. 

In The Glass Hotel, Mandel writes of a woman who leaves behind her past working at a secluded hotel in British Columbia for a life of luxury with a financier in New York, only to have it taken away when his work revealed as a Ponzi scheme. It's an elaborate tale well told of she, her wealthy beau, her brother, and others in their lives.