Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Book of Charlie by David Von Drehle

The Book of Charlie by David Von Drehle is a solid book subtitled Wisdom From the Remarkable American Life of a 109-year-old Man. Von Drehle recounts the tale of his Kansas City neighbor Charles Herbert White. 

It's an interesting story of someone who grew up in an entirely different time. His father was killed in an elevator accident when White a young child, forcing him to develop the resilience he would carry with him for another century. 

Von Drehle wrote about his friend and the idea friend and the idea of Stoicism, nothing that "people think it has to do with not having feelings or not caring about the world. But what it teaches is, we can only control our own selves, our own will, decisions and actions. We don’t control people; we don’t control the world; we don’t control the future. I think Charlie finally drove home that wisdom for me.” It was fascinating to think about what White lived through, including two World Wars.

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel

The Art Thief by Michael Finkel is a solid work of nonfiction subtitled A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession. Finkel tells the story of Stéphane Breitwieser, who carried out more than 200 art heists across Europe over a 10-year-period. He stole, usually with the help of his girlfriend, Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, more than three hundred works of art, worth an estimated $2B. 

Singular in the world of art thieves, Breitwieser stole not to then sell the pieces, but rather to just keep and look at them. He displayed the work where he lived with Kleinklaus, in the attic of his mother's house. 

It is interesting reading of the audaciousness of many of the heists and Breitwieser's self-professed love of art is at first somewhat endearing, but his view of himself as a liberator of art is impossible to reconcile with what eventually happens to the pieces. It felt inevitable that things would end poorly, regardless of whether Breitwieser expected or intended them to, making him come across less as sympathetic and more as someone who caused great harm.

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson

Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson is an entertaining novel by the author of the excellent book Nothing to See Here

In his latest work, Wilson tells the story of Frankie and Zeke, teenagers in the fictional town of Coalfield, TN who unwittingly start a local panic that becomes national news. They created and surreptitiously put up with a poster with Zeke's drawings and sixteen-year-old Frankie's phrase "The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, the law is skinny with hunger for us."

The book tells of them putting up hundreds of posters, and then people copycatted them, putting up scores more, with many in the population latching on to fanciful ideas of the posters having been created by a satanic cult looking to bring harm to the town. Interested people descended on Coalfield in such numbers that the town for a period of time was shut off from outside visitors to try to maintain order. The poster was then recreated and distributed outside of Coalfield, entering the popular imagination and discourse, featured on 20/20 and mentioned on Saturday Night Live.

Wilson tells about the summer this all took place, and then what happened twenty years later with Frankie (who became a popular novelist), Zeke, and the creation story of the poster. It's a good tale from Wilson that deals in friendship, adolescence, art, hysteria, and secrets.