Friday, April 19, 2024

Fairy Tale by Stephen King

Fairy Tale by Stephen King is a novel that tells the story of 17-year-old Charlie Reade. He meets and decides to care for a dog, Radar, and her aging owner, Howard Bowditch, after Bowditch suffered a fall.

Charlie learns that something seriously amiss in the locked shed on Bowditch’s property, and that the man had at least a bucketful of gold pellets. After Bowditch dies from a heart attack, Charlie listens to a recording Bowditch left for him, and hears a story of how the shed on top of a passageway to another world.

Part of what Bowditch tells of is a sundial in the other world that reverses the aging process, something Charlie desperately wanted to do with the dog who was now his, Radar, near death from old age. Charlie a third of the way through the book travels with Radar down the spiral staircase in the shed, and are in the other world.

When Charlie and Radar return home, he had been gone from October to February and King tells well the story of myth and wonder, one he notes as having wanted to write from early in the pandemic. 

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel is a good novel that tells the story of the Mitchell triplets, Mab, Monday, and Mirabel. They're teenagers in the town of Bourne, where many of citizens were afflicted with disabilities almost certainly caused by Belsum Chemical that once operated in town. 

Runoff from the plant was said, but refuted by Belsum Chemical-hired specialists, to have gone into the town's drinking water, leading to high rates of cancer and other maladies. The girls' father died of cancer just before they were born and their mother Nora leads the decades-long uphill battle to hold the Belsum and its owner, Duke Templeton, liable for what they did. People died, moved away, and those who remained live with their afflictions. 

Of the girls, Mab is the most scholarly, Monday particular, with an affinity for all things yellow, and Mirabel dealt a body that betrayed her constantly, leaving her wheelchair-bound and unable to easily communicate outside her family. The story introduces how the dying town that never had anything new happen in it then very much does. 

Someone shows up at the High School, River Templeton, grandson of Belsum owner Duke and son of Nathan Templeton, sent by his father to reopen the plant. River develops a relationship with one of the sisters and is enlisted in their efforts to expose Belsum and the harm it did, and would likely do again if the plant were to reopen. The people of the town actually were going to make reopening a reality, voting for repairs needed to a dam on the river near the plant, until Mab, Monday, and Mirabel take action. It's a cool drama-filled conclusion, and the book an entertaining and satisfying read about people, the circumstances thrust upon them, and what they choose to do about those circumstances.

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Escape Artists by Neal Bascomb

The Escape Artists by Neal Bascomb is a work of nonfiction subtitled A Band of Daredevil Pilots and the Greatest Prison Break of the Great War. It details a 1918 World War I escape from the German POW camp Holzminden by a group of Allied Airmen and David Grann on the book jacket describes it as "a remarkable piece of hidden history, told perfectly... brims with adventure, suspense, daring, and heroism.” 

The book starts out with the story of Jim Bennett, one of the escapees who then in WWII was working for British Military Intelligence, showing people how escapes could be made. Bascomb details many different escape attempts by prisoners, and then the ultimately successful one led by pilot David Gray, with twenty-nine men going through a dug out path that came to be known as the Holzminden Tunnel. 

The part after the escape, where the men travelled in small groups towards freedom, was the most engaging of the book. One group of three featured a former prisoner feigning being a patient from a lunatic asylum, and the other two his handlers. Of the twenty-nine, a number noted as the greatest breakout of the war, one in which 192K prisoners were held in Germany, ten men ultimately made it to safety. It's an interesting story, with the book description giving a good summary...

"Their plot demands a risky feat of engineering as well as a bevy of disguises, forged documents, fake walls, and steely resolve. Once beyond the watch towers and round-the-clock patrols, Gray and almost a dozen of his half-starved fellow prisoners must then make a heroic 150 mile dash through enemy-occupied territory towards free Holland."

Friday, March 29, 2024

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg

Supercommunicators by Charles Duhigg is an excellent book subtitled How to Unlock the Secret Language of Communication. Duhigg notes that the goal for conversations should be to have learning conversations, ones where we learn how the people around us see the world and they understand our perspectives. 

The prologue covers the idea of reciprocating in conversation, connecting by showing people that you're hearing what they're saying and sharing your own stories while you're asking people to share theirs. This matching principle in conversation means that you're doing equivalent things to what the person you're talking to is doing, becoming neurally aligned. If they're sharing, you're sharing. If they're either excited or restrained, you're the same. Also, looping for understanding is the technique of asking questions, summarizing what you heard, and asking if you got it right. There should be lots of questions asked, but more importantly, follow-up questions. Ones that don't have a straightforward answer, but rather ask how someone feels about something, or asks about something impactful to someone. 

Rules for learning conversations: 

1. Pay attention to what kind of conversation is occurring (what someone hopes to get from a conversation). 

2. Share your goals and ask what others are seeking. 

3. Ask about others' feelings, and share your own. 

4. Explore if identities are important to this discussion (keep in mind how important peoples' identities are to their world view). It's helpful to prepare for a conversation, think about or even write down what you want to discuss, what you hope to say, what you plan to ask.

Duhigg writes about connecting with others as having empathy and emotional intelligence. He details astronaut selection and how if someone isn't doing the things to connect, they likely could have a difficult time being successful on a long space mission in close quarters with others. The story is also told of The Big Bang Theory, and how the pilot reveals people trying to connect (by saying "hi"), but who don't know how. 

Three types of conversations: 

1. What's this really about (practical, are different things being discussed)? 

2. How do we feel (emotional, does someone feel controlled or do they feel understood)? 

3. Who are we (social, what's the world view of the person and how can that not be compromised)?

There's also interesting content about online communication and how it important to overemphasize politeness, underemphasize sarcasm, express more gratitude and hedges, and avoid criticism in public forums.

Duhigg closes with the need to invest in relationships, connect with more people, and avoid social isolation as it's an unhealthy thing. He notes that if he gets an email at, he'll respond and that "what's important is wanting to connect, wanting to understand someone, wanting to have a deep conversation, even if it is hard and scary, or when it would be so much easier to walk away." 

The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey

The Boys of Winter by Wayne Coffey was written in 2005 and subtitled The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Coffey intersperses a recounting of what happened in the game with backstory on head coach Herb Brooks, who died in 2003 at the age of 66, and many of the players.

It's fascinating how Brooks bonded players together against him, and Coffey notes that Brooks called his year coaching the team his loneliest in hockey. Even years later, it was hard for Brooks to connect with the players, twelve of whom played in the NHL. 

There were twenty players on the team and profiled in order in the book (along with Soviet coach Viktor Tikhonov, U.S. goalie coach Warren Strelow, and 42-year-old Brooks) were Billy Baker, Buzz Schneider, Jack O'Callahan, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow, John Harrington, Neal Broten, Eric Stobel, Steve Janaszak, Mark Pavelich, Steve Christoff, Jim Craig, Dave Christian, Mark Wells, Dave Silk, and Mike Eruzione. The end of the book covers that prior to the Olympics, none of the 1,780 players selected in the 17 years of the NHL draft had been an American high schooler, two years later, 47 of 252 players were.

Coffey notes how Brooks scheduled a pre-tournament game against the Soviets, who won 10-3, so that they would be over confident. In the Olympic matchup between the teams, Vladislav Tretiak, the star Soviet goalie, was pulled after giving up the tying goal at the very end of the first period. Shots on goal in the game were 39 to 16 in favor of the Soviets, with Jim Craig playing an outstanding game in goal and Mark Johnson and Mike Eruzione scoring a minute and a half apart midway through the third period of the 4-3 U.S. win. It was a solid read and interesting how the movie Miracle closely followed real-life as chronicled in the book. 

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Women by Kristin Hannah

The Women by Kristin Hannah is a compelling novel about Frances "Frankie" McGrath, who served in the Army Nurse Corps in Vietnam. The first half of the book covers Frankie in Vietnam following the enlistment and death in combat of her brother Finley, and second half is about her life after returning from the war.

While in Vietnam, Frankie worked numerous MASCAL, or mass casualty, events at the same time that the American government was lying to people about how successful the war was. Hannah wrote that on a day the Stars and Stripes newspaper reported no American casualties, seven men died in Frankie’s operating theater. Also, she saw cases of South Vietnamese civilians being killed by American bombs and napalm. 

Returning home, she had strangers proclaim her a “baby killer,” people at the VA tell her that services weren’t for her as "women weren't in combat," friends from school say she was joking about having been in the war, and her father get revealed as having told friends while Frankie gone that she was studying in Florence. 

The book jacket notes how idealism and courage come under fire in this era and as a female veteran, Frankie had to face people telling her “there are no women in Vietnam.” This was particularly cruel because as Hannah notes, “remembrance matters.” The ending is well-written and shows that people can start anew, and help others do the same. Also, it's noted that “being proud is something people have for themselves, even if others don't say they should be.”

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Family Family by Laurie Frankel

Family Family by Laurie Frankel is a really good novel about actress India Allwood, her adopted children Fig and Jack, her two biological children that she placed for adoption, their birth fathers, and adopted parents, and their interconnected lives. 

The book covers how adoption stories aren’t all either horrifying ones of abused children or uplifting ones about overcoming abuse. They’re life stories about people, and those stories don’t always fit into the small boxes we might think they do. 

India Allwood is a compelling character, someone who worked tirelessly to succeed, would write plans on index cards, and rip them up and throw the confetti in the air to celebrate successes. 

Frankel notes of how India didn’t “give up her babies for adoption," she placed them with loving families, leading to wonderful outcomes. Along with India, the book is about Robbie, and Bex, and Camille, and Davis, and Lewis, and Andrew, and Drew. They’re all part of one another’s stories, making each other who they are.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is a lovely novel about the characters Vianne Mauriac and her sister Isabelle in occupied France during World War II. 

It's so important have books like this that keep alive the stories of German atrocities during the war, and Hannah does a great job telling of the heroic actions of the sisters, with a great conclusion to the book about the lasting impact of both women.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein

Doppelganger by Naomi Klein is a compelling nonfiction book subtitled A Trip into the Mirror World. Klein writes about herself and Naomi Wolf, someone she has been often mistaken for, and provides an interesting examination into our society and the extremist beliefs held by many. Klein and Wolf at one time were both writing about individual autonomy and corporate power, with Klein in 2007 publishing The Shock Doctrine about exploitation of large-scale events, and them being mistaken for one other seems understandable.

Wolf began to espouse more conspiracy theories prior to pandemic, and then with it, her statements became much more unhinged. Her anti-vax views went to the level of writing about "vaccine shedding," the idea that vaccinated people could infect the unvaccinated. She also put out videos like "Why Vaccine Passports Equal Slavery Forever" and became a regular guest on Steve Bannon's show. 

Where the book gets particularly interesting is in how Klein points out that Wolf takes ideas and questions that are legitimate and should be asked, but goes so far with them to make any discussion around the topics seem wrong or like binary opposites, basically the legitimate argument gets co-opted by the outlandish one, rendering it moot.

The extremist right argues against governmental controls, and does so in such a wild manner, that normal people can't argue against them also. Basically, government conspiracists take over the argument about government in general. Extremists talk about government spying on us and Liberals react with how crazy Extremists are, and lose the ability to make arguments about privacy from governmental incursion. 

Another example is criticism of the role Bill Gates had in COVID-19 policy and drug companies having patents on COVID vaccines when vaccine development was so heavily government subsidized becomes muted, lest that discussion be confused with people demonizing Gates and vaccines in general. Klein writes that legitimate debate functionally gets killed when you have situations that this, with about Wolf, her noting that it felt like Wolf took Klein's ideas and fed into a bonkers blender, with the  thought-puree then shared with Tucker Carlson. 

Klein raises the concept of diagonalism, or diagonal alliances, where different conspiracy theories or grievances all roll together, or at least align together. The term pipikism is also used, with it from writer Philip Roth and about the idea of inconsequentializing or trivializing things, with perhaps the most dangerous form of pipikism being the make-up possibility that perhaps the Nazis weren't so awful, and also invented idea that vaccine cards are sort of like Star of David that Jews were forced to wear. Equating vaccines with the attempted extermination of an entire race makes the extermination seem less of a big deal, a dangerous and horrifying slope to go down when the actions of Nazis are trivialized. There's a lot to the book that Klein writes. It starts with the idea of Wolf as her doppelganger, but then covers well so much more.