Book Corner 2021.4

by Erin Zammett Ruddy

Not only practical, but at times inspirational, advice – from how to make your bed and empty the dishwasher to how to get yourself through a tough time to how to set goals.

I was put off at first by the makeup chapters early on, not only because they presume a female reader (no one said this was going to be a chick book) but because of the level of make-up use they assume. “Do your highlighter after you’ve put on the rest of your makeup” – WTF is highlighter?

But there are always going to be chapters here and there that an individual has no use for. For example, not everyone works an office job, or a job at all; and some bits are not so much practical how-to as how-to-motivate-yourself-to. There are people who really don’t empty their dishwasher for days? But then how do you run it again? Whatever. Most of the chapters would be a good read for most anybody.

I loved:
– Send an effective email
– Make your point
– Write a to-do list
– Clean a toilet (I hate to clean, I suck at it – I need all the help I can get)
– Set goals

I’m sorry, I still don’t understand how to fold a fitted sheet. (  )

Book Corner Re-Read Picture Book Edition

by Geraldine

OK, yes, it’s a picture book. But I came across it on my shelf the other day and it made me go “Awwww…. the Goat in the Rug”… and pull it down and re-read it. This book sparks so much joy in me!

It’s told by Geraldine, an angora goat who lives in a place called Window Rock, with her friend Glenmae, who is a Navajo weaver.

If they live among a community of any other people or goats, it’s never mentioned; closest we get is the fact that it is “miles” to the nearest store. It’s just Glenmae, a weaver woman, and her goat.

One day Glenmae takes out some big shears and gives Geraldine a clipping. Geraldine is ticklish, so she “kicks up her heels” a little bit.

Glenmae washes the mohair and then goes out to collect dye plants. Geraldine tags along. Thinking that all the plants being picked represent a delightful picnic just for her, she eats them all. The next day, Glenmae sets out for that store miles away to buy dyestuffs — and leaves Geraldine home.

Glenmae dyes the mohair in reds, browns, and blacks. Geraldine starts to frown a little bit, wondering if having ingested dyeplants is going to turn her all those same colors.

Glenmae spins the mohair into thread, its strength illustrated with a picture of her and Geraldine playing a bit of tug-o-war.

Finally Glenmae sets up her loom and starts to weave a beautiful one-of-a-kind rug. By the time she’s finished, Geraldine’s fleece has grown almost long enough for another rug.

I love to close my eyes and imagine being a weaver woman living all alone in the desert southwest with a pet fiber goat.

There aren’t many Navajo weavers left like Glenmae, the story concludes. “And there’s only one goat like me, Geraldine.”

Much as you remind me of my Beatrice, Geraldine, I believe that there is no other goat quite like you. Every goat I have ever known has been one-of-a-kind.

I hope you can see why I love this book.

Book Corner 2021.1

John Cleese’s memoir of his life up to the moment Python started recording its first show.

It’s a pretty low-key life, as I was expecting. But the Cleesean humor is consistently there. (Fun fact – surname “Cleese” was originally “Cheese.” So in a parallel universe, we are calling it “Cheesey” humor.)

Cleese grew up an only child in the southwest of England and had a loving father and difficult mother. He went to law school at Cambridge, and graduated, with an offer to work at a law firm; but somehow comedy pulled him away. It’s funny to think Cleese was a bona fide lawyer and Graham Chapman an actual doctor, as one watches them act out their ludicrous skits.

The happiest segment of Cleese’s life feels to me like the two years he taught various subjects to 10-year-olds at his alma mater, while waiting for his place at Cambridge to open up. His love for the place is evident… as is the other love that shines through even more, that for his writing partner and brilliant, wonderful, wonderfully “complex” and difficult lifelong friend, Graham Chapman, RIP.

The book came out in 2014 and ends with a (forgotten, by me anyway) Python reunion. Terry Jones was still alive. Cleese gets in some surprisingly sharp yet not-quite-cruel digs at Jones only at the end; and, throughout, makes very cutting remarks about Terry Gilliam – I had not heard of any ill will between the two of them, but by the end I was feeling like it was all a big joke.

The Pythons were amazing. Cleese later won acclaim for FAWLTY TOWERS and FISH CALLED WANDA, but apart from at most two or three episodes of TOWERS, none of this later work lives up to his collaborative Pythonian work. He and Chapman lent the logic that balanced the ludicrosity offered up by the other Pythons. Like the Beatles, they were more than the sum of their parts; and every part was indispensible, perhaps Cleese more than any other. Just try to watch the final season after he’d left the show. It’s like trying to listen to a Ringo Starr album. (  )

Book Corner 2020.59

by Matthew Leising

A double story – the founding of Ethereum; and the $55 million heist of its cryptocurrency, ether, in 2016.

Written by a journalist and based entirely on first-person interviews, it’s got credibility and an in-depth perspective. Leising spends a lot of time speaking with and admiring wunderkind founder Vitalik Buterin, Russian-Canadian child-prodigy eccentric genius who saw the potential of blockchain to do more than just serve as a ledger of a digital currency. The beauty of Ehtereum, the Avis to Bitcoin’s Hertz, the number-two-trying-harder, is that its ledger doesn’t just store coins or tokens or static things. It also stores programs, “smart contracts”, which can DO things to the things. You can have literal contracts. You can do crowdfunding. You can do anything you can dream up and code in their programming language, Solidity.

But it also stores cryptocurrency, ether, the “gas” that makes the contracts go, and a speculative currency in its own right. And basically, one day a hacker found a bug in a big important “smart contract” which allowed him to sneak in and steal ether, over and over again.

He was stopped. White-hat programmers first went in and exploited the same bug to “steal” as much ether as they could to keep it safe from the thief and be able to return it to its rightful owners… but then the hacker snuck into the stolen ether, too.

So they had to decide what to do… one option was called the “hard fork,” which meant basically rewriting history so that the hack never happened. Ether is, well, ethereal – it doesn’t exist except in the blockchain, so, why not? You can code whatever you want and make it so the hack never happened. But many objected to this, including Vitalik, as “icky.” You’re not supposed to do that. The thing about blockchains is they’re supposed to be immutable. In fact, the thief didn’t really “steal” anything or do anything wrong, right? In theory, he just ran the program a certain way, doing something that it allowed him to do. There was no fundamental bug in Ethereum. It was doing exactly what it was supposed to do. Not the hacker’s fault somebody coded something in a smart contract that they didn’t intend to.

Well, the other option was to basically invalidate the stolen ether – they could make it so that it would no longer be tradeable for other currency, making it worthless.

They chose the hard fork. This isn’t a spoiler. Anyone who cares knows.

It was a pretty good book… never really got bogged down in anything that would be over an interested reader’s head, and never got boring. (  )

Book Corner 2020.58

by Rumaan Alam

I saw this book well described as “a disaster novel without the disaster.” All that the characters know for sure about the disaster is that power went out on the East Coast. It becomes eerier than that, but I won’t give away any spoilers.

The plot is simple. A Brooklyn family of four rents an Airbnb out near the Hamptons on Long Island. The owners of the house show up one night just a few days into their stay. The owners had been out & about in NYC when, they report, the power went out. (The power remains inexplicably still on out on eastern Long Island.) But it didn’t seem like a normal blackout – plus, their apartment in the city was too many flights up to want to climb with the elevators not working – so they drove out to Long Island to wait things out at their summer home. But things are weird. They feel weird. The Airbnb guests feel weird. And not just the awkwardness of all having to share quarters with strangers; it’s all just… weird.

I found it enthralling and scary. It’s just about how these different people respond to crisis. And the scary part was reading it during this little world crisis of our own – not knowing what chapter we are currently in, out of how many chapters, of THAT crisis.

First stirring quote: “Waist-deep water was lapping against Venetian marble, and tourists were smiling & taking snapshots. It was like some tacit agreement: everyone had ceded to things just falling apart.” Makes me feel like the way most of this country seems to just be shrugging their shoulders at 300,000 dead – crisis came, and we all just acted like such a bunch of surrender-monkeys, we would put France to shame.

Clay & Amanda, the renters, fantasize about what they will do when (they imagine) shortly they will pack up and head on home to Brooklyn… Clay wants to stop in a diner. “Chrome. Jukeboxes. Corned beef hash.” Amanda wants to go to an old-fashioned sit-down Chinese restaurant. “The only things a person ever wanted were food and home.” Preach!

“Lemmings were not suicidal; they were driven to migrate and overconfident about their ability. The leader of the pack was not to blame. They all plunged into the sea, thinking it easy to traverse as a puddle; so human an instinct in a bunch of rodents.”

The narrator is omniscient. The perspective of each character in turn is assumed. The narrator also knows exactly what is going on, but is coy about sharing it. You may be more clear than I about exactly what happened and is going to happen, but I felt I might have blinked and missed a thing or two.

Note: I own this in hardcover and am willing to lend. (  )

Did you stay home today?  100%

What local business or charity did you support?   Gotta think on that

What’s for dinner? Chicken tortellini in sauce

Book Corner 2020.57

by David Browne

The story of the year 1970 in the lives of four top acts – the Beatles, who achieved supremacy with Let It Be, and broke up; Simon & Garfunkel, who achieved supremacy with Bridge Over Troubled Water, and broke up; CSNY, who achieved supremacy with Deja Vu, and broke up; and James Taylor, who did a lot of drugs and hooked up with Joni Mitchell.

Browne’s writing leaves a little to be desired sometimes. Example, referring to the “Canadian high-lonesome spookiness” in Neil Young’s voice. “High-lonesome spookiness” is fine, I guess, but what makes it Canadian? Browne is also unabashedly in love with these acts, which makes him too uncritical, IMHO, particularly around Simon & Garfunkel. His nonstop accolades and admiration, however, notably stop short when the topic of Ringo Starr’s solo work arises. Poor Ringo. But it’s good for fandom to have some limits.

I’m just coming off of And in the End by Ken McNab, about this very same final year in the life of the Beatles; so there were many details I had already freshly ingested. But it was still nice to get a different telling of the tale. For example, when manager Alan Klein was wooing John & Yoko, he was sure that for their lunch he had ordered “their favorite macrobiotic food.” (In And in the End, it was “macrobiotic rice,” and it was something Yoko particularly favored.)

New detail that wasn’t in the other book: when McCartney was floating the idea of leaving EMI in order to put his solo album out on another label, Harrison shot back, “You’ll stay on the fucking label. Hare Krishna.” Harrison could really make “Hare Krishna” sound like “fuck you” when angry.

I enjoyed spending time with the formerly fab four, with my BFF Neil Young, and with Paul Simon. I really should get some CSNY albums. I enjoyed learning a bit about them – though I can’t keep them straight in my head; I need to learn more. I enjoyed learning more about James Taylor, though I have no desire to own any of his albums. (  )

Did you stay home today?  Bottle dropoff & takeout pickup were strictly outside

What local business or charity did you support?   Boy Scout bottle drive & Hatchet

What’s for dinner? Hatchet. “Baked Potato Ravioli.” Pierogies really.

Book Corner 2020.56

by Justin Farrell

I usually go through life feeling very wealthy. I also generally think that I live in a beautiful place. It was hard to hold onto either of those feelings reading this book about billionaires in Wyoming.

This is a sociological study undertaken by a Yale professor in Teton County, Wyoming, the most economically disparate county in the nation. He speaks with the rich – the very, very rich – and, through interpreters via a social services organization, the poor as well.

It’s repetitive, and he uses his favorite quotes and figures of speech over & over. “Razor-thin margins,” “buzz-kill”, etc. For a sociological report, it’s a very good read; but you can tell he’s not a professional author, which in a way is a good thing.

Here are the takeaways:

– Ultra-wealthy people use nature to increase their wealth (conservation i.e. NIMBYism) and prestige (the county is home to over a hundred non-profits). They procure easements, protect their property from nearby development, and get brownie points among each other for starting foundations.

– Ultra-wealthy persons want very much for us all to think of them as “just folks.” They dress down, and think of themselves as being chummy with the non-wealthy people in the community. I kept thinking of Stephen Colbert putting his arm around some unfortunate token, pointing at him with a big grin on his face. “Look, here’s my Poor friend!”

– Through communing with nature, right outside their multi-million dollar homes, and hobnobbing with the lowly plebes, rich people attempt to achieve personal self-transformation.

– Their philanthropy is geared towards conservation and the arts. Helping out the poor of the community is kind of a “buzz kill” and doesn’t get many of their dollars.

And then, doing all the grunt work to keep their kids fed, cars maintained, ski lifts operating, etc. is, surprise surprise, an underclass of Mexican immigrants. These guys really don’t have much to say, good or bad, about their rich overlords – except that they are decidedly NOT pals. It’s fine that they’re wealthy. They probably worked hard and deserved it. Those of the working class are just trying to get by and it’s all fine.

That is my impression by & large of how the interviews with the poor went down, though he does dig up people who express anger and wish to work for more systemic change.

Meanwhile, back in my modest, definitely sub-million-dollar home, living my middle class life in the overcrowded east, I achieve a certain humble self-transformation of my own… (  )

Did you stay home today?  Trash, library pickup, all outdoors

What local business or charity did you support?   TBD

What’s for dinner? TBD

Book Corner 2020.55

by Sarah Frey

Sarah Frey is a phenom who started her business at age 15 with a “melon route,” selling her and other local farms’ melons to retail stores. Now she heads a multi-million dollar corporation, wholesaling local produce with an emphasis on melons and pumpkins. If you’ve bought a pumpkin not grown locally to you, from a big-box store, it’s probably from Frey Farms (and she thanks you).

The story has a bit of that vibe of, “OMG can you believe my awful childhood, how did I survive!” The Frey kids are numerous and grow up in poverty. (There were five them when Sarah was growing up; she bills herself as “the youngest of 21”, but that counts the progeny of her parents’ previous marriages before she was born.) But the siblings are loving, everyone gets through the hard times, and Sarah is making money hand over fist while still in her teens.

I share Sarah’s love of pumpkins – I agree, they just make people happy, and we should try to use them more than once a year for carving. I love memoirs, farm memoirs, and memoirs of how people became successful. But I had some issues. I get the melon route at age 15, for one thing; I get a lot of the precociousness. But I DON’T get how she secured a $10,000 car loan at that age. Come on.

And it may say something negative about me, but I couldn’t get over Sarah’s model-perfect, angular and perky face peeking out at me from the inside author shot:

…or the scenically posed picture of her with a busload of pumpkins on the cover. Or her hoisting that watermelon with her perfectly coiffed blonde hair, spotless white t-shirt, and cute tight faded jeans on the back cover. There’s a shot of the author as a young girl with one of her brothers, sitting on top of a ram. That’s adorable. This is a memoir of your childhood – we want childhood photos! We KNOW you’re gorgeous now; one vanity shot would suffice. (  )


Did you stay home today?  Yes 100%, but had a repairman come into the house too

What local business or charity did you support?   Maybe none?

What’s for dinner? Pie empire pies


Did you stay home today?  Picked up Beatrice, strictly outdoor; will pick up some food somewhere

What local business or charity did you support?   TBD

What’s for dinner? TBD, I’m leaning towards Agave Mexican in Williston

What I’m musing about:

I’m unduly excited about expecting a kiddie in the spring. You’d think we hadn’t already birthed 22 kids on this farm.

Since I got my original birth certificate a couple weeks ago, I really seized on one tidbit – my middle name. So she didn’t just name me Tania. She named me Tania Marie. Sometimes I roll that around in my mind like a yummy piece of hard candy in my mouth.

I don’t exactly know what food we’ll have for Xmas. On Tgiving morning I really enjoyed making that pumpkin pie with Xopher contributing. I’d love for us to make some special dessert together. I was thinking coconut cake because he’s very fond of that. Coconut custard pie? I’ve never made that. Many years we’ve made rum cake – but it makes a huge amount even when we DO have company, no way can we make that during quarantine for two.

Book Corner 2020.54

by Hope Jahren

Just a long litany of all the grim statistics: the population growth, the food waste, the melting ice, the fossil fuels, you name it – want to see statistics about every possible way we’ve messed up, this is the book for you. It really did almost nothing to inspire me. The “How We Got to Climate Change” part of the subtitle led me to expect more of a narrative arc. That, plus the word “Story” in the title, I guess. The second part of the subtitle, “Where to Go from Here”, constitutes only one measly final chapter. I need more hope. (  )

Did you stay home today?  Less than a minute inside Mama Pho. Walked up my hill and ended up helping one of my aged neighbors put a cover over his car. Outdoors but both of us maskless and it make me nervous.

What local business or charity did you support?   Mama Pho

What’s for dinner? Mama Pho… I didn’t love the pad thai as much as last time; time to move onward through the menu.