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.

Book Corner 2020.53

My co-worker/manager/friend gave me this book because it was written by his pastor. It was very Bibley. But I gave it an honest try.

(I don’t get why Christians spend so much time studying the Old Testament. Jesus did away with all that. He replaced it with one commandment: Love Thy Neighbor. It doesn’t require much study.)

In spite of the Biblical talk, I think his main message was Unity, and I can certainly get behind that. The Christian way of phrasing this would be to say we are all members of one Body of Christ. Not much different from the visualization that helps me get along: we are all just One Big Thing. For me, that encompasses the whole biosphere. Literally just One Big Thing. So yes, I got something out of it.

Did you stay home today?  Popped into the front of JCAT to get my pickup. < 10 seconds

What local business or charity did you support?  United Way, JCAT, Phoenix Books – that takes care of yesterday, today, & tomorrow

What’s for dinner? JCAT, I get the Chicken BLT every time. Side salad if it’s a weekday, sweet potato fries only if it’s Saturday. I have very few rules left from WW days, but minimizing fries is one of them.

Book Corner 2020.52

by Virginia Postrel

Virginia Postrel writes here a sweeping overview of all aspects of textile production, something I understand normal people seldom think about.

It’s a unique book in that Postrel barely inserts herself into the story at all – no “My Year of Trying to Learn Spinning, Weaving, and Other Fabricky Things” this. She might begin a chapter or section describing her attendance at some textile-related class, or getting food poisoning in India while researching some dye method, but then poof – it is quickly no longer about her at all. Refreshing!

Not that I wouldn’t want to hear about Postrel. Long ago I enjoyed a book of hers called THE FUTURE & ITS ENEMIES, and I used to read REASON magazine when she was editor. I listened to an interview with her promoting this book a short time ago. She learned to weave & spin, too, as part of her research. She was fun to listen to.

But the book jumps all over. The chapters are: Fiber, Thread, Cloth, Dye, Traders, & Consumers; and within the chapters themselves she also does a lot of jumping. I would have preferred more depth and more narrative arc, somehow.

My favorite chapter was “Dye.” I love this observation: “‘Any weed can be a dye,’ fifteenth-century Florentine dyers used to say. But that’s only if you want yellows, browns, or grays…” Ha! That’s always my complaint about natural dyeing with things you can find in Vermont: all I ever got was yellow.

And her dye class in India: “Rinse and dump, rinse and dump – tub after tub of water gets hurled into the yard. To my drought-trained Angeleno eyes, it seems like a disturbingly thirsty process.” I’ve often thought how different my hobbies might be if I lived out west – the washing and the dyeing of fiber uses tubs full of water. Happily, I live in a place that dumps snow during the winter in ample amounts that I feel perfectly happy pulling all the water I like out of our well all summer long.

It also seemed to me that the book was a bit Eurocentric. I wished there had been an exploration of how they made calico in India – instead, all that’s discussed is how it changed fashions and spurred competing industries in Europe.

There are copious pictures and a beautiful cover. I would recommend jumping around as the interest takes you. (  )

Did you stay home today?  100%

What local business or charity did you support?  None yet – I’d better get on it

What’s for dinner? Pasta, nature’s most perfect food

Book Corner 2020.51

by Anthony Bourdain

This was a re-read for me. My book club is doing it. I have no idea how many people will cotton to it. I forgot how much profanity is in it. It’s a pretty staid group.

Now that Tony Bourdain is dead, I was hyper-alert to the plentiful self-hatred and couple of overt references to suicide. At one point Bourdain considers jumping out his apartment window; and at another, recounts a chef killing himself the night he gets fired. And then there’s all the substance abuse, even more than I remembered; that goes along with mental illness.

But this is supposed to be a FUN read! Shocking tales of what really goes on in restaurant kitchens!

I ate many times at Les Halles, Bourdain’s steak frites place, when it was on John Street steps from my NYC workplace. I always had steak frites. I loved it.

And I loved Tony Bourdain! I watched many episodes of his travel show, Nooooooooo Reservations (he used to draw out the “Nooooo” during the intro). He used to go to exotic places and eat interesting things. He’d show up somewhere, stay up late drinking and eating, sleep in, then get up and don his leather jacket and hit the streets again looking for breakfast. He was a guy even older than me, yet slim, tattooed, and beleathered – OK, I had a thing for him. He dug the Ramones. He was a New Yorker. I bet in one of my parallel lives, I dated him. What am I saying? Plain Janes like me never hook up with guys like that – we just sigh at them from afar, and watch our best friends make out with them.

But that’s all neither here or there… He’s dead now. I couldn’t believe it when I heard – this was 2018 – he had these super-successful TV shows, and a young daughter for Pete’s sake. But after this re-read, yeah, I do believe it. Guy was messed up. RIP. Hope he’s rocking out with Joey Ramone.

Book Corner 2020.50

by John Moe

Depression IS hilarious! Laugh-out-loud funny!

OK it isn’t exactly depression that’s hilarious; it’s John Moe, a Person with Depression. I’ve got laugh-out-loud funny bits bookmarked, but they tend to be scenes that go on for a little while rather than one-liners, so not ideal for quoting.

I’ve also bookmarked more Serious items which are funny in a less ha-ha way and do lend themselves to recording here. John reminisces about the group of friends he hung out with in high school. Each could be classified as the good-looking one, the rebel, the philosopher, but John isn’t sure what role he played. Maybe the funny one, but he isn’t sure. “Depression has solidly imprinted that era as a time when I was worthless, so I honestly don’t know why anyone hung out with me.” I feel the same way about my high school group! I don’t know what role I played! I feel that way about my current friendships as well! What role do I play? I have no idea why anyone hangs out with me.

OK, one laugh-out-loud funny: John has a job where he’s being expected to do the impossible. “It was like being told to build an airplane but with no blueprints and also you’re a cocker spaniel.”

Back to more Serious: John lives near the Mall of America. To people around the world, the MoA is a cartoon, a symbol, etc. To John, it’s a nearby mall that has a lot of things that sometimes he goes to. “For people with depression, suicide is kind of like” that. “It’s a real thing… we know that it’s a real place you can drive to.”

And “Comedian Mike Drucker says he can’t commit suicide because all his friends will just write three paragraphs about themselves on Facebook, and ‘someone’s going to get two hundred Likes off my death.'”

Finally my favorite: Your problems have maps. “You can’t move to Minnesota and get away from all your problems. Or New York or Los Angeles or Rome or Melbourne or Mars. Your problems have maps, and they will find you.” (  )

Book Corner 2020.49

by Corey Robin

A well-researched and thickly detailed yet not overly long book; the whole thesis is perfectly laid out in the introduction, while the rest is just supporting evidence. What do you know about Clarence Thomas? I was with most Americans: the only things they “know about him are that he once was accused of sexual harassment and that he almost never speaks from the bench.” And that he’s a black guy that always voted with the late Scalia. Hence the enigma of the title.

Corey Robin’s well-supported thesis is that Thomas is not a conservative who happens to be black. His conservatism is on the contrary rooted in black radicalism. Thomas grew up in the Black Power movement and read and listened to the speeches of Malcolm X repeatedly throughout his life. His vision is one of black separatism based on the traditional patriarchal values he grew up with, raised by an autocratic grandfather. His grandfather, a self-made black businessman, is also the basis for his vision of a black separatist capitalism and feeds into his jurisprudence on cases of economics, the free market, and decisions like Citizens United, which deemed corporate entities entitled to free speech rights.

It’s a thing to wrap your head around: Thomas is so radical he’s conservative. And yet it’s all out there in plain sight in his writings and his decisions on the Court. The book lays it out in detail. Yet somehow we don’t know this – I didn’t. We don’t see it. We see a black conservative and just kind of think, “Well, these things happen.” Robin’s book begins with a quote from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination – indeed, everything & anything except me.” Reading this book is exactly an eye-opening exercise. (  )

Book Corner 2020.48

by Ben Ehrenreich

Disappointing. I don’t even have any good quotes bookmarked. It reads much like somebody’s “notebooks”, and I guess I should have taken the title more literally, but I’d been expecting something a little more coherent. Ehrenreich spends about half the book reporting from Joshua Tree, and the other half from Las Vegas where he is temporarily living due to having earned a fellowship there. The book is best describing the desert; his love for Joshua Tree shines through. Naturally, Las Vegas is described as being like some circle of hell. It’s so miserable to read; I get it, Vegas is crazy horrible, but you’re presumably there for a reason, right? The institution that hired you, your colleagues, surely there is some beauty or bright spot to be found? COULD WE HEAR ABOUT IT? Likewise, the guy seems to have the biggest horror movie scrolling on his phone’s Twitter feed. He’s always putting in asides where he looks at his phone and sees somebody being decapitated or watches the polar ice caps melt before his eyes; and again I wanted to shout, STEP AWAY FROM THE PHONE, DUDE. You don’t HAVE to subscribe to these horrible things. You don’t even have to be on Twitter! Sorry, I am probably missing some deep, dark beauty enveloped in this book, but it obviously didn’t find me. (  )