Friday, December 28, 2012

Elvis and Me by Priscilla Beaulieu Presley

Priscilla at age 15 with Grandma Presley
I could not continue to torture myself further  by slogging through this trite writing in an excuse of a book published in 1985 and sold today at Graceland.  It has only 214 pages of which I read as far as pg 150; the best thing about the book are the photographs and the fact that I picked it up at a garage sale for only 50 cents, about 25 cents more than the worth of it.  It  is donated to the sale shelves next month.   Whoever told this woman she could write and that she would write this for their daughter is amazing. Bedding with Elvis and both using uppers and downers?  Perhaps the descriptions and too much detail turned me off from the start, she is a mere child when Elvis seeks her out while her family is in the Air Force in Germany.  That's when Elvis was in the Army there.  And her parents?  Well, what kind of people allow a 14 year old to go be with Elvis?  What kind of people allow extended overnight visits of a child with the man?  What kind of people allow her to live in the US while they are in Germany?  What kind of person allows herself to be dressed, heavily made up, beyond her years.  Yuck.  He sounds like a pervert.  She a star struck child set up for abuse.  Meantime, I'm thinking not a nice legacy for their daughter, but that's just my opinion.  I remember their marriage because as a teeny and preteen I and my friends listened to Elvis on  45 rpm records, loved the music.  Still love the music but this book, not so.  I give it less than a star but would have to go with a negative.  No stars and no further interest.   
Page 123, sums it up, an odd life that she and Elvis, had    "  There were nights when he slept restlessly, beset by worries and fears.  I lay silently beside him anxious about what he might be thinking and whether there was a place in his life for me....Lost in our separate miseries, we were unable to give each other strength or support.  He was controlled by his inability to take responsibility for his own life and for compro,isng his own standards--an I was controlled by him, compromising mine......"     

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bookstores and New Book website

This is the first time I have posted something other than a book review on this blog.  The November 18 Sunday Parade magazine article , "Places of Wonder" by novelist Richard Russo where he describes the first great bookstore of his life, Alvord and Smith on Noah Miles street in Gloversville, NY, the first stop  on Saturday  errands with his mother.  He goes on to tout bookstores and declares while many people love good bookstores, writers lose their heads over them.    Then he discusses his intense dislike of e-books which he believes are leading to the decline in real literary works.  I fully understand and agree, because I have been to events when bookstores introduced new writers.  Thnakfully our local library and librarian have a heart to do the same today though often confined to MN writers who are willing to trek to this small town.  A conversation with an author is stimulating and often insightful, "wow if  she/he can write so can I.   

Here is a link to the website for Good Reads and information about Richard Russo, an author who has a Pulitzer as well as acclaim.  The Sunday article is an excerpt from a new book, on my wish list at Barnes and Noble (B&N), an anthology of essays by famous writers, "My Bookstore: Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read, and Shop"    by Ronald Rice.  

And another thing, those who claim I am hard to buy for, as recently voiced by a relative who chooses to do whatever is easy to assuage any feelings of obligaton, would do well to visit my B & N wish list.  There is always something there.  Often I will spot a book at Sam's, that  I must have shortly after release like "Killing Kennedy" but other times I will wait for awhile for the paperback release or a sale copy at our library book sale.  Another book I'm waiting on is JK Rowling's new adult mystery,  "The Casual Vacancy."  I think if people took a minute  to think they could easily find a book I would enjoy.  But that is another post and for the other blog, inability or refusal to think, part of the culture of flashing plastic and making it easy while it's the thought that is missing.   

Today we settle with Barnes and Noble our chain bookstore at the mall, and while I am grateful we have it nearby while many communities lack any bookseller save the Wal-Mart or grocery paper back stacks, I long for the independent bookstores that we had once upon a time in California. There were three in the  Auburn area near our home.  My friend Roberta and I would spend our lunchtime browsing in the  Beers Bookstore which moved close to my office my last years of work; Beers was famous for  an array of used as well as new books, and for many unusual subjects.  There is something extra satisfying about handling the book and glimpsing passages here and there, before purchasing that is just not the same on line despite features on Amazon and B & N online.  Russo claims that the point and click crowd undermine the next generation of writers by not supporting independent booksellers who were the best resource for promoting new writers. 

My books to read shelf December 2012
While there were no bookstores in our town or  that I knew of growing up, I was a perpetual inhabitant of the local People's Library and checked out as many books as I could at a time, down the hill and up the hill again, carrying a heavy stack of books in the days prior to backpacks and with out regard to the extra weight.  Books that I would read and then make a repeat trek to the library.  We did not buy books and believe me when I got my very own book, I treasured it.  Maybe that is why I have always maintained a home library including a too big of one today, or so commented another relative on a visit, another non reader who cannot fathom what one would do with books.    Much has changed over the years but not my love of reading, however the rise and fall of bookstores across the country proves the dynamics at work, few read and fewer buy books.  I am a book store junkie, an addict to a book sale, and can always find something to add to the shelf in my home library of books to be read.  There is always space for another book.   I do not lack for books to keep me company over a snowed in day like today. 

Over the weekend at a recommendation from the local book reviewer in the Sunday newspaper I logged onto  Storyverse, a website dedicated to literature and books, excerpts of books and  reviews  this is different and interesting to me and likely to other readers.   One small semi annoying aspect is its name, "Small Demons"  I suppose this is cool with younger people and likely of some  significance which I do not get.  Still, the site is worth visiting when interested in what to read next.   

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fantastic The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer

Fantastic:  The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Laurence Leamer  published in 2005 by St. Martins Press,  362 pages or 401 with the notes.  This book  was a gift to me that has languished at the back of my "books to be read shelf " all these years.  Arnold has since released his own biography and of course the news of his infidelities, love child right under Maria's nose, ending  with their  divorce have captured the rest of the story and likely dimmed any further political hopes  for this rising star, a hero figure to many who achieved the immigrant's dream.  The story begins in his native Austria and follows him as he makes his way and name through bodybuilding, coming to America and not just surviving but thriving. an endearing story of rags to beyond riches.

I can  still hear his "fantastic" proclamations about everything,  it was one of his favorite expressions, we wondered if he knew other adjectives, and a fitting title.  This is a part of history of which I lived and participated fully,  California  in it's heyday and then it's beginning decline though it was not so recognized at the time.  Arnold was the last governor of California  for whom I worked.  I have a fancy personal proclamation signed by him awarded to me at my retirement from California state service in 2005,(I know  the gala was 2004 but I was on the books and returned  briefly until 2005), Arnold wrote wishing me all good luck, etc. in the future.  I had always intended to frame and display it, but it resides today somewhere on a closet shelf with other  political memorabilia.  Yet another example of what seemed so important in my career days is beyond irrelevant to my life today.  Actually I prefer my "Remarkable Women of Clifornia" t-shirt from Maria to the proclamation. 
I  like the way the chapters flow and are organized in this  biography which reportedly was written with cooperation of Arnold and Maria.  However,  I noticed inaccuracies from the beginning of the book, so that kept me reading with a skeptical eye, the mention that Arnold is  6 foot 2 made me laugh out loud!  I remember being surprised  the first time we saw Arnold in person at one of the campaign events during the Grey Davis recall election, he is a short man about maybe 5 foot 9 inches max who wears lifts to make himself taller.  Yes, he has very broad shoulders  and an imposing stature but he is not that tall. 

This is an interesting chronicle of his youth in Austria and his body building endeavors and achievements, his absolutely driving and perseverance,  his  rise to Hollywood stardom as an action hero, though robotic (Terminator)  at times, his decade long affair with Maria and their marriage, his election as Governor of California, where this story stops. 

Page 23 is an accurate harbinger of the man's personality..."Bodybuilding was the vehicle that carried Arnold away from Thal.  He was a natural athlete who could have made his mark in any number of sports.  He has said that he liked bodybuilding because it was not like soccer, which required him to share his acclaim with others.  With bodybuilding the glories were his alone.  He had no team mates in bodybuilding.  He alone determined how he worked .......Although Arnold celebrated the solitary competitive nature of a bodybuilder, he did not like to be alone and was a natural participant in the boisterous camaraderie of the sport.  .....Arnold enjoyed the banter and the manly fraternity."     It was this manly fraternity that would create difficulties all his life in his treatment of women, what he believed as fun was deemed insensitive to abusive by the more  politically correct.  Reading his back ground and that of the gymnasium work out behaviors gives insight into his character.

Pages 174-175 .."Arnold is a man who knows what he knows and what he does not know.  He knows how to learn and when to learn.  ...if you say something he doesn't understand he'll say, "What is it?"  The least introspective of men, unconcerned with the foibles and failures of the past, Arnold took what he needed from his earlier life and moved on."  I wonder but suspect  he still does this today.  

The help that Arnold received from the Kennedy's was not so much the political acumen and advice although that came in spades but it was the unwavering support.  It was California and none of us were amazed at the Kennedy's clan rallying for a Republican.  Partisan allegiance did not dominate and after all it was the Kennedy clan.    Page 186..."Arnold was not only the great love of Maria's life but her great project too.  She taught him more than anyone he had ever met. ...she took a rock and made him into  a gem, polished him..."  I am not so sure of this because clearly he was quite influenced by the Joe Weiders and before that  local Austrian politicians as well as his distant almost abusive father and his mother whom he adored all her life.

Back jacket of the book
 Page 324..."His optimism was the crucial quality Arnold brought to Sacramento, not a thought out ideology."  Amen to that, we wondered why he didn't carry out the huge  reforms he'd promised but reality became the political.  When he could not get  his budget passed on time, he showed frustration but  with humour at least to many of us, he unleashed on the legislature, calling them "girlie men."    I remember the rancor of  the legislature, especially his  nemesis John Burton and the very  liberal Senator Sheila Kuehl who accused Arnold of homophobia. 

Arnold was  more adept at dealing with the media than any other politician of that time,  pg. 347..."Arnold's attitude toward the media had grown originally from his experience with bodybuilding and the Weider publications.  ...Over the years he had developed a justifiable suspicion of the press but his attitude now was not simply about containing the damage that he might suffer from what he considered  biased liberal journalists.  As he saw it, all journalists could be a problem and they had to be contained and harnessed to his will.  Arnold usually fed reporters like squirrels in the park, .."

Pg 355 is the gist of what happened in California in Arnold's gubernatorial reign..."The cheerful excitement Arnold brought to governing was the essence of the man, and it spilled over onto almost everyone who came in contact with him." 

Reading how the Los Angeles Times editor had assigned a full investigative team of reporters to ferret out Arnold's  philandering  or any smut they could during his run for the recall, I pondered how they managed to not learn about his live child.  Apparently Arnold outsmarted or outmaneuvered all of them as they tried to get to blood in the water.  Maria's skillful defense of him when the groping allegations were revealed minimized the concerns and we all went along our way, paying it no attention.   

I give this  book about 3 1/2 stars  ***   It may have been of more interest to me than the average bear reader because I participated in his election and was awed by his tactics.   

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Paperback, 2011 published by Penguin Books, 335 pages including the Appendix which is amusing to read, The Young George Washington's  110 Rules of Civility & Decent  Behaviour in Company and Conversation,  from whence comes the title.  This is the first novel by Amor Towles who is a principal at an investment firm in Manhattan, where he lives with his wife and two children.  He  opens  with Matthew 22: 8--14.  I was pleased with the depth of understanding and presentation of the  book's characters.   It is a tale of lives, chance encounters, decisions and how they affect outcomes. 

The cover is misleading because it is not a story of the idle rich, lounging about  but  women's struggles through the post depression between 1937 and 1969.  It is introduced as Katey and Val attend a portrait exhibit by  Walker Evans at the Museum of Modern Art and she notices portraits of Tinker Grey, a wealthy man she used to know back when.  The tale weaves around the lives of  Katey Kontent and Eve Ross, a transplanted midwesterner, both career girls working  in New York.  In 1937 Eve and Katey meet Tinker in a jazz bar in Greenwich Village.  The novel twists with Eve snagging Tinker after a horrific accident, for which he feels guilty.  They live the high life as Eve recuperates and Tinker cares for her and the  solid friendship between  the women falls apart. Life goes on and they reconnect.    Other wonderful characters some mysterious until the ending are Dicky Vanderwhile, Wallace Woolcott, Bitsy, Peaches, Hank and Anne Grndyn.  Each character helps shape Katey's future, just as all the people of our lives shape us.   Meantime Katey  continues to advance in the secretarial pool and ultimately goes on to work for an editor .  It is a good story, surprising in outcomes.  Each  section  has an era photograph, images that fit the story. The writing is good with memorable lines portraying life in  an era in the big  city with all levels of society and culture from  melting pot to the most elitist. 

Pg 18,  .."He had that certain confidence in his bearing that democratic interest in his surroundings  and this understated presumption of friendliness that are only found in young men who have been raised in the company of money and manners.  It didn't occur to people like this that  they might be unwelcome in a new environment--and as a result they rarely were."  

Pg 37..."be careful when choosing what you're proud of--because the world has every intention of using it against you."

Pg 128.."Uncompromising purpose and the search for eternal truth have an unquestionable sex appeal for the young and high minded, but when  a person looses the ability to take pleasure in the mundane--in the cigarette on the stoop or the gingersnap in the bath--she has probably put herself in unnecessary danger.  What my father was trying to tell me as he neared the conclusion of his own course was that this risk should not be treated lightly.  One must be prepared to fight for one's simple pleasures and to defend them against elegance and erudition and all manner of glamorous enticements.  "

Pg 150..". I think we all have some parcel of the past which is falling into disrepair or being sold off piece by piece.  It's just that for most of us, it isn't an orchard, it's the way we've thought about something or someone." 

Pg 323 "It is a bit of a cliche to characterize life as a rambling journey on which we can alter our course at any given time--by the slightest turn of the wheel, the wisdom goes, we influence the chain of events and thus recast our destiny with new cohorts, circumstances, and discoveries.  But for most of us, life is nothing like that.  Instead we have a few brief periods when we are offered a handful of discrete options.....In that sense life is less like a journey than it is a game of honeymoon bridge.  In our twenties, when there is still so much time ahead of us, time that seems ample for a hundred indecisions  for a hundred visions and revisions--we draw a card and we must decide right then and there whether to keep that card  and discard the next, or discard the first card and keep the second.  And before we know it, the deck has been played out and the decisions we have just made will shape our lives for decades to come." 

Pg 324.."I know that right choices by definition are the means by which life crystallizes loss." 

The author hints at a sequel in his reading guide.  I give this  4 ****. 


Friday, December 14, 2012

The Greater Journey Americans in Paris by David McCullough

The Greater Journey  Americans in Paris  by David McCullough    published 2011,  
460 pages,  +76 pages source notes, +19 pages Index      ***** 
The front  jacket

This was one of my last  reads in 2011 and appeared on my other blog last  December.  If I selected one book to be my very top nonfiction read of the year this marvelous, wondrous book must be it.  I enjoy everything that McCullough writes with his intense research, reminiscent of James Michener.  This book details  the stories  of the prominent and aspiring American artists, writers, doctors, pre-med students, politicians, architects and other professionals who go to Paris between 1830 and 1900 to study, learn and fine tune their skills while experiencing the broadening they believe can only come from Europe.  The go to experience the "prestige of age"  and they do so in a different way,  Pg 20.."Even without the impertinence, the whole requirement of passports--the cost, the vexatious ceremony of it all was repugnant to the Americans. one carried a passport in America, not even foreign visitors. " There is such a difference between the Europeans and the Americans and many of these travelers had never been away from home before, never experienced  the older cultures, there was no guarantee of success.   On pg 67 Nathaniel Willis describes his fascination with faces and how one could "always recognize an American.There was something distinctive about the American face, something he had never noticed until coming to Paris....the distinctive feature ...,the independent self possessed bearing of a man unused to look p to anyone as his superior in rank, united to the inquisitive, sensitive, communicative expression which is the index to our national character."

Inside  the book cover

I learned so much reading this book that covers history of the time, the arts, artists and more about authors, for example James Fenimore Cooper was an advocate for Polish freedom. The famous pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk launched his career in Paris at age 15. The experiences of  George PA Healy, Samuel FB Morse, Elizabeth Blackwell, Oliver Wendel Holmes, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Henry James  are only a few of whom  we read about in this volume.  It is interesting to follow lives through the popular rise of the automobile.  
I wondered why McCullough emphasized Augustus Saint Gaudens, the sculptor and on pg 455 in the Epilogue I learned that Homer St. Gaudens  was  the director of arts at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, PA.  Likely more data was available through that resource and McCullough is from Pittsburgh.  I could not pick one favorite tale in this book, the world's fair, the Eiffel tower, the revolutionaries. I shuddered  reading about  the early days of medical practice and how poor it was, even in Paris, where they went to learn.  I wonder how much worse it was here in the states, lack of sanitation and so on at that time.  This is a book I will keep and read again sometime, there is so much here. It is McCullough's latest contribution to we lovers of  history and art.  
5 *****   Not one my local book club is willing to tackle.   

The Scalpel and the Soul by Allan J Hamilton MD,FACS

Another review moved from my other blog.  Read this December 2011.
The Scalpel and the Soul  by Allan J Hamilton MD, FACS, paperback, 
published in 2008, 241 pages, *****
This was a selection from our local book club and an outstanding read.  The group facilitator has given copies of this this book as a gift and reported all readers were delighted as we were.  It is about the medical experiences of a neurosurgeon who specialized in brain tumors and the science of psychoneuroimmunology at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. 

 He explains the difference between a doctor and a surgeon and beginning with his trip down the Ogoue River in Africa as a Schweitzer fellow, we learn about the link between the supernatural and medicine. He emphasizes the importance of connecting with a medical professional and of bedside manners.   

The writing is exceptional,  surprising for a doctor, but not so when he reveals his interests,  pg. 28, "Some folks never listen to the little hairs when they stand up on the back of the neck.  I listen hard to those hairs, because they're my intuition.....There's a distinction between a decision and choice.  ...superstition, I choose to believe it."   Through stories based on actual patients we learn so much about what lies beyond  modern medicine and its miracles. 

My favorite patient tale was about the gypsy queen, whose family takes her to the roof of the hospital so that her spirit may leave and be free from the body a process facilitated by Dr. Hamilton after the nurses complain about all the candles the family set up in the patient's room.  His patients are  terminal, at the best he buys them some time with surgery  but often their tumors reoccur.  This is an amazing read, very different from anything else I've read in years, when I started it I feared it might be too technical with medical terminology that would lose my intetest, that was an unreasonable suspicion.  

His final chapter has 20 rules for patients with explanations of each one; here are 1--10:
1 Never under estimate luck--good or bad;
2 Find a doctor who cares about you; 
3Never trade quality for quantity of life; 
4 Live your life with death in it;   
5 You cannot dodge the bullet with your name on it,   
6 Ask your doctor to pray with you,
7 Never believe anyone who says "nothing will go wrong"
8 Don't be turned into just another patient
9 Listen to your favorite music
10 Never let hospital rules interfere with patient visiting hours

 Pg. 167, "What one is to become is largely predetermined by forces beyond our control, ...we ride our destiny....the sensibility of discipline and self determination draws its inspiration from an earlier stage in life for which we are hardly able to assume responsibility."   He explains that luck and hope are flip sides of a coin and gives a harrowing example of what occurs in medicine when hope is removed.  However he does not advocate sugar coating nor deluding oneself in a terminal status, he acknowledges there is a time to not pursue further treatment.   I am purchasing  another copy of this book to give to our wonderful family physician at Mayo.  I hope he will be as intrigued as I was.  It is brave and different  for a prominent physician to write such a book, especially in these times of health care reform; his acceptance of the alternatives  to medicine is refreshing.

As noted at the start tis is a 5 *****   The book club members varied from  4 to 5 stars. 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

I moved this over from my other blog; read in 2010 and the other day someone mentioned it again; I  pulled it off my shelf and looked for my review.   I  appreciate  a novel that teaches me something and this one  did; well if the research that goes into the book is good, it follows there is often something to learn.  That is why James Michener is my all time favorite author and now David McCullough.  I enjoy and appreciate authors who research their subjects so thoroughly as this author did.  

First "The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom, published by Simon and Schuster in 2010, 377 pages, selected  by our book club, a story set in post colonial  (1790's) Virginia about Lavinia, an Irish orphan girl who becomes an indentured servant to the tobacco plantation owned by the captain of the ship on which she'd been migrating with her parents and brother.  When both parents die the children are separated and sold off.  A seven year old girl is alone, that is Lavinia who is sold to the captain.  Lavinia is raised with the black slaves particularly by Belle who runs the kitchen house where the meals are made for the family.  True to the history of the era, there was a separate house behind the plantation where meals were cooked.    The novel spans the life of the Captain, reaches back to the time of his parents and then forward to his son and is narrated alternately by Lavinia and Belle.  It is  a good tale with many intriguing characters, Mama Mae, Papa George, Uncle Jacob are all slaves to the household and compared to the field slaves, they are better off.  The captain's wife and mother of Marshall and Sally battles opium addiction and finally loses herself in that after Sally's tragic death.  The story calls attention to  some of our nation's history that I had forgotten, that of the indentured servants, mostly white Europeans, many Irish  who lived on the plantations and were part of the slave community despite their white skin.  This is not a pleasant story in many parts but it is well written and compelling reading.  The characters do not always do what the reader thinks they will and that draws us along.

Grissom is a new author to me, but I would read other of her books; she explains in her extensive Author's Notes and Conversation at the end of the book  that she felt guided by voices from the past to  develop this tale while she was researching the history of the area.  Pg. 368, " I tried on a number of occasions to change some of the events (those that I found profoundly disturbing) but the story would stop when I did that, so I forged ahead to write what was revealed.  I am forever grateful to the souls who gifted me with their sharing." She explains that she wrote the prologue in one sitting after being inspired by a map she found while renovating an old plantation tavern in Virginia.  When asked if she will write a sequel she says perhaps.  She took the names of the slaves found in her research for the numerous characters.  She offers advice to aspiring writers, first to read and to have an excellent foundation in reading and then to persist.  I am sorry that I will miss our book club  discussion about this  good read, but we will be traveling.

I give this 4 ****