Thinking It Through and Station Eleven

Catching up on old issues of The New Yorker, I came across Joshua Rothman’s essay in the Annals of Inquiry – Thinking It Through – examining rational decision making and how well it works. Although I tend to overthink my decisions and try to research every angle of possibilities, more times than not, it is my intuition or gut feeling that weighs in the most. Maybe that’s not so bad, according to Rothman.

Throughout the essay, Rothman compares rational thought to impulsive decisions, pointing out how much harder it is for an emotional and impulsive person to make the right choices – or is it? Although examining, dissecting, and comparing choices in life – become an English professor or an economist, rent or own – many of us do make life altering decisions based on our opinions of what we think is best and our views of what is right.

Having lived through gut wrenching worry over what to do, I wondered if Rothman was about to advise and conclude that only rational thought could direct all successful actions, but then he offers scenarios where it is intuition that guides to the better path. Nothing should be done on a whim; on the other hand, not everything can be calculated precisely. Life just doesn’t work like that.

I’ve torn out the last paragraph of his multi-page essay to slide into the side pocket of my wallet, and may reread it the next time I am in a quandary – probably soon – again. Here it is:

The realities of rationality are humbling. Know things; want things; use what you know to get what you want. It sounds like a simple formula. But, in truth, it maps out a series of escalating challenges. In search of fact, we must make do with probabilities. Unable to know it all for ourselves, we rely on others who care enough to know. We must act while we are still uncertain, and we must act in time – sometimes individually, but often together. For all this to happen, rationality is necessary, but not sufficient. Thinking straight is just part of the work.”

Station Eleven

Although Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven was published in 2014, years before our current familiar crisis, her novel is gaining new readers with its view of life after a pandemic. I have not yet read the book but am following the HBO series based on the book, and am so gratified to know Shakespeare’s plays can survive, even after the apocalypse.

In Writing “Finding Joy Through Art at the End of the World in ‘Station Eleven” for the New York Times, Alexandra Alter quotes chief television critic James Poniewozik – “{Station Eleven} is the most uplifting show about life after the end of the world that you are likely to see.”

I’m not sure if I will read the book – of course there are differences, some sanctioned by the author, but I will continue to watch the series, looking forward to an ending where stories and Shakespeare stand the test of time and anything else the universe throws at us.

Friday the 13th

I always look forward to reading the Washington Post Book Club essays by Ron Charles, but I don’t always get to it until later than posted. Today Charles explains “Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th.” The Urban Dictionary says once you pronounce it, you are cured.

Editor Vanessa Cronin suggests a few books to read today, including a Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child – Bad Luck and Trouble, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s hilarious Good Omens, and the book that might have started it all – Friday the Thirteenth written in 1907 by Thomas William Lawson.

I am currently reading Mrs. March by Virginia Feito, about a New York Upper East side wealthy socialite who suspects her author husband has mimicked her (not favorably) as the main character in his latest bestseller. Although starting out as a mild narrative, it is morphing into a Patricia Highsmith type of slow-boiling thriller. In her review for the New York Times, Christine Mangan says:

“By the time we approach the end, there is little doubt as to the fate of Mrs. March. And yet the final pages are shocking nonetheless, and readers may find themselves tempted to return to the beginning in order to understand just what Feito has so convincingly managed to achieve within her accomplished debut.”

I can’t wait – seems like a good page turner for Friday the Thirteenth.

What are you reading today?

What’s on the Bookshelf Behind the Speaker

As I watch the PBS news hour, sometimes I am more fascinated with the books on the shelf behind Judy Woodruff than the news she presents.  Ron Chernow’s Grant has a special place on her shelf, and it is conveniently positioned sideways – easy to read the title. When the small box appears in the upper right hand corner to illustrate the story being presented, I wonder at the vase of flowers under it.  Are those peonies?  They must be silk flowers because they never fade.  I am easily distracted, especially when the news is information I would rather not hear.

When the camera blurs the background or is too far away for me to see the titles, I get annoyed.  When the shelves only have a vase and a totem, I wonder if the correspondent either does not read or is too private to expose the books her or she prefers.  Someone said a room is not a room without books. Books, like some of those presented as background when the speaker is talking from home, not a studio, can reveal not only tastes and preferences, but also a predilection for topics framing the speaker’s education or enthusiasms.

The Sunday New York Times Book Review offered a slate in “What Do Famous People’s Bookshelves Reveal?”   It was no surprise to see two books about horses on the shelves of the future King of England.  Prince Charles has “Shattered” by Dick Francis – from the master of the equine thriller, a novel of horse-racing, and “Stubbs” by Basil Taylor –a biography of the 18th-century English painter best known for his depictions of horses.

Hollywood icons reveal themselves when being interviewed, but look at the books behind them to get the real picture.  Actress Kate Blanchett’s 20 volume set of The Oxford English Dictionary makes me wonder if she has an inordinate love of language, a need to factcheck her words, or just the  tendency to pack her shelves with neutral fare. Actor Paul Rudd’s “Code of Conduct” by Brad Thor – the 15th installment in Thor’s thriller series with hero counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath could be research for a new movie.

A viewer created a list of the books behind comedian Stephen Colbert’s stay at home library, revealing books from authors he had Interviewed in past shows, many with political and historic themes.  Among them:

  • Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  • The Promise: President Obama, Year One by Jonathan Alter
  • All the Great Prizes: The Life of John Hay from Lincoln to Roosevelt byJohn Taliafierro
  • Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House by Peter Baker

But there are also:

  • Born Standing Up, A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
  • The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin

And, sharp-eyed SNL At Home viewers noticed actor/comedian Larry David had Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein and David Halberstam’s Summer of ‘49 among the titles on his home shelf, while he was channeling Bernie Sanders on air.   On the One World: Together at Home special, fans may have noticed Kerry Washington’s color-coordinated books behind her –  all yellow books on one shelf and all the red covers on another.  Evidently, J.K. Rowling likes the color coded system too.

“It’s a sneak peek into their private lives,” said Princeton University history professor Kevin Kruse. “How legitimate it is, is a big question.”

I’m always curious about what someone else has and is reading.  I was excited to see Hilary Mantel’s new book The Mirror and the Light on a table in the background of former Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s house while Stephen Colbert interviewed him.

On your next Zoom book club call, you might want to impress viewers with how well-read you are – or wish you were – with a backdrop of books.

My Favorite Books of 2019

What did you read this year?  Did you keep a list?  Do you remember the good ones?

It’s almost Christmas Eve, and I have a few books on my shelf I may finish before the end of the year, but I decided to stop to look back on the books I read in 2019, I found a few with stories still resonating with me, and others with plots I could not remember.

When this Sunday’s New York Times ran an article on the front page on Where the Crawdads Sing, i was reminded how much I liked that book.  Although I read the book in 2018, it is still at the top of the best seller list, and worth mentioning this year.  Alexandra Alter in her New York Times article details the book’s unlikely success, selling more print copies “than any other adult title this year – fiction or nonfiction…blowing away the combined print sales of new novels by John Grisham, Margaret Atwood, and Stephen King.”

The book has it all – a murder mystery, a survival story, romance, a little useful information, and a recommendation from a famous movie star – but it also has a page-turning compelling narrative mixed with beautiful explanations of nature.  The author, after all, spent years in the wild herself studying lions and tigers and elephants.  Like many writers, Delia Owens is a loner and an observer.  She wrote this – her first work of fiction – approaching seventy years old and after divorcing her husband of forty years.  It’s never too late.

I reviewed the book when it was first published and immediately starting recommending it.  Here is my review:

https://nochargebookbunch.com/2018/08/22/book-club-bait-compare-a-novel-and-a-nonfiction-study-by-the-same-author/

If you haven’t read the book, it’s never too late.

Favorite books from 2019 I remember:

January:   The Overstory by Richard Power – I read this twice to not embarrass myself in a new book club, but I could probably read it again and find more I missed.  I hesitated to recommend the book because it was dense and difficult, but if you want a challenge on a cold winter night, give it a try.  My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/01/12/the-overstory/

February:  The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash – If you are a fan of John Lennon, you will enjoy this and possibly find it a good book club pick. Here is my review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/02/28/the-dakota-winters/

March:  The Friend by Sigrid Nunez – A Story for dog lovers.  My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/03/09/early-spring-fever/

April:  Late in the Day by Tessa Hadley – It’s complicated, but the characters are finely drawn with unexpected consequences in the Tessa Hadley style.  My review:https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/04/18/late-in-the-day/

In May and June, life got in the way, and I did not feel like reading or writing, but finally books lured me back.

July:   The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware – a friend gave me a preview copy of this thriller and it was just what I needed to get me back into reading. My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/07/28/the-turn-of-the-key-by-ruth-ware/

August:    Lady in the Lake by Laura Lipman – a thriller with a surprise ending. My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/08/22/lady-in-the-lake-by-laura-lippman/

September:   The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – Patchett says she writes the same story each time she writes a book, but this one resonated with me because I grew up in her setting.  My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/09/25/the-dutch-girl/

October:  This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger – I agree with my friend about Krueger’s style being close to Kent Haruf.  An easy book and a promising book club pick.  My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/10/15/this-tender-land/

November: The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett – An old peaceful treasure set in Maine.  My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/11/08/historical-diversions-chevalier-and-orne/

December: The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carlson Ellis – A picture book with a perennial message.  My review: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2019/12/21/the-shortest-day/

 

Please share your favorite books.  I am always looking for another good book to read.  

Happy Holidays – here’s hoping Santa brings lots of good books under your tree.

Eight Books for Hanukkah

queen-of-the-hanukkah-dosas   In Maria Russo’s review of holiday books for children in the New York Times, she included Pamela Ehrenburg’s Queen of the Hanukkah Dosas.  Downloading the book to my iPhone for this first night of Hanukkah, I found its bright and colorful pictures. Instead of the traditional latkes, this family makes Indian dosas, and the big brother sings a dreidel song to calm his little sister – with a revised verse changing the recipe for latkes from potatoes to dal.

To continue through the Festival of Lights, I looked for seven more books:

way-too-many-latkes   Way Too Many Latkes 

Aleksandar Zolotic’s version of the classic “Strega Nona” stories by Tomie dePaola, changing magical pots of pasta for latkes.

The-Chanukkah-Guest  The Chanukkah Guest

Eric Kimmel’s story starts on the first night of Chanukkah when Bubba Brayna, who is nearly blind and deaf, mistakes a bear for the rabbi she is expecting for dinner. She innocently tries to tug off the “rabbi’s” coat and then feeds the “rabbi” latkes – it gets funnier and funnier – a great read aloud book.

513FaNOVG8L  The Golem’s Latkes

Eric Kimmel writes a Hanukkah story connected with the legend of the golem, a lump of clay magically come to life.  When Rabbi Judah hires a new housemaid to clean house and make latkes for the coming holiday, he gives her permission to use the golem as her helper – but things get out of hand.

61xY828PRiL._AA300_  Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Eric Kimmel

A 1990 Caldecott Honor Book – Hershel of Ostropol approaches a village on the first night of Hanukkah but a group of goblins has taken over the synagogue, and the villagers cannot celebrate. Hershel outwits the goblins in a story mixing a Ukranian folktale with Charles Dickens.

220px-Latkewhowouldntstopscreaming The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket

Instead of the gingerbread man escaping from the cookie pan, a latke runs away from the skillet. As he runs into assorted Christmas characters – a candy cane, pine tree, Christmas lights – he tries to explain the Jewish holiday but his attempts are always in vain and he runs away from each encounter in a fit of frustration until he is finally rescued and returned. In Lemony Snicker form, the latke gets eaten.

DreidelsontheBrain_Comp4.indd Dreidels on the Brain by Joel Ben Izzy

A finalist for 2016 National Jewish Book Award, this middle school book follows Joel, a twelve year old, through eight nights of Hanukkah. “Joel, who only wishes to live unseen, is on display at the winter holiday assembly with his parents and older brothers…With each succeeding chapter, the reader loves Joel more, cheering for him to star in his magic show, get the best of the dreidel spins, and find his miracles in dreidels, candles, or other signs (Ellen Cole for the Jewish Book Council).”

And finally, listen to Hanukkah in Alaska by Barbara Bownon for free on Storyline – here …

225x225bb    Molly Ephrain reads this children’s book:  “…A little girl finds a moose camped out in her backyard, right near her favorite blue swing. She tries everything to lure it away: apples, carrots, even cookies. But it just keeps eating… It’s not until the last night of Hanukkah that a familiar holiday tradition provides the perfect–and surprising–solution…(Publishers Weekly)”

happy-hanukkah