"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Friday, October 22, 2021

WILDLAND: THE MAKING of AMERICA'S FURY (audiobook) by Evan Osnos

 



Published in September of 2021 by Macmillan Audio.
Read by the author, Evan Osnos.
Duration: 17 hours, 7 minutes.
Unabridged.

Evan Osnos is a reporter for The New Yorker. He was inspired to write about the phenomenon of Donald Trump and the 2016 and 2020 elections when he returned from an multi-year assignment in China and noted that politics, journalism and even economics in the United States had changed. He didn't use this analogy, but I will: Parents don't notice their kids changing and growing because they see them every day. But, the aunts and uncles who only see them at the holidays can easily detect the changes.


Osnos went to three places that he used to live to investigate: Greenwich, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; and Clarksburg, West Virginia. 

In West Virginia, he primarily looks at the changes in journalism such as the loss of local news and small town newspapers. He also looks at government pulling back environmental regulations and business avoiding responsibilities such as living up to pension obligations and cleaning up their messes. The shenanigans from Peabody Energy to avoid pension obligations were especially egregious.

In Connecticut he follows up on the business theme by looking at Greenwich - a town seemingly full of hedge fund managers. Really, it's not, but their wealth and their change of mindset is changing the town. The mindset embraces famed economist Milton Friedman's maxim that the purpose of a corporation is to maximize returns for its shareholders. I grew up in a town with one very large corporation with multiple factories. It provided scholarships, paid for public art and architecture and provided benevolent leadership through boards, committees and generally being engaged with the community that its leadership lived in and provided its labor force. 

In Chicago, he looks at the near-collapse of some communities - the ones that make the news all of the time for the murders. He discusses how the manufacturing base of Chicago left and how that helped lead to the decline of some neighborhoods. which ties into the Greenwich part of the book.

On top of all of this, throw in the Supreme Court case generally known Citizens United. It opened up the flood gates for money in politics. Now millions of dollars could be spent on primary campaigns. In 2020, my state was not really a player in Presidential politics, but we saw almost non-stop ads over 1 race for the House of Representatives. One ad after another from both sides. Those kinds of ad campaigns are the result of the Citizens United decision 
in 2010. The court held that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting independent expenditures for political campaigns by corporations, including nonprofit corporations, labor unions, and other associations and politics changed. Outsiders with a lot of money had a chance. They didn't need a strong organization or tons of contacts within the party.

This book takes a long time to develop and I nearly quit several times in the first couple of hours. There was so much talk of hedge fund managers and the new prevailing mercenary quality in big business. Notice that I said "prevailing" - the mercenary quality has always been there but it was restrained by other cultural norms. But, once it moves on to West Virginia and Chicago the book got more interesting to me. I guess it's simply because I don't know ultra-rich hedge fund managers and I don't identify with that lifestyle, but I do know poor black people in a big city and I grew up in a rural area. 

At the halfway point, he starts to tie all of this stuff together and then the book gets good. About 3/4 of the way through the book he starts to tie in the rise of Trumpism. To be honest, I had forgotten that this was the point of the book in the frist place. 
Osnos ties it together. It's not some big nefarious plot, but rather the result of a lot of forces converging - the Citizens United decision, the change in the philosophy of big business, the loss of local news reporting, the loss of good jobs in rural areas and the big cities all come together.

Toss in a great deal of frustration, Osnos makes it seem that the arrival of a person like Donald Trump was inevitable. I contend that it also explains Bernie Sanders. Like Trump, Sanders is truly a political outsider. Sanders isn't even a member of the Democrat party and has not put in a lot of work building the party organization. Still, he almost won their nomination in 2016 and ran very strong in 2020 because now outsiders with a lot of money have a chance. They didn't need a strong organization or tons of contacts within the party - they have money.

This book doesn't have a lot of answers, but it points out a lot of problems and you have to know what the problems are before solutions can be found. 

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: WILDLAND: THE MAKING of AMERICA'S FURY by Evan Osnos.

Friday, October 15, 2021

SANITY: IN a TIME of CONSPIRACY, UPHEAVAL, and PANDEMIC by Gary John Bishop

 


Published in July of 2021 by HarperAudio.
Read by the author, Gary John Bishop.
Duration: 1 hour, 34 minutes.
Unabridged.

Gary John Bishop is a life coach/motivational speaker from Scotland. He calls himself a Personal Development expert. 

His topics include how to deal with the pandemic, conspiracy theories that we may believe in and how to deal with conspiracy theories that loved ones may hold dear. He talks about mask mandates and the wildly varied response to them, especially in the United States. He also talks about how we hate the changes to our lives that were brought on by the pandemic, even if we weren't happy with our pre-pandemic lives because the human mind both craves change and loves stability and those are not compatible goals. 

The author, Gary John Bishop

He gives practical advice. For example, don't argue with advocates of conspiracy theories and welcome them back if they come back to reailty because you've had your crazy moments yourself. He also advises people to keep up with the news but to be consumed by it and use it as an entertainment source (translation: don't watch Tucker Carlson or Rachel Maddow - they get paid to make you indignant and they're good at it)

There is nothing new about what Bishop talks about in his talk, but his presentation makes it really effective. It's direct, peppered with curse words and comes off just like you are sitting in a bar listening to your Scottish uncle give you some solid advice.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: SANITY: IN a TIME of CONSPIRACY, UPHEAVAL, and PANDEMIC by Gary John Bishop.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

BLUEBEARD by Kurt Vonnegut

 


Originally published in October of 1987.

The premise of this book is that it is the autobiography of a has been artist named Rabo Karabekian. Karabekian also appears in an earlier Vonnegut book (Breakfast of Champions).

Karabekian is an abstract expressionist, like the real-life famed artist Jackson Pollock, who is in this novel as a friend of Karabekian. Karabekian's paintings are basically canvases covered with a coat of house paint and then some strips of tape. They were popular for a while.

Karabekian's paintings are really a way for him to deal with his PTSD from World War II. He doesn't want to deal with the details so he basically paints pcitures of nothing.

A self portrait of Kurt Vonnegut.

Karabkeian tells about how he got started in the art business, kind of hints around at his World War II experience and intersperses the whole thing with talk about what is going on in his life as he is writing. 

I read the book with Karabekian and his author friend Paul Slazinger as sort of a stand-ins for Vonnegut himself. Both have loads of sarcastic comments and a lot of dark humor. 

This is a bit different for a Vonnegut book. There are a lot of absurd scenes and situations and there are references to the Battle of the Bulge. But, unlike most of his books, there is a relatively happy ending.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: Bluebeard by Kurt Vonnegut. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

OUT of SEASON (Posadas County Mysteries #7) (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill

 


Published in 2008 by Books In Motion.
Originally published in 1999.
Read by Rusty Nelson.
Duration: 8 hours, 56 minutes.
Unabridged.


Things are not going well for Undersheriff Bill Gastner, the second in command of the Posadas County Sheriff Department in southern New Mexico. He is planning to retire in a few months and the person he had hoped he woudl succeed him is moving out of state. He found out another officer has applied to a much larger department where there are more opportunities. 

Things get even worse, though. A woman that most would consider more than a little mentally off balance calls the department and says that she has seen a struggling small plane disappear behind a mesa near her home. She says that it must have crashed. When a deputy checks it out, he spots wreckage. When they finally get close they find two bodies - and one of them is the Sheriff, a man who notoriously hates to ride in planes.


When Gastner and the department start to dig into what happened, they find more than they ever bargained for...

Rusty Nelson has read most if not all of the audiobooks in this series. I have read or listened to most of them. His folksy tone of voice goes well with Bill Gastner. Since the book is told from Gastner's point of view, that works out well.

Gastner continues to be a lovable grump. His age-related physical limitations encourage him use his head rather than charge blindly into a situation. He continues his insomniac ways while he guzzles coffee and takes any chance to sit down at the Don Juan Restaurant and eat a plateful of spicy burritos.

My only problem with the book is the character of Estelle Reyes-Guzman. She is always perfect. She is pretty, married to a fantastic guy, has a great family, figures out the case before anyone else, drives better than anyone else and is unfailingly polite. Don't get me wrong - I'd love it if she were a cop in my town, but she is a boring character.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: OUT of SEASON (Posadas County Mysteries #7) (audiobook) by Steven F. Havill.
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Saturday, October 2, 2021

A VOYAGE LONG and STRANGE: REDISCOVERING the NEW WORLD (audiobook) by Tony Horwitz

 



Published in 2008 by Random House Audio.
Read by John H. Mayer.
Duration: 17 hours, 16 minutes.
Unabridged.

A reconstruction of what the Viking village in
Newfoundland may have looked like

Tony Horwitz set out to fill in a big gap in his understanding of American history. He vaguely knew that the Vikings arrived in the New World and did something or other and he knew about Columbus' voyage in 1492 and he knew about the Pilgrims and Plymouth Rock and the First Thanksgiving in 1621, but what happened in between? Also, what about the people that were already here?


Horwitz decided to find out what he didn't know and this book is a combined travelogue and history lesson. He starts with the small failed Viking settlement in Newfoundland, Canada, moves on to the Dominican Republic to learn about Columbus and comes to the United States to look at the first Spanish explorers and settlements in New Mexico and Florida. He also looks at the epic and eventually tragic expeditions of exploration that the Spanish sent out. Finally, he turns toward the early English attempts to explore and build colonies. 

Typically, Horwitz starts out a section of his book by looking at the geographical area he is visiting as it is nowadays. He finds a variety of different locals to interview and lets them supplement the history he presents. Many times those local experts get very philosophical about how the past has influenced their homes.

Horwitz's roundabout way of discussing the history is almost always interesting - usually extremely interesting. However, the section on the Dominican Republic and a museum he visited there was too long and too repetitive. But, he bounces back from that and does a splendid job from that point forward.

I rate this audiobook 5 stars out of 5. It can be found on Amazon.com here: 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

UNOFFENDABLE: HOW JUST ONE CHANGE CAN MAKE ALL of LIFE BETTER (audiobook) by Brant Hansen


Published in August of 2015 by Tantor Audio.
Read by the author, Brant Hansen.
Duration: 4 hours, 21 minutes.
Unabridged.

Brant Hansen came to a realization that righteous anger, an emotion that a lot of my fellow Christians seem to adore should not actually be a tool in the Christian toolbox. It's on display all over social media and at public events like the current spate of contentious school board meetings. For example, recently a former member of 2 Contemporary Christian bands was seen at the forefront of a mob that was menacing people in the parking lot after a school board meeting. He yelling, "You can live freely, but we will find you!" at medical personnel who testified in favor of masks. He became the story and all Christians got a black eye as Taliban-type extremists. 

The author, Brant Hansen

Instead, Hansen is trying his best to take the words of God seriously when he says  to avoid anger. Here are 20 verses that give that counsel. He describes the change in mindset that is required - a move away from selfishness towards others. 

He does not claim to have perfected it or even to have come close to perfecting it, but the change in perspective has made a tremendous difference in his faith walk. He gives examples of others being unoffendable, including people reacting to things he did to offend them. The difference is that Christians are not perceived as the world's judges - a big point since God has made it clear that he is the world's judge.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5. I liked the points it had to make, but it felt like the book was repetitive in an attempt to make it bigger. 

This book can be found on Amazon.com here:  UNOFFENDABLE:  HOW JUST ONE CHANGE CAN MAKE ALL of LIFE BETTER by Brant Hansen.