Sunday, February 11, 2024

In Honor of SuperbOwls

 The Year Flaco the Owl Roamed Free

With any luck, this is a "gift" article, meaning you can read the whole thing if you don't have a Times subscription.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

First Lines: January 2024 edition

Some of my parents' books, 2012


Below are the first lines of the four books I finished reading in January.



Book 1

Prologue: What Is America?

The American novelist and literary critic Ralph Ellison once remarked that, “Whenever we as Americans have faced serious crises we have returned to fundamentals; this, in brief, is what I have tried to do.”  Me too.  


Book 2

This book was born on a cold, drizzly, late spring day when I clambered over the split-rail cedar fence that surrounds my pasture and made my way through wet woods to the modest frame house where Joe Rantz lay dying.



Book 3

Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York.  Especially in the summer of 1912. 



Book 4

The Mercy Workshop

There are times in our lives – scary, unsettling times – when we know that we need help or answers but we’re not sure what kind, or even what the problem or question is.



The titles and authors revealed:



Book 1

First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country, by Thomas E. Ricks.  416 pages.  Published 2020.

An interesting overview of the first four US presidents' relationship to classical (Greek, Roman) thought, and how that relationship contributed to the formation of the Constitution.  You'd think it would be a stodgy, slow read, but I found it quite engaging and easy to read.  At the end, Ricks put a 10-point list of “what to do now”. 


Book 2

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Daniel James Brown, 416 pages,  Published 2013.


This is a book about the 9-man rowing team (“crew”) that made it from underdog status to Olympic competition.  I will read a sports-oriented book only if it is chosen by book club.  And even then, I might not read it.  I did finish this one, but it was sometimes a struggle.  The personal story of the Univ. of Washington team members and how the Nazis used the Berlin Olympics as a propaganda tool were for me the interesting parts of the story. 


This book has been made into a movie, which is well made, but superficial compared to the book (as is usually the case with book vs movie).  The movie glosses over most of the heartbreaking story of Joe Rantz’s youth, which had a profound effect on his ability to work as part of a team.  The movie also ignores how Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl capitalized on the Berlin Olympics as a propaganda tool. 


For me the most fascinating part of the story is the observation train.  On the day of the rowing team meets, a train ran alongside the water, with seats facing the water, allowing spectators to see the race in its entirety.  Pretty cool, yes?

Some boys in a boat

Book 3

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.  493 pages.  Published 1943.

This book tells a coming-of-age story; the description of poverty is overwhelming.  The reading was slow going.  Wondering if it is me, because Boys in the Boat was also a slow read for me.   I read it for the other book club.  



Book 4

Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott.  192 pages.  Published 2017.

This book was what I needed to read at that particular moment.  Here’s one quote:

Singing is breath that is larger than yourself, so it joins you with space, with community, with other realms and our deepest inside places. You are joining your strand to everyone else’s, weaving something with the whole, and this extends the community outward into a force bigger than itself.


And that is exactly how I feel about singing.

Singing fruit
Art at the Northside Common Ministries food pantry