George Rogers Clark: this is one sad story

George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War by William R. Nester

3 words: detailed, accessible, revealing

OK, guys. Things are about to get super geeky here.

Today we’re talking George Rogers Clark.

Here’s my reintroduction to the dude… The Dear Man and I were touring Cave Hill Cemetery a couple of years ago, so we could visit the grave of Col. Sanders.

So the guy at the gate gave us a map that showed the locations of all of the famous people’s graves. And George Rogers Clark was on the map. We discussed the fact that we pretty much didn’t know who that was, other than: 1700s? Military leader, maybe?

So: learning.

Here’s the quick synopsis of his life…

First, The Good:

  • Revolutionary War hero, but in the West
  • Led a military unit that captured forts in current-day Illinois and Indiana
  • Founder of Louisville

Next, The Bad (aka The Sad):

  • He had a serious drinking problem
  • He peaked in his 20s
  • He fell into poverty

And finally… The Ugly:

  • Late in life, he betrayed his country by making deals with France and with Spain
  • He was an angry, bitter, resentful man in his later years

 

So there we have quite the story arc. The early rise, and the long downward spiral thereafter.

Which makes this book not the most jolly of stories.

 

Locust Grove

Nevertheless, the reading experience was a really good one, because the writing is fluid, the narrative is dynamic, and the subject matter is pretty darn fascinating. We got ourselves a seriously flawed hero here, guys.

I finished reading the book during our recent canoe trip to the Lexington area, which involved a stop in Louisville. Because we are some serious history geeks (when we’re not being fast food geeks [I was serious when I said we were visiting Col. Sanders’s grave]), we visited Locust Grove, the final home of George Rogers Clark. The house actually belonged to his sister and brother-in-law, but Clark lived there for the last several years of his life, when he was an invalid.

 

The office at Locust Grove

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… the American Revolution, narrative nonfiction about forgotten episodes of major historical events, true stories of the downward spiral, flawed historical figures

 

So, my fellow readers… what semi-obscure historical figure have you found fascinating?

Book club update: spring 2017

Sometimes our book club reads by theme, and sometimes we’re random.

Current phase: random. Here’s what we’ve done in the past quarter…

 

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Discussability Score: 4

Because: Wow! We talked forever about this book, without taking any side roads to other places. We stayed right with the book for nearly an hour, and there was so much to analyze. First, I was the only person who liked the book. The others found it frustrating, trite, and overly wordy. And when he described a scene in great detail, some thought he was telling rather than showing. I proceeded to explain all the reasons why I thought it was otherwise. Great discussion.

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Discussability Score: 4

Because: We talked about the characters’ motivations and decisions (believable or not?) and the structure of the book. (I really liked the way the author interspersed the character’s blog posts into the narrative.) And we talked about the way the author and her characters approach issues of race. A lively, vibrant discussion.

 

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

Discussability Score: 3

Because: We none of us liked this book. But that didn’t hamper discussion. We talked about how the writing style didn’t work for us, but also about the key question: Is the narrator female or male?

 

Next up: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

(not the beginning of another dystopian spree, I’ve been promised)

 

For more things book club… head on over to Book Club Central, where I tell the whole story.

Memoir of a super tough swimmer

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

3 words: forthright, vigorous, candid

Wow. I mean: seriously.

When I heard about Diana Nyad’s historic swim from Cuba to Florida, I was impressed. But reading her account of the lifelong journey she took to accomplish this goal… Wow.

I’m not sure what knocked me over more:

  • It took five attempts (over the course of 30+ years) to complete the swim
  • She began training for the Cuba crossing after a 30-year hiatus from swimming
  • Nyad was 64 years old when she successfully finished the swim
  • The effort that went into engineering the swim so it wouldn’t kill her (a series of jellyfish stings nearly ended her life during a 2011 swim)
  • The sheer strength of will she personified

And then there’s her remarkable backstory. After doing several landmark open water swims in her 20s, Nyad left swimming and became a sports reporter.

It was only when she reached age 60 that she realized she needed to do something momentous to get her life out of autopilot. And then she set about doing that thing.

Nyad also addresses the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. And it’s both horrific that she had to experience such abuse, and inspiring to see how she overcame it. It’s an unexpected part of her story that surprised me and nearly broke my heart.

So when she goes on to live a big, bold life that she built with her own strength and with the love and support of her loved ones, it’s powerful stuff.

Nyad reads the audiobook, and I’m also glad she did. She’s a talented broadcaster, and she brings emotion to her reading.

Finally, this book is a remarkable thing because of the team Nyad assembled to help her achieve the Cuba swim. Reading about the way the team worked together–and especially the key role played by her head handler, Bonnie–I’m awed. It’s a beautiful thing, this story. There’s plenty of shadow, yes, but: the light, people! This story is filled with light breaking through the dark.
Give this book a whirl if you like… swimming, extreme sports, strong women, perseverance, stories of abuse survivors, senior power, living a bold life

 

So, folks… Whose stories have you found completely awe-inspiring?

Bookish Tourist: Joseph-Beth Booksellers

During a recent canoe trip in Kentucky, the Dear Man and I did that thing that we do when we travel: we packed in all the goodness we could find.

And one of our travel days, this meant we dashed across Lexington to hit a bookstore in the half hour before it closed.

Not enough time!

But still: so worth it. And now we’ve added Joseph-Beth Booksellers to our Return to Lexington list.

Here’s why:

First: Spaciousness! This place has a high, tent-like ceiling that makes it feel very open. And there’s tons of natural light.

 

Second: Browseability! Many of the shelves are arranged in a pinwheel around the central core, and there are enough face-out displays to keep a person entranced for way longer than a half hour.

 

Third: Selection! I found several books I wanted to read, but in the end, I bought only one… and it was a good one.

 

Fourth: Size! This place is huge. Yet it’s comfortable and welcoming.

The bad news: We had only half an hour there, and it wasn’t enough time.

The good news: We are going back to Lexington.

 

So, my fellow readers… What’s the most surprising bookstore discovery you’ve made on vacation?

Claire of the Sea Light

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

3 words: somber, lyrical, layered

Is it because I grew up in landlocked Iowa, that I’ve always loved novels of the sea?

An ocean setting is one of the things I most romanticize. Even when there’s really bad crap going down.

So the title of this book drew me in.

And I’ve been hearing great things about Edwidge Danticat’s books for years, so: another bonus.

The short blurb I read about this book emphasized the plotline involving a missing seven-year-old girl and the effect on the community. But really, that’s just a leaping off point to tell the stories of several people who live in her small fishing village in Haiti.

The novel is constructed as though it were several linked short stories that combine to tell the story of this village.

The central character is a widowed fisherman who is on the verge of giving his young daughter to a more well-to-do woman, so his daughter can live a better life. Then the little girl goes missing.

And that storyline would be enough, but Danticat adds several layers to the story by introducing several more characters and diving deep into their backstory. The town and its residents relationships are really at the heart of this story, which was sometimes mystical, sometimes harsh, and sometimes poignant.

Give this book a whirl if you like… interwoven stories, settings involving the sea, Haiti, and small towns where everyone knows your business

So, my fellow readers… wanna suggest some other books about the sea for me to read?

Gilmore Girls withdrawal cure

Talking as Fast as I Can: From Gilmore Girls to Gilmore Girls (And Everything In Between) by Lauren Graham

3 words: quick, funny, entertaining

 

 

You know how sometimes, when you really love a TV show, you kinda dread it when one of the actors writes a memoir? Because what if you don’t like them? What if they’re arrogant or  unrelatable or otherwise incompatible with you? Or what if they simply don’t match up with the way you want them to resemble the character you most adore, and that’s just a big old disappointment?

Well, my friends… if you’re a fan of The Gilmore Girls, your mind can rest easy. You can safely enter into this reading experience, knowing that it will all turn out fine in the end.

Because it turns out that Lauren Graham–the actor and real-life human being–is delightfully similar to the fictional character Loralai Gilmore.

I know: weird.

But also: wonderful.

There’s lots of talk about the delight of creating The Gilmore Girls not only once, but twice. But also a candid (and often very funny) description of life as a struggling actor–the strange part-time jobs, the horrible tiny apartments, the hoping against hope.

And more funny stuff about the life of a reasonably successful actor–trying all the diets, being single for a long time (not necessarily totally by choice), and learning that your show’s reboot is happening by reading about it online.

If you’re going to read this book, don’t. Listen to it instead. Lauren Graham reads it herself, so it’s like you’re hearing Loralai telling you the story of Lauren’s life. It’s pretty terrific.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity memoirs, a chatty tone, and the quick wit of The Gilmore Girls

 

So tell me… what celebrity memoirs have caught your eye lately?

Bookish Tourist: The Book Cellar

On a recent Saturday, the Dear Man and I made a foray into the city (for us, that’s Chicago), so’s I could buy a copy of The Cubs Way for the Dear Man’s dear dad. (He’s the person directly responsible for my Cubs conversion, and he probably already knows most, if not everything, in this book, but still. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna like it.)

So we decided to visit The Book Cellar (one of those Chicago bookstores everyone says a person really should see), and when we looked at Google Maps, we saw this…


And Roots Handmade Pizza: on our list!

So we decided: lunch there first, then bookstore. Cuz we’re tactical geniuses like that.

And then the Dear Man parked the car right next to a Little Free Library, so: further bliss.

Then I had this face, cuz: Nancy Pearl book in the Little Free Library!

 

(Yes, that Nancy Pearl*, who I got to meet last month!)

Then… Roots Pizza. And guys. This pizza is amazing. It’s seriously in my personal Top 3 Favorite Pizzas of All Time. And that ain’t an easy mark to hit. (The others on the podium: deep dish at Pequod’s in Morton Grove, and thin crust at La Rosa in Skokie)

 

Here’s why: Quad City pizza has malt in its crust, which makes the crust a little bit sweet. So the crust is actually fantastic all on its own. Then you add just the right amount of zingy sauce and cheese and onions and green peppers, and you have yourself one winner of a pizza.

After I ate way too much pizza, we walked over to the bookstore, which is in the charming Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. We hit another shop on the way. And then… bookstore wonderment.
The Book Cellar is not small, but it’s not very big, either. It’s simply packed with books. I felt a little bit like I was swimming through the aisles, with books surrounding me on all sides. That was kind of dreamy.

The Book Cellar is a book store/cafe/wine bar combo, so there were people wandering the stacks with coffee cups and wine glasses, which seemed really homey.

I snapped up the 2nd-to-last copy of The Cubs Way, and then we hit the cafe area of the bookstore for iced coffee, because all that leisure: exhausting.


So, readers...  What’s your favorite bookish tourist destination?

 

*iconic librarian extraordinaire, and inspiration for the librarian action figure

 

The Cubs Way… is to keep me reading non-stop

The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci

3 words: personal, detailed, inside baseball

bleacher bums!

Oh my goodness. Such a good book!

If you’re a Cubs fan, then: of course.

If you’re not a Cubs fan, but you are a reader who likes learning the inside story of building a culture of teamwork and success, then this book is also for you.

There’s so much to love here.

First: The people. Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon were of one mind when it came to assembling the perfect team. They agreed that the character of the players mattered as much as their athletic talents. So this team is made up of strong people who are devoted to the group, rather than to themselves. And they’re darn tough guys who have faced and overcome tough times with grace.

And Maddon himself. The guy’s fascinating. (I’m kind of thinking I need a “Try Not to Suck” t-shirt to add to my fleet of Cubs shirts.)

Maddon: a reader’s gotta love him. To draw out Addison Russell, he assigned him to read Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and talk to him about the book every 50 to 100 pages.

I adore this!

Second: The behind-the-scenes stuff is fantastic. For example, that whole story about Rizzo borrowing Szczur’s identical bat and having immense good luck with it during the World Series? Partly fiction!

(with that stance… Bryant)

Third: Even though we obviously know the outcome (spoiler alert: Cubs win the World Series), this book is a page turner. The chapters alternate between each World Series game and the back story that brought the team together from 2012 to 2016.

Fourth: All that psychology. Here’s Maddon: “Too many times in the past, in the postseason, I know we’ve got the other team by the look in the other team’s eyes. There’s a distant look. They’re anticipating bad. It’s almost like a concession look. I never want us to be that team. So know that something bad is going to happen. Know it is. Expect it to happen. And when it happens, we have to keep our heads and fight through it.” (p. 283)

I mean seriously: Isn’t that good?

And then there’s this scene from the rain delay in Game 7, when Epstein eavesdropped on the players-only meeting. “‘I saw our guys meeting and it snapped me back,’ he said. ‘It reminded me of how much I admired them and how tough they are, how connected they’ve stayed with each other, and the great things human beings can accomplish when they set out to achieve for other people, not for themselves.’” (p. 347)

Verklempt! I read this section at Panera and got all verklempt (in public). I try to avoid displays of readerly overwhelm, but sometimes it does a sneak attack. This book got to me.

We might need a short musical break here…

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… baseball, stories of Overcoming, workplace narratives, the behind-the-scenes story, camaraderie, building an organizational culture
Anyone else read any great sports books lately?

Currently… springing into action

So much good stuff this early spring! Here’s the rundown…

Reading | Reliving my childhood by getting my nose stuck in a book…  I can’t, I won’t, I refuse to put down The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse by Tom Verducci. If anyone in my path even seems like they might be interested in baseball (or simply great narrative nonfiction), they’re hearing me rave about this book these days. And then I read that Rizzo & Bryant & Russell & Heyward & Ross are on Instagram, so: Following.

 

Watching | Speaking of the best team in baseball… we watched the Cubs’ opening game, and sure, it didn’t end perfectly, but still: It’s baseball season, people!  (The New York Times is even in the spirit — they published this list of baseball books recently.)

Bryant at bat, 2015 (my 4th time at Wrigley!)

 

Listening (audiobooks)| I hit the trifecta, guys: three audiobooks in progress at once. It happened by accident, cuz: eAudiobook holds… they have their own timeline. So… In the car: Americanah. On the iPhone: A Man Called Ove and Talking as Fast as I Can.

 

Listening (podcasts) | I’ve got the happiest mix of podcasts on my iPhone. There’s What Should I Read Next? and Happier and C-SPAN’s Q&A and Getting Things Done. And a new addition to the rotation: Beyond the To Do List. When I’m warming up for a run, it’s a wonderful dilemma to decide what to listen to.

 

Learning | I’ve been digging into Gallup Strengths, cuz I can’t resist personality type systems. I’m currently reading Strengthsfinder 2.0, which I’ll talk about in a future post. (This is a promise, cuz I’m seriously sucked into this stuff.)

 

Loving | Our St. Patrick’s Day celebration with great friends

all that green!

 

Braving | Rotten shark. I ate it. (Totally not even kidding here.) The Dear Man’s dear sister and dear brother-in-law visited Iceland recently, and we basically dared them to try hakarl (shark that’s buried in the ground to rot, then dug up and eaten — we steered clear of it during our Iceland trip, cuz we’re sensible like that). So instead, they brought some back for all of us to try. It wasn’t so very terrible, though it’s true what they say: smells like ammonia.

(mid-chew)

 

(still mid-chew; the Dear Man made me laugh)

 

Celebrating | 20 years in my little house! It’s hard to believe, but it was 20 years ago last month that I plunked down my life’s savings for a down payment on my own tiny haven.

 

 

“The Little House was very happy as she sat on the hill and watched the countryside around her. She watched the sun rise in the morning and she watched the sun set in the evening. Day followed day, each one a little different from the one before . . . but the Little House stayed just the same.”
— Virginia Lee Burton, The Little House

 

Anticipating | Our 67th pizza. Cuz: yeah... We’ve eaten at 66 pizzerias so far. Here we’re picking off Wayne’s Pizza (well worth the drive).

 

So, good people… what’s going on in your neck of the woods?

A Man Called Ove. She likes it, she likes it!

(photo credit: Wikipedia Commons)

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

3 words: heartwarming, sad, wryly humorous

Oh, good people. I’m pretty sure I know Ove IRL. And it’s sometimes tough to like a guy like that, but dang it, he wins you over.

This is the book everyone’s been reading, which kinda makes me not wanna read it.

But someone somewhere said something that changed my mind. I wish I could remember who, so I could thank her/him.

And yeah: the curmudgeonly codger with a heart of gold is kind of a tired trope. But there was enough gentle humor in this book to tame the sour and cut the sweet.

And the plot veered a little darker sometimes than I’d expected, which made the heartwarming parts easier to take.

Ove is that grouchy neighbor who hates the world, but eventually his neighbors — and a cat in need of some TLC — make him realize life’s worth living. But he’s not staying alive without a fight.

Give this book a whirl if you like… curmudgeons with a heart of gold, stories of neighbors and a sense of community, getting a new lease on life, and a blend of sorrow and humor

So, readers… who’s your favorite famous grouch?