Sunday, October 31, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 31

Happy Halloween and happy first heavenly birthday to my mom. I've been missing her so much these past couple of weeks; I think she was on my mind a lot because of her birthday coming up and the holidays here soon. I keep thinking of things I want to talk to her about. I've learned that it's one thing to know that the first year is the toughest and another thing altogether to live it. I certainly hoped that I have gained a new level of empathy. 

And just like that October is over and we enter a season that not all of you might have which I like to call Maybe Fall Maybe Winter. We'll have a hard freeze this week so even covered plants may not survive the nights but we also still have trees that haven't finished changing color. It's been raining so much that I had to pour standing water out of pots instead of having plants dying because I've grown tired of watering them but I'm so glad that it's not snow instead. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I finished Kate Atkinson's A God In Ruins; like Life After Life it's a very unusually told story. Tomorrow I'll start Lauren Groff's latest, Matrix

Watched: If you're of a certain age, you might remember that song I'm Henery the 8th, I Am and the part in that song where they sing "Second verse, same as the first." I feel that way about my t.v. watching these days. 

Read: I finished Spencer Fleury's How I'm Spending My Afterlife (which I'll review tomorrow for TLC Book Tours) and I've started Susanna Clarke's Piranesi and Jocelyn Nicole Johnson's My Monticello

Made: We were both sick this week, then Thursday was my birthday and yesterday was our anniversary so we didn't cook much. I did make lasagna for today and to take to a couple of friends and a spice cake with a new recipe for frosting. I'm already planning on doing the cake again with a couple of tweaks. 

Enjoyed: We went with friends to a new-to-us restaurant and the food was just wonderful, some of the best I've had a long time. Looking forward to going back. 

This Week I’m:  

Yesterday I started a furniture project (because who doesn't start a project that needs to be worked on outside just as the temperatures start to plummet?) and I need to get that finished. 

Thinking About: In honor of my mom's 88th birthday we asked 88 people to do a random act of kindness, a nice thing. We are so enjoying reading about what people are doing to celebrate the woman my dad called Nice Lady and it's making me realize how easy it would be to be just a little nicer, a little kinder. I determined to up my game. 

Feeling: Sad. I have been blessed, though, to have a husband that has been a rock for me through this. 

Looking forward to: Getting my hair done Friday, having Miss H home again next weekend, and dinner with friends. 

Question of the week: I'm starting to think of soups as it gets cooler. What are your favorites? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Unbound by Tarana Burke

by Tarana Burke
Published September 2021 by Flatiron Books
272 pages

Publisher's Summary:
Tarana didn’t always have the courage to say "me too." As a child, she reeled from her sexual assault, believing she was responsible. Unable to confess what she thought of as her own sins for fear of shattering her family, her soul split in two. One side was the bright, intellectually curious third generation Bronxite steeped in Black literature and power, and the other was the bad, shame ridden girl who thought of herself as a vile rule breaker, not as a victim. She tucked one away, hidden behind a wall of pain and anger, which seemed to work...until it didn’t.

Tarana fought to reunite her fractured self, through organizing, pursuing justice, and finding community. In her debut memoir she shares her extensive work supporting and empowering Black and brown girls, and the devastating realization that to truly help these girls she needed to help that scared, ashamed child still in her soul. She needed to stop running and confront what had happened to her, for Heaven and Diamond and the countless other young Black women for whom she cared. They gave her the courage to embrace her power. A power which in turn she shared with the entire world. Through these young Black and brown women, Tarana found that we can only offer empathy to others if we first offer it to ourselves.

Unbound is the story of an inimitable woman’s inner strength and perseverance, all in pursuit of bringing healing to her community and the world around her, but it is also a story of possibility, of empathy, of power, and of the leader we all have inside ourselves. In sharing her path toward healing and saying "me too," Tarana reaches out a hand to help us all on our own journeys.

My Thoughts:
You probably know the metoo Movement from viral response to the Harvey Weinstein sexual abuse allegations. I know that's the only way I knew about it. But when Tarana Burke began receiving texts one morning in 2017 about #metoo blowing up on Twitter, she was sick about it and very much felt like her work had been co-opted. After all, Burke had created the metoo Movement in 2006 as a way to care for Black and Brown women who were victims of abuse. When I read her reaction to the news in the prologue of this book, I wasn't sure this was going to be a book for me. After all, how could a worldwide awakening to sexual abuse be a bad thing? If the use of that hashtag could help untold women, why would Burke be upset that she was not being credited with beginning the movement. By the time I finished the prologue, I had changed my mind, just as Burke did after she slept on her response for a night. 
" was clear that I had to share my vision for this movement with the world. It was clear that all the folks who were using the #metoo hashtag, and all the Hollywood actresses who came forward with their allegations, needed the same thing that the little Black girls in Selma, Alabama, needed - space to be seen and heard." 
Burke knew that because she'd been a little Black girl who had needed to be heard and hadn't been. 

Unbound is the story of how Burke, the daughter of a strong, single mother was repeatedly molested by more than one man in the neighborhood she grew up in. Despite having people who would have stood up for her, Burke grew up certain that she was at fault for what happened to her, that she was a bad girl who had broken rules. In many ways, it broke her but Burke grew up reinventing herself to cover her pain. In high school, she got a break that changed her life and led her to the work she would spend the rest of her life doing. A teacher recognized that she had leadership potential and steered her to a camp for young leaders where she met a woman who got Burke into a school in Alabama, away from the neighborhood where she might have floundered. 

That same woman's organization hired Burke straight out of college and Burke was doing important work that was making a difference in the lives of young men and women. But she was still carrying her demons. An on-again, off-again toxic relationship held her back from healing but also gave her a daughter. Awakening to the flaws of the woman who had so shaped her life pushed Burke to finally leave Selma and to focus on working to help young women deal with histories of sexual abuse. 

Unbound is as honest a book as you will find. Burke exposes her flaws (although, to be fair, much of her behavior can be tied directly to what she went through as a child) and the mistakes she has made along the way.  She is able to both give credit to those who have done great work while also calling them out for their misconduct or their pattern of turning a blind eye to abuse. I got a real sense of who Burke is and why and an understanding of why she believes that the #metoo Movement, as it developed in 2017, left Black and Brown women behind. 
"Sexual violence doesn't discriminate, but the response to it does. In some ways, it is the great equalizer - no demographic or group is exempt - but the reactions to different people telling their stories are far from equal." 
It's good to know that Burke's work will continue to try to help those people who have been left behind and to try to convince the Black and Brown communities to rethink their own responses to accusations. Burke is doing great work and I can only hope that this book will inspire others to help her in that work. 

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 24

Happy Sunday from very rainy, very grey Omaha! I had grand plans to work outside today, wouldn't you know it, the weatherpeople's forecasts were actually right. We actually had a 4-5 foot wide stream rushing across our backyard and down between houses for a good long while earlier. It's hard to get motivated on days like today, which explains why I'm only sitting down to do this post at 2 p.m. Although, in my defense, I was busy earlier, helping Miss H finish sorting some clothes and putting together a costume and I was working on the 2022 book list for my book club, so it hasn't been a completely lazy day. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: As for books, I'm a little over half way through Kate Atkinson's A God In Ruins. As for music, I listened to Brandi Carlile's latest album, In These Silent Days - love, love it!

 Football, volleyball, The Voice - you know, the usual. 

Read: Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement by Tarana Burke. 

Made: Ramen soup, pasta with creamy roasted tomato sauce, chicken and vegetable hand pies - yep, it's gotten much cooler and we're happy to cook heartier, warm meals again. 

Enjoyed: Book club on Tuesday, an overnight visit with my dad on Friday night, breakfast with two of my kiddos and my dad yesterday, a long phone call with Mini-me yesterday, and having Miss H spend the weekend. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Miss H and I sorted through clothes that she had left here for various reasons and she got rid of two 38-gallon garbage bags full. Now I need to sort out which are good enough to donate and get them to a women's shelter. This has also freed up half a closet in my office so I'll be doing some reorganization in there as well. 

Thinking About: Miss H is heading home right now and driving through severe weather which, of course, has both of her parents entirely consumed with tracking her progress and the storm cell. Being a parent means you never stop worrying. 

Feeling: Blah. I hate days like today. I need my sunshine. 

Looking forward to: Next Sunday would have been my mom's 88th birthday. To celebrate her, we have asked 88 people to do something nice to celebrate her. My dad called her "Nice Lady;" she loved to do things for other people and we are so hoping that people will take a page out of her notebook. I'm eager to hear what things people do. 

Question of the week: If I tasked you to do something nice for others, what's the simplest thing you can think of to do? 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty by Patrick Raddon Keefe

Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty 
by Patrick Raddon Keefe
Read by Patrick Raddon Keefe
Published April 2021

Publisher's Summary: 
The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions—Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations to the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing a blockbuster painkiller that was the catalyst for the opioid crisis.

Empire of Pain begins with the story of three doctor brothers, Raymond, Mortimer and the incalculably energetic Arthur, who weathered the poverty of the Great Depression and appalling anti-Semitism. Working at a barbaric mental institution, Arthur saw a better way and conducted groundbreaking research into drug treatments. He also had a genius for marketing, especially for pharmaceuticals, and bought a small ad firm.

Arthur devised the marketing for Valium, and built the first great Sackler fortune. He purchased a drug manufacturer, Purdue Frederick, which would be run by Raymond and Mortimer. The brothers began collecting art, and wives, and grand residences in exotic locales. Their children and grandchildren grew up in luxury.

Forty years later, Raymond’s son Richard ran the family-owned Purdue. The template Arthur Sackler created to sell Valium—co-opting doctors, influencing the FDA, downplaying the drug’s addictiveness—was employed to launch a far more potent product: OxyContin. The drug went on to generate some thirty-five billion dollars in revenue, and to launch a public health crisis in which hundreds of thousands would die.

This is the saga of three generations of a single family and the mark they would leave on the world, a tale that moves from the bustling streets of early twentieth-century Brooklyn to the seaside palaces of Greenwich, Connecticut, and Cap d’Antibes to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Empire of Pain chronicles the multiple investigations of the Sacklers and their company, and the scorched-earth legal tactics that the family has used to evade accountability. The history of the Sackler dynasty is rife with drama—baroque personal lives; bitter disputes over estates; fistfights in boardrooms; glittering art collections; Machiavellian courtroom maneuvers; and the calculated use of money to burnish reputations and crush the less powerful.

Empire of Pain is a masterpiece of narrative reporting and writing, exhaustively documented and ferociously compelling. It is a portrait of the excesses of America’s second Gilded Age, a study of impunity among the super elite and a relentless investigation of the naked greed and indifference to human suffering that built one of the world’s great fortunes.

My Thoughts: 
That smiling guy is a guy who became incredibly rich (and set up his family to become even more wealthy) by being incredibly ethically challenged. I'll give it to him - the guy was a genius and an amazingly hard worker. He had his hands in every aspect of getting new pharmaceuticals on the market and making a fortune off of them. His advertising agency(s) developed ad campaigns that inflated the efficacy of medications and downplayed the dangers; he was invested in medical journals that wrote glowing reviews of the medications his agency was pimping; and he took a cut of the sales of the medications that he advertised. It was corruption on a level I could hardly believe as I listened to this book. 

Arthur passed those ethics right on to his brothers, along with buying them a small pharmaceutical company called Purdue Frederick, a company which would eventually spin off a branch called Purdue Pharma. It developed a method of slowly releasing oxycodone and then marketed it under the name Oxycontin. 

Even as Oxycontin (along with other opioids) began to ravage the country, the Sacklers kept their hands clean. They had long kept their individual names quiet when it came to the business and they continually maintained that only people who misused Oxycontin became addicts. Not one of the heirs of the Sackler brothers, including Raymond's son, Richard, who oversaw the launch and barrage of Oxycontin on the country, has ever admitted any guilt. In fact, when it became clear that the company might be financially at risk, the family members made a money grab to protect their fortunes. 

Empire of Pain is, more or less, split into two parts - Arthur's story and the rise of the brothers he brought along with him and then the story of Oxycontin. Arthur's story is terrifically interesting, even as it made me more and more angry at the way he was able to game the system and saw nothing wrong with the way he was manipulating the market for drugs he was profiting from. 

Then the focus of the book switches. While the family continues to play a big part in the book, Oxycontin, and how it came to overtake the country, became the real story. We learn why the drug was developed, how Purdue Pharma (especially Richard) threw everything they had at making the most money they could out of it, and how medical professionals were convinced to push this product on their patients. Keefe throws a lot of the family into the picture in this part of the book, as he tries to introduce readers to all of the family members who would eventually face charges, but it became hard to keep track of who was who in this part of the book and each of them made less of an impression except in the way each of them reacted when the toil their family's business was taking on the country began to be too big to ignore. Eventually we get to the part where various people begin to try to make the family and the company accountable. To say that I was disappointed in our justice system is an understatement. Money talks. To say that I was angry is an even bigger understatement. 

My daughter was a victim of the Sacklers. I've made no secret of the fact that my daughter is a recovering addict. One of the things she was addicted to was Oxycontin. This book was personal for me. This book will be personal for anyone who knows someone who became addicted to this drug, especially those whose addiction escalated to heroin or who died from Oxycontin overdoses (that number includes people who had only taken one pill or who were taking it entirely as prescribed).

Even those of you who were never touched by this drug will find this book fascinating and eye opening. Keefe has done his research and had the courage to publish it despite threats from the Sackler family attorneys. It is a work of narrative nonfiction so it is not without some degree of bias. Still, there is more than enough history and fact here to convince me that Keefe has found the truth. 


Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews

A Complicated Kindness
by Miriam Toewes
Published 2004 by Counterpoint
246 pages

Publisher's Summary:
Left alone with her sad, peculiar father, Nomi Nickel's days are spent piecing together why her mother and sister have disappeared and contemplating her inevitable career at Happy Family Farms, a chicken slaughterhouse on the outskirts of East Village, a town founded by Mennonites on the cold, flat plains of Manitoba, Canada. This darkly funny novel is the world according to Nomi, a bewildered and wry sixteen-year-old trapped in a town governed by fundamentalist religion and in the shattered remains of a family it destroyed. In Nomi's droll, refreshing voice, we're told the story of an eccentric, loving family that falls apart as each member lands on a collision course with the only community any of them have ever known.

My Thoughts: 
When I put together the list of books for my book club to read this year, one of my tasks was to choose a book written by a Canadian author. I chose one, read it, and decided it was too dark. And then I looked and looked for a book by a Canadian author that was set in Canada and not too dark. Having enjoyed Toews' Women Talking and The Flying Troutmans, I picked this book. Which is, if not dark, bleak. Although it is loaded with dark humor. 

In a small, restrictive town, it should be no surprise that things happen slowly in this book with hardly a ripple in the pool that is life in East Village. A daughter leaves home. A mother is excommunicated and leaves town. A father, unable to deal with the loss of the love of his life, slowly comes apart. A young teen, adrift with no one to really care about her well-being, begins to fail in school and stay out nights doing more and more drugs.

A lot of reviews of this book compare it to The Catcher In The Rye, a book I've never read. But I'm given the impression that Holden Caulfield, angsty teen, has not particular reason for being disaffected. Nomi, on the other hand, has had her life turned upside down. Growing up concerned that one or the other of her family members might be headed for eternal damnation, Nomi was happy. She admired her sister and loved her parents even though she knew how deeply unhappy her sister, Tash, was in East Village and how mixed-up thing seemed to be. After Tash and their mother leave, Nomi gradually begins to see how constricted her life will be if she stays in East Village and how trapped she has become. Tash has taught her "that some people can leave and some can't and those who can will always be infinitely cooler than those who can't and I'm one of the ones who can't because you're one of the ones who did and there's this old guy in a wool suit sitting in an empty house who has no one but me now thank you very, very, very much." 

Religion rules the village and Nomi's life. It's a complicated thing - real life is nothing like the life American tourists come to the village to see. It's so different that the villagers have set up a separate part of town where the tourists can see villagers acting out the way life used to be. But the young people in East Village behave very much like teenagers every where, especially those who feel trapped in a small town with no good prospects. Which makes me wonder about the Mennonites I see here sometimes. Are they really who they appear to be in when they are in public? 

The days seem to drag on, every day much the same as the other - walking around town, driving around town, sitting in his truck with her boyfriend, visiting her friend Lydia in the hospital, getting kicked out of school again and again for being mouthy to the teachers, and trying to help her father stay afloat. In many ways, as I was reading, it felt like we were treading water and it was work to keep going. 

In doing some research to put together discussion questions for my book club, the question of what the title means kept coming up and, as with so many books, there were a lot of different theories. Not until just this moment did I finally come up with my own opinion about what the title means. But I'm sorry to say that I can't tell you what that theory is because it has to do with the end of the book, an ending I can't say I thought much of until this theory occurred to me. And now I'm left wondering if that complicated kindness with have been worth what it cost. 

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 17

Happy Sunday from a weary woman! We made a quick trip south this weekend - left yesterday morning to celebrate my brother's 60th birthday and to bring my dad to Columbia to spend the week with my brother and his family; spent the night in Kansas City so that we could spend some time with Miss H today. We can't complain about how much we drove, though. Mini-me and Ms. S left last Saturday and drove two separate cars five 13-16 hour days in a row to get from their home in Rochester to their new city, Anchorage. They arrived exhausted, happy to be done with it and convinced that if/when they return to the continental U.S. they will do it by plane.  
Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Empire of Pain, which I raced to finish before the loan expired, and then I started Kate Atkinson's A God In Ruins. It's a tough listen as it bounced back and forth in time very rapidly. 

Calvin Mattheis - News Sentinel
One of the worst displays of sportsmanship I have ever seen from a fanbase during the Tennessee - Ol' Miss game and I've been watching sports all of my life. Fans threw so much onto the field that Tennessee's own band and cheerleaders felt unsafe in their own stadium. We have lost all ability to remain civil.

Read: I've had to push my way through this months' book club selection, Miriam Towes' A Complicated Kindness. It's only 246 pages but I am just not connecting with it and may end up apologizing to my book club for choosing it. 

Made: I've only been home for meals half of this week so I haven't made much of anything. 

 Getting to celebrate my brother and to spend time with my dad, my sister-in-law, all of their kids and two of their grandchildren this weekend. 

Thursday evening three book club friends and I went to hear Amor Towles speak about his latest book, The Lincoln Highway. He was fabulous and I highly recommend seeing him if he is in your town. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: Sadly, it's time to start putting the yard and gardens to bed for the cold months so there will be plenty of yard work that needs to get done this week. 

Thinking About:
The hotel we stayed in last night. A little dog was barking across the hall for 25 minutes solid after we arrived but we saw and heard no other guests. The t.v. didn't work. It had been remodeled in the past couple of years and I'm pretty sure that the owners hired their cousins to do the painting and everything was just a little beat up and felt cramped. Not gonna lie, I half expected to come out of my room and find twins at the end of the long hall. 

Feeling: I'm having all the warm fuzzies tonight. Miss H loves, loves Hamilton but has never seen it live. The Big Guy decided that needed to be rectified so tonight he ordered tickets for the two of them to go see it in a couple of weeks when it's in town. They haven't had a father-daughter evening in a very long time and she is so excited. He's a good daddy!

Looking forward to: A quieter week except for book club on Tuesday. 

Question of the week: Last night was not the worst hotel experience we've ever had and the other times make for great stories. What are some of the worst experiences you've had at hotels?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall
by Liane Moriarty
Published September 2021 by Holt, Henry and Company, Inc.
480 pages
Source: check out from my local library

Publisher's Summary:
The Delaney family love one another dearly—it’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaneys are fixtures in their community. The parents, Stan and Joy, are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killers on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are Stan and Joy so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups and there is the wonderful possibility of grandchildren on the horizon.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door, bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend. The Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, when Joy goes missing, and Savannah is nowhere to be found, the police question the one person who remains: Stan. But for someone who claims to be innocent, he, like many spouses, seems to have a lot to hide. Two of the Delaney children think their father is innocent, two are not so sure—but as the two sides square off against each other in perhaps their biggest match ever, all of the Delaneys will start to reexamine their shared family history in a very new light.

My Thoughts:
Publisher's Weekly calls this book a psychological thriller and I suppose it is. Which actually comes as something of a surprise to me, even though Moriarty keeps readers in suspense as to what happened to Joy Delaney. Even though she gradually reveals truths about the Delaneys and their home that begin to point to nefarious activity and an obvious suspect. 

Having read Moriarty before, though, I just knew that the obvious suspect wasn't the suspect, even as an arrest was about to be made. Because having read Moriarty before, I've come to see a pattern in her books and (I suppose this is true of any even remotely decent thriller) the obvious suspect won't be guilty but the guilty party will definitely be someone who's been around all along. Moriarty will skewer suburban life. Check. She'll load her book with gossip as a means of delivering the truth. Check. She'll give us perfectly ordinary families who aren't so perfect after all. Check. All of those elements are in this book. 

This book as an extra element - that stranger who shows up on the Delaneys' doorstep and, in so doing, begins to unravel the truths about the Delaneys and their relationships. 

Those truths? Those I really enjoyed, the way small cracks began to appear in the facade of a happy family. The way parental expectations can both shape and undo a child. The way those same expectations can undo a marriage. I enjoyed seeing these sibling struggle with how to or whether to support a father who they believe has, maybe, killed their mother. 

But that stranger? I have very mixed feelings about that stranger and how she came to ensconce herself in Stan's and Joy's home and their lives. Moriarty's written nine books now and been successful enough that I can't help but wonder if she's not allowed more leniency with the final product than a newer writer might be given. Would an editor advised a less successful writer to cut back on the stranger's story? It's just a little...too much. 

Still, I raced through this book once I got into it. There were plenty of surprises, I liked the way Moriarty used neighbors and friends and the people who provide services for the Delaneys to drop snippets of gossip; but are those snippets the truth or merely a sliver of the full picture? And as much as I thought there was too much of that stranger, I did like that she was multi-dimensional. Oh yeah, the tennis; I liked the tennis. Even though I'm not a tennis player or a particular fan of the sport I liked the way Moriarty used it to develop her characters and her story. 

Fan of Moriarty's won't be disappointed. I wasn't. I just think it could have been just that much better. 

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Harlem Shuffle
by Colson Whitehead
Published September 2021 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
336 pages

Publisher's Summary:
"Ray Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked..." To his customers and neighbors on 125th street, Carney is an upstanding salesman of reasonably priced furniture, making a decent life for himself and his family. He and his wife Elizabeth are expecting their second child, and if her parents on Striver's Row don't approve of him or their cramped apartment across from the subway tracks, it's still home.

Few people know he descends from a line of uptown hoods and crooks, and that his façade of normalcy has more than a few cracks in it. Cracks that are getting bigger all the time.

Cash is tight, especially with all those installment-plan sofas, so if his cousin Freddie occasionally drops off the odd ring or necklace, Ray doesn't ask where it comes from. He knows a discreet jeweler downtown who doesn't ask questions, either.

Then Freddie falls in with a crew who plan to rob the Hotel Theresa—the "Waldorf of Harlem"—and volunteers Ray's services as the fence. The heist doesn't go as planned; they rarely do. Now Ray has a new clientele, one made up of shady cops, vicious local gangsters, two-bit pornographers, and other assorted Harlem lowlifes.

Thus begins the internal tussle between Ray the striver and Ray the crook. As Ray navigates this double life, he begins to see who actually pulls the strings in Harlem. Can Ray avoid getting killed, save his cousin, and grab his share of the big score, all while maintaining his reputation as the go-to source for all your quality home furniture needs?

My Thoughts:
Colson Whitehead is one of the best writers out there right now. Two Puliter Prizes say I'm not alone in believing this to be true. Which means that expectations are high for any book he writes. This is the third of his books that I've read and I've been wow'd by every one of them. 

Is this one a crime thriller? The story of a family? An homage to 1960's Harlem? Yes, yes, and yes. And every one of those elements is marvelous. 

"Living taught you,’ Ray believes, ‘that you didn't have to live the way you'd been taught." Sort of, anyway. Ray's father was the kind of criminal that people are still talking about long after his death. Ray is not that man. But Ray also wants a better life for his family - a home that will get his in-laws off his back, room for his children to have space to grow, a view out the windows and no elevated rail outside his building. So if he has to bend a few rules to make that happen, he's ok with that, as long as it's done quietly. You can't help but like Ray. Life's been hard he only wants what every man wants for his family. 

“Crooked world, straight world, same rules,” Ray thinks. “Everybody had a hand out for the envelope.”

When he tries to move up in the world in a more above board way, Ray learns a lesson about the morals of the men he thought were the cream of the neighborhood that doesn't sit well with him. Then Freddie, who has been getting Ray into trouble since they were little boys, really brings the heat down on him. Between Ray wanting revenge and trouble Freddie brings to Ray's door, things get really tense and dark.

It was as hard to read as The Underground Railroad or as heartbreaking as The Nickel Boys, but it is, once again, a reminder for white readers that life for black people has always been just that much harder. That the system is set up against black people and poor people. That there is corruption around every corner. 

You can take those lessons from this book. Or you can just enjoy is as a crime thriller. Or a book about a family's struggles to rise above poverty and their past. Or one of those rare books where the setting plays as big a role as the characters and the action. I liked it for all of those reason. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 10

Happy Sunday from a very tired me! As it gets darker earlier, my body keeps thinking that it's bed time by the time it's been dark for a couple of house and I'm on the struggle bus to stay awake after 8 p.m.! 

We made a quick trip to Kansas City this weekend for a surprise birthday party for Miss H's roomie. First stop was City Market because I needed to go spice shopping and to pick up some flowers for the birthday girl and we needed some lunch. Then it was off to visit the roomie's (relatively) new storefront, Whiskey + Bone. If you live in K.C., especially in the Leawood area, you should definitely check it out! We spent the night with The Big Guy's niece and her family so we got to catch up with them. And, of course, there was the birthday dinner. It was a bit of a whirlwind, and we didn't actually get to see much of Miss H, but it was fun to get out of town. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: Patrick Raddon Keefe's latest, Empire of Pain. I can't say I thought much of wealthy people, big pharma, or big business to begin with and this book is definitely confirming all of my opinions. 

Watched: The usual. 

Read: I finished Liane Moriarty's Apples Never Fall and started Miriam Towes' A Complicated Kindness for book club next week. 

Made: Steak salad, nachos, caprese pasta - as long as the temperatures stay warm, summer meals will continue. 

Enjoyed: See above! Plus dinner with a friend I haven't seen in several years one night and happy hour with friends on their deck another night. 

This Week I’m:  

Planning: On transplanting some perennials. 

Thinking About: The friend I had dinner the other night has cancer and her treatment is just buying her time. I'm heartbroken for her and trying to think of ways to make life easier for her and to bring happiness to her life. 

Feeling: Happy. We enjoyed our trip and also managed to get a lot done around the yard while we were home. It was a good weekend. 

Looking forward to: We have some fun plans for next weekend but I can't tell you about them just yet. 

Question of the week: We both enjoy a quick weekend trip to recharge our batteries. Do you? 

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Any Dumb Animal by A. E. Hines

Any Dumb Animal
by A. E. Hines
Published November 2021 by Main Street Rag
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher and Poetic Book Tours

Publisher's Summary:
Any Dumb Animal (Main Street Rag, 2021), the debut poetry collection by AE Hines, presents a memoir-in-verse as told by a gay man raised in the rural South who comes of age during the AIDS crisis. Flashing back and forth in time, a cast of recurring characters and circumstances are woven into a rich tale of survival and redemption, exploring one man's life as a queer son, father, and husband, over a span of more than thirty years.

My Thoughts: 
A few weeks ago, I posted that a group of anonymous donors would match, dollar for dollar, each pre-sale of this collection of poetry and donate it to The Trevor Project. Having read the publisher's summary for this collection, I thought I knew the reason why. I only knew half of it. 

Perhaps A. E. Hines never attempted suicide. Perhaps he never contemplated it. I don't know that. What I can tell you, after reading this collection that is a memoir of Hines' life, is that it would have been perfectly understandable had he contemplated it. There has been so much pain in his life, so much unrelenting pain and it is so very palpable in this collection. 

The collection opens with a poem, "Phone Call," about a drunken call to tell his father that he hates him and that his only son is gay "like it's some kind of punishment." His father responds "I blame myself...Wasn't hard enough on you. I failed." Trust me when I tell you that is simply not true. In "How We Learn," we learn that Hines' father, understanding his fear of water, "became fond of tossing me into the deep end of pools..." and told Hines that "any dumb animal can learn." 
"Childhood was all about drowning: 
first in the ocean, a few year later
in the river named Fear.
I was too young to understand 
this would be a metaphor for my life."
Early on Hines' learns that his entire family can "only love a man down on his knees." They seem determined to keep him there and Hines' seems to have, for many years, been determined to do that as well. He made poor choices in men, including a spouse who was every bit as abusive as the father who had taught Hines that he deserved nothing better. 

Hines takes readers through the end of his marriage and his divorce; through being a parent, through committing his mother to an asylum; to surviving the AIDS epidemic and then CoVid; and finally, at last, learning to swim in all of the ways that counts. 

As you know, I don't read a lot of poetry, although I'm not sure why not. It is, perhaps, the easiest way to see inside of a person, to feel their pain and their joy. What I've read in the past few years has felt incredibly honest. This collection is the most raw, most heartbreaking, most honest collection I think I've ever read. But it's a tough read and it perhaps explains why I don't pick up more poetry. When it is this emotionally draining, it takes time to recover. 

Thanks to Serena, and Poetic Book Tours for including me on the tour for this collection. For other opinions, check out the full tour here

About the Author: 
AE Hines (he/him) grew up in rural North Carolina and currently resides in Portland, Oregon. His poetry has been widely published in anthologies and literary journals including I-70 Review, Sycamore Review, Tar River Poetry, Potomac Review, Atlanta Review, Crosswinds Poetry Journal and Crab Creek Review. He is winner of the Red Wheelbarrow Prize and has been a finalist for the Montreal International Poetry Prize. He is currently pursuing his MFA in Writing at Pacific University. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Wish You Were Here
by Jodi Picoult
Published November 2021 by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House Publishing Group

Publisher's Summary:
Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.

My Thoughts:
I was very late to the Jodi Picoult game. I didn't read my first of her novels until 2019; when I read a second of her books, this is what I had to say:
"Two things had put me off before that: the snobbish idea that good books cannot be written as fast as Picoult writes books and the idea that her books seem to always be about the latest "big" controversy. I still don't know that you could write the great American novel in a year but Picoult proved to me that you can write a book that will engross and entertain readers that quickly. And that if you can write well about whatever the latest big topic is, then it's good to write about those things in a way that will make people think about them."
Obviously, this is a book that has been written in a short amount of time and it is clearly about the latest "big" controversy (ok, one of them). And yet, not for one minute did I doubt that Picoult had had the time to write a thoughtful, well-researched novel. 

There is a little bit of an echo of The Book of Two Ways, with Diana struggling to decide between two men, one who she initially disliked but came to have feelings for and the other who was left behind and who seemed perfect. As with The Book of Two Ways, I've tired of the narrative of the cranky man who turns out to be wonderful and I'm growing tired of stories of the heart torn between two men. And here I felt like Picoult had to work a bit to make Diana's choice seem right. That might have meant that the book wouldn't work for me. 

But this book is so much more than the story of a love triangle. It is a book about family, about survival, about our dreams, about adapting to changes, and about forgiveness. And all of those themes, they worked for me. I was mesmerized by Finn's accounts of treating CoVid patients and watching them die and I felt his anguish. I was frustrated for Diana as she came across one obstacle after another and as she dealt with her relationship with a mother who she felt had essentially abandoned her but who now needed Diana to care for her. And, dang, I did not at all see the twist coming in this one!

I am bad about reading the author's notes at the ends of books. When I finish the story, I tend to want to move on; there are so many books waiting for me. This time I glanced at the author's notes just long enough to realize that I probably wanted to read further, to understand how Picoult's experience with CoVid 19 had inspired this book. 

In reading that, I understood why this book didn't feel rushed and how it happened that Picoult could know so much about both this disease and the Galapagos. And, as it happens when you have all the time in the world, you have plenty of time to talk to people who have both treated CoVid patients and to the people who have survived it. Those stories lent a real feeling of credibility to the story, the kind of credibility that allowed the book to pack an emotional punch. That emotional punch resonated in this book. It's not a book without flaws, but it's a book that made me forgive those flaws.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Life: It Goes On - October 3

Happy Sunday from sunny Omaha! 

This was meant to be the weekend to move some plants and head to the pumpkin patch. But yesterday was was cool and drizzly and today's plans sort of got turned upside down. Still hoping to head out for pumpkins soon, but I think the pumpkin patch is out. Transplanting will have to get down after work this week as we won't be around much for the next couple of weekends and time is running out. I want to love fall, I really do; but once I have to start pulling plants that are done producing out and working that an early freeze might end my outdoor gardening any day, I have a hard time appreciating all that's wonderful about the season. 

Last Week I: 

 Listened To: I raced through Nathan Harris' The Sweetness of Water and started Patrick Raddon Keefe's latest, Empire of Pain, about the Sackler family and the opioid epidemic.  

Watched: Football, volleyball, the new season of The Voice

Read: Colson Whitehead's Harlem Shuffle and now I'm reading Liane Moriarty's latest, Apples Never Fall

Made: The best homemade macaroni and cheese I think I've ever made, BLT sandwiches, and caprese pasta. Still loving fresh-picked tomatoes and, if the weather holds, we may still be enjoying them for a couple more weeks. 

Cookie cutters I picked 
up thrifting for $2
Enjoyed: Spending an evening with a friend from Arizona I haven't seen in a couple of years, thanks to CoVid, getting my hair done yesterday, some thrifting, and the better part of a day with the house to myself. 

This Week I’m:  

Besides the transplanting, I'm also going to be starting a furniture refinishing project. The Big Guy's grandmother's sewing machine cabinet has been living in my basement for the past many years; I'd like to use it as an end table in one of the guest rooms but it needs some TLC after all of these years. It shouldn't take long. But then you've all heard me say that before and then seen progress pictures that seem to go on for weeks!

Thinking About: Christmas shopping. They keep telling us that there are going to be shortages this season so I'm trying to get as much done as I can early. I'm actually ordering a couple of things for BG to give me, things he gives me every year that might be an issue to find later - I know he won't think to order early. 

Feeling: A little down, to be honest. But the sun is shining and I think I need to get out into it to lift myself back up again. 

Looking forward to: I think we're going to surprise Miss H and head down to see her this weekend. Haven't actually seen any of my kiddos in weeks and I need a kid fix. 

Question of the week: Do you buy just the one pumpkin to turn into a jack-o-lantern or are you someone who has pumpkins spilling off the porch?