When both of my parents had died, my mother Esty at the age of 90 and father Sam at the age of 93 1/2, we kept some old papers of theirs we had discovered and put them in a file we labeled as “Memorabilia.”
Yesterday, as Ellen and I were going through and discarding some of the huge amount ‘stuff’ we have stuck into various draws, cabinets, and boxes, I came across something my father had written that we had found and saved. I’m not sure of the date he wrote it, but it was sometime when our two daughters were quite young; so he wrote it at least 30-35 years ago and left it in the back of a drawer in our Orlando home. I don’t remember seeing it while he was alive.
I thought it could have interest for family and friends, not only for how important it is for me personally but perhaps also for others in these difficult days.
Richard & I
The letter with the familiar Sierra Leone postmark came towards the end of his first Peace Corps year. Chatty and whimsical in his usual way, it ended with the startling suggestion – “Sam, you always came to camp on visitor’s day at Samoset – why not now and here? It is probably a rough trip for Esty, but she deserves a separate vacation. Come – we will talk, you will see my segment of Africa, and your citrus will grow even in your absence.”
And so I did. From Orlando to New York to Freetown and then, the toughest part by mammy wagon, to Kailahun. I arrived in the late afternoon, unannounced, to flounder to the rather primitive dwelling my son shared with another Peace Corps idealist. A note on the door suggesting, that since my arrival was indeterminate, I find my way to the school, where Richard and faculty were building an imposing addition.
“You must be Meestah Meeler’s father,” a young voice piped behind me. “And how do you know that?” “You walk like Meestah Meeler.” I curbed the impulse to say, “You’ve got it backwards, kid,” and contemplated a truth revealed. I did walk like my son. Our role reversal was beginning. Here, on turf alien to me, he had established an identify all his own, independent and unconnected by any umbilical chord.
Pure pleasure to be with him – his obvious love and joy at the reunion matching mine. After the ground nut stew supper and news catching up, he said, “”Let’s talk about Ellen,” and we did. She was finishing college during his Peace Corps stint, and Esty and I had recently driven to New Jersey to vist and spread around some parental blessing. A lovely girl, our son had chosen, and we talked late of plans and marriage and the difficulty of separation.
The village chief, with a gesture of hand to breast, gifted me with a robe of country cloth. His praise singer informed me that the gift and gesture were unusual – the hand motion indicating he took me to his heart. Not that he truly knew my inestimable worth, but an indication of the community regard for my son.
Maybe the child is father to the man. Of course, it is warming to know that one’s flesh and blood has his own strong and sure identity, yet there is an ambivalence. The years had rushed by and regrets coursed through of missed words, missed chances, and missed touches.
Two days before his sixteenth (the legal driving age in Florida), Richard, his grandfather (Rob), and I went to Reed Motors in downtown Orlando. He had saved his bar-mitzvah gelt, his money from his two summer labors with an idiot stick in the groves, and our modest additions to bring it to a grand total of eighteen hundred dollars.
The Monza on the lot was his heart’s desire. Color, line, sleekness — all exactly right. The best deal was an even two thousand dollars. Rob started to reach into his pocket when callous, arrogant me caught his arm and told the man if he could find a way to accept our eighteen hundred dollars, call us at home at this number. Richard, with a slight lip termor, nodded at me and we walked away,
If I could only relive that day and save my good son that two hour agony until the call came saying it was ours
When he was nine or ten, with Jimbo, he built a tree house in the big oak fronting our Florida house. I came home tired and hot from the packing house and grove to face the small problem. I had visions of fifteen foot falls, hurts, law suits, and assorted ills. Balancing his enthusiasm while understanding my problem, we discussed it fairly amicably. At his suggestion, we resolved it thusly. I would climb into the tree house and if after stomping, banging and shaking , it survived. I would withdraw my objections. To my mild consternation, that solidly built hut withstood my assault. He was gracious in triumph and exercised care and prudence in maintaining security.
And he returned, after the two years, from Africa – bearded and some how bigger – to get a doctorate and start teaching at Kennedy High School in Washington, a rather unorthodox and free wheeling, open sort of school. On one of intermittent visits to DC to visit Richard and Ellen, now safely married, he suggested I spend a day at school. Seated in the rear, trying to be unobtrusive, I was bemused by the freedom and interplay betwixt student and teacher — a far cry from my high school experience.
Halfway through the first hour Richard announced, “we have a visitor.You have heard me mention my father; well he is that guilty party sitting in the back. You want to pump him. All I will add is that he thinks I am somewhat square and he will be honest with you.”
After about thirty seconds, the kids started firing, “How did your relationship come? Did we talk about sex? Why did I think him square? What was Esty like? How come we let him go to India on the Experiment in International Living when he was in his teens?”
The whole tenor of the hour left me with a sense that these adolescents hungered for communication with their parents that generally was non-existent; and a profound sense of gratitude at what we had.
With some of the faculty at Kennedy, Richard started a program for emotionally disturbed teenagers that came to be known as The Frost School. One of the teaching techniques involved the use of a video camera. On various holidays and family visits, Ellen borrowed the unit and video taped — a nice way to enfold us into their lives and keep us abreast of Annie, now seven, and Beth now three.
The last tape depicts Beth on my bearded son’s lap gravely discussing her day. “You went to the doctor with mommy?” Vigorous nodding of the head. “Why? “My ear hurt.” “What did the doctor do?” Indignantly, “He put a stick in my mouth.” “What?” “Yes he did.” “If your ear hurt, why would he do such a silly thing?” Giggle, “I don’t know.”
Why my sudden ache and nostalgia to have my forty-two year old an infant in my lap and to gravely joke with him as he is now with Beth? Is there ever enough? What I would give for one more day — to ride the groves, to talk of my day and his day; of what he and Jimbo fell out about — the Little League prospects and maybe girls; and I would try not to hug him too tightly.
Ah, the magic clock. We have four grandchildren, the two girls in Washington and two older grandsons, courtesy of Richard’s slight older sister, Janet. (I suspect that he thinks I am soft in the head as well as heart about my first born.) Why then, the fantasy of turning back the clock and longing for one more day? “Dote” is the hackneyed accurate word re the grand children; and our relationship with our children strikes me as rare. They embrace us and include us in their lives. Filial piety, in the Chinese sense, is rendered in full measure. But I want one more day.
If, like Sisyphus, it were granted by the Gods, I would merit the same punishment and receive the deserved doom There is never enough.
I was going to wait a couple of weeks until I posted a June 2020 list of Books Most Recently Enjoyed by MillersTime readers, but since I have some free time and want to write more than three sentences (the limit for the next list posting), I want to draw your attention to Lawrence Wright’s just published The End of October.
You may recognize the author’s name as he writes for the New Yorker magazine and in 2007 won a Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for his book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. He’s written four other books, a script for Oliver Stone’s movie Noriega: God’s Favorite, and co-wrote a screen play, among other activities. Although The End of October was released at the end April of this year, Wright finished the writing of the book well before the current COVID-19 virus appeared in China, around the world, and in the US. It is his first novel as he has been primarily known for his nonfiction works.
It is riveting, entertaining, sobering, and filled with information about the science and history of earlier pandemics wound around the fictional story of a CDC scientist/doctor and his family and a novel pandemic (not COVID-19 but eerily similar and much more dangerous) that threatens the world.
Wright has done his research, after all he’s primarily been a nonfiction writer, and that’s what makes The End of October so rich and so frightening. Plus, Wright understands much about the world in which we live, its politics – domestic and international — its religions, the hopes and fears of all of us. He mixes the strong narrative and its characters with scientific facts. It’s written like a mystery: the pace of the book is literally heart-throbbing, and it doesn’t let up. (I listened to it, all 13+ hours) while walking on the treadmill, usually extending myself at least a couple miles beyond what I intended.)
I loved and admired the main character, built on an relatively unknown, or forgotten, British epidemiologist of the late 1800s and early 1900s. And I got caught up in the numerous plots and twists and turns of Wright’s story.
It is not a flawless novel by any means, but the reader can’t help but be amazed at how Wright has so accurately been able to foresee so much of what has been occurring over the last three to four months in this country and in the world. He has insisted he did not write The End of October as a cautionary tale but that he looked at the history of pandemics (particularly, but not only, the 1918 Spanish Flu), used what scientists and doctors told him, and added stress and his imagination to a story of an initially contained outbreak of what he termed the Congoli virus.
The result is 400 pages of reading or 13 hours and 26 minutes of listening to a story that mixes fiction and nonfiction in a book you will not forget.
A former colleague of Ellen’s sent this to her this morning, and Ellen sent it on to me. It’s a straight forward, up to date summary of how Dr. James Stein, cardiologist based at U-Wisconsin at Madison, sees where we are as parts of the country relax restrictions and how we individually can think about our personal decisions:
COVID-19 Update as We Start to Leave Our Cocoons
The purpose of this post is to provide a perspective on the intense but expected anxiety so many people are experiencing as they prepare to leave the shelter of their homes. My opinions are not those of my employers and are not meant to invalidate anyone else’s – they simply are my perspective on managing risk.
Key point #1: The COVID-19 we are facing now is the same disease it was 2 months ago. The “shelter at home” orders were the right step from a public health standpoint to make sure we flattened the curve and didn’t overrun the health care system which would have led to excess preventable deaths. It also bought us time to learn about the disease’s dynamics, preventive measures, and best treatment strategies – and we did.
For hospitalized patients, we have learned to avoid early intubation, to use prone ventilation, and that remdesivir probably reduces time to recovery. We have learned how to best use and preserve PPE. We also know that several therapies suggested early on probably don’t do much and may even cause harm (ie, azithromycin, chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir). But all of our social distancing did not change the disease.
Take home: We flattened the curve and with it our economy and psyches, but the disease itself is still here.
Key point #2: COVID-19 is more deadly than seasonal influenza (about 5-10x so), but not nearly as deadly as Ebola, Rabies, or Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever where 25-90% of people who get infected die. COVID-19’s case fatality rate is about 0.8-1.5% overall, but much higher if you are 60-69 years old (3-4%), 70-79 years old (7-9%), and especially so if you are over 80 years old (CFR 13-17%). It is much lower if you are under 50 years old (<0.6%). The infection fatality rate is about half of these numbers.
Take home: COVID-19 is dangerous, but the vast majority of people who get it, survive it. About 15% of people get very ill and could stay ill for a long time. We are going to be dealing with it for a long time.
Key point #3: SARS-CoV-2 is very contagious, but not as contagious as Measles, Mumps, or even certain strains of pandemic Influenza. It is spread by respiratory droplets and aerosols, not food and incidental contact.
Take home: social distancing, not touching our faces, and good hand hygiene are the key weapons to stop the spread. Masks could make a difference, too, especially in public places where people congregate. Incidental contact is not really an issue, nor is food.
What does this all mean as we return to work and public life? COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It may not go away for a year or two and may not be eradicated for many years, so we have to learn to live with it and do what we can to mitigate (reduce) risk. That means being willing to accept *some* level of risk to live our lives as we desire. I can’t decide that level of risk for you – only you can make that decision. There are few certainties in pandemic risk management other than that fact that some people will die, some people in low risk groups will die, and some people in high risk groups will survive. It’s about probability.
Here is some guidance – my point of view, not judging yours:
1. People over 60 years old are at higher risk of severe disease – people over 70 years old, even more so. They should be willing to tolerate less risk than people under 50 years old and should be extra careful. Some chronic diseases like heart disease and COPD increase risk, but it is not clear if other diseases like obesity, asthma, immune disorders, etc. increase risk appreciably. It looks like asthma and inflammatory bowel disease might not be as high risk as we thought, but we are not sure – their risks might be too small to pick up, or they might be associated with things that put them at higher risk.
People over 60-70 years old probably should continue to be very vigilant about limiting exposures if they can. However, not seeing family – especially children and grandchildren – can take a serious emotional toll, so I encourage people to be creative and flexible. For example, in-person visits are not crazy – consider one, especially if you have been isolated and have no symptoms. They are especially safe in the early days after restrictions are lifted in places like Madison or parts of major cities where there is very little community transmission. Families can decide how much mingling they are comfortable with – if they want to hug and eat together, distance together with masks, or just stay apart and continue using video-conferencing and the telephone to stay in contact. If you choose to intermingle, remember to practice good hand hygiene, don’t share plates/forks/spoons/cups, don’t share towels, and don’t sleep together.
2. Social distancing, not touching your face, and washing/sanitizing your hands are the key prevention interventions. They are vastly more important than anything else you do. Wearing a fabric mask is a good idea in crowded public place like a grocery store or public transportation, but you absolutely must distance, practice good hand hygiene, and don’t touch your face. Wearing gloves is not helpful (the virus does not get in through the skin) and may increase your risk because you likely won’t washing or sanitize your hands when they are on, you will drop things, and touch your face.
3. Be a good citizen. If you think you might be sick, stay home. If you are going to cough or sneeze, turn away from people, block it, and sanitize your hands immediately after.
4. Use common sense. Dial down the anxiety. If you are out taking a walk and someone walks past you, that brief (near) contact is so low risk that it doesn’t make sense to get scared. Smile at them as they approach, turn your head away as they pass, move on. The smile will be more therapeutic than the passing is dangerous. Similarly, if someone bumps into you at the grocery store or reaches past you for a loaf of bread, don’t stress – it is a very low risk encounter- as long as they didn’t cough in your face (one reason we wear cloth masks in public!).
5. Use common sense, part II. Dial down the obsessiveness. There really is no reason to go crazy sanitizing items that come into your house from outside, like groceries and packages. For it to be a risk, the delivery person would need to be infectious, cough or sneeze some droplets on your package, you touch the droplet, then touch your face, and then it invades your respiratory epithelium. There would need to be enough viral load and the virions would need to survive long enough for you to get infected. It could happen, but it’s pretty unlikely. If you want to have a staging station for 1-2 days before you put things away, sure, no problem. You also can simply wipe things off before they come in to your house – that is fine is fine too. For an isolated family, it makes no sense to obsessively wipe down every surface every day (or several times a day). Door knobs, toilet handles, commonly trafficked light switches could get a wipe off each day, but it takes a lot of time and emotional energy to do all those things and they have marginal benefits. We don’t need to create a sterile operating room-like living space. Compared to keeping your hands out of your mouth, good hand hygiene, and cleaning food before serving it, these behaviors might be more maladaptive than protective.
6. There are few absolutes, so please get comfortable accepting some calculated risks, otherwise you might be isolating yourself for a really, really long time. Figure out how you can be in public and interact with people without fear.
We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.
We are social creatures. We need each other. We will survive with and because of each other. Social distancing just means that we connect differently. Being afraid makes us contract and shut each other out. I hope we can fill that space created by fear and contraction with meaningful connections and learn to be less afraid of each of other.
Two months ago now I asked for MillersTime readers to send in a favorite read that you had since the beginning of 2020 (and a favorite listen if you listen to books on tape/audible). Thirty-seven of you responded, and the result was Favorite Reads in Time of Self-Isolation, April 2020.
Now let’s do that again.
- Here’s the drill this time: From either the last two months or, if you wish, going back to Jan. 1, pick TWO favorite reads (and up to TWO favorite listens) to share with each other. These should be different ones from any you sent in previously.
- Send me the title, author, and whether the book is fiction (F) or nonfiction (NF).
- Write just three sentences about each favorite read or listens so others may know more than just the title.
- Send me your contributions over the next week, by May 25th, so I can compile them and post them at the beginning of June. Use my email (Samesty84@gmail.com) to convey your two choices.
Please follow these few instructions as it makes my job of compiling the list easier. If you only have one book or one listen, that’s fine too.
While I’ve cut back on how much time I am spending reading various articles, posts, news reports, and time spent on social media, tweets, etc. (Facebook is a thing of the past for me now), I continue to follow what for me are a few reliable sources of information.
In that vein, I came across something two days ago that I think is worthy of your time and consideration. It’s from The Atlantic magazine’s upcoming June 2020 publication, written by Franklin Foer, a staff writer for The Atlantic and the former editor of The New Republic. He clearly writes from a liberal perspective. Nevertheless, what he has to tell us in this somewhat lengthy article contains new and detailed information about the situation facing us vis-a-vis Russian interference in our elections, his view that it is going to happen again, and our lack of preparedness for it.
This article goes beyond anything I’ve read on this subject to date, and I hope you will spend the time to consider what he has uncovered and wants us to know:
As always, I am open to your reactions, whether you agree or disagree. Use the Comment section of this post to let me and others know your reaction to what for me is a very disturbing account of where we are headed for the upcoming elections.
With news yesterday and probably more details later today, it appears there maybe a baseball season consisting of 82 games starting in July. There are details remaining to work out, including the two biggest issues of finances for both the MLB owners and the players as well as safety concerns for the players and those who will participate in the shortened season.
At least at the beginning, there will be no fans present.
Baseball without fans?
It’s happening in Korea now, since their season opened about a week ago, without fans in the stadium. (It also happened once previously, for one game in Baltimore in 2015, for a game between the Orioles and the White Sox.)
And while it’s too early to really evaluate how significant the absence of spectators in the stadium is affecting the game in Korea, it’s clear that things are not the same.
Time will tell if this substitute for the real thing is safe, is satisfying, is something that helps everyone in these troubled times.
All of this, the absence of one of my life’s obsessions, baseball, and the role of sports in the lives of people everywhere, but in this instance particularly in our country is ‘explored in the two links below: one a 4:29 minute YouTube video of President Bush throwing out the opening pitch of game three in the World Series at Yankee Stadium on Oct. 30th, following 9/11 (hat/tip to Jere Smith for the update on this) and one a recent article in the NYTimes entitled The Healing Power of Baseball by Franklin Zimmerman, M.D. (hat/tip to Harry Siler for alerting me to this article).
Check both of them out, and I’d love to hear what you think about any aspect of the importance of sports for yourself and for our society.
"Atlantics", "Babies", "Bad Education, "Honeyland", "Luce", "Motherless Brooklyn", "Richard Jewell", "Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker", "Sneakers", "Spenser Confidential", Amazon Prime, Ellen Miller, Films, Movies, Netflix, Never Rarely Sometimes Always""
by Ellen Miller
We’ve seen an incredible mix of films in the seven plus weeks while under quarantine, not withstanding the challenges of learning how to use our new very smart TV — clearly smarter than we are. If it wasn’t for our son-in-law’s two socially distanced visits and frequent phone consultations, there were be no movie reviews.
I do not like watching movies at home. I want someone else to curate them for me; I want a movie theater that smells of popcorn (even if I am not eating any); I want other people in a theater along side me and that feeling of community when you enter or exit a theater knowing that you might see or just saw something exciting, interesting, or provocative; I want a screen 20 times larger than me so I will literally be engulfed by the story; I want movies to provoke or educate me, not just mindlessly entertain me; I don’t want to fool with making the technology work. And from what we’ve seen thus far, the made-for-TV-movies are no match for films produced by studios (even if some high profile actors have roles).
That said, we have seen a number of films that we do recommend, which we rated four or five stars. Only a few of them would have held me in a traditional movie theater, but since that is not an option, below are some we’ve enjoyed. (We have also included a guest review of one TV series from our good friend FMH that we will take to heart.)
We are going to list at the bottom a few films that we didn’t like enough or didn’t watch all the way through to help you avoid them. (I think for all of them, they were simply “too dark” for these times.) Most of these we recommend can help you happily wile away a few hours. Note: All the films came out in the last year or two (or more recently) unless noted otherwise.
Luce (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard ****
This is an imperfect but very interesting recent film. A liberal white family (played by Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) has adopted a (then) 7-year-old former Eritrean child soldier, and raises him in Arlington, Virginia. We meet Luce (played wonderfully by Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in his senior year in high school – a star debater, overall student, and favorite of everyone at his school. The plot begins to thicken when Luce is challenged about what appears to be dangerous political beliefs. His African-American History teacher (played by Olivia Spencer) confronts the parents with what she believes is a serious concern. Plot twists ensue. As the parents try to figure out just who their son really is, the film gets even more complex with new evidence added to further explore his character. The film raises a number of interesting questions pertaining to race, adoption, parenting, and living up to expectations.
(Note from Richard: If there are a half a dozen or so of you who would be interested in a Zoom discussion after seeing Luce, let me know. I think there are issues raised and enough to explore in the film that would make for a ‘virtual movie club’ discussion.)
Atlantics (2019 – Netflix):
Ellen **** Richard ***
This is what we used to call an “art film.” It is a film that critics love and the audience not so much. We appreciated its story and its art, but it’s probably not for everyone. The story is a classic: a forbidden romance, a threatened labor strike, immigration heartbreak, and a mix with mysticism (including shape-shifting characters), set in Dakar, Senegal. The setting is an exotic diversion. With a little post viewing conversation, we figured it out.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020 Amazon Prime):
Ellen ***** Richard ****
This is not a film I would recommend to everyone (remember my recommendation for Parasite?), but it’s an important one and should be more widely seen than it will be. Be prepared for an emotional 95 minutes of an extraordinarily intimate story of a 17-year-old girl who discovers an unwanted pregnancy. You will watch uncomfortably as she and her cousin travel out of their rural Pennsylvania town to New York to seek an abortion. The films rings true of the upset, confusion, and worry this teenager feels. At times I thought I was watching a documentary, deepening that feeling is the film’s painfully slow-pace.
The film was released March 13 and has been wildly heralded by the critics. The lead character, Autumn, is played by Sidney Flanigan, and her cousin, Skylar ,is played by Talia Ryder. Both are superb. The Director is Eliza Hittman. The Wall Street Journal called it “a film that has to be seen.” The New York Times said it was “a low-key knockout.”
This movie is not relief from the pandemic, so you might want to save it for later. And, as Richard wisely said about it, “If you’re looking for ‘entertainment,’ this film is not for you.”
Richard Jewell (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen ***** Richard ****
Let’s start with the fact that this is a Clint Eastwood film. We like his films. We find them edgy, political, tightly directed, and engaging — and this one is not an exception. You probably remember this story: During the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta a bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic, killing two, injuring 100. A security guard, Richard Jewell, appears to have been a hero that day, discovering the bomb, helping to evacuate the area. Then the FBI names him the prime suspect in the bombing and the movie begins. It’s very engaging.
Richard: “On the advice CT, I saw this before I read the book – The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle by Kent Alexander, Kevin Salwen (NF). I liked the book even more than the film.
Motherless Brooklyn (2019 Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard ****
Our good friend DP recommended this film, and we really enjoyed it. (As DP said in an email, “I love any movies about Brooklyn, but in spite of that prejudice, I think you’ll like this one too.” We trust her movie judgment after some 45+ years of knowing each other.)
The vaguely “Noir-ish” movie is set in 1957 in New York and focuses on the “bad guy” culture. A struggling private investigator (Lionel, played by Edward Norton, who directed and produced the film) decides that he and his compatriots must solve the murder of their boss (Frank Mina, played by Bruce Willis) after a rival monstrously killed him for unknown reasons. (Mina was a nice guy and made his mark on those he hired; in fact, he had rescued some of them from orphanages and trained them as private investigators.) Alec Baldwin plays a developer — Moses Randolph — a character loosely based on Robert Moses. The film unfurls issues of development in the city, tension between the white real estate speculators and the African-American home owners. The plot is suspenseful with a number of surprises. This movie has just about everything I think makes a good movie: great acting, great production, engaging and a provocative subject. Audiences have liked it more than critics.
Honeyland (2019 – Amazon Prime):
Ellen **** Richard *****
This is an extraordinarily beautifully produced documentary about a woman – a beekeeper — who lives in a very remote location with her aging mother in Macadonia. It is directed Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska, and focuses on the life and labors of this one woman. In an extraordinary effort, the filmmakers spent three years with Hatidze; her mother, Nazife; and the late-arriving people next door. There is very little dialogue, and the film is large impressionistic and has the most amazing photography.
AO Scott of NYT wrote: “The opening minutes of Honeyland are as astonishing — as sublime and strange and full of human and natural beauty — as anything I’ve ever seen in a movie.” This was a film that we didn’t have a chance to at last Fall’s Philadelphia Film Festival, and it’s worth seeing on your TV screen.
Richard: Superb Cinematography
Sneakers (1992 – Amazon Prime Video, Vudu, You Tube):
Ellen **** Richard ****
I am not much of a fan of watching “old movies,” but I found this very entertaining. First of all, I think it was one of the early big “heist movies” (e.g., a bunch of cool guys develop an elaborate plan to steal something from a bunch of bad guys). And for this movie it’s really about those cool guys: It stars Robert Redford, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, and David Strathairn as members of a San Francisco-based counter security firm who find out about a device that can decode government secret messages. It’s got all the razzle-dazzle you’d expect, twists and turns, wondering who are the bad guys, who are the good guys. It’s just two hours of fun.
Richard: Good Escapist Film.
Babies (2010 – Amazon Prime, Hulu Starz):
Ellen: ***** Richard ****
I did not see this film when it first came out 10 years go and was delighted to find it online. This is a French documentary, looking at four babies born and raised (until the age of two) in different parts of the world. It is equal parts charming and adorable, allowing the viewer to examine how each of these children thrive in their own environment. For those who are at loss for lack of travel in these times, the film will take you to distant corners of the earth to meet Bayar in Mongolia; Ponjiao in Namibia; Mari in Tokyo; and Hattie in San Francisco. This film is perfect relief from the pandemic.
Richard: Five stars the first time I saw it, not quite so enthralled on this second viewing.
Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker (2020 – Netflix Series):
Review by FH:
Madam CJ Walker was America’s first self-made woman millionaire. She was a black washerwoman, born in 1867 just after the Civil War, who became an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and social activist. This four-part Netflix series is based on a book by her great-great granddaughter.
It’s an amazing story of someone who had a dream and perseverance and a belief that making money should be for profit and “to help your neighbor.” In her case, helping her neighbor meant bringing dignity and options to black women’s lives. She did this by creating a beauty product for hair that was sold door-to-door by women “sales agents” and in hundreds of salons across the country. She opened a factory and met with investors in an era when women, let alone a Black woman, did not do that. She promoted a standard of beauty, she said, that was not the beauty of the “Gibson girl”, but the beauty of “women that look like me.” Her daughter opened the salon in New York City and was a figure in the Harlem Renaissance.
With Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) as Madam CJ Walker, supported by a great cast, this is a film worth seeing and reflecting on.
PS: Skip these two:
Bad Education (2019). This was the oddest movie we’ve seen in a long time. It got a very solid review from The New York Times. It’s based on a real story of corruption in a Long Island public school system. It has two big stars – Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, but the acting was wooden, the production was beyond boring, and it had both the look and feel of a movie made by a high school class in their backyard. Two questions arise: why would Jackman and Janney agree to be in such a movie; is this reflective of the quality of all HBO movies? Skip it.
Spenser Confidential (2020). This is a Boston-based police corruption “action comedy.” We saw no humor and way too much blood.
Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker (NF)*****
This is fascinating and heart-wrenching account of a family where six of the 12 children had some form of schizophrenia and what it was like for them and their parents. I’m not sure how author Kolker got so many of them to talk to him so openly, perhaps, in part, because they wanted the rest of us to know what this insidious and devastating disease is all about?
Additionally, and with great clarity, Kokler weaves throughout his telling of this family’s various experiences a clear account of the history of schizophrenia and what we know and don’t know about this disease,
I think this narrative has value not only for anyone who works in the field of mental health and education but also for other readers as well. My wife Ellen, who reads widely (over 100 books a year), has insisted that I do a special post on this book. While it is not one of her usual choices of books to read, she was captivated by it and says,
This book offers an unusually clear and vivid picture of schizophrenia – how it has been mis-treated and mis-diagnosed for years along with the various possible causes. But this is not an academic treatise. What is most important about what you read is understanding the impact of schizophrenia through the life of this one family. And it’s stunning.
This true account of the Galvin family of Colorado Springs, CO and their relationships is so well told and so riveting, and done with such empathy, that rather than being overwhelming and depressing, it will stay with you and inform you on many levels. It is a story told without judgement, and one for which we all should be thankful for its telling.
We owe a great deal of gratitude to Kokler for gathering and writing this narrative and even more thanks to the Galvin family for all agreeing to it being told and for their participation in its telling.
When the delivery man gently put the crate on our garage floor, I thought about giving him a hug and a kiss, but what with the COVID-19 issues, I decided simply to give him a generous tip instead.
Ellen said, “It looks like a casket,” but I could sense she was already beginning to soften. Well, maybe that’s too strong; perhaps it was her general belief that when something has been truly been decided, there’s no use carrying on about it. Plus, I had already begun my plan to get her involved in the continuing saga by appealing to her new ‘career’ as a photographer. After all, she knew I ws going to write something for MillersTime about the kayak, and I had told her I would need some of her photos to accompany the post.
I decided to let the Qajaq rest a bit after its seven and a half month journey from its home in Greenland to Iceland to the US and finally to its new home in DC. But after two hours, it ‘told’ me it was “ready to come up for air” and get out of its cramped crate.
Despite Ellen’s insistence that I needed someone with carpentry skills to help me open it, I gathered my Red Sox hammer, a bunch of screw drivers, some tools I hoped would serve as levers, etc. and went to work.
It was a snap. Mostly. I only had to use a phillips’ head screw driver and a bit of muscle, and the top was off. I called Ellen to bring me some band aids and join me in unpacking the interior of the crate as well as take a photo on my iPhone.
Although it was light enough for me to carry myself, I asked Ellen to help me remove it and help carry it into the house. “It’s not as big as I remembered,” I heard her murmur. We put it on the floor in the entrance hall, and Ellen walked around it as I cleared off the first place I thought it might go, under the front window in our living room beginning to think maybe this won’t be such a big hurdle after all. It didn’t seem as if it will dominate the room, which had been my fear.
We both kinda liked it there and decided to give it 24 hours to see if it and we were happy with the placement. I kept walking by the door to the living room, loving what I was seeing and delighted that Ellen was liking it too.
But at night, I couldn’t see it very well, and we both thought we might try another spot, one where the bottom didn’t blend in to the base and where more light was available.
We both liked this better, as the white off set the black, and you could see entire kayak when you were in our entrance hall or at the living room door. It felt better than the first placement, and we put some of the additional pieces on it, though we left two of the harpoons and some other artifacts off.
We agreed after another 24 hours that it needed to be raised a bit and perhaps the additional parts could be on the wall above it. We wondered if it needed a dedicated light above it.
I called our friend Vincent Sagart, the wonderful designer of our kitchen, who has a terrific eye and asked if he’d stop by and help us be sure we’re displaying it in the best possible way.
Don’t mention this to Ellen, but I’m wondering if it perhaps needs a whole room to itself.
Vincent will know.
“It’s the time you spent on your rose that makes your rose so important…You’re responsible for your rose.”
–Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince
Part I. The Purchase (Sept. 7-8, 2019):
It all started on the first Saturday in September, 2019. Over seven months ago. We were concluding one of our more memorable trips, nine days in Greenland (Greenland: In Words & Photos), with its remote, wild, and awe-inspiring landscapes, seascapes, marine life, the ‘magic’ of the Northern Lights, and where its Inuit population was hurtling from the Stone Age to the iPhone Age.
It was our final day and night there, and we were in the small town of Kulusuk (pop. 300), awaiting our flight back to Iceland and then back to DC. The foggy weather was threatening to strand us there, and it was likely our plane would not arrive, nor leave if it did arrive.
I walked by the very tiny souvenir shop in our modest hotel and saw a ‘model’ of an Inuit kayak. I was captivated. But the shop was closed, and when I pointed the kayak out to Ellen, she immediately said, “Don’t buy it. It’s too big, and we don’t have any place to put it.” Others in our group of 12 saw it too and remarked at how unusual it was. Several seemed to be quite interested in it also.
Most of the group went off to ‘explore’ Kulusuk, and I stayed behind trying to find someone to open the shop. I eventually found Jakob Ibsen, the gruff, no nonsense Danish (Norweigan ?) manager of the hotel who opened the shop and began to tell me about the Qajaq (the Inuit spelling for the word kayak, pronounced “kayak”). He told me it was a 50+ year old, hand-crafted, one of a kind, replica of an Inuit kayak with its ropes, harpoon, and various other adorning artifacts. He said the craftsman, Jess Thorin, had recently died, and somehow he, Jakob, had come into possession of it.
The price was more than I had ever paid for a ‘souvenir’ throughout all of our travels, including my prized Masai shield purchased in 1963 in Tanganyika. But I didn’t think the price of this hand-made artifact was exorbitant for what it was. Plus, when one is truly captivated (can one be ‘truly captivated’?), cost can more easily be justified. It was art, after all.
There were some hurdles, however. Ellen was quite clear that I was not to pursue it. When she left with our other travelers to explore Kulusuk, she gave me ‘that look’ that was quite clear: “Don’t. Even. Consider. It. ” Those of you who know her, understand she is not one to be easily disregarded. Those of you who know me, understand my quiet determination.
Then there was the size, approximately 65 inches in length, and Ellen had a point about where we could display it in our home, already ladened with crafts gathered (over the course of 50 years) from around the world.
And besides all that, how would we get this somewhat fragile piece of art out of Greenland and to the US? I certainly couldn’t take it with me.
All of these hurdles proved to have some validity. But when one is captivated…
When Ellen returned from her photo journey around the town, she took one look at me and said, “You bought it, didn’t you?” (Plus a few other choice, and now repressed, remarks.)
I told her Jakob had assured me he would send it to Washington (after he had one small part of the kayak repaired as he thought he knew an artist who could do the work). He promised to build a crate to house the kayak and keep it safe during transport.
Ellen remained skeptical, largely because she didn’t see a place for us to house this ‘treasure’ nor how it could possibly be sent. My view was that it would become obvious where we could display it once it was in the house. Somehow, it would ‘tell us’ where it belonged.
You can guess how well that went over with Ellen.
Part II. The Wait (Sept. 9, 2019 – Apr. 21, 2020):
Jakob had told me as soon as he had that one portion of the Qajaq repaired, it would be on its way to me, probably sometime in October, 2019.
I will spare the reader all the frustrating emails, phone calls, swearing, doubts, etc., but suffice it to say I never lost hope that it would arrive. Ellen, on the other hand, seemed quite satisfied with what became a seven and a half month saga, secretly, I think, hoping that it might never arrive.
Briefly, there seemed to be a ‘hold up’ every month. Once, it was finding the right artist to do the repair. Then it was getting the right materials to do the repair. Then it was building a box, crate actually, to house the kayak. then there was a long silence from Jakob, and he neither answered my emails nor could I reach him by phone. 2019 turned into 2020, and all I had was a picture of the empty crate.
Finally, in mid January (four months after the purchase), Jakob answered his phone and told me everything was ready, but there were no flights leaving Kulusuk because of the weather! I’m not sure what happened over the next month and a half, but it was not until Mar. 11 that he wrote to say, “The kayak left Kulusuk today on Air Iceland, slowed by Icelandic Customs and concern if anyone handling the kayak and crate had come in contact with COVID-19.”
Ah, my faith in Jakob was restored, but of course the wait for the arrival did not end there. Somehow, it was held up in Reykjavik before it finally arrived in the US, three weeks later on April 2nd.
Then the US Customs got involved. They needed proof of sale, a description of all the contents, including the materials used to build it, my social security number, and my mother’s maiden name. Following a week of document exchanges, it was held in Baltimore until the Fish & Wildlife people would release it. (This is not a joke. Perhaps that was because there were parts of the kayak made with reindeer antler?). Then it was the USDA folks who had to approve it, which they did after several exchanges between Chicago, Iceland, Greenland, Baltimore and Washington (Don’t ask.)
And what then? Just a small hurdle (a week) to get it trucked from BWI to DC and my house (32.8 miles). Something about commercial vs residential delivery. And behold, today, Tuesday, April 21st at 2:01 PM, the crate was delivered to our house and placed in the garage, exactly seven months and 14 days after its purchase.
Saint-Exupery and The Little Prince would be so proud of me.
But the saga doesn’t quite end there.
Part III. The Final Hurdles:
To be continued…
While baseball fans wait to see what will become of the 2020 season – if any games are gong to be played and under what circumstances – most sports writers are digging deeply to keep readers engaged (and no doubt keep their jobs in the process).
One sports writer, one of my favorites, Joe Posnanski, has been on a year long project of writing a column on each of the Top 100 Players in Baseball (The Baseball 100: A Project Celebrating the Greatest Players in History). Initially, Posnanski had planned to get to the number one player on the 2020 Opening Day. But he slowed down his columns and only recently published the last two, identifying The Greatest of the Greatest (in my lingo).
As some of you probably know, Posnanski has been writing in the somewhat new The Athletic (subscription required, but worth it imho) which is now the on-line, go to home of some of sports best writers. Posnanski himself has won virtually every baseball writer’s award given, some multiple times, and has his own blog, JoeBlogs – Baseball and News and Life (again, subscription required, $30, also worth it).
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a couple of worthwhile reads while awaiting baseball to resume, as well as in need of a break from the COVID-19 ‘news’, check out Posnanski’s final two columns on the two best players ever:
You’ve got some enjoyable and educational reading ahead (just click on No. 2, and No.1 above.)
Ellen recently came across the German word Fernweh in an article on a travel site she follows, Atlas Obscura. This particular article struck both of us as an additional way to think about travel. We now have had some time to consider this idea of Fernwith even more, and it’s a concept we want to pass on to others.
Fernwith literally translates as “farsickness.” It’s the idea of feeling homesick for a place to which you’ve never been. What a wonderful idea, and one that rings true for me. One example: for at least 30 years I wanted to go to Antarctica for reasons I only partially understood. So too about traveling to Alaska, China, the Southwest in the US, the Lake Country in England, and other places. (We’ve been fortunate in being able to travel to all those places and many more.) Our traveling will cease for the foreseeable future. If, as we all hope, the world emerges from the current COVID-19 crisis and its fallout, we will of course travel again, including to places to which we have never been.
We wonder if others have experienced a sense of Fernweh?
In the meantime, we’re posting our third and final edition of commentary and photos from our recent SE Asia trip. In the 12 photos below you’ll see a combination of just a few shots from Bali, Singapore, and more from Papua New Guinea (PNG). There are links to three new slide shows if you want to see more. (We previously posted about the tribal peoples we met in PNG Before They Pass Away.)
A few more details to add about our stay in Papua New Guinea. As we mentioned we had a very special guide there — Alan Manning from South Sea Horizons. We based our week in the countryside in two towns, Goroka and Mt. Hagen, both in the Highlands region. From there we explored the central highlands and daily life; took a deep dive into coffee growing, grading, and exporting business; had dinner with a family who is involved in both the coffee business and also in running a school; took an unforgettable day-long drive between the two towns mentioned above with stops at roadside stands and markets; and took extended walks through local markets and villages. We concluded our time in PNG with one day in the capital, Port Moresby and enjoyed its outstanding ethnographic National Museum & Art Gallery.
Singapore was an unexpected learning experience. We knew very little about its 50 year experiment with a type of government that appears to put community above the individual, albeit with strong authoritarian leadership. This is a very “planned” country/city, pretty much opposite from PNG and only partially similar to other major places in the world. In architecture it is a city both ultra modern with colonial aspects preserved. Its Chinatown, Arabtown, Indiatown, etc. contrasts with its 81 skyscrapers, more than 4,000 tall buildings, numerous high-end malls, and it has spectacular gardens. The food, as predicted, was fantastic, from the hawking markets to the small restaurants to the haute cuisine ones. The cleanliness and orderliness was unlike any other Asian country/city where we’ve been. (We did not try to confirm the rumor that if you spit on the streets you will be arrested.)
We had terrific guide who, over three days, not only introduced us to the city/state we describe above. We learned how it is governed and details about its housing, transportation, city planning, environmental, social, and medical policies which we found advanced, thoughtful, and very progressive. I have continued my reading about Singapore and particularly its visionary first leader, Lee Kuan Yew, who is in large part is responsible for the direction of the country over the past 50 years. Our Singapore ‘experience’ has led to my reexamination of our American belief that the individual and personal independence comes first, ahead of community.
,We ended our month long trip with four days based in the interior of Bali (Indonesia) in the town of Ubud. This was planned as a luxurious, relaxing end to our almost month long trip. However, as is probably not surprising, we turned it in to further exploration of a place we had never been. Again, we had a guide whom we continuously questioned and who patiently told us about his island, language, customs and rituals of its people. One long day was also spent with a delightful young man who took us to a mere seven of the more than 15,000 temples in Bali and told us more than we will ever remember about the role and rituals of religion in Bali. Another full day was devoted to a long drive to the eastern part of Bali and the best cooking ‘class’ we’ve ever had, which included almost two hours in a market, learning about, sampling, and gathering the ingredients that we later spent four hours preparing and finally eating. We did, of course, fit in three additional fine meals.
And then we began our 24+ hour return to the US, through airports where everyone seemed to be wearing masks and to be avoiding each other and where we had promised our children we’d do our best to stay safe. To our children’s relief, (and our own) we have been home now for well over a month and have shown no signs of illness.
Enjoy these 12 photos and check out the three slide shows if you want to see more of PNG, Singapore, and Bali through Ellen’s lens. (See link below.)
Three Slide Shows: Thru Ellen’s Lens:
Use a desktop or laptop to see these in the largest format available to you.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of each link, just below where it says ‘Log In’ to start the slide show.
Thanks to each of the individuals below who responded to my appeal for a new version of MillesTime Readers Favorite Books – one book read over the last several months that stood out for the reader among all the others read (or listened to).
Hands down, I’ve been totally intrigued by The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (NF). While the man radiates obsessive compulsion, it’s balanced by his totally entertaining writing style. His descriptions of viruses is fascinatingly informative and timely as is his writing on diseases. I have learned a lot and enjoyed each “chapter-lectures”.
One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the Brink of Nuclear War by Michael Dobbs (NF). Written in 2009, this is a non-fiction thriller about how the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of nuclear conflict over the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Read this for a George Washington University class on the Cold War. Chilling to think what would be if this happened with Trump in the White House.
The Cartiers: The Untold Story by Francesca Cartier Brickell (NF). A fascinating story of the creation of the Cartier stores told by the granddaughter of the 5th generation of Cartiers to work with/in/for the stores. Francesca found an old, dusty trunk in her grandfather’s basement, went through the papers diligently, talked to her grandfather, Jean-Jacques Cartier, and writes a fascinating tale of growing a jewelry empire, creating the jewels, selling them the rich and famous, and watching it sold off. It is a fascinating story of the jewelry but also of how it was created, the engineering behind it all, the changing of styles and items to “stay ahead of the crowd”, and how the fourth generation of three brothers worked together and really made it all happen… It is more than a book of creating fabulous jewels (and it is certainly that) but all that went on behind it to make it a great and co-operative grand success . . . then how it fell apart and was sold.
The Reckoning by Jeffrey Pierce (F), a biblical scale Armageddon, spurred by the horror of the First World War, demons rise and take possession of the slain. Author Michael Connolly writes about this book : “Eloquent and hard muscled, deeply researched and defy imagined…It is an entrancing, fantastical journey to the end you will never see coming.” I had the pleasure of reading it and following the audio tape of the actor/author’s voices for all the characters. (Ed. Note: Author is Bill & Kay Plitt’s son!)
The Man I Never Met by Adam Schefter (NF). Sports fans know Adam as the premiere NFL new-breaker; this is a story about his journey to find a soulmate and his now-wife’s journey to overcome losing her first husband in 9/11. The book runs the emotional spectrum from tragic to overjoyed. You don’t need to be a sports fan to read it, but you might want a box of tissues nearby.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NF). This is a quick read about Noah Trevor’s growing up in South Africa. He is a wonderful comedian.
I’ve been enjoying Streak: Joe DiMaggio and the Summer of ‘41 by Michael Seidel (NF). It combines interesting stories of a baseball nature with concurrent world events of the day. I’ll second the suggestion of Brian Doyle’s Mink River. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea as demonstrated by the negative reviews/letters that Brian faithfully/gleefully saved and which I had the pleasure of hearing his widow read at Powell’s Books not too long ago.
The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (F). The Last Wish is a collection of fictional short stories in the Fantasy genre, collected and published together in 2008, which should be read first if you wish to read the published works in narrative chronological order (as opposed to the published order). This collection of stories is also the primary source material for the eponymous Netflix series, The Witcher. After watching the first season of that show, I became enamored with the world Mr. Sapkowski had created and started reading the source material.
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). Wasn’t sure I was going to like this but could not put it down.Wife of journalist, who exposes the drug cartels in Acapulco and flees with son as migrants to the US. Gripping, scary, yet a mother’s love for son propels her to take unbelievable risks. A good read!
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow (NF). Audio, read by Farrow himself it’s about his investigative journalistic effort to expose Harvey Weinstein. Farrow gets over 200 interviews to discover the truth. NBC’s coverup efforts of Weinstein and Matt Lauer are terribly disturbing. Admire Farrow’s tenacity and courage. History now values his efforts.
Shining Light on Transcendence – The Unconventional Journey of a Neuroscientist by Peter Fenwick (NF). Written by this distinguished British scientist and scholar now 84 years of age contains perhaps his most compelling and inspirational writing ever. Fenwick laments that the generally accepted view of science “equates consciousness with mind and sees both as a function of the brain.” He states that the prevailing scientific view is that the mind and brain are identical or that mind is created by the brain, and he makes it clear that this is not his view.
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (F) Audio and Print. Good old fashion storytelling at its best! Set in 19th century England in a village on the banks of the Thames, it is a story of science, magic, folklore and fairy tale…a magical mystery tour of miraculous explanations and a chain of revelations as three families claim (a young girl) as their long lost kin.
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (F). It is a beautiful book! It is about the 13th summer in the life of the narrator, recalled about 30 years later in a elegant “whodunit”. The cadence of the book somehow captures the confusion and the concerns of that summer and the beauty of life.
Deacon King Kong by James McBride (F). This latest book is superb, filled with characters (sometimes hard to keep track of!), tone, and language that is brilliant, and a story to keep you moving. It tells the story of a crotchety, alcoholic old church deacon, Sportcoat, (a crazy and wise old man) who one day wanders into the courtyard of his housing project in South Brooklyn and shoots the project’s drug dealer. There’s a lot of humor in this book along with compassion and hope, and I highly recommend it.
Abigail by Magda Szabo (F). Audio. This is also a repeat author for me as Szabo is a stunning novelist. This book was written in 1970, but translated only recently, and tells the story of the teen-age girl, growing up during World War II and as the war intensified her father sends her away to boarding school — a strict religious institution where she had a very hard time fitting in. The story tells what happened to her there, a life-changing story, and one that is hard to put down; the writing is fluid and eloquent, the pace focused and intense, the audio version was well performed, and I loved it.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (F). It is a story told from the point of view of a 9 year old boy, Jai, living with his family in a “basti” slum outside a big city in India. Children are disappearing one by one, and Jai and his friends become detectives to help find them. The book is a heartbreaking, but the characters are so well described and the dialogue is totally charming.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins (F). This novel, about a Mexican woman and her son escaping cartel violence in Acapulco by attempting to get to el norte, is riveting, horrific, gorgeous, educational, and unforgettable. It’s nearly 400 pages long, and I read it in maybe two days; I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, put it down. You may have heard about the backlash against American Dirt, based on Cummins’ being only partly Latina: who gets to tell whose stories? Here is a good article about the controversy, but nonetheless, I found the book magnificent and moving and think it’s absolutely worth reading.
The Convert by Stefan Hertmans (F). Using the same technique he did to great effect in War and Turpentine to mingle past with present, this time (Hertmans) tackles a tragic story from the 11th century of a Christian girl who marries a Jewish boy; she converts and thereafter for the rest of her life, faces the wrath of her father as she flees from his knights. History comes alive as we follow him and her through ancient cities and unimaginable circumstances. Hertmans based his story on a scrap of a document found in the genizah (storeroom) of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, and his book is a scholarly work of fiction, my favorite category.
The Institute by Steven King (F). It’s scary because it could really happen An excellent read that I couldn’t wait to get back to it every time I put it down.
The Light Between the Oceans by M.L. Stedman (HF). I haven’t finished because it’s narrative layout makes me face issues to hard to read more than a chapter a night. You’ll see. You’ll get deep into it with hints along the way that will make it impossible to just keep turning pages. I’ll finish Sunday night, less than 50 pages to go, and I don’t see anyway this can end well.
The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson (NF). I never cease to wonder at how Bryson comes up with factoids that both amuse and inform.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (F). Audio. This audiobook is read by the author, and while I’ve enjoyed all of her books, this might be my favorite.
Ahab’s Wife: Or, The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund (HF).
Jesse Leigh Maniff:
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Definance During the Blitz by Erik Larson (NF). (The author) documents Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister.
I just finished Strangers in the House: A Prairie Story of Bigotry and Belonging by Candace Savage (F). I had trouble following this story at first, then realized it was because of my ignorance of Canadian history and geography. After moving into a house in Saskatoon and finding intriguing ‘found objects’ inside the walls during a renovation, she traces the history of the family who built the house and uncovers a level of prejudice and ethnic violence that I had no idea had existed in Canada. Very well written; the second half is easier to follow than the first.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger (HF). It is set in Minnesota in 1932 and chronicles the tale and relationship between two orphaned brothers as they first weather life at the “school” for Native American boys and then flee and venture out on their own journey. Along the way, they meet many people who further the story and help develop the characters and brothers’ relationship. It is pretty long, but really good.
The Overstory by Richard Powers (F). Just finished… it’s about the destruction of forests and is a parallel play about today’s times. The obvious is in front of us, and people continue to deny and do stupid things. Excellent read.
Re-reading The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester (NF). Smith, a canal digger in England in 1793, discovered he could follow layers of rock all over England, and he spent 22 years doing that and creating a map of the country’s geological roots. In 1815, this map was published in a full-color 5 foot by 8 foot book and turned the scientific and the religious world up side down. Clear explanation, excellent lively narrative, and lots of detail and asides to create context, five stars for content and presentation.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk (F). A good book to get lost in by a Polish author and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. It’s an engaging story – cum mystery – about an eccentric Polish woman living in a remote village beset by some unusual deaths in which animals seem to be taking revenge on their human tormentors.
The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz (HF). I loved this historical fiction about Joseph Stalin’s complex daughter who defected to the US – great background to the Cold War era told with an innovative narrative technique and psychological insight.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (NF). I have always been interested in Africa so I was drawn to this memoir of Trevor Noah’s life in Johannesburg during apartheid. He had quite a life as a boy, considering what he is doing now. What I liked most is that his story took my mind off COVID-19 so I’d fall asleep thinking of other things!
My newest favorite heroine detective is Veronica Speedwell (first book in the series) A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn (F). Feisty, smart, and set in the late 1800s London. Five books and counting, so makes a lovely little escape for a week or so depending on how quickly you can read these days.
(ALSO, plug for bookshop.org — a new website set up as an independent bookstore competitor to Amazon. It’s brand new and still in beta, but very VERY worth a gander and a purchase.)
A Day in the Bleachers by Arnold Hano (age 98!) (NF). With no games to watch, I enjoyed his account of the game containing “the catch.” Wes Westrum, Whitey Lockman, Alvin Dark, along w/ The Say Hey Kid; these guys & the others refreshed in my memory by this book were my first team. When I read the dimensions of the Polo Grounds now (which I didn’t know when I was 6), I am appalled (and a little thrilled).
The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (F). The novel focuses on Adunni, an intelligent and likeable 14 year old girl in a rural Nigerian village whose mother wanted her to get an education so that she could speak for herself with a Louding Voice to determine her future. Unfortunately, her mother died and her father was hopelessly poor and married Adduni for bride money from an older man with two wives who wanted a son heir….The book is fast-paced, and it is never clear whether Adunni would survive, let alone be victorious…
The Water Dancer by Ta-Nahesi Coates (F).
From Third World to First: The Singapore Story:1985-2000 by Lee Kuan Yew (NF). In conjunction with our recent trip to SE Asia, I began to learn about this city-state and more particularly its founding, visionary father, Lee Kuan Yew, and wondered how I had not known anything about either. The story of Singapore and this autobiography has affected me more than anything I’ve read about the world beyond the US. It’s 683 pages that I read in a couple of days, and I hope to say more about that as time goes on.
No Visable Bruises: What we don’t Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder (NF). Audio. Worth the time. Didn’t expect to learn so much, about why and how individuals abuse, why victims stay in relationships, why it is so difficult for victims to escape, and about individuals and groups working on this issue.
Mink River by Brian Doyle (F). When I asked my local guy, Eric, at Pegasus Books in W. Seattle – used and new books – or a second recommendation after his first of A Gentleman In Moscow, he recommended Mink River.“I love this book,” he said, and so did I, a mix of stream of conscious narrative, humor, a good story, evocation of terrain on the Oregon Coast, and two wonderful wacky characters. It’s a love of a book.
Blood: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou (NF). The story of Stanford dropout Elizabeth Holmes and the unicorn wunder startup Theranos — instant complex blood analysis from a finger prick — until the company crashed and burned. Stunning and enthralling. It made me want to stay up all night reading it.
I have finally finished a wonderful biography, Rebbe by Joseph Teleshukin (NF). The Chabad movement, has had a significant impact on the Jewish people, limited, in scope but also to the community at large.
The Night Watchman by Louis Erdrich (F). It may be fiction, however the story is based on Erdrich’s Chippewa grandfather who in the 1950s courageously fought against a bill in Congress that would terminate the reservations. The book also follows the travails of Pixie, as she tries to find her sister in “the cities” – Minneapolis-St Paul. Going back and forth in time, mood and stories, the book is lyrical, heartbreaking and affirming.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (F). Currently rereading (AK) and forgot how incredible Tolstoy is.
No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin (NF). On my bookshelf are many unread books; I picked No Ordinary Times this month because it explores the human story of how Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt worked together and apart as the country went through the late Depression and early World War II years. Kearns explores well how Franklin and Eleanor made their separate and joint decisions. While reading, I cannot help but compare how our country and the current occupant of the White House are making decisions in our current crisis
*** *** *** ***
Finally, if you missed sending one this time, no problem. I’m going to do this again for the beginning of June.
So any time between now and Memorial Day, May 25th, please send me up to TWO books (and two audio ones if you do that) that have been favorites since the beginning of 2020. And please consider adding your comments on what you send in THREE sentences on each book.
"By the Grace of God, 2019 Philadelphia Film Festival, American Factory, Before Sunrise, Dark Waters, Ford vs Ferrari, Knives Out, Marcel Marceau, Movie Reviews, Movies, Resistance, Streaming Movies, The Good Liar, The Irishman, Uncorked
by Ellen Miller
The last movie reviews we offered you via Millerstime.net were the dozen we saw at the Philadelphia Film Festival in October of last year. (See Philadelphia City of Brotherly Love and Good Movies if you missed that post or are looking for movie suggestions.)
It wasn’t that we haven’t seen some good films since our last posting, but it’s a bit late to go back and review them. Some that come to mind now you have probably found for yourself. But if you haven’t seen these six — By the Grace of God, Dark Waters. Knives Out, Ford Vs Ferrari, The Irishman, Saint Frances – we highly recommend them. They are all quite different from each other, but they all meet MillersTime rating of a four or five stars.
Between these and our post from the Philadelphia Film Festival, many of these are available in the “streaming” world now. But given the times we now live in, your MillersTime reviewers have to get over their “Big Screen” fascination and focus on television for movie watching. (Our TV is
currently regarded as under-sized by our daughters and probably yours would be too, but it will have to do for the moment.)
So, we are renewing our commitment to bring you movie reviews — recommendations on “screened” films. We’re not sure if seeing these at home makes them different from seeing them in a theater, but we’ll return to that thought as we continue to watch from home.
So settling down in the chairs in our study a couple of evenings a week, so far we’ve enjoyed:
This is the story of an African-American family whose eldest son dreams of becoming a sommelier, despite his father’s wishes that he go into the family’s very successful BBQ business. The plot is somewhat predictable – family dynamics – but the acting and direction of the film creates something unique. It’s set in Memphis where we’ve always want to spend some time, and the vibe of that city lends a lively backdrop to the story behind a quite reserved film. All and all, it’s very enjoyable. Writer and Director: Prentice Penny, NETFLIX
Ellen **** Richard **** 1/2
The Good Liar:
We missed this film when it was out in the theaters and were delighted by it when we saw it at home. The film is about a consummate con man Roy, played by Ian McKellan, who sets his sights not only on Russian mobsters and the like, but also on a lonely woman, played by Helen Mirren. Without giving away the plot (it’s intricate and clever), let’s just say that was a bad mistake on his part. Cleverly written, and of course superbly acted, you’re not going to be distracted by other things around you house that need doing. Director: Bill Condon AMAZON PRIME+
Ellen ***** Richard *****
This film won the Best Documentary Feature at 2020 Academy Awards. With its pedigree – the producer is Participant Media with support from the Obamas’ new film enterprise and two expert directors by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert – you’d expect nothing less than near perfect in the telling of the story. And that’s what you get.
The documentary focuses on the story of an abandoned GM car plant in Ohio, purchased and repurposed by a Chinese billionaire. It is a tale of clashing cultures, of ideas, goals, and commitments of American enterprise vs the Chinese one. The strength of this movie (told artfully through personal interviews and great documentary photography) are the interviews of both the Chinese and Americans involved in this enterprise, allowing them to tell their story. The film’s approach is even handed. The issues of the future of modern day manufacturing are laid bare for all to see. It offers no answers, but it does raise questions for the future of American industry that are profound. Directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. NETFLIX
Ellen ***** Richard *****
This is an older film (1995), a romance, and it was recommended on a list we found for people who enjoy travel. It tells the story of the two beautiful young people (Ethan Hawke as Jesse and Julie Delpy as Celine) who meet by happenstance on a train. Jesse is on his way back to the States, and he convinces Celine to spend 24 hours in Vienna with him. As they explore that classic city, they fall for each other. We’re not going to spoil the development of their relationship or the ending, which is predictably dramatic. Their conversations about love, marriage/partnership, and the meaning of life are thoughtful and ring true. This is not the type of movie usually in our wheelhouse, but we enjoyed it. Above all, it is a movie about taking a random chance that might just change your life. Director Richard Linklater. AMAZON PRIME VIDEO.
Ellen **** Richard ****
This very recently released film (AMAZON PRIME) is a Holocaust tale of bravery and selflessness in the face of supreme Nazi evil. It tells the story a young Marcel Marceau (born Marcel Mangel and played by Jesse Einsenberg). Marceau, along with his brother and other young members of the French Resistance faced peril and the horror of Klaus Barbe to rescue orphaned Jewish children of all ages. There’s plenty of drama and suspense to keep your attention. This is not just another story of the Holocaust. Richard and I recalled that we saw Marceau preform many years ago, but neither of us knew anything about his past as is explored in this new feature length film. Director: Jonathan Jakubowicz.
Ellen **** Richard ****
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Finally, please feel free to add your thoughts (in the Comment section above or in an email) on any of these films and consider recommending others that you have seen recently and have enjoyed.