For this annual post about what books have been your most favorite reads over the past year, I’m asking that we limit our submissions to just four titles.
While this may seem restrictive to some of you, I think it will make for a somewhat different post than in previous years (our 12th year). I’m aiming for less emphasis on what books got the ‘most favorite’ label from MillersTime readers (not trying to compete with all those other year end book lists) and more emphasis on why certain books were individual’s favorites.
Thus, I urge you to write a few sentences about each of your choices, explaining what was particularly meaningful to you about a chosen favorite. Why was a particular book most enjoyable, most important, most thought provoking, the best written, the ones you may go back and read again, the ones you reread this year, and/or the ones you may have suggested to others that they might enjoy?
Additionally, please feel free to add either at the beginning or the end of your submission, a couple of sentences about your reading overall this year. For instance, did you concentrate on new books, older titles, rereads, more fiction or nonfiction than in the past, etc.? Did you read electronically or in paper, did you listen to books, and generally did you read more or less than in previous years?
To make my task of putting the list together a bit easier, please given the full title of the book, followed by the author’s name, and whether the book was F or NF. If any of the ‘books’ on your list were ones you enjoyed audibly, please indicate that.
Feel free to include any favorites that you may have submitted to any of the three earlier book posts this year:
Don’t be concerned about whether others will have the same book(s) on their lists or that a particular book might not be a popular choice as those are not the most important aspects of this year’s list. Contributors use the list to find reading options they may not know about or have considered. Your reasons for your favorites this year are what I hope readers will find most valuable.
Please send me your submission by Sunday, Dec. 20 so I will have enough time to collate the list and post it by the end of the month.
Ellen and I have been extremely fortunate throughout this Covid-19 pandemic. Our health has been good; we’re both retired from our major life’s work (Adulthood I); our children are grown (and have children of their own), yet we have opportunities to see them and our five grandchildren; since we both are basically introverts, we’ve been able to enjoy the extended time at home with various projects. We’ve found new ways to stay in touch, and occasionally be, with friends. And we continue to enjoy the outdoors, particularly the joys of kayaking.
What about traveling, you might ask? You will see from the photos below, we have also found ways to pursue our passion for traveling.
Basically, we’ve stayed closer to home and explored near-by parks and trails as close as just two miles from our house. Additionally, we’ve take several car trips that have allowed us to discover some of our country’s treasures that had previously escaped us.
Today’s post, the 11 photos below and the linked slide show, feature Ellen’s continued fascination with her cameras and her ability to capture what her unique eye sees. (Maybe it’s her missed career?) These photos are all from a recent second trip to a small, mountaintop lodge, The Swag, near Waynesville, NC, where we were able to spend days simply wandering among the many, many trails in The Great Smoky Mountains.
As some of you may have read in earlier posts on this website, thirteen months ago on a trip to Greenland I purchased a 65 inch model kayak replica entitled Qayag (which is the name of the traditional Inuit sealskin hunting boat). It had been created more than 50 years ago by an artist, Jesse Thorn, who is no longer alive.
(If you missed the first Parts of this saga, and you have time on your hands, see these two posts – A Qayaq (Kayak) Saga and Continuing the Saga of the Kayak – for the details of its disputed’ purchase: Ellen had told me, “Don’t. Even. Consider. It.” Then, it took almost seven months to get it home, unpacked, and into house.
Now, after another extended period, the Qayag has finally found its resting place.
As you will see in the picture below, it now ‘floats’ out from the wall of our living room (where we display some of the crafts gathered over the years from our many trips). It is on the wall, below one of our stained glass windows created by a friend 50 years ago.
We never thought it would take so long for the Qayag to settle on its final resting place. Actually, Ellen had warned me that we didn’t really have room for it, and it would overwhelm any place we tried to put it in our house. I had three possible places for it and several back up plans if those didn’t work.
None of my carefully considered placements made Ellen, the Qayaq, or me very happy.
So we called upon Vincent Sagart, the wonderful designer who has had such a significant influence on many rooms in our house. He immediately saw where it wanted to go and over the next month or so figured out how to get it there.
It took another two months to get it there successfully. COVID-19 caused interruptions, including time for a metal worker to fashion an 11 by 17 inch platform on which it could rest, Petr to affix it to the wall, and Vincent to be satisfied with the exact placement. He had Petr reverse the platform and then reattach it to the wall.
But as the Little Prince has taught us, “It’s the time you spend for your ‘Qayaq’ that makes your Qayaq so important.”
And I’m happy to write that Ellen and I have survived this 13-month effort and to report that Ellen readily agreed to use her photographic skills so MillersTime readers can see how happy the Qayaq is in its new home. Indeed, Ellen not only approves of its placement, she readily says she likes it.
For me, I’m beyond thrilled as every time I pass anywhere near the living room, which is easily 20 times a day, I look at it and appreciate this truly wonderful treasure.
If you’re ever in DC, and if we are allowed to be together, you are invited to come visit the Qayag.
The Library of Congress National Book Festival which has taken place for 19 years in Washington, DC will be virtual this year, September 25-27, 2020.
In one place (on your own Internet ‘device,’ over one weekend) you will be able to hear, see, and interact with some of the authors you no doubt follow and treasure. As opposed to trying to get in line to ‘fight’ the crowds that have now increased every year, you can schedule to hear and to see them on line.
‘Live’ and in Q & A sessions, there are categories that include authors for Children, for Teens, for Family, Food, and Field, Fiction, Genre Fiction, History and Biograpjhy, Poetry and Prose, Science, and Understanding Our World. (See Schedule for names of specific authors and times and dates of their presentations.)
Here are the books that 37 MillersTime readers have identified as recent favorites, 54% fiction, 46% nonfiction.
Grant by Ron Chernow (NF). Chernow writes an excellent biography of Grant. Grant was an interesting person – not too scholarly, a masterful military strategist, an honest person, not necessarily primed to be a US President, and at many times too innocent. Grant has been described as the most underrated President, and that is probably correct. He was an honest person, but surrounded by corruption during his presidency and stuck with friends even when they were not honest. He fought for the rights of the Southern blacks and fought hard against the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The biography is excellent in portraying the good and the less good and brings to life a man who was probably underrated. I highly recommend the book.
The Splendid and the Vile by EriK Larson (NF). This latest Larson biography is about Winston Churchill in his first year of Prime Minister in the UK. We know the story – he supplanted Neville Chamberlain as PM, the year was a rough one with the Battle of Britain, and the UK survived this first year. What makes the book so interesting is Larson’s extensive use of Jock Colville’s diaries and the diaries of Mary Churchill to give the book a more personal feel and texture. Larson writes so well, and this is a book worth reading as an interesting perspective on that year.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (NF) is a well written and researched book on the Great Migration which took place between roughly 1917 to 1975 as blacks migrated from various parts of the South to northern and western cities looking for between opportunities. In particular, the books traces the lives of three migrants— Ida Mae Brandon Gladney who migrated in 1937 from Mississippi to Chicago; George Swanson Starling who migrated in 1945 from Florida to NYC; and Robert Joseph Pershing Foster who migrated in 1953 From Louisiana to Los Angeles. She really got to know these three individuals and around and through them told the amazing story of migrants.
A Game of Birds and Wolves by Simon Parkin (NF). This is a fascinating and largely unknown story of a “for real” board game “played” at Derby House in Liverpool during WWII. In the early years the efforts focused on how the Royal Navy could have more success against the U-boats (the wolves) which were destroying the Merchant ships bringing badly needed food and supplies into the British Isles in the Battle of the Atlantic. (Have You ever played the game Battleship? This was the origin of the game). The Birds were the WRENS, an auxiliary unit of the Royal Navy of very young but very bright women who helped devise, improve and run the games. Navy officers would spend time at Derby House And play the games to learn new strategies to combat the U-boats. Because of the success of these games in Navy training, Britain essentially won the Battle of the Atlantic by early 1943 and the U-boats were withdrawn. The book is actually more about Gilbert Roberts who designed the games and masterminded the effort. The book looks at a largely unknown but very successful effort in Britain’s war efforts.. . . and largely done by women!
Countdown 1945 by Chris Wallace (NF) is a wonderful book recounting the 116 days between when Harry Truman became President, the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, and the beginning of the atomic age. While we all know the basic story, in this book you learn more about the scientists, the military, the President, the incredible co-operation among the various parties, the absolute precision among the various parties, the angst around whether to drop the bomb or not, and ultimately the dropping of the bomb.
Reading seems to go to the bottom of my “to do” every day.
I’m not sure where the time goes, although there is an increasing number of on-line lectures and performances that attract us, and thanks to my daughter I’ve become a podcast listener as well.
I’m still slowly working my way through These Truths by Jill Lepore (NF), which I am enjoying but which seems best in short bursts. I then discovered her podcast, which has become another time sink.
Although I have worked part time and been busy with online meetings. I definitely have been escaping the virus and political turmoil by reading a lot. I especially liked the following two books:
A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware (HF).This is a wonderful historical fiction about two woman architects in the early 1900’s. They rebuild two famous hotels after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire.
Women of a Dangerous Age by Fanny Blake (F) .A story of two middle age women starting over.
I”m currently two-thirds of the way through The Hours by Michael Cunningham (F), and liking it. (It was a bit hard to follow at first). Drawing inspiration from the life, and death, of Virginia Woolf, the author artfully weaves together the stories of three women to reveal their complicated, interior lives. (Ed. It won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 1999 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction).
I enjoyed Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday (F). It follows a modern-day “Alice” down a rabbit hole when she enters a relationship with a man 30 years her senior. To some extent, based on the author’s affair with Philip Roth.
Reading (and listening) more to non-fiction, specifically to understand my views on racism. Need to open my eyes to my “hidden” biases. Read How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi (NF). It is a tough read but very enlightening. Also rereading White Fragility, Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (NF).
Also found these to be good reads:
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates (NF). Her work with the Gates Foundation to lift up women worldwide to bring economic and health security. It is not a typical feminist approach but her strength as an advocate based on her personal awareness from her global travels to the needy.
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hellby Robert Dugoni (F): Story of young boy bullied due to his physical disability, ocular albinism, which makes his eyes red. it is a very inspiring and moving read.
David P. Stang:
The Gift Of Years: Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister (NF). Written by a Benedictine nun, spiritual teacher, and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research Center for contemporary spirituality in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her book contains 40, three to five to page essays on dimensions of consciousness experienced by geriatrics. She begins each essay with a quotation, then describes the particular experience or perception explaining both the defeatist, hopeless way of interpreting the topic, but also provides a far more constructive, optimistic and inspiring interpretation. My friend Rick Miller gave me the book and every night I read at least one of the little chapters before going to bed. I’ve nearly completed my second reading of her entire book. That before bed, nightly experience reminds me of my mother reading me nursery stories before I fell asleep at night as a small child. In her Gift Of Years Joan Chittister has become a substitute for my long deceased mother. As I experience it, Joan Chittister’s written words become spoken words of a compassionate mother telling her sleepy-eyed octoctogenarian son that this is a time of life about which he should become most cheerful.
Biography of Silenceby Pablo d’Ors (NF) is all about the phenomenology of meditation. Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. Applying this dimension of consciousness to the writing of Biography of Silence d’Ors makes phenomenological reference to all the ideas that pop into a person’s head while meditating. D’Ors is concomitantly a Spanish Catholic priest and Zen meditator. Among other things his book on meditation teaches us is how to notice but ignore all of these thoughts that pop into our consciousness when we are seeking to be silently receptive to a greater reality. His precisely described perceptions of what he experiences while meditating are awe inspiring.
I’ve probably been reading a bit more during this time of Covid than before. Two books that I have read and enjoyed in recent months are:
The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West by David McCullough (NF). It is the story of the founding of Marietta Ohio – the first settlement in the northwest territory in 1788 by the Ohio Company.
Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 by Stephen Ambrose (NF). I wanted to read this book to give me more background information for our transcontinental railroad exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History where I volunteer. But I especially wanted to read it prior to our train trip across America, which will include part of the original transcontinental railroad route from Sacramento to Omaha. Building that railroad, especially through the sierra Nevada mountains, was an engineering marvel, and Ambrose tells the story in a very engaging way.
Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner (F), but seems pretty close to his real family history: How could I have missed this gem (not a little gem, a generous epic of a book) before? But now, with more time for leisurely reading, I have immersed myself in the life of the characters and of the land. And where else could I find such sentences as “She instructed me as out of bitter personal experience, she brooded along the edges of my childhood like someone living out a long Tennysonian regret. *** Gentility is inherited through the female line like hemophilia, and is all but incurable.”
Here are six very different reads from me in the last four months, each of them I highly recommend for various reasons.
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). This much-anticipated book by the author of the prize winning The Warmth of Other Suns won’t disappoint. It is a deeply researched, anecdote-illustrated, clear-eyed discussion of race and class in America that puts systemic discrimination in this country into a global framework. It makes a strong case of the similarities to the ancient caste system of India and the Nazi-created caste system for Jews. (One of the many fascinating insights is that Nazi officials came to the US to study our laws concerning racial separation, as they designed their Nuremberg Laws.)
The book reads a bit like sociology textbook, one I would have happily read in my college days. It is engagingly written and her argument adds a new depth and understanding to our country’s system of racial injustice. It offers many examples and insights that at times I found shocking. It is a must read.
Death in Her Hands by Ottessa Moshfegh (F). Over the past several compilations of ‘best reads” I have recommended this author’s previous two award winning novels (Eileen and My Year of Rest and Relaxation) by this new writer. Each of her books is provocative, a little off-beat, with consistently superb writing.
Her latest is no exception. Death in Her Hands tells a haunting story about an elderly woman living alone who stumbles on a possible murder. Her suppositions about this possible murder grow into a full-blown obsession as she pursues solving the mystery to the point where she looses her grip on the real world. It’s a fascinating and well-paced and in some ways reminiscent of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, which I also highly recommend,
Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey (NF). This book, by the African-American, Pulitzer Prize winning poet who served as United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and 2013, is a deeply personal and chilling memoir of her mother, who was brutally murdered by her second husband. Trethewey tells her own story as a mixed-race child in Mississippi history in the deeply segregated South. Her insight is sharp and her voice clear as she explores the loss and grief in trying to understand her mother’s tragic life. The writing is sensitive and engaging, the story of racism and abuse riveting. You won’t want to put this down.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell (F). I recommend this book highly but cautiously. I strongly urge you to read ABOUT this book, before you read it. Hamnet (another spelling of “Hamlet”) is a fictional portrayal based on little known facts of the death of Shakespeare’s son. It does not focus only on his play “Hamlet” (written four years after the child’s death) but instead it is an imagined full-blown story of Shakespeare’s wife and family, their life and times (the 1580’s) and the plague that killed their 11-year old boy. None of the characters have their historical names (other than Hamnet and his twin sister Judith), which I found confusing. But it’s well worth struggling through that in this splendidly told story. It’s a beautiful book, superbly written, a tale of family and loss.
The Yield: A Novel by Tara June Winch (F). This book is written by an Aboriginal author and it tells the story of a young woman returning to her native home after the death of her grandfather, Albert Goondiwindi, who was determined to pass on the language of his people to those he would leave behind.
The book is divided into alternating chapters of his explanations of native wordsand phrases, the reactions of the granddaughter who has returned home from London for the first time in 10 years, and others with critical pieces of the story to tell. Woven into this tale is the news that his native place is to be repossessed by a mining company and the granddaughter’s attempts to save their land. This is essentially a story of a dispossessed culture and the attempts to reclaim it. It’s a moving, well-written, and very real story.
Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict (HF.) Even when I startedthis book, I wondered why I had chosen it, even as a “summer” read. But after the first ten pages I was hooked on the story of life of the famous film star – the Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr (ne: Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) – the glamorous Hollywood actor who began er career in 1938. My mother was an admirer.
The book deftly tells the story of an early marriage to an Austrian arms dealer very riendly with senor Nazi officials (she was of Jewish heritage), and how she became privy to many of the Third Reich’s plans while at her husband’s side. She fled him and his world and ended up in Hollywood where she was featured in 30 films in an acting career spanned nearly three decades. It also details how she struggled to use her scientific knowledge, and what she had learned about Nazi plans, to help the war effort against the Nazis by co-developing a radio guidance system for allied torpedoes. (This involved developing technology that led to both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth innovations.)
This is a great story and an engaging summer read.
I have been doing lots of reading the last few months, and actually I have enjoyed some good ones so here are a few for your list.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd (HF). I have loved Sue Monk Kidd’s previous books and was anxious to read this, though the subject was questionable, imagining Jesus having a wife in the years before he was known as a prophet in the Galilee. The book did not disappoint, being beautifully written and focusing on the character of Ana, as she uses her cunning and wit to navigate a life of intrigue, romance, and treachery in the 1st century. It is a masterpiece of historical fiction reminiscent of The Red Tent.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub (F) is a charming story of a widow living in upstate New York struggling with her relationships with her three grown children and their issues, a granddaughter who comes to live with her and a new lover. The book touches on many contemporary themes including bullying, sexual identity, adultry, surrogate pregnancies to name a few. This is definitely a feel good read and a pleasant respite from the more serious issues of the day.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (F) is a hot book of the moment and worth the attention. It is a multi-generational saga with a different take on racism reflected in the context of the decades between the 1940’s and the present. Twins, who are very light skinned from a Louisiana small town, are inseparable growing up until one of them decides to “disappear” and pass for white. The story has many twists and turns; however, the strength of the book lies in the depth of the relationships between the various characters.
Emily Nichols Grossi:
The Secret Place by Tana French (F). Sob, I am now done with the Dublin Murder Squad books. They are all so damn thrilling and good, even if you must suspend belief in certain moments. It pains me to find the female detective annoying, but she is overwritten in my opinion. Nonetheless, a read that renders the rest of the world invisible in the moment which is, at present, the best sort of escapism.
I’m not done with but am loving Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson (NF). Suspect this will be on many a list this time around.
And I thought In the Garden of Beastsby Erik Larson (NF) was absolutely excellent and terrifyingly relevant. A must-read, IMO.
About my reading in the time of Covid (and Black Lives Matter): 1) I’ve always been interested in how ordinary people handle extraordinary situations. Now in this extraordinary time, I’ve expanded this focus to reflect on leaders; 2) Also, I’m reading more mindfully and exploring new subjects.
The Yield by Tara June Winch (F) is at the top of my list. Australia’s top award (Miles Franklin) went to this Aboriginal writer who says it broke her heart to write it. It’s about colonial violence, oppression and environmental destruction, but also a celebration of the Wiradjuri people through their language. A must on Audible.
Inge’s War, A German Woman’s Story of Family, Secrets, and Survival Under Hitler by Svenja O’Donnell (NF) The subtitle describes the book. This WWII book focuses on ordinary German people — what they knew, what they did or did not do, how they got through the war with madmen at the helm.
The Great Influenza by John M. Barry (NF), a book I wish I had read in print! The information about the so-called Spanish Flu in itself was fascinating. But Barry’s “side trips” into the history of medicine in the US, Johns Hopkins University, the role of the media, Woodrow Wilson and the Peace Conference were all fascinating and relevant to our time. It’s not really 546 pages; lots of footnotes.
The Hemingses of Monticello, An American Family by Annette Gordon-Reed (NF) I couldn’t put this book down, though it was often repetitious. In this meticulously researched work, Gordon-Reed tells the Jefferson/Hemings story by focusing on the Hemings family, the enslaved women and men who worked in Jefferson’s house and lived there as servants to their father and siblings. It takes repetition to get one’s head around that. An important read for me in the time of Black Lives Matter as I try to understand systemic racism more deeply. On to Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste!
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF). Larson’s purpose here is not another Churchill biography but an account of how Churchill, his family and the people around him lived, worked, and loved during the first year of WWII. This was the year Churchill became the leader history remembers.
Shadowland by Joseph O’Connor (HF) In the genre of historical fiction, this book is a delight to read any time. It captures the world of late 19th century theater in London, the charisma of two of its leading actors Henry Irving and Ellen Terry and their relationship with Irving’s business manager Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. It’s pure magic to read and, I’m told, even better to listen to.
I have wanted to read items completely away from the current Covid calamity. So:
For this enforced quarantine interregnum of unknown duration, I decided to read some very long poems—written in English. These have been:
William Wordsworth, The Prelude (1850). Wordsworth worked on this autobiographical poem his entire life, and it details his interactions with nature and the development of his poetry. Quite moving in parts.
Herman Melville, Clarel(1876). This is the longest poem in American literature, and one of the longest in world literature. It took some time to read, but that was the point. It describes how a traveller named Clarel visits the Middle East and his struggles with his religious faith. Extremely interesting, in parts, and quite philosophical, it is now considered one of Melville’s major works.
Lord Byron, Don Juan (1819 – 1824). This satiric epic poem of 16,000 lines is a parody of an epic poem, and is quite witty, in parts. The involuted plot involves the life history of Don Juan and pirates and Turkish mercenaries and the Russian army and Catherine the great… and on and on. I am in the midst of this tale. His gibes at Wordsworth are quite funny.
My favorite book in this period was The Order by Daniel Silva (F). My 98 year old aunt turned me on to Silva many years ago so we have read all of his books together. We share Kindles so I know exactly what page she is on and see that I am always playing catch up.
Silva has as his central character, Gabriel Allon , an artist, a spy, an assassin, high up in the Israeli Intelligence and also a close friend of several Popes with many contacts in the Vatican. This book begins with the assassination of his friend Pope Paul VII and the attempt of an ultra-right religious Order trying to undo the reforms of that Pope ( Think Francis) so they can take over the Catholic church.
I find his books to be real page turners and the story filled with an accuracy of his subjects, Since Allon is a known and respected as an artist specializing in restoration of great art, there is always a masterpiece or two to discuss. In this book, besides the story, I found his Author’s Note at the end of the book to be fascinating.
He takes the time to discuss the sub-plot of anti-Semitism in the church, in the current European Union etc., in our own country, and the controversies concerning Pius XII in WWII;
Since the time frame is present day he also covers the story within the current pandemic.He also takes the time to share a well written history of antisemitism in the ancient texts and scriptures. I felt I leaned so much in the afterward of the story. He quotes some of the truly great theologians as apologists for alternative opinions of many of the arguments used to support antisemitism. I strongly recommend this book as a great read.
The Stand by Stephen King (F). A truly terrific book to read during this time of the Coved 19 virus, self- quarantine; masks, personal and self-distancing;
I first read this book in 1978 when I was teaching religion at Holy Names Academy with Gilbert Brennan. We discussed the book in terms of fundamental choices we all have, What’s it going to be? Good or Evil. It was a very successful discussion. It was Stephen King’ s fourth novel and the longest he had written to that time. To sum up, it is an apocalyptic story about a killer flu, released by the military and spreading throughout the world killing 2/3 of the population in 2 weeks. SOUND FAMILIAR?
The survivors in the US develop into two groups, those who dream of a dark man, Randall Flagg, who has his headquarters in Las Vegas; the others dream of an elderly black woman, Mother Abigail, sitting in a rocking chair on her farm in Nebraska waiting for those who are drawn to her. Obviously the book personifies the attraction in the new world of some to good and some to evil.
The book when originally published had to be revised due to the length and cost. In 2011 the Book was revised again by Mr. King to include the original chapters as well as add some more insight into some of the characters. It was also a made for TV film and a miniseries.
It is a long book but fascinating in the story and the characters. Given the times we are living in, I recommend the Audible version. Sit back, close your eyes, and LISTEN!!!!!! It’s my favorite is Stephen King novel.
Haven Kennedy & Daughter Miriam:
Here is something from me and Miriam:
Reading is, as always, my escape. It allows me to fall into another world. When I’m stressed, I read science-fiction and fantasy – books from my childhood. I’ve been reading an incredible amount of Terry Pratchett’s work. Miriam (my six year old) has been enjoying the books about Tiffany Aching. Pratchett interweaves social commentary and morality in his books, causing you to think. Right now I’m reading Prachett’s Thud (F) , a book about the tension between dwarves and trolls. The book is perfect for the times we are living in.
I’ve also read:
Horace by George Sand (F) – this book was very hard to find. Most of Sand’s work has not been translated into English. It took getting an inter-library loan to receive it. It’s a beautiful book, set in France during the late 18th century. It’s well-written with an emphasis on social commentary.
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom (F) – I read this book in a matter of days. It’s beautifully written with engaging characters. It’s set in WWII. After I finished the book, I began to think about it, finally deciding that it was a well-written, intelligent soap opera. I still recommend reading it, just for the way Bloom writes.
Beyond that, it’s all comfort reads. It’s Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, The Chronicles of Narnia. It’s books of my childhood. It’s books written with my daughter in my lap. It’s reading to my daughter about different cultures, different religions, different ways of thinking. So much of what is going on in the political world is hate and fear – fear of what is different. I want my daughter to turn to reading as a comfort, to seek knowledge, to explore different worlds. Reading is what is needed more than anything. It’s unfortunate that so much of what we read is on social media, which is an echo chamber of what we are already thinking. Reading is a great way to escape the echo chamber. And even in the silliest books – Pratchett’s for example – we can learn something.
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (F) – lets you escape to an island off the coast of Finland, where you get to know a grandmother and her granddaughter spending a quiet summer there.
Throughout the pandemic, I’ve tried to engage in long-term reading projects — that is, reading a coherent series of books one after the other as opposed to moving among topics. I try to start every morning by spending at least 30-60 minutes on that project before the workday starts. That gives my days a nice rhythm and progressing through the books helps to “mark time” across weeks that might otherwise seem interchangeable.
I started by reading a series of memoirs/biographies of foreign policy-makers, in chronological order. Then I started reading a series of books that the Kennedy School publishes after every presidential election, based on conferences that it holds with presidential campaign managers. The books are called Campaign for President(NF). I’ve learned a lot of history from them, I’ve gotten a better sense of how presidential campaigns view the world, and that has given me some useful perspective on current events.
Jesse Leigh Maniff:
During this time of uncertainty, I’ve been drawn to the familiar, re-reading fictional books that provide an escape from reality and where good triumphs over evil: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (F), Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend (F), second of the Nevermoor series, and the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman (F).
Blue Nile by Virginia Morell (NF). Interested Mike and me especially because it is a true adventure story of an international group who were the first to raft the full length of the very wild and dangerous Blue Nile River from the Ethiopian highlands to Sudan. Interesting on human, adventure, historical levels. (We lived in Ethiopia for two years and have returned three times.)
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (NF). Amazing true story of a very large family with many cases of schizophrenia and how their experience added to the understanding of the disease.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (NF) Candid, well-written autobiography.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (NF) Amazingly, I had never read this. I loved it.
The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way by Bill Bryson (NF). Classic Bryson, funny, informative, surprising.
What It’s Like to Be a Bird by David Allen Sibley (NF). \Big, beautiful book about how birds live, not a identification guide but just amazing facts and beautiful paintings.
I just finished the book The Gilded Years by Karen Tanabe (F). It is based on the true story of the first African American woman to attend Vassar College in the late 1890s while passing as a white girl. I loved reading about the exploits of the girls with the Ivy League boys as they navigated their futures after graduation balancing their interests in careers and exploring the world with the realities of marriage and motherhood. The focus of the book is really though on the protagonist and the double life she leads pretending to be white.
Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker by Jennifer Chiaverini (HF). It is a good historical novel.
Bit chilly in Maine but that’s perfect reading weather for me. Here’s my current list for the year of reads worth reading:
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neal Hurston (F) and The Wedding by Dorothy West (F). My book club is focusing on African American women authors. I enjoyed both of these, particularly Dorothy West’s book about the upper class African American community in Martha’s Vineyard; race and class explored from several perspectives.
The Mirror and The Light by Hillary Mantel (HF). What can I say? It’s just as brilliant as Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Best read in a long time and it’s a long book.
Lane Brisson Retallick:
Crisis in the Red Zone by Richard Preston (NF). This non-fiction book is subtitled “The Story of the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History, and of the Outbreaks To Come.” The author writes in his Preface that this book is the successor to his 1994 book, The Hot Zone. The story covers the Ebola Outbreak of 2013-2014 in the West African area of the Makona Triangle, which includes parts of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.
The author is an excellent writer, and he tells a complicated and dramatic story, with a large cast of characters and dire situations, in a suspenseful manner which kept me engaged.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
Just finished reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (F). (Did you ever read her first novel, The Night Circus? It is gorgeous and haunting and I strongly recommend it.) My sister had come home from the library with it a few days ago and got annoyed with it and handed it to me. (Has DC sorted it’s libraries yet? We’re not allowed in, but we can pick up a pile of books from the front door.)
Perhaps it’s because she has children, so everything causes a small amount of annoyance these days.
Halfway through this book I realized I was going to read it at least two more times, so I bought it from our local bookstore and returned the original.
I’m not quite sure what is happening with me and the pandemic and books these days, but I’m finding myself entranced by stories whose plots are hidden (or happen mostly underground?). It started with The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss (F), a novella that describes the life of Auri, his most enigmatic character from the Kingkiller series, and her home in the Underthing. It is more of a character study than an actual story with a beginning, middle, and end, but all stories start somewhere and then end somewhere else, so in a way it is a complete story. Either way, when I fell asleep the night of the day I read it, I felt like my time had been well spent.
The Starless Sea is much longer (so a few days, not just one, of devoted, well-spent reading) and has overlapping and intertwining fairy tales that build into the overarching plot. It is beautifully written, and, if The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a character study of Auri, The Starless Sea is a character study of story itself. How it grows, lives, and dies in one author’s imagination. How one can be chosen or disregarded. How we can pass by another in our search for the obvious, or disregard the obvious in our search for the subtle.
In a sense, a wonderful book for our current time. Strong recommend.
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson (NF) has occupied my last week or so. Erik Larson takes us on Winston Churchill’s journey through the very beginning of WW II in Britain. Yes, we know the story, but this is a a beautifully documented and highly readable account, and it includes the side stories of several Churchill family members and close confidantes.
ML – Anonymous
I received Franny and Zooey (by J.D.Salinger – F) in 1961, the year of its publication…I read it, and shelved it perfectly ignorant of its predecessors.
Well before my teaching career began, some English prof. probably suggested that everyone ought to have read The Catcher in the Rye. Done, done, and taught it.
In the early 21st century, in a second hand bookstore, I found Salinger’s Nine Stories. Forty years later, the name “Seymour Glass” in some of the stories sounded vaguely familiar; and the internet got me up to speed. I’d broken my own cardinal rule (read multiple works by an author in the order s/he wrote them) without knowing it. Finally, in 2020 (in a second hand bookstore) I found Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters/Seymour, An Introduction.
So somewhere vaguely in April or May (do we still have months?), I read the whole thing in order, concluding with an affecting re-read of Franny and Zooey (you asked about re-reading at some point, but when?!). All of them are better in chronological order, but the body of work is also changed and enhanced by the recent documentary on Salinger which included the info that he suffered lifelong PTSD from having “liberated” Dachau & something else. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/j-d-salinger
An upshot of this whole thing is that male academics “decided” that Holden Caulfield represented some thang about the American experience. It is the female characters in the Glass Family books & stories–Franny, Esme, Seymour’s sister and mother–who are the most remarkable–at least by comparison to Caulfield.
Meggie Patterson Herlinger:
I have been reading a lot of lighter things more recently but some of the books that I have given five stars to are:
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown (F).
This Tender Land by Willam Kent Krueger (F).
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (NF).
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (F).
(My reading in August…interruptions by too much TV news – National Conventions – and now Hurricane Watches –
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder (NF).
Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston (F). Fictional account of the rise of Joey Smallwood – New Foundland)
Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind’s Beginnings by Virginia Morell (NF).
Blue Nile by Virginia Morell (NF).
I had to reach across my train-fogged mind to remember a couple books that stand out. I read an oldie called My Antonia by Willa Cather (F). It was a cross cultural experience for me to learn about early settlers of the American frontier: Bohemian immigrants from a region in the Czech Republic. The sensitivity and imagery used in this book was nothing short of poetic, and it is clear that the author has lived the experience and loved the forsaken prairie land.
Because my husband lived in the Dominican Republic for six years, I try to read the literature of Hispanic authors from that region, and I zeroed in on this book called Dominicana by Angie Cruz (F). It was about a young immigrant family trying to “make it” in the Bronx. I didn’t love it, but it did keep my interest, and I recommend it because it would be a cross-cultural experience for others who want to understand the experience of Dominican immigrants told from the perspective of a young, relatively powerless and poor young girl.
Life is in the Transitions: Mastering Change at Any Age by Bruce Feller (NF) A timely read about pivotal moments in our lives and adapting to change. Using different stories, he shows us ways to adapt to involuntary and voluntary lifequakes.
The Only Plane in the Sky: OralHistory of 9/11 by Garrett Graff (NF). I read this right when Covid-19 started in the US, in particular NYC in March. The reader is transported back in time, recounting that day from multiple perspectives and first-hand accounts. Although heartbreaking, the book is filled with courage and resilience. It reminded me we will get through hard times.
Filthy Beasts by Kirkland Hamill (NF). A riches to rags, tragic-comedy about three boys, an alcoholic mother, indifferent father. It’s perfect for people who like difficult family memoirs and complicated parents.
Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kokler (NF): A true story about a family of 12, six of the boys with schizophrenia. It’s a story about mental illness that defined their entire lives.
The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai (F). The story alternates from the AIDS pandemic in the 80’s in Chicago to modern day Paris. Amazing characters and a good glimpse into multi-generational trauma as a mom tries to track down-her estranged daughter. Very haunting and well-written.
The Last Flight by Julie Clark (F) Two different women at dangerous crossroads change places by switching airplane tickets.
The Hate U Give by Angie Clark (F): Heartbreaking young adult book about a racism, police brutality, and interracial dating.
I initially had five favorite reads, some of which were rereads, for this period: Shadowplay by Joseph O’Connor (F), Crime & Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (F), A Burning by Megha Majumdar (F), Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (NF), and Levels of Life by Julian Barnes (NF).
Then I read Caste: The Origins of Our Discontentsby IsabelWilkerson (NF) and decided that it was so compelling that I only wanted to focus on that single book. (See Ellen Miller’s account above.)
Some of you know of Wilkerson from her Pulitzer Prize winning reporting for feature writing at the NY Times. A number of you, including myself, have previously cited as a favorite her 2010 The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (NF), winner of the National Book Critic Circle Award and one of the NY Times’s Best Nonfiction books of 2010.
In this new eye-opening account of how our society is organized, Wilkerson captured me and held me throughout with her focus on caste as a way of understanding my country, our history, and our current divisions in a way I had never truly seen it.
In linking her examination of how our (hidden) caste system is similar to those of India and Nazi Germany and with compelling stories that we can all understand, she accomplishes her goal of making the reader see perhaps what we have never clearly seen: the effects that our caste system has played and continues to play in shaping what kind of country we have.
In her Epilogue, “A World Without Caste,” Wilkerson pulls together what she wants us all to understand: that once we truly see what caste has done and continues to do, we can choose individually and as a country to do something about it.
The book is a call to look at ourselves in a different way than perhaps we have until now.
It is compelling.
Brian Doyle’s Mink River (F). I recently read this a second time and now know I will read it again. And quite likely again. Along with re-reading Frances Itani – Requiem, Deafening(HF) – books, words, authors that hold you quietly in place, not for plot but for the solace and joy and surprise of words. (I’m thinking of launching again on Dorothy Dunnett’s The House of Nicolo for months of an amazing, gripping ride. Takes patience, but oh boy….)
Jeff Abbott’s new page turner, Never Ask Me (F). Follows the fast pace of his last best seller, The Three Beths. Jeff’s work for me is an absolute page turner, and I generally stay up all night reading him.
On the nonfiction side; a hero in America but not so much in his native France, The Marquis, Lafayette Reconsidered by Laura Auricchio (NF) is a sobering reminder how reason and moderation often cannot succeed in the midst of a radically polarized society. Opposed by both the Jacobins and the monarchists, they could all agree on their hatred of Lafayette, the author of The Declaration of the Rights of Men and a genuine hero of the American Revolution whose very life was only spared because of the interventions of President George Washington. Later in life, Lafayette opposed both the excesses of Napoleon and France’s last king Louis XVIII.
From the American Presidents series sponsored by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Franklin Pierce by Michael Holt (NF) and James Buchanan by Jean Baker (NF). Spurred by the bitter politics of today, I have been doing a deep dive into the most divisive politics in American history, America in the 1850s, the politics that led to the Civil War.
Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were our 14h and 15th Presidents in the eight years just before Lincoln was elected President in 1860. Both men are ranked towards the bottom of any rankings of America’s 45 Presidents – but I expect Mr Trump will tank just ahead of Buchanan.
James Buchanan, America’s only bachelor President, may be the most disappointing. An ambitious politician who served and loved his country and who helped add more territory to the United States as Polk’s Secretary of State than any other administration (think Mexican cession – larger than the Louisiana Purchase – and the person who negotiated our final borders with Canada. Buchanan was less successful as President when he tried to add both Cuba and Baja California.
Virtually everything both Pierce and Buchanan did as President blatantly favored the South (four of Buchanan’s cabinet members would serve as high ranking leaders of the Confederacy- including its President, Jefferson Davis.)
After Lincoln’s election and after South Carolina’s secession a month later in December 1860 (Lincoln would not assume the Presidency until March 1861); unlike his hero, Andrew Jackson during the 1830s nullification crisis, Buchanan inexplicably did nothing. He even allowed virtually all federal munitions in the South to fall into the hands of the Confederacy.
Jean Baker argues that if Buchanan had just taken basic steps to preserve the Union he took an oath to serve, the Civil War may have been entirely avoidable – and that Buchanan’s actions would have been considered treason during any other time.
Both Franklin and Buchanan failed to understand the depth of Northern opposition not only to the institution of slavery itself – but Northerners were resentful of a small anti democratic Southern aristocratic elite that seemed to dominate every lever of our nation’s national government.
Inferno by Max Hastings (NF). The best one-volume history of WW2. The author is a master of strategy and offers unvarnished opinions about many of the prominent WW2 generals and politicians. The book also quotes from hundreds of diaries and letters to provide views of what happened from a ground-level perspective. Revelatory on the overwhelming contribution of the Soviet Union to the Allied victory. A masterpiece.
The Man Who Broke Napoleon’s Codes by George Scovell (NF). The British army under Wellington vanquished Napoleon’s forces in a multi-year campaign in Spain. This came about in part because of the code-breaking efforts of a British officer who is finally getting a secure place in history as the result of this book. Amazing detail and lucid narrative and description.
Sashenka by Simon Sebag Montefiore (F), a prequel to Red Sky at Noon. Not as good, but enjoyable.
From Russia with Blood: The Kremlin’s Ruthless Assassination Program and Vladimir Putin’s Secret War on the West by Heidi Blake, Marisa Calin, et al. (NF). Very well sourced, scary stuff connecting the dots of Putin’s killing regime
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari (NF). Anthro 101 for people like me who didn’t take it in college. inspiration in every chapter.
All Creatures Great and Small by James Harriot (NF). A vet recounts his life in Yorkshire in the 30s. Incredibly enjoyable.
Uncle Fred in the Springtime by P.G. Wodehouse (F). My favorite of PG Wodehouse’s characters, Frederick Alamont Cornwallis Twistleton III, the Earl of Ickenham. Like uncorking a vial of laughing gas.
Now reading the second book, All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Harriot (NF). Reread Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (F). Managed to fit in a reread of The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham (F), my favorite book. Just started Jean Genet’s Prisoner of Love (NF). Have you ever read him? What a life!
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett (F). I’ve loved Ann Patchett since Bel Canto and keep waiting for that lightening to strike again. It doesn’t quite happen here, but it was an interesting read and worth it.
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (F). I just loved this book. Such an odd premise he begins with an a leisurely pace until the end and yet super compelling. I’m a fan.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (F). A total classic and I understand why. I couldn’t stop thinking about this book after finishing it. It’s completely engrossing and even as I write about it, I’m thinking all over again about it. :)
Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (F) – I was put off by the telling of the story: it reads like a transcript of an “interview” between multiple people spliced in with one another to tell a story. And then I was hooked. She’s a good storyteller after all.
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Mink Kidd (F) – More of a “feel good” beach read than anything, but if you’re at a beach and want something light and lovely, read this.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (F) – Her debut novel from 2017 got a ton of buzz so I read it. Interesting. She’s a good writer with a modern take on relationships so there’s that. I prob didn’t love as much as others did, however.
Here’s the second round of films and TV series that some of you reported enjoying.
Somehow this post disappeared from MillersTime when I ‘thought’ I had posted it a month or so ago.
Ozark(TV Series). Despite being very dark with some violence, we found ourselves captivated by the “page turner” story and drawn to the characters…..despite their flaws. The setting in the Ozarks which is 150 miles from St Louis added to the attraction.
Russian Doll (TV Series). A wonderful, unique story about a woman dealing with a “groundhog day” phenomenon. The lead character has to understand herself in order to understand her dilemma. We were riveted.
Dead To Me (TV Series). Two women mourning the loss of their husbands meet in a grief group and a friendship results. As we learn who they really are…the story twists and turns in interesting ways.
Unorthodox(Film in four episodes). A woman from an insular Brooklyn orthodox Jewish community seeks separation. The urgency of her situation was compelling as was learning about her community. The progression of the story was ok….not great. Overall it was worthwhile.
And we watched The Secret Of Roan Inish (Film) last night. A charming Irish story by John Sayles
Bordertown (TV Series). Features a quirky detective and his family that uses memory mnemonic to solve serious crimes in a “small” town on the Russia Finland boarder.
Midnight Diner (TV Series). Sweet vignettes centered around a small Tokyo restaurant that opens at midnight till 7AM, the chef and his patrons.
For those who enjoy or wish to experience anime: HBO MAX now has the Studio Ghibli catalog available. Spirited Away – Princess Mononoke.
I Am Not Your Negro (Film). Black Panthers (PBS – Film). Marc Maron 2020
I have another which is really really good—-McMillions on HBO (TV Series) six-part documentary series about the fraud from McDonalds Monopoly Game.
Hey! How did I miss this? Has everyone seen the HBO miniseries Chernobyl (TV Series)…..FASCINATING, and masterfully done. Additional context is a podcast with the producer with each episode.
My Brilliant Friend (TV Series).I enjoyed reading the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante and was pleased to see how well this Italian TV series captures the novels.
Honeyland (Film). This extraordinary documentary about a Macedonian beekeeper tells a moving story with amazing cinematography.
I am currently watching and enjoying The Miniaturist on Amazon/PBS Masterpiece (TV Series). I love Holland–especially 17C–and this series is visually brooding and romantic. The plot takes twists and turns
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes.) I liked that and went on to binge Shtisel (TV Series) and then Fauda (TV Series)–totally different one from another–but I was in a Jewish/Israeli mood, I guess. (Film – four episodes.)
Finally I want to endorse someone else’s suggestion of Schitt’s Creek (TV Series). It feels a bit silly for this blog, but I found it so relevant to today’s world. Failure and redemption. Life without prejudice–life as it should be. Extravagant fashion. So many laughs. Lifted my spirits.
Two old movies we’ve really enjoyed again: Moonstruck, with Cher and Nicholas Cage and In the Heat of the Night, Sydney Poitier and Rod Steiger. Both are wonderfully acted, both have soundtracks that keep me humming for days after; Moonstruck is hilarious while the Sydney Poitier one is amazingly contemporary in theme. From two dinosaurs in Ohi
I also heartily recommend Unorthodox (Film – four episodes).
I was going to say Unorthodox (Film – four episodes) and Ozark (TV Series), but I see people already mentioned them, unsurprisingly!
We also were hooked on Good Girls (TV Series) for a long time.
Also watched a lot of Harrow (TV Series) –an Australian show about a forensic pathologist- not particularly highbrow, and kind of goofy, but fun.
Overlooked are the following:
Godfather Series (all three Films)
Spaghetti Westerns – The Good the Bad and the Ugly, A Fist Full of Dollars and For a Few Dollars More (Films).
War Films: Guns of Navarone, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Day, Where Eagles Dare
Let’s share the titles and a few comments about some of the books we’ve each been reading over the past few months. With one addition.
First, write a few sentences about your reading during these troubled times. Are you reading more, less, more fiction or more non-fiction, different genres than you usually choose, rereading, more use of an audible format, etc.? Basically, what is holding your interest now, and is that different than in more ‘normal’ times?
Then cite just a couple of books that have been particularly satisfying along with a few sentences as to the reason(s) those two books have been captivating or significant. Include the title, author, and whether the book is fiction or nonfiction.
Email me (Samesty84@gmail.com) with your responses by Aug. 22 so I can post them by the end of the month.
Thanks to our travel agent, aka Ellen Miller, we were able to get away from DC for five days after almost five months of staying at home. Ellen found a small mountain inn – The Swag – in the Great Smoky Mountains near Waynesville, NC. It turned out to be just what we hoped for – individual, lovely cabins, just a few guests (we never saw more than 20 people the four days and nights we were there), good food, careful attention to virus safety precautions, and best of all, a wonderful setting.
Ellen had never been to the Smokies – they are called “Smokies” for short but are often spelled “Smokey” Mountains by those on the western North Carolina side of the mountains. I had only once drive through them on a trip down the Blue Ridge Parkway many years ago with our younger daughter. So a week ago, Ellen and I set out on a seven-hour drive and arrived at the inn late in the afternoon to find both a setting and place to explore that more than met our needs and expectations. Plus the 70 degree temperature was almost 30 degrees cooler than what we left in DC.
Each morning, following a healthy breakfast on a porch overlooking the spectacular landscape, we’d pick up our packed lunch, a walking stick for me and two cameras for Ellen and head out for a three or four-hour walk-hike in the mountains. Several days we were accompanied by two naturalists — a husband and wife team that knew the Smoky Mountain area well and were able to introduce us to the flora and fauna (mostly flora, tho we did see one non-poisonous snake and bear scat and footprints). Other days we headed out on our own along ‘well defined’ trails and didn’t get too lost, though one day we didn’t make it back before the heavens unloaded on us.
In the late afternoons we hung out and read on the porch of our cabin and watched the afternoon rain, sometimes by a fire in one of the two fireplaces in the cabin. We’d join other guests for a ‘masked’ drink and then socially distanced dinners at the main lodge, usually on the porch. Returning to the cabin, we’d again ‘build’ a fire until either it went out or we fell asleep.
The short trip ended all too soon, and we are already planning to return to this “most visited National Park in the US,” which did not seem to us to have many visitors at all.
Although Ellen had not planned to create a slide show or do one of her many photo books, once home, she found she had enough worthy photos for us to post. Below are a half dozen, and if you want to see more, which I strongly recommend, you can link to a slide show at the end of this post.
For the best viewing, click on the little arrow at the top right of the first page of the linkto start the slide show. Definitely see all the photos in the largest size possible (use a laptop or desktop computer if you have access to either). They are much sharper and show more detail than the ones above.
Bad News: 41,339 fans were missing from National’ Park in DC and 37,731 missing fans from Fenway Park.
Good News: More than four million baseball fans watched Nats v Yankees Opening night game on TV, the highest number since 2011. Add to that 2.7 million fans watched the Giants v Dodgers Opening game the same night, thus making this the most ever watched Opening Day in baseball.
Good News/ Bad News: Just prior to the start of the Nats v Yankees opener, it was announced that the MLB playoffs – assuming they occur – will be expanded from 10 to 16 teams, eight in each league. The first AND second place teams in each Division will all make the playoffs, plus the two teams with the next best records in each league. (See Winners & Losers for what this new playoff schedule may mean).
Good News/Bad News: The Red Sox and Yankees are both undefeated as of this morning, July 26, and are tied for first place in the AL East. (H/T Nick Nyhart)
And what can we expect according to the ever savy MillersTime Baseball Contests submissions?
Overwhelmingly these ‘prognosticators’ believe the Dodgers and Yankees will be in the World Series, with the Dodgers slightly favored to win it all.
The Nats and the Astros are the next most likely WS contestants.
Two contestants said the playoffs and WS would not occur.
And the usual delusional Chris Eacho believes the Orioles will win it all.
For those of you with nothing better to do, here is a partial list of what the MillersTime Baseball fans believe will be the takeaways from the 2020 season:
NL designated hitter will prove to be a good idea that should be permanently adopted.
It was a really bad idea to play the season (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Play without fans sucks (numerous variations of this takeaway).
People are still hungry for baseball which will draw very high numbers to telecasts.
No need to play 162 games ((numerous variations of this takeaway).
Short season means “every game matters” (numerous variations of this takeaway).
There will be a team nobody expects who will come out hot and get on a roll.
There will be a team everybody expects to win who will fall flat out of the gate and can’t make it up.
All Division races will be closer than typical.
Regular season will be virtually meaningless. Season will forever have an asterik (numerous variations of this takeaway).
DH rules aside in NL, more offense than defense, more runs/game and bloated ERAs (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Pitching adjusts better than batting to shorter season (numerous variations of this takeaway).
One contestant said his wife will hate him a little more than before the season started.
Spouses of baseball fans will not be as aggravated as usual.
Not a responsible thing to have done.
Fewer games, more at stake, so fans will be more engaged, and playoffs will draw more interest (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Creating fake fan noise will replace live fans.
Baseball fans will be healthier due to lack of access to baseball park food.
Fans matter (numerous variations of this takeaway).
Runner on 2nd in extra innings should be tried in 162 game season but not in the playoffs.
Aaron Judge will finally stop being treated like a star because he isn’t and never was.
Astros win it all, proving that sign stealing or no sign stealing, they can flat play.
Long term reduction in number of games in the future. Early April too early to start the season.
Because of no fans, no home team advantage, no sounds of baseball, quality of play slacks, but no cheating (too easy to get caught).
Short season will be used to explain many teams’ performances.
PS – I watched the entire Sox v O’s Opening game on a big TV and thoroughly enjoyed it, in part because the Sox won easily but also just to be able to spend 3 hours and 18 minutes with no concerns other than the usual ones that every Sox fan knows has learned to accept.
Here are the revised Contest questions for the ‘Proposed’ 60-Game Season:
Assuming the 60-game plan generally works, and the 2020 ‘season’ contains at least 45 games, how will your favorite team do?
Name your team and predict their win-lose record
for the 60 games.
Will they make the playoffs?
Will they make it to the WS?
Will they win the WS?
Name the three Division winners in the AL & the NL.
Prize: Assuming fans can safely attend games in 2021, join me for a Nats’ game of your choice, or I will join you for a game of your choice anywhere you choose.
True or False Questions:
The 60 game season will not happen as it is presently scheduled, i.e., the season will be shortened by anywhere between five to 60 games.
There will be at least one hitter with at least 100 AB who will hit .400 or higher. (Submitted by Zack Haile)
There will be no starting pitcher who wins 10 games or more.
No one will hit more than 23 HRs. (Submitted by Rob Higdon)
At least one team in each league will win 42 or more games?
One or more games in each of the three Divisions will be played in front of a crowd.
Only one Division winner will make it to the WS.
At least one MLB starting pitcher will win 8 games or more without a loss and at least one MLB starting pitcher will lose 8 games or more without a win.
Over the course of the 60-game season (or even if the season is shortened), the National League will outscore the American League for the first time in the last 45 seasons. (Ron Davis)
At least one of these teams (Red Sox, Angels, Giants, White Sox) will make it to the postseason. (Chris Boutourline)
Prize: Assuming there is a season next year, bring a friend and join me for a Nats’ game in 2021, or if you’re not able to make it to DC, perhaps I can make it to where you live, and we’ll see a game together.
Assuming there is a World Series,
Name the two teams who will make it to the WS.
Which one will win?
In how many games?
Tie-breaker: Which AL or NL Division will have the most wins?
Which AL or NL Division will have the least wins?
Prize: One ticket to a WS game in 2021, assuming there is a WS.
What will be the main ‘take aways’ from having a 60 game, or shorter, season? (I will ‘crowd source’ what I think are the top five answers, so everyone can partake in deciding who wins this Contest.)
On or about July 23rd or 24th, a 60 game ‘season’ will begin.
How far it will go, what it will be like (compared to an 162 games season), whether it will shortened by the virus, or is it possible there will be fans in the stadiums before the season ends?
No one knows the answers to those and a number of other questions about MLB in 2020.
But we do know some things:
Look at the two articles below, the first outlines the main the guidelines and ‘rules’ under which the teams will compete. The second is an attempt to calculate if a 60 game season will need asterisks in the baseball history books. (Ed. Comment: Of course it will, but for those of you who like to get into the ‘weeds’ of baseball, it’s an interesting look at how 60 games can be compared to 162 games.)
Whether or not you read either of these articles, I need your suggestions for a three question MillersTime Baseball Contest for 2020.
And I need them quickly.
By Sunday, July 5.
That way I can get the Contests out to everyone in time for you to submit your award winning answers prior to the first game.
So, see what you can come up with in regard to this “season like no other.”
Send them to me at Samesty84@gmail.com., and if one of your questions is chosen, you will be ‘entitled’ to a MillersTime Baseball Contest Winner T-Shirt.* (You can also make suggestions for the prizes for this year’s Contests.)
Deadline for Potential Questions: Sunday, July 5
Contests Will Be Announced by Friday, July 10
Submission for Your ‘Winning’ Answers Due by July 23rd.
Thanks again to BS and FH for suggesting that we hear from others about what they’re watching and enjoying during these troubling times.
So here’s the first list, and as soon as 15 more of you send in your choices, I’ll post a second version of this. Send me your recent most favorite movies and/or TV Series at Samesty84@gmail.com.
Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee (Film). Absorbing storytelling, intense performances make this worth watching. Though long, it kept our attention and offered lots to discuss with friends who also watched the film. Note: there is a significant amount of violence.
My Brilliant Friend, based on the book, Italian with sub titles (Film). A saga with lots of characters that centers around two friends who grow from childhood to adulthood in Napoli. Lots of subplots, commentaries on gender and socio-economic disparities, mid-20th century southern Italy, and twists and turns in relationships (business, romance, family feuds) kept me interested. Note: the subtitles are not always easy to read.
Schitt’s Creek (TV Series) is funny, sometimes poignant, full of social commentary and quirky characters. The story of a wealthy family that loses it all, moves to small town they purchased back in the day as a joke, and live in the motel. It comes in short doses. Perfect for binging or watching an episode or two before drifting off.
Only show I would add to Edan Orgad’s submission below is This is Us. (TV Series).
Bill & Kay Plitt:
Kay and I were “fishing” for a film tonight, having seen most of the ones on your second round (Movie Favorites – May 27, 2020) and loved all of them that stood the test of increasing the levels of depression that surround us. We were looking for “feel good.”
The Secret of Roan Inish (Film) is fed from a novel called Secret by Ron Mor Skerry. Here is the description: “Fiona (Jeni Courtney) is a young 10 year old Irish girl with an unusual family history, including a long-missing baby brother. When she goes to live with her grandparents on the west coast of Ireland, Fiona hears stories about her ancestors, tales that involve mythical creatures called selkies who can shift from seal to human form. After Fiona ends up on the small island of Roan Inish, her family’s ancestral home, she believes she may have found her little brother living by the sea.”
Fiona is really the star of the film, but each of the five main characters of the story, are unique. She carries the story with her indefatigable faith in the legend. The secret is shared by elder story tellers of this fishing village located off the coast of Ireland. The penny flute and other Irish instruments weave a legend with inspiring music and wonderfully timed photography and blends the natural world with the world of fantasy . IT is a beautiful story, gentle and sweet based on the novel.
It’s on Amazon Prime. It was filmed in 1994, and you may have seen it long ago. It really does need the big screen and good speakers that grab the gift of photography and music it shares.
Last Dance (TV Series). WOW. Watched the first episode last night. This is the Michael Jordan documentary.
For Life. (TV Series). This was inspired by the life of Issac Wright Jr. and is a fictional series about a legal and family drama. The main character is in prison and becomes a lawyer who helps other inmates while he fights his own sentence for a crime he did not commit.
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes) tells the story of an orthodox woman who flies from her arranged marriage to start a new life.
Broadchurch (TV Series). Incredible acting (especially by Olivia Colman–who I didn’t know has won numerous accolades including an Academy Award, three Golden Globes and SAG among others), cinematography, and sound are actually at the heart of this three season detective series taking place in England. Warning–the plot lines are dark but bring home the conflicts of the more disturbing aspects of real life.
Money Heist (TV Series) A crime drama from Spain about a group of thieves who rob Spain’s most secure financial institutions. The plot, though, weaves its way from politics to corruption to interpersonal relationships to create a four season TV series, with a fifth supposedly on way– that is a real “page-turner.”
TV Shows that come to mind – Fauda, Ozark, Peaky Blinders, The Witcher, Stranger Things, and Narcos (and all related series to Narcos).
Films – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,Venom, Zombie, Land Double Tap (cult following movie), The Irishman,Angel Has Fallen, Equalizer 1 and 2…
TV Shows: Ozark, Billions, Luther, and Workin’ Moms.
Both are crime dramas from UK. Dark but excellent acting.
Also enjoyed Rebellion (TV Series) and Normal People ( TV Series) – both set in Ireland.
The Money Heist (TV Series). Spanish with English subtitles and tells a most compelling story with incredible character development and absolutely thrilling and nail biting action. You will sans doute fall in love with every single character and marvel at the twists and turns in the plot. It was, interestingly, a flop in Spain but turned Europe and the U.S. on its ear as the trailer shows.
The Winslow Boy (Film) Based on a true story with a first rate cast that takes place in WWI England. It captures a period very different from our own but not so alien as to be unfamiliar. It has a great cast and, although the finale isn’t really ever in doubt, it is completely satisfying.
Self-Made: The Enduring Legacy of Madam CJ Walker (TV Series). 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 Neflix 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.
With all that is going on, I started watching some things about James Baldwin. A documentary called Take This Hammer. A PBS show called ThePrice of the Ticket. A movie called I Am Not Your Negro. It all started when a video came up on my computer about a debate he had with William F. Buckley at Cambridge.
Orphan Black (TV Series). By the time Lane and I finish (five seasons with 10 episodes each) we will have streamed all 50 episode on Amazon. The title has nothing to do with the current controversy about race
Wikimedia.org says: Orphan Black is a Canadian science fiction thriller television series created by screenwriter Graeme Manson and director John Fawcett, starring Tatiana Maslany …” Google “Orphan Black” for interesting information.
Lydia Hill Slaby:
Zoey’s Incredible Playlist (TV Series). I’m going through the slow loss of my father as he loses his memory and slowly his personality. This is a lovely (and funny) example of how another woman is handling the slow loss of her own father, which is why it was recommended to me in the first place.
Madame Secretary (TV Series). The relationship that Secretary McCord (Tea Leoni — who does a wonderful job) has with her husband (Tim Daly — also great) is a magnificent example of how a modern power couple can make it all work (life, family, job, passion, etc.), which is what pulled me into this show in the first place. But given the debacle that is now our foreign policy, it’s lovely to witness how an empathetic and strong diplomat navigates the waters. Yes, Hollywood, but the personality and compassionate driving force behind the decisions are more interesting than the scripted results.
Mike & Linda Weinroth:
A Place to Call Home (TV Series). We’ve been binge watching all 56 episodes and particularly enjoyed this series.
Unorthodox (Film – four episodes). Enjoyed this too.
Chernobyl (TV series). Gripping and clear, well-acted, at times intensely personal, much easier to understand than the book.
Line of Duty (TV Series). Thrilling contemporary crime series set in England. Edge of your chair stuff. Influenced by Helen Mirren’s series, below, which set the bar.
Prime Suspect (TV series – multiple years starting in 1992). All starring Helen Mirren and set in London. Amazing how contemporary they still feel. Sets the highest bar for police investigation drama. Deeply influential on later crime video and ilm efforts. Very good on evolution of the career of the main character.
Unorthodox (Film in four episodes). Superb acting; story of a young Hasidic wife who fled NYC for Europe to escape her community; culturally revelatory.
From her mother: “Samantha (age 4+) is very into The Little Mermaid (Film – animation).
One, thing that I really like is Netflex’s Queen of the South (TV Series). I am on the 4th year of episode’s and am terribly “hooked.” About a woman in Mexico from a poor background who becomes THE drug king (queen) of Mexico and moves to the USA (New Orleans). Great acting! Great show! I am hooked!
Watched Ozark (AmazonPrime TV series)….very good! About a dad in a family who gets the family in a real mess.
Watched Sneaky Pete in another TV Series on Amazon Prime about a con man who takes another man’s identity (from jail) and uses his identity. Great show!I loved it!
Da 5 Bloods (brand new Spike Film). About guys going back to Vietnam to bring back one of there guys and to find the ‘gold’ they left behind. It is their story. It is good but hard to watch! I loved it. But others did not!
Da 5 Bloodsis Spike Lee’s newest Film. It is an anguished retelling of the Vietnam War, it’s ramifications on those who fought it, and a plea that we should not forget who really suffered. Delroy Lindo gives an unbelievable performance as a Trump loving veteran suffering from profound PTSD. The movie is a bit long, and while it has some humor, it is a very serious film.
Last Tango in Halifax(TV Series). Ah, love among the older set. With a cast led by Derek Jacobi and Anne Reid, what could go wrong? Essentially a comedy, there is a lot to chew on, because the characters are very complex. There are three seasons on Netflix (and I think it is now on PBS), and there is at least one more season. Every now and then I wish we had put on subtitles; that Northern British accent can be hard to decipher.
A long time friend suggested that we try to do with at home movies & TV shows as we’re doing with our Favorite Reads posts. He, and others have said the same, is continuing to look for satisfying films and shows while he and his wife continue to spend most of their time at home.
As you may have noticed from some of our earlier posts about movies, we’re watching more than we ever have before. In fact, our son-in-law convinced us to get a smart TV, which is much smarter than we are, and sometimes even allows us to watch something we’ve identified that we might like.
So, let’s give it a shot:
Send in an email (Samesty84@gmail.com) titles of two movies or tv series that you have particularly enjoyed since you have been largely self-isolating at home.
Write up to two sentences about your choice(s), one about what the movie/show is about and one about why it was enjoyable for you (escapism, something new, thrilling, nostalgic, great story, good acting, etc.).
As soon as I get 15 responses, I’ll post what you send. And perhaps that will encourage others to do the same.
(PS – In addition to the above, Ellen and I will continue to post our movie reviews, as soon as we get enough to make for a decent post.
I don’t want to try to summarize Joe Posnaski’s blog this morning, other than to say it’s definitely worth the few minutes it will take you to read it. Don’t get lost on the details of his solution. Just focus on how he is thinking of a whole new way to imagine a 2020 baseball season.