Book Review: ‘Hidden Life of Trees’ brings awareness

While I obviously know trees are living things, I have never given much thought about their feelings, how they communicate, or what makes some thrive and others shrivel.

I actually winced at trimming branches on a tree after reading The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from A Secret World (William Collins, 2017). What kind of pain did I inflict all in the name of shaping it for my own pleasure instead of allowing the tree to grow how it wants?

That’s what happens to trees—humans get involved. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, sometimes out of good, sometimes out of selfishness.

Author Peter Wholleben is a forester, so he understands his subject matter well. He manages a beech forest in Germany.

I found the topic of trees as living, breathing entities incredibly interesting. It got me thinking about how I take them for granted for the most part. That’s not to say I don’t understand they are an important part of the ecosystem and environment, it’s just that I never thought about them as something other than an object.

I certainly have a greater appreciation for trees after finishing this book.

The only negative I have about the book is that I listened to it. The person who read it has a voice that was not engaging—I could tune it out. That was not a good thing.

It’s definitely a book that can be a bit much at times because of the subject matter. Still, I wish I would have read it instead of listened to it.

Book Review: Chasing dreams on a bike from Tahoe to Baja Sur

I know what it’s like to drive from Tahoe to Baja. Ride a bike? No way. You couldn’t pay me to do it.

Clearly, I’m not Alenka Vrecek. But I was eager to read her story.

In She Rides: Chasing Dreams Across California and Mexico (She Writes Press, 2023) Vrecek shares her story of riding from her primary home in Carnelian Bay on the North Shore of Tahoe to her second property in Baja California Sur in La Ventana near the Sea of Cortez.

It was more than just a bike ride, though. And that more is in large part what the first part of the book is about, while the ride itself is the second half. Without the personal struggles she was trying to overcome, the book would have been just another cyclist capitalizing on an interesting journey.

Vrecek, though, has a more complex story to share. It’s about growing up in Slovenia, life in Tahoe, husband troubles, finding true love, being a mom, working in the ski industry and wrecking her leg, cancer and Parkinson’s diagnoses in the family, and finally realizing a dream she had for herself for years.

She was 54 when she pedaled 2,524 miles and climbed 158,263 feet in 57 days in fall 2018.

Vrecek took a route through California and Baja that I was not always familiar with. While it was fun to read about her experiences in places I knew, it was the unknown roads that captured me the most. It proved there is a lot of terrain in both regions that I still have to explore.

Once in Mexico, she was mostly riding on the Baja Divide. This 1,700 mile off-pavement route that goes from San Diego to San Jose del Cabo was established in 2015-16 by Nicholas Carman and Lael Wilcox.

Vrecek had a lot of time to think about her life, why she was pushing her body so hard and what the future might be. That’s why this book is much more than a travelogue. It’s a journey of emotions and strife that had nothing to do with the ride.

While Vrecek had plenty of doubts and second thoughts about what she was doing, the overriding message was one of hope. The good in humanity came through loud and clear. We are introduced to many of the people she met along the way. They were like her unplanned support team.

Book in common brings community together

Reading Chico State’s book in common is the closest I get to being in a book club of any sort these days.

“The book in common is a shared, community read, designed to promote discussion and understanding of important issues facing the broader community. The book in common is chosen each year by a group of university faculty, staff, students and community members,” the university’s website says.

Clint Smith, right, answers questions from faculty members on April 11 at Chico State. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America (Back Bay Books, 2021) by Clint Smith was the 2023-24 book “we” all read. The culmination was earlier this month with Smith giving a talk to the community. Earlier in the day he spent time in classrooms.

What I liked about this book is that I learned so much without ever feeling like I was being lectured to. The book is about Smith’s experiences going to various places in the United States and Africa that have a connection to slavery. But it’s not just about him. It’s about the role those places played in our history and the impacts they continue to have.

The chapters cover Monticello, Whitney plantation, Angola prison, Blandford cemetery, Galveston and Juneteenth, New York City, Africa, and his family. I had not heard of all of these locations before.

The talk gave a depth to the book because the faculty asking the questions wanted to know about Smith’s research process, how he picked the places he went to, and so much more.

He also talked about needing to listen to understand why people believe what they believe. And how if certain people’s narrative changes, it changes who they are and how they think of their ancestors.

Smith gave such lengthy answers that not many questions were asked. But that was OK. What he had to say was worth listening to. What he wrote in this book is even more important.

Book review: Untold stories of ‘Founding Mothers’ of the U.S.

History seems to have forgotten so many women.

Fortunately, that is changing. More and more books are being written about the roles people other than white men have played throughout the years.

Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (William Morrow, 2004) by Cokie Roberts is one of those books.

I learned about women who I had never heard of as well as more details about those whose names that were familiar. The bonus is I now have a better understanding of the United States’ early years.

I was intrigued by how much the women were doing to keep their households and family businesses going while their husbands were either fighting the British and/or forming a new government, or in another country for years.

This was during a time when married women could not own land. As wives they were essentially property of their husband’s.

These realities, though, did not stop many from participating in shaping this new country. They didn’t keep opinions to themselves.

Nearly everyone mentioned in the book could and should have individual books written about them—just like their more famous husbands.

There were parts of the book that bored me a bit. Or maybe it was just that I was having a hard time keeping track of who was who. Still, I’m better off for having listened to this book.

Book Review: The doctor who wanted to cure the world

Paul Farmer was a man who wanted to change the world—and he did.

No one gets out of this world without being touched by some infectious disease. After all, we just lived through a pandemic.

AIDS and tuberculosis were two of the biggies Farmer dealt with. While he graduated from Harvard and was a professor there as well as chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, it’s his work in poor, rural communities in Haiti, Peru and even Russia that helped set him apart from colleagues doing similar work.

Tracy Kidder in his book Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World (Random House, 2003) travels with the doctor, witnessing his type of medicine firsthand.

(Farmer died in February 2022 at the age of 62.)

Farmer is no ordinary individual, no ordinary doctor. His was a calling to bring equity to the world through medicine.

While he didn’t do the work alone, in large part, though, it was his vision and his tenacity that changed policy, protocols and how people thought about diseases in rural areas.

I was captivated by learning about someone I did not know. Paul Farmer is a name worth knowing, and this is a book worth reading.

Book Review: ‘The Book of Hope’ delivers inspirational message

Hope can seem elusive when life seems so difficult.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times (Celadon Books, 2021) by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams, with Gail Hudson is the perfect balance of reality and hope. It doesn’t sugar coat what’s wrong with the world or offer unrealistic idealism. It’s not preachy.

Instead, the book offers hope. It demonstrates so many instances of hope being realized. Most important, it explains why it’s important to remain hopeful.

I listened to the book, which made the format for how it’s written seem to be even better. It’s like Goodall and Abrams are having a conversation. I felt like I was in the room as they shared their thoughts, making it seem almost intimate.

Goodall’s four reasons for hope are: the amazing human intellect, the resilience of nature, the power of young people, and the indomitable human spirit.

She talks about how she became a messenger of hope, how she maintains hope and why it’s necessary to for us all to embrace this four-letter word.

The book really was uplifting.

Book Review: ‘Necessary Trouble’ a riveting coming of age book

As a history professor and former president of Harvard University, Drew Gilpin Faust has her own history of coming of age in the United States in the 1960s.

Necessary Trouble: Growing Up at Midcentury (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2023) is a tale of what it was like being a young person in a segregated town to fighting for equality—this as a white woman.

She came from privilege, from a conservative family, where the hired help were Black. Race wasn’t discussed. Class wasn’t a topic.

Faust started to see the inequities while still at home, but it was at bordering school and college where her eyes were fully opened. Soon she was on a path of activism.

The book is about the divide between generations, between genders, and certainly between whites and people of color.

While these topics are not new, they haven’t been resolved as far as many of us are concerned. Faust puts a human face, so to speak, to this history that we are still grappling with.

I was captivated listening to the book, especially since Faust read it. Her story is definitely worth reading/listening to. I am sure everyone will learn something from it; if only to perhaps to have some fundamental lessons about race relations underscored.

Book Review: NPR host Ari Shapiro becomes the subject

While I have NPR as a preset button, I’m not a regular listener. I can’t list the popular hosts. Nor can I tell you how Ari Shapiro’s debut book ended up on my list of books to read. But I’m glad it did.

Even better is that I listened to The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening (HarperOne, 2023) because Shapiro read it. What a voice. But I’m guessing some of you already know his voice since he is one of the hosts of NPR’s All Things Considered.

This is more than another journalist’s memoir. It’s about the people and issues Shapiro has covered as a radio broadcaster. It’s about taking a unique path to his occupation. It’s about being gay. It’s about being a performer. It’s about life.

One of the things I really liked about the book is that is sounded so honest. Shapiro allows himself to be vulnerable. He admits insecurities. He admits mistakes.

It’s not everyone who can cover hard news and features.

With all journalists, the best skill is to be able to listen, and then let the story evolve no matter what the original idea was. Shapiro even talks about these concepts.

It’s hard to imagine someone who would not thoroughly enjoy this book. Well, those who thought the massacre at the Pulse nightclub was OK, they probably aren’t going to want to read this book. Shapiro’s account of this tragedy is gripping.

He is definitely a great storyteller, and his story was worth telling.

Book Review: Author says to do these things in Reno before you die

Anyone who says you must do or see something before you die is setting herself to be second-guessed at the minimum, probably ridiculed and chastised, even slandered and libeled the way people are so vicious these days.

Mikalee Byerman is so confident in her recommendations that she recently released the second edition of 100 Things to Do in Reno Before You Die (Reedy Press, 2023).

I’m no expert on Reno, so I’m not going to judge whether she should have excluded one thing or included something else. I’m not sure even if I were a self-proclaimed expert on Reno, that it would matter. Books like this are subjective. Titles like this are attention grabbers.

That’s not to say the contents aren’t worth reading. They are. In fact, this would be an excellent resource for anyone in the Reno area. It ought to be in guest rooms.

I had fun reading it. I learned about places I had never heard of, and it had me shaking my head in agreement about some places that I would say are definitely worthy of seeing or doing.

The book’s chapters are: Food and Drink, Music and Entertainment, Sports and Recreation, Culture and History, Shopping and Fashion. She even has a segment on Activities by Season, and Suggested Itineraries.

While the bulk of the book focuses on Reno, Byerman also recommends a few things in Sparks, Carson City, Virginia City and the Lake Tahoe Basin.

Climate scientist speaking in Tahoe challenges everyone to do more

“We are on the path of the sixth great extinction, which will be us. That is my book is called Saving Us.”

Those are the words of Katharine Hayhoe—a climate scientist who is the chief scientist for the Nature Conservancy.

I finished listening to her book Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World (One Signal Publishers, 2021) days before I heard her speak at Lake Tahoe Community College on Jan. 23.

Climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe speaks Jan. 23 in South Lake Tahoe. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

She was in Tahoe giving talks on the North and South shores to the general public. What brought her to Tahoe was Operation Sierra Storm, the annual meteorologists’ conference.

“Climate change is taking old problems and amplifying them,” Hayhoe said at her talk. “The extremes are changing.”

That’s why 500-year floods are happening every three years. Weather disasters are on steroids.

It’s Hayhoe’s ability to tell a story verbally and in writing that captivates the non-scientist. Sure, she has plenty of data to share, but her message to lay people is more about conveying the importance of talking about climate change and the need to find common ground.

She said the No. 1 predictor about whether someone believes in climate change isn’t their education, it’s where they fall on the political spectrum. That worries her and others because the issue is not political, it’s real, and it’s affecting everyone no matter their political beliefs.

Even so, Hayhoe said it’s possible to find common ground with someone across the political aisle—it could be talking about the algae in Lake Tahoe, declining snowpack, installing solar, eating less meat, or over a slew of other issues.

It’s about finding common values with others, then becoming a collective force for the better.

One slide in her presentation said we need to bond “over concerns and values that we genuinely share” and we need to connect “the dots between those values and how climate change affects us and things we already care about.” She said from those discussions we will inspire “each other with positive, practical solutions we can engage in that are compatible with our values.”

She was quick to share: “There is no perfect solution and there is no one solution.” But doing nothing is definitely not the answer.

When scientists talk about the earth warming 2 degrees it can seem like an insignificant amount. Hayhoe pointed out how when our body temperature is 2 degrees higher than normal we are sick. That’s what is happening to the planet—it’s getting sicker as it warms.

“Nature doesn’t need us, we need it,” Hayhoe said. She added, the planet will orbit with or without us.

We need the planet to provide us with our water, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the materials we need to make things. However, the course we are on will make this planet uninhabitable.

That’s why her book is called Saving Us. If climate change is not slowed, halted and reversed, it’s humans (and other plant and animal life) that will disappear, not the planet itself.


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