Book Review: Learning about John Bidwell and California
Some books are difficult to get through, but are important to finish.
In this case, I wanted to know more about John Bidwell, the white man credited with founding Chico. After all, there were plenty of Indians calling this swath of California home before he arrived by wagon train so it’s hard to say he discovered the area. It was also part of Mexico when he first came west.
What might make this book appealing to those who have no connection to Chico is all of the California history. Bidwell’s contribution to the state’s agricultural industry is well documented here and elsewhere.
John Bidwell & California: The Life & Writings of a Pioneer 1841-1900 (Arthur H. Clark Company, 2004) by Michael J. Gillis and Michael F. Magliari in some ways is like two books in one.
Each chapter starts with the authors telling something about Bidwell like his life in politics (he was in Congress), his interactions with Indians and the Chinese, the Gold Rush and so much more. The second half of the chapter is Bidwell’s writings on the chapter subject.
I would recommend skipping the first chapter. If you have read anything about wagon trains crossing into California, this will just bore you and might have you putting down the book for good.
Another way to approach the book might be just to read what the authors wrote or just Bidwell’s writing. Together there is a lot of repetition. While this is clearly not an overwhelming recommendation of the book, for anyone interested in learning about Bidwell or California, this is a very informative book.
Book Review: ‘Dinners with Ruth’ underlines importance of friendship
Showing up is one of the most significant ways to measure a friendship—as in you and your friend being there for each other in good and bad times.
Like all relationships, friendship comes with a series of ups and downs. That’s because life is a roller coaster. True friends are along for the entire ride.
In the book Dinners with Ruth: A Memoir on the Power of Friendships (Simon and Schuster, 2022) Nina Totenberg delves into a life of friendship, not just with Ruth Bader Ginsburg. This gave the book more depth than I was anticipating.
I had only heard good things about Dinners with Ruth from friends. But I really didn’t know anything about the book.
The title is a bit misleading. If you are expecting a book just about Ginsburg and Totenberg, you might be disappointed. I think the title was a bit of a marketing ploy. The subtitle is really what the book is about, with Ginsburg a major player in Totenberg’s life.
I was thrilled to learn more about Totenberg than Ginsburg. Totenberg at age 79 is still the legal affairs correspondent for NPR. She has been covering the U.S. Supreme Court for decades—long before Ginsburg joined the bench. They weren’t well-known and famous when their friendship was formed.
It’s not unusual for journalists to become friends with sources. The only way for it to work, though, is for both people to respect the boundaries of their jobs. Sometimes this means you don’t tell your friends everything—whether you are the journalist or the source. And it means you don’t ask certain questions.
This book resonated with me on many levels. It seems like the older I get the more important friends are to me.
Book Review: ‘Davos Man’ Reveals How Billionaires Hurt Everyone Else
Some books make me want to scream and throw things. They can also make me feel powerless, like I’m being used. And some are educational.
Davos Man: How the Billionaires Devoured the World (Custom House, 2022) was all of those things and then some.
Author Peter Goodman is the global economics correspondent for the New York Times. He tells the history of how wealthy individuals have shaped the world to cater to their needs, and how it continues to happen.
Politicians seem to be like putty in their hands—politicians of both parties.
This book was tough to listen to at times; no so much the complexity, but how the average person is duped by the billionaires. It’s not that all of this was new to me, but having it spelled out so clearly, well, it gave me a better understanding of how the public is screwed on a regular basis by those with the most money.
It’s not just people in the United States getting fleeced and used, this practice is a worldwide phenomenon.
Goodman uses captivating stories about the “average” person and how they are affected by the actions of Davos Man. It’s not a pretty scenario.
Those of who are not billionaires are paying the price.
This is an essential read (or listen) for those who want a better understanding of the economy (think health care and taxes) and how actions of billionaires and politicians really do affect our everyday lives.
Book Review: ‘Stay True’ a memoir about friendship
Friendship. It’s really what Stay True (Doubleday, 2022) is all about.
It’s also about Hua Hsu coming of age in the 1990s in the Bay Area, what it means to be a second generation Taiwanese-American, and life as a college student at Berkeley.
Today, he is a college professor in his mid-40s. But that’s not what his memoir is about. It’s mostly about those formative undergraduate years.
This is such a poignant story because Hsu took copious notes in his journal when he was younger. This allowed him to write a deeper, more authentic recollection of this time in his life that mere memories could not have conveyed.
I had not read anything about the book, so I didn’t know the twists and turns it would take. It was another recommendation from a year-end list of books; this time I think from PBS.
At times I wasn’t sure why I was listening to this memoir. And yet I kept listening. Hsu’s words captivated me. His story grew on me. I started to care about him and his friends.
I should have been ready for the pivotal moment. But I wasn’t.
We all have a story or two or three to tell that others would benefit from hearing or reading about. We have significant people who come into our lives. Some who stay, some who don’t. Whether they physically remain, they are impactful and make us who we are.
Perhaps this book hit me more because I finished it the weekend before going to a friend’s memorial. A friend who was only a couple years older than me. Maybe it gripped me because I finished it a few days before another friend’s birthday, a friend who really isn’t a friend anymore for reasons that are still a bit inexplicable.
Friendship is a universal concept. That alone is why most people will be able to identify with this book.
Book review: ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ a delicious read
It’s rare for me to find a book where I like all of the characters. Well, I didn’t like them all in this particular book because some were just incredibly hateful people. But they had relevance to the story line. They weren’t thrown in in a nonsensical way. That’s why I liked all the characters.
The dog, Six-Thirty, is off the charts wonderful.
As most of you know, fiction is not a favorite genre of mine. But Lessons in Chemistry (Doubleday, 2022) by Bonnie Garmus reaffirms novels can be captivating, have a poignant message, and can be entertaining and captivating.
It was interesting listening to this book after finishing Gloria Steinem’s collection of works. This book by Garmus is about women’s rights in a similar, but different way—after all, it is fiction. It’s set in the early 1960s when there were few career options open for women.
Elizabeth Zott, the main character, is a chemist who finds one obstacle after another to realizing her intellectual potential. The early sexual assault is necessary. Push through it and the rest of the story is compelling.
Not only is the story line interesting, but the writing is great. It was definitely a book that I didn’t want to end.
A bonus to having listened to the book is there was an interview with the author at the end.
Ideas for helping every author you know or like
I’m often asked what my next book will be about. I smile and say I have a couple of ideas. Which is true.
It’s also true that being an author is not the route to becoming wealthy except for a handful of people. It doesn’t matter if you go the indie route or a publishing company.
That’s why I haven’t started the next book. The bills are getting paid with my freelance and massage work. In other words, the book writing is extra work after everything else is done. And that’s fine. It’s my choice. It’s not a complaint.
What would make things easier is if I had more book sales. That goes for all authors. So, I have a couple ideas for how you can help every author that you know. And this goes for ones you don’t know, but like and want to support.
Write reviews—and make sure they are 5-star reviews. Reviews help drive sales. They influence other readers. In fact, write those reviews for people who are selling anything. It helps them, too.
Cut and paste what you wrote and put it on every applicable site—Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and every other place you can think of.
Those negative reviews you like to write. Stop. Or at least stop and think before you hit post. Maybe a call or email directly to the person or business would be more effective than public condemnation. This is true for opinions about books, restaurants, and other purchases.
There are snarky people out there who want to hurt those of us selling products online. The day my latest book (Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico) was available on Amazon—so before anyone actually had the book in hand—someone left a 1-star rating. No words accompanied the rating, so no actual review. I’m guessing it was from someone who doesn’t like me. (Still plenty of those people in Tahoe. Such are the hazards of being an honest journalist.) Nonetheless, it drags down my overall rating.
If someone really thinks the book is worthy of only 1 star, that would be different. After all, when I was in a book club I gave a book all zeros. So, I understand not everyone is going to like every book. But I didn’t post my thoughts online. I understand the work involved to write a book and applaud anyone who does so.
Speaking of book clubs, that’s another way to help authors. Choose your friends’ books. Or maybe once a year choose a local author.
Last year a book club in Todos Santos, Mexico, read Sleeping with Strangers and then I was able to be the guest author. This was so much fun for all of us.
A club in Chico is reading the book this month. I know because I hand delivered the books. I’m hoping other clubs are reading it, too.
If I can’t attend in person, I could do so via Zoom if you wanted. It never hurts to ask any author to be an integral part of your book club.
Oh, and it comes to sharing books. Well, I understand that helps you financially, but it does nothing for the author. Sorry, just had to put that out there.
The most important thing is to keep reading books. Support authors. Support bookstores.
The irony in writing the last sentence is that sales through bookstores is where I make the least amount of money, unless I’ve supplied the store with the books. But they are who I want to support. A society without bookstores, well, that is a depressing thought.
So, after you buy your next book at your local bookstore, go write a 5-star review about the store and then another 5-star review about the book.
Book Review: Gloria Steinem’s words as relevant today as in 1983
It’s not a good thing when you read a book that came out 40 years ago and the same problems outlined within the pages are still happening today.
I found Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983) by Gloria Steinem to be a page turner. This is a collection of articles of which all but two had been previously published. So, in reality, the words are even older than 40 years.
Anyone who cares about women’s rights—which should be everyone no matter gender or age—is bound to get something out of this book. It’s educational by it’s subject matter. It’s sad because of how far we have not come. It’s timely because the same rights she has spent a lifetime fighting for are evaporating seemingly every day.
Steinem has a way with words that grabs the reader even when writing about difficult subjects. And she is so incredibly creative when things are little less serious.
In this collection of works are five essays about women you all have probably heard of, but maybe have not read the sentiments conveyed by Steinem. The subchapters are titled: Marilyn Monroe: The woman who died too soon; Patricia Nixon flying; The real Linda Lovelace; Jackie reconsidered; and Alice Walker: Do you know this woman? She knows you.
Walter Cronkite, remember, the book came out four decades ago, wrote this about the book, “For those of us who have long admired Gloria Steinem’s reportorial and writing skills, there has been concern that this side of persona had taken a back seat to her activism as a feminist. Now we have proof that nothing has been lost, for she has combined her talents and her advocacy here in what surely must be the definitive philosophical and historical work about this movement that, belatedly, has transformed our society.”
Sadly, 40 years later this book is relevant and should be read by women and men so one equality might be achieved.
Book Review: ‘The Year of the Puppy’ great for dog lovers
It’s usually a definitive “no” when it comes to books and movies about dogs. I’m emotionally unable to deal with any sadness even when the dogs aren’t my own.
The Year of the Puppy: How Dogs Become Themselves (Penguin Random House, 2022) was different.
On some year-end review of best books this one came up. I decided to give it a try. So glad I did.
You are going to have to like dogs—a lot—to like this book. You are also going to have to be interested in the development of puppies.
Author Alexandra Horowitz’s main job is as a professor and researcher of dog cognition. This gives her a different point-of-view compared to others who have or might want to write on the same or similar topic.
It’s a little geeky at times. And while science has never been my best subject, I was never lost. And just as I might be getting a tad bored, Horowitz snatched me back. That’s one of the things I liked about the book—the balance of science with more humanistic tales.
It also made me realize how little I knew about the development of puppies. When I was in first or second grade the family dog had six puppies. I wasn’t involved in the birthing process or their care—at least I have no memory. My dog, Bailey, came into my life as a puppy, but I don’t even remember potty training her. I deferred to my ex who had done such things before.
I’m not sure I’m ready to have a puppy again, but I know if I ever do, I will think a little bit more about her early needs and development.
Horowitz explains the development of canines and compares them to humans—who are much slower in the big picture. The analogies helped. Especially the teen-age years of a canine; when most dog owners might think they should be adults and they aren’t.
It’s this stage when many dogs are surrendered to shelters because of “behavioral” problems, according to Horowitz. And while human parents might like to surrender their teenagers, they can’t. Maybe dog owners shouldn’t be allowed to either. Dog parents need to learn the stages of their dogs and how to get through the difficult times.
Even as a dog expert Horowitz admits to having learned so much by bringing a puppy into her home.
This was a much more interesting book than I expected.
Book Review: The grandma who made the Appalachian Trail famous
Walking more than 2,000 miles in tennis shoes, camping without a sleeping bag or tent, no stove to cook food, no GPS. None of that mattered to Emma Gatewood.
Well, it mattered to some extent, but the lack of what we would consider necessary provisions to hike the Appalachian Trail didn’t deter her.
Her story comes to life in the book Grandma Gatewood’s Walk: The Inspiring Story of the Woman Who Saved the Appalachian Trail (Chicago Review Press Incorporated, 2014) by Ben Montgomery.
Gatewood at age 67 became the first woman to through hike the Appalachian Trail. This was in 1955.
This year marks 50 years since she died. And this is the first time I have heard about her. She got a glancing, unflattering mention in Bill Bryson’s book A Walk In The Woods: Rediscovering America On The Appalachian Trail. I didn’t remember it until Montgomery mentioned it.
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk just keeps getting better. The abuse at the hands of her husband was necessary to understood some of the obstacles that Gatewood overcame. I’m glad I pushed through that part. I enjoyed the second half of the book much more than the first.
But the first is necessary to understand Gatewood. After all, this isn’t a book just about the trail. It’s about Gatewood and her experiences on the trail, as well as what was going on in the world during her excursion. That makes it a bit of history piece, too.
She is credited with bringing worldwide attention to the trail that goes from Georgia to Maine. Now thousands of hikers do part or all of the Appalachian Trail each year.
Anyone who has an interest in hiking is bound to enjoy this read.
‘Sleeping with Strangers’ book reading in S. Lake Tahoe
Everyone seems to have an opinion about vacation rentals. But what is it actually like to live in the same house with these travelers?
I answer that question and so many others in my latest book Sleeping with Strangers: An Airbnb Host’s Life in Lake Tahoe and Mexico.
I will be speaking Jan. 24 at 5:30pm at the South Lake Tahoe Library (1000 Rufus Allen Blvd.) as a guest of the local chapter of Friends of the Library. The event is free.
After the reading I will be selling and signing books. Sleeping with Strangers is $20. I will also have copies of my other books Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks ($20), Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks ($10), and The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes ($15). Cash or Venmo will be accepted.
If you can’t make it to the South Lake Tahoe Friends of the Library event, the books are available at various locations throughout the greater Lake Tahoe area, can be ordered through your favorite bookstore, or purchased online.