Gardening is something I have dabbled in—flowers and vegetables. But it’s not a passion. I don’t have a garden now. When I was in Mexico my sister paid a gardener; though on occasion I pitched in where needed. I drove by my old house in Tahoe where I had paid for new front landscaping a few years before I sold the property. Two things I loved most about it were the spiral herb garden and the flowers that were planted to attract butterflies and humming birds. All of that landscaping had been dug up. I was heartbroken to see bare dirt.
Reading “Out in the Garden: Growing a Beautiful Life” (HarperCollins, 2002) by Dean Riddle helped get me out of the funk I had about my former front garden.
This is the story of Riddle’s evolution in the gardening business. The focus is his own garden, the humble beginnings, experiments with plants and pots, and how this garden is an extension of him.
For those who garden, there is a ton of advice. But this can’t be described as a how-to book, even though Riddle tells you how to do plenty of things. For the non-gardener, this is a story of life with a garden as a focal point.
Riddle is a storyteller, which makes the book poignant and worth picking up day after day. It’s a story of how his family and friends connected to his garden, thus creating an even more complex, emotional attachment to that living oasis outside his home.
This book was a perfect read while we were all supposed to be sheltering in place. It was a reminder of the work involved in tending to a garden, the satisfaction that comes from toiling in the soil, and the reminder a garden can be a place to meditate alone or share with others.
No one said life is easy. But it should be fair—at least most of the time. Being born any color other than white makes life so much more difficult and less fair from Day 1.
In his book “How to be an Antiracist” (Random House, 2019) Ibram X. Kendi takes readers on a journey from his childhood to the time the book was published. His path included the realization that he was being prejudice against other Black people. But we all know the real racism is whites toward others; in his case Blacks.
“The United States is a racist nation because its policymakers and polices have been racist from the beginning,” Kendi writes. He further states, “Americans have long been trained to see the deficiencies of people rather than policy.”
Instances where this statement are proven true are strewn throughout the book. While there is plenty of personal aspects to the book, Kendi weaves in a multitude of scenarios and facts to prove his beliefs.
Kendi is the founding director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, as well as professor of history and international relations, author, and columnist for The Atlantic.
All but one of the 18 chapters is one word. They are: Definitions, Dueling Consciousness, Power, Biology, Ethnicity, Body, Culture, Behavior, Color, White, Black, Class, Space, Gender, Sexuality, Failure, Success, and Survival. I mention them because Kendi dissects each topic in a captivating, probing manner that got me to think. I appreciated his perspective on the entire topic and each chapter.
This book was read by my Wine, Women and Wisdom book club. Our discussions are often thought-provoking, bringing out the larger subject matter as opposed to worrying about whether the book has literary merit or you would recommend the book. (Those were criteria in my last book club.)
Some of our comments:
We are either a multicultural nation or not; it needs to be reflected in school curriculum.
Black and brown people are not able to socially distance because of their jobs.
Boston declared racism a public health crisis.
When talking about racism ask a person to define racism.
So many people don’t know their ideas are racist.
Advocating for change isn’t supposed to be easy.
Are you really an ally if it’s only convenient for you?
Not profound per se, but a simple statement that led to further discussion by the group that helped us probe deeper, and understand ourselves and the world a little more.
Even though “Bushwhacked: Life in George W. Bush’s America” (Vintage Books, 2003) came out during his presidency, it is relevant today because of the history lesson it provides.
The late Molly Ivins wrote this bestseller with Lou Dubose. She uses her clever way with words to capture some of the more underhanded tactics of Bush when he was governor of Texas as well as president of the United States. Ivins, as a journalist with roots in Texas, had a front row seat to much of Bush’s political career. She was a well-respected writer with the New York Times, a syndicated columnist, and was twice nominated for a Pulitzer.
These days people talk about how it would be nice to have someone like Bush back in the White House instead of the current occupant. Reading this book will jolt sense back into people to remember how life wasn’t so good then either.
The corruption is mind blowing. The ineptness despicable. The cavalier attitude toward those less fortunate criminal. The lack of regard for the environment shameful. I could keep going.
What is great about “Bushwhacked” is that Ivins weaves such serious topics in an entertaining, captivating manner. Her writing is superb. By telling the story of real people she shows how policies impact people. She shows how greed corrupts.
For some this will be a refresher about the Bush years, for others it will be a history lesson. Topics include Enron, food processing legislation, education policy, Saddam Hussein and Iraq, cronyism, consequences of tax cuts, superfund sites, and the politicization of the judicial system. This should be a must a read before the November election.
Travel is such a wonderful way to escape, to learn, to test one-self. Sometimes, though, it is necessary to live vicariously through others. That’s what I did by reading “Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul: Stories of Adventure, Inspiration and Insight to Celebrate the Spirit of Travel” (Health Communications, 2002).
This is a compilation of stories by a slew of writers. It was the perfect thing to read in April while I was mostly staying at home because of the coronavirus. It seemed like my attention span wasn’t great then; all the more reason this was good reading. Normally, a book of short stories or essays is not my preferred reading. This time it worked.
Some of the writers are household names like Maya Angelou and Charles Kuralt, while most are not. Details about the contributors are included in the back of the book.
What made the book interesting is these missives were non-traditional travel stories. That captured my attention even more. Some were sad—like the child killed in a random shooting. But the story is so touching in how his organs were donated. The family was traveling in Italy when this occurred. Another was about a woman traveling to Nicaragua. She took a picture of a woman and brought it to her after it was the developed. The woman wasn’t sure who she was in the picture. She’d never seen herself before—no previous photographs, no mirrors in her world.
In many ways these are slice of life stories. The writers often shared what we might take for granted as actually being a huge deal in someone else’s life. It’s about pausing to appreciate the nuances of life, of travel, and most of all the personal interactions with others.
Drug lords, murder, a U.S. presidential campaign, love, family intrigue – “Borderland” (Wildblue Press, 2017) has it all and then some.
Author Peter Eichstaedt weaves a tale in this novel that while at times is formulaic, at other times offers unexpected plot twists. It is a fast read about life on the border. But it’s so much more than that. The main character is drawn back to the U.S.-Mexico border where he grew up after his father is killed. His newspaper editor in Washington, D.C., allows him the freedom to pursue this personal story.
While Eichstaedt has the credentials as a journalist to write such a story to make it believable, the book could have used better editing.
It was hard to read this after having read his book “Dangerous Divide,” which I so enjoyed. It was a true story looking at U.S.-Mexico border issues. Then again, I prefer nonfiction over fiction. For those who like murder mysteries, “Borderland” is sure to please.
The novel coronavirus forced the cancellation of all of my spring book signings. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t get a signed copy of any of my books. Even better, I am waving the postage through July 2020.
For those who would like a signed copy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with “want a book” in the subject line. The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes is $15, Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks is $10 and Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks is $20. The latter is a combination of the hiking and snowshoe books. All books are available at local bookstores and other retail outlets. If it’s not in stock, bookstores can order them.
To find out more about my books, join in the remote presentation on June 24 at 5pm sponsored by the Truckee Library. Register online in advance. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the presentation. The talk will be about hiking and snowshoeing in the greater Lake Tahoe area.
“The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” took me on an unexpected journey. Perhaps it touched me more as I keep hearing of stories of how music is helping bring people together during the pandemic.
This book by Mitch Albom (HarperCollins Publishers, 2016) is told from the perspective of music. Music is a talent who chooses certain people at birth, at least according to the author. It’s up to the person to develop the talent and do as they wish with it.
The main character, Frankie Presto, is an orphan in Spain. His life intersects with those of many famous musicians—Elvis, Darlene Love, Duke Ellington, Kiss, Tony Bennett and so many others.
Albom proves everyone will join a band. “As life goes on, you will join other bands, some through friendship, some through romance, some through neighborhoods, school, an army. Maybe you will all dress the same, or laugh at your own private vocabulary. Maybe you will flop on couches backstage, or share a boardroom table, or crowd around a galley inside a ship. But in each band you join, you will play a distinct part, and it will affect you as much as you affect it. And, as is usually the fate with bands, most of them will break up—through distance, differences, divorce, or death.”
While this is a work of fiction, it is believable in how the power of music could take hold of those have been touched by this talent whether they possess it or are listeners who appreciate it. The book is multidimensional with the story of the boy who becomes a man, his families, the world at that time and human behavior.