There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job ~ by Kikuko Tsumato

I read this specifically because August is “Women In Translation” month.  I read three other books earlier this year which could have done it and two of them were also by Japanese writers, but I wanted something new.  Fwiw, I really enjoyed the others, too, they were: 

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori. 

Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto translated by Ann Sherif

The  Discomfort of Evening  by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison. 

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job
by Kikuko Tsumato
Translated by Polly Barton 
2020 – 405 pages
Read by Cindy Kay 
Rating: 8.5 / contemporary fiction

There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job is the story of a single, 36-year old woman who has left a job due to a nervous breakdown and is now working at temporary jobs. The book follows her through five different temporary jobs, each of which is a few weeks or months long and none of which really fit.  When she leaves her original job she’s almost allergic to stress but over time it seems like she takes it on herself.  Overall, it’s almost more like a book of connected short stories in which the tension builds gradually.  

The jobs she works at include surveillance of a probable smuggler, writing ads to go in a bus service, working at a rice-cracker company, putting up posters for community services, and a ticket-puncher at a museum/park. She comes across some underhandedness, there’s maybe some magic hinted at and then there are some investigations.  Strange and surprising things happen at each job and as time passes and she changes – as would be expected. 

https://www.npr.org/2021/03/25/980832546/theres-no-such-thing-as-an-easy-job-takes-gentle-aim-at-japans-work-culture

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Another Kind of Eden – by James Lee Burke

This is a new book in the Hackberry Family / Holland Family series.  I’ve been reading these books for many years but at this point it’s only as they come out.  I’m tempted to go back and reread some of them.  

Another Kind of Eden
by James Lee Burke
2021 /
read by Will Patton 6h 19m
rating: A / crime
(Hackberry / Holland series which aren’t necessarily in chronological order.)


Actually, someone mentioned Neon Rain on the 4-Mystery Addicts list and that got me thinking but within a day I discovered this new Holland Family book by Burke. Oh yes!!!

Back in 1995 or so I discovered In the Electric Mist with Confederate Deadwith Confederate Dead and I’ve been stuck on James Lee Burke ever since. But the first Holland Family book was probably Cinnamon Rose back in 2000 or so. Then I found Lay Down My Sword and Shield which was first published in 1971 (?) but ereleased and I’ve kept up with the Holland stories.  I’ve actually only kept up since I got online with Amazon in 1996 – then I could easily get the books I wanted, pronto!

 I like the Dave Robicheaux books best, but the Holland books are close except for one thing – more below but maybe also I just got used to Clyde Purcell (Robicheaux’s sidekick) and am more familiar with the the characters of that series. 

Anyway! This time we have Aaron Holland Broussard again and now it’s the 1960s.  He was featured in The Jealous Kind which was set in Houston of the 1950s. Aaron is the grandson of the elder Hackberry Holland who was in The House of the Rising Sun. From what I gather, between books Aaron went to college and studied writing because he talks about that.

And Hackberry Holland-the-younger was in Rain Gods where, after serving in Korea, he became a lawyer and finds the bones of Korean women buried in a remote cemetery in South Texas.   https://bookpage.com/interviews/8105-james-lee-burke-mystery-suspense#.YSJGVC1h3L8

These are great:
https://www.texasmonthly.com/arts-entertainment/ripped-from-the-bloodlines/https://www.bookseriesinorder.com/hackberry-holland/

So much for all that.  In “Another Kind of Eden” it’s the early 1960s and Aaron Holland Broussard is out of college.(It’s mentioned that his father was from Bayou Teche which happens to wind east of New Iberia which is the general location of the Dave Robicheaux books).  Now he’s riding the rails (instead of the range like his great-grandfather Holland) and looking for a novel to write.  He’s working rather lamely at various places in Colorado where he finds himself caught up with some “beatniks” and drugs and some ugly trouble and a bit of mysticism as well as love with an artist . There’s a pretty good mystery plot in there, too, btw, fwiw. Heh.

The books all use what is essentially the same theme, good vs gritty evil.  And they all have the metaphor drenched prose Burke is known for, the settings change is all.

In the Robicheaux novels the plot is soaked in incredible Biblical type prose with some Arthurian legend thrown in and set in the lush Louisiana Bayou country. For the Holland novels the setting is in the deserts of Texas, Colorado and Mexico.  The prose works much better in the setting of Spanish Oaks and sugar cane with a lazy river winding through it – that might just be me, the desert setting also works as a rendition of hell, but that’s a bit stretched.

 The Holland family stories are more historical and they’re based on Burke’s family history. These books are basically all stand-alones but the characters are connected in the background.  

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Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgement ~ by Kahneman, Sibony, Sunstein

This book could have been a textbook in one of my graduate courses in Public Administration. It’s well enough written and enjoyable IF you are motivated to read it.  For most readers, it’s  not a book to cozy up with on a stormy night. It’s pretty much straight forward reporting of the problems we have with decision-making and using good examples to demonstrate.  The all-nonfiction reading group chose it for the month of September, 2021 and that’s why I read it.  

Noise:  A Flaw
in Human Judgement 

by Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony, Cass Sunstein
2020 / 386 pgs 
Read by Jonathan Todd Ross 
Rating: 7 / Social Psychology
(Both read and listened)

But it got a few good reviews and it sold well because of Kahneman’s name and his own book, “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow.”  He won the Nobel prize in economics (2002) and Michael Lewis wrote a biography (“The Undoing Project,” 2018) of him and his long-term work-mate, Amos Tversky.  

I think the major thrust of “Noise” is to answer the question of how to reduce errors in judgement which are due to “noise.”  This noise in various forms shows up all manner of activities,  medicine, law, business, education, investing and insurance adjusting to name a few.  

Why do “experts” disagree? Why do studies disagree and show different outcomes? What are the “noisy” errors? Why do interviewers choose the candidate they do? There are many kinds of judgmental decisions.  When extraneous material gets is used or information is used the wrong way or is not consistent, the Kahneman book calls it Noise. 

 I was actually bored up to Chapter 4 because it was virtually all information I already knew- thank goodness these chapters were short.   In Chapter 5 there was new material and the presentation was clear and well organized so I decided to finish it.  (The book is a recent release – it includes mention of Covid-19.)

Because I studied this in my college days eons ago (personnel) and I worked with parts of it throughout my career (educational testing) and the reading groups I was involved with. This made it quite relevant to something I’d done. But the forensics, courtroom and medical parts were certainly not boring even if I had never been involved with those fields.

But although much of the information is old, it does need to be repeated because a lot of people don’t believe it and think their gut-level or intuitive judgement is better than mechanical ways. These folks resist change.  Or there are workers who demand to be able to make judgement calls in some instances. And then too, sometimes we just have to make judgement calls.  Do we need rules or standards to get these things accomplished?

Rules and standards are different things – rules mandate behavior, standards are more like guidelines. That comes at the end and it’s very interesting – I’ve thought some of it, but Kahneman’s book clarified it and put it into words.  Like how carefully some things have to be worded. 

Meanwhile some behaviors have changed – I’ve not been or heard of a solo job interview in years. They’re all done by panel and use pre-formatted questions.  At school we had a dual grading system, similar to what was presented in the book, and that usually worked quite well. The reading groups I belonged to used a “mean” for the averaged ratings, but we could see where some readers generally rated higher than others and I’m sure there was some personal internal inconsistency quite often (“I was in a bad mood.”) .   

The thing which made it really like a grad school social science textbook was the reliance on new vocabulary. (Science and social science books seem to do that.) Also, like a textbook, there were little “summary” sections at the end of each chapter. The graphs and tables were helpful as were the appendices.   

The book itself is long and it tends to get repetitive and the style changes along the way,  but there are three authors, so of coarse these things happen when you actually produce something together.  But it’s all good information for folks working in academic or situations which call for evaluative or policy decision making, especially by groups.  A lot of these people know what’s written out here – it’s time they put it to fuller use.

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The Windsor knot ~ by S.J. Bennett

What a waste.  This is the first book of a series I’ll be skipping.  

The Windsor Knot  
by S.J. Bennett 
read by Jane Copland 8h 5m
Rating:  3 / mystery 

The publisher’s summary; 
“The first book in a highly original and delightfully clever crime series in which Queen Elizabeth II secretly solves crimes while carrying out her royal duties.

It is the early spring of 2016 and Queen Elizabeth is at Windsor Castle in advance of her 90th birthday celebrations. But the preparations are interrupted when a guest is found dead in one of the Castle bedrooms. The scene suggests the young Russian pianist strangled himself, but a badly tied knot leads MI5 to suspect foul play was involved. The Queen leaves the investigation to the professionals—until their suspicions point them in the wrong direction.

Unhappy at the mishandling of the case and concerned for her staff’s morale, the monarch decides to discreetly take matters into her own hands. With help from her Assistant Private Secretary, Rozie Oshodi, a British Nigerian and recent officer in the Royal Horse Artillery, the Queen secretly begins making inquiries. As she carries out her royal duties with her usual aplomb, no one in the Royal Household, the government, or the public knows that the resolute Elizabeth will use her keen eye, quick mind, and steady nerve to bring a murderer to justice.

SJ Bennett captures Queen Elizabeth’s voice with skill, nuance, wit, and genuine charm in this imaginative and engaging mystery that portrays Her Majesty as she’s rarely seen: kind yet worldly, decisive, shrewd, and most importantly a great judge of character. **************

[A] pitch-perfect murder mystery… If The Crown were crossed with Miss Marple…, the result would probably be something like this charming whodunnit.” — Ruth Ware

I’d have liked it better had the Queen not been the major player – or one of two major players rather. She’s still too much alive to fictionalize.

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The Invention of Nature ~ by Andrea Wulff x2

As I said in my first review, this book is so packed with information about Alexander von Humboldt and others of the era that it’s definitely worth a second reading. So I did it – I was sure I’d missed some stuff.  And, without getting flowery or excessive, it’s nicely written, too, so I had an enjoyable time. 

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World x2
by Andrea Wulff
2020 / 396 pages Kindle 
Read by David Drummond 14h 3m Rating 10/ biog/history/science 
(Both read and listened) 

This is great because between this book and the Melvin Sheldrake’s  The Entangled World, I’m finally “getting” the concept of art and science combined, usually in nature writing.  But science is usually concerned with measurement while art is more involved with aesthetics. Humboldt did it, Sheldrake did it, Thoreau did it, Haeckel did it and it’s done today.  

There are so many convergences in these two books – even the science is related as Humboldt invents, Sheldrake develops. And Sheldrake mentions and gives credit to Humboldt more than once – as well as many others, of course.  Wulff, otoh, also includes the art and poetry Humboldt tried to include before the sciences got so specialized.  Wulff gets all the way to John Muir in traveling the courses of those who were inspired by Humboldt.  (I didn’t even mention Muir in my first review!) 

Today hundreds of buildings, streets, rivers, etc are named for Humboldt and yet few people remember who he was or what he did.  He was a tremendous figure in the history of earth science – one of the real pioneers. 

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Entangled Life ~ by Merlin Sheldrake

What a fascinating book!  I kept getting confused about what was on the schedule for the All-Nonfiction reading group and although Entangled Life did not make the list, I kept putting it on there.  And then with a member straightening me out on that, I saw the book on sale and bought it because I kept thinking it was on the list. The cover was so attractive to me although I wasn’t big on the idea of fungus and biology.   

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Share Our Futures
by Mervin Sheldrake 
2020 / Read by author 9h 32m
Rating:  9 / life science – nature
(Both read and listened)

Finally I’d talked myself into thinking it was September’s book and decided to start reading it.  Omg – it was so good.  I mentioned that on the email list, because it was next month’s read you know,  and several people corrected me.  OMG –  Oh well –  I finished it up and I’ll read Noise, the next actual selection, next (maybe after a couple of crime novels).  

Entangled Life is about everything from plants and algae to truffles and mushrooms to yeasts and lichens and fungi along with all the mycelium which networks in the “wood wide webs.”  Psilocybin and other organic psychedelics  come up for discussion, too, of course.  It turns out all these living organisms share with each other so much it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish the individual boundaries.  Much of this is done by symbiosis and ingestion. And our “tree of life” is not quite what we thought it was (see also, The Tangled Tree by David Quammen https://mybecky.blog/2019/01/17/the-tangled-tree-by-david-quammen/ )

I was absolutely able to follow the wondrously written narrative, but when I stopped for the evening I’d be mixed up the next day.  It’s hard for me to review what all the book contained – suffice it to say there was a lot in this book and it’s somewhat “entangled.” That does NOT take away from the delight in reading it! 

At the end and after publication, Sheldrake wets his copy of the book and lets the fungi sprout out (and takes a photo for a new cover). Then he makes mead – or that’s the story anyway.  
https://www.merlinsheldrake.com/entangled-life
(Sheldrake’s copy of the book)

“Entangled Life is a dazzling, vibrant, vision-changing book. Sentence after sentence stopped me short. I ended it wonderstruck at the fungal world and the earth-shaking, hierarchy-breaking implications of Sheldrake’s argument. This is a remarkable work by a remarkable writer, which succeeds in springing life into strangeness again.”
— Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland

This is an especially interesting associated page: 
https://catapult.co/stories/in-the-wilds-of-an-open-soil-with-merlin-sheldrake-entangled-biology-publishing-fungi-wendy-xu

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Forget the Alamo ~ by Burrough, Tomlinson, and Stanford

Yes!  Oh what a good book this one is!  I should have got the Kindle version along with the wonderfully well narrated Audible version to start with,  but I didn’t until it was almost too late and I was too deep into the book –  like I was on page 200 or so out of 344 pages of narrative.  But after getting the Kindle version I actually started over because the book is so well-written, informative, and entertaining I wanted to catch the footnotes and source notes and pictures (there are quite a few it turns out) and so on.  

Forget the Alamo: The Rise and Fall of an American Myth
By Bryan Burrough, Chris Tomlinson, and Jason Stanford
2021 / (416 pages)
Read by Fred Sanders 12h 15m
Rating: 10 / US history –
(Both read and listened )

It’s NOT a funny book in spite of the title and the cover and the introductory material. It’s the work of professional journalists and as such, an examination of the truth vs the myth(s) about the Alamo. But it’s also a historiography because the way the tale of the Alamo is told has differed since the days of its inception.  And the ways it is told now is different. It depends on many things in the teller’s point of view.  No doubt the way it will be told in the future will also differ. Why do the versions differ? What is the truth?  Read the book.

It’s probably better for those who aren’t really familiar with Texas history so it was perfect for me.

The three Texas-based authors present an Introduction and get on with the background to the Battle of the Alamo which was fought in 1836 at a mission in San Antonio, Texas, then a territory of Mexico. Settlers from the US slave states were relocating themselves.  Too bad – slavery under Mexican rule was also against the law. But the American newcomers did it anyway because they really needed the money to pay off their debts. And slaves were auctioned in front of the Spanish mission known as the Alamo.   

True enough, basically, that William Barret Travis and James Bowie died at the Alamo (Stephen Austin probably didn’t die at the scene), but that’s become almost all that’s known these days about the “heroes” thanks in part to Disney and John Wayne.  Austin, Bowie and Crockett were not heroes at the time. 

The book goes through the decades of Alamo neglect and mercenary purposes then closes on the ideas the white supremacists have brought to the table vs the rights of the Texans of other lineage who also fought in what has become a symbol of “fighting to the death for liberty.”  It’s actually been a racist struggle the whole time and both politics and entertainment have been part and parcel of it. It doesn’t seem to end.

And there have been so many fascinating “Texas-sized” characters over the almost two centuries since the actual battle, so the book covers a lot of territory in its 400+ pages.  Every word is worth it.

https://www.npr.org/2021/06/16/1006907140/forget-the-alamo-texas-history-bryan-burrough

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/what-people-today–including-phil-collins–get-wrong-about-the-alamo/2021/06/24/950b4426-9095-11eb-a74e-1f4cf89fd948_story.html

https://www.hccommunityjournal.com/article_c7f2e53a-e3ef-11eb-8e87-1793966cc084.html

https://www.honestaustin.com/2021/07/17/texas-book-review-forget-the-alamo/

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The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World

What an absolutely incredible book about an incredible man and incredible people who were inspired by him – the beat goes on although scientists themselves interrupted it for awhile. 

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World
by Andrea Wulff

2020 / 396 pages Kindle 
Read by David Drummond 14h 3m Rating 9.75 / biography/science 
(Both read and listened) 

I’d barely heard of Alexander von Humboldt before this book – There’s a state university in Northern California which is named for him and it’s in a perfect spot, full of big trees and mountains and the ocean.  

This is not a book I would choose on my own but that’s why I stick around some of these reading groups; they introduce me to authors and even genres I wouldn’t otherwise bother with and I’d miss some really great reads.  Like this one – which probably deserves a second reading.

If there is one word I would use to describe Alexander von Humboldt the word is indefatigable.  He was one of the greatest hands-on scientists the world has ever seen.  He explored with open eyes and then told his world what he saw in many books and in his way, he saw the future.  

Humboldt’s era was between 1769 – 1859  and he started in Germany then traveled to Spain, took a ship to South America where he explored Venezuela and other northern parts of the continent plus Cuba and Mexico (New Spain).  After that he  briefly visited the US and then back to Europe, France this time.  Later in life he went to Russia and with Cossack guides, got to the far interior all the way to Mongolia and Beluka and over to the Caspian Sea.  He tried to focus on the patterns and connections of nature but occasionally got waylaid.  

He took measurements and collected samples.  He studied botany, zoology, geology, and chemistry, astronomy, agriculture, forestry, 

And he met people who inspired him and whom he in turn awed but some people like Goethe, Simon Bolivar, Charles Darwin and Henry David Thoreau were especially close and Wulff pays those special attention.  

Fascinating in Chapter 17 how the ideas of evolution evolved over the decades.  

This book is a wonderment – it makes me want to read Humboldt’s Personal Narrative or Cosmos but that would be a reach for me to do that. 

Humboldt was almost as much a writer as he was a scientist and in trying to connect the parts of the earth waxed poetic.  I suppose by our standards it would be an early practitioner of “creative nonfiction.”  Searching for the unity of the universe – Thoreau went the same way as Humboldt but Emerson needed a revelation from God.  Emerson the Transcendentalists and Kant – a class of ideas of knowledge – not from experience.  This was against empiricists.  Thoreau was more of an empiricist emulating the scientists in recording details of life like Humboldt.  Thoreau wrote essays and “Field Notes.”  He read Cosmos 

And then in Part 5 there’s George Perkins Marsh the American who is considered the father of environmentalism. By recognizing the irreversible impact of man’s actions on the earth, his writings acted as a precursor to the sustainability concept. And there’s Ernst Haeckel the German zoologist who brought Humboldt’s ideas to Italy, became a convert to Darwin’s ideas of evolution, coined the word “ecology,” and did many more things including scientific concepts in art.

Humboldt State University in California was named for Humboldt but it was started in 1913 although he died in 1859.  Humboldt county is a beautiful spot to be named for Humboldt and a college is just exactly what he’d want.  

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invention_of_Nature

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pioneering-maps-alexander-von-humboldt-180973342/

https://www.dw.com/en/how-scientist-alexander-von-humboldt-put-spanish-south-america-on-the-global-map/a-46693502

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The Premonition ~ by Michael Lewis 

I finally got this – I’ve loved reading Michael Lewis’ books since The Big Short in 2010 and then went back and read a couple priors but also continuing forward.  My last book was  The Fifth Risk and I felt like Lewis apparently did about Trump’s new administration; Oh-oh, when will he get tested? And then came Coronavirus-19. 

The Premonition: A Pandemic Story
by Michael Lewis

2021 /
read by Adenrele Ojo 11h 26m
rating: 9.5 / nonfiction – medicine
(both read and listened)

I finally bought this – I’ve loved reading Michael Lewis’ books since The Big Short in 2010 and then went back and read a couple priors but also continuing forward.  My last book was  The Fifth Risk and I felt like Lewis apparently did about Trump’s new administration; Oh-oh, when will this get tested? And then came Coronavirus-19. 

But unlike what seems to be the point in The Fifth Risk, Trump and his picks are not the only incompetents in the building.  The private sector has a bunch, the academic world has theirs, and the “deep state” is not immune.
  
But before I get into that, I have to say that the narrator put me off with her sweet little over-emoting voice. It just doesn’t go with what I’ve listened to in Lewis’ books before and I don’t like that kind of drama unless Scott Brick does it and even his voice gets old.  Lewis has always used male narrators and one time he even read his own book   

But the characters, the heroes if you will,  is where this book shines because Lewis gets up close and personal.  First there is Laura Glass, a 14-year old 8th grader whose science fair project on social networking and disease caught the eye of her father who worked at the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Then there is Charity Dean MD, the protagonist if there is one, who goes from a lowly county-level public health director to essentially being the acting director of the California Department of Public Health. She had a different, intense and hands-on approach to her job and an in-depth method of medical diagnosis. She was not scared to use the powers she had.

And there are the research doctors Carter Mecher and Richard Hatchett who wanted and were able to solve problems and each of whom is treated as an individual personality over the course of several years. And there are several others including Joe DeRisi researcher and entrepreneur extraordinaire.

I don’t think Lewis lucked into such a naturally great a cast of characters as he would have you believe. There are two reasons: #1 it’s he who brings out the great stories in his characters,  and #2 he’s a great story-teller, his narratives sing with literary devices and life.  This is creative nonfiction at its best, or, perhaps literary nonfiction might be the better term. 

And I’m so glad I read the book, The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John Barry (2004) back in November of 2020.  It’s mentioned several times in Lewis’ book.

What did I learn from this read?  In addition to learning about the chronology of events and the amazing personalities who drove their own rather insubordinate wave to get the Coronavirus under control, I learned:

FIrst, that communicable diseases are different from other diseases.  The Nuvo Coronavirus doesn’t attack its victims via heredity or by way of what they ate, the Coronavirus attacks because of who the victim socialized with. Who got breathed on; who did the breathing?  Also, and troubling, Covid-19 is what is known as a differential diagnoses because there are many diseases it could be so it makes accurate detection that much harder. You can’t just figure it out at home. 

And second, that the CDC does research and analysis as well as implement regulations.  But although it’s not supposed to simply make regulations, enforce them or determine strategy for combating disease, ever since Reagan’s time it has been political in that the director has been a presidential appointee. At that time Reagan’s base got upset about a couple things and the White House decided who was in charge at the Center. The director became a political appointee. This means the White House controls a lot of what goes on, which voices get heard, what is researched and what data is gathered. The head of the CDC is changed whenever presidents change or at their whim. With Trump, at least, it was important that data match policy, so data was changed. This last next-to-last chapter was very enlightening.

Another thing I learned is that during the early days of the pandemic there were subversives using tactics of discrete insubordination. These brave souls would either tell the truth in the face of White House rage or they’d by-pass the White House and use private, academic, or international voices. They’d use whatever they could to get the truth out there.    

But just as there were insubordinates in the government there was a lot of mismanagement in the private sector, too.  When it came time to provide quick and easy testing some companies were glad to help while others wanted top dollar and it still took a week to 10 days for results.  Joe DeRisi simply built his own lab and got grad students from Stanford and Berkeley to assist and did it for free.

And I learned that the “We handed a whole plan for a pandemic over to the Trump administration” which was said by the Obama administration wasn’t quite the whole truth, but neither was “They handed us nothing.” There was some stuff there, but it wasn’t exactly up to date or in a usable form. Jon Barry’s book on the influenza of 1918 was at times, perhaps and in ways, a better guide on strategies.

Personally, about the style, I found the use of the “f-bomb” a bit much but then I considered the circumstances and had to admit I’d have likely been using it too – especially if I were in the shoes of some of these people and 20 years younger.  

https://www.npr.org/2021/05/03/991570372/michael-lewis-the-premonition-is-a-sweeping-indictment-of-the-cdc

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Billy Summers ~ by Stephen King

To start with,  the character of Billy Summers is immediately sympathetic because as a reader of comic books he’s obviously not as smart as the reader and that’s going to excuse a lot of things. But, without telling anyone, he understands the allusions in some conversations, so he’s certainly not dumb either.  What Billy is, is a hired gun, about to retire and now going out on his last job.  It’s important to Billy that he only kills “bad people.”  Playing dumb is part of his disguise, his cover. 

Billy Summers
By Stephen King
2021 /  (527 pp)
Read by Paul Sparks 16h 57m Rating; A / crime

I’ve never cared for Stephen King’s scary books because of the horror stuff, but this book is different.  I read The Stand for a reading group and I read two of his later books, 11/22/63 and Under the Dome as they’re not horror.  The former is about time travel, the latter is dystopian.  I tried other King novels over the years, but for one reason or another I couldn’t ever get through Chapter 1 of them.  And I didn’t care for his nonfiction either and could barely get started with them.  (I have enjoyed the few movies I’ve seen.)

But I totally appreciated what King did for the US publishing industry and was very pleased when he was awarded the National Book Award for Lifetime Contribution to American Letters – because his work is important and he’s done a lot for American letters. 

So about Billy Summers.  Yes, as far as I know this is different from his other works.  It’s just a contemporary crime novel but the point of view is that of a man who shoots bad men for a living. He’s a hired gun, the guy the mobs go to when they’re willing to pay a lot to get rid of certain people.
  
But shortly after the novel begins, Billy also becomes a writer putting his life story into words, a memoir. The past includes a horrendous childhood and a brutal stint in the Marines during the Iraq War.  The memoir is a substantial alternating thread in the novel – a whole back story.  

I do want to say that there’s a good story in Billy Summers and it winds up wonderfully well without having to have a  “happy ending.”  King packs his stories just as far as my suspension of disbelief will go – no further.  
So I really wanted to enjoy this book and I did that, but there’s still nothing substantial about it, imo.  His novel 11/22/63 was better, imo, but Under the Dome wasn’t quite as good. 

The idea of writing a memoir as an alternative plot line gave the novel an original and somewhat literary twist, imo.

King does very well with deep and complex character development and with twisty plots – I think this tends to make his novels long. But his general writing skills stay pretty much at a 7th grade reading level. This may be deliberate because from what I’ve seen on the fiction market, that’s probably what sells best.  

I’ll keep my eye out for future novels by King and if they look like something I’d appreciate I’ll try them, but I’ll still skip the horror.  I guess I’m kind of open minded in a way, about something most people either love or hate.  🙂

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The Department of Sensitive Cases ~ by Alexander McCall Smith

Cozy almost to the point of silly, but Alexander McCall Smith, who writes The Ladies #1 Detective Agency series, is fun for me.  It took me some time to get into the mood of the story and the character of Ulf Varg.  Varg is a rather mellow detective and can handle things which the Swedish criminal justice system finds tricky – the “sensitive cases.” 

The Department of Sensitive Cases
by Alexander McCall Smith

 2019
Read by David Rintout 7h 15m
Rating:  B+ / humor

There are similarities to the Detective Agency books, but this series takes place in Sweden instead of Botswana and the protagonist is male. Also, Sensitive Cases is funnier in its own way. 

In this sequence of cases, the first book in a new series, there is a girl who invents a boyfriend who then goes missing. And there’s the case of the man who is stabbed in the back of his knee. And there’s the case of the missing girl who has too many very real boyfriends.  And there’s the case of the woman with a lover or the lover with a woman … 

It’s fun – the main pleasure is the characters who are all quirky and amusing, but some are more lovable than others.  

I enjoyed it as a zero-stress book, but it’s probably not for everyone.  (The Detective Agency books are much better but please, read them in order!)
https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-department-of-sensitive-crimes-by-alexander-mccall-smith-summertime-madness/article26886628.ece

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The Art of Living ~ by Thich Nhat Hahn

I’d seen this book available for some time and it looked interesting.  It even sat on my Wish List for awhile.  Then it was on sale.  Okay fine. Done.  

The Art of Living:
Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now
by Thich Nhat Hahn

2017 /
Read by Gabra Zackman 5h 1m
Rating – 8.5

I’ve read a number of books specifically on meditation as well as just generally spiritual books by Buddhist authors, but this is the first by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam (but was exiled in France for almost 4 decades!). He’s written well over 100 books.  Now he’s 92 years old and lives at a monastery in Vietnam.  This book is the result of his last lectures in France.

The Art of Living
is about the “Engaged Buddhism,” or an activist and mindful way of living that he and his followers were working on after he left Vietnam in 1967.  It’s also about death and dying but more importantly it’s about living.

“Thich Nhat Hanh presents, for the first time, seven transformative meditations that open up new perspectives on our lives, our relationships and our interconnectedness with the world around us. Based on the last full talks before his sudden hospitalisation, and drawing on intimate examples from his own life, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how these seven meditations can free us to live a happy, peaceful and active life, and face ageing and dying with curiosity and joy and without fear.” https://plumvillage.org/books/the-art-of-living/

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