Category Archives: At Home

Building Books – The Great Bridge

After reading this book, you could say I put another “notch” in the proverbial workbench of my building book series (just search the key words “Building Books” for several other of my blog entries). For a long time, I have been a fan of David McCullough having read many of his works. McCullough originally published The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1972, at a time when I was not an active reader. Thankfully I am now. The 40th anniversary hardback edition came out in 2002 and ran a lengthy 608 pages long.

It was five years ago this summer that I actually listened to the book on CD on a road trip I took to my nephew’s wedding in Oklahoma in my new at the time Fiat 500.

It was the perfect length book for the 800 mile, approximately 11 hour round trip as the last CD finished just as I was pulling back into town. It was an enthralling story I thoroughly enjoyed only lessened by my discovery that the book on CD was an abridged version. As soon as I found that out, I knew I had to read the entire book and so added it to my list of books in waiting. That wait came to an end in May of this year when I purchased a Kindle version of the 40th anniversary edition.

Without any long airline trips during the month of May in which I could have enjoyed lengthy uninterrupted time for reading, it took me most of the month to finish the book. In no way a criticism of the book or of McCullough, I found there were times when my reading speed got bogged down with some of the background information included on many of the characters involved with the story. This level of detail certainly painted a more complete picture of what it took to overcome the challenges and build the bridge but there were times that I longed to get back to the technical details of the epic construction of the bridge. Fortunately, I have long ago accepted that the actual building of a large public project is often overshadowed by the backstory—the politics of its undertaking. That was particularly true in this case.

The Brooklyn Bridge majestically stands today, over 130 years after its completion, a one of a kind of bridge as it was conceived and begun at an age just prior to significant change in construction technology.

Certainly the father of the bridge, the one who envisioned it in the first place, was John A. Roebling head of his family’s wire producing business at the time. But while it was John who conceived the idea for a bridge to link New York with Brooklyn, it was actually his son, Washington A. Roebling who ultimately built it in his role as chief engineer due to his father’s untimely death. And tremendous credit must also be given to Washington’s wife Emily, who served as his surrogate in many ways while her husband was too ill to even go to the construction site. The part she played in this epic story would make her life alone an interesting read.

Construction began in 1869 at a time when steel was just coming into wider use as a construction material. Look at any suspension bridge after it and you will see towers of steel, rather than the unique stone of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was also built at a time when the engineering demands of such a structure were not fully comprehended and on average 1 in 5 bridges collapsed within 10 years of being constructed. It was no small task for the Roeblings to achieve.

The behemoth towers, which at the time dwarfed any other building and the graceful spans are what we see today. But what we cannot see and where the building actually began was with the sinking of two tremendous iron and wood caissons that ultimately became the base of the two towers (one for Brooklyn, and one for New York). These floorless, inverted chambers, the size of four tennis courts, progressively made their way down to a solid bedrock foundation as hundreds of workers manually dug out beneath them allowing the caissons to be forced downward by the sheer weight of hundreds of tons of granite being puzzle-like assembled on the top.

To keep the chambers watertight, since the towers were being built in the East River, the work environment had to remain pressurized with pressure being progressively increased as the caissons sank further and further. An interesting fact was that this site, as well as a similar bridge site in St. Louis, was the first reported episodes of what we now know today as the bends. Only at the time, it was a big mystery as it did not afflict every worker in the same way. The doctor on staff didn’t realize how close he came to solving the puzzle when he failed to recognize that symptoms immediately abated any time a sufferer returned to the pressurized caisson. This disease ultimately robbed Washington of his own health which prompted the key role his wife Emily played.

The bridge was also undertaken at a time of extreme political corruption. Predominantly spearheaded by Boss Tweed of Tammany hall, Tweed and cohorts would ultimately perpetuate tremendous fraud that would tarnish Roebling’s character and even bring into question the reputation and integrity of the bridge. For it would be these political machinations and others that would prevent Roebling from using his own company’s wire—recognized as the finest in the world—for much of the spans and even allow the use of rejected wire lots in the spinning of the individual wires that eventually made up the massive bridge cables.

It took seven years to complete the two towers and the anchorages that would secure the four suspension cables to solid ground. The cable spinning would take another two years and the bridge floor understructure, trusswork, and promenade another five years to complete (mainly caused by work stoppages due to New York City not providing their agreed upon funding and material delays at inferior suppliers selected for political reasons). And for much of this time, Roebling was absent from the construction site due to poor health. But his mind was ever sharp and his plans precise and detailed ensuring the success of the bridge. Driven by political reasons, it was terrible how Roebling was treated during this time by the Bridge Board with numerous attempts to oust him as chief engineer.

When the bridge was finally completed, it was one of the largest celebrations in our country’s history attended by no less than New York Governor Grover Cleveland and US President Chester Arthur (vice president to the assassinated James Garfield).

But beyond simply my interest in wanting to read about the building of the bridge, a more personal reason was that my oldest son, for the three years he lived in New York, had an active role in the development of Brooklyn Bridge Park, a remarkable green space created through the repurposing of the old eye-sore Brooklyn wharves sadly decaying in the shadows of the namesake bridge.

And it was upon the occasion of a visit there and tour of the park under construction that I got to walk from New York to Brooklyn on the century old promenade just like millions upon millions of people have been able to since its completion in 1883 thanks to John A. Roebling, Washington A. Roebling, and Emily Warren Roebling.

Our Condo – 5th Anniversary

Today marks the fifth anniversary of us purchasing our midtown condo. I took this photo of my wife at the coffee shop where I met her just a few minutes before we went to closing. I have written here before about several different aspects of this condo but thought it would be fun to look back to where it all began and how we have transformed it from just a condo to “Our Condo.”

It was in July over five years ago that upon my returning from the gym one morning, my wife asked me if I would be willing to buy her a condo for about $40,000. While I responded in the affirmative, I was soon to learn that for my wife, this was not a spur-of-the-moment, impulsive request but actually a lifelong dream of hers to own a midtown condo. The unit that caught her eye that morning and the one that she and I both had walked through was not to be as it was taken off the market the day before we were going to make an offer on it. But another condo in the same building with a sales price that would actually turn out to be significantly below that $40,000 figure did work out.

To say that this condo needed some renovation was a huge understatement. We would eventually gut the entire unit.

But in my wife’s eyes, she obviously saw the potential from the first moment we walked in.

From the time of closing, it took just over nine months to complete the renovations and appropriately furnish the condo with the mid-century modern look my wife was aiming for and the look which made me feel like I was on vacation at a “chic” hotel whenever I stayed there. Obtaining the artwork for the walls, which actually started before the renovations were complete, took even longer but was also a part of my wife’s plans for having only original art in the condo.

Once our condo was transformed into this desirable auberge, this charming boutique inn, it became for us many more things.

It first became our weekend getaway where we would spend a Friday or Saturday night to enjoy the vibrant, walk-able neighborhood where it was located. This afforded us the opportunity to walk to a microbrewery for a great beer or to dinner at a fine restaurant and then to a play at one of the four live theatres all situated within a block of each other.

It also became our “night before a flight” hotel with its short 10-minute drive to the airport ensuring we would never get caught in snarling rush-hour traffic potentially missing our flight.

It became a private resort for our kids and their friends whenever they were in town and needed to get away from it all as well.

 

When our youngest son started graduate school, it became a study lair for daddy and mommy to get caught up on school work while my wife or I watched our granddaughter.

It was even the venue for one of my SibSabs, the annual sibling sabbatical when I get together with just my two sisters and brother.

And it was a getaway location for just my wife and her sister whenever she came to town.

While construction traffic in Memphis made my morning commute to work miserable, I would even go there and spend the night just so I could have a 10-minute commute to work the next morning rather than the hour-long nightmare I sometimes had to endure.

And sometimes when my wife would be out of town, I would stay there by myself for the relaxation and cozy feel I get from being in what has been described as a “curated condo.”

When I think back to that warm July morning when my wife popped the question—that condo purchase question—I had no inkling of any of the many things it would eventually become. Were it not for my special wife and her dream, I don’t know that I ever would have thought to buy a condo, a second home, when I already had a large comfortable home to live in.

So on this fifth anniversary I must say thanks to my wife. Thank you for having the dream. Thank you for asking the question. Thank you for having the vision. And thank you for guiding the decorating and furnishing that made our condo such a special place—a place where we, our kids, and our friends all would want to come home to.  A place were can sit out on our balcony, have a beer, relax and enjoy catching up on our day with a view overlooking the quiet, wooded neighborhood behind us.

A Swing Set Swinger

This girl is a swinger…

…and a slider…

…and a see sawer.

So when her grandmother (my wife, affectionately known as Mimi) mentioned that she needed to get a swing set for her own backyard, it was absolutely the most logical thing. Just her granddaddy (me), the person who routinely takes her to the Children’s Museum each week where she gets to play on these things indoors, never thought of it. But thanks to Grandmother’s forethought and initiative, this was remedied this past spring.

This box was delivered to my son’s house just before spring break when her parents would both be off from school. Rather than picking up my granddaughter for our usual Wednesday afternoon together at the Children’s Museum, I came over for the assembly process at my son’s house.

As we removed the pieces from the box, my granddaughter thought it was great fun to get in the middle of things, even though she had no clue as to what the final product would be. But this partially assembled slide seemed as good a place as any from which to watch the action unfold.

The first step was to assemble the cross bar from four separate pieces that had to be tightly screwed together. Interconnecting the first two, my son and I failed to notice that the bar had been engineered to have a top side and a bottom side. And wouldn’t you know, as luck would have it, the first two bars came together very tightly with one side up and one side down. This was due to my tendency not to read over the entire directions prior to assembly in spite of how instructions always say to do so (this was certainly not the first time I had had to dissemble something to reassemble if correctly). We labored over getting them separated for quite a while until my son came upon the idea of spraying some WD40 on them to get them separated. That worked well although our hands were slightly slippery after that.

From then on, we tried to pay close attention to the fine details in the directions where such helpful notes were highlighted. In a relatively short time, we had the frame assembled.

At this point, my granddaughter may have begun to recognize what her daddy and granddaddy were putting together with hammers, screwdrivers, and wrenches.

To confirm her suspicions, we attached a couple of swings and quickly my granddaughter was ready to have some fun.

After that, we couldn’t put the rest of the swing set together fast enough.

Once we had assembled the two different gliders, we had enough swings for the whole family to swing on.

All that remained was the slide and the see saw.

And before we could even attach the slide to the frame of the swing set, my granddaughter was already climbing the ladder to slide down.

Playing on a see saw is one of my granddaughter’s favorite activities at the Children’s Museum, the spot she usually goes first as soon as we arrive. So when she realized she was getting one of those too, she jumped down on the yellow seat before I could even attach the fulcrum to the side frame. Trying as hard as I might, I could not attach it with her sitting on it.  When we lifted her off, she sadly burst into tears. So we had to finish as fast as we could so she could get back to her fun.

It ended up taking us about six hours to complete the swing set, just about the time the online reviews indicated it would take to assemble it, that is once you subtract the time it took us to separate the first two pieces. Fully assembled, the swing set was larger than any our kids had growing up. But Grandmother had wisely chosen one that all three of our grandkids could play on together at the same time when they were in town.

Since installing the swing set, our granddaughter has had literally hours of pleasure swinging in her own backyard. Now when I bring her home from Parent’s Day Out, one of the first things she does is head to the back door to go out and swing.

Now she just has to wait for her two cousins to come to town so all three can play together. And when they do, my wife will have realized her dream of seeing all three of our grandkids having a great time swinging together. What fun we have to look forward to.

Thanks Mimi!

Building Books – A Surprise!

On multiple occasions, I have written of my interest in learning about how different things were built by reading a book about the project. Loving all forms of transportation, in particular, cars, trains, and airplanes, I wrote last year of my long-standing desire to read about the building of the railroads in the US during the 19th century but how my efforts had been thwarted. I had purchased and read several books about railroads but had not gotten the story I wanted. As I said in that post:

What I really wanted to read about was the early tycoon days of how the railroads were built, the competition that ensued, and the rail barons that consolidated the many smaller roads into monopolistic larger lines.

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This is the book I put on my Amazon Wish List in November 2012. Reading the book description gave me the impression this was the story I really wanted to read.   But unfortunately, before I could purchase this book, it went out of print and has remained so ever since.

Then early last September, a package arrived at our house that by the look of the packaging and the feel of its contents, it was a book. Knowing that our youngest son had recently started graduate school and was purchasing his schoolbooks online, I ripped open the package thinking it was just another textbook he needed for his graduate studies.

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But when I pulled it from the package, I got a big surprise—it was the book I had been wanting for almost four years.

My first thought was I had accidently spoiled a Christmas surprise for me (not the first time I had done that either). I next asked my wife if she had bought it for me to which she replied no. I then discreetly asked all three of our children if they had started their Christmas shopping early. Again the answer was no.

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Then a few days later, I got a text from my brother asking if a package had arrived at the house. I replied that one had but that I had opened it potentially spoiling the surprise. He said it was a surprise but that he intended for me to open it as soon as it arrived. He explained it was not an early Christmas or birthday present but just a gift. After reading the disappointment in my voice evident from my blog post about not being able to purchase it, he had sought the book out and bought it for me. What a brother!   And what a gift for what he found turned out to be a very gently used copy in excellent condition!

With book in hand, it quickly moved up my list of books to read. And read I did.

Although this booked started similarly to the one I read last year in covering the fact that many of the railroads were originally laid out along old Indian trails or stagecoach routes, I could tell this one would be different as it included a multi-page preface of the cast of characters—the railroads and the railroaders key to this telling of the history of railroads in the US.

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And skipping over a few pages, I could see that it included maps that would help visualize the proposed routes of the eventual railroads.

I was not long into the book, having been introduced to some of the early tycoons that I learned of their consistent strategy. Obtain a lucrative land grant from Congress, incorporate a railroad company, name a president and other key players, vote to sell bonds or stock, and then begin construction with said funds. Since all of the land grants came with a stipulation of a certain amount of mileage completed between destinations within a certain time frame, there developed fierce competition between rival rails. And the frantic building pace frequently left the railroads in a precarious financial position with insolvency ever looming.

In fact some times “paper railroads” would be incorporated just for the sole purpose of bluffing a competitor into taking certain actions along a route or to motivate a consolidation of lines.

While a prominent milestone in the book I read last year was the famous driving of the golden spike by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific in Promontory Point, Utah in 1869, that event occurred in this book before I was even 1/3 of the way through. And what was even more interesting was the little known and often-ignored fact (disclosed in this book) that while claiming to be the first transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific had not yet bridged the 1,500-foot span across the Missouri River (Until their bridge was completed almost three years later, traffic was conveyed across the water by ferry). Rather it was the final spike of the Kansas Pacific railroad at Comanche Crossing Colorado in 1870 that marked the true completion of the first uninterrupted transcontinental railroad between the Atlantic and Pacific.

Featured prominently in this book was the contentious battle between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad and the Denver and Rio Grande railroad as well as others. Two separate struggles through narrow passes in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona highlighted the stealth and aggressive tactics executives from each company would pursue, even to the point of gunfire to claim the pass for themselves. Ultimately it was multiple court decisions all the way to the Supreme Court that settled the dispute. But not before I got a real taste of the rail baron shenanigans I was looking for.

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But these conflicts were just a prelude for bigger competition. Not long afterwards, the Santa Fe and Frisco joined forces to attempt to build the third transcontinental railroad. Thwarting their efforts were none other than the Big Four out of California (Collis P. Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford). And once Jay Gould began to work with the Big Four rather than against them, they proved a formidable opponent. It was exactly the battle royal among barons that I had wanted to read about. Ultimately it was the shrewd maneuvers and financial muscle of the Big Four that won the day preventing the Santa Fe from laying track into California. Left with the only option of cooperating with the Big Four, the Santa Fe and Frisco became part of a combined route with Gould and the Big Four.

But it wasn’t just the rail barons that fought aggressively with each other; towns along the proposed routes “politicked” hard to become the next rail boomtown. Recognizing the benefits to their local economy and their escalating land value, town fathers (who frequently had vast land holdings that would appreciate in value) offered enticing incentives for the railroads to choose their town. This heightened the struggle even further when competing railroads would “court” the same towns.

It was with sadness when I neared the end of this book for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, I knew how the story was going to end. While the race across the continent began in earnest during the Civil War and the expansion of the railroad network grew dramatically for the next 50 years, it was their extreme useful during World War I and II that marked the rare high-water marks that stood out among their years of decline. After World War II, it was the swiftness of the jet airplane and the individualized mobility of the automobile that doomed passenger rail service, a service I would have loved to enjoy had I been born just 15 years earlier.

Beginning in the 1950s, no longer were railroads consolidating to form mega-monopoly empires but rather merging as the only means of survival in a redefined era of freight transport sans passenger service.

Secondly, sadness that the story itself had come to an end for this book well told the tale I had wanted to read. The exciting times of railroad growth in the 19th century, the challenges the railroaders encountered in building through the mountainous west, and the machinations of the rail barons, the shrewd tactics they pursued, and the political moves they employed to build their empires all made for an extremely interesting saga. Closing the cover of the book, I felt I had learned a tremendous amount of this history, I had been entertained, and I had most certainly satisfied my quest for knowing more of this story.

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So thanks Bro, for a most satisfying surprise gift!

Four Years Blogging

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Wow, four years!

When I started this blog post on February 9th, 2013, I never envisaged I would still be publishing these four years later and yet I have been coming to you every Sunday morning since then, 208 in a row now. I know a number of my loyal followers—and I thank you heartily—have been with me from the very beginning and have willing read each and every one of my muses, graciously overlooking my occasional bad grammar or poor sentence structure. But also along the way, I have picked up some additional followers who blog themselves and then there is the occasional reader that happens to find my topic of the week of interest to them.

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To all of you I say a great big THANK YOU. It is with this knowledge of your continued reading as well as your encouraging and thoughtful comments that motivates me to write these weekly posts. For me, it is exciting to awake each Sunday morning and think of the possibility of people all over the world reading my latest post when it publishes.

But in spite of all your encouragement, I must admit that there was a time last summer when I didn’t think I was going to make it to this four-year anniversary. When I looked down my list of topics still to write on, there just weren’t that many left. As my existing readers know, I primarily started this blog to tell my story to my kids, my family members and my friends before I lost these old memories. This was my “Black Book” project (click here for an explanation). I also write on travel, vacations, reading, projects, cars, grand parenting, and sometimes just random things (my Entropy category). Many of these topics I saw that I had already covered extensively.

So I really began to rack my brain to come up with additional topics.

But then an event occurred that opened up a whole new category of exploration—the announced closing of my work site and as a result, my pending retirement. This along with a number of other new ideas that came to mind, as well as the milestone of hitting 60 years of age last year, gave me additional topics to script.

Credit: Saveup.com

Credit: Saveup.com

And write I did! At one point last fall, I had 16 posts written and scheduled for future weekly publishing with about six more drafted. I felt the goal of continuing my blogging through a fourth year was well within reach.

Credit: runforecaster.com

Credit: runforecaster.com

And then additional events transpired that I wanted to blog about soon after the event occurred.

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Some of my previously scheduled posts followed a sequential order and so I began to have to shuffle multiple ones around to squeeze in new posts. Some posts could not be moved, as they were most relevant for a certain date (for example, Toys on Christmas Day). Before I knew it, after two or three shuffles, some of my existing posts got pushed out several months into 2017.

I guess from a bloggers perspective, this was a good problem to have. In fact the words you are reading now, I wrote over four months ago after I had written and scheduled almost all of my future posts through this February date.

By nature, I am an early starter; I never like rushing at the last minute to finish a project that is due. Even when I first began to blog, I typically liked to have my posts written and scheduled a couple of weeks in advance. That way, if something unexpected came up during the week that prevented me from finding the time to write, I still wouldn’t feel pressured to be trying to finish a post on Saturday night, just hours before its planned publishing.

The down side of this most recent strategy last year was that once I finished what I thought was a particularly good post, I sometimes had to wait several months to get feedback from my readers if it was in fact worthy. There were even times when I had to read my own post on Sunday morning just to remember what I had written.

So having reached this fourth year milestone, my plan is to continue weekly posts. However, it just seems at some point, I am going to hit a wall where nothing comes to mind to write on. But if I can just make it until I retire later this year, I will have even more time to brainstorm ideas. And with more free time, hopefully I will also be doing even more interesting things to blog about.

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So cheers to another year of blogging!

Best Books of 2016 – Chapter Five

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Ever since reading Rat Pack Confidential by Shawn Levy, I had wanted to read a book about some of my favorite movie stars such as Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart. But it was several factors that prompted me to read this one entitled, Paul Newman: A Life by Shawn Levy first. Interestingly, it was actually an interview with Richard Russo about Russo’s latest book, Everybody’s Fool (which I also read this year) that got me thinking about Paul Newman.

If you are not familiar with Russo’s previous book about the same characters, Nobody’s Fool, then you may not have seen the movie of the same name based on his book. In the movie, Newman played the affable character Sully. In the interview, Russo had glowing comments amount Newman’s performance as Sully and how he brought so much more into the character than was in the book (Newman had also been cast in the TV version of his Pulitzer Prize winning book, Empire Falls). Russo’s one somber note was that he was sad that Newman wouldn’t be around for an encore performance of Sully if his latest book were made into a movie.

Ultimately the reason that I picked this particular book first is because it was another one-day $1.99 BookBub offer and the clincher was that it was written by the same author as the Rat Pack book I’d read which I had thoroughly enjoyed.

For a book that was not an authorized biography, this is a surprisingly complete and revealing story of Paul Newman. Despite multiple unsuccessful attempts to gain access to Newman, Levy assembled a well researched and detailed chronology of Newman’s life based predominately on previously published interviews and events that had occurred throughout Newman’s life. And there was much to that life that I never knew.

It was interesting to read how many of the movies Newman stared in came to be and what some of the reviews were once it was released. I particularly enjoyed reading how he interacted with Richard Russo on their collaborations together given the insight I had gained from his book interview. But there is so much beyond his acting career that I found of interest.

Newman was a car-loving guy just like me. But Newman extended that love of cars to racing as well where through much training and practice over several years, he became quite good at racing. In fact there were times when he put his acting career on hold to pursue racing and was rewarded with several wins. Newman was still racing into his 70s so it was a life-long sport he participated in. This love of racing also led to him sponsoring racing teams where he wasn’t always the sole driver.

But probably the two most impressive aspects about his life that I didn’t know was his philanthropy and his ability in spite of the “Hollywood-odds”, to celebrate 50 years of marriage, albeit with his second wife.

First, based on my own experience, I know that being married to the same person for 50 years is a tremendous accomplishment that requires continual dedication and commitment. My parents achieved it, my in-laws achieved it and it is an event I hope my wife and I will be able to celebrate as well. Among movie stars, it is a most rare occurrence.

Second, we are all familiar with “Newman’s Own” brand of salad dressing and spaghetti sauce, but it was amazing how this business that donates all profits to charity got started and what it has grown into today. But something I had completely no knowledge of was the camps for kids that Newman built all over the world originally for ill children but then expanded to other children in need. It is a legacy that continues today, one of Newman’s proudest accomplishments.

Paul Newman died in September 2008 and Levy’s book ends with Paul’s last recorded words. When I read those words, they brought tears to my eyes and a whole new found respect for the life Paul Newman led and the legacy he left behind. It’s a rare Hollywood story that reads so well.

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For my classic this year, I read Ernest Hemingway’s, The Old Man and the Sea. There were several reasons I chose this one. First, last year I heard his daughter, Mariel Hemingway speak at a benefit dinner. The stories she told piqued my interest in reading some her dad’s books.

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Then when the US began to lift sanctions on Cuba and opened up US travel to there, I heard numerous news stories about the house where Hemingway lived and wrote. Often mentioned was this book and since it was his Pulitzer Prize winner, I thought it would make a good choice.

As with my other recent classic reads, I did not read this one in high school. But considering that it is only about 120 pages, it shouldn’t be a burden on a high school student. Even as slow a reader as I am, I read it in a single sitting in about 2.5 hours.

Other than the title, I knew nothing about this book except that it was about an old fisherman. For me, at times it tended to bog down as the old man endured wave after wave of hardship. But towards the end, I began to turn the pages more rapidly as I anxiously awaited the climax of the story. When I compare this classic to the ones I have read in previous years, I would say I liked this one the least. However, with a classroom led discussion, I am sure I would get more out of the too-short story.

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I hoped you enjoyed my book reviews this year. If I piqued your interest enough to read one, then my efforts have been worthwhile. But if you read one and thoroughly enjoy it as much as I did, then it will have brought pleasure to both of us. Because there is nothing better than a great book!

Best Books of 2016 – Chapter Four

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What an incredible story. Most everyone has heard about or is at least familiar with the tale of the 33 Chilean miners who were trapped below ground and then rescued in 2010. Deep, Down, Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar tells the true story of what actually happened. By special arrangement, only Tobar, along with the makers of the recently released movie, The 33 (2015), had unlimited access to the miners, their families, and the miners written and photographic documents after their rescue. And even though the eventual outcome of this historical event is fairly well known, the details are not.

The book breaks down the story into three phases. First, following the collapse in early August, those on the surface are left to discover if there are any survivors. This involves an almost “fishing-expedition” like process drilling in search of the men. Then once evidence is discovered that the miners did in fact survive, the story swings into the multiple herculean efforts under taken to keep them alive and bring the miners out. Then once freed, the book describes how each miner individually fared following their celebrity status once they were pulled 2,100 feet from below ground.

It’s a story of extreme survival and rescue on par with Uruguay’s rugby team that crashed into the Andes Mountains, as told in the book and movie by the same name, Alive. If you enjoyed that book, you definitely won’t want to miss this one either.

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I just love Richard Russo’s writing. So when I learned that he had published a new book in 2016, Everybody’s Fool, I was delighted. When I learned that it was a continuation of a story he had published years earlier, Nobody’s Fool, I was ecstatic.   If you have not read Richard Russo before, I would start with Empire Falls, his Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Then start at the beginning and read all of his books. You’ll find that Russo is not a prolific writer like Cussler or Patterson who churn out book after book. No this is where quality over quantity definitely really matters.

This story interestingly covers a period of less than 48 hours, about 10 years after the time of the first book. But an enthralling 48 hours it is with numerous divergences back in time that bring richness and understanding of the lives of the characters. And from the opening pages to the very end, there are several story lines that twist and turn and in the end, each is illuminated.

Throughout my reading of this book, it was impossible not to picture Paul Newman—cast as Sully in the movie Nobody’s Fool—whenever the story turned to Sully’s troubles. Sadly he won’t be available if they turn this latest book into a movie. But even sadder was when I turned the last page of this book and realized it was over. All I can hope is that Russo is working on another new novel.

informant

A fiction novelist could not have concocted and written a more unbelievable story. And yet this book, The Informant by Kurt Eichenwald is a well-documented, non-fiction accounting of the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) price-fixing scandal of the mid-1990s. When I saw this title pop up on my daily Book Bub and read the brief description, I knew it was a must read. I recalled back to when the story first broke in the news and followed all the updates with interest as several well-known pharmaceutical companies were also implicated in the conspiracy.

The book is filled with incredible details about the case from the very beginning to the dramatic and surprising conclusion. And along the way, the story takes unexpected and sometimes shocking twists and turns that nearly derail the entire covert operation. Although lengthy (over 650 pages), it will keep you turning page after page (numerous times I had to force myself to put the book down and go to bed) as you learn some of the activities the FBI informant, Mark Whitacre, an ADM executive undertook. Since it has been almost 20 years since the incident, I couldn’t recall the final outcome. So the ending was not a spoiler for me but a surprise finish.

before-thefall

Again I’m pleased with my one of my $3.99 BookBub finds. Were it not for that, I don’t know that I would have heard of Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall: A Novel unless someone had recommended it to me. Well I am now recommending it to you, my reader.

In case you have not heard about this book, it is the story of a private plane that crashes off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. This is not a spoiler; this is what we learn in the very beginning of the book. Then interspersed among intriguing chapters that progress and reveal the story following the crash are other chapters about each occupant on the plane, providing some relevant background on them, and then how they each ended up on that plane.

The ultimate cause of the crash is not revealed until the very end of the book amid a controversial side plot so it will keep you in suspense throughout. I couldn’t put this book down (well one time I had to because I ran my iPad down to 1% battery left). It was fortunate that I started reading it over Labor Day weekend because I could read unhindered by the call of work. I finished it in three days. You may not read it this fast; but you’ll want to—or even faster.

To be continued…