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March 20 2017

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell Jonathan gave 5 stars to Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (Hardcover) by Sarah Vowell
bookshelves: non-fiction, history, american-history, american-revolution, war
Sarah Vowel tells the story of the "swashbuckling teenage French aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette", winding in many of the events of the American Revolution and its actors. The book covers an amazing amount of history in less than 300 pages, including some discussion of how France's support of the fledgling nation directly and indirectly led to The Terrors of revolutionary France a just few years later. She also crams in all kinds of details of the people in this incredible drama, from his best friend and father figure George Washington, to the Adams' John and Sam, other generals, both for and against the American effort and weaves in some contemporary history (she was writing around the time of the original battles for the budget. Can't imagine what she would have to say now about the fractiousness of the nation).

Lafayette was orphaned at an early age, but as the only child of well to do parents, he quickly became the most sought after batchelor. But he really wanted excitement and headed to America at the young age of 19, leaving behind a pregnant wife, determined to make a name for himself in the fledging war effort. Showing a youthful exuberance and an offer to work for free gave him a leg up on the rest of the French and European crowd looking to make a name for themselves and quickly ingratiated himself into Washington's inner circle. His derring do carried the day more than once. His return tour in the 1820s was one of the biggest events in the young nation's history, with massive crowds showing up every day to see him.

Vowell carefully weaves in Lafayette's story with the story of the American Revolution, including all its warts, like the backstabbing Congress, the traitorous Benedict Arnold (no relation!) and the deplorable conditions at both Valley Forge and on the prisoner of war ships, where there were more casualties than the entire war combined. Told with humor and verve, with plenty of opinions, she mixes in her own story of visiting battlefields and other re-creations. An amazing book, with plenty of humor and pathos, chock full of great tidbits of information and leaves you with a real feeling of wonder how it all finally got done. Tremendous book, one I read in less than a day, and now I'm ready to dive into more of hers, like Unfamiliar Fishes.
El Paso by Winston Groom Jonathan gave 3 stars to El Paso (Hardcover) by Winston Groom
bookshelves: fiction, western, historical-fiction
El Paso is the newest book by the author of Forrest Gump, Winston Groom, and it tells the story of The Colonel and his adopted son chasing after Pancho Villa in the mountains of northern Mexico during the early 1900s when Mexico was in the throes of a revolutionary struggle. The Colonel founded a railroad (the New England and Pacific) that is foundering when they decide to take a trip to their massive holdings in Mexico (many rail barons had similar ranches). There stuff happens, as happens when you stumble into the middle of a revolution - much of it pretty ugly and sadistic.

Arthur Shaughnessy, the adopted son of The Colonel, is running the railroad while The Colonel just finds new and more expensive ways to spend what little money they have left. He thinks the trip to Mexico is crazy but they head off nonetheless. He, in fact, races the rail car carrying his father and mother, as well as his wife and 2 kids, by flying a new contraption from Chicago to El Paso, having his own set of adventures.

They get to the ranch in Mexico just before Pancho Villa shows up. He's accompanied by assorted historical personages like John Reed, Tom Mix and Ambrose Bierce. Arthur and the Colonel decide to drive their cattle to El Paso to avoid depredations by Pancho Villa and his army, but the women and kids get caught up in it. Villa kidnaps the children and brings them along for ransom.

Of course, when Arthur and the Colonel get to El Paso, they round up a small detachment and chase after Pancho and the kidnapped kids. Hijinx ensue and much blood is spread as the various groups track each other down.

Sadly, this book didn't really do much for me. I am not one big on "quests" in books - I think they just take up space and do nothing for the tightness of the narrative arc. And this has innumerable quests - Arthur's flight down to El Paso, the cattle drive back, their chase after Pancho Villa, Pancho Villa's travels himself, as well as the quests of several other minor characters. It was a dizzying array of quests, none of which were really that interesting.

And I remember reading somewhere just how lame an epilogue in a novel is, although I suppose there is a little bit of usefulness in a historical novel like this. The afterwards was pretty good, as it talked about some facts of revolutionary Mexico. I will add a couple books to my To Read list, like Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company and The Life and Times of Pancho Villa. But this book was just too disjointed for me, and the fictional characters not generally memorable.
2016 Favorite Albums: Congrats by Holy Fuck

March 17 2017

March 15 2017

Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman
"This is a somewhat strange, but very well written and edited memoir of an unusual young woman with a fascination of the North. The strangeness mostly comes from Blair's disassociative style, and the dry observation tone that seems to be a Scandinavian trait as the tone felt similar to the Swedish memoir The Fly Trap. There is a subdued emotional intensity throughout, and frankly I teared up about half a dozen different times toward the end for various reasons.

As a father of daughters, some parts of it were hard to read in the beginning, but Blair revealed some truths that we fathers need to reckon with."
Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube by Blair Braverman Jonathan gave 5 stars to Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube: Chasing Fear and Finding Home in the Great White North by Blair Braverman
bookshelves: memoir, non-fiction
Wow, what an entertaining read! Blair has an unusual attraction for the north, esp. for a girl living in California. She had lived for a couple of years in Norway and couldn't shake the attraction, so she applied for a year at a "folk school" back in Norway and learned how to dog sled!

The book follows her adventures afterwards in Alaska and then back in Norway. It's all a fascinating story. She accurately and honestly portrays her insecurities and doubts. Which makes it all the more amazing is that she doesn't think she is very courageous, although what else could you call it to leave high school for a year learning how to drive a team of dogs in Norway!

Great stuff.
Sacred Paws - Nothing

March 14 2017

2016 Favorite Albums: Opus by Eric Prydz

March 13 2017

Jonathan made a comment in the Just Thrill Me group:

I've been enjoying the Bob Lee Swagger series. I read the first one, Point of Impact after watching the not terrible movie based on it, Shooter, and really enjoyed it. The second one, Black Light fills in more of the back story for Mr. Swagger and is equally engrossing. Not sure if I want to read Dirty White Boys or Time to Hunt next. DWB sort of fills out the rest of the back story of the first two books of the Swagger series, but isn't part of the series, while Time is the actual third book.

Trump Microwave "Sur

Trump Microwave "Surveillance Proof"

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren Jonathan wants to read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

March 11 2017

The Black Manhattan

The Black Manhattan Cocktail

March 08 2017

How the news cycle w

How the news cycle works today

Delbert Mclinton - Don't Do It

March 07 2017

The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata Jonathan wants to read The Bohr Maker by Linda Nagata

March 06 2017

2016 Favorite Albums: Wild Pendulum by Trashcan Sinatras
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