Tag Archives: Reading

“Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West” by Bryce Andrews

I like to read and I read a lot but I don’t get excited about most of what I read. When I do get excited its like, stop reading everything else, stop blogging, stop watching television, stay up late and show up at work tired. Badluck Way is one of those books. It is about the author’s one year stint as a ranch hand on a big ranch in Montana. He loved working there but he felt he had to leave.

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This book really spoke to me. I am no cowboy and don’t know a thing about ranches or cows but I have known people who know all about that. I have been fascinated by how the west is changing, but still kind of staying the same. The ranch that Bryce Andrews worked on is the Sun Ranch near Ennis, Montana. It’s a 17,000 acre spread near Yellowstone Park that was owned when Bryce worked by a gazilloinaire named Roger who was trying to make the ranch sustainable. Sustainable meant that cows, wildlife, such as elk, and deer, and predators such as wolves migrating from Yellowstone all live happily together.

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I have always thought that horses have a great sense of humor.

Bryce and his cohorts worked hard. The one thing I learned about ranching while growing up is that there is a lot more to it than riding horses. A ranch hand has to know about cows and their various illnesses and ailments, horses, and in addition fixes a lot of fence, cleans out spring boxes, and has to know about plumbing, electricity, auto mechanics, in addition to house maintenance. The other thing is that the work never stops and there is also something else to do and some things cannot wait. If a heifer is having problems calving and it is late the in the day, too bad about you plans. Ranching is hard ass work and there is no other way about it. It can be blazing hot or freezing cold, it doesn’t matter. Most people working ranches that I have known are very tough and very hard workers.

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Island Park, Idaho, less than an hour south of the Sun Ranch

The other thing I liked about the book is its description of modern ranching. Horses are just one means of transport among others for moving around the ranch. I’ve had ranchers tell me that horses are a pain. A four wheeler doesn’t need to be fed, they don’t have vet bills, they don’t cause trouble. Lots of the work in the book is done on four wheelers and pickup trucks. Four wheelers in particular can cover a lot of rough territory in a short amount of time and can carry lots more gear than a horse can carry.

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The other thing about the Sun Ranch where Andrews worked is that it is owned by a wealthy person. There are lots of family owned ranches in the west but it seems that more and more wealthy individuals own the ranches. The guy, “Roger” who owned the Sun Ranch while Andrews worked there bought it from the actor Steven Seagall. Non ranches owning big ranches is nothing new in the west going back to the 19th century. There is something about owning huge amounts of land, especially land with mountains, streams, timber,and wildlife that is very attractive to people.

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Photo by Golo, displayed under Creative Commons license allowing use with attribution and no derivatives.

The book is really about the wolves. The wolves who were reintroduced into Yellowstone Park in 1995 have been very fruitful and multiplied greatly and have, not being respecters of signs, have spread far beyond the National Park into the surrounding area including ranches where they have sometimes killed lots of cattle. Some of the wolves are collared with radio transmitters and the ranches can monitor the movements of the wolves.  The wolf reintroduction although successful has been very controversial and in some areas of the west if you think that the wolves are a good thing, you are best advised to keep the opinion to yourself. Anyway Andrews experiences dealing with the wolves affected him personally very much.

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The other thing about the book I liked is its portrayal of “cowboys.” Andrews talks about how after a couple months after starting work at the ranch he got properly outfitted with the right gear and clothes, he remarked to the ranch manager how Andrews thought he was looking like a real cowboy and the manager made the withering, pithy observation that he thought he preferred the word cowboy as a verb than a noun. (And a I can tell you that a such western withering, pithy observations can be humiliating).

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So it is not a sad story about a way of life that is disappearing, it is more of a story about how  way of life is changing with the times. It helps that Andrews is a talented and interesting writer and has a great respect for land, the owners, and the people who work the land. I found the book to be compelling read.

Meantime, the grinding crunch of capitalism works. Roger had to sell the ranch to a mining executive in 2010 because of the economic downturn. Roger Lang secured the future of the ranch as a refuge by selling conservation easements for almost all of it.

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

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The purple tag is from the Tulsa library.

I read a lot, we are one of the few families in America who get a newspaper delivered every day plus I read the online New York Times, and I get several magazines. Most of the time I have two books going, one nonfiction and one fiction. Every once in a while though I start reading a book where I shut down all my other reading and other activities until I finish it and Anne Tyler‘s “A Spool of Blue Thread” is such a book. I quit all my other reading and a lot of other activities just to read this saga of the Whitshank family.

I think that this may be one of those books where everybody gets something different out of the book. What I got was a family where everybody is a little different but there is a common thread between them. It is also a book about people and how they can change but basically stay the same. It is a book about families and the myths they have about themselves and how they think those myths make them exceptional. I loved this book. It may be one of the best books I have ever read. So I recommend it highly!

I got this copy from the Tulsa Library, for free!! I work that free angle hard because I am kind of cheap I guess. Plus I like to support our libraries.

The Bishop’s Wife by Mettie Ivie Harrison

You know I use the Goodreads App to note down books that I’m interested in. I might find lead on interesting books in various newspapers and magazines and from people I know. After a while I forget where I got the tip from. And when I’m looking for new books I start at the most recent and go back until I find one that the Tulsa library has that I can download without waiting on it. So I don’t know where I got the idea that I wanted to read “The Bishop’s Wife.”

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LDS Temple in Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls Temple Moroni

The Angel Moroni

I downloaded the book and oh groan it looks like a “Woman’s Book” type murder mystery. The protagonist is Linda Wallheim who is the wife of a bishop. Not a Catholic Bishop of course (now that would be a story!) or an Episcopal or Methodist Bishop but a Mormon Bishop. So, uh, I said I spent much of my formative years in Utah and northern Arizona in heavily Mormon dominated areas and I have relatives who are Mormons. In fact I had a shop teacher in my high school in Arizona who was a Mormon Bishop. We, everybody, not just Mormons, called him Bishop Brown instead of Mr. Brown. So anyway that piqued my interest more than a little bit. So, it was like “What the heck, I’ll keep on reading this.”

So anyway this Bishop’s wife Linda Wallheim is one of those women who make the world go round. Maybe you know them regardless of what religion or belief you are. They are right in the mix of things at church, school, Cub Scouts, and any other activities. I recognize them because my mother was that way, and I’m married to one, and I have a sister who is one also. Like my MIL Nana says, “If you want anything done, you have to get an old broad to do it.” Not that my wife and sister are old broads. So anyway Linda (I feel like I’m old friends with her after reading the book), is here there and everywhere. Basically she is leaning on the church door every time it opens. As you can tell I fell in love the character.

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The LDS Temple in Kansas City, Missouri

Now the thing is, although a Mormon Bishop is a lay position (that means they do it for free) it is an official position of authority in the Mormon church. The Bishop’s wife is not an official position but she is the “Mother of the Ward unofficially. So Linda’s husband asks her to go check on people from time to time. So he asks her to go check on things with a couple families who are also close neighbors. Well she takes that assignment to heart, she checks in on them and then next thing you know she is rifling through garages and finding all sorts of suspicious things and pokes around their back yards. She also surreptitiously goes through their cell phone call histories and goes through their dressers. And then she goes back to her house and bakes cookies and brownies. Her other duty as the Bishop’s wife is that some of the women in the ward will talk to her when they don’t feel comfortable talking to the her husband. I tell you what she gets an ear full from some of these women. They tell her some things that would make Hannibal Lector flinch. It’s like wow!!

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Another angle on Moroni

On the spiritual side of things Linda is of course a devout and faithful Mormon woman but she chafes under the all-male authority structure of the church and really gets steamed when her own husband tries to play the bishop card on her. She pretty much does what she wants and doesn’t tell him anything she doesn’t think he needs to know. She has two grown sons and one still in school and her relationship with them is a little prickly. This all makes Linda real to me.

And oh yes, murder’s are committed and the perps are found and my friend Linda is right in the mix. I am hoping that Mettie Ivie Harrison writes another one of these books. I loved it. This is her first Adult book after several young adult fantasy romances. She is a practicing Mormon and lives in Utah.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin is one of those books that is hard for me to categorize. A.J. Fikry is a widowed book seller in a small island town and is pretty darn prickly. The book opens with a pretty young publisher rep coming to present her employers line of books for the upcoming season and he pretty much throws her out after demeaning and insulting her. Then I find out that he is only in his 40’s which speaking as a sometimes crusty guy myself, that is way too young to be that crusty.

And then the storied part comes. Somebody steals a prized, very valuable book from him, somebody else leaves a baby in the store that he decides to raise and then the the pretty young bookseller comes back into the story. Given all that, I wouldn’t call this a “heart warming book” it is about a life that is lived with ups and downs and two steps backwards for every step forward. I loved the book and hated when it ended.

It is a rare book that me, my wife, and my MIL all loved. I’d loan you the copy I read but MIL wants it back.

I give it five stars.

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

#Oahu #Beaches #Sky #Ocean #Hawaii #Hipstamatic

Before our trip to Hawaii I asked my facebook pals for recommendations for vacation books. Anne from the UK recommended Alan Brennert’s Moloka’i. It is set in Hawaii in the early 1900’s. It sounded good to me so I loaded it up on the old Kindle and read it while on vacation.

It is a novel about a girl, Rachel Kalama, living in Honolulu in a very loving, extended family. All that changes dramatically when she is suspected of having leprosy and is separated from her family and is sent to a leper colony on the island of Moloka’i. The book is about her life there and I don’t want to give anything away but I loved this book. It is about life and death and making a life where you are. It describes terrible cruelty and great love. It has cultural references to the islander’s religion and describes some of the history and effects that the missionaries had on the island.

I give it five stars out of five. I had never heard of Alan Brennert before and I will be reading more of his work.

Writing Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon

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I received Writing Blue Highways as a Christmas gift. It is only 164 small format pages and I zipped through it in two days. It is not so much about the book Blue Highways as it is about the process of writing the book Blue Highways. Now there are two types of people in the world. Those who read Blue Highways and loved it and those who never heard of it. It came out in the early 1980’s and is about a 13,000 mile road trip that William Least Heat-Moon took to discover America. He follows the secondary roads, the so called “Blue Highways” of the title. He travels around and talks to people on the way. The road trip took less than a year. It took five years to write the book and the “Writing Blue Highways” is about those five years.

The pencil written first draft and the typed multiple drafts after that. The endless editing and redrafting. The submissions to publishers, editors, and agents and the rejections. It is also about the financial hardship. He had to earn a living while writing the book. Basically he wrote every spare hour that he had. The book is also about the relationships that suffered because of his writing. The book is also about the drive of the writer and the creative process and the refining process of editing and redrafting. There is not much financial reward in most writing.

I was really inspired by this book and so I am going to reread “Blue Highways” it will be one of the few books I’ve ever read three times. I love his pluck and his writing and marvel at his nerdiness. (That is a word here in Oklahoma, just so you know.)

I highly recommend this book if you liked Blue Highways or if you like reading books about the process of writing. I am not giving this copy away. I’m keeping it. I very rarely keep books these days. Apparently I gave away my copy of Blue Highways so I bought a Kindle version of it. Obviously I’m not giving it away either. Kindle is forever, or at least until Amazon has decreasing sales for three for quarters in a row. That is forever these days. Believe me, I work for a master limited partnership.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors by James D. Hornfischer

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I was visiting my Uncle, Glenn, last summer during a family reunion and he said that he had just go through reading a great non-fiction book called The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors about a battle in Pacific Ocean during World War II between the United States and Japan where a small contingent of US Navy destroyers and small (“Jeep”) Aircraft Carriers fought off a force of Japanese Battleships and Heavy Cruisers who were intent on attacking General McCarthur’s invasion force of the Philippines. These small ships were the only obstacle the Japanese navy faced. His recommendation got my attention. My uncle is a former naval officer so when he says such a book is good then it probably is.

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So I put it on my Goodreads list and being the bargain hunter that I am, when I saw go on sale on Amazon Kindle for $2 I bought it (It is no longer on sale, sorry). Anyways the book kind of starts out slow as it provides a lot of background for the characters involved but once it got going it really zinged. The Japanese had lured the American’s battleships and large aircraft carriers away from the area with a ruse and were hard charging to attack the American invasion force.  This led to what was called the Battle off Samar.

The Japanese navy sunk four American ships by naval gunfire including one aircraft carrier (the first and only time that an aircraft carrier was sunk by surface ships) and sunk another carrier by Kamikaze attack. The ships fought back though even while they were sinking and the Japanese turned away.

This part of the book reads as good as an action thriller I’ve ever read. The next part of the book is about how the survivors were left adrift for over two days because the Navy didn’t promptly start a search and rescue operation. This is heartbreaking as it talks about the sharks showed up and started picking off the sailors one by one.

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The author of the book spent some time researching the Japanese side of things also. It turns out the the Japanese did not know that all they were facing was small ships. They thought that they were engaging the US Navy’s main force. The book also talks, from both the Japanese and US points of view how the Japanese deliberately did nothing to kill sailors who were abandoning their ship and were in the water and in fact one Japanese vessel’s crew saluted the sailors of one ship who were in the water after their vessel sunk. Another Japanese warship deliberately stopped firing at sailors who were still on a ship but were climbing down nets to the water.

The book makes heroes out of the ordinary sailors and ship commanders and is hard on many of the US Admirals who were more interested in their press clippings than the welfare of the sailors under their command.

This is an inspiring book and I recommend it highly.

Woody Guthrie’s “House of Earth”

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Woody Guthrie wrote House of Earth in 1949 and set in the 1930’s on a farm in the Texas Panhandle. It has two main characters Tike and Ella May Hamlin who are struggling to make a go of it sharecropping wheat on a dry farm during the depression. The book was never published until recently when it was discovered and published in 2013.

Three things about the book interested me. First the book is unabashedly political in tone. Guthrie speaks about the various interests in business and government that he thinks keep people down. Nothing surprising there, many people here in Oklahoma, where he came from regard him as a communist. Second, the first part of the book features a long very explicit sex scene that is very raw and down to earth. It will probably curl the toes of almost anybody that reads it. Toward the end of the book is a very graphic baby delivery scene. I guess the one leads to the other you could say. I am thinking no wonder the book wasn’t published, who would touch it back

The third, is the voice of the book. You can sure tell that Guthrie is a song writer. The language is strong,direct and very readable and like a song. Some books I read for the plot, others for the action, I loved this book  for the writing. Guthrie can write and comes out like a song, it flows and it goes here there and everywhere.  The writing really surprised me. I was not expecting much and boy I was surprised in a good way. I like the good way surprises.

#woodie #guthrie exhibit at #central_library #tulsa - this machine kills fascists

The fourth thing, and another surprising thing, was that Guthrie used the book to push adobe home construction. He saw it as a way of building inexpensive, durable, comfortable houses for the people. In fact that is where he got the title of the book.

An adobe house, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, converted to solar energy heating..., 04/1974

(House in Santa Fe, 1974, Photograph from US National Archives on Flickr Commons)

He spends considerable time in the book writing about shoddy wooden shacks with no insulation, termites, and rot.  Adobe is basically dried mud and comes from the earth. He saw adobe houses as houses for everyman

I don’t know how great a read this book is but it certainly was interesting because of who the author was, the intense scenes and language, and the strong (not obscene) language, plus the outspoken political tone and the surprise interest in adobe. All I can say is that I liked it.

Below is a time lapse video of the construction of an adobe house in Peru.

Hidden Cities – A Memoir of Urban Exploration by Moses Gates

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Hidden Cities: A Memoir of Urban Exploration is a chronicle by Moses Gates of his and his friends explorations into places where he is not supposed to go like the catacombs of Paris, the subway systems of New York City and London as well as climbing various bridges and buildings and sewer systems the world over.  No trespassing signs just seem to attract him.  It turns out that there is a huge subculture of urban explortionist’s that love to to do these things. For example I think that I am the only guy in Tulsa that hasn’t sneaked into the Tulsa Club for a look see.  I went very shallow into Tulsa huge storm sewer system to find a geocache once but I haven’t ventured into the Elm Creek Tunnel to find it’s geocache. Supposedly it would require five miles of walking through the storm drain. I’m not doing that!!

Speaking of Elm Creek Tunnel, which drains into the Arkansas River. It seems to be hot on the list for Tulsa area urban explorers and You Tube has lots of videos of parties that have gone on. They look absolutely miserable to me. But I would go!! I wouldn’t stay long though. I did go into it a few feet to take a pic though.

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I’m too much of a rule follower plus kind of a chicken. In my geocaching I get to talk to enough security guards without having to explain why I am in a building where I don’t belong. I do feel free though when a door is left open and there is no signage to go check things out if I feel interested.

Back to the book, it is a good read although a bit scattered. It kind of convinced me that I would not be a good urban explorer but I am fascinated by people who have to venture over the ropes and beyond the no trespassing sign.

Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe

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Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe is set in present day Miami, Florida and it is a highly politicized, racially charged, and ultra class conscious Miami. It’s main characters include a young Cuban American policeman whose heroic efforts made him a hero to the Anglo community and a pariah to his fellow Cuban American people, a class climbing celebrity porn doctor and his young pretty nurse whom he uses and abuses, a thuggish , possibly violent, Russian oligarch with a taste for fine art.

I loved this book and its various characters who are either rejecting their own class to advance up or are rejected by their class or are wanting to morph into new identities.

I feel that I’m kind of on my own in liking this book. Apparently it was a commercial failure. Good thing I don’t read reviews before I read books or I would have missed this one.

I give this book five stars!! So take that professional book reviewers!!