Category Archives: Books



As I sit here in the coffee shop it is raining hard outside.  Almost everyone has their hood up.  We are truly in Colorado, however as no one has an umbrella.  My wife has umbrellas, but much of her childhood was in the Puget Sound area.

I am going to give you a little series about writing.  Writing is my most important retirement activity.  If I don’t get to write in any given week, I feel a little hole forming in my being.  So, here I am in the coffee shop with my trusty iPad.

To write, one must read.  I am a lifelong reader.  It wasn’t Dick and Jane, it was Scrooge McDuck with his three cubic acres of cash and his nephews, Huey, Dewey, and Louie.  In the living room there was a big round oak coffee table cut down from a dining table with stacks of magazines.  I read them all, including my dad’s Cosmopolitan and Redbook he subscribed to for the romance short stories in every issue.

Time, Life, The Saturday Evening Post, Outdoor Life, Lady’s Home Journal, Argosy, Popular Science, Sports Illustrated, and my Boy’s Life.  My comic books dwelt there as well.  My mother belonged to a local book club and the Book of the Month Club.  I read them all.

Other books were there as well.  My father’s railroad books and Utah and Colorado photography   books, all well thumbed to the point of loose bindings sat in the bookcase.  I had a bookcase in my room with lots of stuff to read.  My favorite books were Richard Halliburton’s Complete Book of Marvels, and Parade of the Animal Kingdom by Jane and Robert Hegner.  I still have them.

In school, I read everything we were assigned.  I even used the library.

Now I subscribe to High Country News, Scientific American, The New Yorker, the Disabled American Veterans Journal, and the Environmental Defense Fund journal.  Carol is regularly after me to get rid of some books.  She doesn’t seem to understand that books are sacred objects.  I must admit, however, some of them remain unread.

My favorite subjects are history, geology, spirituality, mythology, and nature books about the Colorado Plateau.  I have some fiction and do read fiction, but most of my stuff is non-fiction.

The Dalai Lama’s Cat

Carol and I have a bedtime ritual.  I read to her.  Mostly it is mystery novels written by women, but we sometimes range afield.  Lately it was The Dalai Lama’s Cat and The Art of Purring. By David Michie.   They are fun books told in the first person by Little Snow Lion, Rinpoche,  HHC (His Holiness’ Cat), and Meow Tse Tongue, all names acquired by that singular small feline.  They also contain good stuff about Tibetan Buddhism.  We got lots of good laughs.  Carol picks the books, so we seldom get bad writing.

One of the things the books bother me about is the popular market genre books suffer from poor editing and proofreading.  It looks to me publishers increasingly rely on authors to do their own editing.   Unfortunately, authors’ mistakes are often a function of ignorance about a subject.  For example, we recently read a couple of mysteries where the crimes occurred on rural gravel roads.  When those roads are built, the road itself is crowned so water will run off to the side rather than making ruts down the center.  The dirt for that crown comes from the side of the road, forming a borrow ditch.  The dirt is borrowed from the side.  I have seen barrow and burrow, but never borrow.  Those woman mystery writers just don’t know road construction.  Why don’t they ask me?  Why doesn’t their editor call me?

Little Free Library

Little Free Library

Little Free Library

Have you seen them?  These cute and brightly painted little houses are to be found in front yards all over town.  Bigger than a birdhouse, but much too small for a child’s playhouse, Little Free Libraries are popping up everywhere.  In fact, pretty soon Bill and I are going to have one in our front yard too!

Can you tell that I am excited?  I first ran across the Little Free Library concept on line sometime last fall.  As soon as I read about them, I knew I had to have one.  A career as a librarian always came up on the Strong Vocational Interest test when I was in school, and now I am finally going to be one.

LFL1 Right now our Little Free Library is sitting on a table in our new garage waiting for the final coats of bright red paint and protective glaze.  While the snow flies, it is too cold to paint.  Instead, I turn to my advance review copy of The Little Free Library Book by Margaret Aldrich (Coffee House Press, 2015).

If I can’t paint, I can read about other LFL librarians around the world who are finding so many pleasures in establishing small colorful libraries and sharing a love of books and reading with friends, neighbors and passing strangers.  I’ve learned that I wouldn’t have a chance to join this global community if not for Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin who built the first library in 2009 as a memorial to his book loving mother.  His library is No. 1.  Ours, received in January, 2015, is No. 21,265.

My favorite thing about this book is the many photographs of LFLs set up along city streets, suburban lawns and country roads from Bellingham to Bogota and other unexpected places around the world.  Many are elaborately decorated and embellished, but others are created out of found objects like discarded kitchen cabinets and even old microwaves.

Another exciting thing about the libraries is their power to build community.  Some librarians (they are called “stewards”) comment that they meet more people in a week since their library went up than they have met since they moved in to their neighborhood.   A big part of the fun is seeing who stops to poke through the books, which of the books are taken and what new books appear.

The Little Free Library Book contains suggestions for inviting others participation in library activities from a grand opening ceremony to organizing bike trips to visit other libraries nearby.  One steward met a family who had organized their vacation to visit LFL’s in distant communities.  What about making room for the distribution of original writing or setting up a small seed sharing project?

LFL2The Little Free Library Book offers many practical suggestions from how to install a counter to track visits to your library to how to deal with books that no one takes out or how to respond to problems that might come up with neighbors or city authorities.  While problems have arisen in some places, mostly the reception is very positive.  The Los Angeles Police Department has gone so far as to install LFL’s at their stations to encourage better community relations.

You might want to buy your LFL from the website   or, if you want to build your own, there are detailed plans to be found in The Little Free Library Book.  You can even find information on knitting your library a custom designed sweater!

By now you can tell that the LFL community is a zany and wildly creative bunch.  The Little Free Library Book is an exciting report filled with beautiful photos, great stories and inspiring ideas.  It’s worth a read even if you don’t want your own library.  But beware.  If you don’t want one now, you will after reading this book.  Look for it in April, 2015.  You can look for my library then too.

This is a guest post.  My wife Carol wrote it.  I am very much involved in the project, but Carol won’t let me paint.


A Book Review

9781608198061This week is a book review. Roz Chast, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, has come up with a graphic memoir.  I enjoy her cartoons, all quirky, EMOTIONAL, and full of insight about people.  Her new book is about her parent’s last years and death, a big subject for me.  Carol, her sister Judi, and I did a blog about caregiving for elderly parents.  The elderly parents are dead, as is our active blogging, but the website is still up.


So when “Can’t we talk about something more Pleasant” came out, I bought it. I think I am fairly typical for persons my age-I’m not a reader of graphic novels.  I have read some graphic stories, but this was my first full-length graphic anything.  Ms. Chast is a master at communicating feelings with her work and caregiving for dying parents is full of feelings.  Often children of parents who are at the end of life don’t really like their parent, and all sorts of feelings come up.  Guilt, shame, resentment, anger, sadness, fear, anxiety, and a sense of futility are some of the feelings.  The book evokes them all.


I am having trouble writing this review because the book brings all these feelings up in me, making it hard to get any flow in my writing.  I have been working on this review for three days and have 230 words written.  When we did the caregiving blog this happened to me.  Writing about subjects other than caregiving is easy.


Roz Chast does so well communicating her feelings as well as her parent’s feelings that I feel like I know them personally.  I appreciate her ability to express her reactions to her parent’s denial and show the dynamic with her parents that shaped her life and the way she dealt with their declines and deaths.  Her memoir must have been more painful to write as it was to read.


I tend not to read or write about books that I found painful to read.  This one is an exception.  I recommend it to anyone who has aging parents or is a parent.  Roz Chast deals with a difficult issue in a creative and intensely personal way.

Miscellany for February 17, 2014

Carol and I watched Amazing Grace last night.  It is one of the best movies I have seen in some time.  It is about William Wilberforce, who campaigned against slavery in the English Parliament for many years in the late 18th century.  A fine period piece, something the Brits do well.

I have trouble with a lot of Hollywood movies these days.  They seem to aim at a mass audience with little respect for the intelligence of the viewer.   The result can be a fun two hours, but I tend to forget them in about two days.

We do watch television, but not the usual fare with the exception of Downton Abbey, which is now popular here.  We watch both Sherlock Holmes series; Sherlock, from the Brits, and Elementary, set in New York.  Both are fun to watch, and have different takes on the original.

There are two mystery series we enjoy, also from the UK, and set in Oxford.  Inspector Morse, set in the early 1990s, and Inspector Lewis, set in the present.  Both are engaging, with fine views of medieval Oxford University.  Both shows depict Oxford academia as somewhat medieval as well.

Morse is an intellectual policeman who did not quite graduate from Oxford, while Lewis is a working class Geordie from Newcastle.  The contrast makes for good character development.  In the older series, Lewis is Chief Inspector Morse’s sergeant in the Morse series. In the Lewis series, Lewis is the Inspector with intellectual Sergeant Hathaway (Cambridge) as his assistant.

What is so good about the two shows is the connection to Oxford cultural life, green England, rain, interesting characters, and good stories.  A strange quirk is that with Morse, almost all the murderers are women.  What is that about?

Some books to mention are the Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn.  Bernie is the detective; Chet is the dog, who tells the stories from his perspective.  Good mysteries and Chet is quite the dog.  Chet is funny, and you will find yourself laughing out loud and often.  The same jokes tend to run from one book to the others, and I laugh every time.

Another book I recommend is Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides, a biography of Kit Carson. It is a well-done book about one of the most interesting Americans of the nineteenth century west.  John Carson, a ranger at Bent’s Old Fort and Kit’s great-grandson, does not like the book, so it is probably pretty accurate.  Kit did everything, went everywhere, and was something of a ruthless killer.  Sides tells the bad of old Kit with the good.