Books of 2019 – Number 10 – Eating Eternity: Food, Art and Literature in France by John Baxter

It has been a couple years since we went to Paris, but I still have a little moment when I unlock my phone and pay attention to the photo that lingers behind my screens of apps. It is the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. I took the picture while I stood under it and looked up. J’aime! Our last night in Paris, I made us go back to see it one more time.

Paris is magical like that. I chose my book #10, John Baxter’s Eating Eternity – Food, Art and Literature in France, because of my affection for Paris. John Baxter is an Australian writer and filmmaker who has lived in Paris for decades. He has written other books about France, but this is his only one devoted to food.

This was a very fun book to read. There are twenty-nine short sections – all with either reproductions of artwork or period photographs. Baxter writes about the café life in France and what food in the home (or castle) would look like. His writing about the Occupation of Paris during World War II brought to life the efforts of the chic restaurants to still delight when the food of the city was scarce. Chefs filled in the gaps by offering up zoo animals which were being sold off and city rodents. Yuck!

There are vignettes of artists Renoir, Monet, Cezanne, Dali and Matisse and their relationships to food in their life and in their art. He writes of wine, champagne, chocolate, fruit, vegetables and the many ways ingredients are combined for pleasure and sustenance. I learned and I enjoyed.

The book made me want to pop into a boulangerie for a pain au chocolat, and then take a stroll to the Eiffel Tower.

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Books of 2019 – Numbers 7,8,9 – MetaMaus, Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman

I’ve been down with a bad cold for the last few days, so reading time has been abundant. The last few days, I have been feeding my cold and starving my fever by plunging into the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of Art Spiegelman.

When we were in Colorado last summer, we took a daytrip into Aspen and, while there, we stopped in at the Explore Booksellers. We had been in this shop a few years ago, and I remembered the many small rooms filled with beautiful books. It had not changed. As I was browsing the shelves, my eye was drawn to my future purchase. MetaMaus is a beautiful book with a red fabric spine, and a unique cut-out on the cover represents a glass eye, but also the hole of the accompanying CD. The CD is filled with reference materials and the complete Maus I and Maus II by Art Spiegelman. The book is filled with sketches for Maus, other Spiegelman drawings, photos, inspirations, and an exposition of how Maus came to be. I took this beauty home with me, and I read it this week. When I was done, I found my copies of Maus I and Maus II and read those too (I would have read them on the CD, but my computer doesn’t have one of those old-fashioned appendages J).

The Maus books were groundbreaking when Art Spiegelman published them beginning in 1991. In graphic form, Spiegelman tells the story of his parents’ experience as Polish Jews during World War II. There are many amazing things about what he does with this story telling, but probably the piece that got the most attention, was that the Jews of the book are depicted as mice, and the Germans as cats.

I read the Maus books soon after they were published. I loved them. In panels of black and white, he told a tragic true story with no less ethos than if it was a biography of his parents containing many more words. His drawing style (reminding me of woodcuts), his lettering, his narrative – blew me away.  From there a graphic novel fan was born (although, at the time, that term was not really a thing. Maus made it a thing).

Spending a day sick in bed getting deep into Art Spiegelman’s head when he was creating Maus may not seem like the elixir some would choose. It didn’t cure what was ailing me, but I loved it.

Books of 2019 – Number 6 – Democracy in Chains by Nancy MacLean

For a few months now, I have been reading Ron Chernow’s biograpy of George Washington. It is my Kindle read, so I really only read it when I am travelling or when I wake up at night and can’t sleep. Because of that, the 818 pages of the book are taking some time to get through. I just, however, read about Washington’s inauguration, his reluctance to assume the role of President, and his continual efforts to ensure the people that their government would not turn into something outside of the democracy that so many had suffered to create.

This book is quite the juxtaposition to my sixth book of the year, Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains – The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America.  We are reading this one for our book club and I expect some good dialogue. Dr. MacLean is a professor of history at Duke, and her book begins in Jim Crow South. Early on it reviews the Brown vs Board of Education ruling and the measures that some communities went through to avoid the law taking effect. In parts of Virginia, it meant the shuttering of publicly funded schools from 1959 – 1964.

The book introduced me to James McGill Buchanan, a political economist who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on public choice economics. Buchanan’s career becomes the lens through which we see the intersection between economic theory and the billionaire capitalists who see their own success as a guarantor of the success of the country. Buchanan and his close group end up supported by the ultra-wealthy Koch family, and the mutual relationship leads to much of the neo-conservative movement that began with the Reagan Administration and continues today.

There are readers of this book who laud its content and wake-up call, and there are those who question its research and motive. What it made me recognize is that our democracy is never a guarantee. We need to pay attention. George Washington was not wrong to be nervous.

 

Books of 2019 – Number 5 – The Productivity Project by Chris Bailey

 

My book selection repertoire tends to be a mishmash of history-related non-fiction, but I also love me some self-help type books. I am open to how they make me think about how I may want to change how I think, act, do things, and generally conduct my life.

My number 5 book for the year falls in that category. Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project  – Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention and Energy, is the culmination of his year of productivity experimentation. For 365 days he put himself through a multitude of evidence-based experiments to see how and if it improved his ability to be productive. Bailey wrote about his year on a blog, and that led to the offer to write this book. The book details the winners that he culled from the experiments.

There is nothing groundbreaking in the pages of this book, but I can always use a good dose of coming face to page with the things that I know are useful, but that I slack on. My brain also benefits from a clear breakdown of why some of the things that I know I should be doing, could actually work. Time, attention and energy are the three components of productivity that Bailey identifies and highlights throughout.

Chapters of the book each focus on a takeaway and offer a challenge. One that I have tried to incorporate in my routine this year is what he calls his rule of three. Each morning – before any work is started – look forward to the end of the day and write down the three things that I want to have accomplished by the end of the day. I have been about 50/50 in actually doing this. When I do it, I think that it makes me more intentional during my day. When I don’t do it, I think I’m a loser (not really that bad, but I do wish I had done it).

Other challenges range from diet/nutrition, sleep, externalizing tasks and creating a maintenance schedule to review, and gratitude identification. I appreciated so many topics in a single book, and I have dog-eared and high-lighted what resonated with me. It definitely can’t hurt.

 

Books of 2019 – Number 4 – War Hospital – A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink, MD

 

 

War Hospital – A True Story of Surgery and Survival by Sheri Fink, MD

Publisher: Public Affairs in 2003

429 Pages

I just finished my fourth book for the year in my quest to read 52 books this year. I am enjoying the extra time that I am putting into making myself step away from other distractions and giving my attention to words.

Sheri Fink’s non-fiction work, published in 2003, is an incredible telling of what happened in the city of Srebrenica during the Bosnian War – a horror that raged from 1992–1995. Fink’s work focuses on a warzone hospital and the individuals who worked there. She writes of the paths that led the heroes of this story to the hospital. She describes how they learned the practice of war medicine in real time. Reading about the hospital’s day-to-day, you see the doctors and nurses suffer horrible losses, and work through grisly conditions. The physical, mental, and emotional toll is brutal. At the book’s end, only during the horrific massacre that took place in their village and threatened everyone, do the doctors, nurses, and others leave.

At its conclusion, Fink poses questions about the presence of humanitarian workers in such situations. Do such services provoke a false sense of normalcy and security? What is the responsibility of the medical professional when there is clear violation of anything resembling humanitarianism? Are expectations of neutrality for medical professionals the right stance?

I remember watching the 1984 Sarajevo Winter Olympics. It was a beautiful venue amidst picturesque mountains. People sat at sidewalk cafes drinking coffee and wine. Ten years later, those mountains sheltered snipers, foragers for food, and refugees trying to find a safe place. The Olympic stadiums were in ruins and marked by warfare. It is hard to believe it can happen. This book made me understand what happens when it do

Bright Spots Because of Joe

 

This blog has always been a fun place for me. When I was doing it consistently, I was happy to have a space to write down some of the things that I was thinking about, experiencing, and liking. I liked the creativity of it and the practice of writing that it offered. I have struggled with the time it takes to keep it up in a way that is meaningful, but I am ready to take it on again. I am inspired by one of my favorite writers out there.

Joe Posnanski used to write about sports for the Kansas City Star. He brought exquisite language to beautiful and not so beautiful sporting events. He wrote with a depth and enthusiasm that I loved. Career decisions moved him out of Kansas City several years ago, but I continued to follow him and his words. Recently, I became a supporter of his blog on Patreon. This means that for $3/month, I get to read Joe’s words. It is among the best money that I spend. It’s not the only place to find his writing, but it is a wonderful experience. (If you do not know him, you will understand what I mean just by reading one of his tributes to baseball legend, Buck O’Neill, or his article about taking his daughter to see Hamilton.)

In his writing, Joe has done lots of series over the years. On his blog recently, he posted his newest series: “Every day I can, I will give you 300 words on someone or something that has brought me happiness (and, I can tell you in advance, that I have a broad definition of happiness). I’m hoping this will be a nice little bonus for JoeBlogs readers, a little day brightener.” He is calling this his Happiness Hall of Fame. I can’t wait!

Joe has inspired me to do the same thing on my blog. If my blog makes me happy, I should use it. If I like to write and want to write better, I need to write. If I want to focus on what is good and what makes me happy, this could be a way to do it! I am making my new commitment.As often as I can, a short little bright spot – right here.