Monday, October 13, 2014

Book Review: The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death

Have you noticed how every new nonfiction book has a long involved title? It's always something pithy, followed by a colon and then some elaborately long descriptor. The Emerald Mile: the epic story of the fastest ride in history through the heart of the Grand Canyon. An Invisible Thread: the true story of an 11-year-old panhandler, a busy sales executive and an unlikely meeting. Lawrence in Arabia: war, deceit, imperial folly and the making of the modern Middle East. The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky and Death. Poker, Beef Jerky and that's a title! How could you not be intrigued by that?

Purportedly, The Noble Hustle is about Colson Whitehead's quest to compete in the World Series of Poker in 2011. However, it really is an odd mixture of memoir, travelogue, self-reflection and (only-a-little bit) poker manual. You don't need to play poker to appreciate Whitehead's musings and mutterings. Just go along for the ride as Colson, along with his friends, his coach and his personal trainer, navigates the world of high stakes poker.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Serendipity and Small Houses

Serendipity means I run into this book on the New Books Shelf:  Tiny House Living: Ideas For Building And Living Well In Less Than 400 Square Feet.  This came after the conversation at home about building an addition on to our house that would be about 150 sq. feet and I didn't think anyone would ever want to rent that small of a space.  Evidently, I am wrong, and this book inspires one to think about how much space you really need, and how many things you own.  And it all led me down the rabbit hole of tiny houses so that I found Tiny Homes: Simple Shelter - Scaling Back in the Century by Lloyd Kahn.  Which reminded me how much I love all of Lloyd Kahn's previous books on home built shelter and why I had to actually own this book, not just check it out of the library and renew it the maximum number of times.  And it led to the DVD Tiny: A Story About Living Small about building a tiny house in Colorado.  One of the people interviewed in that documentary had a near-death experience and decided to build her own tiny house and live smaller which brings me to the latest book on my reserve list: The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir.  And don't get me started on that 100 Thing Challenge as an offshoot of all this tiny home building.  Or the bicycle tour of Little Free Libraries.  No books on those topics yet, but I'll be ready to reserve them once some authors get busy and write them!  And yes there are reserves on all of these books - just add your name to the list and you can be pleasantly surprised when they arrive.
~More Books

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier

When I lived in Northern California, a friend and I visited another friend who lived in Humboldt County. I remember being warned to look up in the trees before even thinking about smoking outdoors. At that time, the local law enforcement would wait for unsuspecting college kids to light up in the woods and then rappel down from trees to bust them - or so the story went. The other thing I remember about that trip was seeing the absolutely wonderfully crazy Kinetic Grand Championship - formerly known as the Kinetic Sculpture Race. Imagine two to five people racing over 40 miles in a bike sculpture that also needs to be able to move through sand and float on water. For these reasons and more, when I saw Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier by Emily Brady I knew I wanted to read it.

The book centers on four different people: Mare - an older hippie, Crockett - a younger grower, Emma - a student who grew up in Humboldt, and Bob - a deputy sheriff who patrols all of the southern part of the county (usually by himself). Mare is interested in growing marijuana for medicinal use, Crockett wants to make as much money as he can before cannabis is legalized in the state and the black market is killed. Emma is trying to understand why so many of the young people she grew up with have died. And Bob realized a long time ago that the country's War on Drugs was a complete waste of time and money. Each person's stories are interspersed with the others to tell the larger story of what life is like for those who live in Humboldt. Brady spent more than a year living in the county doing research and gaining trust from the inhabitants. This is a compelling book with memorable characters and stories.

- Sarah

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: Unreal City

“On Black Mesa we, as a society, are engaged in destroying some of our oldest sustainable Native American cultures so that people in Phoenix and Las Vegas can water their hundreds of golf courses, swim in swimming pools, and pretend they live in a desert miracle.”
Unreal City: Las Vegas, BlackMesa, and the Fate of the West by Judith Nies is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Arizona. She describes how public officials partnered with coal, utility and water industries to monopolize resources under the Hopi/Navajo reservations to fuel development in Las Vegas, Phoenix and California. Described as a ‘centuries-old land dispute’ between two tribes, Nies insists, “It is actually an example of a global phenomenon in which giant transnational corporations have the power to separate indigenous people from their energy-rich lands with the help of host governments.”

The history of corruption uncovered is deep and detailed. She ties together shady partnerships hidden behind the Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project, and the Navajo Generating Station power plant near Black Mesa – all touted as heroic public works projects created to serve local communities while they were secretly generating huge profits for private corporations.  Read Unreal City  and you will discover a history unwritten in the pages of mainstream textbooks.

~ Betsy

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Deportation of Wopper Barraza

In The Deportation of Wopper Barraza, aimless Wopper Barraza drifts and drinks and, after his fourth drunk driving arrest, is deported to Mexico. His father views it as an opportunity for Wopper to rebuild the family rancho, and dispatches his son with a map and suitcase bulging with appliances and clothing to distribute among the locals. After arriving in La Morada, the luckless deportee discovers a squatter has planted the family fields and built a house on the Barraza land. Soon the squatter's daughter is sleeping in Wopper's bed, and maneuvering him to a political appointment on the platform of modernizing La Morada. But opposition is fierce and talk is treacherous, as Wopper navigates through the hidden agendas and artifice of small town politics. Told through multiple voices - including his pregnant American girlfriend and his parents - Wopper's deportation is a lively journey across multiple borders and cultures.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Letters of Note

Forget the totally dull cover; the promise of the subtitle, "An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience" rings refreshingly true. Spanning a wide range of centuries and cultures, Letters of Note delivers a fascinating mix of politics, art, science, history and human emotion expressed through letters, faxes, postcards, and even a message carved on a layer of birch bark circa 1400 B.C.

Paradoxically - in a culture of instant everything and e-mail ephemera, where letters may be relegated to Paleolithic artifact status - former copywriter Usher (master of the widely popular blog, Letters of Note) proudly admits his love for purchasing, studying, collecting and treasuring this form of expression. These letters are culled from his vast resources. They are often presented in facsimile, and then transcribed so that the penmanship is perfectly intelligible. Sidebars feature background information on the letter writer and recipient, and place the letter within historical context. Writers include both celebrities as well as many unknown correspondents.

A few of my favorites -

A letter from Queen Elizabeth to President Eisenhower, which includes her recipes for drop scones (serves 16.)

Iggy Pop's life-changing advice to a young fan.

Clyde Barrow's praise to Henry Ford - "I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one."

Annie Oakley's letter to President William McKinley as the Spanish-American War loomed, promising "a company of fifty lady sharpshooters at your disposal."

Correspondence between 12 year old Jim Berger and Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright had designed a home for Jim's father and Jim asked Wright to design a dog house for Eddie - his Labrador Retriever. He proposed paying for the architectural plans from money earned from his paper route.