Category Archives: fiction

Inimitable Jeeves

0023a0b3_mediumI’d heard of P.G. Wodehouse and of his famed character the valet, Jeeves, but I’d never read these novels. Last week, I needed an audio book for what I rightly expected would be long drives in L.A. So I checked out the audio book, The Inimitable Jeeves.

I usually don’t listen to audio books, but in the case of The Inimitable Jeeves, the audio book is the way to go. The narrator Jonathon Cecil does a marvelous job reading with terrific voices for each character whether he speaks Etonian English, Cockney, American and all other accents.

The stories themselves delight. Bertie Wooster, Jeeves’ employer, gets himself into amazingly ridiculous situations. The more he tries to lay low, the more old goofy schoolmates, troublesome cousins or his matchmaking aunt get him tangled up into social seaweed, that only the wise Jeeves can get him out of.

I liked the stories so much, that I played it twice. I’m now off to the library to get another Jeeves book on tape.

Just a few wonderful quotations:

“We Woosters do not lightly forget. At least, we do – some things – appointments, and people’s birthdays, and letters to post, and all that – but not an absolutely bally insult like the above.”

“Warm-hearted! I should think he has to wear asbestos vests!”

“How does he look, Jeeves?”
“What does Mr Bassington-Bassington look like?”
“It is hardly my place, sir, to criticize the facial peculiarities of your friends.”


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1419418Since I’m taking the MasterClass David Mamet teaches I thought I’d read some of his plays. This week I got his play November (2008) which is about an American president Charles Smith who’s up for re-election with no funds for campaigning. He’s been cut off by his party. He’s getting no help from his speech writer either. He has one person who’s still advising him, Archer.

Archer provides a reality check (if we can call information on the absurdity of how DC works reality) for the President. Smith would like to strong arm his opponents and betrayers as they cut off his funds or call in sick.

A main plotline here is the President’s traditional pardon of a turkey before Thanksgiving. According to the play, the turkey farmers’ association gives the president a stipend, a hefty stipend for the pardon. Now Smith strives to up the amount by threatening to have his speechwriter convince the public that it’s not PC to eat turkey.

The play moves quickly and has a robust humor, colored with profanity, as you’d expect from Mamet. The story is outlandish and now a bit dated because we’ve resolved some of the issues it tackles. I wouldn’t say this is a must read or that the play’s a must see. It does exemplify Mamet’s rules for writing, e.g. don’t bore the audience with exposition and start in medias res.

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Posted by on January 29, 2018 in drama, fiction, postaweek


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Ikigai is a Japanese word that refers to the intersection of your mission, passion, profession, and vocation (see below). Héctor Garcìa and Francesc Miralles investigated a village in Okinawa which has the highest number of residents over the age of 100.


Their secrets to longevity and quality of life are useful, but the book as a whole could easily be edited down to an article. The authors travel to Japan and interview several active, healthy centenarians but all that’s shared are a few conversations and a list of quotations along with a description of 10 common qualities of these vibrant centenarians and explanations of how they implement them into their daily lives:

  1. Never retire – always participate in meaningful, helpful activities
  2. Take it slow – no need to rush which makes people stressed.
  3. Don’t eat till you’re full – stop eating when you’re 80% full or fast a day or two a week.
  4. Keep moving through light exercise. You don’t need to do contact sports or run an marathon. Keep it simple.
  5. Surround yourself with friends. Have several relationships so if one ends, you have back up.
  6. Smile
  7. Reconnect with nature.
  8. Give thanks.
  9. Live in the moment.
  10. Follow your ikigai.

The trouble I found with the book was the meandering. I think there were 10 qualities just because ten is a round number. In addition to information about ikigai, there’s a lot of fluff about yoga, tai chi, Csikszentmihalyi’s flow. They also add paragraphs that should have been deleted about their trip from the airport and such banalities. The ideas about flow, tai chi, etc. were from the authors and not from the Japanese elders.

I’d hoped that this would be like The Little Book of Hygge, but it lacked the wit and the tone of the book. I think I’d rather read such a book written by an insider. Someone from Japan would be able to add insights two outsiders couldn’t.

So this is a book to get from the library and skim. then go out and find that passion, make more friends, smile and eat till you’re just 80% full.

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Posted by on January 18, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction


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Hillbilly Elegy


J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy takes readers to Kentucky and Southwest Ohio, home of the hillbillies, the real one’s who make the Clampetts look like straight-arrows. Vance explains his family history starting with his grandparents, Mamaw and Papaw, who like many in their hometown left Kentucky in search of a more stable life starting with a well-paying job in the steel industry. Economically, the family gains security.

However, alcoholism, verbal abuse and other destructive behavior held back Vance’s family. Papaw’s drinking and Mamaw’s outlandish responses to it caused their divorce. Though his grandparents always provided J.D. and his sister with the stability their mother, a single mom with a string of boyfriends and husbands, couldn’t provide.

He shows the hillbilly culture with all its highs and lows. The loyalty and chutzpah on the one hand and the lack of structure, financial and social capital on the other. Vance is candid about his mother’s drug use and series of boyfriends and husbands, about his grandmother’s temper and outbursts, about his sister’s responsibility and life choices. All along he explains how he thought about his family and his own successes and failures.

Vance also shares research that helped him understand the sociology and psychology which had been done about his culture. He shares his thoughts on what policies could help such at risk families and where personal responsibility or tough love are the only answers.

Vance now is a big success with a good marriage and good job in California. He struggled growing up so much so that it’s a miracle he didn’t wind up dropping out of school and dealing drugs. Many times when Vance was stuck with a bad situation he chose a great option, all things considered.

It’s a fascinating read and it belongs near the top of any policymaker’s To Be Read List. My only criticism was that the end could have moved more swiftly. The parts where he goes into statistics and research could be more concise and more graceful. These are minor points.

I just learned that Ron Howard is making a film based on Hillbilly Elegy. Vance’s life is getting better and better.

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Posted by on January 14, 2018 in fiction, memoir, non-fiction


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Poem of the Week

snow poem

To Winter

William Blake

O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.

He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his scepter o’er the world.

Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.

He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

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Posted by on January 13, 2018 in fiction, poetry, postaweek


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From 1001 Afternoons in Chicago

I’m intrigued by a book I just discovered, Ben Hecht’s 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. It’s available on Project Gutenberg. It’ll have to go on my TBR (to be read) list for a time, but sample this:


Why did Fanny do this? The judge would like to know. The judge would like to help her. The judge says: “Now, Fanny, tell me all about it.”

All about it, all about it! Fanny’s stoical face stares at the floor. If Fanny had words. But Fanny has no words. Something heavy in her heart, something vague and heavy in her thought—these are all that Fanny has.

Let the policewoman’s records show. Three years ago Fanny came to Chicago from a place called Plano. Red-cheeked and black-haired, vivid-eyed and like an ear of ripe corn dropped in the middle of State and Madison streets, Fanny came to the city.

Ah, the lonely city, with its crowds and its lonely lights. The lonely buildings busy with a thousand lonelinesses. People laughing and hurrying along, people eager-eyed for something; summer parks and streets white with snow, the city moon like a distant window, pretty gewgaws in the stores—these are a part of Fanny’s story.

The judge wants to know. Fanny’s eyes look up. A dog takes a kick like this, with eyes like this, large, dumb and brimming with pathos. The dog’s master is a mysterious and inexplicable dispenser of joys and sorrows. His caresses and his beatings are alike mysterious; their reasons seldom to be discerned, never fully understood.

Sometimes in this court where the sinners are haled, where “poised and prim and particular, society stately sits,” his honor has a moment of confusion. Eyes lift themselves to him, eyes dumb and brimming with pathos. Eyes stare out of sordid faces, evil faces, wasted faces and say something not admissible as evidence. Eyes say: “I don’t know, I don’t know. What is it all about?”

These are not to be confused with the eyes that plead shrewdly for mercy, with eyes that feign dramatic naïvetés and offer themselves like primping little penitents to his honor. His honor knows them fairly well. And understands them. They are eyes still bargaining with life.

But Fanny’s eyes. Yes, the judge would like to know. A vagueness comes into his precise mind. He half-hears the familiar accusation that the policeman drones, a terribly matter-of-fact drone.

Another raid on a suspected flat. Routine, routine. Evil has its eternal root in the cities. A tireless Satan, bored with the monotony of his rôle; a tireless Justice, bored with the routine of tears and pleadings, lies and guilt.

There is no story in all this. Once his honor, walking home from a banquet, looked up and noticed the stars. Meaningless, immutable stars. There was nothing to be seen by looking at them. They were mysteries to be dismissed. Like the mystery of Fanny’s eyes. Meaningless, immutable eyes. They do not bargain. Yet the world stares out of them. The face looks dumbly up at a judge.

No defense. The policeman’s drone has ended and Fanny says nothing. This is difficult. Because his honor knows suddenly there is a defense. A monstrous defense. Since there are always two sides to everything. Yes, what is the other side? His honor would like to know. Tell it, Fanny. About the crowds, streets, buildings, lights, about the whirligig of loneliness, about the humpty-dumpty clutter of longings. And then explain about the summer parks and the white snow and the moon window in the sky. Throw in a poignantly ironical dissertation on life, on its uncharted aimlessness, and speak like Sherwood Anderson about the desires that stir in the heart. Speak like Remy de Gourmont and Dostoevsky and Stevie Crane, like Schopenhauer and Dreiser and Isaiah; speak like all the great questioners whose tongues have wagged and whose hearts have burned with questions. His honor will listen bewilderedly and, perhaps, only perhaps, understand for a moment the dumb pathos of your eyes.

As it is, you were found, as the copper who reads the newspapers puts it, in a suspected flat. A violation of section 2012 of the City Code. Thirty days in the Bastile, Fanny. Unless his honor is feeling good.

These eyes lifted to him will ask him questions on his way home from a banquet some night.

“How old are you?”


“Make it twenty-two,” his honor smiles. “And you have nothing to say? About how you happened to get into this sort of thing? You look like a good girl. Although looks are often deceiving.”

“I went there with him,” says Fanny. And she points to a beetle-browed citizen with an unshaven face. A quaint Don Juan, indeed.

“Ever see him before?”

A shake of the head. Plain case. And yet his honor hesitates. His honor feels something expand in his breast. Perhaps he would like to rise and holding forth his hand utter a famous plagiarism—”Go and sin no more.” He chews a pen and sighs, instead.

“I’ll give you another chance,” he says. “The next time it’ll be jail. Keep this in mind. If you’re brought in again, no excuses will go. Call the next case.”

Now one can follow Fanny. She walks out of the courtroom. The street swallows her. Nobody in the crowds knows what has happened. Fanny is anybody now. Still, one may follow. Perhaps something will reveal itself, something will add an illuminating touch to the incident of the courtroom.

There is only this. Fanny pauses in front of a drug-store window. The crowds clutter by. Fanny stands looking, without interest, into the window. There is a little mirror inside. The city tumbles by. The city is interested in something vastly complicated.

Staring into the little mirror, Fanny sighs and—powders her nose.


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Posted by on January 3, 2018 in American Lit, fiction, postaweek


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Mindshift cover 2017_0.jpg

I first encountered Barbara Oakley, PhD in the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) called Learning to Learn on She taught the engaging course with Terrence Sejnowski, PhD.

To say Mindshift is mind-blowing is an understatement. The book explores how we can change our thinking to learn better and change the trajectory of our careers. Each chapter interviews a person who’s struggled and then implemented a new way of thinking to succeed in a career or career change. For example, one chapter follows a successful jazz musician who decided he wanted to do more for the children at the hospital where he volunteered. He wasn’t good at science or math in school, but after adopting new learning skills, he succeeded in the math and science classes he needed and got into med school. (By the way, studies have shown that music majors make better doctors than biology majors.)

Another chapter presents the importance of mentors through research as well as the life experience of a man who got off track and dropped out of high school. He had been ditching school and when his parents found out, he convinced them to let him quit. They did, but required him to get a job. When he did, he also started seeking out mentors. He didn’t join any organized programs, he just lined up people who were doing the work that he needed to learn or that fascinated him. He didn’t come to them expecting a one-way street. He figured out how he could offer them service of value so the relationship was balanced.

The only chapter I thought could be better was on career change. It did have some helpful tips, but as the man portrayed changed from one science (physics) to another (neurobiology) while the subject and types of experiments were different, he remained in academia where he could sit in on a college courses for free and get post doc jobs. Thus his change wasn’t as dramatic as other people’s. The industry he was in offered ways to retrain and respected his doctorate in physics so that his path wasn’t as bumpy as others.

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Posted by on January 2, 2018 in fiction, non-fiction


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