Sunday, May 17, 2020

Things Could Be Worse

We live in a time of adversity. Some might call it the worst of times. Yet, some have said the same of other times.
That's, coincidentally, true of the Spanish flu of 1918. My great-uncle and namesake was at Camp Funston in Kansas where some historians believe it originated. My relative was one of the fortunate who survived that pandemic which claimed an estimated 50 million lives around the globe.
The true extent of damage, both in lives and economics, for COVID-19 remains to be seen.
We are, though, more fortunate in many ways than our ancestors who suffered through the Spanish flu.
The Internet, for instance, provides the latest information and updates it in a timely fashion. The news didn't travel as fast in 1918. On the downside, conspiracy theories and quack prescriptions spread equally as fast as facts these days, adding to confusion and heightening fears.
Again, thanks to the Internet, China was able to dispense the DNA of the virus to other nations in a remarkably short time, giving researchers a leg up on understanding the virus and, hopefully, speeding up the process of developing a vaccine.
There's also the fact many advances have been made in medicine since 1918, advances which assure better treatment of patients and ability to save lives. In 1918, we didn't even know what a virus was, let alone how to deal with one. Physicians knew the disease spread through respiratory drops but they didn't have microscopes powerful enough to view a virus. You couldn't test for something you didn't know existed.
Because they did know how it spread, they did determine the value of social distancing, which has proven equally effective in the current pandemic. Unfortunately, then as now, some people are slow learners and fail to heed the best advice.
Then, as now, some in high offices put the economy or their own self-interest above the welfare of the public and downplayed the dangers, pushing to ease restrictions and social distancing. That did not bode well then, and it won't in the present. This is a dangerous disease and it won't go away just because we want it to.

Monday, January 6, 2020


I read 63 books in 2019, as always a mix of fiction and non-fiction.
Not all were published in the past year. When they came out isn't a criterion for selection. Like wine, some books improve with age. Here's my assessment of the 10 best in no particular order.
BEAR NO MALICE by Clarissa Harwood. Sometimes genre is a matter of interpretation. Some readers might view this first novel as a romance. It can just as easily be seen as a mystery or a historical novel.  What really matters is story. The reader is treated with insight into the politics of the Anglican church, the art world of the period and the stifling conformity of the Edwardian era--an intriguing mix of historical fiction, romance and mystery. Highly recommended.
NEW IBERIA BLUES by James Lee Burke. We've had a long wait for another Dave Robicheaux novel. Burke never disappoints. The violence in the novel may put off a more squeamish reader. But, trust me, the reward for overlooking that is some of the most lyrical prose and meditations on virtue you'll find in contemporary fiction. Intimations of the mortality of Dave and Clete signal this may be the final episode in the series. I sincerely hope not.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. This is a novel about survival and Kya, the protagonist, is adept at survival in the face of enormous odds. Abandoned by her mother, her siblings and, finally, her father, she is left alone to adapt and survive on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the period between the 1950s and 1970s. This is a debut novel by a scientist known for her nature writing. Her prose is poetic and beautiful and the insights into the workings of nature are informative and moving. The plot had me hooked from the start.
THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper. This is a page-turner with lots of surprises and a conclusion to shock even the most hardened crime reader. Jane Harper has crafted an enthralling tale of suspense, relationships, vivid characters and a landscape so real you can taste the dust and sense the lonely emptiness.
GERONIMO'S BONES by Darrell Bryant. The story may not be true, but it's truthful. Chaco, a young Apache man born in the wrong century, struggles against harsh odds to adapt to the life fate has given him. This is a novel with engaging and colorful characters, adventure, humor and tragedy. It isn't often a first novel resonates so well. I look forward to reading more of Darrel Bryant's work.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann. This non-fiction book targets a series of murders in the 1920s in which oil-rich Osage Indians were victimized and robbed--another chapter in the genocide of the native peoples. I've long been a fan of Grann and here he excels as a storyteller and reveals a little known chapter in history.
UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver. Two families in two different time periods inhabit a house in a unique New Jersey community. Their lives are changed in dramatic ways. Kingsolver introduces a real life pioneer woman naturalist who deserves to be better known. The contemporary characters were interesting, but I was more drawn to those in the earlier historic period.
THE FURIOUS HOURS by Casey Cep. The book Harper Lee couldn't write and possible reasons why--in addition to fascination insights on a murder for profit scheme, an ambitious lawyer, the South and Southerners and sundry other topics of interest.
THE FEATHER THIEF by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This unusual but true story has all the elements of a thriller and takes the reader into a bizarre world of obsession and greed pitted against science and beauty.
LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman. This stunning standalone novel set in 1960s Baltimore, portrays Maddie, a bored housewife who decides on the spur of the moment to leave her husband and become a crime reporter. Lippman's inspiration was the story was too real life disappearances in that time period in the city. The result is a compelling story.