Saturday, August 13, 2022

100 Things I Want To Tell My Children And Grandchildren, #43

Be kind. 

This photo is in memory and honor of my 
beautiful, youngest sister Honey. I miss you. 

My husband of 32 years, who has undergone three open-heart surgeries and had numerous strokes leaving him somewhat physically and cognitively disabled, recently fell and broke his nose and badly cut his face, leading to four middle-of-the-night emergency room visits (due to uncontrolled bleeding), and a week-long stay in the hospital. Despite being the one injured, my amazing spouse was accepting and non-complaining, as usual. I, on the other hand, was terrified, exhausted, angry, and questioning the quality of my life.


Then I saw that one of my grandchildren had posted a very touching, unexpected TikTok tribute to me featuring every text I’d ever sent her - dozens of words of advice, encouragement, warnings, etc. Words I never knew she even read or paid attention to. My granddaughter's kindness and acknowledgment instantly transported me from a very dark place, and made me realize how powerful a simple act of kindness can be. 


We know so little about each other’s lives and what people are going through, and each of us has the opportunity to offer some small kindness that can transform a life or just brighten someone's day. 


Be kind. 

Cluster Critiques 8-13-22


Last Dance on the Starlight Pier: A Novel by Sarah Bird

Texas Author Sarah Bird is not just an exceptional writer, she’s also a keen chronicler of unnoticed or forgotten histories. For example, in Daughter of a Daughter of a Queen, she gave us the beautifully fictionalized, yet true story of an African American slave woman, Cathy Williams, who, disguised as a man served as a Union soldier in the Civil War.


In Bird’s new book Last Dance on the Starlight Pier, she takes us into the outwardly glamourous, inwardly gritty world of depression-era dance marathons and vaudeville, the wildly popular entertainment mediums during that period. Bird also primarily sets the story in Galveston, which during Prohibition was the center of illegal gambling and boozing, replete with Mafia rule. An important backdrop to the story is the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as President of the US, a watershed moment in American history. 


Main character Evie Grace Devlin, raised in the seedy business of vaudeville and in the red light district of “Vinegar Hill” in Houston, is exploited by her self-absorbed mother, but is a survivor fighting to escape her heritage. Despite training to become a nurse, through a twist of fate she joins a troupe of marathon dancers scraping out a living dancing almost nonstop to distract depressed and desperate families from the harsh realities of the Great Depression. The marathon dancers and the Galveston mob team up for a grand dance marathon event at the aging Starlight Pier Ballroom jutting out over Galveston Bay, but things go terribly wrong. 

Bird lures us in with this ripe setting and vivid characters, then stuns us with an unexpected and courageous twist involving Evie and her charming, handsome love-interest Zave, the heart-throb of the dance marathon scene. Last Dance on the Starlight Pier is a time-machine that will transport you to a unique and intriguing era. It will also make you a partner to the story. You'll swoon over Zave, pull for Evie Grace, see the lighted pier against the Galveston sunset, and feel the desperation and faith of the families living through the depression. And as you read the last few pages you’ll be a little sad knowing both the era and the story are coming to an end. Read Last Dance on the Starlight Pier. (Photo is of a depression-era Galveston dance marathon)


Moonflower Murders: A Novel by Anthony Horowitz

Make sure you’re wearing your patience if you plan on reading this clever murder mystery within a murder mystery. But don’t try to solve it as that will only distract from a fun story and good writing. Just let it flow over you and wait for the big, albeit extended, reveal. 


The story starts in Crete where retired book publisher Susan Ryland is approached by the owners of a Suffolk hotel, Pauline and Lawrence Trehernes. The Trehernes daughter, Cecily, disappeared shortly after disclosing she discovered, through a book Susan had published, that the wrong man was convicted of a murder committed years ago at the hotel. The Trehernes hire Susan to return to Suffolk to try to find out what happened to their daughter, and who the real murderer is. And thus begins a circuitous, and sometime challenging plot. But the story is good and the characters are colorful, so we hang on for the ride, and a payoff that is finally well delivered. Moonflower Murders is very “Agatha Christie,” which  is a good thing.


Freezing Order: A True Story of Russian Money Laundering, State-Sponsored Murder, and Surviving Vladimir Putin's Wrath by Bill Browder

Bill Browder hates Vladimir Putin like American democrats hate Donald Trump. Browder’s first book, Red Notice,which I loved, was about his significant investment ventures into the perestroika-driven privatization of Russian businesses in the 1990’s. The Russian oligarchs who own controlling interest in most Russian businesses didn’t like British or American investors poking their noses into the way they did business, which according to Browder was criminal. They began legally challenging and illegally threatening Browder and his family. Browder’s attorney Sergei Magnitsky, defending the challenges to Browder’s Russian investments, and investigating Russian tax fraud, ended up in a Russian Gulag, and, according to Browder, was beaten to death to cover up the fraud. One result was the 2012 Magnitsky Act, American legislation that allows for travel bans, asset seizures and visa freezes on human rights violators, and has sense been adopted by 30 countries. 


Freezing Order continues the story of how Russian oligarchs’ (and other politically-powerful individuals) ill-gotten assets are still sheltered in America, and which, Browder explains is why Putin has spent so much effort to control American politics. Both Red Notice, and now Freezing Order are true-life espionage stories with a contemporary relevance, and I recommend you read both. Oh yes, and both are well-written, which always matters.


This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Young Doctor, by Adam Kay

This extremely popular book by a Junior Doctor working in the British National Health Service (socialized medicine), was hilarious and fast-moving, but harshly at the expense of all the patients, nurses and pretty much everyone the author came in contact with during his internship. If you despise the medical establishment, socialized or privatized, you’ll love this book, which picks apart the knowledge and role of doctors, nurses and hospitals, and basically equates it all to a science held together with super glue and bailing wire. 


Kay is often quoted saying, “The hours are terrible, the pay is terrible, the conditions are terrible; you’re underappreciated, unsupported, disrespected and frequently physically endangered, “But there’s no better job in the world.” This book certainly provides story after story supporting the first part of that quote. Unfortunately it gives zero stories to support the last part, and sure enough, after a particularly traumatic medical experience (no spoiler here) Kay resigns to become a writer/comedian.


This Is Going to Hurt was entertaining, in the sense that we must laugh at horror to keep from crying, but I couldn’t help but (1) feel bad for the people whose misfortune fueled Dr. Kay’s humor, (2) wonder why we should rely on the judgement of doctors living on too little sleep, (3) believe a medical diagnosis gleaned from 30-seconds of googling, and (4) wonder why anyone would want to work in the medical horror-show portrayed by Dr. Kay.  I need to believe more in medical science, not less. Reading This Is Going to Hurt didn’t help. Meh.  


Sunday, April 24, 2022

100 Things I Want To Tell My Children And Grandchildren, #42 

This photo is in memory and honor of my beautiful, eldest sister, Gloria. I miss you.

You are going to make mistakes. Sometimes dozens a day. That’s doesn’t mean you don’t make good decisions too. 


No one ever told me I was going to make mistakes in life, but that most would probably be OK. So, I’ve always sort of felt like a failure. 

It wasn’t until last night (more years into my life than I want to admit), in the middle of one of my almost daily self-flagellations, I realized I don’t just make a lot of bad decisions and mistakes, I also make a lot of good decisions.

All in all, looking through my also perpetually positive (or maybe rationalization) lens, I’m a terrifically successful (and very fortunate) person!


So, just yesterday, here are the good and bad decisions I made - and I challenge you to do the same:


Bad Decisions

Worked more than half of a Saturday

Ate a too-high carb breakfast, and ate it too fast

Spent too much money on a manicure and pedicure

Didn’t assert myself to get the manicurist I really wanted, and settled for a less-skilled person

Didn’t exercise

Didn’t shower

Ate too much for dinner and ate too fast

Ate a high-calorie dessert

Spent too much money on groceries


Good Decisions

Stepped up to help a client with a tricky problem

Got ahead of schedule on another deadline project

Made my hubby’s favorite breakfast

Treated myself to a relaxing manicure and pedicure

Spent some quality time with my hubby - doing some things with him I don’t particularly enjoy, but which he does

Ate healthy sushi for dinner rather than something higher-calorie

Purchased some expensive but high-quality groceries

Treated myself to a favorite dessert

Didn’t spend too much of my day obsessing over my children’s and grandchildren’s wellbeing


So I just want to let my kids and grandkids know it’s OK to make bad decisions and mistakes (as long as they aren’t life-threatening or hurt someone else). Try not to  beat yourself up too much. Just try to make the good decisions list longer than the bad decisions list, and learn from your mistakes.  


Cluster Critiques 4-25-22


The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb 

The Violin Conspiracy is a better than average mystery about a celebrated concert musician, Ray McMillian, whose violin is stolen. What makes this book interesting is how the author uses the violin and the other characters (yes, the violin is a character in this book) to make what could be a simple “who-done-it” into a pretty entertaining story. 


Ray always wanted to be a professional musician, but that didn’t fit well within his family-culture, and that story, and the story of the violin, where it came from, and how the violin’s history is interwoven into Ray’s family's history, is enjoyable. I won’t divulge more about that because I don’t want to ruin the mystery. 


One complaint - Slocumb relentlessly portrays Ray’s mother and one other character in the book as horrible people with not a single redeeming feature. Authors, please stop giving us one-note characters!! People are not all bad or all good, they are complicated damn it!


OK, got that off my chest. The Violin Conspiracy isn’t a literary triumph or award winner, but it tells an interesting story, is an unusual mystery, and has a better than average ending. Read it.   


The Boys: A Memoir of Hollywood and Family by Ron Howard and Clint Howard

Who isn’t intrigued with Ron Howard’s history - a little red-haired boy growing up in idyllic Mayberry, USA. Oh wait, that’s Opie, the character played by Ron Howard on The Andy Griffith Show, which aired between 1960 and 1968. 

Oh, you weren’t born until after 1968?  Well then, maybe you remember Ron as Richie Cunningham in Happy Days (1974-1984). 

No?  How about these movies, Cocoon (2 academy awards), Parenthood, Apollo 13 (2 academy awards), A Beautiful Mind (4 academy awards), The Da Vinci Code, Rush, In the Heart of the Sea, Solo: A Star Wars Story, and many more blockbusters, all of which he directed, and some of which he produced and/or wrote. 


Ron Howard has led an illustrious career, starting when he was five years old, and is still going strong. But this book isn’t so much about his career as it is about his astonishingly “normal” family and home life (mom and dad were not very successful actors) and how that all functioned around his constant work-schedule. It is also about his very close relationship with his less-famous, yet surprisingly interesting younger brother Clint, who although never directed or produced movies or won any awards, played characters in 126 movies and 75 TV shows. Clint’s most prominent roles were in 1967-1969 in the very popular TV series Gentle Ben, and the made for TV The Red Pony, in which he starred with Henry Fonda and Mareen O’Hara. 


This book was entertaining to me because I could relate to Ron Howard’s TV and movie history, and because it gave a glimpse into his family and professional life, from both his and his brother’s perspective. If you are not big on bio’s skip this one, but if you admire Ron Howard and like to read bio's, you’ll enjoy The Boys.

When the Moon Is Low: A Novel by Nadia Hashimi 

All during, and for weeks after I finished reading this book I grew teary-eyed every time I saw the American flag, and said to myself probably once a day, “Thank God all of my family members live in America.” 


So horrifying is this story of one family’s escape from a newly Taliban-captured Kabul, Afghanistan it was painful to read. The mom, Fereiba, and her arranged-marriage husband Mahmoud, have a happy, modest but comfortable life in Kabul  as educators. Then everything changes. Targeted by the Taliban, the dad is taken into captivity and an unknown fate, and Fereiba and her three children set out on an almost unbelievable and dangerous journey to join family in London. Preyed upon by human-traffickers, the family becomes separated and are faced with bottomless challenges and despair. Fereiba and her young teenage son, Saleem, end up separated and alone in different countries, trying to survive - neither having any idea if their loved ones are alive, or even where they are. I couldn’t help but relate this to families torn apart by immigration to our own country.


The contrast between the author’s incredibly exquisite narrative, and the horrific story she tells, was one of the most unforgettable things about this lovely and agonizing book. The other was the indelible family love it portrays, and which resonated so clearly for me. 


Treat yourself to this beautiful book, but go into it knowing it is a scary, painful story about a very different culture trying to survive in what feels like a very different world.


Pancho Villa’s Saddle at the Cadillac Bar by Wanda Garner Cash

Laredo, TX was an especially prosperous, bustling community during most of the 1900’s and the Cadillac Bar just across the border in Nuevo Laredo, a very popular “see and be seen” Texas destination. Or so says Wanda Garner Cash, author of Pancho Villa’s Saddle at the Cadillac Bar, and based on her book, and much I’ve learned and heard since reading her book, it was. Actually, although I wasn’t in Laredo or the Cadillac Bar during the height of their popularity, I’m happy to say I did enjoy several fun weekends during the late 1990’s at the beautiful La Pasada hotel in Laredo, cocktails and dinners at the Cadillac Bar, and hours of shopping at Marti’s, and Russell Deutsch Jewelry in Nuevo Laredo.

The story starts in 1924 when Garner Cash’s grandfather, “Mayo” Bessan and his very young new bride came to Laredo and brought with them the ambiance, food and drink recipes from famed New Orleans eating and drinking establishments, many of which had recently become shuttered by Prohibition. Over the years, the Cadillac Bar became a favored meetup for “jet-setting” movie and sports stars as well as bus-loads of Austin Junior Leaguers. People flocked there from all over the US. One of the attractions of the restaurant, other than the famous Ramos Gin Fizz, was Pancho Villa’s Saddle, which now resides in Wanda Garner Cash’s living room! 


A crushing 1954 flood nearly destroyed the Cadillac Bar, but the author’s father rebuilt it to its previous glory, eventually turning it over to the long-time employees to run in 1979. Then in the 2000’s when drug cartel violence broke out in the area, tourists all but stopped traveling to Laredo and the Cadillac Bar limped along until it closed in 2010. 


There are so many great stories in this little book, and recipes in the back, so I recommend you add it to your collection or check it out of your fav library. I might not have read this book had it not been a book club selection - and I’m so glad it was, and I did. 

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach

I always look forward to Mary Roach’s next whacky book.  She’s written about what happens to bodies post-death, Stiff, little known facts about the military, Grunt, what life in space might be like, Packing for Mars, sex and science, Bonk, and my personal favorite, Gulp: Adventures in the Alimentary Canal. Hey, it’s not just me, she has 423,451 rating on!


So now with Fuzz, we learn about law-breaking animals and killer-nature, and how us Homo Sapiens-types are challenged to deal with them. From the >1,900 moose killed on highways and train tracks to the thousands of bear home invasions, and hundreds of people killed all over the world by wild tigers, elephants, snakes etc. Did you know more than 100 people are killed by falling trees each year? Fuzz is about the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology, and there are an astonishing number of people out there trying to get a handle on it all - “animal-attack forensics investigators, human-elephant conflict specialists, bear managers, and ‘danger tree’ faller blasters.”


The best part is that Roach (despite her unfortunate last name) is a super fun and funny writer. Sort of the Bill Bryson of kooky topics. Read it if you love learning about new weird things.  


The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles

I wanted so desperately to love this new book by Amor Towles. How could I not? His Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility are two of my all-time favorite books. I just kept trying, but found my mind wandering each time I tried, and I’m sort of freaking out about it. 


Emmett is an 18-year-old boy recently released from prison for accidentally killing a bully in a fistfight. His dad has just died and his mom ran away from home years ago. So, with a trail of postcards from his mom, from along the Lincoln Highway (the first trans-American highway from NYC to Lincoln Park in San Francisco), Emmett decides he and his 8-year-old brother Billy should head out west to find her. However, the trip gets sidetracked by a colorful (and to me annoying) cast of characters I just couldn’t seem to care about. I wanted Emmett and Billy to find their mother, and was angry with all the other characters slowing them down. Then Emmett and Billy finally got back on the road for San Francisco, and the book ended without them finding their mom. So, I was disappointed.


Everyone and their dogs seem to love this book so you may too! Maybe I’ll try it again later.


The Light Years, by Chris Rush 

This book was exhausting and depressing. It was also a beautifully written kaleidoscope of a story. I loved it. I hated it.


Raised in a well-to-do family on the east coast by one of those self-loathing fathers who can only tolerate their nothingness by bringing everyone down with them, and a mother who has completely cast out her feelings because that is the only way she can get up and face the world each day, it’s no wonder Chris Rush and his siblings end up being a bunch of druggies pin-balling from one disaster to another. 


I was so angry at everyone in this book, I wanted to scream at them, “Stop rationalizing your stupidity and get your shit together.” But I guess when you have no role model for having shit together, at least you have an excuse. Druggies posing as profits though, that burned my butter.


Chris Rush goes from what seems like the bottom to an even unimagined deeper bottom in each new chapter of the book. Doing acid at the age of 12, to getting thrown own of school for selling drugs at 14, to living on drugs on the side of a mountain at 18, to selling more drugs and getting beat to hell by hardened criminals, and on and on.


I alternately wanted to beat Rush over the head with his book, and to cradle him in my arms and thank him for his beautiful life’s narrative. Mostly, I’m just glad he survived.


Read it, but know it’s harsh, hard, ugly, and lovely.


Sunday, February 6, 2022

Cluster Critiques


Aquanaut, by Rick Stanton

In mid-December when one of my book clubs was collecting recommendations from members for best books of 2021, I received an email from Tracy LaQuey Parker recommending Aquanaut, which is about the rescue of the 12 young soccer team members and their coach from the Tham Luang cave in Thailand, written by Rick Stanton, one of two British cave divers who conducted the rescue. 

Tracy said, “I was just messaging with Rick Stanton last night. He and Ron Howard had just watched Howard’s movie about the rescue, Thirteen Lives,’ and said the diving scenes were really good, and that Viggo Mortensen did a good job playing him.”  Tracy had met Stanton at the Telluride Film Festival. (Stanton and Tracy are pictured below in Telluride). 

I pre-ordered the audible version of Aquanaut and made that our 2022 holiday road trip book. Not only was the story of the rescues enthralling, but Stanton fills in with his many other hair-raising stories of cave diving rescues around the world. “When there is an incident in a difficult underwater cave that is beyond the reach of most cave divers, I’m typically called directly to help,” says Stanton.

I’m a sucker for death-defying tales and uncommon topics - like the perils of cave diving - but it was the author’s character which came out vividly in this book that caught my attention. He so unapologetically lives life on his terms, (even dissing Elon Musk’s awkward attempts to help with the rescue), and he is very precise and passionate about the ethics and accuracy of his craft. I couldn’t relate to much else about him, but I found his focus intriguing.


Despite the fact that I knew the kids would be rescued from the cave, Stanton’s telling of the rescue made me feel the story could tragically change with one judgement error or an unforeseen problem, and that made me feel like I was in the story, which for me is such an important hallmark of a good book. Read or listen to Aquanaut. You can also view the exceptional documentary, The Rescue, on Disney+.


The Martian, by Andy Weir


It had been years since I read  The Martian by Andy Weir, but I enjoyed his more recent book, Hail Mary so much that I thought I’d enjoy re-reading The Martian. I didn’t. 


You are probably familiar with The Martian from the movie starring Matt Damon, and is about an astronaut stranded on Mars. I’m not sure if Andy Weir’s writing is best in small doses, or if it was Wil Wheaton’s (of Star Trek fame) over-animated reading of the Audible version, but everything about the book began to grate on my nerves about half way through. Both books are good, but if you’ve a low-tolerance for writing “sameness” (same tone, pace, characters, vocabulary, phrasing, etc), which I apparently do, I recommend you just read Weir’s Hail Mary and walk away. I wish I had. 


I hate it when authors disappoint me, and what a terrifying prospect that must be for them. The terror of disappointing their readers!


On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society
, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman


One of my sons is intrigued by military history – a topic for which I have no stomach because I cannot seem to reconcile killing over philosophical differences. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely appreciative of the military personnel who have and continue to work behind the scenes to keep my family safe and our country the home of democracy. But when my son told me he was reading a book by an ex-military person who had dedicated much of his life to investigating how soldiers are able to kill (or not), and that his research indicated that up until Vietnam, comparatively few soldiers actually killed, or even pulled the triggers of their guns – I knew I had to know more on this topic.


Apparently soldiers, especially during the Civil War, which has the most recent documentation pre-WWI, were so reluctant to kill enemy soldiers across from them in battle they would fake rifle recoil, rather than admit their fear of killing another person, and/or purposely aim above the heads of enemy soldiers rather than kill them. Grossman, the author, quotes almost unbelievable “kill-ratios” (the huge number of bullets expended in relation to the number of few enemy killed) – not just in the Civil War, but also in WWI, WWII and Korea. This was a big problem for the military, which finally figured out that training soldiers to shoot at bulls-eye type targets was their mistake. So they changed their training to use targets shaped like humans – to better desensitize soldiers to shooting at other soldiers - and adopted many other protocols and psychological techniques, and when they did that, beginning with the Vietnam war, the kill-ratio was vastly improved (if one can conscientiously claim that to be an improvement).  

The information presented in On Killing is controversial, and significantly based on challenged research by Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall (see below excerpt from Marshall's Wikipedia page.)

"His most famous work was Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, which claimed fewer than 25% of men in combat actually fired their weapons at the enemy. While the data used to support this has been challenged, his conclusion that a significant number of soldiers do not fire their weapons in combat has been verified by multiple studies performed by other armies, going back to the 18th century."

Grossman also touches on the psychologically impact on soldiers returning from the Vietnam war to an unappreciative country, talks about PTSD, and suggests that video games' desensitize killing, but those discussions were much more superficial and thus more of a distraction than informative.

I'm sure there are many books about what goes on in the mind of a soldier (or anyone) when called on or faced with the need to kill another human, but this is the first I've read, and it provided such a different perspective and gave me more context for my own personal struggles with the issue of war. 


Billy Summers, by Stephen King


I listen to Stephen King books mostly because my hubby loves him, and I admit I have a few Stephen King favorites myself (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordan and Full Dark – No Stars), and Billy Summers started off with promising potential – rich characters, vivid descriptions, deep thoughts.


Billy Summers is a master assassin, researching his job methodically, plotting every nano-second, covering every possible contingency, and although we know he’s a killer, we like Billy because he only kills despicable villains. We like him because he’s writing a book about himself and it’s a good story. Clever huh? A book within a book.  We also like Billy because he’s retiring. This hit is his last, and we’re so happy for him. And then everything changes, and not for the better. 


Billy sort of accidentally rescues a girl who has been raped and left for dead. And then, well, I really don’t know because I metaphorically slept through the last 250 pages of the book. I vaguely recall it turning into the story of a young girl with daddy issues falling for an older man struggling to retain his "macho," wrapped in a superficial, convoluted story line. Oh Stephen, Et tu! 


Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty,
 by Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe


I vividly recall meeting a woman 25-or so years ago who, when I asked what she did for a living said, “I manage my assets.” I must have had a blank expression on my face when I replied, “Oh, that’s nice.” I had no idea what she meant.  At that time I didn’t have any assets. The bank owned my house and car, and I had little savings.  It wasn’t until much later in my life that I came to realize that people who inherit or earn large sums of money become burdened with the not so simple task of hanging onto that money. 


The Vanderbilt “Dynasty,” the topic of this biography by CNN journalist and Vanderbilt heir Anderson Cooper (his mom was Gloria Vanderbilt), was created by Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, an American business magnate who built his wealth in railroads and shipping and is considered the second richest man in American history EVER (depending on the source/adjusted to current time). For those who must know John D, Rockefeller is the undisputed #1 richest man in American history. 


If you can get past the conspicuous consumption and entitlement issues revealed in this well-penned biography, there are some fun and interesting stories about what jaw-dropping American wealth looked like during the first half of the 20th Century. The Vanderbilt’s and other aristocratic American families threw lavish “one-upmanship” parties costing more than $6,000,000, had ambitions as shallow as “dressing well” and “spending money beautifully,” and literally got away with murder. 

But the sad undercurrent of Anderson’s book is that money can’t buy you love or fix everything. A long line of Vanderbilt’s failed miserably at managing their assets, and by the time the dynasty reached Cooper’s end of the lineage, there was literally nothing left. 


Some people are offended by the wealth of the Vanderbilt’s (Musk’s, Bezos’, Gates’, Zuckerberg’s, Buffet’s etc.), but I question what gives us the right to say how much money is OK, and how much is too much. America was founded on the principle that people have the right to make money. Our constitution was created by a bunch of small business owners who didn't want to pay taxes to the King of England. Capitalism is woven into the fabric of the American DNA.


If you’re a wealth voyeur, smug socialist, or just like biographies, you will probably enjoy this book. I did.


Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics,
 by Dolly Parton


I’m pretty sure Dolly Parton has a better chance being elected President of the United States than Kamala Harris, or any woman, but not as good a chance as practically anyone with a penis. Wow, I’ll catch some flak for that statement, but here’s my real point. Everyone loves Dolly Parton, because she has the courage to be her unique self without offending anyone, and that is indeed an incredibly rare and valuable human attribute.


In Songteller Parton through long, live interviews (this is not a traditional written memoir) gives us a glimpse into the milestones of her life. I say glimpse and milestones because Dolly skips over periods of her life, touching lightly on her childhood, how she writes (one of the more interesting aspects of this book), and her beginnings in and progression through the music industry. 


In fact, you can learn more about Dolly on her Wiki page, so don’t go into this biography thinking you’ll discover the “real” Dolly. She’d be the first to admit there’s not much real about her other than her personality and character.  But you’ll enjoy the ride anyway because we all love listening to Dolly Parton sing, talk, laugh, anything really. One thing that jumped out at me was how much time she spent talking about her relationship with country music icon, Porter Wagner who recruited her into the Grand Ole Opry. Dolly said again and again they were just business partners and close friends – which of course made me think there’s much more to that story, and maybe the flawless Dolly is human after all.  


Songteller overflows with what we love most about Dolly Parton – her beautiful singing, endearing colloquialisms, and pure, unique Dolly-ism. Listen to the audible version. 


Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty, 
by Patrick Radden Keefe


We all embrace and tell the story we can live with, justifying questionable decisions and actions so we can sleep at night. Where is the line in the sand that differentiates justification and abomination? Well, that’s why we have congress to create the rules, the supreme court to further define those rules, and why attorney’s make a lot of money. 


Empire of Pain is about a family of ambitious brothers, the Sacklers, who according to their story, built their massive wealth on relieving people’s pain, or, according to author Patrick Keef’s story, a greedy family’s unconscionable capitalization on pain-killer addiction . 


According to Keef, and hundreds of successful lawsuits, by aggressively marketing OxyContin, despite knowing how addictive and dangerous the drug was, the Sacklers and their company, Purdue Pharma, are responsible for half a million Americans deaths from overdoses and the tragedies of millions more addicted to the drug. The Sacklers claim they created quality of life for many more millions who suffer from pain.


I couldn’t help reflecting on the impacts of alcohol and cigarettes, which have over centuries, killed many more people, and yet I can think of no particular, singular family to which the responsibility of those deaths have been pinned. Rather, over the past 50 years American regulatory agencies have advised us “Smoking may be hazardous to your health” and “Don't drink and drive.” I have to wonder if our nation’s more recent access to mass communication has changed substance abuse from a medical and/or moral issue into a lynch mob solution. I’m not saying let the Sacklers off the hook, I’m saying why not prosecute/persecute equally - and the FDA sure needs to be held accountable! They approved the distribution of OxyContin. 


In addition to a good bit of history about the drug industry, and the inspiring (yet sordid) story of how the Sacklers scrabbled their way from poverty to extreme wealth, this book is an interesting, behind the curtain look at the prestige Sackler family members enjoyed in the society and art world, who also embraced the story that served them, accepting millions of dollars and art donations from the Sacklers. 


Empire of Pain is less about the sketchy underbelly of the pharmaceutical industry, and more about one major player, the Sacklers, who unlike many drug cartel kingpins relieved of their wealth and serving prison sentences, are vacationing in the Maldives and still have most of the $13,000,000,000 they made off the backs of people with OxyContin addiction.


 100 Things I Want To Tell My Children And Grandchildren, #41

(This photo, just sent to me by a niece, and which I'd never seen before, made me miss my sisters and mom so much, L-R, Dorothy, Mom, Gloria, me and Honey)

10 Things You Should Know About Someone Before You Consider Marrying Them

1.      Do they have a history of substance abuse?

Maybe you already know the answer to this question and are in denial because you love them. Regardless, a relationship/marriage will suffer from, and may not survive substance abuse, because addiction is almost always stronger than anything, including love. If you don’t know, ask his/her friends/family. Ask them to please be honest and frank with you because they are not going to want to say anything bad about someone they care about. If there is the slightest pause before they answer you, or if they laugh it off, you probably already have your answer. 


2.     Is there a history of physical and/or psychological abuse with them or in their family?  

Children learn from their parents, and if physical/psychological abuse is common in the home, the child may also adopt those behaviors. If the person you are considering marrying has already “blown-up” with you, or been abusive with you – even if it was just one time, that behavior will probably escalate under the pressures of bills, work, children and marriage. 


3.      Are they financially irresponsible? 

Financial problems are the #1 cause of marital discord. If the person you are considering marrying has demonstrated financial irresponsibility, frequently runs out of money, tends to borrow money from you or others, misses paying bills, or has any significant debt, this is a pattern that will probably not change, and will most assuredly cause problems in a marriage. Even if you are financially responsible and make a good living, is your spouse going to have low self-esteem because of their lack of ability to contribute equally to the financial demands of a household, or resent you for your financial acuity – or are you going to resent them?


4.     Do they take responsibility for their mistakes?

People who blame everything that goes wrong in their life on someone/something else will never improve on or learn from their poor decision-making and behaviors. Not only will negativity dominate their life, it will dominate yours as well, which is a huge drain on a relationship.


5.      Do they and/or their family have a history of discord?  

I’ve seen so many families fall apart when assets are at stake. We never seem to learn that money comes and goes (mostly goes) and NEVER really buys happiness. In strong families, family members are the only people in the world who will “take a bullet” for you.  Some families have nothing but toxic, hateful relationships, and you do not want to become a part of that. 


6.     Do they have serious hereditary medical problems?

It’s kind to think health shouldn’t matter, but is it kind to subject your progeny to devastating medical problems? At least consider getting a DNA test to rule out the probability of serious inherited medical problems, or perhaps adopting children or getting a healthy sperm/egg donor if there are genetic propensities and you want to have children.


7.     Are they industrious and reasonably ambitious?

Do they willingly and reliable work/create? It’s not so much about how much money someone makes, as long as what they make adequately supports a lifestyle that is comfortable to you both, but if the person you are considering marrying hates working, consistently complains about having to work, misses work, and changes jobs frequently, they are probably never going to have a healthy sense of personal accomplishment and/or self-esteem, which will negatively affect the marriage and/or relationship. 


8.     Do they have a healthy self-esteem? 

I’m not sure what constitutes a “healthy” self-esteem, but I do know when people have low-self-esteem they tend to try to bring everyone around them down to lessen the contrast between their worth and the worth of others. Furthermore, people with low self-esteem look for affirmation where ever they can – sometime in very damaging ways – infidelity being a prime way. Low self-esteem also often leads to substance abuse, which may provide temporary, albeit further damaging relief.


9.     Do they ask/expect you to give up things that are important to you?

If you feel pushed into giving up something in a relationship, you will eventually resent it. Same goes the other way around. If you expect your partner to give up things they love, they will eventually resent that expectation. Resentment is a hard thing to get around in relationships.


10.  What are their expectations about marriage, sex, children, work, finances, where to live, vacations, holidays, family…. EVERYTHING! Talk over everything, and if you feel the slightest pain over anything you hear, you better talk it over extensively because marriage magnifies every possible problem. 


Not that there’s anything wrong with marriage. It can be a supportive, comfortable, exciting, enjoyable partnership. But eventually you’re not going to have sex every day, or you’re going to pick up too many pairs of underwear off the bathroom floor, or your partner is going to tell you they hate your mother, and when you arrive at that point in your relationship, sensitive, deal-breaking issues become serious. 


Talk it all over now. Live with someone for at least two years, then make a list of pros on one side of the page and cons on the other, and make an intelligent, honest decision – because you will live with the consequences.