Sunday, June 04, 2023

Short Takes: Alone Time by Stephanie Rosenbloom


Stephanie Rosenbloom, a travel writer for the New York Times, over the course of one year lived in, and explored, four different cities (apparently on her own dime), including her home base of Manhattan. The other three cities were Paris, Florence, and Istanbul. 

But here's the hook: she did it all alone. 

Alone Time: Four Seasons, Four Cities, and the Pleasures of Solitude explains the wonderful benefits of traveling alone and why Rosenbloom prefers that mode of travel and exploration. On a personal note, I think I should mention that because I've been blessed with one of the most understanding wives in the world, I've been traveling this way at least once a year for more than thirty years now - so I was already predisposed to agree with the premise of the book. 

The main reason I enjoy traveling solo so much (and I think it's also the strongest argument that Rosenbloom makes in favor of "alone time") is that my tastes can be a little eccentric. I enjoy traveling, especially when on long road trips, in a way that few others enjoy to the same degree. So as Rosenbloom puts it, this way I don't have to feel guilty - or frustrated - in trying to equally split choices with others who feel differently. For instance, I'm primarily a wanderer. When I come to a crossroads that offers near equally adequate driving conditions, I never know which direction I'm going to turn until I make the turn, and then there's no looking back. I just play a hunch...which has admittedly led me into a few "iffy" situations. 

And that's what leads directly to some of the other solo-travel benefits that Bloomberg speaks to in the book: meeting and potentially bonding with strangers who are either traveling through or live in the area; quiet time that allows for a full appreciation and absorption of everything around you (as she puts it: "bringing into sharp relief the sights, sounds, and smells that one isn't necessarily attuned to in the presence of company"); the opportunity for self-reflection and evaluation; and best of all, the chance to travel guilt free (my wife has told me more than once that she has seen enough old cemeteries now to last a lifetime. I'm sure she would still be willing to stop at one or two cemetery-discoveries a trip, but I know that I would go so quickly through them that I would be unable to absorb the atmosphere peculiar to each of them. 

The prose in Alone Time seems to vary from section to section in ease-of-reading, but that's likely more me than Rosenbloom because of the trance that prose heavily peppered with foreign place-names often leaves me in. That's probably why I enjoyed - and got through- the sections on Paris and New York most. It is intriguing to watch Rosenbloom look at her section of New York City through the eyes of a tourist, a skill she mastered by spending the first nine months of the year in the other three cities first. That's something I want to try with Houston soon.

There are lots of tips to help you enjoy, and stay safe during, solo travels at the end of Alone Time, so if you've ever considered solo travel, this is a good place to begin your research.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Slowing Down Is Good for Me


I've purposely slowed down my reading pace (well, it was not entirely voluntary for me to slow down...but that's another story for another time), and I find myself enjoying books - of several genres - more than I have in years. Rather than always chasing the shiny new covers and flashy new novelists of the day, I'm letting one book just lead me naturally to the next one. That doesn't mean that I'm reading one at a time, just that I'm reading fewer total pages per day. And that works wonders for me. It's even, I hope, freed me up to doing shorter...but semi-regular...posting again - good intentions that may go astray, I admit.

So instead of the 120 to 130 books I've read each year for a long time, I'm probably going to read, re-read, and re-re-read maybe 60 or 70 each year for a while. The biggest surprise as I near one-half a year at this new pace, is that my concentration and first-read comprehension levels seem to me to have significantly increased. I can't tell you how often I use to have to go back and read paragraphs, or even whole pages, for a second timebecause I had obliviously slipped into some kind of daydream. 

All that said, this is a simple list of what I read in May:

  1. The Rising Tide - Ann Cleeves
  2. Expanded Universe - Robert A. Heinlein
  3. Hell and Back - Craig Johnson
  4. Justice Corrupted - Ted Cruz
  5. Tastes Like War - Grace M. Cho
  6. The Jealousy Man - Jo Nesbø
  7. The Best American Travel Writing 2012 - Various Writers
Now I'll find out where June carries me.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Short Takes: The Rising Tide by Ann Cleeves


 I admit that I am so deeply invested in the characters in both the Shetland and Vera series by Ann Cleeves that I can't imagine ever reading a bad book in either series. I, in fact, finished the Shetland series quite a while ago without ever being disappointed by one of those. I am always happy if the books continue to further develop the characters and age them, more-or-less, in real time between story lines. Plots are somewhat secondary. So all of my comments on either series come with that warning.  

The Rising Tide is no exception. This one from 2022 finds Vera rather foolishly putting herself in near-fatal personal danger during an investigation when she runs off half-cocked without waiting for any of her team to accompany her. That's not something I thought Vera - who's not exactly in fighting condition anymore - capable of. But then, Vera does expose many of her personal weaknesses and emotional flaws in this one, also, and that all just serves to make her more vulnerable and real to readers who have watched her change over the years. 

The basic premise of this one is that a now-elderly small group of high school friends gathers every five years on what becomes an island when the tide comes in each day. This time one of them appears to have been murdered, and because the murder happened on an island the number of suspects is limited. But is it really? Or did someone time access to the island perfectly enough to get onto the island, commit a murder, and get back off again just in the nick of time? It's all up to Vera, Joe, and the rest of the team to figure it all out.

But really, it's this relatively new self-reflective Vera who makes The Rising Tide a special book to me. Vera realizes now that she sees Joe as the son she never had, and that by keeping him tethered to her the way she does will only limit his longterm career with the police, not enhance it. But in the end, she just can't turn loose. It will be  interesting to see where Cleeves is going to take their relationship next.

You guessed it...I have to give this one a full five-star rating.

Thursday, June 01, 2023

Short Takes: Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing


Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing is a memoir detailing Perry's addiction problems, fears, insecurities, successes, and repeated failures. The memoir ends on a very hopeful note despite the multiple relapses inflicted upon the author's ravaged body for almost his entire adult lifetime. 

I found the book to be fairly well written but not as motivational and moving as I expected it would be. I did, however, come away from the book wishing all the best for Matthew Perry and sincerely hoping that he will be able to remain sober for the rest of his life. The man has been through almost unimaginable mental and physical hardships, and I suspect that many people fighting problems like his will be very moved and motivated by reading the memoir. I salute Mr. Perry for that reason.

I would rate this one about 3.5 stars out of 5.  

Saturday, February 18, 2023

16-Year-Old Blog Post Deemed to Be Offensive

 After this blog having rested in my blog for almost 16 years, someone has gone crying to Google that the book review is offensive, and now it sits under a warning banner that has to be clicked through in order to read it.

The Guardians is a novel that I felt was advocating for an open border between the U.S. and Mexico all those years ago. I gave what I believed to be a fair review of the book, and responded to those who disagreed with my assessment at the time in what I believed to be a courteous manner. There was no anger shown on either side.

In my opinion, this is just another example of censoring or limiting the availability of any opinion that disagrees in the very least little bit with what is acceptable in today's timid culture where everyone has to fear being jumped on for something that offends even one of the new woke warriors out there - even if it is almost two decades old and was posted in a whole different world than the insane one we live in today. What are they so afraid of?

It's also a reminder that posting on social media is just not worth the effort anymore. Thanks for that, Mr. Google.

EDIT: A second post from even earlier was deleted a few days later. I submitted a request to Blogger for a review of the post for re-instatement without changing a word. Less than 24 hours, back it was with no comment from anyone as to why it was ever deleted in the first place. Bots apparently don't have great judgement, but human eyeballs agreed with me that the whole thing was silly.