Sunday, July 21, 2019

This is I Believe - Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman ------------- 3 Stars

This is I Believe is/was a radio program/book that has been around for over fifty years. Surprisingly, until someone passed on this book,  I had never heard of it but am happy that I am now aware of this cool concept.

So, this book is based on the NPR radio series of the same name. Similar to the book, people write/record about their own personal vies and philosophies about life. There are a couple of cool parts to the concept. First, the responses have to be fairly short; I think no longer than 500 words. Second, it's an eclectic mix of people responding.  Some are famous individuals and others are quite "common" individuals from across the United States. Third, the variety and diversity of responses is fascinating. Some are incredibly thoughtful and deep and some are just humorous (and still deep) - like be cool to the pizza guy!  Finally, it's cool that while Edward Murrow began this program over 50 years ago, NPR reintroduced it years ago.

Overall, it's a fairly entertaining and enjoyable read. I liked the wide variety of authors, writing styles, and different thoughts that guide people's views on living their lives. Out of the probably 40 essays, about a dozen really resonated with me and were dogeared for a future read.

The downsides of the book are minimal. Again, the essays are easy reads and fun to get a glimpse into different people's outlook on the world. My small nits include that while the essays are thoughtful and well written, many are not super engaging or don't resonate with my own views on living...which led to my other challenge, trying to think about what my 500 word "this I believe" would be. What philosophy do I live by? What are the guiding tenets that I follow as I enter the second half of my life? Well, those are tough questions that I wasn't planning on wrestling with while trying to sit down to enjoy a book!

With all joking aside, this really is a neat book and concept. I'll certainly check out the NPR program as I could imagine that the versions spoken over the radio seem even more impressive than their written duplicates. Overall, I do recommend the book, just know that you may end up pausing to think about what exactly you believe.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Only Killers and Thieves - Paul Howarth ------------------- 4 Stars

It's always nice when a book comes by that you had no idea of or intention of reading and it amazes. Well, that is certainly what happened as I just enjoyed Paul Howarth's Only Killers and Thieves.

Set in late 19th Century Australian outback, this book is a tough read. Not tough like, "hmmm, I don't know that word" or "what exactly is going on right now." No, it's a tough read because life in the outback during this time period is hard. What makes it even more tough is that the author writes about some of the most gruesome and violent elements of people's bad personalities. It reminds me a lot of the most famous Thomas Hobbes quote that life is "nasty, brutish, and short."

While the story starts out slow, perhaps to mimic the slow tick of time when there is not much to do during this period and location of vast expanse, it picks up very quickly about a quarter of the way in. After a life changing event, the two teenage boys who are the main characters of the book, have to grow up incredibly quickly without much adult support. As the novel rolls on, and they are faced with the brutish nature of unkind and self-interested adults, they struggle with determining how they want to live their own lives, and really, what kind of man they want to be.

The story is quite fascinating and the action scenes, along with a few major and diverse story-lines, makes this a very entertaining read. Be warned, the detail and violence with which the author describes some scenes is jarring. Murder, rape, racism and other difficult acts are on full display, with all details included. For many, I would assume it will be difficult to read these words and picture these scenes. Though, I figure that's the point; you can't help but care for these two young brothers and as you realize the depth of fear, anger, and sadness they face, you sympathize even further with their plight.

Overall, this a highly charged and engaging story that keeps the reader connected until the end. In fact, I was impressed with the ending as the author did enough to assure that there was closure while allowing your imagination to run a bit about what may have happened with things not spelled out fully. If you can get past the difficult language and violent nature of many parts of the book, you'll most likely enjoy this well told tale.