The Bridge Ladies: A Memoir
The author, Betsy Lerner, not only records a touching memoir of her relationship with her apparently reticent mother but at the same time provides a sociological study of the contrast between female expectations before the 1960’s and those behaviors prevailing now after the pill. And what better way to list the differences than through the metaphorical game of bridge. Over the span of time, women’s goals have changed from seeking early marriage with servitude to some male who will be a good provider and caring father to the current quest for self-fulfillment and identity. Each of the five octogenarian bridge participants has her life reviewed, exposing youthful talents denied expression by the cultural limitations of their era and contrasted with the current feminist stress of expressing individuality and taking on personal responsibility.
Not only is learning the game of bridge challenging, but struggling to translate the values and behaviors that mark the differences in the generation gap strains the understanding. Bridge is the catalyst that awakens compassion between mother and daughter. Written with snappish humor and with keen delicacy for the bridge players’ personalities, this is a rewarding book to remind us how time refashions thoughts as the world turns.
Available: A Memoir of Heartbreak, Hookups, Love and Brunch
Suffering from a breakup, the writer details his dating life. What saves this book from total misogyny is that it is funny and seems true. After a bad breakup, Perry determines to avoid his serial monogamy and have casual sex. His character is emboldened by these experiences. The transformation from a timid and self-effacing shy guy to a bold and daring character is entertaining. It culminates with travel to the millennial rite of passage: Burning Man. He gets drugged up and enjoys himself.
This book reads like a male version of Sex and the City. He has the requisite small group of buddies that share their adventures and ultimately their girlfriends. They meet and have brunch in a Los Angeles bonding ceremony. It is very funny how the writer describes the difference between breakfast and LA brunch. His coining of “manic pixie dream girl” for his girlfriend who dumps him is also very amusing. So, like many of us, the writer goes from naive to world weary, ultimately finding that one can’t outrun heartbreak; there is no cure except through feeling it.
When small-town Police Chief Jeff Buck becomes involved with a domestic dispute, he has no idea how much his life will change. The police arrest the woman, a real piece of work, who ends up giving a tip that leads them to one of the biggest drug busts in the Midwest. Drugs arent anything new to Buck. He worked narcotics undercover for twenty years. Hes reluctant to get back into that world, but once he sees where the trail leads, his juices flow, and he throws himself into the case wholeheartedly. It turns out there is a Russian Mafia in Bucks backyard distributing huge amounts of marijuana and other drugs coming in from Canada, not from Mexico as most people believe, and the group growing and running the weed is a Canadian branch of the Hells Angels. But there is another wrinkle. The product is coming through an Indian reservation right on the border and, as a sovereign nation, that makes the wrinkle really big. Buck has to find a way to work with a number of agencies on both sides of the border and in the reservation as well.
The story Jeff Buck and his two co-writers, Jon Land and Lindsay Preston, tell in this book is an incredibly complex one with lots of moving parts. It is both fascinating and compelling, although on several occasions the writers bring in illustrations of how things work by telling stories from other cases Buck worked on through the years. While interesting in their own rights, these stories tend to slow the main story down and bring in characters and events that get in the way of the main story. That said, the writing is excellent, the story relevant to most people, and for those who enjoy good cop stories, this one is a good one.
Burn Zones: Playing Life’s Bad Hands
Jorge P. Newbery began a quest for Olympic greatness when he took up bicycle racing at the age of 19: The year was 1984, his hometown of Los Angeles was host to the Olympics, and his father had just given him a used bike. Newbery bought some books on bike racing and started training 500 miles a week. It was the burn zones he experienced in training and racingthose periods of extreme effort that separated the winners from the rest of the cycliststhat gives his new memoir its name. Burn zones became his metaphor for pushing through all the challenges hes faced as a serial entrepreneur. Focus on enduring the pain until the pace slows, he writes.
Burn Zones: Playing Lifes Bad Hands, Newburys new memoir, is a remarkable story. For decades, Newbery believed that he could win at anything he set out to do. For decades, that proved true. Indeed, his quest for the Olympics was not as farfetched as it might seem. Newbery was already accustomed to setting and reaching astonishingly high goals. He got his first job at the age of seven, delivering a daily newspaper from his Raleigh Chopper to houses in his neighborhood. Soon, he was delivering two competing dailies. At 11, he bought a used, oversize tricycle fitted out with a freezer unit: He pedaled it around his neighborhood and to various road races, selling ice cream treats. Then he started a record company and representative alternative bands. All this before he got that bike for his 19th birthday.
He didn’t make it to the 1988 Olympics, but participated in distance racing around the country. His first significant failure, he writes, came when he fell ill during a 21-day stage race in Mexico. He couldn’t finish the race. He returned home and drove himself harder, training more and losing so much weight that his family started calling him Skull. When he developed bronchitis, he decided it was time to look around for a new challenge. He met someone in the mortgage business and was intrigued both by what she did and how much money she made. So he got his real estate license, his first Brooks Brothers suit and a job as a loan originator. A few years later, he joined forces with a partner to launch a mortgage company. He soon started buying up rental properties in Los Angeles. He started with small properties, and then branched out to larger properties around the country. His specialty was acquiring housing projects in distress and turning them around. At the peak of his real estate business, he owned more than 4,000 apartments and a net worth in the tens of millions of dollars.
Then, in 2004, a natural disaster struck one of his largest properties, the 1,100 unit Woodland Meadows in Columbus, OH. Virtually overnight, he lost everything: Tens of millions of dollars and thousands of apartments. He was crushed and $26 million in debt. He was not yet 40. He struggled with his losses and the shame of his very public failure, negotiating debt relief and trying to figure out what he should be learning from the crisis and how he could go on. In the midst of his struggles, he got a call for help from a friend who was losing her house to foreclosure. He wasn’t able to help her; he had too much debt of his own. But the call got him thinking about all of the people in similar situations: Too much debt, unaffordable mortgages, and far too close to losing their homes. He started formulating a plan for his future. He would create a business designed to help others, staggered by crushing debt, to stay in their homes. He founded the business, American Homeowner Preservation, and today runs it out of Chicago.
Newburys story of winning, losing everything, then rebuilding a life in which his purpose is helping others rebuild their lives makes for a compelling read. Not every reader will share his unrelenting drive and focus or his taste for risk-taking, but his telling of despair and humiliation at the darkest hours and how he turned his loss into strength and success are both thrilling and inspirational.
The World We Left Behind
As The World We Left Behind, a Journey from Georgia to Maine begins, author John Morris is at a very low point in his young life. Still only in his twenties, he feels overwhelmed with futility. He lives in the North Carolina community where he grew up. With no college education, he works the night shift at a nuclear facility, in a job he believes will lead nowhere. He has recently broken up with the woman hes been living with, and he finds himself lonely and trapped in a nearly empty apartment. Over and over again, he contemplates leaving everything behind, drawn to the idea of taking to the Appalachian Trail. He spends the first 90 pages of the book in a state of ennuibemoaning his dead end job, in various stages of alcoholic stupor, and stocking up on hiking equipment he fears he may never use. He is stuck. The challenges of abandoning everything he knows and embarking on the 2,200 miles of the Appalachian Trail are daunting.
Finally, however, Morris frustration with his status quo wins out. He leaves new girlfriend Melody and travels with his hiking pal, Torry, to Gainesville, Georgia, just a couple of hours from Springer Mountain, where the Appalachian Trail begins. Its here where thru-hikersthose who hike the entire trailset out.
Morris plans to hike all the way to Mount Katahdin in Maines Baxter State Park. To reach his destination, he must hike through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. He is not prepared, physically or psychologically, for the rigors of the trip. Cold and filthy, hes constantly exhausted under the weight of his pack. Hes brought with him too many things he doesnt need and has left behind some essential equipmentincluding a water filter to purify his drinking water. The trail is often more crowded than Morris had anticipated. He meets some potentially interesting fellow thru-hikers along the way, including folks with great trail names, like Hopper, Woodstock, and Bubblegum, but, somehow, the reader never really gets acquainted with these folks. Perhaps its because Morris never seems to make a true connection with them. For example, about CookIN, a former shop teacher from Indiana, Morris writes, I wondered how you went from being a shop teacher to wanting to walk a 2,199-mile trail but I never thought to ask him
The most compelling part of The World We Left Behind comes toward the end of the book, when Morris describes a near-disastrous solo hike. In this section, the reader feels the cold and terror of Morris experience, and it makes for a great read. One cant help but admire Morris for having the courage to leave the comforts of home and embark on a rigorous, months-long hike. His book reads something like a journal: He relates his day-to-day adventures and shares plenty about the mistakes he makes along the way and the physical challenges he faces. But he shares few of the insights one would expect such a personal quest to provide.
The book is a lengthy one, and this is just the first volume in a trilogy: As this first book comes to an end, Morris has made it only as far as Tennessee. The story would be strengthened, as would the readers enjoyment, with a disciplined editing and a focus that reveals more of the writers inner journey, as well as his outer one.
Today, the phrase Drink the Kool-Aid may be one of the only widely known legacies of the Jonestown mass murder-suicides that happened November 18, 1978. Those born since that date likely have no idea where the phrase originated, even as those who were alive thirty-seven years ago surely know but give little thought so many years later to the event that occurred in far-off Guyana. The deaths of 909 people, almost all brought about by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (not, technically, Kool-Aid brand), were the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2001, as Wikipedia put it.
Kathryn Barbours memorial album of Who Died that tragic day is a sobering reminder that hundreds of good people lost their lives even as they had high hopes for living together in harmony, regardless of color or gender, sharing and working together. Barbour writes that she was a member of the Peoples Temple in California and knew many of the individuals pictured: the photographs show the dead as I last saw them, in 1976-1977, when Peoples Temple was at the height of its influence in San Francisco, its members full of energy and confidence.
The seventy-nine glossy pages with mostly full-color photographs memorialize every single person who was lost, with just a few spaces empty of a photo. Its a yearbook of the saddest kind, a remembrance of remarkable peopleaware, self-assured, and focused; of children of varying ages, of blacks and whites aspiring together for a better society free from the racial tensions of the time. Whenever there is a mass death we tend to think purely in numbers; we mourn but are still somehow separated from the reality of so many full lives being snuffed out. Who Died is valuable in its naming of each person, putting a photograph to each life lost. It will be a treasure for families and friends of the dead; it will be an important addition to libraries; it is a fine way for anyone to appreciate that whenever a mass killing happens, individuals are the casualties, and each life mattered.