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“The Ogallala Road: A Memoir of Love and Reckoning” by Julene Bair
Tap, tap, tap.
That’s all you’re thinking when you’re thirsty. A chilly glass, sparkly ice, and a fresh tap that requires little more than a turn for relief. It’s a simple thing, really, but imagine how much your great-grandma would’ve appreciated it.
Now imagine what your own great-grandkids might do without readily available water. And then read “The Ogallala Road” by Julene Bair.
Four thousand feet above sea level, the High Plains in western Kansas sometimes feel as though they touch the sun. That’s the area where Julene Bair’s family had farmed for a century – and before them, it’s where the Cheyenne traveled the Ladder of Rivers, and fought for the land. It’s where the Ogallala Aquifer has nurtured the Earth for thousands of years.
As the only girl in the family, Bair was discouraged to work on the farm, but she knew its contours, its springs, sands, and the taste of water from a well. As a child, she was also distantly aware that the aquifer wouldn’t last forever. Her father knew it too, but figuring that the government was keeping watch, he tapped it to irrigate his corn crops.
Time passed and, like many farm kids, Bair left the farm but returned often. Between visits, she had several relationships and a son before returning to try farming again in earnest, but she wasn’t happy. She moved to Iowa, then Wyoming but the land tugged at her soul – as did a man she’d met, who lived closer to Kansas than to Laramie, and with whom she was deeply in love.
But romance, like water, evaporates and life changes. Bair’s brother, who’d been running the farm since their father’s death, wanted out. Bair’s mother was willing to relinquish her family’s lands, and government officials released a claim that the farm’s wells were depleting at a faster-than-expected rate.
With her father’s demand (“Hang on to your land!”) running through her head, Bair became somewhat of an activist. Was it possible to farm prairie without chemicals, irrigation, or interference? Moreover, would her family be the last to use water from an aquifer about to run dry?
Though it can seem a little confusing at times, “The Ogallala Road” is surely one of the most beautiful books you may ever read.
Author Julene Bair writes so evocatively of the land she loves that you can almost feel the wheat stubble under your feet and dust on your face. Her descriptions, in fact, make you want to drop everything you’re doing and go lie in the grass to savor the serene feeling she lends her readers.
But then we read about the depletion of the Ogallala and zing! there goes the Zen. Bair is saddened and outraged, and her subtle call to action could get readers fired up. Add in a makes-you-smile romance and, well, how can you resist?
For conservationists, romantics, or anyone who wants a soul-soothing read, I don’t think you can afford to pass this memoir up. For you, “The Ogallala Road” is a book to tap into.
“Pee-Shy: A Memoir” by Frank Spinelli
Sometimes, you wish you had a better memory.
You would never, for instance, forget appointments. You could tell better jokes, win more arguments, save more money. You’d remember faces of the people you met and events that happened when you were too small for it to matter.
Then again, as you’ll see in the new book “Pee-Shy: A Memoir” by Frank Spinelli, some things you’ll wish you could forget.
When he just an eight-year-old, Frank Spinelli received a toy medical kit as a gift, and decided on the spot that he wanted to be a doctor someday. It was a surprise, therefore, years later, when he flunked out of college, his scholarship gone with his dreams.
Taking the advice of a friend, Spinelli began therapy to explore the reasons for his dark life and med-school failure. The answer, as it turned out, was easy…
It started when Spinelli was just eleven years old, overweight, bullied, sports-hating, and a frustration to his Italian parents, who pushed their son into Scouting.
Spinelli hated Scouting, but he admired the area’s Scoutmaster. He liked Bill, and he knew that Bill liked him. Bill took Spinelli out for ice cream, and to do errands. He invited Spinelli over to his house for what Bill called “boy bonding.” When Spinelli eventually told his parents about this molestation, very little was done and even less was said.
Fast forward: back on track, Spinelli achieved his dream of becoming a doctor. He opened his own practice in New York and grew his clientele. He seemed like a successful, happy gay man, but old issues still plagued him: sometimes, he couldn’t empty his bladder. Configurations of bathrooms mattered. Other occupants mattered. Urinals were mostly off-limits. It was a remnant of his abuse, and he’d learned to deal with it.
And then, old memories began to float forward. Small reminders nagged at Spinelli. He found a book written about Bill, and learned that Bill had adopted a son. That opened a floodgate of images and questions.
So Spinnelli picked up the phone and called the man…
Is your jaw on the floor yet? I know mine was as I followed author Frank Spinelli on his incredible journey in “Pee-Shy.”
With steady strength and a rare kind of candor, Spinelli writes of a childhood filled with bullying, embarrassment, and curiosity for forbidden (girl’s) things. It’s almost a relief as this formerly-outcast kid lets us see him become a successful adult – and yet, it’s a mixed bag, since we’re then privy to his falling apart, his self-doubts, and frustrations that his body reacts as it does, now that it’s safe. None of this is easy to read – it’s a squirmy book, for sure - but what makes it worthwhile is the sense of courage and closure that the ending allows.
Be aware that there are some explicit bits to this book, but it’s appropriate and not gratuitous. If you can handle that, though, then “Pee-Shy: A Memoir” is a book that’ll surely stick in your memory.
“The Orphan Choir” by Sophie Hannah
Your neighbor loves heavy rock & roll.
He has all the CDs of all the major metal bands. It’s impressive, really, the determination he used to find them, starting with the earliest and the heaviest. He listens to them every weekend. Over and over, loudly.
Which would be nice, except you hate heavy metal.
So, aside from buying a boxful of earplugs, what can you do about a noisy neighbor? You could move, of course, but as you’ll see in “The Orphan Choir” by Sophie Hannah, sometimes that doesn’t even help…
It didn’t happen every night—or every weekend, for that matter. But it happened often enough for Louise Beeston to become a bit unhinged over the loud music that her neighbor, Justin Clay, spewed from his stereo.
In the several times that Louise had complained, Clay was polite, but she could see that he was as annoyed at her as she was at him. Stuart, Louise’s husband, didn’t seem to be bothered by the din, so he was no help at all. And though it pained Louise that he was gone, she considered it a minor blessing that her seven-year-old son Joseph was away at Saviour College on choir scholarship. He’d never have to endure the noise.
No, the cacophony irritated Louise the most and it only got worse. Not only did Clay start blasting music more frequently, but he upped the battle by playing choir music: The kind that Joseph sang at Saviour College! Clay must’ve known how Louise was suffering over Joseph’s absence. It was surely some sort of torture.
To escape this awful neighbor, Louise convinced Stuart that they needed a second home in an exclusive enclave where privacy, neatness, and silence were valued above all. It would be a lovely weekend retreat for their family, a perfect spot to bring Joseph when he was on holiday. It would be quiet.
But then, Louise started hearing the choir again. She began to think that maybe the singing was all in her head. It got louder when she thought about Joseph’s choir director, whom she hated.
It started following her when she was outside, in the nearby forest.
It got terrifying when she began to see faces…
Every now and then, having a little scare is good but you don’t want it to keep you up all night. That’s when you want “The Orphan Choir” at your bedside.
Is Louise insane? That’s what author Sophie Hannah spurs her readers to ask, and it’s a valid question. Through pages and pages of fussiness, we’re shown that Louise is fretful and difficult, prone to excitability and bordering on hysterical (in a bad way). She’s not someone you’d want to know; in fact, eventually, you’ll want to roll your eyes at cranky Louise—which is about when Hannah cranks up the suspense.
Though I thought this book was overly-wordy at times, its gentle shivers make it worth a peek if you want something Scary Lite. Read “The Orphan Train,” and the only sound you’ll hear is “Eeeeeeeeek.”
“A Big Fat Crisis” by Deborah A. Cohen, MD
You feel as though you might have to quit your job.
Yeah, you’re that desperate to get away from the treats that somebody’s been leaving in the break room. Nice gesture, but you’re totally incapable of resisting them and each bite ruins your diet.
It’s a point of shame that you have no willpower, but there may be more to your weight problem than lack of the word “no.” Find out by reading the new book “A Big Fat Crisis” by Deborah A. Cohen, MD, and cut yourself some slack.
It seems as though you can’t escape it: everywhere you look, you’re reminded to eat healthier, get active, and lose weight. But you also can’t escape the things that taste good but are bad for you, and sticking to Dietary Guidelines “is neither easy nor fun.” In fact, most of us don’t eat right and just five percent of us get the recommended amount of exercise.
But to say that we’re weak-willed is misleading, says Cohen. Most overweight people “appear to have plenty of self-control in most other areas of their lives.” They get to work on time, volunteer, pay bills, drive safely, and raise families. So why can’t they control what they eat?
The reason, Cohen says, is twofold: we’re hard-wired to eat, and we’re exploited by our “food environment.” The good news is that the latter – “point of purchase and point of consumption” - are changeable. First, though, we must understand “that an individual’s ability to resist overeating is limited when excess food is constantly available.” In other words, for myriad reasons, the more we try to control our appetites, the less we can avoid that extra donut or large O-rings.
The fixes are many: pay attention to what you eat; just seven extra calories a day will result in surprisingly big weight gain. Familiarize yourself with caloric content. Become aware of how marketing promotes overeating. And support government regulations on grocery stores and restaurants; after all, laws keep us safe from cholera and typhoid. They should be able to keep us safe from obesity, too.
So you say you need to lose ten pounds – but they’re kicking your (well-padded) butt? It might not be your fault, and “A Big Fat Crisis” tells you why but not without an extra helping of controversy.
On one side of the table, this book should be a big comfort to anyone who’s shamed by weight and temptation. Author Deborah A. Cohen, MD takes the onus off dieters by explaining that it may be genuinely true that they can’t help themselves. Cohen doesn’t let them totally off the hook, though; she still scolds, but not terribly harshly.
The controversy, however, lies in Cohen’s strongly-opinionated solutions. Specifically, restaurant owners, grocers, vendors, and retailers won’t like ‘em. Not one crumb.
Obviously, this isn’t your usual diet-and-exercise book. There are conversation-starters on every page here, and lots to think about. But if you’re concerned about obesity, eating right, and your family’s weight, “A Big Fat Crisis” might give you the skinny.
“The Longest Date: Life as a Wife” by Cindy Chupack
Image courtesy of Viking
Your calendar looks like Swiss cheese.
Every week, nearly every entry, there are holes where there should be events. Blanks where fun should be penned in. Emptiness where there should be excitement.
Your six-year-old neighbor has a better social life than yours: she has play dates all the time. You haven’t dated in eons. But read “The Longest Date” by Cindy Chupack, and you’ll see that these things just take time.
Ever the romantic, Cindy Chupack says that, while single, she “slept only with men I believed I could marry.” She won’t – can’t - say how many men that was, but “[a]lcohol was often involved.”
Oh, sure, she’d been married before but it didn’t work out – mostly because, two years postnuptial, her then-husband realized “he might be gay.” Chupack was nonetheless hopeful for Happily Someday After, which is why it was nice to meet Ian.
Ian was cute and impulsive in a fun way; the kind of guy who stayed in touch with old girlfriends and was “definitely more of a bad boy than I had ever dated.” Chupack told herself not to fall for him. She knew his type. Ian wasn’t “that guy.”
But he was, and she made room for him in her “Fabulous Beach House,” though it irked her that Ian “would come with things” for which she also needed to make room. He came with far-fetched dreams, outrageous holiday rituals, and friends she’d have to spend time with, too.
Still, she married him… and came home from the honeymoon, pregnant.
Realizing that she wanted children badly, Chupack was happy - until she miscarried her honeymoon baby, and then she lost another. Fearing that she was “too old” to get pregnant again, she and Ian tried nearly everything modern medicine had to offer (and some things it didn’t). They also fought, made up, got a dog, renewed their vows annually, and learned to be marriage partners long before they’d ever need to learn to be parents.
“Maybe fictional characters live happily ever after,” says Chupack, “but for the nonfictional rest of us, the story continues with a lot more complexity…”
What’s it like to be a wife?
Author Cindy Chupack says in her introduction that she “wanted to tell the honest, horrible, hysterical truth about the early years of marriage.”
But I think “The Longest Date” missed the mark.
Now, I have to admit that there are a few chuckles here and there in this book. Not belly-laugh stuff but yeah, it’s comedic. What I saw more of, however, was an abundance of heels-dug-in fussing and angst-y, cynical wisecracks. That can be amusing but it can also be annoying, and the latter is what won this race in my eyes.
The reason to read this book lies in the parts not intended for humor. That’s where Chupack does absolute magic in her story – but is it enough? That would depend on what you want in a book: some readers might find “The Longest Date” to be perfect, while others might think it too cheesy.
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