Amazon, I Give Up

It’s getting harder to avoid Jeff Bezos. I had sworn off buying books, joining Prime, or anything else from Amazon when the pop-eyed titan clashed with Hatchette book publishers. In 2014 The New York Times reported “(Amazon) controls nearly half the book trade, an unprecedented level for one retailer. And the dispute showed it is not afraid to use its power to discourage sales.”

The desire to own the universe has expanded since then to some of my favorites. Amazon is now the force behind the Washington Post, Audible, Goodreads, Whole Foods, Airbandb, and Uber. And “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” is only available on Prime Video. I may not be able to hold out much longer from the persuasion of persistent marketing.

th  Yes, Virginia, I did finally give in and subscribe to Amazon Prime – bingeing on Mrs. Maisel and Jack Ryan. I christened my Whole Foods account today with a sweep of my App, buying many of the tempting (but not needed) Prime Savings items. I laughed at John Kelly’s article in the Washington Post with his stack of unread New Yorkers (he knows me well), and I dowloaded more books on Audible.  I’ve read and enjoyed most of the Goodreads Choice Awards including Moyes’ Still Me and Hannah’s The Great Alone, but I still wonder why most of the prestigious book award winners were not included.  Where were?

  • Pulitzer Prize winner Less by Greer
  • Pen/Faulkner Award winner Improvement by Joan Silber
  • National Book Foundation Award The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
  • Man Booker Prize Winner Milkman by Anna Burns

51qvrvMLUoL._AC_UL200_SR200,200_On a quick search, I found I could, if I wanted to, order wine from Amazon, as well as my favorite Illy coffee, products from Trader Joe’s, and live goldfish – but no puppies…yet.

I hope Jeff Bezos appreciates my contribution to his space race – but I doubt he’s noticed.

Book Lovers Live Longer

The news was so hot, two friends called and another sent me the clipping of the article by Pulitzer winning writer Amy Ellis Nutt from the Washington Post – Scientists Say Book Lovers Live Longer Than Non-Readers.  Just reading books more than 3.5 hours a week – a half hour a day – can add to your life span.  Imagine what reading more in a day can do, but be careful to get up and move around now and then, since the Annals of Internal Medicine recently linked a sedentary lifestyle to early death.

Someone suggested listening to books on tape while walking, jogging, biking –  to cover all bases.  I could never give up the pleasure of turning the pages, or the convenience of a quick download of a best seller, but I am working on my Audible list.  Here are a few:

  • The Country Wife – starring Maggie Smith in a BBC dramatization
  • Say Something Happened by Alan Bennett
  • The Road Home: Stories of Lake Wobegon by Garrison Kellor
  • In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

 

My favorite study, however, linked eating chocolate to good health and long life.

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Making the List

k0091272Although I faithfully note new books I want to read,  I can never be number one on the library wait list.  It doesn’t help that the book is not yet listed when I log in, anxious to find it.  It doesn’t help that the library “wish list” can only include books in cataloguing.  Mostly, it doesn’t help that I forget about the book until I see another ad or review – usually weeks later.  By then, other more diligent readers have already ordered the book, and I am number 198 for the new Jeffrey Archer, or 20 for Donna Leon’s new mystery, and still holding at 14 for The Luminaries.   Is it any wonder that my electronic book bill has soared?  Sometimes, I just can’t wait.

A friend recently sent me an article from the Washington Post about the slow-reading movement and the effects of digital reading on the brain – Serious Reading Takes A Hit from Online Scanning and Skimming.  It struck me as I “skimmed” the article that library users may be promoters of this movement, sometimes forcing me to revert to digital text that may be eroding what is left of my brain.  Michael Rosenwald writes in the Post:

Before the Internet, the brain read mostly in linear ways — one page led to the next page, and so on… Reading in print even gave us a remarkable ability to remember where key information was in a book simply by the layout…We’d know a protagonist died on the page with the two long paragraphs after the page with all that dialogue.

The Internet is different. With so much information, hyperlinked text, videos alongside words and interactivity everywhere, our brains form shortcuts to deal with it all — scanning, searching for key words, scrolling up and down quickly. This is nonlinear reading…

Will we become Twitter brains?”

I worry that books will disappear – like bookstores.  I happily still prefer holding the pages and flipping back to remember who died – harder to do on an e-book, even with those red bookmarks.  But when the wait is long, and the price is right, those electronic books fill my need every time.   How about you?

 

 

 

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Dickens at Christmas – Dodger

9780062009494_p0_v1_s260x420In the spirit of Christmas – past, present, and future – I am reading a little Charles Dickens on Christmas Day through the clever mystery of Terry Pratchett’s Dodger.  Set in Victorian England, Patchett channels the master storyteller Dickens and his charming fictional rogue, Dodger in an adventure to rescue a damsel in distress.

Inspired by the Charles Dickens display at the Morgan Library in New York City, and prompted by a review in the Washington Post sent by a good friend who shared the outing, I ordered Dodger from my library and it appeared just in time for Christmas reading.  Although listed as a book for older children, adults who know the literary and political references will appreciate the nuances.  Back to reading for me – and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Related:

  1. The Morgan Library Exhibits
  2. Washington Post Book World Review of “Dodger”

Watergate by Thomas Mallon

President Nixon

The drama of Watergate took on the qualities of a suspense thriller in the seventies, with the Washington Post’s daily installments of revelations, ultimately leading to the downfall of a sitting President. Reporters Woodward and Bernstein documented their relentless pursuit in their book, All the President’s Men, later developed into a movie. The identity of Deep Throat, their secret source, finally was revealed in 2005, and Frank Langella immortalized the deposed Nixon in the 2009 play based on the Frost/Nixon interviews. The fascination continues with a new twist.

Using the famous political scandal for his new historical fiction – Watergate – Thomas Mallon imagines the personal lives and conversations behind the scenes from 1972 (the night before the famous break-in) to 1974. With the real cast of characters – listed in the front of the book for reference – and embellishing the facts only a little, Mallon manages to create a suspenseful mystery about events that are already part of the historical record.

Alice

Mallon uses three key women in Nixon’s life to fill in a fictional back story to the well-known reality: Rose Mary Woods (the President’s secretary who famously erased 18  1/2 minutes of incriminating taped recordings); Pat Nixon, (the President’s long-suffering wife); and Alice Roosevelt Longworth (the well-connected ninety year old daughter of Pres. Theodore Roosevelt).  All were devoted fans of Dick. Pat wore bright hues to compensate for her husband’s drab origins as a Quaker, and Mallon inserts more color into her life by giving her a fictional affair with a wealthy Irishman.  Rose Mary, the loyal secretary, mistakenly thought she could erase herself from history (Mallon’s own version of what was really on those missing 18 1/2 minutes), and Alice used her insider information to predict catastrophe – with real lines that could rival Downton Abbey’s Maggie Smith character.

In Mallon’s story, the powerful men have secondary roles as characters who reveal their own demons through conversations that might have taken place. Fred La Rue, the bagman who delivered the cash hush money, plays a sympathetic key role. His skeleton in the closet becomes a continuing thread in the story.  Nixon himself emerges as strong-willed and brilliant, yet insecure and paranoid – a tragic hero/villain.

Throughout, Mallon inserts reminders of the seventies – the Vietnam War is winding down, a new agreement with China is imminent, Michelangelo’s Pieta sculpture is defaced in the Vatican.  At times, I found myself fact-checking on the internet only to find that an unlikely incident that seemed out of a spy novel had really happened, e.g.,  the untimely and suspicious death of Dorothy Hunt, wife of E. Howard Hunt, one of the many involved in the scandal who went to jail.

Most of the players are dead now, and the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge across from the Watergate where the break-in was planned, is a George Washington University dormitory.  I kept wondering how history would have been different if those condemning tapes had been destroyed.   In those pre-computer days, the evidence would have been hard to reconstruct.  I found a  transcript from the Nixon/Frost interview with a commentary from Ken Hughes that actually addressed Why Nixon Didn’t Burn the Tapes

Whether you lived through the scandal, read about it, or just wonder why “gate” is now attached to any modern corruption scandal, Mallon’s Watergate offers a new perspective.  I was surprised that there was still more to say on the subject, but Mallon says it well, and kept me reading – no matter that I knew the ending.