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Louis Armstrong and Hampton Hawes 


Satchmo - My Life in New Orleans - Louis Armstrong (1954)

Raise Up Off Me - Hampton Hawes/Don Asher (1972)

What is it about books? Not audio books or books you read on your Kindle - actual books. Like record albums, for me, they are physical tokens of a life lived - like photo albums. I still print out my favorite photographs and put them into albums. And it's not because I'm concerned that The Cloud could crash, erasing my life. Or that once I'm gone all that is left of me will exist only in the ether. I like being surrounded by my life's journey and the talismans I've collected. There's something about holding them and the wonder they inspire. 

Perfect example is the original copy of Louis Armstrong's autobiography I came across in a bookstore. This falling apart actual book with the original sleeve was written by Pops himself with no ghost writer. It begins at the beginning and it ends when he travels to Chicago at the age of 21 - a very focused amount of time. I had never heard of this book by the greatest jazz musician of all time and was very excited to read it even though despite the shape it was in was over $50. Original copies in good condition go for hundreds of dollars. But I had mine and I was excited to read it.

First thing I did was take the dust jacket off so it wouldn't get it damaged while I read it. And I carried the book around in a plastic bag if I was going to read it on the subway. Sure you can read this book online and you can buy any number of editions that came out after this one. But having this edition, this actual book, made me want to read it. It was mine and I was keeping it. This is the greatest legend of the music I love so dearly and have spent my life learning how to play in his own voice on the first pages it was ever told on. Score.

Every jazz musician should read this book. So I won't go into too much detail. But the book is incredibly well-written for someone that poor with no formal education. The man didn't have shoes until he was like 12! In his words, his family was "broker than the ten commandments." Direct and conversational, it really is like listening to Pops telling you a story. He was 53 when this book was published and his memory is incredibly sharp. Just the names of the characters he was surrounded with - Sore Dick, Black Benny, Cheeky Black, One-eye Bud, Little Head, Sugar Johnny, Nicodemus and my favorite, Boogus - puts you in a place you've never been and can never go, New Orleans in the oughts and teens.

So much could've gone wrong for young Louis. There were fights, stabbings and shootings all around him. He never got hurt but he did get sent to Juvenile Detention for shooting a gun in the air on New Year's Eve, another life event that could have gone terribly wrong. But that is where he got turned on to the trumpet. Music saved his life. From then on, he had focus and ambition. That and his immense talent and the love of his family saved him from the streets. And we all know the rest of the story.



Hampton Hawes is a different and tragic story altogether, maybe the saddest story in all of Jazz. LA- born, self-taught son of a minister whose wife was the church pianist, Hawes had a burgeoning career in the 1950's hey days of jazz piano. Sonny Clark, Elmo Hope, Bobby Timmons, Hank Jones, George Shearing, Red Garland, Oscar Peterson (the list is long) - Hawes was in with the best of them. But in 1958, he got arrested for possession of heroin. The Feds chose Hawes because they thought since his career was SO promising he would rather rat on his suppliers than go to prison. They were wrong. He wouldn't talk so they gave him 10 years in the Ft. Worth Penitentiary. After a few years, he became convinced after seeing JFK on TV, that Kennedy would pardon him. So he wrote a letter to the president and in 1963 he was released. 5 years in prison. For having drugs. He was never the same. In those 5 years, music had gone through tectonic changes and rather than go back to what he was doing - playing jazz piano - he tried to change his style and get with the 60's. But he was a real be-bopper and his records after that seemed forced and were not popular. His career languished. He died suddenly in 1977 from a brain hemorrhage. He was just 48-years-old. 

This book was written in 1972 with the help of ghost-writer, Don Asher. At the time, only Charles Mingus had told the real story of what it's like to be a jazz musician in his own vernacular. The writing of Babs Gonzalez comes to mind as being a precursor to this kind of language - the way black people actually talked. Hampton Hawes was angry and bitter, naturally, and the book allows him to tell his story in his own voice with his own attitude. It was hard to read and made me feel a lot of emotions - anger and rage, for sure, but such sadness and melancholy.

This book is not a special edition - just a beat-up reissued paperback. But it is a book I will keep to remind me how fortunate I am and have been and to keep myself in check should I start to think I deserve things. It will go in the music section next to the Mingus book and the Satchmo book, the Art Pepper, Duke and Billy Strayhorn biographies - next to Miles' and Zappa's autobiographies. And there's the book of Luciano Berio interviews I keep to remind me music is not an academic pursuit. And the letters between Kandinsky and Schoenberg to remind me to know and collaborate with other kinds of artists. And there's Please Kill Me, I flip open every so often to stay punk. The Copeland book about 'the new music,' several books about playing the piano, a big art book about Stravinsky - all of these inspire me just looking over at them on the shelf. People who have a lot of books know what I mean. Oh. I forgot one. Among all these great books by and about legendary musicians sits a narrow paperback of interviews with bass players by Mike Visciglia. It's not a book I will probably ever crack open again. I don't need to be reminded what strings Lee Sklar uses or that the days of making records the way he used to is over. I keep that one just because Mike is my friend and seeing it over there helps me write. I mean, if HE can write a book....



Housewife, Jerrie Mock, flies around the world in 1964 

The Jerrie Mock Story - Nancy Roe Pimm (2016)

Happy Mother's Day to all who celebrate. And to those who celibate I say, where would you be if your mother had that attitude? There's something my mother would say, referring to my own 'bad attitude' and referring to herself in the third person. She believed you can control and change your attitude whenever you want. More than 50 years later, I've learned that is the only thing you CAN control in life. I've also learned that it's not as easy to change as it sounds. And I now understand how that explains why she herself had 'bad attitudes' often and that we are all flawed but the honor, grit and soul is in the trying. I think I'm finally giving my mom a break. 

My mom was a 'doer,' a word she used often.
'Be a doer. Don't be a watcher,' she would say to me and pretty much anyone else. Well, Jerrie Mock was a doer. She was also a housewife not unlike my mother. In 1964, my mom was 43 and lived in Cleveland with her husband and 5 children. Jerrie Mock was 38 and had 3 children and lived outside of Columbus. On March 14, my mother had me at Lakewood Hospital. 5 days later, Jerrie Mock took off from Columbus and became the first woman to fly solo around the world. She had been flying for only 7 years and had never flown further than the Bahamas. To contrast, Amelia Earhart was a professional barnstormer who had crossed both oceans before her attempt to circle the globe in a state-of-the-art twin-engine plane with a navigator on board. Jerrie flew a single-engine Cessna that was 11 years old, by herself. 

Despite these little time and geographic coincidences and a mother who was 'women's lib' before there was such a thing, I had never heard of Jerrie Mock until I happened upon her biography in one of those tiny book houses some people put in their front yard, although this one lives in front of our local liquor store and has a great revolving collection. I am somewhat of an aviation buff and couldn't believe I did not know her story. Maybe because it's kind of not all that compelling. She was not charismatic like Amelia Earhart. She wore a skirt and a blouse in the plane, not an aviator suit. But she wasn't glamorous. Just a regular gal from rural Ohio. I don't get it. Is that why she's not a household name? There are only a couple books about her and there is no documentary or film adaptation. This book is not that well-written and her personal accounts are not terribly exciting. She landed. She slept. She met the officials. She had some great food. She checked on her plane. She talked to or received a telegram from her asshole husband who told her to keep going because another woman was trying at the same time. She kept going. 

Almost 30 years passed between Earhart's famous attempt and Jerrie Mock's success. There must have been others during that time but I couldn't find anything about their attempts. There is barely anything about Jerrie Mock. A brand new book just came out, 'Queen of the Clouds,' about her and Joan Merriam Smith, the other woman attempting to circumnavigate at the same time. I haven't read it but the title isn't promising. It's sure to have more details than this book for kids, so I'm going to check it out. 

I know that most things our mothers do get taken for granted. But this is ridiculous. This typical Midwestern mom was the first woman to fly around the world BY HERSELF in a SINGLE-ENGINE plane with only 7 YEARS of flying experience and not only didn't crash but didn't get killed along the way. She landed in some countries where women didn't do such things, for example. And she flew over Cambodia and Vietnam while the war was raging below. The book mentions the war with one line. Maybe that's why I never heard of her - overshadowed by the upheaval our country was going through - JFK had just been assassinated four months before her flight and the Civil Rights Act was signed four months after. Well, my daughter knows about Jerrie Mock now and she knows about my mom, too, though they only met briefly and Lucy does not remember her. But I tell her stories about my mom. Like the one about how with the right attitude you can do whatever you want. 

Roald Dahl 

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator - Roald Dahl (1972)
Illustrated by Joseph Shindelman


I have loved Roald Dahl since I was 10. I started with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, of course, and moved on to all his books for kids - James and the Giant Peach and The Witches. The sort of Carrie for kids, Mathilda. The class-conscious, Fantastic Mr. Fox. George's Marvelous Medicine - an absurd and dark tale of revenge, greed and murder. Lucy is 11 and has read all of these, too. My sister found the copy of Great Glass Elevator I read when I was Lucy's age in her attic. When it arrived in the mail, we read it together. 

The elevator has crashed through the roof of the chocolate factory. Charlie has been given the chocolate factory and in the movie, the family and Mr. Wonka fly around in the elevator over their picturesque town. It's Munich, for the curious. The book ends with Mr. Wonka landing at Charlie's house and inviting them all to live with him at the factory - a happy ending if you're not one of the other children or possibly an oompa-loompa. Wonka says they are happy but so say all colonizers and enslavers. I was much older when I considered the circumstances of the oompa-loompa's servitude could be exploitive. 

The story picks up on the family's way back to the factory. The elevator malfunctions and takes the entire family, including the other grandparents who still haven't got of bed, into orbit where mayhem ensues. The group docks to the just completed, Space Hotel, USA (1972!) where Vermicious Knids, shape-shifting aliens, have taken over. I wasn't that into sci-fi as a kid and it's still not one of my go-to genres - Phil Dick, Urusla LeGuin, William Gibson and Robert Heinlen excepted - so I didn't really remember reading this book. It is classic Dahl. Karma is dealt out to the greedy, the crass and the bullies in great measure, though the punishments are usually temporary. Great lessons for kids on what can and maybe should happen to jerky people. 

Now that Lu has read most of the Dahl for kids, she was ready for some adult stories. My Mom bought me his short story collection, Someone Like You, when I was her age and we read them together - at the same time, rather. I don't remember my mom and I doing anything together. For years we talked about his story about the wife who finds out her husband is cheating on her and clubs him over the head with a frozen leg of lamb, then calmly puts it in the oven and calls the police. When the police arrive, the wife tells them she was out at the grocery, came back and there he was, head bashed in on the floor, his scotch up-ended on the carpet and his cigarette still burning in the ashtray. The cops believe her and scour the surrounding neighborhood for the murder weapon or any clues. When they return to the house exhausted with no leads, the wife offers to feed them. She was cooking dinner after all and she couldn't possibly eat an entire leg of lamb by herself and what a waste it would be, so...

It wasn't that often but every time my mom made a leg of lamb, that story would come up.

Some of the stories are too grown-up psychologically for her attention span but there was another one we read about a kid who had invented a game in his head using the multi-colored carpet of his hallway. The red sections were hot coals. The black sections, swirling bands of poisonous snakes. He can only walk on the yellow sections. But is there enough yellow in the carpet design to make it across the hallway and down the steps to the safety of his mother? Before long we are thinking this boy's situation is as real as he thinks it is. And when he falls over into the black puddle of adders and cobras, we are left to wonder if he survived. Incredible story-telling.

Another of my Mom's favorites from that collection is called, "Man From the South." The setting is a resort in Jamaica. Poolside, The Man, hustles a guy sitting next to him into a bet. An unusual bet. The new lighter the mark has been bragging about lights even in the wind, he says. So The Man bets him it won't light ten times in a row even inside. The wager? The Man will put up a brand new Cadillac against the mark's left pinky. I won't tell you how it ends but it is one of Dahl's greats. He wrote it in 1948. Alfred Hitchcock Presents devoted an episode to this story in 1960 starring Steve McQueen as the mark and Peter Lorre as The Man. 

Cannibals at sea 

In the Heart of the Sea - Nathaniel Philbrick  (2000)
385 days - Jonathan Franklin   (2015)


My local is called O'Sullivans. It's three long blocks from the Narrows where I live and is the first sign of civilization on a long uphill walk past suburban Brooklyn to the top of the ridge Bay Ridge is named for. The bar has been family owned for 82 years, purchased in 1934 by its namesake, a retired NYPD police sergeant. I guess you'd call it a cop bar - not like that cop bar in Windsor Terrace they just started admitting women to like 20 years ago. And not like other cop or even firefighter bars I've been in that can seem unwelcoming to outsiders. Although one asshole did put me in chokehold just for fun once because I said something about the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island at the hands of cops. Everyone had a laugh and I didn't make a big deal out of it. Most everyone is friendly or at least polite. 

The bartender, Eddie, is an avid music fan and he kind of tries to watch out for me. Like don't sit in the corner, even if nobody's there. Somebody might show up and wonder who the fuck this guy thinks he is sitting in our corner. There is also a scary looking bald dude with sleeve tats that go all the up his neck who Eddie has cautioned me to never sit next to. That doesn't bother me and I don't mind learning and adhering to the unwritten rules of the bar. I like Eddie and he plays great music. He likes me and my family and we always at least pop our heads in to say hi when we are walking by. Most times we come in and have one or two. Lucy gets her usual - a glass of water in a rocks glass with a straw and a slice of lemon. My wife gets a tequila gimlet and I have a whiskey. The owner is usually sitting at one end of the bar nursing a white wine and is always friendly and welcoming. It really is a family pub - a real local where the locals check in to see what's happening even if they're not drinking.  

One day I walk in and the only other guy in there is the scary bald dude I've never talked to. He's talking to Eddie about fishing. He loves to fish. The only fishing I know about is Missouri trout fishing. I even used to tie flies with my old man when I was a teenager. He's an ocean going fisherman with a boat - do all ex-cops have boats? - and he's talking about a book he's read. I read. He reads. So I figure I could talk to him. I ask him about the book and he doesn't so much talk TO me, more like AT me - the kind of person who would never think to ask you a question about yourself. But he tells me the famous story of the Essex whaleship that in 1821 got stove by a whale in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and sunk, leaving the 21 survivors alone in 3 whaleboats 3000 miles from South America. Until the sinking of the Titanic it was the most famous sea story there was. It became the inspiration for Moby Dick.  

I love adventure tales. I've read the Krakauer book about the doomed Everest expedition that took the lives of 8 climbers in 1996. I loved The Lost City of Z. I've read about Ernest Shakleton's 1915 journey to the South Pole. Their ship was crushed by pack ice and they survived for two years on the floating ice. Scientists just recently discovered his sunken ship 2 miles below the ice in perfect condition. And I had the book, 385 days, on my reading cart - a story about a fisherman who got swept out to sea and drifted for, you guessed it, 385 days in 2012. I picked up the Essex book and started 385 days at the same time. 

What a contrast in survival stories. The crew of the Essex knew how to sail and navigate and had salvaged sails from the doomed ship. Salvador Alvarenga not only had no sail, he had a useless outboard motor attached to the back of his boat he had no tools to take off to increase the seaworthiness of his boat. Though the crew of the Essex were whale hunters, they had no tackle and could not fish. Alvarenga was in the sea to fish. He was a fisherman. So he could fish. The men of the Essex had only the water they could take off the ship and carry with them in the whaleboats. In 2012, the ocean was filled with plastic and Alvarenga easily snatched up all kinds of water catching containers. When food ran out or someone died, the crew of the Essex ate them. When Alvarenga's mate died, he insists he did not eat him. He had raw fish, had discovered how to kill birds that would rest on his boat and there was turtle blood. It kept him alive. He drifted for 7000 miles from Mexico all the way to the other side of the Pacific. 385 days. The men of the Essex, fearing cannibals in the islands to the west, executed a journey against the wind of 105 days and sailed 4100 miles in the opposite direction. In 1821, in open whaleboats, that is quite an amazing sea story. They both are.  

Since the Essex was a Nantucket whaling ship at the height of Nantucket's whaling dominance, there is a lot of interesting history about Nantucket and Quakers and the old money of the Folgers, Macys and the Starbucks - all very familiar names today that were at the forefront of Nantucket's wealthy history. 

Women ran Nantucket. Men would be gone for years at a time and sometimes wouldn't come back at all. When they did it was 3-5 months at home and then back to sea. So the women ran the business of interactions with the mainland - the island supply chain that kept them in goods and services and the selling of the whale oil the men brought back. With a lot of idle time, it seems they had hobbies. They smoked a lot of opium, apparently. And in 1979 during excavation and demolition of a home from the mid-1800's, workers discovered a Victorian-era dildo in the chimney. It seems the women adapted quite well to not having the men around. Here's a poem islander Eliza Brock recorded in her journal around 1850 -


Then I'll haste to wed a sailor, and send him off to sea,

For a life of independence, is the pleasant life for me.

But every now and then I shall like to see his face,

For it always seems to me to beam with manly grace,

With his brow so nobly open, and his dark and kindly eye,

Oh my heart beats fondly towards him whenever he is nigh.

But when he says "Goodbye my love, I'm off across the sea,"

First I cry for his departure, then laugh because I'm free.

Ninety-nine bottles of beer and the Great, Great Lakes Adventure 

Ninety-nine Bottles    Joseph G. Peterson   (2019)


This past summer, my wife and daughter and I endeavored to swim in every Great Lake. We called it, 'The Great, Great Lakes Adventure.' The impetus was the wedding of my nephew in Buffalo. My sister lives in Syracuse and that's right on the way so we would of course stop and visit. Lake Ontario is just north of there and well, Buffalo is right on Lake Erie, so a plan started to hatch. 

We took a day trip from my sister's up to Lake Ontario. One down. We hit Niagara Falls, got wet but didn't swim. Attended the wedding and headed for Cleveland where we stayed with a college buddy who lives right on Lake Erie. Two down. The longest drive was around Lake Erie up to the top of Michigan's thumb where we discovered an amazing beach - Lake Huron, number three. Up to Michigan's upper peninsula where we stayed in a cabin for a few days and hit the freezing but incredibly beautiful, Lake Superior. Back down the west side of Lake Michigan to Chicago and civilization. It had been two weeks on the road and we were ready for some big city amenities. We got an apartment in Lincoln Park for a few days and swam in Lake Michigan right downtown. And had Chicago pizza, which isn't pizza at all. 

Our first night in Chicago we decided to go out with some friends to the famous Green Mill. I've played jam sessions there but have always wanted to perform there with my trio. It has quite a history. You can sit in Al Capone's booth. 

The show was at 8, so we thought we would take Lucy. I called to make sure but they told me no kids. The club was just 10 minutes from our apartment,  so we decided to leave Lucy alone. Rather than get sidetracked with should we have left a 10-year-old alone in a strange apartment in a strange city, let me just say that both her and us felt confident in our decision. 

She has a phone, has been alone before and knows what to do in a variety of circumstances. We even have a safe word.

We got to the club, walked in and the first thing I saw was a 10-year-old boy standing in the back with a guy. My wife and friends went and sat down but I wanted to talk to this guy, so I went over and told him the management told me no kids. He told me the management is his sister and that next time just tell her that Jimmy the Builder told me it was OK. I shook his hand, thanking him and introduced myself. He needed no introduction, so he introduced me to the guy who was now standing next to him, Joe Peterson. We exchanged some pleasantries and I asked him what he did for a living. He told me he's a writer and Jimmy chimed in that he just published a new book and it's called, Ninety-nine Bottles. No shit, I said, and told him I just published my first book, 50,000 Bonghits. We all laughed hysterically at the coincidence of our titles and made jokes like, What's yours about? We became fast friends and I took them outside to smoke some weed. 

Turns out Joe Peterson is a great writer. When I think of barfly stories, there is only one master in my mind, Bukowski. To take on such a colossal comparison - as anyone would do looking at the title - is ballsy. But this is Joe's 6th novel and it's great. Divided into 99 entries, it counts back from 99 like the song, each entry revealing more about the broken narrator slowing killing himself in the pink glow of a Hyde Park bar, his desire 'swimming like a great fish in a murky aquarium with nowhere to go.' There once was a time, though, of hope for our hero - a time when 'all the convoluted minutiae of the inexpressible world seemed on the cusp of being said.' But that's all gone and all that's left is the bar and its inhabitants. 99 bottles of beer on the wall. 99 bottle of beer. You take when down, pass it around, 98 bottles of beer on the wall. 

There is absolutely nothing cliche in this book. Joe - we're on a fist name basis, after all - writes prose that borders on poetry. It's soulful and taut. There is even a beautiful ode to Hyde Park our hero - who is/was, of course, a writer - puts down on a napkin one afternoon as the sun slices through the windows at the front of the bar, silhouetting the hunched over day-drinkers on their stools trying either to claw their way back to sanity or to go completely insane. 

When Hyde Park swings upon a hinge

And each and every mind is ajar

Then the beaches like waves shall slowly swirl

Rise themselves up and spit loudly upon the gloomy lake

And the earthlike clouds shall gather themselves thickly

And darkly spit rain into the star pocked sky

And the buildings like bums shall weakly uproot themselves

And stumble penny poor and raving mad through the streets

Then crazy you and crazy me shall look madly eye-to-eye

and tremble firmly upon the ground

As twisted tongue says to bent tooth:  Dese are mad times Mistah Jones

Bad times indeed. 

Annie Ross says, "C'mon in!" 

Annie Ross Says ‘Come on In!’...and try her favourite recipes (1972)


My mom used to read cookbooks. I never understood it. How can you just read ingredients and procedure? That's got to be boring. Nobody writes that well. But my mom was into food. She would be called a foodie in her prime - always curious and willing to eat and try to cook new things. I would help her prep for some business dinner party they would be throwing at our house and she would look at me and say loud enough for my dad to hear, "I hope this turns out."

We had the usual cookbooks in the house - Betty Crocker, Julia Child and later the Joy of Cooking. But there were no celebrity cookbooks in the collection. After a quick search I am surprised. Elvis had one. Sophia Loren, Liberace, Frank Sinatra. Vincent Price wrote one that's supposed to be the best of the lot. And how did my mom not have Dinah Shore's cookbook? I've read Kenny Shopsin's, Eat Me, that is amazing. He was a local celebrity. I have a cookbook by Mario Bitali's kids from when he was my boss that my daughter read through. That also yielded several great Del Posto related cookbooks by Lydia that were great to read because of the history. I bring this up because the best cookbooks have stories attached or interwoven. I have a cookbook called, The Secrets of Salsa, that is just salsa recipes from all over Mexico told directly by the women from there who wound up in the Anderson Valley of Northern California. Read that one end-to-end in a day, it was so interesting. Salsa. I like salsa but had no idea there were so many variations. 

But i digest. I just love to talk about food. Let me try and reach around - no, circle back!

I used to sell weed to Annie Ross. I frankly mostly knew her from her roll in Short Cuts. I wasn't a Lambert, Hendricks and Ross fan or a fan of vocalese, in general. And had no idea about her appearance on or even the existence of the Hugh Hefner After Hours show. Or that she dated Lenny Bruce. How did I not know that? Or that she made a record with Gerry Mulligan. I knew her signature song, Twisted, but I didn't go any deeper than that, unfortunately.

After meeting her the first time, I was so into her vibe, I did my homework. The record with Gerry Mulligan on Pacific is great. She made one with Zoot Sims that I love, too. I didn't have to go far to listen to L,H and R again. My new wife had 2 of their records. And her performance on the Playboy show is so cool. She was the real deal, original bebopper cat. Every time after that I would ask her a little question and she'd tell me a little story. When one day she told me, her pianist, Tardo Hammer, had said, Yeah, Dred can play, I was - as my mom would say - over the moon.

I got the gig at Del Posto and didn't have to sell weed anymore, so I didn't see her except when she performed. She came into the restaurant a couple of times. I was playing Lush Life as she brushed by the piano on the way to the bathroom one time and she said, 'Ain't it the truth.' 

The book. Right. The book is hilarious. Miles, who also wrote a cookbook, told her to put cumin in the chile to give it 'an earthy flavor.' I used her chile recipe. Nothing special. The story about her barely escaping the Haitian revolution is somehow funny, though. The boiled bacon and cabbage recipe is not funny. But her parting advice is and sounds just like I remember her...

'Be relaxed, have a drink from time to time, all good cooks do. So start early, take your time, don't panic, and don't get drunk until later.'

Jessica DuLong and Rober Lord 

Dust to Deliverance - Jessica DuLong   (2021)

A Night to Remember - Walter Lord    (1955)


When I moved to NYC more than 20 years ago, I was reading a lot. I bounced around town playing ballet and modern dance classes during the day and played or hung out at the clubs at night, all of it on the subway. I rode it so many times during a week, my 7-day pass made each ride a quarter. And everywhere I went, I carried a bag. I needed ballet music, sure, but I needed my tuning hammer, my weed, a notebook and pen, a bottle of water and whatever book I was reading. I was married to a writer at the time so I read voraciously just to keep up. And the subway was where I did it - the place I spent whatever idle time I had on the way to the next thing. 

The last ten years have been a reading struggle - no more writer wife to kick my reading butt, a little girl and a move to beyond the reasonable reaches of the subway. And I quit playing dance classes. A vortex of illiteracy. 

Thanks to the pandemic and my daughter now reading her own books, I have been reading with some consistency again. I had to start with books my friends have written in the interim and I've shared a couple of those with you on the FB. Here's another one.

The kid is in a Titanic phase - the movie, docs and a book of things you never knew about the Titanic. So I picked up the famous Walter Lord account of the tragedy, A Night to Remember, so we could read it together. And it is really good. Couldn't put it down, even though I know the whole story mostly already. It constantly reminded me of the last book I read written by my friend, Jessica DuLong, Saved at the Seawall. 

Jessica's book is every bit as riveting as Lord's. At the center is the 9-11 tragedy. But her's is a story from the water's perspective. I did not know that day was the largest maritime evacuation in history. And like the Lord book, she masterfully tells dozens of stories simultaneously in the real-time aftermath of the attack and the collapse of the WTC towers - victims and their literal life preservers colliding in the toxic soot-filled cloud that enveloped lower Manhattan, covering everyone and everything. It was panic and confusion and the natural place to go was to the water where a for real rag-tag assemblage of crafts was waiting to get people off the island to New Jersey. I saw the first buiding collapse from my stoop in Brooklyn. I thought I knew a lot about that day. This book is a gripping insight into the NY harbor world and a new perspective of a day we thought we all knew.


John Lithgow and David Koresh 

A Confederacyy of Dumptys (2021)
Trumpty Dumpty Wanted a Crown (2020)
John Lithgow

Breaking The World Jerry Gordon (2018)

I got these two Lithgow books last year for Xmas. They are numbers two and three of his series of satirical poems annotated with factual sources making them more than amusing and at times, hilarious; they are also historical chronicles of a time that when you read all of the antics together and remember, you just can't believe it happened. But it did. 

His first book in the series was an NYT best seller and no wonder - Lithgow is not only the great actor we know him to be but he's incredibly witty and clever with a Shakespearean actor's command of the English language. He's truly a man of letters. I read and have reread the poems and the accompanying explanatory context laughing and shaking my head. How could ALL of these things have happened? Lithgow writes in his introduction that his intentions are to make us all 'laugh, get mad and remember.' I admit I had the urge to get rid of them after I read them. I've had enough of Lyin' Tiny Bonespurs. New Yorkers had enough of the guy back in the 90's! Part of me wants to stick my head in the sand and na-na-na the idiot bronzer away. Can't hear you. Can't hear you. But the father and history student I am won't let me. We must remember. Our children must remember. 


Speaking of narcissistic megalomaniacs with a god complex....
My ex cousin-in-law's first novel takes place in Waco during the 51 day stand-off in early 1993 between David Koresh and his Branch Davidians and the FBI/ATF. I can't help seeing the similarities between Koresh and Trump and apparently Trump sees them, too. He held one of his klan rallies in Waco this past March where he said, 
"I am your warrior, I am your justice. For those who have been wronged and betrayed … I am your retribution." 
He went on to say that he would prevent WW3 because "that's where we're headed."
Doomsday, anyone? Very Koresh. 

Jerry's book - I can call him Jerry because I've known him for 40 years - is told from the perspective of a couple of teens whose parents are gung-ho Davidians and brought their families to Waco. Typical of teens from small towns (or cults), they are not with the program and are like, when and how are we going to get out of our dead end lives that are now quickly becoming deadly? But Koresh is charismatic and mysterious so also like teens without good education, they are easily confused about where their loyalties lie. 

Jerry would consider himself a sci-fi writer, I know, so I was waiting for the sci-fi as I was reading. It's a taught, historical drama up to a point and pretty much follows the actual events - the Feds eventually attack, Davidians fight back and some get injured or die, the coumpound catches fire - but then the story takes an unexpected turn. I don't want to give it away because I highly recommend you check it out. Jerry's website is www.jerrygordon.net. Let me just say, what if Koresh was right? 

Basil Frankweiler and History Smashers 

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler     E.L. Konigsberg   (1967) 

Plagues and Pandemics - History Smashers      Kate Messner  (2021) 

If I'm going to make my goal of 100, I'll have to include kids books and books I might have already read. And lest you think I have no chance - this makes only 3 and January is nearly over - I have 5 that I'm close to finishing, child of the remote control. 

When I was 10 or so, I read this book about two kids who run away from their oppressive suburban lives to NYC to live in the Met, I was all about it. I lived in a suburban outpost of St. Louis full of sweat and grass clippings. I had never even been to a museum. I was captivated by the idea these kids ran away and lived in a museum. Lucy, on the other hand, has been to the Met lots of times. And she is also a New Yorker. She enjoyed the book once she realized it was written in 1967. No way those kids ride the train by themselves from Greenwich. Somebody would say something. And aren't there motion sensors all over the Met they turn on at night? There are at least cameras they monitor from a control center. Still a great book I enjoyed reading again, too. I hardly remember the details. It was made into a couple of not so good movies, one with Ingrid Bergman and the other with Lauren Bacall. I know, wow. Still not good. 

Germs and bacteria, plagues and pandemics, fevers and pustules, rats and fleas. We kept Lucy out of school her first week back after Christmas to see how the school was going to fare. We've read the Titanic one from this series and liked it so we tried this one thinking it would be an appropriate science lesson for the week. This book covers pretty much all of them -  black death, yellow fever, cholera, TB, polio, both pandemics, Ebola, AIDS and smallpox. I didn't know that the smallpox vaccine came from cowpox. Predictably, there were people who didn't trust it at the time despite its obvious effectiveness. There is a cartoon from a contemporary newspaper depicting women running off with bulls because they got the vax. And not off to Pamploma. Microchip anyone? There are other books in the series, one about the Mayflower that's sure to have some information and perspective counter to the narrative we get in school. 

History Smashers. The white-washing, anti-CRT crowd probably would burn these books. Get them while they last.



I'm back from The Jungle 

What's it been? Two years? How was your pandemic? We survived well enough. Better than too many. I finished my book, 50,000 Bonghits, so I did something productive during my down time. At the beginning of this year I was actually disgusted by how little I read during the plague. So I tried to make a committment to get going. I also decided to make little book reports about the books I was reading - maybe to inspire my daughter by my actions. It might also be noted that as a result of my decision to publish my book with proper capitalization, that is how I will write going forward. I might even go back and change the other blog posts. Still trying to figure out if I want to refine and publish the bike riding project. Just pulled my bike out of storage after popping a disc at C7 and being out of comish for awhile so maybe do some more of that project. Writing helps me stay in a creative mode. I hope you enjoy reading it. 


The Jungle    Upton Sinclair/Kristina Gehrmann   (1906/2019)

One of my resolutions this year is to read more. Can I read 100 books in a year? Didn't W do that while he was President? Clinton read like 300 one year, didn't he? My friend, bassist, Matt Pavolka, read like 800 books during the pandemic. Well, here's number 1 - one of my 11-year-old daughter's Xmas presents. 

Lucy has always identified as a vegetarian. She just does not want to eat animals. I was a veg in my 20's in Cali and so was the wife back in the day, but we are so not now. This is all her own thing. And I am very proud of her. 

Most of the books she reads, I also read, just to make sure she is not skimming and retaining what she reads. It gives us something to talk about, too, like a book club. I came across this graphic novel version of this book I read long ago that influenced me greatly and thought, considering Lu's veginess and her love of comix in general, it would be good for her to read. Her eyes were like saucers most of the time and she read it in a day. I had to field a couple of tough questions - What's a brothel? And why? Why was hard to explain. She was appropriately repulsed by it all. And the rest of the content she understood. 

It's beautifully drawn and well, the story is timeless and powerful. And was so influential, it led to federal food safety laws. It's also a great introduction into the world of worker party politics for your budding socialist. Highly recommend this version for kids 10 and up - depending on the kid, of course. The stockyards are bloody but it's drawn in black and white, so not so gory. But definitely explicit descriptions of animal slaughter. The sexual exploitation is implied but crucial to the story. 

Power to the people.