Old School: Life in the Sane Lane Review

Old School: Life in the Sane Lane by Bill O’Reilly and Bruce Feirstein

Published 2017

Rating: 4.5/5

One of my professors used to tell the class a story of one of his friends from when he was in college.  Apparently this friend used to sleep with his head on the desk through every class.  A couple weeks before finals the friend woke up in the middle of class and asked, “Where do I get a textbook?”

My professor, an austere man, said he just looked at his friend and thought, “Wow, life’s 2 x 4 is coming your way.”

That’s basically the theme of old school.  People with a practical, self-reliant, life isn’t fair philosophy versus those who see themselves as victims, are always looking to be offended, and expect someone to make life safe for them.  Those who have an Old School philosophy (not religion, politics, or generation) versus those who are “Snowflakes” and particularly the universities who coddle, encourage, and possibly created this philosophy.

So I guess I’m a millennial myself.  But I’m about 10 years out of college.  And based on the 2×4 story, I don’t think I went to a college that exactly coddled its students.

Old School is categorized as a Current Affairs book according to its back over.  I would put it one part culture, particular today’s culture in colleges versus how the authors were raised, one part autobiography, and one part humor.  It’s a lot going on in a fairly short book.

The semi-autobiographically part is about the authors’ Old School upbringings in the 50s and 60s.  Bill O’Reilly is a news analyst and author who grew up and lives on Long Island.  Bruce Feirstein grew up in New Jersey but later moved to LA and became a screenwriter (of the 90s James Bond movies) as well as an author.  The book also highlights the stories of other old school people such as Chris Kyle and Tina Turner as well as the ultimate snowflake, President Martin VanBuren.

It’s really funny, hysterically funny at times.  Part of the humor comes from the authors’ lives and their parents’ philosophy in raising children.  The rest of it comes from how crazy some colleges have gotten, with lots of parodies of what it’s like to go to Snowflake U or work in a company run by Snowflakes.

It could probably be a beach read albeit one that makes you thinks.  It’s kind of like the man on the street interviews where the reporter (or Jay Leno) asks the person when the Civil War was and the person says “the 80s?” And then the reporter asks who were we fighting, and the person says, “France.”  You’re laughing so hard and then you realize how sad it is that someone made it through our education system without remembering that the fight for slavery happened in the 1860s and the US fought itself: the North against the South. (Yes, I’m slipping in a little bit of facts just in case.)

I really liked this book, it was entertaining, it was funny, but it was also informative and had a lot of good advice.  I think it’s useful to know how a successful person became successful, among other things. The only things I didn’t like about it was that I thought it was a little bit too short. It has a lot going on and maybe lacks a little bit of cohesiveness.  Also, it came up just before O’Reilly parted ways with Fox News, so some of the references to his previous show are ironically a little dated.  It was told back and forth from O’Reilly and Feirstein’s perspective.  That got a little confusing but it overall worked.  It’s a very good read!

Is life a series of petty disasters?

We had a crazy week last week with a black-out and a water issue.  The blackout turned out to be kind of fun.  It made me feel like I was going to bed in olden days with a candle being the only thing to block out the inky black darkness until dawn.  Only I actually had a flashlight and the power came back on before I was all ready for bed.

We also had a rodent fall into one of our window wells.  This turned into a rescue mission.  Then we freed the little guy in a field far far away from our home.

This week our roof is being redone and it’s going to be very noisy for a few days!  The roof isn’t a disaster, it’s a blessing to have it repaired, but the disaster happened last summer when a hailstorm did quite a bit of damage.

I’m not looking for sympathy; I already did that on Facebook.  But it made me think of the line I’ve been quoting for years as “Life is a series of petty disasters.”  I spent a while on Saturday trying to find the exact quote.  I finally just started reading the novel I was 99% the quote came from, Absent in the Spring.

It’s one of the six non-mystery novels that Agatha Christie wrote under the pseudonym, Mary Westmacott.  They’re more reflective and, in a sense, serious then her mystery novels.  Absent in the Spring was written in 1944 and it’s about a middle-aged British women traveling back to England after visiting her adult daughter in Baghdad.  She gets stuck at a “Rest House” in the middle of the desert for a few days after she misses her train.  For the first time in her life the women is left on her own with nothing to do but reflect on her past life and actions.  It’s been over a decade since I read this book in college, so I decided that a re-read was in order.  I’ll plan on posting a full review later.

The line it turned out to be on page five!  It’s actually “Life really was a series of petty dramas.”  I’m going to give you a few more lines for context:

“And her heart warmed to the thought that soon, very soon, she would be seeing Rodney [her husband] again.  She’d never been away from him for very long before.  What a happy peaceful life they had had together.  Well, perhaps peaceful was rather overstating it.  Family life was never quite peaceful.  Holidays, infectious illnesses, broken pipes in winter.  Life really was a series of petty dramas.”

I don’t feel like this applies to family life -married with kids- only.  I feel like it applies to most of regular life.  Obviously there are good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks.  I think I’m more surprised and angry then I should be when little things go wrong.  I’d like to learn to take things in stride more.

What do you think?  Do you ever feel like life is a series of petty dramas or small disasters? 

The English Boys by Julia Thomas – Book Review

4/5 Stars

Spoiler free section

The cover states”‘ ‘[An] emimently readable debut.’ – Kirkus Reviews” which I think is the nice way of saying that this book is surprisingly good.  This mystery is from a small publishing company and it doesn’t have the same slick cover art and editing as a mainstream book from a big publisher would.  I felt a little reticent if this book was going to be not quite up to par.

That said, it’s actually a pretty brilliant book.  It’s a murder mystery about the stabbing of the “manic pixie dream girl” Tamsyn Burke on her wedding day at West Minister Abbey. In classic murder mystery fashion, the list of suspects is limited to close family and friends present at the event.  Daniel Richardson (quickly absolved of all suspicion) is best friends with both Tamsyn and the groom, Hugh Ashley-Hunt.  Daniel and Tamsyn’s more introspective sister, Carey, team up to find the killer.

About half the book is flashbacks about how long time friends Daniel and Hugh first met Tamsyn, both fell in love with her and on how Tansyn eventually choose Hugh over Daniel.

I loved the feeling of reading this book.  It’s not really a “cozy” style mystery, but much of the book does give that safe feeling of curling up in front on a fireplace to enjoy the process of slipping into another world -one that you want to be in.  The editing is tight, but not reliant on cheap tricks to keep you galloping to the end. Instead, it allows you to appreciate the book for the story and the puzzle.

The balance between the police investigation and Daniel and Carey’s informal (and as pointed out many time, strongly frowned upon) investigation is a little awkward.  The police are stated to be very competent, but could they be a lot more proactive? Daniel and Carey are well aware that interfering in a police investigation is illegal and lament they’re lack of resources as civilians, but plod on anyway.  Are they the least bit worried that they could accidentally mess up evidence? I think the problem is that the author stays a little too close to reality on how the authorities would really feel about amateurs stepping into the role of the police.  We know it’s fiction, please stop reminding us of the real world.

An interesting departure of the real world, is the somewhat anachronistic nature of technology.  There are a lot of paper books and handwritten letters and very little googling in this book.  I think it might be partly due to the fact that although it was published 2016, it’s possible that the author starting writing it before everyone had a smart phone.  Intentional or not, the lack of intrusion of recent technology contributed to the safe and serene feeling the first 3/4 of the book gave me.  I like this world.  Part of me would rather live in this world, frankly.

This last section contains information that could be a bit of a spoiler

I originally was annoyed with Tamsyn’s personality.  Like everyone else, I’ve had some pretty free spirited friends, but I’ve never met a manic pixie dream girl, which was what I perceived Tamsyn to be.  But then the author turns the whole idea on its head and adds many many layers of complexity to Tamsyn’s character that actually support the idea of how a young women could be incredibly free-spirited and compulsive but also a completely real person.  She uses the manic pixie dream girl concept as a kind of a red herring and it ends up in a really interesting place.

I thought that the puzzle part of this story, the mystery, was very good.  But I was a little bit caught of guard by the way the final reveal unfolded.  Most mystery author’s add some big final twists and while this book had those, they weren’t done in the traditional way.  There’s no real reason why it should be done in a certain why, it just caught me a little off guard.  Maybe that’s a plus and not a minus.  I can’t decide

Conclusion, No spoilers

I would totally recommend this book to anyone even somewhat interested in mystery.  The plot mainly hinged on the puzzle, but it’s just overall an enjoyable, interesting, and clever book.

Honesty in Book Reviewing (and Journalism)

When it’s about a book review, it’s always personal.

I’m writing in response to an article on the New Yorker website titled “BILL O’REILLY’S SELF-AGGRANDIZING SENSE OF PERSECUTION” by Margarget Talbot.  All references sited below.

The focus of Talbot’s article was about libeling -er, furthering the story on- Bill O’Reilly since he parted ways with Fox News on April 19, 2017 and launched “The No Spin News” podcast from his website.   She gleans through O’Reilly’s books, some of them co-written with Martin Dugard, looking for proof of weakness of character.  The second to last paragraph particularly caught my eye and ire:

“In a 2015 review of the ‘Killing’ books, the Slate book critic Laura Miller noted one of their most persistent themes: ‘the physical vulnerability of “important people,” who, despite being valiant and powerful white men (or Margaret Thatcher), are still tragically subject to their own failing flesh.’ Miller continues, ‘No matter their greatness, or how resolutely they set out to fulfill their destinies, or the daunting challenges they have surmounted, their triumphs will tempt vile enemies to try to assassinate them, enemies who will sometimes succeed.’ ”

Laura Miller’s “review” is a criticism of Bill O’Reilly himself, an accusation of did he actually co-write any the Killing books, and just generally an opportunity to make him look bad. And long, so so so painfully long.  But I’m not going to do a review of a book review. I’ll let you read it for yourself if you’re so inclined.

But I have three main problems with Talbot and Miller’s articles: 1) The mocking of the assignation attempts and deaths of three presidents, an US General, and the important historical figure of Jesus.  2) Did Talbot just call Jesus and the Imperial Japanese army are white? and 3) Putting a political agenda in what should be an honest book review.

I’ll start with my first point. The Killing books are Killing Lincoln, Killing Kennedy, Killing Jesus, Killing Patton, Killing Reagan, and Killing the Rising Sun.  I have read each and every one of them cover to cover.  Lincoln, Kennedy, and Reagan are all American presidents who all had assassination attempts on them completed by evil men.  Lincoln and Kennedy were shot in the head and killed.  Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest and was very lucky to survive.  O’Reilly and Martin Dugard make the case that Reagan’s health decline and later descent into Alzheimer’s was precipitated by this event.  Patton was a general during World War II who died a couple of weeks after having his car hit by an army truck.  O’Reilly and Dugard make the case that it was a planned assassination attempt that succeeded.  According to Talbot, these men, like, she states, O’Reilly, all are men with a self-aggrandizing sense of persecution.  These are all men who served our country, risked their lives, suffered, and perhaps all died for it. Just to take this to its final logical conclusion, Abraham Lincoln, the man who fought for the freedom of slaves and the unity of this county and was shot to death in the head by John Wilkes Booth as part of a Confederate conspiracy at the conclusion of the civil war, was a powerful white men with a self-aggrandizing sense of persecution?

Which bring me to my next point.  Miller quoted by Talbot appear to feel that all of the Killing books are about white supremacy.  Including the ones about Jesus, the Jewish man born in Israel, and The Rising Sun, which was a term for Japan. I would think that it would be difficult for Jesus and the Japanese Imperial army to feel white supremacy when they are in fact not white. I have seen a lot of pictures and movies where Jesus appears Caucasian and has blue eyes but I’m fairly certain that that’s not accurate.  In Lauren’s Miller’s defense, Killing the Rising Sun, didn’t come out until 2016, after she wrote the review.  But that doesn’t explain Jesus’ whiteness.  Talbot’s article came out well after the Rising Sun was published.  The rising sun may be white, but I’m sure the Japanese army would have described themselves as proudly Asian.

Okay, my last point is that if you’re going to write a book review, write what you thought about the books, not for political points or to slander someone. (I understand that sometimes a book review leads to larger issues, such as I wrote about in my blog, The problem I had with ‘Me Before You’.  But those are actually my honest feelings.)  Also, if you’re going to write an opinion piece, maybe actually read some of the books of the author you’re talking about. Or at least look more closely at the titles and you might find a clue to who the book is about (such as President Lincoln), and maybe even the ethnicity of the subject.

(Talbot also discusses O’Reilly’s novel, Those Who Trepass, and his new book, co-written with Bruce Feirstein, called Old School. I Haven’t read or finished reading those books, so I won’t comment on them, but I’d like to do book reviews later, as well as reviews on the Killing Books.)

Slate.com, The Slate Book Review“Bill O’Reilly Makes a Killing” by Lauren Miller, posted December 17, 2015 http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2015/12/bill_o_reilly_s_killing_reagan_and_his_other_historical_thrillers_reviewed.html

The New Yorker.com, Daily Comment, BILL O’REILLY’S SELF-AGGRANDIZING SENSE OF PERSECUTION” by Margarget Talbot, posted April 28, 2017 http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/bill-oreillys-self-aggrandizing-sense-of-persecution?intcid=popular

The problem I had with ‘Me Before You’

 

Before you read this, you might want to check out my summary and general review here: Part 1 and summary

MAJOR SPOILERS

Seriously, this whole post talks almost exclusively about the end of the book.  Don’t read it if you don’t want to know.

I had so many issues with the logic and ending of the book Me Before You, namely Will’s decision to die via suicide on the date he set six months before.  Here is where I think the story went off the rails:

  1. We’re told numerous times that Will doesn’t have any choices so that they should let him have this one (death). Problem: he has a million choices.  He has a voice, a very strong personality, not to mention a whole family and support staff trying to make him happy.  He may have a million things he cannot do, but he also has a million choices and the complete ability to make those around him listen to him.
  2. Does he really need to go to Switzerland and drink hemlock? (That may or may not be what he actually drinks.)  His health situation is described as very tenuous.  Couldn’t he just refuse some care or not mention some symptoms if he doesn’t want to keep living?  He is in a life or death situation three times in just the course of the book.  Could he even just let his condition play out?  Do they not have living wills in the UK if he ends up on a ventilator or something?  Is the death date and assisted suicide perhaps a ploy to keep the plot going and also to make the book more talked about and controversially?
  3. His family, and then finally Lou, go along with this. Could the wish to commit suicide possibly be a sign of a mental health problem or depression?  Should they perhaps consider trying to address that?  Two years is not a lot of time to grapple with the realities of a disability.  Should they possibly try to delay him further?  Is Will truly of sound mind to make this decision?
  4. Will is crazy self-centered. I understand that the desire to commit suicide is a mental health problem (see above) and the person is not thinking about other people.  But if we assume, as the book does, that he is rational then he is very callous towards his family and especially to Louisa, drawing her in and then telling her that he cares for her and she makes his world big, but then saying that he is going to commit suicide anyway.  (I think having the man she loves rather die then be with her might put a damper on her ability to move on with her life and “live big.”)
  5. Moyes is taking a serious moral and legal issue, trivializing it, and, in that way, exploiting people to sell books. We’re not even talking about when to pull the plug, this book is about out and out suicide –planned and enabled suicide.  (Assisted suicide, whatever your opinions on it are, is for terminally ill people.  While Will’s health is very fragile, he could also quite possibly live for decades and decades, particularly if they hire somewhat capable and with training to take care of him –not someone like Louisa.  Will is still quite a young man with most of his life ahead of him.)
  6. But by far the biggest reason I found this book so disturbing is that it tells people who are disabled and/or people who are in chronic pain that their lives are too hard and they should off themselves. That’s not the intent, maybe, but that’s the subtext.  “People of the world!  Your lives are too depressing to cope with or to even for us to contemplate.  We are going to romanticize your life but then we are going to tell you that we understand that your lives are so difficult that you may find that your only choice is to off yourselves!  And we approve!  So what if your life is really pretty good?  So what if you have a future and job opportunities and a family that loves you and friends that might spend more time around you if you let them?  So what if a good woman says she loves you and apparently you care for her too?  You are forever broken and since we cannot deal with broken people, we don’t want you.”

Life is hard, for everybody, for most of most people’s lives.  There will be better times and good moments.  For those of us wondering what it’s all about, religion and philosophy might be a good place to look.  But while we figure that out, most of the 7 billion of us manage to find a way to continue getting on with our lives.  We’re all broken in different ways.  We’re born into a poor country, we’re unable to get an education, we’re unable to get a good job, we have family issues, we have friend issues, we have mental problems, we have physical problems, we have bad luck, we have really bad luck.  Time is too slow, time is too fast, time is wasted, we make mistakes and we can’t go back.  But what this book is saying is that some people’s brokenness is so permanent and so big and apparently foreign to every other devastating problem (and there are 7 billion of those too) that we can’t cope with that person’s pain and we can’t fix it.  Therefore, their life doesn’t have value and we shouldn’t try to preserve it.

For examples of quadriplegics who have lived or are living not just good but great lives may I submit the names of Dr. Charles Krauthammer, Christopher Reeve, Martin Pistorius, Dr. Steven Hawking (the last two aren’t able to talk on their own either.)  This is hardly a complete list.

I am not saying, however, that some types of lives are better than others.  Your life is not more important or even better if you have a job, or a significant other, if you have money, or if you don’t.  You’re are not a more worthwhile person if you’ve been to Paris or gone scuba diving (two things Will strongly thinks that Louisa should do).  You’re worth no less if you’re physically or emotionally or mentally or financially dependent on someone or something.   It’s okay if you don’t like reading or have never really left your hometown.  Will is wrong.  He’s wrong about himself and he’s wrong about Louisa.  Lives lived big are not more important or better then lives lived small.

Review of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

So I read this book knowing nothing about it except having seen the trailers for the movie on TV, the book’s cover, and that one of my best friends really liked it.  From looking at other reviews, it appears that I’m one of the few people who read this book without already knowing the gist of the ending.

Maybe I was not properly prepared.

General thoughts:

It’s sort of like a romance novel, maybe a half step above “bodice rippers.”  I just didn’t find it to be very well written or have a very well plotted story.  It was more the idea of the book that is appealing, in my opinion, then the actual book.

I have a pet peeve against 1st person what I call “Russian roulette” narration -where the story is told from several people’s perspectives but in first person.  It can be very confusing, even if it somewhat works narratively.  This book ups the annoyance factor by having 90-95% of the book narrated in first person by Louisa, or Lou, the main character, but then 4 chapters, I believe, are narrated by four other characters, one chapter each.  I think this was a clunky solution to the problems of writing in first person -to either give us information that Louisa doesn’t know or possibly hide from us information that Louisa does know.  If an author can’t make a story work in first person, change perspectives of the story!

This book is a page turner, but I don’t think that it’s a good thing, at least in this case.  The narrative tension cloyingly forces you to keep reading it though parts of the story are really dull.

The story involves the British upper class, a castle, and even a hedge maze.  These easily become very cliched and also give the story a sense of unreality.  (Which I understand could be a benefit to some people, but I found to make the story less credible and therefore enjoyable.)  Also, the author calls the upper class the middle class and the lower class the working class.  I’m okay with working class.  But the Traynors are not middle class even a little bit.  Maybe it’s a Briticism?

I did like that the American version of the book hadn’t eliminated all of the British words or phrases, although that also lowered my comprehension of a few sentences, especially at the beginning of the book.

Okay, SMALL SPOILERS AHOY!

I liked Lou’s family although their plight got a little maudlin; like a bad Dickens’s imitation.  I get the long term problems with their situation but working in fast food is not that untenable.  Seriously, just get a job, any job.

But I really did like Lou’s family.  They are adorable.  Expect for Lou’s sister.  They had kind of a typical older/younger sister dynamics (despite Lou saying the opposite), but her sister seemed to be in some sort of arrested development although she has a five-year-old and practical wisdom dictates that having children makes one a pantheon of adulthood and responsibility.  So while the relationship between Lou and her sister has some of the really funny bits in it, it didn’t seem like a relationship between two women in their 20s.  Oh, I also thought her family’s teasing bordered on mean or even abusive.  Maybe I didn’t like them as much as I thought I did.

I liked Lou in the beginning and the fact that she was very imperfect.  She could be annoying; although I rationalized it made her more of a real person.  When, by the end, she has metamorphosed into almost a completely different person, I found her growth unbelievable and unrealistic.  I also don’t think that she learned the right lesson.

I thought that Will’s character was reasonably believable, although Moyes overdid the misanthropic man in the wheelchair thing.  (Why are people in wheelchairs always angry?  Surely other disabled people are also cranky?  Surely some people in wheelchairs aren’t?)  I appreciate the idea that even though Will and his family are quite wealthy that their money doesn’t solve all their problems.

That said, I thought that Will’s character was a bit stupid.  For some reason, even though he was CEO of a company and his family clearly has amazing connections, he can no longer work AT ALL.  No VP position, no board of directors, no consulting, no writing an occasionally freelance article on finance or whatever his job was.  Nothing.  Apparently his aspirations are to listen to music and watch TV all day.  Hey, at least, read a book.  I realize that some disabled people truly can’t work or won’t be able to find their place back in the job market.  But I didn’t buy the reasons that Will was forever unable to work.  It took Lou to figure out a way for him to use a computer using voice recognition software.  The book is set in 2009, but still.  Are his whole family and medical team idiots?

He seems like a caricature of a person with a more intense disability.  His brain is fine –also he’s super smart- and he can talk and even feel his body and move his hands a bit.  Frankly he’s a lot better off than other people in wheelchairs or with other illnesses or disabilities.

I kept waiting for him to come out of his depression or shell and become the full personality that he must have been, but that never happens.

OKAY, BIG SPOILERS AHEAD

Before Louisa meets Will, he’s already decided to pick an end date for his life and go commit suicide in Switzerland.  His family agreed to this after he tried to commit suicide in a messier way.  They made him promise to give them six more months with him in the hopes that he might change his mind.  Once Louisa finds this out (for plot reasons Will’s parents keep it a secret from her), she goes about with utmost determination to change his mind.  Although she falls in love with him and we’re meant to believe that he falls in love with her (although he doesn’t really act like it), in the end he decides to still commit a planned suicide.  And even though Louisa is completely against him taking his own life, at the end she goes and supports him.

For more thoughts on this, please see Part 2

 

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell Review

 

This as a surprisingly terrible book, it’s almost completely unreadable.

It surprised me that Rainbow Rowell could write a book this bad.  I’ve read all of Rowell’s other books.  I’m not YA age, but my favorites were Eleanor and Park and Fan Girl.  I generally liked Attachments but I thought that Landline was her weakest.  It’s getting into Sci-Fi, so I was concerned when she published a fantasy book.  It does not seem to be her thing.

Simon Snow is a Harry Potter stand-in for mega fan Cath in the book Fan GirlFan Girl, published in 2013, has pretend excerpts from a pretend author as well as Cath’s fanfiction.  I found the excerpts of Simon Snow’s story in Fan Girl pretty confusing and mostly skimmed them.  I mainly thought of it as a Harry Potter replacement for the main character, Cath, as well as kind of an inside joke about a fantasy Harry/Draco relationship.

So the world in Carry On, published in 2016, doesn’t fit with any of the different excerpts and stories in Fan Girl, which is very confusing.  Also, in Fan Girl, there are eight Simon Snow books, while Carry On is obviously one book which finishes the story, but it gives Simon a very complicated back story.  And then it’s written in what I call 1st person “Russian roulette” narration -where the story is told from several people’s perspectives but in first person.  It gets confusing so fast because you don’t always remember who “I” is or even “he” or “she” is.  “He” might have been “I” in the last chapter.

It isn’t a Harry Potter parody, but it uses the idea of Harry Potter as short-hand in the reader understanding this world, but of course there’s no  one-to-one relationship for everything.  So Watford is Hogworts, Penelope is Hermione, Baz is Draco, but there’s no Ron (or Baz is also Ron?).  I found this really confusing as well.  Like, the Mage isn’t really introduced that much, you just have to remember that he’s like Dumbledore.  I started with the audio version and ended up switching to the book so that I could keep flipping back and checking things.  (I thought the narrator’s performance on the audio sounded very whiny, too.)  The book (hardback) thankfully had a map of Watford, which I really needed since I didn’t understand the description of how Watford is laid out at all.  (It’s like a college campus.)

But aside from being super confusing, it just wasn’t a very good book.  Rowell didn’t create even a little bit of a believable world, the plot wasn’t very interesting and the writing in general was bad.  It just didn’t feel like a finished book.

(Side note, I noticed in reviews that some people didn’t like the spells.  For example, “Some like it hot” warmed up food.  I thought it was a reasonably clever way to use spells without explaining what they meant or using Latin that would’ve taken a long time to explain in a single novel.)