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Archive for July, 2010

Some good reads from this week – have a good weekend.

– Atul Gawande has another piece on healthcare in this week’s New Yorker which is up to his usual excellent standard. This time he asks what medicine should do when it can’t save our life:

“Surveys of patients with terminal illness find that their top priorities include, in addition to avoiding suffering, being with family, having the touch of others, being mentally aware, and not becoming a burden to others. Our system of technological medical care has utterly failed to meet these needs, and the cost of this failure is measured in far more than dollars. The hard question we face, then, is not how we can afford this system’s expense. It is how we can build a health-care system that will actually help dying patients achieve what’s most important to them at the end of their lives.”

This rang true because of my experience when my father passed away in my mid-20’s. He suffered a stroke and could no longer walk by himself but I think the hardest thing was that his diet was so restricted he had to give up all the foods he loved, and he loved good food.

Did I want more time with my father ? Off course. Did I want that to cost him a life without joy ? No.  My father lived long enough to hold his first grandchild in his arms and then passed away a month later. Just before he died my dad dreamt that he met his father and grandfather so I think he knew it was time to go and was at peace. I am grateful that time wasn’t prolonged by extra pain and time in hospital.

– ordinary family decides to travel round the world for a year volunteering;

– the Amish are better able to enjoy what really matters, which is all the stuff money can’t buy;

– I think the Amish have realised that we are happier when we are busy. Unfortunately due to evolution our instinct is to do nothing in order to conserve energy;

– an inspiring picture rather than inspiring words: the Milky Way over Bryce Canyon.

I am lucky enough to have visited Bryce Canyon and it is my favourite National Park with a landscape that is unlike anything else I have ever seen. I would go so far as to say that if I had to choose between the Grand Canyon and Bryce, I’d go for Bryce.


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After I read The Road, I was so traumatised that I couldn’t  bring myself to read any more Cormac McCarthy. But a suitable amount of time has gone by so that the trauma has faded and as part of my bid to become more familiar with American writers I embarked on The Border Trilogy which begins with All The Pretty Horses.

First of all, I regret waiting so long  to come back to McCarthy as this has become one of my all-time favourite books and he has become my favourite American novelist.

Much like David Mamet in his best plays, such as Glengarry Glen Ross, McCarthy has a distinctly American vernacular. Not only does he sound particularly American, but his words perfectly capture the qualities of the landscapes of the South-West. While reading this novel, the language constantly reminded of paintings in a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition I saw at the Whitney last year – monumental and expansive, tough but beautiful, splashes of vivid colour and familiar objects portrayed in unexpected ways making you encounter the world in a new way.

His  themes are also distinctively American as McCarthy pays tribute to the myth of the cowboy. I was hooked from the first page with the appearance of the young  Texan rancher John Grady Cole. It is immediately clear that his life is fighting the modern world as he hears a train:

“It came boring out of the east like some ribald satellite of the coming sun howling and bellowing in the distance and the long light of the headlamp running through the tangled mesquite brakes and creating out of the night the endless fenceline down the dead straight right of way and sucking it back again wire and post mile on mile into the darkness after where the boilersmoke disbanded slowly along the faint new horizon and the sound came lagging and he stood still holding his hat in his hands in the passing groundshudder watching it till he was gone.”

The passage of the train is echoed just a few pages later when Cole goes riding, but this time you hear echoes of the past rather than the encroachments of the present:

“When the wind was in the north you could hear them, the horses and the breath of the horses and the horses’ hooves that were shod in rawhide and the rattle of lances and the constant drag of the travois poles in the sand like the passing of some enormous serpent and the young boys naked on wild horses jaunty as circus riders and hazing wild horses before them and the dogs trotting with their tongues allol and footslaves following half naked and sorely burdened and above all the low chant of their traveling song which the riders sang as they rode, nation and ghost of nation passing in a soft chorale across that mineral waste to darkness bearing lost to all history and all remembrance like a grail the sum, of their secular and transitory and violent lives.”

Transitory and violent lives are what I have come to expect of the characters in McCarthy’s novels but he also writes about the power of love, which seems more poignant set against the violence. The novel covers the relationship between Cole and Alejandra, whom he falls in love with when he first sees her riding, but equally moving is the story of Alejandra’s great-aunt and her failed love. She says :

“I wanted very much to be a person  of value and I had to ask myself how this could be possible if there were not something like a soul or like a spirit that is in the life of a person and which could endure any misfortune or disfigurement and yet be no less for it.”

This brings me back to The Road. In both novels the characters do suffer much misfortune and yet this serves to highlight their capacity to love and they, and we, are all the better for it.

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Some inspiring reads from this week – have a good weekend.

– things the grandkids should know;  this wonderful list is full of things everyone should know;

– I would add tweet less, kiss more to the list: “Let’s put down at least some of these gadgets and spend a little time just being ourselves”

life is 10% how you make it and 90% how you take it;

– on the same theme Harvard Business Reviews asks How Will You Measure Your Life ? This rang very true and is one of the reasons I left banking to make (a lot) less money as a journalist but which still remains one of my better choices:

“People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.”

– The Smithsonian’s 40 things you need to know about the next 40 years;

– No 40 on the list is reading becoming an athletic activity :

“Books were good at developing a contemplative mind.  Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking.Book reading strengthened our analytical skills, encouraging us to pursue an observation all the way down to the footnote.  Screen reading encourages rapid pattern-making, associating this idea with another, equipping us to deal with the thousands of new thoughts expressed every day. In books we find a revealed truth; on the screen we assemble our own truth from pieces.”

This week Amazon said sales of electronic books for its Kindle e-reader were more than hardcover books for the first time so this prediction looks likely to become true in a lot less than 40 years.

– amazing photos of Chinese performance artist Li Wei: “I break through gravity in my pictures, I act like a meteorite“;

– hope I can conquer Kilimanjaro when I’m 82.

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and the living is easy.

Someone enjoying the Lincoln Center fountain on a sweltering summer night.

Lincoln Center fountain

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Some of the most inspiring things I have read this week:

literature is a manner of completing ourselves; totally agree, reading is one of the best ways to learn about the world;

– this is best exemplified by Janine di Giovanni, author of Madness Visible. This heartbreaking  memoir of her time as a correspondent covering the human cost of the war in the Balkans made me cry in public as I read the book on vacation while travelling through Mexico on a bus.

She has revisited Sarajevo and written an equally haunting piece  for Granta’s The Book of the Dead:

“As for the children who came of age during this siege, they learned to live with fear, to comfort their parents during artillery attacks, and to understand madness. Schools stopped and time froze. There were no birthday parties, no cakes made with fresh eggs, no chocolate bars, no Christmas trees for the Christians or toys for the Muslims at Bajram, or play dates or singalongs. There was no future and there were no dreams.”

– on the 15th anniversary of the Srebenica massacre, Chuck Suditec, who lost members of his family, says the formation of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugloslavia, provides some measure of justice to the dead;

Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12th, 1817.  It seemed appropriate to read his essay Slavery in Massachusetts;

– although I try to avoid finance on this blog, I love this cheeky question from a BBC journalist to head of the British Bankers Association;

– and this piece on bankers who “refuse to take their snouts out of the trough“;

– they need to follow this chart on how to be happy;

– or Jeff Bezos’ speech at Princeton We are what we choose .

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I am trying to come to terms with another four years without the World Cup. One remedy is to start saving so I can go to Brazil in 2014 and another is  to reminisce on some highlights from the past four weeks:

– while watching the final I didn’t understand the significance of Andres Iniesta taking off his Spanish shirt after scoring the winning goal to reveal a white T-shirt with the words “Dani Jarque: siempre con nosotros” – but they were in remembrance of a former 26-year old teammate who died last year.

– the match winner also showed his class in his post-match comment :

I simply made a small contribution to my team

– a reminder of the other wonderful goals ; (although I think they should have included Tshabalala’s goal against Mexico as the hosts opened the tournament with the first goal);

– Spain’s captain, Iker Casillas, is also wonderful in this post-match interview with his TV reporter girlfriend; 

– Newsnight’s editor looks at the meaning of the Spanish victory in both economic and social terms:

“Another obvious social and political fact resonating off last night’s events is how Spain has modernised socially. On the streets where the Catalan flag and language were once repressed, people used both to celebrate the Spanish victory. In a landscape shaped by inquisition-era Catholicism, gay men leapt around in the fountains wearing only bathing trunks bearing the word Espana.”

increasing enthusiasm in the US for the beautiful game;

– BBC reporter James Pearce’s World Cup in pics highlights the warm welcome from South Africans and the harmony amongst the fans;

– and the Guardian’s fabulous slide show capturing the tournament.

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Sometimes I am in the mood to read a page-turner – a book that you just can’t put down even though you should sleep before getting up for work the next morning.  So it was a joy to discover Lee Child, an author who can make you do this and a long back-catalogue that I look forward to making my way through.

Normally I would never have picked up one of Child’s  books because the covers and titles imply they are aimed at men who are into guns. However this podcast had a review of Child’s latest novel, 61 Hours, by two women who both raved about the book being well-written and how much they liked his lead character, Jack Reacher.

So I started with the first Reacher novel, Killing Floor, and enjoyed it so much that as soon as I came to the end I had to buy the next in the series, Die Trying, my favourite out of the two.

Reacher is an ex-military policeman and a loner who doesn’t like to stay in one place or own anv possessions.  He may sound like a cliche but I like Reacher’s take on life:

“Just a freak of chance had put him alongside Holly Johnson at the exact time the snatch was going down. He was comfortable with that. He understood freak chances. Life was built out of freak chances, however much people would like to pretend otherwise. And he never wasted time speculating about how things might have been different, if this and if that.”

Holly Johnson is an FBI agent and I also like the fact that in both novels Reacher is attracted to smart, strong women who can take care of themselves :

“She’d blitzed the intelligence tests and the aptitude assessments. ….She was fit and strong, she learned to shoot, she murdered the leadership reaction course, she scored outstanding in the simulated shoot-outs in Hogan’s Alley.”

But the thing I loved most about both books is the intricate plotting as Child constantly winds up the tension. In both cases, I didn’t see the endings coming but then realised the importance of small observations or overheard comments by Reacher and they suddenly made sense – both hallmarks of a really good thriller.

Another being the ability to stop you sleeping because you want to  find out what happens – and Lee Child has that in spades.

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