“Eric Hoffer: An American Odyssey.” by Calvin, Tomkins

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Eric Hoffer was born in 1902 in New York. His parents were immigrants and had settled in the Bronx a couple of years before his birth. His mother died when he was seven. Eric Hoffer went blind shortly after his mothers death. His sight returned when he was 15 and because of his disability he never attended school.

After regaining his sight, Eric Hoffer began reading and studying on his own. His father died in 1920 and the woman who had cared for him since his mothers death left America. Eric bought a bus ticket and moved across the country to Los Angeles and for the next 10 years worked as a migrant worker following crops and work up and down California. During this time Eric Hoffer continued to read and learn.

Eventually Mr. Hoffer began to put his thoughts to paper. He developed a methodology where he studied a subject until he was able to put his thoughts down into a simple sentence or two which he called his aphorisms.

In ‘Eric Hoffer, An American Odyssey’, Tomkins records conversations he had with Eric Hoffer over a two year period of time. The stories are personal and expose much of the man behind Hoffer’s popular philosophies. This is an outstanding introduction to Eric Hoffer and his thoughts.

One of my favorite of Hoffer’s aphorisms is included in the back of the book:

Man's thoughts and imaginings are the music drawn from the taut strings of the soul. The stretching of the soul that produces music is the result of a pull of opposites -- opposite bents, attachments, yearnings. Where there is no polarity -- where energies flow smoothly in one direction -- there can be hustle and noise but no music.

“The Privilege of Youth” Dave Pelzer

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Dave Pelzer has written several books about his childhood and growing up. He has written several motivational and leadership books. But in this latest memoir, the author shares with us growing up as a teenager struggling for independence and more importantly, acceptance.

The book recants the tales of a young man negotiating a course through foster families, high school hallways full of bullies and part-time jobs.

There is something in this book for everyone, the feeling of being behind the wheel of a car for the first time – the feeling of freedom and power, the challenges of new friends and growing up and apart, the promises and hopes of youth.

Well written and gripping – highly recommended.

“The Stand” Stephen King

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The Stand is ultimately a tale of good versus evil. Like the best tales of good versus evil, there are people who personify good, people who personify evil, and the majority who are some of both, but must choose sides.

This all begins with a small virus, one with a death rate of around 99.9%. This leaves America (and the rest of the world, but the entire story takes place in the United States) with a much reduced population. A sociologist who is a character in the book suggests that people will begin with small settlements, basically resettling the world. But, at least in the United States, there emerge two polar opposites: Randall Flagg and Mother Abigail. Flagg is not human; Abigail is definitely human (and more than 100 years old).

After “the end of the world as we know it,” the two polar opposites begin gathering people to them, mostly through dreams. People begin forming groups, heading to Nebraska, where Mother Abigail is, or to Las Vegas, where Flagg is. The point is the journey, though, although the ultimate climax is satisfying, the journeys are the heart of the story: the journey from “civilization” to the polarization of the world, and the journey of people who are not sure if they are good or bad, and the journey resulting in the confrontation.

The central cast of characters includes a man from East Texas, a deaf and dumb man, and several others. (My only serious criticism of the book is the dearth of strong female characters, except for Mother Abigail.) The uncut version is richer, with more detail as to each character. The length is daunting to most people, but not, I am sure, to the avid readers who visit ClubReading.

King’s strength here, as in all of his books, is in the characters. Because he follows these characters so closely, they come alive. Stu and Nick and Larry are friends of mine, and could be of yours as well.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” J. K. Rowling

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Review written for ClubReading.com by Linda

If you have recently read all six of the prior books, you might catch everything that Rowling puts in this book. Lacking that, or a fabulous memory, you will certainly miss some of the ends Rowling ties together.

Many of those things that don’t make sense from the prior books are explained here. And the pace is fast; it’s a quick read, for all that it is over 700 pages. The books is satisfying in that we finally find out so many things, including which side Snape is on. I don’t want to give away anything to those who want to read the book, so let’s just leave it at the ending is appropriate to the tone that the books have taken. And, yes, beloved characters die. But the battles between good and evil are more between some shades of gray, which those of us in the real world appreciate.

All in all, a wonderful ending to a fabulous story.

“Murder on the Iditarod Trail” Sue Henry

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This was a wonderful mystery, with a bit of history thrown in for good measure. If you know nothing about Alaska, it will begin to give you a hint, and, unless you are a top-notch expert, it will likely tell you things you did not know.

The Iditarod is the dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome every March (unless there’s not enough snow, as in 2003, in which case they do the best they can!). The race celebrates a famous run of diphtheria serum from Anchorage to Nome to prevent an epidemic. It is a grueling race, on both humans and dogs, and would be much worse if the fictional events in this book ever happened.

In the book, accidents begin to happen to the mushers (that’s the human part of the dog sled team). First, one falls off his sled and dies, then one’s harness breaks, and so forth. The Alaskan investigators know it has to be one of the mushers or a conspiracy, as opportunities for non-mushers to cause this type of havoc are minimal. Since in each case, even if the results were not fatal the mushers would be out of the race, the investigators focus on the mushers. The race is over 1,150 miles long, most of it in the wilderness that is still Alaska. Stopping the race is unthinkable, but letting it continue may mean more deaths.

Sue Henry does a wonderful job of pulling the reader in and keeping the attention on not only the race for finding the murderer, but the race for the finish line. My only complaint was that I couldn’t keep all the mushers straight, because there were so many. But the “leaders” of both races became clear at the end.

Here’s a link to the Iditarod website, if you want more information: http://www.iditarod.com/last_race.html

“Lazy B” by Sandra Day OConnor

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Sandra Day O’Connor, as the first woman Supreme Court Justice, is an admirable figure. She has broken ground for many women and for many lawyers. This book, however, is about her life as a child, and what it was like to grow up on a cattle farm in the Southwest during the 1930s and 1940s. Mostly, this is a memoir of O’Connor’s parents, and a way of life that is gone.

O’Connor’s parents raised three children on the Lazy B; Sandra was the oldest. Her younger brother continued with the ranch until it became infeasible to continue. The stories told are mostly from the days of O’Connor’s childhood. The writing is not the perfect flow of a seasoned novelist; it mostly resembles story telling. And it is extremely interesting, telling tales of windmills, horses, and cowboys. If the old West and the traditional cowboys from the movies interest you, this book will be a wonderful read.

“Deception Point” Dan Brown

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If you’ve read The DaVinci Code, and you liked the basic plot twists, you will love Deception Point.

The novel begins with a very interesting hook: A dog sledder and his dogs are thrown out of a helicopter into a crack in the ice. From there, things go very high tech. Without giving too much away, there’s a meteor from space with proof of life on another planet. And the Senator who is running for President, and his daughter, who works for the current President. And lots of other interesting and intriguing people.

As with Dan Brown’s other books, this is a fast-paced thriller. But I have become more dissatisfied with how the books end. There is almost a miraculous ending to all of Brown’s books I’ve read so far. I can stretch my imagination to Speculative Fiction (formerly known as Science Fiction), but I can’t wrap my brain around what is suppose to be real life today with miraculous endings. Especially when, as in this book, the ending is supposed to be due to natural causes. Nature, in my experience, seldom rescues people.

Nonetheless, this was a fun, light read.

“When You Are Engulfed in Flames” David Sedaris

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Like his other wonderful books, David Sedaris’ book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames is hilarious, moving, disturbing and just plain wonderful!

In Chapter 2, “Keeping Up” he lists the fashion do’s and don’ts he has learned over the years, like the Mrs. Beasley glasses. Priceless information! His obsession, however, with a spider he named April was a bit disturbing.

He goes on, in one essay, talking about smoking, how he started and what it was like growing up in my generation. A very nostalgic section, with the harsh and hard hitting bite of that first cigarette in the morning.

This book may not be as side-splitting funny as some of David’s others, but each story is engaging, and the overall satirical, yet moving nature of the book is classic Sedaris.

If you have the option, listen to this book as an audio book. From Audible.com, the book is read by the author, and the experience is like a wonderful 8 hour long NPR David Sedaris marathon.

“Naked” by David Sedaris

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The publisher puts this book in the category of Essays/Memoir. The book is laid out as a chronological series of stories. David Sedaris takes us on a hilarious journey, a cathartic re-living of his growing up years.

When I first picked up the book and read the first couple of chapters (Chipped Beef, A Plague of Tics) I was certain the stories were either complete fabrications or such extreme colorizations that the real truth was so hidden that we may never be aware of it. But as I read further, I started realizing what the author was showing us. This is how we remember. We remember the outrageous, we tell those stories over and over again…if not to others, we tell them to ourselves. And in each re-telling, the stories seem more and more foreign, more like a dream.

In Naked, the authors candor, his open re-telling of stories that range from sidesplitting funny to horrific and sad, easily captures the reader’s imagination. In just a few words, we are drawn into the world of a boy growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina. David shares with us his remembering of an outrageous mother to the more outrageous immigrant Greek grandmother who runs a newsstand/candy store.

I highly recommend this book. And I offer this caution; as you are reading and your mind starts to wander, you may at some point realize how healing and freeing this type of open and honest story telling must be for the author. When you are reading about the authors experience of making clocks out of jade in the shape of Oregon, or his trip/vacation to a nudist colony, and your thoughts lead to the strange/funny/sad/outrageous stories of your own life, write them down! Who knows? And what will you call your memoir? Perhaps ‘Twice Beaten Canoe Trip’, or ‘Karaoke Diva’…even if it isn’t book-worthy, you’re bound to have flushed a few daemons in the process.

“The Wages of Genius” by Gregory Mone

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Edward is a genius. Or at least he thinks he is. His academic advisor has told him that his Ph.D. dissertation needs focus, and that Edward needs to stop flitting from one connection to another. Edward is given a chance for a job with a new start-up internet company. He takes it, for lack of anything better to do.

The story is told solely through Edward, so if Edward doesn’t know something, neither do we. At first, it seems that Edward is like so many people in their twenties: preoccupied with himself and devoted to talking about theory and philosophy (although Edward’s theory and philosophy almost all revolve around physics and Einstein). Edward’s job is very undefined, and he calls himself the General Analyst. He seems to do nothing but think, and after six months still has not made a contribution to the company. Although his ideas may seem crazy at first, proper practical application of some of the ideas might render the company some profit. For example, Edward wants to apply the principal of the “golden triangle,” where a person’s eye first falls when looking at a painting, to internet advertising banners. Interesting theory, possibly practical. But Edward, it turns out, was simply a number, a way of the company showing growth by hiring. When finances turn bad, he’s fired.

Edward’s preoccupation with thinking interferes with everything. He “thinks” instead of listening to other people. He “thinks” away minutes at a time, not moving. But Edward doesn’t seem like a genius; he parrots other’s ideas, but has none of his own. And he waivers from his destination, even if the destination is simply down the street. I have always said that distraction was a sign of genius, but I may revise that. In Edward’s case, it’s a sign of a failure to commit. Failure to commit to anything, as though he were a ship with lots of wind in the sails, but no one at the rudder.

This is an odd book, but it made me re-think my relationship with my job. And made me think better and worse of myself.