September 2015


Michael Ende, Momo, (London: Penguin), 1985.

Michael Ende - Momo
Somewhere I read that Michio Hoshino's favorite book was Momo, and so, on a whim, I ordered a used copy. What a delightful discovery I have made. I can't wait until my grandson is old enough for me to read this wonderful book to him. The story is a fanciful tale of how a homeless girl saves the world with her ability to listen and give others the gift of her time. It clearly demonstrates, in a simple story, how our efforts at efficiency often are self-defeating.

Suspending disbelief for the story is easy because the descriptions of characters are probably like no one we have ever met. Certainly the men in gray are exaggerated to make a point. All the same they seem genuinely threatening by the end of the book. The notion of time takes a bit of concentration to understand but it is worth the effort.

This is a book I will read again and again.

The Only Kayak

Kim Heacox, The Only Kayak: A Journey into the Heart of Alaska, (Guilford, Connecticut: The Lyons Press), 2006.

Heacox - The Only Kayak
Kim Heacox manages to tell his own story, part of the story of Michio Hoshino, and part of the story of Alaska in this masterpiece of description. He has given more than words to the complexities of the preservation of the few remaining wild spaces in this world. He has invested his life in not just working to do what is right in Glacier Bay, but to understand the people of the place and live with them as neighbors.

Quite simply, Heacox is a good writer and his life contains many compelling tales. This memoir is just the right balance of poetic language, adventure stories, friendship and faithfulness, and love of the land. I found the book because of the inspiration provided by Michio Hoshino and I'm glad I did. I plan to read more of Heacox. Alaska is a place that calls to me, but I don't want to be a tourist only. I want to gain knowledge and respect for the place and the people before I visit. Heacox's book is a step in the right direction.

Nanook's Gift

Michio Hoshino, Nanook's Gift, (San Francisco: Cadence Books, 1997)

Hoshino - Nanook's Gift
Michio Hoshino wanted to share his love and respect for the earth and especially for the creatures of the North with a wider audience. He saw the lessons he learned from living in Alaska from the age of 17 years old as lessons worth teaching to a new generation.

The text of this book is probably aimed at elementary age children and it might even be good for teenagers to return to catch the depth of the concepts presented. The pictures, however, will delight people of all ages. The message is important. All of the photographs are of polar bears in their natural element. The book would be worth obtaining just for the pictures of the bears. The message of care and respect is not to be missed, either.

Though it is sold as a children's book, it clearly is a book for parents and other adults as well.

Hoshino's Alaska

Michio Hoshino, Hoshino's Alaska, (San Francisco: Chronicle Books), 2007.

Hoshino's Alaska
One thing usually leads to another. At least that is the way it is with me and books. Reading Lynn Schooler's "The Blue Bear" led me on a journey of discovery of the exquisite photographs of Michio Hoshino. This book, published after his death is a wonderful collection. It also contains a few pages of short essays that give insight into the mind of the photographer.

Alaska is a gorgeous place but one gets used to the "stock" footage - the kind of images put out by the tourist bureau. Hashing captures something deeper - and more vast. While most wildlife photographers set up blinds and sit there with the longest lenses possible to capture up close and personal shots of wild animals, Hoshino captures the environment of the animals. Often his animals are rather small parts of a much bigger picture - they way that they appear in real life. It is as if he respects their space and presents something much more like the experience of being there than a typical photograph.

It's clear that Hoshino has the equipment and technique to take the close up shots, but the ways in which he chooses to capture images is unique - and shows the patience of one who spent many years in Alaska, not as a tourist, but rather as someone who lived there and captured the spirit of the place.

A truly remarkable book by a truly remarkable man. This one is worth setting out on the coffee table to return to again and again.


John Scalzi, Redshirts, (New York: Tom Doherty Associates), 2012.

Scalzi - Redshirts
I've never been much for science fiction, but I do enjoy reading the books recommended by our children and others their age. This book was a Christmas gift from our son, so, of course, I dove in and read it and relished the experience. It wasn't what I expected. It is a delightful set of twists and turns based on some of the things that used to happen in Star Trek, only it doesn't mention Star Trek, only a television series with similar attributes.

There is a certain logic to pursuing space travel and even time travel as an intellectual concept. If we could go certain speeds, what might happen? If we could travel in time, what are the risks and potential benefits? How can the present reality be changed without adversely affecting some other dimension? Scalzi plays with all of these concepts with a great sense of humor that challenges thought and makes the entire enterprise a game. I found myself trying to anticipate the next moves in the book, sometimes successfully, often inaccurately.

A good story has its own benefits, regardless of how it is labeled or what genre is attached to its type. Redshirts is definitely a good story.

The Blue Bear

Lynn Schooler, The Blue Bear: A True Story of Friendship and Discovery in the Alaskan Wild, (New York: Harper Collins), 2003.

Schooler - the Blue Bear
This may not be the most polished memoir ever written in terms of language use and metaphor, but it contains one of the most compelling stories of our time. The relationship that Lynn Schooler developed with Michio Hoshino is truly unique in terms of honesty, trust, shared values and an understanding of place in the world.

Lynn Schooler had plenty of experiences that made him a bit distant from others and a loner in many ways. It wasn't easy for him to learn to trust. But Michio Hoshino was the kind of person that almost everyone who knew him felt that they had a best friends status. Through the pursuit of photographs that would tell the true story of the glory and grandeur of Alaska, Michio and Lynn formed a friendship that extends beyond the limits of time, space and human mortality.

Scholar chooses to tell the story of Michio by telling us his own story and in doing so, exhibits a trust that we might not expect if we were to have known the details of his life story.

I discovered the story because of my interest in Alaska. I found that it was a story not to be missed. From that story, I have gone on an journey of other books by Hoshino and Schooler and the authors that they enjoyed. It is a journey that continues.

Blood Brothers

Elias Chacour with David Hazard, Blood Brothers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books), 2013

Chacour - Blood Brothers
If you think you understand the conflict in Israel and Palestine, think again. If you think you have a solution, think again. Elias has lived the conflict from the beginnings of the founding of the modern State of Israel. His Christian perspective defies the traditional Jewish-Muslim view that is held by too many Americans. Chacour could have become a biter man. Instead, he has chosen to seek solutions and work for peace even when circumstances led others to turn to violent protest and acts of terrorism.

This is an important book for all who care about the people who are caught up in the midst of the political struggles of this world. I must for world leaders and for common folk, this book doesn't attempt to tell the whole story, but rather tells well one perspective without jumping to conclusions or offering simple solutions.

In a complex world, it is good to have a clear and concise picture of one person's experience without claims of universality, but rather an understanding that we are all in this together and that solutions, if and when they come must take into account all of the people and perspectives of the region.

My Friend the Mercenary

James Brabazon, My Friend the Mercenary: A Memoir, (New York: Grove Press), 2010.

Brabazon - My Friend the Mercenary
In general, I am poorly educated about the many different political and physical conflicts in Africa. After paying relatively close attention to the Republic of South Africa in the 1970's and having my interest in and consciousness of Sudan raised during the first decade of this century, I have not invested much time in learning about what is going on on that continent. I discovered James Brabazon when doing a bit of research about war, violence and what attracts people to participate in war. That is a story he tells well in this memoir.

His experiences are not ones that anyone would want to repeat, or if they are, I don't understand that kind of thinking. The book is frightening and even a bit painful to read, but it gives an insight into a world that I do not know - perhaps one what I do not wish to know. It was a struggle for me to keep up with the story. I don't want people to be the way some of the folks he meets are. I don't want the world to be the way he discovers it to be. I don't want things to turn out the way that they have. it is, however, an accurate account of one man's experience, of the incredible cruelty of which we humans are capable and of the distance we have to go before anything resembling peace can be achieved.

Perhaps we have to read books like this one in order to avoid living lives like those described in the book.

The Emily Dickinson Reader

Paul Legault, The Emily Dickinson Reader: An English-to-English Translation of Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems, (New York: Tom Doherty Associates), 2012.

Legault - The Emily Dickinson Reader
Ok, Emily Dickinson fans - and I do mean fans - if you aren't already familiar with Emily Dickinson, don't look to this book to become so - here is a really different look at territory that you might think is familiar. Paul Legault combines a dry sense of humor, a bit of contemporary word play and a deep love (at least it seems like love) for Emily Dickinson into this delightful little volume. Read a page or two a day and let these gems - many hardly more than aphorisms - rest with you and dance in the back of your mind. You'll find yourself laughing out loud.

Perhaps we were all raised to take poetry a bit too seriously. If this is the case, Legault reminds us of the joy of just playing with words, ideas, concepts, relationships, and a thousand other things that we often take too seriously. Just play.

I'm not sure that this book would make for a very pleasant evening of reading out loud, but it is a perfect companion to a serious collection of Emily Dickinson poetry and a joy just for the fun of it.

If Emily Dickinson could come back from the grave and write in today's idioms . . . her poetry probably wouldn't be at all like what you'll find in this book. Still, the book is a gem and a terrific contribution to the world of poetry.

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou, The Complete Collected Poems, (New York: Random House), 1994.

The Complete Collected Poems of Maya Angelou
I am not sure what I expected from Maya Angelou's poems. I had, on many occasions, heard and read some of her poems, but the sheer mass of poetry in this volume hit me in a deep way. Reading a poem or two a day, I dwelt in the book for more than a month and took a bit of a journey into a life and a culture that, though very different from my experience, was not unfamiliar. I felt the anger and rage of the sixties and seventies. I questioned with her the injustices of society. I was embraced by her warm, maternal spirit. I felt the temporary nature of a woman who was too often used and sometimes discarded.

Reading all of the poems together gave me the impression of a life that was much bigger than could be put into the span of an individual. Angelou writes not only of her own experiences, but the experiences of her people, the experiences of our nation. She writes bigger than a single individual.

And the surprise I didn't expect? The amount of pure joy and laughter in the book. I could taste the food. I could belly laugh at the jokes, I could see in the midst of incredible unearned suffering the deep joy of life worth living.

The book is a triumph to which I will return again and again.