Read all about it, part one — December 29, 2021

Read all about it, part one

Every year since I’ve joined Goodreads, I’ve participated in a reading challenge on the website. (Pro tip: The key to completing your reading challenge is to set a ridiculously easy goal to achieve. You’re welcome.)

And every year as I look back on my year in review, I select the best books I’ve read during said year. But I’ve never shared those books with anyone but me.

Until now.

This week I’ll share a couple of the best nonfiction books I read during the year; next week I’ll share a couple of the best works of fiction I read.

Just because a book lands on my best-read list doesn’t mean it’s among the best books published that year. Of course, I’m starting with a book published in 2021 – Patrick Radden Keefe’s Empire of Pain: The Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty.

Keefe tells the story of how the Sackler dynasty began – from the humble beginnings and hopes of immigrants in pre-World War I – to how it amassed wealth – from medical advertising and pharmaceutical sales.

But not just any pharmaceutical sales. The family served as principal owners of Purdue Pharma, which started selling OxyContin in 1996.

Purdue marketed OxyContin as a miracle non-addictive opioid with a 12-hour release coating. It was supposed to help folks with chronic pain manage that pain without fear of addiction.

As Keefe, an investigative reporter, lays out in Empire of Pain via company memos and emails as well as public documents, high-ranking executives, including some Sacklers, knew OxyContin was being abused as early as 1997.

Yet, the company kept pushing it. People kept overdosing. People kept losing loved ones. People kept losing jobs. People kept breaking into pharmacies as well as other businesses and homes to steal pills and money to feed their addictions. People kept losing themselves to those addictions.

Meanwhile, the Sacklers kept getting richer.

The book made me sad and angry, but mostly angry. I annoyed a friend with frequent updates about those expletive Sacklers.

So, why am I recommending a book that made me sad and angry? Because emotion is good. Because we need to know what happened. Because if I hadn’t read the book, I wouldn’t have been inspired by Nan Goldin.

Who’s Nan Goldin, you ask?

I guess you’ll have to read the book for an answer to that question.

Keefe also wrote the other nonfiction book I’m recommending – Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland. No joke. Comments on a message board dedicated to viewers of The Crown, a TV show about the British royal family, led me to Say Nothing. I was so impressed with Keefe that I sought out other works by him, learned about Empire of Pain, and put a hold on the-then work in progress.

Released in 2018, Say Nothing, according to our friends at the Wikipedia, “focuses on The Troubles in Northern Ireland, beginning with the 1972 abduction and murder of Jean McConville.”

Say Nothing also made me sad and angry. Sometimes, I’ll be sitting around, and I’ll think about Jean McConville and get sad and/or angry.

Again, why am I recommending this book? Because emotion is good. Because Jean McConville should not be forgotten. Because what happened to Jean’s children after her murder should not be forgotten. Because The Troubles should not be forgotten.

What are The Troubles, you ask?

I guess you’ll have to read the book for an answer to that question.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

It was a week — March 31, 2021

It was a week

This week, everyone was enthralled by the saga of a man who might or might not have found shrimp tails in a box of cereal and with a big-expletive boat blocking the Suez Canal.

As for the tale of the alleged shrimp tails…all I have to say is that I only buy brand name cereal when purchasing for someone else or purchasing for myself with a coupon. And I’ve never found anything but cereal in my boxes of cereal. You can extrapolate that to mean whatever you wish.

As for the big-expletive boat…I am not nearly as enamored with this story as are my fellow galaxy mates, but I do wonder how the big-expletive boat managed to become dislodged in the canal. Where was it going? Why was it turning in the middle of said canal? I dare say that Capt. Stubing never allowed the MS Pacific Princess to become stuck in a waterway.

Regardless, I haven’t spent much time worrying over these matters because I’ve been mourning the back-to-back deaths of actress Jessica Walter and author Larry McMurtry.

Walter amassed oodles of credits during her 60-year, Emmy-award winning career. But for many of us, she came to personify Lucille Bluth, the character she played on Arrested Development. Indeed, on the afternoon of Walter’s death, a friend messaged me that Lucille Bluth had died.

In the days since Walter’s passing, I have consoled myself by watching clips of Lucille and giggled again and again at her unparalleled ability to roll her eyes, judge another character with only her eyes and a frown, and deliver a biting line. All whilst holding a martini glass.

I was still mourning the loss of Lucille Bluth/Jessica Walter when the same friend messaged me about the death of McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Lonesome Dove and oodles of other books.

The obituaries for McMurtry have described him as an unsentimental author of the American West. I’m simplifying it, obviously, but anyone familiar with his work would agree with that assessment. My sister, Kathy, has read dern-near every work of fiction McMurtry penned. This weekend, she told me she couldn’t finish one book in particular because it was too dark. I told her I can’t finish one series in particular because I know it will end with the death of the main character. As long as I don’t finish the last book, he will live forever.

Of course, no one lives forever, including McMurtry’s fictional characters. As I sit here, I can remember turning a page more than 20 years ago to discover the fate of a beloved character. I immediately threw the book across the room and I, a woman not prone to fits of sentimentality, began weeping. I briefly cursed McMurtry for killing the character and for letting the readers know her fate.

But he had to do so. He had to be true to his story. And such was the power of his stories and his characters that their fates still move me. I can always revisit the books, though, where I will find the characters alive and alluring.

Just as I can always re-watch Arrested Development and find Lucille judging everyone as she day drinks.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

With gratitude — November 25, 2020

With gratitude

Usually, at this time of year, I pen a post comprising a list of people, places and things for which I am thankful. For various and sundry reasons that shall remain secret, I’m not feeling that particular post this year.

Instead, I’m choosing the following days from a social media 30 days of gratitude challenge as prompts for this-here Thanksgiving post:

  • My guilty pleasure. I’m not sure why this is included on the list. For starters, if doing something makes you feel guilty, you shouldn’t be doing it. But people apply the guilty pleasure tag to, among other things, silly TV shows or trashy books. I’ll make it simple — you shouldn’t feel guilty for enjoying those pastimes. You can express your gratitude to me for absolving you of this guilt.
  • Something positive about my body. A few years ago, whilst in a hotel gym, I decided to start lifting weights. Do not misunderstand. I am in no danger of becoming a competitive weightlifter. I started small and have not advanced to large dumbbells. But I continue to lift my weights and, at my advanced age, I’ve developed muscles. A year ago, I impressed an older gentleman in the Superstore by easily hefting a flat of water. The other day, I shocked my family by using my upper and lower body weight to snap a board. Make no mistake. These feats might not have impressed you. But I am not in competition with you, just as you are not in competition with me. You can express your gratitude to me for helping you develop a positive body image.
  • A compliment that made me feel good. A couple friends are going through, well, what’s worse than a rough patch? A rough garden? A rough forest? They can’t seem to catch a good break, so I told another friend that I wished there was something I could do for them. He said I was probably doing more than I thought. He added that I had helped him through a recent rough patch simply by being there. I don’t share this so you’ll view me as an awesome friend. (Which I obviously am.) Instead, it’s a reminder that sometimes, people just need to know someone is on their team and there to listen. You can express your gratitude to me for reminding you that you’re also doing more than you think.

Well, that’s about all the prompting I can handle for one day. Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Something special — November 18, 2020

Something special

Next week marks a holiday we look forward to all year — Black Friday.

Although I’ve taken part in the actual Black Friday shopping tradition — but not Thanksgiving shopping  — for years, due to COVID, this year I plan to sleep in. But there’s one tradition I’ve already participated in — looking at Black Friday ads.

Looking at ads represents my favorite aspect of Black Friday. During normal years, I start searching for them online around Halloween. As soon as one drops, I send messages, which contain multiple exclamation points, announcing this momentous event to friends and family.

I follow up days later, asking if they’ve checked out the ad, only to be disappointed when they tell me they have no interest in perusing an auto parts ad. Well, neither do I, but it’s a Black Friday ad! They’re special!

In fact, last year I pored over the Cabela’s ad like I was going to be tested on the contents later. Do we even have a Cabela’s? I have no idea because I’ve never been inside one of the stores, yet I can say with confidence that I’m not a Cabela’s kind of gal. But it was a Black Friday ad! They’re special!

My interest in Black Friday ads is similar to my love of catalogs, which I have previously mentioned in this-here space. Although I prefer physical copies of ads, I can make do with online versions, especially in the age of Corona. But in normal years, I study the online versions for weeks. Then, a couple days before Black Friday, I practically run to the mailbox to retrieve this venerable publication so that I can review the circulars in living color until they literally fall apart.

Of course, this year, I’ve been all sorts of confused by the dates of the stores’ sales because some stores started their sales weeks ago. Not that the actual sales are the point because its not like I’m in the market for a big ticket item like an Atari.

Instead, the ads serve as a stress reliever for me. I can mindlessly flip through pages whilst mixing it up occasionally by recoiling in horror at ugly and/or expensive merchandise.

As in years past, I’ve shared the ads’ existence with friends and family. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to care. They’ve ignored my messages and responded to my verbal communications by saying, “So? We’re not going shopping.”

But they’re Black Friday ads! They’re special!

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

Out and about — November 4, 2020

Out and about

If you heard a noise at approximately 1:40 p.m. Sunday that sounded like a banshee, it wasn’t spirits hung over from Halloween. It was my reaction when the electricity went out.

As I have noted before in this-here space, I was not meant for pioneer living. Indeed, I consider enduring two minutes without WiFi to be roughing it.

Besides, I’ve had a stressful few days, weeks, months, and years, so I had planned to relax by watching football and enjoying homemade pizza. With my chores completed and football on the TV, I was fixing to prepare the pizza when the juice fizzled.

Hence, my ear-splitting shrieks.

I couldn’t do anything about football, but I could rectify the pizza situation. So, I put on clothes meant for public consumption and fought with the garage door. As anyone with a garage door knows — by the way, I lived in my house for years before learning this — if you need to access the door during an electrical outage, you have to pull the garage door rope so that you can open the door manually.

Anyway, I have more trouble pulling the rope than does anyone in the galaxy. Thankfully, it took only six minutes for me to accomplish a task that takes most mortals six seconds to complete.

Then, I drove to the Dollar General to call my mom, check to see if anyone had reported the outage, and order a pizza. From the number of cars in the parking lot, dozens of my neighbors had also driven to the store for service. Perhaps they were also ordering pizza.

I then drove to the pizza joint. After picking up the pizza, I ate in my car whilst checking football scores and obsessively updating the power company’s outage map.

You might be asking yourself, “Self, did she have to eat in her car? In a parking lot? On a Sunday afternoon? Was that her only option? To be mistaken for a stalker or a potential kidnapper? Didn’t she have anywhere else to go?”

Oh, I had other options, but when there’s an electrical outage, I’m not fit for human consumption. I can go from Karen Carpenter in “Top of the World” to Johnny Cash in “Hurt” in the amount of time it takes for the power to blink. So, yeah, when that happens, it’s best if I keep my irritable self away from humans.

After creeping people out in parking lots for an hour and a half, I was happy to see that the outage map finally showed that the numbers had decreased so I headed home. Lights greeted me in the neighborhood and I turned on football as soon as I entered my house.

I had to fight with the garage door again because — believe it or not — I have even more trouble putting the rope back where it’s supposed to be than I have pulling in down. Mercifully, the task didn’t take too long and I ended up having a relaxing Sunday and enjoying good pizza and good football.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

On the hunt — October 21, 2020

On the hunt

Last week, a bobcat caused quite a stir when he strolled into a local Dollar General store.

No, that is not the start of a joke. 

Although I don’t know all the details, I do know that a rather distressed-looking bobcat was captured in a local DG. In the photos, which were posted on social media by a sheriff’s department, the bobcat bared his teeth, widened his eyes, and appeared to be snarling. The poor little feller was probably upset because the authorities apprehended him before he could finish his shopping.

Anyway, I am unsure if this is the same bobcat who was recently spotted (and somehow mistaken for a tiger) in Knoxville, Tenn. Regardless, can you imagine being in the DG, rounding the health and beauty aid aisle and encountering a bobcat as he’s deciding among a dozen or so brands of deodorant? 

Granted, it wouldn’t be as scary as running into a tiger, which like I mentioned in the previous post, is not the same as a bobcat. Seriously, other than the fact that they’re both felines, they look nothing alike. That’s like confusing me for Dolly Parton because we’re both human females.

Regardless, if you did encounter the bobcat at the DG, you could be forgiven if you initially assumed him to be an aggressive service animal and/or a personal shopper. 

As much as I heart cats — big and small — I’d say the bobcat’s fellow shoppers learned mighty fast that he wasn’t a big ole housecat. In fact, when the wild cat was spotted, someone contacted the authorities and the bobcat was eventually released on his own recognizance.

Nonetheless, I still have all sorts of questions. For example, how did the bobcat gain entry into the store? I’m a big DG fan, but unfortunately, I have not been to every location. But I do know that the DG located two minutes from my house has push/pull doors. So, did the bobcat stand on his hind legs and pull open the door?

Of course, if the bobcat’s favorite DG has automatic doors, then you can ignore the previous question. As for other questions…Why was the bobcat in the store? Was he lost? Was he stalking prey? Had he heard that DG had stocked shelves with select Christmas merchandise including popcorn tins?

Or had he heard that a certain human female with a cat army also loves the DG? Could he have been looking for me?

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

The gene pool — October 14, 2020

The gene pool

You’ve probably seen the advertisements for those DNA testing kits. Heck, maybe you’ve purchased one to learn more about your ancestry. As for me, I know my rights. So the only way somebody is getting my DNA is with a court order.

Not that I have any crimes — frigid or otherwise — to hide. Moreover, DNA submitted to those ancestry companies has been utilized to solve crimes — frigid or otherwise — so there’s always the chance that your fifth cousin thrice removed’s interest in genealogy will land you in the slammer.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by the aforementioned advertisements. They usually feature someone who shares a tidbit about an inspirational ancestor. In a somber voice, he or she also shares a photo with a child and tells said child that their great-great-great-great-grandmother found the cure for a long-forgotten and eradicated disease in her kitchen laboratory whilst simultaneously rearing 14 children and selling soap door-to-door. Soap that she also made in her kitchen laboratory.

Or maybe he or she somberly tells said child that their great-great-great-great-grandfather left the old country during a blizzard whilst literally battling the Abominable Snowman. Once settling into the new country, he opened a brewery that revolutionized peach-flavored beer before leaving behind that empire to become a concert cellist.

I’ve wondered if anyone’s ancestors ever led simple lives. If anybody’s  genealogy research turns up clerks or painters who went to work, came home, and read by candlelight until bedtime. Just once, I’d like to hear someone say he and/or she found their ancestors and there wasn’t an interesting person in the lot.

I’ve also wondered what role these photos and stories play. Surely these kits don’t provide artistic renderings and narratives based on genetic results. So, if the customers already have them, then these are really two separate issues.

Regardless, I’ve never been that interested in genealogy. My brother has researched our roots, however, and we’re somehow linked to Lady Godiva, the 11th Century noblewoman who allegedly rode naked through the streets to protest oppressive taxation.

As for more recent ancestors, I’d like to know what prompted the ones who settled in the States to leave the old country and, perhaps later, Virginia. It was probably something simple. They had probably run out of space and opportunity and had heard that both awaited them in the west. But maybe it was something more exciting. Maybe they were escaping a crime, frigid or otherwise.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

A wronged woman — October 7, 2020

A wronged woman

When it comes to the subject of how COVID has changed our lives, except for working remotely, mine hasn’t changed all that much.

As I’ve I mentioned before in this-here space, I have taken part in the Walmart grocery pickup a couple times. I am not going to get into it at this particular time because I don’t have to tell you everything about my life, but I did not use that service last week when I needed sundries and supplies.

Instead, I chose to go to the store. It’s worth noting that this was only the fourth or so time that I have been inside the store since March.

Anyway, on maybe my second visit to the store during the pandemic, I briefly stepped away from the checkout line to retrieve another item. And when I returned, I saw that another shopper had cut in front of me in line.

As I stood there, seething, I considered my options. Option one was to confront her. I said to myself, “Self, do you want to get into a fistfight?” Self answered, “Sure. Why not? What else do you have to do today? Go home and dust?”

But then I said to myself, “Self, what if she has the COVID?”

So, I decided not to get into a fistfight that day. But I’m not the type of person who can just stand behind someone who has stolen her place in line.

I’m also not the type of person who can just saunter into another line.

So, I decided to use self checkout.

If you are a family member or a close friend of mine and are reading this, I want to give you a few moments to compose yourself. Other dear readers and I will discuss another topic. For example, this summer, I, well, not my physical self, extended the fence in my backyard. For the first time since I’ve lived here, I can see the leaves that have fallen from the hill and onto that part of the yard. It is lovely.

Okay, I think we’ve given my family and close friends enough time. They probably have some questions because no doubt they remember all those times I vowed that I would NOT use the self checkouts. Well, that was in a world before the coronavirus. That was before I deliberated over every public breath I took.

That’s not enough for you? You want me to say the words? Here goes. I was wrong. 

It gets better for you because I’ve actually used self checkout twice.

Of course, the first time I had to ask a Walmart associate for help no fewer than five times. The second time, I asked for help with some lettuce I had gotten for my mom. The associate attempted to show me how to enter produce, but I did not pay a bit of attention. Thus, the next time I buy produce, I reckon an associate will have to enter the price for me.

What’s that? Yes, I plan to use the service again because it is awesome.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

If it makes you happy — September 30, 2020

If it makes you happy

When you reach an advanced age, younglings expect you to have all the answers. I can’t speak for everyone of my generation, but as for me, I can’t even keep track of the questions.

Regardless, sometimes I can offer words of wisdom…

As I’ve mentioned before in this-here column, my sister’s male cat’s name is Gypsy Rosalee. The name was chosen when he was believed to be a she and my sister saw no reason to change said name when she was discovered to be a he. (By the way, if Gypsy’s mother is reading this, she should consider putting Gypsy on a diet or enrolling him in an exercise program. He has packed on the pounds and is close to resembling the fictional obese house cat I referenced in last week’s space.)

Anyway, Gypsy has more toys that I had as a child, and our great niece and great nephew enjoy playing with said toys. Two of the toys resemble a fishing pole. I guess they were designed so that you could cast the poles and the cat would jump to reach the balls at the end of the lines.

Our great nephew likes to wrap the lines around various and sundry items in the house and bang the balls onto the floor and our heads. At least he did until we caught his head turned and tossed the fishing poles into the trash. Of course, this was only after we cut one of the lines off a lamp.

The fishing poles have nothing to do with the story, except to help me illustrate the point that Gypsy has many toys. His feline cousin, Fluff, my brother’s cat, also has toys. Indeed, Fluff has a toy mouse that moves when its tail is pulled.

The mouse is so popular with the children that it caused a minor controversy between them last week. Furthermore, our great niece has included one on her Christmas list. When we adults pointed out that she doesn’t have a cat, she explained that the toy mouse was for her.

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “Self, isn’t it a wee bit early to be crafting a Christmas list?”

Is it?

If I want to craft my 2021 list on Dec. 26, 2020, what harm will it do?

And therein lie my words of wisdom. If you want to give your male cat a traditionally female name (or vice versa), or request a cat toy for yourself, or eat brownie batter for supper, you should do what makes you happy.

Well, do what you want as long as you’re not hurting others. I wouldn’t advise braining folks with kitty fishing poles.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.

No follow through — September 16, 2020

No follow through

As I might have mentioned before in this-here column, occasionally I wake in the morning to find that I’ve forwarded recipes to myself. (Due to my amnesia, I can never remember what I’ve mentioned to you, dear readers. So, I apologize if the existence of these recipes is news to you.)

Accordingly, I’m also not sure if I’ve shared the fact that I rarely follow through and make said recipes.

Upon reflection, I’ve come to realize that this pattern of seeking and finding an “interesting” recipe only to allow it to languish in purgatory began in my childhood. Indeed, when I was a wee lass growing up on the Goff Estate, I amused myself by looking through my mom’s cookbooks.

Better Homes and Gardens’ red plaid cookbook was my favorite and I especially enjoyed recipes that were accompanied by photographs. As I flipped through the pages, I planned the meals I would make in my future kitchen, which would be furnished by merchandise purchased from the Sears catalog.

Most of these planned meals fell victim to my amnesia, but I do remember that I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to make eggs Benedict.

In retrospect, I don’t know what I could have been thinking because eggs have never been a staple of my diet. What’s more, eggs Benedict looks the messy result of a mob of egg-wielding trick or treaters’ attack on an Egg McMuffin.

Maybe the dish caught my eye because, at the time, the Atlanta Braves had a player named Bruce Benedict, and the announcers called him eggs Benedict. All I know is that I’ve reached an advanced age and have no desire to eat or prepare eggs Benedict. 

I still desire to bake and, sometimes, cook new foods, so I spend oodles of minutes perusing new recipes. To my defense, on occasion I do prepare newfound recipes. Last year for the holidays I made cranberry-Brie appetizers that were so well-received that I made a second batch. This spring, I made a blueberry-lemon cake that was wildly successful.

Most of the time, though, I give the recipe a second or third look and come to my senses. For example, I’ve been on the search for a pumpkiny baked good. After finding several, I acknowledged that none of my loved ones or I like pumpinky foods.

Regardless, I’m not sure why I continue to look for recipes I’ll never make. But I am sure I’ll continue to do so.

This post originally appeared in the Appalachian News-Express.