I am mostly concluding this review to point you to the comments in the DW version of the previous post on this book, in which Rydra Wong recommends a truly amazing set of books and articles, most of which I had never even heard of, by thoughtful athletes in unusual sports who write about why they do what they do and what it feels like. I am very interested in mind-body issues, and these sorts of books are an excellent source of writing on it that is actually good and not just an annoying stew of vagueness, fifth-hand Zen, and blaming the reader for sundry failures of body and mind.

The second half of Cox's book has her pursuing her US/Soviet swim, a darkly humorous endeavor in which she is spied on by some seriously incompetent FBI agents, repeatedly bangs her nose against the Iron Curtain, and ends up with the CIA and KGB simultaneously tapping her phone. No one can quite believe that she really is doing this because she wants to, and primarily because it's the most challenging thing she can think of, rather than for some dark political purpose in which she is merely the cover. (She does, in fact, have a political purpose, but it's secondary and personal: she hopes her swim might have a sort of butterfly effect on US-Soviet relations, showing both sides that they are human beings, not the Evil Other.)

However, the same persistence that makes her a great swimmer enables the swim to happen - she keeps banging down doors until both governments, rather bewilderedly, decide that maybe they can make political hay of it. She makes the swim, and the butterfly effect actually does seem to happen. So for a while Cox does a number of other swims intended to both challenge herself and act as gestures of goodwill between countries. These are all vividly described, as she faces off with sharks, ice bergs, sea snakes, ice sharp enough to slice a boat's hull in half, and her own cold and exhaustion.

But eventually, she can't resist the ultimate swim: Antarctica. This is in water so cold that no one is sure it is even survivable. Once again, she returns to the researchers and their rectal thermometers. This time technology has improved and they want her to swallow a mini-thermometer and data-gatherer, emphasizing that it's very expensive and they need to get it back, both to download the data and because it's re-usable - "Just use a plastic bag!" Cox, suspicious: "Am I the first person to swallow this thing?" The researcher assures her that she is, while accidentally also making it clear that she won't be the last.

The reason I read this book was a brief article on Cox's swim which noted that before the swim, her teeth had to be specially sealed and some of her fillings removed and replaced, because otherwise they would shatter from the cold. That, I thought, was hardcore. At the end of the book, she notes offhandedly that the nerve damage she sustained from the cold (which she only barely mentions otherwise) is repairing itself, and she's resting while looking forward to the next thing.

Once again, highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
I'm only halfway through this memoir of a world-record cold-water swimmer, which I am greatly enjoying, but I had to share a few excerpts.

Memoirs by athletes who are famous in non-famous sports are often very interesting: they're not about being famous and meeting other famous people and (often) getting addicted to drugs/fame/sex, they're about what it actually feels like to do their sport. (Also, they're way more likely to be written by the athlete rather than a ghost writer.)

The best ones are usually by people whose sports involve a lot of endurance and are at least somewhat solo (rather than team sports; you're competing as much against yourself as against others.) I am very interested in physicality, people's relationships to their bodies, the mind-body connection, and pushing the limits of the mind and body, so I like that sort of thing. Especially when interesting locales are involved. People who get seriously into things like rock climbing, long-distance swimming, mountaineering, etc, tend to have mindsets that would not be out of place in a Zen temple.

Cox discovered an aptitude for cold-water, long-distance swimming as a child; she was rather hilariously inept at all other sports, and had a three-year battle with a PE teacher who hated her and kept refusing to excuse her from volleyball to do stuff like train to set the world record swimming the English Channel at age fourteen. Cox was completely self-motivated; her family supported but did not push her.

At this point she is looking for new frontiers. This is all swimming in oceans, not pools. While stymied in her hope of swimming from Alaska to the Soviet Union by 1) everyone telling her that the water is so cold that she would die in ten minutes, 2) her only landing point being a Soviet SPY BASE which they understandably did not want to let an American on to, she joins a study on cold water swimming led by Dr. William McCafferty and Dr. Barbara Drinkwater (seriously), partly to pass the time and partly in the hope that she'll learn something that will enable her to swim in water that normally kills people.

Dr. Drinkwater explains that men have less body fat, and so tend to sink. Women have more, and so tend to float. But… "You're different. You have neutral buoyancy. That means your body density is exactly the same as seawater. Your proportion of fat to muscle is perfectly balanced so you don't float or sink in the water; you're at one with the water. We've never seen anything like this before."

Cox is fascinated by this finding, which meshes with both her abilities and her sense that she is, in fact, one with sea water. But they want to see how she reacts in a natural environment, not in a lab, so Dr. McCafferty and his wife walk their dog on the beach while she does her daily workout in the ocean.

Before and after these workouts, I'd hide behind a bush and take my core temperature using a rectal thermometer, the only way to get an accurate reading after an immersion in cold water. I always made a point of telling Dr. McCafferty my temperature just as joggers were passing; they'd give him quizzical looks, since it appeared to them that he was talking to the bushes.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer
By the author of National Velvet, which if you’ve never read it is a quite unusual book with a distinctive prose style and atmosphere that I find quite lovely, especially at the beginning. It doesn’t read at all like your typical girls-and-horses book, though it is that as well.

A Diary Without Dates is Bagnold’s memoir of nursing soldiers during WWI. It’s also written in an unusual, distinctive style, with an unusual, distinctive atmosphere, both gritty and impressionistic. She captures fleeting moments of beauty or horror or unexpected humor, and the sense of how fleeting those moments are, in a way that reminds me a bit of Banana Yoshimoto, of all the unlikely comparisons. I’ve read a number of memoirs by WWI nurses, and this is by far the most interesting on the level of literature. It’s not so much a diary as a record of memorable moments, thoughts, and feelings.

Though it’s not about therapy, it’s one of the books that comes closest to capturing what doing therapy feels like for me. Bagnold delicately and precisely observes the odd mixture of intimacy and distance between nurse and patient, in an institutional setting with inhuman rules against which intensely human dramas are played out, and how you can share a person’s greatest agony one hour, and then walk outside and be moved by the beauty of a flower or annoyed by the next nurse over, and have all those moments be equally real and deeply felt, though some seem trivial and some profound. But to Bagnold, they're all profound because they're all real moments of life, and life itself is profound. A few other works that have that feeling to me are the Tove Janssen's The Summer Book and Anita Desai's The Peacock Garden, and the WWII movie Hope and Glory.

Though it’s not particularly an expose, Bagnold writes rather unflatteringly about some of her bosses and some of the rules at the hospital where she worked. As a result, she was fired when the book came out. So she went to London and became an ambulance driver. I think she must have been quite an interesting person, and reading her diary, I wished that I could have known her. I think we might have had a lot in common and a lot to talk about.

Note: Contains some of-the-period racism and other isms. Not a lot and it’s typical of books written in that period by white people (as opposed to being more racist than usual), but there’s at least one instance though I have now forgotten the details.

A Diary Without Dates (Free on Kindle; the print version almost certainly has better formatting, though the free version is readable.)
[Rachel: But first, a little set-up.]

July 30, 1809. Went to my lodgings; all asleep and fast locked; tried at d'Aries's; ditto; knocked hard at each; no movement; resolving not to lay in the street. The old man came down in some trepidation, got light, and my bed was ready. Not a mouthful of bread or milk or anything eatable or drinkable to be had save pure water. Having dined on fillib [Bixby: His favorite filbunke] and walked at least ten miles, a supper would have been welcome.

Attacked by epinaises. [Bixby: For funaises. Bedbugs] Fought hard till 4, slaying thousands, but the number of the enemy increasing, resolved on a retreat. The sun had risen; began by taking the sheets, coverlid, and pillows out doors, beating and shaking them well; then stripped and changed my clothes, and laid me on the floor. Got a sound nap of five hours.

[This happened to me too, only it was ants. I had a cough, so I left a cough drop near my bed. Woke up coughing, stuffed it in my mouth, registered that it was acrid… and crawling… and so was I… I spat it out, leaped out of bed, and turned on the lights. Ants EVERYWHERE. I proceeded to enact exactly what Burr did, only with the additional aid of a water bottle. The ants won.]

August 29, 1809. I did go to bed at 10, promising myself a rich sleep. Lay two hours vigil; that cursed one single dish of tea! Note: My bed had undergone a thorough ablution and there were no bugs or insects. Got up and attempted to light candle, but in vain; had flint and matches but only some shreds of punk which would not catch. Recollected a gun which I had had on my late journey; filled the pan with powder and was just going to flash it when it occurred that though I had not loaded it someone else might; tried and found in it a very heavy charge! What a fine alarm it would have made if I had fired! Then poured out some powder on a piece of paper, put the shreds of punk with it and after fifty essays succeeded in firing the powder; but it being dark, had put more powder than intended; my shirt caught fire, the papers on my table caught fire, burnt my fingers to a blister (the left hand, fortunately); it seemed like a general conflagration. Succeeded, however, in lighting my candle and passed the night till 5 this morning in smoking, reading, and writing this.

[Rachel: Any story containing the phrase “And then I remembered that I had a gun” never ends well. It’s right up there with “Hey guys, watch this!”

I can’t decide what is most hilarious about this story. I mean other than everything. But just to start with, that does eventually occur to him to make sure the gun isn’t loaded but literally nothing else he does involves the slightest particle of “Maybe this isn’t a good idea,” that in however long it took him to make fifty tries at lighting the gunpowder it never occurs to him that there is a reason nobody lights candles with gunpowder, that despite being a combat veteran and a duelist he still hasn’t figured out what happens when you set gunpowder on fire, that he blames the completely predictable result on the amount rather than the fact of the gunpowder, that the candle actually did get lit, or that, once the candle was lit, he proceeded to use the light to immortalize his idiocy for posterity.

A legacy, what’s a legacy? In Burr’s case, it appears to be making himself surprisingly relatable to everyone who has ever accidentally set themselves on fire by doing something that was, in retrospect, guaranteed to do exactly that. The other thing I can’t decide is if this is more or less gloriously stupid than the time I set my pants on fire while I was naked and dripping wet. On the one hand, naked and dripping wet. On the other hand, his initial idea was to light the candle by shooting at it. This is why I don’t own a gun.]
[Rachel: But of course, Burr’s luck does not last for long.]

Burr: 21. Quarrel with the blancbisseur [1], who carried off *** and refused to deliver them till I had given some handkerchiefs of another person which I never saw or had; so I must either lose my clothes, enter into a lawsuit or pay for things I never saw.

[Rachel: Or he could challenge them to a duel. No, wait, that didn’t go so well last time.]

[1] Bixby: The launderer; possibly meant for the laundress. If so, it should be blanchisseuse. The text is partially undecipherable. We should be glad to know what the launderer carried off!]

[Rachel: Burr’s clothes, obviously. Bixby’s efforts to understand Burr’s hellish scrawls in phonetic Swedish and bad French are clearly getting to him.

Meanwhile, I am dying of laughter at Burr getting his laundry held hostage until he returns handkerchiefs belonging to someone he never heard of. It could only happen to Aaron Burr. Or me. I once had my apartment manager hold my laundry hostage. When he finally returned it (upon threat of calling the police) I found that he had vengefully cut a scary clown face into one of my undies. Possibly the laundress also did this to Burr and Bixby just couldn’t read the entry that said so. He has several footnotes that just say, “indecipherable.”]

Burr: At 7 walked to Liston Hill (Wennerquiest's) to take supper and a bed in conformity with his several warm invitations. Found no one at home but a servant, who said he could give me nothing to drink but small beer and nothing to eat but the bro bru; so left a note for him on his table and walked home.

[Bixby: Burr, who spelled all Swedish words phonetically, was very uncertain about the word brad. Here in despair he writes two incorrect forms.]

Burr: 21. Rose at 6 for the first time in six months. Dreamed engaged to marry a huge ugly beast; name unknown; reflections; Mary A.; deliberated whether to blow out brains or perform engagement; waked by the striking of 6.

Do remind me to give you a dissertation on locking doors. Every person of every sex and grade comes in without knocking; plump into your bedroom! They do not seem at all embarrassed, nor think of apologizing at finding you in bed or dressing or doing — no matter what — but go right on and tell their story as if it were all right. If the door be locked and the key outside (they use altogether spring locks here), no matter, they unlock the door and in they come. It is vain to desire them to knock; they do not comprehend you and if they do, pay no manner of attention to it. It took me six weeks to teach my old Anna not to come in without knocking and leave and finally it was only by appearing to get into a most violent passion and threatening to blow out her brains, which she had not the least doubt I would do without ceremony. I engage she is the only servant in all Sweden who ever knocks.

[Rachel: I know that Burr actually did kill someone, and yet I seriously doubt that Anna actually believed in his threat. He seems singularly incapable of intimidating anyone. Which possibly explains why Hamilton refused to back down. If so, that is really sad. Anyway, it sounds more like Burr going ballistic on Anna just made her take pity on him and knock as a favor. See below for more support for this theory:]

Burr: Notwithstanding all my caution I have been almost every day disturbed in this way, and once last week was surprised in the most awkward situation imaginable.

[Rachel: Naked? Using the chamber pot? Having sex? Masturbating? Masturbating while murmuring “Alexander”? Goddammit, Burr, you usually have no problem with oversharing, so why be coy now?]
[Rachel: Amazingly, Burr manages to spend quite a long time in Sweden enjoying himself, eating and drinking well, going to the theatre, and having sex with every woman in sight. However, presumably since he’s no longer distracted by lost luggage, dirty sheets, and getting arrested, he now has leisure to enjoy himself with his two favorite things, ladies and languages. I guess since French is the language of love, references to flirting and sex are often in French. Unfortunately for his editor, Bixby, Burr’s French is invariably abbreviated, ungrammatical, and/or misspelled. And then there’s Swedish, which Burr does not know at all, but that doesn’t stop him from using it. The result is that every other line is footnoted, and Bixby begins to slowly lose his mind.]

Burr: 19. Left the ball at 10; mal. a. t. ay ant tro. bu.

[Bixby: For mal a la fete, ayant trap bu. Headache from having drunk too much.]

Burr: Hosack came in at 9; left him there. Home at 2 p. Rhea?

[Bixby: Probably meant for Latin of rhubarb. See Glossary.]

Burr: Coucbe at 1 on the canopie; can't endure the down bed.

[Bixby: For canape. Sofa.]

Burr: 20. Rose at 5. Gueri de mal a T. mais pas bien.

[Bixby: Cured of headache, but not well.]

Burr: A servant recommended by Gahn as speaking English. He asked a dollar banco per day. Sent off. I could not understand a sentence he said in any language.

[Rachel: Neither can Bixby.]

Burr: Great vexation to make myself understood par Madame ou la jolie jungfru

[Bixby: By madame or the pretty maid. From now on Burr talks much of the jungfrus.]

Burr: Professor Arnt came in from Baron Munck to ask me to dine at Haga (sa campagne) on Monday, but was engaged to Gahn. Amus. av. jungf. deux heur.

[Bixby: For m'amusai avec la jungfru deux heures. Tres bien. Had fun with the jungfru (maid) for two hours. Fine!]

[Rachel: I know the “fine” is Bixby’s translation of “tres bien” but I can’t help reading it as his commentary on Burr’s fun with the maid and/or bad French, in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cornered-rat line reading of “So you sent the dogs after me; that’s fine!”]

Burr: A traverse I'antichambre. U. muse venoit. Ne saur. renvoir.

[Bixby: Probably for a trovers Vantichambre. U muse Venait. Ne saurais [la] renvojer. Across the hall, maid muse came. I couldn't send her back. (The word muse is used throughout the Journal by Burr in describing his amorous adventures. The literal meaning in French is "the beginning of rutting time." He evidently uses a very unusual word for the purpose of veiling his meaning.)]

Burr: 22. Aupre a tres jo. U. Un arran. ft. mais manq ; ne scats par quoi.

[Bixby: For Aupres une tres jolie U. [jungfru?]. Un arrangement fait, mais manqua ; ne sais pourquoi. With a very pretty maid; an arrangement made but failed; I know not why.]

Burr: 24. Pours i un U. ba. eng. 9 c. soi s.

[Bixby: This is a fair sample of the sort of riddles frequently introduced by Burr in the Journal. They are generally in French, in part, at least, and consist largely of abbreviations. This probably stands for Poursuivii une jungfru (or fille) badine (or handle). Engagement pour gee soir. Pursued a sportive (or common-place) lass. Made an engagement with her for 9 o'clock to-night. Ba. may stand for basse, inferior, vile.]

[Rachel: You get the picture. I’ll just reproduce a series of Bixby’s footnotes from the next section:]

[Bixby: Note the spelling and also the queer tautology! One might as well say in English,
coach-coupe!]

[Bixby: Here Burr again turns a French verb into an English verb. This means Hosack went out.]

[Bixby: Burr almost always uses the grave accent for the acute, when it occurs to him to use any accent at all.]

[Rachel: I think at this point Bixby is probably hitting the cream of tartar punch himself.]

[Bixby (translating from French): There is nothing that restores me after too much muse as does the hot bath.

[Bixby: "Do you speak French?" "Not a word," in very perfect French. (But Burr's
French is far from perfect.)]

[Bixby: For soeurs. Sisters. Burr generally misspells this word.]

[Bixby: Notice the umlaut this time, which is an improvement.]

[Bixby: The writer is improving. He is now within one letter of the correct feminine form of the word. It should be vieille.]

Burr: Sent out for sugar, coffee, bread, and a pipe; not one of these articles to be had. Consoled myself with a little skimmed milk and warm water and at 9 went to de Castre's. Supped on philibonka.

[Rachel: This prompts my single favorite footnote in the journal so far:]

[Bixby: Filbunke is a wholesome summer dish in Scandinavia and Northern Europe in general. Sweet milk is left to sour in a dish specially made for the purpose. Cream settles thick on top. Powdered sugar and grated ginger are mixed with it. Then it is eaten with relish. Burr spells filbunke in seven different ways, but always incorrectly.]

[Rachel: From then on out, Bixby makes a point of noting every single misspelling, as if in revenge for having to read them:]

Burr: Fillibonk pr. dine.

[Bixby: The fifth mode of spelling the word.]

Burr: Fillibonk at 4. You can't imagine what an epicure I am with my filbonk.

[Bixby: This, the sixth mode of spelling the word. Note that he spells it in two different ways in two successive sentences.]

[Rachel: I have to wonder if Burr is deliberately teasing either Theodosia or his editor to come. I love that he was still driving people round the bend seventy years after his death.]

[My personal favorite of the seven wrong spellings: fi Hi bonk a.]
[Burr has dinner with a family.]

The daughters very fine; the two elder, jolie, belle — la jeune, genie.

[Bixby: The two older ones pretty, beautiful — the young one a genius.]

[Rachel: I wonder if this, or this sort of thing, is where the line “My mother was a genius” came from in “Wait For It.” Burr always mentions when women are pretty. (He occasionally mentions when men are handsome – there’s a bit where he teases Theodosia by describing a man in similar terms without using pronouns, only to say, “Don’t get your hopes up, he’s a guy.”) But he also very frequently calls them intelligent, mentions their accomplishments, etc. Other than being more interested in their looks (and sometimes— often, actually— having sex with them, Burr talks about women the exact same way he talks about men.

The historic Burr not only personally viewed women as equals, but also held that as a political belief. This was left out of Hamilton because it doesn’t square with his characterization as a man who does not take strong stands, let alone strong stands on the radical fringe. Burr was an abolitionist, too, just like Hamilton. They had quite a lot in common, but maybe it was one of those cases where people hate each other because they’re more alike than different— they see what they most dislike in themselves embodied in the other, as in a dark mirror. (So was Hamilton too secretly a giant dork? You'd think if he was, he'd have written about it.)

Anyway, back to the diary. Which, once again, is a lot less dignified than reading any given bio of Burr would lead one to expect. After Burr meets the two pretty and one genius sisters, he proceeds on to a slew of entries beginning “hungover.” “Hungover again.” “SO hungover.” “So done with being hungover, not going to drink today.” Next morning: “Failed saving throw against getting drunk; hungover again.” “Took some laudanum; felt terrible the next morning. Took more laudanum to fix that.” I’m copying some of these, but there’s actually lots more. This may be the point where his overall situation finally starts to sink in.]

11. Having eat and drunk too much yesterday, was obliged to sit up till 5. Rose at 12.

13. Rose at 2 p. in very bad order, having been up three or four hours with the bu?

[Bixby: Drinking. Literally, with (having) drunk. On this day Burr wrote a letter to Jeremy Bentham in London in which he said: " I lead a life of the utmost dissipation. Driving out every day and at some party almost every night. Wasting time and doing many silly things."]

Took de ere. tar. punch. [Bixby: Took cream tartar punch — a favorite cure of Burr's when he was " in bad order" in the morning.] Finished letter to Koe. Began one of apology to J. B.

21. Rose at 12. Up all night with crem. ta. pun.

22. Couche at 2. Rose at 8. Read an hour in Ashe's "Travels," and did nothing till 12, when Captain M'Dowell came in and we walked to Holyrood Palace; a grand structure far above St. James's. To the Horse Guard's barracks, a very handsome establishment. […] Walked an hour seul in quest of adventure; got home without any, but with mischievous intentions.

[Rachel: I find it oddly endearing how often Burr confesses to doing nothing for hours. Nowadays it would be “played Candy Crush till 12.” Also love the “mischievous intentions.”]

25. After dinner taken up stairs by Augusta ; sent for soon by Baron Norton. Dinner and wines excellent. Madeira, champagne, hermitage, Frontignan, malmsey, claret, port, sherry.

[Rachel: No wonder he was in such need of cream of tartar punch!]

26. 26. Went to bed last night at 2; lay sleepless till 5; rose at 7.

29. Went to bed at 1 in bad order. Was waked at 8; a most infernal sore throat and too drowsy to rise; lay till 2 p. John M'Donald came in at least twenty times.

30. Had been intemperate. By way of cure drank excessively of cr. tar. punch; kept going till 5; very little sleep ; rose at 9. Bad order; very bad, but sore throat gone.

31. Drank hot whisky toddy to balance the oysters.

[Rachel: Dear God!]

[Now Burr is on the road again, with predictable results.]

1. The usual time of arrival is 1 P. M., but the coachman and the guard both got a little boozy, and each had a girl. Stopped every few minutes to drink. The coachman extremely insolent. With great difficulty got a very dirty bed, in a room with another, and, after an hour's perseverance, got a little fire and a glass of hot lemonade.

[Burr realizes he’s in danger of getting arrested for debt and decides to hide out.]

10. Out to look for obscure lodgings.

[Then there’s a long sequence in which he goes around visiting people and writes multiple notes of apology. Not sure if it was for the debts, for being drunk, for being Aaron Burr, or what.]

14. Slept one sound nap from 12 to 9! What has happened to make me such a sluggard? It must be the air of this country.

[Rachel: Yep. The air. That’s got to be it!]

18. Cre. tar. punch, which kept me up till 5. Madame P. sat with me till 3 and
nursed me with great tenderness.

[Rachel: Aww. Finally, he gets some comfort! At this point I feel like he’s earned it.]

19. K. called at 10. I was still abed. Rose at 2 p.

[Then there’s a long period where he’s legally prevented from leaving the country, his books and papers get confiscated (and he freaks out over the thought of everyone reading all about his hangovers), he’s threatened with arrest, and actually gets detained for a while. Cream of tartar punch appears in virtually every entry during this period. Then he finally is allowed to leave the country, to his great relief. But needless to say…]

28. Wind N. E. and rose to a gale. Beating all Friday and Saturday. On Friday no one at dinner but captain, mate, and myself. Friday evening (28th) I was taken seasick. Kept bed all Saturday and Sunday, eating nothing.

[Rachel: Burr arrives in Sweden, but of course things go wrong the instant he steps off the boat.]

Our baggage all passed without any troublesome search. Trunks merely opened for form. My sack, the article about which I was most apprehensive of trouble, on account of the books it contained, passed without opening. But my large trunk, containing all my clothes, is missing. I sent by the captain M'Donnaugh's letter to Malm et fih z, with a note requesting them to provide me a lodging. While at the custom-house, a brother-in-law of Malm came from him to show me my lodgings. Smith, the British consul, hearing that I had a letter for him from Colonel Mosheim, came also to tender his services. Mr. Oppenheim, of Memel, merchant, fellow passenger, very civil. Offered me a room at his quarters, which, fool-like, I did not accept. Alas! my trunk, my trunk!

[Rachel: This is at least the third time Burr has lost his luggage. The next day…]

Dressed as well as could be without my trunk, and breakfasted. Not in good order. Met here the captain and mate of the Diana. Both swear the trunk is not on board! The mate agreed to meet me at 7 at Todd's, at the landing. Walked there with the Lieutenant, one and a half miles. The mate not there. Took punch and pipe, and walked on a mile and a half further. Met the captain on return. Still insists that the trunk was put into the custom- house boat. The steward says the same. Engaged Smith and Malm to aid in search.

As the packet will sail tomorrow for Harwich, and the mail closes this evening at 5, wrote a postscript to my letters to T.B.A. and a letter to W. Graves about my trunk, enclosing to him the two letters for T. B. A. and a letter to Bellington, the agent of aliens at Harwich — a civil-looking animal — also about the trunk. Not only all my clothes, but my four letter-books, gone, gone! Went to Smith and Malm to urge them to search; but it is probable that my trunk never left Harwich. At 5 went to Smith's to give my letters, and lo, his young Swede had found my trunk on board the Diana! Huzza!
[Rachel: It is truly amazing how much his bad travel luck sounds like mine. Substitute planes for ships and trains for coaches, and this could be my diary. The hotel problems don’t even need any substitution.]

3. Had very carefully put Mr. Achaud's letter, my handkerchiefs, and other small articles in the pockets of the coat I intended to wear. Anna had put my room in order before I got down. After being two hours on the way, missed my handkerchiefs, and, upon quiet examination, discovered that I had taken the wrong coat. What a curse to have two coats at a time!

[Rachel: I once arrived in New York City during a record snowstorm with no coat. When I opened my suitcase to see if I had accidentally packed rather than wearing it, I discovered that I still had no coat but had brought two bottles of red nail polish. No idea why; no recollection of packing them or need for even one, let alone two. I was visiting colleges to see which I might want to apply to and decided I didn't want to live anywhere that gets snowstorms, so the trip definitely helped me make up my mind on that. Anyway, I completely identify with Burr’s coat and handkerchief predicament.]

27. Spent two hours in hunting for some bank bills, my whole stock, and finally gave them up as lost. Found them when and where least expected.

[Rachel: This too is my life.]

29. Caught in the rain, having yesterday left my umbrella at Brentford — no doubt lost.

[Rachel: Same umbrella he borrowed/stole from a friend? Given that this is Aaron Burr, I can’t tell if the answer is “yes, of course,” or “No, because he lost that one earlier and this is a new one.”]

Read out the review of the "Life of Washington" by Marshall and Ramsay. The review is full as stupid, and as illy written, as either of the books. Came down to bring up your journal since Saturday, the 7th, lest such important incidents should not be recorded. I know you will rave like a little Juno if you are not told what I do, and where I go every day. I could write six or eight very amusing pages of the incidents of the last three days, but they must be said and not written. (My journal is four days in arrear. Half will be forgotten. This is Saturday evening. I will try to recollect.)

[Rachel: I will give Burr this: he sounds like a pretty good Dad. He and Theodosia (“you”) obviously have a great relationship. For that matter, he also seems to have been an excellent husband to Theodosia senior (now deceased.)]

7. Went to the stage-house in Piccadilly to inquire for my umbrella, but with little hope. It was there, brought by the coachman; 1 shilling 6 pence. How very honest people are here, and yet I am cheated most impudently every hour!

Sunday. Took leave of B., and sent for hack to transport me and my trunk, being, as you will see by your map, three good miles. No coach was to be had. Went myself — no coach; so here is Gamp [Burr], at 1 in the morning, at Queen's Square Place, writing nonsense to T.B.A. [Theodosia] having let all his fire go out and the last candle just gone. Played chess an hour with K. I have ordered Ann to wake me at 7. For what? When shall I get off?

12. Tom is to bring word of the hour of the stage going to Gaddesden, being determined to go somewhere today. Tom did not return till 1, and brought word that the stage would go at 1; so got coach and went off at a great rate. The stage had been gone 10 m. before I got there.

[Rachel: This ALWAYS happens to him. If he’s on time, his transportation is late. If he’s late, his transportation leaves without him.]

I thought I would go and hunt for some coach going any hour today or night ; but having no place to put my trunk, was obliged to keep the coach. After running about for two hours and spending 9 shillings in coach hire, I discovered, what at any stage-house they might have told me, that no coach would go to Gaddesden till 1 P. M. to-morrow.

[Rachel: Burr gives up and gets a room at a hotel. Needless to say…]

A bed with very dirty sheets, to which I objected; but the maid assured me, upon her honour, that they were very clean, and that she put them on herself. So I am bound to think them clean; but shall, nevertheless, not undress.

[Rachel: Wise of him.]

Since beginning the preceding page, the servants have been three different times in my room to inquire whether they should put out my candles. To the first message I replied very distinctly that I always put out my own candles, and desired that I might not be again interrupted. This did not defend me against the two subsequent intrusions. The object of this affected civility is to save one inch of tallow. This very rigid calculation is universal.

[Rachel: Never not funny how the man who was a distinguished commander in the American Revolution, nearly became President, and killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel is invariably bullied, blackmailed, defied, disobeyed, ignored, snubbed, ripped off, and ditched by maids, coachmen, laundresses, bootmakers, and random passengers. Check him out attempting to extract a piece of soap from the maid at his fleabag hotel:]

13. Rose at 9. At the tavern. No soap. Asked for a piece to wash hands. The maid said
soap was so dear that she could not give it without leave, but she would go and ask her mistress, which I forbid, but gave her 1 shillings to go and buy me a piece. She "would tell the footman" — every one in their department! A cake of soap was brought for 15 pence, which will probably last me three months, which is at the rate of 1 penny a week, and at this rate, if there should be twelve lodgers in the house, the value of the soap used by the whole would be 1 shilling 3 pence per week and about 3 guineas per annum!

14. Having made half a dinner at Queen's Square Place, drove off furiously to the White Horse, Piccadilly, to be in time for the Oxford stage. Having waited half an hour and the coach not come, the weather cool, went in to warm. Having warmed half an hour, and wondering at the delay, went out to see. The coach had been gone twenty minutes. My honest coachman, as well to be sheltered from the storm as for repose, had got inside and was sound asleep.

Oxford, December 22. Was called at 6, to be ready for the coach at 7. Gave my baggage to a porter, but, being stopped a minute to make change, he got out of my sight. I missed the way, and when I got to the Bolt Inn the coach had gone.

[Rachel: Of course it had.

What I want to know, since there don’t seem to be any pre-duel diaries, was whether this is just what Burr’s life was always like, or if Hamilton’s ghost was hanging out to make sure that nothing ever went right for him. I lean toward the former, possibly with some additional assistance from the latter: Burr seems more resigned than surprised by his endless catastrophes, and also this is the guy who eventually deals with the candle issue by trying to light it with gunpowder from a pistol he happened to have lying around. This is a man to whom catastrophes don’t merely happen, but are invited with open arms.]

My passage having been paid in the evening, there was no inducement to wait for me. Pursued and had the good fortune to overtake the coach. Found in it one man. Having preserved perfect silence for a few minutes by way of experiment, I remarked that the day was very mild, which he flatly denied, and in a tone and manner as if he would have bit me.

[Rachel: Burr does eventually manage to get a conversation going. He is then joined by a pretty young woman, who initially is friendly, but then…]

After various fruitless essays, and at first without suspecting the cause, finding it impossible to provoke anything beyond a cold monosyllable, I composed myself to sleep, and slept soundly about eight hours. (There must be something narcotic in the air of this island. I have slept more during my six months' residence in Great Britain than in any preceding three years of my life since the age of 14.)

[Rachel: Given the multiple entries to come that begin with “Hungover” or “hungover again” or “took hangover remedy immediately upon waking,” I would not be so quick to blame the air.]

12 o'clock. Still at Birmingham. Full of contrition and remorse. Lost my passage. Lost or spent 28 shillings and a pair of gloves. Every bed in the house engaged. No hope of getting on but by the mail at 7 tomorrow morning. The office shut, and no passage to betaken tonight. What business had I to go sauntering about the streets of a strange place, alone and unarmed, on a Christmas eve? Truly, I want a guardian more than at 15.

[Rachel: Yes. Yes, you are definitely in desperate need of a minder.]
This edition was edited and footnoted by William Bixby in 1903. Bixby’s introduction fills in the events preceding Burr's journal (the duel), taking great pains to explain that this was a different time and dueling was acceptable, and also Burr was pretty awesome and everyone with taste thought so:

Bixby: After a short tour through the South, where he [Burr] was received by the best society, Colonel Burr returned to Washington to resume his duties as Vice President of the United States. He presided over the Senate during the trial of Judge Chase of Maryland " with the dignity and impartiality of an angel and the rigor of a demon," and the day after the trial closed, his term being about to expire, delivered a farewell address to the Senate, which was so full of eloquence and pathos that most of the Senators were in tears when he concluded.

Rachel: I would you to keep this and everything you think you know about Aaron Burr, fictional versions included, as you read the excerpts from his actual diaries. Also, that he was considered to be extremely handsome.

One of my absolute favorite things about this edition is watching Bixby slowly lose his mind in footnotes as his admiration from Burr is swamped by his annoyance at Burr’s illegible handwriting and tendency to use words in languages which he doesn’t speak and can’t spell:

Bixby’s Introduction: Burr used French when referring to his discreditable adventures, ("accidents," he called them), but he used it very frequently for other purposes. He shows, indeed, throughout the entire Journal a singular fondness for using words from languages other than his own. This is childish at times. In Sweden he learned the words brod and mjolk, and then used them almost exclusively for three years thereafter, instead of the English words, bread and milk. He seemed immensely pleased when he could draw upon several languages to form a single sentence. For example, he wrote: "Bro. and cas. for din." Here we have four languages represented in a sentence of five words! Bro. is an abbreviation of the Swedish word brod, bread ; cas. is probably Burr's attempt to write the German word Kdse, cheese, and din. is his abbreviation of the French word diner, dinner.

Rachel: These excerpts are in chronological order, and start very soon after the beginning. He’s staying with or near Jeremy Bentham. This sets a deceptively elevated tone which will rarely be seen again.

The Journal of Aaron Burr

October 1, 1808. Bootmaker — a great liar; boots not done.

4. Rose at 6. Sent porter for trunk and boots. Neither done. Clothes not come from wash. Stage for Gaddesden to start at 12, and nothing ready; bought two shirts. Clothes and trunk came at 11. Packed up tout suite and drove comme diable [Bixby: like the Devil] to stage-house, Oxford street. Discovered that the hour of departure was one and not twelve o'clock.

[Rachel: Burr is living my life.]

9. Breakfast at M'Carthy's at 10, having agreed to ride with him to see the place of the Earl of Bute, said to have the best collection of pictures in England. Nobody was there.

12. Rose at 5. Got in stage at 6, intending to take post-chaise from Hamel Hemstead to St. Albans to visit Lord Grimstone; but no chaise was to be had, so came into town, where arrived at 10 o'clock. To Faleur; not content with his work. Impertinence of his goldsmith, whom I ordered out of the room for obtruding his opinions. F. is to mend his work, and I am to call to-morrow — thence to S. Swartwout. It was fortunate that I came to town, for yesterday he received orders to go on to Liverpool forthwith.

Received letter from D. M. Randolph; very melancholy. Speaks of the death of a most valued friend in America, which must be particularly afflicting to me. Who can he mean? I have heard of no death of the least consequence to anybody.

[Rachel: And here comes the Tale of the Nose. I have cut some stuff that’s incomprehensible, not that interesting, or just for length. But don't worry, I did not miss a single word of nose.]

23. On returning home, called at Turnevelli's, the statuary, and engaged to give him a sitting to-morrow at 11.

24. Rose at 9. Wrote to Sir Mark not to call till 1. Went to Turnevelli's. He would have a mask. I consented, because Bentham, et al had. A very unpleasant ceremony. To Sir Mark's; he was sitting down to breakfast. Walked together. Called at Herries and Farquar's, St. James's street, agents of the late Colonel Charles Williamson, to see for letters from T. [Rachel: Theodosia?] None! none!!

Found a note from Baron Norton, requesting an interview. No doubt some law business. Wrote him to call at 12 tomorrow. Sir Mark had engaged me to call on Signora B. Just as we were going out, casting my eyes in the mirror I observed a great purple mark on my nose. Went up and washed it and rubbed it — all to no purpose. It was indelible. That cursed mask business has occasioned it. I believe the fellow used quicklime instead of plaster of Paris, for I felt a very unpleasant degree of heat during the operation. I sent Sir Mark off, resolved to see no Signora till the proboscis be in order.

[Rachel: I think this might be my favorite line of the entire nose story.]

Wrote Ons. [Bixby: Madame Onslow], with whom I had engaged to pass the evening, apologizing. […] I have been applying a dozen different applications to the nose, which have only inflamed it. How many curses have I heaped on that Italian! Read to B. review of Leckie's work, which took till 9. K. came in, and we finished Thierry. I shall go early to bed (say 12), in hopes to sleep off my nasology.

25. Did not get to bed till 1. Rose at 9. Nose the same.

[Rachel: Is this reminding anyone else of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13 ¾? Also, I so understand the "shall go early to bed/oops, stayed up reading LJ till 3:00 AM issue."]

At 11, went to Turnevelli's to sit. Relieved myself by cursing him for the nose disaster. He bore it like one conscious, and endeavored to console me by stating that the same thing happened to Lord Melville and to several others, and that the appearance passed off in a few days.

[Rachel: I can’t imagine that statement was in the least consoling!]

Took a hack, not liking to walk and exhibit my nose. Stayed two hours with Turnevelli. He will make a most hideous, frightful thing, but much like the original. After leaving Tur., being unfit for any reasonable thing, rode to Madame O.'s to apprise her that if she were disengaged I would call after dinner and play chess. It was agreed. Rode to F's to give him a written mem. pointing out the defects and containing precise directions. […] Chez moi [Bixby: my home] where I do nothing but muse for two hours.

[Rachel: I assume on his proboscis.]

26. Rose at 9. Went to Turnevelli's at 11; nose a little improved. Sat one hour. The thing grows more hideous at every touch. […] Roved about two or three hours hunting a chess table, or stand with chess board inlaid; did not find one to please me. Home at 3 to dress for dinner, being engaged to General Picton at the Tower Coffee-house. Went there, the nose notwithstanding, at 2.

26. I am out of all patience at being detained in town, and am in danger of wearying out my great and good friend Bentham. From Reeves's walked on to visit the Donna; but,
recollecting my nose, walked home.

[Rachel: That is the closest he comes to referring to the duel – the reason he’s detained is that he’s wanted for murder. But what’s he actually worried about? Well...]

28. Rose at 9. Nose a little improved.

Sent Tom to Graves for the laws of New York, and to Miller, bootmaker. It is now five weeks since I put into Miller's hands some of Bellamy's leather for a pair of boots. One pair which I could not get on, were sent and were returned. Since that I have had daily promises, but no boots. The shoes, which cost 17 shillings, I could not wear, and have given them away. Thus it is with every mechanic I have employed in London except my tailor, Beck, who lies a little, but far less than any other.

Waited till 1 for Tom's return, and then went to Turnevelli's. Sat one hour. Worse and worse! This was meant to please you; but if I had suspected that I had become so infernally ugly, I would sooner have.

[Rachel: I think the "you" is his daughter Theodosia, to whom he meant to send his journals. Bixby was so horrified by the thought of a lady reading about her father's sexual exploits and general TMI that he had a highly unconvincing note in the introduction saying that Burr undoubtedly meant to censor the hell out of them first. I doubt that very much.]

Roved about for two hours, ruminating on this sort of non-existence and on you. E.A., too, often accompanies me. Got home safe at 4. Mr. Elkton Hammond, merchant, to dine with us. A very intelligent young man; admiring the works of B. Has two sisters; one studies legislation, the other chymistry. The chymist said to be pretty. I am to dine there with B. on Thursday, when you shall hear more of them.

29. Rose at 9. I don't recollect to have told you that on my return from Weybridge, I had determined to set off immediately for Scotland. Six weeks have elapsed, and I am apparently (what hellish scrawls [1]; I must try to do better, or this precious mem. will be lost to you and to the world), apparently no nearer departure than on the day of my return.

[1. Bixby: The description is perfect!]

30. Wrote Madame Prevost and am now going to bed. The nose improves apace; hope it will be exhibitable to-morrow, and be fit for inspection of the legislatrix and the chymistress. Bon soir!

London, December 1, 1808. To Turnevelli's ; abroad. Glad of it, for I would give 5 guineas that the thing were demolished!

24. Sent trunks to get better locks. So much plague as I had to get trunks, and the locks are naught. To Turnevelli's, who had been to hunt me. Sat only twenty minutes. He is determined to go through with it ; tries to encourage me; finds it wonderfully like Voltaire; but all won't do. It is a horrid piece of deformity.

To Falieri; not ready. To Miss Mallet. The most rational being I have seen. Staid a whole hour, and greatly pleased with her. Good breeding and social talents in a degree very rare. Why don't I go there oftener? Because I do nothing that I wish or intend.

[Rachel: Oh, Burr.]

30. To Turnevelli's ; not at home; shall never be done with that fellow, and yet he tries his best; but the strange irregularities and deformities of the face defy all art.

10 To Turnevelli's at 2. I wish I had never begun with him.
Many Native Nations begin a Coyote legend with some variation of “Coyote Was Going There.” Trust me—Coyote? Still going. It’s about time ebooks caught up with that crazy Trickster.

Nolan, a Native American Storyteller and therapist, retells traditional stories he heard from his relatives, with cultural commentary, stories from his life, explanations of how he used the stories in teaching or therapy... and recipes!

Nolan has performed these stories in wildly varied settings, from Head Start programs in reservations to international psychology conferences. He interweaves the traditional stories with the stories of how and where he’s told them, and with stories of food and culture and the culture of food. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this.

I really enjoyed it. The stories themselves are great – funny, powerful, resonant—
as is Nolan’s commentary on them. In one story, Coyote orders his woven baskets to fill themselves with salmon from the river. Oh yes, Nolan explains, in those days baskets had feet. Like a duck’s. And could walk around by themselves. I am still cracking up at that image.

Nolan’s wry, humane, erudite perspective on the power of stories to illuminate and heal reminded me a bit of Jane Yolen. But I don’t think you need a particular interest the use of stories in therapy and education to enjoy this. It’s kind of “An Evening with Ty Nolan, Storyteller” in written form. Though he does not mince words when discussing injustice or loss, the overall feeling of the book is warm and uplifting.

As the preface explains, the book is arranged so that you can read just the stories, or the stories and the commentary. Some of the commentary would probably go over kids’ heads, but stories plus selected commentary would probably make a great read-aloud.

I think a lot of you here would like this a lot.

Coyote Still Going: Native American Legends and Contemporary Stories. It's a self-published e-book, so it won't be in libraries. But it's only $4.99. Support your probably-not-local author!
Chef Marcus Samuelsson was adopted from Ethiopia to Sweden when he was two years old, along with his older sister. His mother had died of tuberculosis, and her children were incorrectly believed to be orphans. (I'm using the passive voice because Samuelsson never found out exactly how this came about, or if any of his living relatives would have been willing or able to take him in had they known what was going on or, for that matter, if any of them did know.)

Growing up, he wanted to be a professional soccer player but was too small (later, he discovered that he was a year younger than everyone thought), so he turned to cooking, eventually becoming a successful chef in New York. Due to his sister's detective work, as an adult he discovered that their father, whom he had thought was dead, was alive, and that he had something like a hundred relatives he'd never known about. His visits to Ethiopia inspired him to start cooking Ethiopian food. He won Top Chef Masters with an Ethiopian meal.

Great story. Samuelsson is an excellent writer, and his story is atmospheric, thoughtful, and honest. He's definitely of the "warts and all" school of memoir writing, which I appreciate. He's particularly good on his cross-cultural experiences, the complexity of his unusual racial and cultural status, and the connections between food, family, and culture.

Yes, Chef: A Memoir
[Catch-up review from Goodreads]

Rich spent a year in Udaipur (Rajasthan) studying Hindi; the book combines anecdotes from her stay with tons of information on the science of learning a second language.

It starts out strong, but the parts become increasingly less integrated and the memoir sections become increasingly disorganized as the book continues. There were a number of points where she referenced something as if she'd already told that story, only to explain it 50 pages later. The information was good and her prose, as in individual sentences, was good, but it probably would have worked better as nonfiction about second language acquisition with a few relevant anecdotes than as the awkward chimera it was.

Dreaming in Hindi: Coming Awake in Another Language
Recced by [personal profile] rydra_wong. Great rec, thanks!

Excellent, clearly written, honest memoir about the mind-body connection. My description is going to sound straightforward, but you really have to read the book to get what I got out of it. I've read a fair amount of memoirs and nonfiction about physical disability, mind-body issues, and even the type of paralysis Sanford has, and thought I understood much of what he discusses, at least on an intellectual level. After reading this book, I feel like I have a far, far better and more visceral understanding.

At age thirteen, Sanford was in a car accident which killed his father and sister, and paralyzed him from the chest down. He goes through puberty while still recovering from his injuries, which was fairly traumatic all by itself, and grows up seemingly doing fine, but inwardly suffering from being disconnected from his body. Well-meaning doctors told him that the sensations he had in the paralyzed parts were meaningless "phantom pains," and Sanford learned to dissociate himself from his body as a survival mechanism, to be able to endure otherwise unbearable pain.

Later in life, he begins studying yoga and learns that his entire body is still a part of him, and he does still have a perception of it and feelings from it. I already knew that people with spinal injuries do still have sensations below the point where the nerves are severed, but they're, essentially, transferred by indirect means and may be felt in other parts of the body or in different ways. Sanford explains not only what this actually feels like, but how important it is not only physically, but emotionally and even spiritually.

He is now a yoga teacher.

Fantastic book. Read it if you have any interest whatsoever in the subject matter, and by that I mean mind-body issues, not just physical disability or yoga.

Note that while Sanford doesn't get into tons of graphic details, there are fairly harrowing descriptions of injuries, medical procedures, and pain. The one that got to me the most was when he broke his neck a second time after the car crash, by tipping out of his wheelchair, and someone insisted on moving him despite his protests.

Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence
Craziness also runs in the family. I can trace manic depression back several generations. We have episodes of hearing voices, delusions, hyper-religiosity, and periods of not being able to eat or sleep. These episodes are remarkably similar across generations and between individuals. It's like an apocalyptic disintegration sequence that might be useful if the world really is ending, but if the world is not ending, you just end up in a nuthouse. If we're lucky enough to get better, we have to deal with people who seem unaware of our heroism and who treat us as if we are just mentally ill.

This is Mark Vonnegut's second memoir. (Kurt Vonnegut's son.) The first one explains how he had a psychotic break while a young man living on a commune. Due to the circumstances, everyone at the commune just thought he'd become spiritually advanced. Eventually, his parents stepped in to rescue him. It concluded with the note that he was diagnosed with schizophrenia but apparently "recovered," which is unusual, especially given that it all went down in the 1960s. I had wondered if he'd been misdiagnosed.

His second memoir picks up many years later. He became a successful doctor... who periodically had psychotic breaks, to go with his drinking problem and falling-apart family life. But it's not primarily a story about pain and problems, but about one man's particular life. Every life has problems. Usually they don't involve being put in a straightjacket every ten years or so. But that's Mark Vonnegut's particular issue, or one of them, anyway, and he treats it very much in the manner of "everyone's got problems."

The memoir is at least as much about being a doctor as it is about having a mental illness of a somewhat mysterious nature. (He gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder later, but that might not be it either. Whatever he has, it's atypical.) It's also about life, and art, and being a misfit in a screwed-up society, and also about being his father's son (Chapter title: "There is Nothing Quite So Final As A Dead Father"). And accidentally poisoning himself with his shiny new hobby of mushroom hunting.

It's all over the place and hard to describe, but enormously funny, enjoyable, quotable, and wise. Its humane, humorous, epigrammatic tone reminded me a bit of James Herriot, and I love James Herriot. Unless you're really squicked by medical stuff or triggered by mental illness, this is the sort of book I'd recommend to just about anyone.

Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So: A Memoir
Brief notes on books I read a while back but never got around to writing up.

A Taste of China: The Definitive Guide to Regional Cooking (Pavilion Classic Cookery), by Ken Hom. An evocative, hunger-inducing travelogue/memoir/cookbook/food history by a Chinese-American author. A bit of a period piece now, but much of it is historical anyway, and it's well worth reading if you have an interest in the topic.

The Gift of Fear, by Gavin de Becker. The classic nonfiction book on the value of intuition: specifically, that fear - especially women's fear of men - is often based on having subconsciously picked up subtle signals of very real danger. I've re-read this book a couple times before, and it continues to be valuable: honest, easy to read, thoughtful, and very usable. One thing I'd forgotten was that de Becker himself was a survivor of childhood abuse and trauma, and is writing not only from his experience as a security expert but from his experience as a scared little kid.

This would make an excellent paired reading with Malcolm Gladwell's Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which is also about how intuition works, but approached from completely different angles. Both books discuss false intuition based on prejudice or pre-conceived ideas versus true intuition based on the situation at hand, and how to tell the difference. Gladwell's book is more sociological, and de Becker's is more of a how-to.

Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship. It's an old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and we shared that, too.

Probably the best memoir I've read all year. I read it when it first came out, and then re-read it several months later. Though Knapp's death frames the memoir, it's not primarily about that, but about the intimate, twin-like friendship between two women. Writers Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp bonded over their careers, their alcoholism and sobriety, and most of all, their beloved dogs. The structure is complex but seamless. Caldwell traces her own life story and how it paralleled and diverged from Knapp's, weaves it back into the story of their friendship, and then continues her story without Knapp, but always with her memory. It's extremely well-written, intense, and engaging, and reminded me quite a bit of another favorite memoir of mine... Caroline Knapp's Drinking: A Love Story.

It also reminded me of Ann Patchett's Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, another intense and well-written memoir about female friendship, in this case with troubled author and cancer survivor Lucy Grealy. Though Let's Take the Long Way Home, despite Knapp's early death, is a lot less tragic, since Caroline Knapp sounds like she had a lot more happiness and satisfaction in her life than poor Lucy Grealy ever did. It's also got way more dogs. In fact, it has enough dog content that I would especially recommend it to anyone who loves dogs. it contains dog death by old age, but is much more about what it's like to live with and love and train dogs.

You can click on the author tags to get reviews of the books I mentioned in comparison.
Yet another memoir in which a short but compelling story of survival is padded out with flashback chapters about the memoirist's life before his plane crashed/he got kidnapped by terrorists/etc, to make sure the story is book-length.

In this case, the story everyone wants to read is about how 11-year-old Ollested, one of two survivors of a plane crash in the snowy California mountains that killed the pilot and his father, hiked down a mountain while trying to help the other survivor, his father's girlfriend. She's badly injured, and since the jacket copy gives it away, I will confirm that she doesn't make it. The flashbacks, which take up way more of the story, detail how Ollested lived with his mother and her abusive boyfriend, while his father periodically swooped in to demand that Ollested ski and surf with him. The young Ollested idolized his father, but was afraid of skiing and surfing - unsurprisingly, given that his father regularly demanded that he do what sounded like pretty dangerous stunts at a very young age.

You will be unsurprised to hear that I was interested in the survival story (about one-fourth of the total length, if that) and not so much in the endless series of surfing and skiing trips, described in impenetrable lingo and excruciating detail.

Incidentally, while individual moments can indeed be recalled with brilliant clarity twenty years later, especially if they were traumatic or otherwise memorable I don't believe that every single incident worth recounting includes vivid recollections of everyone's facial muscles. Having written a memoir myself, I frequently boggled at how Ollested would recount some trivial childhood incident jazzed up with detailed descriptions of the exact clothes everyone was wearing and the gestures they made as they uttered each word. No way. I also question the ethics of his depiction of Sondra, the girlfriend who dies on the mountain. She comes across as a horrific, shallow bitch. I'm sure that's indeed how Ollested remembered her, but given that she was a real person who died under pretty awful circumstances, to which he was the only witness, and there must be many people still living who loved her, a better balance of honesty with compassion might have been to give his recollections, but also talk to some people who knew her and so give a more rounded portrait.

Ollested ends up deciding that his father's maniacal effort to force him to learn great skiing techniques was probably what enabled him to survive. Twenty years later, he recounts how he nevertheless decided not to push his son as hard as his still-idolized father pushed him... and so he doesn't teach his son to ski until he's four.

I listened to this on audio while driving to Mariposa. The author's decision to read the entire book with extremely portentous intensity - appropriate for a desperate struggle for survival, not so much for dialogue like "Let's catch some killer swell, and maybe we can get back into that radical tube," - lent parts of the book a humor which it otherwise completely lacked.

Too much Daddy worship and totally tubular surfing jargon, not enough insight and wilderness survival.

Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival (P.S.)
I found this in my father’s library while visiting his house in Mariposa, near Yosemite. It’s an evocative and enlightening book which tells, in alternate chapters, the history of the Nim*, who are California Indians from the area I was staying in, and the personal history and experiences of the author, who grew up practicing many of their traditional ways. The non-historical chapters are arranged by seasons, beginning with spring and ending when winter begins to warm into another spring.

Lee’s style is alternately scholarly, poetic, personal, and frank. He wrote this, the first personal account of the Nim by a Nim, partly because the existing written material on them, compiled by white anthropologists, was misleading or outright wrong. Some information is left out because it’s “none of anybody’s business;” other material, mostly involving the medicinal or food use of local plants, is deliberately vague to prevent foolish and inexperienced people from accidentally killing themselves.

The history is the usual tale of stolen land and broken treaties, attempted cultural genocide and fighting back. (One of the lighter bits quotes John Muir’s horror at the incredible filthiness of some Indians he encounters while hiking in the woods; Lee points out that they were in a mosquito-infested area, and the Indians had sensibly covered themselves with a natural repellent – mud!) The personal narrative is written in a more intimate voice, sometimes earthy, sometimes funny, often moving. Lee’s love for his family shines through every page.

I liked this a lot, and I think anyone who likes memoirs or nature writing would enjoy it. My father, who doesn’t read much narrative non-fiction, was fascinated by it, and we had several long conversations about it as we hiked in Yosemite. If you have a particular interest in California history or California Indian culture, it ought to be essential reading.

*The I in Nim has a diacritical I can’t reproduce, but is pronounced like the u in put. Also, Lee explains that while the Nim and the Mono speak the same language and so have been lumped together by anthropologists, they do not consider themselves to be the same people. So the subtitle is a bit odd. Possibly it was added by the publisher.

Walking Where We Lived: Memoirs of a Mono Indian Family
I haven't finished reading this yet - I've been reading it off and on, on my Kindle - but I'm doing a mini-write-up before I utterly forget all that came before.

It's the autobiography of an American pioneer, full of lively and sometimes horripilating details. He starts out in the East, where life sounds fairly decent but the earth is hard to cultivate, and then his family moves to Wisconsin, where life sounds great. This part is full of excellent details on life, food, work, social mores, etc. Then they all hear that life is even better in California. Plus, there's gold! Uh-oh.

He and some buddies go ahead of the general party to scout. They run into some Indians, and despite the buddy's reluctance, Manly hauls them all to go have a chat. Neither party speaks the other's language, but they communicate pretty well with gestures and drawings. They trade food and horses, then Manly explains their intended route west. The conversation proceeds, more or less, as follows:

Indian: "WTF!!! Are you serious?! THAT way???"

Manly: "Um, yes. Is there a problem with that?"

Indian: "Oh hell yes. There's no water for BILLIONS OF MILES."

Manly (to buddy): "Let's try a different route."

Buddy: "You can't trust Indians! Ignore him. He's probably trying to lead us into a trap."

Manly: "I dunno. He's been friendly so far. Plus, he lives here and we don't. It's possible he knows the land better than we do."

Buddy: "Never trust an Indian!"

Indian: "BILLIONS OF MILES. NO WATER."

Manly: "Thanks for the horses!"

Buddy: "Onward to Death Valley!"

I realize that the conversation as depicted in the book may have been informed by hindsight, but it remains one of the best bits of ironic foreshadowing I've come across, whether or not it actually happened. (And no, it was not actually named Death Valley until after most of their party died there.)

I've just gotten to the part where Manly and a different buddy have left most of the party behind in Death Valley, and pressed on by themselves in the hope of bringing back help. The descriptions of the desert and its privations are marvelous: great cubes of rock salt like blocks of ice, wine-red alkaline lakes, dirt soft as flour. They brought dried beef from the oxen they had to slaughter, but despite their hunger, their mouths are so dry that they can't swallow, and they finally spit out their mouthfuls of jerky and lie down for the night, wondering if they'll wake up.

Free on Kindle: Death Valley in '49

Hard copy: Death Valley in '49: The Autobiography of a Pioneer
A childhood/teenage memoir of growing up in Harlem during the 1940s and 1950s, focusing on Myers’ family and neighborhood, his early attempts at writing, and the pervasive racism that slowly poisons his life and dreams.

Myers’ relaxed, warm style and deadpan humor make this easy reading, though I suspect that the episodic structure and lack of emphasis on the moments of conventional action would appeal more to adults than to teenagers.

View on Amazon: Bad Boy: A Memoir
[livejournal.com profile] rushthatspeaks recommended this to me ages ago as one of her favorite memoirs. It’s excellent.

Braestrup’s husband, a cop, was killed in a car crash before he could retire and become a Unitarian Universalist minister. Braestrup decided to become a minister herself, and ended up as the chaplain for the game wardens in her small Maine town.

This is a hard book to describe and make it sound as good as it actually is. It’s written in that deceptively simple manner which is so easy to read and so hard to write. It’s religious without being self-righteous, full of compelling stories of searches for missing people, loving descriptions of the Maine wilderness and wildlife, and an intimate portrait of a family. Braestrup’s brief dips into comparative religion, which she says herself were not thoroughly researched, probably should have been left out. But when it comes to her own faith, her writing struck me, a Jewish atheist with some serious bones to pick with organized religion, as accessible, unsentimental, and often wise.

Here If You Need Me: A True Story

This book was of particular interest to me as next month I will begin training as a volunteer crisis counselor, in association with CERT (Community Emergency Response Team,) and if I manage to make it through the training, which will no doubt include many instance of roleplaying (my least favorite thing ever,) will be on call four hours per month to assist people in various post-emergency situations.
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