60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Madison.

So this is what I discovered this weekend: ice cream, topped with Nutella, topped with cashews.

Now I can die happy. I will also be dying soon, with packed arteries, as well as carrying at least 100 extra pounds.

Seriously. The minute I tried that combination and realized it was the best thing ever, I also realized that I can never have it again, or my weight will finally spiral beyond control. My weight already has spiraled out of control, because I'm an emotional eater and there is no emotion that I haven't had in the past twelve months. Sad? Let's eat. Worried? Let's eat. Bored? Let's eat. Disgusted with myself for eating all the time? Let's eat.

60 Hikes Within 60 MilesWhich is a very awkward way to back into this review of Kevin Revolinski's 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Madison*, but there you have it. Pretty soon small children will make the truck-backing-up noise when they see me backing into anything, so it is clearly time for me to get outside and get active.

I am not a hiker or a camper or a user of state or county parks, for the most part, so I didn't know what to expect from this book. But my overall first impression was a good one: The book is meaty but not overly hefty; you could definitely chuck it in your backpack and haul it around pretty easily. It's got a ton of beautiful pictures, most taken by the author, which are not only fun to look at just as pictures, but which also help you picture the landscape and interest points of the hike being described. It's got a ton of handy charts for "hikes by category" (including such attributes as "busy," "solitude," "wildflowers," "bird-watching," "historic-interest," "kid-friendly," "dog-friendly," etc.).

When you get to each of the sixty hikes, you won't be disappointed; for each one you can see at a glance how long it is, how difficult it is, how much of it is shaded, how much the elevation changes, and whether there are facilities or wheelchair access.  The author neatly takes you through each hike, in a surprisingly comprehensive way. The trails are described so well that I'll admit I'm actually thinking about skipping the hiking and just reading the book.

I was also extremely pleased with the prose in this guidebook, which is anything but the dry, informational writing I was expecting. I particularly appreciated information in the front of the book, in a description of the Kettle Moraine State Forest:

"The most recent period of the Ice Age is known as the Wisconsin Glaciation. It came to its dwindling end in a jagged line across the state about 10,000 years ago. Thanks to the land-altering efforts of an ice sheet that was as much as a mile thick in some places, there is no better spot to see the dramatic effects of continental glaciers than in Wisconsin. Two massive lobes of glacial ice left behind two ridges approximately 120 miles long in the southeastern part of the state. Melting ice buried within glacial deposits left kettlelike depressions that have since been overgrown with hardwood forests and, in some cases, filled in with bogs. The very ground beneath your feet is strewn with sand and broken rock, some of which may have originated all the way back in Canada." (p. 1.)

If I can get through an entire paragraph about geology, it's good writing.

I've not had the chance to go through the whole thing, because Mr. CR has stolen it and is planning hikes for our family for the summer. It'll be good, but I'm kind of tired just thinking about it. Tired? Does that count as an emotion? I should go eat something.

It's a lovely book. Buy a copy for yourself if you're in Wisconsin, or if you know any Wisconsinites, consider buying them a copy as a gift. If there was ever a summer when it would be a good time to get out there and hike, far from other people who may or may not believe in wearing masks, this is the one.

*Full disclosure, because I can't not disclose. I know the author. And I'm mainly sharing that because I want you to know that after reading it, I asked him how long this book must have taken to write, because it's really detailed, and really cool. He admitted it was a lot of work. It shows, in the best possible way.


Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon.

As previously noted, I am fascinated by whistleblowers.

And you can only read about whistleblowers for so long before you bump up against another person who loomed large in twentieth-century culture and history: Ralph Nader.

I knew his name, of course, but I really knew very little about Ralph Nader before I tracked down a 1972 publication of his: Whistle Blowing: The Report of the Conference on Professional Responsibility. It's actually a compilation of presentations given at a conference Nader sponsored in January of 1971. It's a fascinating read in its own right, and it proves that there was a lot of corruption and bullshit going on in the 1960s and 1970s, which should prove once again that there is no such thing as "the good old days." The more you read about whistleblowers and corruption, as a matter of fact, the more you see the human race's overwhelming contributions to the world: corrupt institutions and bureaucracies that may or may not be corrupt but which are still bumbling (at best) and evil (at worst). Well done, humans!

But I digress. I wanted to learn more about Ralph Nader. So, because I am lazy and because my clunky right eye continues to make it difficult for me to churn through books the way I used to, I went and watched the documentary An Unreasonable Man:

You must go watch this movie.

And then, because I was still fascinated, I went and got the book Nader: Crusader, Spoiler, Icon. And it's really, really interesting. Regardless of how you feel about Nader (particularly his contentious run for president in 2000), it's a good biography. The author himself admits that he had no shortage of material: most people, particularly those who have worked with him, have strong opinions about Nader. Here's how the author describes his research work for this book:

"My job became easy. All I really had to do was say, 'I understand you know Ralph Nader' and then sit back and listen. What I gleaned most of all from these interviews was that in speaking so expansively, so candidly, so fervently, people were working to deliver up whole the complex story of someone who had played an incredibly important role in their lives and in the country's history. They wanted to do justice to a true original." (p. xv.)

Just like it was pleasurable to spend time with Edward Snowden, I found it very pleasurable to learn more about this unique (and complex, and more than just a little difficult) person.


Citizen Reader in the New York Times!

I wouldn't say that Mr. CR and I are living in a romance novel, but sometimes we have the same thought, and that's always nice. So I wrote about it for the "Tiny Love Stories" feature in The New York Times (it's the last story on the page*):

Tiny Love Stories

Hope you are doing well, and that your life involves some golden raisins today, if you enjoy that sort of thing.

*I also really enjoyed the first story, about siblings, one of whom is a transit worker, because transit workers are getting a raw deal.

 


All I really know.

Well, the world is having quite a time of it, isn't it?

This is emphatically not a current events blog, but it occurs to me that I would like to be helpful in some way. The other day I read that many stores in our area had their windows broken, and merchandise stolen, except for a small used bookstore. The story about that stated that the bookstore had their windows smashed, but no inventory was taken. I emitted what can only be described as a "chuckle cry" (or "sob guffaw," whichever you prefer) at that news, because it was both so sad and yet so strangely funny. And then decided I only know a couple of things in this world fer sure. Here they are:

  1. I want more people to read.
  2. Bookstores are one of the few things on God's green Earth that I love unreservedly and I want to support them as long as they are still here to support.

So this is my ask for, and my pledge to, you. Here's the ask: Share this blog with as many friends as you can. (I've even got a snazzy new design that shows up a lot better on mobile devices! Lookit me, catching up with the 21st century!) And this is my pledge: my new small charitable mission in life is to send people books from independent bookstores.* The catch is that I get to choose the books, and they will mostly be nonfiction. The rules are simple: the first person each giveaway to send me an email at realstory@tds.net will get the book.

This week's book? Geoffrey Canada's memoir Fist Stick Knife Gun, which I have read twice. Geoffrey Canada is super interesting. Who wants this book? Let me know at realstory@tds.net. Please note: if you don't hear back, you haven't won. I'll email the winner to get their address info and I promise I'll never use your email addresses for any marketing purposes or anything barfy like that.

Now. Thank you for sharing. Go read and take care of yourselves.

*Amazon can go fuck itself. I will be buying the books through bookshop.org.


Show the Post Office Some Love!

Today I saw this article:

UPS to Raise Delivery Costs.

And this reminded me that, although this post is not about a book, I would like to ask you to consider showing the United States Postal Service some love.

Now, I'm totally down with UPS charging more, especially if they soak Amazon, which would make me very happy indeed. (I know we all have to shop on Amazon sometimes but do try to keep it down if you can, Jeff Bezos is one of the worst people in the world.) On the other hand, I still remember an occasion about ten years ago when I had to ship some book proofs back to a publisher, and they demanded that I use UPS rather than the post office. So I took my package in, a package that at that time would have cost about four bucks to ship two-day priority, and was told that it would cost $35 to ship it within a similar delivery window by UPS.

I never went back to UPS again.

John Oliver actually covered this very well in one of his recent shows, and I would totally recommend watching it (below). He also has set up a fundraiser for the post office through Stamps.com; if you want to help the post office, consider buying these stamps there. I think it runs through May 31, which is Sunday.

That's all. Keep on keeping on and stay healthy, my lovelies.


My vote for President.

Here's my stance on Election 2020: I will only vote for President if Edward Snowden is on the ballot.

That's awkward, considering that Snowden is living in exile in Russia and if he ever sets foot in America he'll be prosecuted to the full extent of the law for treason, but hey, I figure, everyone who can is already working from home. Snowden could work from home in his Moscow apartment and be President of the U.S., surely, it's not like he doesn't know how to work tech.

Permanent RecordAs a fan of privacy, I am of course of the opinion that Edward Snowden is a whistleblower who tried to highlight illegal activities of the government and the NSA as they spied on American citizens and collected all of the data from their phones and devices (as opposed to a leaker who committed treason). Nothing I read or see about Snowden indicates to me that he is anything other than an intelligent, thinking person, who is perhaps less motivated by money than he is by other motivations. I say that because I don't actually know what motivates Edward Snowden, even after reading several books about (and now one by) him.

You know what motivates me, and I'm guessing, about 95% of most Americans, or whatever percentage of Americans who still have jobs that they are clinging to? HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE. This is a constant drumbeat in my head. This is the drumbeat that would make it impossible for me to work as a freelancer if I didn't have a spouse who had HEALTH INSURANCE. This is the drumbeat that was in my head when I was a young kid, fresh off the farm, knowing I would have to go to college and get some sort of career that would provide HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE.

You see how the all caps is distracting? It is. It's a never-ending fear-inducing back-of-mind-awareness anxiety that is always with me. Last fall, when Mr. CR had a fairly serious health crisis? Yeah, I shit bricks. Mainly because he's my buddy and I would miss him and I don't want to even think about what the CRjrs would do without him, but also because, there it was again, without Mr. CR and his job how in fuck would I get HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE?

You know who I think gets that? And what a problem it is? Edward Snowden, that's who. I just saw the interview (below) with him, and this is what he says, a whole 3 minutes into it:

"And the thing that I find grotesque about this situation is that now, the people who are being asked to sacrifice the most, are the people who are in the most precarious positions, who have the least to give."

He also says this: "Where are our resources? When our hospitals say they need ventilators, where is all this great technology that is being used to surveil everybody down to the tiniest toenail, when we need it to create things that actually save lives?"

Those two statements, friends, are two of the most sensible questions I've heard asked about the pandemic, or America, so far.

This post has a book point, I promise.

Recently I read Snowden's memoir, Permanent Record.* It was entirely strange, because I think Snowden is an entirely strange person. It's not a feel good, "get to know Snowden better personally", type memoir. It's a pretty straightforward recounting of his youth, his different school experiences, his work for the government, his procedure for whistleblowing, and what happened to him in Hong Kong (as well as to his girlfriend Lindsay Mills, in this country).

It was a fascinating read, in its own weird way, and I would highly recommend it. If nothing else, it felt like I was spending time in the company of Edward Snowden, and I enjoyed that. I think a lot about Snowden, and about whistleblowers in general, because I can't believe anyone actually blows the whistle on anything. Which brings us right back to HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE. Personally, I can't believe anyone endangers their own access to health insurance and care, no matter what they're blowing the whistle on. And that is wrong. We already tell creative types and freelancers and everyone in the overrated ridiculous "Gig Economy" (just another way of letting our Corporate Overlords keep more of their own cash, after all) that their work is invalid because it is not linked to a corporation or an institution, and that they don't deserve to live because they have little access to affordable HEALTH INSURANCE. Now we also tell whistleblowers, basically (or our government does, when it prosecutes whistleblowers for various infractions) that yes, they should tell us what bad and illegal things are going on, but they should be prepared to lose their jobs.

Which also means, of course, that they lose their HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE HEALTH INSURANCE.

So why on earth would anyone tell the truth about all the stupid crap going on everywhere, at all times? Yeah, I don't know either.

My hope for all of you is that you have health insurance and you are currently healthy and you have the time to read Permanent Record by Edward Snowden.

*This is neither here nor there, but I hate the cover of Snowden's book. Wonder who picked the picture, and why.


Bingeworthy British TV: Now an ebook!

Well, what do you do with yourself when the kids refuse to let you do their online school with them*, you're stuck at home, and you refuse to clean?

Well, if you're me, you figure out how to offer your book Bingeworthy British Television: The Best Brit TV You Can't Stop Watching as an ebook, as well as a print book.

So, starting on May 16, you can buy the Bingeworthy British Television ebook, or read it through Kindle Unlimited. Enjoy, and then go use whatever extra quarantine time you have to watch some more great British TV. Might I suggest the utterly unique cop drama No Offence (written by Paul Abbott, who also wrote Shameless)? I just started it, and WOW. It can be a bit over-the-top, but here's how I described it to Mr. CR: Paul Abbott writes these dark worlds with dark characters that I definitely do not want to live in, and yet his characters are also really interesting people who care for each other in surprising ways. (Shameless was a lot like that too, about a family of kids basically raising themselves because their alcoholic father couldn't be bothered. I watched the first couple of seasons and then I just couldn't take it anymore, even though it's a good show too.) No Offence is easier to watch than Shameless because it's an actual crime show, so you go in expecting some level of yucky, but there's also fewer children involved, which makes it slightly less horrifying. Also, the lead actor, Joanna Scanlan? She's AWESOME.

Have a good weekend all; hope you are all well, and staying in as much as possible with lovely books and TV shows.

*The CRjrs are getting through their online school, but man, they are whiny students. I totally didn't buy their regular teachers big enough Target gift cards during the holidays.


A sad anniversary.

Fifty years ago today, on May 4, 1970, National Guard troops shot at a crowd of students at Kent State University (in Ohio) and killed four of them.

For whatever reasons, I was recently speaking with a friend about the history of the 1960s and 1970s, which I have, after a lifetime of largely ignoring, have suddenly decided was a fascinating period of US history. This is a sure sign of aging. All sorts of historical stories that I was never interested in before are starting to appeal to me. Maybe because I'm learning in my own life that, no matter what happens, mostly, there is nothing new under the sun. That's almost equal parts appalling and comforting.

Anyway, my friend said something about the Kent State incident, so I took myself off to Wikipedia to get the thumbnail (and probably wrong) sketch of what happened. And I was surprised to discover (I first looked this up two days ago), that today was going to be the 50th anniversary of the shooting. It's not been getting much media play, of course; Corona is King.

I am not going to get a book on the subject, primarily because my library is closed right now. Also, a new graphic novel about it is coming out in September, by none other than Derf Backderf, who is an author that I absolutely love. I will actually probably overcome my cheap nature and just buy a copy of it, because Derf Backderf should be able to make a living. So I will wait and read that.

In broad strokes, here's the story: A group of students were protesting the Vietnam War (in particular the bombing of Cambodia) on campus at Kent State, in a protest that lasted for several days. Nobody actually knows who fired the first shot, or why, but after twenty-eight National Guard soldiers (who were there partially because over the prior weekend prior someone had set the ROTC building on campus on fire) shot at the students, four of them were dead and nine were injured (including some students who had just been walking to or from class, and weren't involved in the protest).

Yeah. Kind of a story that hits you in the gut, doesn't it?

P.S. In happier news, the CRjrs inform me that it is also "May the Fourth Be With You" Day. That reminds me, I have to stop typing this and get back to trying to teach those little punks their math. Ye Gods. The little Target gift cards I gave their teachers over the holidays should have been much, much bigger.


I learn by going where I have to go.

In a time of epidemic and crashing economic systems and human's unkindnesses to humans, I think the thing I read today that made me feel the worst was that the news that singer-songwriter John Prine has died, aged 73.

I am not sad because John Prine didn't lead a full life. I think he did.

I'm sad because John Prine occupied a special place in my heart and my memory, and because he wrote and sang beautiful music, and the world needs more of that, not less.

In July of 1995, I was young. I was in college, I felt good, it was the mid-90s and women were allowed to wear the grunge look and still be considered desirable women. Life was good. Of course, at the same time, it also wasn't. In July of 1995 I was beyond depressed. I thought I was majoring in the wrong thing in college (I was) and that nobody I had a crush on would ever date me (they would, but I couldn't know that then), and that I was fat (I wasn't) and a loser (the jury's still out) and I was in the wrong college at the wrong time and why didn't I feel better? About that time I had taken a light semester of courses, with an eye to dropping out, and was working full-time at a CD store (when such things still existed) for minimum wage, which was, at that time, something like $4.50 per hour. Actually I think I was better off than my co-workers; I got a quarter extra per hour for being a full-timer.

But the job had perks, no doubt about it. First of all was the world's most relaxed dress code, which has always been the most important consideration to me when taking a job. Secondly, I worked with nice (although crazy) people, and we all had different musical tastes, so in one eight-hour shift you went from punk to country to rap to whatever Americana I was into at the time, and beyond. You also sometimes got free concert tickets, and backstage passes. In July of 1995 I got free tickets and a backstage pass to meet John Prine at his show in town.

I had no idea who John Prine was. I went because the opening act was The Subdudes, and I loved The Subdudes. I also went because I had two free tickets, and this way I could ask my friend Joe to go along with me, because he was perpetually low on cash and was always up for free entertainment. I was also in love with Joe. Joe was emphatically not in love with me. It was frustrating to be in love with Joe, because I loved his laugh and for some reason he found me funny and when we were together we laughed all the time. If you can make me laugh, I'm basically in love with you. Didn't it work that way for guys, I wondered?

Over the next ten years or so I would learn, no, it doesn't work that way for guys. But that's the subject for a whole other book of maudlin essays.

Anyway. I loved Joe and still harbored sad desperate hopes that someday, when he was laughing at something hilarious I said, he would suddenly realize he actually was in love with me. So off we went to see the Subdudes and John Prine.

The Subdudes were great, and Joe totally enjoyed that part of the concert, which made me happy. We almost left before John Prine even played, but then I remembered, hey, I had a backstage pass, I kinda wanted to hear what he was about and go backstage afterwards. So we stayed. And here's what I learned: John Prine was the King of Awesome.

John Prine has a voice like nobody else, and although I'd never heard him before, and of course I don't remember the songs he played, I still remember how I felt at that concert. I even forgot about Joe sitting next to me. I sank into the music that I'd never heard before and I just totally, totally enjoyed the showmanship and skill of John Prine and his band. I loved every song. I remember feeling both totally awake and totally still in a way that I rarely am. If I am awake, I am moving. My mind is moving, my hands are moving, my feet are moving, something. Antsy is my primary state of being.

But for the entire time John Prine played I was still. I listened. The world was still while I listened. And then, when he was done playing, I dragged Joe backstage with me and I got to meet John Prine. Of course he had to say hello to a lot of other people who had backstage passes, and I don't remember that I even talked (I think I was still in a transcendent state where speech would have seemed superfluous). I do remember that he was completely gracious, and he was not exactly a big smiler, but he seemed very kind. He signed my backstage pass.

When I was young I had the habit of tucking ticket stubs and other ephemera into my CD booklets.* So, although I have not listened to it for a long time, I just went downstairs to the CD archives and found my lone John Prine CD. Tucked in the booklet is my ticket, and that backstage pass, and it says, "Thank you. John Prine."

I don't know where Joe ended up. I can still remember his laugh, and I laugh thinking about it, and I laugh thinking about Joe and knowing what I know now, and understanding why he didn't love me back and how he was right about that, no way in hell would that have ever worked. And I'm no longer young, and the world is upside down, and a great singer is dead.

But once, long ago, I took a chance and did something new, and even if it didn't substantively change my life, it gave me a lovely feeling and a memory and an appreciation for going to see something even when I didn't really know why I was going. Or, as Theodore Roethke would say: "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I learn by going where I have to go."

Thank you, John Prine.

*Another reason to miss CDs.


Let's all just keep reading.

Everyone still there? How are you hanging in?

I read my first "introvert advantage backlash" article yesterday, so I'm glad to see people staying positive. Those stories go a little bit like this: 1. Introverts everywhere, to varying degrees (and also depending on how many extroverts they're stuck living with), largely shrug their shoulders about stay-at-home orders. 2. Introverts everywhere, to varying degrees, feel a small little thrill that they immediately quash because now is not really the time, that finally, FINALLY, a global order has gone out that actually kinda fits their personalities for a change, and 3. Some extrovert asshole tires of that after approximately 30 seconds and tells introverts to stop being smug about their abilities to stay inside their own homes.

To which I say, let's all try and get along before we die, huh? And also, fuck off, extrovert, my whole life has been about acting like I'm not an introvert, getting out there and smiling and networking and acting like you, so excuse me for feeling okay about myself and my peculiar "I love staying six feet away from people" skills, just this once.

So as you can see: the pandemic has not changed the two basic and competing tenets of my personality, which are "come on, let's have a bit of solidarity here, people" and "screw you guys, I'm going home." Confused? Don't worry. Mr. CR hasn't figured it out yet and he knows me as well as anyone.

But that is all neither here nor there.

Are you reading? Or are you finding you can't concentrate enough to read? I'm somewhere in the middle. I'd like to post something here about books to read in a time of crisis, but can't decide what tone to take. Mainly I wanted to pop in and say I hope you are all well and healthy and self-isolating like champs, and also I would like to hear what you are reading and why.

Take care of yourselves. We're all in this together.