Started reading the kindle version of The Art of Racing in the Rain for no particular reason last night, although it has been a book I’ve been told I should read for several years. Finished 5% of the book before I got sleepy and turned out the light. So far, the dog is old and nearing the end of his life. His owner is now a single dad, and the dog has been with him since he first met his wife, had a daughter, and the wife passed away from illness. The man loves car racing, and the dog too now loves it, and reflects on the 1993 Grand Prix which was won in the rain, and how his owner is good at racing in the rain because the key is to forget the past and just race in the moment. We learn the dog may be nearing the end of his life, but looks forward to it because he doesnt’ want to be a burden to his owner plus knows from a documentary that after his dog life he will be a human, and can’t wait to be human with their amazing tongues, which allow them to chew their food and to form speech. To be continued…
Reading Hershey, by D’Antonio, which is ultimately about the Hershey school but with substantial amounts dedicated to the Hershey History. Hershey was born to a dreamer, charistmatic and a bit of a snake-oil salesman father and a menninite mother (an odd combination). As a young boy, he went to work at a confectioner (candy shoppe) which were popular at the time, and with his mom’s intervention learned to be a candy maker. After four unsuccessful tries financed by his mom’s successful farmer family, he found success with a caramel formula he found in Denver then produced locally in Lancaster (PA). His mom and aunt’s presence were instrumental in his early successees, and he became quite weatlhy when a London importer stumbled upon his caramel and made bulk orders shortly before Hershey’s business went under. In other words, he was lucky although a hard worker. Eventually, he sold his caramel business for 1M to a competitor, and bought land in Derry’s Creek to construct a huge factory and town for his chocolates, which were still experimental, dominated by the Swiss (and Cadbury) but new to Americans. As his huge investment (1M) neared completion, his loyal worker perfected the recipe for milk choclate (earning a 100 USD bonus), and the factory (and town) became a monstrous success. He used some of this money to build a school for boys at a time when many orphanages were being built to serve the high numbers of poor orphans.
Hershey was lucky and had the support of his family, but also was a hard worker who was dedicated to his craft of making candy, and took a substantial risk in building the what would be the town of Hershey (200K of his 1M windfall was spent in acquiring the land alone, and several of his supports more or less called him crazy for taking on the risk).
This is a fascinating, well-researched, well-written/told story.
Shortly after Jamestown was founded, Plymouth was settled. For a couple of decades, the population grew relatively slowly, with the Dutch and the English being the two primary countries colonizing the area, primarily for the fur trade. But in 5 years in the 1630s, New England’s population expanded from 300 to 5000 in a great migration. Soon, people were moving inland, particularly to the Connecticut River valley. Source: Empires, Furs and Fortune.
When I read autobiographies of people who have passed (e.g. Michael Crighton or EB Sledge), I am sometimes struck that it is like reading the thoughts of the dead. This morning while reading Travels on the bus, I was reading a paragraph where MIchael Crichton talks about his fear of falling off a cliff while hiking in Pakistan — he died years ago, yet here i am reading his thoughts about that experience. It is errie, beautiful and magical all in one. This is true of any autobiography, although it is challenging for me to read anything pre-20th century since the writing style is so much different (I like more of a crisp, journalistic style that came into vogue with Hemmingway — reading John Smith’s writings from the 16th century are tedious for me).
In Travels, Michael Crichton describes a few more trips he took…
Bonaire is an island off the coast of Venezuela where he went diving. In a night dive, he lost his air hose and his sister had to help him find it, barely finding it in time when he was 60′ under water. This scared him, since he could have died. But a week later they went diving very deep (200′) down over a few days to a shipwreck. At this depth, you can get the bends, and he pushed his luck and his tank was out of oxygen by the time he surfaced. He was nervous he’d get the bends but did not. He wondered later why he’d dangerously pushed his luck and realized he was unhappy; he began keeping a daily journal about how he was feeling and realized that every day his thoughts were negative. He realizes that the only way to measure how a person is doing is to keep a daily log then go back and review that log for trends.
He travels to the jungles of Malaysia, hoping to see tigers and other wildlife. He hears a tale about — and later meets – little jungle men who never get lost in the dense jungles (even Crichton’s guide is not this good) who were until the past century hunted for sport by Malaysian rulers (wtf???). He hears the story of a deer that adopts the village, but kicks the village’s goats to death, so the village no longer keeps goats. He ralizes that these people have learned to adapt, that when life changes it is out of their control so they adapt with it, and he himself has not had that ability, that he needs to learn to stop trying to control what he can’t control (lung disease did this for me 🙂 ).
I was never a monster fan of Michael Crichton (which is in no way a critique of he or his writing) although I enjoyed Jurassic Park as a vacation read, but was pointed towards his autobiography “Travel,” which is quite good so far. He traveled to remote places a lot to refresh, and his intro states this is a book about that plus Med School.
Right now he is in med school, studying cadavers, and has experienced a “click” where he stops thinking of the bodies as a human being. He said that is important for a doctor, where they are not overwhelmed by their feelings but not estranged from them. I can imagine that is important – my lung surgeon probably should not think of my lung on emotional terms as he cuts into it 🙂
One of the most amazing books I’ve read was “The Trail Led North,” which I first heard about in The Seattle Times in their series of articles regarding the 1897 Alaska Gold Rush This book was dictated by an older man to his grown granddaughter in the 1940s, and it was about his journey to the Yukon to search for gold in the 1897. Not in a million years would I have heard his story, but it was interesting and I learned a lot of things. (Note: I think this is the book, although it has been 20 years and I got it for free from the library).
For example, he worked in a Portland timber mill when Portland was a young and small town, and at one point a man shot another man in cold-blood when the first man issued an insult to the man; the man went to trial for murder but the jury ruled that the killing was justified, since the man had it coming to him for issuing insults like that.
Later, he decides to try his luck in the gold fields, so has to purchase many many crates of supplies to house him while he was there, then took a steamer to Skagway. Along the way, a steamer ahead of them just sank and disappeared without a trace – all the riders were drowned and forgotten in time.
When he journeys to the fields, he relies a lot on pancakes, but can’t find the syrup, so has to eat his pancakes dry. He promises to exchange words with the shopkeeper when he returns home, but then later finds the syrup in another crate.
Finally, at the fields there are many people he meets (in fact, it seems quite crowded out there with people hoping to find their fortune). At one point they are crossing a frozen lake, and a man and his young son fall break through the ice and drown.
These are just some stories I remember off the top of my head outside of facts that I already know about the Yukon Gold Rush. It was a fascinating book, like having an old man tell you about his experiences of long forgotten days. How many books are out there like that? Of interesting stories told by forgotten people?
I’d like to — and plan to — invest some time in the coming months/years to read these kinds of stories. The first one – for the simple reason it is already on my kindle – is With the Old Breed, a book written by a World War II marine about his experiences in the Pacific. I believe this book was used to research for The Pacific, which is why it’s on my kindle, but still, a book written by someone I’ll never meet or hear of again about his personal experiences as an everyday person in The Pacific.