Category Archives: BOLLI Monthly Features

Each month, special features appear on the BOLLI Matters blog. These include “Tech Talk” with John Rudy (computer and technology related issues); “Senior Moments” with Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David (issues related to transitions, healthy aging, etc.); and “The Book Nook” with Abby Pinard (recommended items you may have missed). Yet to come, “The Screening Room” (recommended movies and videos you may have missed).

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Additional Security Issues

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY:  ADDITIONAL SECURITY ISSUES

tech talk

In August,  I talked about the importance of proper passwords for your computer life and stressed that using the same password for everything risks that someone able to find it has access to your whole life.  I also said that simple passwords like your spouse’s first name or the name of your first pet are too easy to crack.   Thanks to Facebook and easy hacker tools, data about you is readily available so you have to come up with complex passwords at least 8 characters long.  So how can you remember all this?  The first step is to get them off paper and into a computer file, like an Excel spreadsheet.  But don’t name the spreadsheet “passwords” and put it into a folder called “important computer information”.

Any file on your computer can be encrypted.  Yes, I know that is one more password to remember.  Depending on the version of Microsoft Office you have, there are somewhat different processes, and you can Google to find them.  For Word 2010 or Excel 2010, click on FILE, then on INFO, then on PROTECT DOCUMENT and you can supply a password.

IMPORTANT: practice this on some test documents until you are sure you remember just how to do it.

Quite a few companies sell password Managers (protected by a password) where you can store all your passwords and information about the passwords.  These managers make it easy to retrieve the password you want from a variety of devices (desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet).  Here is a review from PC Magazine of the best password Managers in 2016.  There is a lot of interesting material in this article and it is interesting to me that the PW Managers most talked about a couple of years ago are no longer on this list. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2407168,00.asp

To switch topics …

I received a note asking me about the unsubscribe link found at the bottom of many emails sent by commercial companies. The question (reminds me of Marathon Man) was “Is it safe?”  Well, that depends.  If you are certain that the email is from a legitimate company, then the unsubscribe is a perfect way to stop getting their email.  But sometimes, the email is unsolicited and might be what is called phishing.  It looks like it is from a legitimate company but is not, and the unsubscribe is a trick to get you to click on to a link that will import malware to your computer.  But let’s say that the email is from a legitimate source.  Then hitting the unsubscribe tells the sender that you are real, and that may give it information about you that is tucked into your response, setting you up for other advertising from complicit companies.  I recently got an email containing an unsubscribe link.  The source address on it was UNO@unoinsiderclub.com.  I suspect it is okay, but anyone can buy an address like that.  The UNO home page is unos.com so I would have been more comfortable if I had received the email from that url or a subset of that url.

Next month’s talk will be on travel, but before we get to that, here is a reminder: Take out all the credit cards and other stuff (like SS card and license) in your wallet and place it on your printer.  Take pictures of both sides. Then take a picture of your passport.  Put these pictures in your safe deposit box and another safe place in your house so if your wallet is stolen you know what the crooks have.  Why not limit it to your safe deposit box?  Because if the theft is Saturday at 4pm you won’t be able to get to the safe deposit box until Monday morning.

 

 

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Passwords

images

We are pleased to inaugurate our new monthly technology feature!  On the first Friday of each month, John Rudy will provide us with good, solid, practical, hands-on (and off) information and advice about our computer use.  Be sure to respond with questions and topics you’d like to have John address in future articles.

Today’s subject is PASSWORDS.

Almost everywhere you go in the computer world, you are asked for passwords, but there have been enough articles recently to convince everyone that, despite this mandate, many files are not secure. So let’s hit the basics.

  • To be secure, a password must be long and complex. Using “123456” or “johnrudy” will be cracked almost instantaneously. That is why you want a minimum of 8 characters and should use upper and lower case, numerals, and special characters. That gives about 75 options for each position.
  • Do not use the same password for all your accounts. If you do, when it is cracked, you are open totally.
  • Not everything has to be protected in the same way. Worry about money. So bank accounts, brokerage firms, and any site that has your credit card should be protected most carefully–and each must be different. (Using “123456” for your high school will probably result in little damage.)
  • Passwords must be written down. That does NOT mean having a file titled PASSWORD.doc on your computer or a written list in your desk top drawer. This is really the subject of a subsequent article, but if you store them in a file, the file must be encrypted with a password; and if you write them down, store them in a non-obvious place, like with your cheesecake recipes. There are a number of good, automated programs that can address this issue. Another solution is to place this file on a thumb-drive.
  • Give your password file to your heir. This is not a joke. Someone you trust needs to be able to step in when memory issues, incapacitation, fatal illness occur.

And finally, when you dispose of your computer, remember that merely deleting a file does NOT, in fact, remove it from your system. Best Buy and other places claim that they fully wipe your drive when you give them an old computer. Here is a good article on the subject from a reputable source.

http://pcsupport.about.com/od/toolsofthetrade/tp/erase-hard-drive.htm

John Rudy
BOLLI Member and Tech Wizard John Rudy

John, a longtime computer expert and guide, provides this helpful hints in this monthly feature in BOLLI Matters.  In the comment box below, provide questions on passwords or any other computer/tech topic that you’d like to know more about in future Tech Talk articles.

john.rudy@alum.mit.edu (781-861-0402)

 

 

JULY BOOK NOOK: Three Books about Immigration

Book Nook reviewer Abby Pinard is back–this time, with three books about immigration.

A REPLACEMENT LIFE

by Boris Fishman, 2014

imgres

Slava Gelman is a junior staffer at a magazine that isn’t but might as well be The New Yorker, where his assignment is to ferret out and crack wise about absurd news items in small-town newspapers. Slava lives on the Upper East Side, which isn’t but might as well be on the other side of the world from “Soviet Brooklyn” where he landed as a child on arrival from Minsk (as did Fishman), where his grandparents still live, and which his parents fled for suburban New Jersey. When Slava’s grandmother dies, he treks via subway to Brooklyn and before long is trekking regularly, roped by his scheming grandfather into crafting (he’s a writer, isn’t he?) a fictitious claim to the German government for a slice of the reparations pie earmarked for Holocaust survivors. So what if Grandfather didn’t suffer precisely as required to be eligible? Didn’t the Germans make sure to kill those who did? So begins Boris Fishman’s darkly comic and very impressive debut novel.

Fishman pulls off a difficult feat in a first novel, even one so closely grounded in his own experience. He has written a book that is both funny and genuinely moving. The Jews of Brighton Beach, who survived the Nazis and the Soviets through cunning, luck and sheer force of will, are a brilliantly drawn tough lot, re-inventing themselves once again in a place where you can “afford to be decent.” Slava wants to free himself from “the swamp broth of Soviet Brooklyn” and earn a byline by writing elegant prose but in borrowing true elements of his dead grandmother’s life to fashion false narratives for his grandfather and his grandfather’s friends, he is drawn more deeply into the past and into the community he has longed to escape.

Poor, confused Slava, torn between past and present, loyalty and honor, skinny uptown Arianna and luscious childhood playmate Vera… Is he being followed? Will his fraud be uncovered? At what cost? Will he do the right thing? I loved this book. Fishman tells a good story, one with moral ambiguity and conflicting loyalties, and his prose crackles with irony and wit. If you were in any danger of thinking that the immigrant experience has been exhaustively mined in fiction, think again. Boris Fishman is a welcome voice and A Replacement Life is a wholly original and worthy contribution.

 

PANIC IN A SUITCASE

by Yelena Akhtiorskaya, 2014

second book

“The morning was ideal, a crime to waste it cooped up. They were off to the shore. That means you too, Pasha — you need some color, a dunk would do you good, so would a stroll. Aren’t you curious to see Coney Island? Freud had been. Don’t deliberate till it’s too late. Strokes are known to make surprise appearances in the family. Who knows how long…? Now, get up off that couch!

 “Pasha had just flown in last night and didn’t feel well…fourteen hours strapped into an aisle seat near the gurgling lavatory of a dented, gasoline-reeking airplane, two layovers…would have been tough on any constitution and Pasha didn’t have just any constitution but that of a poet…If he’d been smart, he would have been born a half-century earlier into a noble family and spent his adult life hopping between tiny Swiss Alp towns and lakeside sanitoria, soaking in bathhouses and natural springs, rubbing thighs with steamy neurotics, taking aimless strolls with the assistance of a branch, corrupting tubercular maidens…

“Instead Pasha was born in 1956 to a family whose nobility was strictly of spirit.”

Meet the Nasmertovs in 1991, all but Pasha planted in Brighton Beach two years ago but pining for Odessa. Scraping by in circumstances significantly reduced in status and income (both grandparents had been physicians), three generations live under one roof in a neighborhood that replicates home, even in its proximity to the sea. Gently, hilariously and mostly brilliantly, Yelena Akhtiorskaya, herself born in Odessa and raised in Brighton Beach, captures the struggle between striving for assimilation and yearning for home. Despite their urging Pasha to emigrate and join them in Brooklyn (where he won’t have to do anything but sit on the couch so they can look at him), he is their connection to Odessa, keeper of the apartment in a prime location and the beloved dacha. Fifteen years later, Frida, the youngest Nasmertov, now in her twenties and at loose ends, visits Odessa and despite finding life there no rosier feels drawn to a place she barely remembers and that her parents and grandparents fled.

Akhtiorskaya has said that her next book might be fantasy or sci-fi. Thankfully, she wrote this one before forswearing further fiction based on her family. She is a talented writer and it will be interesting to see how she applies her talent in other realms following this fine debut.

 

I PITY THE POOR IMMIGRANT

by Zachary Lazar, 2014

third book

This is a book about identity.  Its characters — some fictional, some historical — are actual or metaphorical immigrants, products of the turbulence of Jewish history. Meyer Lansky flees pogroms in Eastern Europe, becomes a notorious American gangster and, denied citizenship by Israel, returns to the U.S. to face charges. Gila Konig, concentration camp survivor and Lansky’s mistress, never at home in Israel, emigrates to New York but always feels herself a refugee. Hannah Groff, a journalist who travels to Israel to investigate the death of an Israeli writer, unearths her own family’s history as she pursues her story and wrestles with her own feelings of rootlessness.

Underlying the displacement felt by the characters is an examination of the moral underpinnings of the state of Israel and its place in the world today. Was the writer murdered because he depicted King David as the forebear of the Jewish gangster and because he compared the founding of Israel to the vision Lansky and Bugsy Siegel had of building a shimmering city in the desert of Nevada? As a plot device, that’s an easy question to answer. As a moral/political question, it’s a heavy burden for a novel to bear and it’s not always easy for the reader to stay afloat.

Lazar skillfully weaves together multiple narrative threads across oceans and decades. When I finished the book, I was thinking that all those narrative threads were confusing and the angst suffocating. On second thought, I became more comfortable with the author’s ambition. The reflection in modern Israel of the brutality and existential threat suffered by Jews over centuries makes this more than a complex story about characters looking for a home. The novel is difficult but fascinating and ultimately satisfying.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!

JULY’S SENIOR MOMENT: The Bright Side

Eleanor and Liz
Senior Moment Bloggers, Eleanor Jaffe (left) and Liz David (right)

LOOKING AT THE BRIGHT SIDE

by Liz David

The tune came up on my iPod during my morning “constitutional.”

Always Look at the Bright Side of Life.

I love the tune.

I step in time to the music, and I sing along as I walk.

But, how is it possible to always look at the bright side…

When my sister-in-law Miriam, whom I’ve known since I was nine, died a few weeks ago after ten years in a nursing home?

When my friends are facing life-threatening obstacles?

When the world is so topsy-turvy?

When terrorists kill and maim the innocent almost every day?

When children, old folks, and thousands in between don’t have enough food?

When our presidential candidates have higher disapproval than approval ratings?

When, worst of all, the Red Sox lose to the L.A. Angels by a score of 21-2? I mean, really!

The saying “when you save a life, you save the world” is true.

So, as elders, we need to connect our heads and our hearts,

To encourage ourselves and others to do what we can when we can,

To reach out to the people around us,

To make a difference by modeling what it is to really live, every day, until we die,

To, hopefully, save the world.

JUNE SCREENING ROOM: “GREAT DAMES”

“GREAT DAMES”

by Sue Wurster

When it comes to movies and videos, my taste tends to run to all things British, and in this first installment of our monthly “Screening Room” feature, I thought I’d share a few gems starring my favorite British “Great Dames” Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith.

You may not have run across Dame Judi in the 2014 British made-for-television gem, ESIO TROT.  Based on a story by Roald Dahl, Dench plays a sweet widow living in an apartment house for mature residents.   Her new upstairs neighbor, Mr. Hoppy (Dustin Hoffman), soon notices the lovely lady as he waters the lush plants in his terrace garden.  This is a sweet, warm romance well worth searching out.

ESIO TROT

It can actually be seen online by clicking here.

In 2012, Dame Judi made a very short TV movie called FRIEND REQUEST PENDING in which she and a friend spend an afternoon exploring the world of social media networking.  A wonderful piece about love and lifelong friendship.

FRIEND REQUEST

Dame Joan Plowright in MRS. PALFRY AT THE CLAREMONT is a 2005 gem.   Essentially abandoned by her family after moving her into the Claremont Hotel, Mrs. Palfry ends up enjoying a wonderful friendship with a young writer.

MRS P

And for anyone who loves a good comic mystery, WIDOWS PEAK is not to be missed.  The lovely young Edwina (Natasha Richardson) moves into Widows Peak, where a surprising number of residents fit that description, and stirs up the social scene.  Great fun!

WIDOWS

And then, there’s dear Dame Maggie.  Ah…Maggie–she just keeps going!  Her most recent venture, THE LADY IN THE VAN is the true story of playwright Alan Bennett’s relationship with an eccentric homeless woman who parked her van temporarily in his driveway…and remained there for fifteen years.  Beautifully done.

the-lady-in-the-van

And if you didn’t catch this 2003 HBO Made-for-TV movie, give MY HOUSE IN UMBRIA a try.  After a terrorist bomb is detonated on a train in Italy,  Mrs. Delahunty, a rather eccentric romance novelist, opens her villa to three stranded survivors.

UMBRIA

One of my favorites includes all three of my cinematic idols–so, if you haven’t seen TEA WITH MUSSOLINI, it’s a must.  And if you have, it may be time for another visit.   It’s a lush, semi-autobiographical Zeffirelli production about a young boy being brought up by a group of British woman during (and after) World War II.

TEA 3

Lily Tomlin (a different sort of dame altogether) is in this one as well, and I recently saw GRANDMA on “On Demand.”  Lily plays a poet who hasn’t written since losing her partner.   When her pregnant teenage granddaughter appears on her doorstep, she is quick to rise to the occasion to help her.

GRANDMA

Share YOUR favorites in an upcoming “Screening Room” feature!

JUNE BOOK NOOK: THREE MORE GEMS

Our “Book Nook” reviewer Abby Pinard returns with three more gems you may have missed or may want to pick up and re-read…

THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH

by Saul Bellow, 1953

4 Augie1 (1)

It took me almost forty years to read “Augie March.” I bought the book in the late ’70s (cover price $1.95 and cover art worthy of Harold Robbins).

This was shortly after Saul Bellow won the Nobel Prize for Literature and after years of listening to my father (also Saul, also a first-generation American Jew, and roughly Bellow’s contemporary) rave about the book.  (It was also years before Bellow became a curmudgeonly conservative, but that’s another story.)

The book sat on many different shelves for many years and was later joined by my father’s copy (cover price $.95 and thankfully without the art):

4 Augie2

But while I became acquainted over the years with virtually all Bellow’s fictional characters – Henderson, Herzog, Sammler, Charlie Citrine, Ravelstein and more – I never got around to Augie.  Until now.

I am an American, Chicago born–Chicago, that somber city–and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”

And so Bellow, in 1953, announced his presence and his ambition, the first of the post-war Jewish writers to blast his way into mainstream American literature.

Augie March grows up fatherless amidst grinding poverty in “that somber city” but sees only boundless possibilities, a life in which he can be whatever he chooses if only he can figure out what he is meant to be.   All of Chicago — i.e., the whole world — is his, from dingy rooming houses and pool halls to opulent homes and rich, beautiful women.   He tries his hand at multiple enterprises, not all of them legal, many hilarious, while struggling to educate himself (reading, always reading) and pondering the great philosophical questions.

The novel is episodic rather than plot-driven.   Augie’s adventures range from hustling textbooks and babysitting a seasick prizefighter to training an eagle to hunt lizards in Mexico and drifting at sea in a lifeboat with a madman.   He is drawn into the schemes of friends, mentors, and lovers – he refers to himself as a “recruit” – but it’s never long before he is ready to move on, always seeking what he is intended for.

The Adventures of Augie March was the Great American Novel of its time and maybe of ours as well. With his exuberance, optimism, and passion for a life well and thoughtfully lived,  Augie is a hero for all time.

THE GRASS IS SINGING

by Doris Lessing, 1950

5 Grass

Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing died in 2013 at the age of 94.  The Grass Is Singing was her first novel, published in 1950 when she was thirty years old, had moved from Southern Rhodesia to London, and had had three children by two husbands.   Lessing wasn’t born in Africa – she arrived with her British parents as a young child from Persia – but her early novels were based on her years on her family’s struggling farm and her experience as a young wife and mother in colonial Africa with its rigid constraints based on race, class and gender.

While The Grass Is Singing reflects Lessing’s deep feeling of place, it is the least autobiographical of her Africa novels. It is the five-volume Children of Violence series that tracks with Lessing’s life as it follows the remarkable Martha Quest from adolescence through marriage, children, communism, and eventually to London. But The Grass Is Singing is a masterful work that unflinchingly exposes the brutality of the relationship between white masters and black workers and the fear and repression at its core.

The novel begins with the murder of Mary Turner, a farmer’s wife, and the arrest of Moses, her houseboy.   Mary was a thirty-ish independent woman in the city, with a job and a casual social life, when an overheard conversation rattled her equanimity and she determined to marry.   She accepts Dick Turner’s proposal and moves to his farm, which is forever verging on bankruptcy, and to a squalid life for which she is unprepared and unsuited.  Dick is an inept but stubborn farmer and overlord, unable to wrest any value from his land or his workers.   Mary is isolated, brutalized by the sun, and her fear of the natives begets increasing cruelty and confused feelings.   Neither is capable of intimacy or self-awareness, and their attempt to make a life within their constricted environment can only result in ruin.

This is an unrelentingly sad book with tragic characters whose destruction is inevitable.   There isn’t a light moment as Lessing depicts Mary’s desolate life, her psychological deterioration, and the dehumanizing effects of virulent racism.   The land and climate are brilliantly evoked, and the social and political concerns that permeate Lessing’s later work are presaged here. It’s a book that grabs you in the first chapter and doesn’t let go.

 

LOLLY WILLOWES

by Sylvia Townsend Warner, 1926

6 Lolly Willowes

British writer Sylvia Townsend Warner is best known for the short stories that appeared over decades in The New Yorker.   Even brief biographical blurbs usually reference her leftist political affiliations and sometimes her 40-year relationship with Valentine Ackland, a poet.   Lolly Willowes, the first of her seven novels, was published in 1926 and was a bestseller both in the U.K. and in the U.S., where it was the first selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club.

“Even in 1902, there were some forward spirits who wondered why that Miss Willowes, who was quite well off, and not likely to marry, did not make a home for herself and take up something artistic or emancipated. Such possibilities did not occur to any of Laura’s relations. Her father being dead, they took it for granted that she should be absorbed into the household of one brother or the other. And Laura, feeling rather as if she were a piece of property forgotten in the will, was ready to be disposed of as they should think best.”

Laura’s relations dispose of her by depositing her in her brother’s comfortable London household, where she becomes Aunt Lolly, indispensable caretaker for her nieces and domestic companion to her sister-in-law. But after twenty dutiful years, Laura succumbs to the lure of nature and, to the horror and puzzlement of her family, moves to the village of Great Mop in the Chiltern Hills, chosen from a guidebook. On long, solitary walks in the woods and fields around Great Mop, Laura responds to the magical power around her and enters a fantasy world in which she makes a deal that offers her a life of her own.

“One doesn’t become a witch to run around being harmful, or to run around being helpful either, a district visitor on a broomstick. It’s to escape all that – to have a life of one’s own, not an existence doled out to you by others…”

Sylvia Townsend Warner’s witty and lyrical prose is a vehicle for her subversive, satirical commentary on a world in which only by selling her soul to the devil can a woman become independent of the expectations of society and her family.   Delightful.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people:  family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

Comments are most welcome–just jot your thoughts in the box below!

 

JUNE’S SENIOR MOMENT: Resilience

This month, we decided to focus on resilience–from an expert’s point of view…and from our own.  We hope these thoughts resonate with you as well–Liz and Eleanor

Eleanor and Liz

RESILIENCE

By Elizabeth David

“Resilient people are like trees bending in the wind,” says Beth Howard in her article The Secrets of Resilient People. “They bounce back.” In her article, originally published in the November 10, 2010 issue of AARP Magazine, Howard says that developing and nurturing the quality of “resilience” is key to whether or not we age well.

Resilient people, she notes, have some qualities in common which, most importantly, can also be learned.  The following is a summary of the steps and qualities she isolates as being central to resilience. Resilient people…

  1. Stay Connected: “Research bears out the importance of connection, and good social support. .Resilient people report increased quality of life and well- being regardless of their burdens.”
  2. Remain Optimistic: Finding positive meaning in caregiving and helping others enhances ones ability to bounce back after death or a significant loss.
  3. Avoid Negative Thinking: “Experts say negative thinking is just a bad habit though it may take some work to change your mindset.” Negative thinking is learned and can be unlearned. We don’t need to be “cockeyed optimists” to have an optimistic point of view.
  4. Nurture Their Spiritual Dimension: Those of us who nurture our spiritual dimension, whether through religion or other means, bounce back from normal depression more easily.
  5. Maintain Their Sense of Wonder: “They’re playful.” Elizabeth Kubler-Ross used to write that we should be childlike in developing our sense of wonderment.
  6. Give Back: “The benefit you derive for yourself is as great as that which you give to others.”
  7. “Pick Their Battles”: “tending to focus on things they have some influence over.”
  8. Eat Well and Stay Healthy: “Exercise literally helps to repair neurons in brain areas that are particularly susceptible to stress.”
  9. Gain Strength from Adversity: They find the “silver lining.”

When I interact with my BOLLI friends I often see examples of resilience that bring a sense of wonderment to my heart. As I am reminded of the above, so I hope that this will be food for thought for you in facing the challenges of life.

As we move forward together, may we all go from strength to strength.

 

To read Howard’s article, click here: “The Secrets of Resilient People”

TIMES OF CRISIS

by Eleanor Jaffe

With unnerving frequency, friends—especially male friends—are growing sick, having accidents, experiencing complications from illnesses and surgeries, and are dying.  Statistics have predicted this mortality jump among men while we women generally are outliving our male partners and classmates by some years.  Scant comfort for survivors.  We mourn our friends and comfort their widows.  We close ranks and try to hold one another closer.

Have you noticed?  Nothing in a good, long, traditional marriage prepares one for widowhood.  The division of labor and tasks, the other half of your memory, your partner in conversation, your bedmate — vanish.  And then there is just one, with the memories of two and only half the previous skills and talents.

A thousand or more miles away, my friend Tom has just died.  His wife Martha soldiers on.  I try to send comforts over the miles.  But if I, a friend, feel shaken, what does Martha feel?

All of us, we age mates, are on this road together–observing, experiencing, and comforting our friends.  The community that we have created and continue to create at BOLLI can be a sustaining and supporting one during our crises.  Our activities, courses, conversations, and shared experiences can provide new ballast during these senior years.  Let’s remember to support one another, and “be there” for each other.  Let’s connect, create new friendships, and reach out when needed.

 

THE BOOK NOOK: THREE GEMS

At BOLLI, we spend a great deal of time talking about books–in class and out.  Recently, a large bookshelf appeared outside the Purple Room, bearing a BOLLI BOOK EXCHANGE sign.  The shelves are already full–and changing daily.   Here, on our blog, we have an opportunity to share some of our “good reads” with each other.  Book lover Abby Pinard kicks off our monthly “Book Nook” Feature with the following items.  (Be sure to leave a comment!  And feel free to send your favorites as well.  Send to: susanlwurster@gmail.com)

HONEYDEW

by Edith Pearlman, 2015

Honeydew

Where has Edith Pearlman been all our reading lives? Right down the road in Brookline,  turning out sparkling gems of short stories that are filled with strikingly intimate observation and precise language and that capture a life and a world in just a phrase. This is Pearlman’s fifth collection — she is now near eighty — and she was little known until the last one, Binocular Vision, was showered with prizes. Better late than never.

The lives of four young women are shaped by a parlor game as the mother of one of them has them pick from a hat the names of the men they will marry, assuring them that men are “interchangeable” and they will be “happy enough.” The headmistress of a girls’ school, pregnant with her married lover’s child, tries to help his daughter, a brilliant and desperately ill anorexic. A middle-aged real estate agent, contemplating a second marriage that will secure her financial future, is shaken by what she finds in the chaotic home of an annoying neighbor.

Many of these characters who have known loss and disappointment have learned to adjust their expectations, have found that they can indeed be “happy enough” as they navigate complex relationships and surprising turns. Edith Pearlman is generous to her characters, gives them the gift of quiet determination and moments of grace.

If you love short stories, read these. If you don’t read short stories because you think only a novel can deliver the satisfaction of fully developed characters you care about and stories that stay with you, read these.

THE 6:41 TO PARIS

by Jean-Philippe Blondel (translated byAlison Anderson), 2015

641

I seldom buy, borrow, or otherwise acquire books I’ve never heard of. But once in a while, I take a flier. This was one of those times. The 6:41 to Paris caught my eye two different bookstores in Cambridge and the second time I took it home. It turned out to be a happy diversion for a cold winter day.

Two people who haven’t seen each other since a nasty breakup twenty-seven years ago find themselves sitting side by side on a crowded early morning train to Paris. Neither acknowledges recognizing the other but both are drawn into the past and roiled by still-raw emotions. Cécile is still angry. Philippe is still embarrassed. Neither of their lives has turned out as might have been expected when they were twenty.

There’s no fancy prose in this short, competently translated novel, thankfully without romantic drivel. In alternating chapters, we are made privy to the thoughts and reminiscences of Cécile and Philippe and each gradually becomes a fully realized character.

I liked this slight book. The lives and feelings of these two people felt real. And there’s a natural tension as the train rolls toward Paris. Will they speak to each other? What could they possibly say? Nicely done.

 

THE LOST:  A SEARCH FOR SIX OF SIX MILLION

By Daniel Mendelsohn, 2006

Lost book cover

The two teenage girls at the right in the back row in the picture below are my paternal grandmother and her sister. Their parents and grandfather are in the front row. The picture was taken around 1900. A few years later, my grandmother, rebellious and politically inclined, left the small town in Poland and came, alone, to the United States. She was one of the very few members of her family to escape the Holocaust.

Lost fam photo DOWNSIZED

Like many American Jews, I don’t know precisely what happened to my relatives. Daniel Mendelsohn didn’t know what happened to six members of his family who he heard spoken of in hushed tones as a child. His effort to find out took many years and took him all over the world in a frantic effort to interview eyewitnesses before they died.

The story he tells in this book is both personal and common to millions of people. It is beautifully written, sometimes tedious, often suspenseful, always heartbreaking and indispensable in commemorating what has been lost.

Abby Pinard is a lifelong book nut who retired from a forty-year computer software career in 2007 and ticked an item off her bucket list by going to work in a bookstore. She is a native New Yorker who moved to Boston recently to be among her people: family and Red Sox fans. She is a music lover, crossword puzzler, baseball fan, and political junkie who flunked Halloween costumes but can debug her daughter’s wifi.

 

A SENIOR MOMENT: From Eleanor Jaffe

FRAYING AT THE EDGES

Reflections on The New York Times Special Section, May 1

Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer's
Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer’s

The New York Times published a Special Section on May 1 of this year. Fraying at the Edges is about Geri Taylor,  a New Yorker, newly retired, aged 73.  If she lived in the Boston area, she certainly might have been a BOLLI member.   Her appearance, career, her interests, and her marriage(s) all easily correspond to our own.  Geri is a woman in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, and what distinguishes her from others with this disease is that she has taken a pro-active approach to coping with her failing memory.  She knows full well the trajectory of Alzheimer’s, but right now, in the beginning stages of her disease, she and her husband find strategies that enable them to cope with their new realities, to plan for the future, and to each find pleasure and satisfaction in the here and now.

Geri is aware of her growing deficits, her need to plan ahead, her slowing down, and her physical changes—like walking in her sleep, like having an unsteady gait, like having less of an appetite. She said, “Alzheimer’s brings on apathy is what I find. Years ago, I definitely had more of an ego. Now I don’t have an idea of myself. And so I have less of an ego. Frankly, I don’t care what people think of me. I’m more in a survival mode, one foot in front of the other. Don’t spill the coffee.”

After participating in a support group for several years, Geri and a few other members advocated for a new kind of group, workshops where people with Alzheimer’s could “swap strategies” for living with early-stage memory loss. (There ARE simple strategies that work, like putting glass doors on kitchen cabinets so one can see where particular items are stored.) Advocating for and initiating a workshop is an amazing accomplishment for people whose executive functions and memories are slowly but surely deteriorating. But it DID get started. This new workshop, with the sponsorship of the Alzheimer’s Association in Connecticut, is called GAP, Giving Alzheimer’s Purpose.

The “Times” supplement is well worth reading.  Geri is a remarkably positive role model. The article, indirectly, also shows how friends and family can help someone with Alzheimer’s maintain a sense of self.

Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer's
Geri Taylor, Living with Alzheimer’s

After all, according to this article, “Alzheimer’s is a disease that strikes an American every 67 seconds.” It may not strike you or me, but, almost inevitably, it will strike someone we know and love.