Tag Archives: BOLLI Monthly Features

JANUARY “SENIOR MOMENT”: The Superagers!

“Use It or Lose It—-THE SUPERAGERS”

by Eleanor Jaffe

“How to Become a Superager,” (a recent NY Times article) gives added credence to the well-known phrase, “Use it or lose it.”  The author, Lisa Feldman Barrett, recommends that we elders work HARD at intellectual and physical challenges.  She writes, “If people consistently sidestep the discomfort of mental effort or physical exertion, this restraint can be detrimental to the brain,” since, “all brain tissue gets thinner from disuse. If you don’t use it, you lose it….so work that brain.” What is more, she says, “The discomfort of exertion means you’re building muscle and discipline….superagers excel at pushing past the temporary unpleasantness of intense effort.”   (To access this article, click here)

This is great advice that we BOLLI members follow in our course work—right?  But we are, after all, “seasonal learners” with long  interruptions between semesters.   When I started to think about how to keep building brain muscle during BOLLI’s course breaks, I discovered that even vacation can keep us superagers going.

EXERCISING MY SUPERAGER BRAIN WHILE ON VACATION!

I’d like to think that the luxury of being able to purchase and outfit a new vacation condo in Florida has given me and my husband a multitude of opportunities to exercise our superager brain muscles. The challenges of setting up a new apartment are multiple, even to experienced hands like us.  Here’s what I mean:

Let’s see.  First of all, how shall I equip my now empty condo?

I start by making a floorplan and a color chart.  Next, I decide what furnishings we need and make a master list. It doesn’t take long before I have to look for the often misplaced list, but when I find it,  I tend to revise it.  Then, I take it with us when we go shopping.  Back home in Boston, I dig up unbreakable furnishings (linens, trays, small rugs, etc.) that we could use in Florida. I pack them up and ship them down.  (I should have made a list of them…)

Next, I explore the resources my new surroundings have to offer.  What stores carry the things I will need?  How do I find those stores and websites that reliably provide “stuff”?  I consider the advice of the other newcomers we meet about how they achieved the same goals.  I learn about “consignment shops” where “lightly used” used items of often good quality are sold.  Sarasota has about 35.  And this kind of shopping offers adventure!  You never know what you may find—or how quickly someone else will spot that terrific bargain.  I’ve learned to be prepared to purchase on the spot.  I’ve also learned to schedule deliveries so that I will be at home when these purchases arrive.

But furnishing a new space isn’t all that this kind of relocating involves.  Our superaging brains get lots of exercise as we memorize lots of new code numbers: beach locker number, house entrance number, security number, cell phone number, etc., etc., etc.   I have to write them down. (And then look for this list later, too.)  We also have to learn directions: east, west, north, and south–especially difficult for me since I am–and always have been–“directionally challenged.”  We have to learn the names and locations of new streets, highways, restaurants, movie houses, parks, beaches, etc.

And, of course, probably most important of all, we need to think about how to create a new social life.

We make lists of activities that seem like they will be fun or worthwhile.  We locate the best lifelong learning center in the area so we can continue to do classroom learning.  And all along the way, we make new friends.  (The challenge, of course, is to remember their names.)  And, of course, we make sure that we stay in touch with old friends—they are the best.

We also need to schedule visitors.  And that takes special planning—how many and how often is too much?  Of all my tasks, this one seems to be the most challenging to me.

I am reminded of a hint from the renowned psychologist, B.F. Skinner.  He said that as we age, we forget a lot, and we ought to routinely equip ourselves with a pad that we wear around our necks that contain our “lists.”

Do you think pads around the neck could become the new fashion accessory for us “superagers”?

 

Eleanor and Liz
“Senior Moment” feature writers Eleanor Jaffe and Liz David

Eleanor says that, “As I grow older, I am more interested in the conditions, changes, services, culture, and even politics affecting me, my husband of 53 years, my friends — and my 102 year old mother.  What does it mean to be growing older in today’s society?  To satisfy my growing curiosity, I created and taught three different classes about aging issues over the past several years at BOLLI.  My experiences as a social worker and as a high school teacher of English–plus a lot of reading about aging and loss—and, of course, living to 80 (so far)–have prepared me to write this blog.

LINES FROM LYDIA: My Post-Traumatic Growth

This month, our most eclectic feature writer, Lydia Bogar, walks us through quite a host of recommended books, articles, and even opera focused on civil rights.  But perhaps the most powerful of all, Kander and Ebb’s musical, The Scottsboro Boys, at Speakeasy.

Speakeasy’s production of “The Scottsboro Boys”

MY POST-TRAUMATIC GROWTH

By Lydia Bogar

If I hadn’t been so impressed by the book and then the film, The Help, I might not have read The Warmth of Other Suns which I read, ingested, and then donated to my neighborhood library for others to take in as well.  A resurgence of civil rights issues in 2011. That reminds me of a journal article that I wrote about the young black lady who was my uncle’s housekeeper when he retired to Florida in 1956.

Also in the summer of 2011, I watched the incredible performances of Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess at the ART.  This was my first visit to the ART, and sitting in the fourth row intensified the experience. The minimalist stage setting, the lyrics, and the performers’ facial expressions remain clear and vibrant in my memory.

If I hadn’t been in Emily and Beth’s New Yorker Non-Fiction discussion course this past term, I might have missed the significance of “Justice Delayed” a very intense article with reference to Bryan Stevenson’s book  Just Mercy, which so impressed me that I read the library’s copy and then bought my own.

More intense discussions both, in class and in the Gathering Place, have helped in my post-election survival.  There are so many educated activists that our country can and will grow.  Emotionally, this phase is referred to as post-traumatic growth.

The New Yorker always returns me to the style and substance of Calvin Trillin.  Calvin may be best known for his foodie rants and raves (and tours which I hope to take one day), but most recently, I have read Jackson, 1964, his intense reflection on the Civil Rights movement and the journalists who worked very hard to deliver that message.  Jackson, 1964 reminded me of the long silent walk from Worcester State College to downtown Worcester on Friday, April 5, 1968.  Dr. Martin Luther King had been assassinated the day before; classes were cancelled; our student body stopped protesting the war in Vietnam and mourned the life of Dr. King.

The road that we are on now, including the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue that will soon host an inaugural parade, has included two powerful lessons that will sustain us going forward: Fences, a powerful August Wilson play about discrimination in Philadelphia in volatile 1950’s, and The Scottsboro Boys which has come alive on the Speakeasy Stage at the Calderwood Pavilion.

If you know the story, you still need to see the play. If you have seen the play, I suggest reading it and seeing it again. The Speakeasy artists and their technical staff have given a great gift to the City of Boston. The venue itself is perfect– sparse and small, ideal for the re-creation of 1930’s vaudeville. To tell the story of nine black boys and ten trials–plus a vase presented to The Supreme Court–is a courageous and inspiring pledge.  Including cameo-like appearances by people like George Wallace and Rosa Parks is artful.

Whether you avail yourself of the BOLLI discount or not, you must see The Scottsboro Boys before it closes on January 22.   It will contribute to your overall knowledge and sustain you on the political road ahead.  The show was extended from its original run scheduled to end in November–perhaps because it is such a valuable part of our post-traumatic growth.

 

lydia-2
“Lines from Lydia” feature writer Lydia Bogar

Former English teacher, health care professional, and quintessential Renaissance woman of all trades, Lydia Bogar joined BOLLI in the spring of 2016 after returning home from a stint in South Carolina where she dipped into another OLLI program.  “It’s good to be here!” she exclaims.  (And it’s good to have her.) 

JANUARY “BOOK NOOK”: Two BIG Novels

As the winter cold sets in,  Abby offers ideas for some good long-term reading time.   Here are two items you may have either missed along the way or might simply want to re-read.

THE FORSYTE SAGA

John Galsworthy, 1921

“He had long forgotten the small house in the purlieus of Mayfair, where he had spent the early days of his married life, or rather, he had long forgotten the early days, not the small house, – a Forsyte never forgot a house – he had afterwards sold it at a clear profit of four hundred pounds.”

There you have it. Nine hundred pages of delicious soap opera wrapped around sly commentary on the acquisitiveness and striving of the British upper-middle classes around the turn of the twentieth century. The Forsytes aren’t landed aristocracy like Lord Grantham of “Downton Abbey.” They’re only a couple of generations removed from farmers. But they’ve been successful in trade, in publishing, at the bar, and they live in ongepotchket Victorian splendor, faithfully served by retainers and housemaids, in London and its environs.

Galsworthy was himself the product of a wealthy family and trained as a barrister before traveling abroad, meeting Joseph Conrad and envisioning a different life. He fell in love with the wife of his cousin, an army major, and married her after a ten-year affair and her eventual divorce. He was among the first writers to deal with social class in his work and to challenge the mores and ideals reinforced by the Victorian writers who preceded him. Notably, but not surprisingly given his personal life, he defied the standard view of women as property and defended their right to leave unhappy marriages.

“’I don’t know what makes you think I have any influence,’ said Jolyon; ‘but if I have I’m bound to use it in the direction of what I think is her happiness. I am what they call a “feminist,” I believe…I’m against any woman living with any man whom she definitely dislikes. It appears to me rotten.’”

It is the unhappily married woman referred to here around whom much of The Forsyte Saga revolves. Irene (I-reen-ee), disastrously married to a “man of property,” is the antithesis of a Forsyte. She represents beauty and art and passion and free will. Before reluctantly marrying Soames Forsyte, she extracted a promise that he would let her go if it didn’t work out. His failure to do so drives the story and a multi-generational family estrangement. While Galsworthy thoroughly develops the other primary characters, Irene is a beautiful cipher at the center of the novel. We never get her point of view; we see her through the eyes of others and can only infer her thoughts and feelings.

The Forsyte Saga features a huge cast of characters but the family tree that accompanies most editions is needed only at the beginning. To Galsworthy’s credit, we quickly get to know the main characters and the chorus of peripheral relatives that swirl around them. There are births, deaths, betrayals, couplings, uncouplings, recouplings, and generational upheaval, all conveyed in deft, eminently readable prose, a short 900 pages. This is a sumptuous wallow of a book with redeeming social value.

EARTHLY POWERS

Anthony Burgess, 1980

A monumental novel that stuck in my mind for thirty years as an all-time favorite but needed to be reread to remind me why. An octogenarian British writer, said to be loosely based on W. Somerset Maugham, is tasked to attest to a miracle that will support the canonization of a Pope and writes his memoirs, giving us a personal tour of the 20th-century through his life as a homosexual, lapsed Catholic, successful but mediocre writer, and exile. Examines morality, the nature of evil, the role of religious belief and more. Linguistically playful and full of historical inaccuracies courtesy of its unreliable narrator, the novel features one of the best opening lines in literature* (sure to send you to the dictionary), and is funny, painful, thought-provoking, entertaining, challenging and rewarding. Shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1980, it often appears high on lists of best British fiction of the late 20th century.

*”It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

 

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 8.50.58 PM
“Book Nook” feature writer and Book Group co-leader, Abby Pinard

Abby 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.

 

 

 

 

JANUARY TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: PHISHING

DON’T FEED THE PHISH!

By John Rudy

Many of you have heard the term Phishing.  And phishing works like this.  You receive an email that looks like it came from a company you trust.  Typically, it indicates that there is a problem with your account and asks you to click on a link to resolve it.  Sometimes, it indicates that you have a gift waiting for you and asks you to click to receive it.  Any time you receive an unsolicited email like this, you should be suspicious.  Is it really from a site you can trust?  Once you click on one of its links, it is too late.  So, Message #1 is Do Not Click.

Then, look at the email address it came from.  In many cases, the words after the @ do not look  like those from the website you know.  Let’s take a simple example.  If you use PAYPAL, you know that their site is www.paypal.com.  I recently received a message, purportedly from PayPal, which came from noreply@gator4248.hostgator.com.  I think we can all agree that this doesn’t look as if it came from PayPal.  Recently, there have been a lot of phishing attacks purportedly from Amazon and PayPal.  Kim Komando has written an excellent article which should be required reading:   http://www.komando.com/happening-now/382417/top-story-paypal-and-amazon-phishing-scams-spreading-now/all

Kim Komando’s newsletter is free, and I recommend signing up to receive it.

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John Rudy, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this month’s 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

 

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Printing

                    GETTING BETTER USE OUT OF YOUR PRINTER                     (and Using Less Paper)

printers

Today, people are concerned about the amount of ink used to print large documents because ink costs more than the printer itself.   Here are some tips for saving ink.  (Note that not all of these fonts may be available to you.)

  1.  Avoid printing in color unless you really need color.  See #3 for directions.

2.  Only use BOLD when you need it; it uses a lot more ink

  1. When you print a document, you have the option to print it in DRAFT.  Depending on the operating system/version and your printer,  there are a number of ways to control this.  After you click on Print, go to Printer Properties.  Then go to Paper Quality and click on Draft.   Also click on Black and White, not color.

draft

  1. Not all fonts use the same amount of ink. My favorite font is Arial because it is so clean and easy to read.  But Times New Roman uses 27% less ink.  Calibri and Century Gothic are also good.  Here, in large letters, is a comparison using 24 point type so it is readable:

 

fonts

  1. This article is written in 12 point type (except for the examples above).  I use 12 point because I find it to be readable with my 71 year old eyes, but you might consider 14 point when printing for seniors or 10 point where you want to reduce the number of pages. Just going to 11.5 point saves about 5% of your ink.
  1. When you print, look at the default margin you are using. You have considerable flexibility. For example: 1” on all sides gives you a 6.5” x 9” area (58.5 square inches).  Using a ½” margin gives you a 7.5” by 10” or 75 square inches or 28% more space per page
  1. On occasion you have a document that goes just over a page. There are also options to “shrink to fit” as well as other approaches.
  1. In Word documents, you have the ability to specify whether you want double space, 1.5 space, or single space between lines.  But you can even make it tighter, like .9 space.  Going to “paragraph,” you have this option and can alter it either for the whole document or for portions of it.
  1. I have noticed that when people respond to emails, they retain the whole previous string. In most cases, that can/should be deleted. This is particularly important if you only want to print the beginning.
  2. Be careful to print only the pages you want.  The other day, I needed to print the confirmation of theatre tickets I had bought. Without thinking, I printed the whole thing; three pages.  But I really only needed the beginning.  It is a good idea to print only those pages you want.  A similar thing happened when I printed a journal paper.  The first 4 pages were the bibliography.

Taking just a little more time to select your printer options with a bit more care can save ink (and money!) in the long run.

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on this item  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)

NOVEMBER’S BOOK NOOK: Short Takes

Every now and then,  Abby opts for a “sextet of shorts” instead of her more in-depth “trios” of reviews.  Here is her first eclectic batch.

BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK

Ben Fountain

billy-lynn

A brilliant novel about war that takes place far from the field of battle at the annual Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving Day football game, the culmination of a “victory tour” for a squad of young grunts whose heroic actions in Iraq have made them a marketable commodity to drum up support for the war.  Hilariously skewers the culture of instant celebrity, politics, patriotism and power, and poignantly conveys the senselessness of sending young men to war. Five stars.  (Ang Lee’s movie version arrives in theaters this week.)

THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS

Claire Messud

messud

Nora Eldridge is angry.  How angry?  “You don’t want to know,” she tells us in the opening line of this searing psychological study.  Four years ago, she was finally shedding the Nora who was “the good friend, good daughter, good teacher, doormat….Miss Nobody Nothing…” to become more fully alive,  the artist and special person she always knew herself to be.  She was brought to this euphoric but precarious state by falling in love with (pushing her way into? getting ensnared by?) a family: a glamorous, recognized artist, her professor husband, and their beautiful eight-year-old son.   Could it possibly end well?  A novel that grabs you and won’t let go.

 

THE LAST REPORT ON THE MIRACLES AT LITTLE NO HORSE

Louise Erdrich

erdrich

In 1912, Agnes DeWitt adopts the cassock and persona of a Catholic priest who drowns en route to his missionary post in remote North Dakota. For almost a century, Agnes binds her breasts and, as Father Damien, lives a “sincere lie,” ministering to the Ojibwe people she comes to see as her own.  This novel, written in 2001, is the sixth in the series that began with Love Medicine in 1984 and features many of the same members of the Ojibwe clans in the earlier books as well as Louise Erdrich’s elegant, lyrical prose and mix of realism, fable, and humor. The devotion and passion (both earthly and spiritual) of Agnes/Damien hold it all together, despite some sluggish patches in the Ojibwe stories, and make this an emotionally affecting novel.

ONCE UPON A RIVER

Bonnie Jo Campbell

once-upon-a-river

After she is raped by her uncle and her father is killed, teen-aged Margo Crane takes to the (fictional) Stark River in rural Michigan to look for the mother who abandoned her several years earlier and to find out how to live.  Margo is a crack shot,  knows every bend in the river,  lives off the land and is sometimes treated well and sometimes badly by the men she meets.  Beautifully written, especially if you enjoy description of the natural world and wilderness survival tales, which I don’t.  I was more interested in Margo than in how to skin a muskrat, but I was interested enough in Margo to enjoy this book more than I expected to.

OPEN CITY

Teju Cole

open-city

This critically acclaimed debut novel has no plot to propel it forward, just the ruminations of the solitary and possibly unreliable narrator – a young Nigerian-born psychiatrist – on identity, art, literature, music, death and more as he wanders the streets of Manhattan and has occasional interactions with friends and strangers, most of them immigrants like himself.  Beautiful prose, with crystalline descriptions of the city and crisp sketches of people.  Surprisingly compelling.

THE RADETZKY MARCH

Joseph Roth

radetzky

Written in 1932 by Joseph Roth, the under-appreciated Austrian-Jewish writer who died young of alcoholism in Paris a few years later, The Radetzky March depicts the waning of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the years before World War I.  It begins in 1859, at the Battle of Solferino, when a peasant-born lieutenant saves the life of the young Kaiser, Franz Joseph I, and is rewarded with elevation to the nobility.  The novel follows successive generations of the now-aristocratic von Trotta family into the bureaucracy and the military and into eventual disillusionment that parallels the collapse of the Empire.  Roth’s prose evokes a lost world on every page, not as nostalgic reverie but with a portrayal of the deadly effects of the monarchy on its subjects of all classes and with vivid, detailed descriptions of everything from the landscape to village life to an old man’s cuffs.  Brilliant.

 

ABBY P
BOOK NOOK Feature Writer Abby Pinard

Abby 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.

TECH TALK WITH JOHN RUDY: Searching is Not for the Faint of Heart

This month’s tech offering is all about the art of searching the internet–which is not really as daunting as it may seem.  

search 1

Let’s start by getting a bit of terminology out of the way.

web browser (commonly referred to as a browser) is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web.  The most common are Chrome and Internet Explorer though there have been many issues with Explorer so Microsoft is switching to Edge.  But Edge is not ready for prime time.  I suggest you all use Chrome though Safari and Firefox are good alternatives.  Chrome has about half the market.

web search engine is a software system that is designed to search for information on the Web, returning pages that meet specified criteria Google is the clear winner here.  Bing and Ask are becoming intrusive and sometimes you’ll find them taking over (the subject of a much longer discussion.

pie chart

There is a lot of data out there to search.  The following snippet is old and is probably off by a factor of 10.  BUT  ….   Luckily Google runs “web Crawlers” at night to make it easier to find data amongst all this.

search question 1

It is expected that by the end of the year there will be a zettabyte of bytes moved every year.   That is a million times bigger than a Petabyte.  Most if not all of you use Google but it turns out that you can use it better.  There are books and articles with hundreds of examples of things that you can do; I’m just going to mention a few.

  • Put your most important search term first
  • “George washington” (caps don’t matter) is NOT the same as George Washington.  Putting quotation marks around the words indicates that you want to find the two words together in the page.
  • Take advantage of exclusion. “George Washington” –bridge will exclude all references that include the word bridge
  • Google makes a lot of smart guesses. Delta 1431 will get you the status of the flight.  02420 will get you the zipcode and bring up a map of Lexington.  781 will bring up the area code.  You can even put in Fedex or UPS numbers.  Put in Red Sox and you will get the information on the current game including a link for box scores, etc.
  • When you return a search, the words Search Tool is near the top. Click on that and you will see the words “any time” with a downward arrow.  Click on the arrow and you’ll see that you can restrict the time range for the search.  This is very important as it removes a lot of obsolete information.
  • For those with a mathematical bent, you can set up a Boolean Search, viz: snowmobile and (snowblower or Green Bay). But you don’t need the “and”
  • The asterisk is a wild card. The search for three * mice will allow any middle word
  • Define happy goes out to the dictionary for the word happy.  (I used that a lot when I was reading The Iliad.)
  • You can do math or currency conversion . You can even say 176 in roman numerals, and it returns the right answer.  1 a.u./c returns 8.31675359 min, with “a.u.” meaning “astronomical units” and c is the speed of light.
  • If you type in a location, you can get directions, a map, and  markings for traffic problems. You can even ask for a walking or bicycle route rather than a car route.
  • You can ask questions: double quarter pounder with cheese has * calories

search 2

This is just scratching the surface.  We could have a 1-2 hour talk on the subject!

BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy
BOLLI Tech Talker John Rudy

John, a long time computer expert and guide, provides his helpful hints in this monthly BOLLI Matters feature.  In the comment box below, provide questions on searching 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)

 

 

 

 

OCTOBER’S BOOK NOOK: Three Books about WWII

This month, our Book Nook feature writer Abby Pinard provides three selections focusing on World War II.

HHhH

Laurent Binet, 2013

(translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

HHhH

Himmlers Hirn heist Heydrich. Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich.

Reinhard Heydrich — the butcher of Prague, the blond beast, the man with the iron heart – was one of the cruelest and most feared of the high-ranking Nazis. Chief of security and an architect of the final solution, he was named Reichprotector of Bohemia and Moravia, the Czech states annexed by Germany, and was charged with crushing Czech resistance and all vestiges of Czech culture, “Germanizing” the desirable population and eliminating the undesirables. On May 27, 1942, as he was being driven to work in Prague in an open black (or possibly dark green) Mercedes convertible, he was the subject of an assassination attempt by Jan Kubiš, a Czech, and Jozef Gabčik, a Slovak, who had been trained for their mission in London and parachuted into Czechoslovakia several months earlier. “Operation Anthropoid” didn’t go off exactly as planned but the reprisals were as brutal as might have been expected. (Note: “Anthropoid,” a British-French-Czech film based on these events but unrelated to this novel was released recently to mostly positive reviews.)

The narrator of  HHhH, who may be the author, has spent years studying Operation Anthropoid – it would be fair to say he is obsessed with it – and in telling the story presents a parallel narrative about his struggles with how to tell the story. While the digressions might be expected to be distracting, the opposite is true. The narrator’s “eureka” moments when he unearths a key book, his decisions on what to include and exclude, his commentary on other novels based on historical fact, his musings on what drives people to extraordinary acts of cruelty and heroism serve to bring us closer to the story. And when it counts most, as the Mercedes approaches the bend in Holešovice Street where the assassins are waiting, he lets the story take over and propel us forward as if we don’t know what will happen.

At the end of the book, our narrator tells us that Kubiš and Gabčik are today viewed as heroes, celebrated in their homeland. But he describes himself as worn out by his “muddled efforts” to pay tribute to the many people who helped the assassins at great risk and great cost and who remain largely unknown.

…I tremble with guilt at the thought of all those hundreds, those thousands, whom I have allowed to die anonymously. But I want to believe that people exist even if we don’t speak of them. 

Laurent Binet has spoken of them and has written a novel that is both suspenseful and profound. Highly recommended.


Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932

Francine Prose, 2014

Chameleon Club

In Francine Prose’s popular book about reading and writing, Reading Like a Writer, she advocates “close reading.” Only by slowing down and carefully reading every word can we understand what is said and what is not said – the nuances of meaning that the writer has worked so hard to put into every word and into the spaces between the words. That’s good advice when reading any serious writer and of course when reading Prose. (Is there a writer with a better name?)

Even as Lou’s downward slide was gathering momentum, she prided herself on maintaining certain standards and not losing touch, as many of her neighbors were, with basic human decency and compassion. She was slow to come on board with the measures against the Jews, however much she personally disliked them. She knew that harsh tactics were sometimes required. She’d waited on line at the Palais Berlitz to see an informative exhibition entitled “The Jew and France,” where a display confirmed what she’d long suspected: behind every scandal lurked a Jew. Still, she didn’t enjoy seeing children herded through the streets at gunpoint. Once she was almost hurt by some idiot cops hurling crockery down from an apartment at a terrified Jewish family being loaded into a van.

“Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris, 1932” is the title of the emblematic photograph that launches Gabor Tsenyi’s career. It is a picture of two women, a cross-dressing athlete named Lou Villars, who will become France’s first female race car driver and then an infamous Nazi collaborator, and Arlette, her lover, who will leave Lou for a powerful cop/gangster. This assured, atmospheric novel covers a lot of ground – love and betrayal, good and evil, war and its aftermath, the mutability of truth – and ultimately packs a powerful punch. It opens in 1928 and tracks the transformation of Lou Villars from unhappy child to disappointed lover to monster, a life based on a real woman named Violette Morris. It is to Prose’s credit that we sympathize with Lou even as she betrays the country she professes to love. Other characters are also inspired by real-life figures, including the Hungarian photographer Brassai and there’s a dissolute American writer who resembles Henry Miller.

Prose makes the Chameleon Club the locus of the decadence and desperate good times of Paris in the jazz age and she circles back to it through occupation and war. The story is told and retold in alternating chapters by different narrators through excerpts from a biography of Lou Villars, letters, journals and a memoir, each presumed to be self-serving and unreliable. Taken together they paint a picture that captures the conflicted loyalties of a giddy and terrible time, a picture that surely contains the truth but in whose version? History is as changeable as gender roles at the Chameleon Club and this captivating novel is stunning in its contemplation of its meaning.


Love & Treasure

Ayelet Waldman, 2014

Waldman

This is a solid effort by Ayelet Waldman. She has chosen a subject — unearthing the stories of those lost in the Holocaust — that has too often been taken up by mediocre (or worse) writers and riddled with melodrama and cliché. Waldman does better. She centers the novel on the historical “Hungarian Gold Train,” crammed with millions of dollars worth of gold, jewels, furs, and household goods that have been “collected” from the Jews of Hungary. When the train, on its way to Germany in 1945, is intercepted by the victorious Allies near Salzburg, Austria, a promise is made to return the goods to their rightful owners or heirs but the impracticality of the task, not to mention that the brass have quarters to furnish, doom that intention and most of the items simply disappear in the fog of post-war Europe.

The novel’s primary protagonists are Jack Wiseman, who as a young American soldier was put in charge of the contents of the train, and his granddaughter Natalie, who he asks just before his death to find the rightful owner of a pendant he himself impulsively pilfered. The story is told in three parts: Jack’s stewardship of the confiscated goods in 1945; Natalie’s present-day search in Europe and Israel for an heir of the pendant’s owner; and an entertaining narration by a Viennese psychoanalyst of his treatment of a headstrong young Jewish woman in 1913.

Waldman covers a lot of ground and the plot threads are not all equally well executed. In particular, two love stories are clichéd and unconvincing and the grandfather/granddaughter relationship is toothache-inducing. But she eschews the simplistic good/evil paradigm so common in fiction about the Holocaust and takes a more realistic view of a complex moral universe. Bottom line: This is well-written, absorbing historical fiction marred only slightly by a bit of sentimentality.

ABBY P
BOOK NOOK Feature Writer Abby Pinard

Abby 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!

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.

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER BOOK NOOK: Two New Novels of Note

Our “Book Nook” feature writer Abby Pinard brings us a couple of new items to consider…

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos

Dominic Smith, 2016

The Last Painting of Sara De Vos

What a delight!  This is a historical suspense novel with redeeming literary value – character driven, intricately plotted but without contrivance, and elegantly written. With pivotal events taking place in New York in 1958, we are seamlessly brought forward to Sydney, Australia in 2000, and back to 17th-century Amsterdam and the Dutch Golden Age that produced Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The painting at the center of the novel hangs over the bed in the New York penthouse of an attorney whose family has owned it for 300 years. When it is stolen and replaced by a meticulous forgery, the attorney isn’t sure he even wants the original back but determines nevertheless to track down the forger.  The graduate student who had agreed to copy the painting goes on to become a prominent art historian and authority on the artist – one of the very few women among the Dutch masters –  but is haunted by her past.

The evocation of art and painterly technique is fascinating; the portrayal of people driven to actions they will regret for a lifetime is moving without being melodramatic; and the writing is precise and restrained yet compelling, with quotable passages on every page. Here’s just one that I had to read more than once: “…unmarried women make good academics because they’ve been neutered by too much knowledge and bookish pleasure. The world hands them a tiny domain it never cared about to begin with.” Hmm.

Art, deceit, loss…this is a fine novel disguised as a page-turner.

Thanks to Linda Dietrich for insisting that I read this book!

 

The Little Red Chairs

Edna O’Brien, 2016 

The Little Red Chairs

 

 On the 6th of April 2012, to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the start of the siege of Sarajevo by Bosnian Serb forces, 11,541 red chairs were laid out in rows along the eight hundred metres of the Sarajevo high street.  One empty chair for every Sarajevan killed during the 1,425 days of siege.  Six hundred and forty-three small chairs represented the children killed by snipers and the heavy artillery fired from the surrounding mountains.

 A stranger comes to town…   The town is Cloonoila, a rural Irish backwater, and the stranger, soon known as Dr. Vlad, announces himself as a healer and sex therapist. He is exotic and alluring and is viewed with suspicion by the village priest, but the children and especially the women gradually fall under his spell, most notably Fidelma, the town beauty trapped in a cold marriage and longing for a child.

Edna O’Brien doesn’t string us along with tantalizing clues to the stranger’s identity.  The epigraph quoted above signals the truth:   Dr. Vlad is a notorious Bosnian war criminal responsible for the torture and genocide of Muslims and Croats. He is modeled on Radovan Karadzic, who hid for thirteen years before being arrested in Belgrade.  Dr. Vlad has appeared in western Ireland as if by magic.

It has been fifty years since O’Brien’s fiction debut, The Country Girls, scandalized the country with its searing portrayal of the social and sexual mores of rural Ireland. In The Little Red Chairs, her first novel in ten years, she is casting a wider net, tackling broad questions about evil, complicity, and penance.  Her prose is beautiful and brutal as she shatters the gentle, almost mystical aura of Cloonoila with a scene of horrific violence,  Fidelma’s abasement, and her search for redemption among the lost and broken. Powerful and haunting.

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!