Missing The Mark

This year’s reading challenge goal was again 100 books. I missed my goal by two.

Yes, I could have fudged things and read a couple of kids books just to say I got there but that didn’t serve the spirit of the challenge.

Instead of mourning the failure, I’m choosing to be glad that I read 98 books and that I enjoyed most of them. There was again a nice mix of fiction and non fiction including a handful of photography books.

Out of them all, there were just a few I didn’t like. There were probably eight or ten others that I started but didn’t enjoy. Life is too short for mediocre books. I don’t have time for that and will shamelessly put down any book that clearly will not serve me.

Here are the fiction books I liked best.

William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land was my favorite because it was so beautifully and thoughtfully crafted. It’s a coming of age story with a journey that is full of twists and turns. Components reminded me of many other wonderful books like The Wizard of Oz, Homer, Huck Finn and more.

City of Girls was written by Elizabeth Gilbert who also gave the world Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t what I expected but it’s a page turner. I was surprised to realize I only read the one Adriana Trigiani book this year. Her work is all excellent. Give her a try if you ever have a chance. My gateway to her world was Big Stone Gap a few years ago. While I haven’t read her entire catalog, I have read most and enjoyed them all. They’re easy reads that pull you right in to the beautiful worlds she creates and keep you promising just one more chapter.

I also really liked The Four Winds which chronicles a family’s Dust Bowl experience. Many readers complain that it starts slow and that it’s depressing. Honestly, I felt like author Kristen Hannah made it purposefully slow to emphasize the desperate monotony of life for the main characters. Also, it’s hard to gussie up the Great Depression. Her last few books of historic fiction have all been extraordinary and I would recommend giving her a chance if you haven’t yet.

These were my favorites on the non fiction side.

I have come to appreciate memoirs. Nerves of Steel tells the story of Tammie Jo Shults whose entire career has been record breaking. You might remember her from the news a few years ago when she successfully landed a badly crippled Southwest Airlines flight. Before that she was one of the first female fighter pilots for the US navy. She’s humble and a great storyteller.

Another interesting woman I read about was Dorothy Kilgallen. I already wrote about her and this book earlier this year and you can read that story here.

Tulsa 1921 recounts the race massacre that destroyed a huge swath of Tulsa, Oklahoma a century ago. This is a devastating story not told in history class and one we should all know. Read the book to find out why.

Joy At Work taught me a lot of things including how to keep my inbox manageable to improve my work life. I’m planning to read it again this year because there’s still much opportunity for improvement.

Hill Women tells the story of a young Appalachian woman who credits those who helped on her road to success. It was written in response to Hillbilly Elegy which preaches a bootstrap mentality and which many Appalachian people like myself found to be just another stereotypical depiction of the region. Hill Women was my favorite nonfiction book of 2021.

With 2022 there’s a new reading challenge and I’m again aiming for 100. The challenge keeps me moving forward, always reaching for a book when there’s free time and happily picking up a new book as soon as the old one is done. I have a bunch already lined up for the year and look forward to diving in.

Have questions? Ask them in the comments. I’m always happy to talk books!

Missing The Mark

This year’s reading challenge goal was again 100 books. I missed my goal by two.

Yes, I could have fudged things and read a couple of kids books just to say I got there but that didn’t serve the spirit of the challenge.

Instead of mourning the failure, I’m choosing to be glad that I read 98 books and that I enjoyed most of them. There was again a nice mix of fiction and non fiction including a handful of photography books.

Out of them all, there were just a few I didn’t like. There were probably eight or ten others that I started but didn’t enjoy. Life is too short for mediocre books. I don’t have time for that and will shamelessly put down any book that clearly will not serve me.

Here are the fiction books I liked best.

William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land was my favorite because it was so beautifully and thoughtfully crafted. It’s a coming of age story with a journey that is full of twists and turns. Components reminded me of many other wonderful books like The Wizard of Oz, Homer, Huck Finn and more.

City of Girls was written by Elizabeth Gilbert who also gave the world Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t what I expected but it’s a page turner. I was surprised to realize I only read the one Adriana Trigiani book this year. Her work is all excellent. Give her a try if you ever have a chance. My gateway to her world was Big Stone Gap a few years ago. While I haven’t read her entire catalog, I have read most and enjoyed them all. They’re easy reads that pull you right in to the beautiful worlds she creates and keep you promising just one more chapter.

I also really liked The Four Winds which chronicles a family’s Dust Bowl experience. Many readers complain that it starts slow and that it’s depressing. Honestly, I felt like author Kristen Hannah made it purposefully slow to emphasize the desperate monotony of life for the main characters. Also, it’s hard to gussie up the Great Depression. Her last few books of historic fiction have all been extraordinary and I would recommend giving her a chance if you haven’t yet.

These were my favorites on the non fiction side.

I have come to appreciate memoirs. Nerves of Steel tells the story of Tammie Jo Shults whose entire career has been record breaking. You might remember her from the news a few years ago when she successfully landed a badly crippled Southwest Airlines flight. Before that she was one of the first female fighter pilots for the US navy. She’s humble and a great storyteller.

Another interesting woman I read about was Dorothy Kilgallen. I already wrote about her and this book earlier this year and you can read that story here.

Tulsa 1921 recounts the race massacre that destroyed a huge swath of Tulsa, Oklahoma a century ago. This is a devastating story not told in history class and one we should all know. Read the book to find out why.

Joy At Work taught me a lot of things including how to keep my inbox manageable to improve my work life. I’m planning to read it again this year because there’s still much opportunity for improvement.

Hill Women tells the story of a young Appalachian woman who credits those who helped on her road to success. It was written in response to Hillbilly Elegy which preaches a bootstrap mentality and which many Appalachian people like myself found to be just another stereotypical depiction of the region. Hill Women was my favorite nonfiction book of 2021.

With 2022 there’s a new reading challenge and I’m again aiming for 100. The challenge keeps me moving forward, always reaching for a book when there’s free time and happily picking up a new book as soon as the old one is done. I have a bunch already lined up for the year and look forward to diving in.

Have questions? Ask them in the comments. I’m always happy to talk books!

Dolly Parton, The Walton’s And Books (Yes, They Are Connected)

There’s an episode of The Walton’s where Olivia makes an impulse buy – a collection of fifty Harvard Classic books from a traveling salesman.

It’s a terrible extravagance for an Appalachian family in the throes of the Depression but Olivia saw it as an investment in her family’s future. It’s moving to see how John Boy handles the books with reverence and joy. These are true gifts that are his access to learning and his own private gateway to the world outside his home on Walton’s Mountain.

It set me to thinking about books, reading and how important they are to me. I would rather buy a book than lunch (thankfully I don’t have to make that choice) and would rather read than do most anything else (I do often have to forgo reading for real life). The thought of life with limited access to books is distressing.

What’s more distressing is the lack of access many kids have to books and reading help at home. Families both rich and poor often don’t prioritize reading to their youngsters or providing them book access even to free books from the library.

Dolly Parton has a wonderful program that provides youngsters with free story books every month for the first five years of life. The program began in her home county in Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains and has grown to the rest of the nation and four other countries.

The program has given away millions of books.

Her own father never learned to read and she knows all too well what it’s like to grow up doing without basic needs, much less luxuries like books. Gifting children age appropriate books during their formative years improves literacy rates, sharpens young imaginations and gives kids access to the world.

It’s a pretty special program.

Want to find out if kids in your community qualify for Dolly’s Imagination Library? Click here for details.

The Life and Death of Dorothy Kilgallen

My reading this week led me into a fascinating story that’s nearly sixty years old. It’s the story of Dorothy Kilgallen, her career and her death.

Many people remember her as a panelist on the mid century television game show “What’s My Line?” She always appeared in formal wear, perfectly coiffed and with the most charming manners every Sunday night for more than fifteen years.

However, Dorothy was a renowned society columnist and a gifted investigative reporter as well. She covered all the big trials of her day and was a respected wordsmith.

She was found dead in her New York City townhouse one cold November Monday in 1965. She had appeared on the television show the night before, met a mysterious stranger at a bar and then went home. The next morning she was found dead of an apparent overdose.

She was just 52.

This is the 10,000 foot view of Dorothy’s life and death. I took a deep dive this week with “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much,” a book by attorney Mark Shaw.

This book. Oh dear. This book.

Please understand that I’m not recommending this book or anything else that Shaw has written but he certainly has piqued my interest in Dorothy.

The biographical portion of the book is well researched and written. What he writes about her death ventures into the territory of a crackpot with unsubstantiated conspiracy theories. He raises more questions than he answers, calls into question the character of many people in her life and pieces together a combination of fact and theory.

With that said, there’s something there. I’m sure of it.

The official cause of death was alcohol and barbiturate overdose. But there was no investigation to determine whether it was accidental, suicide or murder. The police report and the medical examiner’s report are inconsistent with each other. They didn’t really interview anyone. They didn’t even pursue how the drugs were ingested.

Dorothy’s friend and hair stylist found her body early that morning but the police either weren’t called or didn’t appear until afternoon. There were oddities about where she was found in the house (in a bed where she didn’t sleep), what she was wearing and the way she was positioned in the bed. It was a cold November night but the air conditioner was inexplicably running in that room.

In short, a major celebrity and one of the best investigative journalists of the day was sent to her grave without any answers.

During her career, Dorothy made more than a few enemies. That list includes J. Edgar Hoover, the CIA, the mob, Frank Sinatra, the FBI and a host of celebrities who she either snubbed or called out in her newspaper column.

Lots of people might have wanted her dead.

The biggest story she worked on was the assassination of President Kennedy, the murder of his assassin Lee Harvey Oswald and the subsequent trial of Oswald’s killer Jack Ruby.

Dorothy didn’t buy the single shooter theory and had embarked on a lengthy investigation of JFK’s death. By all accounts, she was like a dog with a bone, compiling an extensive file on the JFK case and delving deeper and deeper into a story that she knew was dangerous.

Days before her death she had expressed to friends that she might be in danger because of the work she was doing with this case.

That file she had on the JFK murder? It was missing after she died.

I know that happy people can be depressed and commit suicide but I don’t buy this theory for a minute. She was a devout Catholic who was enthusiastically writing a book that was published posthumously. She was planning trips and had asked her hairdresser to help her get ready for a meeting at her son’s school. She was rewriting her will.

An accidental overdose? Maybe. One drug in her system was something we use today for assisted suicides and is quite dangerous. But I find this hard to believe too.

Honestly, I am not one for conspiracy theories but I’m with the author who believes someone had her killed.

While I’m not thrilled with the book, I spent a fair amount of time online watching videos and learning about some of the places and people in her life. Her Manhattan townhouse still exists and you can see pictures in a real estate listing. It’s five stories and could be yours for about seventeen million. Although, it has clearly been renovated to appeal to modern sensibilities and isn’t nearly so lavish as when Dorothy lived there.

You can see her in action on the black and white television series “What’s My Line?” There are a ton of episodes on YouTube and I have found them absolutely addictive. I’ve even been researching some of the guests. She was confident, inquisitive and a master at the show. Click here for her last episode of the show and here’s another one for good measure.

To be clear, Dorothy was no saint. In fact, she stepped out on her husband. She was trapped in a loveless marriage and was known to have a couple of gentlemen friends including the rock and roll pioneer Johnnie Ray. He was fourteen years her junior and had issues of his own. By all accounts, they unabashedly frolicked around New York City together. It had to be humiliating for her husband who was floundering in both their marriage and his own career.

It’s quite the world she built for herself. While she presented a smart and sophisticated public image, it’s clear that she wasn’t without flaws. However, it is troubling to me that a woman who devoted her career to getting to the truth died in a way that was simply swept under the rug.

This is the kind of story that Dorothy would have relished. She would have asked the tough questions and gotten to the truth.

During the Jack Ruby trial, she was troubled by the poor representation Ruby received from a mob affiliated attorney hired to help him. It bothered her that the state didn’t present a thorough case, instead holding back evidence that she felt needed to be part of the public record. She was certain there was more to the story and took it upon herself to find the truth.

At the time, she famously wrote “Justice is a big rug. When you pull it out from under one man, a lot of others will fall, too.”

I don’t know what happened to Dorothy Kilgallen and I suspect the world will never know. Most witnesses are long dead, the police investigation was a joke and the Medial Examiner’s Office has declined to release her autopsy to the public.

It’s just a shame to think that this vibrant life was cut short and that she was silenced. It seems the only person who has advocated for her is this author who has had doors slammed in his face at every turn.

The week following her death, the show went on as planned and ended with tributes to Dorothy from each of the panelists. Her friend and fellow panelist Bennett Cerf said “A lot of people knew Dorothy as a very tough game player; others knew her as a tough newspaper woman. But we got to know her as a human being, and a more loveable, softer, loyal person never lived, and we’re going to miss her terribly.”

Winchester Book Gallery

Bookstores are a weakness for me. It’s especially fun to seek out independent booksellers which often specialize in a different caliber of books than the chain stores or a big box store.

I always look for bookstores in my journeys.

Winchester Book Gallery in Old Town Winchester, Virginia is a favorite of mine. It’s tiny but they have packed a ton of good stuff inside and even kindly offer a public restroom – something that’s increasingly hard to find in Covid times.

The employee working the cash register was delightful too. She asked where I was from and seemed truly excited that I had stopped by. We agreed that the best vacation souvenirs are books.

A hallway from the grown-up books to the children’s section features some great advice including the above message on the wall. It’s terrific advice, if you ask me.

I regret not photographing the children’s space because it was a really sweet area for little ones. In fact, the interior of this entire store is small but quaint and cozy. It’s the kind of place you might wish to linger on a rainy day.

Find Winchester Book Gallery online for more information and be sure to visit if you’re in the area.

Down A Rabbit Hole

It takes precious little to send me down a rabbit hole when I have time to go pursuing random and unneeded information.

For example, my 100th book of 2020 was “Love, Lucy,” the autobiography of Lucille Ball.

This book is superbly done and it felt as though Lucy was sitting there chatting away about her life through the mid-sixties. Throughout, she mentions a number of movies, plays, actors, places and other subject matter that kept me reach for Google.

Her mention of beloved actor Gale Gordon reminded me of early mornings a few years ago when I would get up early for reruns of “Our Miss Brooks.” This sent me looking for information on actress Eve Arden who starred in this show that was produced by Desilu Studios.

She always reminded me of Lucille Ball but I didn’t realize that they had worked together and that she had also played the school principal in the Grease movies.

And then I went looking for other shows from the Desilu production family. All were long before my time and many unfamiliar to me. However, a number of hit shows were filmed at their studios including Andy Griffith, That Girl, Gomer Pyle, My Three Sons and the Dick Van Dyke Show.

I used to love the Dick Van Dyke Show and so I went looking for clips which led me back to this awesome music video by the Dust Bowl Revival that stars Mr Van Dyke.

Really, it never gets old so watch it.

It was about this time that I remembered my visit to Stonewall Jackson’s Headquarters in Winchester, Va. where I learned a story with a Mary Tyler Moore connection. Click the link above for that story!

And then I went looking for pictures from my Winchester trips.

This microphone was used by Patsy Cline and can be seen at her childhood her home.

And this is a brief glimpse into my mind when I have too much time to think and peruse the internet.

Exhausting, isn’t it?