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Deep South by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux has spent decades traveling the globe, working hard to dig deeply into cultures and people, writing about it all in wonderful books and essays. When he writes about his life, so far mostly abroad, it’s with sensitivity and a clear vision. I have never felt he considered himself “a travel writer.” Rather, my impression of Theroux as a top-tier writer is of a thoughtful observer with a marvelous ability to bring his experiences alive with the written word. 

Deep South finds Theroux spending four seasons roaming the true southern world of the United States. Yes, “world” is the proper term. The people and towns and crossroads he brings to life inhabit areas far from the major highways, left behind by tech revolutions and social media and, unfortunately, our government and most social services and outreach. 

Theroux digs into people’s stories; he asks questions and listens. People open up and relate their lives and experiences and histories in a way that doesn’t surprise me, having read enough of Theroux to expect this quick relationship. Across the pages, I could hear in my head the voices Theroux was hearing. He so effectively paints word pictures that speech patterns and voices and language came alive. 

Poverty and despair cut deeply through the American South. When I lived in Georgia in the middle 1970s some areas were simply used up. People were tired and without hope or jobs and reeling from the years of the Vietnam War and the draft and how many people they’d lost. Theroux digs deeply into how people feel today in the tiny towns crowded with empty storefronts, left with a church and a bar and perhaps a grocery store (or a crappy motel operated by Mr. Patel). 

Generational poverty, living in a manner nobody would expect is happening in the United States, or should experience, is the norm for a shocking number people in the American South. Yet in the midst of these dark times many people shone brightly. At every turn people were friendly and upbeat with Theroux, working hard to help each other and provide whatever assistance they could.

There’s no getting around the fascination with the American South Theroux has and many of us share. But read Deep South to savor the ease with which Theroux puts us in his shoes, how he enables the reader to see what’s in front of him and how it processes inside him. There’s so much more to this acclaimed writer’s work than superior writing. Paul Theroux has an uncanny ability to write like a novelist. He captured me on the first page of Deep South, creating an adventure story jammed with memorable characters, disguised as a travel book. Amazing work.


@PaulTheroux @MCHCo #deepsouth #paultheroux


The Girl in the Ice by Lotte and Soren Hammer  


I’m attracted to these kinda dark, brooding, tangled murder mysteries taking place in Scandinavian countries. Perhaps it’s my upper-Midwest background and memories of tough winters. Or it’s the damn fine writing of authors Lotte and Soren Hammer in their second novel, The Girl in the Ice, spotlighting Detective Konrad Simonsen. Whichever it is, I’m in.

When the body of a girl is discovered in an ice cap, Simonsen is called in. There’s much more than this dead girl’s discovery - she’s bound and half-naked. Slow global warming and melting of the tundra has revealed this corpse, hidden in the ice for 25 years. That’ll kick off a mystery.

As Simonsen works the case, attempting to determine the killer, she slowly realizes there are ties to another old, unsolved mystery. This is when the story complicates and takes off, and I found myself caught up more and more as the book went on. The Girl in the Ice begins moderately fast; the tension and pace gradually accelerate as developments come together. 

@BloomsburyPub, #girlintheice


Petty: The Biography by Warren Zanes

After a lifetime of reading (and being disappointed by many) fluffy rock music biographies, I’m excited about Warren Zanes bringing a musician’s experiences and context to his examination of the career and life of Tom Petty. His new book, Petty: The Biography tells the story as effectively as Tom Petty does with his songs. Tom Petty is one of the significant songwriters and performers of the late ‘70s to now. I think history will treat his legacy well. Keep in mind, the guy continues to write and record and perform at a high level. 

Nobody has written as well about Petty as Zanes, in my opinion.  He opened up Tom Petty, the person, and found a way to examine his career and along the way bring him to life. The number of hours Zanes must have spent with him, and how sensitively he presents Petty’s story, helped this legendary-in-his-own-time artist unfold within the pages. Having followed this guy's career, bought many of his records starting at the beginning, seeing him in concert a couple of times (once with Dylan in 1986 - a great show), I still felt I knew little of the man himself and virtually nothing of his real life. Author Zanes fills in the gaps effectively, in a most readable manner. 

Petty: The Biography is the real deal, one of the few gritty rock music books of this type published in recent history. The pages turn like a novel; Zanes gets to the true Petty. Bravo!

@HenryHolt, #TomPetty, @WarrenZanes,


The Anticancer Diet (Reducing Cancer Risk Through the Foods You Eat) by David Kyahat, Preventing Cancer: Reducing the Risks by Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras


My first impression, with both these “cancer” books in front of me, was that people certainly thought a lot of themselves, even going so far as to title a book Preventing Cancer!

Closer examination, reading the books, even, helped me understand the effort here is to help people lower their cancer risks. So much mis-information and anecdotal information pervades our culture, few people have answers to even the simplest questions. 

A glass of red wine and chocolate are featured on the cover of The Anti-Cancer Diet. Should people consume red wine each day? How much? Is that chocolate truly good for us, does it really contain any cancer-inhibiting values? These are the types of questions people ask all the time, and answers are always vague and not as helpful as hoped for. Author Khayat does as good a job as I’ve read before, untangling the issues. 

I found Preventing Cancer: Reducing the Risks helpful, an easy read. The authors maintain that if one follows the ten primary points presented in the book, cancer risk is reduced by 75%. Telling people to remain as lean as possible, not to let body-fat accumulate, is interesting to me. Inflammation, hormonal disruption, insulin resistance - a strong case is made that being obese and in good health is an impossible combination.  

Clearly nobody knows how to fully prevent cancer. But just as obviously, there are simple, basic lifestyle markers that can easily be brought into play in life that go a long way to cutting cancer risk.

I consider cutting down on my risk of cancer something worth learning about. Both these books are useful; I found Preventing Cancer: Reducing the Risks to be outstanding.

The AntiCancer Diet - W.W. Norton

Preventing Cancer - Firefly Books



Deliciously Ella by Ella Woodward  

I approached this book cautiously, with it’s sub-title about ‘plant-based, gluten-free” recipes. Another vegan directive, I anticipated, railing against meat and bacon, trying to save the world by eating plants. These were my thoughts.

Pretty unfair, huh? Turns out Woodward ate like crap for most of her life, walking around in a model’s body, until she got sick, very sick. Reading the story of recovering her health using holistic, real-food, essentially vegan practices, learning how she healed and transformed herself, along the way creating a fabulously popular blog, is inspirational. Ella Woodward writes with enthusiasm and spirit, whether about her joy in making salads more exciting, to finding protein sources in the plant world.

I’m not giving up my bacon and eggs, but I’m inspired to begin using some of the recipes in Deliciously Ella myself, and see just what might happen.

Scribner Books