Friday morning coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories from the week to enjoy wit your morning coffee.

  1. Ex-clown is hard to hide on a resumé.
  2. Should we stop looking for intelligent life?
  3. Anger over tourists swarming hot spots sparks backlash.
  4. How I caused California’s housing crisis.
  5. The major mobile providers — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon — are selling your location information.
  6. How the Internet killed the critic.
  7. A bank glitch gave a down-on-his-luck Australian man access to unlimited funds. Then he did exactly what you think he did with it.
  8. Ethiopia is now Africa’s fastest growing economy.
  9. The trouble with hating Ernest Hemingway.

Review: The Shepherd’s Hut

Jaxie Claxton lives a miserable life in rural Australia, stuck with a savage father he hates. Then one day a violent accident leaves him with no choice but to pack what he can carry and strike out on foot as a fugitive.

Walking across barren western Australia with a rifle and a water jug, he eventually runs into a fellow outcast living in a shepherd’s hut. In this remote and deadly landscape Claxton forms an uncomfortable bond with this man, who has his own secrets to keep and on whom he becomes dependent.

The Shepherd’s Hut (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, digital galley) by Tim Winton is a short and crisp story of survival, friendship and the search for peace in a brutal world. Winton’s masterful use of language, peppered with Australian colloquialisms, made this novel a pleasure to read.

Review: Calypso

David Sedaris has mastered the ability to be dark, charming and funny at the same time. His latest collection of essays, Calypso, revolves around gatherings at his North Carolina beach house, the Sea Section. Sedaris deftly handles a variety of topics including  middle age, shopping, gay marriage, language and family tragedy.

It’s hard to go more than a couple of pages without belting out a laugh at some outrageous situation in which Sedaris has gotten involved. And he is capable of being shocking, as with a recurring tale that involves a homely snapping turtle and a tumor Sedaris needs removed

Sedaris’ unique powers of observation and his intimate descriptions of  human interactions are absorbing. This is among his best books and fans will want to get hold of a copy. Anyone new to Sedaris’ writing will find Calypso (Little, Brown and Company, digital galley) a fine introduction to his achingly funny stories.

Friday morning coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories from the week to enjoy with your morning coffee.

  1. The all-American bank heist.
  2. Why the dancing makes ‘This Is America’ so uncomfortable to watch.
  3. Apple’s Jonathan Ive talks watches for the very first time.
  4. Eight years after it finished, why is Lost being reappraised?

If you’re looking for a good book, David Itzkoff’s compassionate biography of Robin Williams —  titled simply Robin — was released Tuesday. Here’s a review.

Review: Robin

An intimate new biography of Robin Williams tells the story of the meteoric rise, frenetic life and the sad final days of the comedian. In Robin, New York Times writer David Itzkoff gives us a look at the creativity that fueled Williams’ seemingly spontaneous and endless comedic riffs. But he also tells of Williams’ substance abuse, repeated infidelities, failed marriages and a manic anxiety over the quality of his performances.

Itkoff recounts stories of Williams’ childhood, failed attempts at college, training at Juilliard and his early years on stand up comedy stages where he stood out among his peers. Robin (Henry Holt & Company, digital galley) is well-researched and full of stories from family, friends and fellow comedians that cover both the highlights and the low lights of Williams’ long career.

The story of Williams health decline and death is handled compassionately as Itzkoff tells of the depression, paranoia and confusion that Williams suffered from as a result of Lewy Bodies Dementia. And although Itkoff tries to give us a full measure of the man, even Williams’ closest friends acknowledge he never revealed all of himself to anyone. In Robin we may get the best look possible at comedic genius whose performances we know so well.

Friday morning coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories from the week to enjoy with your morning coffee.

  1. A criminal gang used a drone swarm to harass an FBI raid.
  2. An oral history  of Johnny Cash’s At Folsom Prison at 50.
  3. The gambler who cracked the horse-racing code. Related: The man who cracked the lottery and author delays book about poker due to huge wins.
  4. The physics of doing the laundry.
  5. It’s official: Tut’s Tomb has no hidden chambers after all.
  6. Meet the man who spent the last 20 years as a full-time resident of Royal Caribbean cruise ships (video).
  7. Why barns are red.
  8. A thermodynamic answer to why birds migrate.
  9. American Airlines flight attendants rent out their seniority for $200.
  10. Ian McEwan “dubious” about schools studying his books, after he helped son with essay and got a C+

If you’re looking for a good book to read, I recommend The Sun Does Shine, the autobiography of Anthony Ray Hinton who was sent to Alabama’s death row in 1985 for two murders he didn’t commit. It’s an extraordinary story of rising above hate and stoically serving as an inspiration for others. Here’s my full review.

Robin Williams movies on streaming services

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

I’m currently reading Dave Itzkoff’s revealing biography of Robin Williams, which will be released on May 15. It’s a compelling book and I’ll post a full review soon. Reading about the talented comedian made me want to rewatch some of his films. Below is a list Williams movies currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu streaming services. Of course many others are available for rental, but this list covers what’s included in the plans most people have.

Continue reading

Friday morning coffee reads

A regular roundup of interesting stories from the week. If you’re in need of a good book, check out my latest very short reviews of books.

  1. The return of the brick-and-mortar store.
  2. Is Marvel Killing the Movies?
  3. Fake books on Amazon could be used for money laundering.
  4. The gamification of retail.
  5. Pirate radio stations explode on YouTube.
  6. The next  big tech leap that will free us from our phones won’t be here anytime soon.

Review: Warlight

In the aftermath of WWII 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister are left in the care of a mysterious man they nickname The Moth and his possibly criminal cohorts. Warlight follows Nathaniel’s adventures with this eccentric lot and his efforts to discover why his mother seemingly abandoned him.

This coming of age story is unfortunately a disjointed and at times confusing novel. During most of the book we’re told his mother was involved with a secret government agency and that Nathaniel has heard stories about her war service. But these are only vague references for such a key plot point and we never get to hear those stories or discover their source.

Warlight (Knopf, digital galley) was written by Michael Onjaaatje, who also wrote The English Patient, which was turned into a movie. His latest effort, however, is an opaque and enigmatic book that leaves too many questions unanswered.

Very short reviews of books

The original, and surreal, Spaceman of Bohemia is highly recommended. The Mars Room and I am, I am, I am area also among my favorites from April.

Spaceman of Bohemia: Czech astronaut Jakub Procházka leaves his wife behind and heads on a mission to Venus where he befriends a possibly-real, alien spider. (5/5 stars.)

The Mars Room: A bad history with an obsessive strip club visitor leads a young mother to an unfortunate encounter and two life sentences in prison. This is a brutal, yet empathetic look at a life gone sideways. (5/5 stars.) Read my full review.

I am, I am, I am: A remarkable and captivating memoir that recounts author Maggie O’Farrell’s 17 near-death experiences.  (5/5 stars.)

The Immortalists: A family drama that follows the lives of four siblings who, as children, are told by a spiritualist the day they will die. (4/5 stars.)

Gateway to the MoonGateway to the Moon:  Mary Morris’ latest novel combines a coming of age story with historical fiction to explore ideas of identity and how history echoes across time. Set in a remote New Mexico town founded by crypto-Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition. (4/5 stars.) Read my full review.

Final Girls: The “final girls” are a loose-knit trio of girls who were all lone survivors of mass murder. Now one of them is dead and the other two form a troubled bond in this psychological thriller. (4/5 stars.)

The Stars Are Fire: As Grace Holland reconciles the fact that she is in a loveless marriage, a fire breaks out in rural Maine and her husband disappears, and is assumed dead, while fighting it. Her chance at a new life is severely derailed after her husband returns disfigured. (3/5 stars.)


Review: The Mars Room

Rachel Kushner’s new novel The Mars Room is a heartbreaking and unsparing look at a life gone sideways. From a young age Romy Hall became acclimatized to life on the street in San Francisco and seemed like someone who could navigate the fine line between survival and self-destruction. But a bad history with an obsessive strip club visitor leads the young mother to an unfortunate encounter and two life sentences in prison.

Separated from and unable to get in contact with her son, Hall tries to reconcile her new life with her old. Kushner draws a vivid picture of a woman growing up only knowing poverty and getting caught up in a system that has little regard for her plight.

The Mars Room (Scribner, digital galley) alternates between the present and Hall’s earlier life. While at times brutal, the novel offer an empathetic look at prison life and the rich cast of characters who reside there.


Friday morning coffee reads

Here is a regular roundup of interesting stories from the week.

  1. A landslide of classic art is about to enter the public domain.
  2. There is an arms race in artificial intelligence.
  3. The most serious environmental problem is indoor air pollution from burning dirty fuels like wood and dung.
  4. The rise of Russia’s neo-Nazi football hooligans.
  5. Southwest 1380: Think about the flight attendants.
  6. A farewell to free journalism.