Tuesday, January 7, 2014

December 2013 Book Report

I've been debating whether to start these reports this year. I decided yes because I like to look back on what I've read. I forget so quickly why I thought a book was good. According to Goodreads I read 39 books in 2013. My goal was 40. I should have counted more of the books I read with Bridget.

1. Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller Sr. by Ron Chernow

I read Chernow's biography of George Washington and really enjoyed it. I decided to listen to this one (30 hours, y'all) and I was all set with John D. Rockefeller by the time we got to the 20th hour. BAH. The voice acting was great (can't find his name on my iTunes copy), but there was just so very much! Too many words! I was fascinated by Rockefeller's childhood and his parents. His father was a con artist (I started to put con man, but his father really was an artist). That's how he made a living! He would be gone for long periods and during one of his absences he got married to another woman. Con man and a bigamist. Excellent. John Rockefeller glossed over his father's imperfections when he reminisced about his life to his first biographer, but the documented stories in this book clearly show that John was never proud of his dad.

We all know Rockefeller was filthy rich and maybe you know why, but I didn't really. He was in the oil business. Refining and selling it. It was a brand new business at the time and Rockefeller was one of the few who looked at it as a business that was going to be around for a long time. (Most of the other people in the oil business were looking to get rich quick - that idea of getting rich quick has always been around, hasn't it.) John started young as a clerk in a shipping office. He was dedicated beyond the normal 19 - 20 year old. Chernow speculates that he was trying to be upstanding always to counteract the pain his father caused his mother and the other kids. John was also a very devout Baptist (stark contrast to other titans of industry at the time). He didn't drink or gamble or appear to have any vices like that. Except that he was ruthless. 

Anyway, I came away admiring some of John Rockefeller's characteristics, but a little horrified at how he separated himself so completely from the things that he did or knew where being done to people in order for Standard Oil to be IT. One thing I liked about him was how well he managed his time and how he was always learning.

"He listened closely to what people said and filed away as much information as he could, repeating valuable information to himself until it was memorized. There was humility in this eagerness to learn. As he said, 'It is very important to remember what people tell you, not so much what you yourself already know.'"

One of my favorite stories was the time an employee of Rockefeller's didn't recognize him in the exercise room at Standard Oil and got after him for leaving weights or something on the floor. Instead of giving the employee what-for, Rockefeller picked up the weights and apologized. And he didn't have the guy fired later. 

I was puzzled by his family life. His wife was also very devout and they kept their children close - not really living it up like they could have. At the same time, the reserve sounded a little off. I don't know how to explain it, but there was something not right about the whole picture. Also, I finished this a month ago and I can't remember a lot of detail anymore. There you go. If you're in the mood for an interesting but REALLY LONG biography, this one is for you.

2. The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
I wanted to change things up a bit with my December reading of A Christmas Carol and try one of Dickens' other holiday-ish stories. I can see now why A Christmas Carol is more famous. It should be. Dickens is spot-on when it comes to writing men. the Cricket on the Hearth is an example of him going too far in making the women impossibly kind and good. One of them is even blind... and kind and good. Bleh.

As always, though, I can't resist Dickens' turn of phrase. He's so good with the words! This story is of a young woman married to a much older man, a mean older man engaged to a much younger woman, a young blind girl whose father makes toys and paints a too-rosy picture of the world for his dear daughter, and a brother who comes back from the war in disguise to see if his true love is still true. Got all that? It doesn't matter. I'm sure you know how this is going to end. There is a wedding. A fat goose is cooked and given away. Two of the three elements of a perfect story. Hmm. Maybe I wasn't in the mood for this one like I thought I was.

3. The Complete Stories of Sherlock Holmes, Vol. I by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I chose that drawing of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes because he IS Sherlock Holmes to me now. I started listening to Doyle's stories in December and loved them. My sister-in-law, Claire, suggested I might like the BBC series, "Sherlock," so I started watching it on Netflix. Both the stories and the TV show are brilliant! I want everyone I know to read the stories and watch the show because they parallel each other in the most unexpected and delightful ways. (The TV show takes place in the present.) Lucky for me I started watching the show a few weeks ago (I binged on it and finished all six 90-minute episodes in a few days) and not when it originally aired. Fans of that show have been waiting for new episodes for TWO years! The new season starts in the U.S. on January 19th. Go watch it. For real. (And now I totally get the look Claire gave me when I said I enjoyed the Robert Downey Jr./ Jude Law movies. Ha! Amateur hour.)

Okay, the stories are all "written" by Watson (in the show Watson is a blogger). We're usually in the dark with Watson when Sherlock says stuff like, "I have all the information I need. The solution is obvious." It's never obvious to us. Some of the stories are pretty far-fetched, but most of them are very clever and make me wonder why I didn't see it before it was revealed. The stories are laid out pretty much the same every time. A client will come to Sherlock as a last-ditch effort and tell their story to him. Sometimes he goes to the crime scene, sometimes he figures things out immediately. Watson often laments that the scientific world doesn't have Sherlock working for them. :) Sherlock's focus and fascination is with crimes and solving them. He insists that there are no "new" crimes. And he would know - he can remember every case he's ever investigated, plus hundreds he researched.

My favorite story/TV show parallel was Sherlock figuring out Watson's life by his watch/mobile phone. The clues were exactly the same. I can't get over how delightful that is to me. (I also noticed that the TV show "House" was basically a Sherlock Holmes parody. House solves puzzles, is an insufferable human being to everyone but his best bud, Wilson. See what they did there? I shouldn't mention it because "Sherlock" is a much better show.) I'm a huge fan of both the book and the BBC show. I'm pretty sure all this makes me a Sherlock Nerd.


Jill said...

So glad you're going to keep doing these. I would have given you the "look" same as Claire. The movies are no where near as good as the BBC series. I can't begin to express how excited I am for Jan 19th.

melissa said...

So let me get this straight: You're JUST NOW watching "Sherlock" and discovering that "House" is based on Holmes? I feel like this is all my fault, somehow. At least you didn't have to wait two years for it to come back.

You should see the new Hobbit movie. Sherlock and Watson are both in it. Sort of.