Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Tuesdays with Morrie (Albom)

Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, 1997

If not for those New Year lists of Reading Challenges, I don't know if I would have picked up this book and held onto it. The copy belonged to my wife, who read it years ago. It was about to go into a donation box, but I rescued it (along with the next book I'm reading, which she suggested).

Mitch Albom went to Brandeis University where his favorite professor was Morrie Schwartz. Upon graduation, Morrie gave Mitch a present and hoped to see him in the future. Albom then got caught up with life and didn't see Schwartz again until by sheer luck, he flipped TV channels and caught the beginning of Nightline with Ted Koppel who was about to interview Schwartz who was still teaching, despite being diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

What follows are the notes from his first meeting with Schwartz to catch up on old times and discuss life, which then turns into his final class, which will meet every Tuesday. They were "Tuesday people". Albom returns weekly over the course of a few months to discuss life and family and to chronicle his professor's decline in health but not in spirit, with some history lessons and anecdotes from college along the way. Morrie's biggest fear seems to be that one day, he won't be able to wipe his own butt in the bathroom. But even then, he realizes that he's become like a baby again, and there isn't anything wrong with that.

If you know anyone who went through a long decline, it can be heartwarming to read, or it could be gut-wrenching. For me it was the former.

The book did not become a bestseller until three years after it was published, when it was made into a TV movie, which is probably why I didn't notice any awards by the book. It slipped under the radar until it was too late for the accolades.

I thought it was an Oprah Winfrey book club selection, but I can't find a listing for it, so I might have been mistaken. However, she did recommend the book and then produce the movie, so that's close enough for me.

Note: I've tagged this as "Biography" even if it isn't a typical biography. I think it fits that classification.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Analog's Lighter Side (Schmidt, ed.)

Analog's Lighter Side, by S. Schmidt, ed, 1982

Anytime I get any kind of notice that some online catalog now has magazines, I check it out. Unfortunately, those magazines are usually either scholarly journal-type publications or popular newstand magazines of the slick and glossy variety. They don't ever have, for example, old science-fiction magazines.

One of the first ones I search for is Analog because I had a subscription from the late-80s to the mid-90s. The problem was I never seemed to have time to catch up with them, so I let the subscription lapse. Anyway, while searching for Analog, I found an anthology, Analog's Lighter Side, a collection of humorous stories, edited by Stanley Schmidt, who was the editor I remember (and could possibly still be editing it today).

The anthology is from 1982, which meant I'd likely never read any of the material before. As you can see from the Table of Contents above, most of the stories date from before I was born (and before Schmidt's reign). How these stories in particular were chosen, I don't know. I read Schmidt's introduction where he acknowledges that humor is subjective and even mentions that one story plays it so straight that you won't see the humor until it's done. Whatever. I tried to enjoy it, but it's a bit dated.

For example, the future tech seems silly, even quaint, in earlier stories, given the advances of the last half century (especially the past couple decades). And at least two stories make like of characters with drinking problems -- being drunk is central to the story. Less enlightened times, sure, but they were back-to-back and I worried the rest of the book might follow suit.

Where it fell apart for me was "The Gentle Earth" from 1957. It was an okay story, but it just seemed to go on and on, pointlessly. It could've been half the length. And it wasn't particularly humorous. More like "Funny Things Happened on the Way to the Invasion" as things are misunderstood and keep going wrong. The final payoff wasn't the effort. I should have skipped the story, but I got so far into it, I wanted to know how it ended ... even if I kept falling asleep. I was on this story when I renewed the book, and I finished the story sitting at a table in the library so I could drop it in the bin.

I then skimmed "A !Tangled Web", which was a little more promising, but I hate when sci-fi and fantasy writers put symbols or punctuation into language and then don't give a clue as to how such things are supposed to be pronounced. Amusingly (hey, it's "lighter"!), given my computer background, I alternated between "not" and "bang" to stand in for the exclamation point.

Final verdict: meh. Maybe I'll borrow it again this summer and read the rest. Or not.

Goals: A good part of the book was written before I was born. It's an anthology. And it was intended as humor. So I covered some bases.