Oberon's First Thread of 2021

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Oberon's First Thread of 2021

Editado: Ene 2, 7:26pm

Like many, 2020 didn't work out the way it was supposed to. Like most, I am anxious to turn the page to a new year. I am hoping this year sees the return of live theater, in person Minnesota United games and travel. However, at this point I am willing to just accept a modest improvement.

I don't make regular reading plans. That said, I did finally start a reread of the Aubrey/Maturin series that has long been a favorite of mine. I intend to continue that into the new year. Other plans for the new year include a continued focus on hiking, nordic skiing and audiobooks while doing both.

The picture above is me and my oldest son trying fly fishing for the first time. This is about the only activity I got to do on what was supposed to be a family vacation in Colorado. Instead, I spent my time coping with two herniated discs that required surgery in Colorado. If I can avoid a repeat of that for 2021 I will consider myself fortunate.

Editado: Ene 2, 6:36pm

2020 Book Year in Review

I ended the year at 103 books. I credit the increased rate with increased time from the pandemic and a number of audiobooks.

My top books for 2020 were:

1. Imperial Twilight by Stephen Platt
2. Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn
3. Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
4. Vesper Flights by Helen Macdonald
5. The Bells of Old Tokyo by Anna Sherman

Editado: Ene 2, 6:40pm

The family at the Grand Canyon.

My oldest turns 16 in three days. The boys are 13 and 8. This year will mark 20 years of marriage for my wife and me.

Editado: Feb 21, 7:14pm

Books read in 20201:


1. HMS Surprise by Patrick O'Brian
2. Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght (audiobook)
3. The House of Wisdom by Jim Al-Kalili (audiobook)
4. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
5. A World Beneath the Sands by Toby Wilkinson (audiobook)
6. The North American Indian by Edward Curtis


7. Hellboy and the BPRD: The Beast of Vargu and Others by Mike Mignola
8. Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen by Rodolphe Goetzinger
9. A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan (audiobook)
10. Swamp Thing Omnibus by Nancy Collins
11. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
12. Eat the Buddha by Barbara Demick (audiobook)
13. Notre-Dame by Ken Follett (audiobook)
14. Oak Flat by Lauren Redniss (audiobook)

Ene 2, 6:38pm

Welcome back and happy reading!

Ene 2, 6:55pm

Happy reading in 2021, Erik!

Ene 2, 7:14pm

Dropping a star, Erik! Beautiful photos.

Ene 2, 7:16pm

Dropping off my and wishing you the best of new years in 2021!

Ene 2, 7:19pm

happy new year!

Ene 2, 7:25pm

Happy new year and happy new thread, Erik. Lovely pics, and god memories.

Ene 2, 8:33pm

Welcome back!

Ene 3, 12:13am

And keep up with my friends here, Erik. Have a great 2021.

Ene 3, 10:27am

Happy New Year, Erik!

Ene 3, 11:12am

Happy New Year, Erik. You have a beautiful family. The bar is low for 2021 to be better...

Ene 3, 1:25pm

Happy New Year Erik. Wishing you better health than last year.

Ene 3, 1:33pm

Happy New Year, Erik! That's a lovely photo of your family in >3 Oberon:.

Ene 4, 5:18pm

Posting to show that I am here and this thread is active even if I am not spending much time on LT at the moment. Work is very busy and home life/kids is equally busy. I promise I will start popping into other threads as things calm down.

Ene 4, 5:20pm

In the meantime, here are some swans that I came across on a little inlet to a lake I was skiing around on Sunday. Not sure why this wasn't frozen over but the swans and some ducks were very happy with it.

Ene 4, 5:50pm

>18 Oberon: Hi Erik. Way back when, in college, I needed a two credit course to graduate. I choose a course of bird behavior. It was fascinating. And, all I had to do was attend a weekend with the class at a bird sanctuary, and write a five page document on what I learned. The professor talked about swans. I was fascinated.

Ene 5, 12:48pm

Nice pic!

Ene 6, 10:51pm

What an extraordinarily dark day for democratic governance. I am deeply troubled.

Ene 6, 11:18pm

>21 Oberon: I am deeply troubled. I am too.

Ene 7, 8:40am

Ene 8, 5:33pm

The storming of the US Capitol has reawoken many of my polisci leanings and resulted in endless hours of consuming print media. Probably to no good end. Thus, in order to distract myself I thought I would put up my first review of the year.

Ancient Bones by Madelaine Bohme

I got Ancient Bones through LT's Early Reviewer program and it is one of the best books I have received through the program. Ancient Bones is a well written and readable update of the current status of paleontology/archaeology of mankind. To expand, I use paleontology/archaeology as the distinction between the two is generally understood to be that archaeology deals with anatomically modern humans with archaeology and later, human culture while paleontology focuses on the fossils of non-human life. This book focuses distinctly on the transition point (or points) between modern humans and proto-ape ancestors.

Ancient Bones makes the argument that humanity descended more directly from a species in Europe and thus challenges the long prevailing "out of Africa" human migration theory. While interesting and well argued, this section of the book is more a snapshot of one side of an ongoing scientific debate about the origins of humanity. The more relevant and interesting portion of the book to me was the broader update that is provided about the scientific consensus surrounding human evolution and how it can be reconciled with the finding that some of our oldest ancestors were found in Europe.

If it has been awhile since you learned some of this history, the update is a bit of a surprise. Personally, I had the sense that our knowledge of human evolution was built on the discoveries of people like the Leakeys and their work in Olduvai Gorge that established that our first ancestors lived in eastern Africa and eventually migrated north into Europe and Asia. Neanderthals were alternatively part of the line or an offshoot that died out but otherwise modern humans arose in Africa and slowly spread throughout the globe.

Ancient Bones does a marvelous job of updating this understanding. In doing so it incorporates finds like the so called "hobbit" skeleton in Indonesia, Denisovan remains from Russia, and a lot of the information we have learned from detailed genetic analysis of earlier finds . This results in a far more complex story of evolution with different proto-humans appearing and disappearing with substantial evidence that the different species were still closely related enough to interbreed. The genetics also point to other branches of the human tree that we still haven't found.

As Ancient Bones freely acknowledges there remain a lot of unanswered questions and more we need to learn. With that acknowledgment, Ancient Bones serves as a very readable update on the current understanding of where we came from. Highly recommended.

Ene 9, 9:30am

Ancient Bones sounds great, Erik. I am very interested in archeology. I will look for this one.

Ene 11, 2:22pm

>25 BLBera: A very good book if you are interested in the subject matter.

Ene 11, 2:23pm

I saw today that Biden has named William J. Burns as the next director of the CIA. Burns wrote an excellent book on his time as a diplomat called The Back Channel. I would highly recommend it.

Ene 12, 8:40am

Happy New Year, Erik. Happy New Thread. I have been listening to Owls of the Eastern Ice. No surprise, I am enjoying it very much. Thanks for the rec. I have been seeing swans lately too, on my bird outings. As long as there is open water, they will hang out.

Ene 13, 2:12pm

>28 msf59: Hi Mark. I figured you would like it. I am aiming to get a review up soon myself but I thought a quick note plugging the book was called for. Glad it hit the mark.

Ene 13, 2:19pm

>30 Oberon: Following on with political figures who have written excellent books, it was announced today that Samantha Power will head USAID, America's foreign aid office and that the position will be elevated to the National Security Council in the Biden administration. Power has written several excellent books. Her most famous is A Problem from Hell that launched her career and chronicles America's reaction to genocide. Her newest book Education of an Idealist is basically an autobiography with a hefty focus on Power's time in the Obama administration. Finally, there is my personal favorite Chasing the Flame which is excellent biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello, a longtime UN representative famous for solving hard problems through diplomacy who died in the bombing of the UN Mission in Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush. As an aside, Chasing the Flame was used as the source for a decent Netflix/maybe HBO? movie of the same name. As is usually the case, the book is better but the movie was decent.

Ene 13, 2:41pm

>30 Oberon: Yes. I read her autobiography last year, and had everything crossed she'd get to join this administration. A Problem from Hell is near the top of one of the mountains. I'll add Chasing the Flame to the list.

She also appears a bit in the documentary The Final Year.

Ene 13, 4:50pm

>31 Caroline_McElwee: - I saw that documentary - twice. Excellent

Ene 15, 10:40pm

>31 Caroline_McElwee: & >32 jessibud2: I saw and "liked" that documentary. Hard to watch all that we lost. As the Trump administration slouches toward the exit I found it very hard to think on how much better off we could have been but for the slim 2016 election outcome. It is heart breaking as I believe very strongly that it didn't have to be this way and that if Clinton had won we would vastly better off than we are today.

Ene 15, 11:08pm

Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght

Owls of the Eastern Ice is an account of Slaght's effort to learn about and track Blackiston's Fish Owl. The bird is the largest of the owls and lives along the Russian Pacific coast and a few isolated parts of Japan. The owls primarily eat fish and frogs. Slaght's story is set primarily in Russia where he conducts a multi-year survey to first find fish owls and then, later to catch and track fish owls.

Slaght's field is grueling and I also found it very interesting how little was known about fish owls prior to this work. For example, when Slaght starts out, they have a difficult time telling the females from the males. While I enjoyed the details of the owls, even better was the description of living and working in the Russian far east. Slaght does an excellent job portraying the remoteness of the local and the odd characters the area attracts. The result is that Owls of the Eastern Ice reads as much like an adventure story as it does a nature/conservation account.

Finally, I can't ignore the fact that Slaght is a Minnesotan (which I did not know until reading the book) and thus I especially appreciated the times he returns to Minnesota to take classes at the University or how he partners with the Raptor Center to devise away to catch his first fish owls. This is not to say that anyone who is not so fortunate to be tied to Minnesota won't enjoy the book - it was just a nice touch for me.

Owls of the Eastern Ice is an excellent as both nature writing and adventure travelogue. Highly recommended.

Ene 15, 11:10pm

This is a picture of the author with a fish owl that he has tagged and is prepared to release. Note the fish in the owl's mouth that is an effort to keep the owl calm. I have to say, I wish I had a profile picture half this bad ass.

Ene 16, 5:58am

>34 Oberon: This one is near the top of my tbr mountain Erik, glad it hit the sweet spot for you.

>35 Oberon: It is a great photo.

Ene 16, 8:33am

>34 Oberon: On to the list it goes!

Ene 16, 8:38am

Este usuario ha sido eliminado por spam.

Ene 16, 10:32am

>34 Oberon: The owl book sounds interesting.

Ene 19, 5:55pm

>36 Caroline_McElwee: I am not sure if there are any of these in captivity but I would love to see one.

>37 drneutron: Yay!

>39 thornton37814: I definitely thought so. Hope you check it out.

Editado: Ene 19, 6:01pm

I gave my wife a new iphone for Christmas and as part of that purchase signed up for a year of AppleTV+. I was reluctant since we have a pile of streaming services already but I wanted to see the Tom Hanks movie Greyhound and Sophia Coppola's new file was released on AppleTV so I figured a year free wasn't a bad outcome.

Instead of watching either of those films I have been sucked into two other shows. The first is Wolfwalkers which I watched with my boys. Unbeknownst to me, it is by the same director who did the Book of Kells and Song of the Sea (both of which are on Netflix) and are part of an effort to bring to life Irish folklore through animation. Truly gorgeous movies that represent some of the best of what animation can do.

Even more addicting has been Dickinson, an odd mashup of period costumes and modern speech about the life of Emily Dickinson. It is hard to describe and I can see why lots of people would not care for its portrayal of Dickinson. Nevertheless I am captivated. I am now in search of a copy of the complete works of Emily Dickinson. Not something a tv show would ordinarily set me on to.

Ene 20, 1:26pm

Very impressed with Amanda Gorman's poem at the inauguration today. It is called "The Hill We Climb."

Ene 20, 2:31pm

>42 Oberon: - Me too. She must be a performance artist. For someone so young, she seemed remarkably composed and I thought she did a fabulous job! her star is about to soar!

Ene 21, 12:11pm

A World Beneath the Sands by Toby Wilkinson

A World Beneath the Sands is Wilkinson's latest book about Egypt. After thoroughly enjoying The Nile by Wilkinson, I thought I would give this one a try.

The focus of A World Beneath the Sands is the "golden" age of archaeology in Egypt. Wilkinson defines the period as roughly stretching from Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (with a large group of so called savants in tow to catalogue the country) up through the discovery of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter. Wilkinson makes clear that the period is more accurately a European rediscovery of ancient Egypt and that much of the archaeology at the time was hand in hand with colonialism. As a result, Europeans largely controlled who dug where and who kept what.

This reality had significant impacts, both positive and negative. European focus on Egypt led to modernization and growth of the country and ultimately led to archaeology becoming a scientific discipline grounded in Enlightenment thinking. However, along the way, Europeans treated the Egyptians themselves as wholly inferior, carted away much of the finds back to their own countries, and engaged in such destructive practices as dynamiting the pyramids in the service of exploring them.

Wilkinson does a fine job of noting the failings the Europeans while acknowledging the failings of the Egyptians themselves. When Napoleon first came to Egypt, the country was still nominally under the control of the distant Ottoman empire. Slavery was widespread. And, no one, Egyptians or otherwise paid any attention to the legacy of ancient Egypt. Rather, sites were wholly lost or, those that were too big to lose like the pyramids, were quarried for handy stone.

Wilkinson spends most of his time walking through the archaeology of the period and the discoveries that were made. It is hard not to feel nostalgic for this period. It is the setting for things like Death on the Nile and Elizabeth Peters' books featuring mysteries among the wonders of ancient Egypt. Wealthy patrons would outfit boats and leisurely travel the Nile while sponsoring archeological digs. It is hard not to be entranced about this lifestyle even if it was, ultimately, at the expense of the Egyptians.

If you have an interest in Egyptian archaeology, A World Beneath the Sands is an excellent and balanced look at the beginning and high point of popular Egyptology.

Ene 21, 6:02pm

>44 Oberon: Adding to my list Erik. Like most children I was really into Egyptology. Years looking at the artefacts at the British Museum, then as an adult visiting the country.

Ene 22, 10:20am

>45 Caroline_McElwee: Caroline, this book tells the story of how a lot of the stuff at the British Museum got there. I very much hope to some day visit Egypt myself. I would especially like to have the time and money to take a boat up the Nile.

Ene 22, 10:55am

>46 Oberon: - I did a Luxor to Aswan cruise, and it was amazing. Totally cheaped out on it, though, and the boat was a nightmare. So yes, worth saving pennies for!

Editado: Ene 22, 11:36am

>46 Oberon: A boat up the Nile will not disappoint Erik. We went on a smaller boat, 70 passengers. Wonderful. One of my favourite places was Saqqara, although it was probably the hottest I've ever been. I'd like to explore it more one day. We arrived and a sand storm blew up. Very atmospheric. I noticed there is a docu on Netflix about it, which I aim to watch at the weekend.

Ene 22, 2:00pm

>47 katiekrug: & >78 I would love to see places like Luxor, Aswan and Saqqara. The smaller boat sounds perfect. I watched a documentary (on Curiosity Stream I think) where a woman hired hired a Dahabiya (the sailing boats) to tour the Nile. I think something like the BBC fronted the bill but it was pretty remarkable.

Ene 22, 2:40pm

Erik, you might enjoy Down the Nile: Alone in a Fisherman's Skiff by Rosemary Mahoney. I read it in 2011 and rated it 3.5 stars.

Ene 22, 5:18pm

I'm with you, Erik. I'd love to visit Egypt some day. This book goes on my WL.

Ene 22, 5:57pm

Ancient Bones is a book I am interested in obtaining. I recently finished a book regarding the discovery and argument regarding ownership of the fossils of Sue, the largest dinosaur set of T Rex!

Ene 22, 7:29pm

>50 katiekrug: Thanks Katie. I will check it out, though to be honest I am not sure I would want to row the Nile as opposed to being carried along in luxury.

>51 BLBera: LT meet up! Just need a rich patron.

>52 Whisper1: Ancient Bones is very good Linda. I think I was one of the people recommending Tyrannosaurus Sue - an excellent book. Sounds like you enjoyed it.

Editado: Ene 22, 7:33pm

>44 Oberon: Excellent review, Erik. You got me with that one. How did you like the narrator?

Ene 24, 2:20pm

Hi Erik! We are also enjoying Dickinson. (similar reason for having Apple TV). It's quirky enough I can't watch it more than once or twice a week, but very fun.

Ene 25, 5:01pm

>54 Crazymamie: Hi Mamie - it was narrated by Graeme Malcolm. Solid, non-super remarkable. I don't speak French but his French pronunciations sounded accurate to my untrained ear.

>55 banjo123: At least there is one! I think quirky is a solid description of the show - some misses but still fun.

Ene 26, 10:41pm

>53 Oberon: I have been down the Nile on a cruise but I think going down it on a skiff may a tad hazardous and hard work.

Ene 27, 10:53am

>57 PaulCranswick: Nile cruises are more common than I would have thought! At least with LT members.

Feb 10, 5:30pm

A Pilgrimage to Eternity by Timothy Egan

A different sort of book from the others I have read by Timothy Egan. Egan sets out to walk the Via Francigena, a pilgrimage route from Canterbury Cathedral to Rome. Along the way he uses his travels to muse on his lapsed Catholic faith and details the history of that faith as well as the places he passes through. The book is a much more personal and introspective book as Egan discusses at length his own upbringing, the experiences of family members and the the religious education (or lack thereof) of his children.

As I spent most of the time I was listening to the book out hiking, I appreciated Egan's narrative about the physical aspects of the travel. For example, he manages to severely blister his feet coming down from the mountains into Italy. As a result, he purchases a pair of open shoes to continue walking in to avoid making his blisters worse. However, the only thing available are shower shoes - a major fashion faux pas in Italy.

While much of the book delves into deep subjects there were laugh out loud funny moments as well such as when Egan is trying to gain access to a museum commemorating a massacre of Huguenots and encounters a very uninterested young French man who lives nearby. Egan's very profane response (which I don't think he said out loud) was hilarious.

Egan is an excellent observer and narrator which makes A Pilgrimage to Eternity highly informative. I can see some being put off by Egan's descriptions of his very personal struggles with faith and Catholicism but I found it interesting and worthwhile. Recommended.

Feb 10, 6:28pm

Great review of A Pilgrimage to Eternity, Erik!

Feb 13, 7:35pm

>59 Oberon: I read that one last year. I liked it, but didn't love it.

Feb 18, 2:56pm

>60 kidzdoc: Thanks Darryl

>61 thornton37814: I wouldn't say I loved it either but parts of it have stuck with me. Maybe I am just missing Europe too much.

Feb 18, 3:47pm

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

One of the stranger books I have read in awhile. This was the selection for the over-the-top themed bookclub my friend has been doing. For reasons that escape me, she got very interested in samizdat (circulating copies of censored literature) in Russia and wanted to try the book.

Set in Moscow, the story involves the sudden appearance of Satan and odd members of his court in the middle of the city. Satan sets about occupying an apartment of a man who is killed shortly after meeting Satan and who Satan predicts his demise. Appearing as Woland, an illusionist/magician, Satan proceeds to set up a stage performance at a theater where he performs various miraculous and absurd magic tricks which proceed to cause chaos.

In the second part of the book, Satan invites Margarita, a bored housewife to host a ball with him in exchange for the recovery of her lover. Connecting these stories is another story, a vividly rendered depiction of Pontius Pilate and the sentencing of Christ to crucifixion. The first part of the Pontius Pilate story is related by Satan as a recollection to the first people he encounters in Moscow. The second part is as a segment of a book that Margarita's lover has written and then destroyed.

I am not sure that my brief description does the plot much justice but The Master and Margarita is not easily categorized. Much of it reads like a fever dream. The characters are memorable and weird. Many of their actions make little sense and Satan's decisions as to who and how to punish their various transgressions don't always make sense. It is an interesting book. I admit that I struggled to get into the story at the start but the weirdness pulled me in and pulled me along.

Feb 18, 7:53pm

>44 Oberon: What a great review!

Feb 19, 12:34pm

>63 Oberon: I loved this crazy novel Erik.

My sister visited Bulgakov's house when she visited Moscow a few years back, which I think had a bit of a surreal quality too.

Feb 19, 5:23pm

Fever dream is a good way to describe The Master and Margarita, Erik.

Feb 22, 2:09pm

>64 Whisper1: Thanks Linda

>65 Caroline_McElwee: I think visiting the house would be interesting. Not sure what the environment would be that would produce a writer like Bulgakov.

>66 BLBera: It seems a little to long and detailed to be absinthe induced? Laudanum perhaps like The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? Speculating obviously.

Feb 22, 2:25pm

I have been doing a lot of hiking since my back surgery. I got an upgrade to AllTrails (a hiking app) for Christmas and am already solidly over the 100 mile mark for 2021. A lot of that hiking is while the kids are at soccer practice and I have to kill an hour or two before they are done but I have also used it for socialization. While my friends are less keen (and less motivated) than me, I persuaded a buddy to go hiking with me to find Zug Zug.

Short version of the story is someone made a caveman frozen into an ice block for a marketing job and kept the caveman afterward. Deciding it was too cool to leave in the garage the artist got in contact with the park board and got permission to install it along a trail in a Minneapolis park. So, frozen caveman in snowy Minnesota park.

Story if you want to read more. https://www.vice.com/en/article/epdm7m/a-caveman-encased-in-ice-has-appeared-in-...

Editado: Feb 22, 3:11pm

>68 Oberon: That's cool... er literally too.

Feb 23, 12:32pm

Well, that would be a surprise to come upon while on the trail. 😀