Page after page: About my reading

My oldest daughter and I are working to get better at recommending books to each other.  We quickly realized my old and new favorites might not be right for her and vice versa.  Recommending someone read a book is different from telling someone about a book you liked. To do better at finding books we’d both like and could share, I began a summary of my favorite authors and books for her. That effort soon exploded into what you see below. But read on; perhaps you’ll see authors and books you remember fondly or something you’ll want to read.  Even better, something you read may cause you to recall a favorite book and recommend it to me.

FICTION 

Christopher Moore: Island of the Sequined Love Nun (book cover)

Christopher Moore books:  These books are light-hearted, deftly written, and fun.  They occasionally dip into the supernatural but in a unique and fun way.  One three-book series is centered in a fictitious coastal town: Practical Demonkeeping, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror.  Another three books are about vampires in San Francisco and I love them, too.  Moore’s standalone novels include Coyote Blue, Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings,  this last one being my favorite of the standalone books.  The first of his I read was Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, and I got hooked.  It was impossible not to begin forming ideas about the author – his age, where he lived, his values, and interests.  Meeting Moore at a book signing at Palo Alto’s Kepler’s Books & Magazines one afternoon in 2007, nearly all my ideas proved to be true.  He was a soft-spoken young-ish man, in no way full of himself, although well-traveled and clearly in love with Northern California.  Reading his books made me smile, and I’ve re-read several.  The characters are interesting, the situations fun and bizarre.  Moore is one of only a couple of authors I’ve recommended to my younger daughter, Ginger. She read and fell in love with his books, too, although I’m not sure she’s read them all. Moore’s chronicles of Pocket the Fool were not to my liking, but all of the ones listed above are brilliant.   I suspect Christie may like these and may even consider introducing some of them to her girls.

John Sandford: Neon Prey (book cover)

John Sandford books: Sandford is best known for his series of detective/crime thrillers, all with “Prey” in the title and revolve around the cases of Minneapolis homicide detective, Lucas Davenport.  One of his fellow detectives, Virgil Flowers, spun out another series of books, in the same way The Mary Tyler Moore Show spun out the Lou Grant Show, Rhoda, and Phyllis. All of Virgil’s cases are located in/around the Mankato, MN area.  Sandford also wrote a less popular series about a computer hacker, Joe Kidd.  Sandford books are a great ride.  I read them in order and enjoyed the character maturing, getting married, having kids, and changing jobs. Sandford is still cranking them out.  At first, I pegged my fondness for his books on recognizing so many Minnesota landmarks. After all, reading “He sped south on I-35 out of Minneapolis towards Burnsville” creates a clearer mental image to me than, “Thomas drove north from Philadelphia on the 295 towards New Jersey.”  After a few books, I realized it wasn’t only the landmarks – he’s just a superb storyteller.  Sandford’s popularity is not only for those familiar with Minnesota as each new book promptly shoots to the top of the New York Times Bestsellers List.  Flowers and Davenport are fun because they’re smart and exercise superior judgment in the face of common practice. They never fail to get the perpetrator. Sandford also dipped into Science Fiction (Saturn Run) and Juvenile Fiction.  I’ve read all his Si-Fi books and like them, too.  I read one of his JF books and, while decent, it is hard to beat any of the Davenport or Virgil Flowers books.

Lee Child: Jack Reacher, The Hard Way (book cover)

Lee Child books:   Child has created a compelling character in Jack Reacher and features him in at least 25 books.  Reacher always gets the hideously wicked bad guys. Given his physical strength, military training, and being smarter than others, he always wins, and I enjoy reading how he manages it.  Each book has “set pieces,” situations regular fans love and read the books to find – such as Reacher taking on a group of bad guys in hand-to-hand combat who make the mistake of thinking numbers will somehow overcome Reacher’s physical strength and training.  Or, when he uses his skills with a rifle to make impossible sniper shots or when he manages to compel someone into revealing what he needs to know when they think they’ll be able to keep it hidden.  They’re predictable, exciting, and fun.

Thomas Perry: Vanishing Act (book cover)

Thomas Perry: This LA-based writer is one I’ve read since the early 1980s and keep coming back to over and over. His books are the equivalent of comfort food.  The first I read was Metzger’s Dog.  We were living in LA at the time and Perry captured the city and the highways I was so familiar with, making the book come alive.  Next was The Butcher’s Boy.  This 1982 book was even better than Metzger’s Dog and I was thrilled when this character returned and starred in 3 more books arriving in 1992, 2011, and 2020).  He also writes female characters very well and I like his Jane Whitefield series, about a skilled Native American woman who helps people to disappear. His Jack Till series books are good along with many of his stand-alone novels like Nightlife, Fidelity, Strip, The Bomb Maker, The Burglar, Death Benefits, and others.

Taylor Stevens: The Innocent (book cover)

Taylor Stevens:  Ms. Stevens has created a wonderful female protagonist, Vanessa Michael Munroe, the daughter of American missionaries in Africa. The Vanessa Michael Munroe books are international, boots-on-the-ground thrillers featuring a mercenary information hunter who is a mix of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. She is smart, cunning, insightful, and perhaps best of all, a genuine bad-ass.  You do not want to fight with her, ever, especially if she has a knife. I loved the first few books, The Informationist, The Innocent, The Doll and The Vessel.  I still have The Catch and The Mask to go.  Stevens, while an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author with over twenty books, came to writing fiction late. Born into an apocalyptic cult and raised in communes across the globe, her education ended at the 6th grade.  She spent her adolescence as a child laborer. She now lives in Dallas. Her backstory is as interesting as her books.

Carl Hiaasen: Razor Girl (book cover)

Carl Hiaasen: This writer, based in Florida, sets most of his books there.  He is like a cross between Christopher Moore and Thomas Perry or Lee Child. My favorites include Skinny Dip, Sick Puppy, Bad Monkey, Razor Girl, Squeeze Me and, Strip Tease.  He’s a columnist too and has several book collections of his columns which I have not read.  Not everyone likes these books, but I do.  In my mind he’s like Elmore Leonard, but funnier.  He’s written an entire series for young readers and I read a couple of them, not knowing they were for kids.  But once I’d begun Hoot and Flush, I just had to keep reading.  Superb for kids, both boys and girls. 

Martin Cruz Smith: This author’s fictional detective, Arkady Renko, first appeared in Gorky Park. I went on to read Polar Star, Red Square, Stalin’s Ghost and finally ran aground in Havana Bay, as it was slow to start and other book commitments were pending.  Some of the books are set in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and others take place after the fall of the Soviet Union.  I read the paper book versions first but liked them better as audiobooks, where I did not have to struggle with Russian name pronunciation in my head and relied on the voice actor to figure it out.

Stieg Larsson: The Girl Who Played With Fire (book cover)

Scandinavian Crime Thrillers: These books, sometimes referred to as Nordic Noir, are highly gripping, brilliantly plotted, and, sometimes, dark and chilling.  My favorites writers are Stieg Larsson and Jussi Adler Olsen with Jo Nesbo a bit behind.  My interest began with Larsson’s Swedish trilogy “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” (etc,) and not just because author Stieg Larsson’s name translates in English to “Steve Larson.” I devoured the trilogy and wanted to read more like them, but the author up and died.  Jussi Adler Olsen’s Dept. Q novels were the perfect next step.  While bleak landscapes, chilling crimes with brooding characters struggling to find justice can be off-putting at first, the quality of the writing, superb craftsmanship in the stories and the plot twists and turns are worth the investment.  I’ve given up on a couple of Jo Nesbo books when they got a bit dark. I’ll put Tom Rob Smith in here as well, even though he’s British.  His highly acclaimed book, Child 44, is one of the best-crafted pieces of fiction I’ve read. It features MGB agent Leo Demidov and is set in Stalin’s Soviet Union.  My cousin, Ron Herem, who’s responsible for tipping me off to Nordic Noir suggested this author, too.

John D. MacDonald: The Deep Blue Good By (book cover)

John D. McDonald: This is where it all started.  I expect these books from the 1960s, ’70s, and early ’80s won’t hold up to reading today, but they are superbly fun and highly instructive. I loved them and so did hundreds of thousands of other readers back in the day. McDonald wrote this series of crime thrillers about a Florida-based detective named Travis McGee who lived on a houseboat and drank Boodles Gin martinis.   Lee Child and John Sandford followed McDonald’s blueprint to a tee and have created their book franchises. I read every one of the 21 Travis McGee novels.  Two other favorite writers of mine, Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, openly credit John D. McDonald with inspiring their work.  The Travis McGee books all have a color in the title from the first one, “The Deep Blue Good-by” in 1964 to the last one, “The Lonely Silver Rain” in 1984.  McGee’s fictional 52-foot houseboat was named the Busted Flush, docked in the Bahia Mar Marina in Ft. Lauderdale.  He’s not a cop or a detective but instead bills himself as a “salvage consultant,” expert at recovering lost or stolen items, for which he takes a 50% commission when he recovers them.  He’s sort of a beach bum, somewhat retired, and only takes cases if he needs money or they interest him.  His ride is a 1936 Rolls Royce converted into a pickup which he named Miss Agnes. McGee always wins, he gets the best lines, outsmarts everyone, and solves the mystery.

Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Fantasy and Science Fiction:  Early on I read the classics, starting with J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy during my college years. Later I moved to Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game and the entire series as well as the Seventh Son books).  Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land and a host of others) and, Vernor Vinge were all excellent.  My friend Jerry Michalski tipped me to William Gibson’s Neuromancer and I read the first of his Bridge trilogy, Virtual Light, but lost interest at Pattern Recognition – he just lost me. I fell in love with Neal Stephenson after reading Snowcrash in the early 1990s.  To this day I think his The Diamond Age is one of the most remarkable feats of imagination ever.

Douglas Adams was amazing, too.  A Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy and all of its iterations, including a BBC radio show and follow-on books (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, the Universe and Everything and finally; So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. His Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was also mind-bendingly fun.

Maggie introduced me to the fantasy world of Roger Zelazny when we were courting. This category would be remiss without mentioning all the wonderful books by Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clark, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert (re-reading it several years later it dawned on me Dune wasn’t only Sci-Fi but maybe one of the best political novels ever written), and Michael Crichton’s books are skillful blends of science fiction, technology and bio-tech.

Arkady Martine: A Memory Called Empire (book cover)

Recently my nephew, Robert, and my friend Chuk Batko have made some good recommendations. Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs trilogy, Ernest Cline with Ready Player One and Two, Arkady Martine (A Memory Called Empire – Teixcalaan #1).  Bob Meador recommended Mark Helprin books but the first one I found, Winter’s Tale, which is later in the series, had me stopping halfway through. I wrote Bob and said, “On the plus side, it is beautifully written.  Sometimes I had to go back and reread passages because I got so caught up in the richness of his ornate sentences and paragraphs. I attempted The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories by Howard Phillips Lovecraft, as I was told this was the key to understanding Pratchett and Gaiman, but found it too weird for my taste.

Rich fantasies are not so much my preferred sort of book these days.  I reread, well truthfully, “began” to reread the J.R.R. Tolkein series and only got halfway through the first one. Attempting to read it a second time, 30 years later, it seemed there was so much “unnecessary” stuff. Long explanations of the Elvish language, poems, and songs, topographical descriptions go on for pages.  It made me think of iconic author Elmore Leonard’s advice to budding writers – “Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”   I enjoyed Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson and am way into the James S. A. Corey Expanse series, on book seven I think. I’ve completed Babylon’s Ashes and have started Tiamat’s Wrath.  The ninth book, which isn’t out yet, I’ve been told is the final one.  Yesterday I finished Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book.  It’s categorized as Juvenile Fiction and I thought it might be a good introduction into the fantasy world for my granddaughters. It’s actually perfect for that and quite brilliant, really and not surprisingly, won the Newbery Medal from the American Library Association.

Tony Hillerman: Skinwalkers (book cover)

Other Popular Writers. The following books are ones I’ve read more than once. While superb books, they don’t merit their own sections.  They include John Irving (I began with The World According to Garp but my favorite was A Widow for One Year),  Robert Ludlum (nearly all of his – who didn’t love Jason Bourne?), Tom Clancy (the first few with Hunt for Red October the best), John Grisham (his legal thrillers first, like A Time to Kill, but more recently I’ve read his Camino Island books and they’re no-stress delights), Mario Puzo (the first three – the essential Mafia books),  Scott Turow (the first two Presumed Innocent books were brilliant), Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee books are excellent and provide a view of tribal life in the southwest showcasing its vast space.  Anne Tyler (I loved The Accidental Tourist and Breathing Lessons), James Michener (started with The Source, then read several more but grew tired of the formula), Dean Koontz,  Jeffrey Archer, James Patterson, Dan Brown, Larry McMurtry (his Lonesome Dove books are classic and no one’s written a better western),  Anne Rice (vampires), Ken Follett, David Baldacci (pretty up to date on him, and that says a lot – of books, that is), John Berendt (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – which I’ve begun rereading in anticipation of a visit to Savannah early in 2022), Nora Ephron, David Sedaris (nearly all of his), John Burdett (Sonchai Jitpleecheep Series based in Thailand) with thanks to Chuk Batko, again.  I would be remiss if I did not mention Cormac McCarthy – his All The Pretty Horses in 1992 had a huge impact on me from a storytelling and writer’s craft standpoint.

NON-FICTION 

Modern History / Contemporary issues:  There are almost too many books here to list and not everyone will find this category as interesting as I do.  But here are a few of my favorites:

  • J. Baime’sGo Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at LeMans (Unbelievable story, incredibly written, all true, and why I’ll never own a Ferrari.)
  • Simon Winchester. This British-American author and journalist writes amazingly thoughtful and well-researched books.  Like Baime, these books are almost impossible to put down once started. My first was his 2018 book, The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, thanks to a recommendation from my friend David Barnett.  Soon after I discovered his newest book (2021), Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the World, and then 2019’s The Professor and the Madman and after that, The Map that Changed the World. It turns out he’s written 66 books.  One of the coolest things about the ones I recently enjoyed was they were in audiobook format and the author reads them himself, and he sounds mysteriously like the most famous of all British actor voices, David Attenborough. Could they be brothers? Or perhaps Americans are suckers for the sound of 70+-year-old British men?
  • Ron Chernow’s book about Alexander Hamilton was a must-read in preparation for seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s amazing stage production. It was superb, not as compelling to me as Baime or Winchester, but good enough for me to put some of his other books, many about famous American icons like Thomas Jefferson, Washington, John D. Rockefeller are on my “to read” list.   As I get older, I find books like this holding more interest.
  • Malcolm Gladwell: Less about history, more about lessons from modern society and observations of our world. I played a small role in Gladwell’s first book, The Tipping Point.  We got to be friends when he did an article on my company for The New Yorker.  He spoke at several of my Personalization Summit conferences. I’ve been reading and recommending his books ever since.
  • Sapiens and all books by Yuval Noah Harari: In mid-2021, just coming out of the Covid lock-down, I was blown away by Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I was moved to write about it and you can read what I wrote here.
  • The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols. I wrote about his book here.   Beware, you’ll need to skip down a bit to reach the review of Nichols book, or wade through my introduction to reading as a youngster and how my reading evolved.
  • Michael Lewis: How in the world did I get this far without mentioning one of my favorite writers in this space? Michael Lewis is brilliant.  The first of his I read was Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game.  Then I read The New New Thing, then The Big Short, Liar’s Poker, and most recently, The Undoing Project.  Lewis takes highly complex subjects, unpacks them, and makes them not only easy to understand but compelling and impossible to put down.
  • Tracy Kidder: Kidder came out of the gate with his book The Soul of a New Machine in 1981. I was working at Control Data at the time and his insight into how hardware development teams worked struck such an amazing cord with me, I’ve recommended this book to techy friends hundreds of times.  It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. His keen observational skills are at work in House (1985) and Among Schoolchildren in 1990. After reading this last one, I finally understood what it took to be a school teacher and how incredibly difficult it is to do it well.  And why.
  • Paco Underhill: After reading his first book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, I thought Underhill was a cultural anthropologist. It turns out he’s not.  He’s an environmental psychologist. If you ever hear a teenager complain, “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” give them this book.   I learned and polished my business fundamentals on the retail sales floor and in managing retail stores.  Reading Underhill pulls apart everything I thought I knew and was truly amazing.  Just a wonderful book.
Penn Jillette: God, No! (book cover)

Religion and Philosophy:  Beyond what I studied in college as a Philosophy and Religion major, C. S. Lewis (nearly all his books), Hermann Hesse, John Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell, Great Philosophers Vol 1 and 2, Pascal Pensées (one of my favorites). I’ve read The Bible cover to cover at least twice and I once even managed to get course credit for doing so.  More recently I’ve read two books by Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and The Portable Atheist. In this genre, I can’t help mentioning Penn Gillette’s book, God No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist. At first, you might think, given Gillette’s love of provocation to dismiss this as just more of his shtick, but he puts a deep and sharp intellect on display in a way that is super easy and fun.

Business Books: I already wrote a newsletter about these, so no need to do that again. That newsletter is here.  In addition, I’m leaving out motorcycle and car books as well as the photo montage books I’ve written.

Authors I don’t read and other “Not for me books:” 

This section may be the most useful of this entire project and the most informative of my tastes.  I frequently buy and read books with terrific reviews or recommended by friends and family.  The titles below are books I didn’t like. In some cases, I abandoned them before getting all the way through although mostly I finish books, even the ones I don’t like.

  • Stephen King/Thomas Tryon books: My friend, Dan Knappe gave me his copy of Harvest Home many years ago and I didn’t get through it. Not from boredom – it scared the bejesus out of me.  I’ve avoided King and Tryon books ever since, along with most horror writers.
  • The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine. Recommended in The Week Magazine, billed as “Shocking turns and dark secrets that will keep you guessing until the very end.” Reviews like this can suck me in.  I got halfway through this book and quit.  It did not hold my interest at all. I did not care what happened to Mrs. Parrish or the other people in the book.
  • The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah. Recommended by my daughter and she loved it.  Overly long and I didn’t care for the characters.
  • The Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan. Good book, but after the first few chapters, I felt I’d heard everything he had to say.
  • The first three Robert Galbraith books featuring Cormoran Strike. I was so excited to read this series when I learned Galbraith was the pen name of J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame. However, after reading the first three, I was so done with the Strike/Robin “relationship” and the frequent bone-head actions of the protagonists. The constant descriptions of smoking, tea and coffee drinking, and Strike’s failing to care for his prosthesis drove me mad.
  • Fast Girl by Suzy Favor Hamilton. A modern biography, too wrapped up in her head. Not of interest.
  • Luster by Raven Leilani. This is a highly reviewed book of a woman in her twenties trying to get a handle on herself and life. While I understand its great reviews, this is not the sort of book I enjoy reading.
  • The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. Well reviewed, but frankly, I answered these questions for myself years ago and someone else’s journey held very little interest or insight.
  • Terry Pratchett – Several books in the Discworld Series: Mort, Wyrd Sisters, Guards! Guards!, Eric, Small Gods. I wanted to love Pratchett – a favorite author of a favorite friend.   Pratchett has an incredible imagination and I love his creativity.  He just appeals to a part of me that does not exist anymore.
  • Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. I recently re-read this one because as a 30-year-old, I was blown away. However, it does not hold up well but remains a classic on lists of all-time best Science Fiction books.

Health Books:  No surprise, over the past ten years I’ve read many books about health, no doubt in response to my open heart surgeries in 2016 and 2018.  I won’t bother to list them all here, but a general observation:  Contemporary scientific research has a considerable amount of data on how the foods we eat impact our health, weight, moods, energy, stamina, sense of well-being, and ability to fight disease. Sadly, by the time it becomes common knowledge and understood, millions of people will die early and needlessly and others will lead painful, unhealthy, and unhappy lives.  (I wrote about it recently). Scientists knew twenty-five years before anti-smoking laws went into effect that tobacco and smoking were killing people – by the hundreds of thousands. But then it took another twenty years for most people to stop, although some still haven’t.  Science knows now that sugar is doing the same thing to an even greater number of Americans.  Twenty-five years from now, the food landscape will look much different.

As I conclude this compilation, I keep thinking of other books I’ve read that I forgot or deliberately omitted.  The spreadsheet where I attempt to keep track of books I’ve read numbers over a thousand. This averages to 20 books a year for 50 years, which I know is a vast under-count.  I have some good reading years ahead.  Send me your suggestions, please.  By now, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what I like and perhaps more importantly, what I don’t.

Fasting Might Save Your Life

Recently I went on a 14-day health retreat in California.  The following is what that was about, why I went and what I learned.  Thinking an additional perspective might be useful, following the report I’ve provided a brief summary of how my thinking about fasting and health has changed since I was much younger.

From August 17th to 31st of this year (2021) I stayed at the Santa Rosa, CA TrueNorth Health Center. Operating for over 35 years, it focuses on fasting and eating healthy foods with no salt, oil, or sugar to improve health. The center is staffed by medical doctors, interns, and other health practitioners, including chiropractic specialists and, nutritionists. The facility hosts between 50 and 75 patients at any given time.

Fasting is something I’ve practiced on my own, off and on, since my late twenties.  My longest fast was twenty days, but more typically, it was 5-7.  Recently, four days was the maximum. In my 30s and 40s, my goal was to improve health, to gain control of my life, and reduce stress.  Losing a bunch of weight was a significant side benefit.

After two open-heart surgeries (in 2016 and 2018) and faced with taking Eliquis (apixaban), Losartan (or something like it), and Amoxicillin for the rest of my life, I wanted to take another look at fasting.  Given my issues, it made no sense to try this on my own.  A medically supervised fast would, I hoped, help answers two questions:

  1. Is it safe for me to continue fasting on my own given I take Eliquis (apixaban) every day? If yes, for how long?
  2. Given a careful analysis of regular labs and my vitals during a water-only fast, what is going on in my body?

I chose the TrueNorth Health Center. The staff is deeply experienced with people coming to them with a variety of maladies such as heart disease, diabetes, COPD, brain injuries, and more. They do vigorous blood and urine testing and monitor patients vital signs closely. They’ve published highly respected and compelling research studies on fasting and its impact on health.

After my fourteen days there, the result was not what I wanted to hear. However, I feel confident about the new knowledge I have.  Given the lack of extensive studies of Eliquis and fasting, my future water-only fasts must now be limited to no more than 48 hours.  My body enters ketosis on the second day of fasting and by the third, ketones begin to spike in my blood, which could make Eliquis/apixaban unstable and, perhaps, fail to do what it is supposed to do to protect the artificial parts I have in my heart. There’s not a lot known about Eliquis and ketosis interactions, but I have good reason to be cautious.  I have firsthand experience fasting when on Warfarin, which I did, and it led to disastrous results. I lost 7 pints of blood, almost died, and spent a week in the hospital.  Consequently, not that Eliquis has replaced Warfarin in my prescription tray; I did not want to be my own, unmonitored lab rat.

Although eliminating any of my meds was not one of my objectives, my TrueNorth doctor decided to discontinue my blood pressure drug, Losartan (25mg 2X day), on the fourth day.  If my BP readings stay consistent with those recorded at the center, I may no longer need to take this medication — a very big deal.  So, in short, this visit was a huge win for me and I can’t be more pleased.

My Health Quest

Today I believe we all need to take control of our health.  While I have nothing but the greatest respect for medical doctors, after all, they’ve saved my life on several occasions, there is some misalignment in the way they are trained, incented, and operate.  To oversimplify, they are remarkably good at figuring out what is wrong and prescribing a solution: medication, surgery, or some other intervention.  They do not focus on figuring out and addressing the root causes of problems and working with you to resolve those underlying issues. It’s not their job.  We as patients must take responsibility for our health.  It is OUR JOB, and no one will care as much as we do.  But often, we prefer to turn that responsibility over to “the experts,” and welcome short and easy fixes in the form of a prescription to make the pain or issue go away. The results are horrible, with a US population struggling with obesity, leading to type 2 diabetes, hypertension, joint failures, and much more.

My discovery of fasting as a potential lifesaver was similar to Henry S. Tanner in the 1800s. Tanner was a doctor in Duluth, Minnesota, who’d struggled for years with rheumatism.  He also suffered from asthma, which chronically disrupted his sleep. When awake, he was in near-constant pain.  His medical training told him humans could only live for ten days without food.  Not believing in suicide, he determined to simply starve himself to death, saying later: “I had found a shortcut and had made up my mind to rest from physical suffering in the arms of death.” But something else happened. On the fifth day of his fast, he was able to sleep peacefully.  By the eleventh day, he reported feeling “as well as in my youthful days.”  Fully expecting to be nearly dead, he asked a fellow physician, Dr. Moyer, to examine him. Moyer exclaimed, “You ought to be at death’s door, but you look better than I’ve ever seen you.”  He continued his fast for 31 more days. After his fast, Tanner had no symptoms of asthma, rheumatism, or chronic pain and lived to ninety years of age. (Note: I’ve validated this story in a variety of ways, including reading about it New York Times stories from the 1800s.)

Over the past ten years, I’ve watched about at least fifty video documentaries about food and its impact on our health, from 2004s Super Size Me in 2014s That Sugar Film.  Perhaps most impactful was the 55 minute 2012 documentary film Science of Fasting, summarizing the idea of fasting in medical settings.   I’ve also read at least two dozen books on the topic along with reports of scientific studies of the impact of fasting and diet on health.  Links to those after the videos.

VIDEOS

Here are a few trailers for documentary movies and Interviews with doctors which you may find interesting if you wish to know more about fasting in modern times:

Alan Goldhamer is the director of the TrueNorth Health Center where I went. Here is an interview where he outlines some of his experiences in conducting tens of thousands of water-only fasts over the 35-year history of his Center (2021).
Here is the documentary I mentioned above and the one that started it all for me (2011)
Another pretty good summary (2018)
This one, Food Matters, attempts to bring in every angle on fasting you can imagine (2018)

BOOKS

Perhaps the most useful book about fasting is the one authored by Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhamer called The Pleasure Trap. It does a highly effective job of explaining how the triumvirate of evolutionary human needs — avoiding danger, eating the highest calorie foods, and procreating — trick us into today’s unhealthy lifestyle. Our bodies evolved to support a feast and famine existence and were never designed for 3 meals a day plus snacks.  As a result, conditions which kill us today or ruin our lives like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and osteoporosis — did not exist a thousand years ago.  I highly recommend this book.

One of the most renowned books on the topic is Cornell’s Professor T. Colin Campbell’s book, The China Study: The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted and the Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss, and Long-term Health. It was first published in 2005, but it’s been revised and updated several times.  It’s been translated into German, Polish, Slovenian, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Romanian, Swedish, and Urdu. It’s a bit scholarly, but what do you expect, he’s a big brain guy from Cornell University, for God’s sake.

The first book I ever read on fasting which gave me a blueprint for my first fasts was by Paul Bragg called The Miracle of Fasting.  It came out in 1972 but has been updated and is now co-authored with Patricia Bragg.

Since these pioneers, many highly respected doctors and research institutions have started to recognize and support the incredible impact fasting can have in fighting heart disease, diabetes, inflammation, cancer, infections, aging issues like dementia, as well as stimulating stem cell-based regeneration of new white blood cells and much more.  Here is a summary of one study showing some of this.

This is not boring stuff.  It’s eye-opening.  There are many paths to good health.  Maybe you’ll find one for yourself among these sources.

You Gotta Sell

My friend Rich Marin’s May 30th newsletter/Blog post, which you can read here, is about his grade school sales efforts which were focused on winning free trips to summer camp as a kid. It made me think of my own early introduction to sales. When having lunch with my friend and fellow Arizona Commerce Authority EIR Tom Blondi today, we concluded many business person success stories likely featured learning to sell as a key element, even when those careers involved non-sales disciplines. Getting people to do what you want them to do with them thinking it is their idea and preference is important in a great number of endeavors.

Growing up in Fairmont, Minnesota in a family with similar financial hardships to Rich’s, I spent hours thinking of ways to acquire money. I wanted a stereo, a nice shirt, and a motor scooter. With so little money in our family, if I wanted any of these things, it was up to me. My first efforts, mowing lawns during the summer and shoveling snow in the winters, proved difficult. My younger brother Leif was better at it than I was, and so we often got these jobs together and shared the profits. But I was not a good worker. An inability to stay focused on the job could have been the result of a couple of factors — health and ADD. An underlying heart problem would get spotted on a high school physical when I was 15, but this was grade school and there was no explanation for my lack of stick-to-it-ness and stamina other than laziness. As a cub scout, I began getting “Boys Life” magazine. It was there I spotted an ad to become a representative for True Grit magazine. This magazine was sold by over 30,000 children collecting dimes from more than 700,000 American small town homes in the 1950s. An ad in Richie Rich comic books suggested that Richie’s father got his start in business selling True Grit newspapers. Seeing the ad and reading of Richie Rich’s adventures, it was a short leap to imagining myself with incredible wealth, living in an expensive mansion, and having everything money could buy.

Soon I was going door-to-door, signing up subscribers, collecting money, and delivering newspapers every week. It was long work for little pay, but dramatically preferable to shoveling snow. Next, I learned of a company that would pay me to sell greeting cards with a family’s name pre-printed on the cards in gold ink. Compensation was prizes redeemable when certain sales levels were met – a new stereo, a neat belt, model cars, and airplanes, and other products designed to stimulate the imagination of young boys. I was a star! In retrospect, I’m sure our neighbors shrank in horror when they saw me coming up the driveway – “Oh no, what is he going to try and sell us now?” Over time I learned to say things to get people to buy – “I only need one more order to get the big prize,” or “Imagine what your friends and relatives will think when they see your family’s name, handsomely engraved in golden ink at the bottom of this year’s greeting card.” For the most part, I was unaware of the lessons I was learning, except for this one that I learned something about myself: I had to first convince myself the product was great and a good deal before I could sell it. I was never able to generate any enthusiasm for selling something I didn’t personally believe in or feel was a “good deal.”

In high school and college, I found inspiration from motivational creeds by Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, and Zig Zigler, which I’ve written about here. My first commissioned sales position with a good bit of genuine sales training came when I joined Minneapolis-based Schaak Electronics. Dick Schaak had taken over Schaak Electronics when his father died in the early 1970s and built it into a multi-store chain selling audio products. The reprint from the Minneapolis Star Tribune with Dick’s picture and the headline “Double-millionaire at age 34,” inspired me then and I still have it. Towru Nagano, one of Dick’s steadiest lieutenants, was in charge of sales training. While creating little that was original, Nagano pulled together an impressive sales training program, borrowing from the leading sales experts of the day. Unlike some of my contemporaries at Schaak who did not take training seriously, I soaked it all up and was soon winning sales contests right and left. I was named “Rookie of the Year,” and won cash awards and once, even a new motorcycle. Nearing the end of the 1970s, I’d climbed from assistant manager to store manager and eventually to managing several stores. I stuck with Schaak through its 1976 bankruptcy, learning a host of business lessons in the process. I was drafted to help Schaak move beyond audio sales and into selling computers from Apple, Atari, Cromemco, the IBM PC, Ohio Scientific, and others, creating a new group of stores called Digital Den.

Accepting on of my first sales awards at Schaak. A corner of Towru Nagano’s face is visible on the right.

While books espousing new sales techniques have never stopped popping onto the market each year (The Psychology of Selling, Strategic Selling, Perfect Selling, Secrets of Closing the Sale and Spin Selling), the sales process hasn’t changed much. Most critical is the initial conversation which was called “qualifying” when I learned it. This is the step when you find out from a prospective buyer what it is they want. Good salespeople tend to extend this part of the process, and as it turns out, it is the most important. Done correctly, a prospective buyer will explain what they want to buy, what color and features, what he/she is willing or able to pay, when they want to buy it, and from whom they wish to buy. But it requires the salesperson to shut up and listen, sometimes difficult for extrovert salespeople eager to demonstrate their breadth of knowledge. But, if you’ve done the qualifying step correctly and for long enough, the “sales” part of the process, is easy. It’s just saying “Here is what you want,” and explaining how it meets the needs that were outlined in the prior conversation. If done correctly, the sale is simple, easy, quick, and satisfactory for all involved. Salespeople get bad reputations when they attempt to sell people things they don’t want and don’t need.

Like Rich Marin, over the years I have found this fundamental understanding of the sales process has served me well in many ways. Every job interview was a sales job as was every board meeting. Sales experience taught me more than anything else that listening is critical to every successful interaction. Whether greeting cards, stereos or myself, I succeeded when I listened to what my buyer said.

Book: That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life, by Garrison Keillor

Me reading Garrison Keillor book

My earliest memory of Garrison Keillor is a Minnesota Public Radio morning radio show that he created and hosted. It was a mash-up of music, stories, poems, and news, unlike anything else.  It kept me company as I showered, brushed my teeth, and then drove the long ride to work in the morning. I always felt Keillor was making things up as he went along, talking to me as if we were friends, albeit a one-sided friendship. This feeling has never gone away.  When his morning show ended, it reappeared sometime later as a live Saturday night radio show called “A Prairie Home Companion,” which became more formulaic, professional and better-sounding over the years. A favorite feature of mine was Keillor’s longish monologue referred to as the “News from Lake Wobegon.”

My very good friend, Kevin Brown, retiring after 40 years as a minister with the United Church of Christ,  once told me that when asked by seminarians how to deliver a good sermon, he told them to “listen to Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon, and do that.”  I remained a faithful listener and after I got married, managed to get Maggie to listen, too. We even attended a couple of live shows.  When we moved to Los Angeles and later to New York, I found the show on national public radio affiliates.  It was like staying in touch with my Minnesota roots. Keillor’s new book is a memoir, “That Time of Year: A Minnesota Life,” and tells the story of his life in remarkable detail and insight and I enjoyed it a great deal.

Keillor is an eloquent craftsman of the English language, with a highly distinctive voice. In the way music fans instantly identify after only a few bars of music a guitar being played by Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, or Eddie Van Halen, Keillor’s prose can only be his. I’ve no idea how or why this works, only that it does. The first few lines from the poem beginning his book are so clearly him.  I tested this on my wife, reading the poem out loud to her and then asking, “Any idea who wrote that,” and with hardly any hesitation, she replied, “Garrison Keillor?”

Young Steve with a kitten hiding a mini-new testament in his shirt pocket

This won’t be an objective review. Listening to his shows, having bought and read several of his books, I almost feel I know Mr. Keillor, that we are friends. I suspect tens of thousands of his listeners feel the same way.  We grew up sharing many of the same experiences. I knew he was brought up in a strict, fundamentalist sect of conservative Lutherans called the Plymouth Brethren.  I was raised in a similar Minnesota church group called the “Lutheran Brethren” who preached the concept of remaining separate from “the world,” and where the road to heaven forbade drinking, dancing, smoking, going to movies or hanging out with those who did.  Sundays began with Sunday school, followed by a church service that seemed to go for hours and sometimes an evening service and potluck supper.  Tuesday nights were Bible study, Wednesday choir practice, Fridays were youth night and Saturdays often had events dedicated to missions. No time for bowling, movies, dancing or, God forbid, hanging around the pool hall.  Keillor and I both tried playing sandlot baseball. For me, it was never more than 6-8 kids making up both teams and never organized by parents into little leagues with uniforms and coaches. He wasn’t very good and neither was I.  Keillor suffered at the hands of the Darwin brother bullies; for me it was the feared Johnson kids, who tortured my brother and me as we walked to and from school, unable to avoid passing their house.

In the book, I learned we shared other experiences.  Like me, Keillor had a congenital heart ailment that kept him out of organized sports and resulted in major open-heart surgery (OHS) later in life.  Doctors found both of our anomalies during routine football physicals.  Like me, Keillor listened to radio shows as a kid.  You should read his book to find his favorites, but for me it was the Long Ranger, Gunsmoke, and The Shadow as well as quiz shows with WCCO announcers like Jergen Nash, Charlie Boone, Randy Merriman, and Joyce Lamont, in a family whose first television set came many years after everyone else owned one. I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, Fairmont, which seemed to have a lot in common with Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon.  I was surprised to learn Keillor’s town wasn’t all that small, Anoka, Minnesota, on the outskirts of Minneapolis. He’d experienced the “big city,” on his own when young.  No surprise was we share political views, a suspicion of the hypocrisy and selfishness of republicans, and more comfortable with the foibles and naive hope of democrats.  His show introduced me to musicians such as Leo Kottke, Butch Thompson, and Greg Brown of whom I became a lifetime fan. Albums and CDs from them line my shelves and fill the air with music in my home to this day.  When musical heroes like Mark Knopfler or the Notting Hillbillies appeared on his show, it was like he was discovering people I already knew.

Schaak Electronics transferred me to the Ridgedale Shopping Center in Minnetonka, where I competed every month with the highest producing Schaak store of all in the Southdale Shopping Center of Edina, Minnesota.  Of course, Schaak had a store in the Rosedale shopping center, too. When one of Keillor’s “sponsors,” Bertha’s Kitty Boutiques, had fictional locations in shopping centers named “Clydesdale, Chippendale, Mondale, Airedale and Teasdale,” I felt it was a nod to me as well as to my favorite Aunt Bertha, my mother’s older sister, who founded and ran her own department store in Billings, Montana.

Keillor and I also shared not being particularly good students. He was indifferent to school when my early response was outright rebellion, although I eventually migrated to indifference, the same as him. We both found a love of books early on and spent our school years reading.  My dismal school experience and discovery of books are chronicled here.  Keillor came across an early call to be a writer, covering local sports teams.  Although a couple of teachers took an interest in me and encouraged me when no one else did, I had no clue or idea of any skills I might possess that would allow me to make a living.  I loved and admired writers, but what they did seemed far beyond anything I could aspire to.  I could no more imagine writing as a career than being a professional baseball or football player.  When I began writing articles for trade publications to further my business career it was only possible because I’d married a professional writer, who took my early attempts and fashioned them into something editors would publish.  Years later I wrote for a variety of motorcycle magazines. By then I’d learned the rudimentary steps of figuring out the audience for a piece and getting words into print that would satisfy an editor.  Keillor and I share admiration for The New Yorker magazine.  As the number of my published stories increased, I began reading the New Yorker every week and thinking, “Wow, this is where real writers work.” Soon after becoming a subscriber, I noticed Keillor’s stories in the magazine and was thrilled.  It was as if someone in my family had cracked the big time. I was proud of him.

Like me, Keillor graduated college with no marketable skills and thus had to create his own job.  The book describes how the Prairie Home Companion came to be, a remarkable feat of a man creating a media conglomerate made up entirely of his own ideas.  It is an amazing story. Like Keillor, I left college with no skills and not a clue how to get enough money to pay for an apartment.  My college studies had gravitated to classes on religion and philosophy because those classes gave points for participation and oral debate. I was terrible at tests but never shy or afraid to speak up. Theater, too, was fun and I thrived on being in plays.  I loved radio and worked at our college station and later the local FM station as an engineer, but my voice was never good enough to get a show.  I drove a school bus to pay for my college studies and kept that up afterward.   Eventually, I found my niche in sales, getting trained in the art of helping someone spend money on the items my company wished them to buy. Unlike Keillor, no one had told me I had green teeth and I smiled willingly and often.  Finally I’d found a game that allowed me to compete and even win, exciting my competitive juices for the first time.  I won every sales contest Schaak Electronics conducted, made Rookie of the Year, assistant manager and finally got my own store, learning the basics of how to run a business while motivating others in a common objective. When a big company came along wishing to get into the computer retail business and hired me, they put me on a management track that required formal training. I’d missed in college but now was paid to attend.  It was in this new setting that I met my wife and had our first child and found something I could do well, although it wasn’t fun. While rewarding financially, it left me stressed, frustrated, and empty, feelings I suspect Keillor never felt in his career.

In writing his memoir Keillor discovered a clear structure to his life.  Where it had felt random at the time, merely reacting to seemingly insignificant and random situations, there was indeed a strong set of pivotal events, adjunct failures in certain areas which closed those paths off, and other accidental events that became crucial.  Avoiding sudden death through stupidity, Keillor looks back on key moments as being essential in making us who we are.

Keillor is 78 years old and in this book looks back on the seeming random events making him who he has become.  If he didn’t have the optical disorder that causes him to lose focus when looking up in the air, he might have caught the baseball launched high into the air toward his position at first base, gained popularity, and spent his life as a clothing salesman. Instead, he dropped the ball, leading further to his social ostracism which helped make all the difference.   If his heart valve issues had not occurred, perhaps he’d now be sore with a body damaged by early sports injuries.

Similar to Keillor, my uncles were carpenters and craftsmen, no doubt looking down on my inability to use tools without the risk of damage to myself or others. My cousins, perhaps observing the heavy toll a life of physical labor had taken on their fathers, also eschewed those careers, choosing banking, medicine, and desk jobs, and to this day I get along better with them than I ever did my uncles.

Keillor and I have both quit smoking and drinking and did it on our own.  I stopped smoking a year or so before meeting my wife in the late ’70s and quit drinking in 2016 before my second major open heart surgery. No counseling or therapy, just quit.

I loved reading A Minnesota Life.  It told me so much about the life of a man, a celebrity, out of reach but yet, someone with whom I felt close.   The point Keillor so eloquently makes in this wonderful memoir is that each of our lives has these seemingly insignificant occurrences, but without them, we’d have become very different people.  Those we touch and who touch us, make all the difference.  So perhaps, there is a memoir in all of us, and we should get to writing it.

Perhaps what I admire most about Keillor isn’t his writing of which he is justifiably proud.  Perfecting words on the page is one thing. Being eloquent and succinct while speaking is something else entirely.  Keillor is a master with the spoken word. Conveying stories in a way that makes you think he’s saying something spontaneous, just to you, as if sitting next to him on a train or plane or over a glass of lemonade in the shade of a porch on a hot day, the first time it’s ever been said.  This is exceptionally difficult to master and requires a great deal of practice and few understand the difficulty involved.  No one else who performs this task does so at the level of Keillor.

Steve on the board at KNXR in Rochester, MN

When I was working as an engineer at KNXR Radio in Rochester, Minnesota, one of our announcers devoted a portion of his show to interviewing people from the city on projects they were promoting. He would ask them into one of our studios, I’d motion from behind the glass we were rolling, and the interview would begin.  Ten to fifteen minutes later, the interview ended and my engineering work started. The first step was deleting the boring and superficial. Then came eliminating all the ums, ahs, hesitations, nervous coughs, and unintelligible sentences from the guest’s speech. Non-professionals sound horribly bad on tape when compared to professional announcers. This left 2-3 minutes of the original interview.  The host would then listen to the tape and eliminate another 30-50 percent, and we’d end up with a 60 – 90-second tight, informative interview. I recall being at an event where the president of the local Lion’s club had been interviewed on our station earlier in the week.  His friends were telling him how good he sounded.  He said something like, “Yeah, I didn’t do too badly.”  I recall wishing he could have heard the original tape before we’d fixed him. Keillor mentions in his book his aversion to rehearsal and practice of editing and fine-tuning to the last minute.  But the shows were all live, creating a magic that can occur in no other way. Some of Keillor’s most treasured memories are the shows that went on in the face of massive technical or weather-related catastrophes.

I don’t know anyone else with the ability to do this.  Joel Gray made a business of doing one-man shows sounding like spontaneous dialog. But in fact, the spontaneous appearing stories were lines in a play, performed almost identically each night. I’ve heard Keillor’s Lutheran-pastors-on-a-pontoon bit several times and each time, I’m halfway through it before I realize “Oh, I’ve “heard this story before.” Even master comedians like Jerry Seinfeld are criticized for doing the same show with the same jokes, year in and year out.  Keillor always sounds fresh and new, because it is.

As I read Keillor’s book I could hear him saying the words in my head.  No one else can write like that.  If you grew up in the Midwest, read this book.  If you’ve ever listened to the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” and liked it, you’ll love this book.  If you’ve ever thought, “I should write the story of my life,” you won’t find a better blue print or example on how to do so. Here is where to buy it.

END

Additional notes:  I’ve written about the energy and practice required to do something well and it relates to the thousands of hours Keillor no doubt put into being good at speaking live on the radio. You can find a bit of that here if you’re interested.