Reader’s Notebook, 3/7/19

I’m in the midst of a mighty fine reading run, so some quick blurbs about four recent books.


The Finnish Way – Katja Pantzar
I kept seeing this one on the ends of aisles at bookstores, highlighted in the library, etc. and finally caved. I had to know what the hell the Finnish Way was.

Pantzar, a child of Finns who was raised in Canada but moved to Finland as an adult, attempts to isolate what it is that makes the people of Finland unique. What gives them high rankings on all the various Happiness scales? Why are they so healthy? What allowed them to hold off the mighty Soviet Union in the Winter War of 1939–40?

Turns out it’s a bunch of things. Swimming in the cold in winter. Taking saunas. Making wise choices about eating. Making being outdoors an integral part of everyday life. A mythical believe they call “Sisu.” And some other stuff.

I’m not sure if it adds up. And I’m not about to adjust my life to live like the Finns. I get whiney if the shower is a little chilly; there’s no way I’m jumping into freezing water in the winter to jar my system. The one piece of advice I would love to integrate into my life is the Finnish philosophy on how to build your plate at meal time. They often use a ½-¼-¼ rule. Half the plate is filled with veggies and fruit. A quarter with a starch. And the remaining quarter with protein. That seems like a good plan.


Uncommon Type: Some Stories – Tom Hanks
When this first came out I thought, “Yeah, right, Tom Hanks can write, too?” But several friends told me his short stories were, in fact, good. I can confirm those assessments were accurate. The stories aren’t great, but they’re not terrible, either. They all seem very Hanksian: warm, comforting, some touching moments, and central characters with just a touch of bite or quirk to them without being too oddball. Would I have read them if Joe Schmoe had written them? Probably not. But I didn’t regret the three nights it took to blow through Hanks’ stories.


Bud, Sweat, & Tees – Alan Shipnuck
Shipnuck is a long-time gold writer, formerly for Sports Illustrated and these days for Golf. This is his account of how Rich Beem, who won the 2002 PGA Championship, made the leap from talented but unexceptional college golfer to winning a PGA tournament.

Beam is a fine character to follow. He likes to live big but is also thoughtful and willing to share the inner workings of his biggest and lowest moments, both athletically and personally. He shares plenty of moments in his life that a bigger player’s PR pros would never let him share.

Also integral to the story is Beem’s sometimes caddy, Steve Duplantis. Duplantis was a one-time promising college golfer who spent several years caddying for Jim Furyk before his personal issues got in the way. He latched onto Beem in time for his first PGA win in 1999, but by the time that season was over the duo had already split. Duplantis’ life is kind of a disaster. He has custody of the daughter he had with his estranged wife, a stripper from Dallas. He tends to hook up with a lot of hot chicks he meets at bars. He goes off the rails when freed from his family responsibilities which causes him to do things like miss tee times. He’s a mess, but he’s a lovable mess. Sadly he died when hit by a taxi in 2008.

The book is funny and a solid inside look at what goes on on the PGA Tour for guys who aren’t at the top of the money list and are instead fighting every week to find that big win.


Warlight – Michael Ondaatje
I think this book was brilliant. Probably. But I just missed totally getting it by about this much (holds fingers an inch apart).

It centers on the life of Nathaniel, a man in post-war England who works for the British intelligence service. While a child, just after the war, his parents disappeared for a year “for work” and left Nathaniel and his sister with a strange assortment of characters that were, it seemed likely, criminals. This led to a series of adventures and crazy times.

As an adult, Nathaniel eventually stumbles upon files that tell of his mother’s work in Europe after the war and he begins investigating where she and his father were when they disappeared. Through that investigation comes the discovery of how and why his mother died. As he searches for the people who became his surrogate parents, he learns the fate of an old girlfriend and the secret she disappeared with.

That’s not a very good summary, I know. But, as I said, I just missed on this book. I could generically say it’s another book about identity and the meaning of family and all that jazz. Which it is. But I think there’s more to it and that’s what I missed. Maybe I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. Maybe I had my background music too loud and couldn’t concentrate quite enough. Maybe I’m just thick, as the Brits might say.

Regardless, I did enjoy it, and there were long passages that I raced through with delight.