Have You Read…??? A Reader’s Blog

This is to introduce you to a new Readers Blog here at Sunnyside. Hopefully, it will stimulate your reading habit and suggest the reading of books, both new and old. Some you may have read 50 years ago, but have forgotten some of the details. Others are hot off the press.

Who am I? I am Jim Hanscom, who moved to Sunnyside two years go and joined the Writers Group. The group meets once a week and typically entertains with reading from something individually prepared. I am an active writer, mainly of short stories that have some autobiographical twists. I also write a bi-monthly col-umn on the topic of containerized shipping that appears in Seatrade Magazine, a British publication preeminent in the international shipping field. The column goes back 50 years.

I am a product of Washington & Lee University’s journalism school who worked on several Virginia newspapers as a reporter before becoming a Wall Street analyst/hedge fund manager. I also ran a Federal effort to rescue the col-lapsing Midwest railroads back when a billion dollars could make a difference, later bought a railroad, and thereafter was a railroad consultant. As a friend observed, you seem to have trouble keeping a job. Enough of friends!

What about books? I’ve been reading all my life, starting at my basement room in Arlington where my father kept a gaudy (and bawdy) collection of old pa-perbacks in a case that lined two walls. The classier books enjoyed upstairs sta-tus. Thank goodness there was no Amazon then, or the family would have walked barefoot. The collection included many classics, but a wide range of the efforts of many famous authors. My father chided me once by congratulating me on reading Emile Zola, but also reminding that there were other entries than “Piping Hot.” Mickey Spillane’s “I, the Jury,” is an all-time favorite in memory.

My father was an inveterate reader, who typically worked his way through four books at a time between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. One of the four might be the Bi-ble, and though not a heavy religious man, his knowledge of the Bible was formida-ble. Woe betide one who quoted a few words while misusing the meaning.

In my dotage, I have tended to read books of historical merit, particularly if they round out a knowledge base derived from my travels. I have visited 65 coun-tries, mostly with my wife, Edie. A natural curiosity is our muse, and she is a wa-tercolor painter, and I collect art. Besides riding the Canadian railroad every win-ter, she and I have been on a dozen Earthwatch trips, and I have traveled back country Asia with the Textile Museum of San Francisco, crossed Asia on the Silk Road by train, and once hitched a ride on a jitney that crossed the Andes sharing space with a crate of live chickens. Enough of me!

The point of which is that our tastes are wide-ranging and eclectic. So might be this Readers Blog. Its aim is to follow our curiosity as a guide to new books be-ing introduced to the library, brushing the dust from old books, and trying to fill in inevitable reading blanks. Popularity has its place, but it would tend to go beyond the best-seller lists.

I have my biases, so my taste may not float everyone’s boat. For instance, I don’t click with romance novels and science fiction but no matter. I am just more centered on history, mystery, spy novels, political history, biography, catching up on classics that have passed me by, and any good yarn. I am used to a wide range, partly because I am a one-man book club at Christmas when I supply a book to each of my extended family of 16. That includes four grandchildren and one great-grand child, all girls of various ages and heavy readers. Two are into science fiction, and I have no trouble indulging them. Together, their tastes cover the waterfront, and I try to lead rather than command: “Have you read???” My opinion is no more than that.

So with this blog. It may include a best seller, but will not be a review of all the books on that somewhat formulaic list. I will try to feature a book of some cur-rent interest with a discussion reminiscent of a book club rounding out a subject. And to the extent of my memory, I shall connect that book to past books and past adventures.

For instance, the “Book of Eels” just hit the best seller list, and I found it fas-cinating, partly because my knowledge of eels could qualify as a clean slate. I had looked for eels, fearfully, when I sailed through the Sargasso Sea between here and Bermuda, and then learned that eels hang out at much lower depths. In defi-ance of scientific rigor, in fact, no one has actually seen one spawning.

Eels are a strange lot—officially catatadromous, if you must know—who live their lives in fresh water and spawn in briny ocean waters (the exact opposite of the salmon). In Europe, weirs are set in rivers and streams known for centuries to be en route to intercept the fat silver eels in a late stage before spawning that German and Dutch smokers, in particular, clamor for. This book works on several levels—personal, mystical, historical and a call for attention to another endangered species that derives from Rachel Carson.

The author is Swedish and offers a European view of the tastiness of smoked eel. His is a fascinating story about growing up catching eels with his fa-ther, and the challenge involved. Later he went to great lengths to track down the scientist who focused on the eel and synthesized most of what we know about them. And he lays out the threat to the complicated cycle of life of the eel in a world of global warming.

My interest was magnified when a friend turned up who said he was once engaged in catching elvers (young eels) in our Atlantic waters and flying them to Japan, where they are consumed in prodigious amounts. His odyssey ended ab-ruptly, when a large Japanese conglomerate switched sourcing to the Chinese, and he became another victim in the China trade wars, like furniture and textiles. He went bankrupt in a hurry. But, a secret: he knows where to find eels in the U.S. coastal waters. Hmm.

While we’re waiting for directions for eel hunting, I would also recommend a reread of Rachel Carson’s ”Silent Spring;” a book on biological diversity by E.O.Wilson, who majored in ants; and maybe “Factory Man,” by Beth Macy, the story of how the Chinese absconded with the U. S. furniture manufacturing busi-ness once dominated by a southern Virginia town.

Also, be advised of the addition of another five books to the Eiland Center Library collection this month. They are: Writers & Lovers by Lily King; The Mid-night Library by Matt Haig; The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey; 142 Ostriches by April Davila; The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict. We also have added The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett and Dead Cross by James Patterson in Regular Print. Both The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson and Silent Spring by Rachel Carson are also available in the EC Library!

I would enjoy your feedback on these books, and your commentary on other books you read and enjoy. There is a lot of ground to cover and the hour is late if we are to read all the books we should have before we leave this mortal coil. Hark! Let us not tarry.

Jim Hanscom Sunnyside February, 2021

Comments, questions, etc. may be sent to the following email: ecbookssunny-side@gmail.com We welcome your input!