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Nick Offerman on the Benefits of Good Clean Fun


Nick Offerman is an American actor, comedian, writer, musician, and carpenter. Here, he writes not about showbiz, but about the benefits of doing carpentry. His new book is Good Clean Fun.




GOOD CLEAN FUN by Nick Offerman

Writing my new book Good Clean Fun was the result of me throwing a coup against myself. All of my showbiz escapades far and wide, while incredibly satisfying, had really put a crimp in my woodshop time. So I announced to my redoubtable team of agents that I would be writing my next book about woodworking, and if they could please leave me alone for some months I would really appreciate it. They generously cooperated, and it worked! Clown Nick was neatly and swiftly overthrown by Woodshop Nick, with nary a drop of greasepaint spilled in the revolution.

As I stood at my workbench to begin working on some canoe paddles for the book, the therapeutic nature of my decision immediately overwhelmed me. I was reminded that I didn't crave hand-crafting because it's fun or because other parts of my life bore me. Rather, my desire to shape wood into charismatic products is fueled by the apparent need I have to spend my time in a way that is literally productive. Using my hands, head, and muscle to accomplish something nice like crafting a canoe paddle has proven again and again to provide my life with an ever-burgeoning sense of health.

Solving the set of problems presented by any woodworking project is an active diversion, whereas sitting on my duff watching Catastrophe, while very enjoyable, is a passive diversion. I try to limit my passive fun to a smaller portion of my week so that it works more like a dessert course, or a glass of Scotch whisky at the end of a long day. My active fun, however, I try to strategize into my actual job so that it registers more like the main course. If I get the math right, then I often end up getting paid to have fun all week long.

The beautiful thing about an active diversion is that you are generally leaving the world a better place than it was when you started. Whether you are making Wilco records or lasagna or growing sweet corn or caring for kids or carving paddles, there is a benevolent result to your labors to be enjoyed by you and others. That's why we often remark, upon seeing the produce of a person's crafting: "Hey, that's neat." It's an age-old human tradition that translates as: "I recognize and acknowledge that you are doing right by your tribe."

Woodworking, like any "specialty" craft, can be intimidating to the novice. As you begin to research tools and techniques, you may become quickly daunted by the finesse and mastery on display in refined joinery, or even by the alien-looking tools involved in "fine" woodworking. I know I was always made nervous by the work of more experienced men and women before I managed to achieve each step of my own slow and steady education in the shop. With that in mind, there are two things I want to impart to anyone willing to take a swing at making something useful with her or his hands.

The first thing is that you don't ever need to get fancy with your woodworking if you don't want to. I built a pretty crappy (but amazing) treehouse with my buddy Steve when we were kids, and neither our cuts nor our nailing technique, despite the preponderance of nails we sank, would win any awards. The mediocrity of our carpentry, however, could not have mattered less to us, as we only cared about hanging out in our hideaway and learning how to cuss.

Similarly, if you start your career by building a doghouse or a planter box or a crude coffee table, then that counts as woodworking. If your table holds your coffee level enough that the cup doesn't slide off onto the floor, then congratulations: you have achieved your first success. Mistakes and failures are golden, because quite often you can't make it right unless you make it wrong first.  A great many of the wooden projects that I have completed are not items that I would ever enter into a museum show, but as they say to the recipient (my wife, my siblings, my parents, my friends) "I care about you, so here's some shelves that will improve your kitchen experience," I can understand their great worth just the same.

The second thing is that it's not only ok, but it's really fun, to start slow. When I teach a workshop to beginners, we pick some nice spalted ten-to-twelve inch planks of big leaf maple and we merely cut off a foot of it with a handsaw. This approximate square just gets sanded and oiled, and a big finger hole drilled into it, to become a cutting board or serving tray (or "meat paddle"). Our consumerist society has us thinking that everything should happen as quickly as possible, and so many initiates think they should start their craft education somewhere in the middle of high school, but you should see the wonder on their faces when they are reminded of the pleasures of kindergarten. Wood has a power in it, a charm which can be revealed without years of toil apprenticing under a cabinetmaker. If you simply find a piece that you like and sand it really nice and oil it, then the magic just might find you as well.

Standing at my bench with a quantity of red oak lumber that wants to be sculpted into sleek and valuable canoe-drivers, I recognize all of the savory reasons for which I victoriously wrestled the showbiz side of my life to secure some time here in my shop. I trace the template for my Beavertail paddle design onto the first blank of wood. I step back and consider it, and think, "Hey, that's pretty neat."



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From Audible: Straight from the Author's Mouth

Our colleagues at Audible have some more audiobook recommendations for you....

You know the feeling – you've just heard that your favorite actor, or musician, or comedian is releasing a new memoir and you're jumping with joy. You can't wait to dive into the intimate and entertaining hi-jinks and anecdotes inked onto every page, and develop an even closer relationship with the celebrity you already adore. But what if you could have the author read his or her story directly to you? You could have their personal narrative whispered in your ear or spoken aloud while you're lying in bed, walking the dog, or painting your house. With audiobooks performed by the authors, these celebrities can become your running partners and your commute confidantes.

Your reading experience is about to get a lot more personal with Audible, and these touching, heartfelt, hilarious, and informative books read by their creators:

CuredCURED: THE TALE OF TWO IMAGINARY BOYS by Lol Tolhurst, narrated by the author

This deeply moving and engaging memoir by one of the founding members of The Cure is even more captivating when Lol is reading it himself. Hear him detail the origins and creation of one of the most beloved bands of all time, and his own return from the brink of self-destruction. Tolhurst looks back on his life with clear-eyed honestly, and delivers an inspiring account of his redemption in his honest and impassioned voice.


The astronaut puts you inside the suit, with all the zip and buoyancy of life in microgravity. Massimino shares what it was like to find himself strapped to a giant rocket that's about to go from zero to 17,500 miles per hour, and you feel the excitement and adventure right along with him. Listen on the bus and you may feel yourself prepping for liftoff.

Born-CrimeBORN A CRIME: STORIES FROM A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD by Trevor Noah, narrated by the author

One of the comedy world's fastest-rising stars tells his wild coming-of-age story during the twilight of apartheid in South Africa and tumultuous days of freedom that followed. Noah provides something deeper than traditional memoirists: powerfully funny observations about how farcical political and social systems play out in our lives. These stories are ten times as bizarre, tender, and hilarious when Noah reads them aloud, creating distinct and outrageous voices for each of his family members and bringing his childhood to life with the distinct brand of gleeful light-footed and cutting humor that fans of The Daily Show have come to expect of him.

MotherDIGGING UP MOTHER: A LOVE STORY by Doug Stanhope, narrated by the author

This memoir follows the comedian's absurd, chaotic, and often obscene life as it intersects with that of his best friend, his biggest fan, and the love of his life: his mother. As fans of Stanhope's stand-up will attest, Doug is not a "by-the-book" type of guy, and this audiobook is no exception. It's really more of a "director's cut commentary," that creates a truly unique listening experience with additional off-script riffs throughout. This wildly fun audiobook is as distinct as the comedian's own brand of humor. Be careful listening at the gym, as you might laugh yourself off of your exercise bike – but no worries, laughter burns calories too.

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Weekend Reading

CaveIn this edition of Weekend Reading, hallucinatory rambles, insane asylums, and haunted (maybe) mansions. (yes, we editors are a light and fluffy bunch).

Jon Foro: Leave it to me to read a book called Sick Bag Song, but that's what it is. SBS began as Nick Cave's tour diary of sorts, notes scribbled on airline sick bags as he traveled across North America with his band, the Bad Seeds. But Cave is never a literal thinker, this book is pure Cave: a hallucinatory ramble of poetry and lyrics, hotel room meditations, and Big Questions. It's probably not for everyone, but that's never been a concern.

Adrian Liang: I'm partway through Warren Ellis' Normal, and it's reminding me of Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation in a deliciously goosebumpy kind of way. Can't wait to get to the end and figure out what's going on at this insane asylum deep in the Oregon wilderness.  

Erin Kodicek: Since Halloween is around the corner, I'm in the mood for a good ol' fashioned ghost story. To that end, I'm going re-read Sarah Waters's The Little Stranger. But, is it really a ghost story? Set in a decaying mansion in postwar England, you are left wondering: is this house haunted, or are its inhabitants plagued by some mysterious psychological malaise? This question will keep you up at night, with the lights on.


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Graphic Novel Friday: Haunted Comics for Halloween

They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky. They're all together ooky: comics for Halloween! Read below for four new comics that pair nicely with a tingling spine or a bump in the night.


Head Lopper by Andrew MacLean: This year's biggest jump-scare surprise comes from writer/illustrator Andrew MacLean in Head Lopper, the succinctly titled chronicle of Norgal, a head-chopping warrior with an outstanding beard and the decapitated head of a witch at his side. Artwork comparisons have been made to Mike Mignola and Mike Oeming (not a bad pair of Mikes for company!), but MacLean's vision is all his own, blending magic, fantasy, and adventure with witchcraft, nightmare creatures, humor, and buckets of blood. Norgal's epic world feels properly "lived in," and I hope to see much more from that big beard and MacLean in the future.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Robert Hack: You might remember Sabrina the Teenage Witch from cutesy comics read in your youth. This is not so cute. Here, Sabrina is reimagined in a 1960s horror setting, not unlike Rosemary's Baby, just prior to her 16th birthday, where she must either commit to a blood ritual and become an immortal member of her family's coven, or remain mortal and seek love. Sure, there are fun nods to previous Archie comics (Betty and Veronica make witchy cameos), but this is mostly played for creeps and not laughs. Expect blood-letting, incantations, and creatures from beyond this mortal plane!

George A. Romero's Empire of the Dead by George A. Romero, Alex Maleev, Dalibor Talajic, and Andrea Mutti: When there is no room left in Hell, the dead will stalk comic books. Horror auteur George A. Romero takes a break from filming the greatest zombie films ever made to tell an original tale in three acts, each illustrated by a different artist and each shining a light darkly on Manhattan after the dead rise. From his gore masterpiece Day of the Dead film, Romero follows a similar thread of scientists and soldiers who believe zombies can gain awareness and learn. This is wonderful news for the fate of humanity, except for all the biting. If that weren't enough, Manhattan has another undead problem: vampires rule the city's wealth and militia and politics. This clashing and gnashing of nightstalkers will thrill gore hounds looking for more action than outright scares.

  Hellboy in Hell Vol. 2: The Death Card by Mike Mignola: What would any Halloween Spooktacular be without Mike Mignola, the maestro of horror comics? This year's entry is bittersweet, because Mignola stated this is Hellboy's finale (outside of spin-offs), for now. Over 20 years of supernatural fisticuffs culminate here, with Hellboy continuing his Dante-inspired travel through Hell as he faces his sister and, at last, the prophecy haunting him for years. Yes, Volume 1 is a must-read prior to this, but there is never enough Hellboy. Farewell, Right Hand of Doom!

Happy Halloween, ABR readers!

--Alex CarrARGH!



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Good Girls Revolt: Story of ’60s rebellion echoes today

If you think the conversation around gender politics is electric now, you should've heard it in the 1960s. Thanks to Lynn Povich, you can. A leader in the fight to end institutionalized sexism at Newsweek, Povich wrote an acclaimed memoir that has inspired the Amazon series Good Girls Revolt. Picking up where shows like Mad Men left off, The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace tells the story of women fighting to cover the biggest political and cultural news of the day, from Richard Nixon to the Rolling Stones. Povich assesses how far she and her fellow revolutionaries have traveled.

We were the polite "good girls," raised in the postwar 1950s to believe a woman's place was at home and by her husband's side. But we came of age in the cauldron of the 1960s, questioning — and often rejecting — many of the values we had been taught.

When we realized that the system at our employer, Newsweek, was not only unjust but also illegal, we turned into revolutionaries. Newsweek, like its rival Time, segregated jobs by gender: Only men were hired as writers; women were hired as researchers — and they were rarely promoted. So on March 16, 1970, 46 of us filed a sex discrimination complaint against Newsweek, the first women in the media to do so.

It wasn't an easy thing to do, nor was it an easy transition for us. With great trepidation, we sued our bosses while we were still working for them. And once they agreed to hire and promote women, we had to hold their feet to the fire. The struggle was personally painful and professionally scary. But it was the radicalizing act that gave us the courage to realize our ambitions. For me, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Five years after we filed the complaint, I became Newsweek's first female senior editor.


Author Lynn Povich in the Paris bureau of Newsweek, ca. 1965
Photo courtesy of Lynn Povich

We loved working at Newsweek. We simply wanted to make it better for women. Little did we know that we would inspire a fundamental transformation of our profession. After our action at Newsweek, women at Time, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, The Associated Press, NBC and The New York Times all followed suit. The impact was huge: Between 1975 and 1985, women in journalism — and in many other industries — moved into jobs we could have only dreamed about.

But we were naïve in thinking the world had really changed. Yes, there has been enormous progress for women in every sector of society. Women today have more opportunities and more laws supporting us. We are solidly in middle management and increasingly in senior management. Younger women are more confident, more career-oriented and more aggressive in getting what they want than most of us were.

But many of the injustices women face today are the same ones we fought against more than 40 years ago. Feminism still has work to do: Cultural transformation is much harder to achieve than legal reform.

Just look at the numbers: While women make up 43 percent of the nation's full-time workforce, fewer than 5 percent of big-company CEOs are female. Congress is just 19 percent female, a figure that has inched up since a decade ago, when it was 15 percent. And we're still not getting our fair share: Women working full-time today are paid about 78 cents for every dollar made by men.

Even worse is that many of the rights women fought for and won are now being rolled back, particularly reproductive and pregnancy rights. And cases of overt sexual harassment and assault — in sports, the military, the media and even in the current presidential campaign — are in the news every day.

When I wrote my book — the inspiration for the Amazon series — I considered our revolution an important footnote in the history of the feminist movement. I'm appalled that the issues are as relevant today as they were 46 years ago.

Still, there are lessons to learn from our experience. One is that we are all in this together. Women must see one another as compatriots who, together, can change the system and the culture. In our movement, sisterhood was powerful. It can be again.

And men must be part of the change. Most of our mentors at Newsweek were men, and even after we filed charges, many of our male colleagues helped us succeed. Today, when most families need two paychecks, men also have a big stake in changing the system. Younger men want to be far more involved in raising their children than my father's generation was, and yet they, too, are penalized if they take family leave, go part-time or work flexible hours. In short, these are not just "women's issues," they are societal issues.

But while we haven't come as far as we need to, progress is undeniable, and the conversations we're having about everything from consent to corporate representation are more nuanced and fruitful than ever. But it helps, every now and then, to take stock of where we were. Good Girls Revolt may be a period piece, but trust me, the past isn't as past as we like to think.


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Use Your Words: "The Emotionary"

Emotionary200Do you ever have the experience of not being able to find the right word to describe what you're feeling?  We've all been there, especially when it comes to love, weird anxiety, and of course, other people...

The Emotionary gives us words where we had none, and who knows, maybe some of them will become part of the pop culture lexicon and make their way into Webster's at some point.  It could happen--remember when Google was just a search engine and not a verb?

Here are some sample pages, see anything from your life?


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Clearly this one applies across all relationship stages...

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Most recently it was pickle slices or pickle chips?  Don't judge.

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This most reminds me of when someone in my house tells me they unloaded the dishwasher in a tone of voice that suggests they invented the thing.

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Go on a Book Bender: 4 Excellent Series with 10+ Books for Romance Binge-Readers

Binge readerI don't know about where you are, but here in Seattle, we're balanced on the soggy edge between autumn and winter. That's binge-reading time!

I'm always happy to enter into a long-term reading relationship with a prolific and talented writer during the dark and dreary months, and I hope you are, too. Here are a handful of authors whose series will suck you in and keep you happily reading deep into the winter.

The Look of LoveBella Andre: The Sullivans
– Bella Andre has mastered the challenge of combining red-hot chemistry with vibrant emotion to create big-hearted books that will make you sigh happily as her couples struggle through solving their problems and finding true love. This series revolves around the powerful and far-flung Sullivan family. Each book can be read alone, but try starting with The Look of Love, which launches the core nine books in the Sullivans series. Then branch out to the Seattle Sullivans (five books) and the New York Sullivans (book two releases November 16).

Weekend WarriorsFern Michaels: The Sisterhood – Michaels has a dedicated fan base that thrills to each new addition to her Sisterhood series, in which strong women right wrongs in a tough world. Book one, Weekend Warriors, starts the crew of vigilante women on their mission of obtaining justice no matter what the cost. Michaels' romances often have a sweeter side--but these are more rough-and-tumble. Crash and Burn, the 27th book in the Sisterhood series, hits shelves in very late December--just in time to use those gift cards you got in your stocking.

The Darkest NightGena Showalter: Lords of the Underworld – If paranormal romance gives you the happy shivers, Showalter's Lords of the Underworld series stars twelve immortal warriors who, in their hubris, stole Pandora's box and opened it--and now, thousands of years later, they are still paying the price for their mistake. Demons, gods, hellhounds, and more are among the cast of characters, but the stars are the immortals who have to fight their way out of darkness and mend their souls. Showalter leavens the stories with just-right dollops of humor, and the sex scenes sizzle. Launch your new paranormal obsession with The Darkest Night.

Highland DestinyHannah Howell: Murray Family – Howell begins her long-running Murray Family series in fifteenth-century Scotland, when real men were Highlanders and liked to say stuff like "wee" and "canna." Interclan warfare, secret identities, arranged marriages, and evil husbands or stepfathers get the plots rolling, but the real action revolves around the love-struck heroes and heroines. The intimacy scenes are painted in broad strokes instead of fine detail; the heroes run to the alpha side, and their women love them for it. Start with Highland Destiny.

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"Born Into a New Life Through Violence": Paulette Jiles on "News of the World"

JilesOne of our Best of the Month picks for October is Paulette Jiles's post Civil War western, News of the World. In it a war-weary widower, traveling from town to town reading relevant bits of news to paying customers, is given a $50 dollar gold piece to run an unusual errand: He must ferry a kidnapped girl back to what's left of her family--her parents and sister having been murdered by members of the Kiowa tribe--who spare the then 6-year-old and raise her as one of their own. Here, Jiles provides historical context and details the real-life story that inspired this National Book Award-nominated novel.

We do not always know where we are meant to be. We do not always know what we are to do when we get there. In News of the World a fictional girl named Johanna Leonberger, six years old, is taken captive by the Kiowa in 1866, and like many of us many times in our lives she found herself at the mercy of strangers in an unknown land. Born into a new life through violence and shock and awe and gunfire, adopted by a Kiowa woman, crossing the Red Rolling Plains, her former life streamed out behind her like smoke and like smoke it drifted and disappeared. The Kiowa language became her only language, the Red Rolling Plains and the Wichita Mountains her only geography. The stars she might have known as The Seven Sisters were now The Rainy Stars, and the songs she learned to sing were in the pentatonic scale.

Many captives were taken in those years, including the historical Millie Durgan, age two, in a raid in 1863, who was renamed Sain-to-odii, and whose life became that of a Kiowa forever. At age 82, when Sain-to-odii was briefly reunited with her white relatives, she was presented with a birthday cake and had no idea why people stuck candles in it and lit them on fire. She spoke no English. When urged to blow them out she remained painfully confused until the candles were puddles of wax in a mass of lemon frosting.

Our fictional captive, Johanna, must have realized some bright morning in the Wichita Mountains that this was where she was meant to be because she had been taken and transported in blood and fire into the protective arms of a Kiowa mother. On their tipi was painted the great Underwater Panther, a creature known throughout all the tribes of the new world as a being of astonishing power, half-serpent, half-cat. The Wichita Mountains had pines that made the rushing glottal sound that pines do in a wind, and the water was clear and always falling downward and downward again to the plains. She and the other girls dared each other to hold their noses and jump in, while her mother, Three Spotted, yelled, warning that she would ruin her dress, ruin her dress! She knew the sun got to where it was because Saynday had stolen it from the people on the other side of the world and set it to traveling across the sky. Fox helped him. They did it by thinking everything out and being clever. And those people on the other side of the world did nothing but play kickball with it!

Saynday threw the Sun up as high as he could and it stuck in the sky and hung there. He commanded it to travel from one side of the world to the other so all could share.

Now we can see where we're going, said Fox.

Now we won't stumble around in the dark and run into things, said Deer.

Ain't it grand? said Saynday. This is the life.

And then when she was some age between being very small and being a girl, a famine came upon her clan of the Kiowa. When the soldiers and the Indian Agent pressed them to turn in their white captives, she found herself torn from Three Spotted. She was told she would be taken back to her relatives and for a moment she was transported with relief and delight, thinking they were sending her back to Three Spotted. But no; this was where she was meant to be. She had been exchanged for food, for horses, for blankets and coin silver. Maybe someday she could say that this pain and terror and abandonment had saved her clan. She watched them leave with the wind boiling the dust up from their horses' feet, as if every step they took set the world on fire.

It was very hard. She was handed over to an old man with silver hair. He sent her to women who pushed, squeezed, and buttoned her into outlandish clothes. And then she and the old man began some long journey, to where she did not know. Maybe to someplace else she was supposed to be, toward some special task she was to perform upon arrival, but that was in the hands of her guardian spirit, if only he would speak to her now and again, but he didn't so she sang in order to call him, sang all the way from Wichita Falls to Spanish Fort. She was singing for meaning.

The old man was very kind and he had a gold watch and finally, one day, she called him Kon-tah, Grandfather, because she knew he was a Koitsenko, an old warrior, and he would stand between her and this hostile, strange, lonely world. And so her story unfolded in stark colors and primal forms: the Underwater Panther of great power; the trickster Saynday who loved to dance and sing; odd remembered words like five, happy, fall down, gentleman. And she prayed to her guardian spirit: If you know where I am going and what I am to do when I get there, please let me know.

A girl of enormous courage and spirit, thought the old man.And I have already raised two daughters but I will stand between her and harm as long as I can stand upright and beyond.  

Until he had to hand her over to her relatives.


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Announcing the 2016 Man Booker Prize Winner

SelloutToday the Booker Prize Foundation announced the winner of the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction: Paul Beatty's scathing, hilarious satire of race and identity in America, The Sellout, also the winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. Notably, Beatty is the first U.S. writer to win the award, with 2016 marking the fourth year that books published outside the British Commonwealth were considered.

Originally awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize endeavors "to encourage the widest possible readership for the best in literary fiction." Beatty will receive £50,000 in addition to £2,500 awarded to all of the finalists. Previous winners include Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan, A.S Byatt, Salman Rushdie, and last year's recipient Marlon James for his book, A Brief History of Seven Killings.

Learn more about the foundation and the Man Booker Prize at their website.

More titles from the 2016 shortlist:


More titles from the 2016 longlist:



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Ken Burns' Top Five Presidents

GroverClevelandAgain200As we enter into the home stretch leading up to the presidential election, we've been thinking a lot about the men that have come before.  Everyone has an opinion about who they think led the country to great things and who dug it into a hole the next guy in line had to try to fill.  Earlier this year Ken Burns, the much-lauded documentarian, wrote a book he's been talking about around his house for years--Grover Cleveland, Again!: A Treasury of American Presidents.  Each of the 44 United States presidents is covered--their personality, their legacy, and the state of the nation during their tenure.  After doing all this research into developing an intimate understanding of each of these men, I wondered who Burns would consider his favorites and why. Here are his picks:


  1. George Washington: Without Washington there wouldn't have been the others. He set the bar.


  1. Abraham Lincoln: His is our greatest president. He saved the country during our biggest crisis, the Civil War, and left a legacy of poetic words that have provided us shelter ever since.


  1. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: He expertly handled two of the three great crises of our nation—the Great Depression and the Second World War.


  1. Theodore Roosevelt: He brought an energy and muscularity to the office and to politics, feeling that government had an obligation to be a balancing force between labor and corporations.


  1. Thomas Jefferson: Though his presidency is not particularly distinguished, this advocate of small central government doubled the size of the country with his acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase—the greatest land deal in history.


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Kathryn Hall's Perfect Score

PerfectScore200Kathryn Hall and her husband Craig dove headfirst into Napa Valley wine making more than two decades ago developing first HALL Wines and then WALT Wines. They've learned a lot and had a great deal of fun on their road to success, and as the industry and Napa Valley community has continued to evolve, so have they.  The Hall's achieved one of highest accolades for any winery, a perfect score from Robert Parker's Wine Advocate for their 2010 HALL Excellenz Cabernet Sauvignon, and that served as inspiration for their book, A Perfect Score.  We asked Kathryn Hall to share a few insights into the business and her experience:

Seira Wilson: What is the most important technological change you've seen in the wine industry since buying your first vineyard?

Kathryn Hall: The optical sorter. The advantage of technology in general is that it affords us more precision in the winemaking process. The optical sorter identifies with far more accuracy than the human eye what grapes should be discarded from the process. In addition, the process is faster than if done by human sorting. During fermentation, time is always of the essence. We want the grapes to be in the fermentation tanks and temperature controlled as quickly as possible. So not only does the sorter optimize the quality of grapes but significantly reduces the amount of time involved to do so.

SW: What do you love most about being in the wine industry?

KH: The people. People who love wine tend to be people who enjoy life. These are the kind of folks I enjoy spending my time with, either at work or at play,

SW: What is been the hardest lesson in wine making?

KH: Just as you can't hurry a grape to ripen without impairing it's quality, you can't force wine in the bottle to age more quickly just because there's a market to sell it.

SW: Tell me about the moment you found out you'd received the perfect score from the Wine Advocate?

KH: I was in the car driving when I received a call from Matt Mumford at the winery. I felt so much emotion I should have pulled over to the side of the road, but didn't. I just kept on driving thinking about how happy all of our team would be as I knew they were also hearing the news at the same time.

SW: Is there a wine you think is most overrated?  Underrated?

KH: Any highly scored wine that you do not enjoy is overrated. Similarly, if you enjoy a wine it does not matter at all what any critic says. The idea of scores is to guide us towards wines we will enjoy. There is no substitute for your own palate.  Also, beware of trends.  Merlot has been overlooked in recent years (remember the movie Sideways?) and it can be a beautiful, round, lush red wine, often priced at a good value because it is not as in style as it once was.  I think our HALL merlot, for example, is one of the best values in our portfolio.  


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Incredible Escapes: How JFK Tried to Suppress Documentaries about Digging Tunnels under the Berlin War

Greg Mitchell and The TunnelsIn The Tunnels, historian Greg Mitchell uncovers one of the most gripping stories of the Cold War, in which people in West Berlin dug tunnels under the Berlin Wall to help friends and family escape East Germany. American TV broadcasters CBS and NBC partially funded two tunnels and filmed the digging...and then the Kennedy administration and State Department tried to squash the documentaries during the tense months before the Cuban missile crisis came to a head.

Greg Mitchell talked with us about the tunnelers themselves, the behind-the-scenes machinations of the U.S. government, and the parallels to today.

Amazon Book Review: What sparked your interest in this slice of history?

Greg Mitchell: I'm unfortunately old enough to have grown up with [the Berlin Wall] and grown up in the era when it was at the top of the news many nights, and there was the incredible nuclear threat attached to Berlin. A few years ago I saw the film The Lives of Others, which became my favorite movie of the last decade. There's a great deal in there about East Germany, suppression, Stasi, and surveillance, and it ends with the fall of the wall. I was primed to learn more. But what really sparked it was that my daughter, her husband, and her three-year-old son moved to Berlin and lived about a mile from where the wall was. My wife and I had never been to Berlin, so we were especially happy to go visit them. On our first visit, we took a walk up to where the first wall memorial is and we were just overwhelmed by what we found there. When I came back to New York, I did more research and found these incredible links to the CBS and NBC films, and the fact that they were suppressed.

This is not the typical escape story, like The Great Escape or Shawshank Redemption. Throughout history, virtually every story of tunnel escapes have been about imprisoned people trying to get out. In this case, the people who dug the tunnels were already in the West.They were digging away from freedom, at incredible risk. Imagine digging several hundred feet under the wall and under the Death Strip with guard towers, snipers, and explosives, and Stasi dropping grenades in tunnels and shooting people when they emerged in the East. These [tunnelers] were people who didn't have to do it—who were already free. It's mind-boggling when you think about it. The book is about the specifics of the suppression of the tunnel films and the political situation, but the universal story is the drive for freedom and what that's worth risking.

How did you discover so many details about the tunnel diggers and others, such as those installed by the Stasi to betray them?

The entire story is based on first-hand accounts and documents that were never seen or released before. Much to my shock, many of the key tunnelers were still alive. And many of the key escapees and couriers were still alive, still in very good shape, and still living in or near Berlin. So I was able to track them down and interview them. The second leg of the research was that I got incredible information from the State Department, White House, and Kennedy Library directly related to the story, as well as documents from the Stasi archives in Berlin that had never been released before.

The narrative is more like a spy thriller, with accurate historical material. It's not an academic tome; it's not something you'll get bogged down in.

The Kennedy administration worked hard behind the scenes to kill the airing of the tunnel-digging documentaries planned by CBS and NBC. I found it interesting how the State Department danced around not outright asking NBC to suppress their documentary, but obviously the State Department was putting on the pressure to stop it.

Yes, it's almost black comedy. It's clear, privately, that the State Department wants NBC to kill the program themselves, but when the State Department meets with NBC personally, they say It's going to endanger Americans, or The West German government wants you to not do it. Even Dean Rusk himself says that he's not demanding [that the program be killed]: We'll just blast you as disloyal Americans and for endangering lives, but it's up to you. It's not exactly funny but it is funny to read how they're trying to couch it. They're acting like they're asking a favor but they're really making a demand.

The government successfully quashed the CBS documentary but had more trouble with NBC. How do you think the tension between the media and the government in 1962 might be relevant to the tension between the media and the government today? Do you see parallels?

It's funny, because most people—especially those who grew up then or a little later—have this image of John F. Kennedy being very media friendly, and that the media loved him. But in fact he had as many if not more problems with the media as any president. Throughout the book, we see how Kennedy was over and over having issues with the media—tapping a reporter's phone, for example. So the image of Kennedy as media friendly is debunked. As for lessons for today, one is that every president or every serious candidate for president is going to have a love/hate relationship with the media. There's almost no way around it. If even Kennedy could get [into acrimonious situations with the media], than you can see how they're all going to be suspicious of and have major problems with the media. Maybe even threaten to crack down on them. We see [similar things] today, when the government officials say the press is not being patriotic or the press is printing too many leaks, the press is endangering Americans. It's exactly what was going on back then, so I think there's a lot of resonance today with this story from the early sixties.



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Weekend Reading

Athena-Hitler2-croppedOn the heels of Halloween, this edition of Weekend Reading features an epic battle between evil and evil-er, a performance artist who doesn't shy away from the frightening, and to temper it all, here is a picture of a cute cat.

Adrian Liang: What could be better than reading a book in which Hitler and Dracula go head-to-head, while you have a sweet kitten snuggled in your lap? Yep, not much, except maybe a debut grimdark fantasy novel, The Burning Isle, by Will Panzo. So far, The Burning Isle reminds me of Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond Chronicles and of Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows, and I hope that promise carries all the way through as our mysterious assassin hero, Cassius, gradually unspools his plan to change the fate of the ragged, brutal town of Scipio.

Erin Kodicek: I'm going to check out Walk Through Walls, a memoir by Marina Abramovic, which promises to be just as provocative and riveting as her performance art. Ms. Abramovic has tested her physical, mental, and emotional limits by having a loaded gun pointed at her head, a live scorpion perched on her face, and she has stared strangers in the eye for 700 hours at New York's Museum of Modern Art (some of us get the same sort of harrowing rush riding the bus). I suspect this book will be much like her art, tough but impossible not to take in.

Jon Foro: Halloween, right? I've always been a big fan of Halloween, and my reading habits used to reflect that a lot more. Some might say that 11 is too young for something like Salem's Lot, but I could handle it, except for the times I'd be running home through the woods at dusk, convinced that the clacking of the YKK zipper tab on my down parka was the sound of king vampire Kurt Barlow fast on my heels. Stupid, of course: king vampires make no sound in the woods. A long story for this context, I guess, but I'll be looking for something on the creepier side this weekend. I'll be looking at The Secret History of Twin Peaks by series co-creator Mark Frost. It's labeled "novel," but it's constructed as a "dossier" containing hundreds of documents spanning the history of the fictional town from Lewis and Clark to Laura Palmer's murder, a scrapbook of newspaper clippings, classified files, medical records, police reports, and other confidential ephemera. Like the show, it will leave lots of space for speculation and maybe frustration, but it should rile up fans in anticipation of the new episodes set to resume sometime in 2017.

Seira Wilson: This weekend I'll be finishing up some November reading, including S.J. Kincaid's The Diabolic, a twisty young adult novel about corruption, rebellion and standing up for those you love, all set in a fantasy galaxy.  And then for something TOTALLY different, I've got A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig. This funny and warm-hearted story of a boy who still believes in the impossible is obviously perfect for this time of year and the book has gotten rave reviews from other well-known authors. 


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Bill is Back (Thank You, Berkeley Breathed)

BillTheCat200I'm one of the millions who were stunned when Berkeley Breathed decided to cap his pens and leave us longing for Bloom County, for twenty-five years.  So you can imagine my dance of joy--picture a Steve Dallas groove--when Breathed suddenly brought our beloved characters back on, of all places, Facebook. 

Now, I'm not a big Facebook person but I will sit here at my desk for an hour (don't tell my boss) reading the latest strips on Breathed's page, trying pretty unsuccessfully not to giggle too loud.  Thankfully, one of Breathed's two new books is a collection of the strips that have appeared on Facebook--Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope.  The guy really has a way with words, doesn't he? 

Breathed's second new book is a first for Bloom County--a kids' picture book that is not just fun for the kiddies, titled The Bill the Cat Story.  Speculate no more, my friends, about the lives Bill led before he arrived for good in Bloom County--it's all here, in full-color glory.  And it is glorious.

I sent Breathed some questions about coming back after all these years and, of course, Bill the Cat--here's what he had to say:

Seira Wilson: On NPR you read the letter from Harper Lee that prompted your return to Bloom County after 25 years—did you know, before that moment, that she was such a huge Opus fan?

Berkeley Breathed: We'd exchanged letters over the years.  I wrote her first in the mid nineties and was shocked to get a reply.  I'm quite certain she didn't know about my work until then.  A decade later, when I was ending the once-weekly "Opus" strip, she wrote repeatedly to convince me to keep it going.  Not to let my character end.  Not to go quiet.  Irony can elude the genius among us, sometimes.

SW: It's been less than a year since you started doing the strip again—why did you decide to make this Bill's year by writing a book telling his origin story?

BB: I loved the challenge of taking the most un kiddie-friendly character and finding a story a child could relate to… while giving the parent reading it something to make it fun. We even went back to make the expression on his face even deader… as that is the core of his character:  he doesn't have one.  But those around him provide the humanity.  I never make it easy for myself.

SW: So much has changed in the last 25 years—The Real Housewives, kale, spray tans, the Playboy mansion selling to a Twinkie mogul... what do you think is the most absurd pop culture phenomenon to date that you haven't covered (yet)?

BB: Im getting wary of pop culture as source material, frankly.  Its like a Twinkie, actually.  Ephemeral.  Short-lived. Dissipates like air.  On the other hand, if you think politics is the opposite, you will have fallen into a trap of deceit.

SW: The Bill the Cat Story is a picture book--is this Bill's first move toward a Garfield kiddie coup?  Who would do Bill's voice in the movie?

BB: Yes, Bill has got Garfield in his brand sights.  I wouldn't hold any foul breath on it, tho.  Bill's voice will be done by me, as a coughing fit.

SW: Do you have a favorite strip featuring Bill the Cat?  Is there one strip that always makes you laugh when you read it?

BB: Its not terribly dignified to have anyone seeing one laugh at one's own material.  But now, at this point, I do all the time.  My kids hear me behind my door, giggling like an idiot, and they roll their eyes at the blatant indignity of it all.  But now it comes with the job.  I can't get myself to confess any specifics publicly:  its a bridge too far with the indignity thing.

SW: Is there a character you get the most fan mail about?

BB: I don't get fan mail.  It disappeared with the digital revolution.  An interesting side effect.  One gets comments on Facebook.  Different beasts, those. Opus remains the spiritual center of the Bloom County experience for people.  

SW: Do you own a juicer/smoothie maker?  (I had just been reading a few of his strips that featured smoothie counter absurdity)

BB: I hate smoothies.  Because they won't offer Firestone IPA beer as an ingredient.  This will come, watch.

SW: What are you reading now?  What's the last book someone recommended to you?

BB: Soldat.  An autobiography of a German soldier in WW2.  Everything you would want to know about my tastes in books is neatly summed up in that one.  Yes, you can detect those dynamics in the things I choose to write about in my comic strip.  Just to be ironic.


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