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Baby Boomer's social commentary on life in OUR sixties for those who rocked life in THE sixties.


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How many e-readers are too many?

To E or not to E?

At the present time, in addition to being a voracious reader of hardcopy books, magazines and newspapers, I juggle several e-readers to meet my daily needs. Just like computer nerds who have multiple monitors flashing with activity on their desks, it takes several devices to satisfy my lust for the written word. The rationale compares to having multiple pairs of black shoes or a variety of purses (Boomer women can relate). Sometimes you like the comfy rubber soled walkers and other times you prefer the stack-em high stilettos that forsake comfort and performance for attitude.

I’ve been known to shoot smart phone users the evil eye as they thumb their devices in the company of friends at lunch or dinner. I’ve indiscreetly suggested that friends leave them in their purses when we’re lunching or catching up over a cup of tea. I rarely use my own cell phone and quickly become impatient with people who are constantly fiddling with theirs. But try to separate me from my iPad and I’d immediately suffer the DTs. I must confess, though, that I still prefer to read the newspaper in old-fashioned hard copy spread out on my kitchen table. With so many newspapers, magazines and other print publications being threatened with extinction, we have a responsibility to support print publication as much as possible. I’m certainly doing my bit with eighteen subscriptions per month.

Some British mags are just too delicious to wait for the hard copy, so e-subscriptions fit the bill

Since reading is my favourite thing in the world to do, I have totally embraced the digital world which offers unlimited access to nearly every word ever written. As the owner of two Kindles, two iPads and one Kobo I’m always just arm’s length from accessing my current library book, reference book or favourite British magazine that takes too long to reach our shores in hard copy.

A friend recently emailed to ask my opinion on the best e-reader as he was contemplating buying one. Since I’ve owned five, he felt I was somewhat qualified to have an informed opinion. My answer was the iPad mini because of its light weight and versatility. But that’s subjective and I certainly don’t want to diminish the merits and joy of reading on Kindle, Kobo or old-fashioned hardcover books. It’s just that e-readers have greatly reduced my burgeoning inventory of books needing literal shelf space and have saved me a ton of money by downloading from the public library or on-line retailers. E-readers are unbeatable for loading up several books when traveling. They’re convenient for carrying in your purse for a quick read while gobbling a burger and fries at Five Guys, or while getting a pedicure. There are so many options available. Take your pick but I highly recommend picking at least one. The way I read it, the more the merrier.

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The Sense of an Ending ends with a twist

How would you react to receiving a letter or other communication from someone you were intimate with in the swinging sixties or early seventies and lost track of decades ago? And what if that communication required a face-to-face meeting, after all these years? Imagine the emotions that would be ignited. That intriguing premise is the basis for a book by Julian Barnes called The Sense of an Ending. What prompted me to read the book was a review in The New York Times. The reviewer was so impressed with the story that as soon as he finished, he immediately started at the beginning to read it again. I can’t say that was my response but I did enjoy it enormously.

At around two hundred pages, The Sense of an Ending is a quick, easy read. When I first started reading, the main character, Anthony Webster reminded me of Holden Caulfield. The story begins in the early sixties with the friendship of three schoolboys in England whose dynamic is altered by the later introduction of a fourth boy, Adrian. When they go off to different universities, they maintain a tentative friendship but their lives naturally begin to follow divergent paths. We follow Tony Webster’s journey through the changes generated early in the sexual revolution. We observe his struggles and confusion with “the meaning of life” which was a popular concern of boomers. Then, suddenly, he’s in his seventies and receives a solicitor’s letter informing him he’s been named as the beneficiary of a minor settlement in the will of the mother of an old girlfriend from university.

The emotional struggles, the mystery surrounding the endowment and the confrontations that result profoundly affect Tony Webster’s entire philosophy of life. I won’t divulge the plot and its twists as I really think you should experience the book first-hand. Baby boomers will relate to the subtleties of morals, ambitions and social relationships we experienced and will find the book particularly interesting. But it’s also a kind of mystery story with a plot twist that makes the entire book worth reading.

Click here to order The Sense of an Ending from Amazon.com

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How much is enough?

How much more do we really need when we have each other?

The other day my friend Margaret commented “I have enough.” She said that there’s nothing in life she wants or needs that she does not already have. That observation is profound and got me thinking. Now that baby boomers have reached the stage in life where we are retired, semi-retired or close to retiring, we have time for reflection, and that is a wonderful luxury. We no longer have to drag our tired bodies out of a warm bed on a cold morning and sit in grid-locked traffic to serve the master. For wont of nothing, we have enough.

We’re gradually off-loading our crap gathered over years of consumerism to accommodate moves into smaller living quarters and generally simplifying our lives. I remember when I thought my life would be complete if I just had that one special item, perhaps a certain pair of shoes or a new sofa. Going back even further, remember when we longed for enough money to make a down payment on our first home or pay off our car loan? Think of all the stuff we’ve hauled off to Goodwill or just thrown out after we got tired of it or no longer had room for it in our cluttered, busy lives. What I wouldn’t give to have that money in my bank account now. We’ve all made financial mistakes over the years; that’s how we learn. The most important thing we’ve learned now that we’re at that special age when we do have time to reflect is that happiness is not about things. It’s about sharing life with those we love and being grateful that we have enough to eat, are warm and sheltered and live in a country that values caring for and about each other.

Margaret found the realization that she has enough to be very empowering and was inspired by reading David Chilton’s recent book The Wealthy Barber Returns.  “It was like a light coming on to finally recognize that I do have enough and allowed me to see everything differently, to relax, enjoy, be grateful and live in the moment” she said. Although I’ve personally not read the book yet (it’s on my list), I did read David Chilton’s original The Wealthy Barber when it was first published more than twenty years ago.

Most boomers are finally where we want to be in life and are happy that most of the stress is behind us, as long as our health holds up. Margaret makes entries in her gratitude journal every night which is something I also used to do and found incredibly uplifting. Perhaps it’s time to take a step back and reflect on the gifts that surround us already. Today I took an early morning picture of the pond behind our house. It was as still and clear as a mirror reflecting the surrounding trees and birds walking along the shoreline. I never tire of my morning pot of tea while reading the paper. When I first started blogging almost four years ago, I posted an essay The age of acquisition about appreciating these and other simple pleasures. That’s more than enough for me and for that I am truly grateful.

Click here to read The age of acquisition . . . too much of a good thing.

Click here to order The Wealthy Barber Returns from Amazon

Click here to order The Wealthy Barber from Amazon

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Is there a reward for Crime and Punishment?

There should be some kind of award for accomplishing items on your bucket list. Surely we’re entitled to a pair of new shoes for losing twenty pounds or treating ourselves to a spa day for running a marathon. That’s exactly how I’m feeling after having just finished reading Crime and Punishment by Fydor Dostoyevsky. Believe it or nor, reading that book was on my bucket list and I did it. Many of us have lists that includes such pleasures as visiting Paris in the springtime, writing a best-selling novel or hitting a hole-in-one. Perhaps our ambitions are as mundane as cleaning out the junk in the basement or finally paying off our Visa bill. That surely deserves a dinner out, paid for in cash of course. Not everything on our bucket list is necessarily pleasurable but it should be rewarding. For me, reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was one of those things.

The obvious question is why would I subject myself to such brutality? It’s simple. Like someone running a marathon or climbing a mountain, it was there and demanded to be done. As an inveterate reader I felt challenged to add more classic Russian literature to my repertoire. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment kept dangling across my field of vision as a goal to be achieved. To complete my troika of classic Russian authors (having also read Tolstoy) I’m now reading Anton Chekov”s Sakhalin Island, but I’ll tell you more about that in a future posting.

I’m certainly not an academic and my take on Crime and Punishment is purely that of an amateur, but overall, I rather enjoyed it. I loved occupying the minds and lifestyles of people who lived in St. Petersburg one hundred and fifty years ago. The characters’ names in Russian literature are always challenging to follow as their names take many forms and are constantly switched about. For instance, the main character’s name has several variations: Raskolnikov, Rodion, Rodka, Rody, Romanovich, (not unlike our treatment of David as Dave, Davey or David) and all the characters names have similar variations which can be confusing.

Raskolnikov is a poor, starving university dropout who, during a period of melancholy and illness, murders a local money-lender and her half-sister during a robbery. The plot takes second place to the psychological study of Raskolnikov’s motives and rationale for committing the crime. The dilemma is relevant and worth considering. Using Napoleon as his moral compass, Raskolnikov attempts to rationalize murder as an acceptable action when committed for the higher good. If leaders of countries can justify war and killing to conquer foreign lands and defeat so-called enemies, how could a simple student be wrong in murdering an evil loan shark, despised by everyone? This premise is eerily relevant in view of the current political situation in our world today. When is killing justifiable and when is it murder? Is it ever justifiable?

Sometime we've just plain earned it.

Sometimes we’ve just plain earned it.

It was a slow and tedious but worthwhile read. The thing I enjoyed most about the book was what I also enjoyed about Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The minute detail about daily life in Russia transported me to a time and place I will never experience. Graphic descriptions of apartments, rooming houses, the clothing worn by ordinary Russians, conversations in period dialogue that reflect the thoughts, philosophy, sense of humour and worries of the characters was rich and evocative. Now that I have Crime and Punishment under my belt, I’m seriously contemplating tackling Ulysses by James Joyce, but I’m in no hurry. In the meantime I think at the very least I’ve earned a DQ Blizzard or something equally decadent. Don’t you agree?

Click here to order Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky from Amazon.

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Mike Myers is our very own symbol of true patriot love, with a touch of class

mike1I know I have a tendency at times (sorry!! it’s a Canadian thing) to gush about books I love, so brace yourself; this is a huge gush. We all know and love fellow Canuck Mike Myers for his Second City and SNL characters as well as his movie roles in Wayne’s World, Austin Powers and Shrek. The Wayne Campbell character was based on his own teenage self. Being funny requires also being smart and Mike Myers displays an abundance of both in his new book about his love affair with Canada appropriately titled Canada.  At nearly four hundred pages, it contains a lot of material but is such a wonderful read I guarantee you won’t be able to put it down (sorry . . . did it again). I read it in less than two days.

Myers’s book is a combination memoir and layman’s guide to all things Canadian. He describes growing up in North York and Scarborough (suburbs of Toronto) with such clarity and relatability that we can practically feel the winter cold, taste the ketchup-flavoured potato chips, hear the shouts on the street of  “game on”, and smell the Tim Horton’s coffee. I once lived in the same neighbourhood around Fairview Mall and can easily picture him and his friend as young boys trying to score hockey stickers from hapless customers at the Don Mills Road and Sheppard Avenue gas station, or envision his family life amidst the white brick high-rise apartment buildings that dominate the neighbourhood.

Like Wayne Gretsky, Myers is endlessly gracious, tossing out dozens of “thank you’s” to everyone along the way who made a positive contribution to his or anyone’s life. His modesty and lack of ego are typically Canadian. The book explains some of our history, our cultural touchstones like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Canadian Tire and Tim Horton’s. He also references our more sophisticated British-influenced sense of humour which is heavy on irony and understatement. As an actor and writer, he’s tuned in to the nuances of language and provides examples of how Canadians, Americans and Brits differ in speech patterns. He has an amazing ear for subtleties.

His Wayne Campbell character was totally based on his teenage self.

His Wayne Campbell character was inspired by his teenage self growing up in “Scarberia”.

His observations of life growing up as a typical Canadian boy are entertaining and enlightening. For many years before cable and satellite, we could only get three television stations in Toronto and as a result of watching Irv Weinstein, Buffalo’s answer to Walter Cronkite (Buffalo: the city of endless fires and shootings), Myers and his friends were always baffled when the eleven o’clock news started with “It’s eleven o’clock. Do you know where your children are?” We all remember that tagline and coming from safe and sane Canada, Myers and the rest of us were left wondering, “What’s going on? Where are the children? Should we get in a car and go down to Buffalo and help find the children?”

After I finished reading the book I checked some of the reviews on Amazon and several people suggested non-Canadians wouldn’t “get it”. I totally disagree. In fact, Canada by Mike Myers should be required reading for every Canadian within and outside our borders. I’ll even go further and suggest it should be required reading for every American whose lack of general knowledge about the world outside their borders, particularly their northern neighbour, is shocking and profound. Myers, who spent the first twenty years of his life in Canada before moving for short time to England then the United States to further his career, agrees. “I live in the States. And you never hear any news about Canada when you live in the States.” Canada, as the title suggests is not an autobiography so there’s a lot of personal information missing about his marriage, family life and what he’s being doing the last few years. It’s a self-described love letter to growing up in Canada, intertwined with history, cultural and political observations of our country. It will warm your heart, just like Mike Myers has done for us for many years now. Schwing!

To order a copy of CANADA by Mike Myers from Amazon, click here.

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Do you suffer from opioid constipation?

constipationApparently it’s no joke.  In this latest twist in the commercialization of drug use, I actually saw an advertisement on TV that recommended a prescription solution to an apparent prescription problem. “If you suffer from constipation as a result of opioid use, talk to your doctor about . . . xyz.” I first learned of this problem when I read Papa John, an autobiography by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas many years ago (which is an interesting read, by the way). He educated me to the fact heavy drug users suffer from severe constipation and intestinal gas. Lovely.

I know there are opioid users who are not drug abusers and are in fact genuine pain sufferers who need prescription painkillers. Obviously, many drugs are good and life-saving but that’s not what I’m talking about here. How would we ever survive without the drug industry to monitor our ailments and develop a pill to eliminate them. American television advertising is sustained and supported by Big Pharma. I’ve actually counted up to fifteen commercials during a break in television programming with thirteen of them about drugs, either over-the-counter or prescription.

Whatever your problem, Big Pharma has a solution, or is it just another problem?

Whatever your problem, Big Pharma has a solution, or is it just another problem?

There are pills to put us to sleep, pills to counteract the sleeping pills and wake us up, pills to loosen our bowels, pills to tighten our bowels, pills to dry our allergic eyes and pills to relieve dry eyes. We have pills to improve our eyesight, our hearing and even our brains. Along with commercials about four-hour erections, anal leakage and troublesome psoriasis, it’s obvious the entire population over the age of fifty, including all baby boomers, is plagued with a shocking number of ailments that require immediate and ongoing pharmaceutical intervention. And if we’re not popping enough prescription and over-the-counter meds, the “wellness” industry is relentlessly promoting our dependency on vitamin supplements, protein shakes and nefarious diet regimes that could actually endanger our health. Those futuristic space-age predictions we all watched on our snowy black and white televisions in the fifties and sixties have come to pass. Our meals are now a handful of pills.

Despite the billions of dollars spent each year on developing, marketing and purchasing pills and potions from Big Pharma we still don’t have a cure for the common cold, for diabetes or more tragically, cancer. That’s because there’s no profit in eliminating these diseases. With all those billions being spent by consumers to support the treatment of symptoms, there’s no incentive to treat the cause. So if you’re suffering from constipation caused by opioid use or conversely if you’re a victim of anal leakage, stay tuned. There’ll be a commercial for pharmaceutical help regardless of your real or imagined ailment within the next few minutes on a television or digital feed near you. And that’s no joke.

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Scotiabank’s 2016 Giller Prize winner for fiction is indeed a winner

madelaineI don’t always agree with the judges’ selections for the annual ScotiaBank Giller Prize for Fiction, but this year they nailed it. Book lovers can relate to the delicious feeling of being so engrossed in a good book that the rest of the world ceases to exist until that book is finished. That’s how I felt reading Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Canadian author Madelaine Thien. On one hand I feel I’m wasting time buried in a book, but how is that possible when that same book is taking me to foreign countries, immersing me in other cultures and expanding my world far beyond any of my everyday life experiences.

The story begins in the first person narrative with Marie describing her life in Vancouver living with her mother following the suicide of her father in Hong Kong several years earlier. Then, an enigmatic relative by the name of Ai-ming who is only slightly older than Marie arrives under suspicious circumstances from mainland China. Her presence raises questions, unfolding the story of Marie’s family history that is reflective of the various cultural, economic and social purges instituted by Mao Tse Tung in the mid-twentieth century.

Written in memoir style along historical fiction plot lines, we are introduced to Marie’s distant family in China. Their struggles, secrets and suffering are described in exquisite detail to the degree we feel like we’re reading non-fiction. This book reminded me of Wild Swans, a wonderful non-fiction book about three generations of twentieth century women in China by Jung Chang which I read several years ago. Both books bring home the cruel and senseless denunciations, murder, starvation and relocation of millions of people under Chairman Mao Tse Tung for decades.

The characters’ lives are strongly shaped around their love and participation in the world of classical music which was at various times banned in China. The author writes sensitively and with a deep intellectual understanding of music that is far above and beyond anything I possess. Some readers will find the detailed references to the deeper meanings of music to be tedious (I certainly did) but it’s worth slogging through the boring bits. The fact that Beethoven’s fifth movement does not refer to his bowels is the extent of my understanding of classical music but that does not preclude readers enjoying the references. The characters are complex, relatable and beautifully detailed with colourful names like Big Mother Knife, Little Sparrow and Old Cat. Thien imbues certain characters with a sense of humour and their wisdom is displayed in dialogue with strong, clear metaphors. She also makes use of Chinese symbols to explain and help the reader understand the nuances of language. Personally, I think the book could have used some tighter editing but overall I enjoyed it and plan to read more by Madelaine Thien.

Click here to order Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madelaine Thein from Amazon:

Click here to order a copy of Wild Swans by Jung Chang from Amazon.

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