Into the Storm

Korten, Tristam. Into the Storm: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle For Survival.

Confessional: this was a very difficult book for me to read. When I first requested it from LibraryThing I thought time and circumstance had adequately removed me from emotion. In other words, I thought I was far enough away from the story’s potential emotional impact. My father was a member of the U. S. Coast Guard. His responsibility in the service was Search and Rescue. Even though my father has been dead for over 25 years the urgency with which the Coast Guard acted and the determination of rescue swimmer, Ben Cournia, had a profound effect on me.
Additionally, I am from Maine. My mother’s little town of Rockland was devastated by the loss of so many Maine Maritime Academy graduates. It’s a grief that, to this day, lingers on the resident’s stoic faces.

But, having made my confession there is something else to admit. Emotional impact, especially one that lingers, is the sign of a well-told story. Korten stirred the memory pot and moved me to tears with his eloquent writing. Even if I had been a landlocked farmer in the Midwest Into the Storm would be just as powerful.

Korten’s detail of the events of September 29th, 2015 builds in tempo like the events that unfolded before, during and after Hurricane Joaquin’s rage. In the beginning, seasoned seamen and meteorologists alike were not impressed by Joaquin. As a weather condition, nearly everyone underestimated the storm’s growing power and unpredictability. This languid misjudgment proved to be deadly. Additionally, there were the missed chances to take the El Faro out of commission. The Coast Guard had put it on its target list for 2016 for vessels deemed dangerous and a risk to marine safety. Even more devastating was the fact the El Faro crew tried numerous times to tell the captain they were in a risky situation. Finally, the last known communication with land didn’t sound dire enough. No one had a clue the ship was that close to the deadly eye of Joaquin.


October ’12 was…

October 2012 was started out to sea. We landed on Monhegan sandwiched between the bustling start of Trap Day and the slowing end of tourist season. As a nod to the death of summer we readied our psyches to the coming winter. The island had shed its summer greens and stood cloaked in red rust brown and burnt yellow hues. Hiking the trails was at once magical and sobering. It was easy to curl up with a good book every night and read for at least two hours straight (something I never get to do at home unless it’s an off day). And speaking of the books, here they are:

  • Persian Boy by Mary Renault ~ a continuation of the series about Alexander the Great. I started this in September to keep the story going.
  • Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ~ in honor of Halloween (duh). Probably one of my favorite books of the month. I read this in three days.
  • The Outermost House: a year of life on the great beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston ~ in honor of October being Animal Month. The best book for me to read on an island; finished it in three days.
  • Lives of the Painters, Vol. 1 by Giorgio Vasari ~ in honor of October being Art Appreciation month. This was just ridiculous to read. There were a lot of errors according to the translator. I ended up skipping every biography that had a contradiction or error in it.As a result, finished it in two weeks.
  • Hackers edited by Jack Dann ~ in honor of October being Computer Awareness month. This was cool to read. I read three stories a night and finished it in four days.
  • The Dialect of Sex: the Case For Feminist Revolution by Shulamith Firestone ~ in honor of breast cancer awareness month and strong women everywhere. I didn’t completely finish this, but I got the gist of it.
  • The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan ~ in honor of the Amsterdam marathon taking place in October. I read this in four and a half days. Easy and very entertaining!
  • The Clerkenwell Tales by Peter Ackroyd ~in honor of Ackroyd’s birth month. This was short, a little over 200 pages, but I took my time reading it – almost three weeks!

The audio book I chose for October was The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell. This took forever to listen to! I felt like I was constantly plugged into the story. I listened to it on the drive home from Maine, to and from work everyday. even while I was working out, while I cooking. It was a great story, worth every hour between the earphones. Can’t wait to read other Mankell stories!

For LibraryThing’s Early Review program I read Thomas Jefferson’s Creme Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave Introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell. While I thought I would enjoy this book (TJ is one of my favorite past presidents and I’m wild about food) it fell a little flat for me. I stopped reading on page 200. I also started reading Clay by Melissa Harrison. It was refreshing to get a first-time fiction from LibraryThing!

One thing that I failed to mention about October (and this is related to the books) is that I am back to requesting books from other libraries! Yay yay yay! This was halted in June of 2011 because we were switching ILSs and at the time I figured it would be a good opportunity to read what was on my own shelf and in my own library. Now, nearly 17 months later I am back to having hundreds of libraries to order from. Thank gawd!

We ended October with a freak storm people were calling Frankenstorm in honor of being so close to Halloween. Although we prepared like hell we saw little damage, thankfully. My thoughts and prayers go out to those in New Jersey and New York. It’s sad to see my old haunts get battered around so…


October ’11 was…

What do you get when you add a vacation to two road trips and a freak snow storm in which I lose electricity for two days? Answer – a boat load of books read in one month; so many books that I haven’t been able to review them all.

In the first week of October I went home. As past posts can tell you I like nothing more than reading on an island, especially one on the tail end of a hurricane. There is something so book-worthy about a rain soaked afternoon or two by the raging ocean…
On Monhegan I was able to read:

  • Anil’s Ghost by Michael Onjaatje (e-book),
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes (stolen from my childhood bookcase),
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (stolen from my sister’s childhood bookcase)
  • Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris (another e-book) and part of
  • The Stand by Stephen King

On a road trip to New York (to see Natalie Merchant ~ more on that on the Other Side) I was able to finish

  • The Stand by Stephen King and
  • Spy Trap by Edward Packard and
  • Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

I started reading Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann when I forgot Immortality by Milan Kundera at work. I finished both those books and Last to Die by James Grippando during the freak snow storm/power outage (and to think people wanted me to come out with them because they had cable!!). As long as I candles and blankets I was in heaven.
But, probably the hardest book to get through was Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan (another e-book). I started Altered Carbon the first week of October and slogged through it until October 27th. Talk about a complicated story! I am struggling with the review because the plot was so intense.

So, there it is. Nearly a dozen books for the month of October. True, four of those books were for kids (Phantom Tollbooth, Johnny Tremain, Spy Trap and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) but Altered Carbon, Last To Die and Buddenbrooks were “adult” enough to offset the kiddie stuff.

What’s in store for November? Well, considering I have no trips to Monhegan (or anywhere for that matter), Thanksgiving is this month, and we have a power back, I have no idea. ūüôā


Deadly Indifference

Brown, Michael D. and Ted Schwarz. Deadly Indifference: the Perfect (Political) Storm” Hurricane Katrina, the Bush White House, and Beyond. Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2011.

I have to wonder if there is a tell-all grace period. Wait so many years, put so much distance between now and then, and then spill the beans with abandon. Deadly Indifference¬†is that type of book. Michael Brown was Under Secretary of Homeland Security during the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. As Director of FEMA he was the appointed scapegoat of the entire fiasco and for all intents and purposes Deadly Indifference is his chance to clear his name. This is his opportunity to set the record straight and blame other people. As former Under Secretary of Homeland Security he has nothing to lose and therefore can tell all with straightforward clarity. It is to be expected that Brown points the finger everywhere but himself. In the first chapter I was even wondering if he was going to blame the residents of New Orleans simply¬†because they willingly chose to live in a “fishbowl” city well below sea level. When Brown does get around to placing some of the blame on himself he does so lightly and delicately. His heavy hand is reserved for people like New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Louisana governor Kathleen Blanco. While Brown’s book is thought provoking one would benefit from reading several different accounts of what went wrong before, during and after Hurricane Katrina. It would be interesting to compare this to someone with an unbiased point of view.


December ’09 was…

Where in the world do I begin with December 2009? What a freakin’ crazy month! I only ran 4.49 miles for the entire month (ha!), but have a sneaking suspicion my knees are thanking me for the time off. Weather wise we had a few snow storms, but nothing too dramatic. I wrote more reports and conducted more reviews and put in more work hours than I care to admit. But, best of all, most memorable of all was the trip home to Monhegan. I haven’t even begun to write about that (which is strange because it changed my life). With everything going on, books were low on the list:

  • Tiepolo’s Hound by Derek Wolcott ~ interesting but not my favorite.
  • Tortilla Curtain by T. C. Boyle ~ memorable and moving, definitely one of my favorites.
  • Wonderboys by Michael Chabon ~ can’t wait to see the movie! I only have one question, “is the snake in the trunk?”
  • Soloist by Mark Salzman ~ amazing, amazing book. I’m a fan of Mark Salzman now.
  • The Walls Came Tumbling Down by Babs Deal ~ gossipy and girly, this was a fun one.
  • The Lost Steps by Alejo Carpentier ~ last book of the month…

From my list I didn’t get to Perma Red by Debra Magpie Earling. It should have been on my November list, not December. Woops!

Something of interest – I didn’t read any nonfiction this month. Hmmmm…


September 09 was…

September 2009 was…Back to school. I spent the first part of the month concentrating on hiring for the library and avoiding tragedy. Kisa and I took a much needed vacation – first to Fenway park (go Red Sox!) and then to Baltimore for a little getaway. September is the month I will always mourn my father, but now I add Mary Barney to the list of tears. As I have always said, everything bad happens in September. This year was no different. As you can tell, I buried myself in books.

The Escape was:

  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka ~ I had completely forgotten how disturbing this book was!
  • The Reivers by William Faulkner ~ a southern classic that almost had me beat.
  • A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby ~ funny tale about a first-time expedition
  • Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Bernstein and the staff of¬† The New York Times ~ an unsettling journalistic account of what really¬†happened on 9/11/01.
  • The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough ~ a nonfiction about what happens when mother nature meets bad human design.
  • Off Balance: the Real World of Ballet by Suzanne Gordon ~ a nonfiction about the ugly side of dance.
  • Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler ~ magical book about three very broken people (in honor of real character month).
  • A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay ~ Hay’s first novel – one I couldn’t put down it was that good! This was on the September list as “the best time to visit Canada.”
  • Native Son by Richard Wright ~incredibly depressing. I’m almost sorry I read it this month.
  • The View From Pompey’s Head by Hamilton Basso ~ a last minute pick-me-up, read in honor of Basso’s birth month (but also doubled as a “southern” read).

For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Day of the Assassins by Johnny O’Brien. Geared towards teenage boys, this was a fun, fast read.

For fun, I read a quick book called Women Who Run by Shanti Sosienski¬†. Since our flight to Baltimore was only 40-some-odd minutes I didn’t want to bring a lengthy read. This was perfect.


Johnstown Flood

McCullough, David G. The Johnstown Flood. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968.

I have no idea what possessed me to read about two large scale disasters in the same month. The tragedy of September 11, 2001 cost the United States over 3,000 lives and was entirely a man-made nightmare, The tragedy of May 31, 1889 cost the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania over 2,000 lives and was a combination of man and nature coming together to create a different kind of nightmare. I instantly thought of Hurricane Katrina descending on the levies of New Orleans.

In the case of the Johnstown Flood, it was the man-made dam that held back the waters of Lake Conemaugh. As long as the dam held, the bustling valley town of Johnstown below was safe. While the dam was surrounded in controversy Рthose who thought it was perfectly safe versus those who thought it needed a makeover Рno one could have predicted the amount of water the heavy rainstorms of May 31st, 1889 would bring. By midday the dam was in serious trouble. Despite frantic efforts to bolster its walls, by late afternoon it was too late and the dam gave way. It was impossible stop the deluge of millions of tons of water rushing down the mountainside. In a matter of hours an entire town was demolished. McCullough does an amazing job tying personal stories with the facts of the events. His recreation of the chain of events is stunning and almost unbelievable.

For some reason, it’s the examples of innocence¬†right before the disaster¬†that touched me the most. “The distance between the two houses was only about five feet, so he [Horace Rose]¬†had put some candy on the end of a broom and passed it over to her [Bessie]. That was so successful that he next passed¬†across a tin cup of coffee to Bessie’s mother in the same way. She was just raising the cup to her lips when the first crash came” (p 145).
¬†¬†The truest line of the book: “All ordinary rules of decorum and differences of religion, politics and position were forgotten” (p 187). Isn’t that what happened after September 11, 2001?

BookLust Twist:From Book Lust in the chapter called, “What a (Natural) Disaster” (p 124).