David Sedaris and the ‘Theft by Finding’ diaries

To keep things fresh in the world of reading, my experience dictates that you cannot read the same kinds of things all the time. It’s well to read a book like TransAtlantic by Colum McCann, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou,  or even Dennis Lehane‘s World Gone By. All bring different experiences, narrative styles, and points about life and family to their individual work. It is precisely because they have different things to say that I found myself interested and reading them.

Theft By Finding 2 - David Sedaris(David Sedaris)

I leave it to you to determine if David Sedaris belongs listed with the likes of McCann, Angelou, or Lehane, or if any of these four belong together in a comparison. In the book Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, you as the reader are introduced to a diary of personal observation, obscure and shocking tidbits of appalling human interactions of a cruel and unfeeling nature, gossip, an overwhelming desire to eat at International House of Pancakes, troubles with lasting employment, and ultimately the glue of his relationships with both his mother and father.

Theft By Finding 4 - David Sedaris(David Sedaris wrote Theft By Finding)

Much of the sharing within this book, ultimately a collection of his own diary tied together and told chronologically, gives you a sense for Sedaris‘ humor. The observations are quirky and revealing about the author and the world he inhabits. The cultural exchanges he has with a particular teacher of the French language to non-native speakers strike me as a particularly inviting example of humor that is well executed. If you tend towards an open mind on the world with a comfort for exploring experiences away from home, then you will do well in reading Theft By Finding.

Theft By Finding 3 - David Sedaris(David Sedaris)

The book Theft By Finding is bill as the first of two books of the collected diaries of David Sedaris. My rating for Theft By Finding is 4-stars out-of 5. This ranks relatively high for the books I have read so far in 2018.

Matt – Sunday, July 15, 2018

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Mitch Rapp and the book ‘Kill Shot’

Earlier this week I wrote about Vince Flynn‘s book American Assassin with this post on the Matt Lynn Digital blog. Here today I offer feedback on the second book sequentially in the Mitch Rapp series, which is the book Kill Shot. Kill Shot is the second and currently final prequel in what is now a 17-book series of books created by Kill Shot author Vince Flynn.

American Assassin 2 - VInce Flynn(Kill Shot author Vince Flynn)

Unlike American Assassin, this book has not been made into a movie.  The book Kill Shot picks up about a year after the telling of American Assassin, continuing the concept of the all-star off-book CIA assassin Rapp working through a covertly sanctioned mission to kill terrorists acting amorally either directly as terrorists or through the abetting of them.

The well-executed intrigue of Kill Shot puts the Mitch Rapp character in Paris in furtherance of the above mission when, in Paris, a scheme is perpetrated against a Rapp mission that leaves him in Paris, France blamed for the deaths of a Libyan oil minister, four unidentified men, and three innocent civilians. Mitch Rapp is assigned the blame while the reader sees the larger play. Beyond knowing he’s been setup and wounded, Rapp is left to puzzle through the mystery, clear his name, and figure out whom to trust in a clandestine world filled with secrets, half truths, and legitimate worry that looks like paranoia.

Others are working for and against him, and looking to offer a just result to the larger questions of justice while adjudicating the facts. That the French General Directorate for External Security as well as the French National Police are on parts of the case, too, only serves to raise the intrigue and extend the mystery. The read was entertaining, engaging, and enjoyable.

Overall, I rate this read at 3.5-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Saturday, June 30, 2018

Mitch Rapp and the book ‘American Assassin’

Those familiar with the political thrillers of writer Vince Flynn will know that the character Mitch Rapp was first introduced to the world in the book Transfer of Power in 1999. Many will also realize that American Assassin (2010) and Kill Shot (2012) were introduced later to fill in some history to Rapp through Flynn‘s last novel, The Last Man (2013). Flynn died at the age of 47 in 2013.

American Assassin 2 - VInce Flynn(Vince Flynn)

Since then, Kyle Mills has released three novels that extend the Mitch Rapp story. This reviews gets into the chronologically first book in the Rapp universe, namely Vince Flynn‘s book American Assassin. The chronological order to these books is accessible here.

In the book American Assassin, the audience is introduced to Rapp, Cold War veteran Stan Hurley, CIA Deputy Irene Kennedy, CIA Director Stansfield, and a host of other characters after the Pan Am 103 attack over Lockerbie Scotland of December 1988. Rapp feels the sting of this intensely, according to the recruitment details that set a course of the career that will become Rapp‘s fate as well as a CIA anti-terrorism approach.

The book tells the tale of how Rapp and others were recruited into a new program for the CIA, how the training for the recruits occurred, and the personality and professional disagreements among Rapp, Hurley, Kennedy, and Stansfield through the course of training. Things are tense and difficult, ultimately continuing from there as realities in the larger story take the reader into the details of Rapp’s first action in the hypothetical “real world” of this fictional tale.

American Assassin 3 - Movie(The movie American Assassin (2017) is based on the book with some subject matter changes).

The growing tensions of forced political decisions overriding intelligence-level opinions are introduced as a motif that is visited in later books in the Rapp line, with at least something of a genesis to the trope taking root from the earliest experiences of Mitch Rapp as a professional assassin. The larger story of this book takes the reader into Beirut, Lebanon where the force that we’ve seen in later Mitch Rapp books proves decisive from the beginning. The origin tales of Rapp‘s talent, skill, and training are all executed fairly well. In giving me another Rapp story as a prequel to his origin story, I appreciate the work done in American Assassin by Vince Flynn.

I’ll leave it to the reader to determine if Mitch Rapp was successful in this opening tale for the beginning of his career. The story was not the most brilliant origin story ever written, though in giving me some easy reading of a known formula, I must rate the book at 3.5-stars out of 5.

Matt – Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Completing Dennis Lehane’s loose trilogy of novels in ‘World Gone By’

The three books of Dennis Lehane‘s Coughlin trilogy follow an unexpected path in telling three distinct stories that are only loosely connected by a cast of common characters over many years. While ostensibly about one family, the narrative arc of the three books rather connects two brothers (a cop and a gangster) first through their father in The Given Day and then Live By Night. The larger story then pivots to the story of a gangster aiming to get out of the business while losing every semblance of family in Live By Night and World Gone By.

World Gone By 2 - Dennis Lehane(Dennis Lehane)

Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of Boston Police Department captain Thomas Coughlin, is the unmitigated star of the books Live By Night and World Gone By. Climbing the corporate ladder of  the Italian mob takes Joe from his Irish family in Boston, Massachusetts to Ybor City, Florida near Tampa to Havana, Cuba. The era of Prohibition and illegal booze are the racket. Joe is highly competent, highly profitable, and highly troubled as far as his love interests, loyalty to the family he cultivates in the mob, and functioning a mob syndicate amongst the intrigue of those gunning for him, regardless of his conscience.

World Gone By 3(World Gone By)

World Gone By is a clear sequel to Live By Night in tone, style, and subject matter. That The Given Day even existed adds nothing to this tale, as the story looks to tie up loose ends from the story of Live By Night. Joe works as the consigliere to the crime family headed by his former partner Dion Bartolo. Bartolo is the family Joe has, in addition to his son. Joe’s wife, Graciela, was killed at the end of Live By Night. To me, World Gone By is a book length examination of regret, recrimination, and the workings of an author (Lehane) and a mobster (Joe Coughlin) who wanted better for themselves but had to suffer through more story than they could execute. It is an irony that Joe loses his son in the way Thomas Coughlin emotionally loses both of his sons through the trilogy. Joe lost his son by killing Dion. Thomas lost Joe and his other son through different degrees of alienation in the three book trilogy.

World Gone By 4(The Given Day, Live By Night, and World Gone By)

Thomas Coughlin appears in Live By Night and the opening book of the series, The Given Day. The Given Day is a historical novel that looks into the stories of two main characters, namely Aiden “Danny” Coughlin of Boston and Luther Laurence, a talented black amateur baseball player from Columbus, Ohio. Their stories intersect in bringing out compelling narrative pitted against the 1919 Boston Police Strike for Danny, the  Tulsa Race Riot against Black Wall Street for Luther, the shame that former Red Sox and Yankee baseball player Babe Ruth about the prohibition against blacks in baseball and baseball’s unfair financial structure, and a few other story lines.

In getting into subjects of class tension, racial tension, poverty, economic instability, political corruption, and so much more, The Given Day was an outstanding book of its own accord. That the book incorporates historical events and people so well made for high expectation for the series for me. Live By Night and World Gone By, while not bad and decent reflections of tensions with the story of an upswing of 20th century mob activity in America and Cuba, quite simply places a blemish upon The Given Day by bringing in characters that only tangentially relate to what may be the best accomplishment of Lehane’s writing career. In comparison, these two suffer by bringing less history into their telling. These are statements more for the first book than against the second and third books.

World Gone By 5(Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin in the movie Live By Night (2016))

Ben Affleck played Joe Coughlin in the 2016 movie adaptation of the book Live By Night, which of course introduced us to the central question of family and whether a gangster can remain moral. The clear answer is no, though the notion of ethics is strong in the second and third books. World Gone By continued with the fallout of family and the ethical lifestyle, and to a certain respect feels to me like The Godfather: Part III (1990) feels for many who like the Godfather movie franchise…that the first two movies are clearly better. My feel is that I am not clear what fans of Dennis Lehane‘s work received in the third installment of this trilogy of books. More clearly, Live By Night as a standalone book with no relation between Joe, Danny, and Thomas Coughlin would have been best. Having Live By Night exist without World Gone By also would have been good for the Joe Coughlin and Dion Bartolo story.

My personal rating of the book World Gone By is 3.25-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Tuesday, June 12, 2018

About Erik Larson’s ‘Dead Wake’ and the Lusitania

Everyone remembers the dry, dull facts about the sinking of the Lusitania from fifth history class, right? Maybe in a little more detail from high school or some random Western Civilization class picked up somewhere?

Dead Wake 2 - Erik Larson(Erik Larson)

If you find yourself open to the concept that there might be a bit more drama to the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania than your educational experience might be floating to your memory, than the Erik Larson book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania is the book for you.

Dead Wake 3 - RMS Lusitania(RMS Lusitania)

Erik Larson tells the story of the fate of the RMS Lusitania in five sections. We learn of the operators of the Cunard Steamship Company of Liverpool fairly early in the story as the Lusitania is due to set sail from New York City on its final voyage. Before the May 1, 1915 sailing, a warning was placed in newspapers warning passengers of all British ships to set sail “at their own risk.” For what it is worth, Larson shares with us that the Cunard Line claimed the Lusitania to be safe, too fast for submarines, and at minimal risk in advance of the sailing.

As the RMS Lusitania set sail, World War One had been waging for nearly a year between the Central Powers mainly of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey (the Ottoman Empire) against the Allied Powers of Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan, and, from 1917, the United States.

Dead Wake 4 - RMS Lusitania(RMS Lusitania)

While non-military vessels like the Lusitania were considered off-limits from a military perspective in 1915, history shows that the Lusitania both carried armaments to offer aid to the Allied Powers. Naval combat was a capability for this vessel, too. Human flight being barely a decade old in 1915, the primary means of human movement between Europe and America was through commercial sailing.

The Central Powers felt differently concerning the notion of the RMS Lusitania being off limits as a military target. The leading opposition to British naval superiority at the time of the World War One was Germany with its innovative U-boat fleet of submarines, or “Undersea Boats.” The leading figure relevant to the fate of the story of the Lusitania is Walther Schwieger. Schwieger was the German u-boat captain known to rescue dachshund puppies. As seen from the Allied perspective, Schwieger is known to torpedo merchant vessels and let the crews of torpedoed vessels drown.

Dead Wake 5 - William Thompson Turner & Walther Schwieger(William Thomas Turner, left, and Walther Schwieger, right)

William Thomas Turner was captain of the Lusitania when it was torpedoed. Turner survived the attack, despite taking a reputation hit for not properly combing through contradictory advice for how to avoid the attack that sank the vessel. Per Larson, British intelligence was not forthcoming  in saving his reputation after the fact, or in advance of the Lusitania sinking.

I was deeply curious about why material facts that would have prevented the sinking of the Lusitania, or saved the reputation of its captain, would be withheld from the public record. The rationale forwarded in Deep Wake was that the isolationist sentiment in United States under U.S. President Woodrow Wilson made for a reluctant entry into World War One. Given the loss of American life in this tragedy, a cynical calculus suggests that allowing the Lusitania to sink would outrage America into a more active war footing.

Dead Wake 6 - Woodrow Wilson & Winston Churchill(Woodrow Wilson, left, and Winston Churchill, right)

Winston Churchill served as the First Lord of the Admirality when the Lusitania sank. The Admirality had the super-secret spy entity Room 40 at its disposal. Room 40 knew of the U-Boat movements in the waters where the Lusitania was torpedoed. Owing to sensitivity of not wanting to divulge to the Central Powers that the British had knowledge of their U-boat movements and other communications, there arguably was an additional calculus to not divulging facts to the Lusitania. In subsequent official inquiries, Churchill flatly lied in pointing blame at Turner for the Lusitania sinking while possessing proof that countered his own testimony.

1198 of 1959 passengers died on the Lusitania. The vessel listed to starboard and sank in 18-minutes. Lifeboats, lack of drills, and chaos around retrieving life preservers and wearing them caused death. The last two sections of the book covered the sinking and the historical aftermath for key figures in the story.

Stephen King even sited this book as an inspiration for his book ‘The Outsider’ on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert in May 2018. See the link from Colbert‘s show starting at 5:45-mark.

Overall, my ranking of the book was 3.5-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Saturday, June 2, 2018

Navy seal William H. McRaven takes making your bed beyond motherly advice

A former Navy Admiral and Navy Seal had a lengthy, decorated career before speaking at the University of Texas commencement in Austin on May 17, 2014. The book Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by Admital William H. McRaven took the premise of that commencement speech to share with the world a series of life lessons surrounding discipline and strength of character that McRaven wished to share that day and perhaps longer.

Make Your Bed 2(McRaven at the University of Texas 2014 commencement in Austin)

McRaven is a military hero with leadership qualities commensurate with a distinguished, yet not perfect calculated, leadership career. The book presents the ten points of McRaven‘s speech, as taken through lessons of being a Navy Seal in the US Navy, to the graduating class of 2014. McRaven’s final chapter reviews those lessons in a rather compact and succinct format.

The ten chapters preceding that final repetition was to offer extended tales of that last chapter to his audience one chapter at a time. It was through the respect for this man’s service that kept me engaged and interested through the story of life lessons. For example, the first lesson gets echoed in the book title. Military discipline teaches you to make your bed, thus coming back to your life with one little accomplishment gained. One little accomplishment leads to another, and another. Eventually, you make bigger accomplishments, urged on by military efficiency.

Make Your Bed 3(McRaven)

The book does respectfully well explaining Navy Seal training, a respectably lengthy career in military leadership, and the maturity of lessons taught through resilience, perserverance, and loyalty. Lessons aimed at gaining maturity and perspective were the messages I heard McRaven offer.

The message of Make Your Bed was clear, succinct, and will be understood by many. The strength rests in this as well as the quality person sharing the tales. That the stories themselves were new is good and refreshing. That the lessons of leadership and life were not new to me made it hard to rate the book higher than 3.5-stars out of five (5).

Matt – Thursday, May 17, 2018

Take flight with David McCullough and ‘The Wright Brothers’

The Pulitzer Prize winning author of United States presidents John Adams and Truman, David McCullough wrote about the men from Dayton, Ohio who taught the world to fly by learning to build and pilot machines capable of sustained flight while under the control of a human pilot. The book The Wright Brothers (published in 2015) tells a story of the brothers learning to fly, sell, and acquire buy-in from the world that they had in fact developed piloted-flight with their Wright flyer of 1903.

Wright 4(Wright flyer of 1903)

The story of the Wilbur Wright and Orville Wright begins with their background in southwest Ohio not as highly funded and advantaged men of prestige with access or privilege. The Wrights were industrious, intellectually curious, and brilliant in the application of physics to flight combined with mechanical ingenuity, to say but two things.

A fair portion of the story is devoted to the process of learning to fly through experiment, application of learning from the results, knowledge procurement through writing campaigns for information, and the like. Solicitations ran afoul of some others who also, simultaneously, were pursuing the end result of flight without sharing fact based information.

Wright 2(Wilbur Wright)

Per this biography, the next step after proving capable of sustained and piloted flight was for the brothers to commercialize the effort and gain recognized acceptance for the accomplishment. This would prove more difficult than one would think because self-interest and a rash of disbelief that actual manned-flight had been accomplished. Efforts to sell Wright flyers to the United States military fell on indignantly skeptical members of the US military apparatus. Forced elsewhere, warmer receptions were found primarily in France and Germany.

Wright 3(Orville Wright)

Much of the remaining biography gets into the effort to prove that flight was real, the Wrights becoming celebrities in France of the first sort seen since the time of Benjamin Franklin more than 100-years before. In my effort to suggest that you read The Wright Brothers by David McCullough, let me suggest that the fame there was both an interesting story for the brothers, the extended family back home in the United States, and also for the way the story of who the buyer became actually gained resolution.

Wright 5(David McCullough)

I found the read quite entertaining and worth my time. I enjoy history, people, and stories of how things that hadn’t existed came to exist. That there is something of an underdog story here with two men in a bicycle shop gaining success in Ohio, North Carolina, and places where the advantages of culture say that they should not. My rating for the book is 3.5-stars out of 5-stars.

Matt – Saturday, May 12, 2018