Q1 2020 What We Watched

bank of televisions

This year I thought I would start tracking what we watch, by quarter. I did not realize, in January, how truly different this first quarter of 2020 would be, from all other three month periods in my life. Perhaps that contributes to what may be the most eclectic collection of videos and film I’ve ever viewed in one three month timeframe (listed in order viewed).

Final Straw: Food Earth Happiness
Linda’s recommendation: See it because it matters
Inspired by the book The One Straw Revolution, this film weaves together stories from some of the world’s foremost figures in the natural farming movement. Together they give modern-day relevance to age-old ideas about food, environmentalism, and happiness. It really is both art and documentary.

Cold Case: Dag Hammarskjold
Linda’s recommendation: See it if you are bored
Weird and complicated, this investigative documentary just gets more so as it progresses.

Dead to Me (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation: Fun to watch
A twist in every episode in this drama series as you uncover the characters’ secrets.

Salt Acid Fat Heat
Linda’s recommendation: Watch this if you eat or cook
Terrific. Samin Nosrat’s enthusiasm for her craft is catching.

The Rise of Amazon (Frontline)
Linda’s recommendation: Good grief
Great illustration of how executives come to believe their own lies. Hard to watch if you want to keep ordering from Amazon.

All the King’s Men (1949)
Linda’s recommendation: Good but only after you read the book
Based on Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name, it is impossible to capture the nuance and complexity of the book.

Honeyland
Linda’s recommendation: Must See
Previously reviewed on February 19th on this blog. Terrific, touching, meaningful.  I loved this film.

Little Women (2019)
Linda’s recommendation: I wish I had the time back
Everyone loved this but me. Boring, just like every other version ever made of this story.

The Highwaymen (2019)
Linda’s recommendation: If you like buddy films, this is terrific
About the relationship between two former Texas Rangers as they attempt to apprehend Bonnie and Clyde in the 1930s. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson play Frank Hamer and Maney Gault, in a film that deepens as you watch it.

Helvetica
Linda’s recommendation: Watch if you love typeface
A documentary that is an ode to the font type that is Helvetica, mostly by advertising types. It was good but not great. If you want some thing about fonts in general this is not your film.

Tiger King (Netflix)
Linda’s recommendation:   No!
This is Netflix’s contribution to the end of civilization. A peek at a world you didn’t know existed, don’t want to be part of, and hope ends soon – inhabited by some of the most confused and sad characters ever on screen.  Let me also just also note: there are only 4,000 tigers in the wild, while the U.S. has another 5,000 locked in cages, many in “private” zoos.

Ford v Ferrari
Linda’s recommendation: Predictable, but enjoyable
When a movie is based on a true story, I guess that means you cannot say it was formulaic, but that is how this one felt. The sound quality was poor – spoken words were mumbled, the engines were roaring. Finally, I just didn’t feel that the relationship between Carroll Shelby and Ken Davis was flushed out very well in the 2.5 hours it took to tell this tale.

Staying Informed

One source of information I am finding very helpful during this time of poor leadership is Dr John Campbell out of the U.K. He is publishing at least one video a day (on YouTube) full of very helpful background, tips and tools, what is going on in other counties. Highly recommended.

Film Review: Honeyland

Nominated for an Academy Award in two categories (Documentary and International Film) in early 2020, this film about Macedonia’s “last beekeeper” is heartbreaking and memorable. You will not soon forget Hatidze Muratova, the star of this story on so many levels. Trailer here.

Books I Read in 2019 and Recommend

I read 37 books this year – 13 were non-fiction, 2 were collections of short stories, and the rest were fiction. I’m pleased with the variety in this group of books.

I rated each book from 1 to 5. Eight earned my solid “3” rating, 11 got a very good rating of “4” and another 11 earned a superlative “5.”

I can recommend the ones I rated “4” as very good and well worth reading. They include (in the order I read them):

      • Seeds of Deception by Jeffrey Smith
      • The Library Book by Susan Orlean
      • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
      • Baby, You’re Going To Be Mine by Kevin Wilson
      • The Circadian Code by Sachin Panda
      • Your Duck is my Duck by Deborah Eisenberg
      • The seven Pete Thorsten mysteries by Robert Wangard
      • Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World by Tim Marshall
      • City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
      • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
      • The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The ones I thought merited a “5” were so amazing, I still cannot believe I got to read them. I hope to revisit them, or other books by these authors, in the coming months.

The Overstory by Richard Powers
A long book – 500 pages – this Man Booker runner up is a giant in every way. The story is unique, the language precise, and the world created as the story unfolds is exquisite. Barbara Kingsolver called it “A gigantic fable of genuine truths.” I’d tell you it’s about trees and people, and taking non-human life seriously.

Virgil Wander by Leif Engler
This author tells a good story about some interesting characters in a small town, and he does so with language so precise and a voice so clear that it made my heart skip. His voice is perfectly that of the upper midwest in the United States. I know these people, and Engler knows their story.

The Endurance, Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Adventure by Caroline Alexander
I read a good chunk of this on an iPhone, sitting on an airplane, surrounded by modernity – and this book transported me right back to 1915-1917. I could feel the cold hopelessness of these 28 men struggling to stay alive. An incredible true story I had missed somehow until now.

The Uninhabitable Earth, Life After Warming by David Wallace-Wells
A survey of today’s climate change references – from science, culture, and literature. I found this compelling. “I am like every other American who has spent their life fatally complacent, and willfully deluded, about climate change, which is not just the biggest threat human life on the planet has ever faced but a threat of an entirely different category and scale. That is, the scale of life itself.”

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Traces a Korean family dynasty over seven decades of the kind of everyday adventure that makes up all our lives. This book draws you into the family drama and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
“Painful and beautiful” one reviewer says. Barry is one of my favorite authors, and he outdoes himself here. He transports you into the rough tumble of western America in the 1860’s – the west with its Indian wars, the civil war – told in a unique voice. Lots of surprises from his beautiful and complex characters.

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabelle Wilkerson
Epic. This book is huge in scale, masterfully researched, extremely well written. It was a great read, and it taught me a ton of stuff I never realized about the white privilege I have enjoyed my whole life. Highly recommended.

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
A thriller on multiple levels, including a finely drawn psychological portrait of a 14 year old girl growing up under extremely unusual circumstances. Set in a remote area of Michigan’s upper peninsula.

Normal People by Sally Rooney
On the Man Booker long list in 2018, Normal People is “is a nuanced and flinty love story about two young people who ‘get’ each other, despite class differences and the interference of their own vigorous personal demons.” Her writing is fabulous, and the story feels modern and true.

The Parade by Dave Eggers
Described as an “allegory” for our times, this short book pulls you forward with a feeling of dread, as the characters Four and Nine are caught up in something bigger than themselves, embodying each of us. Barely a novella, it tells us about ourselves now, a dark joke with a final gut-punch punchline.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou
Covers the rise and fall of the firm Theranos, the multibillion-dollar biotech startup headed by Elizabeth Holmes, as well as the value of listening to your gut. When something is wrong, there are red flags everywhere. A page turner by a WSJ journalist. Couldn’t put it down.

Time to Read – Q1 Books

One thing about retirement: I finally have enough time to read as much as I wish. In the first quarter of 2018 I read 15 books. Given how much time I actually have, this number begs the question, why so few? Anyway, I’d highly recommend the first six on this list:

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
I loved this novel and read it in one big gulp. It is about a single historical incident, but structurally it paints a whole sweep of history. The concept is a bit Thornton Wilder, but the execution, well, the execution is marvelous.  The “Bardo” is a Buddhist liminal state between death and rebirth; Saunders imagines a whole world there with multiple voices. This books reads like a work of poetry (or like the play Saunders said he started to write), it is funny and sad and beautiful all in one.
A $500 House in Detroit: Rebuilding an Abandoned Home and an American City by Drew Philp
An amazing first non-fiction work. The story is structured around Drew’s complete rebuild of an auctioned house, while articulating how to rebuild a community. He gets, and articulates well, the big issues that have been facing Detroit for years. Very excited to see him speak in Traverse City in April.
The Sympathizer: A Novel (Pulitzer Prize for Fiction) by Viet Thanh Nguyen
A contemporary novel about Vietnam, and the experience of Vietnamese immigrants, told by a narrator who is amazingly honest – also funny, crass, scary, and meditative. Fantastic and beautiful use of the English language.
City of Thieves: A Novel by David Benioff
A good, fast, interesting historical novel set in St. Petersburg during WWII. Reminded me a little of All the Light We Cannot See.
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J D Vance
A straight up memoir, of a young man’s escape from the path his parents took. I liked it very much. J D Vance’s Mamaw is a character that will be with me for a long time. This is an important story about what the American dream has become in the 21st century.
First Snow, Last Light by Wayne Johnston
I really enjoyed this mysterious novel, set in Newfoundland.  The writing style was a bit different than any I have read before, and the story was compelling.  I liked the characters and wanted to follow them for all their quirks. I recommend this, and plan to pick up another novel by Wayne Johnson soon.
These were also good reads, and I recommend them in this order:
Celine by Peter Heller
The Painter by Peter Heller
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
The Tenth of December by George Saunders
Tribe of Mentors by Timothy Ferriss
The Nest by Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney
Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder by Caroline Fraser
Turtles All the Way Down by John Green
A Good Cry, poetry by Nikki Giovanni

The End of Alzheimer’s by Dr Dale Bredesen

I have watched several different interviews with Dr Dale Bredesen, and am posting the link to this one – an interview by Dr Steven Gundry – because I believe it gives the best overview of Dr Bredesen’s new book. Three takeaways for me from this interview:

  • Mutations in mitochondrial DNA are what collects as we age. This reinforces all the information now emerging about mitochondrial dysfunction causing most of our cognitive decline with age.
  • We cannot overstate the role of nutrition + exercise + sleep + stress reduction in healing our age-related diseases
  • Most M.D.’s will give you the normal range for the things they test for. Remember, normal ≠ optimal.

Uh huh, but what specifically?

Ginkgo Biloba leaves isolated on white

It has been about one year since we relocated to northern Michigan. When I tell people that health is my focus now, I can sense the unsaid “Uh, huh, what does that mean exactly?”

They can see I am thinner and more energetic. Some ask me how I lost weight, seeking a short answer – a ‘trick’, something simple to try. But there is no trick. It’s a whole lifestyle. I do a number of things more, better, or differently now. Here’s a summary of what I have changed in the last year for my whole-self health:

  • Give myself permission to go to bed early, to get plenty of rest and for general brain health
  • Walk and bicycle outside in nature at least 3 times a week to help my skin produce vitamin D, and reset my circadian rhythm through the production of melatonin
  • Regularly practice pilates for strength
  • Eat a low-lectin diet (to facilitate gut biome health)
  • Do not eat any factory food – no artificial sweeteners, no low-fat dairy, no corn, no wheat, no soy – or factory-made animal protein. Beyond the ethical issues of how we treat the other sentient beings on the planet, I do not want the corn, antibiotics, and other poisons regularly fed to animals to make their way into my body.
  • Eat more dark greens vegetables. A LOT more. To increase the polyphenols in my gut.
  • No NSAID’s to protect the good bacteria in my gut.
  • Take a daily supplement of probiotics (good gut bugs) and prebiotics (what helps the good gut bugs grow) to optimize my gut biome
  • Eat less animal protein to give the mitochondria in my digestive system a break
  • Read as much as I want, and on all the topics in which I am interested
  • Avoid situations that stress me, as much as possible
  • Take one tablespoon of MCT oil per day to increase the medium-chain triglycerides that help my good gut bacteria do their job
  • Make decisions (and say “no”) to choose low stress whenever possible

In addition I am committed to learning more about neurology and how to reinforce positive developments in my brain using its own neuro-plasticity. When I have the opportunity I question my doctors more about alternative approaches to Parkinson’s and make them aware of my actions.

In the next year I have a list of more items I plan to test on myself, and add to this list if they seem to have an impact.