Book Review: Into the Magic Shop *****

(this ties in with the lead item, Compassion Changed Me)

Doty MD, James R.: Into the Magic Shop: A Neurosurgeon's Quest to Discover the Mysteries of the Brain and the Secrets of the Heart

Once in a while, you read a book you know is life-changing―for others, if not for you. Two years ago, this book would have changed my life. After my spiritual journey of 2020, it’s just reinforcement for me, but it might be more for you.

I agree with the Dalai Lama, this is a remarkable and compelling book. It is similar (in a good way) to Dan Millman’s The Way Of The Peaceful Warrior, as it tells the story of a young man meeting an unlikely teacher and learning life-changing lessons―in this case about meditation and visualization. It should be given to every 12-year-old in the world. My grandson will get it when he’s ready to understand it, although I hope and pray he will already know about meditation and visualization by the time he is that old.

(I am shocked to find I never recommended Peaceful Warrior before: read the book or watch the movie.)

The two best quotes from the Magic Shop: “...when our heart changes, everything changes. And that change is not only in how we see the world, but in how the world sees us.”

And, “It's the same with wounds in our heart. We need to give them our attention so that they can heal. Otherwise, the wound continues to cause us pain. Sometimes for a very long time. We are all going to get hurt. That's just the way it is. But here's the trick about the things that hurt us and cause us pain―they also serve an amazing purpose... We grow through pain.”

Amen. I know every word of this paragraph is true because I discovered that you can heal a wounded heart―even after four decades―if you pay attention to the wound.

Doty also writes for the Huntington Post. I highly recommend On Grudges and Forgiveness: These studies show us the cost of not forgiving others can be physically taxing on us. I know this from personal experience as well.

And the most amazing thing  he discusses is the Heart Brain, noting the scientific fact that the  heart sends more messages to the brain than the brain does to the heart. Could the ancients have been right about this one? Check out some interesting heart intelligence science.

Review: Rodham *****

As my daughter Rae put it: “Hillary Clinton Fan Fiction.” A remarkable piece of counter-factual fiction, Rodham explores what would have become of Hillary Clinton’s life if she hadn’t married Bill. Curtis Sittenfeld does an impressive job, mixing fact with fiction and writing romantic scenes I found chilling in their accurate portrayal of what love is like. Bill is so tangential that the “reveal” of his status as a tech billionaire comes in a two-word aside (although he does run for president too―against Hillary. And loses). This is Hillary’s story, stem to stern. Well-written, well-plotted, well-conceived and well executed. The fictional timeline of the American presidency is worth the price of admission by itself. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say it brought me to tears and took my breath away.

There is, as I have previously noted, one clearly erroneous conversation in Rodham.

Good Book, Bad Quote 

I am about ¼th of the way through Rodham: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld. It is a remarkable piece of counter-factual fiction; what if Hillary hadn’t married Bill? So far, it is an excellent book, and I am leaning towards a five-star review. I thought Curtis was a guy, which made the way he wrote about first love and physical contact astounding and impressive. Turns out Curtis is a gal, which may explain her exquisite and moving descriptions of Hillary’s thoughts and reactions as she meets Bill. I wish I could write as well as her.

Nevertheless, the author is, in my opinion, massively wrong in this passage:

―――begin quote――――

   “I don’t know if this sounds pathetic or conceited,” I [Hillary] said. “But I always hoped a man would fall in love with me for my brain.”

   Again, Phyllis and Nancy exchanged a glance. Phyllis’s voice was kind as she said, “Hillary, no man falls in love with a woman’s brain.”

――――-end quote―――

Wrong, wrong, wrong. As a proud sapiosexual, who has informed all my lovers that it was their mind I fell in love with, I can firmly state that Phyllis was incorrect.

Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things

I was not expecting to be impressed by this book, merely entertained. I don’t remember who or what led me to it, but I’m glad I read it. It is sweet and wonderful. Cheryl Stayed was the writer of an advice column called “Dear Sugar,” and the book is a reprint of her advice. In general, I am a sucker for column collections, but this one more so than usual.

Unlike some advice columnists, she gives consistent advice, and, in my opinion, excellent advice. Two of my favorite nuggets from the book:

“You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions.  Don’t waste your time on anything else.”

Also this: “You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough...”

Me as a Reviewer

A quick glance at the sidebar (all the stuff that runs down the right-hand side of the column) will show you a bunch of books with five-star reviews. Partly, this stems from the fact that I don’t review books I disklike because I don’t have to. In addition, I have a very good network, and most of what gets recommended to me is extraordinary and therefor deserves a five-star review.

Those of you who know me, going as far back as college, have been known to say, “Did you ever see a movie or read a book you didn’t like?” Well, yes, now and then. And I do appreciate the fun of a negative review; they are more fun than positive reviews. But mostly I only talk/write about the ones I like—and, yes, I know some of you think my standards are set a tad too low.

For years, I carried the best-ever negative review in my pocket; now I just keep it on the Internet where I can easily get at it:


New York Times, Oct. 19, 1971

A review by Clive Barnes


Toby "Fred" Bluth, director

What I disliked most about the show—apart from its book, lyrics, music, scenery, costumes, lighting, staging and acting—was its extraordinarily fetid air of innuendo.


I can honestly say I have never disliked anything that much, but that I almost wish I had.

This and That

Pet Peeve: Journalistic Innumeracy

Please, report health numbers on a per 100,000 basis. Raw numbers are virtually meaningless and of course certainly misleading. (As meaningless as comparing uninflated historic money amounts). Of course California, Texas and Florida have high numbers!!! They are the biggest states.  This is an extension of the general innumeracy of journalists, of which I was proud (as an MIT grad) not to be a part.


More Trump

Another great Richard Gross column: A Festival of Distortion

Shoeless in Minneapolis

I told this story to an old friend in an email and then came to the astounding realization I have never shared it in my column. Thanks Dan Janal!

I was in Minneapolis a dozen times at the turn of the century, but then the division was dissolved and that was that. I did discover that many of the skyways (second-floor over-street tunnels interconnecting downtown Minneapolis buildings) close at midnight. I had gone coatless, in stocking feet to a movie three blocks from my hotel, and had to do the return trip, in sub-zero weather, on surface streets. Still, what better place to be a hamster than Minneapolis?

Remembering HHH

I deeply respected Hubert H. Humphrey, who would have made a much better president than Nixon. Actually, my cat Patrice would have made a better president than Nixon (and his dog Checkers would have made a better president than Trump). In these bleak times, take comfort in the fact that an American presidential candidate once said, “The moral test of government is how government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; those who are in the shadows of life; the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

Refuse to Accept Results? Historical Perspective

If Trump refuses to accept defeat in November, the republic will survive intact, as it has 5 out of 6 times in the past

Stories We Never Told

In a nutshell, Stories We Never Told by Sonja Yoerg, is a taut, brilliant, twisty novel about the inside of human minds. Turns out people are complex, something she’d appreciate, being a psychologist. It has been years since a novel had me literally on the edge of my seat the way this one did. I read the last 1/3 of the book in a straight shot, because Vicki refused to tell me who did what to whom.

In the meantime, I was struck by this aside: “Maybe happiness wasn't durable and portable. maybe it was something you could have in only one place at one time of fixed duration.” It's probably like my observation about projects being on time, done right and under budget: you never get all three.


Thanks again, David Mamet

Another of his perfect films, Place in the Sun, with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, is brilliant. Vicki and I were enthralled. By the way, it is loosely based on a real event.

Love, Medicine and Miracles

Love, Medicine and Miracles
By Bernie Siegel, M.D.

Subtitle: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients.

Although it was first published in 1984, I just read this book. It should be handed out by any oncologist to any patient whose diagnosis is cancer.

I had an amazing experience of synchronicity while reading this book. I got an email from a college classmate, explaining that he beat cancer by being an exceptional patient. I mentioned the book; he said people gave it to him after he was diagnosed. So I ordered four copies to have on hand for any friends who need it in the future.

Especial thanks to the cherished friend who turned me on to this book as a result of some of my recent experience of mind/body interaction.

I realize that representing a complicated book with a series of context-free quotes tends to reduce a complex and nuanced book to reduction ad absurdum, but these are the things that leapt out at me:

Doctors should “offer people a friendship they can feel just when they need it most.”

Doctors have higher rates of drug use, alcoholism and suicide. “Would you take your car to a mechanic who couldn’t get his own car to run?”

“True healing teaches patients how to live.”

He cites a case where shots of water cured a patient’s cancer, because the patient believed they would.

Increase your odds of survival? “Independence, optimism, faith and trust in your doctor.” He asks patients to share their drawings and dreams.

William Calederone had AIDS. “He achieved peace of mind by forgiving people he felt had hurt him.” His AIDS literally disappeared. This one strikes home because I have just been through the exercise of forgiveness, and found it stunning. My blood chemistry this week is the best it’s been in 20 years, and I know why: forgiveness.

“Telling a person their day of death has no place in medical practice,” no matter how much they beg you for an estimate.

A doctor who simply calmed a patient’s anxieties was rewarded with a tumor that shrank by half without ANY other treatment.

People who meditate regularly have a lower physiological age than those who do not, Siegel noted. So a big thank you to the whole string of people, going back to 1976, who set me on a path of regular meditation.

Love and Medicine?

A very good, very long-time friend steered me to Love, Medicine and Miracles: Lessons Learned about Self-Healing from a Surgeon's Experience with Exceptional Patients by Bernie S. Siegel. I will give it a slightly more formal review when I am done, but as I go through it, I find it takes me breath away. It is yet another book pointing out that the mind/body dichotomy is a lot of crap. Here’s a quote that struck me: “Peace of mind sends a live message while depression, fear and unresolved conflict give it a die message.”

Sadly, I am sure Dr. Siegel had had to give up one practice he developed as part of his effort to know his patients better. He was hugging them. I suspect that is not allowed at present, but I know it will be again someday.

If someone in your life has reduced your unresolved conflict, they have helped you stay alive. Call or write and thank them this week. I know I have.

Poison Factory: Neither Pale, Stale nor Male. Just Terrific

***** Five stars out of five stars

The Poison Factory by Lucy Kirk | BookShop

After a half century of avidly reading spy novels, I find, for the first time since my teenage self haunted the newsstand, waiting for the latest episode of James Bond in Playboy, that I am excited about the publication of a new entry into the genre: Lucy Kirk’s novel Poison Factory: Operation Kamera. And I mean REALLY new, because the protagonist is not James or George but Decktora “Decky” Raines. Just as I am tired of pale, male and stale in my choice of politicians, I have grown tired of pale, male and stale spy novel protagonists and authors.

So, I would recommend the book solely on the basis of the gender of the author and the protagonist. There are far too few spy novels written by and featuring women.Luckily for both of us, this book would be great even if the author and the protagonist were both named James or Ian.One of my favorite parts of spy novels is their subtle, in-context revelation of spycraft. I don’t remember who first introduced me to the term “pocket litter,” but it has stuck in my memory all my adult life. It is the pedestrian material such as receipts, keys and cash that a normal person collects in their pockets. Your spy needs a load of pocket litter so that, if captured, their cover story about being a civilian seems plausible.

When I sat down to read this first effort by a neophyte, I wondered how she’d do on the subject of spycraft. I felt a frisson of excitement when “Pocket litter” appeared in the first chapter. Best of all, it’s all uphill from there.

For example, if I ever suspect I am being surveilled, I’ll check the shoes of the people following me because according to the ex-CIA author of this book, followers often change their clothes and hair, but sometimes neglect to change their shoes.The book is full of delightful touches like that. The Wall of Stars at CIA headquarters, an architectural feature which has fascinated me for years, has a bit part in the story that I found delightfully clever.Poison Factory is thrilling, well-written and satisfying, and touches base with reality just often enough (Litvinenko, Operation Kamera).

I don’t use the term “page-turner” often, but I literally found myself unable to put it down. I read it in a single quite-lengthy sitting, because the tight plotting made me want to know what came next, without my usual expedient of reading the last page first.I actually felt slightly empty the next morning, because there was no more to read (yet). I don't often have this feeling about a novel, and I'm not kidding.

SPOLIER ALERT: I can't wait to read about Alex's adjustment to PTSD through the eyes of Decky, who has to deal with his symptoms because she wants to, and her day job because she has to (she's the woman for the job!)

This and That

I have collected a lot of string since last I posted. In July, when the shape of the future was dimmer, I received this email from my friend John Ruley. I guess I am violating Godwin’s law, but it does provide some historical perspective:

On your Brexit Correction - according to William Shirer, in Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Chapters 6 and 7), Hitler was first appointed as chancellor after the Nazis failed to win a clear majority in the 1932 elections - but after he became chancellor, in what Shirer calls "the last relatively free election Germany was to have" - received 44% of the total vote, which while not a majority far outpaced that of competing parties. Hitler formed a coalition with the nationalist party, and that gave him the majority he needed to pass the "enabling laws" that gave him absolute power, among other things outlawing all other political parties, including his erstwhile nationalist allies. So, while Hitler was not personally brought to power in a free election, he in fact gained power legally - as he often said - as a result of free elections. Strange, but true!

 Long-time reader Stephen Coquet (one of the few who came to this column organically, rather than through pre-existing friendship with me) suggested this article about Hillary’s email server, back when it still might have done some good if placed before a wider readership. I feel like I let our side down. He also sent me this article from the Guardian about Baltimore police surveillance, and added,

The key statement is, “Police spokesperson TJ Smith insisted that the privately funded agreement between Persistent Surveillance Systems and city police 'was not a secret surveillance program.' " They just thought better if they didn’t tell anyone.

Dan Grobstein mentioned something I had vaguely heard about: A hip, cuddly and cunningly sadistic musical adaptation of the 1993 Bill Murray movie has opened in London. It is scheduled for the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway starting on April 17, 2017 Dan also passed along Ang Lee Is Embracing a Faster Film Format. Can Theaters Keep Up? There are exactly two U.S. theaters showing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk at 120 fps; one is the Cinerama Dome in LA, where I plan to see it soon. The other is in New York City. Dan also tipped me to the race to preserve old celluloid

 Kevin Sullivan has a book tip:

Looking at your book list, I was reminded by your love of film that I recently enjoyed reading - a) "Adventures in the Screen Trade" by William Goldman, and then for fun, the actual book by him of "The Princess Bride". Both were informative and enjoyable.

This from my friend and former colleague Jerry Pournelle (the article is behind the paywall)

"I have ordered the book, but the review is itself informative and interesting."

We’re All Cord Cutters Now
At one chain, the top 100 movie titles accounted for 85% of the DVDs rented in-store. But online, the top titles make up only 35% of rentals.
By Frank Rose
Sept. 6, 2016 7:18 p.m. ET

Does the internet pose a threat to established entertainment companies? Michael D. Smith and Rahul Telang lead a class at Carnegie Mellon University in which a student recently put that question to a visiting executive. He pooh-poohed the idea: “The original players in this industry have been around for the last 100 years, and there’s a reason for that.” As co-heads of CMU’s Initiative for Digital Entertainment Analytics, Messrs. Smith and Telang aim to counter this line of thought, and in “Streaming, Sharing, Stealing” they do just that, explaining gently yet firmly exactly how the internet threatens established ways and what can and cannot be done about it. Their book should be required for anyone who wishes to believe that nothing much has changed.

That such thinking still exists, at a time when Apple and Alphabet (that is, Google) are by far the world’s most valuable corporations, is testament to the power of self-delusion. Whether in music or movies or television or books, digital technology has given artists the tools to strike out on their own, enabled audiences to avoid paying for anything they don’t want to pay for and denied media companies the ability to control audience behavior. No longer can executives in New York or Los Angeles force music fans to buy an entire album instead of a single song; or movie buffs to line up at the box office for something they’d rather watch at home free; or television audiences to rush home and endure a barrage of ads in order to see their favorite shows.