KingMidget's Ramblings

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Books I’ve Been Reading


In December 2018, I made my first trip to Europe. We visited Berlin, Prague and Vienna. It was a great trip, and it was a horrible trip. As we arrived at our second stop (Prague) I got sick. So sick that I hardly did anything the rest of the trip. I personally believe I am patient zero in the COVID pandemic, even if that was almost a year before the virus really showed up. (Let me have this moment of glory, please.)

Anyway, Berlin was our first stop and the first place we went the day after we arrived was the Stasi museum in Berlin. The museum is located on the former grounds of the Stasi in what was once East Berlin, behind the Wall. It was a fascinating place with incredible stories about what the Stasi, the East German secret police, did to control the population of East Germany during the communist era.

Fast forward to now and my history teacher friend in Oregon who reads more voraciously than anybody I know, recommended Stasiland by Anna Funder. Funder tracked down people who had lived in East Germany under the domination of the Stasi, and also talked with people who had worked for the Stasi. It’s an incredibly good read. It’s amazing what the Stasi did to control the population. Tens of thousands of employees and hundreds of thousands of informers who reported on the actions of every day citizens, to the point where nobody could trust anybody else in the country.

The Stasi also … created a dance, the Lipsi, as a counter to the dances of the West at a time when Elvis was roaring through the world. The dance was described as a sexless dance. In the book, Funder describes trying to figure out what was so odd about it until she finally figured out that there was no hip action in the dance. So, there you go. Another thing the Stasi did was telecast a show every week for decades that attempted to mock western TV shows. There was no Western thing that was too small for the Stasi to attempt to counteract.

I told my friend that I wonder if anybody has ever done a study to figure out what lasting damage was done to the East Germans, who first lived under Hitler and then lived under the East German communist government and the Stasi for decades more. It’s one of those things that creates an image in my head of circumstances I don’t see how humans can survive and remain human.

Next up is Aloha Rodeo by David Wolman and Julian Smith. Aloha Rodeo focuses on the 1908 Cheyenne Frontier Days — a three day rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyoming, that had become the grandest spectacle of its kind at that time. What made 1908 special was that three paniolo from Hawaii showed up to compete in the steer roping event.

Aloha Rodeo is a perfect example of the type of history book I enjoy reading. There’s a back story that gets into the history of Hawaii, how cattle showed up there and how they became an integral part of the society and culture there, with paniolo (the Hawaiian term comparable to cowboy) perfecting the art of wrangling steer just like the American cowboys were doing in the West, only they were doing it years and decades before it started in the continential United States.

So, the reader learns a little more about the history — of both Hawaii and Cheyenne — and then the story narrows down on this one particular event that likely seems obscure, but it says something about our history and how things happened back then.

If you’re looking for some good non-fiction, I highly recommend both of these books.

Beyond those books, I also read C. Litka’s The Prisoner of Cimlye, the second in his Tales of the Tropic Sea duology. As with the first book in the series, it is a fun read. Nothing to heavy. Just an adventure in a different land than ours. If you need a little escape, give it a try.

There are other books I’ve read since my last post of this type. But … I’ve forgotten them already. 😉

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