Book Review: Fire And Rain

I just finished David Browne’s book Fire And Rain “interweaving epochal points in the professional and personal lives of the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, CSNY and James Taylor.” It was a fun choice. Perfect for kicking off the 2015 summer season in the Pineapple Hill hot tub. Perfect for any private library book collection.

I was in junior high and high school in the 1970s –old enough to be there when the Beatles broke up (and when Simon and Garfunkel songs were being playing in elevators). I liked James Taylor some. Liked CSNY a lot more. But I wasn’t really caught up in their goings on behind the scenes. Didn’t really fathom their place and meaning as the 1960s rocked and rolled to its chaotic conclusion. For instance, I hadn’t known that, according to the book:

  • James Taylor was such a junkie, had been institutionalized and once broke his hands and feet wrecking a stolen motorcycle on Martha’s Vineyard. (He seems so mellow.)
  • David Crosby was such a ladies man (though I should made the connection via his singing Love The One You’re With). Nor did I know Love The One You’re With was derived from a comment Billy Preston when Stephen Stills was hanging out with him (via Ringo Starr) in London.
  • Phil Spector was deemed a little creepy even back then –his “wall of sound” clients of that era thought it weird he carried a gun (and he was known even then to have a temper).
  • Jimi Hendrix ignited his guitar at the Monterey Pop Festival.
  • Stephen Stills had tricked Rita Coolidge into dating him instead of Graham Nash (told a lie to steal her right out of Nash’s arms) and that Nash then won her back from Stills. (Man, Rita Coolidge was such a hottie!) And that Stills had been in military school in St. Petersburg, Florida (but before my time there).
  • Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Waters was, for a time, the best selling album in America (by-passing The Beatles’ Abby Road to get there), and that S&G were anxious over the similarities between their hit song and Let It Be.

There was a lot of drama in the background. Globally, of course. But also between the bands and band mates. Much more paranoia and bitterness than I’d have thought. Much less harmony backstage away from the spotlight. [Where was I when all that was going on? Sailing. Listening to wind and water more than anything else.]

Brown develops the history behind these acts develop progressively in step with the world around them, making sense of the influences that built them up then brought them down.

Find a copy. Grab a beach towel. Head outside this summer.

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— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

Book Review: The Drunkard’s Walk

I came home from the used book store with a copy of The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives,  a New York Times bestseller by physicist and author Leonard Mlodinow. It’s about the role of randomness in everyday events, and the cognitive biases that lead people to misinterpret random events and stochastic processes. For me (no mathematics scholarships in my past), The Brain Pain began just reading the introduction. Nevertheless, it’s a great addition to your private library book collection. A book for the beach. A book for the boat.

I brought it home in plastic grocery store bag. It was crammed in there with GONZO: The Life Of Hunter S. Thompson, PALM BEACH BABYLON: Sins, Scam and Scandals, FAMOUS MUGS (Stars Behind Bars), Hemingway’s Key West, and Wines & Beers of Old New England. Think of it as a Dagwood Sandwich for evening reading sessions in the back porch hammock. Drunkard’s Walk being the meat.

Sometimes I’ll have 3 – 4 different books going at once. Not unlike switching back and forth between channels on the television. Eventually, Drunkard’s Walk will be completed. And when that happens, I’ll “spike” it football style and do a victory dance on the sun deck.

But more than likely Gonzo, Mugs, Key West and Wines & Beers will have long been filed away on shelves in the new conference room library and I’ll have moved on to a Philly Steak created from other books brought home in sacks.

For instance, Keith Richard’s book Life. Or Outward Leg by Tristan Jones. And The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts by Louis de Bernieres. All of them also recent finds from the used book store.

What about you? What’s in your hammock?

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–Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

Book Review: Chasing Che

Patrick Symme’s Chasing Che: A Motorcycle Journey In Search Of The Guevara Legend brings a little more truth to light in separating the legend from the man. Too, the voice of the writer is both entertaining, thoughtful and likeable. In Chasing Che, Symmes attempts to replicate the adventure of Che Guevara’s Motorcycle Diaries.

If you’ve read my novel Blue Rubber Pool, you know I’m fascinated by the Two Truths. One told by those admiring the Legend, and the other told by those that knew Che Guevara personally. What’s interesting is that both versions can be woven into complex fabric.

Che once said that “that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” Yet he also exulted “hatred as an element of the struggle” needed to make a person a “violent, selective and cold killing machine.”  If you joined his ranks but balked on the battle field, he’d put a bullet in your head without hesitation. With Che, it was his way or the highway.

Symmes illustrates the Two Truths by pointing out that pro-Che slogans such as “Be Like Che”—graffiti commonly found in  his travels re-tracing Che’s famous motorcycle ride—are to found concurrent with intense distaste for “Guevarista”-style guerrilla tactics.

The moral of the story:  Be Like Che by helping people. But without killing them to do so.

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— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

Book Review: Gringos in Paradise

The gates between the United States and Mexico open in both directions. People coming into the USA seeking a better quality of life meet people heading into Mexico seeking the same thing.

This summer, at the Pages on Pine used book store in Spartanburg I bought Barry Golson’s Gringos In Paradise because the sub-title—An American Couple Builds Their Retirement Dream House in a Seaside Village in Mexico—caught my attention. I was curious how their experience building in Mexico compared to what I went through  building in Jonesville, and whether or not they had done much document forging with “Gassoway Oil & Gas Co., 1924” embossing stamp like the one I still have it. They hadn’t, btw, but they had a few tricks of their own.

I enjoyed the book ‘s description of the Mexican people’s emphasis on family and friends, odd viewpoint on punctuality,  wide, near bi-polar swings between laid back and passionate moods. It did a nice job describing the handsome terrain and easy climate and the Mexican difference between corruption and “augmentation”. And, of course, it gave an eye-opening walk through on the hoops and ladders of getting a house on its feet.

The Golsons, in Mexico, had building codes while my builder never mentioned them  where I am. We both had house plans that began as rough sketches—theirs scratched in the dirt, mine on the back of a manila envelope—and both ditched the sketched in favor of actual professional drawn up plans due to not trusting sketches. And but neither their plan nor ours synced up with the concepts of budget and deadline.

Not wanting to give too much away I’ll just say that building a house is a totally crazy adventure whether in Spanish or English. Btw, both of us experienced it in both languages.

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— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

Book Review: Time Bandit

I just got out of the hammock having finished Time Bandit, the memoir of brothers Andy and Johnathan Hillstrand whose fishing vessel of the same name has taken them out into the Bering Sea and back—where they brave ice floes and heaving 60-foot waves, gusting winds of 80 miles per hour, unwieldy and unpredictable half-ton steel crab traps, and an injury rate of almost 100-percent in search of “the deadliest catch”: Alaskan king crabs and opilio crabs.

Add this one to your books for the beach and books for the boat shopping list.

What makes Time Bandit especially fun is that these two guys were waaaaaaaay crazy long before they came to own that famous boat of theirs. As young boys they went camping—sleeping by the shore eating crows (which, for all I know, may be the tastiest thing in the world, I’ve never tried it)—while at their feet were a type of mussel deemed tastiest in the world (but they didn’t know, having never tried it).

There were sword fights using garbage can lids for shields. Attempts to jump motorcycles over way to much –resulting in so many trips to the hospital for stitches that the doctor told their mother she’d save a lot of money learning how to do stitches herself.

I think my favorite story was from their childhood was the time a friend decided to become an astronaut by climbing into a metal garbage can while the two brothers lit the odd collection of combustible fluids and explosives underneath.

And not much changed as they got older. When not taking on near death experiences at sea, they faced them on land as well: lots of great bar brawls in this book including the time one of Jonathan’s uber hot girlfriends got her faced slammed into the bar by a biker, resulting in the biker being given a three-day coma by Jonathan.

Next time I’m fishing at the Jonesville Reservoir I’ll take along my copy of Time Bandit.

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— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

Book Review: Wind From The Carolinas

Another book review for my books for the beach and books for the boat recommendations…

Robert Wilder’s Wind from the Carolinas is one of my favorite books for the beach or boat. It’s one of Jimmy Buffet’s favorite books too. I read every other year or so and have several copies including one that lapped me around the pool a few times.

If you like historical fiction you’ll like this story of an aristocratic South Carolina family relocating to the Bahama Islands after ending up on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War. They went “lock, stock and barrel”–even dismantling their big plantation house brick-by-brick and shipping it out as ballast.

The plot unfolds with a fulfilling description of early life in the Caribbean then follows changes to island life through several generations.

There’s a love story in there too.

Bring a copy of Wind from the Carolinas along next time you’re under sail or heading to the coast.

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–Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill


Book Review: Submerged

Three decades ago, I went diving alone, a big No-No, to check my gear and clear my head. There was a yellow school bus in the lake that had been stripped of its benches and windows: a fun place to hang out. The roof was right at 30-feet or so. I could lay there on my back—tank removed and resting, valve down, beside me—and watch my bubbles rise. I could focus on my breathing and, based on the sound, the only sound down there, make adjustments for Yoga-like meditation.


That day, a bright red Autumn leaf floated on the surface and, high up from there, three big fluffy white clouds seemed hung like pictures on a bright blue sky.

The water and air were so crisp and still… then a small bass swam over and, next to it (but high up, of course), I noticed the thin chalk line of  a jet (on its way …to where?).

A few years later an injury sidelined my scuba diving hobby. I advertised the tank and regulator for sale, but kept the fins, mask and snorkel for “sightseeing” and occasional trips down at the dock to clean the hull of my sailboat or retrieve a lost tool.

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My limited diving experience provided a “sights and sounds” background to Daniel Lenihan’s Submerged –the only book about underwater archeology that’s ever made me catch myself holding my hold my breath. A great book for the beach or book for the boat.

Subtitled Adventures of America’s Most Elite Underwater Archeology Team, it tells the true story of his career and exploits developing a new program and resource within the National Park Service: a thoughtful/scientific approach to surveying, preserving and sharing sunken assets while, when needed, also recovering bodies from very dangerous hard to reach places.

The emotional insights related to risk and death are as captivating as the adventures going deep and dark.

In addition to navigating creepy death traps including caves, wrecks and the rooms of a sunken power turbine, Lenihan and his people must successfully navigate the “Chutes and Ladders”-like matrix of governmental policy, funding and politics. The accounting of what all happens behind the scenes gives you a real appreciation for what they were able to achieve –with their lives literally “on the line” the whole way.

This is a keeper for the beach, boat or hammock. Not just for divers but also for riders of pool floats in blue rubber pools. Bring a flashlight and some spare air.

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— Tim Bryant
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill






Book Review: Looking For A Ship

Enjoyed John McPhee’s notes about career shadowing a merchant marine. Thought I’d tell you about it while waiting for the guy to come check on the family of bats that wintering in the Pineapple Hill attic this year…

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Back in my Jacksonville Beach days a buddy of mine spent a lot at the JAXPORT ship terminal inspecting oil shipments. He’d go out on arriving tankers (at whatever hour they came in from sea, often in dead zone of darkness between 1 and 3 am) to verify that the deliveries were as promised. Often I’d go with him. He’d pick up the tab at the shabby beer joints where we waited for the call to go aboard. I was right out of college and living the life of a beach bum. My schedule was pretty flexible. And it was cool to see the secret life of professionals in the shipping business. My friend’s girlfriend, it happened also, was a Merchant Marine. So I learned a bit about it from her as well. But she was usually away –out at sea for a hundred and more nights at a time, staring at the moon over the Black Sea.

The whole deal seemed so cool and the only thing that stopped me from going that route was the ink –still wet– on my Journalism degree. I thought I owed to my dad (and the student loan company) to deploy that thing somehow.

Just as soon as I was done hanging out on the beach…

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McPhee’s book follows the highs and lows of his friend Andy whose wallet contained a National Shipping Card, the Merchant Marine’s ticket to going to sea.

No card, no job.

They don’t just give you the cards, you have to train for them then pass a bunch of tests. (I’d already decided I was done with tests for a while, except for testing the SPF rating on my sunscreen, and testing the local surf bunnies on their tolerance for alcohol.)

As Mcphee explains: the older the National Shipping Card, the better the prospects for a job. But if the card the goes unused for twelve months, the holder is bumped down in seniority. Back to the end of the line. The book was not just a narrative, it was a drama singing the woes of too much supply (cardholders) and too little demand (job openings).

The once big and mighty U.S. Merchant Marines had fallen on hard times. Again, too much supply (too many companies operating under foreign flags –enabling them to pay at near minimum wage levels). These flag-of-convenience ships, McPhee notes, are essentially unregulated, leading toward “compromised safety and the lowest practical levels of operation and maintenance. Dragging others down with them…”

Consequently, the big bucks Andy made at sea (or, when he could, in between jobs, getting gigs guarding ships dockside) had to also cover the long stretches in between.

Andy and his brothers in the MM would go into the union halls every morning and wait for assignments to be called out. Often there were none, or just one, for the 15 – 30 people hopefully reporting in. While there, they’d listen for any stirring rumors of other ships heading out from other ports –then quietly try to beat each other there. Andy would go down to Jacksonville from Maine. Then up to Savannah from Jacksonville. Then back to Maine. While the clock was ticking against the expiration date of that card of his.

That aspect of the business was every bit as interesting to me as when Andy finally landed something. It’s a much more quirky line of work than I’d imagined. (Probably a good thing I stayed on the beach.)

The book keeps a good clip all the way through. The inside quirks and background stories of a commercial ship at sea –especially under the command of a polished Captain such as Andy sailed with makes an eye-opening and FUN read.

Check it out. Another great choice for the private library book collection and a favorite among Pineapple Hill’s books to take to the beach and boat/books to take sailing.

(Nope, not going to drop any spoilers on you here.)

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–Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill

Whale Warriors

I just finished Peter Heller’s book The Whale Warriors about “the battle at the bottom of the world to save the planet’s largest mammals” …and I’ve got to tell you the whales don’t stand a chance. Between the mega-sized factory ships that process whales with the same cold efficiency that’s that leveled our rain forests so quickly, to the hippy vegans that go to sea to safe them ill trained and poorly equipped, the odds of preserving these wonderful and important animals look dim.

And once the whales go the other essentials to our survival go too.

It’s not just that that makes whales special. It’s their human like characteristics. The ability to feel love and deep rooted emotional attachment. To be stricken with grief when one of their peers is killed. To feel pain and loss. All of these motions made possible because inside the big brains of whales is a teeny tiny cell, called a “spindle” cell –originally thought to live only in humans and great apes. It the cell enabling love and emotions.

But fear not. I’m not going warm and fuzzy on you. I “get” Darwinism and the realities of survival.

I promise, I’d eat Pineapple Hill’s little pound pup Jack if I was hungry enough.

Jack doesn't like it when my stomach growls.
Jack doesn’t like it when my stomach growls.

I’m not here to preach. Neither was Heller.

What I especially liked about his book was his ability to tell the story of the voyage and The Situation –straddling the line between them as if on a teeter-totter. (As if trying to keep his balance on a 180-foot converted North Sea trawler pitching to and from and side to side on five story waves off the stormy shores of Antarctica –which was frequently the reality of his circumstances while embedded as a journalist out at sea).

His notes describe the politics of whale hunting

Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish). Yummy ...but nearly extinct.
Chilean Sea Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish). Yummy …but nearly extinct.

and whale saving –at international levels, between Greenpeace and its rival The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and between crew members of the Sea Shepherd’s warship the Farley Mowat. I like his sincerity. His suspicions. His cynicism. His worries. His empathy.

Here’s an excerpt:

Here was a heavily dressed hand loading the harpoon gun with the explosive-tipped harpoon. Here was the ship moving fast in the swell. There were the blows of a pod of minke whales ahead, fleeing for all they were worth, blowing every few seconds, clearly panicked. Fire. The flight of the harpoon, the arrow-straight line of cable following. Miss. Fleeing whales. Now the camera focused on a whale in the rear of the pack. Good size. The harpooner focused on her too. Fire. Miss again. And another. Fourth shot hits her in the flank. Explosion and fountain of blood. Whale thrashing. Cable winch engaged, thrashing screaming whale reeled in, gushing blood, turning the sea red. Hauled to the side. Still convulsing, hemorrhaging everywhere, another spear, probe, on long pole with cable attached thrust into her side. Whale writhing. Big generator on deck blaring. Electrocution current now coursing through the new spear. Whale in bloody agony, Not even close to dead. Finally hauled, tail up, suspended so they can hold her breathing hole under. She drowns after fifteen more minutes in a sea of her own blood. I wanted to vomit.

Heller’s book was written almost ten years ago. There’s been a lot more oil and chemicals and pharmacuetical laced pee dumped into the water since then. A lot less fresh water pouring out from the world’s rivers. A lot more over harvesting of shrimp. Chilean Bass (aka Patagonian Toothfish), oysters, and other yummy ocean dwellers. There’s been a lot of life supporting coral reefs destroyed. A lot more mouths to feed (human, bovine, canine and others depend on what is brought up from the depths of the Earth). Where the currents of the wide open seas swirl and circle, there’s garbage accumulating: coolers, plastic chairs, sports beverage bottles and other junk –along with dead birds, fish and animals caught up in them.

I am not a crusader. I read Heller’s book in the hot tub next to a bunch of banana trees. Usually with some sort of sweating cocktail going.

But I do think more of us need to at least be more informed on what’s happening out there with “Mother Ocean”.

It’s not enough just listening to Jimmy Buffet songs wearing a Hawaiian shirt, faded red lifeguard trunks and sand encrusted flip-flops.

There’s a bigger place for all of us in this. A more substantive role. The first step is simply wanting to go look for it… Be sure to add this to your list of books to take to the beach and boat, or books to take sailing list.

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— Tim Bryant
Author of Blue Rubber Pool
Surf Director at Pineapple Hill