All posts filed under: Recommended Readings

Books (along with a smattering of movies and plays) that I have found of interest and want to share with my readers

Honing Your Craft

Vision. Skill. Time.  All are usually required to produce something of lasting value.  All are at the heart of craftsmanship. Traditionally linked to items made by hand, craftsmanship can be applied to a wider array of undertakings that benefit from an attention to detail through the application of a skill sharpened over time and practice. Take writing, for instance. For several years I’ve considered how best to refine my writing skills. However, other commitments became excuses for never taking serious steps forward to actually hone that craft until a former colleague recently noted that my passion has always been best expressed in my writing. It is where I seek to tell a story or share a memory in hopes of inspiring and making a meaningful connection to colleagues and friends. One of my favorite sayings is “Let’s see how it writes.” This same colleague suggested that I may have been the best first draft writer in the organization. I knew exactly what she meant, and it was that particular comment that led me to pick …

On Becoming Who You Are

You’ve no doubt heard the motivational quote, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”  Frankly, it has always struck me as excessively sentimental, or—to use my preferred description—sappy. But on my first day of unemployment since 1977—even though a planned move—I’ve certainly been thinking about who I am and what’s next. To help in that process, I turned to John Kaag’s recent book, Hiking With Nietzsche:  On Becoming Who You Are.  I’ll be honest: I know nothing about philosophy, but was simply taken by the book’s title and jacket blurbs.  We buy books for all different reasons, I suppose, and I’m glad I picked this one up a few weeks ago.  Kaag, a professor of philosophy at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, writes about two journeys he took to Piz Corvatsch, the Swiss mountain so important to the writing and life of the nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. The author’s first journey to Corvatsch was when he was a youthful nineteen-year-old.  The more recent one came at age 36, with wife …

Change is the Only Constant

March is one of my favorite times of the year.  The longest month—February—is past. Winter is nearing an end here in DC. Baseball players have reported to spring training camps. Hope springs eternal. Speaking of baseball, I have my own spring training ritual every year. Up first is a viewing of Bull Durham—the best baseball movie ever—followed by reading a new baseball book.  Together the two get me in the mood for the season.  I can report checking off both of those training regimens this year well before Opening Day. I actually read two baseball books recently, although one may not count because it is entitled The Is Not Baseball Book.  You have to love a book which begins with a first chapter of “Sports Is Not a Metaphor.  It’s a Symbol.”  Afterwards it jumps into all matter of things, including pataphysical management systems leading to “self-learning” teams.  That’s for another time. It is the second book, Smart Baseball:  The Story Behind the Old Stats that are Ruining the Game, The New Ones that are …

Self-Sacrifice

When watching the In Memoriam segment of the Oscars last month, I learned that the French actress Stéphane Audran, who played the title role in the Danish film Babette’s Feast, passed away in 2018.  Babette’s Feast—and Audran’s performance as the chef who moves from Paris to the desolate, western coast of Jutland in 19th century Denmark—are among my all-time favorites.  (Babette’s Feast also ranks as Pope Francis’ favorite movie, but I’ll bet he hasn’t watched Bull Durham.*) Here is a short synopsis (spoiler alert:  you will find out all the basics, but none of the real nuance that makes this such a wonderful film): The movie begins in a small Protestant village that has been led for many years by a very rigid pastor. The beliefs of the congregation are extremely Puritan, making the village a drab, grey place where there is hardly any joy. After the pastor has died, his two elderly daughters are forced into leading the older, dwindling congregation. They had hoped to marry when they were young and beautiful, but their …

Humility Is the New Smart

Research shows that “more than 85 percent of a message we communicate to others is conveyed not in the words but in the tone and manner in which they are delivered.”  I saw this first hand in a recent meeting when one of the participants made it very clear—in body language, tone, and language—that she was going to be disagreeable.  Arms crossed, with no attempt to bring others into her point of view other than by sheer force and with every sentence beginning with a negative, she ensured that her point of view was going to be heard.  It was tiring and not very satisfying for others trying to participate in the conversation. This non-approach to communication was highlighted in a book I’ve been reading entitled Humility Is the New Smart:  Rethinking Human Excellence In the Smart Machine Age.  In an era when the best research indicates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs will be replaced by technology within the next ten to twenty years, authors Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig make the case …

Quest for the Best (Picture), Once Again

Has it really been seven years since we decided to try to catch the Best Picture nominees before the Academy Awards show?  Indeed it has. Truth be told, this has been an up-and-down process.  There are years when I’ll see 7 of the 8 or 9 films nominated.  Then, there are times such as last year when we took in four on one weekend…and that was it. This year was really different, in that I’ve seen all 8 of the films nominated, plus a few more that could have been in the running. 100 percent!  That’s a first. As in years past, I’ll provide the caveat that I’m no movie critic, so these are totally personal views without any understanding of the nuances of filmmaking. I’ll also list these in the order I ranked them, which is where I get the most comments. So, my best picture award would go to If Beale Street Could Talk.  Wait, you say, it wasn’t nominated!  Well, that’s not my fault; it should have been.  This was a beautiful …

History is a Teacher

Why do we care about history? Writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Mark Twain took a more humorous approach with, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”  Over the weekend, I saw a bumper sticker that read “Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.”  Yale historian Joanne B. Freeman—co-host of the history podcast BackStory and author of The Field of Blood:  Violence in Congress and the Road to Civil War—says simply that “History doesn’t repeat, but it teaches.” My executive assistant (a former Capitol guide) recommended The Field of Blood, and for the past week or more I have been absorbed in the riveting tales of mortal threats, canings, flipped desks, and all-out slugfests…and that’s just on the floor of Congress! During the turbulent and violent three decades leading up to the Civil War, bowie knives and pistols were regularly drawn on members by other members.  Duels happened with alarming frequency, including one that led to the death of one …