All posts tagged: Recommended Readings

Why Sentences?

I knew I was going to enjoy Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence when the first chapter included this little gem from John Updike: “It was in the books while it was still in the sky.” The sentence comes from Updike’s famous account of what it was like to see Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox hit a home run in his last at bat in Fenway Park on September 28, 1960. To refresh my memory, I just went back and re-read Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu in The New Yorker, and was reminded once again of how it has stood the test of time as an incredible piece of writing. Fish is right to call out this marvelous 12-word description of The Kid’s final home run as something special within the overall masterpiece. His breakdown of what makes it such a powerful piece of writing begins as he notes that the “fulcrum” of Updike’s description is the word “while.” “(O)n either side of it are two apparently very different kinds of observations. ‘It was in the …

The Importance of Being Interesting

Writer, editor, writing coach, France aficionado, and family friend Janet Hulstrand produced a delightful little book earlier this year entitled Demystifying the French: How to Love Them and Make Them Love You. Having just finished this advice manual for travelers and others interested in living more successfully with the French, I found Janet’s take on how to understand these sometimes curious, somewhat frustrating, occasionally mystifying, but always interesting people to be delightful, informative, and useful all at once. I also found that Janet had—either on purpose or unwittingly, I’m not sure which—captured some wonderful life lessons from her observations about the country she’s now observed and come to love as a visitor and resident for some 40 years. The book is written as if you are sitting by the fireplace with a wonderful French wine and a good friend who is giving you a crash course before you venture out on your first trip to France. Janet’s writing is clear and, as one reviewer put it, “breezy and digestible.” She begins with five essential tips for “even …

Is it Too Early for a “Best of the Century” Book List?

This century is not quite 20 years old and yet we’re already seeing a “100 Best Books of the 21st Century” list from The Guardian. I’m more than okay with that. Anticipating the Politics and Prose Holiday Member Sale and assorted bookstore sales events across the country this weekend, I thought that—like me—you may enjoy a peak at books others are recommending before you rush out to make your purchases. I love lists of recommended books. Summer reading lists? Bring ’em on. The “Not Your Summer Reading List” is okay as well. If you are the President of the United States (well, a former one anyway), I want to see what you are reading. The same goes for famous writers. I love these lists because I believe in the power of the written word. I pick up fresh insights from seeing what others are reading. Writer Cheryl Strayed said she was seven years old when she understood that, as Margaret Atwood wrote in her poem Spelling, “a word after a word after a word is …

Beyond Identity Politics

We all saw the same thing. Yet, what we saw differs sharply in our mind’s eye, and in our retelling of the story. Over the past two weeks, all Americans had access to the same impeachment inquiry hearings. We all saw the same witnesses testifying. We all heard the same Members of Congress asking the same questions (or making the same speeches). And yet, taken individually, what we saw and heard during those hearings differed widely. Why is there this contradiction if we all saw and heard the same testimony presented to the same Congressional committee? One answer to that conundrum may lie in the increasingly narrow ways in which we identify ourselves. It just so happened that I was reading Francis Fukuyama’s smart and insightful 2018 book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment during the hearings. A Japanese-American political scientist, Fukuyama’s thoughtful take on how our nation, and how much of the world, came to a place where we are identifying ourselves with a series of smaller and smaller tribes while …

Boldness in Leadership

Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership in Turbulent Times, is, as one would expect from the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, a thoughtful analysis that deserves to be taken seriously. At a time when the country has entered the public phase of Donald Trump’s impeachment inquiry and as the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination—and perhaps the soul of the country—escalates during the twelve months before the 2020 election, there are lessons to be learned from the past. This 2018 work is a study of the life of four presidents and the ways in which they addressed major issues in fractured times: Abraham Lincoln (winning the war, ending slavery and saving the union); Theodore Roosevelt (responding to the sharp inequities and unfairness of the industrial revolution); Franklin D. Roosevelt (rebuilding a country out of the Great Depression); and Lyndon B. Johnson (the fight to ensure civil rights for all Americans). Kearns Goodwin observes that we have come through difficult periods before. In a more troubling sense, she also makes it clear that we have always had scoundrels in positions of …

Something More Significant

In her 2018 study Leadership in Turbulent Times, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tackles a subject that could not be more relevant. Drawing on the life and lessons of four U.S. presidents, Goodwin holds up the achievements, foibles, and resilience of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson. She examines how each came to be known for leadership as they dealt with civil war, the inequalities of the Industrial Age, the twin crises of global economic depression and war, and, finally, the struggle for civil rights. Leadership, in other words, in times of crisis and transformation. Something like the times we are in at the moment. I’m in the midst of reading Goodwin’s study. However, her examination in the opening chapter of the young Abraham Lincoln, and one quality she calls out from that period, came to mind this week after hearing the hate speech of the current resident of the White House directed at Somali Americans in Minnesota. In contrast to the powerful having a sense that they can bully and hurt …

Ballpark

The latest stop on my quest to visit all 30 Major League ballparks* found me, earlier this week, with a friend at the front gate of Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. It had taken almost an hour by train during the height of the evening commute to get from midtown Manhattan to Flushing. After stepping off the subway, I was disappointed to find the ballpark—home to one of two major league baseball teams in the nation’s largest city—in what was essentially a suburban setting, surrounded by parking lots. The game had just begun so we stopped only briefly to take in the entry rotunda, yet even that short pause made me think of the gateway to Ebbets Field, the famous home of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was only later that I discovered that the ballpark was in its unfortunate location thanks to that old enemy of urbanism, Robert Moses. And yes, the owners of the Mets had appropriated the Brooklyn Dodgers and the “New York City history of the National League as …