All posts tagged: Recommended Readings

Obsessions

Obsessions come in all shapes and sizes. Some, let’s admit it, are just plain weird. Others can be transformative and life-changing. * Upon opening a book of confessions to find a first chapter entitled “Spelling is for Weirdos,” I realized that I had found a writer—a self-styled comma queen, no less—with an infectious take on her chosen obsession. This particular confession—which I recently read after it was recommended by another writer—makes for a delightful romp and a good reminder that some obsessions are worth the effort. In describing the manual How to Sharpen Pencils as “one of the very few books worthy of the dual category “Humor/Reference,” Mary Norris, The New Yorker’s long-time copy editor, could have been discussing her own 2015 work—Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. Norris makes sure there is plenty of humor to go along with the useful information on grammar throughout this engaging and educational work. Between You and Me chronicles an obsession of the best kind. I’ve been on the lookout for books about clarity in writing since …

It Takes However Long It Takes

After his death, Stephen Jay Gould, the great paleontologist and scholar of evolutionary history, was still teaching about a subject he loved—through a posthumous book of essays about baseball. Gould and other famous scholars and writers—individuals such as historians David Halberstam and Doris Kearns Goodwin, novelist John Updike, financial journalist Michael Lewis, and New Yorker essayist Roger Angell—have all written with a special affinity for the game. Ken Burns found many of them for his 9-part PBS documentary Baseball. Yes, even poet Walt Whitman wrote about baseball in the mid-nineteenth century. I’m here to report that we have a candidate for the 2019 addition to the “smart people write about baseball” library. Let’s see what it might tell us about baseball, and life. Infinite Baseball: Notes from a Philosopher at the Ballpark is a short and entertaining work written by Alva Noë, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a lifelong New York Mets fan. I went against my standing policy of rejecting books with jacket blurbs by George Will and took …

Toni Morrison, R.I.P.

Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize-winning author and arguably our First Lady of Letters, passed away last evening, August 5th, at the age of 88. She left this earth as a new book of essays, The Source of Self-Regard, along with a recently released documentary entitled Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, introduced long-time fans and new readers alike to her towering intellect and broad vision. These works could not have come along at a better time. Now that she has died, we will have to rely on the power of Morrison’s words; the clarity of her vision for social justice; the love of art, music, and literature that permeates the meditations in The Source of Self-Regard and the interviews in The Pieces I Am more than ever. At the end of “Peril,” the very first offering in The Source of Self-Regard, Morrison makes the bold statement that, “A writer’s life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity.” And through 350 pages of speeches, essays, and meditations, she shows why. There are 43 pieces in The Source of Self-Regard, …

Our Country is Like a Really Old House

With instant communication and connections, one can travel the globe and still face issues from home.  We may try to block them out, but they come up in conversations in other countries. In feeds on social media. During sermons.* Even in a toy display in a store window! I’ve been reminded again during my travels that in today’s global world, there are many national issues with international ramifications. Thomas Fingar — the Shorenstein APARC Fellow in the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, and former Assistant Secretary of State — lectured on the Japan / Korea / China / United States relationships during the Asian portion of my current trip.  Fingar provided a realistic and sometimes sobering assessment of future difficulties (many self-inflicted) as we were visiting sites of great beauty and centuries-old history. A few days later I arrived in the U.K. as Prime Minister Theresa May was resigning and the airways were filled with commentary (some from the current resident of the White …

Life-Long Learners

Some of the most interesting travelers are life-long learners. While taking in the wonders of place, people, and culture on recent trips to Japan, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, I’ve spent time observing my fellow travelers. The reasons for travel vary widely. Some individuals finally have the time and resources to venture to new horizons while others are serious compilers—and completers—of bucket lists.  The reasons are almost as endless as the people joining me in visiting the temples, shrines, gardens, mountains, priories, theatres, museums, and much more along the way. Life-long learners take a special approach to travel, just as they do in life.  They are curious, to be certain, but most are also risk takers.  In The Leadership Machine, authors Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger suggest that learners are “willing to feel and look stupid” because they can admit what they don’t know and are eager to move forward to learn. In the working world they are often the ones willing to “go against the grain of what they know how to do and …

From the Bookshelf

The world’s landscape has shifted. Two books came off my “to be read” pile this month, and both focused on a theme as current as the day’s headlines. The more substantive is a deep analysis of the 2008 financial crisis and how early decisions made in the midst of the Great Recession still affect us today.  The other, a charming novel set in a luxury hotel in Moscow, takes the reader from the upheaval of the Russian Revolution through the mid-1950s.  President Barack Obama and Count Alexander Rostov, main characters in fact and fiction respectively, nonetheless face similar challenges when their world shifts underneath them. A Crisis Wasted:  Beginning in 2008 through at least 2009, the United States faced the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.  With the Bush Administration transitioning out of power, President Barack Obama and his administration took on the lion’s share of the work to address this challenge, often while battling opposing forces in both political parties.  That the United States survived without falling into national and worldwide chaos …

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 …