Go Set A Watchman

I had never read, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird until I was preparing to teach it as part of my Student-Teaching semester.  The book was ok on a first read.  But after teaching it and seeing my students react and hearing their interpretations of it, but book’s power opened up to me.  Since then I’ve held To Kill A Mockingbird on my shelf of American classics.  So much to my surprise when I learned earlier this summer that were was a sequel coming out.  I was looking forward to it and apprehensive at the same time.  I wanted to know more about the world of Maycomb County, Alabama, but I didn’t want this book in ruin the characters I had come to love from To Kill A Mockingbird.

WatchmanWell, Dear Reader, I love them even more after reading Go Set A Watchman.  I’m not going to go into the plot because I’m sure some of you are reading or are planning to read the book and let’s face it, it’s new enough that it’s not ok to spoil it at this point.  What I will say is that the point of view and theme of the this book is VERY different from To Kill A Mockingbird.  Scout, Jean Louise Finch, is grown up and thus, the language, point of view, and purpose of the novel are more adult.  Whereas in TKM it’s about prejudice, Watchman is very much about how we handle out right racism in our families and communities.

What really moved me was that while I’ve never lived in the South or had to deal with racist family members/communities, there’s always something that doesn’t sit well with us when we become adults and see the cracks in our adult role models.  It’s a rough experience, but we all have to face it one day or another.  This book was good at taking both a historical look at what many young Southerners probably had to go through during the Civil Rights era, but it’s also universal.

When you finally get that copy of Watchman you’re going to want to read it in as few sittings as possible.  Once I cracked the cover I was so drawn in all I could think about was getting to the end of the book.  I finally decided I couldn’t drag it out any longer and had to tell my wife I didn’t mind to be rude but I was going to have to read while I ate my meals.  I have never read in such a marathon fashion since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

As the afterglow of reading Watchman fades, I have to say that I like it better than TKM.  However, I would say that you have to read TKM first in order to really feel the power of Watchman.  So go out and get busy reading before some troll ruins it for you on the internet!

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Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller by Henry James is about a young man, Winterbourne (how’s that for a rich-boy name!) who is vacationing in Vevey, Switzerland and meets a young woman, Daisy Miller.  They both hail from wealthy American families.  The difference is that he is a blue-blood who has been living in Geneva to study.  Ms. Miller, on the other hand, is from new money and is doing her “grand tour” of Europe with her mother and brother.  What follows is a clash of social norms, classes, and social expectations.

DaisyWhat stood out to me was that fact that Americans really haven’t changed much since we entered the world scene.  Once we started having an upper-class who decided to travel the world and rival our European cousins, it’s like we’ve never left the party.  Apparently Vevey is the place for wealthy Americans to summer and it’s a total tourist trap.  But unlike today, back then it was important to see and be seen by the right people.  Wealthy wasn’t just wealthy.  Winterbourne’s family apparently is old money and so they elicit a certain respect from other wealthy Americans.  Daisy’s family, on the other hand, is considered “common” by the wealthy elite because her father is new money; he has created his own wealth rather than inheriting it.

Daisy is aware of this and is having none of the social airs the old-money biddies expect from young, single American girls.  Instead, she goes where she wants and with whom she wants.  This in turn creates a social maelstrum amongst the ex-patriot Americans in Europe.  They, apparently, want the Europeans to not associate all Americans with Daisy.

The part that really stood out to me was how true this is even in today’s world.  I lived in Spain for a year in a study-abroad program in college.  After living there six-months, it was odd how I viewed Americans who came through on a vacation.  For some reason they seemed so different from myself.  Maybe it’s because I had learned the social norms, and they hadn’t.  But I too found myself cringing from some of their behaviors.  Mostly I just chuckled because I was sure I had probably done the same things when I was first in Europe.

What really struck me is that Americans are NOT the rudest travelers (I’m talking to you U.K.!), but we do tend to call attention to ourselves.  Like Winterbourne tells Daisy, you’re not rude, you’re just innocent.  And that’s how I came to understand most Americans traveling outside of the U.S. (and sadly, sometimes, outside our geographical ghettos).  We don’t mean to be loud or rude.  But we tend to have a kid in a candy shop approach to being abroad.  So get your passport out because this book was educating and intriguing.

Get Off Your Ass and Run!

Being an amateur runner I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my routine, different ideas for keeping running “fun”, and finding motivation to keep at it.  With a title like, Get Off Your Ass and Run!, Ruth Field definitely catches your eye.  And her style of writing is very blunt, which is good when you’re trying to motivate people to leave the couch and run for 45 minutes.

RunApparently she has a well-known blog, The Grit Doctor, where she gives blunt advice on running and life.  She’s taken this persona and put it in a book.  If I were new to running I would’ve really liked her approach.  She says it like it is, doesn’t use a lot of science to back up what she says.  Instead she uses life experiences and the experiences of others to prove what runners all know, that it’s good for you.

She does give an outline for starting a running routine and even how to turn that into a 10k routine.  I liked her paired down approach to getting fit.  She starts with just getting out the door and walking.  Then some jogging is added to the walk.  The jogging is extended and soon you’re jogging/running the whole route.   Then it’s up to you to work out speed and distance.  She recommends three to five days a week (I personally can only do three. Otherwise my body revolts).  Finally she discusses food.

Like her, I think too many people start with food and choose to exercise later.  But it won’t work that way.  Our bodies are designed to store as much energy as possible and energy exertion is a “stress”.  So anytime your body can avoid working out, it’s going to come up with all the excuses you can think.  So if you’re waiting until your diet is healthy, you won’t ever get out the door to exercise.  If you flip this model, the food will sort itself out.  Once you’ve got a good routine down, your appetite won’t be as strong, and your body will start to automatically crave more of the good foods.  Also, you’ll be burning more calories so any bad foods you do eat won’t have as much impact.

So if you need a good refresher for running, or need some one to get you off the couch and out the door I highly recommend this book.

5 Secrets to Peace in a Storm

I didn’t want to like this book.  It was one of those motivational books people give you that aren’t really going to change your life.  They’re just a pat on the back, a gesture.  After cracking the cover, I discovered it wasn’t THAT bad, although it wasn’t great.  Plus I committed to reading books off my shelf, so the competitive nature in me made me get through this book.  I may or may not be in my “Goodwill” pile though.

55 Secrets to Peace in a Storm by Ruthie Jacobsen.  The premise of the book is to give you five principles that will bring you peace when life is bad, i.e. a “storm”.  One of the principles that stuck out to me was how doing good for others can help us feel good too.  It sounds weird at first, but in education they teach us to use this model with teenagers.  For example, as a teenager, you may remember feeling unmotivated to do anything for yourself.  But there were certain people who you would do anything for.  So as a teacher, I sometimes have to ask students to do their homework, not for themselves but for me, their parents, friends, etc.  And it usually works.  They don’t want to let anyone down.

The same usually applies to adults.  When we get depressed on in a funk sometimes it’s external motivation that gets us out of the groove and back into mainstream life.  I think it’s a good reminder that when life’s hard it’s ok to admit that it sucks and to feel the emotions that come with whatever the situation may be.  But there’s a danger that we can start to feel isolated from everyone and create the “poor me” complex.  I think remembering that we are connected to people in life can help us keep on keeping on.  Usually once we do something good for others, there’s a rebound effect that makes us feel good, cancelling the negative feelings we may have had.

So if you need a quick read or a reminder of how to battle some of the storms that blow our way on the sea of life, then I recommend this book.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson was moving.  Taking the very real examples of individuals in the past decade who’ve been shamed using social media and exploring the rise of shame culture due to social media and the internet and the effects on our psyche and society, Mr. Ronson brings what can be a distant experience and makes it personal.  I had to flinch a few times considering some of the comments I made about people on Twitter or Facebook.  Granted, I’ve never joined in wanting to kill or rape anyone, but a stone is a stone and throwing it at someone who can’t fight back still makes me guilty.

ShameWhat was serendipitous is that our book club read this book while the Monica Lewinsky TED Talk came out.  We watched it at our recent book club meeting and found that Mr. Ronson and Ms. Lewinsky harmonized in their analysis and suggestions for this shame culture.  The President Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal that rocked the late 90’s was probably the first time that anyone had been shamed so publicly and yet anonymously.  People were being forwarded crude jokes about the two of them and sending them on to their friend groups.  Cartoons and gossip stories swirled on the internet while gossip became truth.  And this was new.  Sure we had talked about people before.  But it was in our homes and in our offices.  But with the internet we can now gossip and say whatever we want to a much wider audience.

And in some ways we have changed our behavior because of it.  I have a Twitter but I have to be careful what I post because as a teacher I’m worried that even with privacy settings students, parents, superintendents who want to get rid of me could find something and construe it how they want.  I’m sure some of you can relate.  We’ve all heard that now-a-days, when you’re looking for a job, you have to clean up or lock up your Facebook because employers want to see what you are like when no one is filtering you.

I highly recommend this book for either a personal read or in a group setting.  Trust me,   you’re going to want to talk about this book either way.

The Prayer of Jesus

Some of you may remember in the early 2000’s when a book called The Prayer of Jabez stormed onto the Christian literary scene. Taken from an obscure verse in the Old Testament the author explicated each portion of the prayer in order to motivate the praying lives of readers.  Following up on this idea of taking examples of prayers from the Bible to serve as teaching us how to have better prayer lives, Hank Hanegraaf wrote, The Prayer of Jesus which takes the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13, “Our Father…”) and explicates each section to give us principles on how Jesus modeled prayer for us.

PrayerI’ve never considered the implications of the Lord’s Prayer.  I’ve said it church and with my family, but I’ve never each section and looked at what Jesus was trying to model.  Mr. Hanegraaf does a good job of finding the principle and relating it to our personal prayer lives.  For me it showed me what Jesus was attempting to teach his disciples.  Now I wonder why we recite it as if it’s valuable in and of itself.  If it’s supposed to be used as a model, shouldn’t we consider it as such and not as something of value just because Jesus said?  For example, some parents use the “now I lay me down to sleep…” prayer as a model for their children but we don’t say it church or use it as adults when we have our own prayer lives.

My one critique of the book is that it introduces these deep ideas but doesn’t really unpack them all the way.  Maybe this is an introduction to praying and isn’t for those who already pray.  I think he could’ve done a better job supporting his ideas.

How to Win Friends and Influence People

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie is a classic.  At least that’s what many people told me as I slogged through this tome.  It’s particularly poignant to the business/sales world where apparently a lot of people don’t know how to relate to other people.  The book is a compilation of lectures that Mr. Carnegie delivered at seminars he would give around the country in the 1930’s and 40’s.  There are a few updates in the latest edition but those were few and far between.

HowThe point of the book is exactly what the title says.  However, unless you actually feel like people hate you or just don’t get a long with you, friends, this book isn’t for you.  Before you think I struggle with this demise, this book was chosen for our book club.  It wasn’t a popular choice.  I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who read it.

The reason it wasn’t a big hit is because it’s so obvious.  The advice he gives is hard to accept as some sort of earth-shattering new truth.  This is why it boggles my mind why so many people tout it as an important book to them.  Although, come to think of it, some of the business majors I knew in college would probably say this helped them relate to people.  There’s something about business/sales people that sometimes makes them seem above the rest of us mere mortals.  But I digress.

Most of the advice given is pretty obvious.  Some of it, like don’t always be critical, find things to praise people for, or, try to understand where someone is coming from in an argument.  To me these don’t seem different than what teachers teach in school about how to play well with others.  Then again, a lot of what he said is taught in Education programs to prepare us to work with students.  So I may be biased.

Luckily this book is short and it’s written in a very dry style.  So if you have to read it for work or for a book club, it’s not terrible, but you’re going to want to read it in small doses.

The Metamorphosis

I’ve used the opening line from The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka in writing exercises, but I’ve never actually read the novella.  Well karma caught up to me.  I’ve made some changes to my AP English course and the new anthology includes The Metamorphosis.  So it was time for me to read it.

The MetamorphosisWow.  I think what got me through the novella was pure fascination with the point-of-view that Kafka so adroitly develops over the course of the work.  While I don’t understand the point of the novella, I really appreciate the way that Kafka takes a human and puts him inside of an insect.  For those of you who’ve never read this novella, that’s pretty much the best summary.  A man wakes up and realizes he’s been turned into a giant beetle.  His family doesn’t know what to do with him so they just keep him in his room.  Since it’s a novella, there’s not much more I can say without spoiling the rest of the novella.

What I think Kafka is trying to explore, is how the way we see the world and how the world sees us is very different.  The young man who is turned into the beetle is working at a job he hates so that he can restore dignity to his parents.  His father was a somewhat successful business man who had to declare bankruptcy.  So to get his family back into prosperity it fell on the young man to work and bring money in.  Apparently the father, mother, and sister don’t work and rely only on the son/brother.  And this is where I think Kafka is trying to warn families.  The father spends his day reading papers and napping.  The mother and sister to little chores around the house, but have a maid and a cook so there’s not much for them to do.

Once the boy is a beetle, the family suddenly has to pull together because their bread-winner can’t work.  They each take on odd jobs and earn a living for themselves.  Ultimately, this team effort of working and earning money draws the family closer.  That’s the best analysis I can come up with, so I’m looking forward to hearing what my students think and see if they can help enlighten me.

Clean Gut

Last year I read Clean by Dr. Alejandro Junger.  Recently, Dr. Junger has added another element to his ideas on diet and healthy living and that relates to the gut.  Clean Gut focuses on the digestive track itself and how certain foods affect the digestive track.  Special focus is given to probiotics and foods that contribute to the intestinal flora’s good health.

Clean GutWhile I don’t disagree with Dr. Junger, I feel like his diet recommendations for Clean Gut are a bit extreme.  He wants individuals to strip their diet down to the bare-bones: no fruits except for berries, no gluten, dairy, sugar, caffeine, and even a limited assortment of vegetables.  This strict is only supposed to last three weeks, but I can’t imagine eating such a limited diet for three weeks.  Granted, the purpose of the diet is supposed to help the dieter to identify dietary triggers, such as gluten sensitivity, levels of lactose intolerance, etc.

I believe it’s very important for us to know how certain foods impact our health, but I also believe in a sustainable diet.  I’m worried that some will take this diet as the “truth” and stay on it, which I don’t believe is going to contribute to their health.  But I’m not a doctor and I don’t play one on tv.

For me, I think that Clean has better health recommendations that are applicable to life and are sustainable.  Since I already know which foods impact my health and well-being, I don’t feel the need to try Clean Gut.  I think what I will do is take what I already know from Clean and add some of his recommended probiotics and vitamins.  If you like to read about health and diet, Clean Gut is an interesting read.

12 Things to Try While You’re Still Mortal

12 Things to Try While You’re Still Mortal by Roy Ice is a book about living a more purposeful life, i.e. making your life count for something.  Mr. Ice was my college chaplain and the book came out the year I graduated so I felt it was something I should purchase and take with me into grad school.  Sad to say it’s taken almost nine years for me to crack the cover and actually read what he had to say.

12Based on Christian principles of living a good life, such as letting God handle the stresses in life and focusing on love others rather than judging others, I think those who aren’t into religion may find this read interesting.  Some of the chapters are very much rooted in the Bible, but there are also more “universal” principles that can apply to anyone regardless of religion or creed.

One of “things to try” that I think we can all work on is stress.  There are some many things that cause us stress in life and the majority of the time it’s over matters that we have no control over.  I myself have learned to only control those things I can and take everything one step at a time.

Another stand-out “thing to try” was loving versus judging others.  Mr. Ice relates an account that happened to him on an airplane where the flight attendant and the passenger next to Mr. Ice had a disagreement.  The flight attendant assumed the passenger wasn’t paying attention to the safety instructions and as they were seated in the emergency exit row, the flight attendant needed the passenger to be paying attention.  But the flight attendant’s anger was making the passenger nervous and anxious which made the flight attendant feel that the man wasn’t capable of handling being in the emergency exit and ultimately moved the passenger into the back of the plane.  The takeaway from this was that we sometimes we sum people up before we get the true story of what’s causing their behavior.  And sometimes we are the cause of someone’s behavior.

While I appreciated what Mr. Ice had to say, it was too brief for me.  I feel like this was an introduction rather than an actual how-to.  So if you’re looking for more of brief guide to living a more purposeful life than I recommend this book.