Paddle Your own Canoe

One of the best things I liked about “Parks & Rec” was Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson.  I liked the subtle humor as well as Ron’s philosophy that we should all be off the grid and fend for ourselves.  It was almost like seeing a modern day interpretation of Henry David Thoreau.  With better facial hair.

paddleWhen Mr. Offerman came out with this first memoir, Paddle Your Own Canoe I was interested to know more about the man behind Ron Swanson. Sadle, this felt like two books in one.  The baseline of the book is Offerman sharing his autobiography. I was surprised to learn that Mr. Offerman grew up not too far from where I live in Chicagoland.  In fact, his hometown of Minooka, Illinois is a town I’ve heard of and have met people from.  His background is really interesting.  He comes from a good family and a good town with a good education and ultimately decides to study theater at U of I.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise to me seeing as how he did such a bang up job on “Parks & Rec”, but I feel for the stereotype that people from rural areas and don’t major in theater.

Intermixed with his life story, Mr. Offerman shares his view of some aspect of society. He has poignant observations and suggestions for living a successful and meaningful life.  I appreciated his observations but it was distracting having these breaks in between his life story. I would enjoy each section as its own book not mixed together.

All in all, I found this was a good lesson in not assuming anything about anyone.  How many of Mr Offerman’s readers actually know that he’s been a part of so many theatrical companies and productions apart of “Park & Rec”?  I realized I was guilty of this and this read has made me reflect that just because an actor is famous for a movie or TV show doesn’t mean they don’t have a background in other productions.


Fluent Forever

I’m a language nerd.  When I was young I was that kid who would check out those books on kids around the world to see what customs and languages people spoke across the globe.  During the summers I would choose a language and check out one of those learn-on-your-own books.  This would last only a few weeks, but it left me with bits and pieces of random languages.

fluentIn college I was lucky enough to live in Spain for a year and finally learn enough Spanish to be able to say that I speak Spanish.  When I graduated with my Spanish degree it felt that a life-long goal had been met.  Level up!  Then I started getting hungry to learn another language.  But that’s right around when life got busy.  Getting my career off the ground, marrying my partner-in-crime, and settling in to adulting kept me from really focusing on learning another language.  And then there was the choice of what I would learn next.  Too many options!

That’s when I stumbled across Gabriel Wyner’s Fluent Forever.  I saw it on our library’s “New Books” shelf and the title immediately called out to me.  Like me, Mr. Wyner speaks many languages and enjoys learning new ones.  He’s developed a system (with awesome resources) to help those of us with limited time to learning another language.  He breaks down the language learning process into various steps and then explains how he uses simple tools like Google images and other online resources to develop flashes cards and mnemonic devices to develop a vocabulary.  With tools like Netflix and dvd collections at libraries, language learners have a lot of resources with which to enrich their vocabularies and language immersion.

With Wyner’s helpful suggestions I think I have a good plan for how to accomplish my goal to learn another language and earn my polyglot badge. I just wish he’d give more explanations. Regardless, I can’t wait to jump into my next language.

A Wrinkle in Time

I’m late coming to Madeleine L’Engle’s The  Time Quartet.  I’ve heard about since college, but never was interested in reading the series.  This year, the book club decided to do a Science Fiction read and needed some help selecting a title.  This was one proposed by several of the members and ultimately won as the choice for November.  This pushed me to jump and see what A Wrinkle in Time was all about.

wrinkleI had a mixed read of the novel.  On one hand it was entertaining and a quick read.  On the other hand it felt that it was too quick without developing characters or plot.  I was particularly disappointed in Meg, one of the protagonists. To me she started out with a complex foundation upon which to build an intriguing character.  The oldest child of two scientists, she’s struggling with growing up and processing the disappearance of her father.  Yet, as I progressed through the book, she quickly became quite flat.  It seemed she was constantly screaming and crying.Every time there was a new challenge or plot twist she seemed to be always stamping her foot, shouting, and bursting into tears.  I understand frustration and I understand as an adolescent there’s a lot of emotion, but when a character is only described as such, it becomes a superficial depiction of a character.  Halfway through the book I lost patience with Meg and wanted her to move into the background of the plot.

I liked the underlying message of the story and I think this is an important entry in the Sci Fi realm of YA, especially to middle school and Jr. high.

Waking the Dead

One element of Christianity, and by element I mean faction, is the mindset that fiction is “evil” and that somehow only “non-fiction” is pure.  I didn’t grow up in that faction nor were many of my friends and family.  As an English teacher in a Christian high school I have run into some resistance to literature.  Fortunately, it wasn’t anything a face-to-face conversation couldn’t settle. 

Waking.jpgSo it was with great surprise that when I started reading John Eldredge’s Waking the Dead, that fiction, especially of the fantasy kind, were used as examples to support Eldredge’s Christian point-of-view.  Interweaving examples from the Bible and modern fantasy/Sci Fi, John Eldredge walks the reader through the journey to finding God’s plan to help individuals understand why it seems like nothing can go right.  I have always maintained that literature, good literature, helps all of use deal with or understand some of the pot holes we encounter on life’s pathway.

The Fantasy genre, especially, has intrigued me because while it is not based on any “reality” there is a lot in those works that feels very “real”.  Rather than reading a philosophical book on why bad things happen to good people, I’ve always found fiction a much better way to make sense of the bad things that happen in life.  Even if I’ve never experienced the same instances in the books I read, it helps me compassionate and understanding for those that may be struggling with that conflict.

While some of the writing was a little too basic for my taste, I did appreciate the overall message.  Seeing so many references to works I was familiar with helped too. I was surprised how many references there were to LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia. Even The Matrix and The Gladiator make an appearance. But all the core stories are woven deeply into God’s message of love and purpose. This is an encouraging and inspiring read.