Books That Change Lives

Several submissions from readers of the New York Times.

Two standout write-ups.

1. Go, Dog. Go! 

“Go, Dog. Go!” — that epic by P.D. Eastman — has it all: Drama — where are those dogs going? Humor — dogs on scooters, flying helicopters and driving cars! Existential angst — why doesn’t he like her hat? It’s multicultural — blue dogs and red dogs and green dogs! It’s a love story — why yes, he does end up liking her hat!

From “Go, Dog. Go!” — my first book way back in prekindergarten — it was only a short skip to the poems of William Butler Yeats; “The Myth of Sisyphus,” by Albert Camus; the guerrilla ontology of Robert Anton Wilson; and the 10,000 mostly nonfiction books in my home library on Irish history, African-American history, my Pagan spiritual path, world religions and metaphysical matters, the Middle East, quantum physics, the Beatles and rock music. . . .

O.K., maybe that wasn’t a short hop. But my love of reading — as a way to have adventures, explore life, lives and ideas, and satiate my curiosity about the world — began with dogs driving fast cars. I still reread “Go, Dog. Go!” to this day.

Rick de Yampert
Palm Coast, Fla.

2. Atlas Shrugged

When I first read “Atlas Shrugged” for a high school assignment, I was so impressed with Ayn Rand’s philosophy of strength, independence and forging through life on one’s own that I reread the book a few more times in the next few years. The final time I was a young mother and as I read, I realized that there were no children in Rand’s cast of characters, no old people; no one was sick or disabled. Where were they? How were they supposed to manage on their own?

That’s when I became a Democrat, even a socialist. It finally dawned on me that total self-reliance is fine, as long as you’re young, healthy and strong. But no one gets through this life on her own. It takes a village to support a community, to raise and educate children, to care for the sick and elderly. Who wants to live in a world where the weak are thrust aside and forgotten? Rand’s philosophy could never be mine. Her words allowed me to crystallize my own thinking. I grew up.

Barbara Lipkin
Naperville, Ill.

My pick? Maybe John Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds which has helped me invest more wisely than I otherwise would’ve. Or Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart for similar reasons as to Rick. It was the first of many Achebe, and other, African novels. They have been incredible windows into places and people the West pays little attention to and does not understand or appreciate. My life is richer because of their artistry.

And you?

Public Libraries Are Essential Community Assets

And ours is now even more accessible.

“Starting January 1, 2020, Timberland Regional Library is no longer charging overdue fees on our collection materials. In addition, we are currently working with our system vendor to remove existing overdue fines. Why are we making this change while facing budget challenges? Research has shown that overdue fines act as an emotional barrier for many people and create a disproportionate financial impact on many in our communities. Library fines represent less than 1% of TRL’s overall revenue and data indicates that it is costing more in staff time to collect overdue fines than TRL receives in fines revenue. We’ve heard from patrons who have stopped using library services altogether because they can’t pay their fines, or they worry about being judged for being unable to pay. They’re not attending programs, accessing online resources, asking for help in finding a job, or utilizing the library in any other way that would enrich their lives. Eliminating overdue fines is a means to bringing people back into the library and supporting our communities.”

Don’t take advantage though.

“Patrons are still responsible for ensuring that items are returned by the due date. This Fines Free policy does not impact fees for lost and damaged items, those charges will remain on patron accounts. Items overdue for longer than 28 days will be considered lost, and patrons will incur a replacement fee for the item. Accounts with more than $10 in fees will have their borrowing privileges suspended until the item is returned or the replacement fee is paid.”

The Bullshit Pulpit

A week ago the President of the (dis)United States tweeted, “There has been no President in the history of our Country who has been treated so badly as I have.” Who knows why he capitalized “country”, and why he always plays the victim, something Republicans are never supposed to do.

Trump often wields the phrase “in the history of our country” like Senator-to-be Stuart Smalley using self-affirmations to feel better about himself.

Trump admiring himself in the mirror. . . “Greatest President in the history of the nation.” “Accomplished more than any administration in the history of the country.” It’s like Fox News using “fair and balanced” for their slogan. Continuously repeating it doesn’t make it true.

There’s a problem with these bizarre assertions beyond their laughable inaccuracy. Trump has admitted to not reading, so where is he getting the necessary historical understanding to proclaim himself King of Kings?

The next time he spouts his “history of our country” lunacy, it would be nice to see at least one journo quiz him on what other administrations have accomplished. Rest assured, he will not get the highest score in the history of our Country.

Saturday Assorted Links

1. Alison Byrnes’s dream vacation. Maybe yours too?

2. Kate Wynja, high school golfer of the year.

“. . . it broke my heart for the team.”

3. Restaurants of the future. Count me as pro simplification.

4A. Female members of congress by party affiliation.

4B. The future of the Democratic Party. Maybe.

5. Republicans’ latest tax con.

6. The future of cycling.

My Fav 2017 Books

A longtime reader of the Humble Blog has a brief respite from reading his high schoolers’ French and German exercises. Consequently, he wants some book recommendations. PressingPausers take note, you too can make suggestions and requests of your benevolent dictator.

My fav books of 2017:

1. America the Anxious by Ruth Whippman. Subtitle: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks. An endearing Brit deconstructs the commercial happiness industry. I’m looking forward to teaching it in January.

2. Janesville by Amy Goldstein. Since I’m an economically privileged, tenured university professor, a friend sometimes laments that I’m clueless about the “real world”. He underestimates the power of the pen and the imagination. Goldstein provides readers an intimate look at what it is like to build a middle class life through an assembly line job and then lose it.

3. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. A group of Indians strike it rich when oil is found on their tiny, hard scrabble corner of Oklahoma. Whites purposely marry into the tribe and the proceed to kill them. So much for American Exceptionalism.

If your name is Alison and you’re allergic to non-fiction, consider fast forwarding to my first book of 2018, The Invisibility Cloak by Ge Fei. A “slim comic novel which follows the travails of a likable loser trying to stay afloat—financially and emotionally—in contemporary Beijing.” My literary sources are raving about it.

Monday Assorted Links

1. A Spanish-English high school proves learning in two languages can boost graduation rates.

“Muñiz Academy teachers, 65 percent of whom are Latino, strive to create an environment that celebrates their students’ heritage and allows them to embrace this piece of their identities. For some students, that fills an aching need.”

“She gives her students opportunities to discuss their cultural and linguistic insecurities openly, helping students find their place in the world as they work toward Spanish fluency. This identity support contributes to one of the more intangible benefits of the Muñiz Academy, but one that parents most appreciate.”

2. Jennifer Egan: By the Book.

My writing students often want an “improved vocabulary” or “deeper thinking” secret sauce. Egan provides it in this glorious interview excerpt:

“I’ve become hooked on audiobooks — fiction and nonfiction — so nowadays I read pretty much all the time. Only a really good book can stand up to audio, though; anything less is almost intolerable. I listen while walking, waiting for the subway, gardening, composting, cooking, and doing laundry, and with my noise-canceling headphones, I’m as tuned out as my teenage sons! I use an iPad to read books that aren’t available in physical form and for long research papers and transcripts. Then I’m usually reading a couple of physical books: nonfiction for the gym, and fiction for all other times. I like to read (and write) lying down, and despite strenuous effort I often fall asleep at some point, so what I read and write ends up becoming weirdly entwined with my dreams.”

3. Cost of contact in sports is estimated at over 600,000 injuries a year.

“. . . the television production people on the sideline walk. . . around with parabolic microphones. . . . They are catering to their audience. The audience wants to hear heads crack.”

Count me out.

4. The downside of baseball’s data revolution—long games, less action.

Baseball has never been more beset by inaction. Games this season saw an average gap of 3 minutes, 48 seconds between balls in play, an all-time high. There were more pitcher substitutions than ever, the most time between pitches on record and longer games than ever.

5. Today’s tax cuts are tomorrow’s tax increases.

“Anytime you hear a news report on the Trump ‘tax cut,’ substitute the phrase ‘tax shift.'”

6. Bob Corker says Trump’s Recklessness Threatens ‘World War III’.

“In a 25-minute conversation, Mr. Corker, speaking carefully and purposefully, seemed to almost find cathartic satisfaction by portraying Mr. Trump in terms that most senior Republicans use only in private.”

Here’s hoping others have the courage of their convictions.

Why I Dig Holden Village

Miss me much? I spent four days at Holden Village last week. Near the end of our visit the Good Wife said, “That was fun!” To which I replied, “It’s always fun.”

1. I get to watch the Gal Pal try to make a reverse layup. This is always a highlight. I confess that’s my go to move when I’m down a letter or two in “HORSE”. The GP is deadly from the free throw line so sometimes I find myself needing to make a come-back. She knows it’s coming and there’s nothing she can do (except practice in private before the next visit).

2. In ping pong, I get to chip away at the Gal Pal’s backhand. It’s an unrelenting assault on her weaker stroke. 21-7 if memory serves correct.

3. It’s the perfect place for introverts like me to meet people because it feels like everyone else is extroverted. In actuality, it’s just the set-up. Communal dining, classes, outdoor furniture, close living quarters. Even the socially challenged like me can’t help but meet people. Some of my favorites this time:

  • a 14 year old from Ventura, CA who put chocolate chippies on top of his cheerios
  • an 80 year-old grandma from Bellevue who arranged for me to run with her 14 year old granddaughter*
  • the 14 year old granddaughter who was a total delight, she chatted me up the whole 2.5 miles and then made me want to adopt her when she asked, “What was our pace?!”
  • a dude my age who happened to have two PhD’s, one in music and one in epidemiology, I did not let his USC sweatshirt deter me from picking his considerable brain
  • a guy from my church who was a journalist for 20 years without a college degree and now is Washington State’s Department of Transportation media guy, I never would’ve guessed he teaches yoga and considers himself successful when people fall asleep in his class

4. When at Holden, I’m a serious reader. Read, hike, eat, meet someone, beat Lynn at something, read, repeat. I finished Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and half of Killers of the Flower Moon. Of course, with some New Yorker thrown in for good measure.

5. There’s something about “three hots and a cot” that makes me more appreciative of my normal quality of life. It’s also very nice not to have to drive anywhere. The whole village is walkable in about two minutes.

6. Unplugging is a reminder that we should control our personal tech, not let it control us. It’s a very helpful reminder that we don’t have to succumb to anyone’s expectations that we’re always on. We are free to pick and choose when to plug in.

7. Without work and household responsibilities limiting us, it’s nice to have extended conversations with the Good Wife, about all kinds of things. It’s like a marriage retreat without the obligatory lectures and group sessions. Most people in modern societies fill their lives with things that confound extended conversation. Almost everything is emptied out at Holden.

8. I get to watch the Gal Pal jump into a very cold Lake Chelan from the boat ramp right before our departure. So entertaining, she drew a nice crowd. Proud to say I maintained my objectivity, awarding her an 8/10, the two point deduction was for holding her nose.

9. The scenery is decent.

Holden Hike.jpg

* When I told The Good Wife that I had a running date with a 14 year old girl, she said something to the effect of, “I can’t believe her grandma trusted you.” To which I said, “Thanks a lot!” There’s a lot more reverse layups in her future. Left-handed even.

 

What I’ve Been Reading

  1. Work email.
  2. The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans by Neal Gabler. Highly recommended. Gabler, a well educated widely published author, explains how he became one of the 47% of Americans who could not cover an unexpected $400 expense. A clear, compelling story, courageously told.
  3. All the Sad, Broke, Literary Men by Helaine Olin. This genre, the take-down of a person others admire, is on the rise. Which is unfortunate. It’s sad Olin can’t muster up any empathy for Gabler. Helaine, if you don’t have anything nice to say, . . .
  4. My wife’s emotions.
  5. The Voyeur’s Motel by Gay Talese. I’m about to share the tagline. Then you’re going to click on this link. In fact, it will probably be the only link you open. Why, because deep down you’re a voyeur too. Tagline, “Gerald Foos bought a hotel in order to watch his guests have sex. He saw a lot more than that.” Told you.
  6. The Secret History of Tiger Woods by Wright Thompson. Thompson deserves a Pulitzer for making me feel some empathy for TWoods.
  7. Thinking Beyond Money in Retirement by John Wasik. Nice insights.
  8. Work email.

Postscript: A reader texted in:

Read your blog post. I read that $400, 47% article earlier this week and thought it was pretty interesting. Buuuut even though one of my top 3 pet peeves is probably people gleefully and lazily taking other people down on the Internet without any effort toward critical empathy, I actually very much agreed with Helaine Olin’s article. She was a little callous up top, but I thought the article itself was pretty balanced – she commended his bravery for talking about something that is difficult to talk about (but it helped made less difficult when people step up to the plate and tell their stories, like he did) and gave him credit when she agreed with some of his other points but I also very much agree that his article was lacking in other ways and it was worthwhile of her to call him out in it. (Seriously, I couldn’t get over the emptying of the retirement fund for the daughter’s wedding.)

Okay, the “reader” was actually my eldest hija. I told her I stopped reading Olin’s article too early. Sorry Helaine for my knee-jerk rejection of your essay. Best part of this? It’s on record that eldest hija doesn’t support fathers’ paying for daughters’ weddings!!! Yes!!!

Strange Math

From Bill Gates’s: The Billionaire Book Critic:

Mr. Gates says he reads about 50 books in a year, eschewing digital readers for old-fashioned books on paper. When he is busy with work, he reads about a book or two a week but will consume four or five in the same period while vacationing with family.

Let’s say he works two-thirds of the year or 35 weeks and vacations the other 17.

That would be (35 x 1.5) + (17x 4.5) or 52.5 + 76.5 or 129.

[Related: The Math-Class Paradox.]