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.]

The Secret to a Kind and Gentle Spirit

Four months ago, in a temporary lapse of sanity, I became a college administrator. Since then some teacher friends have stopped talking to me (not really) and about half of my time has been spent in meetings (seemingly). Friday’s was in Renton. I assumed the same Renton address as the late August meeting, but I was wrong. Speed read email at your own risk.

A very nice librarian at Renton Technical College helped me determine I was supposed to be at City University in Renton. What kind of self-respecting writing teacher writes “very nice librarian”?! That’s ridiculously redundant.

Seems to me every librarian has an especially kind and gentle spirit.

In fact, I propose we replace every member of Congress with 535 random school and community librarians. And the State Department and the Pentagon. Imagine the cooperation, legislative wizardry, and policy genius that would follow. As a bonus, when interviewed on television, they’d whisper.

Ever wonder why librarians, like my friend in Renton, are a higher life form? It’s because they’re inveterate readers. Reading has a calming, salutary effect on people. The more one reads, the more kind and considerate they become.

Sadly though, librarians are seriously outnumbered by horses asses. What is it that creates a disproportionate share of non-librarian-like horses asses? There’s as many root causes as their are horses assess, somewhere in the millions, but reading is not one of them. Imagine these convos.

What the hell is wrong with him? He’s a real horses ass.

Comes from a nice family, but he spent too much of his childhood reading. It was really bad. Started out with picture books, then progressed to fiction, then he started to mix in non-fiction. Eventually, devoured whatever he could get his hands on. Sometimes would even read and drive. The end result was a literature induced downward spiral.

Or

What the hell is wrong with her? She’s a real horses ass.

A. Instead of watching The Bachelor and uploading pictures of herself to Facebook and Instagram, she READS. Sits under a lamp all night reading newspapers, Spanish language novels, and poetry that doesn’t even rhyme. Even plays soft classical music in the background. Her tragic life course was set by a debilitating love of imaginary stories.

What I’ve Been Reading and Watching

Last week I failed a friend who asked for a book recommendation. Another friend came to our aid by suggesting The Boys in the Boat. A few other friends have really enjoyed that this summer too. I’ve been reading medium-long form journalism of late. Here are three recommendations with related thoughts:

• Good. Putting Eternal Salvation in the Hands of Nineteen Year Old Missionaries. Imagine being 19 (boys) or 21 (girls) and being sent to some distant corner of the globe (or Indiana) to convert people to your family’s faith. Mormon missions are extremely challenging. Once they complete their two-year long missions, 40% percent of young mormon missionaries (elders) disengage from the church. Readers, Mormon ones I’m sure, wanted evidence of that stat. Others felt it would’ve been a more balanced story had the authors talked to elders who had more positive missionary experiences. They’re probably right. 

• Better. You Can’t Quit Cold Turkey. Imagine losing your marriage and your career because you can’t control your appetite. Sad story. There’s lots I don’t understand about extreme overeating. I understand that some people really, really like some foods, but what I don’t get is if someone were to say, “Go ahead and eat the other half of the cake, but if you do, you’re going to lose your really excellent job.” Or “go ahead and eat another pizza, but you’re going to lose your wife.” I also completely understand that thanks to inertia, not moving is far easier than moving. The author of this story is also very large. He says people like him, a 50 year old, don’t make it to 65. I don’t understand why early death isn’t sufficient motivation to begin making healthy changes. The root causes of overeating must be psychologically much deeper than this story lets on.  

• Best. The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit. Imagine living alone in the Maine woods for 27 years. And only saying “hi” one time to one person. The fact that Chris Knight survived 27 Maine winters in a tent is mind boggling. As is the fact that some Maineiacs want to lock him up and throw away the key. Count me among the “provide some support and leave him alone in the woods” contingent. The author’s process left me uneasy. I couldn’t help but think he befriended Knight just for the sake of advancing his writing career. What is an author’s responsibility to their subjects? There should be some sort of reciprocity. By allowing the author to tell his story, Knight lost much more of the one thing he most cherished, his anonymity.

I’ve also seen two movies I highly recommend:

• Boyhood. Imagine being a boy age 6-18 in Houston, Texas. And having a succession of dads, two are alcoholics, one is extremely violent. Took 12 years to make. Excellent sociology. I was impressed with the central family’s resilience, but was dismayed by the negative portrayal of the vast majority of males.

• Ida. Imagine preparing to be a Catholic nun and then finding out your family was Jewish. Black and white with subtitles. Set in Poland in the early 60s. Not for everyone. I anticipate this being my favorite film of 2014. I’ve cast my vote for Best Foreign Film. Mesmerizing. 

Postscript—One article I couldn’t bring myself to read. Too depressing a headline. A disproportionate percentage of school shootings happen in rural and suburban districts. 

The 5 Most Important Things You’ll Read All Week

1) Have you noticed? Increasingly, bloggers are inserting numbers into post titles to increase readership and improve search engine rankings. “5” has replaced “3” for most popular number. “17” is trendy too. I don’t know why numbers increase readership and improve search engine rankings. I find it disingenuous at best and insulting at worst. As if all anyone can process anymore is a list. My one-time use of it here is sarcasm. I should start a movement. . . force a number into your title and we’ll refuse to read what follows. Who is in?

2) Imagine a world in which everyone reads and discusses books with people different than them. My favorite story from last week.

3) The Seattle Mariners are the best team in baseball when it comes to this.

4) Is this a trend. . . dad’s helping grown daughters who aren’t necessarily interested in their help? I’ve never offered unsolicited advice to my daughters. . . that’s an additional serving of sarcasm. One of my daughters’ friends laughed at her dad for sending her an article on “How to save and invest money”. Another “couldn’t believe” her dad mailed her bicycle to her at college, then assembled it during a visit. The “extremely large” bike box was difficult and embarrassing to pick up at the mail room. The two wheeler was used one or two times during the school year. This isn’t limited to dad’s and daughters. Parents often presume their young adult children want to save money, invest wisely, prepare healthy meals, bicycle, etc., etc. Maybe I should start a movement where parents let their young adult children know they’re interested in sharing different “lessons learned” if and when they’re interested. And then we’ll sit back and wait for our young adult children to ask us for help.

5) I’m filing this under “Sometimes I Amaze Myself”. I’ve done it again, I’ve come up with a brilliant idea. This one will enable me to extend my triathlon career for many more years. Based upon my swimming, cycling, and running training log, I have a very good feel for how fast I can swim 1500 or 1900 meters, how fast I can ride 40k or 56 miles, and how fast I can run 10k or 13.1 miles. That means all I have to do is guess how bad my transitions would likely be, and presto, I can spend a few minutes on-line on Mondays to see what place I would’ve finished had I actually shown up at that weekend’s races. This way I save tons of coin and race every weekend without swimming through seaweed or increasing my exposure to the sun. I “won” my age group at a few recent races.

 

What I’ve Been Reading

Would Jesus Support the Death Penalty? Many Christians strangely believe that Jesus wouldn’t support the death penalty even though they do.”

The Tale of Two Schools. Fieldston and University Heights are in the same New York City borough but worlds apart. How much understanding between their students can a well-told story bring? A lot it turns out.

The Hunt for El Chapo. The story of how the world’s most notorious drug lord was captured. Sure to be a movie.

Louis C.K. Against the Common Core. When a comedian points out the way in which the current priorities don’t add up, it earns even the attention of those who haven’t thought much about school since they graduated. But the brutal math of the New York City school system is no laughing matter.”

We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Entering students at my uni will read this novel and discuss it during orientation in early September. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that steadily gets more and more interesting up to the very end. After 50-75 pages, I may have set it aside if it hadn’t been “assigned”. The story of a family of five. The dad is a psychology professor at Indiana University. Recommended. It will resonant strongly with those most sympathetic to the animal rights movement.

Bill Simmon’s Big Score. How a failed newspaper writer built a new kind of media empire at ESPN. I’ve completely tired of Simmon’s act, but still found this an interesting “new journalism” case study. A few factoids. The four major sports are worth a combined $91.2b. ESPN’s worth $50.8b making it the most valuable media brand in the world. Bill Simmons has 2.6 million twitter followers, I’m up to 46. 

On deck—American Crucifixion by Alex Beam. The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church.

In the hole—Family Life by Akil Sharma.

 

Be Less Lonely

By making time to read. Every day. And not just periodicals, blogs, email messages, Twitter feeds, and Facebook updates. Fiction and non-fiction books.

Bookish people are less lonely because they have an endless supply of friends. With the exception of some especially good long running series, television and film characters usually don’t rise to the same level of friendship as literary ones.

Cleo, an eighth grader at a middle school I’ve been helping out at this year, figured this out about eight years ago. She reads incessantly. Averaging about a book a day. Substantive books typically read by high schoolers. And then she reviews them on her blog, Cleo’s Literary Reviews. Apart from sometimes reading in classes she’s not supposed to, I have no idea how she does it.

Our negative preconceived notions of bookworms as socially stunted people ill-prepared for the “real world” are anachronistic. Cleo likes her school and gets along great with her classmates. She appears imminently happy and has a promising future in the “real world”. Cleo will impress with her vocabulary, imagination, and knowledge of the world.

But the longest lasting gift of reading doesn’t have anything to do with competing in the global economy. Most importantly, Cleo’s happiness won’t fluctuate as wildly with the vagaries of “real life” relationships because she’ll always be buffeted by a steady stream of interesting people, created by an endless army of imaginative authors.