My Summer Reading List

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A great novel can keep you on the edge of your seat or warm your heart and your soul.

I am an avid reader. I believe we learn from reading…and so, the more we read, the more we learn. Through the written word, we gain insight into the vast world around us. We better understand views that are unlike our own (and possibly much better than our own). We hear different voices that speak truth. We go to strange and wonderful places. Reading introduces us to great minds, drops us into the very center of history, moves our hearts and souls.

In my mind, reading a book is magical experience. I cannot imagine my life without books. I find that people who read books are stimulating conversationalists. They don’t talk merely about other people or cultural trends; they discuss ideas and philosophies. They think deeply and reason well.

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Only the greatest of writers can bring you to tears as you consider the death of a common garden spider who was also a faithful friend.

In fact, I’m a little suspicious of people who don’t read at all: I question the depth of their character, the very quality of their heart. I wonder where they get new ideas. Are they solely dependent on television and gossip for their information? Can they really have critical thinking skills if they only receive updates on life through their Facebook & Twitter feeds?

 

My practice for reading has been fairly consistent over the past dozen years. For example, I love biographies and usually begin with a bioography or if possible, an autobiography. Over the last couple of years I’ve read books about George Washington, Mother Teresa, Don Knotts and Andy Griffith, Julia Child, Lenard Nemoy, Einstein, Tom Hanks, Rob Lowe, Bonhoeffer and Penny Marshall. I’ve read half-a-dozen books on Lincoln alone.

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The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was a fascinating tale about a young man who had all the potential in the world, rose above his circumstances, and yet lost himself along the way.

I then read some of the novels that I was supposed to read when I was in high school. Those were the years when Cliff Notes were a favorite resource for researching those English papers assigned by Mrs. Washler. These books have included The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, Travels with Charlie, Of Mice and Men, 1984, Animal Farm, A Tale of Two Cities, The Pearl, The Outsiders, and Call of the Wild.

 

From there I move on to books about history. These include The Civil War, Team of Rivals, D-Day, The Wright Brothers, Undaunted Courage, Band of Brothers, Catch 22, What They Carried and Pegasus Bridge.

I read books about management, business change process and creativity. I also like to shake it up and read novels like the Lord of the Rings, the Harry Potter series, Grisham books, Janet Evanovich thrillers. I read New York Times best sellers. I read books about prayer and meditation. In short, I will read nearly any book about nearly anything.

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My books are gathered for this summer’s reading list. From the Dalai Lama to the Bible, From Hermann Hess to Jane Austen, I’m ready to enjoy quiet evenings reading in my back yard and around the neighborhood pool.

Driving two-hours every day to and from work, I also have plenty of time to listen to books on tape. This has allowed me to listen books covering everything from Civil War History to storming the beaches of Normandy to Harry Potter’s fight against the Dark Lord. For you skeptics, new research reveals that audiobooks trigger the same areas of the brain as reading a standard print version. It is a way to engage the content when you are sitting in traffic.

The bottom line is that I believe Reading is Fundamental and I can’t imagine life without it.

 

Creativity, Inc

© Disney • Pixar
jacket illustration: © Disney • Pixar

There are few stories of business, art and popular culture like that of the Pixar studios. Ed Catmull outlines the company’s amazing rise, the risks involved, the intentional direction provided, and the hard work it’s required to manage a creative company along the path to success.

The success of the digital animation company has been due in part to the leaders’ willingness to learn from mistakes and most importantly, to allow mistakes to happen in the first place.

While not a classical management “how to”, this book offers pearls of wisdom that can be added to any manager’s tool kit. Sage advice from the school of hard knocks combined with interesting stories related to some of the favorite animated movies of our age makes this an interesting and informative read.

If you care more about the bottom line and the bottom dollar, you can pass on this book.  However, if you work with good people you want to help become great, if you want to make a difference in the culture of your organization, and if you want to change the way your folks work together for a common good, this book is a must-read.

The Outsiders

the-outsidersAs a junior high student in 8th grade English class, this American classic was one of my favorite books.  Of course, at the time I had no way of appreciating that a young woman just a few years older that I was at the time had written this masterpiece.  She wrote from first-hand knowledge of life on the streets and her ability to capture teen angst, the desire to fit in, and the pain of isolation was unlike anything I’d ever read before.

Decades later, I am still moved by the story.  How terrible it must be to live a life of posturing at all times.  And yet, on some level, we all posture in our day to day lives.  We act tough for our kids, we act professional for our bosses, we act distant and aloof from those we pass on the streets.  In many ways, we are not to dissimilar from the boys in this book who strive to be treated like men.

I suppose, even after all these years, I still relate to the characters in this book.  While, I’ve yet to hide out in an abandoned church, participate in a gang fight, or sneak into a drive-inn, I’m young and there’s still time.

If it’s been 30-years since you picked up this short but excellent novel, I’d invite you to pay the $6 on Amazon and secure a copy for your own book shelf.  You won’t regret it.

Call of the Wild

the call of the wildI first read this classic when I was in 5th grade.  It was a picture book and I took in every image and every word.  It was a book that took me a to wild and wonderful wilderness.  It helped me fall in love with dogs, and over the years I’ve looked for a little bit of Buck in every dog I’ve ever owned (though non of them were as wonderful as Buck).

I’ve read a lot of books since 5th grade, and I would venture to say that my favorite chapter in all of literature occurs in this book.  Chapter VI rivals any great story ever written.  I honestly get a little teary when I read this chapter.  Buck proves his loyalty and love for a man who treats him with affection and trust.

Oh that every relationship was so pure.

The Gospel of Yes…NO.

The gospel of yesI know writers work hard at their craft.  I know they try to work out new and exciting ideas.  I know that they have passion for the topics.  I know they spend hours, weeks, months and sometimes years writing their books.  That doesn’t necessarily make the book any good.

The Gospel of Yes is billed as a new and different idea.  It’s portrayed as something fresh and original.  In truth, it is Church-Speak.  It’s written for church goers and nothing more.  It is a Gospel apologetic for the uptight Christian.

I had a friend who, in his college days dated a wonderful young woman from a very conservative Christian home.  Seriously, she was amazingly  sweet and they hit it off very well.  The problem was that her religious back ground was filled with religiously based “No’s”.  She could not play cards, swim in a mixed-sex pool, or see a movie unless it was a Disney cartoon.   I suspect this book was written for people who grew up in this atmosphere of strictly enforced Christian boundaries.

Herein lies the problem:  The idea that God is all about the Yes is wonderful but, if you’ve already taken your hair out of the bun and already gotten off the horse and buggy, this book might be a little simple-minded for you.  It certainly was for me.

Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me

Because I'm Small Now

Gina London’s first book, Because I’m Small Now and You Love Me, will certainly not be her last…At least, if precocious Lulu has anything to say about it. Thankfully, after reading these charming pages, there is no doubt about that.

We have all experienced the blunt honesty and innocent perspective of a child.  Experiencing the world from a height of two feet, a child has unique point of view and they are eager to share their thoughts with anyone who will listen.  Because they have yet to develop the filters that we expect as they grow, children verbalize their simple insights, emotions, needs and opinions in ways that often shock us but more often make us laugh despite ourselves.

I’m Small Now succeeds in capturing these precious and yet awkward moments and reminds us of the fleeting innocence of youth.  While we cringe at Lulu’s honest appraisals, demanding statements, and quizzical phrases, we also laugh out loud at her direct questions and desire to make sense of her world.  Whether finding her place in the family, “Every day I’m your daughter, right?“, understanding time and space, “Are you far away or close away?” or expressing her untarnished altruism, “It’s nice to be good to them. ‘Cause their all gonna die.“, Lulu’s appraisals, and Ms. London’s brilliance in capturing the moments, provide a magical gift to the reader.

This wonderful book offers a beautiful and gentle hand-in-hand walk through childhood with a little girl who is discovering the world for the first time.  And along the way if we are honest, we learn a little bit about ourselves.

Argo

ArgoAs a movie, the story of Argo captivates and illuminates the story of American fugitives trying to stay alive during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980.  The award winning and Academy Award Nominated film keeps you on the edge of your seat, despite knowing the outcome and plot.

As a book, the story of Argo does none of this.  In fact, it doesn’t even come close.

The book, Argo is the self-centered retelling of the brilliance (at least in his own eyes) of Antonio Mendez and his one-man rescue of the hiding embassy personnel.  To hear Mendez’s version of the story, it is amazing that the CIA can function without him.  He’s developed programs, he’s set policy, he’s changed the face of international espionage.  If it weren’t for his brilliance and cunning, the embassy personnel would still be hanging out in the Canadian Ambassador’s home to this day.

In fact, this book appears to be Mendez’s attempt to gain the credit that he had to hide for so many years.  Because of the CIA’s code of secrecy and the classified status of this operation, Mendez was prevented from blowing his own horn for more than 30 years.  It appears to eat at him, gnaw at him to a point that he spends several pages of the last chapter on the awards he received and the humble way he accepts them.

The story of Argo is one for the books, there is no doubt about it.  But the book Argo, leaves this reader in serious doubt.

Stiff

StiffWhile not a classic like Rabid or Are You There God, Stiff is an interesting history of the dead body and its many uses.  Who would guess that there were so many things you could do with a dead body?  And, thanks to the creative minds of this world, we are still working on creative ways to dispose of them:  Think Compost Piles.

Stiff is an interesting book but not for the squeamish.  If you’ve ever loved someone who donated their body to science…do not read.  If you’ve ever known someone who died…read with caution.  If you think you might die and haven’t worked out the final details of your mortal shell…like, do you choose freeze-dry or fire…read immediately!

The idea of death is hard enough for some people.  Realizing what we do to some dead bodies in the name of science and industry will be more than a few will be able to take lying down.

This is a ghoulish but interesting read and worth the $15 at Amazon.  Enjoy.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

huckleberry finnWhile this 1884 book has stirred controversy over the years, it is truly an American classic.  It captures a snapshot of time, a truth of our history and takes us to a place that is important to remember despite the unease it creates.  Much like the miniseries, Roots, this great book is a picture of life as it use to be, for good or for bad.

Mark Twain is one of the greatest American story tellers and this tale of Huck, Mark and Jim has been read by millions and reviewed by thousands over the  years.   This post is not an attempt to illustrate some new, undiscovered truth of the book.  It is merely a statement confirming the book’s greatness and my happiness at counting it among one of my favorites in American literature.

Rabid

rabid_book_coverIf you’ve ever wondered about the history of Rabies (beyond what you know from The Office), this book is for you.  It is a fascinating recounting of the strange disease throughout the ages.  A careful look at history, medicine and fiction illuminates the writing.

Wasik and Murphy have certainly done their research and outline a detailed accounting of disease, its insidious delivery system and terrifying symptoms for those unfortunate enough to come in contact with the bug.

I now understand why Travis had to put a bullet into Ol Yeller’s head.  There wasn’t any turning back from the “hydro-phobe” of fiction or of real life!

A good read, if not a little disturbing.

 

Pegasus Bridge

Pegasus BridgeI am fascinated by the accounting of the D-Day invasion.  As one of the largest and most secretive military maneuvers of all time, it is an amazing story of strategy, bravery and heroism.

And yet, as often as we hear about the storming of the sands of Normandy, we rarely hear the account of the first boots on the ground, that of Pegasus Bridge.  This wonderfully written book outlines the detailed planning and clockwork precision that made the taking and holding of Pegasus Bridge so amazing.  The book, by Stephen E. Ambrose provides insight into the minds and hearts of those brave soldiers who thought quickly and acted with valor, keeping the German’s from blowing the bridge and making it possible for the Allied Forces to enter into the interior of Nazi-occupied France.

Having been to the bridge, the book comes to life as many of the landmarks and buildings discussed in the book stand to this day.

This is a must-read for any World War II history buff.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

are-you-there-god-its-me-margaret1I have never been one to shy away from learning. I’m open to new ideas. I’m willing to stretch and grow as a human being: as a ’90s kind of man.

So, when some of my so-called friends on Facebook suggested I read, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” I took the challenge. I put down my books about the D-Day Invasion, the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, and the History of Cancer to read the short pre-teen favorite. And let me tell you, I’m a better man because of it.

I had no idea that life was so difficult for little-girls-growing-into-little-women.

As a boy growing up in Farmland, Indiana, the only thing I had to worry about was avoiding fist fights with Ninn Gibson, looking cool while flipping through a deck of playing cards with naked women on them, and learning all the new cuss words.

But You Girls have it rough! You have to deal with friends who are liars and boys who turn sprinklers on when you are running around in your neighbor’s borrowed swimsuit. You have to decide if you are Jewish. You can’t wear socks to school. And my main take-away from this book: You have kookie, wonderful grandmothers that no one likes but you and her live-in Florida stud.

Now that I finished this must-read, I now proclaim that I am a sister in my soul and am happy to talk with any of my Facebook friends about their homework, they boy-list, or other important matters.

Thanks for pushing me to grow (insert here: We Must, We Must…)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

The Art of RacingIf you loved Marley and Me, Tuesdays with Morrie, or Old Yeller, you’ll love The Art of Racing in the Rain.

I finished the book in just a few short hours and with only 1/2 a box of tissues and I’m like a stone when it comes to sappy dog books. Those of you who are more sentimental might need an entire box of Kleenex.

This is a very well told story that engages the reader from the very first chapter. Told by the dog, this story grabs you and leads you along a life of love and loss, triumph and tragedy.

Enzo, the dog, has an amazing grasp the obvious that so many people miss. He is insightful and funny and I wish my dog was half this bright.

Somewhere along the dog’s life he develops a Buddhist philosophy and trusts Karma to right some wrongs and anticipates his return to this planet as a human. I think he picked this up from watching too much of the weather channel and National Geographic but it might just be a dog thing that I don’t know about.

This is a great book, a quick read and a great way to spend a few hours while on vacation. Enjoy.

Too Busy Not to Pray

too-busyI turned off my Kobo a couple nights ago after finishing the book, Too Busy Not To Pray by Bill Hybels. This book has been around for 20 years but I’ve never read it before now.

Hybels is the past of the mega-church in Chicago, Willow Creek. This book shows the true Biblical depth and character of the church’s leader. It is well written, well articulated and based on passage after passage of scripture.

Hybels presents a well-reasoned and thought-provoking discussion on the importance of prayer, connecting to the power of the universe, having a relationship with the creator of all things. Whether you have never prayed before in your life or have found it difficult to return to your knees after years away from the practice, this book will give practical direction and timeless truths that will encourage you in your own spiritual journey.

Pick it up today…No matter how busy you might think you are.

7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess

sevenOur small group is reading the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. I thought it was a wonderful idea when we decided to study this book over the summer. But now I’m actually reading the chapters and my mind, heart, and soul are in conflict…Every area of my being is having a hard time with the truth written on the pages.

The author, Jen Hatmaker is over-dramatic, self-indulgent, witty, nutty, moving, insightful and spot on. I just finished the third chapter of this fantastic book and am already analyzing my plan of action in response to the challenge.

As a nation, as a state, as a city (and unfortunately, as a family) we have more than we need. Not more than we want, there’s plenty more that we want. But our homes “house” so much more than we need. Hatmaker’s challenge is to re-examine our lives and determine what we can do without, in turn, freeing us up to see God more clearly.

People around the globe, even in our own cities, are hungry every day of their lives. They go to bed cold or wet or . They need shelter. They need clothing. They need to know that they are loved and have value. Obviously, giving away our “stuff” and eating less doesn’t increase another person’s value but it does awaken our souls to their plight and leads us closer to being the Hands and Feet to those who need it most.

As I write this, I’m sitting in my “new” office with walls painted a soothing Sea Foam Green/Blue to stimulate my creativity. I’m sitting in a plush office chair, surrounded wall hangings of family photos, my diplomas and Ordination certificates and personal artwork. It is all illuminated by the warm glow of a beautiful lamp on the coffee table snugly positioned between two fantastic black sitting chairs. It is the perfect setting to tell you about this book and how it will change your life when you give up stuff, food, clothes, media, etc.

That is, it WOULD be the perfect setting if it weren’t for the four boxes stacked behind the door, filled with old journals, Bibles and birding books. If it weren’t for the closet filled with enough clothes to outfit me for three weeks without breaking a sweat. If it weren’t for the freshly brewed coffee in the hand-made mug and the plate of artisan bread and local honey beside my laptop that I snack on to keep my energy going while I type. If it weren’t for the syncing IPod that has interrupted my thought process three times because I want to have more music on my device than the meager 8 G device can hold.

Oh ya. I have a lot of work to do.

The Bee Eater

the-bee-eaterI had the privilege of listening to an interview with Michelle Rhee earlier this year. It was fascinating. She was articulate and funny and it was obvious that she was highly intelligent and driven to succeed. So reading a book about her life and the difficulties she faced while trying to address the issues of the Washington School System seemed like an easy choice.

Unfortunately, Richard Whitmire’s book is more of a personal journal than an unbiased accounting of the Rhee and the events of her experience in Washington. Whitmire seems more of an admiring fan than an objective journalist. The author often discusses his interactions with the principles, teachers and students of the school district without any effort of disguising his admiration for Rhee and her drastic actions. In fact, I was amazed at the number of times that he blamed failed attempts at change to the parents, teachers and administrators rather than Rhee’s unilateral decision making and rash, broad strokes and cuts.

It is true that Rhee took on a big problem and only a person with her kind of energy and drive could pull off the daunting task. But I would like an unbiased account of the actions taken by Rhee and her staff and the full ramifications of the changes that continue to shake the Washington school system to this day.

This is an interesting book but not one that I would suggest to a friend. You might just want to get the movie, “Waiting for Superman” for a more interesting telling of the tail.

And honestly, I never figured out how bees figure into the story.

The Best Care Anywhere

0810-best-care-anywhere-coverBook clubs are always interesting. If you have the time, you should join on. The books are often stimulating. The conversation is always energizing. Besides, it is not a bad idea to be up on the most current reads available.

That is one of the reasons I just finished reading, “The Best Care Anywhere” by Phillip Longman. Our book club will discuss this interesting evaluation of the nation’s healthcare in light of the Veteran’s Administration healthcare system.

Having worked at the Richard L. Roudebush hospital for the past three years, I can honestly say that his observations are accurate and insightful. Longman draws examples from other hospital successes and failures to enlighten the reader to the strengths that VA medicine offers.

My biggest concern is that most of the author’s opinion related to improving healthcare centers around electronic medical records. While it is a over-simplification to say so, it appears that Longman’s solution to most of the country’s medical dilemma is to put everyone into the VistA medical records system. It is a good system but I’m not sure it will solve the medical care problem of our country.

Best Care is a good book that offers a lot to think about. If nothing else, it does shine a bright re-assuring light on the VA Healthcare system.

Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz

Wizard of OzIf you thought the movie “The Wizard of Oz” was strange, you’ll really question the drubs Baum was reading when he put together this book. The fourth of fourteen books written by L. Frank Baum about the wonderful world of Oz, this title has all the unusual aspects, odd characters, unusual landscapes and mystery you would expect.

In Dorothy, gravity doesn’t exist if you don’t need it. The land grows glass structures. The people are plants. The wizard dispatches the local sorcerer by slicing him in two. The horse and cat talk and the wizard pulls apart baby pigs. And so far I’m only on chapter three.

I try to read more than Grisham novels and Stephen Ambrose history. But after tackling Dorothy, I might reconsider this plan.

The Square Foot Gardener

Square Foot GardenerPurchased from Half-Priced Books for a meager $7.95, this book just might change my life.

I grew up on a farm and spent hundreds of hours pulling weeds, picking beans and every other type of vegetable you can imagine. We didn’t just have gardens. We had “truck patches”. From strawberries on one end of the property to potatoes on the other, we were working 40 hours a week to keep up with the harvest.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that I didn’t have to plant row upon row of green beans to get a good harvest.  What if, instead, I planted just a few seeds: individual plants and only enough to meet my needs. I didn’t have to hoe 40 acres of carrots but could stick a single seed in the soil to get a single carrot. REVOLUTIONARY!

Everything a family of six needs for a season can be grown in a 4 foot by 4 foot plot of land, with nothing more than a small trowel and a bucket of compost.

I’ve started preparing the soil and piling the compost. Look for my bumper crop coming in early April. I’ll plant a carrot for you.

Forks Over Knives

Forks over KnivesGrowing up on a farm, our pets on Monday might just be on our plates by Tuesday night.

One year we named a new calf “Hamburger” so there would be no confusion when we sat down for dinner and asked, “What’s for supper?”

But this book and the accompanying movie are quite a challenge to my old way of thinking about food. If you are struggling with chronic health problems, are trying to loose weight, or are on the fence about changing your diet, this is a most informative and challenging book. With 125 precipices, it doubles as a cookbook for a new way of life.

Besides the interesting read, the program really works.  After twelve weeks of the lifestyle shift, my cholesterol dropped 100 points, I dropped 20 pounds and my pants fit once again!

At $7.95 for a digital download, it is a quick and easy read. I highly recommend it!