Imagine with me, if you will: Crashing waves. Sandy beach. Shaded umbrella. Light breeze. Margarita. Entrancing novel. Maybe a dozing husband or wife by your side. Is that your happy place? It’s one of mine. But let’s add another element to that peaceful, serene setting.
For whatever reason, I rarely read collections of short stories. Yet, the few times that I have read a collection I thoroughly enjoy the read.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King was no exception. The 20 stories that King has compiled are varied and a fun read. King introduces each story with a short anecdote about the story or the writing process that, for some reason, adds to the enjoyment of reading the stories. Of particular enjoyment were the stories “Mile 81,” “The Dune,” “Bad Little Kid,” “Under the Weather,” and “Obits.”
The stories deal with the normal King topics, from death, mystery, and end of the world. They are all enjoyable and quick reads. Annoyingly, King included two of his narrative poems that I could have lived without (he admits he is not a gifted poet).
Overall, this was an enjoyable read that has a different pace than a normal novel.
In The N- in You, Dr. J.W. Wiley discusses the link between diversity, social justice, leadership, and language. It was an interesting read all around, as Dr. Wiley has a great gift at writing and talking about issues of diversity, social justice, leadership, and language.
The way Dr. Wiley broke up the book into different chapters on offensive words (e.g. retard, gay) was a great way to approach the broad subject and focus the writing. Of particular interest to me was Dr. Wiley’s commentary on racism and not hating the hater because of how Dr. Wiley presented the ideas and how they were different than ideas I had already heard.
Yet, I finished The N- in You wanting more. Dr. Wiley glossed over the leadership portion of his text (or rather overstated how much focus leadership would have in the text) as the leadership moments were just being an active bystander. Additionally, the discussions of non-inclusive language were nothing I hadn’t already encountered in my graduate studies in student affairs.
All in all, this was a good book but left me wanting more. It provides some useful insights into the practice as an educator that every educator should read.
It is not often that you close a book and just sit there, thinking about what you read. Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding not only made me do that but was a gripping read from cover to cover.
I have a lot of thoughts still swimming in my head as I write this about The Art of Fielding, but the one that keeps jumping up is Harbach’s commentary on purpose. As someone who is about to start a job search, purpose is something I have been reflecting on and to have Henry, one of Harbach’s characters, struggle with the
purpose usefulness concept of purpose has me thinking quite a bit. Is purpose essential to our lives? Are we always lost without a purpose? Does repetition and structure hold the key to finding purpose? What role does discipline play in finding ones purpose?
This is not to say that The Art of Fielding is purely a commentary on purpose and its role in human life. It is a fun, engaging, and powerful read about baseball, college, coming of age, relationships, and the expectations we put on ourselves. Harbach crafted a beautifully simple story with powerful themes that keep the reader yearning for more.
This seemingly simple book will leave you wanting to know more about Westish College, the baseball team, Henry, Mike, Pella, and Owen because of the powerful writing of Chad Harbach.
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s famous work Freakonomics is nothing extraordinary, other than the simple questions they asked. Levitt and Dubner ask questions that seemingly have simple answers, but their research reveals that there may be other, hidden, answers.
I read this book after having graduated with a specialization (something akin to a minor) in political economy. Additionally, I listened to the podcast Freakonomics for almost a year before reading the book. I have a pedestrian interest in economics and thus was my experience (and mindset) as I entered this work.
I was not disappointed. The book, true to its reputation, was engaging and thought provoking. It was a pleasant respite from the normal works of fiction I spend my time reading. Yet, I was perturbed by how simple the book was. The podcast of the same name is highly more thought provoking and interesting than the book. Of course, this could be because you can do more in a podcast than you can in a book, in that you can present material in multiple ways in a podcast that you can in a book.
Yet, this minor annoyance that the book Freakonomics saddled me with, I enjoyed the book. I am still mulling over the implications of the last parenting chapters (what impact do parents have on children’s success? and what does a name mean?)
Dubner and Levitt created a fun and accessible way for the masses to engage with the field of economics and economic thinking. Well done and must read.
In what will hopefully be a semi-regular occurrence, I will review books that I have read. I just finished Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers. There will be spoilers, so be warned.
A Stephen King novel normally takes a bit to really get going; King takes awhile to set the stage. Thus was my mindset as I kept trudging through the first third of The Tommyknockers. The first third of the book focuses on Bobbi Anderson and Gard Gardner. You learn their important histories and flaws. You also begin to get a peak at the unreal discovery that Bobbi found on her Maine property. I got excited; my mind full of possibilities of what exactly Bobbi could have discovered.
Yet, just when the picture (and excitement) started to form, King switches gears. He begins to tell of how the discovery is impacting the townspeople of Haven Maine. This third of the book is incredibly disorganized, jumping from story to story with little coherency. Any and all excitement that King was able to draw out with the initial third of the book was violently removed as I read this section. But I had to continue, because King could pull it all together as he normally does; right?
Sadly, King never really pulls the threads of stories he has told into one masterful tale. The Tommyknockers reads like a collection of stories loosely connected around one central theme (an alien spacecraft discovery). King’s attempt at telling multiple stories does not seem to work with this tale. The tale reads as if King was trying to do multiple things at once, but ended up doing all of them poorly.
The most frustrating part is that this book was long and that it never got to where it could have been. It never captivated me and made me eager to see how Bobbi and Gard ended up (everyone dies). The book reads more like a chore than an enjoyable escape from reality.
Many complain about the ending; that was the best part as this slow monotonous chore of a read ended.
The end of 2015 is rapidly approaching and that means the season of (gift) giving is about us! I am a firm believer that books make a wonderful gift for a variety of reasons (that
could should be its own post!) but most importantly because books are a gateway to expanding the mind.
So, here are my top ten books that you should give as a gift this holiday season:
10. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. Admittedly, it has been awhile since I have read this book (read summer 2009) but it is one of the few books to have stuck with me. This disturbing tale takes a bit to get used to, due to the slang that Burgess creates (tip: read the first chapter twice) and the graphic violence that the characters of Clockwork perpetuate are all unsettling. This dystopian novel is a haunting tale of the power of choice and leaves the reader thinking about good and evil embedded within humanity.
9. A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The story that started Sherlock Holmes, this tale is one of the lesser talked about tales in the Holmes cannon. Yet, this one is a pleasant adventure which shows how Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes first met. While there are certainly better Holmes tales, this one is a must read for any mystery enthusiast.
8. ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. I am biased, as this tale is my favorite non-Dark Tower King novel. However, this book is King at his best. The haunting narrative of a small Maine town overcome by the ultimate evil is enticing and a joy to read. The imagery that King crafted while writing this book is particularly terrifying and leaves the reader worried about the bumps in the night in their own life.
7. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. I have never been to Cannery Row in Monterey California, but the way Steinbeck wrote about Cannery Row, I feel as if I am intimately familiar with the street. This novella is a masterpiece and the characters are vibrant and engaging. The final chapter in the novella leaves the reader at a loss and with a great sense of loneliness. It is a shame that this is only seven on this list!
6. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is one of the most chillingly evil characters in all of literature. Yet, Thomas Harris has a great ability at making Dr. Lecter both evil and someone the reader wants to get to know more of. This first novel in the Hannibal Lecter series (made popular by the Academy Award Winning movie Silence of the Lambs) is exceptionally good. It is a quick read, leaving the reader on the edge of their seat with every new chapter. While very graphic and violent, the book is surprisingly complex and engaging. The only thing missing is more scenes with Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
5. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. A Western in the true sense, McCarthy’s (arguably) greatest work is incredibly complex and has a great deal of commentary on human nature. This book caused me to need to write my thoughts down on what the characters mean and what McCarthy is saying about humanity. It is a dark tale and the characters are exceptionally raw. McCarthy’s command of the English language is powerful as he weaves together this story.
4. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Much has been written on the 1936 Olympics in Berlin Germany. They were the coming out party for Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Yet, the story of the Olympic Rowing Team from the University of Washington is a captivating story about the boys from the West and their desire to earn respect for themselves, their team, the University, and the United States. Brown has a special ability to tell the story of many of the boys in the boat coupled with the build up to the 1936 Olympics in a way that leaves the reader engaged and wanting more.
3. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov is one of the more celebrated authors and Lolita certainly makes clear why he is celebrated. The disturbing tale of a grown man falling in love with a young girl, Lolita leaves the reader questioning why they are reading a book about a pedophile. Yet, that is the power of Nabokov’s writing.
2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This American classic is a excellent true crime novel. While there are questions as to the total accuracy of Capote’s reporting, In Cold Blood (and Capote more specifically) provides a strong lens to look at a violent crime. Capote has a way of writing that is able to seem neutral, even in the presentation of the killers. A wonderful read that is gripping as it is disturbing.
1. A Prayer for Own Meany by John Irving. It has been some time since I read this book (late 2008-early 2009) yet this is a book that I recommend to everyone. The semi-autobiographical tale of John Irving is incredibly gripping and the characters leave a long lasting impression. At its core, A Prayer for Owen Meany is a coming of age tale. Yet, more importantly the story grapples with the themes of friendship, family, religion, truth, and faith. This book is an excellent gift that will captivate the reader.