Saturday, August 22, 2015

Find Your Balance Point

by Brian Tracy and Christina Stein
Berrett-Koehler     2015
112 pages     Self Help

When I was a young woman, my husband and I were involved in a multi-level marketing business that we pursued for several years. While "building our business," we went to many motivational seminars with motivational speakers—the most famous being Zig Ziglar. My husband actually went to a one week seminar with Ziglar. I believe that the lessons we learned from those seminars have helped me throughout my life. Certainly, they helped our family surmount the loss of our husband and father. We had the inner strength. 

Find your Balance Point is a quick read and a quick journey through the power of planning and executing goals for achievement. Although the authors purport to want to help readers find "balance," the book is all about setting goals and believing you can achieve those goals. They only briefly touch on balance. Perhaps you goal is to find balance between home and work. The authors believe that this is possible. It would have been helpful if they had used more real-life examples to help the reader relate to the terms and the concepts.

The most practical advice offered concerns list making. They suggest that successful people make lists for the next day before they go to bed at night. That way, the list maker will subconsciously work on tasks all night. I'm not sure that will lead to a very good night's sleep. I find that I do my best thinking and planning in the early morning hours, just before rising; I solve lots of problems that way.

One of the most successful parts of the book for me was the lists of values that the authors ask the reader to rank in importance. The lists include character values, life values, and role and identity values. This was a good exercise for me because it helped me to identify those values that have guided my life. I will use those lists in classes that I teach.

I contrasted Find Your Balance Point with another book I read recently—Are You Fully Charged? by Tom Rath. Rath has a different take on motivation than do Tracy and Stein, but the results are the same. People are the most successful when they are doing work they love. These books make a great combination for people beginning their careers. Find Your Balance Point is simplistic—by design, I believe. It makes it a great gift for a new graduate or someone just starting on a career. 

Here are author bios from the publicist. It appears that they are a father-daughter duo. As you can see, the authors have extensive experience in motivational speaking and counseling. 

Brian Tracy is one of America's leading authorities on the development of human potential and personal effectiveness. A dynamic and inspiring speaker, he addresses thousands of people each year on the subjects of personal and professional development, including the executives and staff of such firms as IBM, Arthur Andersen, McDonnell Douglas, and The Million Dollar Round Table. Prior to founding his own firm, Brian Tracy International, he had successful careers in sales and marketing, investments, real estate development, distribution, and management consulting. Tracy is the author of thirteen previous books including the bestselling book Maximum Achievement. He is also the author/narrator of numerous bestselling audio-cassette programs, including The Psychology of Achievement and How to Start and Succeed in Your Own Business.

Christina Tracy Stein graduated with a bachelor of arts in psychology from the University of Southern California and received her master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University. She has a Marriage and Family Therapist license from the Board of Behavior Sciences, is a member of both the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a Certified Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach. She currently has a private practice in Santa Monica, California. Prior to beginning her private practice, Christina worked at the Maple Counseling Center in Beverly Hills, California, where she participated in the Intake and Assessment, Adult Counseling, and Group Programs. She has spent more than five thousand hours with individuals, couples, and groups doing assessments, psychotherapy, and personal counseling.

Here is Brian Tracy's website:

Monday, August 3, 2015

Among the Ten Thousand Things

by Julia Pierpont
Random House     2015
336 pages     Literary Fiction

I have been thinking a great deal about betrayal since I began reading Among the Ten Thousand Things. What constitutes betrayal? Can a person ever trust again after a betrayal? How do children recover from betrayal? Does the betrayer ever truly understand the ramifications of what he/she has done?  Julia Pierpont gives us a remarkable insight into betrayal and infidelity in a very honest, raw portrayal of a family in crisis. 

Jack, the husband of Deb and the father of Simon (15) and Kit (11) has an affair with a young woman—the beginnings of the betrayal. Deb discovers that he is having an affair but chooses to ignore it. When the affair ends, the young woman, feeling betrayed and abandoned, sends a package to Deb including all the miscellany of  the affair—emails, text messages, and online chats. (There is a lesson in this right off the bat.) The package is intercepted by daughter Kit, who thinks it is an early birthday present. Not quite understanding everything the package includes, she knows it is something salacious and wrong, so she gives it to her brother, Simon. Simon is so disgusted by what he reads that he passes it on immediately to his mother. Now, Deb, Jack, and the children must deal with the infidelity and ultimately, with the betrayal. Among the Ten Thousand Things explores how each family member, including Jack, responds to the letters, the betrayal, and the fallout.

We have much more sympathy for Simon and Kit than we do for the parents, although each parent tries in their own way to ease the pain for the children. Simon is more mature than one might expect, but he is also a typical teenager in his self-centeredness. Kit chooses to try to figure out the sexual context of the letters in the package by writing them into Seinfeld episodes—her favorite TV show. 

By following the paths taken by each of the characters, USA Today says "The shock of the new in Among the Ten Thousand Things comes less from its references to email and sitcoms than from its 28-year-old author's profound grasp of family dynamics, from her expert ventriloquism (her shifting between the various characters' voices and perspectives is distinct and assured), and from her structural boldness." One of the most striking portions of the book occurs right in a middle section in which the author tells us what is going to happen to the family in the years following the betrayal. It is an interesting place to put the first of two epilogues, but it causes the reader to truly ponder consequences. Some reviewers felt that the epilogue in the middle made the last half of the book extraneous, but I felt that it enhanced the drama.
Pierpont gives us a great insight into how individuals respond to family crisis.

I have witnessed several betrayals in my lifetime—some more debilitating than others. The truth that Pierpont expresses is that betrayal continues to color the life experience of all affected participants. Betrayal is something that just can't be glossed over or forgotten. The author speaks to this in the final epilogue of the book. Simon and Kit (now Katherine) are returning to their family apartment to gather up their childhood belongings. After lunch "Katherine paid the bill while Simon plucked dusty mints from the bowl by the register. When she pulled out her wallet, a strip of toilet paper flew out too. The mess of her bag was the first time Simon wondered if her life was not all the things she wanted it to seem." 

The review in USA Today.
The story of how Pierpont, a first time author, sold the manuscript. In Vogue.
Julia Pierpont's website.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Race For Paris

by Meg Waite Clayton
Harper     2015
336 pages    
 Historical Fiction

Books about World War II seem to be ubiquitous in 2015. My book club read All the Light We Cannot See earlier this year, but I have pretty much resisted reading any of the many other books until Clayton's agent sent me The Race for Paris

Jane is a journalist for a Nashville TN newspaper. She meets Olivia (Liv), a photographer for her husband's New York newspaper,  at a hospital in France shortly after the Normandy invasion. They have been stuck reporting from the hospital for quite some time and have been denied access to the forward movement of the troops because of military regulations and gender barriers. When they meet up with Fletcher, a British photojournalist, they take matters into their own hands, jump into his jeep, and race the allied troops toward the liberation of Paris.
Worried about exposing themselves to the MPs that are tracking them, Jane and Liv send out their articles and photographs anonymously or under Fletcher's name as they move relentlessly forward keeping pace with the troops. Jane muses about why they were putting themselves so prominently into harm's way: "a chance at immortality when mortality had you by the throat." They see it all and report on it all. Liv takes extraordinary risks to catch the action with her camera while Jane types up her stories on a portable typewriter. Along the way, they both fall for Fletcher, who always is seeking to protect them—even when they don't want to be protected. The three bond in a powerful way that sustains them and reverberates throughout the rest of their lives.

The Race for Paris is filled with relentless action that is vividly represented in the text. For example, Jane reports: "Liv moved into the valley to better photograph the fleeing Germans, and because she did, Fletcher and I did as well. We went down toward the confetti of paper and clothing and supplies, medical paraphernalia and food packages. The twisted metal of abandoned vehicles. Blackened trees. Well-creased letters stuck in the mud, and frayed photographs of wives, of children, of parents and siblings, of sisters and brothers. Sprawling tangles of hooves and necks and manes and bleeding horseflesh, and corpses." At the same time that they are reporting on the action, Jane poignantly reflects: "I wanted to be in a place where the sun always shone and the world was quiet, no gunshots in the distance, no stench of death."
American Reporters including Kirkpatrick and Miller

Clayton says that she spent years researching the women reporters and photographers of World War II, including Margaret Burke White, Helen Kirkpatrick, and Lee Miller. At the heading of each chapter, there is a quote from a war reporter or photographer, and the text is peppered with references to other famous wartime personalities, including Ernie Pyle and Earnest Hemingway. It is obvious that Clayton took enormous care with the historical accuracy of the novel. For the most part, the plot moves along, with some scenes breathtakingly compelling. I wanted the climax of the book to occur about 50 pages before if actually happened, but as Liv becomes more and more reckless in her photography, I knew that something tragic was about to happen—and then it did.

The Race for Paris is not a beach read. It is designed to appeal to the World War II historical reader as well as the reader interested in women's rights and women's history. I am none of those people, but I was completely captivated by the story and the charm of the characters. I can only imagine how consumed Clayton must have been as she researched and wrote this most compelling novel. I recommend it. The Race for Paris has already appeared on several "Best Books" lists including the BBC and Bookreporter.

Meg Waite Clayton's website.
A review in Bookreporter.
An article from the BBC website about American women reporters during WW2.

Monday, July 20, 2015

From Bruges with Love

by Pieter Aspe
translated by Brian Doyle
Open Road Media     2015
336 pages     Mystery

You might call From Bruges with Love a police procedural, but the policeman, Inspector Pieter Van In, solves crimes by his gut instinct rather than from "police procedures,"  and he runs into constant trouble for his efforts. This is the third of Aspe's mysteries in this series to be translated into English, and the first that I have read, but from the reviews I read, Van In seems always to be going to extremes to solve the crimes.

As mysteries go, From Bruges with Love has a lot of twists and turns, made a bit difficult because of the number of characters and their unfamiliar names. However, as a resident of the Dutch community of Kalamazoo, I am pretty familiar with names beginning with Van. The hardest was Van In because I kept reading it with a small "i" as in Van in and putting the preposition into the sentence.

The plot hinges around a piece of property at the outskirts of the medieval city of Bruges, Belgium. A family has just bought the farm property, and in the midst of the remodel, a skeleton is unearthed in the vacant field. Van In is called in as is his wife, Hannelore (isn't that a gorgeous name), who is the deputy prosecutor. Van In, in what appears to be his inimitable style, bungles his way through the solution to the murder—and then the second murder—getting a subordinate into grave danger and exposing a sordid sex ring involving people in high places in Bruges politics and society, to the dismay of the police commissioner. 

I really enjoyed the variety of characters, all deftly crafted. The relationship between Hannelore and Van In is also delightful, as she tries to reform the alcoholic, overweight inspector. It is easy to see why this is a very popular series. Publishers Weekly notes that the series has sold more than a million copies in Europe alone.

Some of the translation is a hoot. Here is a sample: "a stationary sea of people blocking access to Blinde Ezel Street like a herd of dull-witted cattle" and "Food and drink was the cheapest form of corruption in Flanders."  

 Here is one of the things that I love about murder mysteries. They take you to places that you might not visit in real life. I have never visited Bruges, but we drove through Belgium about 40 years ago, watching a life chess match in the square of Brussels—about as exciting as you can imagine. We also spent the night in Mons, Belgium, which we dearly loved. So, to get the feel of Bruges, which is in the part of Belgium called Flanders, I watched the 2000  movie  In Bruges for a second time. It starred Colin Farrell, Brendon Gleason, and Ralph Fiennes.  You really get a feel for the city from this movie, so I would suggest that you get the movie on Netflix before you begin the book. 

The review in Publisher's Weekly.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The New Class Conflict

by Joel Kotkin
Telos Press     2014
215 pages     Nonfiction

Thell, my husband, heard Joel Kotkin speak at a community development meeting a few months ago, and he purchased Kotkin's newest book, The New Class Conflict, for us to read for our morning reading time. You must know this about Thell; he loves statistics, and he only reads nonfiction. He felt totally justified on both counts with this book. 

Kotkin is a professor and an authority on global, economic, political, and social trends, and the trends he outlines in The New Class Conflict don't look good for those of us who consider ourselves middle class Americans. He describes a new class order that leaves many of us concerned about our own welfare and the welfare of our children. He says that in the past the concept of upward mobility was not only possible but was a normal aspiration. "In contrast to the norms of the past, most Americans do not feel that their children will do better than themselves. In 2013, a majority of Americans expected life to get worse by 2050, almost three times as many as those who thought things would get better."

He names the class divisions he sees emerging in American society using feudal terminology, including oligarchy—the wealthiest people in the country; the clerisy—the influential people in the country, including the media, government workers, and academics, the yeomanry—those who work and strive (this used to be the middle class) and the serfs (the service class). The lack of home ownership is, to Kotkin, the beginning of the disintegration of the middle class as they are forced into smaller spaces in large cities. Home ownership has always been the keystone of the middle class, and he worries that the middle class is being completely hollowed out.  At first look, this is a very pessimistic analysis of life in the United States.

 The reviewer in the USA Today says: "Kotkin is not as pessimistic as this summary suggests. He thinks that America has a vast latent capacity to adapt, and to change the rules democratically, as we've done in the past. But, he says, 'the most fundamental challenge facing the U.S. is the growing disenfranchisement of the middle and working class from the benefits of economic activity.'" He concludes that the middle class (what he calls the yeomanry) needs to have power returned to it. This may be at the expense of the uppermost strata of American society, who currently are those groups who are doing fine.

The issue is very complex, and Kotkin's analysis is also complex. Sometimes Thell and I had to read things over several times before it made sense to us. One of the hindrances to our totally comprehending what he was conveying is that he names all his sources within the text. Sometimes this will be the names of several sources per paragraph. We found that detail of the document quite confusing, although we acknowledge that he is comprehensive in his sources.

As parents of several millennials, the issues Kotkin presents related to their share of the American dream is quite disturbing. Yet, we know that what he is saying is true. For some of our children, home ownership is beyond their reach. Yet their sensibilities are middle class, and we continue to want the best for them. Kotkin offers very little in the way of advice; his job is to appraise the population of the dangers present in the current state of our American social order. We found his analysis quite disturbing.

The review in the USA Today.
Joel Kotkin's website.