Monday, October 13, 2014

Your Life Isn't for You: A Selfish Person's Guide to Being Selfless

by Seth Adam Smith
Berret-Koehler Publishers     2014
83 pages      Nonfiction
The Shortlist

Smith is a blogger whose blog posting called Marriage Isn't For You engendered a lot of comments and repostings in the blogosphere. From that notoriety, he has published more of his postings on marriage, on selfishness, on selflessness, and on depression and suicide in the slim volume, Your Life Isn't For You. 

In this group of meditations, Smith uses the Oscar Wilde story, The Selfish Giant, as the metaphor for his life, how he suffered from extreme selfishness, and how he has been practicing to be more selfless. It is a short but sweet look at life, written for the young adult who is moving from living in his or her own head into a life filled with other people. Most young adults will be able to relate to Smith's story and find value in his advice. Smith also has published his wedding meditation, Marriage Isn't For You in book form. I think that it would be an appropriate gift for the newly married couple.

What I have found interesting is that the blogosphere has become such a source of books. For a while in 2011, I followed the postings of Nina Sankovitch who read a book a day for a year. She turned that experience into a book and has since written another. I often follow the recipes of the Pioneer Woman, who of course, now cooks on the Food Channel and has published a couple of books. And finally, today's Wall Street Journal had an article about how book publishers are going to YouTube to find video blogs and creating books from those postings. So apparently, if you want to be a writer, one good way to get noticed is to blog. 

Seth Adam Smith's blog.
A brief review in Seattle PI.

Technology and the dead Kindle

Dear friends,

Just a note to say that my Kindle died rather unceremoniously right in the middle of the book, Born into the Children of God by Natacha Tormey. Currently, I have about 250 books on my Kindle, since most advanced reader copies of books are now coming to me as e-books. 

While at first I hated reading on the Kindle, I have grown to love the immediate access to the books that I want to read, as well as the huge variety of books that come to me as advanced readers copies.

So, while I am waiting for my new Kindle Voyager to arrive—there is a back up in delivery until the middle of November—I am going to be catching up on some hard copy books that I have on hand, including the marvelous Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout that I am reading for book club this week.

So--a great bunch of books awaits! Keep checking in. I'll review the Kindle Voyager once I get it. 


Friday, October 10, 2014

Doghouse: A Gin and Tonic Mystery

by L.A. Kornetsky
Pocket Books,   2014
278 pages     Mystery
The Shortlist

This is just a quick shout-out in honor of Animal Welfare Week, October 5-11, and the Gin and Tonic Mysteries.

Doghouse is a delightfully quick and quirky mystery—the third in the series about Teddy Tonica, a bartender and Ginny Mallard, a professional concierge. The duo solve pet-related mysteries, along with Teddy's cat Penny and Ginny's dog George. The series is called the Gin and Tonic Mysteries. It took me a while to figure out the "gin and tonic" allusion. And just like the name of the series, Doghouse, is a cute mystery that makes a serious point about animal welfare. Even the animals get in the act as they add their two-cents worth to solving the mystery. (Their discussions are written in italics, so you know the dog and cat are having the discussion. Cute, huh!) 

 Gin and Tonic are hired by the bar's dishwasher to solve a crime involving his friend. The elderly man has been accused of running a dog fighting ring in his rented house, and he is about to be evicted. Although this is part of a series, you don't have to start at the beginning. Doghouse is a stand alone book. If it weren't October, I would call it a beach read, but at less than 300 pages, it would be a great airplane ride book. The other books in the series are Collared and Fixed.

The series reminds me of other popular cat mystery series—The Cat Who series by Lillian Jackson Braun and the cat mysteries by Rita May Brown. This series is just as fun.

L.A. Kornetsky is the pen name of a New York writer, Laura Anne Gilman, who is the author of several other series of books. This is her website.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Please Stop Helping Us

by Jason L. Riley
Encounter Books     2014
205 pages            Nonfiction
The Shortlist

My children attended a virtually all white suburban school district with very high educational standards. Among my daughter's group of friends was a brilliant African American girl, whose father was a scientist and mother was a high school counselor. Her mother and I became friends, and one day I dared to ask her what I had been wondering. Why had they chosen to move to an all-white suburb when there were good schools in the much more diverse community where she worked? What she said revealed so much. She said that she could teach her children to live with racial prejudice, but she wasn't sure that she could teach her children to live with Black apathy, and Black disdain for education. 

Riley writes a meditation (or some might say diatribe) on the African Americans' current status in American society. Because he is extremely conservative (we must remember he is an editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal and a Fox News commentator), he believes that the lack of African American status is the fault of the liberals. Why am I not surprised! Surprisingly, however,  he also blames African American apathy for letting an entire generation of Black children become the uneducated, disinterested, apathetic adults that are filling our jails. However, he feels the reason the generations have been lost is because of the civil rights legislation of the 1960s and the "bleeding heart liberals" (my husband's words, actually) who have corrupted Black culture by overcompensating for the crimes of the past. As a white woman, I am fascinated by this idea, even though I have no basis in experience. But as a teacher, I took offense to the idea that the reasons that Black children are failing in school is because of teachers' unions. There is a lot more at play than teachers' unions. 

Riley's book is compellingly readable. The point of view he expresses is what many people think, but he is saying it out loud. I wish he had offered more constructive alternatives. Does he want liberal America to just stop everything? I agree with him that the minimum wage inequality has to change. I wished for more constructive answers for the future.  I want to ask him this question, "What are you personally doing to increase the social status of the African Americans who live and work in your community?" Our community's favorite son, Derek Jeter, has just written a new children's book about his experiences growing up in Kalamazoo and how his parents guided him toward success. He is making a positive impact on African American children in our community with his Turn 2 Foundation which teaches leadership skills to students. This kind of leadership is what will make the difference.

I think that it is good to occasionally read something that you either know nothing about or something about which you are politically opposed. This book fit on both counts for me. You might pair it with Charles Blow's new memoir, Fire Shut Up In My Bones. Riley is critical of Blow's politics, but Blow's memoir tells a completely different story of an African American childhood. The pairing may give a more complete picture.

The Washington Times Review is a positive response to the book. It should be read.