I read because I must. It's like breathing to me. And I love talking about books. But I'm also an Arsenal fan, a wine drinker, a music lover and weirdly obsessed with pop culture. I mostly blog about books, but sometimes about things I'm thinking or doing. When I'm not on the blog, I'm scoping deals for a professional services company, hanging out with friends, or seeing some live theater.

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Book 21: The Dark Path

Posted on 9 Apr 2010 In: Reading

My first technology inspired book! When I created the blog, I created a Twitter account under the name mybookfetish (http://twitter.com/mybookfetish), Luke Romyn, the author of book 21, The Dark Path, followed me. Since he and I are Twitter buds, I decided that I had to read his book.

Now, a quick disclaimer before I get much further. I’m writing this post on my PC rather than my Mac, and when I do that, the format tends to get a little off. Which I hate, but which I also don’t feel like spending hours diagnosing, so if it looks odd, I apologize in advance.

I don’t want to tell you much about the plot of The Dark Path because I don’t want to give anything away. But I do want to touch on a few of its great questions and themes. Since that’s the deeper part of what I’ll be touching on, I’ll first elaborate on a few things about Romyn’s writing style that I liked.

Romyn uses some subtle humor. The way he has characters say some things, I found myself snickering, thinking “that sounds just like I would say that.” No matter how complex his main, conflicted characters, I found myself identifying with some part of them. His writing is accessible, and despite the mythic characters running rampant, there are also characters you identify with. Having some familiarity with the Christian story of the fall of Lucifer and the apocalypse is helpful in the story, but not essential.

Now, on to the themes. I didn’t see these coming when I started the story. I thought I would be entertained, of course, else I wouldn’t have read it. But, I was pleasantly surprised to see a deeper layer of complexity here. For example, if you are considered evil incarnate, an indiscriminate killer, is it possible for you to feel love and compassion?

Is it really possible that what you put out into the world is what you get back? Can a person be moral without religion to guide them? This passage struck me as I was reading, in a discussion about what life is: “When you look around, you should not see what is wrong with your life, but what is right about it. Whether you believe in God or not is immaterial. All that is important is that you look upon every breath you take, and every vision that greets your eyes with joy, and when you deal with others, you should try to impart some small piece of this joy into their lives….”

Seems odd, and quite timely that as I am figuring out, in other facets of my life, what this life is really all about, that I find a thought like this in a book where I completely didn’t expect to see it. But that becomes the theme of the whole story. Can someone who appears irredeemable be, in fact redeemed? And when faced with the opportunity for immense power, can this same person do what is right instead of what is easy? To Romyn’s credit, he wraps up a few things nicely in the epilogue. But then, just when you’re expecting another neatly wrapped package, he throws a twist, so that you wonder again and still, about this conundrum.

So, for anyone with a taste for fantasy, demons, angels, epic battles of wit against circumstance and good against evil, check out The Dark Path. You can find your own copy here: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Path-ebook/dp/B002Y3KPPQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=digital-text&qid=1270775291&sr=1-1

I look forward to reading more by Luke Romyn.

Book 20: The Happiness Project

Posted on 6 Apr 2010 In: Reading

Book 20! Already! I like nice round numbers and feel a sense of accomplishment at getting to say I’m blogging book 20! Of course, I’m not even half way to my goal yet, and let’s face it, I’ve got a lot of reading left to do this year, but I’ll consider this my first little milestone.

I was flying back from Ohio last week, and my seat mate and I made a few minutes of conversation during take off and landing. While we were discussing the merits of the Kindle for iPhone app, the subject of this blog came up. My seat mate happened to be reading The Happiness Project and recommended it to me. I took a look at the book. With my recent interest in Finding Your Own North Star and some things going on in my personal life, I made a note of the book’s title and author.

Saturday, I stopped by Barnes and Noble and got my own copy. Sunday, I sat outside on the patio, enjoying a gorgeous sunny spring day and cracked open the book. I read a few pages. Then I got up, went inside, and grabbed a pen. Yes, this is another book where I underlined key passages and made notes in the margins. I was so inspired by author Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood passage, that I made a list of my own. By eleven Sunday night, I had finished the book. And, as I said via my Twitter feed, I came away thinking this book was phenomenal, life changing.

Sitting on a bus in New York City one rainy afternoon, Gretchen Rubin realized that she might just be wasting her life. Like most of us, what she wanted most out of life was to be happy. But then, it struck her that she didn’t know exactly how to define happy. So, in a method very similar to one I could see myself employing, Rubin studied a lot about what it means to be happy. Who knew there were so many schools of thought on happiness? It’s true, though. Everyone’s definition will be a little different. I couldn’t read fast enough. I felt like shouting, “she’s talking about ME! How does she know?”

Once she had studied on the subject, Rubin began her year long happiness project. She set twelve commandments for herself. While I like them all, it is her first that resonates the most with me: Be Gretchen. She then wrote down her Secrets of Adulthood, where she documented what she has found to be fundamental truths in her own life. As I mentioned, I was inspired enough to write my own. They are very different from Rubin’s, and that is OK. It was the exercise itself that was so interesting to do.

Gretchen also determined twelve resolutions, one per month, touching all facets of her life, where she could make small and not-so-small changes that could impact her happiness. She tracked her progress, adjusted as necessary, wasn’t afraid to fail, and evaluated her own happiness periodically. The outcome? Her successful blog (http://www.happiness-project.com/) and the book.

Rubin recounts a Buddhist saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” It was another YES! moment I had reading the book. I’ve been on my own happiness project of sorts the last few months, without even realizing it. Picking up this book, exactly when I did, perfectly melded with other things going on in my life right now. Folded in perfectly. You see, one of the key points of Rubin’s experience, and what I’m learning in my other activities, is that I can control only myself and my reactions. Be deciding to do things to figure out what makes me happy, by BEING ME, I’ll be a better person for the people around me.

Like I said, this can be one of those books to transform your life. Some of it may sound like just common sense, but so many of us need a good dose of common sense handed to us. We get so busy, we forget to notice that this life? It is the one we get. And we can spend it just drifting through, or we can create our best life. We can take chances, we can learn new things, we can make sure that the people we love know that we do.

For anyone who is looking to enhance their life, to embark on a journey to discover their own happiness, I highly recommend The Happiness Project. http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Project-Morning-Aristotle-Generally/dp/0061583251/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1270520976&sr=1-1

I plan on putting what I read here into practice.

I’ve learned more than I thought I would

Posted on 4 Apr 2010 In: Reading

When I set out on this quest, I thought I’d read 52 books, post my thoughts, and maybe my Mom and one other person would ever bother to take a look at this. In other words, my original motivation was to do this for myself, as a hobby of sorts, and save what I learned by reading the actual books, I didn’t really expect to learn anything else through this experience. I was wrong.

First, I don’t think my Mother’s read the blog. At all. Because she’d certainly have something to say about my opinions on a few of the books I’ve read if she had.

Second, this little quest I’ve set out on is great for conversation. It is something different, and when you’re around other bibliophiles, it makes for very interesting conversations. It has even opened the door to a few new friendships. And, equally as important, it has opened the door to so many recommendations of books I’d never heard of and expanded my network of other readers and writers beyond what I anticipated.

One way that has happened is through Twitter. I created a Twitter profile to be all about the blog. In following some authors and book lists that interest me, I’ve seen references to other profiles I would have known nothing about otherwise. Some of the books I’m reading are from the authors I’m following in this little virtual world.

But not everything I’ve learned has been fluffiness and light. I’ve learned that sometimes, I’d rather spend time with the characters in the novels than the characters in my real life. That can be a bit disturbing, and indicate a need to get rid of some dead weight in my life, or figure out why I prefer fiction to reality.

Second, I’ve been drawn to a great deal more non-fiction than I expected. This is showing me that there is an area of my life I think needs focus. So I love reading about it but it just makes me wish there were more hours in the day… to read more, to play more, to think more.

As an update, I’m currently reading 3 books. I don’t know which one will become Book 20, although I suspect it will be Luke Romyn’s “The Dark Path” as I will have much opportunity for using the eReader in the coming days. Also in contention are “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin- which came to me via one of those random conversations I mentioned earlier- and Jon Harwood’s “The Seance.” I’m really enjoying both, but I have to be careful when I read “The Seance” because it is creepy in a good way, but also has the potential to disturb my ability to sleep peacefully.

It is a gorgeous day outside here…. I’m off to do some more reading.

Book 19: Work Hard, Be Nice

Posted on 28 Mar 2010 In: Reading

There’s so much I want to say about this book, this story of two young men from Teach for America, who thought they just might be able to make a difference in the lives of some children.
With the idealism and enthusiasm that youth brings, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin wholeheartedly tackled their Teach For America assignments in low-income Houston are schools. They quickly discovered that while they had the desire to be incredible teachers, they really didn’t know what they were doing. Enter Harriett Ball, a colleague of Levin’s. This was the type of teacher Feinberg and Levin wanted to be: inspiring, motivating, challenging, caring. Ms. Ball took Levin and Feinberg under her wing, mentoring them in what she had learned to be the most effective teaching methods.
As Levin and Feinberg began to adopt these approaches themselves, as well as innovate and incorporate tactics from other nationally known education mentors, they discovered they were passionate about helping economically disadvantaged kids succeed. And, they had a knack for it. So began an experiment in education called KIPP- Knowledge Is Power Program- that has now expanded into one of the most successful charter school networks in the nation.

Work Hard, Be Nice. This is the KIPP Motto. It became the foundation for schools that refuse to let a child’s economic circumstances be a barrier to their capability for success. KIPP schools have five essential pillars, and a set of standards they expect each school to uphold. For example, the KIPP school day is 7:30-5:00, rather than the standard six hour day; scholars attend Saturday school two or three times a month. Teachers, students, and parents sign a contract for performance at the school. Teachers give out their cell phone numbers, instructing students to call them in the evenings for homework instruction if it is needed. In the fifth through eighth grade schools, reading is a part of each discipline. Beyond that, school leaders and teachers are empowered to innovate and do what they need to do to make their students successful.

Jay Mathews recounts the founding of the KIPP school in his easy to read, entertaining, and engaging Work Hard, Be Nice. He shows how Feinberg and Levin simply refused to take no for an answer when it came to things hindering their student’s progress.

I have firsthand experience with a KIPP school in my city. I’m serving as an Advisory board member for the KIPP WAYS Academy. I have seen firsthand how this innovative approach to education can work. Our students are far exceeding state averages on standardized testing. This year, two of our students have been offered full scholarships to the Philips Exeter Academy for high school.

When parents, faculty, and students work together to make education important lives can be changed.

Recommended reading for anyone interested in education innovation, charter school programs, areas for community involvement.

Book 18: Devilish

Posted on 25 Mar 2010 In: Reading

I just realized that right after a book called Godless, I’m blogging one called Devilish, as if reading some series. As you’ll see from this post, though, the subject matter couldn’t be more different.

Devilish is actually a work of Young Adult fiction by Maureen Johnson. I came across Maureen Johnson through some other authors I have read, and decided to pick this one up. Or rather, download it. This was an audiobook I listened to this week.

Set against the backdrop of a Catholic girls’ school in Rhode Island, without giving into every Catholic Girls’ School cliche, Devilish tells the story of Jane Jarvis’ quest to save her best friend, Ally, after Ally sells her soul to a demon for popularity and panache.

Johnson’s characters are well-drawn, believable. Even the immortal ones. She writes with a sense of realism, without being overly dramatic, or using that teens-talk-like-adults approach. You feel like you probably knew these characters in high school. I had flashes of Buffy, the TV version, as I listened to it. There’s just the right mix of wit and angst, sarcasm and silliness. Our heroine is not tall and thin and rich and beautiful- in other words, someone normal.

There’s a bit of gore, plenty of drama, some action, and cleverness, which I admire. A bit of snogging, but not the unresolved sexual tension of Twilight. This is more along the lines of Cassandra Clare, who I think has written some of the best YA Fantasy out there. Strong, likeable, characters who are flawed, but want to do the right thing.

A quick listen and a quick read, appropriate for middle years through high school, and not so bad for those of us who are somewhat older.

I’m in the process of reading two other books right now: The Seance, a creepy Gothic thriller, and Work Hard, Be Nice, which is the story of the founding of the KIPP Charter School program. These will be books 19 and 20, I think. I also have some Luke Romyn coming up, and I’m beginning to look at recommendations from some friends for the next books. Next audiobook is Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter from the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.