2008: What Are You Reading?

I figure this would be a good time to start a new thread on what others have been reading this year.

57 Responses to “2008: What Are You Reading?”


  1. Reid

    I finished the McCullough biography on John Adams, which HBO made into a mini-series (which I haven’t seen). I enjoyed the book. There’s a lot I like about Adams: he’s well-read; loves to talk; honest and blunt to a fault.

    I also finished reading a biography on John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. That was also an enjoyable read, particularly the XYZ Affair and the decision of Marbury v. Madison.

  2. Reid

    I recently finished former North Carolina basketball coach, Dean Smith’s A Coach’s LIfe. I enjoy reading autobiographies/memoirs from coach’s I admire. There isn’t much that stands out. I liked the coaching elements, such as how he ran practices, the Carolina philosophy, etc. Of course, he spoke about Michael Jordan. He said that he never saw anyone make the level of improvement Jordan made. I want to find a book that Roy Williams wrote.

  3. Reid

    Based on Marc’s recommendation I read Buzz Bissinger’s Three Days in August, which is a book about the St. Louis Cardinals three game series with the Chicago Cubs in 2003 (I think). Tony La Russa gave Bissinger unprecendented access to the players, staff and himself to give readers a sense of what the manager goes through in a three game series.

    I thought Bissinger’s prose was a little distracting–overboard on metaphors–but the book was a fast and enjoyable read. It gives you a sense of how intricate baseball is and after reading the book, I can see how managers can get lost in the game, as their are so many variables to contend with. I like these parts of the book readers are allowed into La Russa’s head as he’s making strategic decisions. Readers also get a taste of La Russa’s attitude towards player’s attitudes, hitting batters (interesting that this was the most gut-wrenching decision that La Russa faced), steriods and other interesting details about baseball. I’m not that big a baseball fan, but I enjoyed the book. As to be expected, Mitchell would probably love this.

  4. Reid

    Second Chance
    Zbigniew Brzezinski

    Brzezinski is the former National Security Advisor or Presdident Carter. In this recent book (2007, I think), he grades the previous three presidents on the way they handled foreign policy with the purpose of revealing the lessons the next president should take as well as point out the upcoming challenges we face.

    I liked the book for several reasons. First, Brzezinski covers a lot of ground–the history with several different foreign policy issues (e.g. Iraq and the Middle East; China, the Balkans, etc.) and strategic significance pertaining to the U.S. and the world–in a short book. (It was around 200 pages.) Second, Brzezinski demonstrates a certain level of objectivity when assessing the Republican presidents–the first Bush gets the highest overall grade. That’s not to say his ties to the Democrats don’t color his views, but these don’t seem to prevent him from giving an realistic appraisal of the current challenges either. Third, within a short book, you get a sense of the major issue and an appreciation for the complexity any president must face; there are so many complex problems, doing a good job seems impossible. There’s the Middle-East crisis which involves being a fair broker of peace for the Israeli-Palestianian conflict; stabilizing (or he would say getting out of) Iraq; there’s the nuclear proliferation issue; we allowed India and Pakistan to get nuclear weapons, North Korea and Iran took note and probably other countries as well; there’s the emergence of China as a world power–specifically, if do not be an effective world leader, other countries could seek a stronger alliance with China (Middle-Eastern countries may consider providing China with oil as a safer investment and a more attractive protector).

    One of the important lessons I drew from the book is that foreign policy is very important, but at the same time, communicating that importance to American citizens is extremely difficult. The issues are complex and there are issues involving many different countries. (I considered starting a thread on the reasons we should care about foreign policy.)

    Another interesting insight involved the reason unilateral military action is bad and even dangerous approach. For one thing, even have the strongest military in the world has not allowed us to “persuade” other countries/entities to our way of thinking. As Iraq and al Qaeda is demonstrating, are resources as not unlimited and there are tactics and strategies that can overcome even our superior conventional power. However, the bigger reason is that by acting unilaterally and primarily with hard-power, we reinforce the impression that we are imperialistic and oppressive. In just a few pages, Brzezinski tries to show the way the longevity of empires have gotten shorter and shorter over time. This is partly because technology has allowed masses of people to realize understand their deprivation and have the means to do something about it. The key lesson I drew from this is that sooner or later the people who are deprived will direct their discontent–usually via violence–towards those they see as their oppressors (the imperial gov’t). We don’t want to by perceived as the imperialistic oppressors–not only because we become the target, but this could lead allies or those neutral to turn to other countries (like China) for leadership and stability. If analysis is correct, the second Bush’s administration has been a major set-back.

  5. Reid

    Anybody else go to the McKinley book sale? I got a book on Alexander Pope’s collected works, an unabridged dictionary, and I can’t remember the third book.

    Marc passed on some books I look forward to reading: Moneyball by Michael Lewis, the book about the Oakland A’s general manager, Billy Beane, and his unique way of analyzing the value of baseball players; Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett. Along with Marc’s strong recommendations, Steve Murphy and his family (especially his mother, who is an avid reader) mentioned this when I asked him for a book recommendation; King of the World by David Remnick. This is about Muhammad Ali in his early years; finally, Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. I have no idea what it is about (I told Marc not to tell me anything), but it looks like a thriller of some sort.

  6. Mitchell

    Reid, I’m super-curious about what inspired you to read the Adams bio. I seriously never would have predicted that for something you’d pick up and read in its entirety. I’ve had it on my list for some time (I have this stupid goal of reading one authoritative biography of each of the presidents, but I’m stuck on my first one).

    I have spent the past year reading all eighty-seven Newbery Medal recipients, which I hope to chronicle later.

    Last night was the first time in a year that I have allowed myself to sit down with a non-Newbery book. I still haven’t read the seventh Harry Potter book, which I hope to pick up this evening, so I curled up with Sue Grafton’s M is for Malice, which I am enjoying very much!

    It feels sooooooooo good to be reading for fun again. Honestly, I can’t express clearly enough how much I’ve missed this. I guess I don’t have to with you guys. 🙂 Group hug.

  7. Reid

    That’s great that you can read for fun now. I remember the feeling when I was in grad school. It also happens when I’m reading more “serious” books and then I just read something totally frivolous.

    As for the Adams book, there were two reasons I started reading the book. I was reading a biography of Chief Justice John Marshall. Reading about Adams in that book piqued me interest. I mentioned my interest and attraction to Adams to my dad. My dad had a copy of the McCullough biography, and I asked him about it, but he couldn’t find it. He just borrowed the book from the library and gave it to me.

    But my interest in Adams started a few years ago when I read Joseph Ellis’ Founding Brothers. He goes over different anecdotes involving the Founding Fathers, and I really enjoyed his writing. Anyway, after reading that book, I think I liked Adams the most (and started not caring for Jefferson, despite his talent and brilliance).

    McCullough’s biography was a good read, but I preferred the biography on Marshall. McCullough seems a bit too smitten by his subject, and I wanted more objectivity and analysis in some of the policy decisions. as well as the criticism raised against Adams. Still, it was an enjoyable read.

    Why were you so surprised that I would read that (not that I think you should be surprised; I’m kinda surprised that I got into myself)?

  8. mitchell

    I was surprised because you don’t seem to be that interested in American history, to be honest, at least not for pleasure-reading.

    My editor needs August’s sudoku puzzles several days ahead of when I expected, so I haven’t been able to read for the past few days. Gotta get the puzzles ready first, then I’m going to finalize my thesis (which shouldn’t take TOO long). I might not get to curl up with Harry Potter seven until next week Monday. Argh.

  9. Reid

    You’re right, I haven’t been interested in books on American history or history in general, until recently. The Ellis book did it for me. He’s a good writer, and I liked the way his introduction presented the Founding Fathers as a dream team that formed at the right moment in time.

  10. Tony

    I just re-read Out of the SIlent Planet and Perelandra by C. S. Lewis. Two amazing books that really do a number on theological thinking. I’m not sure why, but I frequently forget just how brilliant a thinker Lewis was.

    I also read X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier. Sub-titled “How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking,” the book does a nice rehash of the “origins” of Generation X, draws some interesting points of contention between X and the boomers and the millenials, and then offers up a great deal of hope for the future. A good read. A quick read. A well-written read with lots of good allusions to the 90s.

  11. Reid

    Does it go into the differences between Xers and the Millenials?

    I know Chris liked Lewis’ sci-fi. I never read it. Shoot, I still haven’t read all of the Narnia series.

    I finished recently finished reading Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines, a book about the theological basis for the importance–even the necessity–for practicing the spiritual disciplines for any Christian. I’ve been re-reading the book since I had trouble grasping a lot of it; I feel like I have to “rewrite” the book in my own words to really understand everything. Plus, the sequence of ideas chosen by Willard are not always logical to me.

  12. Reid

    I just finished reading Adrian Tomine’s graphic novel, Shortcomings. The novel is very similar to Shawn Wong’s Americanese. If you like the latter, you’re probably like this. Both are definitely focused on being Asian-American and both have a lot of witty dialogue, but…

    (minor spoilers)

    Shortcomings is way more of a downer. I mean the ending…what the heck. It’s brutal. The book almost seems like an exorcism for the writer: pouring all of his weaknesses, hang-ups and insecurities into one story, and…not opting for any easy endings or solutions. There’s no redemption, no reprieve; it’s almost like Tomine is saying, “Yeah, Ben (Tomine?) is this jerk, deeply flawed and that’s just the way it is, sorry. There’s no redemption, no escape,..life just goes on.” It feels pretty merciless.

    Perhaps, the story is a catharsis for Tomine. I don’t know. I don’t know what to think, but it was a little surprising in a brutal way.

    The novel is a very fast read, so if any of you read it let me know.

  13. Reid

    I’m almost finished with The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, recommended by Marc.

    I think Mitchell and Penny would probably be really interested in this, and they would probably enjoy it much more than I am. I don’t think the book is bad; I’m just not that into it.

    **
    The short description of the book is a X-Files with a literary twist. Tuesday Next is a detective–or a literature detective to be more precise. She works for a special operatives that investigate crimes involving literature. In this novel (the first of many), Next has to stop a man who is stealing original manuscripts of famous works and eliminating characters from those works (through special devices). The thing is, if the characters are eliminate from the original manuscript, the characters will be gone for all time. Lots of sci-fi, action and literary references.

    ***
    I guess I either didn’t get a lot of the jokes/references and the ones I did get weren’t that funny; amusing, perhaps, but nothing really to get excited about. The writing was just OK, too. That’s a bit unfair as this is more of a light reading recommendations, but I like novels where the writer’s descriptions paint vivid pictures or the author has interesting observations as well as well-constructed sentences. I have about 70 pages to go, so maybe I’ll love the book a lot more.

  14. Pen

    I am almost done with Second Chance by Zbigniew Brzezinski (which Reid talks about, supra). I haven’t read his review yet, but will and will comment when I’m done.

    I’m about 1/3 done with The BTK Killer by former FBI profiler John Douglas. Not really great reading before one goes to sleep (I think part of the reason I didn’t sleep well last night was because I read that before going to bed), but interesting nonetheless.

    So Reid, when you’re done with the Fforde book, I’d like to borrow it. From what you described, it will be a nice change from being in the mind of a serial killer.

  15. Reid

    Well, there’s kind of a psychotic character in there, but I’m sure it’s lighter than the BTK killer.

    If I see you this weekend, I’ll give it to you. I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy the book.

  16. pen

    Second Chance by Zbigniew Brzezinski

    Oh my, I actually agree with Reid’s assessment of this book. Heh. He did a good job explaining what the book is about and its perspective, so I will comment on a more personal note.

    This book made me wistful and angry. Wistful for the days when I actually sort of kept up with foreign politics. When I read foreign policy journals and The Economist on a regular basis. I actually had a glimmer of a clue what was going on around the world and how America was interacting with the rest of the world. Now, I am at a loss as to any of that stuff. Rather sad.

    I got angry again because the last third of the book was about GWB and his headstrong, unilateral, fear-mongering approach has really bitten us in the butt. We have (obviously) lost credibility around the world. Why should anyone believe the leader of the U.S. anymore? Whatever cache was there has been wiped away. Ugh. Not to mention the feelings of betrayal and manipulation I feel as a citizen of the U.S. Grrr.

  17. Reid

    Well, the way he criticized the second Bush suggested his bias at least a bit. I felt like he was careful about framing his points to favor the Democratic nominee and hurt (or at least not help) the Republican one. In his assessment of Bush I, Brzyzinski’s praise was refreshing and perhaps less partisan sounding; ditto his criticism of Clinton (who got a lower grade than Bush I, which seems justified). I don’t know if you agree with that Pen.

    The recomemndations/explanation go by rather quick at the end of the book, so I don’t know if I interpreted them correctly. Did you agree take on B mentioning previous empires?

    Here’s a question: has your sense of the importance of foreign policy changed after reading the book? Why or why not?

  18. Reid

    Moneyball by Michael Lewis

    I had heard about this before, but I wasn’t that interested until Marc kept insisting that I read this one. (I’m glad he did.) I really enjoyed reading this book. It was well-written, while having entertaining baseball profile/anecdotes (I liked the one about Scott Hatteberg facing Jamie Moyer) as well breaking the innovative approach of the Oakland Athletics. The book is a no brainer for Mitchell. It’s well-written book about baseball statistics and the his favorite team. I’d also think Don would enjoy this book, too. Actually, a lot of people–including non-baseball fans could get into this. I think even Grace would find this fascinating. The writing style and nature of the book (an investigation and explanation of an interesting phenomenon) remind me of books like The Tipping Point, The Wisdom of the Crowds and Freakanomics.

    Oh, what’s the book about. The book is about the explores the reasons why the Oakland Athletics have had remarkable success despite the fact that they had one of the lowest payrolls in baseball. The author Michael Lewis seems to have more of business/economics/financial background, so Lewis brings in principles and concepts from those fields, but he’s a really solid and accessible writer. (There are some parts with statistics that get a little abstract and difficult if you’re not adept at math, which I’m not.)

    One of things I like about the book is that it’s about a way that the A’s management has taken an innovative approach to building a professional baseball team and the way the team plays. The approach is based on using certain statistics to judge the value of players and game strategy for the team. I love innovation and innovators, so this book got my interest.

    A big mahalo to Marc for recommending and giving me the book.

    By the way, Marc suggested that we wait until others can read the book and we can start a thread to discuss it. Let me know if others are interested.

  19. Mitchell

    I’ve read it. Grace gave it to me for Christmas a couple of years ago. Fast read, and fascinating. I’ve read lots and lots and lots of baseball books; this is probably in the top 5.

  20. Reid

    Wow. I’m not totally surprised. What were the reasons the book made your top five? What are the other books?

    On another note, I came across this article, Zipcar Makes the Leap, and I was wondering if anyone else has heard of zipcar? Basically, it’s a car sharing company. You reserve a car, use a card to swipe the windshield and you’re in the car. Basically, it’s car rental service that charges by the hour ($11/hr although the rates vary on the type of car you use). You don’t pay for insurance and gas (although I think you pay for gas after so many miles). I really like the concept, and I could see this being great if we get light rail. Using rail to get to a destination at the beginning of an outing is fine, but sometimes, especially if it’s late at night, you just want to get home as quickly as possible. I could see the zipcar being something I’d want to use at that time. Of course, the problem is that they’d have to have a lot of locations, and the availability would have to be good. Seattle seems to have lot of lots.

  21. Marc

    Zipcar operates in Seattle. A good friend of mine gave up his car and gets around town via bus, scooter, and zip car. Obviously in Seattle, the months where a scooter is a good idea are limited. I think he saves an amazing amount of money by doing this. It’s so easy to forget how much money you spend on your car between a payment, insurance, gas, and maintenance. At $8-11/hour, the zipcar is a great concept.

    I think moneyball would be a great discussion in it’s own thread.

  22. Reid

    So I’m assuming the car locations are spread out enough that it’s pretty convenient to get to by foot or bike?

    Mitchell,

    I’m interested in hearing more of your thoughts on Billy Martin’s autobiography. I’m watching The Bronx is Burning series, and I might be interested in learning more about Martin. Actually, I’m interested in Steinbrenner and Jackson. I want to know how accurate the portrayals are. Steinbrenner seems like a jerk and dork; Jackson comes across as the most conceited and clueless athlete I’ve ever seen. Martin has problems but he seems to be the most “normal” of the three.

  23. Mitchell

    I think I’ve mentioned this before (because it seems like I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen), but the whole late-seventies Yankees is a fascinating thing. I never got to see that ESPN drama about it, but it does make for great reading. I would start with Sparky Lyle’s book, The Bronx Zoo, because Lyle was close to Billy and he’d won the Cy Young award as a reliever the season before Steinbrenner signed Goose Gossage. Reggie came at about the same time. Lyle went from Cy Young closer to mop-up man in the space of half a season. Goose was terrific in his first year, so it’s not like Lyle could really argue, but you can see how that kind of thing would majorly stress out a player. Billy was very loyal to Lyle, but Steinbrenner was paying Goose a LOT of money, so Billy couldn’t use him as a setup guy.

    The Lyle, Martin, Nettles, and Guidry autobiographies are all co-written by Peter Golenbock, and they are all about the same time period. Golenbock makes sure you get to hear some of the stories repeatedly, retold by different players. I think it’s awesome. Billy’s book was tough to read, because he was really trying to win games and he felt amazing pressure from all sides, including from the media. Some of the best stuff in Number 1 is about how the media or Steinbrenner questioned some of his moves, and Billy’s reasoning, as he explains it in the book, makes a lot of sense, but because he didn’t like to justify himself to the media, he kept his mouth shut and that stressed himself out more. Lyle and Nettles talk quite a bit about Martin’s drinking, and it’s interesting to see Billy’s good days and bad days.

    Was he a jerk and a dork? I’d say yes. In those years, he was. He definitely mellowed out, though. In the seventies, however, he was ridiculous. I can’t believe anyone played for him.

    It’s been so long since I read those books that I don’t remember the attitudes about Reggie by these four other people. Martin always felt, though, that it was Reggie and George against him.

    I’d read Lyle first, then Billy. Nettles is a good read mostly because he seems like such a great guy, the solid, steady third-baseman in a maelstrom of ego. I don’t remember much about Guidry’s book except that I enjoyed it.

  24. Reid

    Thanks for the review of the books. The approach taken by Golenbock sounds really cool. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I want to invest the energy and time to read them all. I’m interested, but not that interested in the subject. After listening to interviews in the Bronx is Burning dvds, I’m intrigued by the relationships between Steinbrenner, Martin and Jackson. I don’t know if there’s a book that reveals this and reveals what was going on inside of these three interesting people.

  25. Mitchell

    Well just read one. It might make you want to read the others. I think I have a copy of Number 1, so let me know if you wanna borrow it.

  26. Reid

    I know Penny read this, A Writer’s ‘Mysterious Secret’: Style Plus Empathy, but I think other idiots would enjoy this, too. It’s one of the write-ups for NPR’s “You Must Read This” series. Laura Lippman, a writer, talks about a collection of short stories by Jack Pendarvis called, The Mysterious Secret of the Magical Box. The write is good (it got me interested in the stories), but it’s the excerpt of the short-story called, “Sex Devil” that I’d like to draw your attention to.

  27. pen

    Finally finished the John Douglas book on the BTK serial killer. Douglas is a former FBI profiler and has co-authored several books about serial killers. I think what interests me in these books are the methods and techniques the police use to catch the criminal. How the “unsub” evolves as they learn more about him (or her) and how that affects their strategies in trying to catch him (or her).

    Next up is a book Tony mentioned that looked interesting. “X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking” by Jeff Gordinier, who is the editor-at-large of Details magazine.

  28. Reid

    Mitchell,

    Thanks for offering the Martin book. If I decide to read it, I’ll let you know.

  29. pen

    Finished the Gordinier book, “X Saves the World” and I really liked it. There was some patting ourselves on the back kind of thing, but in a tongue in cheek sort of way. Gordinier’s writing is reminiscent of Chuck Klosterman and he cites Douglas Copeland a lot, but he does have his own voice. It actually helped me put some things in perspective. If you’re interested in reading more, you can go here: http://sweetlydemure.blogspot.com/2008/09/gen-x-dare-to-do-urban-acupuncture.html

  30. pen

    Just finished Bob Tarte’s “Enslaved by Ducks” and enjoyed it quite a bit. The book takes us on his journey of reluctant owner of one bunny to befuddled yet proud owner of a menagerie. By the end there are a multitude of bunnies, birds, geese, ducks, turkeys, cats, etc.) that take up this guy’s life. With a sardonic eye firmly fixed on himself and his own issues, I would compare him to David Sedaris and Chuck Klosterman, but of the pet-ownership world. Witty, well-written and if you are a pet owner, incredibly relatable, this book was entertaining, heartfelt and can be read at a deeper, more universal level than just amusing stories, as Sedaris’ work can be (but not as dark). Recommended.

  31. Reid

    Based on Marc and Mr. Murphy’s strong recommendation, I’m now reading Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I didn’t want to know much about it before I started, but what I know now, the book seems to be about a stone-mason who dreams of building a cathedral and a young Prior, who plans to reform a church. It’s a good story, although I’m finding the writing a little “pulpy.” The book is 900+ pages, so the review won’t be coming any time soon.

    I’m also reading The Story of a Marriage, which I heard about on NPR. It was a recommendation for summer reading for one of the local bookstore owners NPR interviews. What made me check out the book was the owners response when asked to talk about it. She said, “I don’t want to say anything about it, except that it’s really good,” or something to that effect. The book is short and well-written.

    I also want to read Obama and McCain’s memoirs and a book a large government projects called, Seeing Like a State, which I can’t find anywhere.

  32. Reid

    A troubling article: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Shock Scientists.

    It’s amazing and scary how slow we’re responding to this.

  33. Reid

    I finished reading The Story of a Marriage. I can understand why the reviewer on npr did not want to talk about the plot. It’s difficult without giving too much away. Basically, the book is about a marriage and love. I thought one of the comments from the book jacket was spot on and may also entice others to read the book. The comment described the book as something you simultaneously wanted to slow down–because the writing was something to savor–and speed up–because you wanted to know how the book ends. I enjoyed the writing and I found the story satisfying and entertaining. The book is also short (under 200 pages). A perfect summer read. I think Mitchell would enjoy this for the writing and the themes.

  34. renee

    just started reading “The Heavenly Man:the remarkable true story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun”. (He’s actually in town this weekend, speaking at Living Streams (10th Ave.) 6pm fri-sun.). It will leave you feeling grateful that you live in America where you can worship freely without worrying about persecution or suffering for your faith. Yun’s been through so much, it’s amazing he’s still alive.

  35. Tony

    Well, I’ve been on a novel-kick recently. Call it fall break, I suppose. Let me tell you about what I’m reading.

    First, I’m working through Karl Barth’s Evangelical Theology. It’s a great, concise look at theology from a solid, thoughtful perspective. It’s like a “systematic theology” version of Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for me.

    Second, last week I finally read Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. I’d tried it once before, and it just wasn’t happening. This time, though? An amazing read! Set in a world where the Jews were settled in Alaska instead of Israel after the second World War, the book is murder mystery, love story, and political intrigue. And just when you weren’t expecting it, Chabon throwns an interesting curveball or two.

    Third, I also finished reading Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the Pulitzer in 2007. The novel follows a family from the Dominican Republic as they deal with all kinds of tragedy. Amazing well-written. Some times it’s laugh-out-loud hilarious (lots of comic book and Lord of the Rings references), other times it’s just too much in too brief a time. Like Chabon’s book, I had tried this before and couldn’t get into it. Now I’m glad I gave it another try.

    And so now, as I begin week two of my break, I am reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It was a gift from a couple of years ago. I did not read Foer’s first book, Everything Is Illuminated, though I did see and enjoy the movie. I’m a couple of chapters in and enjoying it, though. Lots of visual bits in the novel. The main character is precocious in a Juno kind-of-way. I can’t wait to see where the story goes.

  36. Reid

    Tony,

    If you’re up to it, I’d be interested in hearing a summary of Barth’s views. I know nothing of them.

    Your review of the Chabon makes me wonder if I should try The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay again, but it would be my third attempt!

    On a lighter note, I picked up a book called, You Must See This, which is basically a compilations of famous actors and directors citing their favorite movie of all-time. It’s a fast read, not worth purchasing. The one amusing anecdote that comes to mind is from actor Blair Underwood talking about the way The Exorcist scared him. It was amusing to read how he satisfied his manliness by comforting his wife, while “shaking in his boots” deep down.

    Renee,

    Have you ever read or saw the film, Shiokari Toge? It’s a heart-wrenching story based on a real Japanese minister.

  37. Reid

    Leading with the Heart: Successful Strategies for Business, Basketball and Life by Mike Krzyzewski

    While all coaches deal with both “x’s and o’s” and personnel management (e.g. motivation, team cohesion), I tend to think coaches have a strength in one or the other. When I’ve coached, I’ve usually focused on x’s and o’s more. Coach K seems to be in the other camp, which is one of the reasons I really enjoyed reading this book. He tells interesting anecdotes about situations during games and with his players, and in the process he shows his thought process in dealing with the psychology, spirit and team cohesion of his players.

    One of the biggest things I will take away from the book is the importance of building close relationships with players (or the people who work under you), which depend on honesty, communication and caring. I totally agree with this, but I was fascinated the reason this was so important. For Coach K, this closeness allows several important things to his coaching. First, he has precise knowledge of his players state of mind and condition. What is apparent is that Coach K feels that a coach must know this so that he can make the immediate and necessary adjustments to help the maintain the right attitude, cohesion and well-being of his team. This might be pretty obvious, but I’ve never read a book by any coach that emphasized this as much; he always has his finger on the pulse of his team and he’s always trying to give what the team needs. His approach is also a proactive one, because he can deal with problems as they begin before they get out of hand.

    The closeness, trust and communication also allow the players to have “instand belief” in what the coach says. In a game situation, especially basketball where thing happen so quickly, the team has a significant advantage if the players have this level of trust with the coach.

    Coach K also mentions that the teams that seem to appear by luck often have “more” luck if the players trust each other. Another way of describing what he’s saying is to say the team has chemistry. That’s something that seems hard to control, but my sense from reading the book is that Coach K believes coaches can create good chemistry or at least can do a lot to foster it. Coach K seems to be a master of this.

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Duke’s style of play, particularly their offense. (I love their pressure defense though), but I really respect their mental toughness. If Duke loses it’s not because they crack or break down mentally. They just seem so mentally strong. After reading the care Coach K puts into his players mental state and just caring for them as people, I have a better understanding of how he does that.

    One last thing. There’s a good section on his relationship with Jim Valvano, the former NC State basketball coach. They both spent a lot of time together at the end of Valvano’s life. (He died early of cancer.) Two stories stick out, one funny and the other serious. At ACC Coach’s meetings, Coach Valvano would roll his eyes everytime when Dean Smith would walk in because he would always come in late, like he was the heavyweight champ. Well, one time Valvano grabs Coach K and Bobby Cremins (coach of Georgia Tech) and takes them outside. The three go into the men’s bathroom and wait a long time. Dean shows up and then the three of them come in with Valvano strutting in last with a big grin.

    The other story is how Valvano came up with a plan to beat cancer. He explained that scientists applied for grants of $50,000, but usually a bunch got turned away. He wanted to provide $50,000 for others. If he couldn’t beat cancer before he died, he could eventually beat it with the V foundation. It was a touching story and I enjoyed the way Coach K described as part of the coaches mentality of always trying to find a way to win, no matter the circumstances.

  38. Reid

    The Spirit of the Disciplines: How God Changes People by Dallas Willard

    The book starts from the premise (true, I believe) that most Christians in America have not been really transformed in a profound way–not to the extent that Christians exemplify the peace, humility and love that Jesus had. I know for my own life this is totally true. When I consider the 30+ years of being a Christian, I’m dismayed by my level of growth. Normally, I would explain this lack of growth by saying that I’m a sinner and will always be a sinner, and that no matter how much I grow I will always be far from the standard that Christ set. This book caused me to seriously re-think this line of reasoning.

    The book tries to show that the main reason that more Christians have not become more Christlike stems from the failure to utilize the spiritual disciplines practiced by Jesus, His earlier followers and the spiritual masters that followed him. He uses a terrific sports analogy to illustrate this. Athletes who aspire to be like their sports heroes will fail if they only try to emulate their heroes during gTo become truly like their heroes, they must imitate the hero’s outside of the game–i.e. their preparation and lifestyle. The spiritual disciplines are analogous to this preparation. Specifically, they put individual’s in a position for God’s power to transform this person.

    In the book, Willard focuses on the theological basis for practicing the spiritual disciplines, because he believes theological errors are one of the main obstacles for practicing the spiritual disciplines.

    Here are some of the theological lessons I learned, some practical and some provocative:

    1. People were created not only to fellowship with God, but to rule the animals of the earth. In a way we were created to be caretakers of the animals and the earth, and according to Willard this huge task could only be accomplished if people were reliant on God and his power. This is not completely surprising, as most Christians are familiar with this part of Genesis, but still, saying that are purpose on earth was to walk with God and take care of the animals and earth seems like a let-down.
    2. The body is not inherently sinful; the body is not equivalent to fallen human nature. The physical body and its parts are drenched–or in the habit of sin–but through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection followers of Christ have the power to sanctify the body, so that it is not in the habit of committing sin, but gradually becoming in the habit of behaving in righteous ways. But professing faith in Christ alone, does not lead to this transformation. Christians must actively tap into his power (“abiding in the vine”) or they will never be able to have power over sin.
    3. Willard paints I scenario of the Second Coming(?) that I never considered. He describes an earthly rule of Jesus, under a structure similar to the “judge’s structure” set up by Moses. Christians, who truly are Christlike, will be in position of these judges. Initially, I thought that this was pretty kooky, but I’ve been thinking about it more seriously. If there were enough Christians that were really Christlike, who really relied on God, the world could really be changed (This goes back to the God’s original intention that people would rule the earth in cooperation with God). One practical structure that could be a part of this, is a structure similar to the one Moses implemented.

    The book was interesting, but I didn’t care for the organization or the Willard’s choice of words in describing some of the concepts (most nettlesome was the phrase, “embodied experience”). I read and re-read passages and took more notes in the margin than any book that I have read in a long time. Still, it was rewarding book to read.

  39. Reid

    Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet

    This was the novel that I had strong independent recommendations from Mr. Murphy and Marc. It’s a little difficult to summarize a 900 page novel, but I’ll try. The book occurs in the 12th Century England. Basically, a stonebuilder, his family and a Catholic priest join forces to build a glorious chapel. They face many challenges mostly from villians, an evil Duke and clergyman. There is some action, suspense and romance. There’s a lot of details about cathedral architecture. (I had difficulty envisioning the descriptions on the page.)

    The main strength of the book is the plotting. The main characters face one challenging predicament and the author finds a clever way to get them out it. We wait to see how certain relationships are going to develop and to see the fate of some of the characters. This made the book enjoyable and easy to read.

    The drawbacks for me was the pedestrian writing style, not only nondescript, but crude at times. The author seems to barely care about language. The characters are one-dimensional, shallow psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. The latter is crucial because religion does play a significant part of the book, especially with the hero priest. In the introduction, Follet admits that he is not a Christian or religious. That’s not hard to believe. Prior Philip, the protagonist priest, is a very kind, decent human being–but he’s not a very spiritual person–at least he wasn’t really convincing to me. That was a disappointment. The book was a page turner though.

  40. Reid

    Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

    The book didn’t really answer a lot of the questions I had about Obama’s readiness to be president, but it was an enjoyable read. The book is well-written, although at times I think his language is a little too abstract and vague. Still, he is a good writer, and I sensed he was revealing himself in his prose.

    At times the book was a bit painful to read because it focuses on his struggle to find identity. But the painfulness, for me, centered on the fact that he struggled so much in Hawai’i. Even in Hawai’i, if you grow up in a place without other people of your ethnic groups, it can be rough. I remember friends who were the only whites at my high school (which did not have many caucasians) who had a rough time. It wasn’t because of overt racism, but you can’t help but feel a little isolated. I got the sense that Obama faced the same challenges in Hawai’i (as well as Indonesia).

    Having said that, I think Hawai’i’s culture–the general lack of overt racism and acceptance of ethnic diversity–did contribute positively, if subtlely, to more positive aspects of Obama’s racial consciousness. Specifically, I don’t think he has the hang-ups about race that many people from the mainland do. Still, Obama struggle with his racial identity, particularly the black part of him.

    Obama takes us through different phases of his childhood and young adulthood. My favorite was his time as a community organizer. I liked it because I could relate to a lot of it in my own work, even though Chicago is different from Hawai’i, I’ve worked with similar socio-economic class–and there are similarities no matter what the culture is. I also enjoyed the portion on Africa and meeting his African family.

    I believe one reviewer commented about the narrative strength of the memoir, and I would agree with that. Obama’s father is a mystery and the book sort of works up to finding the answers to that mystery in a pretty engaging way. At the end, though, I was hoping for more of resolution with his struggle. Perhaps, a clean resolution never happened. However, the book was written when he was thirty-three, so perhaps he gained a stronger and more definite sense of self. I would be interested in reading a book about that process–about the process he found to finally getting soem peace about comfort (which he seems to have) about himself.

  41. Mitchell

    Hm. Are you saying that a book written when Obama was 34 years old didn’t give you a sense of whether or not he was ready to be President? 🙂

    Believe it or not, I am currently reading (among other things) Through the Storm by Lynne Spears, Britney’s mom. I’ll explain later. It’s so far (after two chapters) not as bad as you might think. I’ll give a full review later.

  42. Reid

    I recently finished the tragedies of Sophocles. I really enjoyed them all. I have really been discovering an enjoyment for reading Greek drama/stories in verse. (I enjoyed reading The Iliad and The Odyssey in verse, too.) I also love the fact that the plays often center on some moral dilemma. Anyway, I look foward to reading more Greek writers.

  43. Mitchell

    Well, it’s pretty much downhill after Sophocles, but there are a few pretty good things out there. You might go with Aescylus’ Oresteia cycle, which begins with Agamemnon. I’m not that familiar with it, but since you responded well to Homer, I think you might find something there.

  44. Reid

    So what were the disappointing things you’ve read–and what was disappointing about them?

  45. Mitchell

    None of it was disappointing. I’m just saying that you started with the best.

  46. Reid

    Got it.

    Hey, so what you have you been reading besides the Britney Spears book?

  47. pen

    Did I mention “Design Like You Give a Damn by Architecture for Humanity (Cameron Sinclair, et al)? Because I was reading this awesome book, Kevin recommended the PBS DVD “Design e2: The Economies of being environmentally conscious,” which was a great companion to the book (which was kind of technical and sometimes confusing). I’ll post something about it on my on-line journal soon.

    Also, just finished “The Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch. He has since passed away due to cancer.

    Am currently reading “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” by Mohsin Hamid. Just started it, but am enjoying it a lot already. It is about a Pakistani man who comes to America to go to Princeton and who is living the American Dream (pretty blonde girlfriend, job at prestigioius company, etc.) and then the terrorist attacks on 9-11 occur and his world changes.

  48. Reid
  49. Reid

    The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nowen

    One of the best training classes I went through at work was called, “Art Off the Wall.” The class taught a technique of better appreciating art. Basically, the class looked at several pieces of art and then either made a story or poem based on the piece. The quality of some of the results surprised me, but more importantly I enjoyed seeing the way the piece came alive–or came “off the wall,” if you will. In this book, Nouwen uses a similar technique in analyzing the Rembrandt painting of the same title.

    The book is divided in three general sections, the younger son, the older son and the father. Here are some of that I learned and stood out for me:

    1. The distinction and importance of the “father’s home” and the “faraway country.” If we stay in the “father’s home”–i.e. close to God–we will hear God’s voice and will be safe from the dangers and lies of the “faraway country”–i.e. the world. The notion of the world is that I must work hard to take care of myself and earn love and acceptance. There is a sense of anxiety that if I don’t work hard, I will lose out. By staying in the “father’s home” I am better able to hear his voice that I am loved by God, that he is my protector and provider; that I will be rooted in the truth that God loves me unconditionally. I am always going to the faraway country, trying to run away from God, to be independent of Him. This motif covers a lot of ground (no pun intended).
    2. I liked the insights of the older son–the ways that we are the older son. I can’t remember the specifics right now
    3. I liked the idea depiction of the prodigal son as a journey from the younger son to the older son and finally to the father–that we must become like the father; the idea that returning home means that we must become like the compassionate father.
    4. I liked the interesting details Nouwen notices from the painting, for example the difference in the left and right hand of the father and the Nouwen’s interpretation that represents the feminine and the right represents the more masculine in the way Rembrandt draws them. This is the kind of the thing that made the painting alive and become so interesting. On a side note, I wondered more about the two people in the background that Nouwen doesn’t mention much. Because the painting contains the father and son(s), I wondered if the standing figure represented the Holy Spirit, particularly since the figure is appears ghostlike and standing like the Father and older son. I believe also says the person is a “flute player” (although I can’t see any flute), and if that’s true I think that further supports the figure as Holy Spirit, since music is associate with spirit (especially a wind instrument) and spiritual matters.
      I think Nouwen says the sitting figure is a servant, and one interpretation I had was that he represents us, the viewer in some way, although as we are also the younger son, the olde< son and eventually we strive to become the father.

    This book may not be the most influential for me, but it was a quick edifying book. Thanks to John and Tony for the recommendation.

  50. Reid

    NPR listed the The Best Superhero Graphic Novels and I’m wondering if any of you have read any of them (Tony?)?

    A lot of them look interesting to me, especially the Runaways the Dead End Kids and Black Summer. I really like graphic novels because they can be read so quickly.

    NPR also has a Best Graphic Novels of 2008 list, too, which is of the non-superhero variety.

  51. pen

    I’ve begun “The Gathering” by Anne Enright. She’s an Irish writer. I am not sure if I am going to make it all the way through this book. I am about 10 chapters in and am not really liking it. Bleh…we shall see if I can stick it out…

  52. Reid

    I finished reading the first several volumes of the Runaways series. The series is about kids who discover that their parents are part of an evil super-villian group. They are now on the run from their parents and form a group of their to right their parents’ wrongs. I’m interested enough to continue reading further. Let me list some of my initial thoughts and comments.

    First, the artwork is just OK–in some ways it’s amateurish. For example, sometimes the bodies are drawn in incorrect proportions. I also think the facial expressions lack subtlety. OK, I realize this is essentially a comic book and the graphics in most comic books aren’t sophisticated and maybe they’re not supposed to be. Still, seeing the drawings made me wonder if more sophisticated drawings, at least in terms of conveying emotions in a complex way, would be possible and even desirable. (One of the interesting things is that the illustrator has a similar challenge of an actor or painter of a dramatic scene and that is to create. Can they communicate powerful, complex emotions through the characters body language? For illustrators and painters they must choose one pose to do this.)

    Second, I had some problems with the emotional realism of the story. Again, this is a comic book and, ostensibly, the target audience are teens. Still, I believe that more complex and realistic emotional responses wouldn’t take detract or turn off teen readers. I could be wrong about that, though. What scenes did I find particularly unrealistic? I’m thinking about the reaction of the children to discovering their parents’ secret lives. I know teenagers can feel alienated and misunderstood by their parents, and I realize that many teenagers have poor relationships with their parents. But I don’t think the authors established that this was the nature of the relationships.

    Third, I liked the fact that there are multi-ethnic characters, particularly the leaders in the group.

  53. Tony

    Wow. You read the first few collections of Runaways! I’m impressed. I started reading the series near the end of the first run. It reads quickly. I did like the art for the most part. It’s one of Marvel’s more interesting concepts of the last few years. By this point, though, the original creative team is long gone.

    The title is currently on a third volume. The second one was quite enjoyable, though it ended with a run by Joss Whedon that is, sadly, totally forgettable.

    I would also recommend that you read the 12-issue series called Young Avengers. Probably the best thing Marvel has put out that is old-school super-heroic in a long time. Two volumes available in hardback and paperback.

  54. Reid

    Tony,

    Are the Joss Whedon volumes the same volumes that made it to hardback recently– the one reviewed in the NPR link above? Have you read any of the recommended graphic novles in the NPR review?

    The Runaways is an interesting concept, especially from the perspective of teenaged readers. I can see the storyline grabbing a lot of them. I’m planning to read more. (On a sidenote, the books are hard to get in the library. The library has copies listed, but people seem to be stealing them.)

    I’ll look for the Young Avengers (although I was never a big fan of the Avengers). Hopefully, the library has it.

  55. Reid

    Tony,

    I saw the Young Avengers at Borders, but it was in a plastic wrap, so I couldn’t check it out. I also saw a Justice League of America by Brad Metzler, with art by Ed Benes. The premise was that the Superman, Batman and Wonderwoman were putting the JLA back together again. I really liked the art. It reminded me of Michael Golden’s work for Marvel Fanfare. The book was $18, though, so I didn’t want to spring for it.

  56. Tony

    Yeah. I think Young Avengers is a safe bet all around, but that’s just me. I’ve got them if you want to borrow. Meltzer’s JLA? Ehh. It was okay. Very, very slow, though.

  57. Reid

    Young Avengers? Dang, I just got back from Jelly’s, and I think I saw that they have a “Young” Avengers and a “New” Avengers? Which one is about the “civil war” between the heroes? If you’re willing, I’d be interested in borrowing your copies.

    I liked the art in JLA, and the opening scene where Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman are talking about whom to select piqued my interest. I was never a DC guy, always Marvel, except when John Byrne drew and wrote for Superman for a few series, and the early issues of Teen Titans when George Perez was doing the art

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