The older I am the more I value others experiences and wisdom. With first time grandmothering in my very near future, I went looking for some words of guidance. What I found was this fun book, Eye of My Heart, written by twenty-seven “smart, gutsy writers who explode myths and stereotypes and tell the whole crazy, complicated truth about being a grandmother in today’s world.” Some of my favorite authors who have shared their heart-stories with us are Elizabeth Berg and Judith Viorst. There is much to smile and laugh at in these tales of grandparenting, but there are also stories that made me appreciate my blessings. Tales of daughter-in-law relationships that prevented grandmothers from being able to spend time with their grandchildren were heart wrenching. The great puzzle of how to fit into this grandmother relationship seems a bit easier after reading this collection of motivating and moving stories. Tomorrow is the day that it all begins for me! Bring on the grandbaby….surely the most talented and beautiful baby ever created by God and my two favorite new parents.
I was going to write about a real-life detective story involving a 4,000 year old language, but then I came across I Could Pee On This: And Other Poems By Cats by Francesco Marciuliano and I felt like it was, of course, more important to talk about this hilariously irreverent book of cat poetry. Or, should I say, book of poems written by cats. Continue reading
Chris Bohjalian has written sixteen books including nine New York Times bestsellers. His newest came out last month, The Light in the Ruins. While waiting to get my hands on this well received literary whodunit, I picked up one of his older nonfiction works. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Idyll Banter. This collection of newspaper columns written over twelve years for a Vermont newspaper are wonderful thoughts captured by a big city boy who changed directions and moved to a small village. He chronicles how life has changed in many essays, and how contemporary village life can be so appealing. The close relationships and humorous characters are a large part of many columns. Weather related columns show the challenges of slogging through country roads in the deep mud and the beauty of silence when the snow blankets his world.
Watch the video on his website for a taste of Lincoln, Vermont and Idyll Banter.
Quiet is an excellent read for anyone who is introverted themselves or who knows someone who is (which is virtually everyone, according to Cain 1/3 people are). The book has excellent research and numerous sources.
Susan Cain draws from a variety of scientific articles and personal anecdotes to present why introversion is undervalued in Western society. As a life-long introvert myself, it’s comforting to hear the similar struggles of Cain and other introverts. She describes the historical journey in America toward achieving what she calls the “extrovert ideal.” The “extrovert ideal” values gregarious, go-getters with lots of energy and who are always on the move. Introverts are ignored or passed over because of this ideal. This doesn’t happen because their ideas are less valuable, but because they are reserved. In order to not be passed over, introverts often take on the characteristics of extroverts. Cain uses herself as an example as someone who must act extroverted for her work. She also uses historically relevant figures such as Rosa Parks, who dreaded the spotlight but was still a symbol of quiet strength. She uses everyday introverted stories from church leaders and students; there are people from all walks of life included.
She talks about the information in the book in a discussion for TED talks.
I would recommend Quiet to people who enjoy psychological non-fiction and understanding how people interact with each other. It’s especially great for anyone in the business world.
I usually don’t read many motivational books, but after all the hype about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, I couldn’t resist taking a look at what this controversial title had to offer. Lean In‘s central premise is that women often bypass leadership opportunities because they believe they cannot have both professional and domestic success. Sandberg argues that when women opt-out of the workplace, the result is fewer women in high-level positions and less family-friendly corporate and professional culture. Continue reading
I’ve had a senior moment and can’t remember who recommended this book as one of their favorite spiritual books, but I must agree with them. Susan Isaacs has written a very humorous but entirely authentic memoir of her spiritual journey in Angry Conversations with God. I found her honesty refreshing as she questions what God is up to when she struggles with love and career issues. Who hasn’t had their own doubts when trouble comes. She never questions her love of God, but she takes Him to couples therapy to try and discover where she went wrong. Although mostly tongue in cheek, this very funny novel helps us to see how distorted our human perceptions of God can be. Some may find this openness and humor a bit too familiar, but her pilgrimage toward a more authentic faith resonates with me (and Eric Metaxas- author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy which was named “Book of the Year” by the ECPA).
Conversationally Speaking teaches conversation skills simply and effectively. Most of us converse without even thinking about the words that leave our mouths. In some situations we need to think about the words before they cross our lips, so that we avoid the foot in mouth syndrome. I found Conversationlly Speaking very informative and applicable for many conversations that we may find ourselves in. It is full of helpful ways to avoid getting ourselves into ackward situations. It has helps for our one-on-one conversations, social conversations, as well as handling criticisms constructively. There are tips for when we are dealing with family, friends, and even strangers. It was also enlightening as to how people think and react to the spoken word.
I’ve been in a cooking rut lately, but I’ve been searching for unusual dishes to try and spice things up a little. I also love a good memoir, so I was excited to find that MPL had Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen, the new memoir/cookbook from Top Chef contestant Edward Lee.
Lee is a Korean-American chef who has trained in Brooklyn, France, Kentucky, as well as his grandmother’s traditional Korean kitchen. His new book offers readers an array of dishes that fuse what would otherwise seem to be wildly dissimilar traditions: Korean food and Southern cuisine. Think fried chicken with kimchi waffles, or rice bowls with remoulade.
But there is more to Smoke & Pickles than its offbeat recipes. Lee chronicles his culinary journey from a bratty Brooklyn teenager to a jaded hipster chef to a passionate and socially conscious restauranteur. Each chapter focuses on a different period in his life, followed by recipes focused on a different type of a food, e.g., “Seafood & Scrutiny,” “Pickles & Matrimony,” and “Cows & Clover.” Lee’s recipes are unexpected, to be sure, but for those looking to shake things up a bit, it’s fun to see recipes that throw caution to the wind. I probably won’t be trading my chocolate chip cookie recipe for Lee’s Tobacco Cookies anytime soon, but as it goes in the culinary world, it was worthwhile to experiment.
If you are looking for an entertaining and hilarious look at marriage, pregnancy, birth and raising children, pick up MPL’s copy of Don’t LIck the Minivan and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say by Leanne Shirtliffe. The author and her husband are teaching in Thailand when she becomes pregnant with twins. From describing her pregnancy in a hot, humid climate to trying to squeeze twins into snowsuits in frigid Canada, Shirtliffe conveys her life with warmth, love and LOTS of humor. She relates anecdotes about raising children, from a birthday party where the guests come down with skin rashes from facepaint, her twins peeing in each others’ bike helmets, her son turning on a hose just before a trip resulting in a thousand-dollar water bill or to the funeral for “Stripper Barbie”. The love for her family shines through each story as she struggles to be at least a “normal” parent. For all of us striving to be “normal” parents, this is a refreshing and funny look at parenting–filled with laugh-out-loud stories that we can relate to!
Mary Roach is fascinated by the science of eating, and by the end of Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, you will be, too. At least if you have a strong stomach. Gulp is a non-fiction account of the nitty-gritty aspects of taste, eating, and digestion, and how these functions affect our daily lives. Roach travels the world, speaking with experts in everything from saliva to methane. She covers wide-ranging issues, from why our pets taste food differently than we do, to how stomach acid works to the role that digestion has played in civilization.
Most writers would not be able to handle the high gross-out factor with this subject matter, but Mary Roach approaches it with a sense of levity that makes its discussion downright charming. She is also quite skilled at making science accessible for the layperson. While she does not skimp on concepts, she does a great job of making them intriguing to those of us have forgotten most of high school biology.
Three others to try: A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson; Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls, by David Sedaris; Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects, by Amy Stewart
In the informative, funny and moving story of her gender transformation from James Boylan to Jennifer Boylan, author Boylan offers fascinating insight into transgender issues as well as into the broader issues of sexuality and gender, family and relationships. She tells her story in She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders. Beginning life as a male named James, Boylan led a life as a successful husband and father, writer and teacher. But for as long as he could remember, James thought of himself as female and struggled with the pain of suppressing his natural instincts and of keeping this secret from everyone he loved. Finally, in his 40′s, James reveals his secret to his friends and family and moves ahead, after years of therapy and hormone treatments, with gender reassignment surgery. Although many situations are told with humor, the devastating effects on his marriage and friendships are also described. The love, understanding and acceptance of her family and friends helped Boylan in this transition, despite the impact her transformation has had on her wife and best friend author Richard Russo .Russo adds a thoughtful and emotional afterward to the story of their friendship throughout Boylan’s changing life. This is a remarkable look at how we identify ourselves as male or female and offers a wealth of insight into the difficulties faced by transgendered individuals in our society.
Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben tells the story of a 1984 plane crash a remote area of Alberta, Canada–a crash which killed 6 people and left four survivors. The survivors–the pilot, a politician, a police officer and the prisoner he was escorting–were all injured and forced to survive in the bitter cold of a Canadian winter night. The young pilot, Erik Vogel, was overworked, exhausted and hesitant to accept the flight due to the weather, but fear of losing his job caused him to agree. Larry Shaben was a Cabinet Minister flying home to his small, remote home town. Scott Deschamps was a RCMP officer escorting Paul Archambault, a small-time criminal. In the immediate aftermath of the crash, Archambault, the least injured, must decide whether to help the other more seriously injured survivors or try to make an escape to avoid his legal issues. The book follows the lives of the survivors and the impact the crash has had upon their lives and on their relationships with each other. This is a compelling narrative about survival, the issues and safety regulations (or the lack of them) that face small commuter airlines and the transformative power of a near-death experience.
I recently made a trip to western Missouri and wanted to see what there might be to see in Kansas along the way. Thank you, Marci Penner for helping me out with The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers. Penner has gathered together all the quirky, fascinating, yummy, sites of our great state. She led us to the Oregon Trail Nature Park right outside of Belvue for a picnic lunch and a quick hike with a beautiful view. Then we went on to Atchison and enjoyed the Atchison County Historical Society and Museum. The highlight of the trip, though, was the International Forest of Friendship, which I’m sure we never would have explored without Penner’s description. The park has trees from every state and all over the world along with plaques to honor those involved in aviation and space exploration. It seemed like strange combination of horticulture and aviation, but turned out to be a peaceful place for reflection.
Grab The Kansas Guidebook for your next day trip and find the hidden treasures that await you.
By John Pecoraro, Assistant Director
One-hundred-and-fifty years ago, Kansas State Agricultural College, now Kansas State University, welcomed its first students. That same year, 1863, witnessed the three bloodiest battles of the American Civil War. Already in its third year, the conflict was far from over. Between May 1-4, 1863 over 30,000 Union and Confederate soldiers became casualties of war at Chancellorsville. In September 19-20, the Battle of Chickamauga added another 34,000 casualties to the Butcher’s Bill. In between those dates, on July 1-3, more than 51,000 soldiers of both the North and South were casualties at Gettysburg. Dead, wounded, missing, and captured soldiers on both sides totaled over 342,000 in 1863 alone.
In “The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign,” Shelby Foote wrote an epic account of another important battle of 1863. Foote told the story of Ulysses S. Grant, who, in addition to confronting difficult terrain and a heavily fortified city, was forced to contend with a politically ambitious rival, General John McClernand. Grant’s victory led to his eventual promotion as commander of all the Union armies.
Better known as the author of “Forrest Gump,” Winston Groom also wrote “Vicksburg, 1863.” In an exciting and balanced account of one of the most decisive campaigns of the war, Groom puts his readers into the hearts and minds of both the citizens and the soldiers living the battle and enduring hardships in the besieged city.
Gettysburg was perhaps the greatest of all Civil War battles. It turned the tide of the war, stopping the Confederate army’s northern advance, and putting Lee on the defensive for the remainder of the war. Historians have written at length about the Gettysburg campaign, but perhaps none better than Shelby Foote. In his “Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign,” Foote puts his readers on the battlefield, with the swirling smoke and clash of weapons. Foote’s history reads as great literature.
“Gettysburg,” by Stephen W. Sears is another excellent book about the Gettysburg campaign. Based on years of research, this book is a must read for anyone interested in the Battle of Gettysburg. Sears began his study with Robert E. Lee arguing with Jefferson Davis in favor of marching north. He ended with the battered Army of Northern Virginia re-crossing the Potomac two months later. In between is the detailed story of how the winning of Confederate independence on the battlefield was put out of reach forever.
Joseph E. Stevens presented a popular history of the watershed year in “1863: The Rebirth of a Nation.” Using personal letters, official documents, and rare photographs, Stevens brings a remarkable cast of characters to life. Leaders Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, generals Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, James Longstreet, Joseph Hooker, and industrialists Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller are just a few of the actors on the stage. Stevens didn’t ignore the smaller than life characters, sharing the stories of soldiers and civilians, slaves and slave owners, farmers and urbanites.
The 3,000 citizens of Lawrence, Kansas managed to escape the Civil War until Quantrill’s raid on August 21, 1863. The attack began at dawn and by the time it was over, more than 150 people were dead and most of Lawrence had been burned to the ground. In “Bloody Dawn,” author Thomas Goodrich considered why William Quantrill singled out the town of Lawrence to receive his wrath, and described the retribution that followed on the heels of the massacre.
In reading about the Civil War, don’t neglect works of fiction on the subject. Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage,” for example, is known for its realistic battle scenes and its delving into the inner experience of the protagonist. Young Henry Fleming is worried about how he will stand up in the heat of battle. Will he remain true and fight, or will he run? Historians believe that the fictional battle portrayed in the book is based on the Battle of Chancellorsville.
Michael Shaara wrote the classic novel about Gettysburg. In “The Killer Angels,” he described the battle through the eyes of Lee, Longstreet, and others who fought there.
If you are interested in reading about the Civil War, Manhattan Public Library has the books you’re looking for.
Clay Walker’s memoir speaks volumes to those who may not like mainstream religion but instead are looking for a humble, non-showy, simple faith experience.
Clay is a well known and respected country music star who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis while in his 20′s. He was told that within four years he would be in a wheelchair and in eight years would be dead. Nearly fifteen years later, Clay is doing very well on a new medicine designed to arrest the development of his disease. He is still performing and has founded a nonprofit foundation toward MS research and education. He doesn’t understand why he has MS, but he doesn’t blame God. Instead he feels that God loves him, sustains him and strengthen him as he is forced to trust him. He has grown closer to him in ways that he never would have if he had not experienced MS. Clay shares his take on the parables and stories of Jesus life. He tells his own life experiences growing up poor and then what it’s like to be rich and famous. Important values to him have nothing to do with money but everything to do with honesty, humility, treating everyone with respect and never giving up.
In the conclusion, Clay shares,”No matter what you’re facing right now-whether it’s cancer like my daddy faced, or the betrayal of your spouse, the loss of your job, or a serious illness in your children- you must never give up the good fight. Just do the next thing you know to do. That’s what I always saw my daddy do when times were hard. When I was growing up, he didn’t always know where the money would come from to fix the truck, but he knew that the garden needed hoeing and animals needed tending. He just did the next thing he knew to do. He just did his part and obeyed what God asked him to do.” Clay Walker has co-written a popular song by the same title, Jesus Was a Country Boy.