Thursday, February 2, 2017

Life is Good, The Book

Life is Good: The Book by Bert and John Jacobs
Published by the National Geographic Society
(c) 2015
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I'll admit I didn't want the book at first. I assumed it was a collection of feel-good stories, pithy quotes and cute line drawings and nothing very substantive.

I'm glad I read it!

Two Entrepreneurs, One Story

Bert and John Jacobs founded the Life Is Good company by selling t-shirts from a beat-up van. It was before "angel investors" were all over Twitter, before eCommerce was available as a free plug-in for your Wordpress site. The company's start-up phase lasted years. The van was a mess.

In those hustling, hard-working years, they knew they had something...they just didn't know quite what.

   "From the start, we saw the T-shirt as a great vehicle for communication. What you say on the outside says a lot about who you are on the inside. We just needed to figure out what we wanted to say." [p. 62]

They figured it out at a keg party.

It's About Optimism

I won't spoil the how-the-Life-is-Good-company-found-its-niche story, but I will say that you should never underestimate the importance of having awesome friends and parties. The original slogan and drawing that became Life Is Good really was born in a "meeting" of the minds - AKA a late night with lots of friends and beer.

Also, while the company sells t-shirts, the value has more to do with the message on them than the cut, color and (super-soft) cotton they're made of.

Two Entrepreneurs, Many Stories

To their credit, the Jacobs brothers share much but not so much that it's all about them. The book is well-crafted because it shares many related stories, all of which support the whole. And, I have to say some of my initial, pre-conceived notions about the book were accurate. It's packed with graphics, lists and cute pictures. But in a good way - they are not filler, but part of the story.

The Boston Connection

I should've seen it coming, but I didn't. Near the end of the book is a section, just about five pages recounting, recounting the horrible sadness when bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, on Patriots' Day, 2013.

I've had little connection to city where I was born most of my life, but in the past five years or so I've worked regularly, creating and managing content for a marketing firm in Boston.

Managing content is usually a matter of planning and scheduling. Posts are created ahead of time to cover holidays and other special events. But when the world stops, the internet keeps going...and it becomes a place where people turn for news, escape, sanity, solace...whatever they need. So while I was horrified, worried about and hurting for people I worked "with" but only via email and phone lines, and feeling helpless (what could I do?!) i was also trying to help by sharing appropriate nuggets (do we really NEED a Facebook post today?) and more thoughtful blog posts as time went on. Reading about how Life is Good employees gathered together in the immediate aftermath would have been a little painful for anyone; for me, it hit a tad close to home. The good news, of course, is that because the company is built on optimism, the Life is Good team had a little extra resilience.

The follow-up, describing how the company responded with the Nothing is Stronger Than Love design (seen above, on the keyboard where I typed about the bombings) is a textbook example of good PR and good business.

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Who would enjoy this book
It's a good business story; might make a good gift for a recent grad trying to find his or her way in the (corporate world); is easy to read (like on an airplane or beach vacation!) and would certainly be of interest to almost anyone in the Boston, MA area. 
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Full disclosure: I bought the book because I need to upgrade my wardrobe. Most of my t-shirts come from my kids' sports teams and...well, let's just say some of them are ready to move on to the great rag-box in the garage. The book was advertised as part of a T-shirt & book promo package at the Life is Good website, and I'm happy with both my new shirt and the book. If you just want the book (it makes a nice gift!) you can save some $$$ and pick up the book, by itself, from Amazon. 
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Read any good books lately? As always...guest reviewers are welcome! Get in touch in comments on this blog or leave a message on my Facebook Page, Dumb Things We Say to Dogs

Monday, January 23, 2017

Best Books of 2016?

Chris Fralic's list of the "best" business books of 2016 brought some titles to my attention that I feel I really must read. (And made me feel behinder than ever on my 2R list....)

While each entry on his list didn't pique my interest, A Torch Kept Lit, Great Lives of the Twentieth Century sure did. One reviewer describes the book by William F. Buckley, Jr. as "52 obituaries devoted to luminaries from various walks of life—politics, the military, espionage, the world of arts and letters—as well as less prominent but cherished family members and friends."  

As you've probably realized, Fralic's best books of 2016 list didn't include only books that were published last year. Several were new titles, others (like the Buckley book) were published years ago. 

I'm not especially quick to jump on new releases, as there are so many books...and copyright date really has nothing to do with quality! 

At the moment I'm reading Life is Good - The Book ((c) 2015). It's optimism and the entrepreneurial path, as followed by Bert and John Jacobs, founders of the Life Is Good company. It's not quite what I expected -- and that's OK. More about the book later. 

Now, I'd love to hear from you -- what was the best book you read last year? What are you most looking forward to reading this year? 

Please comment below, or get in touch through my fuzzy Facebook Page, Dumb Things We Say to Dogs

Happy reading, all! 

What, no time to read? 
Have you tried a speed reading course
I took a class years ago, and am still reaping the benefits. 
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When I'm not reading, I'm writing. Copywriting, that is. If you're looking for a Marketing Content Manager, you might want to see what I do. I call it Writing That Works

Friday, December 30, 2016

Turning the Page on 2016

Gee, I'd like to say I've been so busy reading that I've fallen behind in my blogging. But, that's not the case. No excuses. In a feeble attempt to catch up, here are a few books I liked, didn't like, and maybe gave up on too soon in 2016. 

I read and liked:

A God in Ruins
The Tipping Point

A Jew in Hitler's Army
The Chocolate War

I read and was disappointed in:

When Breath Becomes Air
Fast Food Nation
A Grief Observed

I skipped the book & went straight to the video: 

Unbroken (Sorry, Kelly.)

What about you? What did you enjoy, what books didn't measure up for you in 2017? Did you love some of the titles that disappointed me? Would love to hear from you, dear readers!

Are you interested in learning more about home remedies?

I tried to eat healthier after reading AntiCancer: A New Way of Life
For more books that will help you get and stay well, naturally, Click here!

Would you read more if you had more time? Have you tried speed reading? I took a course years ago, and it really helped. (I'm probably due for a refresher course...) Anyway, for a proven way to read more, faster, try these.

Are you a speed reading demon and you'd like to show off your talents? Well, by all means, get in touch with me! Guest bloggers are always welcome here. The best way to reach me is via my website or my furry Facebook Page

Friday, November 18, 2016

When Google's Doodle Informs My Reading Choices

Anyone else add Fools Crow to their reading list this morning? 

Thank you, Google, for mentioning it. I have to admit the company often slips me a history lesson, courtesy of the morning doodle. Today's doodle featured author James Welch, a Native American who wrote novels about, among other things, the loss of a culture. 

In a long quest to find and use natural remedies that work better than pharmaceuticals, or at least sans scary side effects, I have often lamented that we likely lost volumes of vital health information when we wiped out the Native American people. 

In a nutshell, Fools Crow is the title character, a young warrior and medicine man living in Montana with a small band of Blackfeet Indians. And, now, thanks to the Google doodle, it's on my (damn long) 2R list. 

Image crecdit: Google, 11-18-2016

PS: In case you still question the value of having a blog, consider: Google has one.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Ohio Authors, Reading Labels, and Ramblings

So imagine my excitement when I realized acclaimed MG/YA author Shelley Pearsall will be seated just a few tables away at the Buckeye Book Fair next month! I have to admit I didn't realize Pearsall was an Ohio author. It was a nice surprise, especially given my youngest has read a few of her titles. (Which, not surprisingly, means that I have too.)

MG book cover The Seventh Most Important Thing Most recently we've read The Seventh Most Important Thing, the much-acclaimed book about redemption and anger, two things most teens struggle with - though thankfully not to the extent of the main character.

Labels, Labels

Having done some research into "reluctant" readers in the past, I was a bit surprised to find The Seventh Most Important Thing was labeled for "them." It made me wonder, how do we determine who is a reluctant reader in 2016? Goodness, it's hard to concentrate when you're 13 and have a cell phone in your hand (or back pocket) and all your friends are watching (or making) YouTube videos.

Also, I've been perplexed about the "reluctant" label because both my kids, who read and comprehend above grade level and score high for vocabulary could be, I think, labeled as reluctant readers. And yet both go through spurts of serious reading. And, when they find a book they like, both are nearly over-zealous in recommending it.

If any reading teachers would like to explain, I WELCOME YOUR HELP!
(Want to guest blog here? Please get in touch!!)

Trouble Don't Last

Round tuitThe next Pearsall book on my 2R list is Trouble Don't Last. Confession: it's been on my 2R list for a lonnnnnnnnng time. I may have to move it up my list just because I'll have a chance to meet the author soon. But, in case I don't get a round tuit, maybe you'd like to review it?

If your answer is yes, please contact me in comments here, through my website, or slap a message on my Facebook Page about dogs and essays and writing and life and other stuff I don't understand.

Yay! Ohio Authors!
Buckeye Book Fair 2016

In case you'd like to meet Shelley Pearsall, or me, or any of 98 other Ohio authors who published books in 2015 or early 2016, you just might have to go to the Buckeye Book Fair, held Saturday November 5 on the Wooster College campus.

Cleveland's favorite Man of Mystery, Les Roberts, will be there, as will super sports writers and commentators like Terry Pluto and Dan Coughlin, Tom Batiuk, Ohio's funkiest cartoonist, me, and a couple of guys who are really serious about mushrooms.

Hope to see you there! (Download the brochure here.)

Keep reading, my friends. 

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Why I Blog About Books

In case you're just joining may seem strange to encounter a blog about books that isn't quite a review site, that rarely covers new or soon-to-be-published titles.

Well, strange isn't the worst thing I've been called ;) 

What RU Reading is About What I've Been Reading

...or wanting to read. Apparently, there's an endless supply of books, but sadly, and clearly, our reading time is quite limited. I started this blog primarily because my "to-read" (2R) list got too dang long to keep anywhere else (- though I do love Amazon's wish list feature - ) and also because it gives me a sense of satisfaction to publicly declare that I have finished a book I started (even when I started it a long, long time ago).

It's Not Really a Book Review Site, But...

Books by kennymatic from 
Another reason I started this blog was to share with readers my opinion about whether or not they should invest their precious reading time in a particular title. I know, ostensibly, any review is supposed to do that. BUT. I also know that most reviews are purposely positive - they are written to make you want to read the reviewed title. (Sorry; it's true. Consider this a book reviewer's confession.)

So Many Books/So Little Time

What I aim to do is to give you a good idea about whether a book is really right for you - or maybe, for someone you know. Because besides "just" reading, sharing our vast ocean of reading material is also a joy.

That may explain why in some quasi-reviews here, I mention that a book - perhaps one I did not absolutely love - may appeal to someone with different interests, a different perspective, or a different educational background. Then there are books I think EVERYONE should read.

Hey, different strokes make the world go 'round.

I'm not crazy about mysteries, but know many who are big fans. I like nonfiction more than fiction. What about YOU?

What ARE YOU reading, my friends? HOW do you like it? Is it worth your time? Would you recommend it to a friend who might like it more than you do? I would love, love, love to hear from you. Comments below come directly to me; you're also welcome to post a comment at my reading/writing/tail-wagging Facebook Page or tweet at me anytime.

Thanks for sharing your page-turning journey with me!

Here are a few of my "must read" books:

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Cabaret of Plants

According to The Guardian's review of The Cabaret of Plants, botanist Richard Mabey has "a poet's eye" for plants, and I agree. However, while I found the book fascinating and the research awe-inspiring, I have to admit I also found it a tad tedious to read.

I think it's safe to blame a short attention span. (Mine.) Or perhaps it's better to blame my disappointment on unrealistic expectations.

British Naturalist Mabey is a fine and competent writer. The book, subtitled Forty Thousand Years of Plant Life and the Human Imagination, presents not one unifying story of the history of plants, but rather breaks up the work into species, families, and a few particularly interesting periods in plant life.

A Reader Out on a Limb

A fair portion of the beginning of the book focuses on trees, which I rarely think of as plants. So, there you have it - it's quite possible I'm just not sophisticated enough to read Mabey's works. I tried anyway.

From trees and bushes to corn, cotton and medicinal plants, The Cabaret covers it all. (Well, a lot of ground, anyway.) It is a broad and deep work, and if not comprehensive, it's certainly an extensive overview. I think it would make an excellent and much-appreciated gift for botany majors, master gardeners, and serious historians and naturalists.

The chapter Harlequins and Mimics: The Orchid Troupe, for example, juxtaposes the so-called "Tulip Fever" with the even more heated period of "Orchid Fever," both of which occurred during the late 1800s and raised the price of the flowers astronomically. The chapter describes both periods and both plant families, digging deep into the history, psychology and botany the brought on both fevers. Among other things.

It followed a similarly well-researched chapter, The Challenge of Carnivorous Plants: The Tipitiwitchet, which begins with an excerpt from a 1759 letter by Arthur Dobbs, then governor of North Carolina.  In it Dobbs describes a "kind of Catchfly sensitive which closes upon any thing that touches it." The letter was later quoted in Charles Nelson's biography of the Venus Flytrap, which Mabey explains "would for the next hundred years unsettle...ideas about the the distinctive character of plants and their place in the natural scheme of things."

Image: Wikipedia
Not only did cute-but-not-cuddly carnivorous plants upset the concept of the Great Chain of Being in the 18th century, according to Mabey, "The debate sparked off by the flytrap had epistemological repercussions too. It put the usefulness of biologic analogy - a favourite* eighteenth-century mode of 'explanation' - to severe test."

When discussing the Tipitiwitchet, Mabey doesn't stop with the botanical history of the plant or the era; he also adds a language lesson, explaining how the original name (the similarly spelled titipiwitshik, in the Lenape language of the East Coast Indians) was almost certainly purposefully "tweaked" to bring to mind the female genitalia in word as much as it might in its visual appearance.

(I'll leave you to your own devices here.)

Scat and Other Organic Stuff Makes Its Presence Known

I get really excited about plants as health food - medicine, if you must - and that's why I picked up Cabaret in the first place. Not surprisingly, then, my favorite chapters were those describing plant remedies in history (Ginseng, in particular) and Maize. Mabey validated my feelings about the tremendous wealth of knowledge we have destroyed in wiping out virtually all Native American medical knowledge, and barely protecting what we could have learned - and could still! - from people too often ignored in the Appalachian Mountains and the Ozarks.

Mabey makes sure not to ignore the animal kingdom, giving credit where credit is due to those who worked alongside plants lo these many years to spread their botanical wonder.

Which is to say, the varieties of apples we enjoy eating today has a lot to do with which ones the Chinese brown bears preferred way back when. They picked sweet ones, ate them, pooped out the seeds with a ready-to-plant plop of manure, and viola! our apple crop came about. Naturally.

Don't Drink While Reading Cabaret

Mabey's writing is more formal and flowery than I enjoy. That said, I mean it when I say he's a fine writer. Just, perhaps, not my favorite type.

I had really hoped The Cabaret of Plants would be more in the easy-breezy style of The World According to Soccer or have a more unifying story line like A Perfect Red. I truly enjoy learning new things, but simply wasn't primed to pick up Plants, which seemed more like a textbook than a book club pick like the oh-so-readable story of Henrietta Lacks.

Maybe I need to break my habit of reading as I relax with a glass of wine...

I don't want to judge a book by its cover, but isn't the UK title (pictured top right) much more exciting to look at than the US publication here, at left? 

Regardless, open the book and you'll find fantastic artwork that provide welcome, colorful displays on the otherwise info-packed pages of text. 

Happy reading, gardening, and eating, my friends. 
Care to offer a rebuttal? Are you a more sophisticated
reader than I? I welcome comments and guest reviews! 

*The author uses the Queen's English. There; you've been warned.