Friday, January 11, 2019

Different Playbooks: Then and Now

In Chariot on the Mountain, Jeopardy winner and journalist Jack Ford paints a picture of Kitty Payne, who was a slave and also the daughter of the plantation owner. When the master died, Payne ran away. After being captured, beaten, and returned, instead of further punishing her, the master's owner's widow helped her run away a second time. She also assisted Payne in mounting a precedent-setting legal case in which she was ultimately freed.

Ford does a good job spinning this (fictional) account of actual circumstances leading to the 1946 trial. While some scenes depict very difficult circumstances, the book surely glosses over the pain and depth of hardship both women faced in a country so different from today's United States.

Unfortunately, things haven't changed as much as many (white) people (like me) would like to think.

Jodi Piccoult's Small Great Things tells a different story set in a different time, but it's packed with most of the same problems. I'm not qualified to unpack them, but I can recommend both books.

It's a pretty-well-accepted fact that public school curriculums don't cover a lot of history - and in many cases, one being slavery in the United States and other countries, it's not covered accurately or adequately.

I'm also not qualified to analyze educational curriculums. I think I'm qualified to recommend books, though, in particular, these two. Historical fiction isn't the best way to learn history, but it's not the worst way to start, and starting is a whole lot better than not starting.

About the authors

If you've read many of my reviews, you've probably noticed I prefer books by journalists, doctors and lawyers...not necessarily in that order. Jeopardy winners is a new category for me. Ford's writing, in my opinion, is not entirely up to the story itself. That said, I would read another book by the author if the story appealed to me. Piccoult, the more popular/successful author, is formulaic, but in a good way. That said, having read three of her books, I'm moving on to other authors.

Because both of these books are about race, it's worth noting authors of both books are white, while the main characters are black. In other words, if you read these books, know that they may be a place to start, but understand where you're starting from. And go far from that point, thinking all the way.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

AHA! A Short Guide to a Happy Dog

I've owned dogs for more than 2 decades and even written about them. Turns out I have a lot to learn - and this book helped.

A Short Review of Cesar's Short Guide

Cesar Millan's Short Guide to a Happy Dog begins with a little much-needed psychology. Dogs aren't humans, and that is a short lesson that can take a surprisingly long time to sink in. I've read about pack behavior, sure I thought I understood that, la-la-la... now I'm happy to say Millan's clear and simple writing style taught me more than I ever forgot about how to be the leader of my pack.

Also included are a few not-so-subtle lessons about how to be a better leader and human in general.

This is an easy read that is worth the time for most dog owners who don't have a lot of experience with animal training or pack behavior.

A Deeper Dive - Not Just About Canines, and Not a Training Guide

Good news for readers: Millan understands that this book is for humans, and writes from our perspective. He gently reminds us - repeatedly, because it bears repeating - that humans have quirks. Like our love of language. (Guilty!!) Turns out language really skews our view of the world, and time, and power, and a few other important things.
short guide to happy dog

Dogs, see, are always, constantly focused on what is in front of their noses. They live in the present to an extent that Buddha should emulate.
"I'm not sure whether there is any evolutionary advantage to the human tendency to live in the past, present and future simultaneously, but I'm pretty sure we do it because of our highly developed language skills."
In spite of the fact I said there are some "not so subtle" lessons included about being a better (happier?) human, this book isn't preachy in the least - it simply states important facts as they relate to dog behavior. Because, as it turns out, your behavior has a lot to do with how your dog behaves. See Millan's website for an excerpt from the book.

Now notice I refer to this as a good introduction to dog behavior, but haven't used the word training. That's because I recently started a basic training class for my 6 year old dog (who may or may not learn some new tricks). When I told the instructor I was reading this book, it was clear that she wasn't a fan.

She asked me if I ever noticed how often Millan gets bitten by dogs on his shows Dog Whisperer and Leader of the Pack. (I hadn't; but then again, I never watched his shows.)  Her point was well-made, however. Getting bit repeatedly by more than a few dogs either suggests you are very unlucky, hanging around the wrong dogs, or not exactly a great dog expert.

To be fair, in this book Millan clearly states that he does not have formal training in animal behavior or psychology. He certainly has more experience than I do, though - and I think I learned some good and useful lessons. I have learned at least as much, or more, from just a couple of basic training classes with said instructor - who does have a degree in animal training (and is working on a PhD in psychology).

So, live and learn...and try not to get bit.

Bottom Line 

Recommended. If you want to be leader of your pack, don't let it sit on the shelf for a couple of years like I did. If you want your dog to jump (or sit, or stand, or heel) on your command, look into professional training classes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The President is Missing, But Not For Long

Well, I finished The President is Missing, just shy of deadline.

Our local library offers the most popular new titles as "Lucky Day" books, available for a non-renewable 7 day loan.

Have you read it?

James Patterson Book #1

This was the first of James Patterson's books that I've read. Go figure. 

According to the most reliable source I have (the book jacket) Patterson holds the Guinness World Record for the most #1 NYT best sellers. 

Clearly, I was feeling optimistic on that trip to the library:  in addition to The President is Missing I snagged 5 other books, including Zoo and The Store, also by Patterson. 

Having digested the very engaging but somewhat formulaic Missing, I'm willing to crack open those other two novels, but I have to admit I'm a bit disappointed. Based on Patterson's reputation and obvious success, I'd hoped to find him a suitable replacement for Michael Creighton. Alas, he is not.

James Patterson Book # 2

Stay tuned... and as always, I welcome guest posts on this blog. If you'd like to review your favorite James Patterson book, or argue that he really is equal to or better than Michael Creighton, reach out here in the comments or connect with me through my Dumb Facebook Page devoted to dogs and books and other things I can't live without. 

Here's to Happy Endings! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Two American Tales: Shoe Dog and Americanah

Shoe Dog, A Memoir by the Creator of Nike (Phil Knight) and Americanah, a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie have little in common on the surface of things.

We can assume Shoe Dog is (mostly) non-fiction; Americanah, a work of fiction.

But we know the line is always blurred.


Adichie grew up in Nigeria, and divides her time between the U.S. and her home country; without that background, how could she create main character Ifemelu? Americanah follows Ifemelu though several serious relationships, with other characters, certainly - but Adichie just as carefully develops her relationships with cultures, institutions, and traditions. 

Shoe Dog

Knight's experience in America is wildly different from Adichie's (or Ifemelu's) but to the title's credit, while Shoe Dog documents the-building-of-an-iconic-American-business, it also takes a rather thoughtful look at Asian business practices, world economics, and complicated personal and professional relationships.

Ah, I love reading.

What books have been keeping you awake lately? Please share with your fellow page-turners

Friday, December 22, 2017

Where Did I Leave My Glasses? A Book to Remember

Martha Weinman Lear's lamentations on memory failings - normal memory failings - are somewhat long-winded, but her conversational style is engaging and her book is packed with enough well-researched findings to make it worth the reading time.

Book about Normal Memory LossOn its surface, the 2008 release Where Did I Leave My Glasses? is reassuring. Most of the frustrations we experience are "normal." Nagging questions like,  what's his name, when did I find out about that, and where did I leave my glasses? are to be expected as we age.

Sorry, the truth hurts.

And (spoiler alert!) Lear includes no surefire remedies and frankly, her advice is anything but sexy: There's no magic bullet, not even Ginko biloba, and the best diet advice is this: A heart-healthy diet is also a brain-healthy diet." See? Ho-hum, boring stuff - we know that. (Why most of us eschew the advice is another matter.)

The bottom line: human memory is a strange and wondrous thing. Understanding the difference between procedural, semantic and episodic memory* and realizing most of your "where are my glasses" moments are episodic means you don't have much to worry about. Well, no more than the rest of us do.

Happy reading, whateveryournameis.
_ __ __ _ _ __ __ __ __ _ __
Memory primer

Procedural memory = remembering how to walk

Semantic memory = remembering what walking is

Episodic memory = who was I walking with, and what was her name? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What R U Reading and Do You Know Who Wrote It? Ghostwriters, Probably

A lot of titles and professions in the business world are misunderstood. Most of them, I would argue. That said, if you ever meet a copywriter with a big chip on his or her shoulder, I hope you'll cut him or her (OK, me) some slack.

Most copywriters can also be called "ghostwriters," and although neither is a particularly lofty title, in our information-laden world, writers of all ilks* deserve some extra... consideration, for starters. (More compensation, too - but I'll leave that topic for another day.)

This post appeared earlier this year on my blog about business writing.

What Do Copywriters Write? Everything

In the past six months or so, I've written about employment placement services, OSHA regulations,
e-parking apps, replacement windows, agricultural dust control products, hand-crafted jewelry
landscaping services and bulk mulch products, mobile pet grooming services, PeopleSoft implementations, escape room games, marketing automation, keratin hair straightening processes,
online accounting services, floral arrangements, appointment-setting software, lead paint remediation products, snow plowing and ice management techniques and a variety of medical conditions, surgeries and treatments, and reimbursement systems affecting both patients and providers.

Over approximately the same time period, my work has also appeared in three Forbes blogs, The Huffington Post, and a couple of other places I just can't mention.

I've written policies and procedural manuals for employees of companies where I've never been employed - and not just written, as in wrangled someone else's words, but written as in created and developed the policy (after discussions with several company principles or department head) and then written, for stakeholder approval. I have not written public policy but, many a hired-gun copywriter has. Sorry if that ruins your romantic notion about politicians and other public servants but hey, they're busy people. (Do you have any idea how much time it takes to raise enough money to run for office?)

My point? Information is a tricky thing. Regardless of the expert's name on an article or the name of the publication, it's quite possible the piece you're reading was written by a copywriter with a basic journalism degree in his (or her) back pocket, a fairly small balance in his (or her) bank account, and a whole lot of secrets.

Ghostwriters are not in the Fake News Business

This is absolutely not intended to be a jab at journalism, public relations, corporate information, business blogs or any other form of writing. Quite the contrary. Journalists are trained to research, investigate, interview and quickly disseminate information - real, helpful information. Not "just the facts," but the facts plus context.

As always, I highly recommend reading a lot, and thinking even more. And hey, tip your bartenders and copywriters. They're both generally undervalued in the professional world.

*Like copywriters, ilk is a word that doesn't get a lot of respect.       In fact, many modern spell-check programs don't recognize it. (Merriam-Webster does.) I love how internet retailer Woot uses ilk in an ad for a bag that's definitely not elk.
As long as I'm rambling, I should point out that Woot is a company that appears to "get" copywriting and all that other mumbo-jumbo. Again, that's probably fodder for a whole different post. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Fun with Words: Thanks, CJR and TSA

I'm a word-lover, so two articles from Columbia Journalism Review made me smile this week -

What do 'recombobulation' and 'binary' have in common? Well, at first you might think, not much, other than the fact that CJR recently wrote about both.

On further review, however, there may be a little more to the relationship. I've been discombobulated and I have to say, I believe it is a binary thing. Either you're combobulated or discombobulated. Based on personal experience (and a poor grasp of chemistry), I think it's something like being either solid or liquid. Frankly, I find it nearly impossible to be in both states at the same time.

Apparently, the Transportation Safety Administration now recognizes that collecting your carry-ons, shoes, and other assorted atoms and grouping them into a tighter bundle takes some time. And space. So there.
TSA Recombobulation area in airport

Recombobulation Takes Time. And Space. And Good Reporting. 

So, for shedding light on the under-appreciated word combobulation, I thank CJR (and TSA).

Now, back to binary. It seems a little odd that there can be so many meanings, don't you think? Does that mean two really isn't enough?

Think about it. And if you like words and wonderful writing (reporting, too) maybe consider supporting CJR.

Speaking of words to love, remember sniglets? Since they appeared in the 1980s, they've been upgraded.