Book Reviews, etc.

The Journey Reading List (As of Nov 2015)

In a recent Facebook post, a friend also seeking discernment asked, “What books have you been suggested to read as part of your discernment?”

It seems like the list of books that I’m reading or have had recommended to me, grows faster than I can read. So, I thought I’d share some of the books I’m reading here, and the impact some of them are having on my journey.

I mark the start of the most recent phase of my journey as starting at a poetry conference at Yale Divinity School last May. One of the speakers was Christian Wiman and I picked up his book, “My Bright Abyss”. This has turned out to be a really important book to me, and I’m slowly reading it, along with several other books. I also picked up Denise Levertov’s “The Stream and the Sapphire” and
“Sands of the Well”. I’ve loved Levertov’s writing since I stumbled across her back in college. I also picked up Mary Oliver’s “A Thousand Mornings” as well as the Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins and The Complete English Poems of George Herbert. Poetry is an important part of my journey.

Also at that conference, I picked up Spiritual Direction Beyond the Beginnings by Janet K Ruffing. I’ve read a few chapters of this and set it aside for later.

My priest recommended The Wounding and Healing of Desire by Wendy Farley. There is a lot in this book, but it has also slipped further down my stack of books I’m currently reading, and I hope to get back to it soon.

At our church, there is a faith study group that has been reading Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. I joined the faith study group part way through and have only read portions of this book. Meeting with others to discuss books about faith is really important to me and I greatly appreciate the faith study group.

Meanwhile, a group formed at a church in a different part of the state. They posted information about what they were doing online. They were reading Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I participated as much as I could reading the book and sharing thoughts on my blog. This is a great book, and an important influence on my current thoughts about where God is calling me.

I’ve spoken with the Dean of Formation, and gotten many great recommendations for books to read. Two that jumped out at me are Joining God, Remaking Church, Changing the World by Alan Roxburgh. Another is People of the Way by Dwight J. Zscheile. I was just starting to read Zscheile’s book when I got interrupted by another book, so I don’t have much for thoughts on it yet.

The book that interrupted me was An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. Our church used one of the chapters from this book for our recent retreat. It caught my attention, so I picked it up and started reading it from the beginning. I’m only part way through, but I’m likely to add it to Wiman’s and Evan’s books as ones that are shaping my current thinking. Barbara Brown Taylor also wrote Leaving Church, which I am going to have to read.

I’m still very early in the discernment process, so I have lots of time to read more. What books are important to you?

Music Monday - Revival: A Folk Music Novel

Kim and I have very different reading styles. Her dresser is covered with stacks of novels waiting to be read, next to a flashlight so she can keep reading after I fall a sleep. She jumps into the novels and canb read them a novel at a time. Me? My computer screen has dozens of tabs open, as I hop from Facebook to Twitter and Google+. There are blogs and news stories I hop between. During those rare times that I actually try to read a novel, I typically read them about a page at a time. After a few sentences I have to pause and wonder. Social media is probably better suited to my adult ADD mind.

So, Kim has already finished reading Scott Alarik’s “Revival: A Folk Music Novel” which she picked up at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival. Me? I’ve been working on it for a while, and am only on page sixty. There is so much in there that I want to savor.

Yet, to me, it isn’t about the story or the characters. Nathan, Kit, Ferguson, Jackie, Murph, Ryder, Randy? Sure, they are not “based upon, or intended to resemble, any person living or dead”. Yet they do resemble so many of the people that I see every year at Falcon Ridge, the people that gather up at The Longue on Thursday night, or at the Main Stage on Friday afternoon during the Emerging Artist Showcase. They are the people that I talk with as I head from the dance stage to the workshop stage. They are my people.

No, there is something else, more important running just below the surface. It is the lectures of Ferguson and Nathan, and the underlying story.

Ferguson again closed his eyes and spoke in a measured cadence. “As near as I can tell, the difference between art and craft is that art is always trying to tell the truth. Any old chair is not art but a Shaker chair is. Why? Because a Shaker chair tells us something about the people who built it, who they were, what they believed, how they lived their lives.”

Ferguson opened his eyes, smiled at Ryder, and said, “That Texas guy made me wonder if there was anything he really wanted to say about himself. Anything true, anything real. Anything that made him so sad or happy or pissed-off that he wanted to shout it out loud to see if anybody else felt the same way.”

He gently poked Ryder’s chest with his finger. “Doesn’t anything piss you off like that, so much that you want to howl it for the whole world to hear?”

“Like what?” Ryder squeaked. He was in way over his head.

“Like what?” Ferguson bellowed, then reined himself in. Jackie cleared her through to keep from laughing. Nathan smiled at her.

Ferguson knows folk music, but it is more than just about folk music. It is about writing, about art, about living your life. It resonates with me.

There are times that I have been so mad as I write blog posts, my hands shake. I have to steady myself. There are times that I have been so sad, that I struggle to keep back my tears as I write. There is an old image I have about writing, something about opening up a vein and letting it flow on the paper. But I write on my computer, so it is more like hooking a USB port directly into my nervous system and feeling all of my energy drain out of me into my blog posts.

To me, that is what Alarik is writing about. Whether you want to be a good folk musician, a good blog, or just a good person, you really need to read, and ponder this novel.

Later on, there is a brief line, easily skipped over if you read the novel too quickly. “Folk music taught him that our most ordinary mornings can be the stuff of song.” The same applies to any good writing, and especially to blog posts.

Yeah, I try to pump out a blog post every day. Sometimes, it is just exercise, keeping my mind and my typing fingers nimble. Other times, I just can’t stop writing. Alarik’s novel drives me to keep on writing.

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QuePublishing Joins PodcampCT Sponsors

QuePublishing, “providing practical advice on computers and technology” has become a sponsor of PodcampCT. They are contributing several books that will be given away to lucky PodcampCT attendees.

This list includes:

As I spoke with a representative of Que Publishing, I suggested asking PodcampCT attendees if they have read any of these books, or other Que Publishing books that would be of interest to other PodcampCT attendees and they are very interested in the feedback.

Have you read any of these books? Any other Que Publishing books about social media? Which ones did you like best? Why? Were there any that you didn’t like? What was wrong with them?

One of the things that I really like about Podcamps are that they are discussions, were everyone’s opinion is valued, and not simply presentations. Already, I am getting into some great discussions about Podcamp. Hopefully, we can get into some good discussions here about books Podcampers would like, and most importantly, I hope everyone signs up for PodcampCT before it is too late.

Eating With The Enemy, and Pitching the Blogger

Well, it has been a while since I reviewed a book here at Orient Lodge. With all the different emails, blog posts and social media messages to read, I rarely find or make time for reading books, though I do find time to read plenty of pitches for books that some publicist really thinks I should review here.

Most of the pitches get filed away in my PR folder without a response, however every once in a while a pitch comes along that sounds interesting. Often they are for books about technology or social media that are written by friends of mine. It isn’t very often that I review books about guys in New Jersey who run BBQ shacks and engage in diplomacy with the North Koreans.

Some of that is because there just aren’t many books out there like that. In fact, as best as I can tell, Eating with the Enemy is one of a kind. It has been an enjoyable read by the side of the pool during my few free moments. Not only is the story well written and compelling, but there are some important words of wisdom hidden in the text, particularly for those interested in social media.

Bobby Egan, who runs a BBQ shack in Hackensack NJ, talks about growing up in a mob controlled neighborhood. When you wanted something, you didn’t just sit down with someone and get right to business. You spent time. You got to know the person you wanted to do business with. You chatted about how things were going, about their family, maybe about how the Giants or Nets were playing. If you developed a sense of trust with the person, you might get around to broaching the business issue eventually.

Bobby talks about the same thing in terms of dealing with the North Koreans. You don’t just sit down at the table and start talking about nuclear weapons. Instead, you have a steak. You go catch a Nets game. You try to explain American idioms. Slowly you develop a trusted relationship and can start talking about more serious issues.

Some of the social media experts out there might learn a lesson from Bobby. For that matter, so might a lot of the publicists pitching books that I don’t expect I’ll ever read.

With that, let me digress. Tony Viardo is the publicist that sent me the pitch for Eating with the Enemy. His pitch started off “My Name is Tony Viardo and I’m heading up public awareness for a new memoir entitled ‘Eating with the Enemy’ by Bobby Egan. I’d like to offer you a free copy for your review, in order to perhaps post your opinions about it on your site; I believe it would interest your unique audience.”

Okay, Tony probably got down to business much more quickly than Bobby would have, but there is a difference between emails from publicists and steaks in Hackensack. Yet Tony is clear about what he wants. He wants people talking about Bobby’s book. He tries to appeal to people that have a special feeling for their audience. Yeah, that’s me. I’ve got a unique audience. They’re a great group. There are mommy bloggers from the Philippines. There are political bloggers from around the United States and there are all kinds of bloggers searching to get their story out and/or perhaps make a little money on the side. It is a great bunch and I value the interaction I have with my audience.

So, I don’t want to steer my readers wrong. I’m not going to review some book that I’m not excited about and tell people it is good. Instead, I’m going to spend time reading the book and thinking about how much I enjoyed it and whether or not I think my readers will. I think a lot of my readers would really like this book. For that matter, as I’ve read parts of it by the pool, I’ve described sections to my wife and we’ve talked about other people that we think would enjoy the book.

So, if you’re looking for a good book, check out Eating with the Enemy. If you’re looking for a good publicist, spend a little time getting to know Tony to see if maybe he is a good fit for you, and if you’re looking for me to review a book or a product, spend a little time getting to know me and my audience and then let’s talk.

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The Design of Design

How does Frederick P. Brooks new book, The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist compare to his classic, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, Anniversary Edition (2nd Edition)? How much time do I want to spend trying to find out?

These were questions I asked myself as I received an email from his publicist asking if I would review the new book. I decided that it was a book I wanted to review and I wanted to look at the whole book, and not just a sample chapter or portions online. As I noted before, I’m pretty picky about which books I take time to review, and while the new book might be really great, it could also be a big disappointment and not live up to the previous book. The Mythical Man-Month is a book of mythic proportions. It is a book that I used to require any developers working for me to read. It sits in a special place in my book case. It is a tough act to follow. Nonetheless, I took the plunge, and asked the publicist for a review copy of the new book, and I’m glad I did.

I received my copy of The Design of Design earlier this week. I’ve been taking time here and there to read it and still have a long way to go. However, I’ve read enough already to state that it deserves its place next to the Mythical Man-Month. It takes a broader view and is applicable not only to those of us working in computers, but to people involved in any sort of design. As an example, it provides a great contrast between computer design and other types of design such as architecture.

He starts off each chapter with various interesting quotes, and starts the first chapter with a quote from Francis Bacon:

[New ideas would come about] by a connexion and transferring of the observations of one Arte, to the uses of another, when the experience of several misteries shall fall under consideration of one mans minde.

I have always been fascinated by how new ideas come about as well as by the connections between people with different viewpoints. This is a book for a reading club with computer scientists, architects and fashion designers. (I would love to hear a fashion designer’s thoughts about this book.)

The question of where new ideas come from is one of those great questions that many great thinkers have pondered. The book seems to offer pointers in the right direction, but at least to me, the question remains somewhat intractable.

Brooks starts off by looking at a good look at the Rational Model of design. As I read through this section, my mind wandered to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. In many ways, the Tractatus is to twentieth century philosophy what the Rational Model of design is to design.

The final proposition of the Tractatus is “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”, and it seems as if something similar needs to be said of the Rational Model of design. Yet Wittgenstein went on to write the Philosophical Investigations, which explore so much more. Likewise, Brooks goes on to explore so much more in The Design of Design.

As Brooks explored the issues of the goals and desiderata of design, my mind wandered to the question of ‘What is Quality?’ It seems as if this book needs to be read alongside Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Another diversion my mind took as I read this was thinking about how both the Mythical Man Month, as well as The Design of Design relates to what is going on in the world of the Nokia N900, and for that matter in the broader areas of Linux development and cellphone development. When you get right down to it, the IBM System 360 was a much less powerful computer than the Nokia N900. Yet the System 360 went through a design process that everyone refers back to. What has the design process for the Nokia N900 really been like? What about the design process for Maemo or MeeGo?

Readers may suggest that these are very different situations, it is like comparing a The Cathedral and the Bazaar. I think this is an important point. The System 360 is a Cathedral and everything going on with cellphones, tablets, slates and Linux is a Bazaar. The Design of Design needs to take its place in the special section of beloved books wedged between Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and The Cathedral and the Bazaar.

Over the next few weeks, I expect The Design of Design will color my thinking about various topics I write about here. You should go out and get the book, read it, and share your thoughts.

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