Book Reviews, etc.

Twenty Five Books You’ve Read That Will Always Stick With You

About a week ago, I was tagged in the Facebook meme “Twenty books you’ve read that will always stick with you”. As is typical, instead of just listing off twenty books, I thought I would write a blog post (which will automatically get loaded as a Facebook Note), where I list those books, as well as provide a little back story on them.

Unfortunately, when I started working on this, I was thinking it was twenty-five books, so you get five extra books at no extra cost. Also, I’ve sorted them in terms of when I read them.

The first few books are from my childhood. Flip, by Wesley Dennis was written back in 1941 and is about a young horse learning to jump. He has a dream about having wings, and this enables him to make his big jump.

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf back in 1936 is another childhood favorite of mine. It is of a young bull that liked to sit and smell the flowers.

Lightfoot the Deer by Thorton Burgess rounds out the early childhood section. It was originally published in 1921. For some reason this book by Burgress is the first of his that comes to mind, although I read every book of Burgess I could find.

As I got a little older, I didn’t read as much. One series that I did read was the Danny Dunn books. Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine is the one that comes first to mind. It was written by Jay Williams in 1958. I read may of the Danny Dunn books when I was around ten and I believe I did a book review on this one.

Yet I enjoyed science fiction and fantasy much more. I read many of the Roger Zelazny books in the Chronicles of Amber, with Nine Princes in Amber being the most memorable.

Of course, The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, as well as the whole Lord of the Rings series was also important to me.

However, the fantasy book that most stuck with me was The Last Unicorn written by Peter S. Beagle and first published back in 1968.

As I grew older a book that especially caught my attention was Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany.

Another writer that greatly captured my attention around this time was Hermann Hesse. Like other writers that I enjoyed, I sought out and read every book by Hermann Hesse that I could find. Siddhartha was one of the most influential for me. I also sought out books by his mentor, Gottfried Keller and read some of his books as well.

When I went off to college, I ended up studying philosophy and Plato’s: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito was one of the important early influences on my interest in philosophy.

Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling was another very important book for me, as were the writings of Wittgenstein.

The other great philosophy book that I was introduced to around that time was Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values. It is a book that I often go back to read.

My favorite philosophy professor encouraged me to take more literature classes, which unfortunately I ignored until my senior year, when I took some great literature classes. It was then that I discovered the writings of Virginia Woolf. Two of her books were particularly influential on me: Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.

Around the same time, I was introduced to James Joyce’s work. Ulysses is perhaps the one that especially jumped out at me, although all of his books have been important and I even read some of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to my daughters when they were young. They didn’t believe me when I talked about it being such an important piece of literature and then started reading about the moocow coming down along the road and meeting baby tuckoo. And yes, I had a hairy face when I the first few pages to them.

I also took a writing class in college where three books were added to my collection of very important books. Denise Levertov’s Light Up the Cave, Ezra Pound’s ABC of Reading and T.S. Elliot’s The Sacred Wood - Essays on Poetry and Criticism stuck with me as books that have greatly shaped my thinking about reading and writing.

After college, I lived for some time on a sailboat on the banks of the Hudson River on the Upper West Side of New York City. It was a great way for a young reader to live. In the summer, I would sit on the back of the boat eating a salad I would pick up from one of the shops on Broadway reading one after another great European novel. In the winter, when life on a boat in the North East was harder, I would huddle under the covers with a bottle of Scotch and a long cold Russian Novel.

There were many great books that I read during that time and many of them have stayed with me. A few of the more important ones included The Brothers Karamozov, Remembrance of Things Past, Pride and Prejudice, and The Mill on the Floss

Another important book for me from this time was William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways: A Journey into America. It is another one of those books that I return to from time to time. A while ago, I started my Long Blue Tail project, where I was following Blue Highways, and searching to see what I could find of various stops along the way looking through social media. It has been several months since I added anything there, but I hope to get back to it again someday soon.

As my career took twists and turns, I worked with an organizational consultant who had been trained in the Group Relations tradition of Tavistock. Through her, I found many interesting books about group dynamics in the workplace. I learn of ‘Social Dreaming’ and was introduced to the book The Third Reich of Dreams. It is an out of print and hard to find book, but it is a very important book for looking at how all our dreams are inter-related.

When my children were born, I discovered some old books and some new books for children. No list would be complete without Goodnight Moon, and at least one book by Robert McCloskey, such as Blueberries for Sal.

Two other books I should add to this group include My Great-Aunt Arizona by Gloria Houston and illustrated by Susan Condie Lamb. Ms. Lamb was the mother of one of my eldest daughter’s first playmates. The other very important book is The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story. It is also written by Gloria Houston and has a similar sensibility.

As my children got older, I read them Watership Down. It was an important family event, and now Fiona is reaching the age to read Watership Down to her.

One final book for the list, which has grown even further past the twenty or twenty five books originally intended. E. B. White’s One Man's Meat is a collection of his essays written on his saltwater farm in Maine. I’ve often thought that this collection of essays is a must for any aspiring blogger.

So, there you have my expanded list. What’s yours?

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#Whuffie, News and Blogs

Last week, I received a copy of Tara Hunt’s new book The Whuffie Factor. By traditional marketing standards, it is everything I detest. It has an annoyingly cute and trendy title. It is about a subject I think I already know a lot about.

Too make things worse, the first paragraph inside the fly cover starts off “The book that catches the crest of Web 2.0 and shows how any business can harness its power …” If I were browsing books at a bookstore, that would probably be enough for me to put the book right back on the shelf, assuming I would have taken it off the shelf in the first place.

However, Tara Hunt sent a message out on Twitter asking for people to review the book, and because Tara has incredible whuffie and knows how to use it, I agreed to review the book and I’m glad I did.

So, let’s start off by talking about what ‘whuffie’ is. Tara writes,

The term “whuffie” was coined by Cory Doctorow, creator of the popular blog Boing Boing, to describe social capital in his futuristic science fiction novel Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Tara goes into detail about how social capital really works online with great examples of companies that have used whuffie effectively, as well as examples of when companies have blown it, severely damaging the whuffie.

She does a great job of explaining all of this in a way that I imagine technological troglodytes could understand and as I read through the book, I thought of all kinds of people that I think should read the book.

One good example is many of the people in the newspaper industry. There are many reasons that the newspaper industry having difficulty. However, the lack of a proper understanding of whuffie and the news industry is a compounding factor. It used to be that the local newspaper was an integral part of the local community. Everyone knew the reporters and the newspaper boys. You could talk to them and they would listen. They had a certain amount of whuffie. Yet as large companies came in trying to maximize ROI and depersonalize everyone involved with the newspapers, newspapers lost whuffie, and with that, are hemorrhaging badly.

Meanwhile, online bloggers engage in discussions and build whuffie. This helps the journalistic bloggers, but it also helps many other bloggers as well. One site that I find very interesting is EntreCard. This is a site that allows bloggers to drop cards on one another as a means of saying, “Hi, I visited your site and I like it.” It is a great way of building whuffie.

On the other hand, the folks running EntreCard appear to do everything in their power to destroy their own whuffie. This results in fairly frequent firestorms where the bloggers with the most whuffie leave, sometimes setting up their own whuffie exchange sites.

You will note that I still have EntreCard on my site, because in spite of the anti-whuffie actions of the folks running EntreCard, it is still useful for me in expanding my own whuffie. However, I now support Adgitize and CMF Ads which is where a lot of EntreCard refugees have fled.

Now, another EntreCarder, Greg Mathews, is considering setting up his own Whuffie Exchange site. So far, he is doing things right. He’s announced what he is planning to do and sought feedback and buy-in from potential users even before he brings up his new site.

So, I hope that some of my friends who are trying to salvage newspaper companies reads Tara’s book. I hope some of the folks working on sites like EntreCard also read the book, and I’m sure that over the coming days, I’ll think of more and more people that really should read Tara’s book.

The Faith of Barack Obama

A few weeks ago, I received a review copy of The Faith of Barack Obama. It is a short book, around 150 pages, and written in a light breezy style, so I figured I would get through it very quickly and get my post up reviewing the book done well before Saddleback or Denver.

However, while it is a quick read, it is also an enjoyable read, so I’ve stretched it out, savoring the experience. Today, the convention begins, so I figured I’d better get this finished.

First, I should give a little back background. The author, Stephen Mansfield lived in Texas before moving to Tennessee and wrote a book, The Faith of George W. Bush. With that, I feared that his religious and political viewpoints might be a bit more conservative than my own. If they are, it is not obvious, and certainly isn’t an impediment to enjoying the book.

Instead, Mansfield starts off by observing Sen. Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, where he stated, “We worship an awesome God in the Blue States”. He talks about the changes going on in religion and politics, liberals reclaiming their religious beliefs and chaos amongst various conservative leaning ministers.

With this as a background, Mr. Mansfield traces Sen. Obama’s religious journey, exploring what it was like to be brought up by an atheist, married to a Muslim and attending a Catholic school in Indonesia. He talks about Sen. Obama’s organizing in Chicago and the interactions with the black churches there. He explores black liberation theology. All of this providing grist for Sen. Obama as he works out his salvation with fear and trembling.

Even if you aren’t interested in what has helped form the faith of Barack Obama, the book is worth reading, simply as a well-written biography.

How will this fit with the stories that we will hear about Sen. Obama during the convention? It is hard to say. My sense is that it will supplement it nicely. I enjoyed reading the book. I think people who read this site are likely to as well. If you’ve read it, or have some other good books you would like to recommend, please let me know.

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National buy Outright Barbarous Day

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit. April showers bring May Flowers. Hopefully, the May Flowers won’t bring much more pollen. I’m not sure if it is the pollen, a virus, or what, but I’ve really been hurting this week. I have a bunch of things I need to get done today, and I’m way behind schedule.

At the top of the list today is to promote Jeffrey Feldman’s book launch for Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy. The book is supposed to start shipping today, and Dr. Feldman is encouraging everyone to order the book today on Amazon as part of the online book launch party. More details can be found on the event at Facebook. While you’re at it, stop by at Dr. Feldman’s blog Frameshop.

Beyond that, if you are in Connecticut, you need to call your State Senator today, to let them know that you oppose efforts by Republican State Senators to make it harder for people, especially, the poor, minorities and the elderly, to vote, by requiring that they get photo identification.

With all of that, I need to throw myself into the day that is starting the wonderful month of May. Let’s see I can rack up another National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo) of putting a post up every day. So far, I’ve managed to do it for the first four months. Let’s also see what other great opportunities can come this way this month.

Seeking clearer political thinking and speaking

Back in February, I received an advanced copy of Jeffrey Feldman’s book, Framing the Debate: Famous Presidential Speeches and How Progressives Can Use Them to Change the Conversation (And Win Elections). I started reading it and really enjoyed it. I wanted to find the best time to sit down and write up my review.

In March, I wrote a blog post about how the Edwards family is dealing with Elizabeth’s cancer. The blog post went up a few hours before the news conference where they announced that Sen. Edwards was staying in the race, despite the return of Elizabeth’s cancer. I started off by talking about Feldman’s book.

It is a great book that I hope anyone interested in politics spends some time reading.

We would do well to spend more time reading speeches of former leaders. The first speech analyzed is George Washington’s first inaugural address. He spoke about being called by “the voice of my country”. Feldman talks about the “humble servant” frame, of great leaders responding to a call by the country and a recognition that they it takes much more than just a great leader to solve our country’s problems, it takes the strength of the American people.

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