Saturday, August 31, 2013

Six of One

Rita Mae Brown’s Six of One tells the story of a group of women whose story spans from 1909 to 1980.  The story is set in the fictional town of Runnymede on the Mason Dixon line between Pennsylvania and Maryland (a really great part of the country having visited it many times while living in Washington, DC).  Louisa and Julia Ellen (Juts) are sisters who are bitter rivals from birthday party fiascos to competing with each other over attention from others.  The story also is aided by the influx of women characters that make you laugh, smile, cry, and maybe even raise an eyebrow.  Brown adds in social issues such as the sexuality of two women in a relationship, which back in its day probably would have been just as it was in this book.  I hear Southern women are a select brand and clearly Brown has significant lineage herself in this clan of women, otherwise I don’t think it would be so realistic.  While the vignettes were easy to read, I have to say I am not a big fan of the writing device of changing from one generation to the next – i.e. one chapter set in 1920 and the next in 1980.  Made it very confusing to keep the story straight and it was a huge detractor for me.  The reader also gained perspective into race, social issues, and the issue of wartime feelings (and the depression).  Overall, I was moved by some of the writings and changes that occurred by some of the characters, but then in the end I said, maybe I just can’t completely get this book, missing important pieces?  I guess I got distracted often and didn’t give the book as much of a chance as I could in putting all of the pieces together.  Taken chapter by chapter (from cat story to rolling around in bed and being listened to by the youngster) it works to some degree.  Moments of ahhh, and moments of “so what”….  You probably guessed, not in my top ten.     

Sunday, August 25, 2013


You may have heard the concept of “a play within a play,” well this read is a “book within a book.” Thomas Bernhardt’s Concrete is anything but what the title suggests – hard as a rock!  Bernhardt is setting new directions with this book which reminds me a great deal of playwright Eugene Ionesco’s Bald Soprano.  In many ways, it is an absurdist book in that the book is about the main character writing a book, which he doesn’t write and instead we learn about why he can’t or doesn’t write the book!  The main character, Rudolph, is a Viennese musicologist who sets out to write a book on the life and music of composer Mendelssohn Bartholdy.  When Rudolph’s sister learns of his desire to do so, she chastises him and tells all about her brother’s inability to actually write the book.  In my opinion, Bernhardt opens the door through this genre of writing for all of the recent writings/comedies such as Seinfeld – a tv show about creating a tv show.  Clearly Jerry Seinfeld and his crew are influenced by the brilliance of Bernhardt.  Rudolph’s procrastination and turmoil of writing anything just adds more fuel to his sister’s incessant nagging.  The book is one long stream of consciousness monologue of sorts.  There are no chapter breaks and Rudolph goes from one agonizing blank page to another.  Rudolph is drawn to his sister for her approval, yet is verbally abused at every moment by her.  She actually is responsible for his parents’ eventual demise!  Love the characters, love the story, and love the style in which Bernhardt presents this human condition, dream big and never go past GO!  Not a long read at all.  This is not for the linear, happy ending kind of story people.  It is a new brand of writing (circa 1982) which I suggest sets the stage for the comedies of today.  Go read this one!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Happiness Project

Imagine waking up one day and saying, hmm maybe I just want to be happier than I am now.  Well, exactly what Gretchen Rubin does in her book, The Happiness Project.  Rubin decided to read as many books and reports about why some people are happier than others.  As a life coach, I have always said that to be happy you need to have something to look forward to and you need to feel a sense of accomplishment (and to feel needed).  Whether this is in fact true or not, I really enjoyed reading Rubin’s research on happiness.  Her approach is quite unique in that after her research, and yes many people she informed about the project seemingly made fun of her, but not I.  I liked her approach, writing down all the things that she valued as a person and then she decided to put her values into action through a month-by-month commitment to each value, one at a time.  Here was her monthly commitments to follow: January – boost your energy; February – remember love; March – aim higher (raise those expectations of self); April – lighten up (don’t take yourself so seriously) – May – be serious about play (this is an area I find almost all of my clients forget to do, add balance through recreation and fun into your life!); June – make time for friends (this is a common theme I read from the literature, those most happy have a competent friend group!); July – buy some happiness (spend that money!); August – contemplate the heavens; September – pursue a passion (we all need to do that for sure!); October – pay attention (little things matter); November – keep a contended heart; and December – boot camp perfect (practice makes perfect!).  As a married mom of two, Gretchen in many ways is like most people, busy with family but different in that she can commit to something and do it for the long term.  A very solid game plan for those looking to make a change in their life.  Enjoyed this read.  Good as a pre-New Year’s reading project!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success

I was expecting a book pretty focused on leadership, instead it was a story of the coaching life of Phil Jackson, extraordinaire of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers fame.  The autobiography outlining his career (Phil Jackson) is captured in Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success.  Jackson is one of the most esteemed coaches in the history of the National Basketball Association, winning eleven championships in a relatively short period of time.  In securing this feat, Jackson passed his mentor’s (Red Holtmann) nemesis, Redd Aurebach, as the all-time leader in the elusive rings.  Jackson chronicles his rise from player (playing on the championship Knicks) to the ride as head coach in the “semi-pro” leagues to assistant coach and finally to being the head honcho.  Jackson was the son of a Christian minister growing up with ultra-conservative parental influence.  Jackson turned to basketball as a scrawny, tall young man.  With the great teachings of coaches, Jackson went on to a pro career.  Some of his influences in his life include his college coach, NBA coach, and coaches who invented “new” twists to defensive and offensive approaches to the game of basketball.  The “tri-angle” offense was one such approach that led to the winning ways of the Chicago Bulls.  Jackson provides detail into each of the winning seasons as coach leading such players as Scottie Pippin, Dennis Rodman, Shaq, Horace Grant, Rick Fox, and of course the two all-time greats: Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.  The reader learns of the challenges the media, ownership, GMs, and of course the star players cause in taking one’s mind off of the game.  The “Zen” process in building a team of individuals is shared throughout, as are interesting quotes to begin each of the chapters.  While there are some great nuggets that provide some superficial-level insight into how the coach led the troops, I would have enjoyed much more depth into 1-2 of the pinnacle experiences of gaining the rings, rather than a year-by-year sharing of the annual “dramas” and heartaches associated with leading a group of over-paid athletes complaining they want more money or playing time (or even dealing with the sexual assault allegations or accusations of gambling).  We once again learn that living the “good life” is always associated with drama.  I loved the fact that Jackson provided a book to each of his players each year (based on what he thought they needed to learn each year as a player).  It is clear Jackson is a brilliant man – with capabilities of changing his approach based on the talent level he is given.  I am not the biggest fan of the NBA, so those who love it, this book is a no-brainer.  For those hoping to get a real in depth analysis of how to lead, you may be a bit disappointed, as I was.  Oh well, it is a journey through the 90s and 2000s, so there are some  “oh yeah I remember that happening while I was….” Not a throw away, but $29 for this book?  What until it comes out on!

Sunday, August 11, 2013


This is the first of local author Junot Diaz’s books, Drown, a series of ten short stories about the early life of the author.  DYK? The author was an undergraduate resident for one of the NYU Faculty in Residence?  I love how few degrees of separation we all are in this world.  The stories, all about twenty pages long, provide an in-depth look into the life of a young immigrant coming from the Dominican Republic.   Diaz holds nothing back in his inaugural book, allowing the “real” aspects of his family life, such as: the infidelities associated with married life; drugs and making money; sex and drugs; many sides of the “DR” culture living in America.  Junot shares his own challenges as a young boy and even as a young man trying to make it through life finding some level of self-esteem to adjust to this melting pot called America.  Luckily, I had Gladys sitting on the boat with me while I was reading as she was able to help me with words from time to time (yes, Spanish words!).  From his youth being picked on by his parents (mainly his father) for not being able to travel in a car without vomiting to being taken to his father’s mistress’ home and finally to being picked on by his older relatives, family plays such an instrumental role in the life of the immigrant child.  Being an adult struggling with making a dollar in NJ and working at the local furniture delivery store, my favorite of the stories, shows Diaz at his best, a man who is able to throw his finger in the air to the world.  Diaz and his co-worker go from lower middle class to uber-high end millionaires delivering pool tables and other valuable “toys” and accessories to their homes.  Diaz explains how he “treats” those who didn’t reciprocate with good tips, etc.  From childhood to adult life, Diaz’s work is compelling and needs to be read.  I am a big fan of his “raw” and uncensored life.  For someone who didn’t grow up with much diversity around me, hearing how to live among the “American Dream” as an immigrant child with none of those dreams painted before him, it is a testament to Diaz’s hard work that he is as successful of a writer as he is.  Good read!  After you finish this one, jump to The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao!