Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Breaks of the Game

For those who love the reliving of sports history, you will enjoy David Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game.  This 1981 book written about the NBA Portland Trailblazers, a NBA team in only its tenth year in the league rises to glory on the backs of young controversial centers Bill Walton and Maurice Lucas (taken from the merged ABA league the previous year).  Coaching the club was standout “Dr.” Jack Ramsey, a recent sports commentator for those relatively younger readers.  Ramsey for many years was seen as “the smart coach.”  The book captures the rise to fame during the 1976-77 (for a complete listing of the championship picture of the finals, see this link: year but also the entire 1978-79 (and the year after the win) as the team starts to be dismantled by the ever changing sports scene where player’s salaries were beginning to rue the day. Another key storyline was the racial split that existed in the league between blacks who were not being treated consistently or fairly and their white counterparts who did not want to give up bench spots to more athletic black players.  Halberstam captures star Bill Walton’s foot injury for the Trailblazers which led to his eventual departure and lawsuit against the doctors and the Trailblazer team.  The behind the scenes wheeling and dealing among GMs and the changing media market covering the sport and how it affected owner’ ability to stay competitive were also highlights of the book.   Halberstam provides detail and little-known tidbits about personal relationships, challenges among players/coaches, and the growth of the league after its merger with the ABA.  Not all of the “characters” in the book get great press.  This was a particular interesting book to me as I was in high school and remember many of the NBA stars of the day, such as Walter Davis (of my fav team the Phoenix Suns), the fading stardom of Pistol Pete Maravich, the emerging star Magic Johnson, and of course the elite star Dr. Julies Erving of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Great to reminisce and now realize, dang, I’m getting old.  It was surprising that a historical read like this book was an RA favorite.  Nonetheless, a nostalgic and easy read, which works for those who love sports, and more importantly those who love the NBA.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Yes Man

A second book that I have read by this author, the first Join In (see blog entry for Feb 1, 2011) was not  a favorite read for me and guess what… add this other book to my list.  This one is called Yes Man and the author is Englishman Danny Wallace.  And if the book sounds familiar, you may have seen the book which was the “inspiration” (that’s what the cover of the book says) for the movie starring one of the most overrated actors of our time, Jim Carrey (he’s just too “over the top” for me, sorry).  This book is VERY different than the movie for lots of reasons, the message of the book is quite the same, “say yes to things and you never know how your life will change.”  I agree with the message and the reflections that the book offers, but boy this is a very convoluted, and I’d say boring at times, story.  I know as a theatre guy, we need to willingly suspend our disbelief to engage in the moment, but if the story never really “pulled me in.”  The story is of “Danny Wallace” – a journey that he creates for himself – when he meets a “Buddhist-like” man on a bus that tells him to change his life by saying YES to everything.  His friend hears about this and challenges him that he can’t do it, guess what Danny does, he takes the challenge.  This has Danny donating money to just causes, getting scammed on internet purchases (penis enlargement, hair removal products), meeting people all over the world, and purchasing a car that is much smaller than he would need.  He does this challenge for the better part of a year, but good things happen to him and life turns upside down with opportunities and eventually a new love.  The story gets caught up in details at times and then rants and shares journal entries at other times.  There is a lack of cohesion and lots of characters who “bop in and out” like a former high school bully, his ex-girlfriend, a guy he meets at a party, and TV Executives.  None of whom are really developed nor are the relationships that Danny tries to build.  While there are funny moments I found the book to be a very long read, similar to my feeling on the movie (a long watch).  The book is set in England, while the movie is in California.  There was more “mysticism” in the movie while little in the book.  Maybe one needs to be exposed to English humor a bit more as the references to the “blokes” around the corner and constantly downing a “pint” make me wish I had a greater appreciation for our colleagues East of the Atlantic.  Weak story, but again, good idea that we should say Yes, but not just to say Yes, but to open ourselves to the possibilities.  Take a pass on this one. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Thinking Fast and Slow

When you look at a cover to a book and it notes the author won a Nobel Prize winner (in Economics), you know you may get a good book.  Ahhh, yes it was.  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman explores the field of psychology that challenges the rational model of our judgment in decision making.  We learn about the two systems of thinking, System 1 and System 2.  System 1 is fast, how we use our intuition and emotions, while System 2 is slower, logical, deliberate using our past history of experiences along the way.  His in-depth book challenges us to think through our biases in how we approach both the fast and slow thinking options in our daily lives.  How do we contemplate what choices may be right for us long term?  How do we incorporate risk in our decision making?  Which place should we go on vacation?  How should we invest our stocks?  So much of what we decide, from the small decisions to the very large “life” decisions have some new meaning now that we begin to understand how we think at decision-making times.  The book is broken into four sections: the first is an in-depth review, with great examples of the two systems of thinking; the second shares our biases, how things are anchored, the science of availability, how causes trump statistics, intuitive predictions, validity, and the outside view (this was my favorite chapter for putting the two systems of thinking into practice); section three was about how our choices fall, once made; and finally the last section was the two selves (life as a story, experienced well-being, and thinking about life).  Kahneman draws a great deal from the work he did with a colleague whom he worked with throughout his earlier career, who died.  This is a book that takes research and puts it into very understandable “nuggets” of information.  If we use this information on a regular basis, we will benefit considerably as responders to our environment – i.e., listening to what is being presented to us as people and responding in a manner best for the solution that benefits us the most.  We are human and have been trained how to respond, like animals in the wild.  The problem is how we respond may not be the best way to respond to the potential better outcome that lies around the corner for us.  This is a book for all young people as I believe thinking, like any sport or activity, is about routine, the more we train and reflect, the better we will get “it right.”  A great book!!      

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz

Just finished reading Mona Ruiz’s autobiography, Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz.  Imagine growing up in an immigrant family in California, coming from Mexico and growing up in the inner city with not a great deal of means and certainly being challenged to focus on good and instead being pulled into gangs, drugs, violence, and sex.  This is the story of Mona Ruiz, whose father dreams of his daughter being a cop, yet Mona gets brought into a local gang (F-Troop).  Mona never falls into the drug side of the gang, but is present for the booze, the sex, and the violence.  In high school, she never did the work, but is given an opportunity to work part-time at the police station doing clerical work.  She learns that she is 3 credits shy of graduation and isn’t able to receive her high school diploma.  Over the next few years she is advised by a few of the long time cops who take her under her wing.  They advise her of taking the GED, which she never knew about.  She completes it and is interested in moving up the ladder at the police station, unfortunately she falls in love with a young man who is in a gang and a drug user, Frank Ruiz.  She decides to tattoo his name in her arm, which will serve as a constant reminder throughout her career of the two lives that Mona bridges.  Frank Ruiz gets Mona pregnant and also abuses her over the next five years.  His violent temper shows marks on her body and breaks her spirit.  Mona hits the final breaking point when she is beaten in public at a family reunion and she decides to finally enter the woman’s shelter program.  Mona faces more challenges throughout her life, but has a few breaks when the two officers who tried to mentor her serve in the role again when she escapes from Frank’s brutality.  Mona’s story sees her finally escape the drugs and abusive lifestyle and join in the academy to finally become a police officer.  She succeeds but is always pulled when she is assigned to do undercover work.  She is also able to balance being a mother of three, Frank’s children, and also live the life of a dedicated officer.  What a nice story written by a woman who should have never made it, but yet she did.  Maybe Pressfield’s book about resistance can be applied here.  A very nice uplifting story that captures those who live without academic role models and challenged to join their “peers.”  Learn a great deal about gang life in the 1970s/80s and how it evolved to what it is today.  A quick read and nice to see the author succeed with a book of this nature. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The War of Art

Another great “feedback book” on the way of the world, this time Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art.  I really enjoyed this relatively quick read which is broken into three separate parts, all centered on how one breaks through the blocks and how to win your inner creative battles.  Pressfield is a self-acclaimed failed screenwriter and shares some of those losses in the book.  As he notes, if you haven’t failed, you really haven’t tried.  Better to fail than not doing it at all.  His book, which is heavily reliant on his belief in God, is a common sense book on what holds us back, us!  He begins the book about why we have resistance with a top eleven greatest hits (of activities that elicit resistance), to include: the pursuit of any calling in art however marginal or unconventional; the launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise; for profit or otherwise; any diet or health regimen; any program of spiritual advancement; any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals; any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction; education of any kind; any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves; the undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others; any act that entails commitment of the heart (the decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship; or taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.  What a list, huh?  And so what stops us from doing any of the things listed above?  Resistance!  Yes.  As Pressman shares, resistance is invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, impersonal, universal, never sleeps, plays for keeps, and is fueled by FEAR!  He has a whole bunch more, but you get the idea.  Part two of the book shares ideas for how to combat resistance and finally how to move to a “higher realm” after the combat.  If we really want something, why not go for it, practice, plan, and use others along the way.  Pressfield’s at his best in the last chapter when he focuses on the idea of “fear” and how it plays a major role in our lives and how to move beyond it.  Many of Pressfield’s anecdotes are lessons we all knew, but weren’t as eloquent in writing them down, like he does.  This is a great book for those on the precipice of greatness.  This is a chance to perform and act with courage and integrity.  I don’t know, but it is really resonating with me… again asking the question, am I living a useful life?  Thanks Mr. Pressfield, always good to reflect on what we do and also what we fail to do!  Great read.