Category Archives: book lessons

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

Dead Wake Cover

Book type: History/Nonfiction

Summary: With Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, Erik Larson continues his tradition of nonfiction storytelling, chronicling the last days of several passengers, from heirs and heiresses to rare book dealers, and average families. According to the author, he set about writing Dead Wake not specifically because the centennial of its sinking was approaching (May 7, 2015), but because it was such a good story. For those who don’t know the story of the Lusitania, it was a passenger liner carrying mostly British citizens from New York to Liverpool and was sunk about 12 miles off the Irish coastline by a German submarine, U-20, captained by Walther Schwieger, a zealous man on a mission to sink as much tonnage of enemy ships as possible during his voyage that spring. The Lusitania was filled to capacity with almost 2,000 passengers (including a high number of children) and was able to sustain a top speed of more than 25 knots (30 mph), making it both incredibly fast and also enormous at almost 800 feet long and several stories high (7-8). As the Lusitania made her journey across the Atlantic, Schwieger and his crew in U-20 traveled in the cold northern waters around Germany, England, Ireland, and France, waiting under the surface for vessels to attack.

Lessons:

  1. Be glad you weren’t in a U-boat in 1915. In addition to the fact that it would be maddening to embark on journeys with the same group of bros all the time and be stuck with them in a small space, that small space was disgusting. The men never bathed, wore leather clothes that made them stink, and shared one bathroom. And that one bathroom could do some damage: “The toilet from time to time imparted to the boat the scent of a cholera hospital and could be flushed only when the U-boat was on the surface or at shallow depths, lest the undersea pressure blow material back into the vessel. This tended to happen to novice officers and crew, and was called a ‘U-boat baptism'” (63).

    Joe Dirt Poo on Me

    At least Joe Dirt could wash the poo off in the bright sunshine outside.

  2. The attack on the Lusitania wasn’t a complete surprise. There was a German warning in American newspapers the week leading up to the voyage advising that passengers traveling on British ships would be doing so at their own risk, even if the vessels were flying flags of neutral countries like the United States. The passengers also knew there were German submarines in the Atlantic and some were concerned enough to go to sleep in full dress, while others made light of the threats. One such passenger was an Englishman who was finishing his lunch just before the torpedo hit and received his ice cream but no spoon with which to eat it. “‘He looked ruefully at it and said he would hate to have a torpedo get him before he ate it'” (234). Incidentally, he survived. The American ambassador in London even wrote to his son about the possibility of such an attack, speculating that “‘The blowing up of a liner with American passengers may be the prelude […] I almost expect such a thing.’ He added, ‘If a British liner full of Americans be blown up, what will Uncle Sam do? What’s going to happen?'” (150). And for his part, Winston Churchill welcomed the danger, telling Walter Runciman (head of England’s Board of Trade) that it was important to ensure neutral shipping to England: “After noting that Germany’s submarine campaign had sharply reduced traffic from America, Churchill told Runciman, ‘For our part, we want the traffic–the more the better; and if some of it gets into trouble, better still'” (190).
  3. Whether by fate or coincidence, everything that needed to happen for the ship to sink did happen. Larson makes a point of describing the failings of the British government in protecting the Lusitania from attack. British intelligence knew the location of German U-boats, knew that several ships had been sunk in the week leading up to May 7, 1915 (including non-warships), and also knew that the North Channel would have been a safer option, yet never communicated any of this to the crew onboard the Cunard ship. The Royal Navy also did not supply a convoy for the ship, something that many passengers thought was being provided right from the start of the voyage. But in addition to all of these curiosities (or conspiracies), other factors lined up in such a way as to ensure destruction for the Lusitania.

    Had Captain Turner not had to wait the two extra hours for the transfer of passengers from the Cameronia, he likely would have passed Schwieger in the fog, when U-20 was submerged and on its way home. For that matter, even the brief delay caused by the last minute disembarkation of Turner’s niece could have placed the ship in harm’s way. More importantly, had Turner not been compelled to shut down the fourth boiler room to save money, he could have sped across the Atlantic at 25 knots, covering an additional 110 miles a day, and been safely to Liverpool before Schwieger even entered the Celtic Sea.

    Larson goes on to explain the effect of weather conditions on the outcome, as well as the unlikelihood that Schwieger’s attack would actually cause the ship to sink, if it even made contact.

    Fog was an important factor too. Had it persisted just a half hour longer, neither vessel would have seen the other, and Schwieger would have continued on his way.

    Had Captain Turner not made that final turn to starboard, Schwieger would have had no hope of catching up. What’s more, the torpedo actually worked. Defying his own experience and the 60 percent failure rate calculated by the German navy, it did exactly what it was supposed to do.

    Not only that, it struck precisely the right place in the Lusitania’s hull to guarantee disaster, by allowing seawater to fill the starboard longitudinal bunkers and thereby produce a fatal list. No one familiar with ship construction and torpedo dynamics would have guessed that a single torpedo could sink a ship as big as the Lusitania, let alone do so in just eighteen minutes.

    Moreover, Schwieger had overestimated the ship’s speed. He calculated 22 knots when in fact the ship was moving at only 18. Had he gauged the speed correctly and timed his shot accordingly, the torpedo would have struck the hull farther back, amidships, possibly with less catastrophic effect and certainly with the result that many crew members killed instantly in the luggage room would have survived to assist in launching the lifeboats. The steam line might not have failed. If Turner had been able to keep the ship under power, he might have made it to Queenstown, or succeeded in beaching the ship, or even leveraged its extraordinary agility to turn and ram U-20 (326-327).

  4. People died in all kinds of ways, some immediate, some prolonged, some violent. When we think of a ship sinking, we often tend to think of people drowning, or being trapped in the ship (and thus drowning), and while this definitely happened to many of the 1,198 who died, death came in many other ways as well. “The dozens of crewmen who were in the luggage bay at the time of impact were killed instantly by the force of the torpedo blast, but exactly how many and who they were was not known. Passengers were crushed by descending boats. Swimmers were struck by chairs, boxes, potted plants, and other debris falling from the decks high above. And then there were those most ill-starred of passengers, who had put on their life preservers incorrectly and found themselves floating with their heads submerged, legs up, as in some devil’s comedy” (308).
  5. The end was also peaceful for many in the water. Several survivors described floating in the water and looking at the sky expecting they would die, but being calm in what they thought were their last moments. One survivor even wrote to the mother of a lost passenger about “the disparity between what actually happened and what families imagine” advising “‘I know you must be tempted to have most terrible imaginings; may I tell you that although it was very awful, it was not so ghastly as you are sure to imagine it. When the thing really comes, God gives to each the help he needs to live or die'” (312). And while much conspired to cause the sinking of the ship, “The benign conditions of the day saved scores of lives, if not hundreds” (328) since the water was calm and did not overturn lifeboats or force more passengers underwater.

A final review/recommendation:

I’ve read almost all of Erik Larson’s books, including In the Garden of Beasts which I covered in June 2014. Larson is a master at weaving multiple storylines and viewpoints together into one cohesive narrative. And he manages to do it seamlessly. While The Devil in the White City is still my favorite of his works, Dead Wake is high on the list now. It’s compelling and tells you history without being a textbook (my one problem with Catastrophe 1914 as some of you may remember).

If you’re going to read one new release of history or nonfiction this year, read Dead Wake. It’s comprehensive, but the story moves along quickly, partly due to the alternating perspectives from chapter to chapter (several of which are only a few pages long). Just beware that you might end up hooked and wanting to read one or all of his books after putting Dead Wake to rest.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://www.gannett-cdn.com/-mm-/b6610f5ecbe12df06d2f4c16c595e9d93e2103e8/c=0-42-450-642&r=537&c=0-0-534-712/local/-/media/2015/03/18/USATODAY/USATODAY/635622763452409918-Dead-Wake-jacket-image.jpg
Joe Dirt Poo Tank: http://i.imgur.com/EnnsdD5.gif

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Confidence Code

Confidence Code Cover

Book type: Psychology/Self-Help/Business

Summary: Kay and Shipman’s book is all about confidence–what it is, how we get it, what we do with it, and what we can do to improve it. And while the byline is The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know, it’s not a book solely about or for women. For our purposes here, we’ll cover the following four topics: What is confidence? What about the correlation between competence and confidence? What are useful tips for us adults? What are some good ideas for raising girls to be confident women?

What Is Confidence?

Confidence is specific in its scope. It is not about being extroverted or always feeling sure of yourself in all circumstances; it’s tied closely to particular tasks. Here are a couple quick summaries of confidence according to the authors or the experts they consulted for the book:

  • “Confidence is the purity of action produced by a mind free of doubt” (16)
  • It is “‘how sure you are that you have the skills that you need to succeed in doing a particular thing'” (44, Brenda Major of UC Santa Barbara)
  • “‘It’s a belief that you can accomplish the task you want to accomplish…It’s specific to a domain. I could be a confident public speaker, but not a confident writer, for example'” (44, Christy Glass of Utah State University)
  • “It’s a willingness to go out of your comfort zone and do hard things” (52)

It’s also partly genetic, though the estimates of how much confidence is pre-determined vary depending on the source. Some estimates are as high as fifty percent, like general personality traits that we learned about so long ago in A First-Rate Madness , including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. (Optimism and confidence, specifically, could be around twenty-five percent genetic.) Somewhat surprisingly, the connection between genes and confidence could actually be higher than that between genes and IQ (61). The good news, as we’ll discuss below, is that confidence is also malleable. We can make ourselves more confident with practice.

Competence vs. Confidence

Now this is where the book gets juicy. (As much as a book of this kind can.) The ultimate lesson from the book on this topic can be reduced to one statement: “It’s confidence that sways people” (32). The authors reference various studies, including one that found that women only apply for positions when they feel they are 100% qualified, whereas men apply when they feel they meet 60% of the requirements (30).

In one study, a university professor named Cameron Anderson from UC Berkeley gave hundreds of students a list of historical names and events and instructed them to mark which ones they were familiar with. (Several of the people or events listed were also fakes–non-existent.) “Anderson found a link between the number of fakes a student picked and how excessively confident the student was” (131). This was partly evidenced by the fact that the student chose to check a fake event, rather than leave it blank and admit–if it were real–that they didn’t know anything about it (31). At the end of the semester he did a survey of the students and found that the most incompetent, over-confident students “ended up being the most respected and had the most influence with their peers” (32).

But another study was even more sobering. In a study by Yale School of Management, chaired by Victoria Brescoll, “…[B]oth male and female participants rated a hypothetical woman CEO who talked more than other people” (wouldn’t that make sense for a CEO?) and the result was that, “Both sexes viewed this made-up woman as significantly less competent and less suited to leadership than a male CEO who talked for the same amount of time. When the fictitious female CEO was described as talking less than others, her perceived competency shot up” Essentially what they’ve found is that men are assumed to be competent until they prove otherwise, whereas the opposite is true in the case of women; people tend to question their competency until they prove they’re there for a reason.

Moral of the story: confidence beats competence much of the time.

Tips for Adults

The Confidence Code has tons of useful suggestions for boosting confidence and being successful. The authors argue that some of them tend to apply more to women than others, but of course anyone can use the advice.

  1. Have self-compassion. One way of summarizing self-compassion according to the authors is to treat yourself the way you’d treat a good friend (48). You aren’t critical of every thing your closest friends do; you appreciate them, and when you face challenges, your goal is to reconcile and be happy with one another. Why not try giving yourself a little slack, the way you would for a friend?
  2. Meditate. Just do it. It seems like every other study I’ve seen lately is about the benefits of meditation. Kay and Shipman discuss studies of stress hormones after periods of meditation. It’s pretty much amazing for you.
  3. Don’t overthink and don’t pursue perfection (94 & 96). These traits are very common to women. Women often ruminate on [perceived] failures and struggle to let go of personal setbacks, whereas many men can encounter adversity like criticism and move along without having it bother them long-term. The authors even note that while there are several characteristics that can hold women back, “…[O]f all the warped things that women do to themselves to undermine their confidence, we found the pursuit of perfection to be the most crippling” (96). One example they give is of technology; if you refuse to share an idea until you have it completely perfected, someone else may have presented dozens of ideas and gotten to your version first. This ties into the next point.
  4. “Fail fast” (124). The authors found that failure is one of the greatest confidence builders–especially if you start young–which may seem counterintuitive. “By failing a lot, and when we’re young, we inoculate ourselves against it [failure] and are better equipped to think about the big bold risks later” (110-111). The authors also point out that “We would do well to remember that it’s not the strongest species that survives in the long run–it’s the one that is the most adaptable” (124). But how much can we really adapt?
  5. It turns out we can adapt quite a bit, especially since confidence is only, at max, fifty percent in our DNA. “We don’t need to be stuck in that pattern of self-doubt. It’s a matter of pushing yourself to action over inaction…” (122). Sometimes this comes in the form of small steps, which “prepare you for taking more meaningful risks. It’s called the exposure technique” (125). Another good way to rewire your brain for confidence is thought exercises: “You must start by becoming a keen observer of the relationship between your thoughts, your emotions, and your behaviors, and how one can affect the others” and this is because “What we think directly affects how we feel” (129).
  6. “When in doubt, act” (125). Too many of us hesitate. We don’t want to be wrong, we don’t want to have to admit mistakes later so we do all that we can to avoid making any in the first place. But inaction ends up being our enemy. “Action separates the timid from the bold” (125) and confidence depends on boldness. “The ability to make decisions big and small, in a timely fashion, and take responsibility for them, is a critical expression of confidence and also leadership, according to all of our most confident women” (126). So get on with it, already.
  7. Accept compliments. This one is often specific to women. We fear being criticized as haughty or “full of ourselves” if we too readily accept a compliment, so we’re often self-deprecating instead. “We have to find ways to take in compliments and own our accomplishments rather than relying on dismissals and assertions of self-deprecation. Keep it simple if you must. When praised, reply ‘Thank you. I appreciate that.’ Use it. It’s surprising how odd, and how powerful, saying those five words will feel” (136).
  8. Say ‘thank you’ for criticism. You don’t have to agree with the criticism, necessarily, but if you have a planned response for criticism you can distance yourself from negative feelings that might otherwise bubble up at that moment, and you save yourself from having to find an “appropriate” response. Try just saying “Thanks for the feedback, I appreciate that thought” (135). The next time a coworker or boss criticizes something you’ve done or suggests a different way of doing a task, say that simple sentence. No one likes it when people make excuses, so don’t. Just say thanks, then move on and do even better.

Here’s a quick summary from Kay and Shipman: “Think Less. Take Action. Be Authentic” (171).

Tips for Raising Girls

Again some of the following advice can apply equally to young boys, however many of these suggestions mirror what many boys are already encouraged–or at least allowed–to do. One of the major themes of this portion of the book is how girls are conditioned to be well-behaved and keep their heads down, then all of a sudden (when they enter the workforce) they find that the behaviors they’ve learned help them, now hurt them. The authors point out that “It’s actually easier for young girls than young boys to behave well, because our brains pick up on emotional cues from an earlier age,” the result of which is that “…[M]aking mistakes, and taking risks, behavior critical for confidence building, is also behavior girls try to avoid, to their detriment” (81).

Lesson 1: Let Girls Take Risks

One thing that young boys are typically allowed to do much more than their young female counterparts is to engage in risky behavior, something that, according to psychologist Nainsook Park from the University of Michigan, is critical for healthy development. Park says that “…[I]n general, the proper way to build confidence in children is to offer them graduated exposure to risk. Trauma is not the goal” (110). That means pushing children, within their limits, to take action themselves without the constant intervention of an adult. For myself, having a parent with a physical disability meant that at a young age I was expected to do many things that adults might otherwise do for their children. My brother and I got our own breakfast ready, we went into stores and made purchases, and we were also responsible for calling stores ourselves if we wanted to see if a particular toy was in stock, for example. There were definitely some adults that were frustrated by having to deal with a 7-year-old picking up dry-cleaning or buying groceries–and I was always mortified I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for everything–but I got through it and the world didn’t end. “Teaching a child to accept and even embrace struggle, rather than shy away from it, is a critical step along the path toward instilling confidence. You are showing the child that it’s possible to make progress without being perfect” (145).

Lesson 2: Help Girls Be Assertive

If there’s one trait aside from perfectionism that many women struggle with, it’s assertiveness. Sometimes we’re able to be assertive in one realm (at home, perhaps) but not in another, all because we’re nervous about how we’ll be perceived. Women, much more than men, are concerned about being well-liked more than being respected. And, not wanting to ruffle feathers, rock the boat, or be considered ungrateful, we often remain silent when we really want to speak up. A study from Rutgers University found that the average pay gap between young men and young women in the first five years after graduating college is $5,000 and the gap “increases over the years because women don’t ask for more money” (93-94). This is why assertiveness is crucial. The young female graduate thinks it’s rude to ask for more money: she should just be grateful she has a job at all, whereas the young male graduate thinks ‘it can’t hurt to ask’ because the worst that can happen is that his request will be denied. “When it comes to instilling confidence, raising girls to be more assertive and more independent takes conscious effort, and it goes hand in hand with encouraging them to be less good” (149).

Lesson 3: Let Girls Be Bad

Girls very quickly learn that good behavior is the “fast track” to praise: “Soon, it’s a reward cycle that’s hard to break, and the result is that we subconsciously train our daughters not to speak up and demand to be heard, or demand almost anything. By the time our focus shifts to that, habits are hard to break” (149). Of course this sounds pretty crazy. ‘Let my daughter misbehave? That sounds terrible.’ But boys are often allowed to be independent and rebellious–it’s almost expected–but not so for girls. It’s important, however, because “The impulse that lets many boys shrug off nagging parents, break curfews, and refuse to take showers is the same impulse in adulthood that inures them to the fear of annoying their bosses by asking for pay increases and promotions. They worry less about upsetting their superiors because, unlike their sisters they haven’t been trained to fall into line, and their brains aren’t wired to be as sensitive to criticism” (149). Even boys’ roughhousing and teasing helps build resilience, allowing them to be unfazed by criticism, where girls are crushed by others’ disappointment in them, no matter how temporary (84).

The authors outline a two-step process for promoting assertiveness, notably by tolerating imperfect behavior.

First, don’t overly criticize the bad behavior. When your precious girl does interrupt, shriek, throw a tantrum, or tear her new dress, check your instinct to reprimand her. And especially check your instinct to tell her she’s acting out of character, as if somehow being the golden girl was what she’s supposed to be. Phrases such as “Mary, I’m so disappointed, it’s not like you to cause a fuss/not to help/be naughty” need to go (149).

Step 1: don’t attach undesired behavior to personal character. Check.

Second, don’t overpraise the good behavior. This seems counterintuitive, almost wrong, but it’s just the flip side of trying to get our girls out of the habit of feeling they always have to be ideal. Because if you constantly reward your daughter for helping out, keeping quiet, or being tidy, you’re instilling a psychological addiction to goodness and to the praise that follows it (150).

While my mother did not allow bad behavior without consequences, often my consequences were things that might seem like no fun, but I actually didn’t mind. She would send me to my room for an hour, but then I would color or read or play by myself, which helped me build patience and independence in keeping myself occupied.

Lesson 4: Praise Effort Over Ability

This one goes for boys and girls alike. In the United States there is a strong tendency to favor intelligence or natural ability over effort. We praise children for getting the correct answer, not necessarily for explaining how many times it took them to figure it out. Remember how we need to teach children to embrace struggle? A big part of that is encouraging what’s called a “growth mind-set.” And in order to do this, the key is to “…start small. Think about what you praise in yourself or your kids. If you praise ability by saying ‘You’re so smart,’ or ‘You’re so good at tennis; you’re a natural athlete,’ you are instilling a fixed mind-set. If, however, you say ‘You’ve worked so hard at tennis, especially your backhand,’ you are encouraging a growth mind-set” (115).

You may wonder why it makes much of a difference if you praise intelligence. Kay and Shipman argue that by focusing on intelligence or talents, we cultivate the understanding that our worth is tied to something we just have or we don’t.

If we believe that somehow we’re given talents at birth that we can’t control, then we’re unlikely to believe we can really improve on areas in which we’re weak. But when success is measured by effort and improvement, then it becomes something we can control, something we can choose to improve upon. It encourages mastery (115).

And encouraging continuous effort is crucial. Even naturally talented musicians or artists may pale in comparison to the abilities of individuals who constantly practice.

A final review/recommendation:

I know this entry has been much longer than my usual posts (it took more time to prepare as well). There’s so much information in the book that everyone should know that it was hard to leave major topics out of discussion. And there’s still more in the book worth reading. I hope that even if you’re not able to get around to reading the book, you’ll be able to take something away from this summary. Maybe you’ll put yourself out there when you normally wouldn’t; maybe you’ll let your daughter mess up, or tell your son that he’s been working really hard on a subject in school.

As for a review of the book, I obviously enjoyed it enough to take several pieces of advice from it for myself and for you. It is repetitive, especially in its emphasis on action over inaction; however, it’s not a lengthy book and it does contain a lot of valuable information for all of us, especially in understanding the difficulties many women face in the workplace. And it’s a great starting point for making some personal behavior changes, no matter your gender.

Photo credit: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/71DMnBgMoXL.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

An Irish Country Doctor

Irish Country Doctor Cover

Book type: FIction

Summary: Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh out of medical school, finds himself in the countryside of Northern Ireland as an apprentice to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, General Practitioner to the villagers of fictional Ballybucklebo. And as it generally goes in life, what he learned in school isn’t quite how the real world works. He’s frequently disappointed or upset by the methods used by Dr. O’Reilly, but he also learns a lot in his first few months as the senior doctor’s sidekick. He even comes to appreciate the small world of Ballybucklebo, with its eccentric residents–both humans and animals, like O’Reilly’s dog that humps his leg every time he ventures into the backyard. Life in provincial Ulster has its lessons for Barry and has some for us too.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t worry about the consideration of others. Early on in Barry’s introduction to Ballybucklebo, he discovers the dynamic between the country doctor and country villagers isn’t what he expected. One of the first lessons O’Reilly gives him is to never let the patients get the upper hand. At first this seems antithetical to the point of practicing medicine in Barry’s mind, however O’Reilly then tells him that if he didn’t operate the way he does, they would walk all over him, saying: “‘Didn’t take me long to find out that consideration for other people can be one of the lesser attributes of some members of the species Homo sapiens‘” (80). This lesson has an actual application that hits close to home for me, or at least for my brother. Recently my brother told me a story of how our grandmother, when she was still living, had given him some sound advice. He was concerned about how other people would think of him for something seemingly trivial. She stopped him and said, “If you knew how little other people think of you it would hurt your feelings.” Zinger! But really, stop being worried about whether other people consider you or whether they’re considerate to you. As the popular wisdom goes: go ‘head girl, you do you. That’s an Emerson quote, if I’m not mistaken.
    Emerson Quote - Be Yourself
  2. Sometimes life makes you shovel shit. Barry has a friend in the novel, Jack, who is a surgeon at the nearest hospital and he sometimes meets him for dinner or drinks. During one such visit they reminisce about life during medical school and how boring so many things were that they had to do as students, and how boring things continued even after they finished school. Jack reminds Barry of the words of an English registrar from their time there (after he complained to her about his boredom): “‘Old boy, in this life there will always be a certain amount of shit to be shovelled. I really would urge you to buy a long-handled spade and simply get on with it'” (99). This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some people hate household chores, others hate workplace politics, still others hate family or social obligations. The fact is that either you can refuse to participate in any of those things and have a) no clean underwear, b) no possibility of being promoted, and c) no family/friends, or you can man/woman up and start shoveling that shit.
    Dog Lesson - Kick Grass Shit
  3. Advice doesn’t always have to be true to be helpful. Not long after Barry starts his work with Dr. O’Reilly, he has a day off and takes the train into Belfast and happens to meet a woman named Patricia who utterly captivates him. Unfortunately, she’s also a very serious student of engineering and doesn’t think she has the time or energy to spend cultivating a relationship with Barry, so their courtship ends. Barry, being the hopeless romantic that he is–and I do mean hopeless–is having a hard time getting over the loss of his soulmate. Compounding his sorrow is the fact that he made a misdiagnosis of a local resident, Major Fotheringham’s symptoms, resulting in his hospitalization and a difficult recovery. O’Reilly gives him some advice: “‘So finish your whiskey. […] Forget about Fotheringham. Forget about your heart. Girls are like buses. There’s always another one along soon.'” Barry then asks O’Reilly if he really believes what he’s just said: “‘No,’ said O’Reilly, ‘but there’s no reason you shouldn’t'” (238). Even though O’Reilly doesn’t believe it and even though it may be trite, his advice isn’t necessarily unsound. There’s a reason clichés become just that: sometimes the advice is good, but it’s cited so frequently that it loses its power. Sometimes those sentiments just need to be rephrased to be useful (i.e. instead of “plenty of fish in the sea,” comparing love interests to buses) and sometimes advice doesn’t have to hold true to help someone through a difficult moment.

A final review/recommendation:

Taylor, an established doctor himself, does a great job of creating a backdrop for the education of Barry Laverty. In some ways An Irish Country Doctor is almost a Bildungsroman, except instead of being the coming of age of an adolescent boy, it’s of a nascent doctor. The book is very simple, much like many of Ballybucklebo’s residents, but like them it’s simple in the best of ways: unpretentious, relatable, and entertaining. The first book in a series of many, An Irish Country Doctor is a quick read and makes for great spring reading, so next time March comes around and you’re considering an Irish book for St. Paddy’s day, pick up Taylor’s novel and be entertained by witticisms like this one about a “change of heart” that’s happened to a character named Councillor Bishop: “‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. That bugger Bertie Bishop? That man has a heart that would make Pharaoh’s hard one look like a marshmallow, so he has'” (302). And if you’re a reader you’ll appreciate the two doctors’ constant quoting of literature. And if you’re like me, you’ll smile ear to ear for the fact that Dr. O’Reilly is named after the fabulous and somewhat supercilious Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde–the greatest of the great.

Photo credits:

Book cover: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-4GrrorB-4/Uxe1N1vaEAI/AAAAAAAAS5A/MRaOfdl-rUo/s1600/IrishCtryDr.jpg
Sassy Emerson: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0273/4903/products/ralph-waldo-emerson-fridge-magnet-1_large.jpg?v=1380467104
Kick That Shit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/a3/26/91/a326913fd2e35c68d5d8b9016acafe95.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Middle Passage

Middle Passage Book Cover

Book type: Fiction

Summary: Rutherford Calhoun is the narrator from Illinois who recounts the final voyage of the New Orleans slave ship the Republic in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage. Calhoun is a scoundrel who stows away onboard the ship in order to escape a marriage he’s been forced into by a seedy creditor, Papa Zeringue, and the woman he spends time with (when he’s not whoring around), Isadora. The ship is captained by a man named Ebenezer Falcon who is a captivating but despotic ruler, and it’s manned by his crew, including First Mate Peter Cringle and cook Josiah Squibb. After completing the first portion of their journey, namely picking up slaves from the Allmuseri tribe, they make their way back through the Middle Passage, except things don’t go the way Captain Falcon planned. Mysterious and possibly supernatural forces result in severe storms, insurrection, murder, and even cannibalism and force everyone onboard to rethink their choices and morality.

Lessons:

  1. Always choose quality over quantity. Early on in the novel, Calhoun is faced with the ultimatum of marrying Isadora or facing punishment at the hands of Papa Zeringue, so the night before his forced wedding, he drowns his sorrows at a local bar and meets Josiah Squibb. Calhoun has spent his life as a pretty unsavory character; he’s a thief, a womanizer, and a gambler. Squibb gives him some personal advice that applies to so many of us, telling the protagonist, “‘I’ve seen some things, laddie. Reason I look so bad is ’cause I’ve been livin'” (38), and he also cautions the young man that it “‘Ain’t the quantity of experiences that count […] but the quality'” (39). The point is: don’t just do things to do them, spend time with people you will have quality experiences with and doing things that are worth doing. And remember that sometimes the living you’re doing may have lasting affects. I don’t think that Squibb would’ve had crystal meth, but I’m sure his hard living over a lifetime was comparable to the time lapse of seven years for this lady.
    Addiction - Hard Living
  2. Poverty involves moral decisions the rest of us never think about. Calhoun recounts scenes from his childhood in slavery several times throughout the novel, and at one point he describes the effect that hunger has on those who grapple with it: “If you have never been hungry, you cannot know the either/or agony created by a single sorghum biscuit–either your brother gets it or you do. And if you do eat it, you know in your bones you have stolen the food straight from his mouth, there being so little for either of you. This was the daily, debilitating side of poverty that makes the simplest act a moral dilemma” (47). The moral dilemma for the rest of us is whether we will contribute to lessen these difficulties for people in poverty; what kinds of morals can we claim for ourselves?
  3. Know when to shut up. This is one of the most important skills we all can learn. We’ve all made the mistake of taking something too far, and most of us can probably think of a couple people who do this on a frequent basis. Knowing when to STFU is a vital skill. In Middle Passage, the cook Squibb is the one who possesses this quality, as Calhoun observes: “One thing I liked about the cook was that he knew when to shut up even when he was mubblefubbled and dying to talk” (92). Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our need to share our great idea, or give someone a piece of our mind, that we fail to weigh the benefits versus consequences of opening our mouths. A big part of being good at this skill is being able to read people’s reactions to you. If you want some tips, check out these 18 things you can do to get better, according to Business Insider.
  4. “Love is infallible; it has no errors, for all errors are the want of love.” -William Law (111).
  5. “‘Wealth, you know, isn’t about what a man has, but what he is…'” (118). In a bit of irony, these are the words the slave master of Rutherford Calhoun and his brother Jackson speaks on his deathbed after telling Jackson he will give him his entire estate and Jackson responds that he wishes it to be split equally among all the slaves past and present that he has owned. Rutherford, being the selfish young man he was, interrupted to object to this request, but Chandler cuts him off with a few words of wisdom he should have understood earlier in his own life.
  6. Anger is a dangerous resource. During the mayhem on the voyage back from Africa, Calhoun talks to Ngonyama, one of the Allmuseri onboard, about what his people would do if they took over the ship. Ngonyama responds that they would sail back to Africa and then let the ship’s crew go, because, “‘Anger…is like the blade of a sword. Very difficult to hold for long without harming oneself'” (119). This is similar to advice Wynton Marsalis gives in his book Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. He explains that anger is fuel, but it’s costly fuel, and it burns quickly, and can harm the person who’s using it. Never let anger consume you, and never let it linger within you.
  7. Somebody is [almost] always worse off than you. After experiencing traumatic chaos and loss on the Republic, Calhoun talks about how his physical appearance has altered: “Where once I had a thick, bushy helmet that only a dogbrush could unkink, I was now almost as bald as Martin Van Buren, though a damned sight less tubby…” (190). It may not always be the nicest thing to do, but sometimes remembering that someone else has it worse than you can be a good reminder to buck up and go on.

    Martin Van Buren Hair

    I wonder if the photographer offered him one of those small black combs from school picture day and he just turned it down with that glance of his that says,”B*&$% this who I am!”

  8. Still water runs deep. At the end of the book something happens to Calhoun that demonstrates that people who are quiet on the surface aren’t always the same way on the inside. Or, as my brother has always told me, “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” Be wary of people who are too quiet; everything may be still and calm on the surface, but rough seas may lie below.

A final review/recommendation:

Middle Passage is a short and interesting novel with good action and compelling characters. It’s a good book for anyone interested in slave narratives or the complexity of crafting a narrative, something the main character Rutherford Calhoun experiences in recounting the voyage in the Republic’s manifest. We all tell stories, we all try to influence others to see us according to the narrative we prefer. We try to make people laugh or cry, empathize with us, identify with us. In terms of the novel, who hasn’t made mistakes like Calhoun, the Republic’s captain and crew, and others? For many of us, we are fortunate to not have to pay for our mistakes as severely as the characters within Johnson’s story. If you want to find out what happens to each of them, be sure to pick up a copy.

Photo Credits:
Book Cover: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Rzmo1973L.jpg
Meth Effects: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01834/drugs-woman-2_1834000i.jpg
MVB (Most Valuable Baldie, or, Martin Van Buren): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/08_Martin_Van_Buren_3x4.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amsterdam

Amsterdam CoverBook type: Fiction

Summary: Molly Lane has just died. A middle-aged woman who captured the hearts of several men in her day, she ended up with a rapid-onset neurological disease that quickly destroyed her body and her mind. Now, in the wake of her death, the men intimately related to one another through her magnetism find themselves reacting to her death in different ways. Two of them, Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday (the former a noted composer and the latter a journalist and editor), struggle to continue on with their daily lives in the face of life’s absurdity. Clive must finish his long-expected symphony and Vernon must save his failing publication The Judge. But on top of their work, they have to learn to live or die with each other in the absence of Molly.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t make excuses for showing up late, just show up on time. At one point, Clive ruminates on the annoying nature of many artists who think that their “genius” is an excuse for being inconsiderate jerks: “He had a number of friends who played the genius card when it suited, failing to show up for this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types–novelists were by far the worst–managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours but every nap and stroll, every fit of silence, depression, or drunkenness, bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask for mediocrity, was Clive’s view. He didn’t doubt that the calling was high, but bad behavior was not a part of it” (66). This doesn’t just apply to artistic types. If you’re the friend or family member who’s constantly late for get togethers, then news flash: your friends and family are annoyed. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of other people to bump the meeting time up a half hour just so that you’ll hopefully show up on time, or at the very least, only 15 minutes late instead of an hour. Stop being late. No one wants to hear an excuse when they’ve heard one each of the last 5 times they’ve seen you. It doesn’t matter if you’re busy (everyone is), it doesn’t matter if you’re important (again, everyone is). With the exception of a “science oven” fire like Jennifer Lawrence caused in American Hustle, or a 15-car pileup on your way, there’s no reason why you can’t just leave on time.

    American Hustle Science Oven

    “Oh God, I’m going to be late for the velour runway show with Rhonda. Hopefully she’ll believe me when I tell her the science oven caught fire.”

  2. Create a plan for when you’re struggling. This sounds abstract, but it’s simple. In Clive’s case, being a composer meant that he periodically would hit major creative roadblocks. If you’ve done something for a long time, you’ve likely gotten through difficult times by doing something that worked or helped. “Sometimes the work was hard, and you had to do whatever experience had taught you was most effective” (66). This applies to work and our personal lives. If we pay enough attention, we’ll find patterns that help us overcome obstacles. (One suggestion from my last article on The Name of the Rose was to take a bath/shower if you’re feeling stressed.) Maybe you get overwhelmed at work and taking a walk helps clear your mind. Maybe you feel lonely at home when you’re by yourself and you listen to the radio or a podcast and that helps. Or maybe when you are low on funds you help someone else out to remind yourself that your bank account isn’t everything. Whatever it is, pay attention to the patterns you try. Then when all else fails, see if the pattern helps.
  3. Try writing an alternate ending. Vernon’s publication The Judge is about to publish a scandal involving one of Molly’s former acquaintances, a man who just happens to be the Foreign Secretary for the British government. Anticipating that anything might happen after the story runs, the newspaper prepares a follow-up article in the event that Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony kills himself. Now, while their article is obviously a bit macabre, it’s not a bad idea to write an alternate storyline for your life if you’re feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps imagining yourself as something you might rather be will help you determine whether you need to make changes in order to live that life or whether you’re actually happy with your current situation. In an upcoming entry I’ll talk more about how your alternate path might be the one you really need to be on and how to get there.

    Maybe the something else you want to be is a T-Rex. Go 'head, do you.

    Maybe the something else you want to be is a T-Rex. Go ‘head, do you.

  4. When you get mad, get to work. Clive has been working on his symphony for months and has been having a good go of it lately, until he and his old friend Vernon get into an argument and hurtful words pass between them. Clive determines then that what he needs to do is get back to what matters to him, his work. “Work–quiet, determined, triumphant work, then–would be a kind of revenge” (149). Many people, when faced with irritations or blunders, get angry and shut down. They lose all their productivity. Those who are focused on their goals, however, learn to let go of the setbacks or to channel their frustrations into energy they need for moving ahead. Don’t brood, get busy.

A final review/recommendation:

Amsterdam isn’t a book for everyone. There isn’t a lot of action, but there is a lot of humanity. The characters are very real and the choices they make have very real consequences. After a blowup, Clive writes a postcard to Vernon chastising him for his decision to move forward with the scandal story. But his postcard doesn’t arrive on time–with disastrous effects for their friendship.

We never know how each decision we make affects other people, but it’s a good starting point to realize that our decisions do affect other people whether we intend them to or not. (Case in point: the decision to clean the bathroom before meeting up with your friends, which ends up making you late, and making them irritated.) I’ll stop here since I don’t want to spoil the novel for those who haven’t read it and think they might be interested in picking up a copy. If that person is you, here’s a bonus: it’s only 193 pages long. Score.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: https://unputdownables.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/8507280.jpg
J-Law On Fire: https://uproxx.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence.jpg?w=650

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Name of the Rose

Name of the Rose

Book type: Mystery/Fiction

Summary: Umberto Eco’s famous novel The Name of the Rose follows a young Benedictine novice Adso (from a German monastery) and his mentor, the English Franciscan William of Baskerville, as they investigate mysterious deaths at an Italian abbey while they are there for a meeting of papal and Franciscan legations to debate how poor Jesus really was (and how poor the Church should be). It’s a book full of odd characters, questions about how to approach our mortal lives, and of course, the nature of good and evil. And, as we always find, there are some good lessons to be learned…

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be normal. William of Baskerville is the main character, with Adso–his shadow and our narrator–along for the ride. At one point, in explaining the eccentricities of another Franciscan monk, Ubertino, William notes that “‘It is only petty men who seem normal'” (65). So be better than normal, be different, be eccentric, and stand out by standing up.
  2. Push yourself to learn new things. The primary feature of William of Baskerville (a former inquisitor for the Holy Inquisition) is his unfailing pursuit of knowledge, at almost any cost. While this sometimes does get him into trouble, he makes a good point to Adso when the young man asks him why he wants to know something even if it’s against the monastic rule’s orders: “‘Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do'” (97). Naturally, each of us has different boundaries. Learning something new for one person might be trying bath salts and ripping someone’s face off, for others–like myself–trying a bite of fish for the first time since childhood is enough of a foray into the unknown. Whatever your level is, push your boundaries of knowledge and experience, just consider the effect it may have on you and others.
  3. Even the pros slip up sometimes, so don’t expect perfection. We all mess up, even Umberto Eco. Technically, he didn’t make an error, but the phrasing of the following sentence is not his shining moment: “Symbol sometimes of the Devil, sometimes of the Risen Christ, no animal is more untrustworthy than the cock” (101). You got that right, Berto. The point is, everybody says or does something awkward or unbecoming at some point, so when it happens to you, be humble, acknowledge it, pick yourself back up, and laugh it off. I hope that’s what this guy did.
    Pitcher Fall Fail
    And while we’re on the topic of linguistic fails, do a quick Google search of “headline fails” and get your chuckle on. Seriously, do it. It’s wonderful.
  4. Be careful with your daytime naps. We’ve all been there, not enough sleep the night before, chilling on the couch in the afternoon watching TV or reading, you start to doze and think ‘NBD, I’ll just rest my eyes for a bit,’ except you wake up 3 hours later wondering whether it’s still the same day and if this is the time you’d normally be going to bed. That’s because, as Adso finds out himself after a long night’s investigating, “…[D]aytime sleep is like the sin of the flesh: the more you have the more you want, and yet you feel unhappy, sated and unsated at the same time” (156).
  5. Beware of misdirection. Of course in murder mysteries, misdirection is a common theme. The bad guy always tries to throw the good guy off the trail by misdirecting him to follow other leads. But misdirection happens in our everyday lives all the time. It happens at work when someone doesn’t pull their weight (they got stuck working on something else), with friends (something else came up), and with family (‘Well would’ve let you go, but your father said no’). But we really need to be worried about the bigger misdirections, especially those that direct our attention–and blame–to people and things with little power or agency. Beware of anyone with power blaming someone without it. In the book, Adso asks one of the monks at the abbey why Jews had been attacked by hordes of shepherds, and this was the explanation he received.

    He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. […] The lords did not want the Shepherds to jeopardize their possessions, and it was a great good fortune for them that the Shepherds’ leaders spread the notion that the greatest wealth belonged to the Jews (192).

  6. Sometimes you just need a wash. I learned this sound advice from my mother, but Adso speaks of it as well in The Name of the Rose. If you’re feeling down, if you’re anxious, exasperated, confused, or exhausted, cleaning up can do a world of good, “…[B]ecause nothing can restore body and mind better than a bath” (256).
    Zach Galifinakis Bathtub
  7. Google your medical symptoms with a grain of salt. This is another situation I’m sure we’ve all been in: something feels wrong and we take to our keyboards to find out just WTF is wrong with us. It turns out this problem may have affected 14th-century monks too, albeit not with keyboards. At one point, after fornicating with a peasant girl (yes, this book has it’s juicy moments–and you thought Zach Galifinakis in a bathtub was enough for one day), Adso takes to the library collection and starts reading about ailments and then wants the reader to know that he “learned later that, reading books of medicine, you are always convinced you feel the pains of which they speak” (322). While it’s very possible that he had crabs, most of us only make ourselves worse by our WebMD findings. One time I was feeling terrible over the course of a couple weeks. At first I was convinced that it was cancer or diabetes (I drank way too much Mountain Dew back then), then I checked my symptoms against the those of panic attacks and nearly caused myself to have an actual panic attack. It turned out my thyroid wasn’t getting the right messages and I just needed some simple medicine to set me straight. If you know you have a tendency toward being a cyberchondriac, as they are called, next time you feel ill, exit out of your browser and call a doctor if it’s that bad. Otherwise, take a chill pill and wait to see if your symptoms subside in a day or two.

A final review/recommendation:

There is a reason why Eco’s novel has been translated into several languages and read by millions: it’s a great book. That doesn’t mean you’ll like it though (however, it does have over a 4.0 rating on Goodreads.com, with over 150,000 reviews). It’s a long mystery at 500 pages, and it contains extensive passages of theological arguments about whether or not Jesus laughed and how poor he really thought everyone should be. And there’s tons of Latin. Oodles of it. But if you can bear with the religious discourse and are able to let go of the fact that you probably have no idea what the Latin phrases mean, you may really like the book, as I did.

In reading about the book after I finished it today, I discovered some references to it as a specifically postmodern novel, in which not every question has one clear and definite answer. Put in this perspective, the book became more interesting to me than any old murder mystery might be. As the astute William of Baskerville explains to Adso about the books they’ve found in the hidden library, “‘Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…'” (316). But again, just because a book is a “good book” that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. My best advice is to start reading it and if after the first day’s action–since the book’s chapters are organized by day–you aren’t feeling it, put it down and watch the Sean Connery move version from 1986 on Amazon instead.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://www.saltmanz.com/pictures/albums/Cover%20Scans/Book%20Covers/Name%20of%20the%20Rose.jpg
Pitcher Fail: http://www.totalprosports.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/pitcher-falling-off-the-mound-baseball-fail-gifs.gif
Rubber Ducky You’re the One: http://cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/a6/66/bath,bathtub,ducks,funny,man,playing-a6664ffc97b6b6ffa1362428afbe6ab7_h.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Te of Piglet

Te of Piglet

Book type: Philosophy

Summary: The Te of Piglet is a follow-up book to author Benjamin Hoff’s original work The Tao of Pooh. Both books’ purpose is to explain Taoism (and its benefits to humanity and the world) through the familiar characters of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. In The Tao of Pooh we were introduced to some of the figures of the Hundred Acre Wood like Owl, Rabbit, and–of course–Pooh; in that book we learn some of the benefits of following the Way (Tao) of Pooh and some cautionary tales about how other characters believe and behave.

In The Te of Piglet we learn how even the most unsure individuals have great potential, which means that we can all achieve great things, we just have to react to the Universe in a constructive way. Hoff explains that the meaning of Te (pronounced DEH) is “virtue in action” and that it is a “quality of special character, spiritual strength, or hidden potential unique to the individual–something that comes from the Inner Nature of things. And something, we might add, that the individual who possesses it may be quite unaware of–as is the case with Piglet through most of the Pooh stories” (23). So what can we learn from little Piglet and the other Pooh characters? Let’s just see…

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be an Eeyore. That is, don’t be an ass. Anyone who’s read (or viewed) any scene of Winnie-the-Pooh that contains Eeyore, knows that he is first and foremost a complainer. He and those like him are “Whiners. They believe the negative but not the positive and are so obsessed with What’s Wrong that the Good Things in Life pass them unnoticed” (59-60). And further: “Eeyores are Realists, they say. But reality is what one makes it. And the more negative reality one nurtures and creates, the more of it one has” (57). And because Eeyores are so busy complaining about everything under the sun (versus being thankful for being under the sun), they not only miss the good things that happen to them, they are unable to bear the bad things.

    Without difficulties, life would be like a stream without rocks and curves–about as interesting as concrete. Without problems, there can be no personal growth, no group achievement, no progress for humanity. But what matters about problems is what one does with them. Eeyores don’t overcome problems. No, it’s the other way around (58-59).

    This point that Hoff makes, about how boring streams would be without rocks or curves, he then expands upon later in the book, explaining to Pooh and Piglet that “‘When a stream comes to some stones in its path, it doesn’t struggle to remove them, or fight against them, or think about them. It just goes around them. And as it does, it sings. Water responds to What’s There with effortless action'” (157). Most of us probably aren’t at the point where roadblocks (or, in this case, streamblocks) require effortless action from us; however, the more we practice, as Charles Duhigg taught us in The Power of Habit, the stronger our willpower muscles become, and thus, the abler we are at reacting congruously the next time we’re tested.

    If you're thinking 'Hey, that's looking on the bright side of things!' then guess what? You're an Eeyore.

    If you’re thinking ‘Hey, that’s looking on the bright side of things!’ then guess what? You’re an Eeyore.

  2. Don’t be a Tigger. Tiggers, in opposition to Eeyores, are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and always up for the Next Big Thing. What’s wrong with that? The problem is not that Tiggers are eager and happy and full of energy; it is that their energies are easily rerouted. They start one thing, tire of it quickly, and then move on to the next thing in an unending cycle of brief excitement and then boredom. And what’s scary is that “The West is full of Tiggers–restless seekers of instant gratification, larger-than-life overachievers. The West idolizes them because they’re Bouncy and Exciting. Maybe even a bit too exciting. And they’re becoming more exciting all the time” (91). And while, naturally, not everyone is a Tigger, “…It is quite easy to be an impatient, inconsiderate, scatterbrained Tigger in a society that admires, encourages, and rewards impulsive behavior” (92). That means that if you are a Tigger (and many of us are), your task is to be wary of the adoration you may receive and to work on focusing your energies toward what is at-hand before impetuously moving on to What’s Next. “The major lesson Tiggers need to learn is that if they don’t control their impulses, their impulses will control them” (94). So if you’re a Tigger and this is a lesson you need to learn, then as the butler Carson from Downton Abbey would tell you in the Season 5 premiere: Take Steps.

    Does this look like a man who's playin' witchu? Nah. TAKE STEPS.

    Does this look like a man who’s playin’ witchu? Nah. TAKE STEPS.

  3. Know that there is power in being a Piglet. Of all the Pooh characters, Piglet is the most unsure of himself, always fretting about this or that and needing the calming reassurance of good old Pooh to keep him moving along. But while Piglet’s weakness is his insecurity, it also gives him great empathy, and that is his strength. Piglets are inspirational because they remind us that even the meekest of people can do the greatest things.

    In reality, heroes are heroic because they, despite their weaknesses–and sometimes because of them–do great things. If they were perfect, they wouldn’t be here in the earth’s classroom” (64).

    Piglets, in other words, are patient. They are not Eeyores, complaining that things are not as they would like them to be. And they are not Tiggers, excited about the possibility of What Can Be only to become bored when their expectations are not immediately realized. “The final problem we might mention about the Tigger Tendency is that the worthwhile and important things in life–wisdom and happiness in particular–are simply not the sorts of things one can Chase After and Grab. They are instead the sorts of things that come to us where we are, if we let them–if we stop trying too hard and just let things happen as they need to” (98-99). And this is ultimately what Piglets do best. They do not force themselves on the world around them, but when the world comes to them, they prove their strength in responding.

  4. Recognize the importance in giving up and letting go. We are constantly barraged with messaging in our culture that tells us always to persevere and never to give up. And that’s great when we’re talking about Michael Jordan ignoring the rocks in his stream (namely the coach that didn’t put him on the basketball team), or Abraham Lincoln battling depression to become a great American leader. But it’s quite another when we’ve committed ourselves to something that is not in accordance with who we need to be or what we need to be doing. Sometimes we need to let go of things or people who stand in the way of our ability to reach our potential, our ability to act in accordance with the Way (Tao). As Hoff notes, “When we give up our images of self-importance and our ideas of what should be, we can help things become what they need to be” (235). This is what Brad Pitt is trying to explain to Edward Norton in one of my favorite scenes from Fight Club.

Stop trying to control everything and just let go

A final review/recommendation:

It’s been many years since I read The Tao of Pooh, so my memory may be a little fuzzy, but I seem to remember taking a little bit more away from Pooh than I did this time with The Te of Piglet. But really, who knows? I was pretty young when I read Pooh and so maybe sentimentalism is the explanation.

The Te of Piglet retains the charm that Hoff imbued his first work, and it gives some worthy insights into Western–and increasingly global–culture. It points out some of the major failings our society shows in dealing with the Piglets of the world, but it also is adamant that we, individually and collectively, have great power in effecting change, even if the Eeyores of the world tell us otherwise. Overall, Hoff’s book is reflective and will push you to take steps of your own, while providing you the enjoyable company of Pooh and Piglet.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://images.indiebound.com/161/230/9780140230161.jpg
Eeyore’s Optimism: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/4e/e8/0e/4ee80ecdefb7dd1f68bda10ed5a159f6.jpg
Carson Don’t Play: http://static2.hypable.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/downton-abbey-series-4-carson.jpg?324e9a
Fight Club 1: https://38.media.tumblr.com/28e230a82167f2d4632ac8622b4bc93a/tumblr_nc08o14mDu1rz9mezo1_500.gif
Fight Club 2: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m63zt82N801rq71ks.gif

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,