Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Books bring out our shared humanity

I wonder where the United States would be if the entire populace simply read a book for just 15 minutes per day.

I'm not saying that DEAR (drop everything and read) or SSR (sustained silent reading) would be a panacea for Covid, white supremacy or lost jobs, but I bet it would make the country at least understand more about humanity.

What has happened to the United States' attitude toward humanity and books?

"Books!" you might exclaim. "Books? You're talking books?"

Yes, a lot is happening in the country now, but the loss of reading books could be one of the many causes for finding ourselves in a country that is divided, leads the world in Covid cases and deaths and most likely is a laughingstock in the world community.

So, get a book. I am happy to report that the Long Beach Public Library is open again for picking up requested books, and I say, "Thank God!" It had been closed since March, and in the interim, I actually had to buy a few to hold me over.

But now, it's back to constant reading, some sort of return to normalcy for me. Here are five books I've read since December that I highly recommend. Last year, from July to November, I did a lengthy project called 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. Since then, I've read about a dozen books, and I feel comfortable recommending five of them.

1. How to Be an Antiracist (2019) by Ibram X. Kendi.

Actions speak louder than words, and most white people I know do nothing to promote antiracism. Kendi is huge right now, and I feel he is deserving. I find his work reasonable, honest and accessible.

It's not enough to simply utter, "I'm not racist." It's time for all to be antiracists. If you somehow have a problem with Black Lives Matter, I highly suggest you reconsider that mistake and read this book.

2. How to Stay Human in an F***ed Up World (2019) by Tim Desmond

I've discovered that self-help addiction leads to Buddhism, and Desmond's book was one that has put me on the path to study Buddhism and dabble in meditation, mindfulness and understanding this: All that we face, even our own lives, is temporary, and we are all connected.

Desmond loses his wife to cancer at a young age and looks at mindfulness as a way to transcend/embrace suffering. Although we live in a cause-and-effect type of world, I'm becoming aware that the power of our actions, thoughts and deeds is greater than any difficulty we could possibly ever face.

3. Essentialism (2014) by Greg McKeown

It was just by chance that I read this before the shutdown, and I immediately applied it to my life. Are we doing too much? What truly matters? What if I analyzed what truly matters and then placed more deliberate action toward that?

Essentialism helped me mostly at work, where my time was often hijacked by others and I finally set much-needed boundaries. I also realized that if we ever encounter someone who is completely overworked or never has time, then that person is weak and unable to prioritize.

When the shutdown hit, we were forced to look at what is essential, and in or out of quarantine, it is important to know that our lives are too precious to get hung up on the inessential.
4. The Kindness Cure (2018) by Tara Cousineau

The first rule in my daughters' kindergarten classes was simple: Be kind. I often feel that adults and students forget that building block of humanity.

Cousineau uses the term "kindfulness," as the practice of being kind to one's self and others. And here's the kicker. I have realized that if we are first kind to ourselves, then we have the capacity to be kind to others.

However, life's goals, money pursuits, pressure from one's self or others often obscure kindness. The Kindness Cure delves into how being kind actually acts as a healing power, and it rings as truth.

5. The Storytelling Animal (2012) by Jonathan Gottschall

Aha! This is the only book I can recommend that I've read during quarantine. I bought four books, but can only give it up to one. Bummer. To me, that's why libraries are crucial. For me, there is a huge difference between "I should like this" vs. "I actually do like this."

With similarities to Fantasyland by Kurt Andersen, The Storytelling Animal focuses on how stories and storytelling are part of the human condition. Gottschall points out a handful of storytelling truisms that I had never pondered. Oh, the stories we tell ourselves!

It is human to want to create exciting stories. Stories frequently live in anxiety and high drama, and in reality, we yearn for calm and the mundane. But in fiction, we keep wanting more and more, the wilder, more titillating, the better.

Or do we? We do live in the fantasy industrial complex, where arguably fiction and nonfiction have blended more than ever, and technology has a lot to do with that. But I still exclusively read books under the "nonfiction" heading, and I believe the fantasy industrial complex has taken over so much of the typical Gen Xer's life that we actually yearn for truth and nonfiction nowadays. At least I do.

After last year's lengthy project 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, I only had the last six months or so to read. Plus, shutting down the libraries hurt. I anticipate that I will have more lengthy lists in the future.

The Art of Memoir (2015) by Mary Karr nearly made this list. But I'm thinking, why not read her actual memoirs instead? Actually, let me add one last recommendation:

6. The Orange County Register (it's a newspaper)

Due to expiring airline miles, I've gotten free home delivery of the paper for the past few weeks. I've loved it!

I do have an online subscription to The New York Times and look at The Week and a few other news outlets daily, but I miss local news, too. The Reggie has a good blend of national and local, and I'm surprised how much I have enjoyed it.  Even the Reggie helps me expand my views, and I'm not sure how I'd survive without the mindset to always expand my views.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Happiness is the path

As we get older, it may be natural to become set in our ways, creatures of habits. No need to waste time with things we don't enjoy. At this point, we know how to maximize our lives and experience meaning and fulfillment on a daily basis. Right?

Or maybe we're just mindlessly scrolling on a device or streaming videos, oblivious to the power of Big Tech.

Either way, when I look at the big picture, I feel for my fellow man because I see a lot of misery around me. Millions of lost jobs. The George Floyd murder. Rioting. Looting. Even with this backdrop, I believe it is possible to fight the good fight for social progress while being happy. But, man, how do we stay "happy" in this difficult time?

Before we get into happiness, let me say that I urge white people to at least educate themselves on the systemic racism inherent in the United States and then make it their life's mission to end it. In my 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend project, I recommended to The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo and many other books that tackle systemic racism.

It's important for whites, myself included, to understand that they know way less than they think about racism and they owe it to themselves and society to grow and bust their butts to be what Kendi X. Ibram calls antiracists. It's with this crucially important backdrop that I shift to the topic of happiness. Is it possible to be happy while tackling a system that still perpetuates racism?

I'm not in charge of anyone else's happiness, other than my own, but at least I'll throw out some ideas.

Now, you might say, "Joe, come on, we're facing the unprecedented coronavirus and now rioting. We're all miserable. It's reasonable to be miserable now."

To that, I say the coronavirus magnifies existing problems. With 374,000 worldwide deaths and 106,000 deaths in the United States, this magnifies the medical, political and economic woes that the United States puts on display on the daily. Sure, this has been a difficult and painful time. But isn't it best for ourselves and society, if we pursue happiness in the face of this pandemic.

Heck, if we say the coronavirus trumps happiness, then couldn't we also say that about the prison system, health-care system, wealth inequality, racial inequality, school shootings, climate change and just about any serious problem facing our world?

The type of "excuse logic" to not be happy is an individual's choice. But the problem is that once a typical American accepts the premise that "yes, it makes sense to pursue happiness," then that person likely will have no road map for that and equate happiness with binge watching and eating sugar food.

It turns out that happiness is not a destination. It's a process. It's not as if "OK, if I just attain this, I will be happy." Happiness is the path.

Now, I'm defining happiness as meaning, fulfillment, contentment. It's not about being all smiles like in Pharrell's song "Happy" or the glee of the overweight class at Disneyland. No, happiness to me is to know that one is on path of happiness. Yes, major obstacles and difficulties arise, but at the end of the day, life is beautiful and a miracle. It's a shame to waste it on binging and bon-bons.
Unfortunately and ironically because the phrase "pursuit of happiness" is in the Declaration of Independence, seeking genuine happiness is counter to American capitalistic culture. Americans are exposed to an estimated 4,000 to 10,000 ads per day (and that likely is an underestimate, by the way). Nearly all of these products prey on the idea that happiness will be attained if they are bought; that's obviously a false premise.

I actually don't mind Nike's omnipotent slogan "Just Do It." However, imagine if that were "Just Be."

Something else I've discovered about happiness is that it is intertwined with health and growth, or education if you want to call it that. I repeatedly talk about the importance of our social, physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual health with the acronym "spies." It's not impossible to be on the path to happiness with difficulties with one, or more, of the elements in spies, but it's ideal to be on a healthy path with all five.

As schools switched to online learning during this shutdown, it underscored the fact that learning is a process and not an outcome. Of course, that is a "no duh" statement.

I always have seen learning and teaching as the heads and tails of the same coin. Both need to be progressing or growing, or it doesn't work. If the teacher isn't learning, how in the world could the student be?

The noble profession of teaching not only warrants, but demands, growth. The tricky thing with teaching growth is how varied the approaches and mindsets of teachers can be. In a way, one positive of the coronavirus school shutdown is that it has forced teachers to try different things and grow — hopefully.

For me, I find that growth, AKA education, and health are an inherent part of the happiness equation. But before I realized that, I had to truly understand the basic idea that happiness was not something to longed for or pop up through happenstance. It is a focus, a passion, a pursuit. Some people call it "life," and it turns out that it's beautiful even with everything we face.

Friday, May 1, 2020

White boys on mopeds

I feel like Chris Elliott in Get a Life. Elliott was a 30-year-old paperboy in the sitcom that ran from 1990 to '92. He still lived with his parents. He was a grown man, on a bike.

Here I am — a grown man on a bike as I get some exercise and practice social distancing during this COVID-19 shutdown. It got me thinking, "Why wasn't I doing this earlier?"

I love this bike thing and remember hearing the line, "Chances are, what you did when you were 8 is what you'll still like as an adult."

So true.

Of course, nowadays, I hardly see kids on bikes. Presumably, they're inside, on their devices, accidentally worshipping Big Tech.

The other day, though, something strange happened. I stumbled across three teenagers on bikes on my turf, El Dorado Park. That's my land. Anyone who sees this shirtless 46-year-old with a baby blue helmet and black Mongoose mountain bike from Wal-Mart should know that.

I did what you're supposed to do with those kids. I stared 'em down, locked eyes and gave them a slight head nod that said, "What's up, Holmes?"

Their ringleader with a slight mustachio fell in line and gave me a deferential head nod back that said, "I see you, big man. You da boss. I would never mess with a DILF like you, and I would never ever ask you to buy me beer."

Acceptable head nod. Believe me, I know the bike code of the parks, and that's what mustachio boy communicated. We were cool. No need to tussle.

While I'm happy to be a full-fledged adult with a beautiful wife and two impressive daughters, I admit that I sometimes miss the ages 8 to 12, when a suburban white boy like me rode bikes with his crew. In Garfield Heights, Ohio, I experienced gritty suburbia because it bordered Cleveland, and it was a total blue-collar town.

For a while, I had a Space Invaders bike with a banana seat. While my friends admired it, I preferred their BMX-like bikes. I remember a whole crew of guys on Sladden Avenue, several streets over from my Garfield Drive.

On one street, I remember Dave, Alex, Mark, Paul and Bruce (who had an incredible white football we often used). Jeff and Kevin (Cato) each lived a street over. Whatever silliness we did was pretty damn fun. It had to beat freakin' TikTok or whatever the kids do today.
Yeah, we had Atari and Nintendo. But those were just options; real life was better.

When I got to college, I remember my friend and roommate, Ryan, explaining his crew to me. I met most of it, and I believe it was called "The Belmonts." It's funny. I had something similar, and those crews meant — and still mean — so much to us.

I believe we all had a bike phase. Sometimes, that bike phase would last too long, and the kid got a moped. At the time, the kid with the moped was the coolest dude ever. Looking back on it, the opposite had to be true. Is there anything real cool about white boys on mopeds?

So, yeah, I'm in a weird mood as I write this. I start counting this shutdown with Friday the 13th in March, so this is day 50. I've had some good family time, but 50 days? This is quite a hall for all of us. Luckily, I've discovered these bike rides, and I remain employed as a high-school English teacher.

Apparently, this is the part of the shutdown where I reminisce about riding that Space Invaders bike to Peter's Market on Turney and Sladden and buying a smokie — one of their in-house Slim Jims that had variance of spiciness. With smokie in hand and on my bike, there was no doubt that somebody would be outside doing something, throwing a football, playing hide and seek, just riding bikes.

Yeah, growing up in the '80s wasn't bad for me. I'm not sure I ever felt a sense of community like I did in Garfield Heights. I saw a quote from Stephen King's "Stand By Me" the other day that might sum it all up: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus. Does anyone?"

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Shut down but not out

Friday the 13th started the nightmare.

That was the last day of school for me and the girls. As of now, we're scheduled to remain out of the buildings and doing online school until May 4 — at least.

Of course, COVID-19 has infected our planet, and we are experiencing unprecedented shutdowns, illnesses, deaths, job losses and stock-market plummeting. Yet for me, on the daily, I have found my groove and feel OK.

I remain optimistic because love, hope and joy exist, despite the virus. Even in these uncharted times, I am sticking with my life's philosophy, to bank good days because a good life is the culmination of good days. However, with the troubles facing the world, it makes this plan much more difficult.

My heart goes out to everyone who is affected more than me. At this point, officially and globally 860,000 have been infected by COVID-19, and 42,000 have lost their lives. I can only pretend to imagine what their loved ones are going through, and so many others are taking other hits as well.

My loved ones are experiencing other issues, but not coronavirus. In Naples, Fla., my in-laws lost their best friend, Laurie, who went down a fatal path after complications from oral surgery. She was 68.

I know of several others who are experiencing serious health issues. Also, my beautiful wife, Dina, has had bronchitis for two weeks. Thank God, that finally appears on its way out.

OK, so, it's not a breeze, by any stretch. But my day-to-day activities remind me of "glamping."
My most stressful day probably was Monday, March 16, when my school district had teachers report to watch videos on how to do online school. The problem there was that I could sense major stress among the teachers, and, shoot, that stressed me out.

I also was stressed by playing the stock market for short-term gains, and a few times, it was easy because the market fluctuated so much. But it was a pressure cooker because I had to time the market right — to buy during a plummet and sell during a bounce back. At the end of the day, the profits weren't worth the hassle and stress.

Since then, I am banking good day after good day, even though the news is difficult to stomach. I have accepted coronavirus as part of our new reality and am hoping that the deaths go lower than estimates. I am doing my part to follow the guidelines and not contract or spread the disease.

I feel comfortable conducting online classes, but the key question remains: What is an appropriate workload for a high-school student during this difficult time?

I believe I have a good approach with that and am sensitive to potential problems students may face. In my house, we have daily educational festivals. I've applied my creativity to cooking and am making healthy, scrumptious dishes. With the gym closed, I have taken to bike rides, and I love them.

Love, hope and joy are alive indeed, and if a global pandemic can't damage my spirit, I don't believe anything can.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Self-tech knowledge

The only person's screen time that I'm in charge of is my own. Are parents really in charge of their kids' screen time? Are teachers in charge of their students'?

What I can say is that my digital detox has been one of the best things I've ever done. With my newfound time, I continue to work on my book, have picked up "elevated cooking" as a hobby and feel that I'm — finally — in control of my time. My brain cells are coming back.

My first step with this Renaissance was to "chart it up!" Most people have no clue how many times per day they touch their iPhone, iPad or whatever gadget that has them addicted. Do you?

Is it possible for you to understand how many times per day you look? Try counting.

Actually, there are apps that can do it. But I find that my Screen Time info. in Settings in the iPhone works better. Most people have double the screen time they think. For me, I feel like I'm hardly on the phone, but I still have about two hours of screen time each day.
I wonder how much screen time my students do per day and what the range is. If you are a student reading this blog, please comment on how much screen time you had last week and which app stole the most of your time. Also, is screen time a problem with you or not? The comments will show as "unknown" or "anonymous."

By the way, I just Googled it, and apparently, the average person touches his phone 2,617 times per day. The top 10 percent of users touch their phones more than 5,400 times per day.

Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Big Tech in general have taken us over so much that it may be hard to even consider 1) the value in limiting screen time and 2) how in the world to do that.

Now, first things first. These are the main things I hear when anybody is asked why they're on the phone so darn much:

No. 1: It's part of my job
No. 2: I need it for school.
No. 3: What if (important person) calls or texts?

OK. All of these reasons are reasons to not be on the phone so much. If it's for the workplace and school, then why are we on it during our downtime, too, and in the wee hours of the night? I realize that truly oppressed people do not realize they are oppressed. Is oppression too big of a word? Are we oppressed by Big Tech?
Even the most rabid phone addict must admit that understanding one's own screen time usage is important. Self-tech knowledge.

The value in getting off social media or limiting screen time has been huge for me. I just feel calmer, and I feel that I have better face-to-face conversations. It's a game changer to refuse to look up any factoid that might pop up in conversation. Is Mrs. Cunningham from "Happy Days" still living? Don't look it up. Don't look it up!

It's not just me, some 46-year-old Gen Xer, warning about screen time. It's an alarming issue. I actually ran across a lot of good coverage of user tech in USA Today. Feel free to check these articles on how phone addiction affects our brain and how parents model phone addiction. Monkey see, monkey do. If I'm on the phone a lot, won't my kids be, too?

Now, the big question is how to cut down on screen time in a world of screens. The best aha moment I experienced recently happened at my gym, Chuze Fitness, where I was pondering my digital detox and realized that there was a row of 10 TVs in front of me. Maybe, in a way, a "digital detox" is not even possible, but rather a "digital balance."

I must acknowledge that I watch about an hour or so of TV each night, but at least I'm pretty much off the phone and, instead, working on a revision of my nonfiction book on relationships during my downtime. My life feels better than ever, but I am questioning how digitally detoxed, or balanced, I actually am.

The other day, my 12-year-old daughter Chloe asked, "Dad, when you're typing on your laptop, isn't that screen time, too?"

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Mandalorian: An accurate male portrayal

I am not a huge fan of big-budget corporate movies. Explosions. Fake worlds. Thin plots. Superficial characters. Egads, save me!

But so many friends kept recommending The Mandalorian, so I checked it out and enjoyed it. Of course, it's nothing too deep, and I'm not a super fan. But Baby Yoda is cute, and in the words of a friend/colleague, "Mandalorian will save the Star Wars franchise."

Over the past few years, one of my many topics of study has been men's roles. I wrote about that here, discussing The Mask of Masculinity by Lewis Howes and other similar works.

I find The Mandalorian fascinating from a male's roles/masculinity perspective. Here's a warrior, defined by his work, and he literally wears a mask in front of people for his entire life. So of course, he does not show emotion, and he is an excellent replication of what modern-day masculinity is.

I guess the main character, Mando, is human. But is he really? Without a face, without emotion, is it safe to dub him human?

Many humane moments poke through as he takes care of Baby Yoda, even though he hardly shows an actual emotional connection to the baby. Yes, Mando does things for the baby. But I think he takes care of it more out of duty than emotions. Is that the reality of what motivates men in real life?
I must say that I define myself by my work to a certain extent. It matters to me that I am a writer and a teacher, and that's a big part of the equation with how I see myself.

The Mandalorian, like many males, appears to define himself solely by his work. He is dang good at his job — da best! — but then what really exists in his life? I fear many men have this same identity, and in the end, that contributes to a fruitless existence.

Many viewers and pop-culture critics consider Mando a refreshing hero. Really? Is the bar so low for men that by being an excellent bounty hunter and keeping alive a Baby Yoda make someone a hero?

To me, a male hero also connects with his babies, loses the mask and is an actual human being. I've always looked at science fiction as a genre that connects viewers with the present day and current culture and is more than a mere escape.

The Star Wars franchise hit it out of the park with replicating males roles with The Mandalorian, and a sad truth is that male roles have become so inhuman nowadays that we look at the robot man as a hero. It's too bad our boys will see this Mando and replicate his behavior.

We don't need more bounty hunters. We need more nurturing fathers and boys who embrace emotion. Oh, and I ended my Disney Plus after the week trial. I'm just not a fan of theme-park culture.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Happy New Year ... from a casual fan

"They killed Star Wars. Heartbreaking, although it was dead awhile ago."

These words from my cousin reverberated through my inbox, and I was wondering why I had no desire to see "The New Star Wars."

Too corporate. Too much entertainment. Disney owns it now. Dang, the creators and audience have changed, and maybe I'm not a part of it any more.

I heard the movie was trash and would have avoided it, but my 14-year-old daughter Sophie wanted to see it. So I quietly said to myself, "Yes!"

The movie is better than I thought it would be. Chewbacca has major screen time, and faithful readers may know that I boast the most glorious Chewbacca collection known to man.

Of course, there are major plot and logic holes in the latest — and final — Star Wars. But so what? The movie sets the viewer up for that in the first minute, and the characters are relatively strong, especially for an action-adventure movie. So I enjoyed the movie.

I think one problem many Gen Xers have with Star Wars and other entertainment is that they just don't get Millennials. Strangely, I think I do. I continue to like some of the social progress I see in the world and in Star Wars and thought the the lead, Rey, with the two dudes and Chewie made a cool Millennial team.

But here's the deal. I'm a casual fan, and this Star Wars is such a big deal nowadays that I will remain a casual fan — and that's as much as I got.
It's wild how entertainment has shifted during the lifetime of Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Of course, my daughters' generation, Gen Z or iGen, has only had iPhones in their lifetime. So they haven't weathered the tech explosion like us older folk.

I wonder how many Gen Xers are like me — amazed by Facebook at first, kind of addicted to Facebook and now hardly on it. It took a while, but I feel as if I've reclaimed my life by trading in tech use for exercise, reading and writing. I feel much more in tune with myself and the world around me.

I guess we live in a Super Bowl culture of constant spectacles, and so we have become dulled to spectacles. The bigger, the better? Nah, the more meaningful, the better. And what does that entail?

Some people say that what really matters in life might be when all is said and done, when we are taking our last breaths and, hopefully, surrounded by loved ones. I've often seen many lives given away for vacuous pursuits, and I like to think I actually have a meaningful life.

Within the past two weeks, I stumbled across two items about life and death that make me wonder about our place and time. First, I ran into the sonnet "When all the others were away at Mass" by Seamus Heaney (thank you, Valerie!). Then, I ran across "The Final Frontier" by Michael Chabon in The New Yorker.

Both have to do with parents on their deathbeds. In the sonnet, Heaney recounts peeling potatoes with his mother. In The New Yorker story, Chabon recounts he and his father's love and connection to Star Trek as his father lives his final days. I found both pieces moving for different reasons.

Maybe I'm old school. Maybe I just can't embrace pop culture like I used to. When the novelty wears off, where does that leave us? I bet a lot of us Gen Xers are finding ourselves with teenagers, eschewing our phones and pop culture and would be perfectly happy to just peel potatoes with our moms or children.

I'm worried that the moment has been highjacked by Big Tech, the entertainment world, our current culture or our image-trained minds. But at least we Gen Xers remember a time when it wasn't that way, when we had to wait for Saturday morning cartoons and we built memories with friends and family in real time.

Maybe that's my hope for this upcoming year, to forget about making "lasting" memories for the iCloud and make lasting memories in my actual memory.

Happy New Year — from a casual fan!

Thursday, November 28, 2019

100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend

I did it!

I believe 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend has been a thoughtful and important project. It took some mettle to recommend a book on a daily basis with a reflective write-up. The pace was intense, and I handled it.

At the end of the day, I love these books, so it was not that big of a deal. I committed to this project and stayed with it!

I guess the big takeaway is that reading is crucially important. Sadly, reading, curiosity and exploration typically aren't taught in schools, and so the masses don't really read, follow their curiosity or explore the world of ideas, life and experience books offer.

Too often, I am reminded that we live in a superficial culture. With books, we can delve into new ideas or go deeper into important ones. Life constantly evolves, as do I, and I truly have loved soaking in these 100 books. My reading will continue even more so after this project, and I view this project as a beginning to go deeper into my education and to create more meaningful writing and art.

The books are not ranked in order of importance by any means, but here is my list of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. Here's advice. Do a little research before you commit your time to reading a book. I stand by all of these 100 and only did popular books that read well too. Yes, I have many wildly popular books on this list, and they deliver. Life is too short for books that are strong on marketing and weak on prose.

Now, you might ask why I just didn't come out with this list and save the 110 (100 reviews plus 10 recaps) blog entries. Well, here's the thing. We live in an era in which the image, the list, the fake is what most are becoming accustomed. Click bait is an actual thing.

This is an actual project of 100 nonfiction books recommended by a guy who read them all and could talk in depth about all of them (save the David Sedaris one that I hardly remembered). Feel free to click on the book for the write-up in case you missed it. Enjoy!

Big Time and Deserving:
1. Outliers (2008) by Malcolm Gladwell
2. Daring Greatly (2012) by Brene Brown
3. The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) by Joan Didion
4. Thrive (2014) by Ariana Huffington
5. Tribe of Mentors (2017) by Tim Ferris
6. Leaders Eat Last (2014) by Simon Sinek
7. Option B (2017) by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
8. The Creative Habit (2003) by Twyla Tharp
9. On Writing (2000) by Stephen King
10. A Curious Mind (2015) by Brian Grazer with Charles Fishman
Parenting:
11. How To Raise An Adult (2015) by Julie Lythcott-Haims
12. Nonviolent Communication (1999 original, 2015 third edition) by Marshall Rosenberg
13. How We Love Our Kids (2011) by Milan and Jay Yerkowich
14. The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys (1995) by Jawanza Kunjufu
15.  iGen (2017) by Jean Twenge
16. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (2011) by Amy Chua
17. Grit (2016) by Angela Duckworth
18. How Children Succeed (2012) by Paul Tough
19. Fraternity (2019) by Alexandra Robbins
20. A Promise to Ourselves (2008) by Alec Baldwin
Personal Growth:
21. Mindset by Carol Dweck (2006)
22. The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson (2016)
23. Money (2014) by Tony Robbins
24. The Art of Asking (2015) by Amanda Palmer
25. You Are a Badass (2013) by Jen Sincero
26. Girl, Wash Your Face (2018) by Rachel Hollis
27. The Art of Non-Conformity (2010) by Chris Guilleabeau
28. The Omnivore's Dilemma (2007) by Michael Pollan
29. The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins
30. The Power of Now (1997) by Eckhart Tolle
Humor:
31. Born Standing Up (2007) by Steve Martin
32. Poking a Dead Frog (2014) by Mike Sacks
33. Modern Romance (2015) by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
34. Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000) by David Sedaris
35. A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) by John Kennedy Toole (Yes, it's technically fiction, but it's freaking funny!)
36. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) by Dave Eggers
37. Fresh Off the Boat (2013) by Eddie Huang
38. How to Make White People Laugh (2016) by Negin Farsad
39. The Comedy Writer (1998) by Peter Farrelly
40. Brain Droppings (1997) by George Carlin
Education:
41. Letters to a Young Teacher (2007) by Jonathan Kozol
42. The Homework Myth (2007) by Alfie Kohn
43. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (2017, 20th anniversary edition) by Beverly Daniel Tatum
44. Punished (2011) by Victor Rios
45. Excellent Sheep (2014) by William Deresiewicz
46. In Defense of a Liberal Education (2015) by Fareed Zakaria
47. You Are Not Where You Go (2015) by Frank Bruni
48. Readicide (2009) by Kelly Gallagher
49. Rethinking School (2018) by Susan Wise Bauer
50. On Your Mark (2014) by Thomas Guskey
Social Conscience:
51. The New Jim Crow (2010) by Michelle Alexander
52. White Fragility (2018) by Robin DiAngelo
53. Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) by Paulo Freire
54. Born on Third Base (2016) by Chuck Collins
55. Dark Money (2016) by Jane Mayer
56. The Vanishing American Adult (2017) by Ben Sasse
57. Food Not Lawns (2006) by Heather Jo Flores
58. So You Want to Talk about Race (2018) by Ijeoma Oluo
59. Black Boy (1945) by Richard Wright
60. Night (1956) by Elie Wiesel
"Grab Bag":
61. Lost Connections (2018) by Johann Hari
62. Humans Are Underrated (2015) by Geoff Colvin
63. The Mask of Masculinity (2017) by Lewis Howes
64. This Is Marketing (2018) by Seth Godin
65. The Power of Glamour (2013) by Virginia Postrel
66. A Book of Mentors (2015) by Gillian Zoe Segal
67. The Rules Do Not Apply (2017) by Ariel Levy
68. The Souls of Yellow Folk (2018) by Wesley Yang
69. The Body Keeps the Score (2014) by Bessel Van Der Kolk
70. Lies My Teacher Told Me (1995, new edition 2018) by James Loewen
Sports:
71. A Pitcher's Story (2001) by Roger Angell
72. Why Baseball Matters (2018) by Susan Jacoby
73. String Theory (2016) by David Foster Wallace
74. Little Red Book (1992, with 2012 anniversary edition) by Harvey Penick with Bud Shrake
75. Zen Golf (2002) by Joseph Parent
76. The Big Miss (2012) by Hank Haney
77. The Whore of Akron (2011) by Scott Raab
78. Back from the Dead (2016) by Bill Walton
79. Word Freak (2001) by Stefan Fatsis
80. Relentless (2013) by Tim Grover
Leadership:
81. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2002) by Patrick Lencioni
82. Multipliers (2010) by Liz Wiseman
83. Ego Is the Enemy (2016) by Ryan Holiday
84. A More Beautiful Question (2014) by Warren Berger
85. Crucial Conversations (2002, 2012 edition) by Kerry Patterson, et. al.
86. Conversational Capacity (2013) by Craig Weber
87. Leadership on the Line (2002) by Marty Linsky
88. Good to Great (2001) by Jim Collins
89. This Fight Is Our Fight (2007) by Elizabeth Warren
90. Positive Deviance (2010) by Richard Pascale, et. al.
Recommended by Readers:
91) EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey
92) Letters from the Earth (1962) by Mark Twain
93) Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen
94) The Death of Truth (2018) by Michiko Kakutani
95) Pleasure Activism (2019) by Adrienne Marie Brown
96) Aware (2018) by Daniel Siegel
97) The Moment of Lift (2019) by Melinda Gates
98) Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall
99) Raising Cain (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
100) Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain

Happy Thanksgiving! This blog is going on hiatus until New Year's Day 2020. Enjoy these reviews, and I'll see you back in 2020.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The power of word of mouth

Time and time again, word of mouth proves to be the best recommendation for practically anything. Nowadays, that's tricky with social media and what we perceive as word of mouth. For me, word of mouth worked out magnificently in 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend because readers personally recommended the following 10 books and many more.

I started a few books not on this list and was not into them. Aborted! I do indeed recommend the books in this category but realize that not all 10 fit my criteria for a recommendation.

My criteria to recommend a book is simple: 1) I actually read the book cover to cover, 2) I enjoyed or found my time well-spent with the book, and 3) the book helped me feel or see something differently.

Here are 10 books readers recommended to me that I, too, recommend:

1) EntreLeadership (2011) by Dave Ramsey
2) Letters from the Earth (1962) by Mark Twain
3) Fantasyland (2017) by Kurt Andersen
4) The Death of Truth (2018) by Michiko Kakutani
5) Pleasure Activism (2019) by Adrienne Marie Brown
6) Aware (2018) by Daniel Siegel
7) The Moment of Lift (2019) by Melinda Gates
8) Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall
9) Raising Cain (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
10) Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain

Good golly, I realize that I have finished this project! Bam! That was an undertaking. It started July 15, and 100 books and more than four months later, it is complete.

I'm proud of this. So many websites of books are just trying to sell books, and this is all about my reading path and where I'm at in 2019. It will be interesting to see how this path contorts and develops in future years.

Tomorrow, I will recap the entire project and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving! See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

A celebration of introverts

Editor's Note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Fellow teacher Mr. Bill Mustard recommended Quiet (2012) by Susan Cain.

For odd reasons, I tried to avoid reading Quiet. One of my students did a presentation on the book that was so strong, I felt I didn't need to read it. Plus, it is so popular that I figured it could only be a letdown.

I was wrong.

Quiet is an awesome book, but not because of its thesis about the power of introverts. Rather, it's such a good read because of how Susan Cain shapes her narratives and the many adventures she takes.

She interviews and cites a veritable who's who of modern thought in the book, and I found the book to be a page-turner. The book starts off like gangbusters with its section on our society's ideal of extroverts. Cain traces part of our society's love of the extrovert to Dale Carnegie, who wrote How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. That's a long, long time ago, and Carnegie is no relation to the Carnegies. In fact, Dale Carnegie's original last name was spelled "Carnagey."
Cain correctly shows how extroversion is strived for and often rewarded. This doesn't necessarily help our society or lives. My added theory on the advent of the extrovert ideal is that TV spurred that on as well, especially after the JFK/Nixon debate of 1960.

Also, in her first section, Cain attends a Tony Robbins seminar and explores the myth of charismatic leadership and talks about how collaboration — dominated by the loud ones — often turns into unproductive groupthink. I found these sections fascinating.

I found the next section about biology, and how it relates to introverts and extroverts, the least interesting. But then the book's final two sections are strong, especially the part on Asian-Americans. It becomes utterly obvious that most of our interpretations of introverts and extroverts are based on culture, and I'm not so sure we question our culture enough.

My main criticism for Quiet is that maybe Cain sticks to her thesis too much. Not everything we do is about being an introvert and extrovert, and aren't we all really ambiverts? (An ambivert is someone with both qualities of an introvert and extrovert.)

One fear I have is that introvert is mistakenly interpreted as a shy person, and they are much different. Being shy entails feeling anxiety around others. An introvert is not necessarily shy, but feels revived with lone time.

If any overarching message comes out of Quiet, I believe it can be that we all don't have to be wildly social. While I find social skills to be important for all in this world, I respect those who appreciate solitude and don't feel they need to be the gregarious life of the party.

Monday, November 25, 2019

It's crucial for boys to embrace emotion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Literary agent Gail Ross recommended Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys (1999) by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.

When boys cry, why do we often say "be a man" or "get over it"? Are boys truly in tune with how they actually feel? How can someone experience empathy if they do not understand their own emotions?

Raising Cain (1999) addresses these questions, and more, about boys and emotion. At an extremely young age, boys are steered away from understanding their inner world. This is called the emotional miseducation of boys.
In my own book, the topic of men's emotions is huge, but it's not like I'm an expert on the topic. Raising Cain is spot on and written by two child psychologists, who see what I also witness in the classroom. Sadly, boys' understanding of their emotions often is poor. I say it has gotten even worse in the past two decades when this book came out because those inner lives are given away to video games and adult websites.

What is explored in Raising Cain is even more important today than ever. To build emotional literacy, boys first need an emotional vocabulary that expands their ability to express themselves other than with anger. Boys need to feel emotionally connected. They need close, supportive relationships that support their emotions. Fathers, and men, must model this.

In Raising Cain, prescriptive sections meld with examples of actual boys and their situations. The book reads well, and so many parts ring true, including the male's tradition of being emotionally isolated, and how boys treat each other.
In the final chapter, the book lists seven foundations of parenting and teaching that create communities that respect and cultivate the inner lives of boys. Those seven foundations are:

1. Give boys permission to have an internal life, approval for the full range of human emotions, and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so that they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others.

2. Recognize and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe boy places to express it.

3. Talk to boys in their language — in a way that honors their pride and their masculinity. Be direct with them. Use them as consultants and problem solvers.

4. Teach boys that emotional courage is courage, and that courage and empathy are the sources of real strength in life.

5. Use discipline to build character and conscience, not enemies.

6. Model a manhood of emotional attachment.

7. Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man.

I cannot stress the importance of these seven foundations. In my book, I look at this, and more, through the lens of relationships. The question remains: How can a woman truly love a man who is emotionally illiterate?

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Loonshots must go forward

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. My cousin Sally Stevens suggested Loonshots (2019) by Safi Bahcall.

I looove the idea of a "loonshot." Safi Bahcall defines a loonshot as "a neglected project, widely dismissed, its champion written off as unhinged."

Bam! Go no further, I love the concept. But, hey, what exactly does that entail?

I started reading Loonshots like there was no tomorrow, and I powered through the book, even though I slowly lost that loving feeling.

How do we teach creativity and innovation? I find that to be wildly tricky, and I'm not so sure that often works with our conventional schools in 30-person classrooms. Innovative thinking typically gets shimmied out of students, oh, by around fourth grade or so. I find that innovative students need innovative parents, or innovative mentors, to foster creativity. That's more rare than it should be.

In Loonshots, I respond to the basic rules on how to create innovation:

1. Separate the phases. 2. Create dynamic equilibrium. 3. Spread a system mindset.

What this means is that each organization has a mixture of "artists" and "soldiers." These must be respected equally, but they must be separated. Leaders must act as gardeners of both, and we must guide the members of the organization to look at themselves as part of a system and repeatedly ask "why" it's doing certain things and "how" to improve.
So I respond to the basic rules of what creates a loonshot and the prescriptive portions of the book. But the book is mostly narratives about loonshots from yesteryear. I would have preferred more about how to harness loonshots now and in the future.

I'm not sure why I didn't respond to the narratives in the book. I think it's just the writing. They seem to be written without much passion or flair. Rather, they're written to prove that a loonshot is indeed a real thing. But one question remains: Is it really?

Here's the deal. Around the same time I was reading this book, I was helping my AP English Language class understand common fallacies and see if we ever subscribe to fallacious thinking. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a fallacy that, in essence, is faulty causality. Just because B follows A, it doesn't mean A caused it.

In every narrative in Loonshots, Bahcall goes back in history to prove that loonshots caused this incredible event in history. Madness! How in the world could a non-defined term — loonshots in this case — cause a major historic event in retrospect? Couldn't we do that with any selected historic events and prove pretty much any theory?

To me, books need to seek truth more than anything else, and I'm not sure Loonshots really does that. However, I must say that the world is so desperate for new ideas on creativity and innovation that we'll take Loonshots. We need more and more ideas on innovation, but we need to look forward, not to the past.

Friday, November 22, 2019

It's easy to empower with $104 billion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. The Moment of Lift (2019) by Melinda Gates came from a former student of mine, Steven Chang.

I must admit that I hesitated to read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates because she and her husband, Bill, have an obscene net worth of $104 billion, according to Business Insider. Mathematically, the average American spending $1 is equivalent to Bill or Melinda spending $1.06 million.

So while it certainly is beneficial to have the Gates Foundation with a $50 billion endowment (the largest in the world), I do not believe the foundation addresses the real problem here —wealth distribution. For God's sake, the Gates family is second only to Amazon's Jeff Bezos with personal wealth and has the GDP of the 83rd biggest country in the world, edging Croatia, Panama and Lithuania. Wacky!

So I tried my best to leave my wealth-distribution knowledge in the background, and I will give credit to Melinda Gates for coming out with an important book with various salient issues brought to the forefront.

I can't complain, nor can anyone really, about the Gates Foundation's efforts to rectify sewage problems in Africa and India. But doesn't philanthropy lose something when it's broadcast by one's self? I guess the point of writing about this is to educate the reader on what is happening in parts of the world in which they are oblivious, so I say, "Uh, thanks, I guess."

What I respond to most in Gates' book is Chapter Five, "The Silent Inequality: Unpaid Work." Why is it that in many families, both parents work, but then the woman does the lion's share of the child rearing and house work? Why aren't there more conversations on this?
If we really want to change the world, doesn't it start in our own home? I love Melinda Gates' anecdote that she needed Bill to take their kid to school sometimes, and so he did. Then, other dads did that, too, because, well, they wanted to see Bill Gates.

If men are truly leaders, they must lead in the home with a fair division of labor. It is powerful when men embrace their nurturing side. I see house work as a manifestation of love, but I worry that men don't see it that way. And, then, the woman undoubtedly picks up the slack, and the home remains the root of inequality.

So that chapter was a home run. I also can relate to Melinda Gates' background as a Catholic. The book is readerly enough to be a page turner. But I must say that I just couldn't help it — thoughts of wealth distribution repeatedly crept into my mind throughout the read.

It would be nice if the Gates corporation did even more for the United States and lead the charge on systemic economic change. No one can debate that a lot of the information in The Moment of Lift is on the mark, but the fact remains that a net worth of $104 billion is obscene.

Let's hope the next Gates book is on wealth distribution, but I highly doubt that's going to happen.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The power of awareness and compassion

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. Friend and former colleague at the Long Beach Press-Telegram Don Jergler recommended Parenting from the Inside Out and The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel. I realized that Siegel had a newer book out called Aware (2018), and I read that one.

The epigraph to Aware could not be more fitting: "A mind that is stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimension."
— Oliver Wendall Holmes

Aware has a zillion deep concepts in it, and it has two subheads: The Science and Practice of Presence and The Groundbreaking Meditation of Practice. There is A LOT in the book! The best way I can describe it as a scientific approach to mediation and the mind, and it clears up misconceptions of how the brain works. I found the book absolutely fascinating and highly recommend it.

However, I do not respond to the book's central premise, something called "The Wheel of Awareness." I do respond to most of the ideas within the wheel, but I just don't see awareness as fitting into this illustration. Maybe it's a mental block; I just don't buy the wheel.

I do subscribe to the three basic tenets connected to the wheel that have multiple health benefits, including immune function, cardiovascular factors and neural integration. Those three tenets are: focused attention, open awareness and kind intention.

By soaking in Aware, it helped me rotate my thought patterns out of a constant dialogue to more openness, calmness and just being in the moment. Granted, I'm a novice when it comes to meditation and these type of ideas, but I gained a lot from the book.
Why is it that we practice dental hygiene but not mental hygiene? My 12-year-old daughter calls this "mental maintenance" and says it's common sense. Maybe. But this Polack missed that lesson and is finally realizing it in his 40s.

If we have perceived enemies, which I don't really have, or difficult people or maybe politicians we don't like, I love the idea of putting positive thoughts toward them. When we have negativity toward them, it only really hurts ourself. Compassion and empathy likely have actual, physical health benefits as well as emotional and mental ones.

Scientists often stay away from examining the health benefits of love, but I know those benefits are there. Dan Siegel, AKA "Dance Eagle," touches upon that as well as explaining how we must embrace our emergent self, our ever changing self.

He writes about so many interesting things that it's hard to give his book justice in this write-up, but his idea that energy is the movement from possibility to actuality, or the the throwaway quote from a professor that "insight and understanding only move forward when we have the courage to be wrong" also struck me.

I must admit that some stuff in the book flew right over my head, and I felt that the last few chapters kind of did that. But I still walk away from Aware feeling a sense of clarity and with permission to shift my attention and focus and continue to be awed by the amazement of life and human beings.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Activism can be pleasurable

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. When I did a training on restorative justice, our facilitator recommended Emergent Strategy (2017) by Adrienne Maree Brown. I read that as well as Brown's Pleasure Activism (2019) and will be focusing on the later because it is newer.

Women and film.

Oh, man, I am embarrassed with how I arrived at that women's studies class at Ohio State. I figured, "Great! Women and film are two things I love. I'm in!"

Little did I anticipate, but when I showed up for the first class, there were only six males and about 40 females. At least, that's the math I did back then without an inkling of what gender identity even was. Three of the males dropped, so I was one of only three men in the class. It was not what I imagined. We did not watch Cinemax.

I learned a lot in the women's studies course 25 years ago about things that weren't even close to being on my radar. I remember exploring the male gaze, the white male perspective and stereotyping in various film genres. I busted my tail in the class, like I had something to prove, but maybe just me being there was an education in itself.

I certainly am not on the pulse of current gender or lesbian theory or where women's studies is in 2019, but I am open to it. So it was quite a pleasure to read Pleasure Activism by Adrienne Maree Brown.

Brown defines pleasure activism as asserting that "we all need and deserve pleasure and that our social structures must reflect this. In this moment, we must prioritize the pleasure of those most impacted by oppression."
With pleasure activism, we seek to understand and learn the mistakes from political and power dynamics connected to what gives us pleasure. By tapping into the potential goodness in ourselves, we can generate justice and liberation. We are trying to make justice and liberation more pleasurable.

OK. That all makes sense to me. Sold!

This will sound stereotypical, and it is. BUT ... when I was in the women's studies class 25 years ago, I took a lot of seemingly random heat from angry lesbians. Yes, I am a white male, and maybe I would do the same thing if I were in their shoes. But at least I was in the class. I was seeking to understand.

Now, 25 years later, the climate has changed immensely and has progressed. The rage may have subsided. Gender differences and various orientations are more accepted in society. Maybe many are partaking in pleasure activism, whether they realize it or not.

My only critique with Pleasure Activism is that it has an "everything and the kitchen sink" feel. There are so many interviews, essays and even silly stuff that I wonder if it could have been edited a bit more.

I was absolutely positively blown away, and sickened actually, by the recounting of survivor Amita Swadhin and her experience. I could hardly muster reading the details of what she went through because it was one of the most raw and horrific things I've ever read. Including that in the book had enormous value to me.

But then a few pages later, we had a homage to Beyonce. I respect the Queen Bee, and I guess it could have served as a way to change the mood, but I was still reeling from Swadhin's story.

I commend Brown for her honesty, vulnerability and intimacy throughout the book, and I do see some things differently now. Some stuff that sticks with me is what consent actually means and how it works and how the binary approach to gender is outdated. There also was such a range of people interviewed and included that it was refreshing for me to see perspectives that I often don't see.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Americans: Can they handle the truth?

Editor's note: In the final category of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend, we have taken suggestions from friends and readers for books new to me. OK, how this recommendation happened is a little weird. Michiko Kakutani's name jokingly came up in a shoddy review about David Sedaris. I had been wanting to read The Death of Truth (2018), and my wife said, "Just read it then."

Michiko Kakutani. Wow.

For anyone familiar with the name, I bet you have a similar reverence as I do. She was the longtime chief book critic of The New York Times and retired two years ago. Then, she wrote The Death of Truth, which examines truth in the Trump era in a scholarly yet accessible and captivating read.

At one point in the book, Kakutani conjectures how Trump's tweets could be printed and bound and become part of presidential history. That might very well happen, but I believe her book is more of an accurate portrayal of truth. Her book certainly is more truthful than the president's non-realistic and hyperbolic tweets.

The one thing about the Trump era that I cannot stand is the utter division seen in cable news, how people converse and animosity toward "the other side." No doubt, The Death of Truth is an indictment of Trump, but it is objective, fairly reported and takes us through the history of what got us here that is both accurate, fair and the truth. Furthermore, I reject the premise of our country's perceived division. There is no "other side" in my mind.

I found many aspects of Kakutani's book fascinating. Perhaps at the top of the list is how critical theory, stuff I studied in college from Derrida and Baudelaire, helped pave the way to the relativism of the Trump world. If we deconstruct a text so much to say that it has no objective truth, or that it's all subjective, then that path can take the idea of truth too far, to a place that is meaningless.
Trump and his strategy team have done what the postmodernist critical theorists did — to obscure and discount basic truth. But then Kakutani also looks at fascism and how Naziism rose, and it's eerily similar to Trump's rise. Mind you, this is not a knee-jerk liberal reaction. This is supported by legitimate texts and history. This is Michiko freaking Kakutani. How more legitimate of a source could there really be?

At one point, Kakutani calls Trump a symptom of the current political, economic and technological climate as well as an accelerator of it. Perhaps we all should have seen something like this coming, but I guess technology worked so fast that we wouldn't have realized the advent of fake news sites, fake posts, accounts on Facebook created by Russia and how Google's searches tailor themselves to the actual searcher based on his/her data.

In his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman (who I once briefly met in his Greenwich Village apartment around 1996) pointed out how the "electric plug" rendered our cultural discourse inconsequential. Our discourse would now be "simplistic, nonsubstantive, nonhistorical and noncontextual; that is to say, information packaged as entertainment."

This was back in '85, and it's in the epilogue of Kakutani's much-needed book. The electric plug, which Postman meant as TV, has become so strong that it put a reality TV star in the White House, and then he continues with the show daily. Practically all sources of information nowadays are entertainment based; I hardly see any depth to the typical American's daily discourse.

Maybe I'm a dreamer. Maybe I'm naive. I am hoping that soon the American collective conscientious realizes that truth is more important than power and that in the end, truth wins out. Of course, best case scenario, it may take years for the country to get back on a non-corporate, democracy path. Maybe we are too far gone at this point. But, heck, what is life, if we cannot dream?