Wednesday, July 31, 2019

How do we stop destroying black boys?

One of the most painful things that anyone can see has two parts. Part one: Go to any kindergarten classroom with African-American boys. Chances are, the boys will be smiling, engaged and pleasant.

Part two: Four years later, go to those same kids' fourth-grade classroom. It will be a shocker. The kids likely will be disengaged, in explicit or implicit battles with their teachers and often times, hardly passing fourth grade.

What happened here?

The school-to-prison pipeline starts shockingly young with African-American males, and many people and educators remain clueless about this or do nothing about it. It's a reprehensible system, and African-American males are the victims in it.

In Jawanza Kunjufu's Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys (1995), he candidly examines the systemic killing and controlling of African-Americans in America. One page 1, he quotes Neely Fuller, who stated, "until you understand white supremacy, everything else will confuse you."

Kunjufu then asks several questions, including, "Can you explain how less than 10 percent of the world's population, which is white, own over 70 percent of the world's wealth?"
To understand the impact of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the prison system and their impact on the African-American community likely can't be done with one book. But at least The Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys is a start.

On page 3, Kunjufu quotes Thomas Jefferson, who owned 600 slaves in his lifetime, and wrote "I advanced it, that the blacks are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind." I wish I were told early on in school that 10 of the first 12 presidents all owned slaves. Only the two Adamses did not.

In Countering the Conspiracy to Destroy Black Boys, I respond most to the facts that go underreported and to the examining of key questions of "Would African-American boys benefit from a classroom taught by African-American men?" or "Why do African-American female college students graduate in greater numbers than their male counterparts?" and "Why do black males kill black males?"

The statistics are alarming, that 37 percent of the prison population is African-American males while only 6 percent of the United States is African-American males. If you have are an African-American male born in the U.S., you have a 1 out of 3 chance of serving jail time.

In some communities, the numbers are so high that Kunjufu points out that homeschooling can be a better answer, statistically. Easy for me to say, but I like to think I would never put my son in the school-to-prison pipeline if he faced these odds.

Nationwide, 70 percent of teachers are white women. Are they fully trained and knowledgeable enough to know the difficulties of the African-American community? Do they actually speak kindly to African-American males, or is there a hint of disdain or animosity toward them?

I put Kunjufu's book in the parenting/family section of this project because it is relevant and he also wrote Raising Black Boys (2007). Thank God that the stupid era from white people called "color blindness" is over and that there is more a shift toward the real issues and real conversations on race are more common. Or are they?

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Do we truly understand how we love?

Love can be a scary thing or a wonderful thing, and I bet we all can benefit from understanding it better.

However, a lot of people — especially men — don't open themselves to a deeper understanding of love. But their lives would be a lot more enriching if they did.

A while back a friend recommended How We Love (2006) by Milan and Kay Yerkovich, but because my relationship with my Dina felt like it was clicking on all cylinders, I opted to read How We Love Our Kids (2011).

The book helped me because I often had a problem with one of my daughters. She did things differently, and I sometimes felt flabbergasted that she didn't do things my way. I was a bit controlling, and How We Love Our Kids made me realize that it was perfectly fine that my daughter did things her way.

The one thing that used to trigger me is that my daughter didn't like to be hugged. I'm a hugger! Fuhgeddaboudit. I would practically shame her when she recoiled from my hugs, and years later, I must admit how wrong I was. It's OK not to hug.

How We Love Our Kids made me realize the many different ways we give and receive love, and it is wrong to expect others to fall in line with our style — especially our children.
I must report that my relationship with my aforementioned daughter is better than ever, and I feel it takes maturity to admit that my approach with her was off for years. It turns out that whenever there is a difficult relationship between an adult and child that it is almost always the adult's issue. Who knew?!?

Now, I must temper How We Love Our Kids. It's not perfect by any means. It's not a cure-all, and I actually disagree with some assertions here and there in the book. However, it was a good conduit for me in my effort to be a good dad. It's worth a read, for sure.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Nonviolence starts with our words

I believe that the most important element in any relationship is communication. Still, even the most skilled communicators need help with understanding others, improving their words and getting to the root of what is actually being communicated.

Tons and tons and tons of books are out there about communication, and I find Marshall Rosenberg's Nonviolent Communication (2015, third edition) the most useful.

Nonviolent communication presumes that conflict between individuals exists because of a miscommunication of their needs. That miscommunication mistakenly uses forceful or manipulative language that brings up fear, shame and guilt.

Understanding nonviolent communication, what upsets me is that sometimes leaders, either consciously or subconsciously, use overt or veiled violent communication for their agendas. I truly wonder what hope our world has for improved communication, and more understanding and harmony, when our leaders often communicate so violently.

The great news about being well-versed in nonviolent communication is that it makes every conversation much easier. We can go ahead and forget about "winning" conversations or merely communicating for factual information. Instead, we can go deeper in our relationships, understand each other better and show our children how to communicate effectively and with meaning.
It is a conscious decision to place Nonviolent Communication in the 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend category of parenting because I believe good communication must start at home. As soon as a baby is born, it communicates to its parents. The parent communicates back immediately, and healthy parents bond with the child and show love.

Just like we've come a long way with putting babies in incubators away from parents when they're born, we have come a long way with communication for those interested in improving theirs. We may live in a world of Tweets, social-media posts and one-sided communication without depth, but Nonviolent Communication is an excellent book for not only improved communication but an improved life.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Why do we keep raising CHILDREN?

As a teacher and a parent, I have been astounded by the behavior I've seen from parents. I've learned not to judge, and I don't want to come across as a "know-it-all" with parenting. After all, parenting is a perpetual work in progress. Right?

I have one guiding phrase that helps me: The point of parenting is to help your child achieve emotional gratification.

Now, that's easier said than done. But with that guiding principle, stressing the importance of self-worth, empathy, kindness, adapting and problem solving are all a part of it.

Unfortunately, many of my fellow Gen Xers have fallen victim to the parenting of the day. They've been helicopter parents or bulldozer parents, and they think that's how it should be because that's what's happening around them.

Well, thank God for Julie Lythcott-Haims and How to Raise an Adult (2015). In a United States of parenting and college admittance gone awry, Lythcott-Haims has provided parents a must-read, especially for ones with college in the future. She put into words experiences that I wholeheartedly relate to, and How to Raise an Adult is my favorite parenting book. It's a perfect pick to kick off the parenting section of 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend.

Lythcott-Haims is a former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University. What she noticed is that many parents would stay on campus as school started and would approach campus officials if there were any problem with schedules. The parents were fighting the kids' battles at college, and that is unheard for this Gen Xer. Our parents didn't do that stuff, and we thank them for that.
Teaching at an academically prestigious school, I see similar things as Lythcott-Haims. The point of parenting I see at my school is more concerned about "success" or "getting into a good college," as opposed to helping develop the individual and life skills. Many kids nowadays are taught to develop their transcript and not themselves.

As a parent, I've often pondered how much influence I have with my daughters, or even with my students. I believe the unspoken, subconscious lessons may be greater than the explicit ones. How I behave and my actions likely are more important than any "secret of life" lesson I espouse.

Shortly after How to Raise an Adult came out, I wrote about it here and identified myself as a reformed helicopter parent. I would like to report that the world has responded to Lythcott-Haims' book and similar criticism of modern-day life and parenting, but I still see repeated red flags from parents of behavior that is detrimental to kids.

The irony of parenting is that we try to prepare our children for the world we had. However, the world is evolving, and our children face much different issues and difficulties than we did. I believe we have to understand that a "one size fits all" parenting approach only works for one size and that some fundamentals like physical health, emotional health and social health are the foundation of parenting and personhood.

Sadly, Lythcott-Haims and I have seen that "being successful" often replaces health, and many parents unwittingly perpetuate an unhealthy society.

Friday, July 26, 2019

10 'big-time' nonfiction recommendations

Category one is done for 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. It was "big time and deserving."

Here is a recap of the authors and books recommended:

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

These are some famous authors. I feel that Joan Didion and Stephen King may be on a whole other plane than the others in the literary world, but Outliers has been on the New York Times nonfiction list for 282 weeks now and is No. 5 in nonfiction paperback. That's five and half years and amazing.

Two unexpected takeaways from this project so far: It's getting far fewer page visits than my typical posts. By the way, there have been past posts that garnered A LOT of hits. Perhaps the subject matter lessens the audience, but so be it. I love doing this, and I shall keep with it.

Another thing I realize is that these writers are all white people, although Gladwell's mother is Jamaican. The white-heavy list raises an eyebrow with me, but at least I'm aware of this. Well, the next category "parenting" has much more diversity. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Grazer makes a splash with curiosity

The final nonfiction recommendation in the category of "Big and Deserving" is a curious selection — to say the least.

It's A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer and Charles Fishman. Grazer is a famous Hollywood producer, best known for teaming with Ron Howard, and for producing A Beautiful MindSplashApollo 13 and other blockbusters.

The thesis to A Curious Mind (2015) is that it is curiosity that has helped Grazer grow, and that has been the secret to his success. He has engaged in countless "curiosity conversations" with a veritable who's who of power in the Hollywood scene and outside of it.

I typically won't be too picayune with flaws of the books on this list, but for this one, I want to make a disclaimer that 1) the book repeated its thesis so much that it became annoying, and 2) I believe there should be more to the thesis.

While I absolutely love the message on curiosity and that's a major reason why it is a quality book, it is Grazer's boldness and audacity that may impress me more than his curiosity. When he was a mere messenger starting out in the business, he would insist on having his curiosity conversations with extremely powerful Hollywood people. Guts!
Grazer continues to have "curiosity conversations" with some of the world's most powerful figures, and because he is powerful in his own right, these figures indulge him. The conversations themselves are indeed curious and interesting, and because the moguls in the book are so significant, I found the lessons from the conversations worthwhile.

I have always known that the entertainment industry is one of the most difficult, dog-eat-dog industries in the world. As soon as I arrived in L.A., a friend said, "Remember. L.A. is a city of vacuous pursuits."

I couldn't agree more. For who I am, I'm not sure I could handle a career in the entertainment industry. I couldn't deal with the politics, the difficulties, the obstacles. And for what? To write a killer script, only to have it never sold or finally sold and reworked beyond my control.

So I had my own curious mind, when reading Grazer's "Curious Mind," and I realized that he defied major odds to become such a major producer and figure. He started by, boom, walking into big-time producer Lew Wasserman's office and picking his brain with how to be a producer. Wasserman called him out on being full of it, and Grazer figured out he'd have to come up with his own film — "Splash" — to break into the world of producing.

If anything, I like that Grazer's book isn't a narrative on his odds-beating success. Rather, it focuses on the secret to his success — curiosity.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

King of writing goes intimate

I'm not a ginormous Stephen King fan, but I do respect the guy. I must say that The Shining, Cujo, Christine, Misery and much more are deserving parts of American pop culture.

In academia, I often felt King deserved more credit than he got because he didn't get the props he deserved in the academic world. Heck, perhaps those on the tenure track were upset because they found themselves unpublished and living in places like Kirksville, Mo., while King raked in tens of millions of dollars.

As a writer, I must say that On Writing (2000) by Stephen King is a masterpiece. It's the book on writing that I relate to the most because writing, to me, is not all about divine inspiration. It's more about developing writing habits, keeping things clear and building upon that.

Maybe writing is like a golf swing. Yes, in golf, it's cool to learn how to hook and draw the ball and know how to go over, under or around trees. But more times than not, it is the basics that matter the most, and if we try to get too tricky, we know it's going to be a shank.
What I love most about On Writing is that it exposes truth. To be as prolific as Stephen King, one must commit to the craft, big time, and set up a world around him that allows him to be him. The ins and outs of the craft are focused upon, rather than a paralysis by analysis reasoning of who we writers are.

We know enough about ourselves. Yes, I'll introspect. But I don't want to introspect too long so I, say, miss the Tribe game.

Why do we write? Well, the next question is "Why do we breathe?" At a certain point, writing becomes an inherent part of ourselves, and it has been an absolute pleasure that King graced the world with his methods and process.

On Writing goes beyond the nuts and bolts of just writing because he delves into his alcoholism, and his insights on that topic are superb. I think when writers believe they are touching the hand of God or exploring deep parts of their soul that force us to drink to excess. Drinking also is about masculinity, and at a certain age, we drinkers realize that our consumption was a lie and we unnecessarily messed with our livers.

So I appreciate Mr. King for opening up about his life and for pointing out how intimate a relationship that reading is. We sometimes explore our true issues through writing more than any other place. Right?

On Writing also took place during the time span in which King was in his horrific accident that nearly killed him. He describes what happened, his excruciating recovery and the realities of nearly dying. Stephen King has written 88 books, and if he just did On Writing, that alone would have been meaningful enough.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Tharp shows that creativity is a habit

One thing that boggles my mind is how our American society treats artists. We devalue them. We shun them. We make fun of them. We shame them until they stop it with the art.

As early as, say, 9 years old, we tell them, "Well, you better figure out how you're going to make money, too."

No wonder we get the movies we have, the bombardment of advertising and way less art in our lives than we should have. American art remains in the margins because being an artist is counterculture to our consume-heavy, money-making mainstream culture.

As a teacher, I just don't see how schools cultivate artists. Music and art typically are the first programs cut, and many adults tell me that science and math are more important than art. Is that right? Why is that? Are you sure?

I firmly believe that most kids mistakenly learn that art and the humanities are superficial, non-lucrative pursuits to be dismissed. So well then, OK, they shun the arts and become unimaginative workers.

It turns out that I'm a workhorse when it comes to writing, and I have a problem with a lot of the literature out there that explores inspiration, creativity and the craft of writing. With that said, I know of no better, or more accurate, book on creativity than Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit (2003).
Blown away. I was blown away (figuratively) when I first read The Creative Habit because it correctly explained creativity in more depth, and more clearly, than I had ever seen. Creativity is no lightening bolt sent from the heavens to lucky ones wearing berets. No, no, creativity, like anything else, is a skill that can be developed with the proper attention and practice.

Twyla Tharp cultivated her creativity through dance and choreography. I've done it in with writing, and others do it in their select fields. However, most remain out of the arena of creativity because of misconceptions on what it actually is and the fixed mindset of conditioning of "I'm not creative." ... Poppycock!

One aspect of The Creative Habit I found particularly enlightening was Tharp's relationship with Billy Joel, who worked with her on the Broadway show Movin' Out. Billy Joel considers himself a plumber of songwriting, and I love that terminology because for those of us who actually do write, I feel that we are plumbers, too. It's how it is.

I also love Tharp's daily schedule, waking up in the wee hours every day to work out and put her on a path to creativity. She trumpeted the importance of investing in one's self and being committed, but not acting out of obligation. Some people like the idea of being an artist, more than the art itself. Well, that's good information, and a sign for them to find a different art or something in which they are passionate.

I would argue that what keeps artists perceived as elite is not the nature of what they do, but the fact that so few of them actually put in the time commitment to become experts in their art. Without financial gain looming, many would-be artists don't even try, and I think that's a shame because our society would be better with more music, art, dance, sculpture and expression. I just wish with that stuff was part of our daily habits.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Sandberg and Grant explore our options

Sheryl Sandberg and I have something in common. We both lost loved ones unexpectedly from heart attacks. She lost her husband at age 47. My dad, the XMan, was 63.

This was the type of thing that used to only happen to other people. Now, it was her, and it was me, my mom and family.

So when Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy was released in 2017, I jumped in on it and was not disappointed. Sandberg is an extremely powerful person, a billionaire who is the chief operating officer of Facebook. I found Sandberg's honesty and truth to be the strength of the book, which is a big-time title with 2.5 million copies sold.

I'm a fan of Adam Grant, too, and especially love this work because the raw emotion is an excellent balance for Grant's analysis. I've also read Give and Take (2013) and Originals (2016) by Grant and recommend them. Sandberg's Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (2013) is also an enormously huge book of note.
For anyone who's had a sudden loss, Option B is excellent. Oddly, I read this book around the same time as a few others that served as a gateway to me understanding more about cognitive behavioral theory (CBT).

I believe that when we mourn, our thoughts shift. For me, my thoughts became acutely negative, and once I realized that they were not reality, that they were a slanted take on the world, I soon was on the path to healing. In a sense, Option B is in a similar vein as Ariana Huffington's Thrive. Here are two extremely powerful women, writing about humanity, and I say we can never have enough nonfiction on humanity in our modern world.



Saturday, July 20, 2019

Sinek can be a cynic of technology

Just like Brene Brown, Simon Sinek boasts one of the most watched TEDx talks in the history of the Interwebs.

Sinek also owns a viral video with him explaining our worldwide phone addiction. I couldn't agree with him more because, well, we're both Gen Xers, and we were born 12 days apart in 1973.

I, too, cannot stand how people treat their phones, or better stated, how they treat me while focusing on their phones.

Sinek, which is a cool last name because I think "cynic," has two main books that I have read — Leaders Eat Last (2014) and Start with Why (2009). I recommend both, but in particular, I found Leaders Eat Last especially helpful because of his exploration of the chemicals in our brain and how they relate to modern living.
The understanding of these chemicals helps a lot with understanding our own feelings and reactions. Cortisol, for example, is released when we experience fear or danger. However, in modern living, we are not actually in imminent danger like we were when we were cavemen. There is no tiger lurking in the distance. Rather, our mind sees a work slight, or issue, as a much greater threat than it actually is.

Dopamine is released when we feel love, and that often is mistakenly released when we get a text message or see your smart phone's screen. Sinek also delves into endorphins, serotonin and oxytocin and how these affect us in the workplace. He accomplishes more in Leaders Eat Last, but understanding these chemicals is a huge concept.

With the 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend six authors into it and 94 to go, one thing I already have noticed is how they are all absolutely huge on the Interwebs. Although this first category of "Big and Deserve It" warrants that, it is not as if writers exist in vacuums anymore. However, the one thing I worry about is that some are now huge and then authors. I am not sure that type of system helps fresh, new voices.

One more thing to give it up about Simon Sinek is that his critiques often go hard with personal technology. Somehow, this topic is far less online than it should be. I guess when it comes to Big Tech, Google will not exactly have algorithms that help others question its power and omnipotence. At least Sinek has been critical of technology, and, ironically, it was technology that vaulted him into stardom.



Friday, July 19, 2019

Ferriss' work in my wheelhouse

I am unsure how I stumbled across Tim Ferriss. I picked up his Tribe of Mentors tome and thought, "well, here's another book that has gotten some hype and good luck living up to that."

Surprise!

Tribe of Mentors (2017) even surpassed the hype. At first I was a bit intimidated by the book's 624 pages, but I realized that with about 100 interviews with successful people from various industries, it was the fastest-turning, 600-page book I've ever read.

The book is a tour de force for two main reasons. 1) the questions Ferriss asks, and 2) the cross section of people interviewed.

Sure, there are some big-time celebrities interviewed, including Jimmy Fallon, Ashton Kutcher, Ben Stiller and Larry King, and those are fine. But most of the interviews consist of thought leaders, tech leaders, influencers and people who've done things differently.

One reoccurring theme that continually pops up is the importance of zigging when everyone else zags and how formal education usually has nothing to do with success in the real world. I might argue that sometimes a "successful" formal education even holds back individuals in the work place because of an over-reliance on following rules and a lack of creativity, adaptability, problem solving and engagement.

I found so many of Ferriss' interviews meaningful that it is difficult to single out specific ones because so many did for different reasons. Interviews with Naval Ravikant, Kristen Ulmer, Drew Houston, Steve Aoki and more come to mind. It was an absolutely brilliant tactic to ask the same 11 questions to the interviewees because they are critically important questions.
Simply asking books that leaders have given as gifts and ones that influenced their lives was huge in itself. Each question was meaningful, and my personal favorites were: "How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a 'favorite failure' of yours?"

"What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student about to enter the 'real world'? What advice should they ignore?"

"What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?"

Unbeknownst to me, Ferriss has an extremely popular podcast and is a successful angel investor in startups. My love for Tribe of Mentors had me go back and read his The 4-Hour Workweek, (2009, expanded version), which I also recommend. I also plan on going back and reading Tools of Titans (2016).

When I stumbled upon Tribe of Mentors, I felt vaguely embarrassed. How had I not know this guy existed? It was the same feeling I had when my wife's company helped put on a music festival in Long Beach in which Kaskade was the headliner. I had never heard of Kaskade and, just like with Ferriss, I realized that sometimes I miss stuff.


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Huffington thrives with self-care

As a newspaper journalist from 1996-2008, I witnessed first-hand how the news industry shift. At first, the shift was heartbreaking.

Downsizing. Squeezing content. The blame game.

Eventually, it was pretty darn obvious that consumers could get breaking news online much quicker than waiting for the next day's newspaper. Now, that fact should be filed under the "no duh" category, but looking back on how the newspaper industry reacted, I'm not so sure it realized that or knew how to pivot.

To me, the Huffington Post was the first meaningful online only publication that had strong content and was ahead of its time. It came out in 2005, was the first digital media company to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. It's going strong globally today.

Heck, let's give Arianna Huffington some credit here. She indeed is a media mogul, but the major reason I respond to her is because of her two most recent books Thrive (2014) and The Sleep Revolution (2016).
What I like about Thrive is that it explores self-care in the modern age — from an unexpected source. Arianna Huffington is a major go-getter, and the fact that she has reflected on self-care and created an organization called Thrive Global on the issue is huge. It turns out that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers can actually learn from Millennials or Gen Zers. Maybe that's what happened with Arianna Huffington.

Huffington fell and broke her cheekbone, due to exhaustion and lack of sleep. She considers the first two metrics of success as money and power, and the third metric is our well-being. At least that's how I interpret calling our well-being the third metric. But shouldn't that be the first metric?

I agree with Huffington that a lot of young people devote their lives to a search for money and power. I also agree that this pursuit will be derailed without proper self-care. I don't, however, believe that money and power are worthwhile pursuits because I never see people talking about those on their deathbeds. But who am I? I'm just some guy who reads a lot and believes he makes the most of his 30,000 days on the planet.

OK, so, I may have some issues with Huffington's first two metrics and her swashbuckling and successful pursuit of money and power. Maybe, deep down, I'm jealous. But so what? She arrived at Thrive, and I wholeheartedly agree with the premise of the book.

A lot of Thrive focuses on how personal technology and being connected 24/7 stresses us. I believe that Baby Boomers and Gen Xers have more anxiety with personal technology than Millennials and Gen Zers. When you think about it, they probably do because they didn't have that technology at their fingertips their entire lives.

Thrive is a quality book from a big-time source, and I recommend it, big time.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Ms. Didion deserves the accolades

When I first pondered the idea of "the greatest nonfiction writers of all-time," however myopic that may be, Truman Capote, Tom Wolfe and Joan Didion came to mind. By ushering the New Journalism, those three made an enormous impact on nonfiction and American culture.

As I thought about them, I realized that I had more of a respect for Capote and Wolfe and an actual love for Joan Didion. Having lived in California for the past 21 years, I don't believe any writer has gotten to the truth of California more than Ms. Didion. She deserves the accolades she receives.

One thing I have known about Californians is that many of them are miserable but are unaware of that. They treat themselves poorly. They treat others poorly. They can be unengaged and unfulfilled, but because there is constant sunshine, Californians pretend that "oh, they're fine."

Ms. Didion cut through that facade in her work so well that I completely respond. Slouching Towards Bethlehem was her first nonfiction collection published in 1968, and it is a tour de force. But y'know what really puts her work over the top is The Year of Magical Thinking from 2005.
The Year of Magical Thinking is an international bestseller on mourning, and to me, it just took Ms. Didion's work to another level. For lack of a better word, a lot of our American culture is SICK.

We revere rock stars like Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse. They all died at 27. It's so weird to say, but, my God, they were babies.

Ms. Didion is "84 years young," and she was north of 70 when The Year of Magical Thinking was published. Shouldn't her path and life be more lauded than dead rock stars?

I believe she figured out a long time ago a simple tenet. Art exists to enhance life and not replace life. She blended art and life through her career. She is so significant and moving and deserves the accolades she receives.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It's not just me; we love Brene!

I'd like to think that the Internet is a meritocracy, and that Brene Brown won "most viewed Ted talk" by merit alone. So, then, anyone with a truly meaningful Ted talk could easily go viral. ... Uh, good luck with that!

I don't really know how the Internet algorithms work, but I thank them for helping Brene Brown become a superstar. I have a feeling that, one way or another, we have run across Brene Brown's work, and we love it. What is there not to love?


Brene's Ted talks went viral in 2010. Today, she just keeps getting bigger with a Neflix special earlier this year and major exposure. What she preaches is counter to the trends we see today.


Shame. Vulnerability. What it means to be whole-hearted.

I love the depth of Brene Brown's words and work, and, I'll take her word for it — she has the research to back it up. 


Y'know, let me digress about qualitative vs. quantitative research. I often find that qualitative research is dismissed. I am not sure why. To me, to really go in depth and have a deeper understanding of human beings the much-revered quantitative research is limited by statistics. I hope the research world, in general, is thawing out about over-stressing numerical data above actual truth.


Let's face it. The computers are either taking over or have taken over already in many ways of our lives. But that should free us up for better lives. Actual deeper understanding of our emotions and human traits should become much more of a premium as opposed to how to get a quality silk tie the fastest way.

Just like the first entry of Malcolm Gladwell, I recommend the entire library of Brene Brown. If I had to pick one book, I'd go with Daring Greatly (2015), which gets its name from the famous "Man in the Arena" quote from Theodore Roosevelt.

Beware, though, many of the Brown's key themes are repeated throughout her books. I swear I saw exact passages repeated, but when a friend asked me which ones, I couldn't come up with them. So maybe I was just tripping on that, or they were just extremely similar.

The point is that I do love Brene Brown, and I believe that I and others respond to her so much because she "goes beyond the number data." We need depth and understanding with vulnerability and shame. We need truth. We need deeper human understanding, and she has conveyed that in her work.


She is unabashedly a Texan, and for her tough yet charming attitude, Stevie Ray Vaughn comes to mind.


Monday, July 15, 2019

Gladwell kicks off nonfiction project

Welcome to the nonfiction project!

Perhaps it's only fitting that this project kicks off with Malcolm Gladwell, who has been a nonfiction superstar for at least a decade and was recognized on this blog as a superstar in 2010. Years later, the great thing about Gladwell is that his work stands the test of time.


So Gladwell is the first of 100 nonfiction writers to be recommended by the Snooze Button Generation. Why?


I would argue that he is to books as what the Real World was to reality TV. However, we're talking books and TV, and there is a real world of difference between the two mediums.


In reality TV, it turns out that it is 100 percent scripted. "Reality TV" actually is a misnomer. It should be called "reality-style TV."


With nonfiction writing, yes, indeed, fiction-type of conventions have been used since Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, the New Journalism and some memoirs and essays from back in the day. But I credit Gladwell with pushing a new type of thoughtful, research-based, counterintuitive nonfiction into the mainstream.


I've read Gladwell's entire collection, and bully for us, his sixth book will be out in September called Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know. He hasn't had a book out since 2013, so look out world, the market is ready for this. Talking to Strangers will be ginormous.

If you haven't read any of Gladwell's stuff, I say go straight to Outliers (2008), a tour de force. In it, we look at a boatload of counterintuitive concepts that ring true, including what it takes to be an expert and how in reality, circumstance trumps many cliche man vs. world notions of success.

Gladwell has been killing it for two decades. I also recommend Tipping Point (2000) and Blink (2005) and really all of his work. Heck, I loved Outliers so much as did the reading public that I brought it into my AP Lang class for a year or two.


Because he talks about the Beatles in Outliers and because he's so significant, I got to compare him to the Beatles. In fact, it is safe to say that Malcolm Gladwell is the Beatles of modern-day nonfiction.


Thursday, July 11, 2019

Polish writing path leads to nonfiction

Jak sie masz?

Dobry.

Uh, well, those are four of the 50 words or so that I know in Polish. Despite my sketchy lingual knowledge, I am 100 percent of Polish decent. All four of my grandparents spoke Polish, and they grew up in Slavic Village, the Polish part of Cleveland.

Then, their children didn't speak Polish, went to college, and we call them "Baby Boomers." I'm a Gen Xer, or what I call the Snooze Button Generation, and I am a writer in Los Angeles embarking on a project called 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend that kicks off on Monday.

I'm doing this project because the nonfiction genre has blossomed in the past decade, and I read about 50 books per year. That does not count the 30 or so that I seriously consider reading but don't make the cut.

It's funny. Many friends and readers I run across tell me they don't like nonfiction, and that boggles my mind. I believe they have preconceived notions of what nonfiction is. They might think it's boring or historical or something of what it was back in the 1970s.

In the 21st century, nonfiction has exploded to become my favorite art form. Nonfiction books, more than any other medium, search hard for truth and for hard truths. Many other mediums look to entertain first or sell tickets first or have other agendas other than truth.

But here's the thing. Even while searching for this so-called "truth," they also can entertain, tantalize and thrill, and the 100 books that I will recommend in this project do that.

In the announcing of this project, I explained the 10 categories to be explored. They are:

1) Big time and deserving
2) Parenting
3) Personal growth
4) Comedy
5) Education
6) Social conscience
7) Hard to categorize
8) Sports
9) Leadership
10) Readers recommend. I will read recommendations during the project and come up with 10 favorites new to me. Feel free to contact me through a comment or email with your recommendations.
The categories themselves hint at my sensibilities. But there is more to it than that. For the most part, I want the books I read to help me in some way, to help me see the world in a new way, to explore ideas that need exploration. I don't often read to escape, but more to understand. I could see how the comedy and sports categories may appear escapist, but I like to think they're more than that.

The fact that I'm doing this 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend project is a function of me being a writer. Reading is an integral part of writing, and these books have affected me. I have a draft finished of my first full-length book with the working title Advice to My Future Son-in-Law: Understanding Men and Relationships in the 21st Century and feel compelled to share about books I love. Let me take some time to explain how in the world I got to this point.

I have defined myself as a writer since high school, and I am now a 45-year-old sophisticated gentleman with 14 and 12-year-old daughters and a wife, who is my soulmate and best friend. I remain basically unknown, which is fine with me, although a few people I've met claim they know me from my journalism days.

In 1995, I graduated from Ohio State, wrote a couple stories in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and moved to New York City. I was 21 when I moved. The "logical" reason that got me there was to get a master's in creative writing. As soon as I got there, I met Kurt Vonnegut and was hired as a homework helper for his daughter.
Something about being in a creative writing program did not work for me. I did not define myself as "an artist." I was a writer. I needed to slug out the craft and get in the trenches somewhere to develop my writing. A poem or short story a week? No, that wasn't enough.

So, I transferred to NYU's graduate journalism program. Right off the bat, I knew I had some ferocity inside of me and that I actually wanted to write. I discovered that Newsday was the only internship through NYU's graduate school where the students actually wrote stories. I did everything I could to get that internship and did.

My first assignment at Newsday: Cover the funeral of a deceased sophomore in high school who was shot in a case of mistaken identity. I sheepishly walked to the parents after the funeral and said, "I'm Joe Stevens from Newsday. I'm doing a story about Darian. Do you have a quote or comment for the paper?"

The mother glared at me and said, "Would you have a quote? My son is dead. Put that in your paper. My son is dead."

Verbatim. That is the first quote that I ever put in any news story I covered.

Quickly, I realized that I preferred soft news. I spent two years as a staff writer at Newsday and then got a position covering the minor-league Long Beach Ice Dogs for the Long Beach Press-Telegarm.

That was a pretty cool first beat because hockey players are hard-working, easy-to-deal with Canadians (OK, they're not all Canadian, but it feels that way). The year I moved to L.A. was 1998, and I enjoyed the ride. I was covering pro sports, doing some other killer stories like this one on Charles Bukowski, but quickly, it was obvious that the print news industry was shrinking.

When we talk about putting in 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert, I have figured out that I am indeed an expert when it comes to writing. So, mission accomplished for my goal from 1995! However, I have lived a full life with the writing in the background, or maybe I lived a full life because writing was in the background.

My main beat at the Long Beach Press-Telegram became the Los Angeles Clippers, who I covered for seven seasons. One of my favorite parts of those seven seasons was writing a weekly NBA column, which I made feature-y and sometimes offbeat.

Here's one of those columns after a one-on-one sit-down with LeBron James during his fourth year with the Cavs. It turned out that later that season, the Cavs made it to the NBA Finals for the only time during his first seven seasons in Cleveland. What I find most interesting is his comments on not being a Cleveland sports fan, which evolved during his career.

I spent 10 years at the Press-Telegram, and that is way more than the guy who hired me predicted. He said, "I expect you to stay here two to three years and move on to something bigger."
That didn't happen, but it partly didn't happen because of my inflexibility to go to a smaller market. Why would I do that? I was in New York and L.A. Why would I go to a smaller market?

Eventually, I taught journalism part-time at USC and enjoyed that. I then moved to teaching high school shortly after my daughters arrived, mainly because it was the best profession I could think of for raising kids. I think I'm right. To me, education is all about growth as is parenting. I've taught for 11 years now as my daughters have thrived. I love this life. I read what I love and have managed my time well enough to be working on full-length books.

So the Snooze Button Generation came out in 2009, and I've been blogging ever since. It feels right to take this blog to the next level this summer with 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. I say to enjoy the ride of this blog. I know this Polack will.

Monday, July 1, 2019

100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend

I find it refreshing to talk about books. Sometimes, people react differently to them as me, and those perspectives give me a further understanding of what I read.

The only problem is that I don't often encounter people who've read the books I have. That's kind of a bummer.

It turns out that reading is one of the most worthwhile and humane acts that a human being can do. Y'know, "a reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads only lives one."

So, today, the Snooze Button Generation is announcing an ambitious project to celebrate the 10 years that this blog has lived called 100 Nonfiction Books I Recommend. Starting on Monday, July 15, we will do one post per day for 100 days and recommend 100 nonfiction books.

But, wait, there's more.

We will only recommend an author once, and this project is no b.s. There will be no recommending of books because "we feel like we need to." No, no, these will be 100 nonfiction books that I have read and vouch for. Honestly, all of them I absolutely, positively love. I recommend them all without reservations.

A disclaimer: Please don't be outraged if there are big-time, mega-important nonfiction books that don't make the list. I know that there are many books of significance that aren't on the list. It is no slight to them; I probably like them, too.

The 100 nonfiction books to be recommended are broken down into these 10 categories:

1) Big time and deserving
2) Parenting
3) Personal growth
4) Comedy
5) Education
6) Social conscience
7) Hard to categorize
8) Sports
9) Leadership
10) Readers recommend. I will read during the 100 days, and I will take on suggestions from readers. Recommend away by emailing me or posting a comment. How cool!
By the way, if you happen to know the famous authors in these black-and-white photos, please respond in a comment below.

I read about 50 books each year, and to be a book I read is a feat in itself because I do everything in my power not to waste my time on junk or even borderline reads. I seriously consider another 30 books per year to read and am picky of what makes the cut. I love idea-driven nonfiction. But the prose itself and storytelling has to keep me engaged, or it just doesn't work.

I've heard that good fiction is an "honest lie." Would good nonfiction be an honest truth?

Let me know what you recommend. If you have a nonfiction book you recommend, please post it as a comment or email me, and I will consider it.

Typically, I read my books based on them being mentioned in books I love or I find them on Goodreads or the New York Times Book Review. But just like restaurants, music and anything, isn't word of mouth the best recommendation?

During the final 10 posts of this project, I will give a shout-out to whomever suggested that book on the list, and it would be awesome to find lesser-known books from up-and-coming authors that deserve attention. However, I won't turn my back on big-time stuff I need to read.

Let me know what you got! See you on July 15.