Weekend Reads: “Strangers In Their Own Land”

This book was recommended by Ed Erickson, PhD, my co-author on the long out-of-print Born of War … Dedicated to Peace (my first book was a non-fiction military history work about Sixth U.S. Army).  It was far from being an easy read, but it was an enlightening one. I wound up including in the reference list for Bayou Fire as it dealt with some of the issues discussed in the text.

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American RightStrangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

UC Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild decided that she wanted to find answers to a question that many progressives/liberals ask: why do conservatives vote against their own best interests? Hochschild refers to this as the Great Paradox.

She decided to pick one keyhole issue: the environment. Then, she looked at one of the most polluted areas in the United States, which also happened to be (by most measures) the most conservative: Louisiana’s Cajun country. So, she visited the region 10 times over five years to interview residents. A couple were progressives, but they had Tea Party friends to whom they could introduce her.

Hochschild’s interviewees included a man whose job it was to dump toxic sludge into the bayou, a man whose dream retirement home was destroyed by a sink hole directly attributable to environmental damage, and more. Every single one of the people affected the worst by environmental damage was a staunch conservative who voted along Republican party lines because they considered issues like abortion more important than the environment.

At the root of all of these decisions was what Hochschild called the deep story, which was about feelings. These voters, all of them white and older, felt that people were cutting ahead of them in line and telling them how they should feel about things: that they should be okay with black people, or LGBTQ people, or women, having equal rights to white men whether they felt that way or not.

Many of the interviewees, toward the end of the research cycle, were planning to vote for Trump because he told them that it was okay not to care about those people (I am summing up).

This was a disturbing and enlightening look into the mind of the typical cultural conservative. I felt a great deal of empathy and pity for this group of people who were seeing blue collar jobs go away … although they had opportunities to train to learn something different and chose not to. What I did not feel was sympathy. In fact, I found myself mentally yelling at people who were more concerned with telling themselves stories that felt good than looking at facts.

This book was recommended to me as a way to better understand Trump voters. I grew up in a rural part of Oregon, and lived around people with this kind of mindset for the majority of my life until I moved to a different state. I refer to that moving-away as an escape with good reason. So, yes. I have new insight … but I’m mad as hell at people who are willing to ignore the fact that they can’t swim in their lakes or fish in their bayous because of pollution, but will vote for a man who is going to make matters worse because he makes them feel good about their bigotry.

View all my reviews

Weekend Reads: “A Dog’s Purpose”

This is seriously one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.  If you are an animal lover, I guarantee that you will smile, and that you will cry.  I remembered every pet I’ve ever had during the course of this read, and why I love them all so much.

A Dog's Purpose (A Dog's Purpose, #1)A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my childhood, books that particularly moved me spent time under my pillow. It is, perhaps, an unusual form of comfort, but there you are. In adulthood, a very few books have done that. Some that come immediately to mind are Homer’s Odyssey, Love Saves the Day, and Christmas with Tucker. Now, “A Dog’s Purpose” joins that august crew.

I picked the book up at the airport because my eReader was running out of charge, and finished it in a single day. The first-person narrator is the dog we see through four incarnations: Toby, Bailey, Ellie, and Buddy. In each incarnation, the dog is learning more about what his life purpose is, whether it is doing search and rescue, or saving his beloved boy Ethan from a bully. Each incarnation adds another layer to the picture as our canine narrator makes his way from puppyhood to adulthood four different times.

I’ll admit, there were a lot of tears shed while I read. It started early on, when Bailey is born a golden retriever in a puppy mill. It’s his second incarnation. In the cage next door is a Dalmatian who is about to have puppies herself. Long-time readers may know that I’ve had Dalmatians for most of my adult life, but what you may not have known is that the first one was a rescue who had been a puppy mill mama. I was thus intimately connected to this book, not only because of my work in animal rescue but because of my beloved Ladybug.

It is in her memory that this book is now under the pillow.

View all my reviews

Weekend Reads: “Iris Grace”

Iris GraceIris Grace by Arabella Carter-Johnson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Iris Grace” is a completely charming memoir. The titular child lives with autism, and her parents are determined to help her out of her silent world. They try various recommended methods to no avail, and then author Arabella Carter-Johnson gets the idea to acquire a cat. Thula is a Maine Coon, and she somehow manages to get through to Iris immediately. From the day Thula comes home, Iris makes decided, if slow, improvements in her communication. Soon, she is interested in music, all sorts of animals, bicycling, and more. Her favorite thing is painting, and her Impressionistic works find their home on an internet gallery that results in a great many people knowing Iris’ story.

The author is frank about the challenges she and her family faced as they dealt with autism. Many an outing had to be cut short because Iris would become overstimulated … but if they could take Thula, things generally went more smoothly. The young parents’ marriage sometimes felt the strain as well, since Iris sometimes seemed unable to deal with her father’s presence. Still, everyone around the Carter-Johnsons was determined to help them work through it all.

I enjoyed the author’s narrative voice, as well as several of her anecdotes unrelated to Iris. She had been a horse trainer at one point, and it turns out that she and I had both taken Monty Roberts’ Join-Up course. She also shared stories of the family’s outings to sites I have enjoyed, such as Warwick Castle, which made the text come alive for me.

I also developed a much greater understanding of autism as a result of this book. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wishes to know more.

View all my reviews

Weekend Reads: “Hidden Figures,” by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space RaceHidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I may be one of the people on the planet who has not yet seen the film based on this outstanding book. However, I am glad that I read it before watching the movie; there is only so much you can put on-screen and this well-researched book (more than 100 pages of end notes, and an extensive bibliography in addition to first-person interviews) deserves the full attention of those who are interested in women’s history.

Hidden Figures primarily focuses on three of the black women who worked in the earliest days of NASA as “computers” — what they called the female mathematicians at the time. In telling the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary Jackson, author Margot Lee Shetterly sheds light not only on the challenges women faced in the workplace, but also on the problems inherent in segregation. For example, the women in the West Computer building had a 30-minute walk to use the “colored” bathroom — although Mary Jackson decided she was just going to brave arrest and use the one in their building anyway.

The book was not only informative, but also highly entertaining because of the author’s engaging voice. We got a look into the three women’s lives not only at work but outside of the office, and the epilogue gave us a look at what the women did after the first moon landing that their calculations helped make possible.

Well done!

View all my reviews

Weekend Reads: “Becoming a Leader of Character,” by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson was one of the keynote speakers for a conference I recently attended for my day job.  I am not ordinarily moved to purchase the speaker’s book under these circumstances; this one was different.  The things Anderson said made a lot of sense to me, so I chose to add this volume to my business and leadership library.

Becoming a Leader of Character: 6 Habits That Make or Break a Leader at Work and at HomeBecoming a Leader of Character: 6 Habits That Make or Break a Leader at Work and at Home by Dave Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Dave Anderson spoke at a recent conference I attended. I am not usually inspired to run out and buy the book after hearing speakers at this event, but that day was different.

Anderson, and his father (Gen. [ret] Jim Anderson), posit that the big problem in business today is that companies hire managers based on competencies (which can be taught) rather than hiring leaders. When managers fail, it is not because of incompetence; the Andersons maintain that these are failures of character. I would agree with that assessment!

The six habits of character are courage, humility, selflessness, duty, integrity, and positivity. The Andersons maintain that by exercising these six habits, one will become a leader of character. They give examples of ways to do that in the office, in the community, and at home. The anecdotes both men share about how they grew in character are helpful and frank. They do not hold themselves up as paragons of virtue, but instead as two men who are still learning and growing.

I was two chapters into this book when I showed to my own leader (a man who is damned good at all of these traits) and our site president/leader, who likewise sets a good example. Of the many business books I have read, this is the first time that I have felt compelled to share them with others.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews