Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

Betty Ford: First Lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer (Lisa McCubbin)

Lately, I’ve found myself interested in reading more biographies. I suppose I am enjoying stories of the lives of others who have found success despite the odds. At the end of the summer, I was browsing the biographies in a local Barnes and Noble and the cover of the Betty Ford biography struck my eye. Mrs. Ford, dressed in a green pant suit, sits atop a conference table in the White House with her hands meeting just below her chin. With such an interesting pose, how could I resist reading her story?

What did I know about Betty Ford going into my reading? Very little. First lady who struggled with drug and alcohol abuse and ultimately had a recovery center named after her. That was it. McCubbin’s exploration of this remarkable woman’s life, struggles, and successes opened my eyes to all that this pioneering woman accomplished.

As a young adult, Ford was involved in the performing arts – a dancer who worked with Martha Graham in New York. After marrying her husband, she was quickly thrust into the public eye because of his political career. The Fords found themselves in the national spotlight when Jerry was appointed Vice-President after the resignation of Agnew due to scandal. Watergate would later bring down President Nixon, resulting in Jerry and Betty Ford taking up residence on Pennsylvania Avenue.

While in the White House, Betty was an advocate for women’s rights – most notably her efforts to see the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Mrs. Ford would battle breast cancer and brought the disease to the attention of the American public with dignity; her transparency and honesty about her diagnosis are credited with an immediate increase in women being regularly screened by their doctors.

The tragedy of her addiction to prescription drugs came at a time when the issue was not spoken of in polite society at all. What began as treatment for an inoperable pinched nerve that caused Betty tremendous pain, turned into a destructive force due to the fact that none of her doctors noticed the lethal combinations being prescribed to Mrs. Ford. After an intervention in their California home by her family and close friends, Betty defeated her personal demons and became clean. Rather than being satisfied with just her own personal sobriety, Mrs. Ford became an advocate for others who suffered and desperately needed help. Her efforts led to the creation of the Betty Ford Center and largely transformed the field of addiction recovery.

What do I think of Betty Ford now? I see her as a loving wife and impressive woman who spoke her mind despite the influence of others. She was incredibly compassionate and looked for opportunities to serve society before we even knew that we needed her leadership. Betty was charming and witty — always the ultimate hostess — who struggled with learning that it was okay for her to take care of herself first. After reading McCubbin’s biography of the first lady, I feel as through I know Mrs. Ford personally. I’m certain we would have enjoyed a laugh together and I would have cherished time spent with her. Our world could use another Betty right about now.

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The Whispering Muse (Sjon)

Under normal circumstances, I probably would not have picked up this book at all. However, several years ago after first relocating to West Texas, I embarked on a journey that I refer to as My Library Shelf. The concept is very simple at its core. Following a few guidelines that I had established (no more than a certain number of books by the same author and at least one classic novel), I selected a random shelf in my local library with the intention to read through all of the books housed there on that day. As a result, I have encountered some charming novels that I would have never read on my own. I don’t read exclusively from My Library Shelf; rather, I return to it when I simply don’t know what I want to read at the moment. With my busy schedule, the size of the novella was appealing. Unfortunately, that was one of the few things I enjoyed about the book.

The Whispering Muse is an Icelandic novella that tells the story of Caeneus, the second mate on an ocean freighter, transporting paper to India. Caeneus’ tale is tied up in the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts. I have never been a fan of mythology and could not get past the unbelievable plot with its many twists and turns. The only reason I continued reading The Whispering Muse was because I wanted to mark it off of my list. Turning the last page and realizing I was done was the best part of my experience with this novella. Now, on to something else that I will hopefully enjoy more!

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Eat That Frog: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time (Brian Tracy)

With a title like Eat that Frog, how could I not crack open the pages of this book to see what in the world the author was actually talking about? I’ve been on a time management kick lately. I suppose it has much to do with the fact that it has been a constant topic of discussion with students this semester. I’m not a master of the discipline either, but since I was offering advice to others, I decided it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to get some other ideas.

Tracy’s thoughts can be summed up fairly easily into a couple of statements. Plan and prioritize your day before getting things started. Do the task you are dreading the most at the beginning of the day. (That’s what “Eat that frog” actually means.) Realize that 80% of your activity should be spent on the 3 or 4 tasks that only you can do that bring success to your company. Delegate and let unnecessary tasks go the way of the dodo.

Eat that Frog is clearly written from a business perspective. While some of its premises seem out-dated (especially the advice to refrain from using any type of electronic device during a meeting), the ideas are manageable to implement and seem like good advice. Personally, I really like the simplicity of Tracy’s planning process. List everything that needs to be done tomorrow and categorize into what A) must be done, B) would be nice to do, C) eventually needs to be done, D) can be delegated, and E) should be eliminated. Begin working in category A with the most important and then proceed down the list. No file folders to sort. No grouping according to location. Just put your head down and get the work done.

Tracy’s premise does seem problematic in the world of academia. How do you manage getting things done when you are constantly interrupted by classes, office hours, and meetings? I like the ideas, but I don’t know that they will actually hold up in reality for the majority of the workforce — including those outside of the academic realm.

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18th Abduction (James Patterson)

It was time for me to return to the stories of The Women’s Murder Club and I am so glad that I did. In this installment, Lindsey and the other women are attempting to find three young prep school teachers who have been kidnapped without a trace. Meanwhile, Lindsey’s husband, Joe, encounters of survivor of the Bosnian genocide who is convinced that she has seen the face of one of the soldiers on the streets of San Francisco who killed her husband and young son and held her captive in a rape hotel.

Is it possible that the two cases are intertwined? When the war criminal is discovered, it becomes necessary to catch him in a crime in order to see him deported and forced to stand before the ICC to answer for the horrors he has brought on so many. The first of the teachers is found dead in a rent-by-the-hour hotel….and Lindsey and the SFPD know that they are racing against the clock to save the other women.

Just when you thought you could easily predict exactly how Patterson’s novels would unfold, you encounter a brand new world in 18th Abduction. And this reader could not be more pleased with the outcome!

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True Colors (Kristin Hannah)

I continue returning to Kristin Hannah’s novels and I continue to be impressed. She is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary novelists and her book True Colors is probably the best book I have read this year. It is packed with unexpected plot twists, wonderfully developed characters, and themes that are extremely relevant to our society today.

True Colors follows the lives of three adult sisters who continue to struggle with their identity after their Mother’s untimely death in their childhood. Trying to balance their personal lives with the issues related to being a family while caring for their father and the family ranch proves to be too much at times. After a string of undependable ranch hands, the girls hire a stranger passing through town who appears to be capable, but there is also an air of mystery, intrigue, and danger surrounding him.

The new cowboy is Dallas Raintree, a Native American. The girls’ father immediately demands that the no-good man be fired before he brings trouble to the family ranch. Dallas begins to flirt with one of the sisters; they fall madly in love and marry. Dallas’ reputation in the close-knit community, however, does not improve with his marriage.

When a local woman is murdered, Dallas is the obvious suspect. He is arrested, tried and convicted despite his assertions of his innocence. His young wife uses her limited resources to have the sentence overturned with no success. As she struggles to come to terms with her situation, she also struggles to raise the couple’s young son who acts out with violence and rebellion.

Is Dallas guilty of murder? Can a tattered family be reunited despite opposing views? Does anyone care to look beyond their preconceived ideas about an individual based solely on their appearance and actually search for truth? All of these questions are raised and answered beautifully in True Colors. The reader will laugh, cry, and gasp while experiencing the highs and lows of life in this quiet northwestern town where animals are cared for, people live at a slower pace, and everyone is given the chance to let their True Colors shine through.

A must read for everyone! You will not be disappointed.

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Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (Trevor Noah)

The book’s title sat on my TBR list for several years after a colleague’s recommendation. With a long drive back to west Texas in front of me and a free subscription to Audible, I decided it was time to download Trevor Noah’s memoir and see what all the fuss was about. I am certainly glad I did.

Born a Crime brilliantly shares heart-wrenching stories from Noah’s childhood during the final days of apartheid. But the book is about so much more than racial prejudice. It’s about the challenges and laughter that result from growing up in a deeply religious home. It’s about the bond between a mother and son. It’s a tale of the horrors of domestic abuse and the struggle to come to freedom. It’s about life in the face of opposition and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

From his early revelation that his mother was shot in the head by his step-father, Noah pulls us into his childhood and begins to unravel his story with an obvious gift for storytelling. We are brought into a world where a child’s only crime is that he was born to a black woman and a white man. Not finding a welcome place in either racial community, Trevor struggles to be included and is the victim of bullying. He watches as his mother begins to innocently flirt with the handsome mechanic who will ultimately become his stepfather. Trevor explains why everything changes when a son is born to his mother and her new husband….and how the abuse quickly escalates.

Born a Crime is an excellent read filled with moments of thought-provoking asides about life as we know it. Noah explores the power of language as a unifying force and challenges our thoughts about race, freedom, and power. I enjoyed listening to the book, but I fully intend to pick up a copy of the written work as well so I can continue to digest the beautiful language and the insightful commentary. This is one book that you don’t want to miss!

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The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman)

I’ve never done this before, but I feel compelled to include a TRIGGER WARNING for readers due to the presence of childhood sexual abuse and teen suicide found in The Finishing School. Both issues are prevalent themes of the novel.

Having said that, The Finishing School was an outstanding read! The novel’s setting is split between Lausanne and Toronto. Kersti is an Estonian-Canadian whose family owns a small travel agency in Toronto. Rather than educating her in Toronto, her family sends her to the same all-girls boarding school in Lausanne that her mother attended. It is at the Lycee that Kersti becomes friends with her roommate, Cressida.

Cressida is a wild-child, experimenting with drug use and exploring her sexuality. Cressida soon confides in her roommate that she is having an affair with an older man; Kersti later discovers that the man is the girls’ married history teacher. After an upsetting night during the girls’ senior year including lots of tears and alcohol, Cressida falls from her third floor balcony, leaving her paralyzed and spending the rest of her life in a vegetative state. The school determines the event was an unfortunate accident caused by Cressida’s alcoholism and the investigation is closed.

While working on her third novel, Kersti receives a disturbing letter written by one of her Lycee friends just before her death that suggests that something sinister was actually occurring behind the secluded doors of the exclusive boarding school. Is it possible that Cressida was pushed from the balcony because she knew too much? Were other girls suffering in silence? This letter begins Kersti’s search for the truth in order to gain justice for her friend and to bring closure to her own experiences at The Finishing School.

Goodman’s novel certainly qualifies as a page-turner and quickly engages the reader. The writing style is fluid and allows the audience to seamlessly move between the recounting of events at the school in the 1990s and the present day search for truth. The inclusion of Kersti’s personal struggles with fertility and the impact it has on her marriage can sometimes become distracting from the overall storyline, but I still find The Finishing School to be a worthy read for any book club or a reader needing a fun thriller to add to their shelf.

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Ballplayer (Chipper Jones)

I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I was never on a team during school. Hell, I would only go to sporting events once I got to college because of the social aspect of the games. But there was one game that I always enjoyed watching — baseball.

My love for the American pastime probably has its roots in early childhood evenings watching my brother play for the local community team. My interest waned as my brother served the military and my personal focus turned to music. When the Pepperdine Waves won the college World Series in the early 1990s, my interest was piqued again and I began to enjoy professional ball.  Of course, I had a lot of fun watching the Dodgers since I was in town, but most of my loyalty was rooted in my southern heritage. I fell in love with the Atlanta Braves and Chipper Jones became one of my heroes. I always wanted a crisp white #10 jersey and never got one.

During the 1990s, I spent many weekends in front of the television with my eyes glued to TBS to cheer on my Braves. When I saw Ballplayer in the digital library, I knew I wanted to read the memoir of my favorite player. I enjoyed reading about Chipper’s accomplishments from his perspective and seeing that even the best players struggle with relationships, criticism, and self doubt. It was a refreshing read and one that I’m very glad I took the time to explore.

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Insurgent (Veronica Roth)

This post has been challenging to write. Why? I finished reading Insurgent while on vacation with my parents last week. When I closed the novel, I found myself asking “What am I going to say about THAT?” I don’t know. Even as I am beginning to write this post, I don’t really know what I’m going to say. This may be an interesting review for all of us….

Insurgent continues the story of Tris and Tobias’ love affair in their dystopian world. As war looms, our young heros face the issue of figuring out who they can trust and who is telling them the truth. Themes of loyalty, forgiveness, freedom, and independence course throughout the work. As a work of fiction, however, I found myself unimpressed repeatedly. The plot simply seemed to circle on itself and never move forward. I was no longer drawn into the story as I was in Divergent and discovered that I kept reading because of my commitment to the previous novel. As I neared the end, I began to question if I really wanted to read the final novel in the trilogy. I don’t have the confidence that the story and writing will grab my attention again. Part of me wants to read it just to complete the cycle; the other part of me hears my former literature teacher telling me to walk away from a bad read without guilt because there are so many good books awaiting my attention. We will just have to see what the future holds.

I’m rather shocked that this has been my response to Insurgent. The reviews for the book were tremendous. The book appears at first glance to be the kind that I will thoroughly enjoy. I can’t really put my finger on what it was about the second installment of the trilogy that turned me off so badly, but I can’t really come up with anything good to say about the reading experience.

So I’m taking a departure from young adult fiction for a while and returning to more familiar territory. I wanted to immerse myself in several different books in hopes that SOMETHING would re-ignite a passion for reading at the moment. So what am I reading right now? I’m working my way through 3 books — which is rather unusual for me!  I am reading The First American (H.W. Brands), The Finishing School (Joanna Goodman) and Ballplayer (Chipper Jones). Hopefully I’ll have a new reading review on one of these books by the end of the week. Now I’m going back to my reading chair and diving into a book.

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Educated (Tara Westover)

It should come as no surprise to those that know me personally that this memoir immediately caught my attention when I saw it on the bookstore shelf. I have always been passionate about the individual pursuit of personal education in the face of challenging situations. While Westover’s memoir does grapple with this important issue, Educated is a book about much more than this.

Tara Westover was a young woman raised in an ultra-religious Mormon home in Idaho. Because of her father’s belief that government institutions were not to be trusted, the family’s five children were “home-schooled” (if her limited education can truly be called that) and medical attention was limited to what could be provided through Mother’s homeopathic remedies. Tara, however, wanted more for her life and sought to experience higher education despite her limited education. To further compound Westover’s challenges, she experienced incredibly violent abuse at the hands of an older brother while her parents watched. Through tremendous perseverance and personal growth, Tara successfully attends BYU in Utah before culminating her studies at Harvard and Cambridge.

Tara’s story as recounted in Educated was profoundly moving to me and has caused me to think about my own struggles in life. Like Tara, I was also raised in a fundamentalist Christian movement that seemed to fear conventional education. Also like Tara, I experienced abuse — although my abuse was primarily verbal and mental — in my childhood home while my parents were seemingly unaware of what was truly going on. I identified with Tara’s feelings of inadequacy as she struggled through the first years of collegiate study. I vividly remember the first time that I recognized that the home life I had experienced as a child was not the norm — and, in fact, not emotionally or mentally healthy. I am currently in the process of coming to the realization that the place where I was raised is no longer “home” because I am no longer the child that silently suffered there for so many years.

Tara Westover’s book has certainly been a life-changing read for me. I took comfort in identifying with the emotions of another person who had escaped. Like Tara, I don’t know that I consider my departure from my abuser’s influence an escape or a harrowing experience. I think I finally came to the point that I was able to realize that they no longer had any influence over me and that I would no longer allow their voice to pierce the quietness of my mind. Like Westover, I too have been Educated and I am forever thankful for it.

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