Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#20: The Answer Is (Alex Trebek)

Driving back to Texas is always a perfect time to fit in an audio book and increase my annual reading tally. This trip, I opted for a significantly shorter book because I also wanted to catch up on some podcasts that had stacked up on me while in Arkansas. I have long been a fan of the quiz show Jeopardy! and thought that listening to The Answer Is….Reflections on My Life by Alex Trebek (read by the author and Ken Jennings) would be a great option.

The book required about 4 hours of my listening time. Most of the book was read by Jennings with a few pivotal chapters read by Trebek himself. Chapters were very short and succinct for the most part. By his own admission in the opening, The Answer Is was not intended to be a memoir. It was simply a look back at some of Trebek’s fond memories and his experiences in television and broadcasting. Perhaps that is where things fell flat for this listener. I found myself hoping for more detail quite often; just as I became interested in a story or recollection, the memory ended and we moved on to the next. In the quiz show, I enjoy the constant shift of topics. In my reading, it leaves me wanting more.

When the book arrived at Trebek’s memories of Jeopardy! contestants, the increased continuity made the listening experience much more enjoyable. I began to sense the rhythm of the book hitting a comfortable pacing. Then Alex basically ended the book as though it was his farewell swan song to his fans and family. It was heart-breaking.

What’s my final take on the book? I still don’t really know. I enjoyed much of it. I feel as though I have a better understanding of Trebek’s life and career. I find myself still having questions. I struggle with the knowledge that this man that I have welcomed into my home for many hours over the years will not be with us much longer if the doctors’ prognosis is correct. So much uncertainty and so many questions have me wondering what The Answer Is.

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Catch Up: Books 14-16

It has been on my to-do list for nearly a month to write posts about my last two reads. Now that I finished a third book last night, I came to the realization that I simply had to put something down — no matter how short it is — and give the books some attention. I also want to make sure that I have a record of my thoughts before the reading experience is too far separated. I regret that these tremendous books are being grouped together in a single post, but I feel it is the only way to make sure that they are covered here on Reading for Me.

#14: Grit by Angela Duckworth

I think it was this outstanding book that was causing me the greatest difficulty in reviewing. It is a remarkable work that explores the importance of persistence, patience, and perseverance in the pursuit of success. Duckworth’s writing is very detailed and thorough, but she maintains a manner that is approachable by the careful reader. I especially enjoyed her application of concepts as they were found in the lives of athletes, businessmen, and musicians. There is nothing that I can say here that will adequately express my admiration for Grit other than this — I plan to review the book again in a future reading and strongly recommend that it be read by every student, parent, professor, and professional. I promise that you will be challenged and encouraged by each page.

#15: Naturally Tan by Tan France

While driving back to my native Arkansas a few weeks ago, I decided to devote my time to enjoying the audio book of Tan France’s memoir. What a delightful and insightful way to spend several hours in the car! As most of my followers will already be aware, Mr. France is one of the hosts of the current iteration of Netflix’s Queer Eye. (I have also read the memoirs of Karamo Brown and Jonathan Van Ness.  I look forward to reading similar books by Bobby Berk and Antoni Porowski when they *hopefully* appear.) I enjoyed Tan’s stories from the fashion industry and his journey to stardom. What I found most profound were his candid discussions about race, prejudice, and discrimination. Little did I know that Tan’s openness would resound so clearly in my ears as I watched the upheaval that our nation is currently facing. Simply an exquisite read.

#16: The Sins of the Father by Jeffrey Archer

This second volume of the Clifton Chronicles was just as riveting and well-written as its predecessor. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the novel focuses largely on Harry Clifton’s time in the United States as a convict, serving time for a crime he did not commit. Emma, Harry’s jilted love, travels to America in hopes of finding out what happened to the man she adored when he left British soil. Many of the characters we came to enjoy during Only Time Will Tell reappear and continue their story line. In typical Archer fashion, the second novel of the series ends with a tremendous cliff hanger that leaves the reader wondering what will happen and longing to know how the circumstances will impact Harry, Emma, and Giles. Thankfully, the entire series is published and the next volume sits on my night stand, waiting to be read. The Clifton Chronicles are proving to be enthralling yet do not demand so much brain power that I feel as though I must labor through them. Perfect material for a summer vacation as we all try to recover from the recent pandemic’s strain upon our minds and emotions.

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#1: Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope (Karamo Brown)

Here it is….the first review of 2020! Not surprisingly, the first book that I completed this year was an audio book.

Karamo: My Story is the memoir of Karamo Brown, life coach on Netflix’s reboot of Queer Eye. For those of us who grew up with MTV’s The Real World, we first met Karamo there. Things have definitely changed since our first encounter with the author all those years ago.

As I listened to the book, I was immediately struck by Karamo’s honesty and openness. He shares details about his childhood, his early relationship with organized religion, and his struggles with addiction that are startling in their frankness. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that Karamo is sharing these stories in order to help others learn from his experiences. I especially found his discussion of the intersection between faith and his sexuality to be thought-provoking and timely. Quite simply, Karamo sums up his feelings on the subject with three words: “God is Love.” Whether you are interested in the rest of this memoir, this single chapter is worth reading. (I think it was chapter 3…)

As Karamo speaks of his sons and his husband, it is easy to hear his love for them. The level of commitment that he expresses for his marriage is one that many couples in traditional marriages could benefit from. I don’t care what you think about this hot-button topic, Karamo’s proposal story will make anyone believe in romance.

I first began listening to this audiobook simply out of curiosity. Did this man that I watched on television many years ago have anything substantial to say? What I found was a gracious man who is passionate about life and helping others to live theirs in the most honest, fulfilling way possible.

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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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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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#30: Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol Dweck)

2017 ended with lots of illness for me, so I’m just getting around to writing my thoughts about the last book I read of the year. Fear not! I am slowly returning to a regular reading routine and will update you on my progress to reaching 2018’s goal of completing 32 books before the end of the year.

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success is a book that I recommend to all teachers, coaches, business leaders, and parents. Honestly, I think anyone who approaches Dweck’s book with an open mind will find themselves on its pages and see how a shift of personal mindset can potentially transform their life. I am certain that I will return to this work on a regular basis as I work with young adults and developing musicians.

The basic premise is rather simple. All of us choose one of two mindsets in every area of our life every day. We either buy into the fixed mindset — that tells us our abilities and intelligence are at their maximum level, unable to be changed — or we hold a growth mindset — that says that failures and mistakes are opportunities for improvement and learning. Sounds simple, huh? At its core, it really is just that simple. However, when we begin to examine how our mindset can be shaped by our environment and our perception of what is expected of us — as well as words spoken to us by parents, teachers, coaches, and employers — we realize that changing our mindset can be an enormous battle of the mind that has enormous implications.

When things didn’t go quite as planned — a test score is lower than you hoped, a friend misunderstood your words, or a performance was less than stellar — how do you respond? Was the outcome inevitable? Do things just happen sometimes? Do you buy into the mantra that “I gave it my best, so no one can ask for more”? These are the responses of the fixed mindset. A more-productive response found in the growth mindset would ask what lessons can be learned from these failures. What adjustments need to be made to my test preparation? Was a text the best method of communicating in this situation or would face-to-face conversation have reduced the possibility of a misunderstanding? Was my poor performance due to anxiety? How can I improve future performances? 

After reading Mindset by Carol Dweck, one question is at the forefront of my mind. Why is this work not being used as a required textbook in freshman experience courses in colleges and universities around the country? If our students can learn the power of recognizing the fixed mindset and how to adjust their thoughts to a growth mindset, their potential for success will increase exponentially!

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#23: Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon (Scott M. Gibson)

While flying home yesterday, I decided to take a departure from my normal novels and investigate a topic that I personally find extremely important and that has arisen in several conversations this week. Scott M. Gibson’s Should We Use Some Else’s Sermon?: Preaching in a Cut-and-Paste World examines the history of plagiarism in the Church’s pulpits and focuses specifically on the responsible use of easily available sermon websites such as sermoncentral.com. 

I am not a preacher or a pastor. I do not know the pressure of attempting to prepare a weekly sermon. However, I have been a faithful church attender. I have sat under the pastorate of men who had never spent a day in seminary and did the best they could to faithfully preach the Word of God under powerful anointing. I have also had the privilege of hearing wonderfully intelligent men present a finely-crafted and carefully researched sermon that was relevant and impactful to their specific congregation for that moment in time. Both scenarios have significantly contributed to my spiritual growth. Unfortunately, I have also found myself listening to a pastor present sermons found online. While the sermons were well written, they did not seem to have the power of personal conviction. Instead, I felt as though I was listening to a book report. How did I learn that the sermon was coming from a web service? Like most young adults in our society, I turned to Google. A quick search for a specific statement turned up the entire sermon — I followed along on my browser as the speaker read the material word for word. I found myself wondering if such presentations were ethical. If such excessive use of one person’s material was used in a presentation or document in any other field, it would be severely frowned upon — even if credit was given to the original author.  Why was it now an acceptable practice that should not be questioned just because a “good man” was delivering it from a church pulpit? Are the ethics of the Church diminished in comparison to that of other professional fields?

While Gibson’s book focuses on ministers who present significant portions of their sermons — or even preach the entire sermon — without giving credit to the author they are “borrowing” from, he does address the current trend of using sermon internet services. Gibson quotes Eugene Lowry, Emeritus Professor of Preaching at the St. Paul School of Theology, who states that “While not plagiarism, using these sermons [from internet services] is thievery of another kind….When we substitute purchased sermons for that personal reflection, we betray people’s time and trust and our own integrity. It would be more honest to have the real writer tape [on audio recording] the text, and to play that tape for the congregation. For the pastor to present someone else’s sermon as if it were the result of his or her own discipleship, training, and theological commitment is to bear false witness.” (Gibson, 71-72). 

Gibson follows this discussion with a observation from Ken Garfield, a reporter with the Charlotte Observer. In his 2002 article entitled “Internet Inspiration for Preachers,” Mr. Garfield concludes that “If all this leaves you nervous, you’re not alone. Preachers surfing for inspiration worries me too. There’s a risk of outright plagiarism, of course. But a subtler danger is at work — pastors choosing to take a shortcut to a sermon rather than putting in the effort that a congregation has a right to expect of its spiritual guide.” (Gibson, 72). Gibson finally summarizes his feelings about the use of internet sermon services with this statement. “What is the bottom line when it comes to these and other resources? A responsible preacher does the majority of his or her own work, possibly stimulated by various preaching resources [emphasis added], and prays to God for wisdom, guidance, and discernment.” (Gibson, 72) Personally, I fully agree with Gibson’s summary. Using resources is not the problem; actually, it should be applauded. The problem is when a minister fails to use the resources responsibly and puts all of their confidence in one man’s interpretation rather than faithfully doing the research on his own and then applying it to the Word as he understands it. I would much rather hear a less eloquent sermon that has come from a pastor’s wrestling with the text than reading what someone else has written. You see, I would rather know that you had spent more time reading the Word and listening to the direction of the Holy Spirit, Mr. Minister, than reading the thoughts of another man. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)……not all sermons crafted by fallible men.

Should We Use Someone Else’s Sermon? is certainly not the final authority on this topic. However, it does begin to raise an important question for the modern Church that must be addressed by ministers, lay leadership, and congregants alike and no longer swept under the carpet.

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#6: When Books Went to War (Molly Guptill Manning)

I decided it was time to read a little non-fiction in this year’s reading adventure. The book’s cover immediately grabbed my attention. A World War II soldier sits in a dirt bunker among heavy vegetation with a moss-covered helmet designed to hide him from the enemy. What is that in his hand? It’s not a rifle or a grenade; the soldier is clearly engrossed in a tiny paperback book.

When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II is a fascinating exploration of the U.S. response to Nazi Germany’s book burnings. Beginning with book donations collected by American librarians, the impact of reading on soldier morale was quickly identified. The only problem was the size and weight of the books. In an unexpected turn of events, the Federal Government stepped in and produced thousands of American Service Editions (ASEs), tiny paperback editions that easily fit in a soldier’s pocket.

ASEs appeared throughout the war’s various theaters….in hospitals, bases, and the front line. Soldiers applauded the representative authors for providing insightful stories that connected them to the home they had left behind. The reader will be surprised by the vast library created by the ASEs and the genres represented in the pocket editions. You will chuckle as you read about the politics that hampered the project throughout its existence. You will be amazed as you visualize men and women escaping into the words of a novel as they face mortal danger.

When Books Went to War is not a typical read for me. Still, it was an enjoyable book that was both entertaining and informative.

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#3: The Practicing Mind (Thomas M. Sterner)

I finished reading this book earlier this month and never got around to writing a blog post about it. Here it is….better late than never, I suppose.

The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life is applicable to all areas of life. With special attention to the study of music and golf, Sterner looks at the steps necessary in “mastering any skill by learning to love the process.” To summarize the book very quickly, Sterner advocates using a DOC approach to practice — Do, Observe, Correct. His emphasis on the observation step and its non-judgmental, non-self-depreciating aspects are extremely valuable to the growing musician.

Written in an anecdotal style, The Practicing Mind is an extremely easy read. Its thought-provoking ideas will challenge the reader in the early stages of the work. As Sterner continues through the book, his prose and ideas become rather repetitive, which I found to diminish the power of the work. (To be fair, the idea of repetition is central to Sterner’s argument and its use in his writing may be intentional. However, the repetition without the addition of new ideas was grating for this reader.)

Will I assign The Practicing Mind to all of my college students? Certainly not. I do think it can be a powerful tool in specific situations and has earned a place on my resource bookshelf.

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#1: Professional Piano Teaching (Jeanine M. Jacobson)

We are ending the third week of 2015 and I am just finishing my first book of the year. I definitely have to get some more reading in or things are not going to be pretty!

I chose to begin the year with Professional Piano Teaching: A Comprehensive Piano Pedagogy Textbook for Teaching Elementary-Level Students now that I have returned to the private teaching studio after a long absence. What I found is that I have good natural instincts as a teacher, but that there are always areas that can be improved. Jacobson’s book was extremely well written and organized in a manner that will make it a resource that I will return to over and over. I especially enjoyed the chapters devoted to teaching technique and musicality to beginning students. The practical tips offered in chapter 11, “The Business of Piano Teaching,” were helpful as I plan for studio growth in the future. All in all, the book challenged me to honestly evaluate my teaching and constantly pursue greater levels of excellence. It was definitely a good place to begin the new year.

For a more detailed analysis of Professional Piano Teaching, watch for the review appearing on my professional blog — Collaborations — on Thursday, January 29, 2015.

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