Saturday, July 28, 2018

Review: Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win

Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What do U.S. Navy SEAL Officers who have confronted some of the toughest urban combat imaginable have to offer a middle-aged NJ homemaker? A lot.

Extreme Ownership is about moving forward with purpose, with a clear mission, with clear communication among all team members, and with dogged determination to take full responsibility for the mistakes which will be made. It is written for business leaders who have problems and need a clear path for powering through those problems. However, the take aways are too valuable for such narrow casting.

I don't think Jocko and Leif know how powerful their message is for people with ordinary jobs, because they have operated so long within the grim space of battlefields, followed by the duplicitous boardroom. What about the beleaguered and weary mother? The plateaued athlete? Are we condemned to get our mojo from Reader's Digest or Get Stronger Now? The heck with that.

To all of my comrades who do battle on the homefront 12+ hours a day, if you want the real meat and potatoes of inspiration, read this book. Do you need to solve problems like meal management, too much TV or YouTube, ignored bedtime routines, a stalled deadlift max, and overgrown lawns? Listen to what Jocko and Leif have to say. It is as perfectly suited to the quotidian as it is to the hallowed. "In combat as in life, the outcome is never certain, the picture never clear. There are no guarantees of success. But in order to succeed, leaders must be comfortable under pressure, and act on logic, not emotion. This is a critical component to victory." True for the battlefield, and, IMHO, true for the kitchen, backyard, and laundry room, too.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book, oh, this book.

Eleanor Oliphant may indeed be perfectly fine, but now I’m not sure I am. The story splintered my heart, even as a I guffawed. I loved every minute with this book, with Eleanor, but I am also shattered.

Our character’s precision of language and guileless logic are served immaculately on a bed of the most pitiable of all human circumstances. At times it was unbearable to witness her fractured soul and her terrible loneliness. And then she’d make me laugh out loud.

A quote (during a cremation…not hers, of course): “I’m not sure I’d like to be burned. I think I might like to be fed to zoo animals. It would be both environmentally friendly and a lovely treat for the larger carnivores. Could you request that?”

Recommended by a friend (thank you, Elise!), I learned that the wait list at my library was seven people deep. I am not that patient. An audio CD version was available and so I began. I have no audio CD player in my house – only in my car – and, yes, I actually sat in my car a few times in the past week just to be with Eleanor Oliphant. This is a wonderful, wonderful book.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Review: 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan B. Peterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Several times over the past several months, I heard Jordan B. Peterson’s name, dropped like a detonation of sorts, in the middle of the most unlikely online discussion platforms and podcasts. Who is this guy, I wondered, and how is he making so many people angry?

Rather than take information second-hand from dubitable online sources, I thought it best to read his book carefully and decide for myself if he is worth all the fuss. Oh, he is.

It was not hard to give this book my full attention. Any psychologist/author who makes powerful, frequent and simultaneous reference to evolutionary science and the Gospels of Jesus Christ, has already accomplished the improbable if not the impossible. He set my thoughts galloping like bloodhounds and I had to put the book down, now and again, just so I could have my pulse return to normal. Common sense presented after a thorough, honest, pure search for truth does this to me.

I know why he offends. His words prove that virtue-signaling complacency is not impregnable but rather easily collapsible. He parses false theories, stepping into the abyss on topics surrounding gender equality, social hierarchies, right vs. wrong, and nihilistic worldviews, with astounding clarity, calm, and fearlessness. I am so glad that his voice is being heard.

Rule 7, which states “do what is meaningful, not what is expedient” and Rule 8, which states “tell the truth, or, at least, don’t lie”, were my favorites. Why? Because he convinced me thoroughly that what is expedient works only for the moment and that every non-truth, every flat out lie, every lie of omission and all hyperbole will one day exact its price. I have learned this the hard way more than once already, but his reminder, particularly in the context of social justice, is so very timely.

Be brave. Read his work.

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Monday, July 16, 2018

Review: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first told my four kids that I was reading this book (they like to keep abreast of my literary ventures), their responses surprised me.

K1: Oh, yeah, he’s so impressive.
K2: Cool, Hadfield, I know that guy.
K3: Chris Hadfield? I follow him on Twitter.
K4: Who? What astronaut?

Me: Thank you, James (K4). I’m glad I’m not the only one who did not know of this guy.

K4: Oh, never mind, Hadfield that Canadian, yeah, I know him, too. How could you not know of him, mom?

Me: Ok, perhaps I’m a little behind on my knowledge of accomplished Canadian astronauts. Sue me - the book had a zippy title and came recommended. Little did I know that Col. Hadfield, master of the universe it seems, would end up shining a light on my Philistine-like familiarity of the previous two decades of space exploration. Sheesh. Mea culpa….

I confess that the nuts and bolts of astronauting do not interest me in the least. Life on earth does interest me, though. If nothing else, the writings of a man who spent a considerable amount of time off the planet Earth would have to have a fresh perspective to offer. He did.

The author’s modesty is the first noteworthy thing. He’s a regular guy who wanted to be an astronaut and he simply kept at it. A little bit of luck in timing and a whole dang lot of hard, hard work, and he achieved great things. Conspicuously absent from his vocabulary are all vapid platitudes like “Reach for the Clouds! Dream Big!”. Oh, bless you for that gift, Col. Hadfield.

Instead, he continually talked about the endless preparation, the endless repetition of tasks until these tasks could be done half-asleep with eyes closed, and how success would only arrive by sweating all of the small stuff. All of it. Always. Wow.

I have always found discipline to be a great source of happiness and liberty; oh, joy of joys, here’s a guy who preaches it. He doesn’t want you to visualize success; he wants you to practice it every single day (IRL, guys, IRL!). His results, year by year, demonstrate how a regimented existence is the key to so much freedom and pleasure and he spoke frequently about how the most productive crews were the happiest ones.

All of the advice in this book comes from a guy who will admit that he had to study harder and practice more than some. He grew his talent. He decided to enjoy the work. He decided to enjoy the repetition. He chose to sweat the small stuff all day, every day, and to enjoy that choice. Brilliant.

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Review: The Man in My Basement

The Man in My Basement The Man in My Basement by Walter Mosley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an impulse read - one of those books I picked up at the library, opened to the middle, read one paragraph, and thought, ok, I'll give it a go .

I had read a Mosley book a few years back and thought it was just ok. I found his lewdness distracted from that story and in this book, I felt the same. He is preoccupied with a sophomoric kind of smuttiness; I don't really get this and think it diminishes his message but, hey, it is clearly just a style thing.

On the bright side, I enjoyed the story's pace and I respect the magnitude of the burden he took on when constructing his central character. The journey from inertia through brutal nihilism and back to solid (yet familiar) ground was good stuff.

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