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New Jersey, United States

Monday, December 10, 2018

Technology And Children

Opting out of the I-phone revolution has sparked a few testy interactions with my wife and prompted incredulity from others. But most of my recent reflecting and conversations about technology haven't been about my resistance. These days, it's the effect all these inescapable devices seem to be having on younger people that troubles me.

I wish last night's "60 Minutes" segment about this issue had assuaged some of my concerns. But the longitudinal studies cited on the show - research being conducted to measure the effect of ubiquitous screens on young brains - were sobering. The research is preliminary; several experts went out of their way stress this. Still, the researchers interviewed shared many of my concerns and also echoed what Sherry Turkle so expertly dissected in her excellent 2015 book "Reclaiming Conversation."  Watching those toddlers get seriously attached to I-tablets in that "60 Minutes" piece has stayed with me all day.    

If I were new parent, how would I protect my young child against this onslaught? How would you?            

Thursday, December 6, 2018

#53: The Mt. Rushmore Series

Aside from English, if you were asked to choose a language that has given you four indispensable words or expressions, which one would you select? For me, French has no close competition. For this iteration of my Mt. Rushmore series, please share which French words or expressions you wouldn't want to be without. Though I've purposefully avoided the ubiquitous food references - with one small exception - and listed my four alphabetically, ignore those guidelines constructing your monument.

1.) Je ne sais quoi: How can anyone get through living life in this wondrous world without using this expression all the time? Mon dieu!

2.) rendezvous: An irreplaceable word that begs to be sung.

3.) soupcon: a slight trace or flavor; suspicion; a very small amount. What a cool context-sensitive word! Use it with foods, novels, people.

4.) tete-a-tete: Special mention here for my partner in our book club of two. The monthly tete-a-tetes we've had since 2015 (starting with "The Faraway Nearby" by Rebecca Solnit and most recently discussing "Flight Behavior" by Barbara Kingsolver) have been high points in my recent life.

Your turn. Parlez vous Francais?    

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Joining Memoirs On The Back Burner

As a genre, what is frequently labeled "historical fiction" used to give me much more enjoyment. Has my patience for this type of book worn thin? Have I not yet been exposed to the best practitioners? Has the genre deteriorated in quality over my reading life? What was your most recent memorable experience with a historical novel? Your most recent dispiriting experience with this same kind of book?

Fortunately, my most recent dispiriting experience had an upside. Before returning to the library the novel I'd abandoned - a book club selection for early next year - I copied the titles of four non-fiction books the author cited as sources. The subject of the novel - if not the treatment - was of interest to me. And despite the somber subject, soon after beginning the first of those books ("The Baby Thief" (2007) by Barbara Bisantz Raymond), I was pleased how this turned out. Thanks to this novelist's research, the horrifying story of Georgia Tann's mid-century reign at the Tennessee Children's Home Society is no longer unknown to me. I suspect the novelization of this sickening tale made it a bit easier to read. I wanted the story told to me straight.

Still, my growing disinterest in historical fiction aside, the authors of these books clearly deserve credit for shining a light on little-told episodes. And when either the plots they construct to make the episodes more compelling for readers, or, the prose they use to tell those plots don't work for me, there are other options. Also, many first-rate non-fiction authors - Jon Krakauer, Erik Larsen, Simon Winchester - weave compelling narrative lines using historical detail alone. I seem to be moving steadily in that direction. Notable exceptions: Got a few more novels by EL Doctorow to still get through and any posse-recommended historical novel could also find its way into my queue. Never say never, right?  


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Yeah, This Is Crabby

Reassure me, please. Does anyone else ever get annoyed by the assault of commercials frequently preceding the feature film in many movie theaters these days?

Though I try hard to time my arrival at theaters nowadays to avoid this garbage, if a movie is popular, getting a seat sometimes goes hand-in-hand with enduring the commercial onslaught. On occasion, when I've been alone and this has happened, I've actually yearned for the distraction of an I-phone. Please do NOT share that confession with my wife or daughter.

An old theater proximate to my home - it has since been sold to new owners - used to play agonizing  music before showing the only coming attraction. Over the years we patronized that relic - great prices, BTW, and I'll miss that - I complained incessantly about that hokey music. But given a choice between that aural torture and the enticement of consumerism run amok portrayed by those loud nonstop ads - and I'm pretty certain that's what's in store for me when that theater re-opens - there's no contest. Isn't a TV (or fifty) in every public space invasive enough?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Goal For Year 70

I was surprised to discover that not one of the goals I've made here on my birthday every year since 2011 has been reading-related. Time to correct that oversight.

Between this birthday and my next, I'm aiming to read only books written by authors who are new to me. I'll make an exception only if a book club selection is by someone I've previously read.

Settled on this goal after realizing I've recently been relying a bit too much on my favorites. Surely I can make it for a year without repeating an author, and maybe find some new favorites in the process.

What have been some of your past reading-related goals, birthday or otherwise? And, who are a few of your favorite authors you think might be new to me? If by chance I've already read something by someone you suggest, no harm. There's plenty of time to return after November 23, 2019.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Key Learnings: Year 69

I'm confident there'll be a lot of folks on the bell curve taking a nap after tomorrow's repast so this post - usually published the day before my birthday - is one day early. Because despite knowing how scintillating I can be, my best bon mots are no match for tryptophan shock. By hedging my bets, I'm hoping at least a few folks will read this prior to the big gorge.

What were some key things you learned between your last two birthdays? Year sixty nine - at least the first 364 days of it - was a rich year of learning for me.

* During and after the three day summer workshop entitled "Race And Rage" that I helped facilitate, I learned how fortunate I am having three people in my life who give me unconditional emotional support. Each stays fully present when I'm overcome; they avoid filling up the emotional space with words; none of the three ever tries to "fix" me.

* Over this past year, watching the good cheer of an old friend caring for a loved one has been a profound lesson for me in the power of grace.

* "The moral certainty of my rage must be met with humility about the limits of my knowledge". More than a few times, author Phil Klay's words have helped me back up from the reflexive despair I can sometimes feel reading or watching the news. Whose words have recently given you that kind of solace?

I'll be back on my birthday. Happy thanksgiving!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Five For Five

I realized soon after finishing "Flight Behavior" (2012) that Barbara Kingsolver had now entered a rarefied realm among my favorite authors. I don't recall another writer ever knocking me out five times consecutively. At present, her closest competitor is Colm Toibin ("Brooklyn", etc.) who has recently gone four for four. Which author has thrilled you that consistently, at least among the books you've chosen?

Is it Kingsolver's prose? The richness and variety of her ideas? Her complex but wholly human characters? Yes, yes, and yes. Are Kingsolver's narrative lines compelling? Is her writing audacious? Does her work contribute to the novel as an art form? Affirmative in triplicate. If Kingsolver has a glaring weakness as a writer, I haven't yet detected it. Since my first exposure to her via "Poisonwood Bible" (1998) - still my favorite - she has thrilled and educated me in nearly equal measure.

How often does an author get you thinking about your own thinking? Kingsolver's deft exploration of the gap between coastal elite snobbery (with their "... smart mouthed comedians …" ) and rural provincialism (with their " … pastors, Dear Abby, and local talk radio …") in "Flight Behavior" - and the way that gap shows up in the acrimonious debate over climate change - stopped me cold. I re-read that passage - about a third of the way through the book - at least four times. Then I digressed, composed a long list of contemporary issues - immigration, guns, abortion, etc. - and thought about how I'd arrived at my opinions for those issues. How successful have I been filtering the chatter of those "...smart mouthed comedians..." while trying to develop my own views?  How successful are you? Folks on the other side: How successful are you filtering out the "...pastors, Dear Abby, and  local talk radio …"?

This kind of provocative writing - and the attendant introspection it can engender - is surely not for everyone. But if a novel doesn't educate or elevate me, it doesn't matter if I've been entertained.