Writer’s Block

Hello everyone. Autumn is here, and I’m gearing up for more reading and writing. I’m also busy with other things but this blog is never far from my mind, so look for more book reviews and other book related goodness, especially in the new year.

As I mentioned I’m busy with other things. I just had a phone interview and it went quite well. Send me positive vibes, okay.

I’m also happy to let everyone know I’m feeling better than I was a few months ago. I’ve even lost weight, around 15 pounds, which is very exciting. My medication helps but so does exercising, eating better, portion control, cutting back on soda, and drinking lots of water. I’m doing things sensibly.

I hope to keep up on my path to wellness, and that includes this blog. Thanks for your support.

Retro Review: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is an iconic figure of literature. Her body of work includes Orlando: The Biography, Women and Writing, and A Room of One’s Own. One of her popular novels is Mrs. Dalloway, which is my latest retro review.

Mrs. Dalloway is a story about a single day in the life of a middle-aged woman named Clarissa Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway is planning a party and wrapped in finalizing the details-shopping for flowers, decorations, and a new frock.

While busy with preparations, Mrs. Dalloway’s mind is flooded with memories of her youth, a much simpler time. And though comfortably married, she can’t help but think of the love of her younger days, Peter Walsh. Is her true love? And why is he back in her life?

But this is not only Mrs. Dalloway’s story. It is also the story of the people who orbit her life, including her husband, daughter, and various friends and acquaintances.

Mrs. Dalloway is also the tale of a young World War 1 veteran named Septimus Smith and his Italian wife Lucrezia. Smith is suffering from shell shock, which is now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And it affecting his marriage.

Mrs. Dalloway envisions a more genteel time in post-war Britain when troubles were brewing below the surface. In a few years the planet would be dealing with the Great Depression and later World War 2.

Mrs. Dalloway fully describes the details that make up one’s life, both the great and the small.

*My copy of Mrs. Dalloway has a forward by author Maureen Howard and provides thoughtful questions for book discussion groups and individual readers.

“Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

A fan of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls I was looking forward to reading Tara Westover’s book Educated, another memoir about rising above and beyond a hardscrabble childhood.

And let me state this: I read The Glass Castle. I know The Glass Castle. I even met Jeannette Walls at an author event. And believe me Educated is no The Glass Castle.

Born and raised in Buck’s Peak, Idaho, Tara Westover was the youngest of her mother and father’s seven children.

To say Westover’s childhood was less than typical is an understatement. Her parents, Gene and Faye (pseudonyms), strived to live off the grid, isolated from society. They shunned the government, doctors, and public schools. Instead, they treated ailments with homemade cures often using essential oils and tincture. And Faye homeschooled her brood in a very haphazard manner.

Still, as a child, Westover desired a more normal life. She wanted to go to school and get involved in activities other kids her age were involved in. Her father forbid her going to school to get some “book learning.” Yet, somehow Westover was allowed music lessons and ended up playing lead in a local production of the musical ” Annie.”

Getting involved in local theater and hanging out with kids from more “normal” backgrounds opened up new worlds for Westover. Yet, her family, for the most part, weren’t very impressed with Westover’s theatrical pursuits. Especially her father who put the kibosh on his daughter going to school.

Fortunately, Westover had an older brother, Tyler, who encouraged his little sister to envision a life beyond Buck’s Peak. Incidentally, Tyler escaped Buck’s Peak and achieved an education, including a Ph.D.

Sadly, Westover had another brother Shawn who was very abusive both physically and emotionally. He even shoved her head in a toilet!

Because of her lack of formal schooling (and needing to escape her dysfunctional family), Westover chose to educate herself. She scored very high on the ACT and was admitted into Brigham Young University.

BYU was like going to another planet for the sheltered Westover. Until then she never had heard of the Holocaust among other historical moments.

Westover also had a hard time adjusting to her peers and their different ways. And at times she was quite judgemental towards them.

Yet, she did bond with a few of her classmates and professors. Many of them supported and mentored her, often getting her out of a sticky situation.

Westover excels as an undergrad, which gives her a chance to study at England’s prestigious Cambridge University and Harvard later achieving her very own Ph.D.

Still, Buck’s Peak beckoned, and Westover found herself going back despite her family’s extreme dysfunction. Her brother Shawn had become even more abusive, especially towards his wife and children. And Westover’s parents were busy with their successful essential oils business.

Educated started out strong with a powerful narrative of Westover’s troubled upbringing.

But once she got to BYU, her story began to fall flat and sparked my cynicism. At times there were plot holes so big you could drive a semi through them.

Westover claims her family lived as survivalist yet they had modern convienences like TVs, computers, Internet access, and cell phones.

The family has horrific accidents and injuries, yet never receive proper medical care.

Westover gets away with things in college most students would not. And professors, classmates, boyfriends, and roommates bend over backwards for her. Not too mention a lot of her success seems to fall in her lap. She isn’t that brilliant.

And though she did get scholarships, I wondered where she got the money to pay for rent, bills, food, travel, and other assorted amenities.

I was also bothered by her refusing to report Shawn to the authorities. She definitely had the power to do so.

Though Educated is a compelling read, I found Westover to be humorless and cold. And I didn’t appreciate her lack of gratitude or her lack of paying it forward.

Thank goodness there are vastly superior memoirs I’ve enjoyed over the years, many I’ve reviews at this very blog.

Book Review: Make Almost Anything Happen-How to Manage Complexity to Get What You Want by Tim Kilpatrick

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It’s no secret we live in a very difficult time. We deal with complex issues both personally and professionally. And at times our situations make us crazy with self-doubt wondering how we can better manage our lives.

Fortunately, health care strategist, systems engineer, and entrepreneur Tim Kilpatrick might have the answer in his book Make Almost Anything Happen: How to Manage Complexity to Get What You Want.

Make Almost Anything Happen is divided into six distinct parts:

  1. Mission
  2. Impacting People
  3. Impacting Realities
  4. Impacting Activities
  5. Strategy
  6. Iteration

Part one describes how to define and develop a mission or goal you want to achieve. This is of utmost importance.

Part two examines how the mission impacts people in various ways.

Part three focuses on how the mission affects our reality and the reality of others.

Part four defines what activities will benefit from the mission by studying people and realities affected by the mission.

In part five, we develop a strategy framework. The strategy framework delves into how the mission we’ll accomplish with a planned out complex system.

And finally in part six-iteration-is about learning by working on various activities, what Kilpatrick calls an “Enablement Framework.”

Throughout Make Almost Anything Happen, Kilpatrick provides ample examples on the people who made things happen by managing complexity. Some are well-known like Coco Chanel and the Wright Brothers. More currently there are names like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Sarah Blakely, the creator of Spanx.

And there are names of people not as well-known like Olympic Bob sledder Jasmine Fenlator and Edward Jenner who invented the small pox vaccine.

Unsurprisingly, a book about managing complexity is, well, complex. While reading this book, I was overwhelmed by the information, data, ideas, and requirements outlined by Kilpatrick. I suggest using Post-it Notes, highlighters’ and journaling to keep track of all of the pertinent details.

Fortunately, Kilpatrick’s writing isn’t dry and stuffy. He writes in a friendly tone and implies this book can be used personally as well as professionally. For instance, one of Kilpatrick’s personal missions is to be a better father, a very worthy goal.

Make Almost Anything Happen is a pretty heavy duty book, but should be read in the workplace, the classroom, and on the homefront.