My favorite columnist in the world is Chris Erskine. He was a twice-a-week columnist in the LA Times for years. He wrote about being a dad, being a friend, being a husband married above his pay grade, and loving almost everything about his adopted home town of Los Angeles. He’s an everyman. A guy you want to have a beer and a burger with. And he can write with humor, zing, humility, and incredible meaning. He still writes a column, really just for himself and the thousands of people like me who look forward to his still-twice-a-week columns at www.chriserskinela.com.
This book was published in 2018, just before two brutal life events devastated his family. But that’s the thing. Those events would have crushed most of us, but Chris, though severely wounded, continues to let his light still shine through. That’s when you can really tell a person’s character, and he has it in buckets.
This quote from his “Let Me Explain” intro says it far better than I:
Who will like this book? Quiet souls like me who follow jazz or who linger too long over lighthouses. But also wise guys who enjoy belly laughs and Chevy Chase pratfalls. Those who appreciate oversized cheeseburgers, tight spirals, and the majesty of a cocktail party quip. Who else will like this collection on fatherhood, culled from my weekly newspaper columns? Dads and moms. Sons and daughters. Dogs and cats.
I think all but three of those terms define me, and I’m all in.
Find it on Amazon here.
Tribe is a compelling book that speaks of the isolation and independence of humans in the modern world but particularly in the United States and the potentially harmful impact that that has on both individuals and society. The book opens with some historical accounts of Americans who were captured by Native American tribes and when they were “rescued” they did not want to return to their former communities. They felt more part of something in the new culture than in the independent and isolationist American culture they had been kidnapped from. Similarly, Sebastian Junger talks about how soldiers who return from combat situations have a difficult time returning to home in the United States. A third example he gives is of communities who were under siege and the impact that siege had on them. Whether it be the Germans’ bombing of Britain in World War II, or the Americans’ bombing of Germany in World War II. The impact was the same. The bombings made the communities stronger and more resilient than ever, and the incidences of depression and suicide went down tremendously.
Under duress, communities bond and work together, reverting to the way humans used to be prior to this movement towards isolationism. The incidence rate of PTSD in the United States is higher than any other civilization in the world, he theorizes because the isolationism here is so distant from the camaraderie and collegiality and interdependence of a combat or threatening environment. He looks at how in the last 300 years, we have gone from a totally collaborative group/tribe/community culture to a highly independent one, and our evolutionary selves have not caught up with that change.
What’s the point? He encourages us to think about how we can create our own tribes. For most of us, our tribe is our nuclear family. That’s it. Can we make that bigger either at work or in our neighborhoods or among our friend groups? It’s a thought-provoking book that has implications for team building, friendships, neighborhoods, nations, and families.
My dad recommended this book to me because he thought it pushed the idea of what good and bad teaching is. Richard Feynman was an amazing physicist who won the Nobel Prize at some point. He is kind of the Forrest Gump of physicists because he was always in the right place at the right time. He was a young man when they tapped his shoulder to help out on the Manhattan Project. He got to work with some of the most amazing people of our time. And he is a character. He is not in any way politically correct; in fact, some of his views are downright backwards. Still, it’s a great examination of how physicists think and anyone considering that field should look at this life. Good book. Oh, and the reason I like his views as a teacher was that he believes that textbooks bring nothing additional to the classroom, and only a great teacher bringing a subject to life matters. Word.
This is a book my wife read with her book club. It’s not my typical read. It’s a Pulitzer Prize winner which means it’s pretty “literature-y” for my tastes. I know, not a very good thing to say. In spite of all that, I loved it. It’s an insightful tale of a middle-aged man in search of himself through an around-the-globe journey. First and foremost, the language is fantastic. I have to slow down when I read literature like this, because if I don’t, I miss so much of the beauty of the book, which is probably the main point. I enjoyed it, and enjoyed the reflections of Mr. Greer all the way through. It’s one of those books that make you realize that outstanding writing is truly hard work. You just know he labored over every word. Enjoyable, and it’s actually a book I will read again.
How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims (2015)
I had the chance to hear Julia L-H speak near Stanford University last year. She is a highly enthusiastic person who has seen first hand the impact of children who are raised with helicopter parents. This book is about trying to avoid that helicopter syndrome, and helping your child to lead an independent and strong life. I loved it. If you want to read more about my impressions about the book, I wrote a blog entry here. I say it’s a must-read for all parents.
I read this book in preparation for the fall 2019 meeting of Consortium 2032, our group of seven school districts who work together towards continuous improvement. Mr. Kraemer is a resident of New Trier, Chicago, which is where our Consortium was hosted and has spoken to the leaders of that school district many times. He is a former CFO and CEO of a major American company and has strong opinions on leadership. His basic premise is that there are four principles and those principles are: self-reflection, balance, self-confidence, and genuine humility. Mr. Kraemer goes through all of these different values and discusses them in detail. He puts a lot of value on celebrating the team and I have no argument with that whatsoever. That is critical for anyone’s success. He also pushes the idea that every single person in the organization is essential to that organization, and I wholeheartedly agree with that as well. He speaks a lot about balance. He does not use the term work-life balance, but just balance. That was good as well.
And he reminds the reader often that your title or titles do not define you. It is how you treat those who are closest to you that defines you. I think this is valuable for anyone to hear, as I have met plenty of people in my life who think they are something special because of the position they hold or the opposite, thinking they are not someone special because of a lower-level position they hold. Both could not be more untrue. And that leads to the value of self-confidence, which I certainly have experienced is critical for any leader in any organization. Criticism comes from all sides, and you have to listen carefully to that criticism, weigh the options, and make the best decision possible. That takes true self-confidence. It’s a good book, and he certainly is an interesting person to listen to.
My brother Bill from Oregon recommended this book. It’s a great companion to Undaunted Courage which is one of my favorite books of all time. Though not as compelling or as historically rich as Undaunted Courage, this is a great story of 1812-era America and the foresight of John Jacob Astor as he tried to be the first to establish a settlement on the west coast. It’s a story of amazing bravery, foolheartedness, and the awesome beauty and power of the American west. If you liked Undaunted Courage, I highly recommend it. And a bonus is that when you travel through Oregon, you will recognize a lot of the names from this book. I biked through the snow-filled McKinzey pass two years ago, and when I do it next, I will have a new appreciation for the hardship that Mr. McKinzey and others endured. Not a beautiful book, but a solid read.
Here is my second Pulitzer Prize book to read this year. This one is so much more approachable for me, because it is a book of great literature disguised as a book about history. It juxtaposes two lives: a blind young woman from France and a young engineer from Germany during the rise and fall of the Nazi era. It goes back and forth between the two lives, and creates so many stories of sadness, of beauty, and of unimaginable times. I enjoyed every part of this book. It is simply written, and doesn’t contain the beautiful sentences of Less by Mr. Greer, but it is fantastic. Could not put it down, and I highly recommend it.