Category Archives: Books

Columbine – A Book Review


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Columbine by Dave Cullen is utterly engrossing, disturbing and moving. Exhaustively research and intricately told, this story about sadness, violence and its aftermath pulls the reader in from the first paragraph and keeps its hooks in until the last. The players in the story become more than characters, they become people we know and understand. The events of the tragedy become more than plot points, the become signposts of change in the lives of those directly affected and in ours. Columbine is a brilliant piece of investigative journalism that sheds light on a crucible moment when, it is not too hyperbolic to say, the world completely changed.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about the book should not shock us anymore: the narrative of the attackers and the attacks is almost entirely wrong. Much of the misinformation and myth of the story of the Columbine High School shootings is being dispelled, especially as we approach the 20th anniversary of the massacre, but the pieces that hang on – the ideas of outcast gunmen, the trench coat mafia, the targeting of specific students, the girl who said “yes” – remain almost fixed in place as if dispelling them would somehow to a disservice to the memories of those who were lost and changed by this day.

As a high school administrator, I can say that my colleagues should, conversely, read this book immediately and avoid it patently. We should read it to allow ourselves into the important what if journey and to open ourselves to the more critical what can we do question. We should not read it because it is a terrifying and maddening experience invoking sadness and confusion and helplessness.

I am not one to avoid truths and there are many to uncover in Columbine. I can write with certainly that I am forever changed having read it.

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2018 – And There Came My Favorite Things of the Year | Books


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At the end of 2018, AND THERE CAME A DAY shares favorites of this past year… not bests because “best” is surely in the eye and the opinion of the beholder but favorites as in my favorite movies, television episodes, comic books, books and moments.

This edition: BOOKS.

What were your favorite books of the year?

BOOKS


Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 10.53.26 PM

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
    • This is a book I read EVERY year and was blessed to teach it over the course of the last few weeks!
  • Creativity, Inc by Ed Catmull
    • My friend The Junior Senator gave me this one a few years back and I finally got around to it this year… I shouldn’t have waited so long!
  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara
    • I LOVE true crime. What a great book this was… soon to be an HBO miniseries…
  • Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
    • If you think Harry Potter is all JK Rowling can write, think again. Her Comoran Strike novels (which she writes under the pen name Robert Galbraith) are tremendous!
  • The Pepper Effect by Sean Gaillard
    • Leave it to my incredible friend The Esteemed Principal to combine his love of the Beatles with his love of and expertise in education to pull this incredible book off!
  • Stalling for Time: My Life as a Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner
    • After watching Waco, I was interested in the true story… this was a great book!

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The Escape Artist – A Book Review


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The alternating story of two characters, army artist Nola Brown and Dover Air Force Base mortician (you read that right) Jim “Zig” Zigarowski, The Escape Artist attempts to spotlight both characters while telling a compelling story about government secrets and high espionage. The results and very mixed and your mileage with the book may vary. I wanted to like The Escape Artist. I very much want to like novels by Brad Meltzer. I have read a few of them and they left me less than excited. I was hoping The Escape Artist would inspire a different reaction.

It did not.

While Nola Brown has elements that make her compelling, she is no Lisbeth Solander as I have read suggested. She is fairly well written, but there are some parts of her story that are so impossible to swallow that they strain credulity. And her counterpart Zig Zigarowski is the type of character who the reader is supposed to believe can do things far beyond what his experience would suggest simply because he has lived his life around the military. While there are interesting elements to both these characters, especially to Nola, neither riveted my attention for the entire book.

There is a surprising amount of darkness in The Escape Artist. Dark back stories lead to dark plot developments which lead to some very, very dark conclusions for characters. I was not expecting that from a book like this and, while I do enjoy being surprised as a reader, some of the turns were just a little too out there. They took me out of the story.

I will say, from a plot stand point, there is something fun going on here. Brad Meltzer is well known as a debunker of American (and worldwide) myths and an uncover-er of secret portions of history. He lends the plot of The Escape Artist that kind of gravity, suggesting that one of the most famous men in American entertainment history was, in fact, a spy for the US government. The conceit (pun intended) works and the plot hums along at a pretty solid pace.

But the dialogue has two major issues: one, the characters do not have distinct voices. They all sound alike. Two, the characters speak too cleverly by half. Not everyone has razor sharp, Aaron Sorkin-like wit in the real world. In Meltzer’s world, they do.

The Escape Artist is not a bad book, but I wanted it to be so much better…

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When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing – A Book Review


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When-The-Scientific-Secrets-of-Perfect-Timing

When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing is a wonderful book and one that delighted, challenged and affirmed. Daniel H. Pink is a television show host, a best selling author, a social observationalist and one of the most renowned business thinkers today. His books, including Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us are highly influential and he is a sought after lecturer.

After reading When, I can see why.

This is a terrific book for anyone who is interested in when successful people do things. The central concept of the book is that when we begin things, when we change jobs or buy homes, when we start diets, when we make decisions is critically important to the success of those decisions, job changes, diets, etc. The central conceit of the book is that people are fairly good at why, or, at least, people are very good at thinking about why they do things. They make check lists and pros and cons columns and flip coins and plunge ahead.

Rarely, though, do even the most careful thinkers consider when.

As it turns out, according to the book, the when of when we do things is very, very important to the success of those very things and Pink cites plenty of data – anecdotal and scientific – to back up the claim. Covering concepts like temporal landmarks, chronotypes and “time-hacking,” the book makes a compelling case that we should factor the whens along with the whys as we set out to make decisions.

For educators, whens are critically important and Pink’s book set me thinking about beginning conversations with my colleagues about why we do things when we do them. It sounds like a basic and simple concept. Pink illustrates that it is neither, but it is a central one to success.

Pink is engaging and funny and easy to read. This is a solid book.

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Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less – A Book Review


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Essentialism

Essentialism is not simply a book. It is a philosophy, and a challenging one at that.

In 20 very readable and engaging chapters, author Greg McKeown explains the origins of the philosophy of essentialism, the fact that he has embraced it in his life and the manner in which his readers can make it a part of theirs. He also makes no apologies for the fact that essentialism is a challenging – some might say “difficult” – pursuit and that becoming a true essentialist takes mindset, energy and time.

The book is entertaining, the material presented with a very appealing mix of research and humor. McKeown is a talented writer, balancing anecdote and data deftly. And, while he is clearly proselytizing for his vision of the world and is championing the essentialism philosophy, his approach is not off-putting in the least. Yes, there were moments when he would share how this lifestyle works and my response would be “nice, but how does that work in the real world.” There were elements I found, for me, far more aspirational than achievable. However, the overall concept is very, very appealing.

Do less. Do it better. Do what is essential. It is difficult to argue with those maxims and, when presented in such a compelling fashion as they are, who would want to?

The world seems to demand ever more of us and, in the world of education in which I work, it surely demands ever more of students and teachers. The idea that a significant analysis should take place, that we in authority should slow down and ask if we need to do all we are doing is powerful. What can stay? What can go?

What is essential?

Great questions.

While daunted by the philosophy and intrigued by whether or not I would have the discipline to become an essentialist myself, I heartily recommend the book!

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And There Came The Best of 2016


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Here are my favorites in film, television and books from 2016. These are my favorites, listed in order of my liking. I make no claim that they are the best. I don’t say they are all tremendous works of art. I am not sure they would all make anyone else’s lists, Simply they touched me, amused me, entertained me and inspired me this year. As a friend of mine might quote: “This is just one man’s opinion.”

FILM

hell-or-high-water

  • Hell or High Water
    • This is a truly wonderful movie which showcases a breakout performance by Chris Pine. Touching, disturbing and surprisingly funny, this one ought to be nominated for a bunch of Academy Awards.
  • La La Land
    • Another film destined to be highly nominated, I can say that not many movies have ever made me feel as existentially good as La La Land. I love musicals. I love magic. I love this movie.
  • Hacksaw Ridge
    • Absolutely inspiring. It is terrific to see a movie about a hero who doesn’t resort to violence of any kind. It’s more terrific to know the story is true. What a great film.
  • Captain America: Civil War
    • This was the most fun I had at the movies all year. It was not perfect, but it was pretty darn close and the brilliant manner in which Spider-Man was portrayed forgives ALL sins. In the top five of all superhero movies, ever.
  • Arrival
    • Deep, powerful, heartfelt and stirring, Arrival features a tour-de-force performance by Amy Adams who has to be one of the best actors of her generation, right?
  • Honorable Mention: Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
    • This movie didn’t work for everyone, granted, but it worked OVERTIME for me. (It must have, it beat out Star Trek Beyond for “honorable mention.”)

TELEVISION

this-is-us

  • This Is Us
    • My favorite show of the year. It should be yours, too. Smart, engrossing and emotional with a cast that is all but perfect, This Is Us is absolutely appointment viewing.
  • American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson
    • I knew how this story ended and yet I couldn’t look away. With performances that were riveting, a plot that was smart and dialogue that was sizzling, The People vs. OJ Simpson was one of the best things on tv this year.
  • Stranger Things
    • Admittedly late to the party for this one, we made up for it by bingeing the entire series in two nights. What a terrific wave of nostalgia balanced with edge-of-your-seat thrills. The perfect combination of Stephens Spielberg and King.
  • Westworld
    • We caught on to this one before the end of the season and WOW were we glad we did. Without question, Westworld showed me things I never thought I’d see on television and its twists and turns led to a real payoff. Loved it.
  • Pitch
    • Anyone watching This Is Us should be watching Pitch. Less complex but no less involving, Pitch comments on the price of fame while telling the story of what it takes to do what we love.
  • Honorable Mention: Timeless
    • Silly, fun stuff about time travel that might have been higher on the list except for a massive inconsistency in the first episode that the show has never solved!

BOOKS

born-to-run

  • Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen
    • Yeah. Read this one. There is no ghost writer here. It’s just The Boss telling his remarkable story. If he’s pulling punches, I’d hate to see the full force of them land.
  • Star Trek: The Fifty Year Mission by Edward Gross and Mark A. Altman
    • Frankly, I thought I knew just about everything about Star Trek. After reading this 2 volume book of memories told to the authors by the people involved with the Star Trek phenomenon, I stand very much corrected.
  • Moonglow by Michael Chabon
    • Michael Chabon is clearly a genius and, when I read him, I know that I am not understanding everything he’s putting on the page. But I understand enough to know that I love it.
  • End of Watch by Stephen King
    • The final book in the Gil Hodges trilogy, King completes his attempt at writing a “straight” detective story in fine form. Though he veers a bit into supernatural territory, I enjoyed each of these books and really loved the characters.
  • DC Comics: Rebirth written by Geoff Johns, illustrated by Ivan Reis, Gary Frank, Ethan Van Sciver and Phil Jimenez
    • This was my favorite comic book of the year. Beautifully illustrated by a team of top notch artists and lovingly (the correct word) written by one of the best in the business, DC Comics: Rebirth launches the stories of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the rest in a bright and hopeful direction.
  • Honorable Mention: Batman: A Celebration of the Classic Series by Robert Garcia and Joe Desris
    • The craziness that was Adam West and Burt Ward’s Batman tv series is documented in fine detail here. This book is fun to read, beautiful to look at and reminds us that Batman used to be all about the funny.

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The Martian – A Movie Review

The MartianThe Martian is a movie that is so good it caused a reaction in me that I rarely have. As soon as the final credits (a great sequence, by-the-way, don’t leave or turn off the film before they are over) were complete, I turned to The Cinnamon Girl and said “we have to tell everyone we know to go see this movie.”

We ended up seeing it in the theater 3 times ourselves.

I had read the wonderful book by Andy Weir on which the film is based and, as excited as I was that the movie was being made – and with such a terrific cast to boot, I was a little concerned that the movie would have a hard time capturing the unique tone of the novel. Weir’s The Martian is, primarily, a first person narrative and one that relies almost entirely on Whatney to make the reader care about the goings on. Brash, irreverent and laden with science that is far beyond my understanding but seems more than authentic, the book was a page turner that I completed in days (and then told all of my reader friends to immediately pick up). It seemed a tough adaptation to nail.

I need not have worried.

Directed by the talented Ridley Scott and written by Drew Goddard, The Martian maintains all of the joy and humor of the Weir novel while also further developing the stories of the crew that left title character Mark Watney behind and fleshing out the NASA ground personnel that work to bring him home. That it makes some significant changes to the story of the novel is to be expected – most movies do thus to their source material. The changes made are actually very much in line with the story that Scott wants to tell. They all work and have their own payoffs in the context of the film.

I am pretty sure that I felt more exhilarated at the conclusion of The Martian than I did at the conclusion of any other movie I’ve seen in a very, very long time. The Martian made me long for the fictional world it presented: one where countries across the globe unite for one cause and for one thought – that of saving the life of one man. Surely our world comes together in crisis and in tragedy. The Martian painted a world that comes together in hope as well. That’s a profound vision and more than reason enough to see and love this movie.

That Matt Damon is  the title character almost ensures a good film. Damon doesn’t normally associate himself with bad movies. And that we, the audience, are going along for a rescue mission for Damon is familiar ground, too (see InterstellarSaving Private Ryan). There were a number of jokes going around the internets about how much money has been spent on saving Matt Damon. Well, I will say if the man himself is half as affable and good natured as Mark Whatney, it’s money well spent.

Damon is terrific here – perhaps not Academy Award material, though a nomination would not surprise – and it is critical that the audience like him. Though this isn’t a Tom Hanks Cast Away-like performance in terms of screen time, we do spend an awful lot of time in the movie staring at Damon doing… things. If he isn’t sympathetic or believable, the movie collapses.

It doesn’t. Damon is magnetic in his role.

In fact, the same can be said for the rest of the cast of The Martian. From Jeff Daniel’s NASA director Teddy Sanders to Jessica Chastain’s Commander Lewis to  Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Vincent Kapoor and Sean Bean’s Mitch Henderson (and everyone in between), the entire cast seems to know that it’s involved in something special. Frankly, I believe that’s why Kristen Wiig is even in the movie. She’s not given a lot to do – though she does great with what she’s given. It seems she just wanted to be associated with the movie. I get it. Who wouldn’t want to be?

The Martian hits a type of story I like very, very much – a story wherein the audience gets to watch very smart people doing very smart things. At each point when things seem bleak for Whatney, a solution is reached. At each moment where the character is about to give up and reconcile himself to his fate, the problem is worked through.

This is a surprisingly funny, wonderfully engaging movie. It makes one think about hope and aspirations without swelling music and manipulative movie tropes. It is inspiring.

THE MARTIAN receives FIVE MANURE POTATOES out of a possible five.

 

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