Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Schmuck in My Office

The Schmuck in my Office: How to deal effectively with difficult people at work by Jody J. Foster, MD, MBA   288 pages.

"Everyone has a “schmuck” in their office---a difficult, disruptive person who upsets the workplace, confuses coworkers, and causes concern. It’s hard to understand why schmucks act the way they do, but one thing is certain---they seem to come in all shapes and sizes. . . ."

I had seen a reference to this book in a recent article and was happy to find that it had some pretty insightful information.  While I wasn't familiar with all of the major work personalities covered in this book, I am familiar with some.  Dr. Jody Foster explains the spectrum of people that many find difficult to work with and looks at how dysfunctional interactions among coworkers can lead to workplace stress.  By helping people understand the people they feel are schmucks, Foster shows how to work with them and ultimately solve workplace problems.

While this book isn't for everyone, it did have some insightful information. It's helpful to understand why some people act as they do, because if you can understand them (or at least try to), you can figure out a better way to work with them.  And this can benefit everyone in an organization.

Wicked Wonders

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klage  284 pages.

This collection of stories features singular, smart and sometimes subversive characters. In the introduction to the book by Karen Joy Fowler, Fowler states, "Ellen's young protagonists are both tough and sensitive. Like so many of us, they don't quite fit in. So they're always looking for the chance, unavailable in their home and schools and communities, to be their true selves."  For example, in one of the first stories, the main character is a girl who identifies more with Maleficent instead of Sleeping Beauty. In another one, a girl who starts a game realizes that she'll need more than mere luck to win once she's engaged a faerie.  All of the stories have a bit of adventure to them, sometimes some melancholy and sometimes a bit of humor (especially the last story in the book, "The Scary Ham").

I really enjoyed this book and found the stories to be interesting, thoughtful and memorable.  Definitely adding this one to my Christmas wish list!

The accomplished guest

The Accomplished Guest by Ann Beattie        Audio Book: 7 hours    Hardback Book:  288 pages          

Many short stories here all written with good understandings of human and animal nature.   Most are amusing, some a bit melancholy, some make you scratch your head and wonder if they were happy or sad, but all were enjoyable.    There is much bonding going on here and not always with the ones you think which underlines the fact that people don’t always end up with the one they start out with but fate leads them to others they might not ever have considered.    I kind of like the moments when the light comes on in the characters minds and they get it that the person they wanted was not necessarily as fun or as compatible as the person they only saw as a friend for years.     Sometimes we see past those closest to us instead of actually seeing them.    Some of the stories are about letting go and being o.k. with that.   Some are about knowing when something is beyond what you can contend with and loving the person with issues and yourself and all those affected enough to let go and let someone get the help they need somewhere else - ie. psychological situations beyond your capabilities to handle or better said, when it is time to call in a professional.   Some are about allowing others to move on when the fit with you just isn’t working and my favorite is from a dog’s perspective of unconditional love.   But there are sweet stories of families and friends who also share that quality of giving unconditional love.    Human or animal these are all good stories.

The Longevity Plan

The Longevity Plan: Seven Life-Transforming Lessons from Ancient China  by Dr. John D. Day and Jane Ann Day with Matthew LaPlante            Audio Book: 7 hours, 46 minutes       Hardback Book: 304 pages        

Dr. Day is a renowned heart cardiologist who received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins and who completed his residency and fellowships in cardiovascular medicine and cardiac electrophysiology at Standford University.    Dr. Day was schooled in and was of a mind that as the body ages, deterioration and disease were a part of the natural aging process.   He prescribed his patients medicine for heart ailments that in the scheme of things were all actually preventable.    He too suffered from overweight, insomnia, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and degenerative joint disease.    It left him with a tinge of melancholia knowing as a doctor and particularly as a heart surgeon he should be living and eating differently than he was but he told himself given his schedule it was just easier to grab whatever was at hand to eat – the sugary goodies always available at the hospital or the pizza or other junk food on the way to or from work.    Exercise was as non-existent in his routine as was eating a healthy meal.    Family time didn’t fare much better as he was always tired when he was at home.    While delivering a lecture at a medical conference in China he heard about a village where Diabetes, Cancer, Heart Disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, High Blood Pressure etc. were non-existent.   Not only that but that many of the residents in this remote mountain village were over the age of 100 years old!   He couldn’t believe it could be true but he was curious to find out.    He made the trek to Bama what many Chinese people called Longevity Village.    A place high in the mountains in north eastern China about 20 miles from the border of Viet Nam.   The doctor spoke Mandarin which enabled him to communicate with the people there.   He was introduced to several inhabitants that looked to be elderly who were either out working in the fields, some were practicing Kung Fu, or lifting things and moving with such agility he couldn’t believe they were doing it.   He was really floored when he learned that many were 100 years old or older and had living children in their 80s!   These people were clear minded and great storytellers.    He offered to help one woman who was lifting furniture onto a cart and she told him, ‘oh no, doctor, you might hurt yourself!  I’m used to this.     Another time he had been helping a centenarian work in her field harvesting crops.    She had filled a bag very full and hoisted it onto her back and started to walk back to the village.    He insisted on carrying it for her but when she sat it down he couldn’t pick it up!   It took all he had to hoist it up on his shoulder and struggle to get it back.   The lady offerered to take it back from him and he asked her how could she carry such a heavy load and at her age?   She said she was used to it she had been doing it all her life, why would she stop now?   He met this answer with all of the hard chores and work the centenarians did there.    They always answered I’ve been doing it all my life why should I stop now?    On one of his visits one of the 100+ ladies had taken a fall and was in a wheelchair for a year.    The next time he was back she was up walking and working in the field.     He asked her how she felt and she answered “Like I could fight an army!’  And proceeded to skip away like a young girl and do a Kung Fu routine down the road kicking her legs up and throwing punches.   The doctor thought there must be some special something that made these folks this way like superhumans able to carry on long beyond what the rest of the world could.    He found no disease, no hypertension and observed their diet which consisted of all they wanted to eat at every meal but he noted they ate no dairy though they had water buffalo and could have drank that milk or used it in recipes.   When he asked if they ever drank it or used it in cooking they said, “No, why would we?   It would make us sick!”   Somebody knew something there that the rest of the world didn’t.    He said they ate meat but only a couple of times a week.    They ate pigs and chickens and fish.    One man quoted an old Chinese proverb saying,  “the Chinese eat anything with 2 legs except people and anything with 4 legs except a chair.”   They used spices and herbs, ate a lot of legumes, nuts and seeds, particularly pumpkin seeds, vegetables, fruit and meat as they had available the thing missing from their diets was dairy and processed foods that are so prevalent in the Standard American Diet (SAD).   They also used no oil in their cooking and didn’t know why anyone would.    The village at the time the doctor began visiting was rural with no electricity so no t.v.    People got about 12 hours of sleep per night because without electricity they found no reason to stay up much beyond sundown.   They had no gastric problems and no insomnia and went to sleep soon after laying down.      The doctor was so amazed by all he observed that when home he tried to follow the villagers’ precepts.    It was a marvel!   The doctor dropped 40 pounds following the eating pattern he learned from the villagers – no processed food, no dairy, by going to bed earlier and getting 12 hours of sleep instead of the 5 or less hours he had been sleeping each night if he were lucky, he found himself changing for the good.    He felt better, he lost weight, he wasn’t pushing himself on a caffeine based diet – the villagers only drank water from the river so the doctor stopped drinking anything but water and with the diet change, no chocolate nor caffeine drinks hyping him up and a more restful schedule he began to transform into a healthier man even getting in exercise at last and making time for his family by not pushing a go-go-go schedule of work only.   He felt better, he looked better, he was better health-wise.     He asked some of his patients if they would like to try the new plan and 92% of those who began it are still on it.   He calls it the Longevity Plan rather than a diet because diet has such negativity of denial attached to it and on this food plan you can eat as much as you want just avoid dairy, caffeine and processed food (Oh man!   That’s almost everything in the American menu!  Sorry Vegans, but, we are bombarded with processed everything and fed to bursting on hidden corn [starches that turn into sugars] and wheat [whey that more people than realize it are allergic to].      Really good book.   I loved the doctor’s and his family’s visits to the village and the wisdom of the elders when they told their stories or reacted to things the doctor asked them about.   A  worthy read for anyone wishing to do their body good.
A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman         Audio Book:  6 hours    Hardback Book: 208 pages

I have heard that stand-up comedians bring their pain to the stage and the audience laughs at it because while they can relate to what is being said, it is funny because it isn’t them experiencing it and the comic presents the pain in a comedic story telling fashion as if he or she is viewing the situation from above and relating it even though it is themselves they are speaking of.    David Grossman has certainly captured the feel and delivers the scene for the reader of actually being in a comedy club.    From beginning to end you have such an indelible sense of the horror that was Dovelah Greenstein’s  life, yet, he breaks up the haunting visuals he creates in your head with a zinger joke or critical observation of someone in the audience just to bring up the deep downturn he has taken the reader on.     This is not a happy book but more of a purging of one’s demons.    Well done, well thought out but it will take the reader on a spiraling trip through Dovelah Greenstein’s past almost like watching someone self-destruct before your eyes.   My first thought was ‘he is having a nervous breakdown on stage’ but dear reader it is far more than that.   I won’t divulge what is really happening here but though the book is fiction, the character is fiction and the plot is fiction, David Grossman captures the pain experienced so realistically it is tangible.    A haunting book.    Both an intellectual and emotional ride that I would liken to (Franz) Kafka.  

Elementary Particles

The Elementary Particles by Michel Houellebecq, translated by Frank Wynne, 264 pages

The Elementary Particles
Michel Houellebecq's novel of the twilight of Western civilization is the story of the nearly parallel lives of a pair of half-brothers, one focused on seemingly abstract scientific theories and phenomena, the other preoccupied with fantasies of sexual conquests, the former oddly detached, the latter pathetically desperate.  Each is, in related ways, less than fully human.

The Elementary Particles is a portrait of a dying world that has abandoned the intellectual and moral to pursue the physical to the exclusion of all else.  Houellebecq writes with a clinical objectivity, analyzing his characters rather than sympathizing - or inviting the reader to sympathize - with them.  Unfortunately, like Chuck Palahniuk, his attempts to shock his readers sometimes seem desperate.  The novel might be called pornographic in that it is explicit without being erotic, simultaneously obsessed with sex and pervaded by a sense of futility.  From this bleak vision, Houellebecq offers no hope of renewal or escape.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Odes of Pindar

Pindar in English Verse by Pindar, translated by Arthur S Way, 160 pages

     Far beyond envy are the praises stored
          For victors at Olympia crowned.
     Songs are my sheep; I, as some shepherd-lord,
          Find them some fair pasture-ground.

Perhaps the greatest poet of classical Greece, excepting only Homer, Pindar primarily wrote odes sung in honor of the victors of the various Hellenic games.  As is to be expected, he celebrates the excellence of the athletes.

     And the hero whose hands have so gallantly striven,
     Unto him be all worshipful honor given
          Alike of the stranger and citizen.
     For he treadeth the path that from insolence turneth,
     Great lessons bequeathed by his fathers he learneth
          By his true heart taught.

But even more, he praises the virtues of the city-state that produced the champion.

     And the glory of that good town do thou sing
     And the glory of her champion triumph-crowned.

The odes were indeed originally sung.  In fact, they were chanted as hymns.

     So send I the Song-queens' gift, the nectar outpoured
     From my spirit, its vintage of sweetness, a chant to record
     The triumph of guerdon-winners, their victory
     At Olympia and Pytho gained in the athlete-strife,
     Whom praiseful report companioneth, happy is he!

For in extolling the country of the victor, the poet traces its origins back into the realm of myth - for Pindar, the greatness of the present is an expression of the continuing power of the past deeds of gods and heroes.

     Then rang the close with songs, as music rings through banquet-hall.
          So voices still the victor sing, and feet the revel tread.

Friday, August 11, 2017

LaRose

LaRose by Louise Erdrich.  372 pages

Late one summer, Landreaux Iron is out hunting deer along the edge of the property that borders his own. He's confident in his shot, but then realizes he's hit something else: his neighbor's five year-old son, Dusty. Landreaux's own son, LaRose, has been close friends with Dusty and horrified at what he has done, Landreaux and his wife, Emmeline, turn to an Ojibwe tradition for guidance. They decide they will give LaRose to Dusty's parents, Peter and Nola.  LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family, even as he is gradually allowed visits with his own family. As years pass, this shared relationship begins to link the two families. However, another man in the community, one with a longstanding grudge against Landreaux, is determined to raise trouble and threaten the tenuous peace between the two families.

My summary of this book feels lacking, partly because there is way more going on in this book than just the story of the boy being shared between two families.  I found this to be a complex story, and while I appreciated what the author was doing, and her writing style, the story just didn't resonate with me.  I may try reading The Round House by Erdrich and see if I like that story any better.

Small Hours

Small Hours by Jennifer Kitses.  288 pages

Tom and Helen have left New York for a new life in a former mill town, thinking they could ride out their economic downturn and raise their two daughters in a nice place. Two years later, their fragile domestic life has started to spin out of control. Helen, feeling overwhelmed by work and demands of her family, starts to have anger management issues. Tom is struggling to keep afloat at his job, while also juggling a pretty hefty secret: a second life.

I thought this book was okay, but found it made me cranky. While it wouldn't have made for much of a story, most of the issues faced by Tom and Helen could have been solved if they ever had an honest conversation with each other. Instead, they keep things to themselves, hiding their problems and issues.  Things come to a head over the course of one day, when Helen has an unpleasant encounter with some teens at a playground and Tom is tested by having to face up to all of the secrets he's been keeping (as well as the fact that he increasingly tunes out in a lot of situations).

I finished the book, mostly out of curiosity. The ending leaves things pretty open, so you wonder what these two people are going to do, now that they have to face each other and face up to what they've been doing. However, I'm more than happy to move on to my next read and leave these two behind.

The Circle: Autumn’s Story

The Circle:  Autumn’s Story by Keisha Ervin             Audio Book: 4 hours, 59 minutes    Kindle Edition:  133 pages            

Action packed from beginning to end.   The Porters are a powerful force whether singular or united.   Autumn is the youngest of the Porter siblings (David, Fallon, Raine and Autumn), but, her older brother and sisters have taught her well.    She is torn in this story (3rd in the series) between keeping the man she loves safe from her family (so much goes on I don’t want to spoil it for you!) and the guilt she feels at not being completely honest with the family.    Love is never easy and Autumn finds that out in more ways than one.    She is on a roller coaster ride from the get go in this book.     It will keep you wondering what will come next all the way to the end.    Good book.   Very streetwise.    Ms. Ervin paints verbal pictures and I think this book and the entire series would make great films and t.v.  as you have so much going on you never lose interest.    Good character development, strong family ties, not for the young though this is definetly adult material all the way.  Good story, I liked it.

168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

168 Hours:You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam           Hardback Book: 262 pages        

Excellent book on time management.    It breaks down that there are exactly 168 hours in a week so when you look at it from that perspective, we all really do have more time to do the things we want to than we may realize.   Laura Vanderkam recommends that everyone take a week and keep track of what you are doing during all the 168 hours available including sleeping time.     It can be an eye-opener on where our time is eaten up.    She cites many examples throughout the book showing various people who complained of not having enough time to live the lives they wanted but when they logged their time on the chart (you can print a copy from her website: www.my168Hours.com ), every person found they were spending a lot of time on non-essentials.  Laura worked with everyone who completed a chart to find how best to get the most out of their time and how best to channel the time spent on t.v.,  gaming, reading email etc. which can be waaaaay more time consuming than we realize.   Of course everyone doing the logs swore that those were not usual weeks for whatever reason and the author has found this to be true no matter who is doing the logging over the last few years of research.   She said people tend to think they work more hours than they actually do, too.   Which is not to say that many people aren’t putting in 10 and 12 hour days, but, she has found that for the most part, not all of those hours are strictly non-stop working.   Chatting at the water cooler does not constitute a meeting though it is not considered a break either.   (Brainstorming about Game of Thrones?)  Who can say?   One man’s de-stressing is another’s goofing off so it can be subjective.    But suffice it to say we all have 168 hours and how we choose to use that time is up to us.    Seeing it on paper can help one to adjust one’s schedule to make time for the important things, converations with a spouse, play time with the kids, exercise you want/need to get in, etc.   Vanderkam’s suggestions for everyone is to 1.) keep a log of your time for one week.    2.)  Make a list of 100 Dreams that answer the question:  What do I want to do for more of my time?   The dreams can be easily achieved or extravagant for those you will need to create actionable steps and count them in your 168 hours for the upcoming weeks and over a lifetime.   As she says a lifetime is just 168 hours repeated again, and again, and again and so on.   She says we must identify our core competencies – the things we do best that no one else can do nearly as well and then devote time to these things.   3.) Once you have analyzed your log and how yout time is spent start with a blank slate and re-do your hours to suit you.    Block out time for the things you have to do then for the things you want to do.   It will take time to allow yourself the privilege but do it till it becomes habit.  Add in core-competency time – let yourself shine at what you do best and what makes you happy then ignore, minimize or outsource everything else.   Her point is to fill bits of time with bits of joy.   Read to your kids and take time to play, spend time with your special someone have real conversations turn the t.v. off and talk, spend time with pets they want to be with us too,  spend time volunteering –giving back recharges us in all kinds of ways and figure in time for our passions – hobbies, acting, singing, learning new languages, traveling, going out with friends – when you see just how many hours there are in a week there really is time to call or write someone and make them feel special.   It makes you feel special too.    She promises it is not going to be easy but pursue the good life and check out her website for support.   A great perspective on how we honestly do have more time than we realize.   I really liked this book.  

The Wells Bequest

The Wells Bequest by Polly Shulman                 Audio Book:  6 hours, 43 minutes   Paperback Book:  288 pages            

The second book in the series about the New York Circulating Material Repository which houses amazing historical and magical items is a winner.    This time the adventure is about a new crew of pages working at the repository and their adventures lie with the H.G. Wells Time Machine.    I loved how the author brought in Nikola Tesla and Mark Twain.   Well played adventure with a diverse group of eager adventurers.   The button test is gone in this version, a new skill set is tested this time.   Good plot, good characters and wonderful curiosities.     H. G. Wells’ story about the Time Machine made me want to try the same things these Pages do.   It was fun to live vicariously through their adventures.   Well done.   Good book.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir by Bill Bryson             Audio Book: 7 hours, 38 mins     Hardback Book: 288 pages          Genre:  Biography

I loved this story as it reminded me of one of my favorite Christmas tales, A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd.   It talks about life in the 50s and he makes so many references to what was going on, what ads were being marketed for which brands,  how life was simpler and how everyone always dressed up to go downtown.    Though he grew up in and describes Des Moines, Iowa it could be anywhere in the Midwest during that time.   He talks of t.v. and the shows that were on Sky King, Zorro, the Lone Ranger and how much things cost during his childhood.   A guy could have a ball at the corner confectionary, or at the matinee for a quarter.   We’re talking popcorn and candy and a show at the matinee or just go gangbusters on candy at the confectionary.   Such a pleasant trip back through Bill’s life growing up in Iowa.   And yes, he speaks to that cornfield thing.    He and his friends were crreped out by the corn that back then grew 8 feet tall because corporate farms weren’t making sure all the stalks grew to exactly 6 ft. uniformly.    He said it was not the fun maze you hear about.    He and his friends were afraid to go play in the cornfields – you might never be seen again.   Hmmmmm, I wonder if Stephen King ever visited Iowa in his youth?    A fun trip down Bill Bryson’s Nostalgia Lane.    I truly enjoyed this book, he also tells about how he and Katz (from a Walk in the Woods – his partner walking the Appalachian Trail) met.     Life was like a Little Rascals short film and totally true.    Good book.  

A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson       Audio Book: 17 hours, 48 minutes       Hardback Book:  560 pages          

In the beginning…as is written in Genesis in the Bible, the Universe in a Nutshell by Stephen Hawking, the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin and now A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.    Bill takes the reader from the geological to the genealogical.    From the beginning of the planet to the dawn of mankind.    He brings up many good points and while a little like listening to Sheldon Cooper at times, he does add a bit of humor here and there along the way.    Very different from his other books, more serious and scholarly but interesting.   He brings the reader from the big bang to bipeds.   There is much of the teacher in Bill Bryson.    He does not carry that chip on his shoulder in this one.   Very down to earth and literally down to the basics of the anatomy of the universe.   Good job however more sedate than his usual writings.   That is not a bad thing, its just a thing.

A Circle of Wives

A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante              Audio Book: 9 hours, 42 minutes       Paperback Book:  328 pages                        

Excellent story!   I really liked this one.   It kept you guessing all the way through.     Great story development and back stories of the characters.   Well done Alice LaPlante!   It is a mystery so I don’t want to give too much of the story away but when a well thought of surgeon beloved by his patients and colleagues is found dead in a hotel room what first is thought to be a heartattack is found to be a murder case.    Enter the intriguing  plot line that the doctor turns out to have not one wife but 3!    Trust me, you will want to read this one.    It will keep you wanting to know the outcome all the way to the last page, it is a book you won’t be able to put down.    This would make an excellent film, because the side stories are as good as the original and could all make interesting stand alone stories themselves.   Good good book!  So good I had to say it twice.    Kudos to Alice LaPlante.   I will be following the works of this author for sure.

Eastern Schism

Image result for The Eastern Schism A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches During the XIth and XIIth Centuries Runciman, StevenThe Eastern Schism: A Study of the Papacy and the Eastern Churches during the XIth and XIIth Centuries by Steven Runciman, 170 pages

In the simplified standard account, the great schism between the sees of Rome and Constantinople - and therefore between the Catholic and Orthodox churches - began with the excommunication of the Ecumenical Patriarch by papal legates in 1054.  As Steven Runciman elaborates, however, this was only one dramatic moment in a long process of ecclesiastical, theological, cultural, linguistic, and political estrangement - the roots of the schism predate Christianity and the sometimes heroic efforts to reverse it continue to this day.

Runciman struggles for objectivity and largely succeeds, but admits his own sympathies lie with the Byzantines - a slant which, as he argues, is more than compensated for by the fact that most Western studies of the schism tilt in the other direction.  The result is a balanced and nuanced presentation of the history of the most momentous split in the history of Christianity, necessary to understand the persistent divisions between what St John Paul II famously described as the "two lungs" of the Church.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Angel Scroll: The Fallen Ones


The Angel Scroll: The Fallen Ones by Kevin O. Hunking      248 pages



I knew I was in trouble with the book when I flipped through it after its arrival. There is an extra space between each paragraph; a tell-tale sign of a self-published book.  But I had agreed to read it and write this review, so I did.



Besides the extra spacing, there are a lot of other issues throughout this book. Missing words. Misspellings. Changes in point of view. Incorrect tenses. But I have the 50-Page Rule: I give every book I pick up at least 50 pages to make me keep reading. And somehow, even with all the technical issues, I kept reading until the bitter end. It’s an intriguing story.



The story opens in Jordan in 1956. A young goatherd little falls into a hidden cave where he discovers coins and a larger-than-life sized angel painted/drawn one of the cave’s walls.  Then the story jumps to more current times. 



From here there are two-and-a half-story lines. First is the Wayfarer, who seems to be a modern-day Jesus. It’s about his travels, his efforts to share God with his followers, and his ability to heal with a mere touch. 



Second, is the story of Lucas Koch. Lucas is an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls and had been summoned to Jordan to translate new scrolls that have been found---but in total secrecy. Lucas’ part of the story jumps around a lot and it rather hard to follow. At one point the reader learns that Lucas has been working in secret and has been in Jordan for four years. There are a lot of whole in the timeframe to this story.



The half story line is the Fallen Angels. They exist on earth with red eyes, although I’m not really sure why they are in the story.



Like I wrote earlier, the plot is intriguing. However the story didn’t live up to the plot. When I finished the book, I didn’t feel as if I understood more about the scrolls. Therefore, The Angel Scroll: The Fallen Ones receives 1 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.