August 2015 Bookshelf

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
304 pages

If you haven't yet become a fan of Humans of New York (HONY) then do not delay! Brandon Stanton takes pictures of New York City people and shares their quick life comment along with the picture daily. It's fascinating, thought provoking, brilliant. Last summer he stepped outside of the USA and attempted to "span the world" to capture it and its people. This summer he is in Pakistan and one other country.
What I love about HONY is the people. And because I've been to NYC a bunch of times I love seeing people of that city. It makes me giggle, feel inspired and awed, and it serves as a reminder of how we are all just doing our best. The snippets of life shared are often moving in one way or another.  People's stories are powerful.  And because stories are so compelling Stanton is releasing another HONY book in October that has the pictures but focuses in on the stories. Fortunately for me, but not for my husband, Amazon has it available on pre-order and all I had to do was click on "pre-order with 1-click" and the book will magically arrive on my doorstep October 13. I can't wait, I'm not sure I can ever get too much HONY.
Here's a sampling of people featured, these were a few of my favorites.
Head full of dreams.
Look closely at her beads - they speak of dreams and characteristics and hope.

Top left: Gac Filipaj, Columbia Graduate at age 52 while employed as a Columbia janitor!
Top right: Distribution of Wealth
Bottom left: Damn Liberal Arts Degree
Bottom right: It would be hard to have a bad day holding the hands of these two.

Kid President's Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak, Brad Montague
240 pages

There are not adequate words to express how much I love Kid President. Robby Novak and his brother-in-law Brad are two of the coolest people on this planet. Actually the whole Novak/Montague family is pretty amazing. If you don't know the story of Kid President here's the very short version. A few years ago, in July 2012, Brad and Robby decided to make a video for their family and friends. It was this one:

Little did they realize or even anticipate that it would go viral and *overnight* Kid President was encouraging people to dance and make life awesome. And it has just grown from there. Oh and not only is Robby *only* 11 but he also has the brittle bone disease, he's had broken bones over 70 times in his 11 years of life so far!  But nobody would ever know, he's more focused on dancing and making the world awesome.  This kid is legit.
So the book. It was incredibly inspirational/motivational, super engaging, funny, super cool people doing super cool things in this world are featured, ways to be awesome are included. It is one of the best books. If you need a good pick me up or kick in the behind then read just one or two pages of this book and your whole attitude will transform.  When watching/listening/reading Kid President it is impossible not to feel joyful, inspired, and moved.  Watching or reading Kid President is good for what ails you.  Check out his other videos here. This book is worth it, I'll be reading it over and over - reminders of awesomeness are always welcome!

Holocaust Survivor Cookbook by Joanne Caras
350 pages

Taking a page from one of my besties favorite genres of books to read, I am reading both volumes of the Holocaust Survivor Cookbooks edited by the Caras Family.
Does a cookbook count as a book? You bet it does!  I've read a few other cookbooks in my days but none as meaningful as this one (and its sequel). This one records the stories of those who managed to live through the Holocaust of WWII. It is yet another record of the tragedy and triumph of the Jewish people. Passed down recipes accompany the stories as yet another way to never forget.
The stories are all so similar and yet all so very different. From those who survived the war to those who escaped it and fought it from other locations. Not one Jewish family in this world was untouched by the attempts of a Jewish genocide.  And then the stories that include those who are called "righteous gentiles." Those brave people who risked their own lives for Jewish families. People who were considered clean by the Third Reich but had human kindness and saved lives. All of the stories prove one thing that I believe God always does with his chosen people, he always preserves a remnant. Always.
When I was in elementary school I spotted an older lady one day at the grocery store in our small mountain town. She had such a odd, and ugly, tattoo on her arm and I wondered what she would have chosen that for - she didn't look like someone who would get a tattoo anyway. It was a series of numbers. I walked away puzzling over it and asked my Mom. She told me that the lady didn't choose that tattoo, it was forced on her. She survived a concentration camp during WWII. I was intrigued, I wanted to ask questions. I went looking for the lady but couldn't find her in the store.  It was a small store, I'm under the impression that perhaps God cloaked her from me and my potentially over-zealous questions. *wink* But since that moment, setting my eyes on someone who lived in and through the horrors of the Holocaust I have had a deep interest in WWII and what led to it and how perhaps we can ensure it doesn't happen again.
A few stories that popped out at me because of Hollywood or God's sovereignty were that of Irving Zeidman, Rena and Rozia Ferber, and a Nazi Officer in the last days of the war.
In the last days of the war, when it was clear that Germany had lost, the Nazis were in a rush to exterminate as many people as possible before they got found out. At one of the camps 5,000 people were loaded on to a cattle train and the destination was a mountain location where they were to be shot and buried in mass graves. The Nazi officer, for reasons unknown to anyone, couldn't do it. Perhaps he had seen enough? experienced enough? Perhaps he thought it would free him from any consequences of the past 5 years. Regardless of his reason 5,000 people were spared because instead of taking them up the mountain in the train, he drove the train up and down the mountain as many times as he could until the fuel ran out and the Americans showed up to liberate the camp.
Irving Zeidman was standing at the edge of a mass grave next to his Jewish people. The shots rang out and the dead buried themselves by falling backward into the mass graves already dug and waiting. But the bullet that hit Irving hit him in the leg. Still he fell backward into the grave and played dead, surrounded by people he knew who were truly dead.  He laid there as if dead until nighttime and then in the cover of dark he crawled out of the grave and escaped under the fence. Mass graves were generally near fences and not guarded, because usually the dead don't rise back up. So Irving escaped, found his wife, and they fled to Argentina.
Most, if not all, of us have heard of Schindler's List and/or seen the movie. Rena Ferber and her Mother, Rozia, escaped death thanks to Schindler's List. They were two of the names on his list and their lives were spared.  After the war ended it was just the two of them as Rena's Father was killed very early in the war, in 1942.
These are just three stories in this first volume that are meant to keep history alive. They are inspiring because they highlight the strength and determination of the human spirit, the gift of human kindness, and the power of God's presence.
As a bonus there are some recipes in there I am going to try and incorporate into the holidays we celebrate and for Passover!

Miracles & Meals Volume 2 of the Holocaust Survivor Cookbook (The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook) by Joanne Caras
400 pages

Volume 2 continues with powerful stories of rescue, redemption, forgiveness, and new life as a result of the evil of Hitler's reign leading up to and during WWII.  As with volume 1 recipes are shared with each survivor's story.  Between the two volumes I now have a plethora of matzo ball, kugel, stuffed cabbage, challah, apple cake, and gelfilte fish recipes to last me the rest of my days!  Those are the most popular dishes among European Jews, there were many other recipes to choose from as well.
The strength and endurance of the human spirit is vividly seen in the stories of the survivors. It is amazing to read horror stories and yet see a flicker of hope remain alive in the people being persecuted.  All they needed was a flicker to keep hope alive and once liberation happened that flicker was fanned into a flame and they bravely carried forward in their lives and made life worth living.  Incredible fortitude of spirit. One man, in sharing his story, said something that is perhaps the most important thing to remember. Eugen Schoenfeld said, "It is not enough to be human, above all we must also learn to become humane." (pg 366) To keep the memory of the evil that happened at the forefront of history is to continually remind humanity to strive for humane practices toward all people groups, cultures, religions, etc.

Sticking Points: How to Get 4 Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart by Haydn Shaw
Kindle Edition 285 pages

Yes, THIS. What a great, and important, read. I really want to gift the executive team with copies and ask them to read and discuss - with a cross section of generations of course.
A friend of mine brought this book to my attention some time back. She had heard a summary talk on it and found just the 45 minutes she heard fascinating. And it IS fascinating.
Anything that starts with the fact that we have, for the first time in history, 4 generations working together in the workplace makes for fascinating discussion. To say that it has caused misunderstandings, tensions, resentments, and disrespect is an understatement. Shaw seeks to break down the barriers between generations and bring them to the common ground of 12 workplace needs so they can start from the common need instead of the complaints. The biggest key to success is organizations and their employees being willing to differentiate between generational preferences and business necessities. Also to learn to listen to one another and hear what each generation is communicating. And nothing that any one of the generations is communicating is wrong, we just need some understanding of one another.
To foster understanding Shaw outlines the major defining moments for each generation and how those feed things like work ethic, loyalty, dress code, policy making, etc. Shaw believes that companies can make all four generations happy with one singular decision but it takes understanding and flexibility to get there. It doesn't matter what kind of work is being done - McDonald's to Factories to Office Settings - intergenerational differences exist and they can either hinder the work or improve the work depending on how they are handled.  No matter where you work and what kind of position you hold this book is valuable, even if nobody in your workplace ever reads it but you. Just one person with understanding can and does make a difference and a domino effect can happen.
"We have to understand that we are natives to only one generation and immigrants to the other three. We might as well not be jerks about it. It's okay to think about a different generation in the same way we might think about a different country - Nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Of course we will feel more comfortable with our own generation's customs, music, approaches, and values. Our own generation will always feel like home. But that doesn't mean we can't visit other cultures and learn to appreciate them and to speak their language." (Chapter 2)

Crisp: Managing Upward: Strategies for Succeeding with Your Boss (A Fifty-Minute Series Book)
by Susan Schubert, Patti Hathaway
117 pages

1) I have a great boss. I mean I really do. 2) My boss is overwhelmed and I know I can help him more than I am currently. 3) I'm slowly convincing him that I can help him with more than the surface stuff.
A bestie recommended this quick book to me after several discussions we had about my job, my role, my boss. In fact, she not only recommended it to me but she hunted it down - literally, it's out of print - and had it sent to me.  She's the best. But back to the book.
A book subtitled "managing your boss" sounds a bit like I'm going for a power-grab but it's not that at all.  It's actually an evaluation of how my boss and I both work individually and together and how I can initiate improvements that will be of benefit to both of us.  He's too overwhelmed to initiate changes and improvements so I take it seriously to do so and then once an idea is introduced we can brainstorm it together, which we do quite often.  My boss has been in a state of job transition for the past two years and it feels like he might be finally getting his footing which means more needs to change in my job, these are both good things but require communication and understanding to happen. I'm an executive assistant and from day one of my job the goal has been to off-load the tedious parts of his job duties to me and to kindly and firmly intervene on his behalf to help him get a better handle on his time.  That's a slower process than I thought it might be but things are beginning to change and this book helped me think through some further ideas for me to brainstorm and perhaps implement with him.  I don't want to manage him to control him, I want to manage him to help him thrive in his job.  That's the heart and soul of a good executive assistant.
What this book did confirm for me is my thoughts about my boss - he IS awesome - and we do have a really great working relationship. Our communication is pretty on point, we don't struggle with that at all but I know, from reading the book, that I could probably tighten up the miscellaneous/random communications a bit more. An area that I always have to work at and improve in is that of decision making. I'm entirely too timid in that area and I'm guessing that two years into the job my boss might be wishing I took more ownership for some decisions on his behalf.  It's a discussion I need to have with him so I know what's appropriate to go forward on without his input or direct approval, I know there are some things.
This was a great quick read for me as I recognize that I could and should be doing more than what my boss even expects of me so that he is freed up to do what he loves most about his job and isn't bogged down about the parts of his job that he doesn't like.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown
Kindle Edition 288 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau for this free advanced reader's copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

If you haven't read, listened to, or heard of Brené Brown yet then run - do not walk but run - and get familiar with her work.  She is brilliant. She is authentic, down to earth, understanding, oh and brilliant. You hear she's a researcher and you think, for a nano second, that she must be dry and hard to engage with. Nothing could be further from the truth.  I am a huge fan of Brown, huge.  She's written 4 books. Read them, read them all. I'm at 50% so I have some reading to do still.
Rising Strong is Brown's newest, releasing on August 25.  It is, in one understatement of a word, fantastic. Holy smokes. Brené just keeps building upon her incredible initial research about shame and adding the layers that exist in bite sized pieces we can handle.
In Rising Strong Brown talks about that moment that you've landed face down in the arena and you have a choice. Do you rise up, brush yourself off, and re-engage in the fight?  Or do you lay there, play dead, and wait until the crowd disperses so you can get up without being seen? What does rising strong look like, more importantly what does it feel like?  Is there a process or is it willy-nilly? What keeps us down or attempts to keep us down? What qualities, characteristics, and determinations do those who rise up and strong possess and how did they get to that place?  Is rising strong a one time event or will it be a necessity the whole of our lives? From the onset of her theories and research Brown has advocated for and proven the value of vulnerability.  If we cannot or are not willing to be vulnerable then we cannot and will not engage in an authentic life. "While vulnerability is the birthplace of many of the fulfilling experiences we long for - love, belonging, joy, creativity, and trust, to name a few - the process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it's the process that teaches us the most about who we are." (Introduction)
Brown invites others to speak into the theories, to share their experiences - "failures" and successes, to show others the path.  In her introduction she calls those who, "....are willing to demonstrate what it looks like to risk and endure failure, disappointment, and regret - people willing to feel their own hurt instead of working it out on other people, people willing to own their stories, live their values, and keep showing up" badasses. And you know what?  It's true. People who own their stuff are the real badasses of this world and so rising strong is an encouragement to all of us to work on our badassery skills.  We, too, can be badass.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Kindle Edition 448 pages

This is my first Anthony Doerr book but it isn't my last. Written in lyrical and beautiful prose, Doerr gives the reader a story set in WWII from the POV of a German boy and a French girl whose paths eventually collide.
Marie, from age 7, is blind but her father makes sure the world comes alive for her and that she can get around in it. He's a locksmith at the Museum in Paris but he really is so much more. He's a puzzle maker, a carpenter, his mind is sharp and he is careful with his actions. Werner lives in a Children's Home, an orphan due to the mine collapsing on his Father. Along with his sister he tries to figure out life with no parents. Stumbling across a broken radio transistor one day opens up a whole new world to Werner and unlocks the floodgates of his mind.
As WWII begins and escalates the reader follows the stories of Marie and Werner and watches how circumstances introduce them to one another. Marie and her Father are forced to flee Paris and end up in a seaside French town where her Great-Uncle lives as a recluse.  Her Father's employer, the Museum in Paris, summons him back to Paris for a brief trip and leaves Marie in the hands of her Great-Uncle.  Meanwhile, Werner has been noticed for his engineering abilities and is accepted into one of the Nazi State Schools for youth. While there his concerns about the Fuhrer and Germany are confirmed and he wants out. But what he wants doesn't matter and eventually he is sent to pick up on enemy signals through radio transmissions for the good of the Fatherland. Things are going poorly for Germany by the time Werner and his team reach a seaside French town suspected of transmitting information to the Allies. It is here, in this seaside town, that Werner and Marie's worlds collide for a brief period of time.
What I like about the POV's in this tale is that they come from two people, one a German and one a Gentile Parisian, in WWII. Doerr gives the reader a side that rarely is thought about - the side of those who were forced to participate in a war they didn't agree with and with people they didn't agree with. I think the world mistakenly assumes of every German that they were behind Hitler and all that atrocities that happened and that simply was not the case.  They were forced to verbally support a man and a war that they could not agree with.  Werner's observations of what Germany's regime was actually accomplishing were most likely actual opinions of many of the German people. Doerr stayed away from the concentration camps and all of the really horrible acts and made it very character driven while crafting a really interesting story.  If you have read/seen The Monuments Men then you will be familiar with Marie's part of the story as her Father was commissioned to try and protect a valuable from the looting of the Nazi's. Werner's story is a reminder of the potential that Hitler killed in WWII. Not just the potential of millions of Jews but the potential within the residents of his own country. A really beautifully written story.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy
Kindle Edition 384 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Spiegel & Grau for this free reader's copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

The past couple of years have seen a resurgence in media coverage of black murders. From Florida to Missouri to New York to Baltimore and that's just one small part of the nation. Ghettoside takes a look at the infamous South Central L.A. Known for its numerous riots, killing sprees, and black-on-black homicide it remains a pocket of despair even today. Leovy takes a look at the history of South Central L.A. as she leads up to a case that proved things didn't have to stay the same.
When a L.A. Detective's son is gunned down in his neighborhood the case becomes more personal for the entire police force of L.A. than it had in quite some time. Tagged to take the case when it stalls is Detective John Skaggs who for years had fought to stay IN the South L.A. part of the city and not be promoted up and out of it. He knew the residents needed good detectives, people who actually cared about the lives being ended and wanted to do something about it." He lives what others are finally begin to notice, "the system's failure to catch killers effectively made [makes] black lives cheap." So John Skaggs whole working life is devoted to one end: making black lives expensive. Expensive, and worth answering for, with all the force and persistence the state could muster."
In this account that uses the Tennelle murder as it's focal point Leovy takes the opportunity to educate the reader on the epidemic of black-on-black murder in America, honing in on South Central L.A. as the example.  "When the criminal justice system fails to respond vigorously to violent injury and death, homicide becomes endemic." Leovy takes the reader back to hundreds of years ago when the justice system was created, she exposes the flaws and the premise of justice while showing the history of black existence within it, even comparing it to other ethnic groups such as Hispanics. Leovy does her best to give evidence to the complex problem facing black people in America today. I felt like she succeeded. Through careful writing and investigation, using reliable and varied sources, Leovy reveals that the supposition of those removed from the daily life of these enclaves of violence have no idea what life is like for the residents and what the residents are actually life. All most are content to know or suppose is fed to them by media sources that also don't care.
Detective John Skaggs, using his to-the-point approach in investigations did what not many believed could be done in a South Central murder - he brought the suspects in and gave what measure of justice he could to the Tennelle family.  He did it so thoroughly that others began to believe that perhaps more of the so called unsolvable murders could in fact be solved.  The story of Skaggs restores a small bit of the faith I have personally lost in the system we call "justice" here in America, but not much. If there were more Skaggs working for authentic justice then I wouldn't feel so cynical overall. Unfortunately cloning is out of the question but replication isn't. To be in the enforcement of law and justice one should be convinced that each life, no matter color of skin or gender, is expensive and worth answering for.


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