Mountain Climber, Peace Maker, Story Teller

I just love people who solve problems creatively.

Greg Mortenson is one of these people.

I love reading about ideas that creatively solve problems.

Three Cups of Tea, is about how Greg Mortenson is creatively solving some BIG problems.

I love this quote about him, “Mortenson believes that education and literacy for girls globally is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality and population explosion, as well as improve health, hygiene, and sanitation standards globally.” (from wikipedia)

Those problems are big, right? I’d say, though, that Greg’s efforts also work towards the often scoffed at ideal of world peace. But any effort that brings discussion, understanding and conversation over violence is a winner in my book. Ergo, this book=winner. 🙂

Read it: Be challenged. Be inspired.

(And for those of you who are less than excited about reading biographical books: this one has mystery, intrigue, suspense, and drama- all in a far away land!)

Malcolm Gladwell: Author of The Tipping Point

It’s true. I’m a little obsessed with Malcolm Gladwell. I get that way about anyone who I think is doing something really well. And let me tell you, Malcolm Gladwell is REALLY good at what he does.

I read The Tipping Point last year and I could not shut up about it. Ask anyone who I talked to in the month or 3 after I read it. I was enamored with the way Malcolm could tell you something really applicable and interesting- even scientific- using a series of stories. He is a writer and a social scientist, and I don’t know which he excels in more.

Gladwell was born in England, raised in Canada, and is part Jamaican. He has written for many distinguished publications such as The American Spectator, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker (his current employer). Along the way he also wrote for Insight on the News which, from my brief review on Wikipedia, was an interesting and controversial publication, and is owned by some even more interesting people. I’m sure it was not nearly as colorful a place as Wikipedia makes it out to be. 🙂

The Tipping Point is the first of four books that Gladwell has composed. The second being Blink which I’m currently consuming. It’s about the part of our brain that thinks without us thinking about it. Why you should trust your instincts; why you shouldn’t trust them; and how to know the difference. It’s great, and I can’t wait to finish! The 3rd, Outliers: The Story of Success is just as fascinating as the rest. (I’d call it a must-read!) He explains why Mozart really shouldn’t be considered a child-prodigy, why those steel magnates all came to be so rich, and why Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are really very similar. He also spills the beans on the recipe for success. His most recent book, What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures is a collection of his favorite articles from The New Yorker. No, I haven’t read it. Yes, I will.

I conclude with, “But you don’t have to take my word for it.” Go and see for yourself! Another group of awesome people who are doing something well are the TED people. They said we should listen to Gladwell because, “his work uncovers truths hidden in strange data.” AND you can watch Malcolm do his thing (ie: uncover truth hidden in strange data) in a video of the talk he gave at a TED conference. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve watched this video at least 3 times. You know you want to know more about the history of Spaghetti Sauce in the US. 🙂

So read up and meet up! St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), 7pm at the Hamilton Town Center’s Borders.

This Month’s Author: The Incredibly Smart Chaim Potok

Chaim Potok is much, much smarter than me.

What else can you say about a man who started seriously writing at age 16, published and edited his college yearbook and graduated summa cum laude in English literature? This same man went on to be ordained as a rabbi, traveled with the U.S. army as a chaplain in South Korea, served on faculty at the University of Judaism, and worked on translating the Hebrew Bible into English. And those are just a few of his accomplishments!

Potok wrote a number of novels, plays and academic works. The Chosen is actually his first novel and was published in 1967. It was nominated for the National Book Award, which is one of the most prestigious awards in American literature. It was made into a film released in 1981, which won the top award at the World Film Festival in Montreal, and Chaim made a cameo appearance as a professor in the film.

Through Potok’s work, we get a glimpse of what life was and in some ways is still like for Orthodox Jews. But his work also speaks about relationships and friendships, which are things we all can relate to.

I think that is why we can learn so much from reading, especially quality, worthwhile books. Hopefully as we read books by those who are smarter than us, we can learn more from them and maybe discover things about ourselves that we might not have known before. And hopefully Chaim Potok’s The Chosen will help us do just that!

So even though Chaim Potok is much, much smarter than me, I’m OK with that.

I hope you are enjoying The Chosen and can come to Border’s on February 17 at 7 p.m. to discuss it with us. It’s been a cold, dreary, snowy February so far, so some hot coffee or tea, a night out, and great book are sure to help beat the winter blues!

From Stunts to Bestsellers: About A.J. Jacobs

The author of this month’s book, The Year of Living Biblically, isn’t afraid to undertake a crazy experiment or project for the sake of a story, and after reading the titles of some of his other works, it’s no wonder that some call this genre of writing “stunt journalism” or “stunt books.” In addition to his quest to follow the Bible as literally as possible for an entire year, Jacobs read all 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica over the course of a year (That project is chronicled in The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World). He also became a “human guinea pig,” undertaking a series of lifestyle experiments on a quest to improve every area of his life, which he writes about in My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself. His current project is attempting to “perfect his physical condition” for his next book, called The Healthiest Human Being in the World.”

Jacobs was born and currently lives in New York with his wife and three sons (The birth of his twin boys occurred during his year of living Biblically). He is the editor at large for Esquire magazine and three of his books are New York Times bestsellers. He has also written for numerous magazines and is a periodic commentator on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. You can read Jacobs’ full bio (written by him, but in the third person) on his website.

And if you feel bad for his wife, who has to live with him during all of his crazy stunts (I know I do!), it sounds like she got the opportunity for some revenge as he describes the last chapter of My Life as an Experiment. Here’s the quote from his website:

Whipped (a.k.a. the perfect spouse):
At the suggestion of readers who point out that my wife is a saint, I vowed to spend a month agreeing to her every command. Sure, it was a month of Kate Hudson movies and foot massages —but also of stereotype-shattering insights into the politics of the modern American marriage. Plus, at one point, I had wear a male chastity belt. (It comes in three varieties—clear plastic, wood-paneled and camouflage!) And Julie gets to write the final section.

Go Julie! And if this book is inspiring you to take your own crack at some stunt journalism, I encourage you to learn form A.J. Jacobs and put yourself in the shoes of everyone around you who has to put up with your antics. You never know when they might get their chance for some payback!

There is still time to read The Year of Living Biblically before our next meeting on January 20 at 7 p.m. at the Paradise Bakery and CafĂ© at Hamilton Town Center. Hope to see you there!

Christoph von Schmid

image I think I would have loved to have been a kid and had this man read me a story.  In fact, he probably didn’t even read his students stories . . . he made them up in real time. 

To be that creative. . .

Christoph von Schmid was a children’s author.  His stories were written for “children, among whom the author daily moved, and were not at first meant for publication.  Usually a story or a chapter was read to the children after school hours as a reward, on condition that they should write it down at home. He thus became familiar with the range of thought and the speech of children, and was careful to speak their language rather than that of books. He was able to observe with his own eyes what it was that impressed the minds and hearts of children both of tender and of riper years.” (From the Lamplighter website)

His writings have been translated into 24 different languages.  How many languages have your words been translated into?  Me?  I’m not sure.  At least one other than English – my blog shows up on my Google Alert in Japanese quite frequently.  Hmmm . . .

The children’s literary champion died of cholera.  He was 87 years old.

About the Author: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley (1797-1851)

To give a full account of Marry Shelley’s life would take a while. I had always only known her as “the author of Frankenstein,” and that was about it. While she is best known for this work, Mary Shelley was also a prolific writer, publishing several novels, letters, short stories, plays, and travel books, and she edited and published the works of her husband, Romantic philosopher and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Mary Shelley’s biography page on Wikipedia reads like a soap opera. Here are a few interesting highlights:

  • Mary’s father, William Godwin, was a liberal political philosopher, and her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, was a philosopher and feminist. Mary Shelley was considered a political radical throughout her life.
  • Mary met Percy Shelley when he became one of her father’s political followers, and she began a relationship with him while he was still married. She had a child with him, who was born prematurely and later died. Mary and Percy didn’t marry until after Percy’s wife committed suicide and they were told that a marriage would help their chances of getting custody of Percy’s children by his wife. They got married, but were still denied custody.
  • In 1816, after spending the summer with Percy,  Lord Byron and several others, Mary got the idea for Frankenstein. It started as a short story and then was expanded and published in 1818.
  • Both Mary’s father and Percy Shelley had serious money problems and were constantly trying to avoid creditors and stay out of debtor’s prison.
  • Mary had four children, but only the fourth survived.
  • Percy and Mary had an “open marriage,” so Percy often pursued other women and is believed to have fathered several other children outside their marriage. 
  • In 1822, Percy Shelley died when his sailing boat sank in a storm off the coast of Italy.
  • In her later years, Mary devoted herself to her surviving son, to preserving her husband’s work and to writing. She died at the age of 53 from what is believed to be a brain tumor.
And all of that just scratches the surface!

Since she was so often surrounded by philosophers, poets and political thinkers, it’s no wonder that Shelley incorporated some strong philosophical and psychological themes into Frankenstein.

Do any of these events in Mary Shelley’s life surprise you? How do you think some of the events in her life may have influenced the writing of Frankenstein?

Jane Austen

I’m supposed to be telling you all a little more information about our author of this month’s book, Mansfield Park. I want to tell you more about Jane and how she could have drawn from her own life’s inspiration to write this story, but that would be telling a bit too much for those of you who haven’t read the whole thing.

If you want to know more, you can go here:

Mansfield park was written after a 10 year break in her writing, and was a huge success when it was published. I hope you’re reading it and enjoying it as much as the populace of England in the 1814s.

Alan Paton

Alan Paton
January 11 1903 – April 12 1988

-born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal Province -I had to look this place up my South African geography is a bit rusty. Now it’s callled KwaZulu-Natal.

-he went to Maritzburg College and the University of Natal, then he was a high school teacher.

-He later was a principal of the Diepkloof Reformatory where he introduced a new way of reform with an open dormitory policy, work permit policy, and home visitation policy.

-after WWII he spent some time touring other reformatories across the world. This is when he started writing Cry, The Beloved Country.

-he was a anti-apartheid activist.

-he wrote several other works with the continued theme of the race and politics of South Africa

-His personal motto was, “South Africa must be saved one person at a time.”

Jack Schaefer


He just looks kind of cute.  A story teller.  A man ready to take you out on a tour of his ranch.  And he didn’t give a hoot if you had never been on a horse before . . . he’d gently teach you without you knowing it.


Except he didn’t own a ranch.  Maybe a cactus towards the end of his life.  Heck, I don’t know if he had ever ridden a horse – he moved west late in life.

Not that you have to live in Colorado to ride a horse or anything. 

It actually kind of looks like he and his photographer have some sort of joke going on, or there is something laughable happening in the background that we aren’t privy to.

Maybe his horse just pooped on the photographers foot. 

That would be kind of funny.

From what I can tell, he wrote 26 novels, with Shane being his first and arguably his best. 

Want to know what he wanted to write for his master’s thesis at Columbia University?  The development of motion picture.  It got denied.  Jack got angry.  He left and went to work at United Press.

Born in 1907 in Ohio to an attorney dad and a mom who was probably a mom, he wrote western novels without ever traveling west until 14 years AFTER his writing career took off.  He had four biological children that he helped create and three step-children.  He and his second wife settled in SantĂ© Fe, New Mexico.

After his last western novel, Mavericks, he turned to nature and became a conversationalist. 

And then he died of a heart failure in 1991.

P.S. If you haven’t read the book . . . it really is good.  But wouldn’t you agree there is something underneath  the relationship between Shane and Mariane?

So Much More Than Just "Pooh"

I have to admit that until writing this blog post, I didn’t know much about A. A. Milne, other than he wrote Winnie the Pooh. At that, I never read it or had much attachment to the characters when I was younger (although I do have a rather cute picture of me and Tigger from a visit to Disney World right after high school.) However, after reading the introduction to The Sunny Side and getting a glimpse of Milne’s dry humor, I got excited to find out a little bit more about our author for this month’s book.

So off to Wikipedia I went, where I found out some very interesting facts about A.A. Milne. Here are a few that might be helpful for our discussion and a few that I thought were just plain interesting:

  • Alan Alexander (A .A.) Milne was born in Kilburn, Lindon on January 18, 1882.
  • One of his teachers was H.G. Wells.
  • Milne was a contributor and later an assistant editor of the leading British humor magazine, “Punch.” The Sunny Side is a collection of writings published in “Punch.”
  • In his lifetime Milne wrote more than 25 plays.
  • Milne fought in the British Army in World War I.
  • Milne’s only son Christopher Robin Milne was his inspiration for his Winnie the Pooh books, his most famous works.
  • During World War II, he was a major critic of P. G. Wodehouse (author of The Code of the Woosters, our book club book from December 2009). Wodehouse was captured by the Nazis at his country home in France and interned for a year. Following his release, he made radio broadcasts that were sent from Berlin about his year-long imprisonment. Although his broadcasts poked fun at the Germans and Wodehouse was actually more clueless than traitorous, Milne “accused Wodehouse of committing an act of near treason by cooperating with his country’s enemy.” Wodehouse later got back at Milne through a parody of the Christopher Robin poems.
  • Milne had always wanted to write whatever he wanted, but after the success of the Pooh books, he had a hard time finding an audience for his writings for adults.
  • After a stroke and brain surgery in 1952, Milne retired to his country home where he was an invalid until his death on January 31, 1956.

There’s so much more to Milne than that “silly old bear” that ended up defining his career. I’m glad we’re branching out to discuss one of the lesser-known works from this prolific author. I think A. A. Milne would appreciate it!

See you on June 21 for our discussion on The Sunny Side!