Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

The Hatred of PoetryThe Hatred of Poetry by Ben Lerner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.”
Poetry – Marianne Moore

Usually, when reading a book, I have a strong sense of its theme.

However, with Lerner’s book, I had to take time to process and analyze it before I realized what his point is: poetry, by its very nature, is both subjective and personal to the reader and whether we like or dislike a poem (and/or a poet) is based on our unique interaction with it (and/or the poet).

Like Lerner, I am also a poet. I had one poem that somebody thought was good enough to be published while I was working on my undergraduate degree. The rest of my poetry is private. It resides on my computer or in boxes in storage, to be kept or thrown away by whoever disposes of my stuff when I die.

I don’t expect anyone to keep my poems. They are, after all, simply the thoughts of my imperfect mind, expressing my imperfect heart, and revealing my imperfect soul.

And that is Lerner’s point in this book.

Lerner – and he is also a poet – and I don’t agree on our taste in poets, except for Emily Dickinson.

Lerner lauds, for example, Keats’ four odes as the closest thing to perfection in poetry, while I’m kind of ho-hum about Keats (and the odes), but give me Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and I’m all in.

Lerner goes on and on about how wonderful Walt Whitman is as a prose poet (I strongly dislike Whitman intensely for many reasons).

But then Lerner brushes by T. S. Eliot (one of my favorite poets) with a mere sentence or two, which, to me, seems to say this is one of the poets (and poetry) that Lerner doesn’t like.

And – to be fair, this is a very short book, so Lerner couldn’t deal with every poet out there – there’s no mention of Robert Frost (another of my favorites), although he pays homage to Ezra Pound.

There’s a lot of great poetry out there.

My tastes also run from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost to the World War I war poets to Edward Arlington Robinson’s Richard Cory – no matter how many times I read this, the end still hits me in my gut – and Gwendolyn Brooks’ We Real Cool, as well as some of the poetry written by Edgar Allen Poe, Phillip Larkin, Donald Justice, and Langston Hughes (although I love Shakespeare’s history and drama plays, I’m not a big fan of his poetry – or even any of the poetry of his contemporaries within a hundred years on either side of him), to name a few.

But whether we believe the poetry (and the poet) is great or not depends on us (the internal us – something deep inside us hooks us to the poetry we love) and there will never be two people on the planet who will be hooked up to all the same poetry, for all the same reasons, in exactly the same way.

And that, I think, Lerner and I can agree on, is why poetry matters and why poetry is important.

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You Are Not a GadgetYou Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“If we chose to pry culture away from capitalism while the rest of life is still capitalistic, culture will become a slum. In fact, online culture increasingly resembles a slum in disturbing ways. Slums have more advertising than wealthy neighborhoods, for instance. People are meaner in slums; mob rule and vigilantism are commonplace. If there is a trace of “slumming” in the way that many privileged young people embrace current online culture, it is perhaps an echo of 1960s counterculture.” (more…)

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on PerformanceBetter: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance by Atul Gawande
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After reading
Being Mortal
by Atul Gawande, I added all his books to my to-read list.

Gawande is not only a conscientious physician, but he is also a thoughtful leader (who admits his own shortcomings and failures) and an excellent writer, and that combination is always appealing to me. (more…)

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to SuccessThe Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success by Megan McArdle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Overall, this was a pretty good book. McArdle makes a good case for all the reasons why learning to fail well makes us more successful in the long run (a big reason is all those lessons we should – and if we don’t, then we’ve failed at failing – learn from falling flat on our faces). (more…)

My Reading LifeMy Reading Life by Pat Conroy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear.” – in the chapter “Why I Write” in My Reading Life (more…)

Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black PowerRadio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power by Timothy B. Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The more I read about North Carolina’s extremely racist history, the more shocked I am (I grew up in North Carolina), the more appalled I am, and the more the burn of injustice and just plain moral wrong wells up inside me.

On the other hand, my appreciation for my parents as quintessential leaders grows more profound and deep (my dad was a North Carolina native, who was born and raised in Burlington, while my mom grew up in Greenville, SC) because they taught me, and modeled without exception as an example for me, to treat everyone with dignity, honor, and respect, no matter who they were, what their skin tone was, where they lived, how much or how little they had, and what they did to earn a living.

The story of Robert Williams, who was maligned by just about everyone on all sides, including the NAACP, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Black Panther party, and, until this book by Timothy Tyson, misrepresented and mischaracterized as something he was not (he was a smart man, a measured man, and actually avoided the polarized positions that seemed to be the norm, but he made mistakes and they, sadly, were what became his codified legacy) spotlights the depth of racism in North Carolina as it existed (and, I suspect, still does and probably has been given the green light to come out of hiding with the resurgence of extreme white nationalism throughout the country since President Trump’s election in 2016) in the 20th Century.

Monroe, NC, Williams’ birthplace, is at the center of much of Williams’ story. Monroe is a suburb of Charlotte, and the birthplace of Jesse Helms (NC senator who was a dyed-in-the-wool racist) and his father, a Monroe police officer who terrorized and severely beat African-American citizens just for fun.

Monroe was a hotbed for Klan activity and racial tensions there boiled over frequently throughout the last century. Williams fought fire with fire, with the aim for the African-American citizens of Monroe to be able to defend their families and their homes from attacks by the Klan and other white nationalist factions that found a welcome mat for their vitriolic rhetoric and their harassment and, often, murder of African Americans.

Williams ended up spending a little more than a decade as an expatriated American because of a trumped up kidnapping charge in which he was not guilty of the crime.

The charges against him were dropped by North Carolina in 1976, allowing him to return to the United States, but he never again lived in Monroe, instead spending the last twenty-two years of his life in rural Michigan out of the spotlight.

This is a piece of history that none of us can afford to be ignorant about, especially those of us who have chosen to pursue the path of quintessential leadership.

Racism, discrimination, and hate are the antithesis of quintessential leadership and being quintessential leaders. It is that simple.

I highly recommend this book.

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