Pat Conroy's "My Reading Life" interweaves ruminations on authors and books that have deeply influenced him--"Gone With the Wind," Charles Dickens, Le...morePat Conroy's "My Reading Life" interweaves ruminations on authors and books that have deeply influenced him--"Gone With the Wind," Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Wolfe, and many others--and in the process also draws us into what they offer. Furthermore, he crafts splendid portraits of those around him who have, through books or by serving as the inspiration for characters in his own work, made him the writer that he is.
Nowhere does he more clearly touch those of us involved in workplace learning and performance, however, than in his essay "The Teacher." Recalling how he first met high school English teacher Gene Norris in 1961, Conroy holds before us the person we all need to be: the one who recognizes the potential in his learners, who remains a lifelong source of encouragement to the student Conroy was and obviously still remains, and who continues to serve as a mentor and a friend as he was struggling with leukemia. Norris, even in his final days, encouraged Conroy the student to "Tell me a story." All of us should be lucky enough to have that sort of trainer-teacher-learner in our lives and, more importantly, remember to emulate them.
Equally compelling, for entirely different reasons, is Conroy’s "Why I Write." Whether it is because he touches the basic insecurities all of us--teachers, trainers, learners, and writers--have when he writes "I have been mortally afraid of the judgment of other writers and critics since I first lifted my proud but insecure head above the South Caroline marsh grass all those years ago" (p. 303) or because he leads us through our struggles by confirming that "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" (p. 304)--a challenge all of us face when we attempt to translate difficult concepts into terms our learns can grasp and absorb--Conroy nearly leaps off the pages of "My Writing Life" to encourage us to join him on his learning journey.(less)
Historian-writer-professor Tony Judt's penultimate book provides a political look at collaboration which provides inspiration for those of us fosterin...moreHistorian-writer-professor Tony Judt's penultimate book provides a political look at collaboration which provides inspiration for those of us fostering collaboration in much smaller settings. With a scholar's breadth of knowledge and a writer's flair for enticing readers into his work, he starts with a basic theme: the need for trust that comes from fairness and equality. His entire first chapter, "The Way We Live Now," builds a devastating case against complacence by documenting the results of inequality in a variety of countries throughout the world and demonstrating that those which the greatest success are those where fairness and equality are most effectively established. It's not difficult for any of us who are working in training-teaching-learning to draw parallels within the organizations we serve: inequality--even the perception of inequality--diminishes our ability to draw learners into what we offer, and to ignore that problem is to miss an opportunity to increase the effectiveness of all we do. In one of the final sections of the book, "The Shape of Things to Come," he turns to his belief that we "have entered an age of fear," including "fear of the uncontrollable speed of change" (p. 217)--again, a theme examined by Judt at a political-historical level and equally of interest to those of us attempting to facilitate change through the learning opportunities we provide. As one of Judt's colleagues observed, "No one talks like this any more" (p. 9), and Judt's passing in August 2010 makes that comment even more poignant; perhaps it's time for more of us to be reading works like this one and carrying on the conversation so that what the author left us isn’t lost to those who follow.(less)
"Grief," Joan Didion writes near the end of The Year of Magical Thinking, "turns out to be a place noen of us know until we reach it" (p. 188). And ye...more"Grief," Joan Didion writes near the end of The Year of Magical Thinking, "turns out to be a place noen of us know until we reach it" (p. 188). And yet it is so much at the heart of some of the world's greatest literature that it takes a special writer to add something woth reading to what already has been so abundantly covered. Didion is clearly special. In this chronicle of the year following the death of her husband (writer John Gregory Dunne)--which was preceded by the near loss of their daughter, Quintana Roo--Didion takes us into those dark and desolate experiences that none of us can ever truly expect to avoid, even though we may not want to often think about the inevitability of their arrival. There are the joys of what appears to have been an amazing marriage, with parallels drawn between the day of her own wedding and her daughter's own wedding day (pp. 69-75); memories of conversations held in those final days, when neither of them knew the end was drawing near; and the raw, heart-rending recollections of those months following her tremendous loss. A loss she recognizes and acknowledges has changed her existence permanently--in a way well worth recording through the writer's gift she has.(less)
Whether he is writing about a make-them-yourself pancake house, a man who lost an arm to an alligator named Mojo, or his mother shortly after her deat...moreWhether he is writing about a make-them-yourself pancake house, a man who lost an arm to an alligator named Mojo, or his mother shortly after her death, St. Petersburg Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg goes far beyond the obvious goal of documenting what Florida means to him in his collection "Pilgrim in the Land of Alligators." The writing is consistently engaging, the range of topics fascinating, and the inspiration to seek out more of his work at the St. Petersburg Times website a natural byproduct of what he offers here. From his articles of pop icons including the Coppertone girl and the two actors who played The Creature from the Black Lagoon (one underwater, the other on terra firma) to exquisite portraits of sponge divers, a man who makes the ladders used by citrus pickers, and the musician who plays the carillon at Bok Sanctuary (in Lake Wales), you can’t leave Klinkenberg’s book without an appreciation for the state he so clearly loves and, in turns, helps the rest of us explore.(less)
Building upon the heart-breaking honesty of "The Year of Magical Thinking" (the story of the year surrounding the death of her husband, John Gregory D...moreBuilding upon the heart-breaking honesty of "The Year of Magical Thinking" (the story of the year surrounding the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne)and the near-loss of her daughter (Quintana Roo), Didion returns to this darkest of territories with recollections of Quintana's life--and her death less than two years later. "Have you ever had a moment where everything in your life just stopped?" she recalls a sports figure asking in an entirely different context (p. 149), and with that recollection defines the central issue under consideration throughout this beautiful follow-up to "Year." There are the gentle interweavings of recollections of the joys and sorrows of raising and losing an adopted daughter who was very much the center of her and her husband's life. There are the moments in which she comes to acknowledge, if not accept, how fragile she herself has become. And there is the poetry in prose that seems to flow effortlessly through her work even though, at one point, she tells us that writing "no longer comes easily for me" (p. 105). As we follow her into her most poignantly honest ruminations, we read about the doctor who "suggests that I have made an inadequate adjustment to aging. Wrong, I want to say. In fact I have made no adjustment whatsoever to aging." And yet I would disagree, for "The Year of Magical Thinking" and "Blue Nights" are, at very least, deeply touching reactions and adjustments to the changes life inevitably brings--well worth reading, pondering, and keeping in mind when we as readers will ourselves face those very same moments. (less)
Setha Low and Neil Smith, as editors and contributors to "The Politics of Public Space," create an intriguing and often thought-provoking exploration...moreSetha Low and Neil Smith, as editors and contributors to "The Politics of Public Space," create an intriguing and often thought-provoking exploration of our ideas of public spaces and public commons. Their context, they explain up front, is "the broad decay of twentieth-century American liberalism" which has led to a "restructuring of what counts as public space today" (p. 1). They and their colleagues, throughout the book, make us think about the repercussions of privatizing public spaces (e.g., when a conservancy plays a primary role in managing a public asset such as New York's Central Park, or when merchants form business districts and, in the process, focus on the commercial aspects of an area to the exclusion of those who might detract from the commercial value of their property). They lead us through questions about what we gain in terms of security and what we lose in terms of public access to tax-supported public spaces through the ever-increasing number of gated communities--and even leave us wondering whether those gated communities ultimately contribute much to the development of collaborations and other interactions that foster strong communities. The final essay, by Don Mitchell and Lynn Staeheli, uses the theme of "Property Redevelopment, Public Space, and Homelessness in Downtown San Diego" to tackle the wicked problem of how to approach public space in terms of the competing interests interwoven throughout the book, and ultimately leaves us with the uneasy feeling that we are far from having resolved the challenges we face in defining and using the public spaces we claim to cherish yet so often take for granted.(less)