I came across one of those links on Reddit that was something like “100 Books Every Man Should Read” lists. I’m a sucker for those even if, amongst those 100, the books are pretty much a list of classics that have been listed for decades (they’ll throw a few contemporary Pulitzer winners to make it more current).
I spent eight years as an English teacher attempting to expose teenagers to great literature. I have many thoughts on what English curricula across the country are doing wrong, but I won’t talk about that here. A great book is a book that changes your outlook on the world and that’s at the very least. A great book can inspire and influence.
We spend so much time in classroom making books as little fun as possible: Instead just reading the story, we make our students stop and ask, “So what does the clock mean?” Instead of asking them to simply get to the end of the chapter for homework, we want them to underline six words they don’t understand and share them in block one. English classes are bullshit. I didn’t like reading until college, during which or afterward I read the most important books in my life.
They all inform some part of my thinking or actions or practice as a writer in some way, though they’re not the only influences for those things.
1.) Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer: I was first introduced to this book in college, but fell in love with it on an airplane from Boston to San Diego. Since, I’ve read it probably a couple dozen times. I would incorporate it into every class I taught. First, Krakauer’s reporting is remarkable. Second, I think Chris McCandless’s journey is a journey that, as a society, we’re unable to recreate. There are no more blank spots on a map. As a parent, I think we should try to encourage our children to be passionate and brave and search for meaning. McCandless did that. He died. But he died because of enormous bad luck (and his adventure wasn’t a failure). Sometimes the difference between being a great parent and an awful one (or being a great story or a tragic one) is luck.
2.) Slouching Toward Bethlehem by Joan Didion: Taught me to love reading, simple as that. Second sentence of the first essay grabbed me and hasn’t let me go since. “Soft westerlies off the coast … An alien place, haunted by the Mojave … works on the nerves.” I ate up everything Didion has done since.
3.) Consider the Lobster by D.F. Wallace: The way Wallace could do his ethical and linguistic gymnastics still astounds me, and, in this work, it’s better than any of his fiction in my opinion. Someone hit it right on the head when they described his writing as something like being the smartest uncle at the holiday table who’ll end his incredibly intellectual argument with a dick joke.
4.) Sex, Drugs, Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman: In a lot of ways, it’s probably my least favorite of his work, but being the introduction to it makes this book hold a special spot. He wrote about Saved by the Bell and Radiohead and asked bizarre hypothetical questions. I felt a kindredness with Klosterman when I read him because we had (it seemed) similar interests and ways of trying to understand a subject differently from the normal narratives.
5.) Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon: I tend to suffer from bouts of many things: anxiety, frustration, moodiness, and introspection among them. I also read this one on a cross-country flight, from Phoenix back to NH, after hurriedly grabbing the first thing that seemed interesting off the bookshelf at the airport. At the time, I was grappling with some things as a son and a writer and as a person. It was just what I needed. Too often, men are pigeon-holed in a certain way in literature. Reading Chabon’s frustrations and anxieties and failures and triumphs was refreshing to me. After Into the Wild, it’s likely I’ve picked this book up more than any other book since.
You should read all of these. Yes, you.
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed reading the responses to the victory of our President-Elect. I’m making peace with it, but I hope two pieces of legislature stays intact:
(1) ACA: please reform it. Do not eradicate it. It’s not a perfect plan for many reasons, but more people than ever before have health care. That’s a basic human right. We cannot deny them that. It’s inhumane. Reform it. Make it better. Strive to make the world better by providing America’s underserved population with health care. Jesus, this seems so easy;
(2) Please don’t go back on all the environmental progress we’ve made, especially with the Paris Agreement of this summer. Climate change is a real threat. Ignoring it and surrounding yourself with people who don’t believe climate change is real is dangerous. And it’s wrong. Please, President Trump, don’t be an idiot.
Alas, I don’t — as of now — have this kind of faith in him. Not yet. Prove me wrong.
I’ve been saying lately that the NBA is our most progressive professional sports league. It’s not an eye-opening statement. It’s nothing I’m teaching anyone. NFL is the NFL, where celebrating is illegal, but punching women isn’t; MLB employs more hispanic players than any league, but doesn’t allow them to have fun; The NHL, for all it’s international appeal, still attracts male viewers by allowing fighting.
The NBA, though, is led by normal people with actual intelligence. This also manifests itself in this week’s must read. Marc J. Spears wrote about Gregg Popovich this week and called him the NBA’s “most woke” coach.
“He’s not the typical coach for sure,” San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge told The Undefeated. “He’s in tune with what is going on around the world with people and with race. He’s not afraid to voice his beliefs and his opinions. He’s tried to help us realize that there are more things than basketball, more than the NBA.
Read it and gain an even greater respect for one of the greatest coaches in all of pro sports.
As for beer, I promised myself I wouldn’t drink until Saturday but the events of the week made me break that promise for one beer, which was Southern Pines Brewing’s Drunken Vigils, which seemed appropriate for my mood. This breakfast stout came in a 16-oz can and clocked in at a massive 14% ABV. Whoa. This drank with the smoothness of a 5% beer, no lie. All chocolate, medium body, light carbonation. Got better and easier to drink as it warmed up. If you’re ever in that area of North Carolina, grab a whole bunch.
Have a nice weekend.
Maybe my goal in writing every day is to be transparent enough with myself that I can kind of share what’s going on. I try to do that. Catharsis, maybe. Water ends up finding it’s level and that’s what writing things out tends to do for me. This week was an odd one, and one into which I won’t go into much detail, but it was stressful and caused a great deal of anxiety. I’m ready for a couple days off with family and friends and a couple more drinks than is healthy.
But the week was also rewarding in my return to the classroom as a guest speaker. It was a different experience being the one asked questions, rather than the one asking them. It’s very rare, I think, for a journalist to be on the other end of the microphone. All in all, the experience was fun. The rose on a week of thorns.
If you’re going to drink (like me) and read this weekend, here are some options:
Read: Bill Belichick has a crush list by Robert Mays. Belichick gets a lot of shit for coming off as arrogant in press conferences. He mumbles and doesn’t say a lot unless you get him on a topic he wants to discuss. Just this week, he gushed over the “roster addition” of his new grand-daughter. He railed against tablets earlier this week, too. Get him talking about tight ends or special teams or players he likes and he’ll give you a dissertation. Not to get too Patriots-heavy, but this on Dante Hightower was good. For the hoops fans, check out Shea Serrano on Kawhi Leonard. Apologies. The Ringer got a lot of love just now.
Also, been digging “Here I am” by Jonathan Safran Foer. I don’t always get into fiction, but I like him.
Drink: Wicked Weed Old Fashioned is an old ale, aged with cherries and orange zest in bourbon barrels. Yes, designed to mimic an already great drink. Hey, if you want to drink an Old Fashioned, do it. But this beer is spectacular. I was also a huge fan of Proclamation Ales Derivative this week. Brewed with galaxy hops, this beer was a crisp, clean but full flavored pale ale. Lots of citrus, light bitter finish. Great beer.
Yesterday, I wrote about how I was sitting front of a computer with this thought that I would never have another idea ever again. This, again, is a thought I have from time to time. “This is it. I’m done. I’m out of ideas.” Being a writer is stupid. It really is. What a stupid career choice, right?
Anyway, got word on a couple checks, some free beer, some BBQ seasonings, another sold story, and some credentials yesterday. Pretty sweet gig, this writing thing. Amazing. This week seemed to last longer than it should have given it was long weekend and we had Monday off. I’m ready for a couple days in a row off.
If you’re a basketball fan, you gotta read Mark Titus on banning charges in The Ringer. I’ve been saying that charges are the worst type of defense a player can utilize for as long as I can remember. It’s bullshit that a smaller guy can just plant his feet, hold his nuts, make no play on the ball, and get a call. It’s a terrible form of defense to help on the weak side and just get pummeled intentionally. Titus agrees. And you should too.
If you’re a drinker and you’re in New England, it’s going to be cold this weekend and if you’re not opting for Rowan’s Creek bourbon then you should probably drink something big and dark like Stone Russian Imperial Stout. After that, go to bed early. Even better, do what I do and watch a documentary on Netflix that you remember zero percent of in the morning. Stone’s RIS is the best in the business, is a strange combination of complex and accessible, and easy to find.
I haven’t done much in the way of internet reading this week, but the article that stands out that I did read was worth sharing. Work and the kids drained me this week. My wife and I basically tag out on shifts. She leaves for work, I’m home; She comes home, I leave. It’s difficult because we communicate mostly through text message. We’re hustling around the house in the morning before she leaves, we have 15 minutes or so before I leave mid-afternoon, and she’s typically asleep when I come home. But this weekend, there’s a three day weekend and, barring any huge journalistic projects, I’m going to try to do minimal work and maximum family time. I deserve this weekend.
Read: “Colin Kaepernick is a real American” by Tim Keown, The Undefeated.
This headline is misleading in some ways, while not being entirely untrue. What do we know about the 49ers quarterback aside from the fact he went from Super Bowl starter to bench to national anthem kneeler? What do we owe to our country? Why is protest so divisive? Why do we salute our flag? Does our flag automatically represent our military? Why do we owe our military anything? Can we support them without supporting what they do?
Drink: Ipswich Oatmeal Stout
The weather is cooling down a bit. Actually, it’s not. It should be cooling down, but it’s not. During the days, the sun continues to loom hot in the sky; At night, though, the chill comes in and we need a dark beer to warm us up. Some of us switch to red wine or bourbon or both. For now, a dark beer will do. This Massachusetts brewery makes an underrated version of a great style. In fact, it might be the best representation stateside of an oatmeal stout. If you want one from across the pond, the best one might be Samuel Smith’s.
First off, my baby boy celebrated six months yesterday. Not much in way of a celebration. For our daughter, we had these stickers that you placed on a white onesie that said the month. We diligently took series of photographs for her; Not for him, however. Apparently that happens to your second child. Alas ..
Jack looks like me, but acts like his mom. He’s always smiling and he’s never in a bad mood, unless he needs to eat, of course. He’s flying around the house, picking up stray dog hairs and dirt from the various shoes that traverse are hardwood floors. It was easy to clear the way of obstacles for Avery when she was that age because it was just us playing two-on-one. A nice zone defense. Now that it’s evened out, we’re typically outmatched and outwitted.
Six months sure does fly by especially when it coincides with the warmer months. We can’t wait to see who you turn out to be, our little buddy. We’ve got so much growing and so much fun ahead of us. We already miss the days of your immobility, of the days when you’d casually fall asleep in someone’s arms or in a rocker. Now? Your on the go at all time. You nap just once a day. You wake up a dozen times a night some times. Sometimes not at all. You’re a wild card. But you’re always smiling. And we love you.
The way I’m going to day Fridays is going to be an idea that I simultaneously jacked from Peter King and a beer website I like called Good Beer Hunting. In essence, it’s this: I’m going to recommend something to read and something to drink. I’m not much of a television-watcher, nor are movies really something I’m into, so I have no grasp of what to recommend. Though, I suppose I will occasionally suggest a show. Mostly, though, I’ll share something I’ve read in the past week and something I drank in the past week that I think are worthy of your consideration.
Read: “The First Family in Focus” by Michael Fletcher
Few long-form series have been better than The Undefeated’s Fletcher’s on the Obama legacy as his second term comes to a close. I think what inspired a generation about our current president is how human he seemed to us, how flawed, and how he seemed to occupy the same world we do. He wasn’t above us the way some presidents seemed, those who grew up rich and attended private schools. I’ve been really pleased a writer of Fletcher’s caliber is putting this man’s challenges, successes, and family in focus.
Drink: Modern Times Fortunate Islands
Fortunate Island is labelled as a hoppy wheat ale, which does it a disservice in a craft beer culture that values high-ABV juicy, fruit-forward IPA’s and double IPA’s. Modern Times is a San Diego brewery that may be my favorite brewery right now. Everything they do — from an amber to a coffee stout — are top-notch. Fortunate Island drinks softly, a delicate and low ABV beer with tropical fruit up front and no lingering bitterness at the end. Find it. Drink it.
As a former educator, and someone for whom the idea of re-entering the teaching profession at some point, in some capacity, hasn’t bolted its lock, I spend – and have spent – hours of my life thinking about how to get students to become interested in reading.
It would be easy to point fingers as the starting point. Standardized testing and Common Core State and National Standards, in my opinion, have ruined not only a teacher’s autonomy in a classroom, but have also jeopardized our students ability to fall in love with something as fundamental as a work of fiction or non-fiction.
I read an article recently about the differences in what we eat and what our grandparents ate and why their generation had less food allergies than the children of today and the gist of the article suggested that, in their day, what they ate was a product of what was available. It’s not uncommon for us to find fruit and vegetables in the supermarket that normally had to be “in season” for our grandparents to get. There was less of a choice. You ate what was in front of you.
Likewise, our parents, grandparents and generations backward didn’t have to options available to them in form of entertainment. There wasn’t the internet or computers or hundreds of channels (there weren’t even dozens of channels); Moving back generations, there weren’t televisions. To be whisked away to a far away land, to be entertained, one of the things people chose to do was read.
And, teachers, as was their job, introduced new books to the students each year. Books were a novelty. Imagine getting a new iPad every school year?
We spend so much time messing with the infrastructure and spending millions of dollars to reform education and perform studies on what we can do to foster the love of reading in our students, all of whom can go home and find a dozen different activities, many of which don’t necessitate him or her to do anything (unlike, say, reading a book where you are almost required to be an active presence). Netflix doesn’t ask for anything in return. Just watch and listen.
We’ve gone from classic novels to contemporary novels, fiction to non-fiction. Very little has seemed to work. I have two thoughts:
1.) We’re reading the wrong books: Somewhere, in some darkened, cigarette-smoke-filled teacher’s lounge, a group of educators decided which books were “classics” and needed to be read by everyone: Dickens, Brontë, Shakespeare, Orwell, et. al.
Many of these books are, indeed, wonderfully written and timeless novels with themes and subject matters that should relate to our students, but they don’t. Why? Because they speak an entirely different language. It’s hard to follow, social mores are different, society is different than in those novels. And, while the themes, too, are timeless, there are many books written in the past twenty years that address the same topics, written by people younger, written in a language our students understand.
We get stuck in this thinking that kids should read what we would read if we were them, or what we believe they should be reading. This is, fundamentally, wrong. We reserve the right, as should our students, to put down books we find uninteresting in favor of another book (or activity) we find interesting.
And English teachers love to cite evidence that reading classics is good for our students. Of course it is. But so is music, so is art, so is physical education. And we’re taking that away from our students constantly. Spare the students to guilt trip about “what colleges are looking for.” (The answer, truly, is “tuition checks and positive professor reviews.”)
I don’t support burning these classics or locking them away in a closet somewhere. They should be readily available to those who would like to read them, at whatever age, but they should no longer be a part of the curriculum in our public schools. I’m in the large minority in this belief, under the “we have to challenge our students” argument, led mostly by dinosaurs in English departments across the country. Yes, we must challenge students, but, first, they must have a foundation of skills in reading.
2.) Teach literature chronologically backward: If an alien ship came from outer space and asked the human race to explain basketball, we wouldn’t start from James Naismith’s 1891 phys. ed class in Springfield, Massachusetts. We’d start now, with the Miami Heat and Lebron James and we’d work backward to Michael Jordan then to Magic and Larry then to Wilt and Russell.
(Note: I argue the same teaching style for history. What’s happening now? Then move back. Here’s why this happened. And that happened because of this. Don’t politicians work the same arguments anyway?)
We should show our students examples of great contemporary literature, from literary novels to airplane reading. We show them Jonathan Safran Foer to Nicholas Sparks, the complete spectrum. Then, we can offer solutions to their reading. Well, if you like Foer, then try … If you like Sparks then try … and go backwards. Teach them the classics in college, or, at least senior year in high school.
The aim is to get students to read but we’ve spent so much time pushing Shakespeare on them, we’ve spent so much time throwing Whitman at them. If I were trying to get into rock music and you put me on to Buddy Holly first instead of Jack White, I’d lose interest quickly. This is what we’re doing to our students. Education reform shouldn’t be about new ways to teach old ideas.
One last, amazing, thought. Let them choose. Give them options, but let them choose. We want our students to become members of society? We want them to move out of our schools and into college or into the workforce and be productive members of society? Then we have to give them the freedom of choice. All of us who classify ourselves as readers walk into a bookstore and pick up books based on our interests. We have to have the faith in our students that they’ll do the same. Expect the same at home, where possible. Give them incentives to do so.
Remember, we needed incentive to eat our vegetables, too.