Category Archives: Non-fiction

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingUnknown

by: Susan Cain

Random House, New York, NY 2013


I had heard about this book.  It’s been on the New York Times bestseller list and on Amazon’s top books as well.  It wasn’t until someone recommended it to me directly that I picked it up.  I’m glad I did.

Most people (including my therapist) don’t really believe me when I say I’m an introvert.  I’m not really shy.  I’m verbally adept.  I’m willing to express an opinion and engage in controversy particularly when I am passionate about the subject.  I’ve done public speaking.  I’m a writer and I maintain a public presence.

What most people don’t notice is that when I talk about myself I usually do it without engaging emotionally.  I’m more likely to start to talk about myself and then immediately shift the topic, or to hide the important information in a random pile of data.  I don’t make it easy for people to get to know me.  What most people don’t see is how exhausted I am after spending an hour or two with a large group of people, at a party or any kind of gathering.  What most people don’t know is how my stomach turns when I anticipate seeing people in groups.  Most people don’t recognize how quickly I’ll jump on any excuse to avoid public events.

Quiet acknowledges all those things.  This book talks about the extrovert culture and how much pressure there is for the introvert to “convert”.  Susan Cain discusses the phenomena I demonstrate, the introvert who has trained themselves to look like an extrovert.  I’ve never seen anything like this and I can’t express how relieved I was to find myself validated.

Most books about introverts talk about them as socially awkward or isolated.  This book delves into the advantages to the social structure of the introvert point of view.  It addresses introverts in the workplace and in relationships.  It gives value to the huge percentage of the population struggling to cope in “a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”

The person who recommended this book to me is a natural extrovert.  He found the book fascinating because it  ultimately advocates for balance.  He can see how his life would benefit if he could find a way to make more room for the introverts.  I know it won’t be easy for him.  Nor would it be easy for us on a cultural level, but Susan Cain makes a good case for a little change being worth it. Information and understanding are a great first step.  On that basis alone I can highly recommend this book.


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The John Carlos Story

UnknownThe John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World

by John Carlos with Dave Zirin

Forward by Cornel West

Haymarket Books Chicago, IL 2011


I am not a big sports fan.  I don’t remember the Olympic games from 1968.  If we even had a TV in the house that summer we were probably camping during the Olympics.  Dad probably listened to them on the transistor radio he kept plugged into his ear.

1968 Olympics

1968 Olympics

I do remember the photograph.  I do remember the political atmosphere.  I remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. being shot and Bobby Kennedy and the protests across the globe against apartheid and for civil rights.  I remember that what the papers, the news media were saying didn’t make sense but I had no alternative context.

I was little, my understanding of events was at a grade school level.  My parents were politically active so I had a more rounded education and experience with these matters than most of my white, suburban classmates.  Even back then I had direct experience with the difference between intention and motivation for an action and the media’s take on those same actions.

I called the library and asked what is the difference between an autobiography and a memoir.  It took them a while to come up with an answer.  Something about the entire scope of a life and chronological order make it biographical where reminiscence or the story of a single event falls into the memoir category.

This book is classified as neither an autobiography or a memoir.  It is considered to be a biography, presumably because the majority of actually writing is by Dave Zirin.  However it reads as though it is a memoir, with chronology and lifetime scope, in the voice of John Carlos.  It’s written in first person.  The stories come from a personal angle rather than a “historical” one.

This is not a book about the 1968 Olympics, although that event is clearly central.  This is a book about standing up and (to paraphrase Carlos quoting MLK) “Speak for those that can’t and those that won’t speak for themselves.”  Those words, according to John Carlos, gave him a center for his life and judging from the book they carried him far beyond the 1968 games.

The fact that the afterword, written by Dave Zirin, talks about the continued impact and importance of coming together and speaking out for what is right.  He talks about Wisconsin and Governor Walker.  He talks about  Arizona and immigration.  He talks about LGBT marriage equality.  He talks about workers rights in Egypt.  He says, “It’s not every athlete who acts like their life’s ambition off the court is to be featured on MTV Cribs.”  He says, “Since athletes are role models…….it’s worth asking the question: what are they modeling?”

John Carlos gives credit along the way to many athletes who stood up both before and after he and Tommie Smith and Peter Norman.   He talks about speaking with Jesse Owens, and accusing him of not doing enough in Hitler’s Berlin.  He talks about the support he got from Jackie Robinson and how, unlike Jackie, at least he had the support of his team.  He mentions George Forman, Kareem Abdul Jabar, and Rosie Grier.

It’s also helpful that the small and ubiquitous acts of oppression in the world are simply laid out as a given.  This piece is carefully written to convey passion rather than anger.  It is a hopeful and painful read because he makes you understand why this struggle is so important and necessary.  He also makes clear that what happened in 1968 is a piece of our country’s history that many people have worked hard to gloss over.

As a non-sports fan I had no trouble with this book.  At its heart it is not a sports story, it is a human story told with a sports perspective.  It is a journey through history past and present.  It is enlightening and hopeful.  There is no question that we continue as a people to struggle with these issues.  John Carlos’ philosophy seems to feel that the struggle is worth it.  He makes a good case.

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Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Memoir, Non-fiction


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If Beale Street Could Talk

If Beale Street Could TalkUnknown

James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Vintage Books (Random House) NY,NY  1974

ISBN: 10-0-307-27593-0

Tish is 19 and pregnant.  Fonny, the father and her childhood sweetheart, is in prison mostly for being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time.  This is an “everyman’s tale” of a black family in Harlem, New York in the late 1950s.  The language is colored with beat era phrases.  The setting long before Harlem was gentrified.

It is a story of love.  It is a story of what makes a family.  It is a slice of life, a birthing story.  But what is being birthed here is not entirely clear.  The family rallies behind Tish and Fonny and the baby.  The insight, as Sharon (Tish’s mother) learns the difference between knowing she’s oppressed and exploring the fine detail of the many ways the system works against her, is as astonishing to her as it is to the reader.  We see the small ways these people find to lift each other up and hold each other down.

This is a story of a different time and a different place.  Nothing brings this home for me quite as dramatically as the way one character, Frank, beats his wife.  In the narrative this is done as causally and offhandedly as a character in a British novel setting down her tea-cup, and with about as much notice.  I think it was the third time he hits her upside the head and she falls to the floor that I consciously noticed what was going on.  The other characters didn’t react, so neither did I.

The author paints the wife as such a hard hearted, sanctimonious, shrew that I found myself wanting to cheer Frank on.  I had to stop in shock at my reaction.  Regardless how I felt about the story, this is clearly brilliant writing.  What kind of person would I be had I been brought up in this environment?  What if these scenes were all I knew?  What would it be like to be in prison just because the police needed a perpetrator and they knew where to find me?

I picked up this book at the recommendation of another blogger, thank you Totsy!  I also picked up this book at a time when I am participating in conversations about privilege. (podcast discussion of privilegeArticle/interview Pagans and Privilege)  Nothing brings that issue home as effectively as a good story that sucks you into a world and a point of view so very different from your own.  I am privileged by my upbringing, my social status, my skin color and my education.  I am privileged to have literature like this at my disposal, from my local library.  I am reminded of what I learned from To Kill A Mockingbird “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view–until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Here is a story that makes you walk around for a bit in someone else’s skin.  Well done.

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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Fiction, Non-fiction


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Elephant Whisperer

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African WildUnknown

Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence

St. Martins Press NY, NY  2009

ISBN: 978-1-250-00781-0

I really wasn’t sure when I picked this up if I would like it.  Would it be a collection of stories about animals in Africa?  Would it be about training elephants to do work for people?  Would the elephants be a metaphor for the political situation in South Africa?  Would it be a memoir of safaris?  The answer to my questions turned out to be a delightful yes and no.

Our Lawrence Anthony and his lovely French wife, Francoise, have bought a game reserve in Zululand in South Africa.  It turns out that the idea is truly to preserve the species in a wilderness habitat rather than to create a zoo or a hunting reserve.  We learn that the animals are actually native to this area but were pushed out for so long that most of the local native tribespeople have never even seen things like an elephant in person.

Politically, Lawrence grew up in the area and was very active in the movement for civil rights for the South African natives.  He speaks the local languages and knows the tribal chiefs personally.  He dreams that the small reserve he has purchased could be joined into a large Royal Zulu game reserve connecting his little parcel Thula Thula to the National Forest.  That would not only allow for the return of the native species but also become a corridor for their natural migratory patterns.  This is a dream with serious political ramifications and the book holds stories that represent some of them.

The center of the book is Lawrence Anthony’s relationship with a herd of elephants.  He acquires them because they were unruly enough to warrant killing them, at least in terms common among small reserves.  Lawrence takes on the challenge and throws out the book.  He takes his cues from the elephants, particularly Nana the Matriarch, and works to establish trust.

It’s clear from the stories that Anthony Lawrence has a genuine love of nature in nature.  We hear not only about the elephants but also other animals the reserve acquires.  There are stories about the rhinoceros, the crocodile and even the family pets.  Max, his bull terrier, is clearly a partner in the process.  As this narrative covers several years time we are sad to see Max aging and eventually unable to keep up.

Developing this dream has its challenges.  There are stories about the staff some of whom are priceless and others who are problematic.  We see that part of the dream is to provide jobs, training and opportunities to the young tribesmen.  Those who are successful are also those who clearly share the vision of seeing the animals thrive, unencumbered in their native environments.

Of course a dream this large needs funding.  So there is an exclusive resort built on the property.  Camera safaris are conducted.  Tourists are wined and dined in high French fashion.  Still, it is clear that the animals are the priority.  When flooding creates new pools and pockets very near the resort and residence areas the crocodiles that move in are left alone.

So too, over time, are the elephants.  The close relationship Lawrence builds with Nana does not need to continue into the subsequent generations.  In the end the dream truly is to let the elephants and the other wildlife simply be.  Now I have a trip to South Africa and Thula Thula Lodge on my bucket list.  The stories have drawn me in and created a compelling picture.  It would be a delight to see it all in person.

Sadly, Lawrence Anthony died a year ago March 2, 2012.  The elephants he loved showed up to mourn his death.  Here’s the link to the article.  News: Elephants gather inexplicably to morn death of “Elephant Whisperer”

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Posted by on March 2, 2013 in Memoir, Non-fiction


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