Tag Archives: Writing

The Joy of Reading (Good Stuff)

During a recent radio interview, I heard someone bemoan all the reading of insignificant detritus he’s done on the Internet, while the good books on his To Read list gather dust: “It’s like I’m on the millionth page of the worst book ever – but I can’t stop reading it.” We’ve all wasted precious time; it’s not the worst sin in the world. But when you find yourself surfing the net and reading about what O.J. Simpson had for breakfast in his prison cell, or about a sighting of Kim Kardashian breast-feeding her baby in public – then you know that some better part of the world is passing you by.

When you start to tally up all the time that gets away, the math is instructive. If you took twenty minutes each day to read good stuff (see below), you’d end up with 120 hours per year. Depending on reading speed and book size, that’s between six to twenty-five books a year. That’s time well spent – directly beneficial to you and indirectly beneficial to those whose paths you cross.

Reading a book is akin to having a conversation with another human being: a deep, meaningful, thought-out exchange that as readers we are able to conduct on our own time. Perhaps a bit grandiose to say, but having a varied and wide reading list is akin to having a conversation with the world. This conversation makes us more aware of our place in the world, and (hopefully) better citizens of it.

20160207_052809

The home bookshelves – a blessed mess, yes.

Good Stuff: While I do read fiction, I’m admittedly over-balanced on the non-fiction side. Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters, Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, Richard Rhodes’s The Making of the Atomic Bomb, and Daniel Yergin’s The Prize are but a few of the captivating books I delved into over the years. There are many other books I would add to my A-list: Edmund Morris’s Dutch, Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, and Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel are but a few others.

While my three kids were in college, they received from their old man a hand-picked bundle of books from the good stuff list. Lucky them! I realized they weren’t going to read these books while in college – they had other books to read and happenings to attend. Yet, like a seed planted in good soil, I trust that this gesture someday will bear beneficial fruit.

Occasionally, Facebook friends will call out for “Top 10” or “Best Ever” reading lists. As we all know, there’s a lot of good stuff out there. It’s eye-opening to see what others are reading; it enlarges the conversation. It’s a blessing to have time to read.

There’s a great difference between information and knowledge. The Internet provides plenty of the former, whereas good books help engender the latter.

I’ll continue to blog on the net, with the purpose of supporting common good development, pointing out the good books along the way that help us get there.

Read on, my friends.

 

This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

 

Let me mention one more great book: Robert Sapolsky’s classic from 1994, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Ahem!

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary

Meeting Taylor Branch

Whenever I buy a book* – new or used – I immediately write my name and the purchase month on the inside cover. I bought Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63 when we were living in Houston; I was starting out as a young pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran. I don’t remember exactly how in 1992 I came across Taylor Branch’s exhaustive tome of more than 1,000 pages detailing the crux of the civil rights era. ptwPerhaps I had heard it won the Pulitzer Prize for History, or maybe my ministry colleague Gene Fogt, a bona fide bibliophile, suggested I read it. The book was yet relatively fresh, published in 1988. We were living in Peru in the late ’80s, my seminary internship dictating how I spent the majority of my hours. Seven degrees south of the equator in Chiclayo, Peru, el bendito castellano occupied most of my free brain space, but I was able to do some “catch up” reading on the side – The Brothers Karamozov and Les Miserables, among others. I had always liked to read, but during my adolescent and early adult years, basketball and golf always took precedence over reading. I played some basketball in Peru for a city team, but didn’t touch a golf club for two years. I started to do a lot of reading on internship, and I continued to read extensively as we made it back to the States.

Once I started reading Parting the Waters, my focus did not waver. During the summer of ’92 all my free time dissipated into ardent observation of Martin Luther King, Fred Shuttlesworth, Septima Clark, John Lewis, Robert Moses, and the many other characters that forged the transformative movement. I was mesmerized; the reading filled me in on a part of my life that I had somehow missed. Born in the last week of 1961, growing up in the mostly white northwest suburbs of Chicago – yes, I missed it. When MLK was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, I was all of six years of age. I don’t remember my parents saying anything to me about it. I certainly don’t blame them.

Parting the Waters, its Exodus imagery trumpeted, is unequivocally one of the best books I’ve ever read. Not only did it provide crucial historical tb sigdetails of the 20th century’s most formative events, it further shaped my understanding of ministry and vocation. People of faith, working together, can influence and even change society in accordance with a sense of what is understood to be God’s justice and love. The shackles can be broken – imagine that. Yes, the arc of the moral universe is long and it does bend toward justice.

Taylor Branch had more to tell; a second book was titled Pillar of Fire: America in the King Years, 1963-65. I remember waiting and waiting for it to come out. Not until 1998, ten years after the first, did the second volume of the promised trilogy see the light of day. I purchased Pillar immediately upon its release, but didn’t read it until 2001. It was as if I had waited too long for dinner and my hunger had passed. There was other stuff I was reading, our three kids commanded plenty of attention, and I was once again playing an occasional round of golf. Once I started to read Pillar, I remember feeling that Branch was like a juggler trying to keep so many balls in the air simultaneously. There were so many details and threads of the story in the years ’63-’65: Kennedy’s assassination, Vietnam, Malcom X, J. Edgar Hoover, the Klan, King’s Nobel Prize, Selma – just to mention a few. A very busy narrative, its primary focus no longer locked onto King. Pillar was good, but it couldn’t match Parting the Waters. No book ever has.

At Canaan’s Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68, found Branch back on stride. Published in 2006, the final volume of the trilogy recaptured its focus on King with gripping narrative and historical detail, especially as it highlighted the crucial work of the backbone organizations of the civil rights movement – CORE, SNCC, and King’s own SCLC. I read Canaan in the spring of 2007; as with Parting the Waters, I could hardly put it down.

Another ritual to my book reading habit is to record the date that I finish reading a book on the inside back cover. It was with joy and regret that I wrote 5/18/07 alongside my initials when I finished reading Canaan. Joy for the story told and its teaching message; regret that there was no more to read.

————————————————————————————————————————

 

tb and tcI met Taylor Branch in April 2015 after a lecture he gave at the University of Texas. The topic of the lecture covered his 2011 piece in The Atlantic, “The Shame of College Sports.” The Frank Deford Lecture on Sports Journalism speaker rearticulated his conviction that students who play sports at major universities (such as the University of Texas) need to be compensated financially. According to Branch, it’s a power issue. At the big-time colleges, administrators and coaches are paid extravagantly, which helps perpetuate a hierarchy where students are essentially powerless. I recommend reading the article if you haven’t – it’s conveniently hyperlinked above.

Branch provided good information for those of us interested in book reading, writing, and publishing. Writing was not his vocational goal after graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1968, but, nonetheless, he started working as a staff journalist for magazine publishers (Esquire and Harper’s) to pay the bills. Before long, he fancied himself a god-honest writer. He wanted to write books. He did some ghostwriting – for Watergate convict John Dean and basketball legend Bill Russell – but labored under the impression that real writers are novelists. In 1981 he produced his novel The Empire Blues. He said, in full self-deprecation mode, that “it sold all of 500 copies.”

He then procured a contract to produce a history of the civil rights movement and its era. The procurement wasn’t easy, and the contract was only for three years. Consequently, Branch did some other writing projects to keep himself and his family fed. Six years of research and writing finally came to fruition when Parting the Waters received stellar reviews and won Branch the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for History. Eighteen more years of research and writing would be required for Branch to finish out the landmark trilogy.

My three aforementioned kids are now adults. In the process of their college educations, I came up with the idea to present them some books, crucially important to me, that I hope would help shape their understanding of the world. Each of them receives the three same books, and then one or two books additionally as befits their particular personality and interests. Parting the Waters is the first book on the list that each of them receives; Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything complete the top three list.

I enjoyed visiting with Taylor Branch after the lecture. He was kind enough to inscribe my original copy of Parting the Waters and to receive a copy of my own Just a Little Bit More, posing for a picture to boot. American in the King Years is one set of many books that have influenced my thinking and inspired me to write JaLBM. Branch is a talented historian and journalist, but he’s gifted as a theologian as well. “King’s life is the best and most important metaphor for American history in the watershed postwar years” (from the preface of Parting the Waters).

 

Click here to purchase Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Paperback, $14.95. You will be redirected to the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

Click here if you prefer to purchase JaLBM from Amazon. Ebook available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

 

*I do own a Kindle and enjoy reading ebooks; Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century was the first ebook I read on my Kindle. I thought I’d start with something light and short. Ahem. Read my review here.

A sidelight: I also met Frank Deford at the same event, the legendary journalist of Sports Illustrated and NPR fame. The University of Texas holds his archival writings, and presents the Frank Deford Lecture on Sports Journalism annually. I told him I always try to catch his NPR Morning Edition commentary on Wednesdays, which he has been doing since 1980. He has two and a half minutes by which to get his message across. I told him those pieces are like mini-sermons; he thought about that and said, “You’re right.” Keep preaching, Frank!

4 Comments

Filed under Commentary

Just a Little Bit More Updating / Writing and Marketing Processes

Just a Little Bit More is now available on Amazon and the usually suspected places. What a journey – it was more than three years ago that a crazy idea invaded my soul telling me to write a book. To see this idea in book form and now categorized as a leading seller in Amazon (Kindle) categories “World History 21st Century” and “Economic History” is gratifying, if not mystifying. Of course, Amazon aids its own marketing processes with its various categories and sub-categories of descriptions; the categorizations facilitate the search process of finding a book, however, and no help is needed from the Dewey Decimal System. Guess how many books Amazon makes available to its online shoppers? A mere 8 million print books, and over 1 million ebooks. Yikes.

I’m very grateful to all those who have supported me thus far in the book writing, producing, and marketing processes. You are a formidable group; I’m indebted to each one of you. Those who read all 200 plus pages of the “small font” first edition (close to 300 folks) get gold stars for having done so. The consensus was in early and its lead position is unchallenged: the next edition must have a larger font size! Since I’ve been reading theology and non-fiction (almost) exclusively for twenty-five years, I’m quite accustomed to small font reading. (By way of comparison, check out best-selling The Black Swan by Nicolas Taleb – it’s the same font size as JaLBM‘s first edition.) I was happy to respond favorably to the feedback; the second edition of JaLBM is now available – larger font size and forty more pages with the exact same content. The ebook is available as well – font size variable! Thanks to ACTA Publications -Chicago for picking up JaLBM for national distribution; Blue Ocotillo, in collaboration with ACTA, remains the publisher of record for JaLBM.

I also know that some have had to “chew on” JaLBM a few pages at a time. Yes, it does cover some history and development of ideas. Thanks to those of you who wrestled with the issues and ideas presented and gave me your feedback. Special thanks to fellow author Jud Smith who told me, over dinner, that as an entrepreneur and business owner, he approached my work with some skepticism and trepidation. What would a first-time author who works as a pastor have to add (besides the predictable “love your neighbor”) to the societal conversation about work and economics? In the end, however, Jud says he was “converted” to the idea that capitalism – as it is now – can do much better. Special gold stars go out to three JaLBM readers of the first edition. Lee White, who (without being specific) is most likely more chronologically gifted than you are, said the font size was “no problem!” Lee says she remembers, as a young girl, Rockefeller and FDR being discussed at the family table in east Texas as her family lived and worked through the Great Depression and its consequences. Kevin Byckovski of Austin – one of the first to finish reading JaLBM in May, the month it came out – simply said “well-researched and easy to read.” Kevin shares a common trait (being an engineer) with one of my brothers, Mike Anderson, who says he polished off JaLBM in three days this past summer while on vacation. Smart guys in more ways than one!

Pastor Brad Highum and the folks at Abiding Love Lutheran Church in Austin enthusiastically took on JaLBM as a book study for six Sunday mornings this past summer. Their input was instrumental in helping put together JaLBM study guides for similar groups and book clubs. Brad reports that one of the classes this past summer started out with a participant comment: “Pastor, this isn’t light reading.” Brad responded with a pastoral wink of the eye and aplomb: “It’s not a light topic.” Social inequality and its causes, the persistence and reemergence of poverty in the US, and how to understand and uplift the common good – these are topics important to every single one of us. We typically have trouble talking about these topics with one another (watch a televised political debate or bring up these topics at the family Thanksgiving dinner – ha), without falling into the predictable red and blue ruts. Political solutions, yes, are needed and welcome – but the hyper-partisan ambiance currently in vogue mitigates mightily against these possibilities.

JaLBM, with help from the study guides, gives the opportunity for adult conversation – free of accusations and demonizing – while broaching these important topics. Why should the hyperbole (most of the time accurately described as such) spouted about on MSNBC and FOX News dictate our thinking and debate on these crucial issues? If you are a member of a faith community (church, synagogue, temple) or part of a book club, I hope you will consider JaLBM as a book to read, study, and discuss. And if so, may the ensuing conversations be fruitful and beneficial to our shared common good.

While I am a pastor of a Christian (Lutheran) congregation, and look at the world through the eyes and understanding of a specific faith tradition, I didn’t write JaLBM as a faith manifesto. The book is imbued with theological perceptions, but it doesn’t use overtly theological language. It’s not meant to be read only by people of faith. It’s meant for societal conversation at the broadest and deepest levels. Thanks to fellow writers (and golfers) Michael DiLeo, Matt Cohen, Bruce Selcraig, and Kevin Robbins for steering me on the right path in terms of intended audience. Conversation between people who are different (in terms of political persuasions, faith and/or cultural traditions, socio-economic levels) is imperative as it conversely dissipates in our midst.

A colleague (Joaquin Figueroa) recently wrote me: “As you say, this story is an old history, but not very well known. It’s about a few enriching themselves at the expense of the many. And the worst of it – the few think they are doing the many a favor. I hope a lot of folks read your book.”

 

For a personally inscribed copy of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, go to Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

Amazon has the paperback and the ebook. iTunes and Nook also carry their versions of the ebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary

My Mom’s Dresser and Book Writing

The phone rang interrupting the morning quiet in our family’s suburban Chicago home; it was my mom on the line. Would my brother and I drive over the van to retrieve an old dresser that she had seen at a garage sale? Sure, I said. She was at work; my brother Mark and I were hanging out at the house not due at our own jobs for another few hours. We got in the ’76 Chevy Beauville – its life extended by many summers hours sanding the rust off the lower sides before coating them with Rustoleum – and made the ten minute jaunt to the part of town where some old gem piece of furniture had caught my mom’s eye. When Mark and I saw the dresser, we busted out laughing. We didn’t see any beauty – the dresser was old, darkened, ugly, shoddy, and neglected. The top of the dresser was a pock-marked and gouged mess. My mom had paid all of $5 for it. Ha! We didn’t know what was funnier: the dilapidated dresser itself or that she had paid only $5. We laughed the whole way home as the Beauville trudged back through town with its disputed treasure.

Mark and I were on summer break from college when we heeded our mom’s request. Soon enough, however, we were back at school and away from home. Unbeknownst to us, our mom was slowly and patiently working on that dresser. The fall becoming winter is a great time in the Upper Midwest to work away on a time-consuming project in the garage or basement. Mom painstakingly stripped off the old varnish (the dresser boasted ample intricate wood cuttings and carvings which I had not noticed), sanded and stripped some more, had our dad cover the top with durable edge-routered formica, and applied multiple coats of polyurethane to all of the outer wood.

When I came home for Thanksgiving, I happened upon a new dresser in the basement. It was beautiful. A mariner theme with wood carvings of rope, rudders, and a sailboat stood out from this carefully constructed piece of furniture. When I saw my mom a bit later, I asked her where she got the new dresser. Now it was her turn to laugh at me. It was the old $5 gem, newly reconstructed by my mom. I was stunned.

20140919_135603

Mom’s dresser – impervious to the machinations of Spider Man . . .

Years later when my wife and I moved to Houston, my mom was kind enough to let us borrow the mariner dresser for our daughter Alex. We had the dresser for six years or so while we were in Houston. The dresser is now back in the Chicago area at my sister’s house and in the room of my nephew Miles.

20140919_135516

My mom – Mary Ann Anderson – with the two beneficiaries of her handiwork, her grandkids Miles and Alex

There’s something about how my mom worked on that dresser that relates to the process of writing a book. It took me the better part of three years to write Just a Little Bit More. Six months intensive reading and research, twelve months of writing with continued research, an additional twelve months of rewriting and reviewing edits, and six months of design detail and preparation for selling. I worked on the book while pursuing my regular full-time job which, logically, elongated the process. I never cherished the dream of “one day to write a book.” I’ve always read a lot, but ask my family members or friends: not one of them foresaw me writing a book. While writing a book is more involved than rehabbing a piece of furniture, the same principles apply.

Occasionally I look back with a touch of astonishment on the work and effort required of me to write Just a Little Bit More. Braggadocio aside – the combination of perseverance and passion can produce improbable results. As I remember my mom’s dresser, I can see where I got some of that perseverance . . . from her. In addition to rehabbing furniture, my mom specializes in two other creative tasks requiring patience and steadfastness: sewing and quilting. She has made numerous blankets, bedcovers, quilts, and clothing items that have blessed the lives of her six adult children and their spouses, her sixteen grandchildren, and many others (yes) throughout the world.

It’s cliché to exalt the philosophy of one step at a time and one day at a time. Another way to express the wisdom inherent to those clichés: sometimes slow is fast. In an instant gratification society, putting work into a long term project (like a refinished dresser or a book) seems anachronistic. Isn’t there a shortcut or an easier way? Not always – sometimes slow is fast, and the resultant quality reveals, for those who look carefully, an enduring legacy of commitment and passion.

 

 

 Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary