Monday, November 30, 2015

What To Do When It's Your Turn and The Courage to Start. Or, What is Courage?

My boss gave me a copy of Seth Godin's new book, What To Do When It's Your Turn, the day after I committed to a new business adventure with my wife yet before I told him I'd be leaving his employ by the end of the year. I felt a twang in my heart that he didn't yet know my intention, but mainly I felt excited because I thought that receiving this book at that time was a HUGE sign of support from the universe. I have since told my boss of my plans and he's completely supportive. Of course he is, he gave me a book about taking my turn.

What To Do When It's Your Turn is a motivational read. It is a shot of adrenaline for those who want to take the leap and start doing their own thing on a bigger level and a nudge for others to start thinking about what they can do with their passions. It's also a flashing warning sign for those who want to stay comfortable in the illusory safety of someone else's dream. The format is more like a magazine or blog post--short, page or two stories and rah-rah quotes.

But there's something that rubbed me the wrong way in this book. It is just one thing, but for me it was a big thing. In a book filled with positives Godin dropped a negative: He claims that John Bingham, someone else who took his turn, got it wrong.

Godin writes, "John got is slightly wrong. It's not that he had the courage to start, because no courage is required to run around the block. No, the miracle is that he started" (95).

John Bingham is considered the Pied Piper of the second running boom and the author of The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life (1999). I enjoyed Bingham's writing as a columnist for Runner's World. I came upon his work when I was in my early thirties -- after years of sedentary life as a college and graduate student, I was getting back into running after swearing it off upon being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps a decade earlier. Bingham helped me fall in love with running, an activity I had previously only associated with training or punishment.

Godin is not the first guy to rip on Bingham for associating courage with running. Years ago one of my favorite running podcasters went on a rant about how it doesn't take courage to run (he saw Bingham's book in a store). I listened to part of his rant and was taken aback. I thought he was way off base and switched over to a different podcast, but the rant stayed on my mind like images of a bad accident. The guy's anger seemed so irrational and I was drawn back to listening. I thought--or rather, hoped--that perhaps he would come to some sort of personal revelation or at least a sane conclusion. He did not. It was a rant from start to finish and it seemed to have an undercurrent of bullying. I never listened to that podcaster again.

Apparently both that podcaster and Godin have a trigger when it comes to ideas about courage. I'm not sure what that's about, but it seems that they both have have narrow definitions of courage. Definitions that might be limited to facing enemy bullets or running into a burning building (activities that may have more to do with personality type, training, and love more than courage if you listen to the stories of people who've actually done these things).

What To Do When It's Your Turn is about expressing on one's freedom to take action, which, to my mind, may take courage. I find Godin's judgement both surprising and problematic. Perhaps because I don't think anyone has a right to label someone else's action as courageous or not. Unless you give out medals based on your own definition of courage, if someone says that something they did was courageous for them, then it was. Period. End of story. This negative take on Bingham's use of the word courage seems off key, particularly because it is in a book that encourages readers to get out there and do their own thing.

And at the risk of sounding like I'm on a rant of my own, why say no to courage and yes to miracle? Courage is taking action in the face of fear. A Miracle is something given as a divine gift or something so extraordinary it is beyond logic or probability. It seems that an author who wants to help people take action might be better off encouraging courage rather than miracles.

Chances are I would not have reacted to Godin's comment on Bingham had I not listened to that podcast years ago. It seems odd to me that two men who are usually so encouraging of others would feel the need to condemn or criticize another guy for apply the concept of courage to running.

What's your take in this issue?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned (Giveaway)

Why I read it:
Years ago a friend's ex-husband did something that could have landed him in prison. He'd been desperate, but, still, had broken the law. Around this time I was reading in bed one evening, my cat snuggled against my leg, when I was overwhelmed by the thought of what it must be like to go to prison. I shivered, then got up, grabbed a beverage and a snack, and snuggled back into bed with my book and cat, resolving to never do anything to land in prison.

But what if you land in prison for a crime you didn't commit? It couldn't happen to you, right?

In Stolen Years journalist Reuven Fenton tells the story of ten people who didn't think it could happen to them either. Yet these ten people were wrongfully convicted for crimes they didn't commit. These eight men and two women spent a combined total of 176 years in prison. The shortest time was nine years, the longest thirty. Can you imagine?

Reuven Fenton
False accusations, eyewitness miss-identification, false confessions made under duress, improper forensic science, and official/government misconduct are what wrongfully put these people behind bars. Studies estimate that between 2.3 to 5 per cent of people currently serving time in U.S. prisons are innocent. That's up to around one hundred thousand people wrongfully convicted. Not only are the inmates' life ruined, but the impact on family and friends is monumental. Not to mention that the real murders were left to walk the streets.

These stories are compulsively readable yet I found myself only able to read one or two per sitting. It's overwhelming to read about real people who are plucked out of their lives and thrown into a nightmare. At the heart of the matter is a legal system that's based on winning or losing rather than justice.

In his conclusion Fenton offers suggestions on how to change the system, what reforms some states are already implementing, and what citizens can do to help. One of the easiest things citizens can do is thank journalists who write about people who have been exonerated and share the stories on social media. Doing this will help keep the focus on such stories. The more the public learns about problems in the justice system and begin the put pressure on elected officials, the sooner reforms will be implemented. Visit to learn more.

Stolen Years is a quick read that will stay with me for a very long time. I highly recommend it to readers who are new to the issue of wrongful imprisonment and/or interested in our criminal justice system. It will no doubt make for interesting book group discussion.

Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned
Reuven Fenton
Tantor Media, Inc. Release date: November 10, 2015
Available in paperback and audio
Source: Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours.

Simply leave a comment with your email to enter to win a paperback copy of this book.
(US/Canada only)
Winner will be randomly chosen on Monday, 11/16, and will have 48 hours to reply 
before alternate winner chosen.

To read more about this book and visit other blogs on this tour (with more enter-to-win options), please click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Nonfiction November ~ Week 1

Nonfiction November is a month long focus on reading nonfiction books. It's hosted by multiple bloggers this year. Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness is the host for week one.

The topic this week asks participants to look back on the year and share some thoughts on their reading life.

Here goes!

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? 
I've only read six nonfiction titles so far this year, which seems a bit low compared to previous years, but I haven't done any number crunching yet. They are:
  1. Talking About Detective Fiction by P.D. James
  2. Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir by Frances Mayes
  3. Rowing Against the Wind by Angela Madsen
  4. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  5. Hiroshima by John Hersey
  6. Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

It's tough picking a favorite out of this group because they were all good, solid books, but since I'm tasked with choosing one I'll go with Anne Frank's Diary. For starters, its been on my TBR forever. It's one of those books I didn't want to read for a long time and then I wanted to read it, also for a long time. It was amazing to finally read it and I'm glad the 40-something version of me read it rather than the teenage me, because I don't think it would have been as profound or as moving to my younger, less thoughtful self. Unless, perhaps, my reading experience was in the hands of the "right" teacher. And by "right" teacher I mean someone who is not only an excellent teacher of teens, but someone I had a crush on. Like most people who've read Ann Frank's diary, I was stunned and felt ill when it ended so suddenly. It was a sublime reading experience for me, both joyful and horrific.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? 
Probably The Hot Zone: The Terrifying True Story of the Origins of the Ebola Virus by Richard Preston. I've recommended it to people I know well and to complete strangers back when I was a bookseller. I've never had someone come back and tell me they just couldn't get into it. It's one of those books that makes you feel like you've been through the wringer and also learned a few things along the way. I want more people to read In The Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick, which is probably my favorite nonfiction book of all time (movie based on the book is coming out in December). Also  literature lovers and writers might be fascinated by Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg. Perkins edited F. Scot Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway, among others. Read the book now before the movie starting Colin Firth as Perkins comes out (supposedly in 2016).

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? 
True crime or nonfiction about crime and crime fiction. I'm a fan of crime fiction, but there's something about the idea of reading true crime that makes me shudder. I once flipped through a book about suicides and murders in the 1930s or 1940s and almost passed out in the middle of the bookstore. Seriously, I had to sit down and breathe for a while. I'm currently dipping my toe in the water by reading Stolen Years: Stories of the Wrongfully Imprisoned by Reuven Fenton. It's a collection of ten short biographies about people who've served years or decades in prison for crimes they didn't commit.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
To reignite my reading and my blogging. I've read some good books this year, but I've been rather listless about both my reading and blogging. I'm looking forward to having a focus this month and seeing what everyone else is reading & recommending.

Do you have any nonfiction reading plans this month? 
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