Picardi, Carrie. Leadership Essentials You Always Wanted to Know. Vibrant Publishers, 2021.
I should preface this review by saying I read Leadership Essentials on my phone. I have no idea what the print version will look like. The very first thing I noticed about Leadership Essentials is that it is a very short book. It’s made even shorter by pages of expert reviews, a page of author information, a page for acknowledgements, a page of a table of contents, and a few blank pages thrown in for good measure. The second thing to jump out at me was the discount code for three books for the price of two. That set the tone for me. It’s all about the sale.
As an author fact, Picardi is also a professor which is apparent when she presents learning objectives as deliverables for her book. I thought that was a nice touch – here is what I promise you will get out of this book. Not many “self help” books do that. What I didn’t appreciate were the quizzes – at least on the phone. When I went to find the answers (using the outside link) I was confronted with someone wanting to chat with me. There was no clear way to find just the answers so I gave up. I also gave up reading the book entirely because, at least on the phone, it wasn’t user-friendly. Picardi gives sound advice on how to be a good leader. I just found the delivery method to be lacking.
Book trivia: Leadership Essentials is part of a self learning management series.
Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey’s Song. New York: Ballantine Books, 1982.
Reason read: to finish the series started in July in honor of Kids month.
When we catch up to the Tillerman family (after reading Homecoming) they are in Maryland living with the grandmother they never knew they had. Dicey is a teenager starting to come of age with homework and budding, albeit reluctant, friendships. Her two younger brothers, James and Sammy, are in thriving in school. Her only sister Maybeth is a musical prodigy. Her family is becoming self-sufficient. Everything should be great for Dicey as the eldest sibling. Her family is not on the run. They have a roof over their heads every night. They have food on the table at every meal. They have someone to look after them. They are all in school. But, for Dicey something is intrinsically wrong. For the longest time she had control over her family. Keeping them together and safe was all she knew. It is what she did best. When her siblings start exercising independence Dicey isn’t sure how to feel about it. Throughout the story she struggles to learn to let them go their own ways, together but apart. At the same time Dicey deals with the internal confusion of becoming a young woman without her mother’s guidance. My favorite moments were whenever Gram’s hardened exterior softened as each child reached for her love.
Author fact: Voigt has written over a dozen young adult novels.
Book trivia: Dicey’s Song is a Newbery Award winner.
Playlist: “I Gave My Love a Cherry,” “Amazing Grace,” “Who Will Sing for Me?” “The Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Pretty Polly,” “Amazing Grace,” Beethoven, and even though they didn’t name the song, I recognized the story of “Matty Groves” (thanks to Natalie Merchant).
Nancy said: Pearl said nothing specific about Dicey’s Song.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 169).
Kamkwamba, William and Bryan Mealer. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. New York: Puffin Books, 2015.
Reason read: Recognizing the Malawi cabinet crisis of August 1964.
William Kamkwamba was no ordinary child from Malawi. He had imagination, ambition, and a curiosity that couldn’t be kept down even when his family couldn’t afford to send him to school. His drive was to improve his family’s situation after a severe drought left the landscape barren and his community on the brink of starvation, but really he loved to learn. He loved school so much he found a way to sneak into classes after he had been kicked out for nonpayment. Once found out he resorted to borrowing books at the library. One particular physics textbook resonated with him. Using money from a wealthy friend and the knowledge gained from reading and scrounging for supplies anywhere he could find them (flip flops, his father’s bicycle, melted PVC pips, the spring from a ball point pen…) Kamkwamba set out to build a windmill. His first invention in 2001 was modest, creating enough power to light a lightbulb. From there, Kamkwamba went bigger – big enough to charge cellphones and light his parent’s living room. The bigger the windmill, the more he could power. Soon his ambition went beyond his family and friends to extend to his entire community of Wimbe and he attracted the attention of powerful people. Doors opened across the world for Kamkwamba.
As an aside, I had a penpal from Malawi. He was killed in a car accident.
Author fact: William Kamkwamba received a degree from Dartmouth.
Book trivia: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind became a NetFlix documentary.
Playlist: Dolly Parton, Black Missionaries, Billy Kaunda, and “Silent Night.”
Nancy said: Pearl called The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind “heartwarming (but not soppy) and inspiring.” She also gave a shout out to librarians and libraries.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust to Go in the chapter called “Africa: the Greenest Continent” (p 7).
Head, Bessie. When Rain Clouds Gather. Oxford: Heinemann Education Publishers, 1995.
Reason read: Confessional – For weeks I have been calling this book When Storm Clouds Gather. I have no idea why.
In the most rural part of Botswana, untouched by western agricultural technologies, political refugee, Makhaya, and Englishman Gilbert Balfour try to revolutionize traditional farming methods. For the tribespeople of drought-ridden Golema Mmidi, this change is not always welcome, even if it means the end of entrenched poverty and the threat of starvation. Traditions run deep and when your tribal chief doesn’t approve of the new ways, the battle is more uphill than ever. Set against the backdrop of farming is the subject of love. Despite unrelenting unfavorable climate, the tribespeople of Golema Mmidi are passionate people. Head drew details for When Rain Clouds Gather from her own experiences as a refugee, living at the Bamangwato Development farm. It is hard to tell if the romantic parts are autobiographical as well.
Quotes to quote, “He was a platform speaker who never got down from the platform” (p 58), “It meant that if you loved people you had to allow complete invasion by them of your life, and he wasn’t built to face invasions of any kind” (p 67),”There were too many independent-minded people there, and tragedies of life had liberated them from the environmental control of the tribe” (p 141), and “You have to be loved a bit by the time you die” (p 179).
Author fact: Bessie Head was a biracial South African author and lived as a refugee like her character, Makhaya.
Book trivia: When Rain Clouds Gather was Bessie Head’s first novel.
Nancy said: Pearl said When Rain Clouds Gather is Bessie Head’s best-known novel. She also included what a librarian said about the book.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the very simple chapter called “Botswana” (p 42).
Reynolds, David K., Playing Ball on Running Water: the Japanese Way to Building a Better Life. New York: Quill, 1984.
Morita psychotherapy is Japan’s answer to Freud. There are so many different takeaways from Playing Ball on Running Water. How about this: live life. Don’t think about it or talk about it. Just live life. How about that for simple?
Think about this philosophy: you can never step into the same river twice. As you can tell, this short book resonated with me in more ways than I expected. I struggle with procrastination (otherwise known as avoidance) and social anxiety. Reynolds addresses both. On a personal level the strange phenomenon is once I address the issue I had been previously avoiding I am pleasantly surprised at how easy completion turned out to be. Like going to a party for example. I dread the arrival, but on the way home I’ll reflect on the event, and ultimately be pleased with myself that I went. My takeaway is to be as present as possible. Sometimes, paying very close attention and staying focused will clear the mind. A tea ceremony, for example, is set at a very deliberate pace. There is no rushing the event and each moment is well-practice, providing a safe space for familiarity.
The second half of Playing Ball on Running Water is a series of short stories that illustrate the Moritist principles. The entire book is constructed to help the reader play ball on running water.
As an aside – another interesting aspect of awareness is the art of combining different foods to make unusual meals for variety. Would peanut butter and pickle sandwiches count?
Lines I liked, “When our attention is alert to notice what reality has brought to us in this moment and to fit ourselves to it by doing what needs to be done, we are living fully during each of those waking hours” (p 56), “Risk and struggle are essential to life” (p 60), and “…I know that these tactics for playing ball on running water are helpful for the extremely sensitive person” (p 96).
Author fact: Reynolds lived in Japan for awhile and spent time in Zen Buddhist and Tendai Buddhist temples.
Book trivia: Playing Ball on Running Water is less than 180 pages but it took me almost a month to read.
Nancy said: Pearl called Playing Ball on Running Water nontechnical, practical, and compelling.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the presumptuous chapter called “Help Yourself” (p 109).
Woodard, Colin. Lobster Coast: Rebels, Rusticators, and the Struggle for a Forgotten Frontier. New York: Viking, 2004.
Reason read: the Lobster Festival is usually held the first week in August in Rockland, Maine. Kisa and I had the pleasure of attending the festival the same year Zoe was selling her calendar. To add to the personal element of this, Zoe and I attended the same school.
To live in Maine is to subscribe and ultimately surrender to a certain way of life. It is a proud life; an independent life. Take no grief from anyone and never ask for help. As they like to say, Mainers have grit.
Woodard is redundant in places and seems to skip around some, but for the most part his book, Lobster Coast is well researched and is an accurate portrayal of a way of life. It is a thoroughly engaging historical look back at Maine’s fierce independence. From the very beginning there has been a strong distrust of strangers, well entrenched prejudices against “newcomers” and non-natives.
Confessional: It is weird to read about my community, as in the physical place and the actual people who call Monhegan home. I read the first chapter of Lobster Coast with a smirk brought on by bias. Most of the names mentioned have been in my life since I first arrived on Monhegan as a five year old child. I know much of what Woodard speaks of intimately. The places haven’t changed much. Monhegan House, Black Duck, Shining Sails, the Museum, just to name a few. And the people…! I won’t name names but someone gave me a spanking right there on Fish Beach when they caught me and my best friend trying to start a bonfire. I think I was six. Someone else tried to teach me gymnastics, and (at the tender age of ten), all I could do was stare at the dark and curly pubic hairs escaping from her too-tight leotard. Someone else handed me my first beer…
Author fact: Woodard has contributed to The Chronicle of Higher Education and was born and raised in Maine.
Book trivia: Sadly, there are no photographs in Lobster Coast.
Nancy said: Pearl named Lobster Coast as one “reader-friendly micro-histories of the lobster industry” (Book Lust To Go p 136). I would say it is more of a history of the state of Maine, with a focus on lobstering.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).
Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Complete Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. New York: Barnes and Noble Classics, 2003.
Reason read: Doyle died in July. Read in his memory.
If you were to read the Complete Sherlock Holmes in chronological order, you would not start with the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The short stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, twelve in all, start after Holmes and Watson have gone their separate ways and are no longer sharing rooms of a flat together. Watson is by this time married with a house of his own while Holmes is still on Baker Street. One constant that remains throughout all the stories is Holmes’s ability to confuse people with his keen sense of observation. “How could you know that?” is a constant refrain. Another constant is that all of the stories are told in first person from Watson’s point of view.
- “Scandal in Bohemia” – a Duke and heir King is blackmailed by an actress. Sherlock, with the help of Holmes, attempts to end the threat but the woman outsmarts them.
- “Red-Headed League” – what do you get when you mix a redhead, an Encyclopedia, a bank, and a scam? Answer: a Sherlock Holmes mystery, of course!
- “A Case of Identity” – How far will a man go to keep his stepdaughter from marrying?
- “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” – Did a man really murder his father or is there more going on?
- “The Five Orange Pips” – a curse has come down through the generations, terrorizing a family.
- “The Man with the Twisted Lip” – This was my favorite. A man goes missing and is believed to be dead while his wife has faith he is alive.
- “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” – Who stole this precious jewel?
- “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” – another crazy story about a father not wanting his daughters to marry because of losing the inheritance.
- “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb” – is it a spoiler to say this is one story where the criminals get away?
- “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor” – Just what the title says, a guy does the right thing.
- “The Adventure of the Beryl Coronet” – family devotion illustrated with a coronet.
- “The Adventure of the Copper Beaches” – a really interesting story about trying to thwart a wedding (another common theme for Sherlock).
Author fact: rumor has it, Sherlock Holmes is somewhat modeled after Dr. Joseph Bell, a professor of Dolye’s at Edinburgh University.
Book trivia: Despite publishing two novels previously, Doyle’s career didn’t take off until he started writing short stories. The twelve listed above were published together in 1892.
Nancy said: Pearl included the Complete Sherlock Holmes in a list of private-eye mysteries.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the really long chapter called “I love a Mystery” (p 117).
Larsson, Stieg. The Girl Who Played with Fire. New York: Vintage, 2011.
Reason read: to continue the series started in July in honor of the Swedish festivals.
Here is the great thing about the continuation of Larsson’s “The Girl…” series. He doesn’t spend a lot of time recounting what happened in the first book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It is as if he depends on you to immediately pick up the next book in the series order to keep the drama going at breakneck speed. Larsson does fill you in wherever necessary for the sake of plot flow; and to catch you up in case you have forgotten some small detail. How he knows that. I don’t know. For the most part, The Girl Who Played with Fire is its own story in and of itself.
Lisbeth Salander is “growing up” before our eyes. You cannot help but like this tough, odd woman-child. She starts removing tattoos and piercings, not because she wants to change her identity (although those simple changes and breast implants alter her previously recognizable look considerably), but rather because she is changing internally. She is starting to feel things which may or may not be a good thing. After being away from Sweden from a year she comes home which definitely is not a good thing. I won’t go into the details, but Lisbeth finds herself accused of a triple murder which is a brilliant move on Larsson’s part. This allows for Lisbeth’s past to be revealed under intense scrutiny. Many questions about Lisbeth’s character come to light.
Meanwhile, Salander’s former flame, Mikael Blomkrist, is busy as editor back at Millennium. Mikael continues to be the ladies’s man, this time starting a relationship with the very woman he was asked to find in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Considering how that book ended, this may or not be a good thing as well.
Author fact: Stieg’s given first name is Karl.
Book trivia: The Girl Who Played with Fire was made into a Swedish film (2009) and a television miniseries (2010).
Nancy said: Pearl didn’t say anything specific about The Girl Who Played with Fire.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Swede(n), Isn’t It.” (p 222).
Skelton, Helen. Wild Girl: How to Have Incredible Outdoor Adventures.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing, this was the July pick.
The premise of Wild Girl is to inspire young women (or more accurately, young girls) to get outside and have grand adventures. The subtitle would have you believe this is a guide to teach girls exactly that, how to have those big adventures albeit on a much smaller scale than Skelton’s. (Make sure to ask your parents, she advises.) Upon closer inspection, Wild Girl reminded me of FaceBook in brag book form. It seems to be more of an illustrated memoir about Ms. Skelton’s own epic experiences, complete with several smiling photos in every chapter. There is no doubt she is an A type woman: athletic, attractive, adventurous, amusing, ambition, and without a doubt, aspiring. For every chapter (focused on a single event across the globe) there are eighteen to twenty pages dedicated to Skelton: where she went (South Pole, for example), what sport she performed (snowboard, kite skiing, snow biking), how long she was gone, the temperatures and weather she experienced in each region, what she packed for gear, how she prepared and/or trained, a snippet of a diary, really cute illustrations, and last but not least, several photographs of her performing her wild adventure. Only two pages are reserved for giving girls ideas or advice about how to have their own “epic” adventure (like having a snowball fight). The subtitle should have been how to inspire incredible outdoor adventures. Dream big! If I can do it, you can too!
Confessional: The coolest part of Skelton’s book is the two pages in each chapter dedicated to women who made names for themselves doing similar adventures. They get a mini biography and an illustration of their likeness.
Book trivia: There are well over fifty photographs of Helen in this slim book. The final printing will have them all in color! Very cool.
King, Stephen. Lisey’s Story: a Novel. New York: Scribner, 2006.
Reason read: in honor of going to Maine for two weeks I decided to read a Maine author. Everyone knows Stephen King.
Many view this work of Stephen King’s as a “different” kind of horror story, and while I found that to be true, it didn’t hook me the way other King stories have. There was a great deal of terminology repetition that should have kept me questioning what it all meant, but really didn’t (constant reference to blood-bools, smucking, smuckup, strapping it on, SOWISA, to name a few…).
Widow Lisey Landon has a stalker who is after her dead husband’s papers. As a well known and prize winning author, his unpublished manuscripts could be worth a fortune. We don’t know how Scott died, but we do know he survived an assassination attempt and Lisey has other memories too terrible to recall. Her horrible thoughts are repeatedly cut off in mid-sentence, a tactic designed to keep the reader in suspense, but ultimately ended up annoying this particular reader. In the winter of 1996 something happened; something that was too terrible to conjure completely. Lisey stops herself from thinking through her memory.
It is true that damaged people seek out other damaged people to form a warped kind of kinship. It is only natural that Scott, a product of unspeakable abuse and horror, should gravitate towards Lisey whose own sister practices self-mutilation (and ultimately falls into a catatonic state). Lisey sees all the warning signs before marrying Scott but decides to ignore them. The good moments far outweigh the bad. Isn’t that always the way in abusive relationships?
King is an expert at hinting at danger to come. There is always something ominous lurking around the corner, just out of sight. Hints, whispers, winking in the dark like strands of smoke from an arson’s fire…
Author fact: King said this is one of his favorites and always pictured it as a television series. Rumor has it, a network is doing just that.
Book trivia: King always wanted to make Lisey’s Story into a serial television show. It was made into a mimi series starring Julianne Moore.
Nancy said: Pearl says she “frequently suggest[s]” Lisey’s Story as a horror book that isn’t too horrible. She also claims it is a good book for book groups, as well (Book Lust To Go p 136).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “The Maine Chance” (p 135).
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Illustrated by Joseph Ciardiello. New York: Reader’s Digest, 1989.
Reason read: August is the month to be by the sea.
Who doesn’t know the story of Captain Ahab and his obsessive hunt for the albino whale he calls Moby Dick?
What makes Moby Dick such an iconic story is Ishmael and his keen observations, not just of monomaniacal Captain Ahab, but of the entire crew of the Peaquod and the everlasting mythology surrounding whales. While his voice changes throughout the narrative, he remains the iconic character driving the story. There is a rage in Ahab that is mirrored in Ishmael. There is also a lack of faith in Ishmael that is mirrored in Ahab. While there is an adventure plot, Moby Dick also has a mix of religion (sermon of Jonah and the Whale); the study of the color white as it relates to mountains, architecture, and of course, inhabitants of the ocean, whales and sharks; a lecture of the different types of whales, including the narwhal. Additionally, Moby Dick offers didactic lectures on a variety of subjects: art, food, religion, slavery. [As an aside, although it is a realistic exchange between the cook, Fleece, and sailor Stubb, it made me uncomfortable.]
Quotes to quote, “It’s only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin (p 38), “Yes, as anyone knows, meditation and water are wedding forever” (p 24), and “All our arguing with him would not avail; let him be, I say: and Heaven may have mercy on us all…for we are somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” (p 89).
Author fact: it is sad to think that Herman Melville did not find success as a writer until after death.
Book trivia: The illustrations by Joseph Ciardiello are pretty cool.
Nancy said: Pearl said the opening line to Moby Dick slipped her mind and that is why it wasn’t included in her first book, Book Lust.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Lines that Linger, Sentences that Stick” (p 140). As an aside, the title is hyphenated as Moby-Dick in the index while my copies (print and audio) are not. As another aside, I have to argue with the inclusion of Moby Dick in this chapter. If another lesser book started off “Call me Harold” would it have been included? Probably not. What makes “Call me Ishmael” is not the opening line itself, but the epic story that follows. Those three words are only the gateway to an unforgettable and insane adventure.
Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. New York: Dial Press, 2008.
Reason read: Poland usually celebrates a music festival in August. Probably not this year. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society does not take place in Poland, nor has anything to do with Poland.
Epistolary novels are always fun to read. The trick for the author is to make each letter-writer’s voice different. I would like to imagine Mary Ann Shaffer and her niece, Annie Barrows writing The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by writing back and forth to each other because the exchanges are very well done. However, I know that Shaffer asked Barrows to assist in finishing the book when she became ill.
So, for the plot: Imagine it is January 1946. The Second Great War has come to a close and everyone is dealing with the aftermath, especially England. London writer and biographer Juliet Ashton receives a letter out of the blue from a man in the Channel Islands. He is a complete stranger but has read Ashton’s article on Charles Lamb. Of course Ashton writes back as soon as she hears the gentleman is a member of the curious society called the Guernsey and Potato Peel on the island of Guernsey. Soon Ashton gets the idea to write a piece about the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. It all started with an illegal roast pig supper…What follows is not your typical romance or even your typical historical novel about the German occupation during World War II, but a strange and wonderful combination of the two.
Best quote to quote, “Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad books” (p 53).
Author(s) facts: Mary Ann Shaffer was a librarian and an editor who died in 2008. Annie Barrows is Shaffer’s niece.
Book trivia: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was a New York Times Bestseller.
Nancy said: In the chapter “Guernsey: History in Fiction” Pearl called Shaffer’s book “excellent” (p 90), but in “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181), Pearl compared another book to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.
BookLust Twist: a double mention in Book Lust To Go. First, in the chapter called simply “Guernsey: History in Fiction” (p 90), and then in the chapter called “Polish Up Your Polish” (p 181). Disclaimer: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society has nothing to do with Poland and should not be mentioned in “Polish Your Polish.” It’s another one of those “if you like this book, then you will love this book” mentions.
Bostridge, Mark. Florence Nightingale: the Making of an Icon. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008.
Reason read: Florence Nightingale passed in the month of August. Read in her memory.
I read this biography in the hopes of shedding the cliche Florence Nightingale has inadvertently become in my mind. The very name conjures up a saintly figure of epic kindness. A woman with angel wings and endless patience. Someone with a glowing halo and endless caring calm. I wanted Bostridge’s biography to turn an otherwise glossy icon into flesh and bone with faults and no-so-saintly feelings. It turns out, the public did a lot to add to the “lady with the lamp” mythology for when the desperate attach an attribute like hope to a person, the image becomes angelic. Such was the desperation of soldiers during the Crimean War. The lamp Nightingale often carried beat back the darkness (and encroaching fear of death) with its soothing soft glow. Elizabeth Gaskell called her a saint. John Davies implied she was a goddess with a magic touch.
Tidbits of interesting not-so-saintly information I enjoyed learning: from an early age Nightingale wanted to care for the sick. She was not shy about voicing her criticism regarding hospital conditions: defective ventilation and horrid sanitation practices. She didn’t get along well with others as her persistence for improved conditions irked administrators far and wide. Through and despite all that, like a modern day celebrity craze, there was a insatiable demand for her likeness. Portraits of her cropped up everywhere. People were writing music about her. By 1855 people were naming boats and buildings after her.
Trivial details: Nightingale traveled through Egypt to Cairo with budding author Gustave Flaubert by sheer coincidence. She made Elizabeth Gaskell’s acquaintance. She had a sister who lost her identity in the shadow of Florence’s greatness. Florence made unusual animals her pets, a cicada and and owl.
There is no doubt Florence Nightingale: the Making of an Icon is the result of meticulous research.
When I am dead and gone will people remember me as someone in a “righteous rage to get things done” like Florence Nightingale was remembered? I just love that image of her.
Author fact: Bostridge also wrote Vera Brittain and the First World War: the Story of Testament of Truth, which is not on my Challenge list, but I am reading Vera Brittain’s Testament books.
Book trivia: Florence Nightingale is full of black and white illustrations and photography.
Nancy said: Pearl called Florence Nightingale a really good biography.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Egypt” (p 75). Florence Nightingale should not be included in this chapter because it is not about Egypt, the majority of the biography does not take place in Egypt, nor is Egypt important to the life of Florence.
O’Callaghan, Ryan with Cyd Zeigler. My Life on the Line: How the NFL Damn Near Killed Me. and Ended Up Saving My Life. Brooklyn, New York: Edge of Sports, 2019.
Reason read: as part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing.
When I requested My Life on the Line I was not prepared to have my heart broken. This is the simple story of an NFL football player trying to conceal his true self throughout his sports career. For twenty eight long years he had a secret. Hiding behind anything and everything to make himself look “manly” Ryan O’Callahan was in constant fear of being outted as a homosexual. No one could find out. No one. Tough language, big trucks, country music, guzzling beer, deer hunting, drugs, and bullying were all part of the smoke and mirrors game; all tactics O’Callaghan used so no one could accuse him of even a hint of being gay. His perception was a homosexual man wouldn’t use foul language. A gay man wouldn’t drive a big truck or take drugs and he certainly wouldn’t listen to Garth Brooks! At the center of it all was being a professional football player. For as long as O’Callaghan was playing this manly game he reasoned he could stay alive. Without football he was convinced he couldn’t hide; being exposed meant certain death at his own hand. Even when people close to him started to suspect, O’Callaghan would emphatically deny it, thinking the NFL was his perfect cover.
Then came the injuries and the surgeries and the pain, one after another like unrelenting sea surge. The more O’Callaghan damaged his body the faster his addiction to pain killers grew. He had easy access to prescriptions and at one point was using from nine different doctors. The prospect of playing football professionally hung in the balance as his drug use spiraled out of control and like all dangerous games, it had to come to an end sooner or later.
An added bonus to O’Callaghan’s story was learning a little more about NFL quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. His story was a little disappointing…
Franzen, Jonathan. Strong Motion. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1992.
Reason read: Franzen’s birth month is August.
I will say right off the bat that I did not particularly enjoy Strong Motion. There were chapters I definitely liked better than others. Had the plot been reduced to two or three story lines I think I would have liked it more. As it was, there was a lot going on in Strong Motion and I found myself bogged down by the verbose language and getting distracted very easily. The beginning of the book starts off simple enough. Louis Holland arrives in Boston right before a series of earthquakes start plaguing eastern Massachusetts. The first quake kills his wealthy grandmother, Rita Kernaghan, in a freak accident while no one else is even injured. From the moment you meet Louis you sense there is something off-centered or even dangerous about him. You don’t know whether to like him or not. He becomes fixated on his grandmother’s inheritance of twenty two million dollars. A battle ensues between him and his parents and sister for control of the money. In the meanwhile he has to balance his attraction to a Harvard seismologist studying the tremors that rock the eastern side of Massachusetts. Renee Seitchek knows the earthquakes are more than just a natural phenomenon (since when has the eastern seaboard been a hotbed for shifting earth?) and soon her focus is on Sweeting-Aldren, a petrochemical and weapons manufacturer, as the culprit. Is it possible they drilled holes deep enough to bury toxic waste causing Teutonic plates to collide? Throw in feminist issues, pro-life controversies, capitalist greed, attempted murder and environmental degradation and you have the whole of Strong Motion. Amidst apocalyptic chaos of epic proportions the Red Sox are in first place…
Author fact: Frazen demonstrates his knowledge of Massachusetts by carelessly tossing out names of towns like Waltham and Somerville.
Book trivia: Strong Motion is Franzen’s second novel.
Nancy said: Pearl called Strong Motion an excellent pomo book.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “The Postmodern Condition” (p 190).