What I’ve Read Recently
From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, by Harry M. Kraemer (2011)
I read this book in preparation for the fall 2019 meeting of Consortium 2032, our group of seven school districts who work together towards continuous improvement. Mr. Kraemer is a resident of New Trier, Chicago, which is where our Consortium was hosted and has spoken to the leaders of that school district many times. He is a former CFO and CEO of a major American company and has strong opinions on leadership. His basic premise is that there are four principles and those principles are: self-reflection, balance, self-confidence, and genuine humility. Mr. Kraemer goes through all of these different values and discusses them in detail. He puts a lot of value on celebrating the team and I have no argument with that whatsoever. That is critical for anyone’s success. He also pushes the idea that every single person in the organization is essential to that organization, and I wholeheartedly agree with that as well. He speaks a lot about balance. He does not use the term work-life balance, but just balance. That was good as well. And he reminds the reader often that your title or titles do not define you. It is how you treat those who are closest to you that defines you. I think this is valuable for anyone to hear, as I have met plenty of people in my life who think they are something special because of the position they hold or the opposite, thinking they are not someone special because of a lower-level position they hold. Both could not be more untrue. And that leads to the value of self-confidence, which I certainly have experienced is critical for any leader in any organization. Criticism comes from all sides, and you have to listen carefully to that criticism, weigh the options, and make the best decision possible. That takes true self-confidence. It’s a good book, and he certainly is an interesting person to listen to.
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver (2009)
I don’t get a chance to read much non-fiction, but when I do, there’s not much better than a Barbara Kingsolver novel. My wife read this one for her book club and I jumped on it once I heard it was Barbara Kingsolver. It’s a fantastic book set in the first half of the 20th century mostly in Mexico, but a little bit in the United States as well. As usual, she creates fantastic characters and vivid visuals. It’s a bit of a historical novel, involving eventually people like Trotsky and a few other famous men of the World War II era. She combines art and politics and adventure, and I was thoroughly entertained the entire read. I haven’t read of a book of hers yet that I did not love. And I recommend this one highly.
Educated: A Memoir, by Tara Westover (2018)
This is a book that has been on the best-seller list for a while, and I saw it in a friend’s house that I was visiting for a few days, picked it up, and read it. It’s a super quick read, mostly because you just can’t put it down. It is the true story of a daughter raised in a right-wing Idaho family. She is homeschooled and has little to do with the outside world, and her only reality is the world in her home. It’s a story of what her world looked like, and how she attempted to find her way out of the home. It turns and twists in the way only real life can, and it is fascinating every step of the way. Like millions of others around the world, I loved the book and highly recommend it.
Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto, by Aaron Franklin and Jordan Mackay (2015)
Some of you who know me know that I love to cook, and I love to barbecue on my Big Green Egg. Whenever I go to any place in the south, and lots of places in Los Angeles as well, I try to find great barbecue. There’s great barbecue in Arkansas where I grew up, but Texas is kind of the mothership for lots of great barbecue. I need to make a culinary journey to North Carolina to enjoy the barbecue and the golf, but that is yet to come. This is the story of how Franklin Barbecue, perhaps the most famous barbecue in Texas, came to be. Franklin is a place where people start lining up around seven in the morning, they start serving around ten in the morning, and they are sold out by 1:00 or 2:00 pm. They cook several things, but they are famous for their brisket. A brisket is cooked in many different ways, but this is all about smoking it until it’s perfect. He tells the story of how he would cook a brisket in his backyard on the most rudimentary and cheap of devices, and invite friends over to try it and critique it. He did this for years, saving up money to buy each brisket, as it’s a good $40 piece of meat and that doesn’t come easy. He shares how he started his restaurant and what they look like today. He also shares his recipes in the book as well. I decided to make 2019 the Summer of Brisket in my home, but I would not say I was overly successful. I only tried to make two the whole summer. They were good, but they were not fantastic. I have a friend in my neighborhood, my friend Chris, who does brisket perfectly, but he has been out of the area for a while. I need his mentorship and Mr. Franklin’s mentorship, and I still hope to be able to pull this off. It’s a good read, if you like barbecue. My vegetarian wife was not particularly attracted to this book, but as always, she puts up with me and my pursuits. Life is good.
Salt: A World History, by Matt Kurlansky (2003)
I saw this book in the airport bookstore, and bought it for my Kindle. I love reading on my Kindle, as I can always go back to the book, I carry it with me at all times, and I can take my notes from the book and my highlights from the book and upload them to Evernote, which is my filing system for just about everything. When I took history courses in college, once I got beyond the western civ courses that were requirements back in the early ‘80s, history teaching started to look a lot different. The professors never presented just the historical facts and stories. They always presented their facts with a slant on how students should view it. It could be a Marxist teacher, showing that every single historical decision and event was guided primarily by a desire for economic improvement. It could be from a humanitarian viewpoint, showing that humans throughout history have tried to be better towards each other and to make the world a better and more humane place for all. There were many other ways, but it took me a while to see that that kind of perspective allows for greater insight into how history occurred. Mr. Kurlansky writes the book Salt, showing that this precious mineral (which you can buy in a nice blue box for just a couple of bucks) was the key to much of our human history. I was taught that the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers were where our earliest humans settled because of the water. He writes it was really the salt that was there. He looks at the Civil War from a salt perspective. He looks at so many different things, and it’s all fascinating. He talks about how salt played such a role in the Roman history, in the explorers history, the United States history, and more. It is totally fascinating.
As a cook, I think that salt is underrated. People warn us to be careful with salt, but as my friend and true chef, Antonio, told me, if you just add salt and pepper to most things, and you add enough of it, food can be just about perfect. So yes, I love salt, and I really liked this book. It gave me a lot more insight into one of the things that I use every day in my house. I have not yet read his Cod book yet, and I may, though cod is not as big a part of my life as salt is. Good read, if you like this kind of stuff!
In this section, I will outline books that guide my thinking. I'm at my best when I'm reading, thinking and pushing myself. There's nothing more important than teaching literacy - the ability to read and write at advanced levels - and one way we all get better is (shock) by reading and writing. So I think it's important for me to share what I'm reading and what guides my work.
Books About Teaching and Learning
Books About Leadership
Books Recently Read
The 2016-17 School Year
The 2015-16 School Year
The 2014-15 School Year
The 2013-14 School Year
The 2012-13 School Year
The 2011-12 School Year