What I'm Reading This Month
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2000)
After the untimely death of Anthony Bourdain, I began to learn a lot about this TV celebrity that so many in the world were inspired by. I have to admit that I am not a very good TV watcher. I have missed so many great series. Dr. Dale recommended that I watch West Wing and I “binge watched” the entire seven seasons of West Wing in just over seven years. That’s not very good, by the way. So, I have never seen an episode of Mr. Bourdain’s show, but I do love cooking and I am fascinated by the idea of what restaurants are really like. I sometimes wonder if I can take my recipes from my cooking website, principalchef.com, and turn it into something else. After reading this, I know I have no hope of doing that at all, so I’ll just keep enjoying cooking in my backyard and in my kitchen. Bourdain’s book is absolutely fascinating. Often profane, and drug-laced throughout the first part of his adult life, it’s a miracle that he lived through it, and a bigger miracle that any food of quality at all emerged from the kitchens he was in. Yet it did because of his sense of adventure, his love for food, and the long-lasting friendships that he developed with high-quality people in the kitchen. He tells of ill-fated restaurant dreams, of improperly managed restaurants, and of the occasional restaurants that were big successes. He is an outstanding storyteller, and an excellent writer, which, I guess, is why his TV show was such a success. If you can get past the profanity, not be turned off by his addictions, and be ready for the misogynistic nature of the kitchens he worked in, it’s an excellent read.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2011)
I was listening to an architect who specialized in building new schools talk about what classrooms should be. One of his pet peeves was all of the nonsensical and nonpurposeful clutter that occupies many classrooms. He thought that every classroom should contain only those items which are useful for teaching and learning or inspirational for teaching and learning. He said that one of the books that inspired him the most in this area was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. So, I bought it and read it. And my life is different because of it. It has become one of my major sources of inspiration, and perhaps at least a minor irritant to others in my home.
Here is the basic premise: throw out anything that does not give you joy, then take all those things that give you joy, and store them properly. She thinks this takes strong commitment, but once you commit, it’s easy to do and you don’t need anyone else to help you do it. Yet, she makes a great living by standing next to people and helping them to make the decisions that need to be made to get this done. So far in my own home, I have emptied our closet, our bathrooms, and our indoor and outdoor kitchens. Through it all, I have probably donated 15 or 20 large trash bags full of clothes, kitchen utensils and small appliances, books, and other assorted items. I have thrown away almost as much. It is absolutely crazy how much we all accumulate. I have learned how to fold clothes and towels in a different way that makes them highly accessible and makes my closets and kitchens beautiful. If my 18-year-old self could hear my 56-year-old self saying all this, he might try to come and kick my butt. But he’s not here anymore, is he? So my 56-year-old self is enjoying this new ride, enjoying walking into and living in the rooms that contain only the things I truly love, and finding things much more easily everywhere. I highly recommend the book, and I encourage you to take the plunge!
Spark Joy by Marie Kondo (2016)
The introduction to this book has Marie Kondo saying, “I don’t really see a need for this book. I told you everything in this first book but people keep writing me asking for details on how to do stuff, so here it goes.” I raced through this book and when I was done, I firmly agreed with Ms. Kondo. This book is not necessary nor is it too useful. The tips that I saw in the book I had already seen her give on YouTube videos that I had searched (yes – I admit that I looked for YouTube videos on how she folds clothes. I’m a little ashamed of that, but it is awesome and super helpful). So if you can’t get enough of Marie Kondo, yes go ahead and read this book. But it is, as she states in the beginning, unnecessary.
Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival, by Peter Stark (2014)
My brother Bill from Oregon recommended this book. It’s a great companion to Undaunted Courage which is one of my favorite books of all time. Though not as compelling or as historically rich as Undaunted Courage, this is a great story of 1812-era America and the foresight of John Jacob Astor as he tried to be the first to establish a settlement on the west coast. It’s a story of amazing bravery, foolheartedness, and the awesome beauty and power of the American west. If you liked Undaunted Courage, I highly recommend it. And a bonus is that when you travel through Oregon, you will recognize a lot of the names from this book. I biked through the snow-filled McKinzey pass two years ago, and when I do it next, I will have a new appreciation for the hardship that Mr. McKinzey and others endured. Not a beautiful book, but a solid read.
Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger (2014)
Tribes is a compelling book that speaks of the isolation and independence of humans in the modern world but particularly in the United States and the potentially harmful impact that that has on both individuals and society. The book opens with some historical accounts of Americans who were captured by Native American tribes and when they were “rescued” they did not want to return to their former communities. They felt more part of something in the new culture than in the independent and isolationist American culture they had been kidnapped from. Similarly, Sebastian Junger talks about how soldiers who return from combat situations have a difficult time returning to home in the United States. A third example he gives is of communities who were under siege and the impact that siege had on them. Whether it be the Germans’ bombing of Britain in World War II, or the Americans’ bombing of Germany in World War II. The impact was the same. The bombings made the communities stronger and more resilient than ever, and the incidences of depression and suicide went down tremendously. Under duress, communities bond and work together, reverting to the way humans used to be prior to this movement towards isolationism. The incidence rate of PTSD in the United States is higher than any other civilization in the world, he theorizes because the isolationism here is so distant from the camaraderie and collegiality and interdependence of a combat or threatening environment. He looks at how in the last 300 years, we have gone from a totally collaborative group/tribe/community culture to a highly independent one, and our evolutionary selves have not caught up with that change.
What’s the point? He encourages us to think about how we can create our own tribes. For most of us, our tribe is our nuclear family. That’s it. Can we make that bigger either at work or in our neighborhoods or among our friend groups? It’s a thought-provoking book that has implications for team building, friendships, neighborhoods, nations, and families.
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