Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Not Curious Enough to Finish the March Selection

When I chose non-fiction for March, I knew it would take a little longer than the fiction months had taken. I read about five non-fiction books a year and they always take longer. Partly because I’m usually less anxious to pick them up and partly because I need to really think through what I’m reading.

A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer with Charles Fishman was no exception. As I write this, deep into April, I still haven’t finished it. Let’s unpack why.



It’s a hardback book that sold for $25. I ordered it May 6, 2015 with three other non-fiction books: Rise: A Soldier, a Dream, and a Promise Kept by Daniel Rodriguez. He’s a veteran who returned from war and played football at Clemson; Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, who, I suspect, has never been kicked out of book club; Save the Cat by Blake Snyder.


On that same order were fiction titles The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer and The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti. Neither of which have been read. Apparently in 2015 I had plenty of money for books I had no intention of reading.



A Curious Mind is Brian Grazer explaining how his success in Hollywood has come from asking questions. It’s part memoir, part how-to and every now and then so completely deaf only a white man could have written it.  In his defense, it was 2015, so before we were asking white men to expand their world view to include women and people of color. Nonetheless, when he talks about such different stories all of which starred a middle-aged white man, I’m a little bit like, “WTF, dude?”


One of the other things that slows down my non-fiction reading is writing in all the margins. I did that on this one, too. He had some good “nuggets” as my writer’s group lead, Ginny, would say.


What I loved

Grazer wants to share this secret with us. He wants us to be better about asking other people for their perspectives and stories. He says, “We can teach people to ask good questions, we can teach people to listen to the answers, and we can teach people to use the answer to ask the next question.” That spoke to the educator in me, especially homeschool mom Kasie who tends to lead Hollie through education like it’s a big Socratic experiment.


He also identified “management curiosity” which has been my style with our Redesign Work platform and now (thanks!) has a name. It consists of asking contributors if the work they’d busy with is the right way to spend their time and energy. It treats all business functions like creative functions by asking, “Are we doing this the right way?”


What I Disliked

Grazer’s book suffers from that practitioner habit of repetition. As if there wasn’t exactly enough to say for a whole book, but we’ll repeat some key tenets so we get to the page count.


The style is conversational, self-deprecating in places, and only a little patronizing. I might have liked more personal stories about friendships, lovers, and children. But the focus was very much on the extraordinary career he’s had in filmmaking and sometimes seemed like a lot of name-dropping.


That said, Grazer is genuine and when he suggests Universities staff a faculty member whose expertise is curiosity, I wrote in the margin, “Mr. Grazer will you endow my Chair at the University of South Carolina’s business school on ‘Curiosity in Management’?” 

Have you taken the Off the Shelf Challenge in 2021? What are you reading?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Tender Story of Love and Friendship Set Against Early Moviemaking Magic

I'm not opposed to historical fiction. In fact, I find most of what I know about bygone eras has come to me through novels. That said, this month's Off the Shelf selection was an unexpected kind of historical fiction. One in which the history was new to me but the scenes were very familiar. 

I should have expected that the author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet would have a gift for juxtaposition, but it caught me surprise nonetheless.


Like last month's selection, I purchased this title at a consignment store in Columbia. I paid $6 for it as a hardback. This past week, my editor and best friend Jodie and I were talking about purchasing used books. Since the author does not receive royalties from this practice, we are not big fans of it. In the case of a consignment store, however, the publisher isn't receiving payment either, just the previous book owner. I'm not sure where I stand on that.

Maybe I would just hate to think of my own book being parted with in such a way.

In any case, I pulled Songs of Willow Frost from the shelf for February and it only took me until the very last day of the month to actually finish it.


This story is about William, an 12-year-old Chinese boy in Sacred Heart Orphanage outside Seattle, Washington, in 1934. The opening scene is such a good one, we get an immediate sense of exactly what orphanage life is like. There's a kind of hard-knocks-life feel to it that it seems familiar. William's friendships with a Native American boy, Sunny, and a blind girl, Charlotte, are some of the best parts of this book. 

Willow Frost is the Chinese film star William believes to be his mother. We get the two reunited and her story in two flashback sections of the book, telling us about her life after her father and brothers die of Spanish Flu and her mother must remarry a real jerk to protect them. The Spanish Flu seems familiar -- plague, quarantine, face masks, fear -- but this era of Seattle history is not something I've studied.

Once reunited, William and Willow each face important choices related to what they're willing to continue to accept and that might be my biggest challenge with the book. Neither William nor Willow seems to have agency until it is far too late.

What I loved

There's some good details about the conditions of city life in Seattle at that time and the drudgery that was life in and around the stock market crash. The businessman who employs Willow to sing on the sidewalk outside his music store as a marketing effort is a good, benevolent character. The nun in the orphanage is also a great character who gets a chance at forgiveness and redemption, one she makes good use of. I also liked the early history of moviemaking and film production. Good research showed through there.

There's a child's sense of confusion in the narrative that surrounds William, Sunny, and Charlotte. I think Jamie Ford does a good job of giving us their naiveté even as dangerous as it is. But Willow's equal naiveté is less gratifying.

What I didn't like

I wanted Willow to have more moxie. Especially after reading Ford's Author's Note regarding his late grandmother who was a strong "Alpha Female" in an era when to be so strong was not easy or welcome. I wanted Willow to make plans and struggle through failure. But she waited around. A lot. Kind of like William did. Maybe there's a beautiful parallel there, but it was frustrating and even boring in some places.

Should you read this

I liked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet better, but Ford is a talented storyteller and spending time with anything he's delivered would be worthwhile.

So what did you read off your shelf in February? Leave a comment to share.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Self-Inflicted Mid-Life Crisis Wrapped in Beautiful Prose

Off the Shelf Challenge 2021 - January

One Last thing Before I Go

Jonathan Tropper

I write in my books. It’s why I’m not a very good library user. In this month’s Off the Shelf pick, I worked really hard to not write in it. For two reasons: one, I wanted to read it for the sake of reading and two, I felt like I’d probably just end up highlighting whole sections of such beautifully written prose it routinely broke my heart.

This is the first entry for the Off the Shelf Challenge and I wasn’t sure what format these posts would take so I’m going to try this one and see if it does what we need it to do. I’ll accept your feedback, dear reader, in the comments below.


Where I bought the book is the first note I make in the book. I write where and when I purchased it on just about every acquisition. So I flipped this one open to see where and when and … nothing. I apparently didn’t record that. 

So here’s what I know about this book: the copyright is August 2012 and this is a hardback version, so it’s probably of that year. The cover price says $26.95 US but on the back is a label printed by a local cycle-up consignment store called Roundabouts that priced the book at $8. The label also says 11/19/2015 which I can guess was when the book was acquired. I apparently purchased it sometime after that.


This book follows Silver, a fifty-something former musician who is estranged from his ex-wife and daughter. He’s living in a sad apartment complex with dozens of other former husbands and earning $70 a week for ejaculating into a cup as part of a scientific research study. The sadness of Silver’s existence is quickly established - he’s a has-been musician from a one-hit-wonder band, and more like a passenger in his own life than an active participant until he’s diagnosed with an operable but life-threatening heart condition.

The book is a third-person close narrative with alternative viewpoints of Silver and his daughter, Casey, a recent high school graduate, whose own medical crisis pulls Silver back into her life while intersecting with his new diagnosis. We also get a few segments from the POV of Denise, Casey’s mom and Silver’s ex. The fragments of this former family and the way they try to repair the ties and heal old wounds are the primary occupation of the novel.

What I Loved

The prose is perfect. Phrases like, “When you grow up in a rabbi’s house, God is part of the package, an amiable resident ghost, floating about in corners, sitting in the empty dinner chair, peering in through the curtains after you get tucked into bed.” I can only imagine all of Tropper’s work reads this way: regular language elegantly constructed for just the right impact. 

There’s also this meta-understanding of the language when Silver begins saying aloud his internal thoughts. It’s a manifestation of his sickness, and serves to break barriers between himself and others, so it’s a great device. But it also calls attention to the way the thoughts are constructed -- they are not the same as dialogue -- and yet they’re used as dialogue. Which is so simple a device as to be obnoxiously brilliant.

In one encounter, after the device has been well established, Silver approaches a woman he’s been admiring from afar. The internal monologue reads, in part, “He senses a profound kindness in her, a softness he wants very badly to know and protect… He could be a better man for her.” The woman looks strangely at him and replies, “You know you’re saying this out loud, right?” to which he responds, “I do now.”

The reader is left to wonder if Silver thinks of himself in third person: “he senses,” and “he could,” or if he’s monologued the passage as, “I sense,” and “I could be.” And this trick, this device, is so compelling that when it’s used strategically throughout the book, it endears us both to Silver and to the story itself. Not to mention as he’s being honest and revealing secrets, the character is also forcing other characters to respond and spurring the plot forward.

So, like I said, brilliant. And simple. So simple I’m jealous of it.

What I didn’t like

We don’t have any reason to like Silver, he’s a self-admitted screw up who doesn’t really know why he let his family slip away and his life fall apart. Now, as he’s diagnosed with a failing heart, as his daughter is in crisis and his ex-wife is about to remarry, he seems to want to make a comeback and although he admits he doesn’t deserve a second chance, we nonetheless hope he gets one.

I don’t like that we don’t get the details of the marriage’s demise. We never see the moment when Denise kicked him out. We’re given the same kind of apathetic summation of the events leading up to his being in a kind of effortless fog for seven years that Silver himself feels and I was frustrated by that. I get it -- life isn’t one mistake that ruins us. It’s a series of careless declines, things we decide not to do, that leaves us desolate. But such a realization is both depressing and lets both Silver and Tropper off the hook.

Should You Read This?

I’d recommend it. I picked it up Sunday and was done Wednesday evening. It’s easy to stick with, engaging and well-written. It’s not particularly groundbreaking but that’s part of what makes it so good - its smallness is self-aware and it echoes one of those universal truths that one only learns after years of believing otherwise: It’s never the big things that matter. It’s always the accumulation of small things that really determines our satisfaction with our own life.

What did you read this month? Leave the book’s purchase link in the comments and answer the prompts: Origin, Summary, Liked, Didn’t, and Would you recommend it. 

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Off the Shelf: A 2021 Reading Challenge


I’m a Kindle junky. For the past few years I’ve read 100+ books, all digital, mostly romance. Meanwhile, my library shelves have remained static.


I’ve borrowed library books. Selected them, requested them, picked them up, and left them on the table while I digitally binged.


On Christmas Day, Hollie received from Santa a paperback copy of V.C. Andrews’ Heaven. I promptly read it cover to cover. Then bought the second book, Dark Angel, and read it, too. They were the books that made me want to become an author when I was 12.


Having rekindled my love for paper texts (pun intended), I’ve decided to do something about the bookshelves.


I am resolved to read 12 books already in my possession. Each one, when finished, will be discussed here. It’s my way of committing to 1) reading real books, 2) blogging here more regularly, and 3) writing reviews as a way of sharpening my literary analysis skills.


Once upon a time, I earned a master’s degree in English with the careful study and analysis of literary texts. And lately I’ve been reading books like eating candy. Full consumption. Sugary and empty.


The master’s degree was not wasted. I write much better than many people I know and I’ve skills in recognizing storytelling devices and literary achievement. But I have neglected study and wish to see if a more dedicated effort will benefit me in unexpected ways.

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Don't be the Sheep

For too long our elections have been battles between lions. Like gladiator games, we are all in the stadium (or watching from home) with little to no impact on the outcome. We are the sheep. So okay, sheeple, let’s be clear about a few important truths: 

Republicans and Democrats are NOT the government. 

They are well-funded factions with paid operatives. They are what George Washington warned us about in his farewell address. They are national organizations that select candidates, decide which races to fund, and manipulate election law to secure their own power. 

Political parties are career politicians but that doesn’t mean they know how to govern. 

Political parties are about getting elected. The paid operatives inside the Republican and Democrat parties are strategists. They dice voter data, make judgments about candidate viability, and design and approve those negative ads we all hate. When paid political operatives take the stage, when they rig contests, when they fundraise, they are not acting in the best interests of the voters. They are acting in the best interests of the party. Because that’s who pays them. 

This is not the most important vote in your life. 

Any more than last presidential cycle was. Or the one before that. Politicians drive urgency to earn airtime. They are competing with social media, the struggles of your everyday life, your job, your kids, your sex life for attention. Politicians need your facetime and they get it by telling you how much they matter. This is a job interview and they are candidates. They are not heroes. They are not saviors. They are at best celebrities and at worst grifters. 

Everything is political only if you let it be. 

Suspicious of the accuracy of our voting system? Angry that some people aren’t wearing masks? Scared your business will fail if it stays closed? Don’t trust police to keep you safe? Think the border wall is the only way to maintain our national sovereignty? Everything is political if you let it be. And if you exist in your community, you know that nothing is political. How your neighbors treat you, the local restaurants and theaters and art exhibits that express love and pride, a Friday night football game of cheering fans, and school PTO meetings where volunteers support educators: that is life. Not red and blue states. Not pundits and soundbites. 

You are the power. 

After the smoke clears and the dust settles and mainstream media goes back to reporting on celebrity gossip, you can still enact change in your community. You can volunteer for local efforts to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. You can organize community efforts to solve local issues, let your voice be heard at City and County Council meetings, challenge efforts to gerrymander districts. You can find validated news online and share that instead of echo-chamber propaganda. You can get out from behind your computer screen and realize real life, out there in the world, is less scary than the lions would have you believe. 

You can be the sheep. Or you can be the shepherd. Armed and ready to shoot the lions.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Listening: The Forgotten Virtue of Citizenship

Borrowed from my friend Alex Peterson, a fellow delegate to the Libertarian Party's National Convention in Orlando this weekend.

As good citizens, there comes times that we must listen to our neighbors and act to maintain peace.  In today's discussions that is often a forgotten virtue, and has led to a regrettable situation where two sides are facing off with both believing that the other is exhibiting signs of racism.  Although one person does not speak for a movement, when the leaders of the movement do not call out ideals spoken under their banner that do not match the movement's ideals it is assumed they support them.  This has become a serious issue between the people stating “All lives matter” and “Black lives matter.”In researching this issue, we did find some very valid points about life experiences in our county that really should be fully heard by all.  

For example, we found that the idea of impending victimization to be a serious issue for a wide swath of people when they see anything pertaining to slavery.  This is especially true near government buildings.  We did also find reports of people being stopped an seemingly impossible number of times by the police.  These situations merit further action without question. 

Our American Dream is one of equality and personal prosperity. While the arguments of preserving history have merit, the facts are we can accomplish the same thing by moving those items to museums without having to expose people to that kind of negativity.  

We can also use the present hardware used by police to create systems of civilian tracking that would allow us to identify such abuse of power and hopefully end it before someone gets hurt or killed.  We would ask that the people under the “All lives matter” banner to listen to some of the speeches given at BLM rallies while imagining if your parents and now you had experienced some of those events.  

We would then ask that we respectfully put that part of our past behind us and work together with our neighbors to create a better functioning country for all.That being said, there are also some points that people are making underneath the “All lives matter” banner that have logical merit.  When one searches the internet, we find that there are quotes from media and videos on what are represented as being BLM leaders stating that all white people are inferior and racist.  There has also been enough violence especially considering the children that are dying from it.   

We would ask that the grassroots portion of the “Black lives matter” movement reach out to the charity's leadership and ask why no statement has been made clearing these matters up.  Because of those statements people are really saying “All lives matter” thinking they are educating the person in front of them about racism instead of hearing a cry for help.  It would also be important to ask where the billions of dollars the charity is getting is going.  It would be fair to say that the money was given with the ideal of helping your community; however, it does not seem to be doing so at this time.  If the charity will not come clean on these issues, it is our recommendation the grassroots portion of “Black lives matter” fight for their slogan and money back to use it for actual good.If both sides will step back and look at the merits of the other's points, we would find that because all lives matter we should be removing idols of slavery and putting them away.  We would also find that anyone speaking in a racist manner should be called out for it and better educated. By doing so, both sides should be able to easily work hand in hand towards the common goal.

In clarification of Presidential Candidate Jo Jorgensen's tweet using #blacklivesmatter and therefore being attacked for being a Marxist, I wrote this on the SCLP.org blog. Thanks, Alex, for taking the conversation further by suggesting we LISTEN to one another.

Who’s in?

This is an open invitation to anyone who wants to write a blog on the topic of Love & Politics to contribute to this space. It’s safe here, I promise. You are welcome here. You don’t have to agree with me or anyone else. Just tell us a story. Make a case. Make an effort.

Leave a comment if you’d like to contribute or reach out to me kasie@clemsonroad.com and let's talk.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

On Freedom

Shared with permission from my friend Jackie Capers Brown on Facebook:
One of the dictionary meanings of the word freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
Another dictionary definition of freedom is the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government. A despotic government is a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. Normally, that entity is an individual, the despot, as in an autocracy, but societies that limit respect and power to specific groups have also been called despotic.
On July 4th every year the United States of America celebrates the day that 13 colonies decided to claim their independence from England. 
It is the evolution of this country and what it might become when all citizens are respected and feel they are valued and capable of using their civil liberties to create the change they seek that will cause us to always be at crossroads throughout the history of this nation. This is a normal part of the evolution process.
The United States of America is not perfect, nor will it ever be. Humans are imperfect. Our challenge as citizens, regardless of race, is for us to not lose sight that this democracy can only see better days as we the people unite to respect, value, demonstrate empathy and genuine care and concern for one another.
For too long, we have allowed our country to be run by political parties, special interest groups, big business, wealthy and influential people who have not had our collective best interest in mind.
It's time that we the American people who understand the challenge but are up to it - begin the process of our turnaround in our communities with a focus on UNITY. Finding common ground with people that don't look like us for our collective common good.
The degree in which we can come together and find common ground and address community issues UNITED will reflect the degree to which we can rise up, TOGETHER.
For example, we the people need to use our freedom to decide that every citizen and person in this nation has a right to equal justice regardless of his or her skin color, gender, religion, sexual orientation etc. We need to establish what that looks and feels like and hold elected officials accountable for taking action that makes it a reality.
There is a cost for freedom. There are sacrifices we must make for freedom. There is a level of maturity we must demonstrate to actualize the American dream written in our constitution. 
I believe that each of us has been born for such a time as this.
I believe that all of the divisiveness and hate we are seeing in our country is a mirror reflection of the condition of our country's soul. 
And, unless, we are ready to relinquish the control of this nation to one person or political figure, each of us needs to take time to reflect on how we can use our unique code of greatness towards elevating our country to the next level.
We have to raise our personal standard as to how we will show up in this world and the impact we are having towards creating a better world for the generations behind us.
We cannot continue to live in ways that urge us to forgo the future benefits of becoming UNITED NOW to appease our tendency for instant gratification. It is clear that this approach is causing great harm to the citizens of this country, and the country itself.
I believe this moment in our collective history is calling us to make a decision. Will we step into a higher version of ourselves for the collective good of all?
We have demonstrated during times of great challenges that we can do this. Will this moment go down in our country's history where we decided to rise above our petty differences and find common ground from which we can begin to rebuild and heal in order to move forward?
We can respect our individual differences while honoring that which UNITES us. We can RISE UP and become the people who are capable of living our constitution out loud.
Our individual and collective decisions will determine the fate of our country. The acceptance of this reality provides each of us with the great freedom to choose how we will impact our family, community, and country's legacy.

Thank you, Jackie, for allowing me to share this here and for sharing your voice, your vulnerability, and your love with me. Love and Politics on Clemson Road welcomes you.

Catch up with Jackie's significant and meaningful work here.

Who’s in?

This is an open invitation to anyone who wants to write a blog on the topic of Love & Politics to contribute to this space. It’s safe here, I promise. You are welcome here. You don’t have to agree with me or anyone else. Just tell us a story. Make a case. Make an effort.

Leave a comment if you’d like to contribute or reach out to me kasie@clemsonroad.com and let's talk.

Not Curious Enough to Finish the March Selection

When I chose non-fiction for March, I knew it would take a little longer than the fiction months had taken. I read about five non-fiction bo...