How could he talk about Great-Grandpa H’s story without also talking about his grandma Willie and the millions of other black people who had migrated north, fleeing Jim Crow? And if he mentioned the Great Migration, he’d have to talk about the cities that took that flock in. He’d have to talk about Harlem. And how could he talk about Harlem without mentioning his father’s heroin addiction—the stints in prison, the criminal record? And if he was going to talk about heroin in Harlem in the ’60s, wouldn’t he also have to talk about crack everywhere in the ’80s? And if he wrote about crack, he’d inevitably be writing, too, about the “war on drugs.” And if he started talking about the war on drugs, he’d be talking about how nearly half of the black men he grew up with were on their way either into or out of what had become the harshest prison system in the world. And if he talked about why friends from his hood were doing five-year bids for possession of marijuana when nearly all the white people he’d gone to college with smoked it openly every day, he’d get so angry that he’d slam the research book on the table of the beautiful but deadly silent Lane Reading Room of Green Library of Stanford University. And if he slammed the book down, then everyone in the room would stare and all they would see would be his skin and his anger, and they’d think they knew something about him, and it would be the same something that had justified putting his great-grandpa H in prison, only it would be different too, less obvious than it once was.

— Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing: A Novel

 

 

2017 Fiction & Nonfiction Recommendations

This year was more about reading textbooks and peer-reviewed journal articles but somehow I found time to squeeze in a few books as well. Two books stand out and conveniently one is fiction and the other’s non-.

Fiction: My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

I’m not sure I would read this if I just looked at the book jacket or an Amazon review. It came as a recommendation from my sister Larraine and I’m glad I followed her advice. My Absolute Darling is an extremely challenging read; it centers on an 8th-grade girl who calls herself Turtle and lives off the grid in NorCal with only her father, as he “prepares” her for a post-society world. Turtle’s dad sexually abuses her and there are many scenes, whether sexual, psychological, or physically violent, where I cringed as I read. Through that, though, is a book where you learn about a unique, brave character whose voice is so clear it becomes ingrained in your mind and you think about her long after you’ve read the last page.

Non-fiction: The Gatekeepers by Chris Whipple

Part of our post-election delusions is that someone might be able to control Trump. It wasn’t Priebus, Jared, Ivanka or now Chief of Staff Kelly. The Gatekeepers is about the history of the Chief of Staff position and covers Chiefs of Staff from the Nixon White House to Obama’s. The book covers failed approaches like the “spokes of the wheel” model used and abandoned by Gerald Ford or having no Chief at all, which hurt Carter. It also gives insights into how Chiefs mold their office and approach depending on the Presidency as well as how Hillary and Obama made Chiefs of Staff course-correct early Presidencies. I’d recommend this book if you’re into politics, organizational design, management/leadership, and team dynamics. I shared more details about The Gatekeepers in an earlier post as well.

My other 2017 reads:

Fiction:

  • Homegoing
  • The Last Novel (re-read)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Nonfiction:

  • Work Rules!
  • The Everything Store
  • The Happiness Industry
  • A More Beautiful Question
  • Chaos Monkeys
  • The Coaching Habit

My notion is that once progress made it easy to acquire the necessities of bodily life, other forces set about making those needs complicated and hard. Much of daily life is turned over to life maintenance at the very moment you’d think we’d be free to pursue higher goals.

Spectacles, sights and sounds, measures and sums, are made from former areas of privacy. This exposure to sight generates all sorts of new pleasures and new fears. But the ceaseless grooming and optimizing of ordinary life stands in the way of finding out how else we could spend our attention and our energy.

— Mark Greif, Against Everything: Essays.

I don’t trust anyone who’s nice to me but rude to the waiter. Because they would treat me the same way if I were in that position.

— Muhammad Ali

One down, one to go

Last year on December 15 I was accepted to Regis University’s MBA program. In the past year I’ve taken classes in project management, business law, leadership, HR, and accounting/finance. I’ve also met a great cohort and received a high level of support from the Regis staff.

With one year left until I graduate, I feel anxiety about what I should learn next. Maybe this is what Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and host of the podcast Masters of Scale, would consider a drawback from being an infinite learner. Ideally I would find a scholarship to attend graduate school for free, possibly Penn State’s online Organizational Psychology program, but that’s doubtful. The two options I zeroed in on, then, became either learning Spanish or code. So, much to the delight of my Middle and High School self, I’m going to pick up coding again and learn Swift.

Graduate school was never a given for me and equally improbable was that I would attend a Jesuit program. I continue to be surprised by the doors that fortunately open for me, and how often those doors reconnect me to earlier themes in my life.