100 Books My College Students Assigned Me: Book #52 - Newtonian Greek Tragedy

Book #52, The Wolf of Wallstreet, has to share my attention with a new puppy.

New Puppy is a handful of love and trouble so I am up and down and outside and inside and cleaning this and that, carrying the book and putting it down here and there.  I love this puppy, but I don't really know her name.

The problem has a simple root, one that has grown more complex like problems and roots tend to do.

When Zack and I snuck out and rescued this puppy, Zoe was on a field trip to Georgia.

  I knew she would freak out that we picked the puppy without her, but really, this puppy was meant for us and there was no picking to do. It was her that we have been waiting for, whether we've known it or not.

So instead of telling Zoe via text "Hey! How's your trip? Got a puppy without you #donothateme"
 I text her "If we get a puppy this month, you name her; if we get the puppy next month, Zack names her." 

Zoe replies something like um, ok, thanks. smiley face and I tell myself that I've kept the balance of puppy power distributed fairly between my children.

By the middle of the next day the puppy has a name. Mia. 


Glad you like it.

I cant' stand it. Mia is Spanish for MINE and I can't walk around shouting "MIA" outside because it sounds crazy to my ear.

Mia is also the abbreviation for Miami, somewhere this puppy has never been, and Mia is Missing in Action, appropriate for the Memorial Day observance but not a great wish for a new puppy.

So I started calling her Pepper. She's spotty and spicy and just on the other side of salty.  It's the right name for her and I use it every time I give her a treat and/or watch her roll happily in the cool grass.

Book #52 is so great that I think it's probably the only book that could pull my attention from Pepper (and from my 120 summer school students, but that's another story). I wrote my dissertation on international banking and money laundering in Miami and I want to go back and revisit my documents after reading the motives and tactics used by Jordan Belfor.  I understand smart, I understand creative, but I don't understand greedy, or at least I didn't understand greedy until I read this book.

I haven't seen the movie but from what I've gotten from discussing this book with others, I get the impression the book goes into much greater detailed on where money flowed and how.  People who have watched the movie don't seem to remember Jordan's children and family facing as many medical crises in the movie as they do in the book. I'm glad the author included this part of the story because it made his character transformation more believable and likeable.

One thing that struck me throughout the book was the whole wife thing.

 I am not a jealous person, I do not wish for other people's things, I do not wish for millions of dollars.

I envied that the author had a wife, someone who stayed home, made sure the home was a gorgeous happy place, looked sexy and just was nice to him.

 I do not understand how this is a fair universe where men can expect to hire/whatever a woman to be their home-maker but women shouldn't entertain that same fairy tale.

In the end, the Duchess saves Jordan from his addiction then leaves him when his fortunes crash, moving on to another man who could take better care of her.  I can't imagine being her, I can't imagine expecting to be taken care of; she remains one of the few characters I genuinely can't connect with, perhaps because her story is told by her ex-husband, written after the divorce.

I liked this book, and I took my time reading every page so I would understand and remember the stories, I liked the author's brave honesty,

I liked the details on how preoccupied the author was with drugs, with using and getting and hiding and sharing.

 I liked his pace, I liked all of it except the part where he takes credit for ordering a boat into a storm then coldly ends the story with his own rescue watching this friend and employee, the captain, go down  with his ship.

This book could be a Newtonian Greek tragedy because it illustrates the reality that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

 The Greeks  (who didn't know Isaac Newton, unless they were particularly psychic)  taught us that HUBRIS (prideful boastfulness) brings NEMESIS (downfall, shame).   Without using these terms or referring to Newton or classical Greece, Jordan Belfort's "Wolf of Wallstreet" tells a tale worth reading and thinking about.

And now that I'm done with Book #52, I'm ready to read Book #53 -- Mockingjay.

 Don't you dare tell me how it ends.

Puppy vs World, Round 1

New Puppy vs. Swiffer: SWIFFER WINS (although she did try to slide for the score)

New Puppy vs. Zack's blanket: PUPPY WINS

New Puppy vs. Huge Dog at Vet: TIE

New Puppy vs. Coffee table: PUPPY WINS

New Puppy vs. Faux rose on her collar picked by Zoe: COLLAR WINS

Presidential Showdown: Wilson vs Carter

This week I'm (again) teaching WW1, Wilson's Missionary diplomacy and the failure of the 14 Points/League of Nations.

I don't always blame Wilson for messing the whole world up; he shows the frustrations of being a democracy with balanced powers during times of War. Wilson had one idea on how WW1 should end and what the US role should be in the post-war world; Senate leaders had a different vision (a fearful one) and blocked US involvement with Wilson's love child, the League of Nations.

Carter, on the other hand earned the Nobel Peace Prize for the Camp David Accords,  brokering a 30-ish year peace in a region of the world I'm quite sure many of my students still can't  find on a map.

Carter gets credit (blame? but credit seems so much more powerful) for accepting the Shah of Iran and thus allowing Iran's 1979 revolution and the events that would lead to the Iran-Iraq War, Desert Storm and all the awesomeness "over there" since then.

The tie-breaker for me is Carter's response to the crisis at the 1980 Peruvian Embassy in Havana, saying we will accept Cubans fleeing Castro "with an open heart and open arms" thus causing the Mariel Boat Lift, modern Miami, and the movie Scarface.

Point goes to Team Carter.

Next: George W Bush vs Zachary Taylor

Book #51: Dog Training for Dummies & Newton's Third Law

Isaac Newton turned the world upside down by showing residents of this physical world are governed by understandable, predictable rational laws. Gravity. Inertia. Momentum. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

 I tell you all this because my bringing a puppy home has brought the equal and opposite reaction of whatever is the opposite of joy, gratitude, daring. Etc. It's been ugly.

But I love this dog, and I stick by my courageous jump to dare to ask for more peace love positivity and (above all) affection in my world.

Book #51 had lists of diagrams and lists and wide double margins that were mostly white space with sprinkles of hints and warnings so I read it from cover to cover in less than 2 hours on Saturday with the dog (puppy? I can't tell her age or her breed, and I kinda don't care) sitting at my feet happy to be included in my world.

This book taught me a bit more about dog psychology than I knew; I better understand the drives of pack behavior, predator behavior, flight and fight. Knowing my dogs instinctive actions and reactions gives me power and responsibility to help guide her and keep her world a little safer.

 I finish the book on Saturday and take her for two more walks.

Monday morning I grab book #52 (THE WOLF OF WALLSTREET) and teach her how to sit on the back porch with me and smile at the wind blowing through the leaves.

Book #50: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead

Book #50 came to me a special way.   Wayyy back in January when I was asking for books, several former students stepped up to join this challenge. This particular ex-student gifted me a book via Amazon Kindle, and I am here to confirm that this whole gifting thing not only works but is a delightful thing.

Why did I pick this book to be the milestone #50 out of 100 books?

Seriously, I was eyeing Mockingjay, Paper Towns or Wolf of Wallstreet for Book #50, but then I was tweeting with the student who assigned me this book and she said something that woke me up.

She wanted to know when I was reading HER book, and reminded me that the book she assigned me wasn't a story, it was a big cheer of encouragement.

Perfect.  I am thirsty for encouragement, sunshine, joy and positivity. I chose it for Book #50, and read it on my phone via the KINDLE APP (omg, so awesome, have you tried this?)

Ten minutes into the book I'm tweeting my ex-student to ask if this is book is real, and is it possible there's someone out there THIS intense?

She said yes, yes, how far have you read?

I don't answer because this book hits me so deeply I am moved to action.

  This book writes about authenticity, joy, vulnerability, the three food groups the soul needs.

To be honest, for the first 50 pages I thought I found a friend in this author, and I got the impression that she and I both went on similar wisdom journeys and both of us came back with treasure.

Little if anything in this book was new to me.

But the passion behind the words was so real I put the book down, stood up and made a huge change in my life.

I went and got a puppy. You can say I rescued her, or that I got her for the kids, but let's be honest. I needed her. I needed her love.

Right before lunchtime on Friday I know what i have to do. I check Zack out of school early and we go to the shelter. Maybe the right puppy will be there. Maybe no. I'm not afraid to look, to ask for what I want.

Three hours later Zack and I drive home with the puppy dancing between us. I have checked her out thoroughly and I am particularly enamored with two things about her: 1) nothing (NOTHING) scares her  (the staff tells me she was herding rottweilers yesterday) and 2) she goes completely limp when I pick her up.

By the next day I have had more kisses and love than I've had in years and even though Zoe has named the dog MIA I want to call her HAPPY because she's like one of the 7 dwarfs and because HAPPY should be her theme song.  

 She's easy. This puppy doesn't need me, she doesn't flip when she doesn't see me, but we like each other and roll around together. This is perfect. I needed this so deeply and Book #50 gave me the courage to take action on the fact I needed  more, and I needed it now.

Please read Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead.

Thanks to Book #50, my life has changed and I've had to buy a book to insert into this epic journey:
Book #51: Dog Training for Dummies

Book #49: Twisted. Delicious.

So far in my 100 book journey I have had a bad experience with books full of short stories because I instinctively want all the stories to come together ala Cloud Atlas or Forrest Gump or you know what I mean.

When a student assigned me this book I asked directly whether the stories connected.

He shook his head. No, they stand alone. They're good.

I believe him.

Before I am even halfway through with Game of Thrones I peek open this book and fall 20 pages into it's deliciousness. I feel like I came over to say hi and ended up in the pool. This never happens.  I love it.

Book #49 "Twisted," is a collection of short stories by Jeffery Deaver. 

 I loved this book right  from the introduction where the beloved best selling author admitted something I've known in my heart.

Short stories can be more fun and shocking to write because the readers are less invested in the characters.  In a great book you want the people to watch a character develop under circumstances that change them and bring redemption or damnation or something.  

Short stories bring no such contract between the author and the reader.  

They are pure stories, delicious tales carved from this and that, starting right in the middle of the action and ending at the perfect suspense point. Each story in this book is satisfying; each story makes me want more. I couldn't have asked for more.
I describe the book to my poor summer school students who have to see me every single day as "Have you ever met someone you can't stop talking to and now you realize how boring everyone else is? That's what a good book is like -- it's like meeting a great new person you can't get enough of...."

Faces lit up.

 In the quiet before I launch into WW1 I think  Thank you universe, thank you for great stories, thank you for an interesting life, thank you for this book, thank you for these students. 

After class I sit myself down in a corner leaning against a yoga ball and set a timer.

I give myself 2 hours to finish this book.

When the timer goes off I've already finished the book and written ten pages of ideas for short stories I'd like to write.

But before I can write those stories, before I can go on to Book #50, I write this up for you and pull book #50 off the shelf.

Knick-knacking Away

We are in the car on the way to school. The radio is off I realize Zack is humming in the backseat.

MMMmmmm he played two,
 mmmmmm mmmm, on my shoe, 
mmmmm mmmmmm

Zack? Do you know the words?

There are WORDS?


I start singing them, he joins in.

This old man, he played two
he played knick-nack on my shoe
with a knick-knack paddy whack
give a dog a bone,
this old man came rolling home
This old man he played three
he played knick knack on a tree

Mom? What's it mean to play knick-knack? 

I shake my head. I'm just trying to steer the car here people. I wasn't ready for this.

Knick-knick is an onamonapia. Like bing bong bang.

He nods but he's not done.

So after knicking and knacking on things, he gives a dog a bone? 
Mom, this song sounds wrong. 
This doesn't sound like a kids song.
 I think there's something behind giving the dog a bone, Mom.

I sigh.

Please please let me keep a straight face for just three more turns until  we land at cardropoff.

He continues, and MOM? Why is the man rolling home? Is he drunk?  And if so how does he just keep on knick-knacking away? Shouldn't someone stop him?

I shrug and leave room for him to solve this big riddle on his own.

Perfect Cup of Coffee

For a moment I was sitting here hugging a perfect cup of coffee and staring at the sky about to choose whether I should blow dry my hair, make breakfast and lunches for the kids  OR fix up my lecture for class today.

Then I realized I don't have a choice, I have to do all three and I'd better get one of them done in  the next 10 minutes.

I can do this. I can do it all, and it will be fun.

But first, another sip of the coffee while it's still hot and the morning is so ripe.

Book #48: A Game of Thrones. You Were Right, the Book is Better

The first time I watched A Game of Thrones on HBO (well after the kids went to sleep, of course) I was hooked. It was smart, fast paced, sexy, historical fiction.  Every week the show was great, but not enough. The next week again I'd love the show, but then after an hour I'd be in the dark again, left waiting for the story to be told to me at someone else's pace.

I prefer my stories to go fast. I think I read some of my favorite books in this journey much faster than they could have been acted out on the big the screen. The Fault in Our Stars and a few other books might have taken me a few extra minutes because I was sobbing so hard, but besides that, I like books better than movies in general because they go faster for me.

So you can only imagine how much I enjoyed binge reading Game of Thrones at a pace much faster than it was doled out to me by the executives at a network.  This is a 5 hour book, not a 10 week book, and those 5 hours are awesome.

Dragons. Mean people. Bad ideas. Direwolves. Trickery. War.  Murder. Sex. More dragons.  Good stuff, I'm glad my student gave it to me.

 If this review seems short to you it is simply because I am 50 pages into book #49 and it is so wonderfully crookedly brilliant I am completely hooked.

Choices on the Quiet Balcony

Clearly the people
Next door
Think that
(IF they are thinking)
Because they can't see anyone
No one can hear them.

 I can hear you (both?)
But one of you is making
Crazy noises of
Happy unhappiness and it's
Like two feet away from me

I have choices

I can close my book and
Slip away from this perfect
Peaceful isolated
Fountain lake view
Balcony and give

Stay where I am
 keep reading
Game of a Thrones
so you know I'm here.


Book #47: Burned. No Freaking WAY.

After Band of Brothers, I was ready for a break and looking to escape into a skycastle of a story in BURNED by Ellen Hopkins (NYT Bestselling author of Crank and Impulse. Clearly she has mastered one word titles.  Hot.)

I open the book and what.


I'm confused, I can't tell if the book actually started or if this is some famous poem at the beginning but I catch on fast.  The next page is a poem, the next is another. Fifty pages into the story and I see that no chapter is longer than 2 pages. 

More than that, the author doesn't just spin a story, she writes word pictures.  I've never seen poetry do this and I love it. Check out this page about spaghetti for dinner.  

This is awesome and beautiful and I'm so inspired I put the book down and do crafts with my daughter for hours. It isn't hard to put this book since so much is happening in its sparse pages it could fill and entire season of an HBO miniseries.  Love, teens, rebellion, philosophy, violence, redemption.

Within the first hundred pages I feel like I know Pattyn (named after General Patton; all her sisters were named after great Generals), her numb mother, her tribe of sisters and her father who has "quirks"(I'm showing great reserve in telling you no more than that, and you're welcome).

Soon enough Burned becomes a love story, or at least the kind of story where a high-school aged homemade clothing wearing Mormon virgin drinks beer and makes out with a guy in the desert and her dad almost kills them both. 

Yayyy love.

   Around page 400 I was through with it, through with reading about her worries about whether she was going to hell.  I'm past that point of my life, I know the answers to questions like this which makes me tune out a bit to her angst-filled rants about having to live like three hours away from the love of her life and if their love would survive.   

Somewhere around THIS page I've had enough. Look at those lines shoot down the page however it wants to, ignoring propriety. 

 Art has become tedious. I want the story to finish already.

 I put the book down, pick up the kids, go to the grocery, sweep the floor. 

 I pick it back up.

Thirty pages to go and I'm sure I know how it ends.

Ten pages to go. Fine, fine, I thought this would happen.

I turn to the last page and finish the book.

 The last words cause me to throw the book involuntarily, like I've been burned. 

Ooooch. Ouch. Whoa. 

I wasn't expecting that. What? Read it and find out. 

In the last pages the book went from a C+ (translated: ok, ok, I get it, now finish) to a solid A ( translated: wow! this is art! holy moly you got me!).

Burned by Ellen Hopkins (2006)

AMH 1050 Exam #1

The images won't be on the exam; they are to help you study and make note cards.

Book #46: Band of Brothers

I'm not writing about book #45 now, I'm saving it for the book. You'll see why.

I've spent the last two weeks giving finals, saying goodbyes, assigning course grades, taking a deep breath and making room for 120 new students.

Now that things are rolling (and now that it's Mother's Day and everyone HAS to leave me alone) I'm ready to write about book #46.

Book #46 was nothing like No Easy Day.

 Band of Brothers (S. Ambrose) weaves together the stories of the men from Easy as they trained for D-Day, waited for their orders then jumped into history.  You've probably heard of the mini-series based on this, or maybe you've seen Saving Private Ryan, which was loosely based on a story that crossed this book.

 Ambrose used memoirs, letters, books and personal interviews to reconstruct the minute details of everything the survivors in this company remember -- what they saw, what they tripped over, who teased whom, and how great the food was before battle and how awful it was out in the field.

 This is GREAT, if you love history. If not, you might get tired after a few pages. I would forgive you for that.

I read this book already knowing the key dates and battles of WW2 inside and out-ish, so I knew what landmarks they would be hitting in each chapter. That kept me going through their hungry frustrated time facing the ill-fated German Counter-offensive in the cold hard 1944 winter.

People who advised me to read this book BEFORE Game of Thrones said that Game of Thrones was too violent, that characters just died and you had deal with it.

 This book does the same, but I expected it. I knew this company would suffer and regroup and most would outlive both FDR and Hitler.

If you've read this book or watched the series based on it, you know what I mean.

 This book stings, the losses are real, the combat is so tediously intimately intense you can't read too much at once. Well, you could, but not if you want to do justice to the heroes whose sacrifices cross these pages.

So lets get to the part where this book shocked me.

Shocked me.  Yes I used that word.

Chapter 16. Getting to know the Enemy (Germany April 2-30, 1945)

Ambrose explains that the typical GI from WW2 would described the Italians as "liars, thieves, dirty..." the Parisians as "cunning and indifferent to whether they were cheating the Americans or Germans" the Arabs as "without a redeeming feature" the British as "brave, reserved, dull" but then he goes on to do a happy dance about another nationality.

"...wonder of wonders, the average GI found that the people he liked best, identified most closely with, enjoyed being with, were the Germans. Clean, hard-working, disciplined, educated, middle-class in their tastes and lifestyles (many GI's noted so far as they could tell the only people in the world who regarded a flush toilet and soft white toilet paper as a necessity were the Germans and the Americans), and the Germans seemed to the American soldiers as "just like us"
Trained detective investigator professional historian that I am, I flip back to check the copyright on this book.
1992.  Interesting.

Right after Germany reunified, right as the USSR was becoming the USS-were.  Enough said?

If you want to be kept busy by an intense book that keeps alive the details of a company in combat, you'll love this book.

Just remember that every story is part of a bigger narrative, and this book seems to  offer itself as a healing story for US-Germany history of WW2.