Ten books that impacted my life

Friday, August 29, 2014 Posted by

IMG_3958 I was tagged on Facebook by Michael Neel to list 10 books that have stuck with me in some way. I’ve opted to post here as a longer standing reference to this list so I don’t lose it to the wilds of social media posts. From Michael’s post, he notes they don’t have to be the “right” books, or even good books, just books that have stuck with me and made an impact in my life, with some brief explanations of my selections:

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1. Dubliners- James Joyce. This was THE book that drew me in to the evocative nature of literary writing. It is singularly responsible for setting the stage for choosing English Lit. as my major in college, and is the book I have revisited the most over the decades. Reading Dean Koontz later reminded me how Joyce would build fictional stories around real Dublin streets, basing his work in the real physical world.

2. Mere Christianity- C.S. Lewis. The only book I have ever started that I never finished. The concepts are so lofty, I have had trouble digesting the pages. Started in my Junior year in High school, and still have the book mark set to the page in which I gave up years later (pg. 161 for those of you playing along at home).

3. Little Birds, and Delta of Venus- Anais Nin. Two books I obtained and read at the same time. Lover and contemporary to Henry Miller and his wife June, Anais’ writing is erotic and raw. These books blew away any notion of innocence of the past generations. They had a deep impact on my world view by showing the strength and passion of female sexuality from a woman’s perspective I’d not been exposed to prior and set the ground work for some of my more feminist leanings.

4. Where are you going, where have you been?- Joyce Carol Oates. Another piece akin to Dubliner’s for me. Evocative and steeped in imagery, this book again showed me what more contemporary authors could do with literary fiction and strengthened my love for English Lit. as a course of study. This book also reinforced my love for literary fiction set in the real world showing the dark-side of humanity from an unexpected perspective with an ambiguous end.

5. Beowulf- Seamus Heaney. A parallel translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic by the renowned Nobel prize-winning Irish poet. This work stuck with me as an intellectual pursuit and supported my academic love of English. Weaving both poetic beauty as well as technical skills in translation, Seamus took Tolkien’s translation head on, and gave you the original text at the same time. Having read this while in the candidacy process for the Methodist ministry, the parallel styling fit nicely with the biblical text of similar style I was also reading at the time, lending to a deeper love for this text.

6. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark- Alvin Schwartz. My first exposure to real horror, thriller, psychologically traumatic texts. This book stuck with me by virtue of the visceral reactions it was able to evoke through simple written words strung together in the right way. Not just a great book for scary stories, but a prime example of the impact good storytelling can impart and the reactions it can elicit from others.

7. The Compleat Distiller- Michael Nixon. If you can’t figure out why this book is so important to me, you likely haven’t been following me until this post was published. I use information from this reference book on a nearly daily basis. Combined with the Alcohol Distiller’s Manual for gasohol and spirits, by Dona Carolina Distillers, these books act as a first stop reference for any distillation question I may have.

8. Alt Whiskeys: Alternative Whiskey Recipes and Distilling Techniques for the Adventurous Craft Distiller- by Darek Bell. Written by the owner of Corsair Artisan Distilling, this book has recipes for non-traditional whiskies beyond your wildest imagination. Need inspiration for a new product? Peruse this book. As a new distiller in the industry, I hold Corsair in high regards as innovators that have helped pave the way for people like me to come in and continue the innovation.

9. Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road- Neil Peart. This is an autobiography by Rush’s drummer covering the time period immediately after losing his daughter to a tragic car accident and then his wife less than a year later to cancer (or what he refers to as simply a broken heart). To process his grief, Neil got on his motorcycle and just rode. The book documents his journey both spiritually and geographically, and resonates with me at one of the deepest levels. Want to know what the open road feels like from an emotional perspective? Read this book. Both heart-wrenching and hopeful, Ghost Rider entwines the human condition in almost lyrical methods (to be expected from Rush’s lyricist, of course).

10. Elements of Style- Strunk & White. I live and die by this book. Yes, it is a reference book, much like number seven in this list, but a book that has stuck with me nonetheless and remains the most consulted book in my collection. It rests on my desk, always within arms reach and ready to be consulted at a moment’s notice.

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This list is, of course, not all-inclusive. Limiting to only ten books that impacted my life was VERY difficult as reading was a huge part of my youth and young adult years. To encapsulate all the changes in my life over the past 40 years, this list would need to be at least five times as big and would likely include some of the ‘biggies’ as well… authors like Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Yasunari Kawabata, Earnest Hemmingway, John Steinbeck, Walt Whitman, William Faulkner, Henry David Thoreau, John Updike, Ralph Ellison, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and many MANY others… Of course over the past decade my consumption of literary authors has declined dramatically while more journalistic and technical content has risen as a result of my career path.

Since I don’t believe in imposing any challenge or tagging socially to elicit others to play along, I’ll leave this post as it stands and ask that anyone who feels compelled to build their own list do so and post it so we can all see the awesome diversity of writing around our social spaces.

 

 

Psst, I have a Secret

Friday, June 13, 2014 Posted by

Secretly

I’ve been playing around on Secret lately. As a new social channel, I found it interesting and alluring to delve into the realm of anonymous social sharing. In doing so, I discovered a few interesting bits:

People use it to talk about sex. A LOT. While nowhere near surprising, it did reinforce how as a society we simply don’t talk about sex in any meaningful way publicly, or just openly. I’ve encountered some awesome discussions within the realms of sharing and commenting on secrets simply because of the safety involved with anonymity, thus by nature there is little chance of actual repercussions. More than just the issues we have with talking about sex, it also points heavily to the need to talk about it. With so many posts and comments surrounding the broad topic, there is a longing and desire to talk about these things in safe spaces. Things that are otherwise seen as taboo or lurid in mixed company or more public venues where anonymity isn’t a factor.

Even with outstanding community guidelines, people are still going to use the tool/service as they wish. Also known as “trolls will always be trolls”. Secret’s guidelines really are awesome, but they are only as good as the community that adopts them. With the overall tone of “Be Kind”, it seems that anonymity is seen as permission to be anything but. Thankfully, Secret has some outstanding report and block features that can help to quell hate or other inappropriate posts…

Which brings me to judgment. When Secret expanded its market a month or so back, I noticed a large uptick in comments that rained down judgements upon the secrets being shared, or even upon other comments in the threads. Because there is no demographic data to back up and corollaries I may draw, I have no way to know if such judgments are attributable to a particular age range, gender, or socio-economic status. What I do know, is that a large influx of people felt the need to shame, demean, and/or harshly reprimand others for sharing secrets, which seems to me completely misses the point of Secret in creating a safe place for people to share things they can’t say out loud to others.

Gender essentialism is rampant, and starts with basic assumptions of gender as it relates to the post author or anonymous commenters. This is yet another unsurprising behaviour, but one which is highlighted in how often those assumptions are proven incorrect, as well as how easy it is to fall into the traps of essentialism as it can be so deeply ingrained in our upbringing and socialization. Of course it doesn’t stop there, as assumptions of sexuality and even nationality are relatively common and can sneak up on you when you least expect it.

Relationships are hard. People make mistakes. People are scared to do what is right for themselves. Yes it is a huge generalization, but I’ve noticed a lot of secrets relating to interpersonal relationships, questioning themselves or their significant other, and lamenting being stuck in situations. One great secret shared put it very well as a PSA: “Pleasure is our birthright”. What so many secret sharers seem to miss is that it is indeed okay to be happy, to find your pleasure, to do what is right for you.

Being able to see that a “Friend” shared a particular secret has reminded me how amazing and awesome my friends really are. There are heartbreaking secrets, sexy secrets, and even dull work related secrets. But they all show our humanity and beauty, and that to me is the best part of Secret: through anonymity I can see your true beauty.

 

It can’t be just me, right?

Thursday, June 5, 2014 Posted by

IMG_0770A dear friend recently blogged about his experience years ago dealing with a situation in which the ‘problem’ was an “is it them or is it me” kind of scenario. He mused on the fact that in the face of everyone pointing to him as the problem, it really wasn’t him, that in fact, the problem really WAS with everyone else.  It’s a hard place to be, but luckily he came out of the situation well and can look back if even with a hint of smugness and know he was indeed in the right.

But, like my friend, when you’re deep in the thick of it all, it isn’t quite as easy to see the truth. When we, as individuals are in the middle of situations that are degrading at a rate forcing action, we don’t have the luxury of detached observation that we are afforded with time and experience behind us. In these cases, when we are in the middle of a situation, it is often hard if not impossible to see our own truths for what they are and guide us to the right choice.

I’ve recently been wrestling with this same feeling, the “is it me or is it them” feeling when it comes to a lot of socio-political issues. I have an odd dichotomy of emotion where my confidence in truth is shaken, while simultaneously being reinforced and strengthened. I wonder if I am really as smart and progressive as I think I am, or if I really did miss the memo and am off in lala-land with the other nut jobs who think similarly to me? When you’re in the thick of a cultural shift, conviction to your ideals is essential albeit difficult for fear that in some small way you may be wrong. After all, the crazy people are convinced of their certainty, and totally unaware of how crazy their ideas really may be.

When people I respect, consider friends, and look up to hold views in contrast to my own, I wonder how otherwise very intelligent people don’t see the world as I do. How can they not see the same truths as I? Surely they have more experience, deeper knowledge, and greater intellect than me, so how can some of their beliefs be so out of step with my own as to seem almost backwards? It is in times like this I begin to reflect on the “is it me, or is it really them? Are so many of them really that wrong, or are my own ideas the problem here?” questions that shake my convictions just enough to cause doubt and deeper contemplation.

I guess it all just means I am still a work in progress with no real answers yet…