Sunday, September 27, 2015

Review of Daniel James Brown's "The Boys in the Boat"

Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics brought me closer to my Seattle roots. My great grandparents, Lawrence and Marjorie Moore lived in Seattle during the late 1920s and 1930s, and my grandfather was born there the same year Joe Rantz, the central character of the book, began his career at the University of Washington.

Knowing some of the challenges my own great grandparents faced drew me to this story. Joe Rantz had an extraordinarily difficult childhood and young adulthood during a time when few had it easy. I hope the successes of Joe and his teammates brought smiles to Lawrence and Marjorie. I know much of Seattle flocked to support them during local races and hovered around radios when the team was as far away as New York or Germany.

The local crew team became a source of inspiration and pride for Seattle and the rest of the state of Washington.  Their superior rowing was one more reason to be proud of what ordinary, lower and middle class, hard working individuals could accomplish when they worked together. The nine young men in that shell (and the coaches and support personnel who accompanied them) brought pride to the entire nation when they beat almost insurmountable odds at the famed Nazi hosted 1936 Olympics.

Brown did an exceptional job of tying the individual stories of the boys and their families in the American northwest to the bigger picture of the Great Depression and the world events and politics that led to WWII just a few short years later.

Following Rantz as he overcome past hurts, bitterness, and the temptation to remain emotionally detached from others was one of the reasons I found this book inspiring. He forgave and allowed himself to become emotionally vulnerable within both his family and on his team. That vulnerability is what made many of his successes possible. I am not much into sports, but the human story behind this "sports book" made it so much more.

Note: At the time of completion (27 Sep 2015), The Boys in the Boat was #2 on the New York Times Best Sellers List for Combined Print & E-Book Non-Fiction.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Review of "Who Switched Off My Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf

Know you stress out too much but don't know what to do about it? Or perhaps you suffer from headaches (as I have) or another physical ailment and want to fix the problem -- not just cover it with pain medication which often fail to help anyway? Who Switched Off My Brain, is the book for you. I am realizing more and more how much I have internalized my stress throughout my life, and I have paid for it with tight muscles, tension headaches, and skin problems. Dr. Caroline Leaf addresses the science behind how our brains work and the thoughts and emotions that seem to rule our lives. The crucial last chapter gives a comprehensive list of steps to take to regain health and maintain positive thoughts that are good for our bodies and minds. This is not a magic cure and will require that I make deliberate changes in the way I think and process the stresses around me, but I am full of hope that with God's help, I will make significant progress in my thought life, and, as a result, have fewer headaches.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Review of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird"

After being vaguely aware of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird for years, I finally decided to check it out from the library and read it. I am so glad I did. Brilliantly written, I don't think a brief summary could ever do it justice. It "preaches" but it does so in a way that is hopeful and uncynical. It entertains without making light of sin or pretending that it is all okay or that nothing can be done about it anyway. It is a book that should empower us to look for good in others but make the right decision even when they let us down.

I feel the author handled dark subject matter delicately by allowing the main voice to be that of a child. We enjoy the play of children, the pleasure of reading with a parent, and a first snowstorm (and a snowman made out of more dirt than snow) and are led gently into more serious matters.

It was fun to be inside Jean Louise "Scout" Finch's mind and discover her world with her. I never knew how she would respond. Tenacious, bold, and active, she is also a thinker who wants to understand a world that doesn't always make sense. I appreciate how "real" she is in that she is not a perfect little girl. She is not completely free of the prejudices that filtered through from neighbors, school, and friends. Yet, she wrestles with the big questions and allows herself to find a more loving answer based on truth instead of fear or wrongly placed traditionalism.

First published the year my parents were born (1960), I feel the world is a better place because of To Kill a Mockingbird. I know our country has a ways to go when it comes to racism and superiority complexes based on silly things like how long your family has lived in one place or how much money you have, but reading Harper Lee's novel made me see the great progress we have made as a nation. ...Progress I don't always see because of how "normal" my own attitudes and community are to me.

And, although the ending is not a simplistically happy one, evil does not win. Justice is served. Hope for the future survives.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Dent or Daviess

One reason I enjoy preparing applications for lineage societies (in this case the DAR) is because it motivates me to go through my family tree with a fine tooth comb and compare it with the source documents. I just caught another big mistake in my family tree. My great grandfather, Wallace Gale Gray, Sr., was born in Salem, Dent County, Missouri -- not in Salem township, Daviess County, Missouri. The mistake may just be a few letters, but it is a 300 mile blunder. Oops! ...Glad I caught it!