Monday, October 31, 2011

Decision Points by George W. Bush

No matter what you thought about him as our nation’s president, you have to acknowledge that George W. Bush wasn’t afraid to make decisions. Decision Points walks us through the most controversial decisions made during Bush’s presidency. Fluidity, candidness, and excellent narration contributed to my liking of this book which, I must say, is one of the best I’ve ever read. And with this book being nearly 500 pages, this review just barely scratches the surface!

One thing I didn’t expect were the numerous noteworthy leadership tips that can be picked up throughout the book. Bush describes some of the ways he established common ground with world leaders. He discusses hiring and firing decisions in his cabinet noting that ‘sometimes the best personnel moves are the ones you don’t make.’ We also see how important it is to leverage relationships.

Bush speaks candidly on all topics and I was delighted to find that he is an avid reader. He shares many of the books he read during his presidency including the book he read to start each day.  He describes the worst moment of his presidency, his most thrilling trip, the most extraordinary meeting, his greatest disappointment, his most meaningful accomplishment, and one of his biggest regrets as president.

One thing I admire is that Bush made decisions while taking into account the cost of action versus the price of inaction. Sometimes we forget to consider what will happen when we do nothing. It was enlightening to learn what he thought was the price of inaction for the numerous controversial decisions that he made.

I was moved by the chapter on stem cells and I was impressed with the way he dealt with this topic. I got a little teary reading the chapter that followed addressing 9-11. It was shocking to find out that the intelligence agency dropped the ball on a huge tip just prior to the attacks.  

Two chapters are devoted to elaborately spelling out his position on Iraq and Afghanistan. He speaks about the impact the death of the soldiers had on him. He also speaks about his interactions with soldiers and their families. Then comes the chapter dedicated to Katrina. Sighs…… I can’t cut him a break on this one. I just can’t.

Partially attributable to Katrina, a common criticism of Bush was that he was disconnected from the American people. Several of his comments left me inclined to believe this was true. I was particularly bothered by his conclusion that if children in third world countries can feel blessed then ‘those of us in comfortable places like America could learn a lesson.’ What's more disturbing is that this comment came during the time when the economy was tanking. It’s insensitive and irresponsible for the president of the United States to disregard or downplay what is happening in the United States because of what may be happening on another continent. 

This is becoming a rather lengthy review. I will say in summation that this book may not change how you feel about the things that happened during Bush’s presidency but once you understand why he made those decisions, it might change how you feel about George W. Bush. 

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J Gaines

This novel has been on my bookshelf for nearly a decade. I’m not sure why I decided to pick it up but I didn’t want to put it down until I was finished. Many of you may have read this book many moons ago. If so let me refresh your memory……

Jefferson is a young man who finds himself in a situation which wrongly leads to his criminal conviction and ultimately his execution. Grant is a school teacher who is having an internal struggle with whether to stay or leave the state to pursue more opportunities and a better life. The plot unfolds around Jefferson’s godmother’s request which will require Grant to visit Jefferson regularly in prison.

Grant grapples with the enormity of the request that’s been made of him. His insecurities and the numerous disadvantages to being black in the Deep South are revealed. We also learn about the decisions he made that allowed his life to turn out differently from Jefferson’s.

During Jefferson’s encounters with Grant, we see Jefferson grow from being unresponsive and dejected to open and spirited. He begins writing his thoughts in a notebook and expresses many of the troubling things that he has carried since he was a child. Unfortunately as Jefferson is progressing, his impending execution is causing accelerated deterioration of his godmother’s health.

Through much of this novel we learn about the characters through their choices. Will Grant leave Louisiana or will he stay? Will he step up to the challenge of the request or will he walk away. I grew fond of Jefferson quickly and found myself cheering for him. I understood his frustrations and I empathized with his situation.  He felt an obligation to make many of the decisions that he made. It would’ve been interesting to see how his life would’ve turned out had he felt he could choose more freely.

Jefferson is incarcerated through the entire novel however, the storyline surrounding him isn’t lacking. Watching his situation unfold was tough – really tough. One of the most powerful chapters in the book reveals the writings in Jefferson’s journal. We begin to understand what he thinks about himself and how that’s influenced by what he thinks other people think of him. It immediately made me think back to something I read elsewhere: No one is born with low self esteem*. And seeing the impact that this had on Jefferson is powerful.

This story had me reaching for the Kleenex. Even after putting the book down, I continued to think about Jefferson’s character. I had to keep telling myself, “Get a grip. This isn’t real!” But the sobering truth is that it could have been and for someone it may have been. 

After sharing with someone that I was reading this book, she sent me a link. I clicked through to find an image along with the story of George Junius Stinney, Jr., the youngest person executed in the United States in the 20th century. If you're sensitive to civil injustice, I would recommend you skip the link. But even if you're not, this is bound to make you feel some kind of way. Click here to view little George's  story.

UPDATE Jan 22, 2014: NEW TRIAL SOUGHT FOR GEORGE STINNEY

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* I first read this statement in The Power of Positive Criticism. You can find my reflection on that book here.


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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

During one of my visits to the Borders going out of business sale, I came across The Five People You Meet in Heaven. After reading Tuesdays with Morrie, the bestselling memoir of all time, I figured it might be worthwhile to purchase this book written by the same author. So here it is, my first fiction review here at Reading Has Purpose!

It took me a few chapters to figure out that the book oscillates between the past, present, and future which is something that I haven’t seen from an author. But it didn’t take me long to realize that this book is a cliffhanger! Several times, I found myself peeking at the paragraphs below to see what was going to happen.

One of the people that Eddie, the main character, meets in heaven takes him back to his days on the battlefield during a war. Reading the vivid gory details is as close as I ever want to come to anything that was described. As I read this chapter intently I suddenly realized I was reacting to what I was reading by making faces. When I remembered that I was on the train, I paused and wondered if anyone happened to be paying attention to me. Sure enough, I looked up directly into the eyes of a stranger. We exchanged an awkward smile and I continued to read – with much less animation of course! 

Each of the five people that Eddie meets in heaven is there to teach him a lesson. It may be a person he knows well, or a person that he's never met but they all wait for him in some place familiar to his past. I  appreciate the way the author allows us to watch these interactions unfold.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven makes you think about people, places, and things. Things you’ve forgotten, people that you have not yet met, and places that you take for granted.  It’s an excellent book for anyone struggling with the concept of purpose.

When I finished the last page, I wondered if we do meet five people in heaven who is there waiting for me? And that made me think about relationships. How would you treat people, including strangers, if it was possible that you might meet any one of them again when you get to heaven? 

Also on Reading Has Purpose: For One More Day by Mitch Albom

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Best Nonfiction Books and Voted “Most Creative”

Thanks to Christina at Mental Foodie: A Book and Food Lover, I learned that TIME has released an All-TIME 100 Best Nonfiction Books list! The preface notes: Politics and war, science and sports, memoir and biography — there's a great big world of nonfiction books out there just waiting to be read. We picked the 100 best and most influential written in English since 1923, the beginning of TIME ... magazine

I’m not sure when I will read through the synopsis of each of these, but I'm sure my ‘to be read’ list is about to expand. Have you read any books from this list?


 

Just over a year ago I posted a reflection for Voted "Most Creative". I was glad to learn that the author has made one of my favorite essays from the book available! I encourage you to read this inspirational essay which is likely to touch you in a special way. Head over the site of Burrell's new novel to check out the Voted "Most Creative" essay If You Don't Do, Cheer.  And she responds to comments!



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Black Boy on Amazon
Voted Most Creative on Amazon

Reading Challenge Update #3!

My reading slowed down significantly during July – September. As we enter fall, I’ll pick up the pace. But here is another update on my progress! The four reading challenges that I signed up for at the beginning of the year are: Nonfiction, Off the Shelf, Persons of Color, and Outdo Yourself.  

 
July – September 2011
Books Read       
Challenge
Nonfiction

Persons of Color
Nonfiction/ Persons of Color
April – June 2011
Books Read       
Challenge
Nonfiction/ Persons of Color
Nonfiction
Nonfiction
Nonfiction
Nonfiction
Nonfiction/ Persons of Color
Nonfiction
January – March 2011
Books Read       
Challenge
Nonfiction
Nonfiction
The Laws of Thinking     
Nonfiction/Off the Shelf/Persons of Color
Nonfiction
Nonfiction
Nonfiction/Off the Shelf
Nonfiction/Persons of Color
Nonfiction/Off the Shelf/Persons of Color
Nonfiction


Total Books Read in 2011 = 20

Does your reading pace change depending on the season?