ATG’s Summer Reading List

Summer Reading ListSummer is officially here and while not everyone may be able to travel to an idyllic paradise or vacation in a far off land, there’s plenty of room for escape in a good, captivating read.

Below you’ll find ATG’s suggested summer reading list, ranging from all things contemporary to ancient. Happy summer – and happy reading!


ALL THINGS CURRENT

The Girl On The Train (2015)
Paula Hawkins

Mystery and thriller lovers are sure to enjoy Paula Hawkin’s debut New York Times bestselling novel, The Girl on the Train. Rachel, an alcoholic who seemingly ruined her relationship with a man she loved, becomes captivated by a couple she observes from afar during her commute to and from London each day. When she learns that the woman, Megan, has gone missing, Rachel willingly involves herself in the investigation, which is made all the more convoluted by her unreliable memory and repeated episodes of drunken incoherence. A true psychological thriller and page-turner, it leaves you guessing until the very end.

All The Light We Cannot See (2014)
Anthony Doerr

From Cleveland, Ohio-born native Anthony Doerr comes a 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning novel that tells the story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France while trying to survive during World War II. Marie-Laure LeBlanc is the blind daughter of a widowed master locksmith in Paris who is entrusted with keeping a priceless blue diamond called the Sea of Flames hidden from Germans’ hands. Werner Pfennig is an orphan with a passion for science and gift for radio mechanics who eventually becomes tasked with finding the senders of illegal radio transmissions.

Deeply moving and beautifully written, Doerr weaves the lives of these two children together magnificently, illuminating the ways, “against all odds, people try to be good to one another.” Ten years in the writing, All The Light We Cannot See was also a 2014 National Book Award finalist.

The Girl on the Train Book Review


ALL THINGS SOUTHERN

Southern literature, occupying a monumental space in the worldwide literary landscape, is known for capturing the significant role that family, religion and community play in this region of the United States.

This becomes readily apparent in the work of Pat Conroy, a contemporary, leading figure of late-20th century Southern literature and author of numerous New York Times bestsellers. Born in Atlanta in 1945, he does what southerners do best: tells a story. Influenced in high school after his English teacher introduced him to Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel, his writing has been described as being “characterized by a lyrical, emotionally charged prose, a heavy reliance on personal and family experiences, and a strong sense of place.” Learn more about Pat Conroy here.

The Prince of Tides (1986)
Pat Conroy

Considered Conroy’s most celebrated work, The Prince of Tides spent fifty-one consecutive weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list and sold 350,000 first-run copies, later leading to a blockbuster movie in 1991 for which Conroy co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay.

It tells the story of Tom Wingo, an unemployed South Carolina teacher struggling from a nervous breakdown who travels to New York City after learning that his twin sister, Savannah, has attempted suicide. A beautifully written narrative that spans 40 years and revolves around the traumatic events of Tom and Savannah’s upbringing, Conroy evokes raw human emotions while providing an authentic glimpse into the scenic, soothing nature of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Also of note: In 1988, Jimmy Buffett and Michael Utley wrote a song titled “Prince of Tides” for Buffett’s 16th studio album, Hot Water.

The Lords of Discipline (1980)
Pat Conroy

Preceding The Prince of Tides is another masterpiece by Conroy that tells the story of four cadets at the Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. Here readers are thrust into the turbulent lives of these “bloodbrothers” – including narrator Will McLean – as they undergo hazing from senior cadets and experience the notoriously brutal conditions of military training. Tasked with keeping an eye on the Citadel’s first black cadet, McLean learns of a secret fraternity that utilizes violent tactics to force out those they deem inferior. Exposing the forces of good and evil, loyalty and betrayal, Conroy captures the chaotic journey into manhood with humor and suspense, honesty and magnificence.

To note: Other favorites of Conroy’s include The Great Santini (also made into an Oscar-nominated film), The Water Is Wide and Beach Music.

Pat Conroy The Prince of Tides

Next we turn to Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964), considered one of the greatest short story fiction writers of the 20th century. Born in Savannah in 1925, she studied writing at the University of Iowa in 1945 and published her first short story, “The Geranium” the following year.

After completing her MFA in 1947, O’Connor won the Rinehart-Iowa Fiction Award for her first novel, Wise Blood, and was accepted at Yaddo, an artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, New York where she befriended poet Robert Lowell.

She published her first short-story collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find, in 1955, but some of her most popular short fiction is found in her second collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965), including the famous “Revelation.”

While she grew up as a devout Catholic in the Southern Bible Belt, much of her fiction is concerned with fundamentalist Protestants, many of whom she admired for the “integrity of their search for the Truth.”

Similar to the comedy of Dante, “O’Connor’s dark humor consciously intends to underscore boldly our common human sinfulness and need for divine grace.” (info taken from here).

The Habit of Being (1979)
Flannery O’Connor

Published post humorously in 1979, The Habit of Being is a collection of letters from O’Connor, edited by Sally Fitzgerald, that was named “one of the twelve most influential religious books of the decade” by Christian Century magazine. Spanning the years 1948 to 1964 when she died at the age of 39 after a long battle with lupus, the letters are written to students, English professors, a literary agent and others, revealing some of O’Connor’s most profound religious convictions.

As James E. Hoogan writes, “This is a book that should provide pleasure to O’Connor fans as well as encourage those not overly familiar with her work to read more of this gifted storyteller.”

To note: We are also fans of two other well-respected Southern writers, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty.

Flannery O'Connor The Habit of Being


ALL THINGS HISTORY

George Washington Biographies

With the 2016 Presidential Campaign now set in motion, we thought it would be prudent to explore “All Things George Washington” to learn about the character and qualities of a great leader. Such books are also an educational escape into an era of a distant past that sheds light on the founding of our country, offering insight into the principles and values that have come to define America.

Here are three top picks:

Washington’s Circle: The Creation of the President (2015)
David and Jeanne Heidler

Washington: A Life (2010)
Ron Chernow

Washington: The Indispensable Man (1974)
James Thomas Flexner

Washington: The Indispensable Man Book


ALL THINGS WISDOM

Equally interesting for philosophy lovers and those seeking life wisdom, Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations is a fascinating, easily digestible read that challenges you to consider your own personal convictions and beliefs.

Meditations (170-180 AD)
Marcus Aurelius

Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus (often referred to as “the wise”) was Emperor of the Roman Empire from 161 to his death in 180 AD. Considered the last of the “Five Good Emperors”, he is also known as one of the most important philosophers of Stoicism, a school of Hellenistic philosophy that emphasized moderation and emotional control (it taught that virtue, the highest good, is based on knowledge, and that the wise live in harmony with the divine Reason that governs nature, and are indifferent to pleasure or pain).

His work, Meditations, was written in Greek while on campaign between 170 and 180 and is a compilation of spiritual reflections, private notes and ideas on Stoic philosophy. Divided into 12 books that chronicle different periods of Marcus’ life, his musings cover everything from moral virtue and self-judgment to human rationality and divine providence.

While he never intended his writings for publication, Meditations has remained a timeless collection of infinite wisdom and is revered as a “literary monument to a government of service and duty.”

Marcus Aurelius Meditations

See also our book reviews of Dana Perino’s And The Good News Is… and David Brooks’ The Road to Character.

Spending Father’s Day “Drinking Beer With Dad”

Drinking Beer With Dad LyricsYou might not necessarily think of Kid Rock – the rap-rocker-turned-country-star – as entirely relevant in today’s music landscape. His latest album, however, proved to be a pleasant surprise and is a reminder that sometimes artists develop their most influential work later in life.

Released in February of this year, Billboard music critic Richard Bienstock wrote, “First Kiss is hardly [Kid Rock’s] most adventurous project, but it is perhaps his most easy going, tuneful one. The production is crisp and clean, the guitars are sparkling, the vibe is rollicking but relaxed…he sounds better here than he has in a long time.”

Among our favorites is the song, “Drinking Beer With Dad,” a nostalgic ballad on the “good old days” and life lessons learned while “out there on the back porch swinging / drinking beer with dad.”

The perfect song to celebrate Father’s Day, you can listen to it here and read the full lyrics below. See also our gift ideas for Father’s Day.

Drinking Beer With Dad
Kid Rock, First Kiss (2015)

It’s the simple things in life
But life ain’t so simple right
And times get hard and people can make you mad
But I remember when I was young
I couldn’t wait to turn 21
Sit in the backyard sun and drink beer with dad

Drinking beer with dad
Out there on the back porch swinging
Drinking beer with dad
Picking my guitar and grinning

We’d hem and haw, we’d cuss and fight
But that’s where I learned life’s best advice
We’d talk about when I was young and bad
Sometimes he’d make me fightin’ mad
Best education I ever had
Was out there on the back porch drinking beer with dad

Nowadays most things have changed
This whole world is heading down the drain
There’s no God in schools
Toting guns is the latest fad
A little discipline would sure be nice
A little lesson in wrong and right
Maybe it’s time young man to have a beer with dad

Drinking beer with dad
Out there on the back porch swinging
Drinking beer with dad
Picking my guitar and singing

I’d play him songs all through the night
I’d praise the Lord I saw the light
We’d stay up late and make mom mad
But half the time we’d just laugh and laugh
Some of the best times I ever had
Was out there on the back porch drinking beer with dad

Now son I’m so damn proud of you
And the young man you’ve turned into
You’re the best son a father could ever have
And though your grandpa’s done past on
Soon you’ll be 21
So come on the back porch son and have a beer with dad

Drinking beer with dad
Out there on the back porch swinging
Drinking beer with dad
Picking our guitars and grinning
We’ll hem and haw, we’ll cuss and fight
But I’ll pass along life’s best advice
We’ll talk about your old granddad
The things he gave us he never had
I wish forever our time could last
I wish this world wouldn’t move so fast
Out here on the back porch
Out here on the back porch drinking beer with dad

Sharing An Adventure On Father’s Day

“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

The above advertisement – largely recognized as one of the most famous in history – was placed in London newspapers in the early 20th century by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton (1874-1922), the famed polar explorer who led one of the most remarkable expeditions of all time: the 1914 journey to Antarctica that left him and his crew living on floating ice for months on end after the sinking of their ship, Endurance.

best survival books non fictionAs the daughter of one of Shackleton’s biggest fans, I became familiar with the written account of Endurance at a young age – a story that brilliantly captures man’s yearning for adventure (not to mention his will to survive) and serves as a testimony to the pivotal influence of strong leadership in the face of insurmountable odds.

Sharing his own yearning for adventure – or at the very least, yearning for adventure stories – my father has passed along to me many other riveting reads throughout the years, such as Alive by Piers Paul Read and The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz (synopses below).

With a collection spanning everything from lost-at-sea to hiking Mt. Everest, such books have proven to be reliable gifts – for both adventure aficionados and those looking for an enthralling page-turner.

And so, this Father’s Day, consider helping your father “discover” one of the thrilling disaster survival stories below. A mere sampling of an extensive list that we’re forever adding to, we promise these won’t disappoint!

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage (1959)
By Alfred Lansing

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (1974)
By Piers Paul Read

Alive tells the story of a team of young rugby players from Uruguay who were headed to Chile in October 1972 when their plane crashed into one of the remotest parts of the Andes Mountains. After a rescue team fails to find them during a short-lived search, 16 of the 45 survivors of the flight are forced to do whatever they can to keep themselves alive in sub-zero temperatures.

The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom (1956)
By Slavomir Rawicz

In 1941, the author and six fellow prisoners of war escaped from a Soviet labor camp in Yakutsk, heading south in an attempt to find freedom. The Long Walk tells the awe-inspiring story of their 18-month-long journey on foot with little resources and food, covering over 3,000 miles through the Gobi Desert, Tibet and the Himalayas before finally reaching freedom in British India.

Adrift: 76 Days Lost at Sea (1986)
By Steve Callahan

Preceding The Perform Storm and In The Heart of The Sea, Adrift chronicles one of the greatest sea adventures of all times, providing a riveting firsthand account by the only man known to have survived for more than a month alone at sea. Drifting for 1,800 miles in an inflatable raft after his boat capsized in the Atlantic Ocean, Callahan fights off sharks, captures birds, repairs raft punctures and collects drinking water from two solar stills in order to survive.

Michael Tougias’ Books

Finally, Michael Tougias, an award winning, best-selling author known for his fast paced writing style and character-driven stories, has written and co-authored 23 books. Below are five of his most exceptional, all of which are truly amazing reads:

Michael Tougias biography

Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do (2005)

In the midst of the Blizzard of 1978, the tanker Global Hope floundered in Salem Sound off the Massachusetts coast. Ten Hours Until Dawn tells the story of a Captain’s decision to ready a forty-nine-foot steel boat, the Can Do, and enter the maelstrom after learning that a Coast Guard patrol boat succumbed to the ocean’s turbulent forces and failed to reach them.

Fatal Forecast: An Incredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea (2006)

Fatal Forecast provides a moment-by-moment account of 72 hours at sea in the lives of eight young fisherman who, in 1980, were caught in a furious maelstrom off the coast of Cape Cod that battered their boats with sixty-foot waves and hurricane force winds.

The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Most Daring Sea Rescue (2009)

In the winter of 1952, during one of the most brutal nor’easters in years, two oil tankers in the Atlantic ocean split in two, leaving dozens of men on board trapped inside the broken halves of the two ships. The Finest Hours tells their story of survival, as the men hurl themselves into the raging sea, fighting off treacherous winter winds and waves.

Overboard!: A True Blue-water Odyssey of Disaster and Survival (2010)

Overboard! recounts the 2005 story of a 5-day voyage on a forty-five-foot-long sailboat from Connecticut across the Gulf Stream to Bermuda that leaves two crewmembers fighting for their lives in a tumultuous sea, while the others attempt to stay aboard a vessel that is slowly being torn apart by the storm. The search and rescue mission proved to be equally dangerous, and was later selected as the Coast Guard’s “search and rescue case of the year.”

A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue (2013)

A 2007 disaster-at-sea that prompted one of the largest and most intense rescues in Coast Guard history, A Storm Too Soon tells the equally riveting story of three men – including a Captain who was suffering from 9 broken ribs – fighting for their lives on a raft 250 miles out to sea in the Gulf Stream, and the ensuing rescue mission that seems nearly impossible. Both men and Coast Guardsmen battle hurricane force winds, eighty-foot waves and a question of how – and whether – they will ever make it out alive.

For more nonfiction adventure and survival book recommendations, please feel free to contact us. You can also share your favorites by leaving a comment below.

See also our post on the perfect Father’s Day song.

The Season of All Things Strawberry

Recipes with strawberriesStrawberry season is here and what better way to cool off than with some chilled strawberry soup and delicious strawberry shortcake?

“A symbol of the delights of summer,” strawberries or “fragaria” are rich in vitamin C and potassium. They are also a source of folic acid, vitamin B5 and magnesium and are thought to have tonic, diuretic, remineralizing, and astringent properties.

“The French philosopher Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757) attributed his exceptionally long life to them and ate them every day they were in season,” as James and Kay Slater write in Life Is Meals.

Therese Cabarrus, the “stylish” wife of a marquis and a prisoner during the Reign of Terror after the French Revolution, “became famous for her habit of adding the juice from twenty-two pounds of crushed strawberries to her bath to keep her skin smooth and silky.” (above information and quotes taken from Life Is Meals book).

Enjoy the recipes below!

Chilled Strawberry Soup (inspired by Carriage House Café in Ithaca, New York)

Ingredients:
4 cups sliced fresh Strawberries
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup good quality Prosecco (we used “Lamarca”)
2 tbsp. whipping or heavy cream
1-2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Strawberry soup recipe

Instructions:
Place strawberries and orange juice in blender and puree, place in bowl and set aside. Combine sugar and prosecco in small pan and heat on low stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add to the strawberry mixture along with the lemon, cream and cinnamon. Chill for several hours before serving in individual bowls with a dollop of fresh whipped cream!

Very Delicious Strawberry Shortcake Cream Biscuits (adapted from The Newlywed Cookbook by Sarah Copeland)

Ingredients:
2 cups flour, plus more for dusting
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
6 tbsp. very cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2/3 cup heavy/whipping cream
2 large eggs, beaten
1-2 tbsp. sliced almonds

Strawberry Shortcake recipe

Instructions:
Prepare baking sheet by lightly greasing. Combine flour, baking powder and salt and cinnamon in large bowl. Rub in the 6 tbsp of very cold butter with your hands until evenly combined. Gently stir in the cream and 1 beaten egg reserving the other beaten egg to coat the top of biscuit.  Turn the shortcake biscuits recipedough out onto a lightly floured countertop and gently knead a few times being careful not to overwork it. Pat the dough into a 12″x6″ square that is about 2 inches thick (big enough to cut out 6-7  3″ round biscuits). Use biscuit cutter (or top of 3″ round drinking glass) to cut biscuits and place on baking sheet. Coat tops with beaten egg and sprinkle desired amount of almonds on top. Place the whole tray in freezer for 30 min. Remove from freezer promptly and bake in 375 degree oven for approximately 20 min. Check the biscuits after 15 min. with a toothpick. Be sure not to dry out biscuits by over baking. Serve with freshly sliced strawberries lightly sprinkled with sugar and lemon juice (some strawberries are sweet enough not to need too much sugar, others require a tablespoon or so) and topped with fresh whipped cream. We also enjoy a little bit of vanilla ice cream with ours. Enjoy!

*See also our recipe for Strawberry Chiffon Pie (pictured below)

Strawberry Chiffon Pie Recipe

If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello

“If Life Gives You Lemons, Make Limoncello”

Limoncello recipeThat is what the Mastroianni brothers (pictured below) did in 2008 when they opened their Salem, New Hampshire-based “Fabrizia Spirits”, which has become one of the finest Limoncello distillers in the country.

Nick and Phil Mastroianni are second-generation Italian-Americans who grew up outside of Boston. Well acquainted with the inferior quality of Limoncello that was served in Boston’s North End, they became inspired to make their own after a “life-changing visit to the family’s home village in southern Italy.”

According to the brothers, Limoncello should have a “fresh lemon floral note” and a slight subtle burn.  You should taste the alcohol but it shouldn’t be “rocket-fuel.”  The inconsistent quality that they have experienced in other limoncellos is the result of the use of artificial flavors and colors that “corrupt the ‘sacred-mix’ of the traditional recipe.”

Below you’ll find recipes for limoncello, lemon pie and lemon blueberry bread. We hope you enjoy!

*Please note: The above information was taken from Bill Burke’s article “Celebrate NH”, May 2015

Mastroianni Bros bakery

Mastroianni Brothers Fabrizia Spirits

Limoncello (taken from Limoncello and Linen Water by Tessa Kiros)

Ingredients:
8 Lemons
4 cups pure alcohol (most are between 96-98%)
2 lb. 4oz Sugar
4 cups water

*Note: You will need a large, wide-mouthed glass carafe of 12 cups or so.

Limoncello and Linen water book

Instructions:
Wash the lemons very well and scrub the skins.  Pare them with a potato peeler or paring knife into good strips, taking care to only get the yellow part, not the white pith.  Put them in the carafe, cover with the alcohol and leave to macerate for 1 week, covered.  Give the carafe a shake every so often to make sure all the peel is covered.

Put the sugar and water in a saucepan and stir until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and simmer for just under 10 minutes.  Remove from the heat.  Using muslin or a fine strainer, filter the alcohol into a jug.  Slowly pour the alcohol over the hot syrup in the pan, taking care as it will spit out at you.  Cool completely.  Pour back into the carafe, cover again and leave for 10-15 days.  It will now be ready to drink. Serve well chilled – you can store in the freezer. Very refreshing on hot summer days.

Lemon Pie (taken from Limoncello and Linen Water by Tessa Kiros)

Ingredients for the crust:
1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup melted butter

Instructions:
Mix all of the above ingredients in bowl and then lightly pat into a pie dish. Put aside.

Ingredients for the filling:
1 cup of whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Juice of two large lemons (approximately 1/2 cup)

Lemon pie recipe

Instructions:
Whip the cream until fairly stiff. Add the condensed milk and whip to incorporate. Add the lemon juice combining thoroughly. Pour into pie crust and cover with plastic and refrigerate until set, usually several hours. This pie is very simple and quick to make and is very light and a very refreshing dessert for a hot summer day.

*Note: This recipe called for a crust made with 4 & 1/2 ounces of rectangular Marie Digestive Biscuits combined with a stick of butter. We didn’t have any and so used a graham cracker crust.  Also, the next time we make this we might try adding a little bit of crushed pineapple or crushed strawberries.

Lemon Blueberry Breakfast Bread

Ingredients:
6 tbsp. butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 & 1/2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 cup fresh blueberries

Instructions:
Sift together flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl and set aside. Cream butter and sugar and then beat in eggs.  Add flour mixture to butter/egg mixture slowly alternating dry ingredients with the milk combining thoroughly. Add lemon juice and blueberries. Turn batter into loaf/bread pan and bake 40-50 minutes in 350 degree oven. (Be sure to grease the pan before you put batter in).

Ingredients for the glaze:
1/4 cup of sugar
2 tbsp. or more fresh lemon or orange juice

Instructions:
Mix together and drizzle over bread when right out of oven. Run a fork around edges of bread and pan to allow the glaze to ooze down the sides of the bread. Let cool for 30 minutes or so before removing from the pan.

Lemon blueberry bread recipe

Joining David Brooks on “The Road to Character”

David Brooks Road to Character Review“We are out of balance,” declares David Brooks, the widely recognized New York Times columnist, in his new book The Road to Character:

“The mental space that was once occupied by moral struggle has gradually become occupied by the struggle to achieve. Morality has been displaced by utility. Adam II [our internal, morally concerned nature] has been displaced by Adam I [our external, career-oriented nature].”

In an eye opening, beautifully written exploration into the development of a strong inner character, David Brooks shows how far we have strayed from the “crooked-timber” school of thought that deliberatively recognized human limitations and fallibility and encouraged the cultivation of virtues such as humility, selflessness, generosity and self-sacrifice.

While he dedicates a large portion of his book to examining the process of character building through the lives of ten great thinkers – such as Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day, St. Augustine, George Eliot – it’s the last chapters that give this book its due merit.

Using data, history and the beliefs espoused by past and current philosophical movements as evidence, Brooks reveals a startling moral ecology permeating our culture today: one that places more of an emphasis on individual success and achievement than on inward development and self-confrontation.

It’s not that we’re bad or more selfish or venal than people in other times, Brooks writes. It’s that we’ve become “morally inarticulate” and have “lost the understanding of how character is built.”

What was once deemed essential by the “crooked-timber” tradition – an awareness of weaknesses, a waging of an internal struggle against sins and a rejection of self-glorification – has been marginalized by the pervasive force of the “Big Me” culture that encourages self-liberation, self-expression and self-promotion, entrusting the self with a moral code and worldview based on what feels good or right.

It’s an ethos that frees us from the weight, even consideration, of internal weaknesses, epitomized in the mantras: “I am lovable and capable” and “I am worthy and special.”

Brooks writes: “The self is less likely to be seen as the seat of the soul, or as the repository of some transcendent spirit. Instead, the self is a vessel of human capital. It is a series of talents to be cultivated efficiently and prudently. The self is defined by tasks and accomplishments. The self is about talent, not character.”

While our current moral tradition, he continues, “tells you how to do things that will propel you to the top,” it “doesn’t encourage you to ask yourself why you are doing them. It offers little guidance on how to choose among different career paths and different vocations, how to determine which will be morally highest and best. It encourages people to become approval-seeking machines, to measure their lives by external praise…”

What we are left with, therefore, is a moral ecology that builds up – encourages, praises and endorses – the exterior, defining people by their abilities and achievements while neglecting the inner formation of one’s self and the development of moral faculties essential to leading a meaningful life.

“The achievement machine rewards you if you can demonstrate superiority – if with a thousand little gestures, conversational types, and styles of dress you can demonstrate that you are a bit smarter, hipper, more accomplished, sophisticated, famous, plugged in, and fashion-forward than the people around you,” he writes.

Accordingly, it is no longer a question of “how can I combat my weaknesses” so much as it is a question of “how can I use this opportunity, person or experience” for my own personal advancement.

While Brooks highlights the adverse effects of such a moral shift – among them an unhealthy rise in narcissistic and self-aggrandizing tendencies – he gives fair recognition to the advantages of such “meritocracy”, noting that it has “liberated enormous energies” and corrected some deep social injustices.

The problem, however, is that it’s just gone too far.

“To live a decent life, to build up the soul, it’s probably necessary to declare that the forces that encourage the Big Me, while necessary and liberating in many ways, have gone too far. We are out of balance. It’s probably necessary to have one foot in the world of achievement but another foot in a counterculture that is in tension with the achievement ethos.”

A fascinating read, particularly for those interested in understanding the philosophical underpinnings that form a society and culture, The Road to Character is made all the more poignant with an awareness that it was written by someone in search of a greater depth.

Describing himself as being “born with a disposition toward shallowness” who has “lived a life of vague moral aspiration” and had to “work harder than most people to avoid a life of smug superficiality,” there is something affecting in Brooks’ diligent attempt to understand how to live a rich inner life – and in his admission that he “wrote [the book], to be honest, to save my own soul.”

Good News From Dana Perino

I knew I was going to enjoy Dana Perino’s book after coming across an article she published entitled: “Advice for Millennials: What I learned From My Quarter-Life Crisis (Yes, I had one).”

Discovering that the former Press Secretary for President George W. Bush had once been “racked with anxiety, filled with fear, and totally confused about what I was going to do with my life,” was more than enough to convince me to begin reading her book, And The Good News Is…: Lessons and Advice From the Bright Side.

Funny and moving, insightful and informative, balanced and practical, it is well worth the read, particularly for millennials who may be in the midst of their own “quarter-life crisis,” just as Ms. Perino describes experiencing in her early career.

Dana Perino And The Good News Is Book Review

Spanning her humble, modest upbringing in Colorado and Wyoming, her years working for President George W. Bush and her current role as a host on the popular talk show The Five, And The Good News Is… tells the unlikely story of how a young girl who had once visited the White House at seven years old would return some 20 years later to serve as the first female Republican spokeswoman for the 43rd president of the United States.

Full of poignant stories from working with President Bush, humorous mishaps both on and off the podium and challenging decisions that tested her courage and strength, the book provides an authentic glimpse not only into her own personal journey, but into the journey of life itself: the ups and downs, trials and tribulations, questions and doubts, triumphs and defeats. Which is perhaps why it – and she – is so relatable.

Far from being pretentious and brash, she isn’t afraid to poke fun at herself and her weaknesses, sharing personal anecdotes of cases where President Bush impelled her to practice self-restraint (and to always forgive and “let it go”) – which is admirable, especially for someone who has attained such a prominent and respected position in politics and media.

Sprinkled throughout with valuable lessons on life and the workplace, it isn’t until the end when she offers solid, concrete advice for young people – which would serve many well to read.

While some of her tips are what you might expect (i.e. dress for success, don’t chew gum and never underestimate the value of networking), most of them are refreshingly distinct – and certainly no less important than the ordinary checklists made available to young professionals today. For instance, she has now inspired me to start a weekend reading folder and may have also convinced me that I should leave New York City and move to North Dakota. She even got me thinking seriously about my response to the question: what do you do for fun?

But, you might be wondering, what of the good news? What is the good news? I think it is just that: that there is always good news. That, as she writes in the introduction, “…in America, nothing is ever as bad as it seems because we have the opportunity and capabilities to fix problems.” She later goes on to say: “Whatever is being said about you, whatever criticism you’re facing, it probably isn’t as bad as a million other things that happened in the world that day…remember, most of us are really not that big of a deal.”

As a young woman, who might just be in the midst of my own quarter life crisis, perhaps that is just what I needed to hear – and why I so thoroughly enjoyed her book (it also didn’t hurt that I could effortlessly relate to her desire to always be thoroughly prepared and her excessive worrying tendencies, even when there isn’t something to worry about).

So, thank you, Ms. Perino. Your book might just be to me what Peggy Noonan’s, What I Saw at the Revolution, was to you: a source of clarity, inspiration and encouragement.

And henceforth, when I’m nervous, scared or tasked with a challenge, I promise to just “put my big girl panties on and deal with it.”

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