What I’m Reading
A little catch up work on what I’m reading…
Around Thanksgiving 2012 I finished:
THE GLORIOUS CAUSE: THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, 1763 - 1789 by Robert Middlekauff (2005)
I’ve become interested in knowing the history of American warfare. Not out of a love of war (far from it) but in a desire to understand context. Why did this war happen? What was happening in the years that led to the war? What were the results of the war?
I’m looking for single-volume books that focus more on the context of the war and less on a list of detailed battle maneuvers. THE GLORIOUS CAUSE fit the bill nicely and was a solid read. I was fascinated by how much I didn’t know about the Revolutionary War and how glossed over the key characters are in our primary education system. Who knew that Washington had doubts? How John Adams functioned in the Congress? How Benedict Arnold held a variety of posts and was all over the place? I didn’t until reading this book. Hopefully future American war books are as illuminating.
Next, I switched back to fiction. I saw a book at a friend’s house that initially looked interesting. This was the science fiction book THE WINDUP GIRL by Paolo Bacigalupi (2009).
This should have been right up by alley. Dystopian near-future sci fi with an emphasis on technology and an interesting message about genetically-modified food. I couldn’t get into it, however. Something about the way the narrator read it on the audiobook? Yes, but also something about the way it was written and the way the author led us through the story. I didn’t like his character’s voices. The plot was fractured and scattered. It was a total miss for me. About 12 hours in I checked Audible to see how many hours I had left, since I was desperate to move on. Audible said 16 hours remained. I never do this, but I decided just to quit the book and move on.
After this I moved on to a book I’ve been waiting for to come out on Audible for awhile: PATERNO by Joe Posnanski (2012).
I work at Penn State. I’ve worked here since 2007. I felt like I was just getting to really know and understand the school when the Sandusky scandal broke out. I’ve never been much of a football fan, but in October 2011 I suggested to my wife that maybe we should go see a Penn State football game. I thought I was ready to experience that tradition for myself. Then, scandal.
The next year was tough. It’s still tough and confusing and sad. I think the campus is starting to heal, though, and I wanted some amount of closure to the whole thing. While PATERNO isn’t exclusively about the scandal, it can’t avoid it either. Getting Paterno’s side of the story (as much as was possible) was helpful. I think the book is accurate. I think it reflects the Penn State I’ve come to know and enjoy working for. It also helped me understand more of the history of the university and how for many decades it was intertwined with Paterno. I’m glad I read it.
Finally, I just finished THE CLICK MOMENT: SEIZING OPPORTUNITY IN AN UNPREDICTABLE WORLD by Frans Johansson (2012).
Frans Johansson is one of the keynote speakers for this year’s TLT Symposium. I usually try to read the keynote’s book before the actual address so I have some idea of why they are speaking at the Symposium and how their ideas connect with (or completely reinvent) what we’re doing at work.
THE CLICK MOMENT was an easy read. Johansson seems to be likable enough and his ideas look to fall into the “easy to understand, hard to master” category. The major take away for me was to embrace the randomness of the day/job/universe, trust your intuition, and take risks. Some risks fail, but some might prosper in ways you could never predict or imagine. And, you have to be very lucky. It’s easy to see how Johansson will deliver the feel good message that gets the crowd jazzed at the Symposium and the other keynote, George Siemens, will provide almost an opposing view with his talk that will be grounded in Learning Analytics, a component of which is analyzing data to create predictive models of learning and behavior. An interesting juxtaposition.
House 33: A Surprise Visitor
As I was starting to make dinner tonight we had an unexpected knock on our front door. I opened the door to find a little old lady, unperturbed by our overly-excited dogs, pushing, somewhat politely but forcefully, into the house.
She asked if she could come in and I, somewhat impolitely, said “Why?” After all, I didn’t know her. I have a baby now. I am ever vigilant for wackos.
Then came the answer: “I lived here for 50 years.”
I realized at that moment who this woman was. The couple we bought the house from in 2008 had originally bought it themselves in 2002 from their… aunt? Great-aunt? A family relation, anyway. We had heard through the grapevine that this original owner still lived in town and was very interested in our extensive remodel of the house. For several months now I occasionally thought of this person I never met and wondered what she would think of the choices we made when we radically changed the house from the way it was when we bought it.
And now she was standing on my (formerly her) front porch. Of course we invited her in and gladly gave her a tour of her old home. She and her husband had bought the house in 1952 and, despite her husband dying in the 1980s, had continued to live in it until 2002. We learned a great deal of the history of the house.
1952 is a remarkable year as this also happens to be the year that my grandmother graduated from Juniata College, a mere two blocks from our house. In fact, my grandmother is the reason I’m even in Central PA to begin with.
The former owner had brought with her a number of papers that documented the extensive work she had had done on the house in her 50 years as caretaker. I look forward to pouring over these documents at some point soon. The most interesting fact she shared with us is that there was a house in the vacant spot between our house and the next. The vacant spot we built an addition on. It was apparently an old house that was falling apart and owned by a crazy old lady that used to only live in her kitchen and stick her feet in the cookstove to stay warm. Eventually she was “removed” so she and her husband bought the house and parcel in the early 1970s and had it demolished. She had always wanted to build an addition like we eventually did but her husband never agreed to it.
She loved the work we had done. We gladly shared our story as she shared hers. She promises to someday bring us pictures of the house dating back to the 1950s. Apparently when she and her husband bought it in 1952 it was in bad shape and the neighbors couldn’t believe anybody would be desperate enough to buy the house.