Saturday, September 19, 2009

Reclaiming the Fire

Book: Reclaiming the Fire
Author: Dr. Steven Berglas
Edition: First, Hardback
Read: September  2009
219 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

Dr. Steven Berglas has written an easy to understand, non-technical book on those who are successful, but dysfunctional in their success. Dr. Berglas takes a lot of his wisdom from his practice. His practice has ranged from patient psychiatry to corporate, management consulting. So his view is slanted from the perspective of seeing successful dysfunctional people.

He starts by giving examples of seemingly well-adjusted people who are successful. Then they are faced with some issue where their adjustment falls apart and they react with depression, anger or lack of energy. Berglas works with unresolved issues which his patient had not faced. This typically is inferiority issues, trying to live up to family expectations, and succeeding to please others.

 Berglas talks a lot about people who handicap themselves. Those who are almost afraid of their success. These people are concerned what happens after this success, so they fail to lower expectations. He concludes that people will become guilty or convinced they do not deserve success; or they will try to lower expectations for succeeding tasks. Others instead try to tempt fate by constantly ratcheting up the stakes. Eventually they fail.

 The closest which it came to me was the story of a man who was promoted to a position he did not want. The success at one position does not make him a success at another position. The way for him out of the situation was to retire. I found myself empathizing with this person. While being successful in what he was doing, he felt miserable, losing his drive. Berglas notes that professionals trapped in golden handcuffs are particularly vulnerable to derision if they elect to jump off the fast track.

 An interesting point is made concerning the seasons of life. As a young man, going to be successful person, there is a drive to being  successful. This can be consuming of all of your energy. But as you age, and Berglas says that someplace around thirty, this person needs to become more reflective, to understand more of what you are doing, what you are here for. There should be a reframing of the career path and examine how you are investing it. [Gary’s Note: Is Berglas saying that if you have not started your push by 30, you are not going to make it?]

 Compliments should be personal. This is good, because you did this and it had this effect. No confusion on why the person is being complimented. If a person is confused on why, then they are left wondering what they did good. This leads to anxiety as they try to reproduce the success which they do not know what was successful. This is true of children or staff. Also the opposite is true—about corrections. Be specific.

 Being There is so important. There is a way for those who have advantage—whether its wealth, social standing, smarts, ,…--to self-handicap themselves. As Jesus said, those who have much, much is expected. If you do not even show up, or live up to your full potential, then you don’t actually fail. This is what Berglas calls a Faustian Bargain. When the person feels pressure to succeed-read our generation saying you can be all you want to be—then by not trying, you don’t fail at living up to all.


  • People can be pulled short of their true calling by previous obligations. Such as a son of a military officer may feel compelled to follow in a military career rather than a passion for mathematics.
    • Truncation of calling leads to a lack of self-actualization.
  • Nothing satisfies a narcissistic person. There is always a need to obtain more self-love. Everything but perfection is failure.
  • Chris Argyis of Harvard has found that smart old dogs are adamantly opposed to learning new tricks. From Teaching Smart People to Learn, Harvard Business Review, May-June 1991, pages 98-109
  • Example of a bonsai tree vs a Christmas tree farm. With a Christmas tree farm you can bring in lots of money, quickly. But a bonsai tree will take beyond the time the original grower will live. Different between cheap individuals, but collective worth and the individual depth which may be worth a lot of money later on, but you cultivate for the value it brings to others. (121)
  • When you make your career yourself, then you are vulnerable to the failure of self as things with you job is not right.
  • There are three problems when your career has a single upward track rather than a zig-zag:
    • Choking under pressure
    • Seeking external excuses for failures, such as self handicapping
    • Fleeing performance expectations
  • How to introduce innovations and change without threat:
    • Know what you are afraid of
    • Instead of looking at fitting everything into the current container, try expanding the container.
    • Employ Psychological Diversity Training. Getting used to changing circumstances.
  • Berglas points out that success can be as addictive as a psychoactive drug. You can be dependent on it. Consequently the thrill wears off or you fail.
  • Success is not the only way to achieve this, but may also be gained through positive ways such as doing things for their intrinsic value. Example is given is children playing; helping others, ….


When I read a book like this, it is very much related to something which I feel needs to change in my life. From this book, I did not get a good sense that it addressed people like me. The one place was mentioned about. But when I read through the book, I did not see a place of help here.

It was an interesting book to read, but not for me.

Good Quotes from the Author:

  • When you fake inner strength, you fool yourself much more than you fool other people. (115)
  • Until you abandon the pretense of perfection, you cannot possibly acquire the new skills or resources needed to sustain success through a career. (176)
  • Burnouts do not lose passion for a career because they are deadbeat, exploitative users. They are doers—or would-be doers—thwarted from attaining psychological satisfaction because their eyes have been on the wrong prize. (212)

Good Quotes from Others:

  • Be satisfied with success in even the smallest matter, and think that even such a result is no trifle. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. ix. 29.
  • The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and, if they can’t find them, make them. George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Warren's Profession, 1893
  • In this world there are two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it. The last is much the worst. Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere's Fan, act 3.
  • Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
    For what's a heaven for?" Robert Browning (Men and Women and Other Poems)
  • Oh, don’t the days seem lank and long
               When all goes right and nothing goes wrong.
                    And isn’t your life extremely flat
                              With nothing whatever to gumble at!
                                             William S. Gilbert, Princess Ida
  • A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. William James, no reference
  • Ambition is so powerful a passion in the human breast, that however high we are [is] never satisfied.  Niccolo Machiavelli-no reference
  • There is no trap more deadly than the rap you set for yourself. Raymond Chandler-no reference
  • Success is counted sweetest, By those who ne’er succeed. Emily Dickinrson, Part I: Life
  • When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot. Ray Kroc. No reference
  • Avarice and happiness never saw each other, how then should they become acquainted? Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richards Almanac, 1736
  • The flourishing life is not achieved by techniques. You can’t trick yourself into a life well-lived. Neither is it achieved by following five easy steps or some charismatic figure’s dogma. A flourishing life depends on our responding as best we can to those things uniquely incumbent upon us. Epictetus, The Art of Living, pg 89
  • Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them. Epictetus, The Enchiridion
  • It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. Sir Edmund Hillary
  • To do anything well, you must have the humility to bumble around a bit, to follow your nose, to get lost, to goof. Have the courage to try an undertaking and possibly do it poorly. Unremarkable lives are marked by the fear of not looking capable when trying something new.- Epictetus, The Art Of Living: The Classic Manual On Virtue, Happiness, And Effectiveness, pg 87
  • Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently, Henry Ford
  • The more things a man is ashamed of, the more respectable he is. George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act I
  • -This above all: to thine own self be true,
    And it must follow, as the night the day,
    Thou canst not then be false to any man. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

You and Yours

Book: You and Yours:
Author: Naomi Shihab Nye
Edition:  1st Edition, Paperback
Read: August 2009
81 pages
Rated: 2 out of 5
Why a “2” rating? Is it a bad book? Is this book just not for me? Does Nye not say anything worthwhile? Is poetry not something I get? Is this poetry?

Questions I pose for myself. Poetry sound wonderful to me—being able to express thoughts beyond words on the paper. I just don’t see the depth in most of the 49 poems presented. They seem more words on a page, rather than opening my eyes to something beyond. The thoughts seem more prosaic, along with the words.

So is the problem me or Nye?

One of the two places which somewhat succeed for me was in the poem, Fold. She talks about the proclivity with words, small and little, the diminutive tendency in a world given often to sprawling and big. This reminded me of the lostness those of us have who are pebbles—trying to make small ripples in a big pond.

The other piece I found was in the poem Don Chu Go. Nye says to use your voice, cry of in pain, injustice. While a common thought, it is expressed ragged and well like the thought should be expressed.

The book’s title comes from the poem, During A War. She looks at who “you” and “yours” are. She has received a letter from a friend during a war—I am assuming Iraq or Afiganistan. She asks the question, who is “yours”? Where does “yours” stop? Good questions. There she falls in her responses—this is where either I do not understand or she does not provide something in continuity with the question.

So which is it, she or me?
Notes from my book group:


Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Man Who Was Thursday

Book: The Man Who Was Thursday
Author: GK Chesterton
Edition: Public Doman-Gutenberg
Read: June 2009
97 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

The Man Who Was Thursday is a pretty good GK Chesterton read. You read Chesterton not for his story line--even though sometimes is pretty good like this one, nor brevity of thought--his specialty is being expansive as he is personally; nor for a realistic view—that is definitely out. But if you want to enlarge your own view, see beyond our world, look at it with eyes afresh, then Chesterton is your man.

The basic story line is Syme is recruited to infiltrate anarchists. He does such a good job that he lands the position of Thursday on the council of days—the coordinating council of anarchists for Europe. The rest of the story dealt with Thursday trying to stop Sunday, the head of the council of days. Then there is the reward for a well done task.

As exciting of a storyline this is, it pales to the philosophical points Chesterton makes. He explores our fears of isolation, the encouragement of working together even against great odds; the ability of a few men banded together and their ability to stand before the world. Oh how to tell without giving away the plot?

But the big question which Chesterton asks is what are we here for and who are we? Like the Bible he starts in a garden or a park if you prefer, and it ends in a wild celebration where Chesterton answers questions such as, Why did God allow evil? Why do we have to encounter evil and suffer with it?

Chesterton’s story is a front, a front to examine who we are. We discover glimmers of ourselves more in conflict than in calm. We find ourselves as we are forced to such through life, rather than setting in a park discussing things. As one character said, “I strayed to close to hell”--but then he understood himself. But when we are able to rest from our labors, celebrating our lives, we can see our life clearer in retrospective.

The accusation says we have not hated because of never having lived—never been put to the test of being in the world. Chesterton’s response is we have been—we have stood up, we suffer in more ways to keep our honor then can be imagined. It is because we do not bend or if we do, we come back to stand upright, that we are able to hold our heads up.

Chesterton is definitely not a modernly politically correct person. He starts right out by talking about how this particular poet is laying down the law to men and women, particularly women. He notes the paradox of how easily an emancipated—liberated or feminist in our day—will do something which very few women will do—pay attention to what a man says. He seems much more witty witting about modern women than his other incorrectness concerning Jews and blacks.
Something Chesterton does real well at is turning an argument on his head—of course it is easier if you control the conversation. The argument which is made is that there is splendor in chaos, there is beauty in the wild. Man’s creations destroy. Gregory, the anarchist, says that he would much rather have a tree than a lamppost. Chesterton points out that is by the lamppost which you can see the tree.

There is a certain bit of irony and ticking which Chesterton plays in this story. There is a council of anarchists. Wouldn’t by its very nature anarchists would not need or even a desire to coordinate their activities? In chapter two Syme says to the anarchist, I know your passion for law and order. Ultimately nobody likes chaos, we yearn for order in our lives. But a good order. An order which allows us to flourish rather than the control which restricts. This is ingrained in us. The moment which two people get together we play by rules of a relationship, whether spoken or just understood.

Chesterton had a great deal of faith in the people. Not so much in their ability to choose right from wrong, but to look out for their own good. In chapter XI a mob is chasing our heros. During the dialogue Chesterton points out that the only defense the common people have is the right application of the rule of law. It is the rich who benefit by subverting it. If they do not like a law, they leave. The poor have to stay. At the end of chapter XII he says “Vulgar (common) people are never mad.”

But in chapter XIII he gets to the main point when Syme says, “…it is six men going to ask one what they mean.” Later on that page, he has Sunday asking them “…you want me to tell you what I am, and what you are, and what this table is, and what this Council is, and what this world is for all I know. Well, I will go so far as to rend the veil of one mystery. If you want to know what you are, you are a set of highly well-intentioned young jackasses.” While not a soothing answer, it probably is a correct answer. When you look at a life, most people are well intention, but failing and failing miserably people. But isn’t this only a partial answer on who e are? The other answer is given as Syme and his friends chase Sunday right into their victory celebration. We also see we are people who overcome. Overcome not only by our strength, but through the one who gives us strength.

Not major Chesterton points, nor are they going to be part of the Chesterton quote book, but there is a great line of thought:
  • Syme is describing his father and mother, his mom being a vegetarian, the other hedonistic. The comment is made “by the time the former had come to enforcing vegetarianism, the latter had pretty well reached the point of defending cannibalism.” Just a great line.
  • When Syme and his group come to confront Sunday, Syme sais “I attack him rashly because I am afraid of him.” When we are afraid, we are at our worst.
A Christian reading this book will find full meaning at the end; others will say it was a great adventure book, but he be bewildered at the end.

Notes from my book group:
Enjoyable book. But we did not discuss this much as we did a potluck and game night.

New Words:
  • Flaneur: French for an idle man around town.
  • Colney Hatch: A lunatic asylum which in Britain was synonymous with any mental institution.
  • Pate de foie gras: Foie gras is French for "fat liver," and this pâté is made from the livers of specially fattened geese or duck.
  • Joseph Chamberlain: an influential British businessman, politician, and statesman, father to Neville Chamberlain. Malcolm Muggerridge mentions him in his Chronicles of a Wasted Time.
  • Tim Healy: an Irish nationalist politician, journalist, author, barrister and one of the most controversial Irish MPs in the House of Commons
  • Marat: a Swiss-born physician, political theorist and scientist better known as a radical journalist and politician from the French Revolution. His journalism was renowned for its fiery character and uncompromising stance towards the new government, "enemies of the revolution" and basic reforms for the poorest members of society. His constant persecution, consistent voice and uncanny prophetic powers brought him the trust of the people and made him their unofficial link to the radical Jacobin group that came to power in June 1793. He was murdered in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer.
  • Jacobins: a Jacobin originally meant a member of the Jacobin Club (1789-1794), but even at that time, the term Jacobins had been popularly applied to all promulgators of revolutionary opinions.
  • Dosition: ???
  • Décore: marked by propriety and good taste
  • Proboscis: the trunk of an elephant; also : any long flexible snout b : the human nose especially when prominent
  • Chiaroscuro: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color
    2 a : the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b : the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character)
  • Duncaid: a landmark literary satire by Alexander Pope published in three different versions at different times
  • Martin Tupper: an English writer, and poet, and the author of Proverbial Philosophy-long series of didactic moralisings composed in a lawyer's chambers
Good Quotes:
  • What is there poetical about being in revolt ? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea‑sick. Chapter I- THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
  • It is always the humble man who talks too much; the proud man watches himself too closely. . Chapter I- THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
  • I should think very little of a man who didn't keep something in the background of his life that was more serious than all this talking. Chapter I- THE TWO POETS OF SAFFRON PARK
  • The soldier must be calm in the thick of the battle. The composure of an army is the anger of a nation. Chapter IV- THE TALE OF A DETECTIVE
  • I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test. I do—martyrs. Chapter IV- THE TALE OF A DETECTIVE
  • Vulgar (common) people are never mad. Chapter XXII-THE EARTH IN ANARCHY

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Monroe Doctrine: An ABC Guide to What Good Bosses Do

Book: The Monroe Doctrine: An ABC Guide to What Good Bosses Do
Author: Dr. Lorraine Monroe
Read: 2009
219 pages
Rated: 2½ out of 5
I first came across Dr. Monroe at the FUSD Administrative Conference in August 2008. She was the second person who spoke at one of these events which made me take notice. So I bought her book. It is hard to be a great speaker and a great writer. Dr. Monroe is a great speaker.
  • A sign of real success is when it is passed upon institutional change rather than personality. Build-Pg 29
  • Give of yourself as a listener, a shoulder, and a hand. Give of yourself—but always move the mission. Give-pg 84
  • Reduce gossip, phone calls and drop by’s
  • Make sure staff have time to reflect on the work they are doing.
  • Save a day so that you can rest—no work.
  • Retreat so you can learn the big value work which we are doing.
But there is a lot in her book which makes sense. She organizes her thoughts A through Z, 88 thoughts. Topics such as Ask, Escape, Joke and Wait. So it is a good book to go through a day at a time.
There are some specific things she talks about—Be prepared, to be growing and learning today, you are getting prepared for tomorrow; or reflect—Does your staff have time built into their schedules to reflect on their work?
But there are a lot of times which she talks about things which do not resonate with me. Such as breaking the rules-if you are not breaking the rules once a day, you are not doing your job. This just does not make sense to me. Sounds like an undisciplined approach to management.
I think if you read the book like a devotional, picking and choosing what hits you to change about yourself, it is a good book. But it is not a 1-2-3 book to being a better manager.
Good Quotes:
  • He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad. Rafael Sabatini, Scaramouche,
  • You may not know what the next challenge will be—but if you are growing and learning today, you are getting prepared for it. Pg 145
  • Sanctify your work by inspiring people to do their best in order to make a difference in the world. Pg 172
  • The wildly successful organizations are led by surprisingly old-fashion individuals—what I call Radical Traditionalists. As a Radical Traditionalist, I see my job as sheltering my organization from crazy pendulum swings. Pg 178
- The Meditations By Marcus Aurelius

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Black Tower

Book: The Black Tower
Author: PD James
Edition: Paperack
Read: July 2009
284 pages
Rated: 3½ out of 5

Intelligently written mystery. The Black Tower is the most like your traditional mysteries which I have read from PD James.

The storyline is that Adam Dalgliesh is recuperating after an illness. His old priest, from when Dalgliesh was a child, writes to him to come down and give some advice. The priest dies of a heart attack.
The priest lived adjacent to a small nursing home for young invalids. The founder of the rest home has received a miraculous cure when he visited Lourdes—sort of. Dalgliesh has arrived after the priest dies, but with no instructions on what the priest asked him to look at. So Dalgliesh is left with trying to figure out the what, and then to figure out if three natural looking deaths are in some way connected.

The story line is entertaining. After a slow start, you are brought into Dalgliesh’s world and want to finish the read. It is an enjoyable summer read.

- While Dagliesh is recovering, he observes that he realized the he had been foregoing his life’s pleasures and preoccupations for lesser things, probably his job. He resolves to change that. To put himself in front of things such as his work, the demands on his life. (pg 7)
o Interesting. We think about hard work and not wasting a moment of time as Christian. Yet if CS Lewis is right, God is a hedonist, then we should at least count pleasure, true pleasure, at least as important as our work.
- Death as replaced sex as unmentionable. Not original. But still a good observation. (pg 7)

New Words:
- Accidie: from acedia-- apathy, boredom
- Dilatoriness: The state or being late or tardy
- Ectoplasm: a substance or spiritual energy exterized by physical mediums. Ie ghosts
- Theurgy: The practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical, performed with the action of making an action of the gods.
- Verisimilitude: he appearance of being true or real; likeness or resemblance of the truth, reality or a fact's probability. Verisimilitude comes from Latin verum meaning truth and similis meaning simila

Good Quotes:
- In the last fifteen years he hadn’t deliberately hurt a single human being. It struck him now that nothing more damning could be said about anyone. Pg 8

- There is a small reference to Cordelia Gray from Jame’s Unsuitable for a Women mystery,

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Seasons of Life

Book: The Seasons of Life
Author: Paul Tournier
Translated by John S. Gilmour
Edition: 1963 Hardback
Read: July 2009
63 pages
Rated: 3 1/2 out of 5

There is no secret on why Paul Tournier wrote this book. He is in his 60’s at the time of the writing and seeks to give understanding on the phases of our life. This is not a clinical book, nor a self-help book, nor a revealing book. But Tournier reminds us of things we know and things we care about and then organizes them into our seasons.

I am 55 when I read this book. It’s a time of looking ahead; a time to reflect on what I have done and what more am I capable of. Consequently, I reading this book to help give me insight.

This six chapter book does not for through Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter, even though there is some of that. It talks more about who a man is—as an individual, what gives meaning to his life; contentment and fulfillment or emptiness. These are what allow us to have a sense of anticipating to our next part of life or anxiety.

The point which came to me personally is where Tournier says as we go from our adult active life to being aged—the Fall of our lives—we turn from doing and having to being. It is like our choices which we have made over the past 40 years culminate into who we are. Am I a person forever chasing my youth, ala Jack Nicholson? Am I a person content with who I am? Or thinking back on what I should have been? I suspect we are mostly a mixture.

The book is written heavily from a Christian perspective. He is aware that there is a divine plan for every man, each event of a man’s life. This is the over-arching theme of the book. It is what ties in all of his thoughts.

As such he understands the working and the freeing of God’s grace in our lives. But he is aware that the miracle of God coming into our lives does not free us from the natural laws which we live under—laws such as gravity, results of aging, and the consequences of our past acts. He quotes Aquinas on this—Grace does not suppress nature.

If a man is static, does not change, then that is where there is no meaning. He says that a man in movement, continually undergoing change… The very movement implies meaning in life. How does that play out in retirement, when we think that time is stood still? That we are not doing? Is there still meaning? Is there still meaning in laying in an invalid bed?

As part of this movement, Tournier notes that man can change. I think he would be more accurate by saying that a man can change. When a man is healed, there is change—whether the healing is physical or psychological.

Tournier is interested as a practicing doctor and psychiatrist in treating the whole man. It is not enough to treat the symptoms of aging without addressing the affects on the soul. Also that our whole life gives meaning to our being. Even though later on he points out that it is usually a few significant events which turns us to new directions—I think the rest of our lives fill out what those events build in us.
It would be a mistake, if you took my opening words to mean that Tournier does not talk about stages of life. 

Some of the things he says is:
  • - Adulthood is marked by moral-self direction. Becoming aware of what mechanisms control him
  • - As obstacles are faced, are they avoided or do they become part of you? Tournier calls this integration—the way of courageous insight, a path of unceasing discovery.
  • - Childhood is marked by passive submission, concern for the forbidden—the roots of legalism.
  • - We see at the peak of our productivity where each of us feel we have neglected something important in us, an unanswered inner call from our youth. Success in one area of life comes at a price of leaving another part of us behind.
  • - Even during our active summertime of life, we find adulthood is not made up of only activity, but also of meditation. This is a time of seeking God’s plan, a personal set of values.
  • - While Autumn is noted as a time when you realize that even valued dreams and goals will not realized.
  • - As we are in the Autumn of our lives, we review it. We revise what was accomplished, we gain understanding. Most people develop bitterness about the lack of accomplishment—there is a longing to live the Summer of their lives over again. Few are content.
  • Tournier lays out four important factors in development:
  • - Love. He works through this as a child receiving love, to us being capable of receiving God’s love
  • - Suffering. How we work with suffering develops us. Do we respond with despondency? Courage? Acceptance? …
  • - Identification. Who am I? We imitate, we seek independence, we love, we become what we do, what we think.
  • - Adaption. We each are faced with our surroundings. We change to survive, to thrive, … This means meeting each new situation by going beyond ourselves, and our habits. We succeed or we regress.
  • Miscellaneous thoughts:
  • - When God made women, He made him different than a man. This was purposeful. God did not make her just like me. This is for companionship. God loves diversity.
  • - Where Christianity is practiced well, it outstrips the practice of psychology.
  • - No person, man or woman, can achieve fulfillment unless their actions embrace both the home and career.
  • - Fulfillment is not doing everything, giving up nothing, losing nothing. Rather it is being contented with our choices. The youth says do everything. The mature says to be somebody.
  • - The doing and the having are giving away to the being [in the Autumn of our lives].
  • - Below, on the page 55 quote on choosing. The question in my mind is, choosing what? Tournier goes on and says that the choosing will rely more on our inner dispositions than our physical abilities to carry out choices. Something to ponder on the how and what is he talking about.
  • - One task is to help men grow old. What does this mean? Particularly in relationship to our parents? Tournier is speaking towards the medical profession in this statement.
  • - In Tournier’s view, the encounter with the living God is the greatest human event possible.
New Words:
  • - Vicissitudes: able to change or mutate.

Good Quotes:
  • - It is in dialogue that our thinking is clarified. Pg 8
  • - Moralism is simply seeking oneself pretending to be able to know both good and evil… Taken to its logical end, it simply means tat we do not need either God or his grace. Pg 33
  • - Man is neither angel nor brute, and the unfortunate thing is that he who would act the angel acts the brute. Pascal, Pensees, 358
  • - God’s plan is fulfilled not just through obedience of inspired men, but also through their errors, their sins. Pg 43.
  • - We have to renounce far more than we accomplish. If there are satisfactions, there are also disillusionments; if there are successes, there are necessarily failures as well. The day comes when we understand that the latter have been more fruitful perhaps than the successes. Pg 46
  • - We cannot recover time. Pg 48
  • - Successes have their meanings and there is no question of undervaluating them. Failures also have their meaning, perhaps a deeper meaning. What gives them meaning is that they work together toward the fulfillment of God’s plan. Pg 49
  • - Prosperity brings a kind of old age, not only premature, but false. Pg 50
  • - Those who complain about their retirement are usually the same ones as those who used to complain about their work and longed to be set free from it! Pg 52
  • - If living means choosing, and if in adulthood this is true to an ever greater degree, then choosing becomes the supreme vocation of old age, when life has become privation and earthly treasures have lost their glitter. Pg 55
  • - In every life there are a few special moments that count more than all the rest because they meant the taking of a stand, a self-commitment, a decisive choice. Pg 58

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blandings Castle

Book: Blandings Castle
Author: PG Wodehouse
Edition: Hardback, Overlook Press
Read: July 2009
301 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

PG Wodehouse is a kick to read. But if you are reading this book for some secret message or deep hidden meaning, it is a mistake. PG is one of the best blathers that there is. He tells stories for the shear pleasure , not to impart wisdom; because it is a story; not for life important topics. I guess in one aspect there is hidden meaning. Our lives are to be lived not as a means to an end; ut for the enjoyment of ourselves, others and the Other.

Blandings Castle is two sets of short stories. The first is about the farce of a family of Lord Ensworth. As you read, your gut feel is this family is a product of too much inbreeding. Various members of the family gets into awkward situations with the remedy to get onto an even more awkward situation.

The other set of stories has to do with the Mulliners in Hollywood. Think of the stereotype of Hollywood and the movie industry in the 1920’s. Then throw in an Englishman telling of it from a greatly exaggerated point of view—well you get the idea. The cast of stories include Nodders-those who agree with the boss; marriage in a gorilla cage; and story-writers in exile.

So as you read, just enjoy. Think how much the English really need Jeeves for all the Woosters they have. But most of all, savour the taste of a good writer with nothing to say. Enjoy just for the enjoyment.

Notes from my book group:
There was a very good response. Enjoyable summertime read. People in my group needed to leave the room when reading because they were laughing so much.

New Words:
Saga habit – Wodehouse uses this in connection with telling a long drawn out story, after story
Parva – latin for little
Paladin – a heroic champion

Good Quotes:

- Lord Emsworth could conceive of no way in which Freddie could be of value to a dog-biscuit firm except possibility as a taster. Pg 33
- Nature has made some men quicker thinkers than others. Page 103
- Dogs are philosophers. They soon forget. They do not waste time regretting the might-have-beens. Page 130
- A boy who throws coco-nuts at top hats is fundamentally sound in his views. Page 147
- We are too ready, they say, to dismiss as cowards those who merely require the stimulus of the desperate emergency to bring out all their latent heroism. The crisis comes, and the craven turns magically into paladin. Page 207

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

An Unsuitable Job For A Woman

Book: An Unsuitable Job For A Woman
Author: PD James
Edition: 1972, Paperback
Read: June 2009
297 pages
Rated: 3 out of 5

James introduces us to a new private detective, Cordelia Gray. Her senior, male partner has committed suicide. A renowned scientist son has died under mysterious circumstances, investigators say suicide, but the father wants a further explanation. Particularly, why did he committed suicide. He commissions this 22 year old, inexperienced Cordelia Gray to look into the matter. On this, James goes through the usual questionable people close to the situation and figures out what happened in this death. Of course, Cordelia Gray does a chase scene, as well as gets attacked. There is the usual surprise ending.

James wrote this book in 1972, when the feminist movement was starting to make ripples. From the titlte through about the first third of the book, the influence of that movement is evident. In today’s environment, this kind of writing is passé. I suppose if I had read this book 30 years ago, I would have a different reaction. So one gets the impression that the book is a bit dated in its approach. In places the influence gets in the way of the book. But being a good author, she does settle down to write a decent book.

The other issue with the book is that James cannot figure out if this is an Adam Dalgliesh book or not. The protagonist’s dead partner’s ex-boss had been Dalgliesh . Also Dalgliesh ends up in interrogating the protagonist at the end of the book. This leaves the book being neither free of Dalgliesh to form its own character or to fit into the Dalgliesh mode. There is one gratitutice chapter where he is a major character. [Note: There is a second book with the Cordelia Gray character—The Skull Under The Skin.]

What makes James interesting is the wider perspective she brings to a story—not just, who dun it. Starting in chapter four, she brings in the underlying thought, what does evil look like? A respectable scientist, not notable for being mad, but involved with good things such as environmental impact, does things which are detestable actions. Is that what evil looks like? James finds evil in two ways, when we justify our actions by what we are trying to accomplish and when we disfigure another being. The former she does not dwell on too much, except at the end where you understand why the scientist did what he did.

But the evil James talks about here goes beyond bad manners, disagreeable people or even sin. This includes “serious” sins such as theft, adultery or even murder. What James found in this mystery was when you disfigure another person’s image. This can be a degradement of the person to even changing the person’s appearance. This changing of appearances, degradement of another, this is the work of Satan—not specified by James. This is similar to Satan appearing before God in Job, degrading Job and dragging him through the mud. Murder and theft robs us; James shows where evil comes to us in the form of dehumanization. While James does not say this, I suspect where this really comes from is since each human is made in God’s image, when we tear apart another human, we really are trying to deface God.

Also James frames an interesting question, if we destroy people in the name of good, how can we say we are trying to make the world better? This gets to the root—when our goal destroys others, we have lost our way and our project has gone astray.

On the whole, this mystery is a pleasant read, but not a must read. You can spend a good afternoon going through the book, enjoying yourself.

Good Quotes:- Rudeness should always be intentional, otherwise, it’s insensitivity. (pg 111)
- It doesn’t matter what we feel. Actions are important, feelings aren’t. (pg 113)
- Perhaps it’s only when people are dead that we can safely show how much we cared about them. We know that it’s too late then for them to do anything about it. (pg 191)
- What is the use of making the world more beautiful if the people who live in it can’t love one another? (pg 226)
- The secret of contentment is never to allow yourself to want anything which reason tells you you haven’t a chance of getting. (pg 254)

References:- Wikipedia on Cordelia Gray: Wikipedia on An Unsuitable Job for a Woman:
- Overview of the Cordelia Gray character: PBS Mystery:
- Amazon:

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Complete Stories

Book: The Complete Stories
Author: Flannery O’Connor
Edition: 1987, paperpack
Read: Reread May 2009
555 pages
Rated: 4 out of 5

As the title suggests, this is a collection of her stories. Her writing is not easy to read. But as you read these stories, an understanding develops of a world. A world of loss and depravity.

Unlike other authors, O’Connor does not write about acts which are bad—sex, cruelty, violence, but about people who are fallen. Fallen through every day lives and decisions, showing our own failings. She molds the person so you see that “all come short: of being good. In effect, her gift to us is to have us see ourselves as we really are. Not by concentrating on our “big bads”, but our small little evils. She allows us to see ourselves how the devil will portray us, accuse us, and how God could see and judge us.

But there is grace in her stories. Not grace which rides a white stallion coming to our rescue, but grace which allows the characters to some times be able to confront themselves. A grace which causes the realization that allows a bit of loss or self-realization into a life. Be it a man who feels the loss of his Mom whom he despises or a woman who is dumped on a honeymoon for a car, but finds a person who thinks she is beautiful.

Note: I found it helpful to read her other writings. While she does not explain her stories, they illuminate her intentions.

Essays by Flannery O’Connor—Mystery and Manners, Occasional Prose


- Wikipedia – Flannery O’Connor
- Flannery O’Connor Foundation – Web Site
- Guide – A Student’s Guide To Flannery O’Connor
- Georgia College and State University – Flannery O’Connor Collection
- Salon – A Southern Gothic legend is hard to find
- YouTube – Yale Lectures
- Essays by Flannery O’Connor—Mystery and Manners, Occasional Prose