As we start a new year, the Bacon Lee & Associates team is sharing a compilation of the books we’re currently reading both for intellectual and spiritual stimulation. We hope that our picks will inspire you to share your own current literary excursions. Let us hear about the “great reads” you recommend.
I’m currently reading Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian for fun. This is a wonderfully entertaining book about Vampires–Vlad the Impaler in particular. It's great story telling combined with a good dose of history. Waiting in the wings after I finish this one is Patricia Cornwell's The Bone Bed, her latest Scarpetta novel.
For intellectual improvement I've been reading The Execution Premium by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton. This book is about successfully executing strategy in the organization. So many times strategic plans end up sitting on a shelf–drives me crazy. This book talks about the importance of translating the vision to reality and discusses at length and in great detail different ways to implement strategy.
I’m reading Gardening for a Lifetime: How to Garden Wiser as You Grow Older by Sydney Eddison. Gardening and working in the yard have been a source of much pleasure for me, but I just can’t seem to pull off the 16-hour days I used to! This little book is more than a “how-to”, though. It’s quite reflective and philosophical in its approach, not just to gardening, but to life balance. Anyone who enjoys gardening would enjoy the author’s ruminations on how to “right-size” your garden efforts to whatever limitations your life places on you.
It brings to mind the point that one should always be surveying the “landscape”, as there may come a point that the tools that worked in the past are no longer useful. My only quibble is that she lives in Connecticut, so the many useful plant citations she gives may not transfer to the South Texas growing area. Other than that, though, I’m having fun with it.
Barbara Anne Stephens
I'm currently reading Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, a Pulitzer Prize winner who lived primarily in the western USA and who established the Creative Writing school at Stanford University. The story follows the development of relationships between two couples who meet when the husbands are "first year" associate professors at a university. I'm already caught in the author's web of life experiences, joys and sorrows, and the maturation process.
For intellectual challenge, I recently completed Ernest Hemingway's In Our Time, a collection of vignettes and short stories that propelled him into literary prominence. The collection is indeed a snapshot of life from WWI and into the jazz age of the 1920s. Hemingway's writing style is uniquely his and eventually led to his winning the Nobel Prize for literature. Critics credit Hemingway with developing a style that reflected a male viewpoint. I found the collection intriguing and insightful.
For spiritual growth, I am reading Discipleship Essentials: A Guide to Building Your Life in Christ by Greg Ogden. Ogden presents four themes: Growing Up in Christ, Understanding the Message of Christ, Becoming Like Christ, and Serving Christ. Interestingly, Ogden includes a bonus section on money. How perfect for a fundraising professional!
I'm reading Incredible Business, offering expert advice to accelerate your success, written by individuals specializing in an area within each chapter. It shares ideas on increasing workplace productivity, personal enhancement and focus on the client. I felt this would be helpful as we continue to look for ways to improve service to our clients and meet their needs.
I’m currently reading The Blessing Way by Tony Hillerman. It is a fictional novel about the Native American culture in New Mexico in current time. It's a murder mystery and suspense thriller that conveys the line between The People and the White man's way.
I am an eclectic reader from cookbooks to history. I read for enlightenment, entertainment, comfort and peace. I have always found a centering of myself in reading. In fact, my way of transitioning from work to home, is to sit for a few minutes and read a book that has nothing to do with my job! Currently, I am reading:
J.R.R. Tolkien's Letter from Father Christmas - That a man would take the time to write a letter to each of his three children at Christmas, for 20 years, is wonderful. That it is Tolkien creating another world just for himself and his children is delightful.
Cary Clack's Clown's and Rats Scare Me. I do not always agree with Cary's point of view, but over the years found that he could write some of the most moving, funny and compassionate articles. I think he is a master of the poignant in a small space.
H. W. Brands’ The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace. I am a Civil War buff and realized I had never read anything on Grant; Lee-yes, Grant - No.
Sarah Waters' Fingersmith - A mystery, romance and terrific gift of descriptive language.
I’m reading A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. It’s an interesting story by a 20-something who, as he tries to find his way in life, decides to seek answers on the Camino de Santiago. This ancient pilgrimage walk over hundreds of miles in Spain gives him time to think about his life as he wanders the countywide. I'm enjoying it because it's a perspective on the younger (20's) mindset and an honest attempt to figure out a spiritual journey. He's a bit angry, a bit arrogant and quite lost.
I’m also listening to Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs as I spend a lot of time traveling, usually in the car. This adventure story is complete with snarling animals from deepest Africa to the challenges young Tarzan faces being a child of two cultures (ape and man). It tells the story of how the legend of Tarzan came to be and I'm at the part where he is just starting to interact with humans again. It's good enough that I have a hard time leaving the car when Tarzan is in the middle of another battle.
I’m an admitted eclectic reader, hopping from fiction to non-fiction, history to current events, arts to science, travel to biography. I’m either currently reading or highly recommend Looking at Ansel Adams: The Photographs and the Man by Andrea G. Stillman. It examines some 20 of his most famous photographs, showing how Adams took them (and even including reprints of the actual negatives with his crop marks), and weaving together anecdotes and observations from and about his fellow artists. I’ve admired Ansel Adams’ photography since I was in high school (and yes, there was photography when I was in high school, though it was film, not digital!). His iconic photographs of people, places and things, principally in black and white, helped elevate photography from merely snapshots to art.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is the book to read if you think you’ve had a bad day! If the first two pages of the Preface don’t make the hair stand on your neck and capture your attention, then nothing will. Three airmen shot down over the Pacific Ocean in WW II, adrift on a raft for 27 days, strafed by Japanese fighter pilots, fighting off sharks literally jumping into the raft, and then captured by the Japanese. The story centers on the life of Louis Zamperini in the unbelievably harsh conditions of a Japanese POW camp. What I find especially admirable about the book is Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit), who has suffered from such a severe case of chronic fatigue syndrome that she rarely leaves her apartment. Though she spent countless hours interviewing him over the phone, she never met Zamperini himself. She sometimes goes months at a time unable to write, and when she does, it is often just a few sentences at a time. “I’m looking for a way out of here,” she once said. “I can’t have it physically, so I’m going to have it intellectually.” Now that’s inspiration!
I’m currently reading Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier about the discovery of dinosaur bones. Set in Southwest England in the 19th century, the discoveries of fossils on the cliffs and beaches rocked the world and opened the minds of scientists to the planet's age and the extinction of species. The first finds were made by a poor working-class family—and their young daughter, Mary. Chevalier tells of the friendship between Mary and Elizabeth Philpot, an English gentlewoman also fascinated by these remarkable creatures of stone, in a time when women were thought to be incapable of understanding the extent of their finds. It’s truly a great revelation to me about the fortitude of women of another age!
For spiritual growth, I’m reading Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker. It’s the true story of an Austin preacher’s wife who took seven months working through seven areas of excess: Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. She addresses excess this way: Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, spend money in seven places, eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” The payoff from this reduced living, according to Hatmaker, is the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity. The book definitely has me thinking about ways to eliminate excesses in my life.