Red

For the past two days, I have been ruminating on the color red. Or red as a symbol. I have had Les Miserables songs rolling through my head, and let’s not forget Taylor Swift’s so-named album. I have thought about being a redhead, communism, blood, Valentine’s Day, stop signs, wine, roses, and the age-old question of if my red is the same as your red.

This kind of thinking may sound bizarre out of context. To clarify, I have an assignment on deck to teach me how to use some video editing software in which I am to create a photo series on “red.” This has been one of those moments where I am certain I made the right decision to go back to school, even when I am drained from a week of full time work, the commute, and class.

I cannot remember the last time my brain was free to think this way. I have talked about it with colleagues, my husband, my parents. As it turns out, a color as simple as red is so complex on its own and carries with it ideological baggage, pain, delight, amusement, and so on. It wraps memories and when you close your eyes, the vibrancy of its nature will quickly fill your visions.

My approach for this project finally materialized when I thought about the American colors of red, white, and blue. Together, they form the American flag and a combination recognized around the world for its symbols of freedom, capitalism, patriotism, and of course the American dream. But when you just have one of the colors, red in this case, it is not complete. So, my photo series will be a mix of American flags around town and the brokenness of the American dream. I will juxtapose this solid symbol of hope with abandoned buildings, trash, pollution, day laborers lining up for job prospects, and so on. Once it is complete, I may share it here to spur further thought.

What does red mean to you?

It’s been a while — “The Paris Wife” for Starters

Life can move along at such a surprising pace sometimes. Just when we find ourselves longing for the new season, we blink and another has passed by and the holidays are at our doorsteps. So it has been for me lately with a new job and a new husband. Wonderful blessings have enriched my year. And reading has been a little less important with wedding planning and any other manner of duties waiting in the wings.

But I have been reading, and wanted to start my catch-up round-up with the book that I just adored, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. My interest in this book started after I watched Midnight in Paris, which I reviewed a few months ago on the blog. I was thinking about Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and all the greats of that era and how I wanted to go back and read many of the works I studied throughout my journey toward my English degree. I read for class back then, and reading for pleasure and intrigue is a completely different animal as anyone would attest.

So, a good friend of mine recommended The Paris Wife as it tells the tale of Hemingway’s first wife (in Paris), their heart-wrenching love story and its demise, and the journey of Hemingway becoming an author that defined an era. It was fascinating and I knew little biographical information about Hemingway beyond the few facts I dredged up from classroom notes taken many years ago, so much of the story was new to me. I loved being able to “watch” Hemingway become obsessed with the Bulls of Pamplona, and the book seems to have a perfect blend of fiction and historical elements that doesn’t make you resent the author for taking too much artistic license.

It really was a wonderful book and afterward I decided I wanted to read The Immovable Feast by Hemingway soon as it is written about Hadley (his Paris wife).

Overall, this is a great book for lovers of the era, for those just stating to become interested in Hemingway, or for those simply interested in a well-told story.

The Book Thief: Marcus Zusak

I actually read another book before this one that I have been meaning to blog about, but after staying up late to finish The Book Thief, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I knew I had to write about this one first.

On the back cover of the book, reviews promised that reading this book was one of those life-changing experiences that only a powerful story can achieve. I flipped to the first page with great reverence but skepticism — and I can assure you that upon closing it for the last time last night, I agreed. I am not sure how it will impact my life directly, but it certainly opened a new part of my heart and mind to the vast tragedy of Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust. While I have read Anne Frank’s diary, Night by Elie Wiesel, and have visited the children’s Holocaust museum — nothing compared to this experience. It was so different and so consuming. It also made me think of all of the ways those lives lost could have changed the world — looking to Greenville’s own example with Max Heller. Max was a Jew who fled Austria just before the Holocaust began and settled in Greenville. He is the father of our town and as mayor, orchestrated the incredibly revitalization and vibrancy that we experience today. He died two years ago but has been memorialized in our community. Six million people, truly?

You see, The Book Thief is narrated by Death. That is established immediately, when Death describes the gathering of souls that occurred during World War 2 within the first few pages. Death is telling the story of The Book Thief, a young German girl who is sent to live with foster parents due to her mother’s poverty. The girl steals books, and though that may sound odd, it is a most poetic thing that the book reveals.

As crazy as it sounds, I never thought about the perspective of the Germans who did not align with the propaganda of the Nazi party, who protected the Jews and sympathized with them — who cowered in basements during air raids and dropped bread crumbs for the Jews marching to Dachau. The Book Thief is one such German.

I don’t want to share too much, but I do want to say that the book is organized non-conventionally and extremely creatively — you will know what I mean when you read it. The ending is horribly sad with a glimmer of hope, and you will cry. But it is wonderful and beautiful — filled with bravery and love, human compassion beyond measure.

Read this book. Just do it.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Mark Haddon

I read this little story while traveling for a conference in Vermont a month ago and simply forgot to recount it in my little blog! I had just finished reading a book for work…Web Content Strategy (stimulating as you might imagine), and I was delighted to pick up something that seemed fictional and whimsical.

I borrowed this book from a co-worker and learned that the author, Mark Haddon, is a British writer who has written many children’s books. With that in mind, it was most fitting that the tale would be told from the perspective of a child. While you never know explicitly what kind of developmental issue the boy has, he seems to show characteristics of autism, from what I know about it.

The boy is telling the story and takes the approach of solving the mystery of a murder of a neighbor’s dog. With everything told according to his perspective, you must fill in the gaps of why things are the way they are. He shares about his hatred of certain colors and how their presence in daily life sometimes prevents him from moving forward. You learn about his father’s frustration with these quirks from the boy’s perspective, and it is both heartbreaking and enlightening.

The story turns dark when you learn about the complex relationships of the people around him, and I found myself cringing multiple times with pain for the boy and also sympathy for his father at times. I found myself wondering how I would respond as his father or mother, and how hard it must be to not be able to convey your thoughts in a way that others understand.

Ultimately, this was a very interesting read and thought-compelling. It reads quickly and offers a great deal of fodder for thought, particularly if you are someone who is interested in developmental disorders like autism and aspergers.

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

I started this book perhaps a year ago. I really liked it but got distracted and picked it up again fairly recently. It is interesting to me how much things relate in our world, so when I read the chapter about Columbine just weeks before the Aurora shooting, my brain made an eerie-feeling connection. But the existence of that connection and its relationship to epidemics in our world (think fashion trends, not Ebola) is precisely what The Tipping Point is all about.

Malcolm Gladwell seems to know how to write about all those things you wondered about but never really delved further into exploring. Like how deja vu works, or how Southern idiosyncrasies like saying “y’all” came to be denoted as such. He opens with a fashion example (hello female audience he has now ensnared!) — how is it that “trends” happen? Who gets to decide what is going to be the next big trend? And please tell me those horrible rompers are going away soon…

He compares trends like fashion to the spread of infectious disease, i.e. an epidemic. It is his theory that anything that becomes mainstream or widespread has a certain thing that happens (tipping point) to make it so. The book reads much like a psychology experiment (a VERY interesting one) and it really makes you think about why you act the way you do. It is frightening how much we follow the crowd. But you knew that.

One of the things I found most interesting was the way he described the parts of a tipping point epidemic, as if you could almost engineer one with the right steps and right people.

Overall, this was a highly interesting, intellectual read. I want to read his other books and to think more about the way we think and act as a society.

Read away – this one is a keeper!

Zappos – Delivering Happiness

ImageThis was a most interesting read. Written by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the book takes the reader through the birth of this e-commerce megalith, and all the bumps along the way that nearly made him lose it all. I usually shy away from books like this, but I have always been impressed with Zappos’ notoriously good customer service and heard people tout the staggering difference in their office culture versus your standard corporation.

Tony brings a familiarity to the tale, refusing to let his final version of the book be edited for grammar (which did drive me crazy at times), and promising to tell it straight. I had moments where I hated him for being so unnecessarily extravagant after his initial big DOT COM success that started his entrepreneurial journey off with a cosmic-sized bang. But when you read about all the faith and investment he had in the company, in giving up much of his wealth to support the company in lean days in lieu of laying off employees, the impression certainly shifts.

Tony is clearly proud of his work, his formula for success, and the culture of Zappos that makes them so famous. It is an inspiring read for anyone looking for inspiration in the workplace, and I would encourage managers to pick it up and rethink the way they manage their employees, taking even a single method from the Zappos handbook.

I am also curious to see what will happen in the future of e-commerce. Zappos was purchased by Amazon and I have been reading recently about revolutionary ideas that Amazon is pursuing to achieve day-of shipping. Can you imagine placing an order in the morning and having it appear on your doorstep by the afternoon? The way we do business and make purchases is certainly changing and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the transformation!

Safe Haven – Nicholas Sparks

ImageBefore I talk about my most recent book, I just wanted to briefly say that I read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and let’s just say — curiosity killed the cat. Read if you dare but do heed the warnings on the back cover. They are not kidding…

Anyway, after finishing 50 Shades, I listened to Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks while traveling recently. I was a devotee to Nicholas Sparks in my younger years, mainly because I was a young adolescent interested in love stories and also because the settings of many of his books took place in the regions of North Carolina where I had spent much of my childhood. I adored reading about two characters who were falling in love and taking walks on the pier where I grew up taking walks and learning how to fish.

However, as I got older I realized his books all followed a basic formula and that it wasn’t necessary the “quality” writing that a future English major might pursue. But, the fact remains that a good love story soothes the soul — and when you are a hormone-laden female that is always the case.

This story was particularly interesting because it was less about the Notebook-style romance and passion — and more about the reality/fear of abuse combined with loss and an examination of the resilient human spirit. I was honestly impressed with Sparks’ development as a writer and really enjoyed this story. I even found myself sitting in front of my house waiting for moments of suspense to be settled.

All in all, this was a good, quick read. It was an interesting story that was empowering for women and ended in a way that was a little weird, but also endearing.