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The Grey Man: Vignettes (Volume 1)
The Grey Man: Vignettes (Volume 1)
by JL Curtis
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.60
20 used & new from $10.44

5.0 out of 5 stars Well balanced, easy to read thriller, March 20, 2014
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This book caused me to postpone my bed time. The last book that was engaging enough for me to forgo my beauty sleep was Red Storm Rising written by a hack named Tom Clancy.

The plot caught me with a couple of well timed head fakes. I thought the story was going one way and was caught off guard when something surprising happened. Unrealistic? Nope, that is what happens in least it happens in my life.

Is the book perfect? No. There are still a few loose ends, story-line wise, that beg a prequel and at least a couple of sequels. Some people will not see that as a grave flaw. Those same flaws did not seem to cripple Clancy's career.

It seems like I should write something negative about this book to establish my objectivity. It is required in serious book reviews.

I struggle with writing anything negative because TGM-V- is a self published book. It is 1000 times better than anything I will ever write. TGM-V- would be a little bit stronger if it were more tightly edited. But asking an author to edit his own work is like asking a 3rd grader to drown puppies. It is an unnatural act and it is a tribute to JL Curtis that this book is as awesome as it is.

Will this change your life? Maybe. I know I went out to Yea-Ole-Big-Box Store and laid in a supply of gray shirts.

Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul: 101 Stories to Sow Seeds of Love, Hope and Laughter (Chicken Soup for the Soul)
Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul: 101 Stories to Sow Seeds of Love, Hope and Laughter (Chicken Soup for the Soul)
by Jack Canfield
Edition: Paperback
204 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars took gardening to bring me home., February 27, 2001
Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul is a collection of 101 short stories and vignettes. Each piece is about three pages long, a format that is convenient for those of us who's free-time comes in little snippets. The stories share a common theme: Despair + a Garden + God's Grace = Wisdom and Peace.
Chicken Soup books seem to really polarize readers. A reader either really likes them and buy copies for all their friends, or dislikes them and would not buy one on a bet.
Let me assure the first type of reader that Chicken Soup for the Gardener's Soul is just as good the other Chicken Soup books. One of my concerns was that the quality of the writing would be inferior to the earlier books, that all the good material had already been skimmed. That concern was baseless. Evil is newsworthy because it is rare. Dignity, humanity, honesty and sacrifice ARE the human condition. There is no shortage of inspirational stories, just a shortage of publishers who think they are worthy of the readers' attention. Chicken Soup is still skimming the cream.
Book reviews are supposed to help the reader decide "Do I buy this book?" That is not much of an issue with this book. Chicken Soup addicts will buy this book. The question on the table is: "Do I buy this book for the cynical friend who thinks they are 'sappy', or 'maudlin'?" I think the answer is a qualified "Yes."
These stories do not strike a quick resonance with cynics. It is not because cynics have never felt despair. Rather, it is because cynics are afraid of the pain of revisiting those times. Cynics need to ease into these stories the way you might ease into a hot-tub. So buy them a copy and highlight a few stories like:
*A Veteran's Garden, page 25 "The Marines sent me overseas. But it took gardening to bring me home."
*Girls like Roses, page 109, "...twenty-four bucks! That's a lot of money. Even for a girl named Michelle."
*Brian, page 192, "Brian is seven. He's a dreamer and drives his teacher crazy. She is as stiff as taffy in December."

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $28.00
203 used & new from $0.01

28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Get a handle on people, October 24, 2000
The Tipping Point benefited from the epidemic of popularity that it documented. Perhaps it was inevitable. The glitterari and trendsetters could not resist a book written about *them*. But it begs the question, "Why will people read this book in the year 2005?"
To me, the value of The Tipping Point is that the book starts to define an operative set of handles. Wheelbarrows are valuable tools because they balance the load over the wheel and they have a set of handles that allow the operator to control the how-and-when of tipping.
The early chapters of the book are a prelude, the backdrop, for the chapter on Crime in New York City and the chapter on Teen Smoking and Suicide. Those two chapters are the reason I gave it to a member of the local school board. We thought we knew something about how to control violence in schools. We were wrong.
The Tipping Point makes a compelling argument *against* the triage approach. Paraphrasing the book's arguments: People are sheep. People look to the external environment for cues regarding appropriate behavior. Triage, on the part of the authorities, let's the little stuff go and tries to grapple with the big stuff. People are sophisticated enough to look at the stress points in the social fabric for their cues. Have the authorities "written off" the subways, the bathrooms, the shadows behind the bleachers? Why should a would-be criminal fear the authorities if they are not competent enough to keep the toilets working?
The Tipping Point states that you have to find the stress points that people look to for behavior cues. Then you commit the resources required to make those stress points clean and safe.
Managing the heck out of the stress points was one of the handles documented in The Tipping Point. The Tipping Point described several other sets of handles. Consider buying the book if you ever need to manage the behavior of others.

Scratching the Woodchuck: Nature on an Amish Farm
Scratching the Woodchuck: Nature on an Amish Farm
by David Kline
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.86
60 used & new from $1.19

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Antidote for institutionalized scizophrenia, July 19, 2000
Scratching the Woodchuck, Nature on an Amish Farm by David Kline sits on my credenza at work. I reach for it when I need an antidote for institutionalized schizophrenia.
Scratching the Woodchuck is a collection of about 60 short essays. They are organized into four catagories: The Farmstead, The Fields, The Woods, Creeks and Sky and The Community. The essays are rich in adjectives and read at a slow and leisurely pace.
For example:
"I was startled the other day to see a meadow vole (one of those fat little short-tailed mice that abound in meadows and fields) come charging out of the grass-covered ditch and dash across the road as fast as its stumpy legs could carry it. Before the sprinting vole had reached the safety of the opposite ditch, it was followed by two more of its kin. These, however, instead of racing across the road, made large half-circles and then ran back into the same ditch twenty feet down the road.
<paragraph of vole biology snipped>
I stopped and watched the spot where the meadow voles had emerged. Soon a small pointed nose poked through the grasses and two obsidian eyes glared at me--a weasel. No wonder the voles were scared silly. Of all their enemies, nothing alarms the mouse family as much as the weasel, because there is no place to hide from the long, slender killer." Page 42.
*The essays are short. You can pick up the book and regain sanity in about 2.76 minutes.
*The essays are consistently high quality writing. There is none of the unevenness that results when a book is banged out in a hurry.
*The book does not come back quickly when loaned out. "Oh, I was going to bring it back today but my wife started reading it." kind of thing.
*Ultimately, you finish the book and you want more.
Scratching the Woodchuck is a good book to pick up if you feel like the pea-in-a-whistle. Mr. Kline's prose will slow your heart rate and reduce your blood pressure. Mr. Kline assures us that life only appears to be fragmented. The patient observer can find the connections.
Scratching the Woodchuck is probably *not* a good choice if your preference for escapism-liturature tends toward verb-packed, staccato writing (like Tom Clancy). You will find Scratching the Woodchuck maddeningly slow and boring.

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural
The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural & Agricultural
by Wendell Berry
Edition: Paperback
84 used & new from $0.01

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Diverse, easy to read and easy to like., June 15, 2000
The Gift of Good Land is a collection of 24 essays that were originally written for magazines. The original venue means that the essays are quite readable in terms of sentence length and punctuation. These essays cover a wide range of topics.
The glue that holds these essays together is Wendell Berry's love and concern for 'good' farming. To Berry's way of thinking, good farmers mimic natural ecosystems. That is, they cultivate a diversity of crops, both plant and animal. The diversity is not random but rather it is a patchwork quilt that is lovingly matched to the idiosyncrasies of the land. The Gift of Good Land focuses on people and cultures that have somehow managed to remain good farmers in spite of economic pressures. Ironically, many of these cultures exist in brittle climates. Hostile environments kill stupid economics just as quickly as it kills stupid people.
The thing I liked best about The Gift of Good Land is that Wendell Berry genuinely LIKES the people he interviews! He treats them gently, with dignity and respect. Many authors would see Berry's people as "subjects" that are stupidly struggling to maintain the basest existence. Berry sees them as people who are heirs to thousands of years of cultural evolution, living lives that are a heroic testament to human adaptability. I prefer to see through Berry's eyes.
Attached are a few of Berry's observations that I think are particularly acute:
(In Europe)"...'marginal' farms and their farmers are looked upon as vital resources that will be needed in times of crisis, and so policies have been evolved to keep them productive."
(In the Peruvian Andes) "I wanted to see ancient American agriculture that has been carried on continuously for...4500 years... (on) steep, rocky, and otherwise 'marginal' land." "What seemed so alluring and charmed then, and seems so hard to recover now, is a live sense of contrasting scales. The scale of that landscape is immense....This way of farming that has obviously had to proceed by small considerations. It has had to consider dirt by the handful. Every seed and stem and stone has been subjected to the consideration of touch - picked up, weighed in the hand, and laid down."
(In the Sonoran Desert) "In response to their meager (arable) land, the Papago developed a culture that was one of the grand human achievements. It was intricately respectful of the means of life, surpassingly careful of all the possibilities of survival."
(In the Mid-West) "A bad solution is bad, then, because it acts destructively upon the larger patterns in which it is contained."
(At home) "One of the ideas most ruinous to the small farm has been that the farmer "could not afford" to produce his own food....What is your time worth? Though often asked, I do not think this question is answerable. It is the same as asking what your life is worth."
(On children) "...parenthood is not an exact science, but a vexed privilege and a blessed trial, absolutely necessary and not altogether possible."
(In West Virginia from the seat of a bulldozer) " is virtually impossible to see what you're doing..... He (the person being interviewed) still seems a little awed to think that so large a machine has to be run so much by guess." And that is a fine metaphor for life.
Consider buying this book if this kind of writing appeals to you. Otherwise, save your money.

Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol' Demon Alcohol
Good Spirits: A New Look at Ol' Demon Alcohol
by Gene Logsdon
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from $7.24

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twelve pack of wine coolers, June 7, 2000
Good Spirits by Gene Logsdon is a light, easy read, suitable for reading on rainy summer days while swinging on the front porch swing. Best served with cold wine coolers, inexpensive California Chablis, home-made beer and/or gin-&-lemonade.
Gene Logsdon writes, "On the subject of alcohol, hypocrisy is the standard-bearer of public opinion in America.....More evil is done in the name of good than in any other fashion, because the goal of persuading people to act morally invites the idea that the end justifies the means." Lest there be any doubt, Gene Logsdon is strongly against the stigma attached to the (moderate) consumption and production of alcohol.
Logsdon is a good story teller. The first chapter is an unsanitized version of American history that illustrates the origins of our schizophrenic policy on alcohol. The remaining 11 chapters are a mix of three fictionalized "true-life" stories and eight how-to manuals.
Finally, this is not a hard core how-to book. Reading this book will not prepare you to run Seagram's out of business. However, it might give you the gumption to sneak a few jugs of cider into the garage when your wife isn't looking....for scientific experimentation, that is.

Another Turn of the Crank
Another Turn of the Crank
by Wendell Berry
Edition: Paperback
58 used & new from $0.01

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Toccata and Fugue in D minor, June 5, 2000
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor
Another Turn of the Crank by Wendell Berry should *not* be the first Berry book one reads.
Wendell Berry seems to attract two kinds of readers. One group of readers consists of the fanatical true-believers. They eagerly snap up every word he writes. One suspects that their objectivity has been washed away by their enthusiasm.
The second group of readers are those who have just stumbled across some portion of Berry's work in the course of their meandering. They have yet to form an opinion. This review is written for the second group.
Wendell Berry, as an essayist, has the ability to slice through the passivity that cocoons the modern reader. His essays challenge them to exercise their mind and to examine their value system. Berry is not an easy read, he does not mollycoddle the reader with short simple sentences. The complex sentence structure is not the result of whim or laziness. Rather, it is core to Berry's mode of writing. The image that springs to mind the exercise in logic that requires the student to sort through a box of marbles with a balance-beam scale to find the marble(s) that are different. Expect to work when you read a Wendell Berry essay.
Another Turn of the Crank, specifically, is a depressing book. Berry writes in the Foreword "The proper role of government is to protect its citizens and its communities against conquest - against economic conquest just as much as conquest by overt violence." The majority of the remaining 100 pages are devoted to showing how the government failed (short synopsis: Policy supports industrial farming/forestry. Industrial farming is a commodity-extraction process. Commodity extraction does not create much wealth but is efficient for *concentrating* wealth. Wealth concentration is a zero-sum game. Weath is concentrated at the expense of others. Consequently, industrial farming causes widespread impoverishment.) and why the government failed (short synopsis: Farmers are no longer electorially significant but the cash contributions of industrial farming are.) to fill their proper role. The book projects the anguish one would expect of a general who learned that the diplomats traded away the battlefield his troops bought with blood.
Another Turn of the Crank should not be the first Wendell Berry book that they read because of it's one-dimensionality. New readers of Berry will be better served to start with The Gift of Good Land, or What are People For? These collections of essays are Wendell Berry samplers. They give the reader a much better feel for the range of Wendell Berry's ability to savor the human condition and his ability to project that experience through the written word.

The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden
The Backyard Orchardist: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruit Trees in the Home Garden
by Stella B. Otto
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.05
87 used & new from $3.70

192 of 196 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars User-friendly. Hits all the bases, May 16, 2000
The Backyard Orchardist by Stella Otto is filled with fruit growing information that is very easy for the hobbyist to implement. Equally important, the information is well organized and is exceptionally easy to find.
*The information is comprehensive.
*The information is very specific. Example: The tables inform you as to which pesticides are most suitable for a given pest (cross referenced to a table of illustrations) and when to spray for them.
*The information is both usable and generic. For example: The advice on fertilizing recommends that the grower adjust the amount of fertilizer to match a target annual growth rate (length of shoot extension). That technique compensates for differences in soil type, rootstock, cultivar, etc. Basically, it teaches the grower how to pay attention to their trees.
*Illustrations are more functional than artistic. Not always a drawback.
*The very specific nature of the advice limits it. The book was published in 1995. The regulation status (and availability) of pesticides can change from year-to-year. New disease-resistant cultivars are released annually.
*Lists of fruit cultivars will seem a little sketchy to the rabid fruit growing enthusiast.
*Buy this book if you live in the area bounded by Maine, Montana, Colorado, and North Carolina and you can only afford one book on growing tree-fruits.
*Do not buy this book if you want a "coffee-table book."

The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers
The Berenstain Bears Learn About Strangers
by Stan Berenstain
Edition: Paperback
Price: $2.89
439 used & new from $0.01

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mainstream values in a tidy package, May 5, 2000
The titles of the Berenstein Bears books areself-explanatory
-------Review of Format-------
The BerensteinBears books are a very nice length for bed-time stories. They average about 7 minutes for an adult to read out loud. Depending on the child, two to four Berenstein Bears books are sufficient to "settle" them for the night. They are written on a second grade level, although your child is likely to memorize them long before then. But that is OK, they will be able to read hard words that much sooner because they will have learned by association.
-------Review of Content-------
Parenting is a tough job. We seek to raise helpless, ego-centric infants into mature, capable, caring adults. The early elementary years are one of the most stressful times for families. It is scary for children because they are beginning to grasp how complicated the world really is. It is stressful for parents because we find it increasingly difficult to answer their questions in a way that satisfies both the parent and the child. The Berenstein Bear books deal with many of those tough parenting issues; issues like dealing with strangers, picking up messes, junk food, teasing, etc.
The Berenstein Bears books encapsulate mainstream North American cultural values in a tidy, easy-to-read package. It is pretty hard to be critical of The Berenstein Bears unless you feel sorely used by those mainstream values.
Potential criticisms are:
-The Berenstein's are an ultra-traditional nuclear family
-Poppa Bear is a dope
-Some people object to "talking animals" books
-The issues are complex. Keeping the family dynamics simple allows the author to focus on the issues. Also, the traditional, nuclear family is still the mainstream, North American ideal, even if it is not always the reality.
-Simple personalities have been a standard literary tool for over two thousand years. It simplifies the bookkeeping. The reader (or listener) can explore four different ways of dealing with an issue.
-I am one of the people who does not like "talking animals" but I make an exception for the Berenstein bears. The Berenstein Bears are people masquerading as animals, not animals masquerading as people.

The Art of Managing People
The Art of Managing People
by Tony Alessandra
Edition: Paperback
172 used & new from $0.01

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid, balanced, smooth. Great for Techies, May 3, 2000
Have you ever been to a sporting event where every player on one team was a half step faster, a wee bit stronger and a heartbeat quicker to recognize opportunities than their counterpart on the other team? You had no doubts that the better team won the contest, but it was very difficult to articulate why you believed that. The reviewer of this book has the same problem.
It is difficult to identify the one or two things that make this book outstanding. I think The Art of Managing People is a great textbook because it covers all topics very solidly. Sure, there are other books that go into greater detail in specific areas, but they do it at the expense of other topics. The Art of Managing People is great for growing good, competent managers....the other books are more appropriate for addressing known, specific pathologies.
The Art of Managing People is smoothly written. It is an easy read. Topics flow effortlessly for the reader. The authors have my undying admiration because I know effortless reading is the result of unstinting effort on the part of the writers.
I think that The Art of Managing People is a particularly good choice for Techies making the transition to management. The authors are explicit about the roles of technical expertise and people smarts. They tell you WHY you need to know this stuff. Many other books will teach you theories of human behavior. They are elegant theories but they fail to tell you how to modify your behavior to elicit the desired behavior in the subordinate. The Art of Managing People tells you what you need to do to get the desired behavior. Also, much of the "smoothness" discussed earlier is due to careful organization. There is nothing random or hodge-podge about this book.
A final note: Some readers might be leery because the book was published in 1986. I don't think this is an issue. How to Win Friends and Influence People was first published in 1937. It is still a useful book. TAOMP is similar to HTWFAIP, but it is smoother, more sophisticated and far less mechanical in its approach. Consequently, your subordinates will feel less manipulated.

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