books Current Events

Weekly Reads, Watches, and Listens 10/7 – 10/14

Have you noticed that the title for this branch of the blog keeps morphing?  That’s because, although I’m always reading something, sometimes it’s the same as the week before.  And, sometimes something I’ve watched or listened to is what is really making me think. So here’s to opening our eyes and perking up our ears.


Two books are in rotation right now.  

The Starfish and the Spideris the first.  This is a book about organizations and how they are put together – not a typical genre for me.  A year or so ago, I was at the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I saw this book in the bookstore there and loved the title so much that I decided to give it a try.  You can tell it’s not my normal cup of tea since its taken me a year or more to get to it.   Anyway, the gist is that most organizations are spiders, meaning there is someone or some set of someones at the center.  If something happens to that center, the organization cannot survive.  Starfish organizations, in contrast, have no central leader and therefore regenerate if an arm is lopped off.  The authors’ contention is that Starfish organizations create situations in which everyone in the organization feels more invested because it is everyone’s job to keep the organization running and healthy. It’s an interesting idea.  I’ll keep you posted.

Next, I’ve started Peter Hessler’s new book, The Buried.  I love Hessler’s writing and have written about it elsewhere on this blog.  I first read him when I began going to China in 2008.  His rise as a writer was tied to his time living in China and he has been sort of a cultural translator for newbie China watchers every since.  I love his writing because he combines his own life experiences and current circumstances as he seeks to understand a foreign culture. In addition, he points out the ways in which language reflects something central to the culture or land in question. Here’s an example from the new book that is focused on Egypt during the Arab spring.  

He describes two different words that ancient Egyptians used to describe different types of time beginning on page 10 of The Buried:

Ancient Egyptians had words for two different types of time: djet and neheh.  These words cannot be translated into English, and it may be impossible for them to be grasped by the modern mind. IN our world, times is a straight line, and one event leads to another; the accumulation of these events, and the actions of he people who matter, are what make history.  But for ancient Egyptians,, time was not linear, and events were suspect.  They were oddities, distractions that interrupted the world’s natural order…

Nehehis the time of cycles…Djet, on the other hand is time without motion.  When a king dies he passes into djetwhich is the time of the gods…

Then he goes on to quote an Egyptologist who relates these two types of time to the physical landscape, the cycles of the Nile river valley versus the endless dessert.   It is beautiful and mysterious and thought provoking all at once.

Here’s a link for more information:


A few weeks ago, I decided that even though I have a parking place on campus, I really don’t need to use it every day and therefore I should walk.  The climate situation is so dire.  I know one person walking to work a couple of days a week is not going to solve it, but I have been looking for little habits I could either change or incorporate in support of saving the planet…

So, on my morning walks, I’ve been listening to Master Classes.  Here’s the link to this service.  It costs something, but before you write it off, think about all the things you waste money on.  You can choose master classes from a series of interesting people.  They might be on cooking or investing or conservation. Most of my choices have been about writing.  For the last week or so, I’ve been listening to Judy Blume talk about her writing process. And before that I listened to Anna Wintour talk about leadership.  Both have been fun and interesting and given me plenty to think about.  They are set up as videos that you might watch.  But I never do that.  I think it would be boring and I could never sit still for it. But it’s perfect for a morning and evening walk.

Finally, on Friday, I got to hear Nikole Hannah-Jones, the journalist who envisioned  the 1619 series, speak on campus. Here’s her website. She was receiving a distinguished alumnae award the next day.  Really terrific to hear her in person.  If you’ve not read or listened to the 1619 podcast, start immediately.  And, before your write it off, at least give it a try.  The quote of the day from Jones was this, “To love something does not mean you are never critical of it.”  She was referring to America.  And I so agree. We do our children, our friends, and our spouses no favors when we don’t expect the best of them. Why would we feel any differently about our country?

That’s it for now. Let me know what’s perking up your ears or opening your eyes this week.

books Recommended Weekly Reads

Reads and Listens September 15 – 20

Many people I know say they never have time to read anything for pleasure or general enrichment. I get it. It’s hard to give yourself over to a novel or even a long form magazine article when there’s the house, the work, the kids, the parents, the friends and… let’s face it the phone. My own habit is to read before bed and when I can’t sleep. Sometimes that makes for ten minutes a day, sometimes that means an hour or more. But it’s something, and just like putting pennies in a piggy bank, over a year, it adds up to a lot of books read, a lot of extra knowledge, and, at least for me, a richer life.

Podcasts are also a pleasure I love. I listen in the car, when I take a break for a 20 minute walk around campus, or sometimes while cooking dinner. So much better than TV news. More depth, no endless commercials.

Here’s what’s on tap this week.

The last time I made suggestions, I wrote about the 1619 project in the New York Times. Now, on their podcast, The Daily, they are dropping sections of 1619 every Saturday. Here’s the one I’m listening to now.

You can download it or listen to it now on your computer. Powerful stuff.

Next up is a book I’ve been revisiting that will feature prominently in my next blog. Mary Ann in Autumn by Amistead Maupin. This is part of the Tales of the City Series that started years ago – I read the series in my 20s – and happily, does not seem to want to end. Netflix recently made this one into series to stream which made me want to go back to it. It’s just a skim this time – but pleasurable none the less.

Of course there’s so much in the news, but I’m not going there in this post. Instead, I’ll send this out for all my fellow professors out there. An article I saw in the Chronicle of Higher Education details the impact of this simple teaching strategy – learning your students names. Although its not so hard this semester when I’m teaching a very small seminar, I’ve always felt better when I could quickly learn my students’ names. I knew it was important to me. This article says its important to them too.

Look for a longer post featuring Mary Ann in Autumn by the end of the weekend. And don’t forget to like the post and leave a comment about what you’ve been reading this week!

books race


Between the World and Me ( is described by Toni Morrison among others as “required reading.” I read it this week, almost in one sitting, as way to break through my own numbness surrounding the seemingly endless chain of lost and shattered black lives at the hands of police. A group among our faculty has been discussing the book and yesterday I attended for the first time. In the group, one white participant, described a feeling of being let in on “secrets” of black life in America. I know what she means. There have been moments in my adulthood, never in my childhood, where I encountered those “secrets.” They were and are shocking and let me know how much has been kept from me to keep systems of racism in place.

As I’ve written before, my first real social work jobs, post MSW, were in the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Ta-Nahesi Coates, the author of Between the World and Me, lived not far away and the experiences of his early life were similar to others I saw played out for young black men and women there. I was well-intended and had an African-American supervisor. Only because of her did my “well-intended” begin to change to “well-informed” which kept my complete naiveté and stupidity in check. Here are things I learned. Like most major teaching hospitals, Hopkins is physically located in the midst of a primarily black, impoverished neighborhood because this gave the hospital access to unusual diseases and people that had no other way to get treatment making for easier development of new treatments. This is a sanitized way of saying what a mother once said to me, “I don’t like coming here. They experiment on poor black kids.” At first I thought she was “paranoid” or “psychotic.” My supervisor told me, “You understand that she is correct, don’t you?” No I did not. I could not have imagined that such a thing would be true. How did I not know this? Because it’s a secret. Next, as a doctoral student at age 29, I took a class at UNC’s law school: Constitutional Issues of Race and Poverty. I sat spell-bound learning how the African-American population functioned as this country’s sacrificial lamb over and over again, the crucible on which the country was forged. I had never learned this in a history class or a civics lesson. I was almost 30 years old before I learned even a bit of this history. It was a secret history only unveiled to those that for whatever reason stumbled upon it or sought it out.

You might say, that was a long time ago. What about all the great equalizers like the GI bill that created a solid American middle class? After all, many people of many backgrounds suffered mean fates prior to WWII because of poverty and exploitation. Indeed. But here’s the secret that I learned a year or so ago through a training given by the Racial Equity Institute (REI). The GI bill was extended to many returning veterans following WWII. My dad was one of them. What I didn’t know was that most African-Americans occupied military jobs that were ineligible for the GI bill. Further, for those that did have access to GI bill funding, there was the subsequent hurdle of trying to find a college or University that would accept African-Americans. Even those eligible could not always find a place at the educational table. These are systemic injustices and secrets that ripple out over generations. Combined with red-lining, neighborhoods systematically dismantled by highway placement, and other systemic discrimination policies, the ability to create the intergenerational wealth and stability that has served white America quite well, has not been present for very long in African-American life. These realities have been invisible to me and to most white people because no one or nothing makes us think about them. Why would I wonder about why highways are where they are or consider how they have impacted particular neighborhoods? I don’t have to because they never come through my neighborhood. I’ve heard about the GI bill my whole life as great policy decision that changed America. It did change white America and in so doing left black America further behind. It’s the second half of that sentence that is the toxic secret that keeps me, as a white person, essentially estranged from black people, no matter how “well-intended” I am. My faith doesn’t save me either because “I see through a mirror darkly.” I live in a veiled world in which I think I know the facts. But it’s the secrets I don’t know that are the important bits. Such secrets are legion in our national life. Like all secrets we are ashamed of, they damage our relationships, our thinking, and our collective decision-making.

One day in the teen clinic a young mom brought her beautiful little boy in to be seen. There was concern that he had been sexually abused in day care situation. He was pre-verbal and gave no indication that anything was wrong. The mother came because someone had seen a worrisome interaction and she had been referred for a physical exam. I had noticed this young woman and her child before because they were a stylish, good-looking pair. He had the cute, little boy plats that were common to boys under the age of two. She was well put together in boots and a jacket in the latest style. She was a bit stand-offish toward me and, before this, we had no real reason to interact; she was my supervisor’s client. But that day, I was with her through this experience. When the physician told her that her child looked fine, no lasting harm had come to him, that she had done the right thing bringing him in and keeping him out of the setting where the concern arose, she began to weep deep, grief-like sobs. At first, I thought it was simple relief, an outpouring of the worry and fear she had been holding inside. But my heart felt something different, something I couldn’t quite name. The memory came to me this past week, so many years later, as I read Between the World and Me. Her tears, I now realize, told a terrible secret; she could not be a good-enough mother in America to keep her beautiful black son safe. Even though he had dodged that particular bullet, there were too many others waiting that might take her by surprise. I wonder where he is now.