Wooden: A Coach’s Life

Today I have the pleasure of bringing you a particularly special post. For my second book of the 2015 Reading Challenge, I chose Seth Davis’s Wooden: A Coach’s Life, which details the life of renowned basketball coach John Wooden. It’s a genre I don’t normally read (sports biography*), but the reason I picked this particular book is because my very own brother assisted Davis with the extensive amount of research for it.

*It could also have fallen under the category “a book my mom loves.” See above.

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In case you’re not as completely obsessed with college basketball as my family is, John Wooden is remembered as one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game, if not the single greatest. He began as the son of a simple farmer in Indiana in the early 20th century, when the sport of basketball was still very young. He quickly fostered a love and a great skill for it and moved from playing in high school, college, and professionally to coaching high school and college ball himself. That career eventually brought him out to the west coast when he took the head coaching job at UCLA in 1948, and he never looked back. In 27 seasons with the Bruins, he led them to ten NCAA championships as well as several regional and conference championships. Coming from a family with a love of sports and a long legacy at UCLA, it was only fitting that my brother would spend his summers (and more) working on this book while a student at UCLA himself.

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I’m a proud sister.

I never had a chance to meet Seth Davis while my brother was working with him, but I can imagine from his writing style what a fun person he must be to work for. I’m not the hugest lover of sports in my family (the bar is set quite high), but I loved reading this book (even though it took me well over two months to read… it’s incredibly dense with information). Davis includes tons of interesting anecdotes about Wooden, his family, his players, and the world of the midwestern U.S. in the early 20th century. I especially enjoyed reading about various important basketball games throughout Wooden’s career and picturing them happening play by play. As I’m watching this year’s March Madness tournament, I keep thinking about the descriptions of the various games in the book and seeing them play out as if I were watching them on TV.

More importantly, though, is the picture of Wooden as a complete individual. Though Davis makes it pretty clear that Wooden was no saint, he also gives credit where it’s due, and it certainly is due. His contributions to basketball in general, college basketball in particular, and UCLA history especially, are an amazing legacy that have affected millions, my own family included.

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Gone Girl (Spoilers!)

Note: This post contains spoilers!

I think I’m probably the last person to get on the Gone Girl wagon, but now that has been righted! I finished reading it in a mere ten days, which is ridiculously fast for me if I’m not on vacation. It was that good.

Like everyone else who has read this book (or seen the movie, I assume), my attachment to the various characters can be summarized thus: I liked and/or sympathized with certain characters until I didn’t, and vice versa. It was a sudden, 180-degree turn. If you’ve read the book, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Nick is a thoroughly unlikable character throughout the first part of the book, due partly to the chapters in his point of view and partly to the way Amy describes him and their relationship in her diary entries. Author Gillian Flynn does a fantastic job of making the reader hate Nick right off the bat by hinting (in no uncertain terms) that he played a major role in Amy’s disappearance and potential death. From what we know of his character, this seems more and more likely as we read on, and we hate him more and more, until we get to Part 2 and turn the page and everything changes in about two sentences.

At this point, of course, the tides completely turned for me. All of a sudden I saw everything in a completely new light, which was obviously Flynn’s strategy all along, so kudos to her. As I continued reading and even as I finished the book, my overwhelming thought was (and still is), “Amy Elliott Dunne is freaking psycho.” What kind of disturbed sociopath would you have to be to fake your own murder, sending your husband to prison and ultimately the death penalty, because you found out he was cheating? Don’t get me wrong, he’s a terrible human being himself, but STILL. Plus she obviously has no trouble offing Desi Collings later in the book, but only after she forces him into having sex with her so she can accuse him of rape when she returns home. And all this because she decides that Nick will forgive her after all and that she can force him into loving her again. Are there actual human beings in the world who are this cold, unfeeling, and utterly insane? I sincerely hope not.

In a way though, the complete psychosis of the story and the characters, particularly Amy, made the book that much more fun to read. Not fun in a light hearted, easy-beach-read way, obviously, but in a gripping way that made me not want to put it down. I haven’t felt like that since I discovered Dan Brown’s books (but before I realized they were actually all the same book). The way Nick and Amy constantly try to outsmart each other and predict each other’s next move is jaw-droppingly twisted.

I haven’t decided yet if I will see the movie. To be honest, I feel like this is the type of movie that would freak me out even though I already know exactly what’s going to happen. Also, while I did spend the entire book picturing Ben Affleck as Nick, I couldn’t bring myself to envision Neil Patrick Harris as Desi Collings. In my mind, NPH plays the classy gentleman, whereas Desi struck me as an extremely weak, whiny child who would go to extremes to get his way just for the sake of getting his way. But maybe I’ll be surprised.

In case you haven’t gathered, this is a book I totally recommend, if not for the faint of heart (Mom, this book is not for you!). And it allows me to check off the first book of the 2015 Reading Challenge: A book that’s currently on the bestseller list!

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Have you read (or seen) Gone Girl? What are your thoughts? I’d love to chat more about it with you!

2015 Reading Challenge

Reading more books is always at the top of the New Year’s resolution list. It’s right up there with “work out more” or “get organized” or “travel to three new countries.” Last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read twenty books, and I didn’t quite make it. I’ll be trying for that same number again this year, but in addition, I’ll be participating in the 2015 Reading Challenge from Modern Mrs. Darcy.

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I’ve already kicked off the year by starting Gone Girl, which definitely falls under the category of “everyone has read it but me,” and I can’t wait for the fun of choosing a book to fit each criteria. Some of them can probably be accomplished with one book (for example, my mom is probably my #1 book recommender, which fits two different categories), but I’m going to try to allow just one category per book. Many, many reviews to come!

Would you consider joining this particular challenge?

Orange is the New Black

While I was in Germany this summer, T started watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but abandoned it after a few episodes because he kept thinking, in his words, “My wife is GONE! She’s in JAIL for a whole YEAR and I’m never going to see her again!”

Obviously neither of those things was true, but it did spark my curiosity about the show. When I stumbled upon the book at Barnes and Noble on my lunch break one day, I couldn’t resist picking it up.

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It took me about three pages before I was completely hooked. From the very beginning, Kerman’s writing is simple and honest, thoroughly descriptive but not flowery. It’s easy to see where she is coming from––she’s young, experiencing true adult freedom for the first time, and she wants an adventure. Unfortunately, that adventure ends up involving a drug ring, and even though Kerman eventually escapes, she is busted several years later and finds herself spending a year as an inmate at the Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Connecticut.

Orange is the New Black offers a rare look inside the U.S. prison system. Kerman describes the stresses, restrictions, and sometimes even horrors of prison, things that she acknowledges most Americans are very curious about. She writes about inadequate physical facilities, lack of any sort of training programs to prepare inmates for their future in the outside world, and verbal abuse by prison staff. At the same time, she expresses deep care and gratitude for the women who were her fellow inmates, and I got the sense that she really wants to communicate to the reader that prisoners are human beings too, no matter what they have done in the past. The end of the book has a somewhat surprising twist, but I won’t spoil it for you.

After I finished the book, I read several negative reviews on Goodreads arguing that Kerman and her cast of real-but-protected characters weren’t believable, that she was a snotty white girl with entitlement issues, and that the story was too much of a narrative. I have a hard time taking those comments seriously, since a) everyone in the book was in fact a real person, even though she (understandably) wanted to protect them, b) Kerman does recognize that she had a much easier prison experience than most of her friends, and c) the story, by definition, is a narrative.

Obviously everyone can form their own opinions, so I highly suggest you read the book for yourself. Personally, I can’t wait to start watching the show!

Songs of Willow Frost

I mentioned in my October goals wrap-up post that I managed to finish not two, but three books by the end of the month. The third, bonus book was Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford, a New York Times bestselling author. I received this book as a Christmas gift from my mom, who gives all three of her children (including T) a “book package” every year. She and I have very similar tastes in books (and most things really), so I knew I would enjoy it before I even started reading.

And I did enjoy it. The story takes place in Depression-era Seattle, where a Chinese-American boy named William tries to escape from an orphanage and reconnect with his mother, whom he believes is still alive. The timeline bounces back and forth quite a bit between William’s story, in 1934, and his mother’s story, which begins in 1921, but it’s not hard to follow because Ford always includes the year in parentheses at the beginning of each chapter.

The writing is straightforward, not too flowery but also not too simple. I don’t tend to like reading long descriptions of places or people; I prefer for the story and the characters to unfold more naturally instead of being all laid out at the beginning, and I appreciate that Ford writes like that. Having only been to Seattle once, I don’t know the city well at all, but I also didn’t want to read a lot about the geography. Thankfully, he doesn’t include more of those details than are necessary, and he does a great job of describing specific locations like the Sacred Heart orphanage and Chinatown.

I found the subject matter pretty fascinating as well. Willow Frost is a stage and film performer whose parents were both Chinese opera singers. Obviously this appealed to me quite a bit and I could relate to Willow and her passions and interests more than most other readers probably could. I’m also particularly interested in that era of American history, so that helped too.

What makes this book really special, though, is the character development. When I first met William’s mother, I thought she was incredibly shallow and a horrible person for doing what she did. However, the more I read, the more deeply I felt for her and for the things she went through that caused her to make the choices that she made. I found myself thinking about what I would have done if I had been in her position, which to me is the mark of an excellent writer.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who wants a fairly easy read that keeps you engaged and on your toes. It’s heartwarming and heart wrenching at the same time, and who doesn’t like that in a good book?

#GIRLBOSS: What I Loved and What I Didn’t

Sophia Amoruso’s book #GIRLBOSS has been taking the blogging world by storm lately. Even the title itself caters directly to social media-savvy 20’s-30’s female bloggers. As a somewhat social media-savvy 27-year-old female blogger, I decided I had to give it a read.

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#GIRLBOSS is the story of Sophia’s journey from broke, uncertain beginnings to running a multimillion-dollar corporation called Nasty Gal, a vintage and designer fashion retailer. She devotes the first four chapters to telling her tale with a colorful and hilarious vocabulary, and the rest of the book is a compilation of her advice to the aspiring #GIRLBOSS. Her words of wisdom include thoughts on saving money, positive thinking, creativity, and practical aspects of getting and keeping a job. Without giving too much away, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book.

“Abandon anything about your life and habits that might be holding you back. Learn to create your own opportunities. Know that there is no finish line; fortune favors action.” (14)

“When you approach everything as if it’s a big, fun experiment, then it’s not that big of a deal if things don’t work out. If the plan changes, that can be even better.” (65)

“We’re Internet kids who have been spoiled by our desires being no more than a click away. We think fast, type fast, move fast, and expect everything else to happen just as fast. . . .But, like everything, you’ve got to work for what you want.” (66)

“When your time spent making money is significantly greater than your time spent spending money, you will be amazed at how much you can save without even really thinking about it.” (109)

“The average American only saves 6.5 percent of his or her income, which is barely keeping up with inflation. But you, dear #GIRLBOSS, should save 10 percent at the bare minimum. I know it’s a lot easier to talk about saving money than it is to actually save it. Here’s a tip: Treat your savings account like just another bill. It has to be paid every month, or there are consequences.” (111)

“One of the best things about life–a reason not to go blindly after one goal and one goal only–is that sometimes it will take you to something that is way cooler than anything you would have consciously set out to do in the first place.” (124)

Now granted, there were some things I didn’t love about this book. The biggest issue I had was that I just couldn’t relate to Sophia as a person. She describes herself as a rebel, a perpetual rule breaker, a loner who hated school, questioned authority, and didn’t care what people thought of her. Those are pretty much the exact opposites of how I would describe myself, so it was tough for me to see how her life choices and consequent success could translate into my own life and my goals. Call me narrow-minded I guess, but I like to read and hear about people who are similar to me and who have managed to create their own successes, because it makes me feel like I can create mine too.

I also didn’t feel like anything she had to say was revolutionary. It was encouraging, but not super inspirational or earth-shattering. The concepts of “don’t worry about what other people think of you” and “you have to work hard to get what you want” aren’t exactly new ideas. That said, I’m sure everyone can find a few points in the book that apply to and resonate with them.

Have you read this book? Did it inspire you on your journey to becoming a #GIRLBOSS?

C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy (a.k.a. His OTHER Fictional Series)

Everyone has heard of The Chronicles of Narnia. Many of you probably read them as children (or maybe even as adults). If you grew up in a Christian environment (or maybe even if you didn’t), you also know that C. S. Lewis is considered one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, and you can probably list several of his philosophical writings, including Mere ChristianityThe Great DivorceThe Screwtape LettersThe Four LovesThe Problem of Pain, and more.

As it turns out, Lewis also wrote a second fictional series: the Space Trilogy. Comprised of the books Out of the Silent PlanetPerelandra, and That Hideous Strength, the series details the adventures of Dr. Ransom, a British professor who travels through time and space and experiences previously unexplored theological ideas.

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The trilogy begins with Out of the Silent Planet, in which Dr. Ransom is captured and drugged by two scientists and taken on their spaceship to the planet Malacandra, which turns out to be Mars. Upon arriving on Malacandra and escaping from his captors, Ransom meets and befriends three entirely alien species, learns their languages, and lives among them. The book ends with the introduction of the heavenly spirits, or eldila, that will come to dictate many of the events in the second and third books.

This was my favorite book out of the three. It’s simple, charming, and easy to follow, and while there was some religious allegory in it (it is C. S. Lewis, after all), it isn’t so dense that you lose track of the story. Of the three, it’s definitely the most alike to the Narnia books in tone and readability.

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Perelandra takes a completely different approach. This time, Ransom travels alone to Perelandra, more commonly known as Venus, and discovers a planet with an unfallen human race. A significant portion of the book is devoted to lots of philosophical musing, either between characters or as Lewis’s own narrative. It can be difficult to follow, which will come as no surprise if you’ve ever read any of Lewis’s nonfiction books, and when I read this book by itself in high school, I had a hard time understanding it. However, it asks an interesting question: what if there is a race on another planet that remains unfallen from God?

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The third book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is much longer than either of the previous two… in fact, it’s about the length of the others combined. Instead of focusing on Dr. Ransom, this book is centered around a young British couple who are being torn in different directions and forced to choose sides in the battle between the Christian faith and science gone wrong.

To tell the truth, I had a bit of trouble getting through this book at times. I generally think the world of C. S. Lewis’s writing, but this one wasn’t always paced evenly. There are sections with tons of action and other sections with long speeches by characters or by Lewis himself, like in Perelandra. It only gets really exciting in the final third of the book, which probably explains why T got about halfway through and then quit. For me though, it was worth working my way through the first two thirds to get to the end, which was where most of the action happened, as well as some extremely significant scenes of faith.

Overall, I recommend the Space Trilogy to a) avid readers who have a particular fondness for science fiction and/or philosophy, and b) Christians who appreciate the other writings of C. S. Lewis. However, if you’re looking to introduce your kids (or friends) to Lewis as well as broad religious metaphors, I would stick to The Chronicles of Narnia.

Have you ever read the Space Trilogy? What did you think of it?