On the 5th Day of Christmas, My True Love gave to Me:



This is disguised as a book rec. Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman. It is funny, historical and biographical, autobiographical, serious and not, and there is quite a bit of language, both of the English and the salty variety.

Comedian and all around great guy, Nick Offerman profiles many gentlemen and gentle-ladies who have that one thing that lets them hit their goals and more importantly to keep getting back up when the lemonade stand knocks them down. Making lemonade is fine, but adding a shot of whiskey is better. I think Mr. Offerman would agree with me.

Oxford Dictionaries defines gumption as:

shrewd or spirited initiative and resourcefulness

A few synonyms are: ingenuity, imagination, acumen, practicality, spirit, pluck, courage, moxie, spunk, and my favorite: wherewithal.

In total, in addition to an epilogue and a bonus chapter, there are twenty-one profiles, some you’d expect: Theodore Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Benjamin Franklin as well as founding father, George Washington, and some you might not expect: Conan O’Brien, Carol Burnett, and Willie Nelson.

Those last three speak directly to my prejudices. Despite loving many celebrities, finding inspiration in them, and respecting them, I am still under the impression that they and celebrities of all types are expected to be more because they do more. Or rather, they do more publicly, and often hide their hardships, not always because of shame, but because of being so far ih the past as to not talk about anymore. They appear to just do it, which I suppose defines those with gumption better than the Oxford Dictionary.

Just get it done.

When you’re a kid that phrase usually means clean your room, finish the dishes, put away the groceries, but responsibilities foster more responsibility.

Some shrug off the fall; others cry, but they all get up and make a new plan.

That, my friends, is gumption.

Read the book, learn something new, meet someone new in its pages, and find out where your gumption is and how to find it; to reach it.

Reading is….


Reading is fundamental. When I was growing up in the 70s this was more than a sentiment, it was a movement with suggestions and ideas and a non-profit. After food and a warm place to sleep this was what babies enjoyed most: the soothing sounds of their parents’ voices reading them stories. Our entire lives are made up of stories from fairy tales to our own origin stories. From princesses to cowboys, planes to trains and everything in between we have our stories.

The very first class I took for my Master’s degree was Children’s Literature. Not only seeing what was out there, but how to use it in the classroom. This was coupled with a new concept in the 80s which I adopted for the rest of my life: whole language. Whole language was the teaching of reading through actual reading rather than a focus on phonics. Phonics have their place for some learners, but what better way than using context and the whole language to learn how to read. From the moment I heard it, it made sense and it has never left me.

Three of the other things that I learned in reading classes for my teaching degree:

  1. Children’s literature encompasses much more than See Dick Run.
  2. Children’s brains and eyes are not ready to read proficiently on their own until they are seven years old, so stop forcing kindergarteners to pick up books and read them to you. Age-appropriate always.
  3. If you can read, you can do anything.

I can remember getting lost in the worlds of Winnie-the-Pooh and Cranberry Thanksgiving, one of my favorite books as a child. It is probably one of the main reasons I love Thanksgiving and it is my favorite holiday. I still have it somewhere. I put myself on the subway with Sarah and John in The Magic Tunnel, a book which still sits on my bookshelf. Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were also favorites of mine. For my son it’s the Wimpy Kid books and the Zombie Chasers. For my daughter it’s Monsters High.

Whatever the favorites are, the reading is pure joy.

Here are a few of my favorites from these genres:


Sci-fi/Fantasy is wonderful because it can be set anywhere from back in time and time travel to the future and spaceships. You can be in outer space on another planet or on a spaceship traveling the stars. You can be with the dinosaurs while also using ray guns and modern to us equipment or you can be in a magic land of Harry Potter-esque wizardry or Hunger Games dystopia. You can play what if Lincoln had lived or what if Jefferson hadn’t written the Declaration of Independence. The possibilities are endless.

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. You can also find Adams’ perfect cup of tea
  2. Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
  3. Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  4. Bellwether by Connie Willis (and most of her books. After this I read To Say Nothing of the Dog.)
  5. Neil Gaiman
  6. Stephen Donaldson


I’ve been on a biography/memoir kick lately. My top five of recent reads are:

  1. Life’s That Way by Jim Beaver
  2. I Am What I Am by John Barrowman with Carole Barrowman (memoir)
  3. http://nphbook.com/Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography
  4. My Beloved by Sonia Sotomayor
  5. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden

Religious and Spiritual

This is a genre that I have found more recently. As a child attending Workman Circle Schools I knew all of the Bible stories and loved to read and re-read from our set of four Jewish History books, three of which I still have. It was a wonderful time in my life and fostered and encouraged both a love of my religion and of history.

More recently as I have journeyed on my conversion to Catholicism, I have read numerous books and booklets, periodicals and devotionals, some better than others, some outstanding. Here are my top four:

  1. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  2. Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ (I also highly recommend this e-book retreat, Together on Retreat (Enhanced Edition): Meeting Jesus in Prayer.)
  3. Under the Tamarind Tree: A Secret Journey into Our Souls: Inspirational Quotes About Life, A reminder of the Inner Magic by John Harricharan
  4. The Little Books Series. I’ve read The Little White Book for Easter, The Little Blue Book for Advent and I am currently reading The Little Black Book for Lent.

A few others to enjoy:

  1. A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage (history)
  2. On Writing by Stephen King (writing)
  3. Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawning of a New America by Gilbert King (history, won the Pulitzer)
  4. A Writer’s House in Wales by Jan Morris (travel, Wales)
  5. The Truth and Legend of Lily Martindale by Mary Sanders Shartle (historical fiction, North Country, NY)
  6. Sex on the Moon by Ben Mezrich (memoir)
  7. How the Scots Invented the Modern World by Arthur Herman (history)
  8. Untied: A Memoir of Family, Fame, and Floundering by Meredith Baxter
  9. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future: Twists and Turns and Lessons Learned by Michael J. Foxhttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_J._Fox.

Also, Lucky Man, also by Michael J. Fox

  1. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman (history)