Thursday, May 28, 2009

To Hug or Not to Hug....

The New York Times reports that hugging is hip among teenagers--the "hello" of their generation. Boys hug boys. Girls hug girls. Boys hug girls--and vice versa. However, this form of greeting has principals concerned because it goes against their districts' longstanding rules banning public displays of affection.

Is it time for the rules to catch up with the more relaxed generation--or should hugging be banned? What's happening at your school?

The Lifetime Journey to Becoming a Writer and Teacher: WRITING PLACES

Nobody has had a greater effect on writers, teachers, and editors in recent decades than William Zinsser, the author of the bestselling classic On Writing Well. In his new book, Writing Places, Zinsser describes more than 50 years of writing and teaching in a series of unusual locations, starting with his first job at the legendary New York Herald Tribune and including freelance stints in lonely apartments; a decade as master of Branford College at Yale, where his office was under a carillon; and various quirky offices in New York, one of which had a firepole. Each place taught him valuable lessons that shaped the influential writer and teacher he would become. Written with humor, elegance, and vividly remembered detail about the men and women who kept crossing his life, Writing Places will delight students who dream of writing their own distinctive story.

Book of the Week: The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit

Every week, Fareed Zakaria recommends a book on his CNN show. I've been a fan of this week's pick since it was published in 2007: Lucette Lagnado's The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World.

In the early chapters, Lucette recreates a Cairo that no longer exists--and introduces readers to her father--a prosperous man-about-town--the man in the white sharkskin suit. She takes us with her family on its frantic flight--first to Paris--and finally to America where they land in Brooklyn. The poverty and hardships they encounter make a striking contrast to the beauty and comfort of old Cairo. As their lives become an inversion of the American dream, though, "The resilient dignity of Lucette's family transcends the fiercest of obstacles," wrote the Los Angeles Times Book Review.

Set against the stunning portraits of three world cities, this memoir offers a grand and sweeping story of family, tradition, tragedy and triumph in their epic exodus from paradise. It's a beautiful memoir--and a wistful coming-of-age story.

If you'd like to consider The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit for one of your courses, please order an examination copy.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ken Davis Has Three Questions for President Obama

The oddly beautiful thing about history is that the old cliche is true: it does repeat itself. Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History and America's Hidden History looks back to the 1960s and compares and contrasts how the Johnson administration attempted to deal with the aftermath of racial violence and rioting across America versus how the current Obama administration is handling the issues of torture, Guantanamo, and national security.

Three Basic Questions About Torture

President Obama’s semi-surreal and disconnected “debate” on Thursday with former Vice-President Cheney over Guantanamo, torture and national security provides an opportune moment to pose Three Good Questions for our times.

Actually, the questions were asked by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967–

“– What happened?
– Why did it happen?
– What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?”

Read more.

Starbucks picks Crazy for the Storm

The next selection in Starbucks’ book-sale program will be Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad. The story centers around the tragic and pivotal event of Ollestad’s life: an airplane crash into the side of a mountain that cost three lives, including his father's. It deals with the complicated relationship he had with his charismatic, thrill-seeking father, and how his father's determination and love both infuriated and inspired him. For you teachers who are always looking for books that appeal to teenage boys, this one is perfect summer reading for them.

Dan Halper, publisher of Crazy for the Storm said, “I’m ecstatic that the good people at Starbucks not only saw the beauty and importance of this book, but committed to it from the very beginning.” The book will be offered at more than 7,000 Starbucks locations in the U.S. You can read more about it here.

Watch this video featuring Norman Ollestad talking about his story, including original footage of Norman and his father before and soon after the crash.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Another Gripping Memoir

I Love Yous Are For White People, by Lac Su is another new memoir that you won't want to miss. It is a memoir at its most affecting, depicting the struggles that countless immigrants have faced in their pursuit of a better life and the American Dream.

Su's family fled Vietnam when their lives were threatened by the Communist régime. After enduring an arduous and death-defying boat journey, they were saved by a naval cruiser near Hong Kong, and eventually ended up in Los Angeles where they soon found out that the American Dream was not all it was cracked up to be. Living in squalid conditions and barely making ends meet, Su's family struggled to forge its identity in a cultural hodge podge that often invited more trouble than solace.

This memoir, which trains a lens on immigrant life in America, is perfect for college classrooms, or as an all-campus or Freshman read. If you'd like to have Lac Su come speak on your campus, please contatct our Speaker's Bureau.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


The New York Times ran an article about the growing number of courses on positive psychology which highlighted Todd Kashdan, a professor at George Mason and author of Curious?: Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. Dr. Kashdan's classes at George Mason are always filled to capacity. College students--it seems--want to be happy and to get three credits for doing it.

However, Dr. Todd Kashdan offers a profound new message missing from so many books on happiness: the greatest opportunities for joy, purpose, and personal growth don't, in fact, happen when we're searching for happiness. They happen when we are mindful, when we explore what's novel, and when we live in the moment and embrace uncertainty. Positive events last longer and we can extract more pleasure and meaning from them when we are open to new experiences and relish the unknown.

Dr. Kashdan uses science, story, and practical exercises to show you how to become what he calls a curious explorer—a person who's comfortable with risk and challenge and who functions optimally in an unstable, unpredictable world. Here's a blueprint for building lasting, meaningful relationships, improving health, increasing creativity, and boosting productivity. Aren't you curious to know more?

If you'd like to invite Dr. Kashdan to speak on your campus, please let us know.

Not For Sale PSA Wins Clio

Martin Williams won a Bronze Clio in the animation category for the PSA "Shadow Hands" that it produced pro-bono for the Not For Sale Campaign.

They were up against some outstanding work too: notably Coca Cola's Happiness Factory (which you often see playing before movies at the theatre) Nike, and United Airlines.

Congratulations and a tremendous thank you to Martin Williams for the great innovation they've contributed to this movement!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Memorial Day: The History of a Holiday

After reading this blog post by Ken Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History, I thought about my father--a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Memorial Day was a solemn day for him. He was always shocked that stores were open and that the day had turned into a sales event, "I will never understand it. A 20% off sale is not a tribute to those who gave their lives for this country." You might want to read this one to your students to remind them that Memorial Day is more than just the start of summer and a chance to get an extra 10% off.

Memorial Day: A History Lesson

Mother’s Day has just passed. Memorial Day is around the corner. At least on the surface, the two occasions would seem to have little in common besides falling in May. But there is an intriguing connection between the two that comes through American history’s bloodiest chapter, the Civil War.

Memorial Day was born in 1868, in the Civil War’s wake, as Decoration Day. It was a day set aside to honor fallen soldiers by “decorating” their graves with fresh flowers –an occasion originally fixed on May 30, when the most flowers are in bloom. For years, it was a profoundly solemn occasion that kept alive the passions of the war that had killed more than 600,000 Americans –an astonishing tally that equaled some two percent of the population at the time (a comparable loss today would mean 6 million dead). In 1882, it was renamed Memorial Day.

Read more.

A Unique New Memoir

Memoirs make great books for an all-campus or Freshman read because often everyone can find a little of themselves in a good memoir, but it can also open up the door to experiences and culture very unlike our own. In Hanuman's Hands, a gritty, hauntingly beautiful memoir by Cheenie Rao, a unique, new voice from the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is no different.

In Hanuman’s Hands charts Rao’s mythic battle for rehabilitation from the perils of drugs, sex, and crime brought on by the freedoms and temptations of life on an elite American college campus. Desperate and alone, he is visited by Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god his mother evoked, and comes to realize that this unlikely guide may be his last resort. Bringing India whole heartedly into America, Rao weaves his own story of Western culture clash with mythic stories of his Hindu heritage.

Read more about new author, Cheeni Rao, here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Love Letter to Libraries from Ken Davis

The current dismal economic climate is taking its toll on many things across the board, one of them being the necessary municipal funding to public library systems throughout the United States. My first after school job was working as a library page (a little library humor--the job title of "page" always used to make us library pages laugh) at the Hillcrest library branch in Queens, New York, so I definitely am a champion of libraries. Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History and America's Hidden History blogs today about the proposed drastic cuts to his hometown New York City public libraries, and how such cuts threaten the wealth of free information available to the public.

Libraries Are America's Lifelines. Leave Them Alone

Michael Bloomberg may be the ultimate IT Guy. Okay, maybe that's still Bill Gates. But the point is, Michael Bloomberg took Information and Technology and made himself an empire with Bloomberg News. Then he became King of New York -- or at least Mayor -- and a very good one at that, as far as I am concerned.

So why would a man who built his world around IT want to cripple New York's IT lifeline -- the public library?

Read more.

Monday, May 11, 2009

An Amazing, Inspirational Memoir: IN THE SANCTUARY OF OUTCASTS

In the Sanctuary of Outcasts is the incredibly emotional true story of crime, redemption, vanity, and ultimately, spirituality. Neil White was an ordinary guy who measured worth by appearance:  expensive cars, nice homes, fashionable clothing. Generous with his heart and with his bank account, his exquisite tastes exceeded his income and soon he was kiting checks. Eventually, White was caught, convicted of fraud, and sent to prison, but he was not sentenced to an ordinary lockup. For the man whom appearance was supreme was going to serve out his sentence in the last leper colony in the continental United States--known today as The Long Center, located in southeastern Louisiana on a short spit of land where the Mississippi River runs north.

It was here, in this unlikely place rich in history that goes back more than 150 years, among an unlikely mix of white-collar criminals and leprosy patients, that White gained perspective and discovered what is truly important in life. 

Watch this powerfully moving video featuring Neil White explaining his complex backstory and how he came to write In the Sanctuary of Outcasts:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Is the GOP Fading Into the Sunset? Ken Davis Finds the Answer in History.

Politics is always fascinating to study, be it current events or the distant past, but the contemporary political landscape is especially intriguing since it seems as if the fabled grand old Republican Party is imploding by the day. Is the GOP doomed to go the way of the forgotten Federalists and the Whigs? Kenneth C. Davis, author of Don't Know Much About History and America's Hidden History, tackles this question in his blog by looking at the best indicator of what the future has in store for the GOP by holding a magnifying glass to defunct political parties from America's past.


Are the reports of the death of the GOP, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “Greatly exaggerated?” Or are we seeing the inexorable demise of a doomed beast –like seeing the last wooly mammoth go down in tar pits of La Brea?

The defeats suffered in the 2006 mid-term and 2008 Presidential elections, combined with the recent defection of Senator Arlen Specter to the Democratic Party, certainly left a whiff of lingering death in the air. Was Specter’s decision a mandatory ten-count that will allow the Republicans to get off the mat and fight on? Or was it the final knockout roundhouse?

Time will tell. But history, of course, is instructive.

Read more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Summer Is Short: Read a Story.

I know you're well-read--but you have to admit that you've fallen behind on your quest to read the authors on those guilt-making what-to-read lists. You've been distracted by the lure of contemporary literature. You put down Crime and Punishment as soon as the new Michael Chabon hits the bookstores.

This summer, you can check a classic author off your list--and get a taste of a living, breathing, on-the-cusp-of-greatness author by diving into one of our classic shorts--all for the retro price of $10.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky's volume of short stories, A Disgraceful Affair, will introduce you to Barb Johnson with a short story from her forthcoming collection, More of This World or Maybe Another.

Melville's The Happy Failure dovetails nicely with a short story from Alex Burnett's My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults.

The stories in Stephen Crane's An Experiment in Misery find a kindred spirit in a bonus story from Dennis Cooper's Ugly Man: Stories.

Willa Cather's The Bohemian Girl plays well with a story from Lydia Peelle's upcoming collection Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing (July 2009).

The stories in Leo Tolstoy's Family Happiness leads to a peek at Holly Goddard's forthcoming Girl Trouble: Stories (September 2009).

See? It's possible to have your classic and read a contemporary author, too.

Huston Smith: Tales of Wonder

"One of our foremost scholars and interpreters of the world’s religions…. What he has learned, he has applied to life."—Bill Moyers

Huston Smith, the man who brought the world's religions to the West, was born almost a century ago to missionary parents in China. Smith's life is a story of uncanny synchronicity. He was there for pivotal moments in human history such as the founding of the United Nations and the student uprising at Tiananmen Square. As he traveled the world he encountered thinkers who shaped the twentieth century. He interviewed Eleanor Roosevelt on the radio; invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at an all-white university before the March on Washington; shared ideas with Thomas Merton on his last plane ride before Merton's death in Bangkok; and was rescued while lost in the Serengeti by Masai warriors who took him to the compound of world-renowned anthropologists Louis and Mary Leaky.

Smith's lifelong spiritual journey brought him face-to-face with many of the people who shaped the twentieth century. His extraordinary travels around the globe have taken him to the world's holiest places, where he has practiced religion with many of the great spiritual leaders of our time. His classic The World's Religions introduced generations of students to religious traditions from around the world.

In his autobiography Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, he invites you and your students to come along on his remarkable journey.