Top 10 Reading Suggestions for Parents

by Jeff Leahy

With my third quarter travel schedule, I have had a lot of time to read and listen to podcasts, and I thought I would share some suggestions that I have occupied my time on flights, and in hotels and airport lounges. In offering this slate of books, it is important to note that I tend to read and finish any book that comes across my desk – in other words, I am not the type to read only portions, but rather will see to completion anything that I have begun.

David Brooks’ The Road to Character. This book explores the shift in character and values that has taken place over the decades in American culture. A New York Times Best Seller a friend recommended it to me; I pass it along to you with a moderately enthusiastic recommendation. Much of it appeals to my “countercultural” beliefs that we should not need to expend a lot of energy waving banners and calling a lot of attention to ourselves when we experience success – as has become the norm in professional stadiums and courts throughout the nation – but if you decide to take up a book by Brooks, I would start with Bobos in Paradise. In the end I enjoyed the first half of Road to Character, but was ready for it to be over by the second half.

J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. I highly recommend this memoir if you don’t mind some of the language. Vance’s powerful and revealing life story was published this past summer prior – to the fall’s election season, however it provides some incredible insights into the values that dominate the Appalachian region of the United States and its movement away from the Democratic agenda. Vance overcomes incredible odds with the support of loving grandparents; despite a lack of understanding of how the world, and particularly that of higher education works, he goes on to achieve a law degree from Yale University. This book dramatizes a perspective on America that I certainly did not understand.

Ben Carpenter’s The Bigs. Short, direct and clear in its intended goal; I have purchased a copy for each of our two senior award winners (community and academic). Don’t let the silly title – a reference to the big leagues in baseball – get in the way of a book that is filled with solid advice; it begins with the author’s reaction to his daughter’s inquiry if she should send an email to her new employer informing them that she needs an additional week beyond the agreed upon start date “to put her life in order” before she arrives at what would be her “dream job.” The author is appropriately horrified that after receiving an outstanding education, his daughter still lacked some basic knowledge about businesses and life skills, and that she was under the assumption that the world would wait for her. The information that he shares with her in response to her email turns into this book about being successful in life; the advice begins with not asking your employer for an extra week – there just isn’t that much in her life that really needs to be put in order.

Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog. A great book that reminds us that even incredibly successful people struggle with self-doubt and lack of direction at points in their life. I didn’t deliberately select memoirs for my travels, but the similarities and contrasts between Knight’s post-graduate school life and Vance’s make for an interesting pair. Knight is well known for creating the self-made shoe and clothing empire, but before Nike, the now billionaire, lacked self-confidence and was searching for his purpose in life. Despite a college degree and an MBA from Stanford University, he lived with a great amount of uncertainty throughout much of his early years as the company’s founder (which began as Blue Ribbon Sports). What Knight did know is that he had a passion for shoes, hence the name of the book.

Chris Lear’s Running with the Buffaloes. People must think I like exercise books, and I confess that I do; just a warning, that if you start to read this true story – by the end of it you will be investing in a pair of new running shoes. Lear chronicles the University of Colorado’s cross-country championship season. Of interest to me is that a few runners mentioned in this book currently reside in our valley. The story takes us each step of the way as the team overcomes uncertainty, injury, and tragedy on their way to outstanding results in the field at the end of the season. You don’t need to be a runner to like this book, but I passed it along to one of our Oyster runners after returning from Asia and plan to keep on sharing it with other runners if and when it gets returned to me.

Ben Greenfield’s Beyond Training. A dense read packed with an incredible amount of fitness information to ensure you live a healthy life. This book was a gift by long-time faculty member Mark Clark, and in turn, I have shared it with another faculty member. I highly recommend it for anyone who is thinking about training, or thinking about beginning to train. Greenfield is almost too generous with his information, but the end-of-chapter summaries help to filter through what you really need to know. Admittedly, I balk at the notion of wearing “energy crystals” and a few other suggestions – particularly at what appear to be a fairly high price point – but there is plenty of priceless information in this volume that will help guide you safely through your work outs and beyond (hence the title).

Jessie Itzler’s Living with a SEAL: 31 Days of Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet. If you are looking for a fun read, this is your book…it even has pictures. How could one not enjoy a book about someone who is feeling stuck in their life, decides to shake it up by hiring a Navy Seal, and promises that he will do whatever is asked of him?  Our Director of Counseling Services, Ashley Smith is responsible for putting this in my book bag, and it served its purpose as a distraction for two days of reading, and months later remains an inspiration in terms of focusing on mental as well as physical fitness.

Clayton Christensen’s Competing Against Luck. Christensen has spent a significant portion of his academic career on the topic of “innovation.” I have only just begun reading this latest bit of research, but it begins with compelling vision of how to look at customer choice and how to understand the causality underlying a person’s decision to “hire” a product to do a job.

Podcasts: Below are some podcasts that I have enjoyed while traveling as a change up from reading a story.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History. I found out about this podcast this last summer when it made the news in education circles after Gladwell connected quality of food and support for equity and diversity issues on two comparable college campuses. While Gladwell may be prone to overgeneralization there is not a podcast in last year’s Revisionist History sequence that doesn’t get you thinking – it is the gift Gladwell has as a narrator and writer. A personal favorite is his observations about the lack of use of the “granny-shot” at the free throw line in basketball – an incredibly effective shooting technique that people (men and women, professionals and non-professionals) refuse to use because of how it makes them look despite statistical results that pretty much guarantee a higher degree of success when compared to traditional shooting techniques – and by extension, would lead to more point production and possibly more wins for the team. Gladwell explores this phenomenon beyond basketball to consider what it takes for us to adopt something that is strange or different; an example in my life-time, growing up in bike-friendly Eugene, Oregon, it would be the introduction of bike helmets and our refusal to wear them when I was a kid because of how “dorky” they looked.

Dr. Zee’s Decode the News. This podcast just began in spring 2017, and it is timely given the recent incidents of “fake news” and partisan perspectives. The opening podcast discusses the challenges and pressures that news organizations face in leading with a scoop that will gain viewership. No news source is immune to this, and how it is handled has a profound impact on its true independence. Subsequent episodes seek to explain how the news is covering major events, and most recently CNN’s shift in approach to the current White House – the conclusions they draw may surprise you.

Next year’s book club read for family weekend we will be Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise an Adult.

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