Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Toughness Training for Life: A Revolutionary Program for Maximizing Health, Happiness and ProductivityToughness Training for Life: A Revolutionary Program for Maximizing Health, Happiness and Productivity by James E. Loehr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In the Rodney Dangerfield movie "Easy Money" Rodney's character has a chance to inherit millions if he can avoid drugs, alcohol,cigarettes, sex and gambling for a few days. But he weakens over time, and one of his friends exhorts him: "C'mon. You know what they say, 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going.'"

Rodney looks at him with his trademark fidgety neck twitch and says, "Yeah? But what if you're not tough?"

So maybe you're not so tough either? Or maybe you want to get a little tougher? Tired of getting sand kicked in your face? :) This book will get you there.

It has the classic look of a cheesy worthless self-help book, but this baby is loaded with concrete, evidenced-backed information that goes right to the heart of its title: it's showing you a way to get tough for the rest of your life. (Even into your nineties!)

I remember hearing stories of the legendary endurance of Tiger Woods, driving himself mercilessly with little or not sleep for days on end. But then when he did sleep he would sleep for twenty hours straight. And that's one of the things Toughness Training for Life really emphasizes—you can have high stress in your life, but if you have it, you need a lot of recovery time as well. The author shows this great graph with a line in the middle and fluctuating waves going across it. (Can you see it?! Okay, so I'm not so good at describing stuff like that!) The idea is if you go big in one direction (stress), you need to go equally big the other way (recovery). Furthermore, the truly dangerous things are to go flat line on either side of the line. In other words, too much stress without recovery and too little stress are equally dangerous. Which handily refutes the people that think the goal is no stress.

Oh, the author is not all academician. He's part drill sargent too. (And we need this, you know.) Check this out. He writes:

(Being tough) means you control your emotions rather than the other way around. It means you can weather life's storms and seize life's opportunities. It means that when the going gets tough, you're tougher.

Sort of makes you wonder if he saw "Easy Money."

The book is chock full of toughness wisdom with sections on: "Toughening the immune system""Parenting tough kids" and even "Toughening for women"!

Get smart. Get tough. Get Toughness Training for Life.

Free copies of any of my novels for anybody willing to write a review or even if you just try to write one and fail. :) If gifted through Amazon, I would ask that you download them, though. You can find my novels ("IWS Rules", "Judgment Day" and "Now Boarding" are no longer available though) (and "Front Row" is a short story) on my GR author page and if anything appeals message me. :)

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Friday, August 15, 2014

One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal GrowthOne Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth by Iyanla Vanzant

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth is mostly filler. Like the author had a book due her publisher and had to pump it out for deadline.

It's full of worksheets and questions and affirmations like:


(Well, that'll change your life right there.)

But anyway, although the negatives are strong, there are some absolute gems in this book.

Are you working hard and feeling like you're not getting anywhere? Consider this:

The greatest challenge to the development of patience is being able to wait for the tangible evidence that your efforts are paying off. We have a fixed idea of what we want and what it will look like when it shows up. We hold that idea so firmly that often we are unable to detect that the very thing we want has actually arrived. If it does not look the way we thought it would, or if it does not feel the way we imagined it would, we are unable to detect its presence.

Hey, that's worth the price of the book right there. (But I'm saving you spending it. lol)


One day I decided to take a risk. You must be willing to risk losing everything if you are serious about getting anything. I risked my life, my resources, my need to be right, and the fear of being afraid, and asked God to show me myself as God saw me.

Want more? How about a new definition for "fear"?

Fear only delays fulfillment. It cannot or does not destroy it. Fear is the insidious activity of the belief that there is something that God cannot do or does not know. It is a covert admission that God cannot be trusted and that God's love is not enough to sustain you.

So obviously Vanzant is capable of writing great things. There's just very few of them in this particular book. I'd pass on this one but be open to her other books.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly ImprobableThe Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It was hard to talk about this book because whenever I did, everybody thought I was talking about the movie with Natalie Portman. (So I'd talk about the movie.) And I don't know. Maybe I was better off talking about the movie.

Not that I have anything against Black Swan the book, but hey, come on, Natalie Portman is Natalie Portman.

Okay, the book is subtitled "The Impact of the Highly Improbable." And there you pretty much have it. In a nutshell, highly improbable events are very difficult to predict. Now that premise is expounded on intelligently and with solid evidence to elucidate it, but did we really need elucidation to know that?

Taleb gives a great example of what a black swan (the highly improbable, unexpected event) might be to a turkey. (An actual turkey.) The turkey is fed. It's given water. It gets to hang out with other turkeys. Hey, the turkey thinks, this isn't so bad.

Then along comes Thanksgiving. (Black Swan)

So in like manner we humans go along stuck in the ruts of our habitual minds, thinking (like our gobble-gobble friend) things will go along as they always have and then POW another black swan comes along—and we're thrown for a loop.

Taleb traces the path of Yevgenia Nikolayevna Krasnova, an "obscure and unpublished novelist" (I can relate) who writes a densely 'obscure and unpublishable' novel that goes on to be published and do explosively well in the marketplace. (This is where I stop being able to relate.)

Then some years go by and Yevegenia has written another gem. The publishing world revs up for it. The buzz is like a trillion yellow jackets. guessed it—the black swan shows up and the book tanks.

The book is extremely negative in its conclusion ("...we will have fewer but more severe crises. The rarer the event, the less we know about its odds. It means that we know less and less about the possibility of a crisis."), but that is just where the facts and research led. But the problem, well, two-fold problem, is that the book is vastly overwritten. Redundant city. And it's written for academics. Full of charts and graphs and statistical data.

If you're interested in statistics and game and chaos theory and the like, maybe this book would be a thrill a minute for you. But for the rest of us, well, not so much. We'll just go plodding along in our habitual thinking ruts hoping that the black swans will leave us the heck alone.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Contract SurgeonThe Contract Surgeon by Dan O'Brien

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ernest Hemingway, always uber-competitive with his fellow authors and known to often be mean to them, nevertheless lavished praise on F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. That's how I feel about Dan O'Brien's The Contract Surgeon—I don't know how anyone couldn't say that this was a great book.

You get the best books at libraries' used book sales. If you like best sellers, the library's used book sale is where they'll unload not a few of their thirty copies of The DaVinci Code or what have you. But even better than best sellers, you'll find the books that were critically acclaimed enough to get into the library but were never hyped sufficiently to make it big. I got The Contract Surgeon at a library's used book sale. (I'm astounded to this day when I look at the flyleaf and stamped there is: "Discarded by Itasca Public Library." Their loss—my gain.)

The Contract Surgeon is about a brilliant young surgeon, Dr. Valentine McGillycuddy (better known as "Mac") who is drawn from his life of privilege and decorum out to the wild world of the American West to serve as a surgeon in the U.S. Army during the Great Sioux War of 1876. O'Brien flawlessly paints the landscape and hardship of survival in the wilderness, and he also captures the violent clash of cultures between the white man and the Indians. And O'Brien has an intelligent, compassionate protagonist in Mac to help us collectively make sense of it all.

A serendipitous meeting between Mac and Crazy Horse takes place before they knew who each other was. Later they meet again when the net has finally closed around Crazy Horse and he is taken captive. The politicking, the mindless rage, the fear of the unknown, and the rare reason (supplied by Mac) is captured so beautifully in the final scenes.

In fact, the entire book is perfectly written. The writing style, the descriptions, the pacing, the character development, the insights into both the soldiers' and Indians' mind-sets. The book is just perfect. It's a literary book with the ease of a genre book. It's brilliant yet accessible.

When I first started reading it I came across some things that were so great that I underlined them with a pen (as I am wont to do as I read). Well, within a few more pages I started to realize just how beautiful this book was and that I was going to lend it to a friend—and didn't want the underling in there to lessen his reading pleasure. So I went back and with an ink eraser (if you've done it, you know it's no easy task) and painstakingly and lovingly removed the underlining. The book is that good. It deserves to be pristine.

Being about war, the book would seem to appeal to men more than women, but really the book is about America, and how we became the nation we are today. But's it about so much more. It's about two individuals, from two vastly different worlds, who manage to find a commonality in their shared humanity. It's about life itself.

This book is a can't-miss. Even Hemingway would've loved it.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Plumed SerpentThe Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

D.H. Lawrence came from a day and age when writing was self discovery. It was a way to find out who you were, a way to open up new worlds within yourself. And the people loved reading about it. You grasped a sense of a writer's psyche, his mind, his emotions and soul.

Reading The Plumed Serpent you get all that and more. Lawrence is most famous for Lady Chatterley’s Lover but The Plumed Serpent is by far the superior novel. Always an autobiographical writer, The Plumed Serpent catches Lawrence in the midst of his famed "savage pilgrimage's" North American swing, specifically Mexico.

Well, let me tell you, Lawrence will put you there! You'll be sweaty and a bit dirty too. The flies will buzz and bite your ankles. The sun shining off the matador’s sword will blind you.

Simply put—it's an experience.

And, oh yeah, there's a story running through it too. A woman from Ireland, Kate Leslie, is exposed to the brutality of Mexican culture. The novel opens at a bullfight in Mexico City, and you need to remember that Lawrence is no ordinary writer. Catch this description of how a bull runs into the bullfighting ring for the first time:

He ran out, blindly, as if from the dark, probably thinking that now he was free. Then he stopped short, seeing he was not free, but surrounded in an unknown way. He was utterly at a loss.

Back to the story. Kate Leslie (the Irish woman) is repulsed by what she sees, but then she meets General Cipriano, a pure-bred Indian, and then eventually is introduced to his friend, Don Ramon, a political leader. Both men want to revive the old pagan ways (and this is where Lawrence, obsessed with sexuality and blood, comes in with his phallic power notions), and little by little Kate is drawn under their spell.

The book will impact you. It is powerful and yes, in a pagan, rudimentary, life-force way.

In this snippet Kate begins to realize General Cipriano' primeval appeal:

In the shadowy world where men were visionless, and winds of fury rose up from the earth, Cipriano was still a power. Once you entered his mystery the scale of all things changed, and he became a living male power, undefined, and unconfined. The smallness, the limitation ceased to exist.

The Plumed Serpent is pure Lawrence. It may be a bit strong for some, but for others, perhaps the majority, it will be a welcome literary wallop.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

The Quiet MindThe Quiet Mind by John R. Harvey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love these books that nobody reviews (well, hardly anybody) or rates. There are some absolute treasures in The Quiet Mind. It is well worth picking up.

The book, however, is an uneven ride. It's written in anthology style—the majority of chapters written by the book's editor John Harvey—which is not my favorite format for a book. And some of the chapters are a little overly scientific, but it is well worth plodding through the not significant amount of that to get to the good stuff. (Because the good stuff is really good.)

In chapter five, titled "The Mind and Stress," John Harvey examines just that in a tight, understandable way.

There are basically two models of causation (of stress): The "It upsets me," and "I upset myself."

I've even come to call this the "T" factor. The "T" being the difference between "It" and "I."

So it works out to something like this: "It upsets me deeply that people litter." (That's the way I normally think anyway.) And, "I upset myself because people litter."

It's so simple and when we stop and think about that sort of thing consciously, we all say, "of course, I know that," but how many of us in our actual lives think thusly? No, most of us are winding ourselves up by how we think about things.

And Harvey examines that in depth, discussing self-talk filters and categories of self-talk. He writes of the devastating impact of repetitive self talk.

So, a friend betrays you. It hurts. It should hurt. But it's when you think of the betrayal over and over and over again that it becomes neurotic and unnecessarily emotionally painful. And some people carry these things throughout their lifetimes.

It's very clear that in order for you to suffer you have to keep the negative self-talk (and memories) going.

How about exaggerated negative self-talk. "I can't stand it!"

That's a big no-no. We can stand just about everything, and the problem is the body can't distinguish from real "horrible" situations that we legitimately "can't stand" and the overwhelming number of exaggerated thoughts about situations we can.

Harvey flows quite comfortably between eastern mysticism and straightforward psychology, and I think that's wise. Why not. If something's the truth, it's the truth. Who cares where it comes from. He writes:

Ultimately, in order to deal with the issue of false identification we must come face to face with the first klesha, ignorance of our true nature. This ignorance acts as the most fundamental cause of suffering and stress. Without knowledge of our true identity we continually become embroiled in the search to create and the struggle to maintain and protect false identities. Such identity, in turn, becomes the breeding ground for attachment and we then cling to the world of painful experience that we have created.

The book is big on meditation and could be considered a good primer for those interested in beginning to meditate. Harvey writes in a chapter called "Meditation and the Quiet Mind":

As both mind and body become quiet and we become absorbed in the object of meditation, our mental processes become simplified. We do not have the background static of past worries, future anxieties, and ongoing rumination to complicate the way we see, hear, and feel things. Consequently we tend to perceive the world directly and more realistically. When we witness we see things as they are without looking at them from the perspective of our mental and perceptual habits and free of the influence of automatic emotional reactions.

The Quiet Mind is an obscure book. Which means if you read it, you'll glean benefits that most of the world will miss—which will make you special!

I've checked. There are some "good" copies on Amazon for a penny (so four bucks after the $3.99 for s&h). Grab one and you won't be disappointed.

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Friday, July 11, 2014

Kid Psycho (a student shoots up a middle school) (flash fiction)

New vice principal Ken Hayden heard gunshots echoing down Farnsworth Middle School’s hallway. Hayden had been on the job four days. He had a wife and a young baby. And a rattling of fear rolling through his gut. A secretary and Mr. Carmoza, the school custodian, ran into his office.

Carmoza said, “It’s the Edelstein kid. He’s—” He cringed as more shots rang out. He
straightened up. His voice broke as he said, “He’s shooting kids in the cafeteria.”

Hayden thought of the old adage about never knowing what you would do if a baby fell into a
well unless a baby fell into a well. Well, a baby just fell into a well. “Do you know, Mr. Carmoza, if he’s acting alone?”

“I think so,” Carmoza said, brushing the sweat off his forehead, his eyes darting toward
the door.

“Have the police been notified?”

The secretary nodded. “I just called them.”

“All right then.” Hayden looked toward the windows. “Those will open. Mr. Carmoza, take Miss
Hargrove and get away from the school as quickly as you can. ”

The pair ran to the windows and Carmoza raised one. He helped the secretary through, then stepped one leg out, then stopped. He looked back at Hayden. “What will you do?”

Hayden smiled wryly and nodded Carmoza out the window. “Go.”

He didn’t know what he was going to do. Who knew what to do in a situation like this? Everything in him told him to run like everyone else, but just a hundred feet from him kids were probably dying. He had no weapons. It made no sense. There was nothing he was going to be able to do.

He went anyway. Out the door and carefully into the hallway. A couple of kids ran crying past him. He took a deep breath and started down the hallway. More shots—he quickened his pace. God, he needed a weapon. He wanted a machine gun. Meanwhile, the madness raged in his head. The fear tearing it apart. Yet he kept walking toward the cafeteria doors.

He knew of the Edelstein kid. Everyone had warned him. The teachers, not so laughingly, referred to him as “kid psycho.” Hayden had heard of the dysfunction at the Edelstein home, of the incidents at school, the multiple suspensions. Edelstein was the sworn enemy of the school administration. Yes, Hayden had heard about everything, everything except about him having guns.

Thinking of Julie, his wife, and Kiki, his daughter, he pulled the cafeteria doors open.

Crying, screaming, food strewn all over the long cafeteria tables and floor—and pools of blood. A
light rain was falling from the gray sky outside the cafeteria windows. Hayden surmised the scene in a split-second, his senses ferociously drawing everything in. Edelstein, in a camouflage shirt
and pants and wearing a white headband, was in the far corner, near the doors to the auditorium. He was waving what looked to be a machine pistol—the clip hanging down from it—at the kids cowering under the tables. He fired a shot.


Edelstein spun around, leveling the machine pistol at Hayden.

Hayden raised his hands and braced for a bullet. And was surprised there wasn’t one. After a
few seconds, only the sound of whimpering and crying to be heard, Hayden called out, “I’m the one you want. Now you’ve got me. Why don’t you let these kids go?”

Edelstein seemed confused by the question. Maybe he was confused by the break in the killing.

“I’m the one you want. Let them go.”

Edelstein took a quick look around, under the tables. He looked back at Hayden. “They’re all
going to hell. Just like you.” He raised the pistol at Hayden.

“What about you, Edelstein? You’re not going to hell, after what you’re doing?”

Again Edelstein seemed confused.

“These kids did nothing to you, Edelstein. Nothing. You’re the one who’s going to hell.”

Edelstein laughed. “Tell me something I don’t know.” His head jerked to the side as if he’d
been punched and the blood spurted. He was looking at Hayden as he fell.

Hayden looked quickly out the cafeteria windows, at the policeman in SWAT gear standing there, the high-powered rifle still pressed to his shoulder.

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