An American Story

Sometimes the best way to quash fear is to show the outcome. While this doesn’t always seem possible in the moment, the human experience is both narrow and vast enough to identify parallels throughout history. In “They Were Immigrants: The Lasting Legacy of my Syrian Grandparents,” Samuel J. Davis does just that and more.

Davis lays out a genuine story of two immigrant families which resulted in his and his family’s existence, prosperity, and love. He does so unflinchingly by revealing both the legends of early generations that were triumphantly shared at the dinner table and the hidden stories that spoke of imperfections.

In telling the story, Davis explicitly states the relevance of this type of story to America today. A reader finds themselves understanding how this very moment was the necessary one for self and family reflection of both a personal past and one that is shared with nearly all Americans.

The cadence is much like a series of short stories that are connected, but allow the reader to hop around to see how particular stories carry through. While this story has wide appeal, audiences who would most find use in this book would be:

  • high school teachers of American history or immigration curriculum
  • college professors or college students focused on personal narrative
  • families of early 20th immigrants seeking a way to start a conversation about their own past

My own copy of this book has been shared with a Little Free Library in the Midwest US. This review copy was self-paid and I received no benefit for this review. You may also be interested in my previous review of a similar family personal account with broad relevance.

Fiction, Non-Fiction

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper by Heather Corbally Bryant from Ardent Writer Press is a genuine genre-twisting novel. While technically, “creative non-fiction,” there’s a bit of history, screenwriting, crime fiction, spy novel, journalism, and literary fiction. Bryant’s eloquent, efficient, and effective hand feels like the necessary tool to tell the story of her grandmother, Irene Corbally Kuhn.

Bryant writes the character of her grandmother as a high-witted woman of the 1920-40s Shanghai Bund. The dialogue between Irene, her husband, and the close knit group of Western journalists in a transitioning Shanghai sound straight out of early 20th century film. It’s not until the end (don’t worry, no spoilers) where we see long passages of actual letters sent by the characters within the story that we see she stayed ever so true to their distinctly fluent style.

Students of modern Chinese history will appreciate the historical accuracy of this very personal tale of love, international intrigue, and loss in an esoteric time and place in China. The story is determinedly and appropriately written from the vantage points of an elite group of western journalists in a part of China that catered to creating a western dream in an Asian country. Due to this specific perspective of the characters, a reader will not find an awareness outside of the western life of the international concession present in the text. This element can be a bit jarring and possibly could have been avoided with a few fictional digressions into the lives of the Chinese that in the existing text briefly enter view.

But the tale is a beautiful ode to her grandmother told based on the correspondences she received and other historical records. Wrestling with a fast paced job, a husband that is loved and loving but visibly complicated, and starting a family, Irene approaches them all with journalistic eye.

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper is a moving read for fans of historical fiction focused on the Anglo-American and European experience in Asia or those with an interest stories of strong women working within the times they were handed.

advice, business

Pacing for Growth

Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success is a business leadership advice book from a woman with 3 decades of business consulting experience. It presents the benefits of and provides learning strategies for, what it terms, the “intelligent restraint” model. The well-written, easily consumed prose of Alison Eyring makes it worth a read, whether you run a team, business, or are just curious about your own personal growth.

Her advice model is based on evidence-driven methods culled from years long studies with a variety of companies. But it shines most in readability through the use of Eyring’s own endurance running journey as a metaphor throughout. It excels over similar business and leadership books in its clear use of a strong research design and execution for developing the strategies it presents.

The model of “intelligent restraint” is built on an understanding of one’s own capacity and capabilities and leveraging both through exertion and restraint. This particular delivery of the model is laid out with a combination of personal experience, relevant company stories, bullet summaries, and self-reflection questions and exercises. It is ideal for both a corporate or organizational training. It could also be perfect for a book club focused on leadership or self-help books.

The model described is clearly one that could be fleshed out even more beautifully in a longer, more novel-like approach. However, this 180 page version works well.

I received my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

advice, Non-Fiction

You Can Jump If You Want To

Watching my niece’s gymnastics competition – I use the term “competition” loosely considering I changed her diaper less than 3 years ago – I’m struck by the difference in the little girls’ faces as they jump from the balance beam. They are all the same age. They all have has similar classes. Yet, there is a hesitation and almost fear on the faces of some, while others leap without much of a glance at the ground. I was reminded of these girls while reading “When to Jump” by Mike Lewis.

Lewis has built a sincere compilation of both his own career change and the stories of over 40 other individuals who take that step into the unsure world of a new career. He organizes it in a way that lays out how to plan one’s own career move. The variety of starting points and landing points is vast. Each individual’s story is short and to the point, making this an easy to read and widely applicable volume. If you are considering a career change and want a way to organize the chaos that decision may bring there is plenty here you will find useful.

The only flaw to this collection is the sampling bias for the stories. Like many business or self-help books of it’s kind, the advice is taken from individuals who succeeded in the observed changed. There isn’t a separate sample of individuals who did the same or similar and wished they hadn’t or had to go back to their old ways even if they wished they didn’t. I raise this critique simply to say the book offers great encouragement for those who want to plan a “jump.” But it does little to remind readers of the adage wherever you go, there you are.” Like many of the 40+ individuals detailed in the collection and the girls who leaped headstrong into their gymnastics dismount, who you are will determine a lot about how you view your landing.

I whole-heartedly recommend this volume to anyone considering a career jump. It certainly provides a well-considered path to doing that jump wisely.

I received an advanced copy of this book through a LibraryThing giveaway. A copy of this review is available on Amazon (once the book is available for Sale), Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been placed in a little free library for others to enjoy.

Non-Fiction, Science

A Lunchtime Read: Simply Complexity is Complex Enough

Sitting down to my sad worktime lunch of yesterday’s uneaten dinner, I decide to read this Neil Johnson book which I received for free from an agent based modeling event. Simply Complexity is meant to break down Complexity Theory for the layman or so it’s author states. With such a setup I ask “How long until the author of this book says ‘butterfly effect’?” Since it is a sad worktime lunch, I end up answering myself “Well, if it’s anywhere in the first 5 pages I’m closing the book.”

To my pleasant surprise, I do not encounter the words “butterfly effect” anywhere. Instead, I am taken on a tour of all that is considered complexity studies…introductory language on how phenomena emerge from individual interactions, to the importance of feedback. Johnson presents these complex concepts in a straightforward fashion with simple examples that he carries through the book. The (dare I say it) complexity of what he presents increases to a point that it could serve as an introductory textbook on the topic in a college level course.

Some of the later material in the book – concepts such as Power Laws can’t really be written in a way that those averse to equations will want to read. But for those who are willing to stick them out the explanation Johnson provides is one of the easiest to understand that I’ve found.

Considering the original publication date of this book was 2007 and the material regularly considers financial examples. It’s a shame it wasn’t read more widely in its original format. According to the author’s own description, the types of market phenomena would have been accessibly predicted. That said, predicting a crash isn’t necessarily the same as effectively avoiding one. Ten years on, the book continues to serve as an effective entry point into complexity studies.

This review may be found online at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. A paperback copy of the book has also been placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.