The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut by Paul Nowak

Title:  The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut (Based on the Life and Works of G.K. Chesterton)

Author:  Paul Nowak

Paperback:  55 pages

ISBN:  0977223493

Miscellaneous:  This book is intended to be the first of a series on “Uncle Chestnut.”

Challenges:  2009 ARC Reading Challenge 

“You see, Jack, an adventure is only an inconvenience considered the right way, and an inconvenience is an adventure considered the wrong way,” said Uncle Chestnut.  “When someone complains about the inconveniences in their life – such as hats blowing away, or drawers getting stuck, or delays at the airport – they are missing the adventure in those experiences they cannot control.  The only thing we always can control is how we react.”

“In other words, we can choose to enjoy life, with all its adventures that take place beyond our control, or we can be miserable with all the inconveniences life hands us.  It’s up to you to choose.”

-page 9

Uncle Chestnut is a great storyteller, and he enjoys telling them as much as Jack enjoys listening to them.  He makes faces, uses voices and acts out parts of the tale he’s telling.  When I read this, my mind immediately went to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Crawford (whose first name, coincidentally, was also Jack).  Mr. Crawford didn’t teach history to us, he performed it.  His face reflected the Pharaoh as he covered ancient Egypt.  I still remember when he was telling us about Israel’s crossing the Red Sea, and he was pretending to be one of the Egyptian cavalry soldiers pursuing them:  “Whoa, Nelly… you can’t drink that water!” was his command to his horse as “Nelly” was getting ready do sample the wall of water.  Mr. Crawford, like Uncle Chestnut, made the stories come alive.

The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnut isn’t a story, specifically, but rather more anecdotal.  In the book Jack, the narrator, is remembering life with his eccentric writer-uncle.  It’s full of wisdom and good sense that’s definitely lacking today.  The author, Paul Nowak, was inspired by G.K. Chesterton, an early 20th century writer who inspired C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, Mahatma Gandhi, just to name a few.  More recently, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett have referenced, credited and even created characters based on Chesterton.

As I first started reading this, I thought it was written by the actual nephew, but I quickly realized that wasn’t possible.  Then I thought maybe Nowak was updating Jack’s diary, or that Jack would turn out to be C.S. Lewis.  It wasn’t until the American Idol reference that I finally understood that this book was really a work of fiction.  Yes, Nowak based Uncle Chestnut on Chesterton and used Chesterton’s work to be as true to him as possible, but it is fiction.  It’s such a surprising little book, not at all what I was expecting.  As it is the first in what the author intends to be a series, I really hope the next book isn’t far off, because I can’t wait for my new favorite uncle to visit some more.

Some little things about the book, though…  The only fault I could really find with it other than the few typos about which Nowak warned in the accompanying letter is this:  It is too short.  I had hardly settled in before it was over.  I’m not saying it to be funny, I really mean that the length of the book actually left a negative feeling.  You know, like when you go to the ice cream shop and order a large, thinking you are really going to get a treat, and they hand you a kiddie cone?  Ultimately, somewhere down the line, it might be a good idea to consolidate books into a 200-300 or so page book.  The other off thing I had to say about it is that it’s supposed to be kinda-sorta a kids book, but I’m not really sure it fits that.  Maybe, IDK… it’s a bit Winnie-the-Pooh like in style, which was actually a very surprising thing to have captivated my kids attention.  I haven’t read this book with them yet, so maybe they would really like it, but it just seems like something the kid inside the grown-up would like.

I really do hope The Inconvenient Adventures of Uncle Chestnutby Paul Nowak catches and takes off, it’s very much a needed book and voice of wisdom and reason that could tip the balance a little more toward sanity than it’s been leaning lately.  I know my copy isn’t leaving my library, so y’all will have to get your own 🙂  I know I will re-read this one.  5 out of 5 stars, in case you didn’t catch that I liked it. 😉

By the way, make sure to check out the book’s site at http://unclechestnut.com/ .  There you can learn more about the man who inspired this book, G.K. Chesterton, as well as search quotes and sign up for the Uncle Chestnut’s quote a day newsletter.

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The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

landing_LLTitle:  The Last Lecture

Author:  Randy Pausch with Jeffrey Zaslow

Hardcover:  207 pages

ISBN:  9781401323257

Brick walls are there for a reason.  They give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

Grab your box of Kleenex because you’re gonna cry, most of the time they’ll be tears of laughter, but some of them will be from heart ache.  OH! and  Don’t forget the pen and paper, because you’ll want to take notes.  Professor Pausch is taking the stage for The Last Lecture.

Pausch covers the elephant in the room in his opening paragraphs:

I have an engineering problem.  While for the most part I’m in terrific physical shape, I have ten tumors in my liver and I  have only a few months left to live.

I am a father of three young children, and married to the woman of my dreams.  While I could easily feel sorry for myself, that wouldn’t do them, or me, any good.

So many things in this book are deeply inspirational, and that’s no surprise; he’s dying from cancer and that’s given him a chance to step back and say, “What legacy am I leaving?”  Much of them are simple concepts like, “Tell the truth, it’s not only morally right but efficient.”  Some are more profound like, “one customer-service decision over a ten-dollar salt and pepper shaker [ended] up earning Disney more than $100,000.”  But all of them are worth saving, writing down, reciting, and implementing, because Randy Pausch lived a life that saw almost all of his childhood dreams come true.

My Childhood Dreams

  • Being in zero gravity
  • Playing in the NFL
  • Authoring an article in the World Book encyclopedia
  • Being Captain Kirk
  • Winning stuffed animals
  • Being a Disney Imagineer

My mom turned me onto this book a couple weeks ago when I was telling her about whatever book I was reading, and she told me she’d just read a really great book.  Now, my mom doesn’t say a book is great very often… in fact, a lot of the time, they barely make much of a blip on her radar.  I’m not saying she’s a picky reader or critical, but when she ONE remembers a book and talks about it and TWO applies the “great” stamp to it, it’s a book guaranteed worth reading.

And I was definitely NOT disappointed.  The copy I have came from the library, but I will be buying my own copy.  I wish I could keep this one though… it smells lovely, reminiscent of the Viewfinder we played with when we were kids 🙂

Send Out Thin Mints

As part of my responsibilities, I used to be an academic reviewer.  That meant I’d have to ask other professors to read densely written research papers and review them.  It could be tedious, sleep inducing work.  So I came up with an idea.  I’d send a box of Girl Scout Thin Mints with every paper that needed reviewed.  “Thank you for agreeing to do this,” I’d write.  “The enclosed Thin Mints are your reward.  But no fair eating them until you review the paper.”

… I’ve found Thin Mints are a great communication tool.  THey’re also a sweet reward for a job well done.

Okay, so… Publishers and authors:  I now expect Thin Mints with each book you’re wanting reviewed 😀  It was worth a try!  Chapter 55 says, “Sometimes, all you have to do is ask.

Long and short of it:  The Last Lecture is full of common sense, community sense, wisdom that is worth reading and re-reading.  It’d make a great belated Father’s Day present, or a gift to anyone, including yourself.  I give The Last Lecture  by Randy Pausch 5 out of 5 stars.

You can watch Randy’s Last Lecture, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” which was the genesis of this book, it’s an hour and 16 minutes long and worth it 🙂