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 🙂

The Richest Season by Maryann McFadden

Title: The Richest Season
Author: Maryann McFadden
Hardcover: 326 pages
Publish Date: June 10, 2008
Publisher: Hyperion
ISBN: 9781401322700

Joanna looked down on the smooth, rolling hills of northern New Jersey, lush and green from the midsummer rains. This was where she had worked and shopped and cooked and cleaned, driven the curving roads that wound through those hills like ribbons of blacktop. She’d had a life down there, an existence that now seemed foreign to her from thousands of feet above, looking out the window of the plane. A kind of life, anyway. She’d left all those months ago, after all, because it had been so empty. And it still amazed her that she had done it- just walked away. Now with the clear vision of time and distance, she could see what a different person she’d been then. Fragile and numb. Lonely. Scared most of all because she wasn’t really certain she could survive on her own. But here she was, having crossed the threshold of a new life that made coming back to her old one a little unnerving, despite the fact she couldn’t wait to see her children.

Maryann McFadden’s The Richest Seasonis a story of journeys. First, it’s a telling of the journey of Joanna Harrison, who decides she’s had enough of being a piece of furniture in her corporate-climbing husband’s life. After accompanying him to a company banquet, she is surprised by the announcement of his promotion (and yet another move in her rootless 27 year marriage). The morning after the banquet, as he is flying to California on business, she gathers up a few things and drives off, leaving a message on his voice mail telling him it’s over. Joanna’s journey in the book is one of self-discovery: discovering she has the strength to stand on her own two, that she has hidden talents she’d never realized, and that she can indeed still feel passion, despite the years of being ignored.

The second journey is that of terminally ill Grace, for whom Joanna works as a helper of sorts doing some cooking and cleaning as well as errands and driving her to her doctor’s appointments. Grace’s journey is one of letting go and coming to terms with her life… and death. She also rediscovers a talent that she had laid aside long ago to be wife and mother, now fearing failure if she were to start again.

The third journey of The Richest Season is that of Paul Harrison, Joanna’s husband. With Joanna gone, Paul is forced to step back and take a long look at who he has become and how he has failed as a husband and father. Realizing, too late, that he had taken his wife for granted and had ignored her feelings for a long time, he wants his wife to come home. However, he has to learn that people will do what they want to do and he cannot impose his will on them. Paul comes to understand that a job title doesn’t define you as a person, and he learns that doing what you love can be just as much a “job” as the 9 to 5 grind.

There are several themes in The Richest Season: Friendship, love, conquering fear, acceptance, forgiveness, and wisdom. Through their friendship, Grace is able to give Joanna what her own alcoholic mother never could while Joanna acts as a surrogate daughter, with whom Grace can make peace with herself regarding her own feelings of failures as a mother. They learn that fear itself is worse than whatever you’re afraid of can do to you. They learn to let go of guilt, regret and the past and accept the future is a clean slate on which they can write their own life story.

I enjoyed The Richest Season, it was full of real-life happenings, it wasn’t sweet and wonderful, but contained real emotions that I could relate to. Having been through divorce, having been my mother’s support as my father went through the process of dying daily from cancer, being a mother who knows I haven’t always been the best mom I could be, knowing the longing to fill the empty spaces left by loneliness, all these feelings are incorporated in this book.

Part of me was hoping Joanna would get together with Hank, the shrimp-boat captain and loggerhead turtle savior.  Part of me was pulling for Paul to get his act together and for Joanna to work it out with him.  But part of me also hoped Joanna would realize she could do fine on her own and that she didn’t need a man.  Hey, at least all my bases were covered!  and I was write with one of them 😉

There was something that annoyed me with the writing style, though. I can’t put my finger on it, but it did hinder me from loving the book. That being said, I would give The Richest Season 4 out of 5 stars. A solid effort for McFadden’s first book. 😀