Favorite Five Friday: Books

Favorite Five Friday is back. I hope you’ll join in the fun and share your favorite five.
Graphic of Favorite Five Friday Books
I know it’s impossible to narrow down your favorite books, but take five minutes or less and jot down what comes to mind first. I’d love to know what stirs your imagination. Together, perhaps we can create a fabulous reading list. Here are a few dozen other books I’ve enjoyed over the years (in particular order).
  1. A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini
  2. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
  3. Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. The Help, Kathryn Sackett
  5. The Plague of Doves, Louise Erdrich
  6. The Red Tent, Anita Diamant
  7. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  8. Palace Walk: The Cairo Trilogy, Naguib Mahfouz
  9. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
  10. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  11. The History of Love, Nicole Kraus
  12. A Lesson Before Dying, Ernest Gaines
  13. Native Son, Richard Wright
  14. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Kim Edwards
  15. The Girls, Lori Lasens
  16. Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortensen
  17. The Book of Bright Ideas, Sandra Kring
  18. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  19. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
  20. Angela’s Ashes, Frank McCourt
  21. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
  22. Girl with a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chavelier
  23. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
  24. The Three Junes, Julia Glass
  25. The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
  26. What is the What, Dave Eggers
  27. The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls
  28. Memoirs of a Geisha, Arthur Golden
  29. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
  30. The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan
  31. Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
  32. John Adams, David McCullough
  33. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  34. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
  35. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
  36. In Exile from the Land of Snows, John Avedon
  37. Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  38. Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, Mark Mathabane
  39. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot
  40. The Geography of Bliss, Eric Weiner
  41. A Hope in the Unseen, Ron Suskind

What’s a Mom to Do – odles?

Oh the whining…the heart-piercing whining. When it woke me up for the third time—this time at 3:34am—I could do little more than roll over and moan, “What the #@!% have we done?”

It was the same feeling that washed over me when I first became a mom. After being tortured night after night with sleep deprivation, I wondered if we’d made a huge mistake. “Can we return to sender?” I’d joke with my husband.

BUT, just like when our daughter was an infant, the only thing this whining little bundle of love had to do was look at me with his big green eyes and I instantly turned to mommy goo.

“All right, boy, I’ll take you out AGAIN,” I said as I patted his head and tried to wrangle a smidgeon of humor as playfulness consumed him in the middle of the night, his puppy teeth needling my toes and pj’s on the way to the door.

What’s a mom to do, I laughed to myself.

Some might wonder why on earth we’d add the complexity–and sleep deprivation–of a puppy to our already-full lives. The answer is simple. For one reason, and one reason only: our daughter.

Just like my mom and dad let us adopt a dog when I was a young girl and Jeffrey’s parents did the same, we’ve given Olivia the gift of a slathering, furry, bundle of unconditional love so she can grow up knowing the joys and responsibility of caring for another living being.

Labradoodle puppy "Doodles"Yep, it’s official: Doodles is now  a member of the Aaronson Family. And yes, this little furball of a Labradoodle is rocking our world.

As you might have guessed, we let Olivia name him, just like our parents let us name our dogs. Jeffrey crowned his Weimeraner with the name Harold when he was a kid, and I gave our brown mop of a poodle-ish pound mutt the name Brownie. Actually, it was far more sophisticated than that—Brownie Blue Green.

Every time I look at Doodles I think of Brownie Blue Green, and even more so my mom. No, not because my mom looked like Doodles, but because Doodles reminds me of all the things she sacrificed for me.

Let me take you back to when I was eight years old. With four kids, nothing was ever simple or calm around our house. Dad spent most waking hours trying to figure out how to make ends meet while Mom spent every minute of her day running our household, a job far more taxing than anything my dad ever did. From tackling mounds of laundry for three boys and a tomboy to grocery shopping, making school lunches, and mediating sibling disputes, she was at the center of it all. When she wasn’t applying band-aids or taking us to the ER, she was making dinner, sewing clothes for me or re-painting my room another shade of pink. I’m sure most nights she fell into bed exhausted. The fact that she would even consider adding a dog to this mix speaks volumes.

The only possible reason could have been her love for us kids.

Photo of my family when I was an infantPhoto of Green Family circa 1973

When Doodles is demanding my attention at three in the morning and causing me to bumble through the next day in sleepwalking mode and pull me away from my writing, or when he’s chewing on my hand for the eight hundredth time in a single day, or wreaking puppy havoc on our garden, I’m going to take a deep breath and remember my mom.

I’m going to remember how her love and patience gave me the gift of Brownie Blue Green.

Brownie Blue Green at the beachBrownie was a rescue dog who came with issues, but my eight-year old eyes saw nothing but sweet perfection. I adored everything about him, down to his stinky breath and matted hair. Every night he’d sleep on the end of my bed, often tracking muddy paw prints all over the delicate pink and white comforter my mom spent hours making. No doubt it drove her mad, but she never said a word, knowing I loved that dog more than I’d ever love a bedspread.

Even though Brownie tried to attack my dad every time he wore a gray suit (did I mention issues?), he was a lovable pooch. At bath time he’d always plop his scrappy-doo body next to the tub and keep me company while I washed away the day’s fun. And when it was time to practice my oboe, he’d sit patiently, his ears rising in pain as my squeaky music filled the room. Brownie Blue Green was the ultimate party animal, too. Be it slumber parties, dance parties or pool parties, somehow he always tolerated being dragged into the middle of the action.

Photo of dog, Brownie Blue GreenBrownie Blue Green slumber party

I’m sure Brownie was a handful, but several decades later I have the selective amnesia of an eight-year old. I don’t even remember having to take care of him; somehow he was magically fed and bathed and his poop was scooped. My guess is that Mom was the one who pulled yeoman’s duty taking care of this rascal. For that I’m grateful because Brownie Blue Green gave me a treasure trove of childhood memories.

Now as I celebrate my mom–and her patience, love and strength (and hopefully draw upon it)–I know it’s my turn to pass this gift on to Olivia. No doubt Mom would agree, even if life was significantly less complicated before Doodles. She’d probably even tell me to let Doodles sleep on Olivia’s bed and leave muddy paw prints. After all, what’s a mom to
Do-odles anyway?

Photo of Olivia and DoodlesLabradoodle pupy "Doodles"

Did you have a dog when you were a kid? If so, how did he or she impact your life?

Book Review: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

Steve Jobs by Walter IsaacsonI start this review by confessing I’m exhausted after reading Walter Isaacson’s behemoth authorized biography, Steve Jobs—not because of the mass of this book, but because of the continual upheaval described throughout. I never imagined when I picked it up to read I’d be left reeling, grateful when it finally ended.

Don’t get me wrong, Isaacson’s well-written book deserves kudos, especially the magnitude of his research and interviews, but I had a hard time reading anecdote after anecdote about what an ass Steve Jobs was. It was thoroughly depressing—especially since his genius and passion pump a large dose of admiration through my veins.

This 656-page book, which chronicles Jobs’ life and personality, and his passion for perfection, is based on more than forty interviews with Jobs, conducted over two years – as well as interviews with a large cast of characters—including family members, friends, adversaries, competitors and colleagues.

Isaacson, who has also written biographies about Albert Einstein and Benjamin Franklin, clearly knows how to delve into the complexities of the genius mind. Unfortunately, the picture he paints of Steve Jobs, the man who helped revolutionize personal computing, animated movies, music, phones, tablet computing and digital publishing, is not pretty.

Jobs was eccentric by any measure of the word—just flash back to his barefoot, hippy commune days or read about his extreme vegan diet or living in a house without furniture—but according to the loudest voices in this book, he was also controlling, manipulative, and down-right mean. One referred to him as an “assaholic.” Another a narcissicist. Another a bully. Many claimed he lived in a “reality distortion field.” Some wondered if he was mildly bi-polar with his extreme highs and lows and his black-and-white view of the world (Jobs thought ideas were either brilliant or “shit,” but never in between).

Whatever the case, there’s no denying the impact he made on our lives with his ability to inspire those around him, see the big picture, and pour himself into the smallest details of each product Apple created. He may not have been warm and cuddly, and he may have had an ego larger than North America, but somehow he was able to bring out the best in people. And with those exceptional people on his team, Apple and Pixar managed to develop some of the most innovative products ever created, merging art and technology.

The most interesting part of this book for me was the history; discovering the origins of many of the Apple products I’ve used over the years, and seeing how the symbiotic relationship between Jobs and Steve Wozniak evolved into the creation of the first personal computer. Being a design-lover, I was also fascinated by Apple’s design guru, Jonathon “Jony” Ive. It’s impossible not to appreciate the depth of thought he and Jobs invested in every detail of every Apple product created—from the handles and buttons to the colors and curves. The two were perfectly paired in their pursuit of exquisite design because neither settled, and both genuinely respected one another.

Then there’s the creation of iTunes and the iPod. Jobs’ passion for music and his vision of making music easily accessible (through Apple’s proprietary and extremely profitable portal and gadgets) not only resuscitated the stagnant music industry—it restructured it, and in the process also helped re-introduce greats like Bob Dylan to a whole new generation of fans.

If I had one criticism of the book, it’s that it felt lopsided toward the dramatic “dark side” of Steve Jobs. While it makes for riveting reading—almost like a Silicon Valley soap opera, with explosive boardroom drama, quirky personalities, illegitimate children, and scorned business partners—there is another side of Steve Jobs hardly mentioned in this book. That’s the side my husband, Jeffrey Aaronson, knew: one that was gracious and generous, intense, yet funny and charismatic. I wonder how many other friends of Steve Jobs weren’t interviewed for this book who had similar experiences?

Also as I read page after page, I couldn’t help feeling sorrow for the Jobs children—in a protective, motherly sort of way. Even though Jobs asked Isaacson to write this book so his kids would know him better, and even though Jobs’ wife, Laurene Powell, told Isaacson, “There are parts of (Steve’s) life and personality that are extremely messy…You shouldn’t whitewash it. He’s good at spin, but he also has a remarkable story, and I’d like to see that it’s all told truthfully,” –it’s hard to imagine this would be easy for the kids. They seem worldly and wise, but my hope is they hold off reading it until they are well into adulthood, when their grief has faded, and their canvas of memories has been colored by the paintbrush of life. Perhaps then, this raw and detailed book might feel like the gift their father meant it to be.

For the rest of us, Isaacson’s book is a gift worth reading now. Even if it could have been edited tighter and had a little more balance, it captures an important moment in our history  and reveals the passion, genius, and commitment of the man who changed our modern world (flaws and all).

Rating: 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

How about you? What do you think of the book? And what do you think about Steve Jobs?

The Answer to Name that Photographer is…

DOROTHEA LANGE

She has been called America’s greatest documentary photographer.

Photo of Dorothea Lange in 1938 with 4x5 camera

Photo of Dorothea Lange

This photo of Dorothea Lange was taken by Rondal Partridge, son of Imogen Cunningham. She is holding a Graflex 4×5 single lens reflex camera, which takes sheet film.

After being educated in photography at Columbia University in New York City, Lange moved to San Francisco and opened a successful portrait studio.

She married, had two sons, then once the Great Depression hit, she turned her lens from the studio to the streets. Her images of unemployed and homeless people captured the attention of many and led her to work for the Farm Security Administration.

In 1935 she divorced her first husband and married her second, Paul Taylor, a professor of Economics at UC Berkeley. Both were passionate about social and political issues and worked together documenting rural poverty and the exploitation of sharecroppers and migrant workers.

Dorothea Lange's photo of a Migrant motherLange’s best known photograph titled, “Migrant Mother, 1936″ captures this thirty-two year old mother whom she described as “desperate and hungry.” She recounted her conversation in a 1960 magazine article: “…She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean-to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it.”

In 1941 Lange won a Guggenheim Fellowship for excellence in photography, but when Pearl Harbor was attacked she gave up this prestigious award to photograph the forced relocation of Japanese Americans to internment camps like Manzanar. Her powerful photographs were so clearly critical of the government’s policy that the Army impounded them.

Dorothea Lange's photo of Japanese Internment

Dorothea Lange photo of a Japanese internment camp

Impounded: Dorothea Lange and the Censored Images of the Japanese American Internment– a book with about 100 never before published photos from her 800 picture archive, is available on Amazon, as are many other classics with her images.

Dorothea Lange Impounded Book CoverDorothea Lange_Heart Mind Book CoverDorothea Lange A Visual Life Book Cover

Check out some of Dorothea Lange’s work if you can, and see the raw emotion she captures in the human condition. There’s a reason she has been described as American’s best documentary photographer.