A Sunday Afternoon with Alexander McCall Smith

On a recent Sunday afternoon at a public library near my home, Lynn of Matt Lynn Digital and I accompanied her mother, Eastern Mom, to see acclaimed Scottish and bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith speak. McCall Smith made the visit in support of his famous No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series of books. The recently released book The Colors of All Cattle is the nineteenth release in the series.

AM Smith 2(Alexander McCall Smith)

McCall Smith has written or contributed to more than 100 books during his prolific writing career. The afternoon included a two-hour session of moderated questions in the main auditorium of a public library. The Colors of All Cattle was for sale with autographs and pictures offered to an eager crowd following the discussion.

AM Smith 4(McCall Smith‘s new book The Colors of All Cattle).

During the conversation, the author read the closing paragraph of the book The Colors of All Cattle. The larger point of reading from this paragraph was to offer insight into his female protagonist from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series, Mma Precious Ramotswe of Gaborone, Botswana. The larger point shared through Precious Ramotswe was to anchor yourself with pride to home. Have pride like Mma Ramotswe in your home, its traditions and teachings. Let that pride pour out with distinction and honor as that place, along with a sense of it and the people there, form part of your unique identity.

Eastern Mom and Lynn, mother and first born daughter, have enjoyed the books from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series since I have known them. Eastern Mom praises the simple sense of things, sensibility, and contentment that comes with the ladies of Botswana. Lynn relates to the strength and the fastidious correctness of both Mma Ramotswe, the No. 1 lady of the detective agency, as well as her friend and assistant Mma Grace Makutsi.

AM Smith 3(Books from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series.)

In his recent Sunday afternoon visit to the Midwestern United States, Alexander McCall Smith spoke of taking inspiration from 20th century writer R.K. Narayan. Narayan is from southern India. His English prose is said to have been in a “simple and modest writing style.” Eastern Mom referenced this in her discerned sensibility of the ladies of Botswana. McCall Smith‘s “Botswana Books,” or the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series. The fictional south Indian town of Malgudi in the writing of Narayan is clearly seen in McCall Smith.

McCall Smith further praised the poetry of W.H. Auden, the sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the undervalued career of English writer Barbara Pym. McCall Smith offered Pym the high praise of considering her the Jane Austen of the second half of the twentieth century.

The Sunday afternoon that I shared with Lynn, Eastern Mom, and Alexander McCall Smith was a delightful gathering enjoyed, at minimum, by the ladies and me. We three are better for the experience, and we look forward to the last little nugget of possibility raised by McCall Smith when asked about the HBO series around the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series (TV Series 2008-2009). While the series is not likely to come back, the a musical based on the book series is possible.

Matt – Saturday, November 17, 2018

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A book called ‘The Greatest Coach Ever’

Is former UCLA basketball coach worthy of being called the greatest coach ever? The Fellowship of Christian Athletes thought so when the book The Greatest Coach Ever: Timeless Wisdom and Insights of John Wooden (The Heart of a Coach Series) was first published in 2010.

Greatest Coach Ever 2(Former UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden)

The Greatest Coach Ever does not follow the typical formulation for constructing a definition of greatest ever. Such a definition might get into qualities of successful teams on the college basketball court. (Incidentally, UCLA experienced amazing levels of successful competition if measured only the team performance).In addition to these tangible things, Coach Wooden created a bond with players and sometimes opponents, plus others, that extended well past the coach / player behavior.

Greatest Coach Ever 4(Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with John Wooden, twice)

The Greatest Coach Ever is divided into a series of forty essays by prominent athletes, coaches, and public figures who were of a Christian faith at the time of the publishing of the book. Each essay would include the following things:

  1. An introduction of the essay and contributor.
  2. A quote by John Wooden that speaks to the essay.
  3. A definition of the relationship the contributor had with Wooden, Wooden‘s wisdom, or both.
  4. A contextual rephrasing of the quote framed as Wooden‘s Wisdom.
  5. A method or methods for practicing (or applying) the wisdom call Training Time.
  6. A summation of the contributor’s biography.

Les Steckel was the president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the time Greatest Coach Ever was published. He provided the first and fortieth essay of the forty presented. Contributing luminaries included former U.S. Navy and San Antonio Spurs star David Robinson, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks executive Jerry Colangelo, Cincinnati Bengal star Anthony Muñoz, and Chicago Bear star Mike Singletary.

Greatest Coach Ever 3(John Wooden‘s Pyramid of Success)

More than one luminary discussed John Wooden‘s famed Pyramid of Success, along with specific passages or anecdotes of religious thought that Wooden lived by and demonstrated. Many spoke of Wooden acting as a coach and lifelong mentor. The image of Wooden with Kareem Abdul Jabbar above reinforces this notion. The nodules of wisdom were helpful instruction and worth the effort of reading the book.

Overall, I give The Greatest Coach Ever 3.75-stars out of five. The decision to withhold direct quotes in this review was deliberate.

Wednesday – November 14, 2018

Malcolm Gladwell and ‘The Tipping Point’

In his 2002 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference, Malcolm Gladwell tells us that “[t]he tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” I’ve been studying the notion of influence and persuasion recently, and read The Tipping Point as a means of enhancing my understanding.

The Tipping Point 3(The big idea of The Tipping Point)

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell concisely shares the message for how ideas catch on and become adopted. The notion is positively reinforced through examples of ideas like shoes that were adopted by an early set of adopters in Manhattan (the first example) followed a few examples later by skater shoes adopted out of a skater community in southern California. The examination in this book gets into how this happens along with the types of people who make this happen.

The Tipping Point 2 - Malcolm Gladwell(Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point)

Three points that Gladwell indicates as highly important include the notion, first, for the nature of the message. The message must be sticky. The message needs to be delivered in a common sense context. The message needs to be delivered to somebody who will act.

The Tipping Point 4(Delivering a message that tips)

The correctness of any given message does not guarantee the tipping, or large scale adoption, of a message. The audience for that message needs to trust the person or people delivering the message, along with the integrity of those delivering the message. The three groups that deliver messages are connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

The Tipping Point 5(The right people need to deliver the message)

Mavens are the most important in that chain as they have earned trust through being experts in a subject with an interest to help. Paul Revere with his midnight ride during the US Revolutionary War was a maven. Connectors are those loose connections of acquaintances that are less than friends that have knowledge of the critical help for a situation. Think of a connector not as the good friend who knows you are looking for a job; Think of the connector as the person in your friend’s network who knows about the job that fits your skill set. A salesmen (or salesperson) is the person in a specific context trying to help you decide to make a purchase.

Overall, the message here was a helpful one. In fact, I used this technique just recently in a Toastmasters speech where I was trying to sell my club on some public relations changes. The approach used was comfortable and readily applied. For that, I grant The Tipping Point 4.0-stars out of 5.

Matt – Saturday, November 10, 2018

Jared Diamond and ‘Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies’

Few of the books ever written win the Pulitzer PrizeJared Diamond accomplished just that feat 20-years ago with Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies in 1998. The approach taken by Diamond, a UCLA professor of geography, was to argue that geographic determinants offered some societies advantages over others in the thousands of years leading to the modern day.

Guns, Germs, and Steel - 2 - Jared Diamond(Jared Diamond wrote Guns, Germs, and Steel)

Regarding the completeness (or incompleteness) of the worldview included in the book, this individual reviewer will not be able to settle any arguments. There has been controversy over whether the view offered was too broad or simplified to have merit. Others feel that the author led folks to take a too heavily western view of world development. Still others find that Diamond focuses too little on individual human agency or cultural autonomy while focusing too much on actual geographic factors. There is likely truth in much of these lines of thinking.

The book is broken into four main sections, plus a prologue and an epilogue. The first three chapters of Guns, Germs, and Steel gets into human evolution from earlier primates to the last ice age (or Pleistocene Epoch). In chapters four through ten, Diamond reviews the move from hunter gatherer societies to food producing societies.

The next four chapters built on top of the notion that food production was a starting requirement for society growing in more specialized ways that could allow them to take advantage of other societies. The idea explored was that food production allows for more people to live in a smaller areas with more germs, better weapons, more war, literacy, and more specialized and governmental behaviors by people.

In the final five chapters before the epilogue, Diamond takes many of the broad concepts developed in the earlier chapters and applies them to specific regions of the world. New Guinea, China, and Africa are compared to the broad swath of countries referred to as Eurasia. Some readers have noted that this section seems to repeat themes brought up earlier in the book, which was helpful for me in the sense of taking some broad strokes laid down earlier in the book and applying theme to specific, more contemporary examples.

Guns, Germs, and Steel - 3(A paperback copy of Guns, Germs, and Steel)

The prologue and epilogue served to frame the larger tale into identifying four major themes to Diamond‘s overall argument. First, differences from one continent to another in wild plant and animal species that were available as starting material for domestication made for wildly different possibilities. Second, geographic barriers to migration or slower diffusion of ideas, trade, or both slowed progress in some places while freely allowing it elsewhere on the same continent.

Third, the isolation of some continents when compared with others not only limited trade or cultural exchange but made such things downright impossible. Technologies could not be adopted or shared. Lastly, continental differences in area or the overall number of people would lead to more or fewer inventors, competition between or among societies, or risk of being overtaken by neighbor societies in the absence of action.

Diamond does invite the notion of more research, growth, and expansion into other areas. He acknowledges that there are clear weaknesses to the outcome of this work, though his larger ask was to invite further critical thinking on the subject matter to better human understanding. At least, that is the takeaway that I understood. Overall, I rank Guns, Germs, and Steel 3.75-stars out-of-5.

Matt – Saturday, November 3, 2018.

Ray Bradbury and ‘A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 Stories’

The release of this review on Halloween, a macabre holiday if there ever was one, is a subject of no relevance to this review. Ray Bradbury wrote several short stories leading up to the 1953 publishing of the culturally influential novel Fahrenheit 451. In 2010, the short stories that grew into the novel, along with some other stories or novellas of a similar theme, were collected and released as A Pleasure to Burn: Fahrenheit 451 Stories.

Pleasure to Burn 2(Ray Bradbury)

A combination of sixteen short stories or novellas were collected together in A Pleasure to Burn to form a largely satisfying look into some shorter than novel length tales that inspired the book Fahrenheit 451. The Library, Bright Phoenix, The Mad Wizards of March, The Pedestrian, and Pillar of Fire all are present in A Pleasure to Burn. All work their way, in part, into the larger novel. None of the shorter works gives you an exact telling of what they were all working toward in the bigger novel. The iterative approach that the tales suggest in developing the larger whole offers interesting insight into Bradbury‘s process of writing.

Pleasure to Burn 3(Pillar of Fire, a story with theatrical elements that appeared in A Pleasure to Burn.)

I found myself happy to visit the above stories in this companion piece to Fahrenheit 451. I was even happier to get completely new material with works including The Reincarnate, Carnival of Madness, The Cricket on the Hearth, and The Smile. Something new, refreshing, and not reminiscent of the Bradbury book that I read in junior high school. These works were perhaps my favorite as far as content.

That the story were a bit dark and fantastic like Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, or somebody that wrote science fiction can be fantastic. Poe, Bierce, and a number of other worthwhile writers were discussed through the course of the storytelling accomplished in A Pleasure to Burn.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of A Pleasure to Burn. My rating is 3.5-stars out of 5.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Ryan Gosling and ‘First Man’

In watching the movie First Man (2018) in a theater last weekend, I came in with solid hopes of the familiar territory of the rising Gemini and Apollo programs that resulted in humankind landing on the moon. The story of First Man is not so much the means to the moon as it is the story of Neil Armstrong‘s adult family and NASA life from the point of being a test pilot shortly before the commencement of the Gemini program.

867A8DE5-4B95-4AD6-9E3D-CC22E9D1C877(Neil Armstrong)

The film First Man is based on the book First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong by James R. Hansen. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as Neil Armstrong. Claire Foy stars as Janet Armstrong (Shearon)Neil‘s wife throughout the movie. The two would divorce in 1994 due to factors of the emotional unavailability of Neil. The unavailability was portrayed in the movie. In the onscreen portrayal, voice was given to Janet’s desire for additional emotional engagement from her husband in their relationship and with their children.

6BAE371F-9756-4D49-AE01-3804D021B24B(Ryan Gosling, front and center, as Neil Armstrong)

An early part of the Armstrong family narrative included with the film was the emotional impact of the loss of Neil and Janet‘s daughter Karen. The emotional toll is revisited throughout the film. Some rather clear questions about how Janet and Neil cope with the loss, while how little Neil engaged with the couple’s surviving kids were evident from the portrait offered in the movie.

AA084EDD-6B5C-47C5-8E93-7817DC1730FF(Claire Foy as Janet Armstrong)

Historical facts of the flights, training, and gritty realism of being on flights were all redeeming traits of the movie. The production value of First Man, at least when compared to the blockbuster treatment given to the Apollo 13 (1995) movie, could find some folks wanting more from First Man. The subtlety with how the Apollo 1 tragedy was addressed, however, was compelling.

The narrative arc of the First Man mixed the opening flight into space by Neil Armstrong with his heartache over the loss of his daughter Karen. The imagery of leaving the bracelet of his daughter on the lunar surface seems like a Hollywood fabrication. The unspoken, yet fully understood interaction between Neil and Janet at the close of the movie spoke of the larger complexity of their relationship, even as Neil‘s largest non-familial success was fresh and at its pinnacle.

My recommendation is that fans of biopics, space movies, or Ryan Gosling should go ahead and see this movie in the theaters. Others that may be curious can.  wait for the movie to make its appearance on video, cable, streaming services, and the like. Overall, I give this movie 3.75-stars out of 5.

Matt – Thursday, October 25, 2018

John Steinbeck and ‘Cup of Gold’

Many of you know John Steinbeck for his more popular books like The PearlThe Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Travels with Charley (featured in this Matt Lynn Digital review), and Tortilla Flat. The book that initiated John Steinbeck‘s career was Steinbeck’s only foray into historical fiction. First published in 1929, Steinbeck introduced himself with Cup of Gold: A Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer, with Occasional Reference to History.

Cup of Gold 2(Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck was first published in 1929).

While intermingling actual historical figures into the novel, very little of what happens in Cup of Gold resembles actual history. In fact, the tale of the swashbuckler pirate that one might expect from a novel such as The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas (featured in this Matt Lynn Digital review) applies perhaps through strictly the first two major movements of the book.

Cup of Gold 3(An old edition of Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck).

The first part of the book introduces the reader to Henry Morgan as a young man. The young man romanticizes the buccaneer lifestyle. Eventually Morgan sets about various schemes to command a ship with idealized, and perhaps naive, senses of what the occupation of piracy is all about. From the perspective of leading men, successfully plundering, and gaining the respect of sea-faring men, we come to learn of the success of Henry Morgan.

Cup of Gold 4(More of the cover from an old edition of Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck).

The second major movement of Captain Henry Morgan was first involved gaining the trust of his crew, and then setting himself upon the way of his great adventure. We are introduced to the legendary beauty and myth of La Santa Roja (or the Red Saint). La Santa Roja is said to possess a beauty that rivals the brilliance of the sun. Captain Morgan and his crew first aims to pursue the red saint for Henry Morgan. The crew looks to see that success while simultaneously pursue the enormous known as the Cup of Gold in Panama.

Cup of Gold 5(Another old edition of Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck).

Henry Morgan’s crew land on Panama. With the discipline of professional plunderers, the men successfully sack Panama and bring La Santa Roja to Morgan. Not only is the red saint married, she rebuffs the advances of the naive, emotionally inexperienced, and solicitous Morgan. Henry Morgan pays an immense embarrassment both personally and professionally. The confident, carefree swashbuckler at this point is exchanged for the isolated, exceedingly self-introspective figure that resonates in later works by Steinbeck.

Cup of Gold 6(John Steinbeck)

The book is interesting, thematically compelling for a first novel, and thankfully distinct in subject matter from other books by Steinbeck to keep me interested. My rating for the book overall was 3.5-stars on a 5-star scale.

Matt – Monday, October 22, 2018