Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Life on the Mississippi by Rinker Buck

Life on the Mississippi by Rinker Buck is an excellent travelogue of sorts, in the same vein of his book The Oregon Trail. In this latest effort, Buck chronicles a 2,000 trip down the Ohio and then into the Mississippi River in a wooden flatboat, the Patience. It's a great read about the people and history of the region joined with the experience Buck had traveling down the rivers.

Flatboats were a common thing in the early 1800s and Buck takes one from the town of Elizabeth, just above Pittsburgh, to New Orleans. He starts out a neophyte and learns how to boat on the river along with the huge commercial vessels, particularly the long barge strings above New Orleans. The book is a great story about an idea that's seen through, and Buck makes the comment that a river journey is an exploration of character. He at times travelled solo and at times with others and he and his crew solve problems along they way. They navigate the rivers, deal with pop-up storms that emerge without warning, force a beaching and then get back in the water, and find fuel when there's many stretches with none by the water. 

Buck also writes about the communities, places like New Madrid, Missouri and Natchez, Mississippi. There were such interesting characters he met along the way, "river rats" who grew up on the Ohio or Mississippi. The rivers, especially the Mississippi, are commercial traffic heavy and to avoid a collision, he deliberated beached the Patience and  relied on the wash from a tugboat wake to get him off the sandbar. 

There's a lot about how the history Buck sees isn't always in the line with the idealized history we like to think of. He chronicles the slave trade and Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the devastating impact it had on lives. Buck also writes about his mother, who passed away not much before he started the trip, and how he would drop her off at the supermarket once weekly for her to do her shopping for an hour. It's a personal and interesting story that's told really well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama

The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama is a solid follow up to her book Becoming from 2018. The first is more of an autobiography and this recent effort, subtitled Overcoming in Uncertain Times, notes that it contains habits, practices, attitudes, and beliefs; a series of reflection on things Obama feels to be important and leans on in her life. It's excellent and the chapters that stood out to me as particularly noteworthy are the following:

The Power of Small - Try not to get overwhelmed with the enormity of situations, focus on little things. The example given is knitting, how in doing it, Obama is able to settle an anxious mind. She's putting small next to big. Do something where you can claim a small victory and feel a sense of completion. Go from "it's all too much" to "I've got this." 

Starting Kind - Obama tells the story of her friend who each morning looks at himself in the mirror and says "Heeey, Buddy!" The idea is to take a supportive approach to a day, and it can be extrapolated out to a situation or even a life. She also notes that when a kid walks into a room, they're looking to adults to see if their faces light up when they see them. While we should do that for kids, we can also do that for ourselves. 

Am I seen? - It's hard to go through life feeling different than others, like you don't belong where you are. She notes that it's hard to dream about what we can't see. When you're an "only" in a setting, the only person who is like you, it's hard to feel like you belong. 

My kitchen table - It's important to try to make connections with other people, many of us are lonely. People are missing the sense of belonging with other people. We have to open ourselves up and take a risk to connect with others. She notes telling her daughters "don't do life alone." 

Meet my mom - There's great content in the chapter that stems from Obama's mother, with various maxims she's learned about parenting: 1. Teach your kids to wake themselves up. 2. It isn't about you. Good parents are always working to put themselves out of business. 3. Know what's truly precious. 4. Parent the child you've got. 5. Come home. We will always like you here. 

The armor we wear - Preparation can be an armor. Preparedness becomes a hedge against panic. And panic is what will lead you to disaster. There's also armor which insulates yourself from situations and can be exhausting to keep up, as it prevents you from being your true self. 

Going high - We can consciously choose to lift the level of discourse in a situation, to not let ourselves be pulled down in the muck with others who want us there. Another way to describe it is "tell the truth, do your best by others, keep perspective, stay tough." Obama notes that going high is about doing what it takes to make your work count and your voice heard, "despite the despites."

Saturday, December 03, 2022

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White was first published in 1959 and over 10 million copies have been sold of this short book with rules of writing. Strunk was a professor of White's and self-published The Elements of Style in 1919. White forty years later expanded on Strunk's rules for the new book.

It's got a lot in less than 90 pages, with the things that stood out noted below:

Form the possessive singular of nouns by adding 's - this is true even if the name ends in s, so "Charles's friend" is correct.

To form the contraction for "it is," write "it's."

In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last - this is a serial, or Oxford, comma.

Do not join independent clauses with a comma - if clauses are grammatically complete, they should be separated by either a semicolon or period. 

Use the active voice. Put statements in positive form.

Use definite, specific, concrete language. Omit needless words. Be clear.

The number of the subject determines the number of the verb - don't combine singular and plural.

A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject.

Express coordinate ideas in similar form - this is the principle of parallel construction.

Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Avoid split infinitives - write "to inquire diligently" rather than "to diligently inquire."

Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs (verbs that have "ly" added to the end).