Benjamin Franklin - Walter Isaacson

This book was long. It was dang long. I've read it once before--back when I was first married--but, as usual, I had forgotten most of it. It is, just like the first time, excellent.

Benjamin Franklin is a hero of mine. I teach large swaths of his Autobiography in my American Literature class, and his relentless 'Americanness' sets the tone for much of the course. Re-reading this biography now, it's remarkable to once again see just how much of being an American we take straight from Ben's life. Our work ethic, to our bootstrap mentality, to productivity tracking and self-improvement. These are American Things, and they started with Ben.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

On the theme of American classics, I devoted a large chunk of time to re-reading this classic. It is the first time I've taught it, and it's been many years since I've read it.

Surprises? Well, it's not exactly how I remember. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that it's not how most of us remember it.

We remember the story of Huck Finn as a boy and his slave floating lazily down the Mississippi. They lay in the sun, they fish, and they generally make merriment. It's a wonderfully idyllic tale about the virtues of sloth and contentedness.

Yeah, except this isn't what happens at all. In fact, Huck Finn is--mostly--about a smart young boy repeatedly finding himself in life-threatening situations that are almost never his fault. It's a critical look at society that deals with race, morality, death, deceit, and every other unsavory circumstance under the sun. Good read.

We remember the story of Huck Finn as a boy and his slave floating lazily down the Mississippi. They lay in the sun, they fish, and they generally make merriment. It's a wonderfully idyllic tale about the virtues of sloth and contentedness.

Yeah, except this isn't what happens at all. In fact, Huck Finn is--mostly--about a smart young boy repeatedly finding himself in life-threatening situations that are almost never his fault. It's a critical look at society that deals with race, morality, death, deceit, and every other unsavory circumstance under the sun. Good read.

10% Happier - Dan Harris

This was the most impactful book I read this month. To be fair, it is also the only book I read this month that I had never read before. The premise: a bit of mindfulness can make you 10% happier.

I had no idea who Dan Harris was, but the pitch is engaging, and the book had made it's way into my queue. A recommendation from a fellow English teacher bumped it to the top.

While the book is ostensibly about meditation. In reality, it's a bit of a mixed-bag. It is a book about meditation intermingling with the personal experience of Dan Harris, a news anchor who was looking to calm his quiet mind. The most engaging parts of Happier are the parts where Harris is telling personal stories about what led him to seek mindfulness. A hyper-competitive work environment, jet-setting, war-reporting, cocaine-fueled nightlife: Harris had a busy, busy mind.

I always struggle with books like this. I think the lessons are grounded in reality. I wholeheartedly believe (hell, there's science) that daily meditation has a plethora of benefits. Still, books like this teeter on new-age, and very little sets off my bullshit detector like new age does.

Still, much of Harris' charm is his candid thoughts on similar struggles. He speaks at length about pushing past the bullshit factor, and the end advice he gives strikes a refreshing balance between real-world and new age.

My takeaway? Well, I haven't started meditating. At least, I haven't started meditating in earnest. I have taken many moments since reading Happier to pause, reflect, and follow my breath through several wanderings. Even this simple practice provides momentary stillness in a hectic mind. I see the value of meditation, but I don't see it making its way into my routine anytime soon.