Where the crawdads sing – a terrific page turner

A few weeks ago, I asked my wife if I would enjoy Delia Owens novel “Where the crawdads sing.” I had given it to her for Christmas a few years ago and was looking for a good fiction read. I had bought it for her as it was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and recommended by Reese’s Book Club (that is Reese Witherspoon). She said I would and she was correct.

For those who have read the book, I look forward to your comments below. If you have not, please avoid the comments, as my wife did a great job of not telling me things I did not know yet as I read. Plus, it won’t take you long to read, as the story, main character, and setting are very intriguing. I will not give anything away here.

Owens does a great job of toggling between two time periods, one that ages with Kya, the main character, and the other one set in 1969, when a body is discovered beneath an abandoned Fire Tower on a coastal region of North Carolina. We meet Kya in 1952 when she is only six and her mother leaves her family to get away from an abusive, drinking husband. As this occurs very early in the book, her older siblings also leave as they experienced verbal and physical abuse.

They lived in the marsh of this coastal area and we begin to learn about the differences between marshes, swamps and inlets, through this girl’s eyes. This “Marsh Girl,” as she will become known as to the small town of Barkley Cove, cannot read or count above 29, but she is very resourceful, knows the area, and briefly learns a few useful things from her father during his nicer periods. She also befriends a boy older than she, named Tate (who had been friends with her closest sibling Jodie) and a Black man named Jumper (who has a coastal filling station for boats) who are helpful to her journey.

The book is told largely in first person through Kya’s eyes, but we do get the occasional thoughts of other key characters, that help shape the story. They also offer a glimpse of the bias toward Kya as evidenced by the nickname, plus why those who help her, do so.

I highly recommend this book. The story and characters will intrigue you. You will also learn things that Kya learns or be amazed at what she had gleaned by age six, about the marsh, animals, birds, and fireflies. The title will also reveal its origins along the way. And, you will also learn through Kya’s eyes how people in different classes are treated or made to feel inferior.

Let me know your thoughts. Do your best not to give too much away for those who have not read the book, but they have been forewarned.

David and Goliath – Interesting View froms Malcolm Gladwell

I have often quoted Malcolm Gladwell, who is the best-selling author of books called “Blink,” “Outliers ”  and “The Tipping Point.” His latest book is also excellent and in keeping with his style of an outside looking in perspective – “David and Goliath.” Its subtitle elaborates further on its theme – “Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.”

“David and Goliath” helps us question how often and why underdogs are and can be successful. He starts with the biblical tale of how David slew the giant infantryman, Goliath, as one of the most celebrated underdogs. But, as Gladwell points out, David was not necessarily an underdog. David was an expert with a sling and had a history of bringing down large animals who threatened livestock. A sling was one of the artilleries of the day. When King Saul wanted David to wear armor to fight Goliath, he responded that he was not used to fighting in that way and did not care to put on the armor.

Goliath was likely around 6’8″ or larger, quite the imposing figure. He was insulted by the little boy coming down to fight him, but it may have been more than that. Based on observations made by Gladwell from the scriptures about an escort helping Goliath with his weapons, Goliath’s size and other comments the giant man made, Goliath may not have been able to see very well. So, David, whose accuracy with a sling was not unusual for someone who often used one, actually had an advantage over Goliath provided he fought him his way. He would only lose that advantage if he came in too close. Once released by sling, David’s stone traveled at significant speed and with its usual accuracy to Goliath’s peril.

Gladwell uses many other examples in his book about success of perceived underdogs. He highlights several times how people compensate for shortcomings and actually position themselves for success. A good example was the high percentage of dyslexic people who have been successful – David Boies, Charles Schwab, Gary Cohn, Richard Branson, etc. He notes how each compensated for their dyslexia by being terrific listeners, great involvers, and more daring people to get ahead. They also found their way into positions which would not obligate them to spend more time with their weaknesses, but would take advantage of their talents.

Boies became a great trial lawyer, but would have been a horrible corporate lawyer. Why? Because a corporate lawyer needed to read subtleties in printed contracts and documents, while a trial lawyer did not. Being a trial lawyer took advantage of his listening skills and ability to condense a case down into its simplest terms for a jury to understand. His listening skills were paramount as he could pick up on a slight hesitation from an expert witness as a sign of uncertainty. He was renowned for using the opposition’s expert witnesses to benefit his clients. He also prepared his witnesses to use the same inflection on answers to avoid the same trap. Ironically, none of the successful dyslexics would wish their dyslexia on their children, as it makes life hard.

Gladwell’s gift is to help people challenge normative thinking and show that what people believe to be true is not necessarily so. Several times he notes where efforts to accomplish something by a larger, stronger force, has the opposite effect, actually galvanizing the underdog for future success. In one enlightening example, he discussed the Battle of Britain, where the Germans mercilessly bombed London and surrounding areas. Yet, the conclusion by some psychological experts, the Germans would have been better off by not bombing London at all. Why? Outside of those who lost their lives and those who were close to the bombing, the great many who survived each bombing actually became more resolved. The survivalist nature of “I am still here,” had a profound impact. It was the British citizens saying to the Nazis, “is that all you got?” The world owes a huge debt to the British people for standing up against great odds by themselves until others would join in. Their resolve was only bolstered by overcoming the underdog status and still be standing after the bombs were dropped.

There are numerous other examples, but I wanted to give you a taste of the book. Gladwell’s books are a great blend of observation and storytelling with some data mixed in. His observations are grounded in his experience of always being an outsider. When I have seen him interviewed, he notes how different he looks as the son of a Jamaican mother and British father who grew up in Toronto. He said we were always outsiders, so we never accepted the status quo. His books are also a quick read. It is also hard for me to pick a favorite. Start with one and, if you like it, give another one a chance. You will be better for it, as he makes you think.

 

The Booklady – Dolly Parton

When people hear the name Dolly Parton, the first thing they think is probably her talented singing, songwriting, larger than life persona or her generous spirit. The first thing is probably not the booklady, but that is also a large part of who she is. As reported on PBS Newshour earlier this week, Dolly (I cannot call her just Parton) has an organization called “Imagination Library” that has distributed over 50 million books in 1,400 communities around the world. These books are sent directly to the kids who can retrieve their personal book from the mailbox to much anticipation. Please check it out at http://www.imaginationlibrary.com/.

She started Imagination Library in her home county in Tennessee as a tribute to her Dad. She said on PBS Newshour her Dad was a smart man, but never knew how to read or write, a shameful curse he lived with. She did not want kids in her county to go without books. So, she started a program where a child would be provided 60 books, one per month for the first 5 years of their life. The first one is given to the parents at the hospital. The idea spread to other counties, then near-by and other states and now is in Canada and the UK.

Dolly said more and more the kids call her “The Booklady” and she takes a great deal of pride in being more known for books than what made her famous. She said she feels like she is accomplishing something. Dolly, you are 100% correct. I have written before about an article written by David Brooks called “32 Million Fewer Words.”The link follows: https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/32-million-fewer-words/. The premise of this article is kids in poverty have heard 32 million fewer words than kids in more flourishing homes by the time they start pre-Kindergarten at age 4. The teachers in the PBS piece noted this as well. They said they can tell which kids have parents who read to them. It is obvious with their vocabulary and grasp of new words.

Some of the parents said these books are truly a Godsend. They cannot afford these books as they are living paycheck to paycheck. What do the kids think? The news report followed a couple of young girls as they showed with great pride their book collection and read from their favorite books. They also flipped the book over and showed their name and address indicating how it was sent to them. These are their books, so they treasured them even more. And, when the journalist asked them who is Dolly Parton? “She is the booklady,” they all responded.

I made the comment about Dolly’s generous spirit above. I have seen her interviewed several times. Her kind nature exudes from her. Barbara Walters has noted Dolly is one of the most genuine people she has ever interviewed. This is prima facie evidence of that assertion. Dolly, your legacy may be even larger than your legendary career – you are The Booklady. You should take pride in what you have created. Well done.