Tag Archives: non-fiction

Sexing it Up on the Moon

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in the park on a warm (but thankfully not sweltering) day, listening to Ben Mezrich, the author of “The Accidental Billionaires” and “Bringing Down the House”, talk about his new book “Sex on the Moon”.  Mr. Mezrich, first of all, is an incredibly engaging speaker and a pleasure to listen to – a man with 101 stories. He recounted the people he’s met, his writing process, and the crazy people who contact him, wanting him to tell their story.  What an interesting life he must lead.

So back to the task at hand. “Sex on the Moon”.  This book, sadly for some, is not really about going to the moon or about having sex on the moon – at least in the literal sense.  The book is, however, about a smart young man named Thad who steals  a 600 pound safe, filled with moon rocks, out of a secure NASA facility.  Why, you may ask? Why for love, of course.

So let me start by saying that the book was definitely well-written.  Unfortunately, however, I didn’t find the premise all that engaging.  It’s not that the story wasn’t interesting.  It was more that the story didn’t need a whole book.  It felt like an amusing anecdote you’d tell a friend.  “Hey, did you hear about that punk kid who stole those moon rocks and thought he wasn’t going to get caught? Seriously, what was he thinking?”  Or maybe a corny rom com.  “Thad worked for NASA.  He thought space was his one and only love, but then he  met… Rebecca.” Okay. So it wasn’t really like that, but you know what I mean.

But amazingly, Thad does come across as a somewhat likable character.  Sure he’s a bit arrogant, a bit swaggering.  But somehow you find a soft spot in your heart for him, for an idealistic kid who did something stupid for love and paid the price, giving up a big chunk of his life to do so.  And I have to say I also somewhat admire the kid – he was able to take a bad situation and approach it with grace, taking a bad situation and making it, well, a positive one.

Work Hard, Be Nice, and Then Work Harder

Work Hard. Be Nice. After reading Jay Mathews’s book “Work Hard, Be Nice” I feel truly inspired.  And also amazed.  Mr. Mathews takes a stunning look at the founding of KIPP and its charismatic leaders Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg.  It really makes me appreciate all the hard work and dedication it takes to not only be a good teacher, but also to reform the education system.

On the other hand, it also makes me a bit…wistful and sad.  If those are the right words.  Especially when it comes to salaries.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t believe monetary compensation is everything.  In fact, far from it.  But the salaries being offered to teachers are abominable.  These are the people who spend 7-8 hours a day (more in the case of KIPP teachers) with your kids.  They provide your kids with the tools they need to succeed in the future, to be productive members of society and to make a difference in the world, and, on a more personal level, to provide a better life for their kids.  And what do we pay them? Barely enough money to survive.  It’s no surprise that many of the best and the brightest don’t go into teaching, despite the challenging work environment and ability to truly make a difference – two characteristics that I think many people value in a job.  Why should they work long hours and be paid pennies, when they can work long hours and get paid like an investment banker?

But I stray from the point.  I highly recommend this book.  I feel like you really get a chance to see what it takes to reform education – the hard work and the passion.  These two men did everything – from negotiating classroom space, to learning from experienced teachers, to knocking on doors to recruit for their school.  And their commitment didn’t stop there.  They extended the school day and even provided their students with a direct line to their teachers, fielding calls from students late into the night when they needed homework help.  That’s dedication.  I think one of my favorite anecdotes, was a class trip to Washington D.C.  Filled with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a ridiculously large number of kids per room, they were able to provide their students with a truly memorable and life changing experience – to teach them not from a classroom but from real life.

Although the book focuses on the KIPP schools, I think that it also exemplifies the risks, setbacks and journey anyone needs to take to truly succeed in life.   With any project, there will be times when you just don’t want to go on, when it just doesn’t seem worth it anymore.  It’s how you deal with these setbacks that truly defines who you are.

The Trials and Tribulations of a Reluctant Chef

After reading the book “Blood, Bones & Butter” by Gabrielle Hamilton I’ll be honest – I had mixed feelings.  On one hand, I really admire her.  It takes a lot of guts, hard work, and determination to build your own restaurant from the ground up.  It is no small feat and I really respect her for it.  On the other hand, I have a really hard time relating to her story.  I think a lot of it relates to her youth- all the drugs, stealing, and vagrancy.  It’s hard for me to reconcile the fact that she basically wandered around aimlessly and grew up to be a success.  I’m not saying that she doesn’t deserve her success – she really, really does. But her case is one in a million.   A lot of people who have her childhood don’t grow up to be successes  – a lot of them end up on the street.  A lot of these people are the same people that end up on social programs that are paid for by people who took a more traditional route, studying hard and working hard.

And to be honest, I am a bit jealous.  Jealous of her figuring out what she wants to do and pursuing it so wholeheartedly.  I think most people spend their lives working in jobs that they like but aren’t their passion, their true calling.  I know I do.  I like my work, but I like other things at least equally well if not more.  I could not spend 18 hours a day pouring my life and soul into my job and still be happy, the way Ms. Hamilton does with her restaurant.  I am also jealous of her guts and her fighter instinct.  Being abandoned at such a young age to essentially fend for yourself can’t be easy for anyone.   And she does what it takes to survive.  This same drive and fighter instinct is what drives her to be the success she is today.  And she realizes her “bad-assness”, although I’m not sure I agree with how she portrays it.

“At thirteen, when I was stealing cars and smoking cigarettes I wanted to be badass.  I was cultivating badass.  At sixteen, coked out of my head and  slinging chili at the Lone Star Cafe , I was the understudy to badass, and I knew all her lines and cues.  At twenty-five, blow-torching my way through warehouse catering kitchens, cranking out back-to-back doubles, and napping in between on the office floor with my head on a pile of aprons and checked pants, I was authentically badass.” (P. 200).  I don’t know that I would paint her childhood and young adult exploits as badass.  Or cultivating badass.  In fact I think it was all a bit stupid and I feel weird about her glorifying that type of behavior.  I think what made her badass all those years was her ability to survive.  To figure out how to feed herself, take care of herself, lay the foundations to be something in her future life.  Not the stealing. Not the smoking. Not the drugs.

I think one of my favorite parts of the book is her experience as a panelist for a conference called “Where Are the Women?”  I think it brings to light an issue that you don’t only see in the kitchen, but also in society as a whole.  Women are rarely at the top.  Sure, women are in the workforce.  We hold jobs, do well, and are productive members of society.  But when you look at the numbers – where are the women CEOs? The women chefs? The women in positions of power? “Women have self-selected out of the chef life, which can grind you to a powder…”(206).  It’s much the same way in industry, where women are often not the CEOs, partially because we give birth and are often the ones to raise the kids – the ones expected to raise the kids. And because it’s a boy’s club up there at the top.  Being at the top doesn’t really cater to people who can’t eat, breathe, and sleep their job.  And this makes me sad because I do believe that women can fulfill these roles just as well as men.  There are many women who are driven to be in these positions of power but keep bumping up against the glass ceiling, apparently prevalent in all industries.  And the advice is still the same, work hard – as hard if not harder than men – and you’ll succeed.  Would I recommend this book? Yes.  Her life is definitely an interesting one.