Nine Steps to Success: Teens Can Make It Happen (Graham)

Stedman Graham (yes, Mr. Oprah) fancies himself wise. If you follow his step-by-step instructions, you, too, will have a successful life.

If you leave aside the ways he oversimplifies things, this supposed self-help guide ignores a pretty essential point. Not everyone, least of all the audience Graham seems to be trying to address, begins life at the same starting line. Our success, as much as some political parties would like us to believe, is NOT completely up to us.

Graham’s personal and professional qualifications for writing such a book are dubious at best. His examples are sketchy. And if you take away the ones about sports, they are pretty much absent.

The book, and its author, are extremely patronizing.


Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools (Ricci)

One of my favorite lines from the movie Ragtime is when Coalhouse Walker, Jr., having taken over the library, tells Booker T. Washington, “You speak like an angel; it’s a pity we live down here on earth.”

The connection is coming; I promise.

So often, I hear or read about great ideas for the classroom, but there is little effort to or recognition of the challenges that come with trying to put such ideas into practice. Thus, I was excited to be handed this book. I am a firm believer in Dweck’s ideas of a fixed and growth mindset, but translating these ideas into the classroom remains a challenge.

There’s not a great deal of help here, and the help that does come is mostly for younger children (a distressingly familiar concern) and, in one case, math students. (The one substantive literature-related suggestion suggests a lack of experience with literature instruction.)

So I can copy more quotes and suggest that we teach more about how the brain works, but this remains an uphill battle.

[Note to the editor: Please learn the difference between complemeant and compliment.]

Good Girls Don’t Get Fat: How Weight Obsession is Messing Up Our Girls and How We Can Help Them Thrive Despite It (Silverman)

This book is clear and to the point. Silverman has done her homework and presents it in an organized fashion. I felt known by a few of her descriptions of the Dad’s role (the Joker, the “It’s not my Department” father) and disgusted by some of the anecdotes involving teachers.

I didn’t take the quizzes, and I’m not sure how to bring this more explicitly into my parenting (or my teaching – I whiffed on my first opportunity), but I found it quite inspirational and informative. This is a book I’ll keep close at hand.

In addition, it has plenty of great resources in the back.

One quibble: the title. As neither writing lines on the blackboard nor irony are well-understood by our daughter, I deliberately kept the book face down. I didn’t want our daughter to see Good Girls Don’t Get Fat. The subtitle clears it up, but I didn’t want any confusion.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (Bourdain)

I haven’t read much foodie literature, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I just knew that this one had made quite a splash when it first arrived.

Within the first few pages, I decided that Bourdain was coming off as kind of a jerk, and my wife assured me that he’d made his fortune that way. So I got over it.

As I was reading it, something felt strangely empty about the reading experience. There were interesting bits and pieces and some surprising ones, but I wasn’t engaged by the whole.

I think the book has a kind of identity crisis. Is it meant to be an expose? A book of advice? A memoir? There’s so much going on here that there’s little time for depth. And there’s one other problem.

Bourdain can’t write.

So much energy is put into creating his voice, his persona, that little effort is put into, for example, the kind of details that could have brought this book to life. How can such a chef not describe food well? Instead, he often resorts to lists.

So, it’s interesting, too long, and going right into the re-sale pile.

Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life (Brewster, Stephenson & Beard)

What a remarkable, brave, inspiring, educational and frustrating book. If I had the means, I’d make it required reading for, well, everyone. Together, the authors are able to present complex issues in an organized and accessible manner. This book is truly part of the American story.

At times, I found myself discouraged. By the time I meet with students in high school, is it too late? Too late for what? Can we get them on a path to a successful future, however such a future is defined?

I also wished that the authors hadn’t relied so much on academics. I’d have liked to hear more from teachers.

Finally, while I accept that everyone learns differently, I don’t happen to worship at Howard Gardner’s altar.

The book leaves me wondering how I go back and forward at the same time. Trust, I am told. Relationships. Yet these things take time. And at the same time, time is passing.

The book provides tremendous resources and many interesting avenues to explore. I know it’s directed towards parents and not teachers, but we’re part of the conversation.

This is a book to keep on the desk. It is already marked up and well-loved. Time will only make it more so.

I will watch the movie soon —

Crooked River Burning (Winegardner)

I finally found it. As I joined the sentimental vultures at the almost-closed Visible Voice bookstore (, I saw the book that had been recommended to me since I knew I was moving to this area. Originally priced at $30.95, I was lucky to get this 561-page novel at 40% off.

In it, Winegardner crafts a story, both personal and political, that is a kind of love song to a city he clearly cherishes, Cleveland. The story works better at the personal level. I don’t like it when fictional characters mix with the likes of Eliot Ness and Alan Freed.

There’s an energy to much of Winegardner’s writing. He shifts perspective and tenses with a deliberate stylishness. He has a good eye for the details in the way people and the city they live in change.

the school among the ruins (Rich)

Thanks to colleagues and a few specific poems, I knew of Rich’s skill, but I’ve finally taken the time to make a deep dive. The title poem ( is amazing. It’s a perfect picture of our times.

There are other highlights in this collection, including “This Evening Let’s,” “Usonian Journals,” (“Keeping my back against unimportant walls I moved out of / range of the confusion” “White people doing and seeing no evil.” “Imagine written language that walks away from human conversation.”) “Transparencies” (“the power to hurl words is a weapon”), “Collaborations,” “Slashes,” “Dislocations: Seven Scenarios” (“look at the stars / reality’s autographs”) and “Screen Door” are all incredible. Consider this, from “Screen Door” —

A long phone call with many pauses. /
It was gesture’s code
we were used to using, we were
awkward without it

As that example demonstrates, Rich is wonderful with line breaks and caesura (the latter of which is a technique I don’t think I really appreciated until now). Here’s another example, from “Alternating Current” —

but I was there saw what you didn’t
take the care

Astonishing stuff.

Explore more:

[Wordpress seems to be resisting my efforts to match Rich’s formatting. Trust me; it’s magnificent.]