“Chasing Greatness” by Mike Roberts

My husband will tell you that it’s easy to observe when I’m obsessed with something: I start my own total immersion program, usually by reading a stack of books as tall as the Frankfurt “tv tower” that used to be visible from our balcony back home. My most current obsession, and one that doesn’t seem to want to let up, is learning about teaching. Weird? Well, I am lucky enough to co-teach two biology classes at my current school, and after I finish CELTA certification this summer, I hope to have my own EFL classroom soon. In my head, that translates to “there’s no time like today” to figure out how to be the best instructor possible.

“Chasing Greatness” would not have been picked up by my book radar, had it not been recommended in a newsletter I subscribe to (thank you, newsletter!). The title alone is not that descriptive, where content is concerned, and the cover features a road and a footprint. Author Mike Roberts cleverly finds parallels between teaching and running a marathon (say what?). Although I am not ambitious enough to go long distance, I used to enjoy running when I had the luxury of doing it on beautiful forest paths, which are somewhat lacking here in fields-in-a-square Indiana, so I understand the attraction of the metaphor. Incidentally, it not only works well, but is also presented in a very readable, interesting format.

There are 26.2 chapters (really), each with a title that relates equally to marathon training and teaching, like “It Takes Planning”, “At Some Point, You’ll Want to Quit”, and “People Won’t Understand Why You Do It”. In almost every chapter but one, you will find an introduction that has to do with running, an interview with a marathon veteran, a part that goes into teaching, and an interview with a teacher. In between, you will find questions to ponder and things you can implement in your classroom tomorrow. Each part has a running-related title like Warm-Up, Aid Station, or Cool Down.

People who have been teaching for a very long time might complain that there’s nothing new in this book. I’ve only been at it for a year, so I can’t judge if that’s true or not; personally, I found the book a fast read with lots of great ideas, and I really appreciated the teacher profiles! You may shy away if you’re not athletically inclined or find the color choices for the cover too male-oriented, but please don’t let that keep you from reading this book if you’re looking for inspiration and/or ways to improve your and your students’ time spent in the classroom.

“Chasing Greatness” is published by Times 10 Publications. I actually bought my own copy, nobody is expecting me to review it, and all opinions are totally my own. Read this!

“Challenge Accepted!” by Celeste Barber

In the life of every social media celebrity, there comes a moment when someone finds it a great and original idea to have that celebrity put out an autobiography. If one is extremely lucky, the outcome is funny, witty, or at least interesting. Most of the time, luck has other places to be, and the reader is stuck with something that could best be described as “meh”.

For quite a while, I was a fan of Celeste Barber’s Facebook page, on which she regularly posts photos of herself spoofing outlandishly ridiculous photos of outlandishly photoshopped models in ridiculously outlandish poses. Of course, Ms. Barber looks nothing like an undernourished, photoshopped model, but she’s doing this primarily for fun (often with the assistance of her husband, who is best known by his handle #hothusband), and that’s why fans laugh with her and love her.

When the book was first announced, bearing the same title as the most famous hashtag on the page, #challengeaccepted, I was rather hoping to get a kind of “Best Of” collection of photos, perhaps some outtakes, perhaps some anecdotes. Instead, I got a collection of swearword-peppered, stream-of-consciousness stories that somehow apparently make up enough content to be sold as a biography these days.

Now, generally speaking, cussing doesn’t disturb me much. One of my favorite cookbooks is Thug Kitchen, after all. I just think that overusing language like that is like those drawn-out car chases in movies: mainly filler.

Ms. Barber opens with a reality-lit-type recollection of her son’s birth*. I am one of those seemingly rare women who don’t particularly care to be regaled with blood-and-goop-stained vignettes of childbirth. A couple of chapters later, we delve into Ms. Barber’s school years. I don’t really think it’s funny or cool or inspirational to tell young people who might be reading this book that being bullied isn’t a big deal, because, well, the author was able to laugh it off and now feels like a stronger person for it. And just in case some of that even later stuff in the book was brought forth by some subconscious pang of guilt about writing insensitive remarks like that, devoting an entire intermission to proclaiming how much you love the gay community doesn’t vindicate anyone. Sorry.

It’s a sign of our times that I feel it necessary to sidetrack to tell you that I am not implying that dedicating a chapter to your love of your friends and fans is somehow wrong. It is, like a lot of things in this book, unnecessary. Ms. Barber talks early on about one of her close friends who happens to be gay, and what she says about him should make her feelings clear to any but the dullest of readers. There, glad we’re past that.

Anyway, the bullying incident really rubbed me the wrong way, and I very nearly decided not to finish the book at all. I did, though, and it wasn’t complete rubbish. It also wasn’t particularly funny, or witty, or inspiring, and I really don’t see the point to it. Somehow it has an odd tang of being aimed directly and primarily at an American audience. What version do the Aussies get? Or do they already know everything there is to know about Celeste Barber?

My take on “Challenge Accepted!” is this: if you love her because of her self-deprecating humor and the way she casually skewers advertising, decide if you primarily do so because of her photos. If the answer is yes, this is a challenge you do not need to accept. But if you’re curious about what goes on in the life of an Instagram celeb who is more like you than most, go for it.

“Challenge Accepted!” is published by Amazon Publishing. I received an ARC via Netgalley in exchange for a review, although I’m sure someone is regretting that decision right now. All opinions are, unless otherwise stated, my own.

*if there is no such category as reality-lit, someone’s been snoozing at the helm.challenge

Review: “Divorcing Mom” by Melissa Knox

With this and my last review,  I seem to be on a bit of a mental health track, but I assure you it’s complete coincidence. I was sucked in by the promise that “Divorcing Mom” would be humorous, and while it is very well written and engaging, you won’t find much to laugh about.

Melissa is fourteen when she is first sent to Dr. Sternbach, her mother’s psychiatrist. This is New York, don’t you know, and for decades (and perhaps still) it was stereotypical that at some point, as a New Yorker, you would go to therapy. If there was no discernible reason, the shrink would surely find something wrong with you. What is wrong with Melissa is her parents’ sham of a marriage, orchestrated and dominated by “Aunt Berkeley”, her father’s therapist and muse. Dad is an abusive alcoholic, mom is an overly naive narcissist with masochistic tendencies. Melissa’s younger brother escapes from this setting by embarking on a course of substance abuse and truancy early on. All Melissa wants to do is dance, but soon she is informed by Dr. Sternbach that dance merely serves as a replacement for the sex she so obviously craves and as an outlet for her need for attention.

Through high school, college and beyond, Sternbach directs every aspect of Melissa’s life, dangling her pathetic mother in front of her like a Virgin Mary to be emulated. Her only confidante is her cousin Ceci. But when adult Melissa learns of her own mother’s abuse at the hands of her grandfather, this fragile alliance proves to be built on shaky ground.

I’m not sure why the book stuck with the title “Divorcing Mom” since every effort Melissa makes to do so is thwarted quickly and effectively by her psychiatrist. Only well into her grown years can she finally emancipate herself and find the distance she needs to maintain her relationship and her sanity.

“Divorcing Mom” is a shocking insight into a different kind of abuse, perpetrated by a professional who seems to care very little about his patients’ well-being, as long as he can be in total control. If psychology and mental health are of interest to you, I recommend you give this a read.

“Divorcing Mom” is published by Cynren Press. I received an ARC via Netgalley. All opinions are entirely my own.

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