On My Nightstand: Brief reviews of books that Prizmah staff are reading
A Journey with a Pilot
by Mark Vanhoenacker
Commercial airline travel is a mundane experience. You wake up today in New York, and it is wholly unremarkable that in just a few hours you can be on the other side of the world. In fact for most, the most remarkable aspect of the flight experience is how unpleasant it is. With intrusive security screening, constant delays and a general “me first” attitude from fellow passengers, the experience of flying today isn’t any more pleasant than taking an intercity bus.
In Skyfaring, Mark Vanhoenacker describes the experience of piloting the Boeing 747 around the world, explaining the technical and logistical aspects of modern travel. But this is more than just a chronicle of a day-in-the-life or a collection of interesting anecdotes. Vanhoenacker’s prose is almost spiritual, and his captivating stories help the reader to experience the magic of flight through his eyes. Skyfaring restores our sense of wonder in an activity that has become for many routine and disenchanted.
I Will Always Write Back
by Martin Ganda, Caitlin Alifrenka
and Liz Welch
Recently when visiting the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County, I was intrigued by a bulletin board display in the middle school that spoke about how the students were inspired by this book. It tells the true story of how a pen-pal relationship that began as a school assignment ultimately changed the students’ lives. Through their six-year correspondence, Martin and Caitlin develop a strong friendship despite the incredibly different lives they lead. Martin lives in one of the poorest areas of Zimbabwe, in one room that he shares with his mother, father, three siblings and another family. Caitlin begins to realize how privileged she is to be growing up in a middle-class family in the United States. Education, which is a given in her world, is a privilege in Zimbabwe. When Martin, a top student, can no longer afford the fees to attend school, Caitlin sends him $20 from her babysitting money, which is enough money for his school and to feed his family for two weeks.
The books speaks to the juxtaposition of the lives of two adolescents who by circumstance have very different opportunities. It showcases the growth and empathy of Caitlin as she begins to recognize how fortunate she is, but rather than taking this for granted, she works to better the life of her friend. To me, however, the most important message of the book is the demonstration of how one individual can truly change someone else’s life. As Caitlin shared when speaking about the book, “One small act of kindness, you have no idea how powerful that can be, whose lives it can change, including your own.”
by Debra Condren
Women have succeeded greatly in the 21st century, but gender differences are still very visible in their domestic and professional lives. They are still expected to behave like “good girls” in everything they do. Times are changing. Women are contributing more than their share but are not getting equal attention and recognition. Women have to be “am-bitch-ous” to get what they deserve.
Condren emphasizes that women need to take themselves very seriously during their careers and lives. She encourages women to feel that they are the “real deal,” fully capable of pursuing careers while at the same time enjoying life. She offers dos and don’ts for women to succeed in their goals. She provides useful tools to help overcome fears in the professional world. She dares them to be great, and I agree with her, since God has given everyone a beautiful brain to utilize.
Having a career you enjoy will also benefit you psychologically. Women need the power, recognition and money to fuel their determination to pursue meaningful, challenging work performed with integrity.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill 1874-1965
by William Manchester (and Paul Reid)
This trilogy of books about the life and activities of Winston Churchill, occupying significant real estate at 800-plus pages per volume, provides rich and inspiring chronicles of the leadership, weaknesses and strengths of one of the most charismatic and courageous leaders the world has ever seen.
As I peruse stories about the majestic leadership and legendary eccentricities of this remarkable person, I find myself wondering, page after page, about what circumstances were necessary to exist for such a dynamic person to have existed and what needed to be true for him to thrive. Churchill’s early years in Victorian Britain are just as inspiring as his years in the national spotlight. While this box set is not a casual read, and the lengthy descriptions of early 20th century global politics are somniferous, I am often amazed by how many times the world as we know it came to the brink of disaster only to be saved by the force, will, energy and desire of one remarkable human.
Reading these tremendous books will leave you with a sense of majesty, humility and wonder for where the world has been, and hopefully a sense of imagination for where we may be heading.