Category Archives: Mmmm …. books

Stressed or not, a mom’s just gotta read

Busy as I am, I always find time for books.  Here are some of the highlights of the last two months (or however long it’s been since I did my last book pile post?).


The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book.  First of all, how gorgeous is this cover?   I just want to eat it up. If the cover hadn’t hooked me, the author sure would; this book is by Vinita Hampton Wright, my editor and friend, whose books on spirituality are always edifying.  And the subject is the spirituality of St. Teresa of Avila, the fascinating Spanish saint who was a steely reformer with a mystic side.  This wonderful little book offers a biography of the saint, as well as information about her spiritual influences, but the core of the book is a week of morning and evening prayers centered around topics close to St. Teresa’s heart (“God With Us,” “Always Humility,” “Patience in Our Prayer.”)  Each day offers “prayer liturgies” made up of St. Teresa’s own writings, as well as Gospel readings, psalms, a prayer by a saint whom Teresa herself would likely have known, all arranged around the topic for the day.  It’s a wonderful approach that highlights the saint’s unique spirituality while still showing how her prayers centered on universal Christian themes.  (Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.)


There are not a lot of authors whose books I’ll buy in hardcover, but Kate Morton happens to be one of them.  The Lake House has many of the same delicious ingredients as her other novels: an evocative English setting, a fluid movement between past and present, a mystery that unfolds gradually, a wonderful sense of atmosphere.  This one, interestingly, took me a little longer to get into than her others — why, I’m not sure — but once it got spinning I was hooked, and it reached a most satisfying conclusion.   It’s a great book for that rainy or snowy weekend where you just want to block out the world and read.


Heather King is a terrific writer, and her new book — Stripped: At the Intersection of Cancer, Culture, and Christ – is a darn good read.  She writes about her experience navigating the terrifying diagnosis of breast cancer (as well as how it fits with her Catholic spirituality) with laser-like insight and humor.  This is a book that raises so many big questions about suffering and healing and hope, and as someone who (like many of us) has seen friends and family members dealing with cancer, I appreciated King’s frankness and vulnerability.   Whether or not cancer is currently a part of your life or the life of someone you love, this book is worth reading for the way that King wrestles with the most essential questions about our bodies and our souls.


The decorative endpapers for Vain Shadow (all Persephone books have a plain gray cover and unique endpapers … just one of the things that makes this publisher so special.)

Persephone Books, the marvelous British publishing house that revives “forgotten classics,” has another winner with the book Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey.  First published in  1963, it tells the story of a family gathered at an English country home for the death of the patriarch.  Following the old man’s demise, the family dynamics begin to reveal themselves, and the various layers of conflict in the family make for engrossing reading.  It’s not a book with a lot of action, but it is a book with well-drawn characters, flashes of dark humor, and utterly realistic human drama, if you like that sort of thing (and I sure do).


Did you know that Christopher Plummer loathed the part of Captain von Trapp?  Were you aware that a massive part of the movie’s success belongs to the  screenwriter, Ernest Lehman?  Did you know that the reason the Mother Abbess has her back to Maria when she sings “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” is because the director felt it would be too corny for her to be singing it right in Maria’s face?  (good call).  All this and more is revealed in the book   The Sound of Music Story, which is extraordinarily detailed and recommended for the movie’s diehard fans.  I guess I can come clean here and admit that I’m one of them.

What are you reading?  Do tell!

Coming spring of next year … a new book!


Think back over the last twenty-four hours.  Where and how did you encounter God’s goodness?

Odds are good your answer sounds something like this:

*I saw God in the morning sunrise
*I heard God in the voices of my kids at play
*I smelled God in the honeysuckle in the neighbor’s yard
*I touched God in the healing warmth of a friend’s hug
*I tasted God in that cup of dark delicious coffee

The last few years, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the role that the senses play in my spiritual life.  I’ve realized that my daily experiences of God end up reading a lot like the list above.  I’ve learned that faith is not purely an abstract, intellectual thing; it’s a full-body experience.  I’ve discovered that God reaches out to us through the language we know best: the language of the senses.  And I’ve realized that my Catholic faith, with all its stained glass and rosaries and music and smells and bells, has me by the heart for precisely this reason.

And I turned all of these thoughts into a book!  It’s called Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses, and it will be published next spring by Loyola Press (insert happy dance here).

I’m really excited about this book.  It was hugely rewarding to write, and I hope it’ll be just as rewarding to read.  It’s divided into five sections, one for each sense, and it looks at the various ways that God speaks to us through that sense.  Some are everyday, universal experiences, like hearing a friend’s voice or holding a loved one; some are specifically Catholic, like praying with a rosary or partaking of the Eucharist. There are prayer exercises for each chapter, too, if you’re the praying type (and if you’re reading this blog, I have a feeling you are.)

May 1st is the official publication date, but it’s already on Amazon  and on Goodreads (if you want to add it to your Want-to-Read list, that would be more than okay by me).  And it has a hot-off-the-presses cover, which I just love.  (I joked with the Loyola folks that they should have a cover which incorporates the five senses — a musical chip, a scratch-n-sniff patch, a fuzzy spot à la Pat the Bunny – but the cover above isn’t bad as an alternative.)

So that’s my big news!  I can’t wait to share the book with you all.  Only seven more months to wait….

Summer books and TV — ’tis the season for getting lost in a good story


Ah, summer.  I am loving it: the slower pace of life, the lack of papers to grade, the chance to catch up on reading and writing (more on that later).  And sleep!  No longer does that alarm go off at the brutal hour of six.   That may be the best thing of all.


The kids and I are in reading mode, with another trip to the library planned for today.  Matthew and I just got a kick out of Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, which I read as a kid and loved.  It was pretty darn fun as an adult, too.


On my summer radar is introducing Charlotte’s Web with the kids.  They haven’t read it yet, and I haven’t read it in years, and can one properly be a child without this marvelous book?



I’m engrossed in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  I’m reading it with an eye to improving my teaching practice (sometimes you end up with a classroom full of introverts, and you can feel it), but a plus is that I’m starting to understand myself better as well.


On a whim a while back, I also picked up Pray Like a Gourmet:Creative Ways to Feed Your Soul by David Brazzeal.  It’s a book on expanding your prayer repertoire, offering a whole smorgasboard of things to try, and it’s a beautifully-designed book as well.  A very unique approach … sort of like fusion cuisine for the spirit.



‘Tis the season to get lost in a series, and luckily Masterpiece Theatre is about to oblige.  Tomorrow night is the start of “Poldark,” and I am counting the hours.


I’ve read the first three books in the series, and they’re fabulous, so my hopes are high.  Apparently the series was a colossal hit in the UK (they got to see it a few months ago), so the advance buzz is good.  Tomorrow night it starts — set the DVR!  And check back here Monday for some post-show thoughts.

Intrigued?  Here’s the PBS preview.

What are YOU enjoying this summer?

Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning: An interview with author Alan Kubitz (otherwise known as my dad)

It may be odd for a child to say they’re proud of their parents, but I sure as heck am proud of my dad, Alan Kubitz.  He has just published an enlightening new book, called Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning.  (It’s his second, following The Elusive Notion of Motion: The Genius of Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein.)


For those of you who haven’t had the luck to meet my dad, here’s a  quick snapshot: he’s a retired electrical engineer and a bona fide Renaissance Man, whose interests include history, jazz, science, book collecting, and blogging. He helped me with many math and science classes in my adolescence (just one of the reasons he was inspired by write this book), and he also happens to be one of the wisest people I’ve ever known.  Read on to hear about his new book, about Steve Jobs as a role model, and about why even techie types need  the humanities.

Give the two-sentence overview of your book.

The basic premise of my book maintains that America’s oft-publicized poor student performance in science, math, and general learning is less the fault of our schools and teachers and more the fault of the students and their parent/mentors. Innate curiosity and a “learning attitude” are key traits that must be nurtured at home, and my book is a common-sense guide which shows parent/mentors how to instill  in their students a respect for school, learning, and the power of knowledge.

Early in the book you make the comment that you can’t succeed in science and math just by wanting to have a high-paying job somewhere down the road; you need to have a genuine interest in the subject. How can parents help cultivate that interest?

The short, but complete answer is….read my book, for it deals with several key aspects of parenting/mentoring and the learning process of students! I can summarize the book’s main points, however. The most effective way for parent/mentors to launch and keep their students on a successful learning track is by being good examples themselves of dedicated learners and student nurturers. This book is intended to help those parent/mentors who have ignored that advice, and now see the results in their students’ attitudes toward school.

Children quickly sense the difference between adults who truly live and espouse a “life of the mind” and those who telegraph to them, “Do as I say (re: learning and study) and not as I do.” Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning details a recovery strategy for parent/mentors striving to turn around under-achieving, struggling students. The book will be particularly helpful as a how-to template for prospective and preschool parents: The earlier the parental buy-in to the techniques presented, the better the likely outcome for their student.

I wonder how often disinterested, under-achieving math students have heard a variation on the following from parent/mentors: “You need to study harder in math class and up your grades – it’s important for college and to get a good job, someday.” You might as well be talking to the wall; it will not work.  Students must be shown by example – at an early age – why math is important….and fascinating! In chapter five of the book, I include a math problem I call “The Power of Math: The Lottery Prize Choice” whose unlikely result is bound to surprise students while demonstrating the real-life power of mathematics. Such an approach to stimulating curiosity and a respect for knowledge is the key to winning over those students who are half-heartedly studying math and are prone to wail, “Why do I need to learn this stuff, anyway?”

One more related point: I advocate that parent/mentors and teachers have a heart-to-heart talk with their young students by the third grade. That is the time to impress upon them the need to take school and studies seriously – especially science and math. In the book, I discuss the importance of a dose of “fear of failure” as a second-tier student motivator. Science and math are very hierarchical in nature; a poor grasp of fundamentals due to poor study habits early on portends a nightmare experience later as the subject-matter difficulty escalates. Tell younger students that advanced science and math will be very difficult and challenging at times. Assure them that, by adhering to the plan I propose for dealing with those troublesome times, they will succeed and come to appreciate the “joy of science and mathematics.”


You make the comment that it’s easy to fall into a kind of “technological complacency,” forgetting the history of how far we’ve come.  Why is that historical perspective important?

Without knowing the past, we cannot fully appreciate the present or accurately forecast the future. That is especially true in the case of science, mathematics, and the technologies they have spawned. Just think about it: Those technologies completely define the way we live our lives today! What seems commonplace today to youngsters and even some adults was quite beyond the common imagination only 50 years ago – less than one human lifetime. Seniors “get it” in a much deeper sense than young people because they are eyewitnesses to the impact that scientific inquiry and new knowledge have had on their lives. It is an important responsibility of the adults-in-charge to impress such an important perspective upon their young.

Students blessed with a mature, historical perspective on technology will be increasingly receptive to the  “joy of science and mathematics” – the realization that today’s commonplace technology comprises one of finest jewels in the crown of human achievement. That realization can only come from knowledge of the darker past when humans were enslaved by their ignorance of nature’s workings. If you were to ask me what has changed the most in 2,000 years, here on earth, I would say, “Technology and our insights into nature.” What has changed the least in 2,000 years? Basic human nature! Finally, and along those lines, the human struggles and scientific quests of luminaries like Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, and Albert Einstein make for some of the most engaging reading imaginable.

 “Do not force-feed your student; rather, make him/her hungry.” That was one of my favorite lines in the book.  Say more about that.

There are successful students who became knowledgeable solely by “grinding through” their studies. This is not a recommended model for students in school, for it rarely works and seldom produces comprehensive, creative knowledge and thinking. Parent/mentors who literally force-feed school and learning into their students by brow-beating or using material rewards as a carrot are missing the boat.

Wise parent/mentors recognize that the ideal and most comprehensive learning emanates from a burning “desire to know and understand” on the part of the student. The task of parent/mentors is to nurture in their student curiosity – a hunger to “know.” For students studying science and math, that hunger manifests itself in a yearning to understand the laws of nature and mathematical logic. Nature’s ways are constant everywhere and always in the universe. What is more, the laws of nature are demonstrable and provable – a fact of considerable significance! To understand nature through a competence in science and mathematics is to move closer to the creator while grasping a significant subset of the absolute “Truth,” that less-provable and elusive challenge pursued by the world’s philosophers and religions. I believe that the great names in science and mathematics were invariably motivated by that very desire!

While science and math are the focus of the book, I know that you also have a great personal respect for the humanities.  As the world becomes more and more focused on technology, what role does a study of the humanities play?

Coming from a scientific/engineering background, I am continually amazed at the “staying power” of man’s fascination with himself. The endless appeal of “human personality” and man’s desire to “know oneself and others” continues to maintain a high ranking among the most tantalizing of natural mysteries which titillate our curiosities. Even in this Facebook and media age where we have, by now, seen and heard it all regarding human behavior, the cult of personality competes favorably for attention with such intriguing scientific topics like Einstein’s relativity, black holes, and quantum mechanics. I suspect that will continue to be true as long as man survives even though fundamental human nature has changed little over the last two thousand years!

Given all that interest in ourselves as a species, we best begin to understand the human condition through the liberal arts; that, more any other factor is what defines the importance of studying the humanities. On a different level, a solid liberal arts education facilitates the organization of thought processes, making it one side of the coin called “critical thinking”; the flip side of the coin is represented by the logical, cause-and-effect processes so necessary for science and mathematics. Clear and logical expression in word or print requires a significant dose of both disciplines.  Additionally, solid writing skills inevitably emanate from extensive reading – part of the liberal arts package.

I just received my copy of Fareed Zakaria’s new book, In Defense of a Liberal Education. Zakaria knows of what he speaks; he is, in my opinion, by far the best news analyst on television, in large part due to his outstanding insight and presentation skills. Just an aside: I am a huge fan of the author, David McCullough, and his ability to eloquently tell a true story.

What I find fascinating is that there seems to be a sort of growing mythology around the idea of the Silicon Valley entrepreneur.  I don’t think it was there when I was a child, but now someone like Steve Jobs has become an iconic figure for many kids (to the extent that one of the kids at my son’s school dressed up like him for Halloween!).  Do you think that people like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg are becoming role models in their own right, and is that a positive thing?

The “role model” has been with us for a very long time, Ginny. Publicity mills were much fewer when I was young, so the public knew their role models via their claim to fame. Little information was available about their true personal qualities. “Fluff” personalities with little talent were not fawned over like they are today – don’t get me started on that! The role models children adopt says a lot about their attitudes, their maturity, and their perception of “excellence.”

In bygone days, accomplished sports figures like Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio (baseball), Jesse Owens (track), and Joe Louis (boxing) were your typical role models. Even earlier, the inventor, Thomas Edison, was a household name – the forerunner of present-day corporate legends like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg. Role models are generally people who have beaten the odds to achieve something almost unimaginable. Charles Lindbergh certainly qualified in that sense after his solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927. Who could have guessed that Apple Computer would result from two young guys named “Steve” tinkering in a garage. People are attracted to the accomplishments of their role models. Albert Einstein was the most recognizable figure in the world in the nineteen-twenties, only because the public understood he had revolutionized physics and our concept of reality with his two theories of relativity. The public gravitated to the enormity of Einstein’s accomplishments even though virtually no one really understood them.

Of course, role models exhibit human failings and vulnerabilities, some in very egregious ways. Certain of Steve Jobs’ personal characteristics, which were so instrumental in building Apple Computer, did not always qualify as endearing attributes. Silicon Valley tech workers in Apple’s earlier years were used to hearing stories of Jobs’ very brusque treatment during interviews of candidates whom he quickly decided were not meeting his expectations of excellence and were thus wasting his time. Few were hired and most dispatched, unceremoniously, to the so-called “Bozo” bin. Albert Einstein was second only to Isaac Newton as a scientist, yet he set a terrible personal example as husband and father.

Truly great role models who reflect both great personal accomplishment and attributes to emulate are much rarer than the popular variety. How many have ever heard of Michael Faraday, the great, early nineteenth century physicist who truly is the “father of the electrical age.” He was the complete role model package for youth – an exemplary, humble and kind human being and a scientist whose reputation in physics ranks only one level below that of Newton and Einstein. His only drawback as a role model: Not much charisma!

Personally, I think it is OK for youngsters to be attracted to people who are high achievers – people who earned their fame and fortune through honest hard work, talent, and imagination. Any personal shortcomings of these people should be evaluated separately with the help of parent/mentors. Yes, Einstein was a great scientific success…but at the steep price of failing in his role as family man.

One more comment regarding the liberal arts: What do Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg surprisingly have in common? A distinct appreciation of the liberal arts! Einstein was a profound philosopher and a music devotee (violin). Steve Jobs began his short stint at Reed College as a liberal arts major. Mark Zuckerberg entered Harvard as a psychology major – not a computer science geek. Facebook exists so successfully today not only because of great computer code, but because Zuckerberg recognized the psychology behind its conception – our human fascination with one another.

 I really liked how you talked about your own role models, including your track coach in high school.  I knew the story of your hard-earned success as a hurdler, but I didn’t know about the touching inscription that your coach wrote in your yearbook in 1958.  Even as our world grows bigger thanks to science and technology, that personal connection, one person encouraging another, is as powerful as it ever was. Can you say more about that?

Yes, that personal connection of which you speak is the key to all of our human experience, is it not? After a successful senior year as San Mateo High School’s varsity track team hurdler, my coach wrote a very personal note, ending with the comment, “Success can’t escape you if you apply yourself as you did in track.” My high school track experience was one of the highlights of my life – the first affirmation in my young life that hard work will pay-off and that, for most of us, it is a prerequisite for great success. Would that all youngsters could have that affirmation, early in life.

Coach Wagner left his mark on me and countless other boys he coached by being, as you say, “one person encouraging another.” His example as a long-time coach, along with my parents and their tremendous influence, personify the importance of the human connection. Fittingly, this is precisely the theme of my book – the importance of parent/mentors nurturing their young for success in school, learning, and life. In the end, the book is as much a common-sense guide to good parenting/mentoring as anything else. That is what it is all about.

If what you’ve read piques your interest, Nurturing Curiosity and Success in Science, Math, and Learning is available for purchase at and at the author website.  And check out Alan’s weekly posts about science, music, history, and life at his  blog Reason and Reflection.  

The Book Pile: Gardening, spirituality, and sports (yes, sports)

Once again, my “recently read” list is a hodgepodge of genres.  I kind of like it that way …

In all my many years of reading, this is a first: I  read something published by ESPN Books.   It’s Man in the Middle, by John Amaechi, and it’s about his unlikely journey from Manchester, England to his years as a player in the NBA.   Amaechi spoke at my high school last fall, during a particularly vulnerable time for our school, and he was riveting; the kids couldn’t stop talking about it.

His journey is fascinating.  Amaechi didn’t pick up a basketball until he was 17, and through sheer grit he made his way to Penn State and the NBA. The book covers a lot of material he didn’t address in his talk, including the extent to which he went to conceal his identity as a gay man from the press and the team and fans, but what I found most fascinating was Amaechi’s frankness about what basketball did ( and mostly didn’t) mean to him.  “I was never a basketball player; I just happened to be really good at it for a while.  I mostly looked forward to going home to hang with my friends, to take care of my kids, to work with future generations of children.”  In both his talk and in the book, he comes through as a thoughtful, compassionate man.  When he was a teen, he said that his mom asked him, “Would you recognize your soul in the dark?” — a pretty terrific question, if you think about it.   I think we all are on a quest to know who we really are inside, once all the externals are gone.  This book was a fascinating look at what happens when someone lets that question guide his life.

It’s been a long time since I read any Dickens, so I started Little Dorrit on Christmas vacation, reading it in bits while also working on other books.  The last four hundred and fifty pages were better than the first (how often does one get to make a statement like that?).  I was reminded of  how brilliant he is at describing a place or a scene with one or two details: the “staring” hot streets of Marseilles, for instance.  There are also little turns of phrase throughout that made me dog-ear the pages … the man was good, no doubt about it.  That said, I didn’t warm to the main character quite as much as I think I was supposed to, so it won’t end up in my top tier of Victorian novels. Still, I’m glad I read it.



Sanctuary:Creating a Space for Grace in Your Life
by Terry Hershey. I got the chance to meet Terry at LA Congress and was thrilled to get a copy of this book.  It’s a very readable invitation to think about what in your life gives you a break.  Where do you go to recharge?  What in your life gives you a feeling of being home?  What do you do when you feel the need to replenish?  How can we be sanctuary for others? The book has invited me to think about what my own sanctuaries are, and why they draw me.    There are reflection questions and space to write in the book itself, too, which is something I always like in a spiritual book like this.  It’s a great read for busy people who know they need to create a quiet space in their lives, but need a little push to begin.



An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey.  It’s hard to know how to describe this book: it’s part mystery, part romance, part historical fiction, part cookbook.  In the eighteenth century, a young cook gets drawn into her mistress’s life of intrigue in Italy, and uses all of her wit and cleverness (and her ability to cook) to great effect.  The book was rather ambitious in its storyline and there were a few plot threads that seemed a little loose, but overall, I enjoyed it and once we got fifty pages from the end, I could not put it down.

A kind friend sent me The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman, and I read it in about two days.  It’s a love story (a few love stories, actually) set in Italy during WWII.  This book really opened my eyes to the terror of the time, as well as the sheer courage of those involved in the Italian resistance movement.  I also loved this book’s treatment of the romantic relationships.  Sometimes I get drawn into a love story between two characters and get disappointed when one inevitably betrays the other.  In this book, you see the power of true feeling and the beauty of loyalty, which made a refreshing and inspiring change.  It’s also about the kindness of strangers, and that is always a theme I like to encounter in fiction (and in life).

A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac by Margaret Rose Realy.  I have kind of a thing for gardens, as you know if you’ve read this blog for even a minute, and I just love the premise of this book. The book is divided into twelve sections, one for each month;  each month focuses on a different spiritual theme and meditates on that theme as reflected in the act of gardening.  Realy includes tips for gardening, stories of saints connected with plants or gardens, Scripture stories and verses that relate to the monthly themes, and the net effect is wonderfully inspiring.  I love how she invites the reader to work spiritual symbols into the garden and to create specific places for prayer.  It’s the kind of book that makes me want to drop everything and go pick up a trowel.

What have you been reading lately?