Saturday, May 20, 2017

Move the Stars to Pity - NOVA this week (May 20, 2017)

Observations from my weekly wanderings, usually in Northern Virginia (NOVA).

I seldom watch awards shows, but for reasons that I’ve long since forgotten, on 3 March 1993, I watched the First-Ever ESPY Awards; I will always be glad I did.

I was privileged to watch possibly the best speech I’ve ever heard. Jim Valvano was awarded the first ever Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. Valvano was the legendary basketball coach of the North Carolina State Wolfpack. He had retired from coaching three years earlier and was dying of cancer. He was helped to the stage by his good friend Dick Vitale, and then gave the following speech.

It’s eleven minutes; trust me, you’ll be glad you watched it.


Coach Valvano died less than two months later.

The reason for my reference to this speech – NOVA this week, Part II.

In my quest to read the greatest novels of all time – and blog about my experience, I’ve often struggled to find the correct word to describe a book. The urge is to say “I liked” or “disliked” it. These work in some instances, but not in others.

There are books filled with injustice, inhumanity, violence, despair, death, destruction, and the like, that I can’t really say I enjoyed.

And yet, I have given some of these 5 Stars.

What does that mean? if not that I liked it?

It means, I thought it was a great book.

And then you should ask, but what does THAT mean?

And to THAT – I have an answer. And THAT is why I began this post with Coach Valvano’s speech.

Coach V or Jimmy V as he was affectionately known, says that we should do three things every day: Laugh, Think, and Cry. Coach V asserts that if we do these three things, we will lead a full life.

I agree.

So I want a book to make me THINK or FEEL. A great book will make me do both.

A fellow book blogger recently pointed out the difference between book reviews and book journaling. I’d not made the distinction before, but I realized I am more interested in journaling than reviewing. My blog entries about the books I’ve read are a journal of what the author made me think and feel.

In my opinion, reviewing art is largely a futile effort to evaluate the skill of the artist. If not futile, it is undeniably never definitive. (Which is very close to the definition of futile.)

But when I journal my thoughts and feelings of a written work – it is quite definitive. Someone else may have very different thoughts and feelings about the same written work – and by the way – isn’t that grand! But my thoughts and feelings are indisputably my thoughts and feelings.

This is not to say, unchangeable. I love to hear from others who felt or thought the same. But I love to hear from those who felt or thought differently as well. They’ve altered my perception on more than one occasion.

I must note however the distinction between: I felt (or thought) differently, here’s why and No, no, no…you have it all wrong. Here’s what you failed to comprehend. Semantics? Since you asked…No.

In my day job, I’m an intelligence analyst and I do a lot of writing. It is imperative that my writing be as free from subjective interpretation as possible. This day job imperative runs contrary to my book journaling pastime and caused me some exasperation in the past. I want to classify things nicely and neatly, such as my book ratings:

5 Stars = LOVED IT!
4 ½ Stars = Loved it
4 Stars = Liked it a lot
3 ½ Stars = Liked it
3 Stars = Ambivalent
2 ½ Stars = Not a fan
2 Stars = Disliked it
1 ½ Stars = Hated it
1 Star = Hated it a lot

But this no longer works. Actually, I was never quite happy with it, but I hadn’t put my finger on precisely why. It isn’t about how much I liked a book. It’s about how powerful a book was intellectually or emotionally. I’m keeping the 5 Star rating, but scrapping the definitions. 5 Stars means simply the book is among the most intellectually and emotionally powerful books I’ve read. 4 ½ Stars is just slightly less so, and so on.


…the human word is like a cracked cauldron upon which we beat out melodies fit for making bears dance when we are trying to move the stars to pity. ~ Gustave Flaubert

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