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Book Review: “Common Ground” (1985) by J. Anthony Lukas

Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American FamiliesCommon Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families by J. Anthony Lukas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Common Ground” is nearly 700 pages of original reporting about three families living through the integration of Boston’s public school in the mid 1970s (look up “Boston Busing Riots” if you don’t yet know what a shameful chapter of recent American history this is). Let’s get that on the table right away. It’s dense, epic, terribly important and has aged not a second in its importance: We are at each other’s throats as a nation over precisely who America belongs to and what it means. The kids throwing rocks at a bus full of black students newly attending their high school and shouting about how it is their freedom in danger are the Proud Boys of yesteryear.

What “Common Ground” is not is a great reading experience. It has moments when you stop and simply cannot believe the depth of work Mr. Lukas has done and the kindness and soul he brings to it. There are way too many more when you say two pages would have worked just as well and he gave us two chapters.

Though I am positive Mr. Lukas got the best editing publishing could buy for this project, there still feels like no interview was left out, no lede unfollowed no matters how little in the end it actually mattered. My firend whom I read it with compared it to accelerating one mile per hour at a time. You’re still driving/ But you’re missing many of the pleasures of driving.

If dense, chewy, epic, important and sad are your bag, none of those complaints will matter to you. Myself, I’m sad that while I am so fortunate to have read “Common Ground” I cannot recommend it with a full heart. Somewhere in all of the magnificent things it is doing, it sacrificed the common ground an author must also have not just with their subject and the demands of the story but their reader too.


Book Review” “The Practice: Shipping Creative Work” by Seth Godin

The Practice: Shipping Creative WorkThe Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I do wish the scope of Mr. Godin’s heart and its philosophy matched that of his ability to express it. I love what he says but often don’t synch up with how he says it. Maybe this is preference. Maybe wiring. He means so well and “the practice” (I am two days in to trying it) in a useful one. But in keeping with his message of “keep going, don’t stop” maybe a sustained argument rather than a bound volume of 200 snippets, thoughts and anecdotes?

I don’t know. It’s working for him and I’m happy to report its working for me. Which ultimately is the point. As a reading experience though, I’d say apply the old AA philosophy of take what you like and leave the rest and the newer Seth Godin of whatevr you need to do to get started, pivot or make a real change to become your authentic creative self, do it. Even if it means picking up this book a page at a time, circling back, underlining, and not quite understanding how it all adds up.

Don’t stop.