Tutor Chrissine’s Top 3 Books from 2015: 63 Innovation Nuggets, Stella Rose, and Navigating Grace
Reviews by Chrissine Rios, MA, Writing Tutor
63 Innovation Nuggets
for Aspiring Innovators
By George E. L. Barbee (2015)
George Barbee generously imparts 45 years of worldly corporate experience and essential business wisdom in this inspiring guide to being more innovative. As reading, I felt privy to information and examples that only MBA students would have had access to as Barbee teaches innovation at the VA Darden School of Business. I did not expect the nuggets to be so palatable or applicable to me personally—a Spanish and English major who loves poetic language and tutors college writing. I was delightfully surprised. I read this book (a half dozen times) because I was one of the final reviewers on the editorial team (you’ll even find my name in the back), but I had to get extra copies to gift to friends and family, because I liked it so much.
Each of the nuggets has two parts: an explanation of a concept and a case study from Barbee’s successes and turning points, which he illustrates with specific examples from within the boardrooms of big corporations like GE, IBM, and PepsiCo; he even mentions executives by name, making for an interesting read. I most enjoyed learning about the differences between customers and clients and how to put the client in the middle—and what that looks like at all levels of an organization. In higher education, we also take a student-centeredness approach to achieving goals, but Barbee gave me a more critical understanding of how this not only benefits the client, or in my case, the student or instructor I’m working with, but also helps an organization grow and me within it.
From risk taking to relationship building, these nuggets have inspired me to be more innovative in my work, and since I tutor graduate students in business at KU, my content knowledge and really, my attitude got a real boost from the innovation insights and practices. I imagine Barbee’s also an excellent grad school professor. I appreciated his candid anecdotes and pithy writing style. I felt as though he were talking to me, even though he was talking about working with the executives of Fortune 100 companies. I recommend this book highly for everyone going into business and all who want to make a bigger impact at work or at least better understand how what they do matters or can matter with a more innovative mindset. The experience and wisdom contained in each nugget could help anyone within any organization, even higher education, even nursing…, be better and do more.
A novel by Tammy Flanders Hetrick (2015)
Hetrick’s moving narrative defines the meaning of friendship as it explores love, promises, intimacy, loss, and the secrets our loved ones leave behind. Stella Rose, a 40-something-year-old, successful attorney, has already passed away from Leukemia when the story begins. She has left the guardianship of her only daughter, Olivia, to her best friend Abby (instead of Olivia’s father who lives in California with wife #3). Stella wants Olivia to stay living at home in Vermont to finish her senior year of high school. Abby has known Stella since their school days together and has therefore also known Olivia all her life, but at 16 years old and grieving, Olivia is more of a challenge than Abby expects, making both Abby and Olivia question what Stella was thinking. But they find that out too: Stella has left them each a box and letter to open each month until Olivia turns 18. This monthly ceremony is a motif throughout the novel as lovely as Hetrick’s portrait of Vermont throughout the changing seasons. When someone so significant to you has died and written you a letter, you pay attention. You wrap yourself in their words.
I do not typically read fiction; I gravitate toward creative nonfiction. I like true stories, so if I had not been in a writers group with this author a few years ago, I’m not sure I would have been aware of Stella Rose to even read it, but I wholly identified with Abby and her loss as I did with Olivia and hers. Nothing was more truthful than what these women were going through. If you have ever lost a family member too soon or a friend to a deadly disease, you will identify with them too, for these characters are authentic and so likeable, Stella too – and all the thoughts and feelings that she had while knowing she was dying, and how she expresses them to her friend and daughter in writing – it’s heartbreaking. But also, heartwarming.
Hetrick has created a believable story with beautiful prose. Even the villain, one of Olivia’s bad choices in boyfriends that year, has depth and breadth, making every page and detail essential to the fabric of Stella Rose. I encourage everyone to read outside their favorite genre from time to time. This story took me to museums, theaters, and restaurants, to London, and to lakes, and most importantly, to Stella’s home and rose garden. If you’ve ever known or feared the loss of a friend or a parent, if you’ve ever known or been a teen struggling from such loss, you’ll get this book. It speaks to you on an honest, emotional level, just as a friend would.
A Solo Voyage of Survival and Redemption
By Jeff Jay (2015)
Jeff Jay has written a masterful piece of literary nonfiction that reads like an adventure novel and resonates like an intimate memoir. Jay is an addiction counselor and experienced sailor of Michigan’s Great Lakes when he sets sail to the Virgin Islands with visions of living on his boat and running an on-board halfway house for recovering addicts. His plans and course are diverted, however, when he sails into an unavoidable and torrential storm that about sinks his sailboat and nearly kills him a good dozen times; it’s a gripping read as he knows he will not survive, believes he doesn’t deserve to survive, and yet he does everything he can in case by some miracle he does. He had been saved before, after all, and this was an important theme in the book: Years prior, alcoholism would have killed him had his parents not intervened and got him into a rehabilitation center where he only wanted to drink again and knew he would drink again until all at once, his intellectual mindfulness succumbed to extraordinary spiritual awakening.
Jay does not evade or qualify the role of Alcoholics Anonymous in his life. He’s still an addictions counselor and professional interventionist, and this wasn’t his first book published by Hazelden. In fact, as much as I love an artful memoir, if Jeff Jay weren’t also my second cousin and my mom and great aunt hadn’t been in a slight tizzy about what Jay wrote about my grandpa in the book, it’s less than likely that I would have wanted to read a “recovery” book simply due to my own cynicism – a personal story of recovery and redemption, yes, but one published by a world renowned alcohol and drug treatment organization? I had that eerie feeling going into it that I did before reading The In-Between (Goins, 2014) that had a Christian publisher, feeling I had to read on the defensive lest I be brainwashed into cult-like thinking by too much God worship in the prose, but it never happened. Jay’s prose appealed to my cynical side. He’s smart, and honest and brave, and I don’t mean in how he handled his sailboat in that ocean storm alone but with his wordsmithery.
He’s a wonderful writer, insightful, poetic. He cleverly juxtaposes the storm with his near death from alcoholism, his father’s passing from leukemia soon after, and more recently his brother’s tragic suicide and then Jay’s divorce, but suicide tends to overshadow everything that comes after it for the survivors, yes? I’ve known that kind of loss and have written about it too, and it’s not easy to express such depth of grief without becoming sentimental or trite. The storm was the perfect metaphor for Jay’s reflections. He wrote probably the best memoir I’ve ever read, and I already mentioned loving this genre, but my master’s degree is in Creative Nonfiction too; I take the craft seriously and have critical expectations. Yet I hung on some of Jay’s sentences for so long that when I did get to the last page, I wept. I both didn’t want it to end and was so grateful to have arrived that it was like his journey had become mine, and we had both survived. And more, he knew I would. That’s how I felt! I just want to thank him so much for sharing his story and making it all of ours. It’s a must read for everyone, and don’t skip the epilogue.