Tuesday, May 15, 2012

10 Good Books to Read During the Summer of 2012

I don’t just write my face off consistently, I also read it off.

I believe that reading is essential for our humanity. Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, what we read is less important than the act of reading itself. We communicate better, we love better, we listen better, and we act better when we’re thoughtfully engaged in reading words someone has put in front of us.

My favorite time to read will always be summer. Summers used to mean I could shake off whatever dry textbook I was reading in school and voraciously devour books I wanted to read. Now, summer reading means putting the work day aside, grabbing a glass of white wine, scotch, or summer ale, soaking up the long hours of daylight left, and reading until my eyeballs fall off. 

For those of you like me, here are 10 recommendations to get your summer reading started on the right foot. Feel free to comment with recommendations of your own, or find me on Twitter @danielfford

Tolle Lege!
My mini-library at work.

Love in the Time of Cholera

One should always be reading this book. It is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, haunting, and human books ever written. From the poetic first lines to the soul-crushing finale, this classic makes you hunger for more of Gabriel García Márquez’s perfectly formed words.

Favorite line: “This is what you get for fucking around.”

Fun trivia: According to one of my professors at Queens College, Márquez is said to have enjoyed Queens College professor Gregory Rabassa’s translation of his other masterpiece 100 Years of Solitude more than the original Portuguese edition.

The Art of Fielding

Yeah, this one had me written all over it. And it did not disappoint. I think it had a kind of Field of Dreams-like romance to it. It’s a book about baseball, but more importantly it’s about the characters that were brought together by the game. Great themes such as sexual identity, growing up, and friendship are on pitch perfect display.

Favorite line: “The shortstop is a source of stillness at the center of the defense. He projects this stillness and his teammates respond.”

Born to Run and Unbroken 

Both of these books are going to make you put your sneakers on and run out the door. And if they don’t, I don’t want to know you. 

Born to Run not only sheds light on a master race of runners in Mexico, but also calls into question how we started out as a civilization and the methods we use to run in this day and age. I ate a salad for breakfast for a week after finishing the last page. 

Favorite lines: “”Lesson two,” Caballo called. “Think Easy, Light, Smooth, and Fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooooooth. You won’t have to worry about the last one—you get those three, and you’ll be fast.” 

Unbroken is one hell of a survival story. It illustrates how man can go from a high of competition to completely broken in a time of war. However, it is also a story of forgiveness, understanding, and compassion. There’s a reason it was at the top of the nonfiction bestseller list for so long. 

Favorite line: “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.”

Woe Is I 

Get in touch with the English language this summer. Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is all fine and good, but this readable and fun reference book is still my go-to for anything grammar related. Well, when I’m not ranting about how we need fewer rules for grammar, not more.

Favorite line: “When a tiny word gives you a big headache, it’s probably a pronoun.”

The Art of Racing in the Rain

I’ve never wanted to be a dog more in my life. The book is told from Enzo the dog’s point of view as he is dying of old age and looking back on his life with the people he loves. It is more than likely it’s going to get a little dusty wherever you read this book, but it will also have you pumping your fist in triumph as well. 

Favorite lines: “I've always felt almost human. I've always known that there's something about me that's different than other dogs. Sure, I'm stuffed into a dog's body, but that's just the shell. It's what's inside that's important. The soul. And my soul is very human.”

Hitler’s Army

Maybe this isn’t a beach read, but is an important and challenging history book you should tackle. 

The general consensus among historians regarding the German army during World War II has been that troops were bound together in professionalism and had only a vague connection to the National Socialism of Hitler’s regime. This consensus formed soon after the war ended with German troops trying to find some explanation and justification for their actions during the war. First hand accounts from soldiers from the Western front seemed to prove historians correct when they wrote that they had no idea of the atrocities that were being committed by Hitler and that they fought mostly for their fellow soldiers, not for any ideology. In Hitler’s Army, Omer Bartov defies the conventional wisdom and makes a compelling case that the Wehrmacht was more closely intertwined with Nazism then previous thought. Focusing on the murderous Eastern Front, Bartov explains that the demoderization of the army, the destruction of the “primary group,” the effects of the army’s discipline, and the distorted reality experienced by the soldiers all prove that German troops fought for more than just each other. 

Favorite lines: “In June 1941, the Ostheer’s 3,600,000 million troops attacked with 3,648 tanks out of a total German stock of 5,694; one again only 444 of these were of the relatively advanced Panzer IV model. Facing it in Western Russia were 2,900,000 million Soviet soldiers supported by no less than 15,000 tanks out of total armed force of 24,000, more than all the tanks in the rest of the world put together.”

The Civil War: A Narrative 

Okay, it might take you 10 summers to get through this trilogy. However, reading Shelby Foote’s narrative is as good as having his Southern drawl speaking to you from across your kitchen table. He makes even the most minor actors in the war colorful and memorable characters, and his exhaustive coverage of the conflict makes one wonder how our country ever got over being torn apart.

Favorite lines: Everything President Lincoln says.

Nobody’s Fool  

Richard Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, but I loved Nobody’s Fool infinitely more. I don’t know if it’s because I bonded with my mother over it, how Russo crafted all of his characters, or the movie version with it’s perfect casting of Paul Newman as the main character Sully. My senior AP English teacher in high school put it in my hands and it will always be one of my favorite reads of all time.

Favorite line: “Clive Jr.’s fear of Sully was always rewarding. But Sully wanted to be fully awake and not hungover to appreciate it.”

Crossing to Safety  

I love everything about this book—and not just because one of the main characters is named Sid. It is truly a masterpiece based on love, friendship, and marriage. One should read it sitting on a back porch, surrounded by endless forest, listening to John Hiatt’s "Feels Like Rain" on repeat, and have a lover close by. God, I love this book. 

Favorite lines: “I didn’t know myself well, and still don’t. But I did know, and know now, the few people I loved and trusted. My feeling for them is one part of me I have never quarreled with, even though my relations with them have been more than once been abrasive.” 

 Also check out: 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A Mother’s Day Tribute: May 13, 2012

I’m man enough to admit I’m a momma’s boy.

I once chased after my mother’s car in the parking lot of my elementary school because I wasn’t feeling well and wanted her to take care of me. I don’t know what it took for her to drive away without me that day, but she did and taught me how to be tough in the process.

No one is tougher than Momma Ford. She’s the youngest of 11 and taking care of her older brothers and sisters has largely fallen on her shoulders. True to her character, she has never let any of them down. My uncles—Roland, Clifford, and Jimmy—all must have left more peacefully knowing that she was there to keep the Blanchette family together. While my mother, Tantes Lucille and Peewee, and my Uncle Bobby say there is no true “boss” of the family, everyone knows who is really in charge. 

In my toast at my younger brother’s wedding, I said the following: 
The Ford family has also been blessed with strong women. I’m sure most, if not all, of you in this room have met my mother. She’ll be the first to tell you that without women like her, as well as our grandmothers and aunts, that the Ford men would be lost in the tall grass. 
Those words become truer with each passing year. I haven’t been a perfect son, but she has never once abandoned me and I know she never will. Thanks to her, I love deeply and passionately, I am a fiery Frenchman, and I am intensely loyal and true to the most important people in my life. 

So I will raise a glass of wine to Gail Ford today—I really should toast with a wine cooler or Mike’s Hard Lemonade, but I just can’t do it—and thank her from the bottom of my heart for the life she has given me, and for protecting and loving that life with all of her being. I’ll also drink to my MémèreAunt Cathy, Tante Peewee, my Aunts Kathy and Ellen, my cousins Judy and Caryn, Grandmas Ford and Cassidy, and all the other incredible women that have blessed my life and made me the man I am today. 

In further honor of Momma Ford—which I’m sure will embarrass the hell out of her—I’m including some of the poetry I wrote for her when I was in high school

I love you Momma. I always will.


When I was lost in darkness,
you gave me light.

When I was grounded,
you gave me wings to fly.

When I was sick,
you were my medicine.

When I became tired,
you carried my world on your shoulders.

When I was tossed upon the ocean,
you were my safe harbor.

When my heart was broken,
you sewed together the pieces.

I could always count on you
to see my through my darkest hour.

You are my mother
and I owe you my life.

Mémère Ford with Katie and Madeline

The milk is gone…
because of me.

The milk you were to pour
on your strawberry covered cereal.

At one point or another,
someone was bound to drink it.

To be totally honest,
I’m not sorry it was me!

Mémère shares a moment with her Jack
Let the Pretty Lady Be

Let the pretty lady be alone
with the thoughts she holds inside.

Let the pretty lady dance down
the travel along her path so tender.

Let the pretty lady reprimand the
people whom have caused her to stumble and tease.

Let the pretty lady share a secret
dance with her dark haired prince.

Let the pretty lady be the one to
show the world what power she holds for her three protectors.

Let the pretty lady be.
Let my pretty lady be.

Momma Ford with her rock
An Angel on the Bridge

She waits with angelic patience 
upon her arched wooden perch,
high above the harmful waters below.

All who proceed along the protected bridge
are helped along by her selfless, caring wings
and her watchful, caring eyes of sapphire.

She diligently prays each day and night
for her dark- haired prince to come
give her peace of mind and fill her heart with joy.

Her countenance brightens as he appears,
making his way unto her safe haven.
Before her answers are fulfilled at last,
he slips upon the slippery planks
and tumbles towards the menacing waters.

Without a thought of hesitation,
she extends her affectionate wings
and catches his falling form.
She smiles as she lifts him back unto her bridge,
guiding him to her patient heart.

Momma Ford with all her boys.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

A Look Back: The Life of Daniel F. Ford
Chapter 6: Special Times

I combed through my personal archives to get a sense of the person I was in order to understand the person I am. I unearthed an autobiography I was assigned to write in the 8th grade. For the next several weeks, I’ll be publishing each chapter of the book.
Though I had both good and bad times growing up, the good and special times always came through in the end. The special times stuck out in my mind like a sore thumb. There are times in my life I will never forget, like the one’s I’m going to describe in this chapter. I never really believed in the cliché “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Maybe that’s because I thought life didn’t give me any lemons. As I look back, I realize that life gave me plenty of lemons, but I never took full advantage of them.

I’ll start off with talking about some of my family’s treasured traditions. On Thanksgiving, my family travels to Southington, Conn., to spend the holiday with my Tante Peewee (editorial note: I could explain what that hell that means, but I don’t feel like it) and Uncle Skip. Going there in the cold of November is like going to The Bahamas. This is because they have a coal stove. My uncle usually says grace and we then devour the great food my aunt has prepared. Sometimes my aunt and uncle pull out old home movies. The movies contained footage of my mother when she was my age!

While I’m on the subject of my aunt, I might as well cover it all. Every Independence Day, she hosts a birthday party for my cousin Eric. Let me tell you, you will never leave there feeling hungry. There is so much food—ranging from chicken to marshmallow salad (editorial note: every year it is made, and every year it is ignored). Needless to say, my aunt plays a big role in our family.

Another family tradition is Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve, we invite our aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends over to our house to have a merry little Christmas. There’s one Christmas I will never forget. Everyone was there. We were finishing up munching on snacks, and were now ready to open presents. There was only one problem. My Dad decided to show up late (editorial note: World’s best son, right here. The man was only getting home late from working hard to put food on the table). Finally, I got fed up (editorial note: sorry Pop) and started asking people to give Christmas messages into my Talkboy. I was in the kitchen at the time. My Mom said if my Dad did not arrive, we would start. Around 8:27, I wandered into the living room. The front door gave me a soft jab in the head. I glanced at who had opened the door. It was none other than my father (editorial note: maybe the worst told story about a spoiled kid not getting to open his presents in the history of mankind).

Picture of me in a Superman cape. Just because.
Now after all this (editorial note: I think I’m referring to my family enduring my storytelling here), don’t you think a family needs a vacation? We don’t go on many, but I love the ones we do go on. Let me explain one of my favorite vacations.

First, there’s a long 12-hour drive to get to our destination, Frenchville, Maine. We first go to Long Lake Motor Inn in St. Agatha, to drop off our luggage and then we head out to my Tante Valeda’s house. She is the most interesting person I know. She makes a good living making dolls in her shed. We have four of them already!

Tante Valeda

My brother Patrick and my father in front of Tante Valeda's dolls for sale
Across the street lives my mother’s favorite cousin Ivan. He works at a paper mill in Canada and is also a volunteer firefighter. Ivan has two—oh, wait, now it’s three—adorable children who my Mom is just crazy about. My Mom’s other cousins live in New Brunswick, Canada. I am good friends with their youngest daughter Tina. Nothing—that I know of—on this trip is not fun. Well, I take that back. My first trip to Maine was to attend my Mémère’s funeral. I was too young at the time to understand it all, but as I look back it was probably my worst trip to Maine.

View from Tante Valeda's front porch. Across Route 1 and that potato farm is Canada.

Patrick and my mother in the house she grew up in.
Now what else makes life worthwhile than gifts (editorial note: spoken like a true 14-year-old). I like to give and receive gifts—sometimes I like to give gifts more than I like to receive them. Probably the best gift I have ever received as a Roger Rabbit stuffed animal. I got him when I was about two-years-old, and still have him to this day. Whenever I would sleep over my cousin Judy’s house, I would bring him. I wouldn’t go to sleep unless she performed fake surgery on him. The best gift I ever gave was a clay owl. I would give anything to see my Mom’s face when I gave it to her. It was perfect—well, minus his broken wing). He is proudly displayed on my mantle.

Roger and me present day.
Another thing that goes with gifts is birthdays. I will never forget my fifth birthday. It was the first and last kid party I ever had. All my friends from the first grade were there. We completely demolished my family’s study. Toys were everywhere. We played hot potato and other games. There are pictures of me and each friend and the gift they got me. After the party was over, my older brother Tom had to pick up the mess. I helped, sort of.

Study being destroyed.

While we’re on the topic of my favorite holidays, I might as well cover them all. My favorite Halloweens—and one of my last (editorial note: no idea what this means)—was two years ago. I happened to be a black ninja that year. My Dad took me and my little brother Patrick to a few houses on our block, and then drove us to my Aunt Cathy’s house. We collected candy from her, and sat down to visit for a while. My cousin Judy was nice enough to take us around her block. The first house we went to was her next-door neighbor Mrs. Peterson who made all the kids who came through pose for pictures. It was my best Halloween ever, and one of my last (editorial note: still no idea what the hell I’m talking about).

Now, what do you think the average age for a normal kid to learn how to ride a bike? Wouldn’t you say between the ages of six and seven? As you can plainly see from the previous chapters, I was not a normal child. I learned how to ride bike between the ages of eight and nine! I learned with no training wheels (editorial note: because that in no way would have been MORE embarrassing). At first I was a little shaky, but by nightfall I was a pro.

There were a lot of people who were special to me while growing up. The person I’m going to describe here is someone who will always be very special to me. This is not the first—or the last—time that she’s been mentioned. The person I am describing is my cousin Judy. There are so many reasons why that I would need a whole book to get them all down. I might as well start from the beginning.

Judy and me back in the day.
After my Grandmother Cassidy died, Judy had to start babysitting us fulltime—usually this meant after school every day and during the summer. She’s more than just a cousin or a babysitter though. Judy is my friend, my best friend. She’s probably my only true friend in the world. I could tell her anything about anything and she would not tell a living soul—unless I give her permission.

During the summer, she had to watch us almost 24/7. We would arrive at her house around 8:30 a.m. and leave around 5:30–6 p.m. During the day we did many things. At 1 p.m., we watched Days of our Lives. There are so many other things that would take up a whole book.

A week before school started one year, she set up a tent in her backyard and invited me and my brother Patrick to camp out. Her next-door neighbor Stacey also joined us. We had a blast. We played games like 3’s Wild and Trivial Pursuit. We invented “Cuban weed.” We were playing Outburst and the topic was Cuba. Stacey was trying to give us hints, and one of them was pretending she was smoking a cigar. Judy didn’t think it was a cigarette, and yelled out “weed!” We all started to laugh and that’s how Cuban weed was born.

That’s just one example of how great my cousin’s personality is. Judy is probably what makes my life worth living. Since it was the last year she babysat us fulltime, leaving the house that was my second home that last day of summer was difficult. Somehow, I lived through it and checked off another obstacle that I had overcome.

Judy and me present day.

Also check out:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Look Back: The Life of Daniel F. Ford
Chapter 5: My Family

I combed through my personal archives to get a sense of the person I was in order to understand the person I am. I unearthed an autobiography I was assigned to write in the 8th grade. For the next several weeks, I’ll be publishing each chapter of the book.

Now I come to describe the most important part of my life. I think we are both different and alike compared to other families. The main reason we are different is because it’s the 1990s and a lot of families are splitting up, but we are still together. We are like most families because we have problems and conflicts and sometimes work them out.

My Mom and Dad are very important people in my life.

Ma and Pa Ford
First, let me describe my Mom. Her full name is Gail Ann Ford. Her maiden name is Blanchette. She has light brownish hair with blue eyes. She’s about 5 feet tall.

We have a great relationship. There are of course times when we want to strangle each other (editorial note: pretty sure that feeling was pretty one-sided), but that’s pretty normal I guess. She has a great personality. She laughs at my jokes even when they aren’t funny (editorial note: which they never were and still aren't) and comforts me when I’m sick. I’m a momma’s boy, so when I was little I was always by her side. As I said earlier, my first day of nursery school was a disaster.

My mother works for three lung doctors and is a receptionist. She loves to read in her spare time and likes to cook. She loves to decorate. You should see our house at Christmas. Most of the house is covered with decorations. So now you know a little about my Mom.

Mom and me at the Rockefeller Christmas tree
Now, on to my Dad. What a guy! He’s about 5 feet 8 inches tall with light-ish brown hair with a few strands of gray—which I am now teasing him about. He has brown eyes and a potbelly—which I also tease him about (editorial note: I’ll be accepting my greatest son ever award…never).

He is just one big sensitive lug. Usually, when you wanted something you went to Dad and he’d respond, “Sure!” Now, he’s getting smarter. He’ll reply, “Well, did you ask your mother?”

My favorite thing about my Dad is that he’s a Yankees fan. He says that besides our home, Yankee Stadium is his favorite place in the world.

My Dad and I have a great relationship. We also make fun of each other—good-naturedly of course (editorial note: you know, like ripping on his age and weight in something my eighth grade teacher read). He never gets really mad unless I do something really bad (editorial note: like the time I almost failed out of sixth grade because of giving the girls in my class more attention than my school work).

He’s a manager for Edwards. The most vivid memory of my Dad and I has to be when I would pull on his key chain in my baby roller seat while he was eating dinner (editorial note: the keys were on a retractable chain, so they would snap back viciously when I would pull the chain and let go).

My Dad and me at one of my younger brother Patrick's Little League games.
I have two brothers who are like best friends. My younger brother Patrick Ryan Ford is 7-years-old and is in the third grade. I also have a 20-year-old brother named Thomas David Ford who has just started his third year at the University of New Hampshire. Tom, who I don’t get to see much, is a gruff guy (editorial note: As I recall, Tom took offense to this back then—and probably will again given the reminder). He acts tough, but is just like my Dad on the inside. Tom and I are great buddies and I hope it stays that way.

Tom and me after running the 2011 Hartford Half-Marathon (He ran the 5K).
My brother Patrick is just the opposite. He’s a wide-eyed questioning 7-year-old boy. He’s a great baseball player, but needs to work on his losing. Patrick is funny, but very annoying at the same time (editorial note: Thanksgiving should be fun this year). I am very close to both of my brothers. We stick up for each other and are great friends to boot.

Patrick and me having a moment before my senior prom.
I do not pick favorites among my relatives. I will however choose the one who I am closet to. I am very close to my Aunt Cathy Sadowsky. She is just like my Grandma Cassidy. She spoils me and my brothers rotten. When we sleep over her house, we could bring nothing and come back with a trunk load of stuff. No matter what the price, she will buy anything from our school fundraisers. She takes us a bunch of places, especially Pizza Hut for lunch. I love her and thank her greatly for her knowledge and wisdom.

Aunt Cathy and me
Christmas Eve 2010
Also check out: