Springtime in Georgetown

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Georgetown University; Washington, DC, USA


Thoughts on ‘Roadrunner’

“If there’s any word in the English language that would sum up the life of Anthony Bourdain, a ‘Roadrunner’ would be quite fitting to remember the man by.”

If there’s any word in the English language that would sum up the life of Anthony Bourdain, a ‘Roadrunner’ would be quite fitting to remember the man by. He was also a husband, father, friend, chef, writer, television host, and a cultural ambassador who made the world his oyster after many years as a cook in hot, windowless, stressful New York City kitchens. For some people, travel is a birthright that they have from a young age but for Anthony Bourdain, it was an unexpected gift at middle age after writing the excellent ‘Kitchen Confidential’ book highlighting his years in the underbelly of those same kitchens, which became a New York Times bestseller, and helped lead him into fame, stardom, and notoriety.

Bourdain’s life would never be the same as he was offered other book deals, his first television contract for the show, ‘A Cook’s Tour’, and started to be recognized around the world from Tokyo to Los Angeles. While his life as a newly minted TV host traveling worldwide, tasting different cuisines, meeting different peoples, he opened the world to those of us who only knew what they had read, learned about in school, or heard from others. Those of us who watched his shows learned about the world through the medium of television, but it was Anthony’s narration, his willingness to listen and empathize with whom he shared a meal that made him stand out from others in the travel show business. Bourdain never sugarcoated things and didn’t mince words about what he saw in his travels especially as the focus became less on food and more on culture, politics, and the trajectory of humanity itself. All this time though, watching his shows and reading his books, we knew more about the man’s reflections on the world and then how the world reflected on him.

The shock of his loss still hurts those who were fans of his works over three years later, I included, among the millions of people who were touched by his words, his spirit, and his lust for life. It is hard even now to reconcile the fact that the man who appeared to have had it all still suffered and that there was no outreach, gesture, or love shown that could have prevented his tragic suicide. Feelings of anger, disbelief, regret, and sadness come to mind when you think of how anyone, especially Anthony Bourdain, could decide to let go of life itself especially when it had enveloped him in such a warm embrace especially after his 2nd life of fame, success, and travel had gone on for almost two decades.

What ‘Roadrunner’, the film documentary on Anthony Bourdain’s life tries to answer is not the ‘why?’ of his death but the ‘how?’ of his illustrious life and how it changed, evolved, shifted, swinged on its ups and downs, which the documentary is successful at achieving. Rather than the director, Morgan Neville, attempt to get all of the answers on an unknowable concept such as what makes a person decide to take their own life, which left his friends, family, and fans devastated and unable to make sense of it either, the ‘Roadrunner’ documentary looks at how his life was, which people changed Anthony for better or worse, how he changed as a person, and how did travel affect him over almost 18 years. As a fan of Anthony’s written and television work, you learn a lot about the world through him, but I never got a full sense of who the man was as a person and I’m sure others can relate to this feeling.

Although he gave his all in his craft and in his vision, he rarely liked to be the center of attention in any room and was a shy, slightly self-deprecating, yet also a kind and generous man that would give more to others than would receive himself in return, and who never seemed fully quite comfortable with the fame, success, and notoriety his works produced. Those who remember him in the documentary talk about how he would always reach out to them to see how they are doing and to be a real people-pleaser but not ask for much in return or would find it difficult to confide in others with problems that may have been affecting him, personal or otherwise. While the film does a great job of capturing what it was like for Bourdain as he went from a line cook to a chef to an author to a television host to a cultural icon, we don’t really get to see much about his personal life beyond bits and snippets of details.

The viewer knows Bourdain came from a stable childhood, summers spent in France, loving parents, and a younger brother who he got along with well. However, you can sense from the documentary that he never grasped what most people would want from a ‘normal life.’ Bourdain was a creative soul who was curious by nature, inquisitive, had a taste for linguistics, and had a big imagination given his literary and musical tastes. He was not a man as Mark Twain would rail against as “vegetating in one corner of the planet” for their whole lives. Once he had the opportunity to do so financially and professionally, he seized it and took full advantage of the gifts that he had been given from a young age.

What was missing from the documentary sadly is Bourdain’s own reflections beyond his travels and perhaps the family he built from scratch. We do not hear much about what his childhood was like, how he got introduced to drugs such as heroin, how did he succumb to his addiction to it, and what how his two marriages and past girlfriends affected his outlook on love and life. During the documentary, we are perhaps best informed about who Anthony was as a cook, as a traveler, as a friend, who he was as a father, but it is hard to know who we were behind closed doors when the cameras were not rolling.

There are some aspects of his personality that you can glean from the documentary such as his addictive habits whether it would be using heroin, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or wanting to hold on to his relationships even perhaps their natural end date. For better or worse, as the film portrays, Bourdain loved experiencing novelty and new things which led him to his legendary status as a globetrotter, but it also could backfire in terms of giving too much of himself to people without getting as much in return. It seemed from ‘Roadrunner’ that Bourdain would seek to please others before pleasing himself and that could have led to some deeper dissatisfaction with life. It can be hard to feel as if you’re giving more than receiving and I do believe that does play a role in depression.

You can also infer from ‘Roadrunner’ that Anthony’s romantic views on life, on love and on travel did not always meet reality. He could be very demanding in his professional career and rude or dismissive of his long-time camera crew and production team. It’s shown that he could make rash decisions about hiring and firing of personnel as well as set very high expectations for his television show, which could not always be met by those who worked with him. It’s also true that in his last romantic relationship with Ms. Argento, he would let his personal desires to please her or work with a famous director like Mr. Feng that led to him putting his crew’s creative input on the back burner. When he expressed his desire to quit traveling a few years before his death, his production team encouraged him to do it if he felt it was time to do so and they wouldn’t stop him, but it was as if Bourdain needed someone to validate his decisions to go through with them.

‘Roadrunner’ succeeds in telling the story of one of our young century’s great explorers and cultural ambassadors. In 2021, there are still some gaps in our knowledge of who Anthony Bourdain was and how he felt about his life. Sadly, we will never know the full story because of his tragic death by suicide and we can only infer on how such a bright life could be extinguished too soon when he had so much more to give to the world, to his family, and to his friends. Unfortunately, not all men make it to a ripe old age to be surrounded by those who matter most to them.

Names like Hemingway, London, and now Bourdain died at middle-aged by in their lives accomplished or saw or did as much as five men combined who lived longer than them. It is not the years in your life that matter but the life in your years and Anthony Bourdain made the most of his life as few could or will do again. Even more than three years after his death, he is sorely missed, and the world is not as well off without him and his impact. From the Congo to Iran to Antarctica to Libya, he was not afraid or reticent of sharing a meal with those who were different than him even when he had nothing personally in common with them.

I hope that the ‘Roadrunner’ documentary becomes part of Anthony Bourdain’s legacy and inspires both young and old people to see the world as it is and to hopefully mold it little by little through travels and meals to change the world bit by bit into the world that we would like it to be. That would be a fine way to honor his legacy and to make the world a little less unknown.

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If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial and Museum

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Juscelino Kubitschek Memorial and Museum; Brasilia, Federal District (DF), Brazil

Paranoa Lake

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Paranoa Lake; Brasilia, Federal District (DF), Brazil

Pirenopolis

Camera: iPhone 12

Location: Pirenopolis, Goias, Brazil

Stay on Top of Things

“Staying on top of the things in your life from finances to exercise to managing your home are all ways to have peace of mind. There are a lot of things in life we have no control over so I encourage you all reading this article to put those things you can control on your to-do list each day and each week.”

It can be hard for a lot of us these days given what’s going on in the world. It is easy to be stressed out, anxious, and generally worried about the future. I would say that on the whole people don’t do well with uncertainty and not knowing what the future holds. It can be quite daunting not know what will happen a month from now, six months from now, or even a year from now. When I think of myself who prefers certainty and planning things out on a week-by-week basis, it can be frustrating to have to change or amend plans due to lack of feasibility or to remember that the world has changed, and you have to adapt to it.

Instead of fighting an uphill battle against the various changes going on in our society right now not alone to due to the pandemic but other economic and social factors, you have to learn to swim with the tide and to adapt as best as you can. Part of doing that is also knowing what it is strictly under your control each day and exercising that kind of control as best as you can. Given a lot of things in our lives now are out of our own control, the best way to combat that fact is to stay on top of the things we can control and to do them to the best of our abilities.

As I’ve mentioned in a previous article about the common-sense kind of wisdom of U.S. Navy Admiral William McRaven, who said that the best way to start your day is “to make your bed” and it relates to having a sense of control in a world where we often lack control. It is also a larger part of staying on top of things or tasks in your life that will always need your attention and won’t get done without your effort. Making your bed is a good habit to build each day and will make you feel better right away for taking action over a thing that you have direct control over.

Other things involve getting enough sleep each night (7-8 hours preferably) and managing that aspect of your life well so you can perform better in your work or schooling. Staying on top of things also involves our diet and our exercise routine. These things are more open ended but establishing what is a good diet for you, buying the food items each week that contribute to your diet, and then cooking the meals to reflect that diet are important things to stay on top of in your life. The general guidance for exercise is 3-4x a week and I’ll leave it up to you to decide how you exercise whether its weightlifting, yoga, running, sports, or even martial arts. The important thing to do is to keep track of how much exercise you’re getting each week, how consistent you are being with it, and whether you are seeing any improvement(s) in your life based on your exercise regime.

I also want to prioritize the importance of control over one’s domain or where you are living. You will feel better when your place is clean, when things are organized, and when you are not living in a place that is messy and unkempt. Part of being a responsible adult is to independently take care of yourself with your grooming, your appearance, but also your abode. Don’t let another thing that you have control over fall by the wayside. Take the necessary time to clean and to tidy your place up from the bathroom to the kitchen to the living room. Your self-esteem will be raised from doing that and you’ll be better off for exercising control of your living space, which is an important place where now we are working from more often and also studying from in this time of the pandemic.

When it comes to staying on top of things, it means making sure too that you are managing your finances whether it’s saving more money, not spending beyond your means, and recording your budget on a weekly or monthly basis. Financial management is a key thing to stay on top of and it will help you to organize your life in another necessary way. It is also a way to be in control because it’s your money and only you know where it’s going each month and how much money you have available to you.

Our own relationships with friends and family members are another aspect of our lives that we often overlook our control of. We can choose to associate with people who value us, respect us, and care about us and I would say that it’s important to prioritize those people, whether family, friends, or general acquaintances who value not only our time but who we are as human beings. You can control who you give your time and effort to in relationships and it’s important to exercise that right to let those people into your life who treat you well, who like you for who you are, and don’t try to belittle or demean you.

Lastly, I do want to mention that beyond taking care of your bed, your sleep, your diet and exercise, your finances, and your relationships, you have to take care of yourself. Mental health is extremely important as well as physical health these days and it’s important that you make time in your life to check in with yourself, to go easy on yourself in terms of not beating up on yourself too much for past mistakes. If you need to meditate or treat yourself to a movie or a video game or a hike on your own, I believe you should do so. If you need to talk to someone about your mental health in a private manner, I encourage it as well. Talking to a licensed professional is something you always have control over so you should feel free to do so if you need to help your mental health. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing that and it should not carry with it any kind of stigma or reservation.

Staying on top of the things in your life from finances to exercise to managing your home are all ways to have peace of mind. There are a lot of things in life we have no control over so I encourage you all reading this article to put those things you can control on your to-do list each day and each week. Please make it a priority to handle those pending things in your life that you alone are responsible for and don’t let these small things pile up.

You will feel better and happier for handling the small things well before you take on the big things. If you want to make a difference in the world, start by making a difference in your own life and see how that positive momentum will carry you forward. If you can handle your own business successfully, you will gain more confidence and be more self-reliant, which are positive traits when it comes to handling uncertainty, unease, or the inability to know what the future holds. Take things on one day at a time and do the things you can to the best of your ability as often as you can.

English Corner – Different Spelling and Vocabulary (US, UK, Canada)

“Part of the beauty of the English language is the diversity amongst the countries where it is the primary language of communication. Like many other languages around the world, there are different accents, words, and expressions unique to that particular country where it is the primary language.”

Part of the beauty of the English language is the diversity amongst the countries where it is the primary language of communication. Like many other languages around the world, there are different accents, words, and expressions unique to that particular country where it is the primary language. There’s a popular saying that goes: “The United States and the United Kingdom are two nations separated by a common language.” It is a funny result of the quirks, changes, and adaptations that come with being separated by a natural border such as an ocean or a man-made border. However, it goes to show you that a language can be molded over time by a culture leading towards small yet noticeable differences in the words we use, the phrases we say, and even the way we spell individual words.

In this article, I want to focus on the different words and spelling that while similar are not the same between the U.S., U.K., and Canada. I believe an English language learner should be familiar with these differences in spelling and vocabulary to build an even richer understanding of this language and how it can differ by country. While Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa also have their own differences from the United Kingdom, I find that the former colonies of Great Britain have followed the UK in terms of the spelling and vocabulary used.

Canada tends to be similar in some ways to the US and in other ways similar to the UK so I would call it a mixture of the two countries, and you will see why this is the case in a chart detailing both these similarities and differences. I will analyze the chart a little bit and ask you to think about other words and phrases unique to these three countries and how you have come across them in your own studies or travels.

From this ‘International English Spelling Chart’, we can see some slight changes to the spelling of multiple words with each country being different from each other (color-colour, center, centre, defense-defence). As you can also make out from the spelling chart, there are certain words that the US is alone with using such as ‘gray’ compared to ‘grey’, which is backed up by Canada, the UK, and Australia. However, the UK is alone with using ‘globalisation’ whereas you have Canada and the US using ‘globalization’ with the change from ‘s’ to ‘z’ instead. This is also the case with ‘aluminum’ (Canada/US) compared to ‘aluminium’ for the UK.

Also, this spelling chart indicates to us that Canada is aligned with the US on some words in terms of spelling and aligned with the UK on other words. You never see Canada with its own spelling where they are alone in usage, but you do see that for the US and the UK being unique in their own spelling with Canada siding with one mode of spelling over the other version.

With the exception of the word ‘concert programme’, Australia and New Zealand (not featured) are totally aligned with the United Kingdom on each word presented above in terms of spelling highlighting their common history together and cultural heritage ties.

Most of these spelling changes are quite minor in difference and usually are either an addition of a letter such as a ‘u’ (color (USA) –> colour (UK)), or with an ‘i’ (aluminum (USA) –> aluminium (UK). They can also involve simply switching one letter in the word to another as we see with defence (UK) –> defense (US) with ‘c’ becoming an ‘s’ or globalization (USA) –> globalisation (UK) with ‘z’ becoming an ‘s’ with that change. Besides adding a letter to the word or changing one letter for another, these spelling changes among English of different variants according to country origin are quite minor. Although spelling changes are few and far between, differences in vocabulary words are greater when you compare the U.S. and the U.K. especially.


While the American / Canadian English tend to use the same words in a common vocabulary, British and American English words differ fundamentally in terms of word meanings and word usage. Still though, given the expansive list above, you realize just how rich and varied the English language is. Even if you are an American or if you are British, learning the dialect of each other’s country may require a bit of time and translation work. Despite sharing the same language, we don’t always share the same words, or the same meaning tot those words. It is important for both native and non-native speakers to familiarize yourself with the different dialects of the English language even if you’re not living in that country.

If you are planning to travel to different countries of the English-speaking world from Toronto to New York or from Los Angeles to Sydney, you should take the time to study the vocabulary sheets to know the difference in word usage as well as the slight spelling changes from other words that the charts above cite. When you adapt your English language skills to the local dialects, the people in those towns and cities will be quite impressed and it will make it a more fun trip or stay for you to use those common expressions or slang that will help you interact with others and even make a new friend. Please take some time to review these charts I have shared with you and try to use these different vocabulary words from each country in written sentences to help you understand. Don’t be shy also in pronouncing each one and being aware that while the meaning is the same, the word used by country is different.

I would just ask you to remember though not to get them confused and end up saying ‘chips’ in America when you meant ‘fries’ while ordering food or when you ask the kind British police officer for help in opening the ‘trunk’ instead of the ‘boot’. Those accidental cultural faux pas can be hard to avoid especially when you’re not from that country originally which is why it’s important to learn about and study these spelling and vocabulary distinctions that make the English language such a diverse and rich one in the world.

The Value of Self-Awareness

“Having self-awareness shows that you also have the right personal values that will make it easier for you to get ahead in life in terms of your character.”

Self-awareness is a key character trait that will improve your relationships with others and also improve your relationship with yourself. Having self-awareness shows that you also have the right personal values that will make it easier for you to get ahead in life in terms of your character. Achieving self-awareness takes a number of traits to embody such as showing wisdom by working to understand yourself and your own actions. You have to understand how your actions affect others, both positively and negatively, and to also take responsibility for those actions in both cases.

Beyond wisdom, you have to be honest about what you are capable of and what you need help with including your abilities at work or at school. You want to be able to keep your ego in check and to know your own limits but to be able to work on pushing those limits. This is also a key part of having self-awareness. There are key differences between being confident and being cocky and a self-aware person knows the differences between the two traits. You should show confidence but know how that confidence is coming across to others and to be open to receive feedback even when it can be critical at times.

A confident person knows their strengths but also knows their weaknesses and will make those traits aware so that others know what you can do and what you cannot do. Being aware of those strengths and weaknesses will make you humbler and more open to learn from others. Admitting to others that you have weaknesses and that you have strengths openly will garner respect and help from people who will know that you are not perfect and that you always have things to work on to be better and to do better.

Humility and self-awareness go hand in hand too. Being self-aware means owning up to your failures and shortcomings and not blaming others for them. Taking responsibility for yourself and your actions is a key part of being self-aware. You applaud and recognize other people and do not take all of the credit yourself, which is what happens most often in life that you cannot take sole credit for an accomplishment, but with which is achieved through the mentorship and support of others. Showing humility and being humble are key parts of being self-aware and having that personality trait be made known to others through your actions and your words.

A self-aware person can exercise wisdom, be honest, show confidence without being cocky, and displaying humble actions and words to get others to support you and be a friend to you. Arrogance, dismissiveness, immaturity, and dishonesty all show a lack of self-awareness and I would argue that not being straightforward and direct with people will often hurt you in the long run because they will not know where you stand. Being able to self-reflect and look inward to what you did and why you did it will help you to become more self-aware in retrospect even if you do not practice self-awareness in the moment. Ideally, you would like to be self-aware at all times but if you are not self-aware at the present moment, at the least, you should try to be self-aware about the past for better or for worse.

Self-awareness and self-reflection go hand in hand so you must be able to so some self-reflection in order to be fully self-aware. Actions speak louder than words, so you need to make sure that the actions you take offer some space for some self-reflection afterwards. It’s critical that you know how to practice self-awareness in your actions, and I would like to give a few examples below.

Self-awareness in practice means also knowing how to apologize and being aware of your actions when they have caused harm or anguish. If you do not say ‘sorry’ or give an apology, it means you have a lack of self-awareness and other people may not want to be around you knowing that you do not take accountability for your actions. On the other hand, you do not want to react with anger or other strong emotions in order to get what you want. Remaining calm, cool, and collected is much needed as well when dealing with others. You should not ever be insulting them when they give you some feedback that you may not want to hear but it’s in your best interest to take it into consideration.

As mentioned earlier, you should not pretend to be a know-it-all and you should be self-aware to know the limits of your knowledge as well as your skillset. In life, you should not be afraid to reach out to others for advice, counsel, mentorship, or for them to teach you things whether that is a new language, a job skill, or a sport. You will never be the expert on everything, and it is not wise to pretend you know everything as that will cause other people to see that you are arrogant and too egotistical.

Being honest and direct with others should be done politely and tactfully. It is better for others to know where you stand than for them to be guessing where your head and heart are at a lot of the time. The feedback that you give should be genuine and the feedback that you receive from others should be taken into consideration even if you don’t agree with it. Being defensive, attacking the person who criticized you, or getting too emotional about it will look bad in the eyes of others and hurt your ability to work with other people.

A self-aware person knows where and when they need help, how they can become a better person, or always striving to be as empathetic as possible. You should want to put others in your shoes and vice versa to be emotionally in tune with other people (related to having a high level of emotional intelligence). Above all else, you want to stay true to yourself, to your family and friends, as well as knowing what your core values and principles are in life. You should always put yourself on the path to succeed while not stepping over anyone to get there.

Being self-aware will make you an emotionally healthier person, allow you to form healthier relationships, and also be able to form better friendships at work, at school, or elsewhere. You want to value other people and not ignore how they feel but to recognize their emotions and understand where they are coming from without dismissing their views outright. Self-awareness is not an innate trait in the sense that we all have it equally. It has to be worked on, fostered, and built up over our lives.

You need to be consistently aware of your behavior, your emotions, and how they play off on other people. It comes down to having respect for others, being humble in your demeanor and your abilities, and also knowing how to behave responsibly and without letting your emotions control how you act all the time without regulating them. Self-awareness is a really important personal trait and has so much value that you must be willing to work on it day-in and day-out to become a better human being.

English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”

When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.

For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.

If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.

I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.

For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.

Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.

The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.

Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.

‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.

Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.

Book Recommendations – Volume XII

“However, while staying outdoors will become less and less pleasurable, this is definitely the time of the year to dive into your reading and to get back into the swing of things when it comes to reading good books.”

The end of the Summer is always a bittersweet one. With mixed feelings, August turns to September, fall season will soon be upon us and the daylight will become shorter while the cold weather is drawing near. However, while staying outdoors will become less and less pleasurable, this is definitely the time of the year to dive into your reading and to get back into the swing of things when it comes to reading good books. Colder weather, shorter days, and back to work / school will cause our minds to re-focus our attentions on the tasks at hand in our lives but we should not forget at night or on the weekends to kick back, relax, and enjoy a good book.

These four books that I’ve chosen are all non-fiction, but they tackle different subjects and are relevant to different academic or personal interests such as history, sociology, travel, or entrepreneurship. Each author brings something different to the table as well and the writing style is different along with the kind of narration you can expect. I can definitively say that each of these books is educational and you would not go wrong with reading any of the following books in the upcoming Fall season.

  1. The Decadent Society: How We Became Victims of Our Own Success by Ross Douthat

New York Times op-ed writer and author Ross Douthat is not optimistic about the future. Given that the present involves polarization, stalemates, and a lack of technological innovation, what does humanity have to look forward to? That is the main argument of Douthat’s book ‘The Decadent Society’ on how we may have reached the limits of our own ‘progress’ and that modernity is less fulfilling than we thought it would be. Douthat’s view is that our current culture, innovations, and motivations like originality and that we have become too complacent as a society.

Douthat cites falling birth rates, more reliance on video games / virtual reality, lack of new businesses being started along with increasing government dysfunction leading us all to be ‘comfortably numb’ as the famous Pink Floyd song goes. Douthat’s diagnosis of our current cultural and political malaise is quite convincing from citing Star Wars remakes to the fact that the Trump and Clinton families have stayed relevant for decades in politics with a lack of a fresh face to get us out of our national ennui.

While our ‘modernity’ has left us more comfortable than satisfied, Douthat struggles to mention ways that we can get out of the malaise or the needed policy or cultural changes that should take place to push our horizons more and our boundaries as a society. This was my one main gripe with the book as in the 2nd half or towards the end, a little optimism or forward-thinking would have gone over well but perhaps that was done on purpose. Douthat is not optimistic that much will change in the future and that perhaps it is best to accept our current ‘decadence’ as being set in stone or perhaps to prepare for a fall from grace that would shake more of us out of our slumber. I hope either scenario is not the case. ‘Decadence’ in my perspective gets boring after a while and human beings are creative and innovative at our core so hopefully our current malaise is not permanent as Douthat argues but rather a temporary blip on human history.

2. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

Perhaps the great ‘irony’ of our age will be that a President or a Senator won’t be the one to lead us out of our current decadence. Perhaps it will instead be a foreign-born entrepreneur who rose from nothing to build multiple successful ventures that could transform the way we transport ourselves and how we interact with the cosmos. Entrepreneur Elon Musk may be the one to help lead us out of decadence and he seems to be on the way to making a dent in the wall that prevents us from creating the future. As many people don’t realize, Mr. Musk did not have an easy childhood, moved around multiple times, and even was a mediocre student at times but what he has that all entrepreneurs need is grit, resolve, and determination. To create something out of nothing and build your vision to make it a reality is where Elon has succeeded where many others have failed.

Musk clearly did not do it on his own whether it was Zip2, PayPal, or SolarCity but he was able to create a team and even companies to carry out his lofty vision. His tolerance for risk as an entrepreneur both financially and personally is simply beyond most people’s comprehension. Elon Musk is an entrepreneur so dedicated to making his companies a success that he will pour millions of dollars from a previous venture into his next one to ensure its longevity. Elon is currently the third richest person in the world and this autobiography gives rare insight into what it took for Musk to get to this point today with more than two decades of setbacks, failures, and even a few lawsuits here and there to overcome.

Ashlee Vance does an excellent job highlighting who Musk is as a person, what drives him, how his childhood and family affected him, who were the people around him, how could Tesla and SpaceX change life in the future and how big of an impact could they really have. Vance is illustrative in showing the whole of Elon Musk, both the good and bad, of the visionary entrepreneur. While he disdains any notion of socialism in government policy, he has received millions in government subsidies to help his businesses; His commitment to succeed can sometimes cause him to fall out with others who feel they were not treated well or were not given the recognition that they thought they deserved. A good biography shows both the triumphs and the warts of a man and this one is no different. Overall, this biography is an excellent look into the man behind both Tesla and SpaceX who continues on his quest to change the world by molding its future.

3. The World: A Brief Introduction by Richard Haass

This book is a love letter to International Relations in 2020 (pre-COVID) by the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass. For those new to this field, it is a very enlightening and comprehensive book to ground someone especially in high school or their 1st year in college to know about the basics of the world in terms of foreign affairs and what are some of the main challenges of the 21st century for nation-states. While primarily a guide to the world for those new to international relations, I found that it is a good refresher for more advanced or experienced students of international affairs.

I enjoyed the historical overview, the breakdown of the regions in a succinct manner, and the number of economic, security, and development challenges that the world is grappling with at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century. Richard Haass would definitely be an excellent professor to have in your Introduction to International Relations / International Relations Theories and this book would be a good starter text to have.

Clocking in at around 400 pages total, no major detail is spared, and no region of the world is left uncovered. If you are not familiar with an issue in IR or a region where you don’t know the culture or the language, Haass’s book is a good way to familiarize yourself and to stay up to date with what is going on regionally or thematically. For those of you in high school interested in the world and geopolitics, this book is a good place to start. For those of you starting college and planning to major in international relations, it is likely you will be reading this book not before too long.

4. Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home by Matthew Kepnes

Home is whatever place you can find yourself comfortable in over a long enough period of time. I remember reading this piece of wisdom in Matthew Kepnes’s book and finding it to be quite the piece of truth. As a fellow traveler and shorter-term ‘nomad’ myself, Matthew’s travel memoir appealed to me because of its raw honesty and vulnerability. Life at home is comfortable but it can get dull and repetitive. Life on the road is new and exhilarating but can also lead to a sense of fatigue moving from place to place without settling down roots or losing friends and relationships as you feel the call to move somewhere else.

In my experience, Travel memoirs can be rather hit or miss but this one by Mr. Kepnes is on the mark in terms of the ups and downs of long-term travel and also about staying in a country for a year or more. I was personally away from home in my 20s for over three years and I can only imagine how ten years on the road would fundamentally change who I am, what I value, and how I want to live my life.

I really admire Matthew’s deep understanding on the joys of travel and how lucky we are to be on the road when we can. Travel is a privilege that especially now, we tend to have taken for granted. Once you get started on the path outside your town or country, it can be impossible to put the genie back in the bottle. That nomadic yearning to live life on your own terms, on your own pace is a flickering light that can burnish again with renewed intensity often times when we least expect it. This memoir highlights how rewarding travel can be, how much it can develop your personality and your worldview, and why it is so important to listen to your gut at times to know what you want in life.

Some of us travelers are meant to have one foot out of the door at all times and when we stay in one place too long, we tend to get stir crazy. I think what Matthew learned is how important it is to find that balance of being a nomad at heart but finding roots somewhere while keeping the freedom he gained over many years of hard work of being an independent writer, a recognized travel expert, and an overall creator with an ability to work remotely, which may becoming more and more common into the future.

You may think starting the journey is the hardest step to take when you’re going out on the road, but I find it’s true instead how coming home is often the hardest thing you’ll do when the journey comes to an inevitable end at some point. The good thing that Matthew notes in his memoir is that the nomad or the traveler is always within us even after the journey ends and that eternal flame can be rekindled making it easier and easier to get out on the road in the future to have more journeys without feeling that fear of the first step as happens on the first journey out of our comfort zone.