Landline by Rainbow Rowell

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Landline by Rainbow Rowell

I’m really loving Rowell’s books. This had all the readability of a great YA lit book but was about an adult relationship on the brink. It was smart and the characters were real, and I closed it feeling super-satisfied (and a little homesick for my husband.)

Read this when you want something quick and delightful that will grip your heart.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

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Dietland by Sarai Walker

Dietland was recommended to me by a colleague, Eve Vawter (she ended up doing an amaaazing interview with Walker, too.) “You are going to love this book,” she said. I’ve been pickier than usual with my reading lately, opting for fast-paced plot-driven books over the meandering literary stuff I sometimes enjoy.

“Is it a pretty easy read?” I asked

“Uh. I read it in one sitting.”

Well, that makes two of us. Sarai Walker has managed to blend fat positivity, anti-diet manifesto with a fun (radical?) feminist adventure.

Read this if you want a page turner that isn’t light on subject matter, if you’re over the diet industry machine, or if sometimes you fantasize about justice served with explosions. 

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

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Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown

You might not know the name Brené Brown, but you are probably familiar with her TED talk on vulnerability and shame. Brown is a researcher. If you are like any number of the people I have mentioned that talk to, you probably remember it well. It may have even changed the way you see the world. I know there are all kinds of criticisms of TED talks, but if you have to give one a pass… it’s probably this one.

Brown’s premise of that TED talk, and of this book, is that many of us live our lives trying to find ways to avoid shame by shutting down vulnerability. And we do this in a lot of ways, many which she talks about, but the story that resonated with me most deeply was avoiding vulnerability by chasing perfection. This is something I recognized in myself but not on those terms. I caught myself thinking, If I do this perfectly, and it fails, well at least you can’t blame me.

It has also shut down almost every creative aspect of my life and I didn’t realize it. Why don’t you write? Because writing makes me vulnerable, and what if someone says something, and I know that it wasn’t perfect, so it’s my fault that they criticized it, and then I have to face knowing that I didn’t do it well enough?

I was so caught up in doing what I was Supposed to Do (in order to avoid being blamed for not coming through in any aspect of my life) that I couldn’t even hear myself over the loudness of don’t forget to do this, you’ll regret it if you don’t do that, you’ll let everyone down if…

So to make a long, mostly puzzled story short, this book taught me four things that I am trying to work into my consciousness:

1) Life is not as good when you spend it with your guard up

2) Doing things perfectly will not save you from shame

3) Fear is the enemy of creativity. It won’t let you write. It won’t let you push boundaries. It won’t let you innovate. 

4) Everyone else you care about probably feels almost exactly as bad as you do.

Critic

criticism is not the truth

it will not make you invulnerable

or perfect

it will not make you reach higher

and rising to each demand

will not make you whole

it is okay to just be

to be there and alive and struggling

imagine if inside your head

each time you hear not good enough

instead your heard silence

what if instead of do better you heard

you are okay

it will all be okay

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

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The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

This book was really powerful for me. It’s a series of essays that starts with the author describing her experience as a Medical Actor – someone who plays a patient with a script of symptoms and issues that a doctor in training must then diagnose. It continues on to tell stories of 100 mile hell marathons, Morgellons disease and the people who believe they have it, and more. 

Jamison does a really lovely job of blending philosophy and fact, being smart but accessible and really teasing out the ways in which we relate to each other – whether it’s our ideal selves or the reality of how we judge.

A few pieces that I underlined:

“This was the double blade of how I felt about anything that hurt: I wanted someone else to feel it with me, and also I wanted it entirely for myself.”

“Which is the sad half life of arguments – we usually remember our side better.”

“I needed people… to deliver my feelings back to me in a form that was legible. Which is a superlative kind of empathy to seek, or to supply: an empathy that rearticulates more clearly what it’s shown.”

“That the hardship facilitates a shared solitude, an utter isolation that has been experienced before, by others, and will be experienced again, that these others are present in spirit even if the wilds have tamed or aged or brutalized or otherwise removed their bodies.”

“I’m tired of female pain and also tired of people who are tired of it. I know the hurting woman is a cliche but I also know lots of women still hurt. I don’t like the proposition that female wounds have gotten old; I feel wounded by it.”

“We shouldn’t have to turn every scar into a joke. We shouldn’t have to be witty or backtrack or second-guess ourselves when we say, this shit hurt.

Read it if you want a good think about what it means to be a person trying to relate to other people… and someone to lead you through it.

The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich

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The Dream of a Common Language by Adrienne Rich

Beautiful. I read it because this is the book of poems, particularly the poem Power, that kept Wild (which I was rereading when I picked this up) author Cheryl Strayed going on her hike. I have to admit I don’t read poetry often, and much of it fails to connect with me. Power is the one that stuck with me, though the others were lovely, and it did suggest to me that I might want to seek out more poetry.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

You’ve probably already heard of this book, but. 

When I got it I was searching for a book about going into the wilderness since I was craving something like Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I was familiar with the story and had watched the documentary, but hadn’t ever read the book. I went to a big local chain used book store. When I asked for this book, they said, “Oh you mean the one with the boot on the front?” No…

When they took me to the travel section (Wild by Cheryl Strayed, I was annoyed to find out, was not placed in that section) I realized that 99% of the books there were written by men. Boo. I plan on making it a point to read some more books written by women who go on nature adventures, so if you have recommendations, let me know.

Anyway – the book was good. There’s an ongoing controversy about how Chris McCandless really dies, which I got sucked into an afternoon of reading about. I came away with the following feelings about him:

1) How sad that he died

2) I think there was a very real and particular reason that the author included so few of McCandless’s own words from his journals, being that he was very much a kid and I imagine his words were sort of self-indulgent and not conducive to the kind of picture Krakauer was trying to paint of him. Krakauer in certain places does state this, though I think he minimizes it. Which makes the controversy and arguments around his death so much more… confusing? Interesting? Shallow? This was a kid. A smart guy, so young… and the arguments range from “he was an idiot who didn’t respect the wilderness” to “he was a genius and died from something even a wilderness expert would have suspected” all of which seems beside the point to me.

3) McCandless made me think of my own brothers, where their lives will lead them. I thought of his indignation toward the hypocrisy of his parents – and the world – and I think there is a bit of that in everyone. What made him the one who tried to escape it by going into nature? By, in many ways, avoiding humanity altogether?

It’s a great book and will haunt you for a while, so if you haven’t read it yet, do. 

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Totally enjoyable. There was a little too much about the Upright Citizens Brigade that I didn’t feel I could relate to – it was a lot of name dropping, fun having, and stuff people who are into Improv would enjoy – but other than that, truly pleasant read. She’s personal but doesn’t divulge a bunch of secrets. There’s some solid advice but also some vulnerability and doubt, and that’s cool. 

Read if you want something breezy but pleasant and smart.

The Love Wife by Gish Jen

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The Love Wife by Gish Jen

Took me quite a long time to get through. Didn’t connect with these characters as much as I did in Typical American or Mona in the Promised Land. Still good. In a lot of ways this book is more about a well-meaning white lady trying to best care for her multiracial family and how the family reacts when a mother-figure Chinese woman starts living with them. It was also a little bit (a lot?) sad.

Read this for a fictional but serious look at the complications that multiracial families can face and the power of feeling that you are “like” someone else.