Here’s the second installment of my brief reviews and thoughts on the books I’m reading during our journey. Recommendations are always welcome!
Barrel Fever: Stories and Essays by David Sedaris
I love David Sedaris’ quirky, hilarious, sassy writing. I picked this up for a quick, light laugh but the essays here are far darker (still hilarious but also freakish) than a lot of his other work. If you don’t have a strong stomach, skip this one and read When You Are Engulfed in Flames instead.
“’Do you mind if we make this a no-smoking bench?’ There is no ‘we.’ Our votes automatically cancel one another out. What she meant was, ‘Do you mind if I make this a no-smoking bench?’ This woman was wearing a pair of sandals, which are always a sure sign of trouble. They looked like the sort of shoes Moses might have worn while he chiseled regulations onto stone tablets. I looked at her sandals and at her rapidly moving arms and I crushed my cigarette. I acted like it was no problem and then I stared at the pages of my book, hating her and Moses — the two of them.”
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Wow. If you are an introvert, or married to one, or best friends with one, or… really if you are a human, please read this book. As an introvert who pretends pretty well (?) to be an extrovert (Nate is actually the extrovert – surprise!), this book was illuminating, encouraging, and life-giving to me. Cain cites a lot of intriguing and little-known research about the not-so-great-outcomes of our culture’s obsession with teamwork, brainstorming, and gregariousness. You do you, whoever you are. And note that other people’s needs may differ even more from your own than you realize.
“Introversion- along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness- is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.”
Small Wonder: Essays by Barbara Kingsolver
Barbara Kingsolver. I am so grateful to my former co-worker/current friend Erin for introducing me to her work in High Tide in Tuscon: Essays from Now or Never. And I’ve been even more delighted to find that my mother-in-law and Barbara Kingsolver seem to have so much in common in terms of personality traits and wisdom. I’m really darn lucky. Kingsolver collected these essays in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Real and raw and compelling us to be more than we have been as a nation, she reminds us of the simplicity and the necessity of living life free from hate, revenge, judgement, and yes, even the reliance of non-renewable energy sources. Man, I love how these themes come together in her writing and I hope you do to.
“There can be no greater spiritual accomplishment than to come through brutal trials and then look back and see that mean times did not render us mean spirits.”
“Oh, how can I say this: People need wild places. Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to be able to taste grace and know once again that we desire it. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers. To be surrounded by a singing, mating, howling commotion of other species, all of which love their lives as much as we do ours, and none of which could possibly care less about our economic status or our running day calendar. Wildness puts us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.”
Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
I don’t think there will ever be a Jon Krakauer book I won’t like. Do you see a theme? I’ve been in unfamiliar places for weeks on end and grabbing for every familiar/favorite author I can find. I respect Krakauer for writing this book as a way to grieve and heal and find meaning in the disaster he experienced. The book is both action-packed and horrifying because it’s based on a real event. It sheds light on the recent influx of touristy climbers and also on the sherpas that guide and serve them. With May’s earthquakes in Nepal killing more Everest climbers during this most popular time of year to attempt a summit, I find myself praying for folks sometimes when I wake up, knowing that there may be a few brave and committed souls scratching up ice and rock to stand on top of the world today.
“This forms the nub of a dilemma that every Everest climber eventually comes up against: in order to succeed you must be exceedingly driven, but if you’re too driven you’re likely to die.”
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath
This is probably the most useful book I’ve read yet and it really made me want to get back to Boston and get back to work! So many implications for public health, for leading organizations, for inspiring communities, and for changing yourself. A fascinating array of social research, cobbled together in a clear, concise, and straightforward way with a wonderful challenge to put it to use!
“A good change leader never thinks, “Why are these people acting so badly? They must be bad people.” A change leader thinks, “How can I set up a situation that brings out the good in these people?”
Fluent in Three Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn to Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World by Benny Lewis
It’s obvious. I could have been studying Spanish or just starting random conversations in Buenos Aires instead of reading this book (in English). However, it was a quick read and helpful to know that I’m not facing certain failure as I continue my eight year adventure of learning Spanish without classes or books. The author has learned over 12+ languages all after the age of 21. The encouragement here is: JUST SPEAK IT. Make a fool of yourself, don’t be shy, do look for opportunities. Don’t worry about reading or writing or even listening as much as you worry about expressing yourself. That’s where the real growth comes. Now to just do it…
“A language is a means of communication and should be lived rather than taught.”
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Nate is finishing this as I type and I’m so excited for him! This book could easily be made into an action movie (I’m calling it – it will happen). It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. It’s long but engrossing and an incredible story about tragedy, unlikely friendships, and accidental art theft. Definitely a great read if you want to escape into a colorful and captivating story.
“A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”
The Wild Things by Dave Eggers
No, it’s not quite the one you’re thinking of. A full-length novel written in 2009 and based off of the screenplay process for the film version of Maurice Sendak’s children’s book, this is Where the Wild Things Are for people slightly-bigger-than-children. It’s a quick read and will transport you back in time, but it has themes that loom as large and mighty as the wild things themselves in adult life. Each time I read it (this is my third), I notice new ways in which those wild things are actually all of us (and so is Max). Reading this always makes this 29 year old woman long to be a little boy, king of a crooked country; “part wind and part wolf”.
“It looked a lot like a dog.
‘What’s that?’ Max asked, expecting to hear about a mythical creature with a mythical name.
Carol squinted and put his hand over his eyes to see better. ‘Oh that’s a dog,’ he said. ‘I don’t talk to that guy anymore.'”
“She looked at Max, grinning for a moment. ‘Wow, I can’t even look at you.’
She closed her eyes tightly.
‘Why?’ Max asked.
Her eyes remained closed, a wide smile on her face.
‘I don’t know. I guess you just seem good.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked.
She opened one eye, just a sliver.
‘Yeah, wow. It’s almost unbearable.’”
The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama
This was interesting to me mostly because it’s a look at Obama before he knew he’d become the President of the United States. I’m familiar with a lot of his policies which are outlined here, so no surprises there. But what I was intrigued by is his embrace of the “grey” areas in life and politics. He has an ability to see multiple sides and perspectives and give credence where credence is due, which is a quality I’d like to see advance in myself as well as throughout our country. I also struggle with patriotism because I don’t agree with so many ways we live life in America. His view of what America could be helped instill in me a little bit more of a love for our country.
“They are out there, I think to myself, those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way-in their own lives, at least- to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves.
…I imagine they are waiting for a politics with the maturity to balance idealism and realism, to distinguish between what can and cannot be compromised, to admit the possibility that the other side might sometimes have a point. They don’t always understand the arguments between right and left, conservative and liberal, but they recognize the difference between dogma and common sense, responsibility and irresponsibility, between those things that last and those that are fleeting. They are out there, waiting for Republicans and Democrats to catch up with them.”
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
I saw this movie in the theaters before we left Boston and was as equally annoyed by it then as when I read it now. It’s a well-crafted story and full of action, which is why I felt drawn to it in book form. It gave me a great distraction when I was super sick in Uyuni, Bolivia. But both times I experienced this story I was struck by just how bored and manipulative privileged people can be. Crazy gone girl, you could use your talents and leverage for way, way more than the insane – actually insane – stuff you pull for no reason in this book. Read this if you want to feel really great about your marriage. Because this is just downright disturbing.
“I was told love should be unconditional. That’s the rule, everyone says so. But if love has no boundaries, no limits, no conditions, why should anyone try to do the right thing ever? If I know I am loved no matter what, where is the challenge? I am supposed to love Nick despite all his shortcomings. And Nick is supposed to love me despite my quirks. But clearly, neither of us does. It makes me think that everyone is very wrong, that love should have many conditions. Love should require both partners to be their very best at all times.”