Sunday, July 05, 2015

Book #27: Delicious!

Once again Roger, who has a gift for selecting books I'd love, brought me home a treat.

And once again, I dug into the new book instead of the others in my stack. Or, more precisely, stacks.

Mostly what I want to stay about well known food writer Ruth Reichl's first novel is that I just wanted to climb inside the pages and live there.

I will also add this.

The mystery she unfolds through the course of the book could have easily been solved early on with a little bit of Googling instead of old-fashioned, heads-together, pavement-pounding sleuthing.

But that would have been like inhaling fast food.

If there is anything Ruth Reichl knows how to do, it is to weave the slow magic of good food--the scents and sights, the textures and tastes--through and around city streets, satisfying work, family and friends, and drinking it all in deeply. Of course she would take the long way around to solve the mystery.

Since I can't climb into a story someone else created, I've got to pay more attention to my own.

Less fast food. Less Internet surfing. Less of everything that is skimmed over and barely remembered by the end of the day.

More real food. More real people. More real conversation. More real life.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book #26: The Invention of Wings

When I was a kid, I may have swallowed a bit too much water spending summers swimming in Walden Pond. It may be why I savor a bit of thirst quenching civil disobedience.

Oh, say, like Bree Newsome scaling the flagpole on the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse this week and pulling off the Confederate flag. She knew she'd be arrested. She knew the flag would go back up. But she sure made a statement people could hear far and wide. Gutsy and brilliant.

The Invention of Wings is set in Charleston and is based on the lives of real life abolitionist and suffragette sisters, Sarah and Angelina Grimké, and Handful, a slave who was gifted to Sarah on Sarah's 11th birthday.

The book is written through the eyes of Sarah and Handful, who both had aspirations that were not suitable for their time. But they were determined to pursue them--even when they were terrified, even when the path was complicated and unclear, even when people pushed back on them hard and relentlessly, and even when they got in their own or each others' way.

"I felt alone in the world with my alien ideas," Sarah said, early on in the story. I knew exactly what she meant because I have, often in stunned wonder, felt that, too.

Am I really that alone?

Not all of us overcome fear. Not all of us find our voice. Not all of us teach our slave how to read in defiance of the law, in defiance of our parents, in defiance of our preachers. Not all of us follow our ambitions. Not all of us break free from our constraints.

Not all of us climb the flagpole.

But more than just one of us think about it.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book #25: The Long Loneliness

Last weekend, I overheard (and then nosed my way into) a conversation about a book club that focuses on reading memoirs and biographies of interesting women. Hello! These were my people!

I love reading about women who break out of societal norms, and, if they do choose to conform, how they manage to do it on their own terms. I love reading about what shapes their ideas and their lives. I love reading about the impact they've had on the world around them.

Coincidentally, I had just started reading The Long Loneliness, an autobiography written by Dorothy Day, "a nonviolent social radical of luminous personality . . . founder of the Catholic Worker Movement and leader for more than fifty years in numerous battles of social justice."

That conversation with strangers was serendipitous, but then as the week wore on, I realized just how prescient my choice to read this particular book had been.

On Wednesday night at an historical black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a white man attended Bible study and an hour in, after singing and praying and talking with them, he shot and killed nine people. Because they were black.

With that context, reading about Dorothy Day's life took on a new urgency for me.

Early on, she was put off by organized religion because she had so often seen religion used to justify inhumanity and indifference to inhumanity. Exploitation, violence, oppression, extreme economic inequality, racial injustice.

And yet, increasingly, she was drawn toward God until eventually she converted to Catholicism. That is the story she wanted to tell in this book. How her spiritual journey informed her life's work.

By the end she says this: " . . . the final word is love. At times it has been, in the words of Father Zossima [The Brothers Karamazov], a harsh and dreadful thing, and our very faith in love has been tried by fire. We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. . . We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. It all happened while we sat there talking, and it is still going on."

It all happened while we sat there talking.

It all happened while we sat there talking.

It all happened while we sat there talking.

This morning a friend posted, with deep emotion and a lifetime of experience as a black man in America, that he is "absolutely convinced that the subject of race can and will never be discussed honestly."

We need, all of us, for the sake of our humanity, to bear the trial by fire and work on proving my friend wrong.

The shooter in Charleston later said that he almost didn't go through with it because everyone was so kind.

It all happened while we sat there talking. 

To love we must know each other.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Book #24: The Clockwork Three

I've been meaning to check out Matthew Kirby's writing for a while because he's a good friend of good friends of ours.

When I heard he was going to have a launch party for his most recent book, The Arctic Code, at The King's English Bookshop at the end of April, I shifted into high gear and got a copy of his first book to start reading with Jack before taking him to hear Matt speak.

The most memorable moment in his presentation for me? When he told us how he responds to a question he can't quite believe he gets so often (isn't it 2015?!): Why does he write so many books with lead characters who are girls?

"Why not?" he says.

Over the years, Jack has read and loved many books with interesting and strong female main characters. Many of them we have read together. Maybe by the time he starts reading books with his own children, this will have ceased to be something unusual.

So it may have taken a while (hey, it's nearly 400 pages and teenagers do have lives of their own), but Jack and I wrapped up our reading of The Clockwork Three today. What an intricate story, woven together in a way that kept us intrigued from start to finish!

And Matt, if you happen to be reading this, I need to tell you that I got a little choked up as I read the last few paragraphs. You ended the book on just the right note.

Wish we still had our bookstore so we could sell the heck out of your work.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Book #23: The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

Because I don't have enough books, Roger brought this home as a present for me this week. I found it fun, joyful, charming, jaunty. Just like the blurbs said it was. A good start to summer, when I tend to read more fiction.

The main character owns a bookstore on an island off the coast of my home state of Massachusetts. He becomes a parent when he adopts a child, who grows up to love books, too.

Four favorite story lines in my life right there.

Then there is a character who is a teacher. A character in law enforcement. A character who wants to write. A character who retired from the computer industry. More and more mirrors reflecting bits of my own crazy, crooked path.

And then this, from near the end, "We are not quite novels. . . We are not quite short stories. . . In the end, we are collected works."

Maybe remember that line for my obituary some day. But not until after I've added a few more plot twists, k?

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Book #22: An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth

Scene One

I am at a conference - an action camp, actually - focused on achieving functional zero when it comes to chronic homelessness (the same people experiencing multiple episodes) in our community by the end of 2016. The second morning, we are asked to include the name of a song that represents us as we introduce ourselves.

"Dream On" by Aerosmith, I say.

Scene Two

An hour or two later, we go over the post-it notes we wrote on in a brainstorming activity. For the third time in less than 24 hours, I hear someone say, "Yeah, that will never happen."

I rankle. "We need to stop saying 'never.' We're meant to be opening up possibilities, new ways of approaching our challenge!"

Scene Three

At lunch time I pull out the book I have to start for book club a few days later. I read about author Chris Hadfield seeing Neil Armstrong walk on the moon when he was nine. It sparked his dream. "I knew, with absolute clarity, that I wanted to be an astronaut."

But then he wrote, "I also knew, as did every kid in Canada, that it was impossible. Astronauts were American. NASA only accepted applicants from U.S. citizens, and Canada didn't even have a space agency."

He went on to become an astronaut.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Book #21: Alive Again

Last Saturday, I stopped at Costco to buy a cake for Roger and Jack's birthday. As I walked to the bakery at the back of the store, I saw an old friend from our bookstore days who had written a book and had gotten into some small-scale publishing. He was there with his new author Scott Mitchell, former NFL quarterback and Biggest Loser contestant, and a table full of Scott's books.

After I picked up the cake, I stopped to chat with them and discovered that Scott grew up in our town and is building a house a few blocks away from where we live. (I later discovered that I know his best friend from childhood and we actually have 24 mutual friends on Facebook. Who knew?)

So, of course, I had to buy the book.

I must say, though, it was slightly awkward standing there holding a nearly 10-pound cake (including two pounds of chocolate mousse!) while a Biggest Loser contestant signed it for me.

On Monday morning during one of my classes at the jail, we talked about how personal growth and connection requires vulnerability--being willing to fail and willing to be seen for who we really are. I shared some ideas from Carol Dweck's Mindset and showed them Brené Brown's TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.

Then later that day and less than ten pages into Alive Again, I read this: "Initially I didn't want to go on the show. I felt so guarded and defeated in life. I thought, 'There's no way I'm going to be on this show and expose myself to vulnerability.' I just didn't think I was emotionally up to it. . . . I have to admit it was a surprise when I jumped in with both feet, opened up and shared my feelings. . . . I found that my vulnerability and willingness to share my feelings was what resonated with most people. They wanted to hear that I was a real person with real problems."

The entire emotional journey Scott goes on to tell in his book is full of evidence that Brené Brown is onto something when she says vulnerability is "the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."

I'm glad Scott discovered that. 

I'm working on discovering that too. Being courageously vulnerable. It's sure not easy and it'll be a life-long process, but when I do risk it, I am always rewarded in unexpected and often beautiful ways.