June Books

Now we’re talking! After a few months of minimal reading, I’m almost back up to speed.

June brought a wide variety of books, too.

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Half of What You Hear by Kristyn Kusek Lewis – A woman new to town takes on an assignment to write about an infamous, long-time resident, one with connections to her husband’s family she never knew. It’s an easy beach read, but I’d recommend others over this one given its poor payoff.

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – Websites describe the book as Bridget Jones’s Diary meets Americanah, and that’s probably better than any description I could provide, but I’ll add one more reference – add a healthy cup of Amazon Prime’s Fleabag to the mix, and you’ve got Queenie. The title character is a Jamaican British woman trying to figure it all out, making several poor choices along the way. I really loved this character, especially when we learn (alongside her) how her past affects her present.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent – This is a difficult book to read, and had I known more about the content before picking it up, I would not have; I have a hard time reading about kids in peril, and an even harder time when sexual abuse is added to the mix. But, I finished it, and I will say the ending was very satisfying. Readers who aren’t put off by the content might find this worthwhile.

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson – Given my penchant for short stories, and all of the “Best of 2018” lists this collection made, I gave it a whirl. All narrated by very flawed men (“Strangler Bob” gives you an idea), some of the stories were intriguing, but George Saunders, he is not.

Cribsheet by Emily Oster – I don’t recommend books I haven’t read, and this is especially true in recommending books to new parents. So I had to read this one before telling my sister and brother-in-law to pick it up. The concept is brilliant – Oster is an economist who says all decisions – including parenting ones – need to be weighed with a sort of cost/benefit analysis, and we also need to consider who benefits. She reviews the research on hot-button issues and lays out the pros and cons so that parents can make the decisions for themselves. Perhaps my favorite passage to sum up her approach is this: “The bottom line—perhaps the most important in this book—is that parents are people, too. Having a kid doesn’t make you stop being a person with needs and desires and ambitions. It almost certainly changes those, but it doesn’t eliminate them. Being a good parent isn’t about completely subsuming your entire personhood into your children. In fact, if you let your kids rule, it can have the opposite effect.”

The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip by George Saunders – Longer than a typical short story but still shorter than a novella, this fable teaches the value of kindness and compassion and community. Perhaps reading it and enjoying Lane Smith’s illustrations with a younger audience would have made more of an impact on me, but as it was, this isn’t my favorite Saunders piece.

Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields – Who knew Brooke Shields could write?! If you want to better understand postpartum depression, Shields’s honest memoir is an educational, insightful read.

Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon – A memoir about growing up black and overweight, Heavy is well-written and reads like a novel. Laymon covers his complicated relationship with his mother, academia, his weight, and love. If memoirs are your favorite genre, this is worth a read.

The best of June:
Queenie for lovers of Bridget Jones’s Diary, Americanah, and Fleabag
Cribsheet for new parents or parents-to-be
Heavy: An American Memoir for lovers of this genre

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March Books

Reading is my refuge – an informational or imaginative rabbit hole to go down to escape from the real world.

So, reading less means life is really good – no rabbit holes necessary – or so bad that even picking up a book is too taxing.

March was the latter.

But, 3 out of 4 of these books were excellent, so quality filled in where quantity lacked.

The Friend: A Novel by Sigrid Nunez – Any writer or lover of language ought to enjoy this 2018 winner of the National Book Award. A woman’s best friend and writing mentor dies unexpectedly from suicide, and she inherits his Great Dane. But despite the cover and some write-ups, this book is not about the bond with “man’s best friend” (read Stein’s Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog if you want that). At turns funny (“Your whole house smells of dog, says someone who comes to visit. I say I’ll take care of it. Which I do by never inviting that person to visit again”), sometimes meditative (“What we miss—what we lose and what we mourn—isn’t it this that makes us who, deep down, we truly are. To say nothing of what we wanted in life but never got to have.”), this beautiful book is one I might have to reread to catch the nuances I missed the first time around.

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro – My mother recommended this book to me, as she knows I’m a sucker for a fellow daughter wanting to know more about her history after her dad dies, which is what this memoir chronicles. Like the author, I did an Ancestry DNA test; unlike the author, I did not learn that my dad wasn’t my biological father. Shapiro tries to piece together her past and make peace with what she learns, and I was turning the pages quickly to find out how.

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero – I don’t remember how this book made its way to me, as I’m not a fan of motivational-speaking type books. It’s not a surprise that I wasn’t particularly fond of this one. She’s a grittier Rachel Hollis. Where Hollis encourages you to be the best version of yourself, Sincero encourages you to buy a car you can’t afford as a push to inspire you to make more money. Seriously.

Factfulness by Hans Rosling – How should we make sense of the world today? Rosling’s book lays out ten perspective-skewing inclinations (often polarities) we should challenge to achieve “factfulness,” defined as “the stress-reducing habit of only carrying opinions for which you have strong supporting facts.” In case you think the book doesn’t apply to you, he schools you quickly with a quiz about global trends to show you just how wrong your view of the world is. The results are humbling. The book is comforting. If you liked 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, you will like this one, too.

The best of the month:
This is easy, based on your genre of choice.

The Friend for fiction, especially if you like writing.
Inheritance for memoir, especially if you are intrigued by genetics and the moral dilemmas DNA invites.
Factfulness for nonfiction, especially if you’re into world news and global thinking.
Heck, maybe even You are a Badass if you need a (Bad)ass-kicking.

Who’s on Your Board?

20180716_172758At the Creative Problem Solving Institute I’ve attended for the past two years, one of the tools to inspire new thinking about a challenge is to imagine how someone else would solve it. A set of BrainNoodling cards I purchased promotes this idea; it contains 40 cards featuring different people whose lives and values prompt questions for you to apply to your life, like this one on Mother Teresa.

I’m taking this idea and appointing myself a Board of Directors. (Yes, I know it’s mid-July, and this activity seems better suited for the start of the year, but as someone in education, summer is when I hit the reset button, so July ’18 – July ’19 it is. Plus, this is my board, and I can appoint them when I wish.)

Apparently, this concept of a personal board of directors is not original. Forbes talked about it in February, though theirs is more reality-based than mine. They suggest you pick people you have regular contact with, people who check off different criteria such as one in your field, someone who can introduce you to others, one who will critique you, etc. I think it’s great advice, and maybe someday I will take it.

But for my first Board of Directors, I’ve picked people whose lives can inform and inspire my specific goals for the next 12 months. Though it would be phenomenal if I could, I will not physically meet with them for regular check-ins; out of the 6 people on my board, 3 are dead, and 4 of them wouldn’t even know who I am.

Instead, it’s up to me to remind myself of their purpose and, if all goes well, my board members will guide me with their spirits. In no particular order, here’s who I’ve picked and why:

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P!nk, for her body positivity, down to Earth parenting/marriage views, commitment to artistry and creativity, and for her athleticism.

My dad, for always wanting what’s best for me, for our shared values, for his fatherly wisdom, and for his undying (ha!) support.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for her inclusive concept of feminism, her dedication to her craft, and for her reminders to reject (and not write) the “single story.”

Brené Brown, for her urging to choose courage over comfort, her guidance on bravery and necessary conversations, her love of research, and for her belief in creativity and vulnerability.

Mamie Till, for her strength and ability to channel her grief for good, her faith and devotion to her son, and for championing Civil Rights and challenging the status quo with grace and tenacity.

Donald Murray, for his generosity, his reminders to write a line a day, and for his dedication to his family.

My list of runners-up for future consideration is long, but these are the people who can best challenge me and cheer me on to reach my current goals.

I think this is a worthy exercise, but even if you don’t do it to the extent I am, I’m curious: If you were to appoint your own Board of Directors, who would be on it and why?