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.

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Intervention

(Note: “Five-Minute Friday” is an activity adapted from Kate Motaung’s blog. Each week, I use https://randomwordgenerator.com/ and write for five minutes straight with the word as a prompt, free-write style with no editing and no over-thinking.)

At the start of this week, I spent time with Stephen King via reading his On Writing, a book I’ve owned since it came out and thought I had read, but clearly I didn’t since none of it seemed familiar. In it, he claims writers can’t hone their craft unless they are also readers. He reads 70-80 books a year, which surprised me because that’s about my yearly haul, too, or at least it has been since I’ve recommitted to reading a few years ago.

For me, books are interventions of sorts. Whether fiction or non, something in what I am reading resonates with me and causes me to pause and think about an issue from a different angle. King’s On Writing was a much-needed intervention because it reminded me – re-inspired me, if you will – to get back to the book I’ve been working on but have strayed away from. Actually, it also reminded me of a story idea that’s been in my head for a decade or more that I’ve never developed (a different story than the BIG BOOK PROJECT).

The book I am about to finish today, Purple Hibiscus, by one of my board of directors, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is prompting me to think more about religion and how healthy it is for children (teens) to think for themselves and search for their own meanings – whether they circle back to their parents’ beliefs or not.

The scene that lies in the background for both of these books and the “interventions” they raised for me is when my father insisted I make my confirmation. At the moment, it strikes me as the only parenting move of his that I cannot understand.

Five-Minute Friday: Contradiction

I’m increasingly interested in the concept of “both/and,” and I wish I had heard about it earlier. Maybe I did and dismissed it, too difficult a dichotomy to understand. Now, though, I see it not only as an alternative to “either/or” but really THE TRUTH.

I’m thinking of the #MeToo movement. People can be BOTH kind, generous, friendly AND predatory. People can be BOTH supportive AND sexist. For that matter, people can be BOTH advocates of social justice AND racist.

Adopting a “both/and” mentality allows me to see so much more than I could with an “either/or” outlook.

Yesterday, my brother-in-law and I enjoyed an unexpectedly long car ride (thank you, Boston traffic – how I haven’t missed you!). We get along well and are similar in a lot of ways. In the span of a roughly 15-mile ride, we discussed parenting, death, writing, Stephen King, and work (not specifics, but more philosophical ideas about paychecks and such), among other things.

In the context of this conversation, he gave me a book rec, Everything is Horrible and Wonderful. It’s a memoir written by a sister after her brother (a writer for Parks and Rec) died of a heroin overdose. I obviously have not read the book yet, but the title alone appeals to me because, really, isn’t this true about just about everything that matters in life?