July Books

Oh, July – that glorious month of vacation when I can catch up on my reading and surround myself with new worlds, words, and ideas. Lucky for me, there wasn’t a bad book in this month’s batch.

July Books

The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg – In many ways, my brother-in-law is the male version of me, so when he recommends a book, I almost always like it. Case in point with this one, which looks at how we can change habits and use them to our advantage, whether individually, organizationally, or societally. I had not heard of the way he broke it down before, and it made much sense.

Quantum Wellness by Kathy Freston – I organized a Wellness Challenge this month for other women, and this book came up in my research. Freston focuses more on food (and advocates veganism) than I would have liked from a book on overall wellness, but her general message of balance between mind-body-spirit and what she calls the 4 quadrants (regular, relate, rejuvenate, and reach) was solid.

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield – Recommended to me at the Creative Problem Solving Institute, this slim book addresses resistance creative people face. Pressfield (former Marine and author of The Legend of Bagger Vance) doesn’t offer anything ground-breaking, but it’s an easy and sometimes funny read/tough-love-kick-in-the-pants.

The Windfall: A Novel by Diksha Basu – This book made many “Best Of” lists when it came out in 2017 and has been dubbed the Indian version of Crazy Rich Asians (which I have not read so cannot speak to). It was warm, funny, and a bit more literary than your typical feel-good beach read.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting – I do not know to whom I would recommend this book, which tells the story of Celeste, a pedophilic female middle school teacher determined to seduce one of her 8th grade students. Frankly, some of the passages read like not-so-soft porn, and the only reason I stuck with it was to hopefully see Celeste’s downfall. From a writing perspective, Nutting successfully conveys the mind of a sociopath, which makes this a very difficult read, not for the faint of heart.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling – I have been an English teacher for 20 years and an avid reader for far longer. Until this July 11, I had never read Harry Potter. At first, it was because the timing of the first book didn’t work out for my life, and then there was a “What’s the point now?” mentality with each successive book and movie. Eventually, it became a shocking/ironic/fun fact. But. I am an avid reader. I am an English teacher. At some point, not having read a single book in one of the best-selling series of all time is more ignorant than ironic. My tipping point was how often it was referenced in a writing class I took at the Creative Problem Solving Institute. So, I read it. Now, I “get” it.

Glitter and Glue: A Memoir by Kelly Corrigan – Having loved her book Tell Me More (from May), I want to hear more from Corrigan. This memoir about her complicated relationship with her mother (who tells her that her father is the glitter, but she is the glue) was artfully done. Really, it’s not even about her mother, but rather what Corrigan comes to understand about mothers, including hers, from her brief stint as a nanny for a family that recently lost their mother. It’s a love letter to mothers that made me cry.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb – How to describe this gem about a therapist who goes through a bad breakup and then has to seek out her own therapist? It’s funny, it’s insightful, and it offers a fascinating look at the ethics and evolution of therapy. The book has already made many “Best of 2019” lists, and it’s being made into a tv series with Eva Longoria. I can’t wait to watch!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling – Clearly, I couldn’t just read the first book and stop. Dobby? So sweet. And who hasn’t met a version of Gilderoy Lockhart? Book 2 was even better than the first. But most of you probably know that.

The Caregiver by Samuel Park – This book received a lot of press with its release in late 2018 because it is Park’s final book; he died of stomach cancer at 41 right after finishing. The story moves between current day Mara, the caregiver of a childless divorcee dying of stomach cancer in California, and the childhood Mara, the caregiver of herself while her actress single mother tries to make ends meet in Rio be Janeiro by getting involved in some shady operations. Mara’s understanding of her mother unfolds throughout the story, and I wanted to read more of Park’s work when I finished, which makes his death even sadder.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling – Oh, I see! The story, and this fantasy world, gets more complex as the series continues. Sirius Black goes from Harry’s greatest threat to his biggest hope and then greatest act of selflessness in 435 pages. I’m still along for the ride.

Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People by Mark I. Rosen – This is the third book I read this month mentioned by a fellow Creative Problem Solving Institute attendee. The underlying belief Rosen expounds is the difficult people are in our lives to teach us something, and he brings in various spiritual traditions to support this argument. But, regardless of your faith background (or lack thereof – and Rosen acknowledges this could be the case), what makes this book valuable are the practical exercises Rosen provides in each chapter. I highly recommend the book if difficult people take up too much of your headspace.

The best of July:
I cannot possibly pick!

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.

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.