This month was an intense one as far as reading is concerned since I began studying and applying Mussar to my everyday life. I read three books on that subject, slowly and carefully, underlining a bunch of passages and ideas to come back to later. So there aren’t as many books here as there have been, but it’s been very fulfilling. April is National Poetry Month, so I’ll try to fit that in. I hope you enjoy As always, if you have any reading recommendations, I’m all ears!
“I had worked with this prisoner for more than three years, but I had no idea that Shakespeare—and I—had that kind of impact… I had never had that kind of impact on anyone. I had never saved anyone’s life before.”
I got an email about the Big Library Read inviting readers from around the world March 17-31 to read and discuss this book. Since there were unlimited digital copies available, I figured why not. Click on that link to learn more about Laura Bates and her groundbreaking work within the prison community.
“For the next two hours, with no chairs in the cells, they kneeled on the concrete floor in front of the cuff ports. With the shackles still on their ankles, the prisoners communicated with one another through those little slots. Gradually, they grew accustomed to face-to-face communication, something they could not otherwise experience in the SHU. And they grew eager to begin their journey into new worlds, created some four hundred years earlier, by one William Shakespeare. Surely, solitary confinement was the most absurd environment in which Shakespeare had ever been studied.”
“This prison that we’re in physically doesn’t matter. We were prisoners before we got here, and we’ll be prisoners when we leave here unless we realize that we’re fighting the wrong battle. What matters is your own psychological prison—and you can break those chains. What have you got to lose? What else do you have to do? The worst that can happen is that you miss one television show. The best that can happen is that you find true freedom.” (Larry, one of the prisoners)
Another great title for this book would have been “Regaining Lost Humanity.” I was shocked to read about the discussions the plays brought forth among the groups that met for weekly discussions with Dr. Bates. They related to them so completely and used them as a platform to examine their own lives. Highly recommend this one.
The Confidant: A Novel by Helene Gremillion
Wow. Just when I thought I’d figured out the mysteries in this novel, another perspective was added and I saw how much more complex the story was. I read this in a day, it was that good a story. Every story really has many sides. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just recommend this one and say that it gets more interesting the further you read.
The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth
There were a few years when I was extremely devoted to reading The New Yorker every week. I love reading memoirs of its past employees and story collections from their regular writers. Ms. Groth worked primarily in one job there for 21 years and learned quite a bit about its writers. I can think of many ways this book could be improved upon, but in the end her heartfelt tributes to some of her favorite friends are delightful to read. Recommend.
A Sense of the Mysterious: Science and the Human Spirit by Alan Lightman
“In these brilliant essays, Lightman explores the emotional life of science, the power of imagination, the creative moment, and the alternate ways in which scientists and humanists think about the world.” (from Goodreads.com)
“If Watson and Crick hadn’t discovered the double-helical structure of DNA, then someone else would. Science brims with colorful personalities, but the most important thing about a scientific result is not the scientist who found it but the result itself. Because that result is universal. In a sense, that result already exists. It is only found by the scientist. For me, this impersonal, disembodied character of science is both its great strength and its great weakness.
“I couldn’t help comparing the situation to my other passion, the arts. In the arts, the individual is the essence. Individual expression is everything. You can separate Einstein from the equations of relativity, but you cannot separate Beethoven from “The Moonlight Sonata.” No one will ever write The Tempest except Shakespeare or The Trial except Kafka.
“I loved the grandeur, the power, the beauty, the logic and precision of science, but I also ached to express something of myself — my individuality, the particular way that I saw the world, my unique way of being… I would continue following my passion in science, but I could no longer suppress my passion for writing.”
This is a highly enjoyable, if academic, set of essays. I thought the portraits of Einstein, Feynman, Edward Teller, and others were really compelling. Highly recommend.
History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
This is such a compelling and terrific read! It’s a rags-to-riches bildungsroman of a young man who becomes a tutor for an anxious boy in a very well-to-do family in the early 20th century. Each character in the household is so well-developed and likeable, no matter what less-than-admirable actions they take… the main character is one of those people that everyone strives to be… compelling, magnetic, changeable. I was quite engrossed with this one and read into the wee hours because I couldn’t put it down. I won’t give anything away, but let me warn you that it’s a bit sexually graphic at times. I read one review that said this novel is “like Henry James on Viagara,” which I’d say is very apt. Recommend for sure.
Once I started reading about Morinis’ journey to find out more about the Jewish practice of Mussar and his experiences with his mentor, I couldn’t stop reading. This memoir is so engaging and casual, yet written so well that it’s hard to stop reading. Morinis is honest about what he’s feeling in each step of his learning process. I could relate to all of it… his non-Orthodox religious life with his family, his questions, his observations, and his conclusions. Highly recommend.
Everyday Holiness: The Jewish Spiritual Path of Mussar by Alan Morinis
This book could serve as a textbook for an “Intro to Mussar” class. It’s filled with lessons, source texts, and ways to apply the principles to your life. You don’t need to be Jewish to fully learn from this text and integrate it’s self-improvement lessons into your life. Highly recommend.
With Heart in Mind: Mussar Teachings to Transform Your Life by Alan Morinis
Mussar is a Jewish tradition of practical wisdom and guidance for inner living. The main gift that the Mussar tradition makes available to us is a very accurate map of the inner life, along with practices to help us develop in the direction of our ideals. This new book takes each of the 48 “soul traits” and describes how to work with each quality. This is another insightful, simple guide toward changing your life in a meaningful way.
In his introduction, Morinis states that “redoing ourselves—the project of becoming a new being—is meant to be the central thrust of our lives.”
I have learned in an online course I’m currently taking that Mussar isn’t so much something to study as something you do. Each of the “soul traits” in the book is meant to be focused on for a week because the best way to change is through personal observation and practical steps, so this book should take a year to get through. There are excellent practical ideas for every person in this book. I will be going back and focusing on each as I continue learning. Highly recommend.
If you missed this month’s Mussar-related posts, you can read them here:
- What is your personal spiritual curriculum?
- How is humility connected to anger?
- Is compassion an action or a feeling?
- As you do, so you become
No Regrets Parenting: Turning Long Days and Short Years into Cherished Moments with Your Kids by Harley A. Rotbart, MD
This quick read is for parents who are beyond busy with their own lives but want to maximize the time spent with their children. It’s about experiencing joy and making memorable moments while still having to rush out the door in the morning. Its short chapters are filled with great suggestions for how to make the most of opportunities and enjoy your parenting experience.
I like this description of the book from Goodreads: “There is a simple, single truth for every parent. Your kids need you to be there. They need to see who you are and how you live your life. And, in return, they will help you to better see who you are and how you should be living your life. No Regrets Parenting is about time. Finding enough of it and making the most of it.” Recommend.
I had known of King Solomon’s wisdom and his job as the son of King David in completing the building of the Temple. I did not know about his marriage to the Queen of Sheba, nor did I know a thing about her. Doreen Virtue, in this first novel, must have combed through countless historical and archeological sources to write this book. The descriptions of the archangels and the details of everyday life in the biblical period were fascinating. I found the explanation of how the Temple was built, as well as other marvels like the Pyramids or Stonehenge, to be fascinating. Recommend.
What have you been reading lately? And are you on Goodreads? I’d love to connect there.