January – check!
I’ve been trying to simplify a little and have been de-owning things. Now I must work on the “doing too much.”
I counted just for the fun of it… I read 93 books last year. I don’t have a reading goal for this year but I did enjoy these…
The Japanese Lover: A Novel by Isabel Allende
Physical suffering had freed her from the inevitable bonds of personality and had polished her spirit like a diamond. The strokes she had suffered had not damaged her intellect but, as she said, had altered the wiring, and stimulated her intuition so that she could see the invisible.
How’s that for descriptive writing??? This is an epic jewel of a story told from many points of view about racial tensions in the 50s, forbidden love and following your heart, growing older and coming into your own, overcoming abuse, friendship, and love. I loved the way Allende drew the characters so that we learn more and more depth as we read from each’s perspective.
They’re more alive now than ever. That’s what happens with age: stories from the past come alive and stick to our skin.
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
“There’s always a person for every book. And a book for every person.”
With a bit of similarity to 84, Charring Cross Road, Sara in Sweden corresponds with Amy from Broken Wheel, Iowa and decides to do something proactive with her life for once and go meet her friend. This little book is full of references to popular novels, time-tested literature, as well as the overall love of reading.
“Others might have found themselves stuck in a tired, old high school in Haninge, but she had been a geisha in Japan, walked alongside China’s last empress through the claustrophobic, closed-off rooms of the Forbidden City, grown up with Anne and the others in Green Gables, gone through her fair share of murder, and loved and lost over and over again.”
This is a charming (if slightly predictable) story and a quick read. Recommend.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Neurosergeon. Cancer. What makes life meaningful?
Seem like you’ve read this one before? Believe me, you haven’t. Kalanithi is a brilliant writer, empathetic in his quest for an understanding of the personal experience of living and the mystery of death that we all face. A gifted neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, he felt it was most important to leave the world with this unforgettable memoir.
I practically swallowed whole the first part of this book about his journey through studying literature at Stanford and the history of medicine at Cambridge, followed by med school at Yale and a neurosurgery residency at Stanford. I love that he kept coming back to literature for comfort and as a way to describe his experiences. He shows more than tells, describing very well stories of his first experiences in the anatomy lab, his OB internship, and other ER stories.
The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget. You may decide you want to spend your time working as a neurosurgeon, but two months later, you may feel differently. Two months after that, you may want to learn to play the saxophone or devote yourself to the church. Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.
And then he got sick. The poetic way he dealt with his ultimate inability to work, his body’s deterioration, and the birth of his daughter felt to me like he knew he had an important contribution to make to the world of letters. He did not look away from the difficult issues in order to make a record of what it felt like to undergo such a profound transition.
My life up until my illness could be understood as the linear sum of my choices.
Time shifted to play a different role in his life. Having worked hard to graduate from his grueling 6-year residency, he had been almost always future-focused. He ultimately lived more in the present moment than ever before.
This is a quick read but a tearjerker. Highly recommend.
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
“Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done… It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our hightest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
This is for those of us stretched too thin… doing far too much at the expense of our sanity. McKeown separates himself from the other self-help authors in this genre by being incredibly concise and straightforward with his writing and his ideas for simplifying your life. There will always be people and tasks competing for our mental focus and time and it’s easy to fall into a reactive state. Rather, McKeown emphasizes focusing on what is most important first, proactively planning your days to put in what is most essential to YOU. Doing it all with as little effort as possible is key.
Since reading this, I am asking myself several times a day, “Is this the most important thing and do I need to do it right this minute?” I am trying to learn to put energy into one or two main things rather than exerting effort divided over a lot of little tasks. It is better and feels better to get a couple things done well than working on many things but making little progress. I find myself reprioritizing constantly, and, when I remember to be disciplined about this, it’s led to a more relaxed and joyous few weeks so far.
After You: A Novel
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
Lost love and moving on… This is a sequel to Me Before You, a powerful love story which is about to be released as a movie. (I always prefer the book.) I’m not sure why this new book was written. I wasn’t curious about what happened to Louisa and this one isn’t as good as that first story, nor is it billed as a sequel. However, it has its merits. The personal growth and healing of Lou, the new characters, and the family’s interactions make this a story worth reading.
Stolen: The True Story of a Sex Trafficking Survivor by Katariina Rosenblatt, Cecil Murphey
Katariina Rosenblatt recounts her personal childhood story of sex trafficking. She explains that it happens everywhere, and no city or small town is immune. It happens to victim-prone children especially.
“Usually, we were the loners, the outcasts, the shy, the overweight, or the smaller kids. Because we were needy children, perpetrators sensed that vulnerability. Most of us didn’t meet some evil person lurking in the park, and we weren’t accosted by a stranger on a dark street. If those who lured us were strangers, they groomed us by winning our trust before they took advantage of our vulnerability. The point is that we knew our perpetrators and they taught us to trust them.”
Reading how children are lured into this was fascinating. Many of the specific details are glossed over or generalized in the book, with a focus on how to prevent this from happening, how to recognize it, and how to help. Through her organization “Stolen Ones–There Is H.O.P.E. For Me, Inc.,” a nonprofit organization dedicated to offering help, she refers them for services such as free tutoring, counseling, food, and clothing through like-minded individuals, faith-based organizations, or churches that have agreed to their antiviolence and traffic-free standards.
All children deserve to know they’re loved and that they’re special to their parents. It’s not only whether they are loved but also whether they believe they are loved. That knowledge makes the difference. (Remember, it’s how we assess the situation and not the reality.) If we don’t feel loved, we have a built-in human need to seek affection and attention.
My Name Is Lucy Barton: A Novel by Elizabeth Strout
I have to admit that this one took me a day or so to fully appreciate. On the surface, it’s a recounting of a mother-daughter hospital visit, but it is dense with meaning and heavy emotion. As the details of the past come forth, Lucy’s relationships and strong connections evoked understanding in this reader. Lucy’s thoughts and interactions with her mother make up most of the story, but it’s also “a story about a mother who loves her daughter. Imperfectly. Because we all love imperfectly.” I’m sure many could identify with her dysfunctional past and/or her first marriage. Her desperate need for love from her mother is heartbreaking. While this book is very short, it’s quite a powerhouse. Recommend.
And he looked at me then, and with real kindness on his face, and I see now that he recognized what I did not: that in spite of my plenitude, I was lonely. Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there, hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.
Small Blessings: A Novel by Martha Woodroof
This is a sweet book about “taking sustenance from the simple pleasures of everyday things.” A predictable but heartwarming novel, this book features quirky yet human characters on a college campus. As new people come to the community, including a small boy, they soon find fulfillment in each other. It’s about being vulnerable in the now, facing down your addictions, and being resilient and courageous. One character learns that doing what scares you most can bring the most happiness.