October was FULL. Mr. B traveled most weekdays and I was busy at home with school book fair prep, girl scout organizing, and other volunteer commitments. There was a virus or two, lots of birthday parties, putting up and taking down a sukkah, and a few trips to the vet (pancreatitis). I would do anything for this little buddy, but he’s not been a fan of the medicines.
Oh, and I cleaned out the garage! I’m still not sure what to do with it because, due to it’s angle and a huge structural pole just outside it, we can’t park our cars in there. We’ve thought of using it as an office, but we can’t get permission for that. I’ve thought of it as an art studio, but the extreme heat would ruin all my paints. So for now, I’ve just been going in to admire how lovely it is and then leaving.
There are a couple books I left out of October’s report because I haven’t finished them yet, but I’m already excited about November’s book report. Let me know what good ones you’ve been reading lately.
Exit Berlin: How One Woman Saved Her Family from Nazi Germany by Charlotte R. Bonelli
This is a piece of history told in correspondence. Luzie, a German Jew, fled to the United States from Germany in 1938. Unlike most letters that have been found from WWII, Luzie has copies of the letters she sent as well as the responses, which has created a complete picture of one ordinary family’s attempts to escape Nazi Germany. The complexities involved in gaining visas were something I’d never realized before.
I have many times wondered why the American community and government didn’t respond more immediately to the situation in Germany, but through Luzie’s cousin’s letters, I can see that his perspective simply couldn’t have included such atrocities that came out later. Only those who actually left Germany could intuit what was going on. Highly recommend this quick read.
Hugo & Rose: A Novel by Bridget Foley
“Maybe … maybe that’s what dreams are. Maybe the people we see in our dreams are real people who have something to teach us, some way to help us.… But we’re supposed to wake up from our dreams. Our dreams are supposed to help us live our lives … not keep us from living them.”
Rose has dreamed about island adventures with Hugo every night since she was 6 years old. But then she meets Hugo in real life and the true story begins. I just don’t know what to say about this novel. I loved the first half, but the second was beyond odd. I can say that the writing really carried me away. Foley is great at conveying emotion and characters. The premise of the book is a unique one, but there was just something about the story that made me feel that the book went on far longer than it should have.
Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
You know, when you buy and read a book on Kindle, you never really see the cover. I don’t think I’d have bought it if I had! Jenny Lawson is laugh-out-loud funny, but this book wasn’t as hilarious as her first one. I think I only peed my pants twice. So disappointing. Anyway, in this collection of life stories, she discusses her bouts with anxiety and depression. Those are, of course, in between random tales about herds of swans trying to eat her and talks with her therapist.
This is my absolute favorite quotation ever about depression. I could read it over and over again shouting “That’s right!” each time.
“I can tell you that ‘Just cheer up’ is almost universally looked at as the most unhelpful depression cure ever. It’s pretty much the equivalent of telling someone who just had their legs amputated to ‘just walk it off.’ Some people don’t understand that for a lot of us, mental illness is a severe chemical imbalance rather just having ‘a case of the Mondays.’ Those same well-meaning people will tell me that I’m keeping myself from recovering because I really ‘just need to cheer up and smile.’ That’s when I consider chopping off their arms and then blaming them for not picking up their severed arms so they can take them to the hospital to get reattached. ‘Just pick them up and take them to get fixed. IT’S NOT THAT HARD, SARAH. I pick up stuff all the time. We all do. No, I’m not going to help you because you have to learn to do this for yourself. I won’t always be around to help you, you know. I’m sure you could do it if you just tried. Honestly, it’s like you don’t even want to have arms.'”
One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi by Alan Lew
Known as the Zen Rabbi, Alan Lew tells a series of short life stories that describe his search for a spiritual path from Zen Buddhism to Jewish Rabbi. He finds there are many similarities between the two.
“Meditation and Jewish practice lead us to experience the oneness of all beings. We are all connected; each of us is created in the divine image, and other people’s suffering is our own… But the first noble truth is that everything is suffering, and both Judaism and Buddhism insist that the only appropriate response to this suffering is to turn toward it, to attend to it.“
On the merit of meditation in any tradition: “We all have such a map. We all have such a key. And it waits to be discovered, not outside of us, but right there on the tip of our tongue, right there on top of our heart, not outside the window but in the window itself. The bad news is, we can’t find it if we look at it directly; the good news is, it will come and find us if we let it. It will come and find us while we’re praying, while we’re trying to focus on these prayers, on this ancient communal call to God. God will answer us, if we’re listening.“
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
This is a short portrait of a marriage. The narrator begins single and becomes a wife and mother. The writing is profound and there were many times I underlined a sentence because I identified with it. The entire book can be read in an hour. Still, it’s told from what seems like an uncaring distance. I didn’t get attached to the characters and I can’t say I love this book.
“How has she become one of those people who wears yoga pants all day? She used to make fun of those people. With their happiness maps and their gratitude journals and their bags made out of recycled tire treads. But now it seems possible that the truth about getting older is that there are fewer and fewer things to make fun of until finally there is nothing you are sure you will never be.”
Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
“Contemporary society has lost touch with soul and the path to psychological and spiritual maturity, or true adulthood. Instead, we are encouraged to create lives of predictable security, false normality, material comfort, bland entertainment, and the illusion of eternal youth. Most of our leaders — political, cultural, and economic — represent and defend a non-sustainable way of life built upon military aggression, the control and exploitation of nature’s “resources,” and an entitled sense of national security that ignores the needs of other species, other nations, tribes, and races, and our own future generations. These values do not reflect our deeper human nature.”
Plotkin presents an integrated path of discovery. He says that most spiritual quests aim outward toward connecting with a larger wholeness. His method encourages turing inward to develop a way of life that emphasizes meaning, celebrates our individuality, and helps reintroduce to Western civilization a turning inward to our own souls.
The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell
One of you readers told me about this one, but I can’t remember who. What a fun and interesting read! Russell and her husband were living in the UK at a feverish pace, sort of disliking their jobs and wishing to get pregnant, when an opportunity arose to move to Denmark for a year. They discover “the happiest country on earth,” a social welfare state that provides just about everything you could want… amazing work/life balance, nursery care, free higher education, family allowance, and on and on. Of course, even paradise isn’t perfect… there’s inequality even here. I’d read this book for her descriptions of the pastries alone.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
This is as much an adult novel as a young adult novel. I found it excellent. I love reading rags-to-riches stories about hard-working good people. I won’t give too much away about this one, but I loved the main character so much and I definitely recommend it.
“It sometimes seems to me as if I live in a world where everyone thinks I’m worth nothing… and there’s nobody on my side at all, with Ma dead and Miss Chandler sent away. But I know I’m not nothing. And somehow I’m going to fight my way forward, though I don’t know how, and I don’t know where I’ll end up.”
“The truth is, most of the time, I don’t think of myself as the hired girl I think of myself as somebody “disguised” as the hired girl. After all, I’m not going to be a servant all my life. It’s temporary. At some point I’m going to get an education and become a schoolteacher, just as Ma planned. It isn’t as if I was born to be a servant.”
We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel by Matthew Thomas
I borrowed this one from the library to read on my Kindle. When I’d read quite a bit and felt that the story should surely be over by now, it said I was only 12% through the book. Oh boy. While it was an excellent story, it was rough getting all the way through because it moved so slowly. I’d say it’s preferable to read this book than watch golf, but not any other sport. And I don’t like sports.
“Have you ever felt like life was getting away from you, and people were lapping you and you couldn’t catch up? And if you could just stop the world and take it all in, and nobody would go anywhere for a little while, you’d have enough time to understand it? I wish I could do that. I don’t want anybody or anything to move an inch.” “People move,” she said. “That’s life.” “I’m lodging my protest,” he said, and he put the ball in his pocket and rose to go inside, leaving her alone on the stoop.”