Category Archives: Dusty Shelves

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Roz Chast  |  Non-Fiction

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At various time in the last two weeks, I rated this book one heart, two hearts, three hearts and four hearts!  I finally settled on four hearts because frankly, I couldn’t put it down.

This was the first foray into graphic novels, for most of us in my book club, The Casting Crew.  And Roz Chast is a master!  The topic of the book is quite sobering … it chronicles the death of her parents, who are well into their nineties when they die. Chast’s writing, and even more, her AMAZING illustrations, really communicate with brutal honesty the funny, incisive and often painful experiences of these years.  You’ll witness laughter, rage, hysteria, love, despair, guilt, and roll-on-the-floor antics.  If you don’t recognize a bit of your mom or your dad or a grandparent or a friend’s parent in this tale, then you will likely recognize a bit of yourself.

While, yes, it was difficult to read at times when comments, stories or drawings cut too close to home, Chast inspired a profound conversation in book club about parents and our own thoughts about death.  You will choose olives and not red sweaters for her dad.  You’ll watch her mom eat a tuna sandwich at a striking time.  And, of course, you will fulfill the title over and over again, as her parents had NO intention of ever talking about anything like death, dying, illness, hospitals, leaving their apartment or, for heaven's sake, "Rest Home Prisons.”

I am excited to try another graphic novel.  If you haven’t ventured into the genre yet, these books are not Archie revisited.  The illustrations add so much depth to the story – when you can see the expressions on the faces of the characters, you experience their veracity in a way that words alone often fail to do.  A picture truly is worth 1000 words ... at least with Roz Chast’s talent.

 

Boar Island

Nevada Barr  |  Fiction

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I enjoy Nevada Barr and her mysteries about Anna Pigeon, a National Park Ranger.  I think it is my own fault, and not Nevada Barr's, that I give Boar Island only three hearts instead of four.  I am still recovering my ability to focus amidst my grief, and I found myself confused in the beginning of this book as Barr tells two stories that relate to one another, but do not overlap for quite a while.

Anna Pigeon encounters a new experience in Boar Island, the cyberbullying of Elizabeth, the 16-year-ol daughter of her friend Heath.  When Anna accepts a position as acting chief ranger at Acadia National Park, she, Heath and Elizabeth take the opportunity to temporarily move Elizabeth away from her cyberbully by traveling to Boar Island in Maine.  Except the cyberbully follows, and Anna finds herself immersed in an intriguing Maine murder.

On page 253, the murderer describes her own actions as absurd.  Well, yes, they are absurd!  And the absurdities begin to make sense when the two stories merge in powerful manner on page 293.  I flew through the last 180 pages of Boar Island, once the tales merged.  Interestingly, and rather Nevada Barr-esque, ALL of the major characters in Boar Island are women.

So, whether or not this book has a slow start (I don't fully trust my own assessment here) it certainly has a fast and engaging finish!

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Sherman Alexie  |  Fiction

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sherman-alexie-23This is a young adult book, but it kept coming across my radar, so I decided to give it a try.  Besides, I devoured Harry Potter and those are young adult books!

Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation.  Born with physical challenges, he is picked on by everyone.  But he decides to attend an all-white school outside the rez, and then is branded a traitor.  Can you tell this is a funny book?  Sherman Alexie is amazing!

Inspired by his own life and wit, this book addresses all of life’s saddest challenges –  from domestic abuse to alcoholism, racism to low expectations, poverty, death, fisticuffs, basketball and love – with humor and clarity.  This would be a great book for teaching a young adult about what life is really like – and is a great opportunity for us as adults to see the world through the ideas of a witty writer and cartoonist. 

Here is an example of how Alexie describes a difficult situation with quick cleverness:   Mr. P. grabbed me by the shoulders and leaned so close to me that I could smell his breath.  Onions and garlic and hamburger and shame and pain. (page 42)  Wow.  He says so much in one short sentence.

Junior finds a new friend at his new school, but learning to communicate with nerdy Gordy is a task onto itself:

"A metaphorical boner!" I shouted.  "What the heck is a metaphorical boner?"

Gordy laughed.

"When I say boner, I really mean joy," he said.

"Then why don't you say joy?  You didn't have to say boner.  Whenever I think about boners, I get confused."

"Boner is funnier.  And more joyful."

Gordy and I laughed.

Yes, I suggest this book.  It is a quick and interesting read and a succinct statement on the times in which we live, and the circumstances we shield ourselves from seeing.

 

The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion  |  Non-fiction

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In the weeks after Beryl’s death, some friends told me I must read this book, and some told me to steer clear of it.  Well, that was enough for me to accept the challenge and pick up the book.  It didn’t upset me, as some anticipated.  It sort of bored me.  In a nutshell, it is her story about her husband’s sudden death in the middle of their daughter’s protracted very serious illness.  Didion writes honestly about this difficult year in her life.

I found myself becoming impatient with the details of her daughter’s illness because I was, just 30 days after Beryl’s death, much more interested in how she handled her husband's death.  Of course much of the book was also about his heart attack and death ... but much of her experience I could not relate to. 

The gem for me in the book, however, is Chapter 17.   Early in this chapter she gives me a solid piece of wisdom to hang my hat on ... “Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself.” (page 189)

Big Magic

Creative Living Beyond Fear
Elizabeth Gilbert  | Non-fiction

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I decided to wait to write my blog on Big Magic until after book club, and I am really glad I did!  My perspectives and insights are now much broader.

Some members of book club, including one well-trained and highly competent artist, loved Big Magic.  They found it inspiring, intriguing, and useful.  One member was going to read it a third time!

Others of us found the content to be valuable; we took exception to Gilbert's writing. Much like our reaction to Eat, Pray, Love, we experienced the style of her writing as shallow or condescending --- different assessments from different ones of us.

I did appreciate her passion and commitment to the entire creative process... The ENTIRE process.... All the failed attempts, the trials and tribulations, as well as the occasional winning success.  I thought of my students at The Coaches Training Institute frequently, and how her words could inspire them in the early and difficult stages of building a business.  For example, she writes on page 118, “I started telling myself that I enjoyed every aspect of my work. I proclaimed that I enjoyed every single aspect of my creative endeavors – the agony and the ecstasy, the success and the failure, the joy and the embarrassment, the dry spells and the grind and the stumble and the confusion and the stupidity of it all.  I even dared to say this aloud.”

On the other hand, I thought Gilbert did a very poor job of translating her learning about creativity as a writer to other modalities, such as painting, performance art, music, or the creativity with which we do our work.  I find that to be the major shortcoming of this book.  The creative reader has to do all the translation themselves.

Gilbert tells a very intriguing story about her belief that ideas come to visit, and if you are ready, willing and able, you will be inspired by the idea and you get to develop it. And if you are not ready, the idea will go visit someone else, to take up its cause.  If you read nothing else, read her story about her new friendship with the writer Ann Patchett, pages 47-54.

All in all, while I will not rave about Big Magic nor Elizabeth Gilbert, I find this book to be worth reading.  You will likely glean at least a few new perspectives for yourself  ... And maybe, like Jan and Louise in book club, many of Gilbert’s words will inspire you.

Life Reimagined

Subtitle:  The Science, Art and Opportunity of Midlife

by Barbara Bradley Hagerty |  Non-fiction

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I began this book the weekend before Beryl died, and finished it the weekend after.  An odd choice perhaps for the time surrounding his death (which, of course, I didn’t know when I began it ...) however the title alone, Life Reimagined, gave me hope, perspective and a sense of, well, life.

I read the whole book, cover to cover. I expected it to be a self-help book and was very pleased – it is not!  It is all about the science of midlife … about our brains, about relationships, the power of our thoughts, the need for purpose.  This wonderful former NPR reporter doesn’t tell us how to do it … but she does educate us on what is important; what is vital.

Two messages I want to pass along.  When the author interviewed Robert Waldinger, the current Director of the lifelong study of Harvard men, she asked him, “What are the one or two or three big insights that predicts fulfillment at the end of life?”  His answer, which surprised Ms. Hagerty and many readers:  “Engagement,” he said instantly.  “Maintaining engagement with the world.” (page 42).

And, of extreme importance, page 30 and 388.  “Happiness is love.  Full stop.”

Read this book if you are in midlife, or planning to be in midlife, or have recently left midlife.  It will inspire you.

 

Start with Why

Subtitle: How Great Leaders Inspire Action

by Simon Sinek |  Non-fiction

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Start with Why was making the rounds of Opportunity Knocks (a local non-profit that supports the growth and development of entrepreneurs) and I was excited to read it.  The timing was perfect, as I was about to design and launch my new website and this book blog.  Knowing “why" seemed imperative!

Sinek did convince me that having a strong "why" for the work you do in the world inspires others, attracts them to you, and creates loyalty.  Fantastic!  Figure out the "why" before the "what" and the "how."  A great idea!  He talks about Apple as a company with a clear "why" that inspires real brand loyalty.  Apple's "why” is "to challenge the status quo" and "to empower the individual."   I am hooked and raring to go!  How do I do that?

And then we go nowhere.  What a disappointment. First and foremost, Sinek never guides you in how to discover your "why."  He tells you in the last couple of pages to look backward.  Hmmm.  Second, he speaks almost exclusively to big companies .... About breeding trust among employees.  I was looking for a great resource for entrepreneurs.  Not this tome.

Third, he is very repetitive.  He stretched and stretched a short article into a book ... Like making pizza dough and pushing it the edges of your pan.  Fourth, I wonder if he was funded by Apple.  I was so tired or reading about Apple, with the same examples used over and over again, I wondered if I could abide typing up this posting on my iPad.

Simon Sinek held my interest for a while.  I give it two hearts because it didn't put me to sleep.  But if you read the title, and really take it in, you can stop there.  Find something else to incite your creative thinking.

Dead Wake

Subtitle: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

by Erik Larson  |  Non-fiction  

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On Saturday, May 8, 1915, a father receives a telegram from his son ... "Am saved.  Looking for Cliff."  Five minutes later another telegram arrives from his other son, "Am saved.  Looking for Leslie."  Dad knew what his sons didn't ... They both survived the sinking of the Lusitania.

I just discovered Erik Larson this year, with my good friends Jan and Mary recommending The Devil in the White City and then Dead Wake.  Ever since I was mesmerized by Katherine Boo who wrote Beyond the Beautiful Forevers, I have learned to appreciate the great skill of an author who can write non-fiction in such a compelling manner, it reads like a page-turner fiction.

Dead Wake was a page turner for me.  Larson explores the lives of a few passengers on the Lusitania, the global environment as WW1 heats up, the hard to imagine decisions of the British Admiralty as the German U-boats indiscriminately target merchant as well as military ships, and the personal sorrows and fears of Woodrow Wilson.  But what will stick with me the longest is how Larson sketches the captain of the u-boat, Walther Schwieger, who makes an independent decision to torpedo this luxury liner.

I happened to finish this book on the exact day, 99 years later, when Wilson signed the resolution for America to enter the war, April 6, 1917.   If you haven't read Dead Wake yet, it would be an excellent addition to your list before April 6, 2017.

I heartily recommend this book ... 4 hearts out of 4.