Standing in line
To see the show tonight
And there’s a light on
…commentary on the orbit
Standing in line
To see the show tonight
And there’s a light on
Last year I was a bit obsessed Dante’s Inferno. In retrospect, I’m not entirely sure what that was all about. The obsession carried over a little into 2016, which is why I read Dan Brown’s Inferno. Here’s the plot in a nutshell (and this sums up the plot of all three Dan Brown books I’ve read): a handsome, brilliant professor gets called in by some organization to save the world from utter doom by using his knack for solving puzzles and his esoteric knowledge of symbology. After reading this novel I felt like I had just completed a course on art history. I found myself nerdishly looking up all the images of all the art that was referenced. It also felt like I’d just read a travel guide to Florence, Italy. Embedded in between the art history course and the travel guide, there is a relatively good story, but the characters lack dimension.
David Eagleman is a neuroscientist with a fancy academic pedigree – he was mentored by Francis Crick. Does the word “pedigree” make anyone else think about dog shows? Non sequitur. Anyway, I just discovered that The Brain: The Story of You was written as a companion book for his PBS documentary, which I haven’t seen yet. It works fine as a stand-alone book. It touches on big picture topics like how the brain constructs reality, how it makes decisions, how it constructs a sense of self, how it does empathy, etc. It is very well written and a good choice for the layperson interested in catching up on the latest trends in brain research.
23. Brain on Fire
This is the memoir of a reporter who was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor autoimmune encephalitis following a psychotic episode that left her strapped to a hospital bed. The condition was treated, she recovered, and wrote the book. I appreciate that it gets the word out about a rare condition. The expository aspect of the book was fairly well written, but I didn’t particularly enjoy reading the autobiographical bits where the writing had a fledgling, gratuitous quality. I think it would have worked better as a magazine article.
24. The Belly Dance Handbook
I bought the book following a workshop I took from Princess Farhana, who is a knowledgeable, generous, and just plain fun teacher. The handbook is all about the business of being a professional belly dancer. She covers a wide-range of topics: classes, contracts, costuming, makeup, music, stage lighting, swords, veils, zaghareets, and zills. It’s loaded with tips, tricks, and pitfalls to avoid.
25. A Dirty Job
Hapless agents of Death abound in San Francisco’s used bookstores and thrift shops, where objects and the souls they contain are peddled to the soulless in the natural order of things until one mysterious buyer with dubious intentions arrives on the scene. We come to know and understand this strange world through the eyes of Charlie Asher, a beta-male, recent-widower, new father, and newly-minted death merchant in a tale that is equal parts fabulous and ridiculous.
I almost never re-read books, but this one was my suggestion for the book club. It’s been almost a decade since I read it for the first time – it was just as good the second time.
This is the sequel to Dirty Jobs. Asher’s little girl is growing up and causing a ruckus. Goth girls, vampires, the homeless “mayor” of San Francisco, hell hounds, Buddhist monks, the squirrel people, Minty Fresh — you’ll find all the same strange characters from the first book, plus a few ghosts and new weirdos. It’s as funny as the first one.
Just adding more tools to the box with this one. I read it and then re-read it. Again, something I rarely do. It was a book referenced in Thanks for the Feedback (see below).
I originally read Thanks for the Feedback in an effort to sharpen clinical and communication skills. However, the information seems widely applicable and much needed for everyone given the current political climate. Employing the techniques might help us all find our way back to civil discourse. Stone and Heen discuss the art and science of giving and receiving feedback. They emphasize the receiving end of the interaction (i.e., listening), particularly when you would rather not listen to what’s being said (e.g., in a tough feedback conversation). The deep listening techniques the authors describe are intended to enable you to respond productively rather than to simply react in ways that may be counterproductive. Their explanation of why it’s so hard to listen to dissenting opinions is grounded in research on the cognitive neuroscience of empathy. It’s a smart, well-written book.
29. Take the Stairs
Take the Stairs is our book club pick for the new year. It’s packed with motivational ideas like “visioneering,” which is creating a vivid mental image of your ideal life that will inspire you to take action on a daily basis. Vaden recommends scheduling virtually every moment of day. Beyond the formal work day schedule, he suggests scheduling (in writing) additional time weekly for five basic areas of life: Faith, family, faculty (i.e., work), fitness, and finances. His suggestion reminded me of a visit to the Clinton Museum and Presidential Library, where they have an exhibit displaying the daily schedules for Bill Clinton while he was in office. His schedules were packed with back-to-back activities from early morning to late night. I was exhausted just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good schedule. Mine is hand-written, color-coded and cross-referenced with a spreadsheet of goals/resolutions and to-do lists. But that’s my work life. I don’t want to schedule my “off” time to this extent. Back to the book. Much of it I had read elsewhere, but one unique suggestion was to not attempt to achieve balance in the five areas of life. Instead, Vaden, recommends using “harvest time” to get the most out of the seasonal shifts of life.
My sister and I joined a mystery reader’s book club in the 90s and that is where we first read Janet Evanovich’s One for the Money. Maybe that’s why I experience a bit of nostalgia every time I step into a Stephanie Plum mystery. It’s like returning home to catch up with family and old friends (minus the dead bodies and exploding cars, of course). The series is formulaic, thus predictable, and it still makes me laugh.
11. Bag of Bones
Bag of Bones marks the 24th book I’ve read by Stephen King. Hey, stop judging me. I went through a dark binge-reading period in my teens when I consumed books by the author en masse. I eventually grew out of it and moved on to brighter things. A fellow book clubster picked this one, so I felt obliged to read it.
Here’s the gist of the plot in one sentence: Unable to write following his wife’s death, a best-selling author returns to their lake house where he is haunted by ghosts and harassed by an old, evil millionaire.
The book features everything you’d expect from Stephen King: sentimental reflections on marriage, gruesome and gratuitous violence (in the form of a gang rape scene), and pages upon pages of confused and unnecessary sex dreams. So, yeah, 24 is way more than enough Stephen King to last a lifetime.
“I saw then what I hadn’t seen before, that I was very good at despising slavery in the abstract, in the removed and anonymous masses, but in the concrete, intimate flesh of the girl beside me, I’d lost the ability to be repulsed by it. I’d grown comfortable with the particulars of evil. There’s a frightful muteness that dwells at the center of all unspeakable things, and I had found my way into it.”
–Sarah Grimke, The Invention of Wings; Sue Monk Kidd
Monk Kidd’s historical fiction, The Invention of Wings follows the lives of two women in their search for freedom: abolitionist and feminist Sarah Grimké and Hetty “Handful” Grimké, her personal slave. Kidd’s portrayal of Sarah is based of newspaper articles, and her letters and diaries, while Handful is largely imagined — she died early in life. It’s beautifully written and richly imagined with vivid characters and pitch-perfect dialogue.
There are a couple editions out – the original and the Oprah edition. Just letting you know so if you decide to read you can make an informed decision about whether you need the version with Oprah’s commentary or not.
This travel log/memoir by Sue Monk Kidd was co-written with her daughter as they traveled through Greece and Turkey. It explores mother-daughter relationships, different phases of womanhood, and feminine mythology. It sounded like something I would like, and I really wanted to like it, but the switch back and forth between authors was clunky and as a whole it had a gimmicky vibe. Not my favorite.
This is what it felt like to be a bomb. You were coiled up, majestic with blackness, unaware that the universe outside you existed, and then a wire snapped and ripped open your eyelids all the way around and you had a vision of the world that was 360 degrees, and everything in your purview was doomed by seeing.
A bomb explodes in a bustling Delhi marketplace. Among the dead are two young brothers on their way to pick up their father’s TV from the repairman. Karan Mahajan puts the reader in the mind of various people affected by the blast, each trying to piece back together the fragments that remain of their lives in the aftermath of the terrorist attack. We glimpse into the lives of the father and mother of the dead children, the store owner, the terrorist, his girlfriend, his unsuspecting friend, and the bomb itself personified. What emerges is a horrific kaleidoscope (or perhaps more accurately collide-oscope) of perspectives. It is a fascinating read.
BeauJeau picked this one out for me because he knows how much I love all things tea. He even calls me T (or is it tea? I don’t know.). Anyway, I learned all sorts of interesting things about tea from Episcopal priest, Becca Stevens in this inspirational and meditational book. It’s packed with all sorts facts, history, and recipes. The Way of Tea and Justice also describes the origins of the Thistle Stop Café in Nashville, and their mission to honor the stories of the women who have “survived lives of trafficking, addiction, prostitution, and life on the streets” in order to “illustrate the simple truth that love heals.”
This is a manly man book. I bought it because I was at the bookstore reading the back cover when a random guy walked by and said he’d read it and that it was hilarious. Having binge-watched Parks and Recreations and having been thoroughly entertained by Ron Swanson, I figured I’d see what the man behind the character had to say about himself. It seems he’s a big, lovable, hard-working, goofus, with a vocabulary that can switch from crass and vulgar to highbrow and pretentious in an instant. It contains illustrations (literally drawings) of things like breakdancing moves and acceptable vs. nonacceptable facial hair styles. It’s kinda funny, but I wouldn’t say it’s “hilarious.”
17. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
A smart, funny, and heart-touching book for high schoolers, young adults and beyond. The book was awesome and so was the movie. For more extensive review, click here: The Problem with (and Beauty of) Book Clubs
This is another awesome book for the young adult crowd. But be forewarned, it was scary enough to give me nightmares! The movie was less scary, but not nearly as good as the book. For the more detailed post, click here: Peculiar Children.
19. Hollow City
The sequel I literally ran out of the house to buy upon reading the last page of Peculiar Children. With its crazy animals, dizzying time loops, WWII bombing scenes, and eerie vintage photograph, it was a great follow-up to the first book.
Since we’re on a roll with the kidlit, here’s another. A little friend was reading this one at her teacher’s recommendation and wanted us to read it together, so we did. It’s based on the real-life of 8 year old Sarah Noble, who in 1707, traveled with her father to build their home in Connecticut. When the project was complete, he left Sarah in the care of a Native American family they had befriended and returned to help the rest of his family make the journey. The sweet story offers a very different perspective from the “savage natives” themes so commonly propagated in past generations.
Herein lies the annual archiving of the books that occupied me this year. I’m breaking this down into multiple posts to make it easier on all of us.
If you like Amy Schumer’s comedy and you want a good laugh, then you should go watch Amy Schumer’s comedy instead of reading this book. If you are curious about the person behind the clown, it is worth reading. It’s written in the style of a personal diary – loosely organized thoughts about her family, her life, her loves, her stuffed animals, and her years of work behind her “overnight” success. She includes excerpts from a diary she kept in her early twenties with retrospective commentary. It made me want to dig out the Winnie the Pooh journal I kept in my teens to remind myself what I was thinking back then. As a whole, the book has a vibe of raw honesty that people rarely reveal to each other.
“The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.”
I paid too much for this book at the airport newsstand because it said “monster” on the cover. It was October 31 and I needed a way to mark the holiday that would be otherwise consumed by travel. I crammed myself into a little airplane seat with my monster book and read it cover-to-cover. This book had me crying all across the sky on Halloween.
“…and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.”
Silberman has provided the most comprehensive historical perspective on autism that I’ve read in my 16 years of studying autism and working with folks on the spectrum. He also delves into the wide range of controversies, treatments, and organizations associated with autism. It’s a work that honors the varieties of human intelligence.
From a retirement home in San Francisco, an octogenarian recounts the events that shaped her life to her young Moldovan employee. Her recollections span from her immigration from Poland to the events leading up to her marriage and beyond. In the telling I learned a lot I didn’t know about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII – and that was just the backdrop for a short episode in the narrative.
It’s hard to say what I admire most about Isabel Allende’s novels: Her settings are as nuanced as her characters. She makes history live and breathe on the page. She also guards her characters’ secrets well. You have to get to know them and love them before you gain their confidence.
5. Another Day
This was the much-anticipated sequel to Everyday [Reviewed Here], the fascinating story of a bodiless teen who wakes up in a different person’s body every day. Unfortunately, Another Day sucked and I am kinda (irrationally) mad at David Levithan right now. It was the same story, same events, same characters as before, but it was told by the boring character’s point of view instead of the awesome one’s. Ugh – Why do that? Maybe because it was written more for commercial reasons than for artistic ones.
A friend wanted to read this book together, so we did. Drawing heavily from research in positive psychology, Cabane offers practical exercises to sharpen listening and speaking skills and to increase one’s general likeability. The practices and advice were reminiscent of the principles from yoga teacher training, though Cabane couched them in the language of the corporate and academic world.
TV journalist Dan Harris attributes meditation to making him happier and generally less of an ass. In his self-help/memoir hybrid he shares the experiences, ideas, and research to explain the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind the type of happy that meditation provides.
8. Leaving Time
A psychic and a detective reluctantly join teenager Jenna Metcalf’s search for her missing mother, Alice. The search centers around the elephant sanctuary where Alice worked as a scientist. As the story weaves back and forth from past to present, the author explores mother-daughter bonds, memory, and grief in both humans and elephants. The ending had a crazy turn that I did not see coming.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart and all they can do is stare blankly.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald
An interesting look at how technology changes the way we think. I posted thoughts this one HERE.
It’s December and I am on a mission! There is a bunch of stuff I need to get done to wrap up the year. I have added new goals and resolutions to this month’s spreadsheet.
Today I decided to tackle the toy collection that is taking over my office.
With the closet and cabinets crammed with tests and materials, the bathtub has become a make-shift toy box.
I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond hoping to find inspiration to organize this mess. For under $50, I came up with this solution:
I’m not done yet! I need a couple more hanging organizers, but already that feels sooooo much better!
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll,
November was exceedingly strange. Here are a few pictures I’ve taken this month of things that happened.
There was this…
(I was waiting on a friend in the car when the bear showed up seemingly unaccompanied.)
(The dino was my contribution to a SoKaN event for #901 Rocks – a delightfully fun community craft movement taking the city by storm. These are some of the other SoKaNers’ painted rocks…)
[And finally, coming home fr0m this mad, funny, heartbreaking, and beautiful world to retreat (not to be confused with retweet) and recharge.]
This one is going on it.
Taking suggestions for others!
We show up,
burn brightly in the moment,
hold nothing back,
and when the moment is over,
when our work is done,
we step back,
and we let go.
-Rolfe Gates, Meditations from the Mat
Beneath those flames
the charred remains
of four years of work.
Therein the ash and smoke
lie thousands of hours of
The fire ate them all
with no regard
for the size or shape of the ideas.
I stood and fed the greedy tongues
as they hissed and sputtered,
devouring it all indiscriminately–
the fire and I whispering
all of your names
on the wind.
Below is a video of another dance from the show Philomena’s Dream. This medley is a collaboration of two dances across three different dance groups in Memphis: IDA, Jasmine’s Jewels, and Mystic River Dance.
The choreographer of the candle dance is Isidora Hart. The song is Pachyderm Picnic by Brent Lewis.
Jasmine (of Dance with Jasmine) choreographed the second dance. The song is Misirlou by Mosava.
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