Ok, ok, I confess: The title of this blog has nothing to do with its content, but I have to get you here and reading my book reviews somehow because they’re important. Besides, we both know if had entitled this piece, “A Conceptual Autobiographical Subclass of the Memoir Genre” or something you would have been like, “No thanks! I’m gonna go shoot zombies” (or you’d fill in the blank with “knit” or “quilt” or “organize my beads” or “read the latest on the oil spill” or “wash my hair” or whatever it is you do).

Now that the secret is out – the blog is about a book, I’m only going to make matters worse and forewarn you it might be a little preachy.  I promise though, if you stick with me, I’ll do my best to inform, entertain, and/or delight you.

Ready? Let’s go!

Here comes the part where I give you the real title and then set the tone with inspirational quotes to get you into a deeply meditative and altruistic frame of mind.

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Beautiful Compensations

Generosity is not giving me that which I need more than you do, but it is giving me that which you need more than I do. 

–Kahlil Gibran

 

Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.

–William James

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.

–Betty Reese

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In The Power of Half: One Family’s Decision to Stop Taking and Start Giving Back, Kevin Salwen and his daughter Hannah Salwen tell the story of how their family came to their decision to sell their Georgia mansion, move into a smaller house, and give half the money from the sale to charity.

This book is in the “conceptual autobiography” genre, which is a newfangled type of memoir where someone goes out and does something crazy then writes about it.  Sometimes the crazy thing is published in a blog.  Sheena Matheiken’s The Uniform Project is one such example.  Her crazy idea was to wear the same style of dress (there were actually 7 identical dresses) everyday for a year to raise funds and public-awareness for the Akanksha Foundation, which provides uniforms and other educational expenses to children living in slums in India.  She did some really fabulous things with the dress, I must say.  Another popular blog of this nature is Julie Powell’s The Julie/Julia Project, which went on to become a movie.  Side note: I wish someone would make a movie out of my blog.  Not because I want fame — just the fortune.  Actually my blog stuff would probably work better as a reality show or as a sitcom like Ally McBeal.  Some folks have had their crazy things published in books, like A.J. Jacobs, author of A Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries

The Salwen family’s “crazy” thing was to stop mindlessly accumulating stuff and to give back more. That’s noble and admirable, but it’s not why I loved the book. What I loved about the book is how this decision changed their entire family structure and transformed their relationships to one another.  I loved how each member of the family was involved in decision-making and how this fostered critical-thinking skills in the children.  I loved that each family member kept a journal of the experience.  I loved how much they shared about nonprofit organizations.  I loved their capacity to create wealth. I loved how they expressed the complexity and pitfalls of charitable giving.  Their story gives us a beautiful example what Ralph Waldo Emerson meant when he said, “It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life that no person can sincerely try to help another without helping themselves…Serve and thou shall be served.”

 (Incidentally, if you’re looking for a short patriotic read to get you geared up for the Fourth of July, Emerson’s American Slavery may light your bottle rocket).

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