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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.

1. The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

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.

2. A Monster Calls

“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.”

–Patrick Ness

3. NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity


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.

4. The Japanese Lover

 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.

6. The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism 

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.

7. 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works-A True Story

 

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.

9. The Great Gatsby

“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

I’ve been a little obsessed with the 1920’s this year and because I hadn’t yet read this classic, I figured it was time.

10. What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: The Shallows


An interesting look at how technology changes the way we think. I posted thoughts this one HERE.

“…have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves…Live the questions…live  your way into the answer.”

–Rainer Maria Rilke

~~*~~

Last year Parker Palmer shined my teacher’s heart when it when was tarnished.  His book The Courage to Teach got me through a teacher’s heart crisis and showed me how to teach (and live) with greater integrity.

Though untarnished this year at semester’s end I figured the teacher’s heart was due for routine maintenance, so I picked up a copy of The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to RenewalPhysicist Arthur Zajonc joins Palmer to bring educators back to the big questions underlying what we do.  In this work lives the question: “How do we promote educational efforts that address the whole human being (mind, heart, and spirit) in ways that contribute best to our future on this fragile planet?”

This and other questions posed in their work remind us that education is transformation. It is not merely “the conveyance of information concerning objects, but a leading…through the manifold layers of experience and reason to occasions of epiphany…to the exalted experience of genuine insight.”

They remind us that community and conversation are often the driving force behind this transformative experience. They remind us what conversation can bring about when done well, “The point is not to convert, but to cultivate the possible by collaboring with people who hope to bring it into being.”

Twice this week I’ve come across the Bantu word ubuntu once in this book and then later in Boyd Varty’s wonderful tribute to Nelson Mandela (see video below). Varty’s story gets at the essence of the word’s meaning: I am because of you.

I am; because of you. If you want a real education, try living that one.

And yet for transformation to truly take hold, we must strike a balance between community and solitude.  Our institutions and culture have a growing tendency to encourage living at a frenetic-pace. When left to our own devices (and I do mean devices) we are increasingly engaged in a world that keeps us pathologically distracted and distanced from our own minds.  Abha Dawesar makes this point by distinguishing between two nows: the present now and the one that technology provides us, which she calls the “digital now.”

Parker and Zajonc remind us that we need ample time for “quietude that allows for real reflection on what we have seen and heard, felt and thought.”  They promote a contemplative pedagogy that creates time and space for silence with practices that develop concentration and deepen understanding because:

“Education is a vital, demanding, and precious undertaking….if true to the human being education must reflect our nature in all its subtlety and complexity.  Every human faculty must be taken seriously, including the intellect, emotions, and our capacity for relational, contemplative, and bodily knowing.”

And if you managed to read this far, thank you. 🙂 Ubuntu. Please share what’s on your mind.

Some things you can learn by listening and talking. Others you can learn by quietly observing. And then there are the lessons you can learn only by doing. The lessons learned by doing are often the hardest kind to explain. I can spend all day telling you how to ride a bike.  You can tell me what you learned from my lecture.  You can watch me ride around and see that it looks easy.  But until you get on a bike and pedal for yourself you will never fully know the freedom of wheeling through time and space on a joy ride.  To know that experience you must leave your mind and become a citizen of your body. You must learn to trust what the body already knows.  You must be willing to concede some degree of control. It’s a process that takes practice.  Each time you waiver, each time you fall and get back up to try again your body learns. The vestibular system, with its coils and circles, makes the right minute adjustments without your direction.  Proprioceptors in your muscles learn the right patterns necessary to propel you forward. These systems and others learn to coordinate and become fine-tuned, but only through the practice. You just have to try. Learn by doing. Let go of fear, embrace trust, and you will find balance.

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