Category Archives: Reads

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2017 Reading List

Good morning!  How was your weekend?  Adam and I went kayaking on Saturday and had lunch with his mom yesterday (she came down for a few days to visit Adam’s grandma in Venice), which is a lot of activity for us in one weekend.  This afternoon I leave for my second-to-last work trip to Columbus, and I’m starting to get depressed not knowing when I’ll have a piping hot Papa John’s personal pizza from the Charlotte airport again.

Anywho, we are gathered here today to discuss a few books I hope we can both enjoy in the coming months.  I’ve had a hard time getting into anything lately, so I really took my time rounding up these titles based on recommendations from family members and ‘best of 2016’ lists.  The final list includes a crime novel, an examination of the American civil rights movement and its aftermath, and a story about a girl who joins an infamous cult, among others.  I hope you find something that piques your interest!

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Five Interesting Podcasts

Over the past few months, I’ve started turning to podcasts instead of music for entertainment on my drive to work (when I’m not listening to one of the Harry Potter audiobooks, of course).  Most of the songs I’ve downloaded to my phone are for working out, making them a little too upbeat and fast for my mornings pre-coffee.  I realize I could just join the rest of the 21st century on Spotify and search for new, quieter playlists, but in the meantime, here’s a roundup of podcasts that actually hold my attention span.  You can subscribe to them on the Podcasts app for iPhone or listen online.

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Weekend Reading: Opening Belle by Maureen Sherry

For my drives to and from Michigan over the past couple of weekends, I downloaded the audiobook Opening Belle, a new novel by former Bear Stearns managing director Maureen Sherry.  Unlike many of her colleagues, Sherry never signed a non-disclosure agreement upon leaving the firm; she wrote Opening Belle partly to offer insight into the working environment women face on Wall Street.

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Weekend Reading: Four Page-Turners

I spent some time browsing through Barnes & Noble this past weekend when I was early to meet a friend and picked up a few paperbacks.  I’d been reading Gone With the Wind in between various memoirs over the last few months, so I was looking for some lighter, fast-paced fiction.  (Not that Gone With the Wind was too slow – I found it highly entertaining!)

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Weekend Reading: When Breath Becomes Air

I first heard about this book on A Cup of Jo, the lifestyle blog by Joanna Goddard.  The author, Paul Kalanithi, is – was – her brother-in-law.  At thirty-six, he’d earned degrees in English literature, biology, philosophy, and medicine, and had almost finished his neurosurgery residency at Stanford.  At thirty-seven, he died of lung cancer.  When Breath Becomes Air is part memoir, part meditation on facing death, and completely worth reading.

When Breath Becomes Air

The book starts to pull you in around the tenth page, when Kalanithi reveals that during his undergraduate years, he was “driven less by achievement than by trying to understand, in earnest: what makes human life meaningful?”  The irony (hopefully I’m using that word right, I never know) took my breath away as I read more and more of Paul’s story.  He majored in both biology and English literature in an effort to understand both our deepest desires and the brain that gives rise to them, then went to medical school in order to face life-and-death questions in practice.  To “keep following the question of what makes life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” In his diagnosis of a terminal illness at a young age, Kalanithi’s been given a tragic, golden opportunity to answer his question.

A drug with a list of side effects nearly as grim as cancer gives Paul about one good year, but it stops working and he has to turn to chemotherapy.  After several more months, his health rapidly declines, and Kalanithi enters the hospital where he used to work for the last time.  He never details his findings on what makes life meaningful – he didn’t have time.  But I think he’d been living the answer all along.

As his sophomore year at Stanford comes to an end, Kalanithi finds himself choosing between an internship at a prestigious primate research center and a job as a prep cook at a summer camp for Stanford alumni and their families.  He considers the two options – between studying meaning and experiencing it, in his words – and chooses the camp seemingly without a thought as to whether the internship might look better on a resume or future job application.  He focuses purely on what he thinks will do more to satisfy his curiosity about the meaning of life.  By pursuing what matters most to us with energy and thoughtfulness, our lives are made worthwhile.

 

 

Weekend Reading: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Adam and I spent Thanksgiving weekend with his family in northern Michigan this year. On Saturday, the two of us went for a walk around downtown Petoskey after being challenged to leave the house at least once that day. It was sunny but stinging cold, and we stopped in a bookstore to warm up even though we’d recently placed a moratorium on book purchases since we had so many to finish. However, I ended it to buy Shonda Rhimes’s memoir Year of Yes, which I’d been hearing about everywhere.

Rhimes received invitations every day to do things like speak at conferences, attend fundraisers, and appear on TV but always said no. She was an introvert and she was also shy, a workaholic who used writing her TV shows as an excuse not to do anything else. And then, with some help from her sister over their own Thanksgiving weekend two years ago, she realized it had made her miserable.

That January, Rhimes began her year of saying yes to anything that scared her. She said yes to giving the commencement speech at her alma mater (Dartmouth), to working less and playing with her kids more, to losing weight and becoming healthier. The ‘yeses’ become more difficult as the book goes on. The second-to-last chapter, “Yes to Who I Am,” was my favorite. In a carefully crafted essay, Rhimes explains why she’s never wanted to get married and the exultation that came from admitting to herself and her boyfriend that she needed – and wanted – to put writing first.

Year of Yes Shonda Rhimes

Luckily you can’t see the crumbs on my keyboard

It made me think of the episode in Grey’s Anatomy where Cristina and Meredith have a conversation about whether they would choose surgery over a romantic relationship after Cristina offers her boyfriend Owen to Teddy, an excellent cardiothoracic surgeon who used to love him, in an effort to keep Teddy from leaving the hospital (and no longer sharing her knowledge with the residents). It’s a no-brainer for Cristina, and eventually Meredith admits that she would also choose surgery. (While Year of Yes is not the gossipy book about working on the set of Grey’s Anatomy I may have hoped for, you’ll notice several of Rhimes’s struggles play out on the show.)  In the end, it was the reason Rhimes felt she had to have these difficult conversations — because she wanted to do things her own way — that I found more interesting than how she plucked up the courage to start them.

I’ve never felt pressure to conform to any particular tradition, probably because I grew up a full two decades after Rhimes. But something in me is grateful for the people behind characters like Cristina Yang, who are unapologetically their weird, ambitious selves.

This book may make you want to watch all twelve seasons of Grey’s Anatomy in a row.  When you reach episode 12 of season 6 (the one I mentioned earlier), it really is an interesting work to consider.  And so was Year of Yes.

Big Magic, Part 1

I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic this week in the evenings after work, in between episodes of Criminal Minds on Netflix (questions of the day: how many hours have you spent watching Netflix instead of being productive?  Doesn’t it nauseate you?).  If you missed my earlier post about the book, you can read it here.

Big Magic is accessible and lighthearted, broken into six sections of short essays.  It’s not so much about how to generate brilliant ideas as it is a collections of thoughts on the nature of ideas and how to unleash them — because wonderful things are, Gilbert believes, already inside of us.  She defines creative living as “the hunt to uncover those [hidden] jewels.”

The first section is about having the courage to go on that hunt.  Gilbert lists a few of the many reasons we might be afraid — here are a few that resonated with me:

“You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing.”

“You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.”

“You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.”

The author then tells us about her childhood fear of just about everything — answering the phone, swimming in the ocean, the dark — and how she fought tooth and nail against the tough love of her mother, who forced her to confront all of these things.  And then at some point Gilbert realized there was no point in trying to hold onto her limitations.  And she tells us there is no reason we should do that, either.

I think this is a helpful way to frame fear and worry.  This week, I’ll be trying not to come up with reasons I can’t.

Can a Book Help You Become More Creative? + 30 Day Blog Challenge

That’s the question I asked myself when I first heard the subject of Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.  The recent tome by the author of Eat Pray Love offers advice on overcoming the obstacles to living a creative life.  I know I just said self-help books put me to sleep, but my thoughts kept wandering back to this one and I finally bought it.

I want a creative life in a pretty literal sense.  My plan growing up was always to work in a cubicle during the day, write a brilliant work of fiction by night, send it off to a publisher, and quit the cubicle job immediately upon receiving a six-figure advance.  But obviously it’s not that simple, even if I were that good and that committed.  I’ve realized when it comes to writing that the hard way is the only way for most people, myself included.  (Thus the attempt to regularly send these awkward blog posts into the void).  But I would like to be a writer more than I would like to be less of a control freak or more of a green smoothie-drinking yogi, so maybe this is the self-help book for me.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

At the same time as I look forward to reading Big Magic, however, the idea that people are either born creative or not lingers in the back of my mind.  But I guess if we’ll never know the answer to that, we might as well believe we have what it takes and work toward our creative pursuits.  Here’s hoping Big Magic provides some help along the way…

I could use some inspiration this month in particular, as for some reason I signed up to publish every day for National Blog Posting Month.  We’ll see how that goes, considering it’s taken me an entire day with no obligations AND an extra hour thanks to daylight savings time to get this done.

What do you think?  Can a book help you become more creative?  I’ll be sharing my thoughts throughout the month, because I need to get multiple posts out of each topic if I’m going to write thirty posts in a row.

Weekend (re)reading: Mennonite in a Little Black Dress

I don’t re-read books all that often, but during a busy work week in which I lacked the energy for something new and couldn’t stare at a computer screen any longer (even for reality TV shows, which definitely don’t bother my eyes as much as Excel spreadsheets), I picked up Rhoda Janzen’s Mennonite in a Little Black Dress again.

mennonite in a little black dress

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