Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Review of Dear Fahrenheit 451, by Annie Spence

Wednesday, November 8th, 2017

Dear Fahrenheit 451

Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life

by Annie Spence

Flatiron Books, 2017. 244 pages.
Starred Review

Dear Dear Fahrenheit 451,

You know I have to start my review emulating you, but of course you realize that I won’t do as good a job with it as you did. So basically, you’re giving me a sense of inferiority right from the start. I should probably hate you for that, but instead I feel all fangirly, impressed with your wit and cleverness and knowledge of books.

You asked me (“Dear Reader”) in your last letter a few questions, so the least I can do is continue the correspondence.

Did you make me want to reread a book I broke up with long ago? Well, is it fair to answer that you made me want to watch a movie again? One of my favorite parts in here was your letter to the library in Beauty and the Beast. I love when your author admits: “But the main reason she’s my favorite is you, Library. You’re so golden and glorious, towering over everyone with your endless rows of books. To be Belle for a day!” Oh yes!

But alas! I must admit that your author revealed, in many times and in many ways, that her taste is quite different from mine. Most notable was her letter to The Hobbit, where she explained “We just want different things.” Kind of mind-blowing to reject The Hobbit! But in a backhanded way, yes, that made me want to reread that wonderful book. (Oh! And The Time Traveler’s Wife! Yes, I want to reread that now.)

Did I keep notes of all the reading you suggested and now have a gabazillion books on your list? Well, I did put a couple of books on hold. And checked out Nikki Giovanni’s Love Poems (Wow!). But, see above, I discovered your literary taste is somewhat divergent from mine. Nothing personal. We just want different things. On top of that, I’m about to commence a year of reading children’s books for the Newbery Medal, so I’m trying to pare down my other-books-I-want-to-read list. I honestly don’t have time to let you distract me.

Do I want to know where I can get a copy of The One-Hour Orgasm? No, I do not. But your writing about the things you find on the public library shelves, and the books that need to move on, made me laugh out loud with recognition.

Ah, this perhaps explains why, despite my negative answers to your queries, I thoroughly enjoyed our time together. You reveal your author’s passion for books and let me enjoy her witty book references, clever book flirtations, and observations from a Library Insider.

And I have to say, I soooo agree with you about The Giving Tree! Your author gave it to a boy she loved in high school. I gave it to a boy I loved in college – and married him. As you say, “Do you want to guess how that went, Giving Tree? Want to guess who was the tired old stump at the end of that book?” Would you believe that I actually burned the copy I gave him? You are spot on correct about that one, Dear Fahrenheit 451.

I will make a confession: You were on hold for another reader – and I didn’t turn you back in right away! (I know, shocking behavior in a librarian!) Although I check out far more books than I can ever read, turning in books that someone else wants is something I faithfully do. But I was more than halfway through reading you, and you were just plain fun! So I selfishly kept your company for myself.

And I would very much like to quote you from so many different places. The clever letters of love and of good-by. And the handy-dandy reading lists at the end. So very much fun to read, whether I take the recommendations or not, honestly.

But, as I said, I didn’t turn you in immediately when I should have, and I’m feeling guilty about that. I need to finish this review and send you on to the next reader. But first I will say that anyone who loves books or reading or libraries will find something to love about you.

With Much Affection,

Sondy

flatironbooks.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, by Ada Calhoun

Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give

by Ada Calhoun

W. W. Norton & Company, 2017. 192 pages.
Starred Review

Maybe I shouldn’t have picked up this book. My own marriage ended badly. I tried hard to keep it from falling apart, but finally figured out that if one party really wants to get out, one person can’t knit it back together by themselves. Now I’d like to get married again – and this book reminds me of that. It also reminds me that I don’t actually want some nice man to get divorced just so he’ll be available! I don’t actually want the sort of man who doesn’t try hard to stay in his marriage. And I don’t wish divorce on anyone. So in a way, thinking about what makes a marriage isn’t necessarily a place I should go right now!

But – the book was so much fun! And really does speak truth. Though I agree with the author that you wouldn’t necessarily want to point out these truths at the wedding of a dewy-eyed bride and groom. They’ll find out soon enough.

Here’s how she explains the book in the Introduction:

Now in the second decade of my second marriage, I can’t look newlyweds in the eye and promise they’ll never regret marrying. (Well, not sober. Maybe this is why weddings correlate with binge drinking.) I adore my husband and plan to be with him forever. I also want to run screaming from the house because the person I promised to love all the days of my life insists on falling asleep to Frasier reruns.

“The first twenty years are the hardest,” an older woman once told me. At the time I thought she was joking. She was not.

And this is why I don’t give wedding toasts – because I’d probably end up saying that even good marriages sometimes involve flinging a remote control at the wall.

She’s got some good insights.

The main problem with marriage may be that it’s not better than the rest of life. Suffering occurs in marriage because we think it will be different – purer, deeper, gentler – than other relationships. We expect our partners and ourselves to be better – more patient, more faithful, more generous – than we are. We believe ourselves exceptional, first in the depth of our passion and then in the breadth of our failure.

I like this take on it:

By staying married, we give something to ourselves and to others: hope. Hope that in steadfastly loving someone, we ourselves, for all our faults, will be loved; that the broken world will be made whole. To hitch your rickety wagon to the flickering star of another fallible human being – what an insane thing to do. What a burden, and what a gift.

But most of the book isn’t just musings. It’s also stories – stories from her own married life. And these stories do lead to musings, and truths, and some good thoughts about what marriage has to offer these days. She doesn’t offer a particularly religious perspective, so I wasn’t sure I’d really think I’d find them applicable – but she does offer a practical perspective. What does marriage do for you? This is worth thinking about, and she approaches it in a humorous way.

She finishes the Introduction this way:

Such are the thoughts I keep to myself, sitting in rented folding chairs, watching friends begin their married lives. To the newlyweds, I say congratulations, and I mean it sincerely. To say out loud the rest of what I’m thinking would be bad manners. And so I’ll say it here instead.

wwnorton.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Camino Divina, by Gina Marie Mammano

Sunday, November 13th, 2016

camino_divina_largeCamino Divina

Walking the Divine Way

A Book of Moving Meditations with Likey & Unlikely Saints

by Gina Marie Mammano

Skylight Paths Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont, 2016. 178 pages.
Starred Review

Full disclosure: The author of this book is a long-time friend of mine. In fact, this past week I was writing my Project 52 post about the year I was 20, and the post included several pictures of Gina at Disneyland. We had invented the S.I.K. Club — a group that wasn’t afraid to be silly and whose theme was Joy. And a couple days after posting that, something Gina said in this very book blessed me.

Camino Divina is lovely. It took me a long time to read it, because I started reading a short section every time I go for a walk, and I usually only go for a walk two or three times per week. But it has added richly to those walks, and I plan to go through it again.

I’ll let Gina explain what she’s doing in this book, from the Introduction:

What is camino divina? Well, since camino simply means “road” and divina means “divine,” the pair of them together could be thought of as “the path of the Divine” or “the divine way.” It’s a merging of the Spanish camino and the Latin divina, a lingua marriage of sorts. In my vernacular, it just means taking a meaningful stroll out in nature, on a labyrinth, under the moon, with divine words laced in rhythm along with it.

She’s talking about taking a phrase with you and mulling it over as you walk.

This book is designed to take you on a journey — no, many journeys — of both outer landscape and inner landscape. The outer landscapes are all around you and can be explored through a well-planned or serendipitous trip, a pilgrimage to a sacred site, or a meandering somewhere in your own neighborhood. The pith, though, is found in the inner landscape. That is something you take with you wherever you go. It is your inner self, the very soul-housed uniqueness of time and space that you bring into the world and bring into your life’s experiences.

I’ve created twelve adventures that give you the chance to traipse into both of these realms — the inner landscape and the outer landscape. On each adventure I’ve paired you up with a spiritual guide whom I call a “saint” — a sage who has spoken inspiring words and ideas into my soul and out into the world. I’ve then chosen a theme that highlights one aspect of the featured sage’s wisdom and legacy, but by no means encompasses it. As you wander into themes like Amazement, Wildness, Darkness, the Liminal, the Surprising, or the Familiar, know that they can be explored not only with the saint associated with that particular theme, but with the others as well, serving as launching points for you to explore many other possibilities in your camino divina practice. When you’ve finished this book, I encourage you to create a list of your own “saints,” those whose words and thoughts have inspired — and continue to inspire — you.

Gina’s writing is beautiful — She’s a poet — and she opens windows into the words of these twelve writer-saints she’s chosen.

I’ve been walking with these meditations for months now, and they’ve opened my eyes. And I know if I make the journey again through this book, I’m going to uncover all new riches.

skylightpaths.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Rilke’s Book of Hours, by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

book_of_hours_largeRilke’s Book of Hours

Love Poems to God

by Rainer Maria Rilke

translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy
with a new Introduction by the translators

Riverhead Books (Penguin), 2005. 257 pages.
Starred Review

Although this book was published in 2005, our library recently purchased new copies of it, so I saw it on the Wowbrary list and checked it out. I liked it so much, I purchased my own copy and slowly went through it at the rate of a poem per day.

Anyone who has seen my Sonderling Sunday posts know that I love the German language and I love looking at the ways the German and English languages try to express the same thoughts. So this book, with the original German text on one side and the English translation on the other, is perfect for me.

This is poetry, so you’re not going to find a literal translation. I think I liked it better for that. Again, how best to express an idea, in this case a poetic idea, in each language?

I’d read a poem each day. First I’d read it in German and try to get the idea. Then I’d read it line by line with the translation and find out where I’d gone wrong.

The poetry is beautiful in both languages. Don’t let the subtitle throw you. Rilke has some nontraditional thoughts about God. But they do get you thinking and meditating about some deep thoughts.

This is the 100th Anniversary Edition, and there’s a reason these poems have lasted so long.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Brave Enough, by Cheryl Strayed

Thursday, October 13th, 2016

brave_enough_largeBrave Enough

by Cheryl Strayed

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 135 pages.

I love quotations, as anyone knows who’s stumbled across my Sonderquotes blog. On top of that, Cheryl Strayed has already gotten many quotes on Sonderquotes from when I read her book Tiny Beautiful Things.

But you might not be aware that I’ve collected quotations since I was in high school. I’ve got a little notebook that holds index cards on which I’d write out quotes. So I was charmed by this story that opens Brave Enough:

At age twelve, when I came upon a sentence on page two hundred and something of Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Ring of Endless Light, I was so taken by it I had to stop reading. “Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light,” I scrawled in semipermanent marker on the inside of my forearm, where it stayed for the better part of a week (and in my mind for the better part of my life).

I’ve been a quote collector ever since.

I so agree with this part:

I think of quotes as mini-instruction manuals for the soul. It’s my appreciation of their very usefulness that compelled me to put together this book. Not because I believe in my own sagacity, but because I believe in the power of words to help us reset our intentions, clarify our thoughts, and create a counternarrative to the voice of doubt many of us have murmuring in our heads — the one that says You can’t, you won’t, you shouldn’t have. Quotes, at their core, almost always shout Yes!

This aims to be a book of yes.

And I start with a great big Yes to this at the end of the Introduction:

The best quotes don’t speak to one particular truth, but rather to universal truths that resonate — across time, culture, gender, generation, and situation — in our own hears and minds. They guide, motivate, validate, challenge, and comfort us in our own lives. They reiterate what we’ve figured out and remind us how much there is yet to learn. Pithily and succinctly, they lift us momentarily out of the confused and conflicted human muddle. Most of all, they tell us we’re not alone. Their existence is proof that others have questioned, grappled with, and come to know the same truths we question and grapple with, too.

There you have it. I went through this book one page per day, pausing to put especially good quotes into Sonderquotes.

This book contains lots of yes.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/brave_enough.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Champagne for the Soul, by Mike Mason

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

champagne_for_the_soul_largeChampagne for the Soul

Rediscovering God’s Gift of Joy

by Mike Mason

Regent College Publishing, Vancouver, B. C., 2007. 190 pages.
Starred Review

A big thank-you to my sister Becky for recommending this book!

Here’s how the author introduces this book:

In October 1999 I began a ninety-day experiment in joy. I made up my mind that for the next ninety days I would be joyful in the Lord. Because this was an experiment, there was room for failure. If there were times when I wasn’t joyful, I wouldn’t despair or beat myself up. Rather I would gently, persistently return as best I could to my focus on joy.

So began (and continues to this day) the happiest time of my life. This book is the record of that experiment in joy, along with other thoughts on joy that came to me later. While I was astounded by the results of my initial experiment, I deliberately waited before writing a book. I knew my ideas needed time to mature, and more important, I had to see whether the new joy that had flooded my life would endure. Amazingly, it has. My original thesis turned out to be true: Joy is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows.

The book consists of 90 two-page chapters. Each one begins with a verse, and then some thoughts about aspects of joy.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until I was more than two-thirds of the way through the book that I decided to try a full-fledged experiment with joy myself. So my plan was to turn around and start the book over again.

However, today, the very day I finished reading the book, my church small group met for the first time since taking the summer off, and we were trying to decide what study to do this next season. I threw out the idea of using this book — and they immediately loved the idea.

So — I’m going to try an experiment in joy along with a close group of Christian friends! I think that’s going to add layers of richness to the experience.

And this book is a wonderful guide to bring along. There aren’t “study questions.” Mike Mason writes about his own experiences with joy, which I think will encourage us to think about our own experiences and share them with each other.

This isn’t a how-to book. More of a travelogue about one person’s journey with Jesus into a new experience of joy and encouragement for others who may choose to follow a similar path.

As I was reading, I found dozens of quotes I loved, and I’m slowly loading them into Sonderquotes. You can get an idea of the sort of thing the author focuses on by reading these.

Now, I’m happily writing this review having finished the book but knowing that I’m only on the beginning of my journey with it. And next time around, I’m looking forward to having companions traveling with me.

I should add that when I first approached the book, it was as a casual reader, figuring I’d read good thoughts about joy. When I decided to actually try my own experiment with joy — 23 days ago — it suddenly got more personal, more immediate.

Not to give spoilers, but here are some words from the Epilogue:

My experiment has been wildly successful. Joy has indeed become an ingrained habit of my soul — so much a part of me that it hardly seems possible that I lived without it for nearly half a century. Not only am I much happier now than ever before, but I know it’s possible to keep moving in the direction of joy and to have more and more of it. In the search for joy a certain point arrives where the balance tips in our favor. We find we’re no longer striving for happiness; we’re simply happy. It’s like getting out of debt: Without a fat mortgage payment to dole out every month, life takes on an entirely different feel. Difficulties still come, perhaps grave ones, but joy keeps flowing into the hurts like a self-renewing stream.

I highly recommend this book. While it’s fantastic casual reading, I’ve found my experience with it got richer the more seriously I took it. What are you waiting for? Dive in!

regentpublishing.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased via Amazon.com.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Men Explain Things to Me, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

men_explain_things_to_me_largeMen Explain Things to Me

by Rebecca Solnit

Dispatch Books, Haymarket Books, Chicago, Illinois, 2014. 130 pages.
Starred Review

I’m afraid most intelligent women need to hear nothing more than the title of this book to give a knowing smile. Rebecca Solnit starts the essay with a particularly stunning example of a man who knew nothing about a topic Rebecca had written a book about, trying to explain things to her. He even mentioned an “important book” she should have read, which it turned out he had not actually read but had read about in the New York Times Book Review. This was the book she had written.

I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.

Yes, people of both genders pop up at events and hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

Now, she does make clear that she’s not talking about all men, nor even the majority of men. But there are men out there who don’t respect women’s knowledge or opinions and feel they automatically have more important things to say. My first Master’s degree was in mathematics, and I always felt like I had to prove myself. And always, I must admit, took great delight in getting higher scores than my male classmates on math tests – which was more about me than about them. But where did I get the idea I had to prove myself?

The rest of the essays in this book talk about other ways women are silenced and marginalized. There’s also some discussion about marriage equality in that context.

The phrase [“marriage equality”] is ordinarily employed to mean that same-sex couples will have the rights different-sexed couples do. But it could also mean that marriage is between equals. That’s not what traditional marriage was. Throughout much of its history in the West, the laws defining marriage made the husband essentially an owner and the wife a possession. Or the man a boss and the woman a servant or slave.

Another essay is about a powerful international figure who raped a hotel maid in his luxury suite – and how that can be a metaphor for many things.

The opening essay begins with what is really a humorous scene. But this is not a humorous book. Overall, it’s about feminism and how we’ve made progress, but there is still progress that needs to be made.

Rebecca Solnit will make you think and consider and speak.

rebeccasolnit.net
TomDispatch.com
haymarketbooks.org

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life, by Harold S. Kushner

Thursday, January 7th, 2016

9_essential_things_largeNine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life

by Harold S. Kushner

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 169 pages.
Starred Review
2015 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #5 Other Nonfiction

The wise rabbi who wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People is 80 years old, and he has some wisdom to share with the world.

Even though I’m not Jewish, I can see the deep wisdom in most of the “essential things” Rabbi Kushner talks about. I have a few minor disagreements with some theological points. (Most notable is that I do think thoughts can be sinful even without actions. What does he do with the commandment “Thou shalt not covet”?) But overall, I find myself filling this book with post-it notes marking outstanding quotes. May we benefit from his years of experience and his wisdom.

In the first chapter, he talks about the influences that shaped and changed his view of God from the theology he was taught as a child.

More than anything else, my half century of congregational service and my dozen or so books have been dedicated to reformulating that traditional theology. I’ve done this not to protect God from bad theologians and people’s righteous anger, but to rescue people who need God from having to choose between a cruel God and no God at all.

An idea I liked very much indeed was found in the second chapter, “God Is Not a Man Who Lives in the Sky.” It is that when someone tells you he is an atheist, you can respond, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in; maybe I don’t believe in him either.”

He talks about many versions of God which he doesn’t believe in and concludes that chapter:

The God I believe in is under no obligation to be the kind of God we would like Him to be, or even the kind of God we need Him to be. Begging Him, bargaining with Him, even living by His mandates will not cause the rain to fall and give us an abundant harvest, nor will it cure our disease or help us win the lottery. God’s role is not to make our lives easier, to make the hard things go away, or to do them for us. God’s role is to give us the vision to know what we need to do, to bless us with the qualities of soul that we will need in order to do them ourselves, no matter how hard they may be, and to accompany us on that journey.

The remaining chapter titles will give you an idea of the topics covered in the other Essential Things: “God Does Not Send the Problem; God Sends Us the Strength to Deal with the Problem,” “Forgiveness Is a Favor You Do Yourself,” “Some Things Are Just Wrong: Knowing That Makes Us Human,” “Religion Is What You Do, Not What You Believe,” “Leave Room for Doubt and Anger in Your Religious Outlook,” “To Feel Better About Yourself, Find Someone to Help,” and “Give God the Benefit of the Doubt.”

Check Sonderquotes for some bits of wisdom. If you like what you read, I do recommend this book. Read one Essential Thing each morning, and you’ll be uplifted, encouraged, and motivated.

Rabbi Kushner closes with “A Love Letter to a World That May or May Not Deserve It,” which is simply beautiful. The first paragraph talks about all he and the world have been through together. Then he says:

But with it all, I choose to love you. I love you, whether you deserve it or not (and how does one measure that?). I love you in part because you are the only world I have. I love you because I like who I am better when I do. But mostly I love you because loving you makes it easier for me to be grateful for today and hopeful about tomorrow. Love does that.

There. Simply typing that out made my day suddenly much better. Rabbi Kushner is right. And there are many more wise gems where that came from.

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/9_essential_things.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Furiously Happy, by Jenny Lawson

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

furiously_happy_largeFuriously Happy

A Funny Book About Horrible Things

by Jenny Lawson

Flatiron Books, New York, 2015. 329 pages.
Starred Review

Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess, the author of one of the funniest blogs on the Internet. I listened to her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, and laughed and laughed. I’m trying to remember why on earth I didn’t review it, and suspect it’s probably because I was embarrassed to recommend someone who uses so much coarse language to my prim and proper friends? But I’ve since recommended some of her columns, particularly the one about Beartrum, to enough friends to be sure that the laughter far outweighs any outrage. (And maybe my friends aren’t so prim and proper after all?)

This one, too, has plenty of coarse language and plenty of talk about body parts that don’t usually come up in polite society. But oh my goodness, Jenny Lawson is just so funny. And this book has some open and honest talk about mental illness, which makes it all the better and gives it a great message even beyond making you laugh.

This is not, I’m afraid, a good book to bring to a doctor appointment to read in the waiting room. I brought it, realizing that it’s a good book to dip in and out of, and knowing I wouldn’t be bored. However, I hadn’t stopped to think how I would sound giggling nonstop or letting out random chuckles and snorts. I tried to contain them, but didn’t completely succeed. At the very least, I was smiling ridiculously, looking pretty similar to the raccoon on the cover.

As Jenny says in the disclaimer:

This is a funny book about living with mental illness. It sounds like a terrible combination, but personally, I’m mentally ill and some of the most hysterical people I know are as well. So if you don’t like the book then maybe you’re just not crazy enough to enjoy it. Either way, you win.

The “Furiously Happy” title comes from a blog post the author wrote about being Vehemently, Furiously Happy, just to spite her depression.

This didn’t mean that I wasn’t still depressed or anxious or mentally ill. I still spent my share of weeks in bed when I simply couldn’t get up. I still hid under my office desk whenever the anxiety got too heavy to battle standing up. The difference was that I had a storeroom in the back of my mind filled with moments of tightrope walking, snorkeling in long-forgotten caves, and running barefoot through cemeteries with a red ball gown trailing behind me. And I could remind myself that as soon as I had the strength to get up out of bed I would again turn my hand to being furiously happy. Not just to save my life, but to make my life.

Yes, there’s serious and very helpful talk about mental illness, but there are also random funny bits and hilarious stories. I can’t think of a better way to review this book than to quote a few. I’ll try to limit it to bits without swearing. (If swearing really bothers you, alas, you should avoid this book. Also, you might not want to listen to it in the family car.)

“I’m not going to say I told you so” is pretty much the same thing as saying “I told you so.” Except worse because you’re saying “I told you so” and congratulating yourself for your restraint in not saying what you totally just said.

The phrase “Rest in peace” seems incredibly self-serving. It basically means, “Stay in your grave. Don’t haunt me.” The opposite would be “Fitfully toss” or “Go jogging.”

I don’t understand why people keep pushing that “Don’t be some random person. BE UNIQUE” message. You’re already incredibly unique. Everyone is incredibly unique. That’s why the police use fingerprints to identify people. So you’re incredibly unique . . . but in the exact same way that everyone else is. (Which, admittedly, doesn’t really sing and is never going to make it on a motivational T-shirt.) So none of us are unique in being unique because being unique is pretty much the least unique thing you can be, because it comes naturally to everyone.

People who think it’s so hard to find a needle in a haystack are probably not quilters. Needles find you. Just walk on the haystack for a second. You’ll find the needle. They’re worse than floor-Legos.

Talking about Rory, the taxidermied raccoon on the cover:

Victor thinks taxidermy is a waste of money, claiming that “there are only so many things you can do with a dead raccoon.” But I have proven him wrong time and time again. Victor pointed out that what he’d actually said was “There are only so many things you should do with a dead raccoon,” and honestly that does sound more like something he’d say, but I still disagree.

There’s an essay about when her doctor prescribed antipsychotics. I like this paragraph. She knows how to look on the bright side and make you laugh, too.

Truthfully, though, there are some advantages to being on antipsychotics. First off, you can say you’re on antipsychotics. This might seem silly but when you go to the pharmacy and you’re standing in line with twenty germy people sneezing all over the place you can honestly say, “Would you mind if I went first? I have to pick up my antipsychotic meds and I REALLY needed them yesterday.” This tactic also works for grocery lines, the DMV, and some buffets.

Here’s some good logic:

Technically, if I were farther away from the center of the Earth then I’d be subjected to less gravity and then I would weigh less. So I’m not really fat. I’m just not high enough. Victor says I sound pretty high already but I suspect he’s just being insulting.

But the simple fact is, there’s no such thing as real weight. Only mass. Weight depends entirely upon the gravity of wherever you are, which is why if you weigh yourself on the top of Mount Everest you’d be closer to outer space and you would weigh slightly less than you would at home. But you’d have to lug a scale up to the top of Mount Everest to prove it, which would suck. Honestly, they should just leave a scale up there for people. Although, maybe they already have one, because who’s going to drag a scale back down Mount Everest? That would be crazy. Frankly, I never understood why people climb that thing in the first place, but if there’s a scale up there telling you that you’re skinnier than you think then I guess I can see the draw. . . .

Regardless, on the moon I weigh about as much as a large toaster, so using that logic I’m not overweight. I’m simply overgravitated. Spell-check says that I can’t be “overgravitated” because that isn’t a real word and suggested that I probably meant to say that I’m “overly aggravating.” Victor says spell-check has a point.

Spell-check and Victor are both dead to me.

Perhaps if people are so concerned with obesity they should just work on making the Earth have less mass so there’s less gravity. . . . Victor says this is a clear case of “deflection” and I agree because I assume “deflection” is something scientific used to deflect mass from Earth and, thus, make us all lighter. Victor says he thinks I don’t know what “deflection” means. I think Victor doesn’t know what “being supportive” means. (It means letting me lean on him a little when I’m standing on the bathroom scale.) I think this is all pretty commonsense. Victor says it’s not at all.

And the Bloggess is so good at helpful ways to think about yourself!

I try not to get caught up in appearance issues though because my grandmother always used to say, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” And that’s probably true because with my luck my best feature would be hidden deep, deep inside my body. I suspect my best feature is my skeleton, which is a shame because it might be the most elegant and hauntingly graceful skeleton ever but I’ll never get complimented on it while I’m still fleshy enough to appreciate it. That’s why I’d like people to say “Nice skeleton” to me now. Just give me the benefit of the doubt, you know?

I’ve started handing out similar compliments to strangers, but not about their skeletons, because that would seem disingenuous or even sarcastic since I’m already pretty sure I have the sexiest skeleton ever. It’s dead sexy. See what I just did there? I credit my skeleton with that joke. Clever and beautiful. No, instead I say things like “I’d wager you have an exquisite pancreas.” Or “I bet your tendons are fantastic.” People are usually so overwhelmed that they move away very quickly or tell me they don’t have any money on them. No one is ever prepared to accept compliments from strangers about their internal organs, which just goes to show how seldom we compliment them.

Along those same lines, I love the part where she explains that the person we should be comparing ourselves to is Galileo. But first I have to include where she explains the Spoon Theory:

The Spoon Theory was created by a friend of mine, Christine Miserandino, to explain the limits you have when you live with chronic illness. Most healthy people have a seemingly infinite number of spoons at their disposal, each one representing the energy needed to do a task. You get up in the morning. That’s a spoon. You take a shower. That’s a spoon. You work, and play, and clean, and love, and hate, and that’s lots of spoons . . . but if you are young and healthy you still have spoons left over as you fall asleep and wait for the new supply of spoons to be delivered in the morning.

But if you are sick or in pain, your exhaustion changes you and the number of spoons you have. Autoimmune disease or chronic pain like I have with my arthritis cuts down on your spoons. Depression or anxiety takes away even more. Maybe you only have six spoons to use that day. Sometimes you have even fewer. And you look at the things you need to do and realize that you don’t have enough spoons to do them all. If you clean the house you won’t have any spoons left to exercise. You can visit a friend but you won’t have enough spoons to drive yourself back home. . . .

Really, the only people you should be comparing yourself to would be people who make you feel better by comparison. For instance, people who are in comas, because those people have no spoons at all and you don’t see anyone judging them. Personally, I always compare myself to Galileo because everyone knows he’s fantastic, but he has no spoons at all because he’s dead. So technically I’m better than Galileo because all I’ve done is take a shower and already I’ve accomplished more than him today. If we were having a competition I’d have beaten him in daily accomplishments every day of my life. But I’m not gloating because Galileo can’t control his current spoon supply any more than I can, and if Galileo couldn’t figure out how to keep his dwindling spoon supply I think it’s pretty unfair of me to judge myself for mine.

You’ll even get complimented if you read this book:

How can we be expected to properly judge ourselves? We know all of our worst secrets. We are biased, and overly critical, and occasionally filled with shame. So you’ll have to just trust me when I say that you are worthy, important, and necessary. And smart.

You may ask how I know and I’ll tell you how. It’s because right now? YOU’RE READING. That’s what the sexy people do. Other, less awesome people might currently be in their front yards chasing down and punching squirrels, but not you. You’re quietly curled up with a book designed to make you a better, happier, more introspective person.

You win. You are amazing.

But my favorite bit of all is when she recounts what her husband Victor said to her. He’s a gem. (I won’t get into how this contrasts with something specific my ex-husband said to me about the chronic headaches I used to get. Let’s just say I love Victor vicariously for this sentence.)

Last month, as Victor drove me home so I could rest, I told him that sometimes I felt like his life would be easier without me. He paused a moment in thought and then said, “It might be easier. But it wouldn’t be better.

Well look at that. I was only going to quote a few good bits. There are far too many! And there are many, many more where that came from! If any of these made you smile, read the book! I can honestly say it left me happier, encouraged, and feeling much better about my own failings and my own quirky, wonderful life.

It didn’t, however, give me the slightest inclination to start collecting taxidermy. However, I am glad that The Bloggess does, and thus brings joy to people all over the world.

TheBloggess.com
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Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Real Thing, by Ellen McCarthy

Sunday, August 9th, 2015

real_thing_largeThe Real Thing

Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook

by Ellen McCarthy

Ballantine Books, New York, 2015. 263 pages.

Written by a wedding reporter, this book is composed of stories — stories of people committing to each other. But Ellen McCarthy didn’t stop with weddings and also includes stories of couples whose love has lasted decades. Along the way, she throws in some good advice about finding and keeping the love of your life.

Bottom line, even if you don’t take any of the advice, this book is fun to read. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that people out there are finding love.

The author throws in her own story — she started as a wedding reporter when she’d just finished a major break-up, but wrote the book as part of a married couple with a child.

Here’s some of her introduction:

When I first started on the weddings beat — also starting, as I’ve mentioned, a new chapter of single life — I wasn’t sure how it would affect me to spend my days interviewing deliriously happy couples and watching them walk down the aisle. It could have been like salt in a wound.

But the job had the opposite effect. All of these people — young, old, rich, poor, plain, beautiful, sophisticated, and simple — they’d all found someone. I was reminded again and again that love happens every day, in all kinds of ways, to all kinds of people. And when it does, it adds a beauty and richness to life that nothing else can match.

So a couple of months after the breakup, I found my dating legs again. This time I had the lessons of the people I’d written about swirling around in my head. Their experiences pushed me to be more open and optimistic, and at least try to enjoy it.

Even more important, the collective wisdom of these couples challenged me to rethink what I was looking for. So much of what they taught me about love ran contrary to what we learn in pop culture and society. Don’t look for lightning. Forget about presenting your best self — it’s your real self that counts. And dreams do come true, but almost never how you dreamed them.

Yes, reading these stories could have been like pouring salt in my wounds. But it wasn’t. Instead, this book left me smiling and encouraged.

ellen-mccarthy.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/real_thing.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?