Review of Love for Imperfect Things, by Haemin Sunim

Love for Imperfect Things

How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection

by Haemin Sunim
translated by Deborah Smith and Haemin Sunim

Penguin Books, 2018. Originally published in Korean in 2016. 259 pages.
Starred Review
Review written June 27, 2020, from a library book

This is a lovely and peace-inducing book written by a Zen Buddhist teacher. It worked well to read a chapter or half a chapter each day, as I had time, and I was uplifted when I did.

The book is illustrated with peaceful pictures. It’s a book about loving yourself and others, and about healing and going through the world with compassion – very general, nice things. The format is each chapter has a section or two of narrative and then several pages of shorter bits of wisdom.

The book didn’t give me any new, earth-shaking insights, but reading its wisdom helped me calm my thoughts and meditate on truth.

I’ll grab a few examples of the sort of sayings you’ll find here:

When someone does something to distress you
for no apparent reason,
or behaves completely unreasonably,
for your own sake, repeat to yourself:
“Big world, some weirdos!”

If you want to kindle firewood,
there needs to be space between the logs.
If you pack the wood too densely,
the fire will not take; the flames need room to breathe.
In the same way, if our lives have no breathing room,
we won’t be able to enjoy all the things we have,
no matter how great or precious they are.

If you point out someone’s faults,
don’t expect their behavior to change.
Often all that happens
is that they get hurt.
Instead, praise their strengths,
which will grow to overshadow their weaknesses.

There are many aspects of life that we cannot control.
When it comes to our children, spouse, relatives, and friends,
we can love them, pray for them, show them interest,
but we cannot control them,
even when we have good intentions,
since their happiness ultimately depends on themselves.
Let them take responsibility for their choices.
When we get through an illness, we develop immunity.
If we protect others from illness,
they may not develop proper immunity against life.

I found those quotations on pages I opened to at random – the quality of the observations is consistently good. You can see that they aren’t necessarily things you don’t already know – but they are things it’s good to be reminded about.

haeminsunim.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but 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 Try Softer, by Aundi Kolber

Try Softer

A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode – and into a Life of Connection and Joy

by Aundi Kolber, MA, LPC

Tyndale Momentum, 2020. 245 pages.
Review written September 21, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Standout:
#5 Christian Nonfiction

I love the idea behind the title of this book. Here’s the author’s explanation from the Introduction, when her therapist supervisor John asked her if she could try softer instead of trying harder:

I’ve got to be honest: At first blush, John’s suggestion didn’t sound like an awesome option – because what did it even mean? All I had ever learned was how to try harder. If I didn’t push, everything would be terrible; everything would fall apart. The suggestion that there could be another way made my body feel tense with anger, a reflection of my twelve-year-old self – a girl riddled with the toxic stress of trying to keep everything together while her home life was constantly imploding. Sure, John, “trying softer” sounds nice, but trying harder is how you survive.

At the same time, I had to face the facts: Trying harder wasn’t really working for me anymore. The strategies I had been using my entire life – hustling, overworking, overthinking, and constantly shifting to accommodate the dysfunction that surrounded me – they had kept me alive, yes, but now they were taking their toll. I felt less in control, not more; worse, not better; weary, not wise. The danger from my past was gone, but the patterns remained – and they were keeping me from being able to be truly present and pay attention to what matters most.

The day that I sat with John in his office totally changed the trajectory of my life because John was right: Pushing isn’t always the answer.

Dear reader, there are truly times when the best, healthiest, most productive thing we can do is not to try harder, but rather to try softer; to compassionately listen to our needs so we can move through pain – and ultimately life – with more gentleness and resilience.

The author does speak as a Christian, but more than that, she speaks as a therapist, so I don’t think you have to be a Christian to appreciate the insights in this book. She tells us her own life story along the way, and weaves in concepts and techniques from therapy.

Toward the beginning, she talks about Big T Trauma and little t trauma and how the patterns we set from dealing with either one of those continue to affect us and are even held in our bodies. She talks about brain science and how both kinds of trauma affect our brains. She talks about attachment theory and how our attachment style affects our relationships. There are exercises to go with every chapter to help you grasp the ideas.

But after the background and the groundwork, the rest of the book is dedicated to practices to help us try softer, to help us be gentler with ourselves. She helps us to pay attention to and value our own bodies and our own emotions, to silence our inner critics, and to learn resilience.

She finishes the book with a prayer for the reader, and the last paragraph gives you an idea of what she’s trying to help you with in this book:

I pray you remember to be gentle with yourself as you grow, knowing condemnation never leads us onward but instead stunts the process. May you courageously continue on and move forward in your own story. And when you are weary, may you never – no, never – lose heart. May you know in an experiential, personal, and transformational way that the One who has called you is faithful.

aundikolber.com
tyndale.com

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Review of Keep Moving, by Maggie Smith

Keep Moving

Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change

by Maggie Smith

One Signal Publishers (Atria), 2020. 214 pages.
Review written November 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #4 General Nonfiction

This is a book I wish I’d had when my husband left me and my life was falling apart. But ten years after the divorce was final, these words still encourage me greatly. I expect I will buy copies of this book to give as gifts in case I ever have friends in tough situations where their expectations for what their life was going to be crumble. Even in the present, reading these words keep me moving. I’ll be posting lots of quotes from it on my Sonderquotes blog.

The bulk of this book is inspirational encouragement on each page, finished by the words – on every page – “KEEP MOVING.”

Here’s an example:

Focus on who you are and what you’ve built, not who you’d planned on being and what you’d expected to have. Trust that the present moment – however difficult, however different from what you’d imagined – has something to teach you.

KEEP MOVING.

Here’s another:

You are not betraying your grief by feeling joy. You are not being graded, and you do not receive extra credit for being miserable 100% of the time. Find pockets of relief, even happiness, when and where you can.

KEEP MOVING.

There are three main sections: Revision, Resilience, and Transformation. Within each section, in between these inspirational sayings made to be quoted, we’ve got pages here and there of smaller text, giving us the context of when the author had to deal with loss, in more than one way.

She began this book by writing daily goals for herself as her life was falling apart — and she kept going.

After writing this review, I decided to buy my own copy so I can come back to it again and again. Every day I’m reading a page to encourage me and keep me moving.

SimonandSchuster.com

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Review of Everyday Ubuntu, by Mungi Ngomane

Everyday Ubuntu

Living Better Together, the African Way

by Mungi Ngomane
foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Harper Design, 2020. 240 pages.
Review written April 13, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s granddaughter, and it’s full of wisdom learned and demonstrated in South Africa as they worked toward healing their country after Apartheid.

Here is how Desmond Tutu explains ubuntu in his Foreword:

Ubuntu is a concept that, in my community, is one of the most fundamental aspects of living lives of courage, compassion and connection. It is one that I cannot remember not knowing about. I understood from early on in my life that being known as a person with ubuntu was one of the highest accolades one could ever receive. Almost daily we were encouraged to show it in our relations with family, friends and strangers alike. I have often said that the idea and practice of ubuntu is one of Africa’s greatest gifts to the world. A gift with which, unfortunately, not many in the world are familiar. The lesson of ubuntu is best described in a proverb that is found in almost every African language, whose translation is, “A person is a person through other persons.” The fundamental meaning of the proverb is that everything we learn and experience in the world is through our relationships with other people. We are therefore called to examine our actions and thoughts, not just for what they will achieve for us, but for how they impact on others with whom we are in contact.

At its most simple, the teaching of this proverb and of ubuntu is similar to the Golden Rule found in most faith teachings: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you!” But one who has ubuntu goes a step beyond that. It is not only our actions we are called to keep track of, but our very being in the world. How we live, talk and walk in the world is as much a statement of our character as our actions. One with ubuntu is careful to walk in the world as one who recognizes the infinite worth of everyone with whom he or she comes into contact. So it is not simply a way of behaving, it is indeed a way of being!

The format of the book is simple. After an Introduction, there are fourteen Lessons involving ways you can embody ubuntu. These lessons include stories that illustrate the idea and exercises at the end of the chapter. Each lesson has a different title spread in a bright color with African patterns as the background – it’s an attractive book as well as a meaningful one.

Here are the titles of the fourteen lessons explored in this book:

1. See Yourself in Other People
2. Strength Lies in Unity
3. Put Yourself in the Shoes of Others
4. Choose to See the Wider Perspective
5. Have Dignity and Respect for Yourself and Others
6. Believe in the Good of Everyone
7. Choose Hope Over Optimism
8. Seek Out Ways to Connect
9. The Power of the F-Word – Forgiveness
10. Embrace Our Destiny
11. Acknowledge Reality (However Painful)
12. Find the Humor in Our Humanity
13. Why Little Things Make a Big Difference
14. Learn to Listen So That You Can Hear

You can see that mastering these lessons would indeed make you a better person as you live among other people. The true stories from South Africa’s healing help make these lofty ideals seem possible.

It all adds up to an inspiring and uplifting book. In this time of crisis, it’s all the easier to see that we need to cultivate ubuntu to come together past the difficulties.

hc.com

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Review of Shameless, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Shameless

A Case for Not Feeling Bad About Feeling Good (About Sex)

by Nadia Bolz-Weber

Convergent Books, 2019. 200 pages.
Review written March 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #2 Christian Nonfiction

I wasn’t sure about this book. It’s a book about sexuality and spirituality and how the church’s teachings on sexuality have harmed people.

I saved sex for marriage and married my first boyfriend. I was proud of that. So pleased that we did it “right” and followed God’s best plan. I even thought that the fact we waited for marriage proved the guy had self-control and wouldn’t ever have an affair. Well, that didn’t work out; he had an affair, left me, and now I’m divorced. And there are some who read the Bible to say that means God doesn’t want me to ever have sex again. What do I do with that?

Here’s a bit from the Introduction:

In the ten years I’ve been pastor at HFASS, I’ve known young married couples who did what the church told them and “waited,” only to discover that they could not, on the day of their wedding, flip a switch in their brains and in their bodies and suddenly go from relating to sex as sinful and dirty and dangerous to relating to sex as joyful and natural and God-given. I’ve known single women who didn’t have sex until they were forty and now have absolutely no idea how to manage the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship. I’ve heard middle-aged women admit that they still can’t make themselves wear a V-neck because as teenagers they were told female modesty was the best protection from unwanted male sexual advances. I’ve seen gay men who never reported the sexual abuse they experienced in the church because the church told them being gay was a sin. I’ve heard stories from women who experienced marital rape after getting married at twenty years old (because if you have to wait until marriage to have sex, then you hurry that shit up) but got the message from their church that because there is a verse in the Bible that says women should be subject to their husbands, it was not actually rape.

It doesn’t feel very difficult to draw a direct line between the messages many of us received from the church and the harm we’ve experienced in our bodies and spirits as a result. So my argument in this book is this: we should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine, or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people. If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings.

So I wasn’t sure what I’d think about this book – but what I found was a message of grace. And insights I’d never thought about before.

She talks about purity systems – rules and regulations to keep us pure. She says it’s natural for us to make them, because we want to be holy.

But no matter how much we strive for purity in our minds, bodies, spirits, or ideologies, purity is not the same as holiness. It’s just easier to define what is pure than what is holy, so we pretend they are interchangeable….

The desire to live a holy life that is pleasing to God is understandable, but this desire is also fraught with pitfalls.

Our purity systems, even those established with the best of intentions, do not make us holy. They only create insiders and outsiders. They are mechanisms for delivering our drug of choice: self-righteousness, as juice from the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil runs down our chins. And these purity systems affect far more than our relationship to sex and booze: they show up in political ideology, in the way people shame each other on social media, in the way we obsess about “eating clean.” Purity most often leads to pride or to despair, not to holiness. Because holiness is about union with, and purity is about separation from.

She explores lots of ideas here, and they surprised me by how lovely these ideas were. She’s not just questioning rules and systems and teachings, she’s also talking about what does healthy sexuality look like? One fascinating insight is that sexuality and spirituality have much in common.

She doesn’t give us a list of new rules in this book. She explores and she asks questions and she gets us thinking about the bodies God gave us, what pleases Him and what pleases us.

The point is, it all calls for attention. Does something enhance my life and relationships, or does it take it over? Is my behavior compulsive? When I or my partner experience this pleasure, is it bringing me or my partner more deeply into the moment, into the sacred, into our bodies, or is it separating one or both of us from these things?

Here’s another insight:

Jesus, we know, was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton, a friend of prostitutes and tax collectors. His first miracle was to keep the wine flowing at a party he was attending. So the guy was not afraid of pleasure. But he also fasted for forty days in the desert and would often go to a mountain to pray alone. He seemed to live an integrated life of feasting and fasting.

I like so much in this book, and it’s hard to describe and hard to explain. I like the connection she makes that good sexual connection comes when we can put aside our shame. When we can see each other as we truly are and reveal ourselves with all our scars.

Too often, the diagram that religion draws up for explaining sex takes the snake’s-eye view – it names only the physics of fear, threat, and control, but none of the magic. Likewise, media and advertising thrust the commodification of sex our way, and sex becomes either something to trade in or just another aspect of life in which we are judged and found lacking. But neither of these approaches is enough. Neither points to the whole truth. Because there is also magic.

This magic is what God placed in us at creation. It is the spark of divine creativity, the desire to be known, body and soul, and to connect deeply to God and to another person. This magic is the juiciest part of us, and the most hurtable. This magic was breathed into us when God emptied God’s lungs to give us life, saying, “Take what I have and who I am.” This magic is what snakes seek to darken with shame. This magic was what was sanctified for all time and all people when Jesus took on human form and gave of himself, saying, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you.”

This book isn’t about rules and regulations. It’s about finding shamelessness, magic, and a closer connection with God and others. It took me by surprise.

nadiabolzweber.com
convergentbooks.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 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 Orphaned Adult, by Alexander Levy

The Orphaned Adult

Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the Death of Our Parents

by Alexander Levy

Perseus Books, 1999. 190 pages.
Starred Review
Review written February 8, 2020, from a library book
2020 Sonderbooks Stand-out: #8 General Nonfiction

My father died unexpectedly four months ago, from a blood clot two days after minor surgery that had gone well. Then my mother died expectedly two months ago, after more than a decade with Alzheimer’s.

There was a very foolish part of me that hadn’t thought my mother’s death would hit me as hard as it did, since it was expected. But it was all so wrapped up in the unexpected death of my father. And now I have no parents on earth at all. And yes, it’s hitting me very, very hard.

One of my sisters (I think Marcy?) recommended this book to the rest of us, I believe giving it to the shared Kindle account (which I don’t use). I found the book extremely helpful. For me, it was probably helpful to realize that yes, losing your parents shakes you up. Even if you didn’t see them very often, and even if one of their deaths was long expected.

The author acknowledges that this is something almost everyone goes through. And since everyone goes through it, somehow most people don’t realize what a big deal it is.

Now, he also talks about the difference between when your first parent dies and when your second parent dies – I think my siblings and I can expect feelings to be multiplied with our parents dying at what seems like almost the same time.

The book didn’t seem incredibly profound. But I can’t overemphasize what a big deal it was to be told that the death of both your parents is a big deal. That was so helpful to me.

The most personally helpful chapter to me (so far) was the one called “Just Exactly Who Do You Think You Are? The Impact of Parental Death on Personal Identity.” Yes, I had been questioning who I am and what I was doing on the East Coast when all my family is on the West Coast. But I hadn’t connected that with my parents deaths. Realizing it was connected helped me greatly with my grappling.

After parents die, for the first time in our lives – and for the rest of our lives – we no longer feel we are someone’s child because we no longer have living parents. Changing this one fact precipitates a change in identity that is disorienting and confusing. Many of us become a little lost, temporarily. How, after all, is one to navigate when the directional beacon goes out, regardless of whether we had been moving toward it or away from it? Who am I now that I am nobody’s child?

I’ve had a feeling of being less safe since my dad died. The author captures a little of that:

In adulthood, parents are like the rearview mirror of a car, making it safe to operate, as we head into the unknown, by providing a glimpse of where and who we have been so we can better understand where and who we are becoming.

When parents die, the experience is not as much like no longer finding a mirror in its accustomed location as it is like looking into the mirror and seeing nothing. How is one to navigate with the unknown ahead and nothing behind?

This book has a lot of anecdotes, exploring the different aspects of people’s experiences after their parents die. The author is a psychologist, so he does use examples from his practice as well as his own experience. Each chapter begins with a poem from different authors about the death of parents.

The introductory chapter points out that parents are the constant in our lives since birth. It should not surprise us when their absence affects us deeply. But it does.

It is a cultural fiction that parental death is an incidental experience of adult life. If one of the purposes of culture is to provide us with a map – navigational assistance as we move into each stage of life – then this particular bit of misinformation beguiles us. Imagine a map that failed to correctly show a huge turn in the road, beyond which lay a dramatically different terrain in which many road signs change meaning. Perhaps this cultural falsehood supports and promotes certain social and material values, but it does not serve us well since it so poorly equips us for the actual experience when it occurs.

The maps of antiquity were drawn with borders of dragons and serpents to differentiate the known terrain, with its explored forests and rivers, from the vast and yet unexplored territories beyond, filled with the fearsome dangers that always seem to lurk in the unknown. Our culture does not supply a map with a border of dragons to warn us that things will be different beyond a certain point. As a result, each of us is caught by surprise when we move beyond the limit of our parents’ lives.

The stories that fill this book do show us there’s not one particular way everyone is going to feel. But they do help you realize that being an orphan – even when you’re a fully grown adult – is something big to deal with.

I do recommend this book to any adult who’s lost both their parents. I found it helpful, truthful, and comforting.

perseusbooks.com

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Review of The State of Affairs, by Esther Perel

The State of Affairs

Rethinking Infidelity

by Esther Perel

Harper, 2017. 320 pages.
Review written June 3, 2019, from a library book

I’m not completely sure why I read this book. A library customer had me put it on hold for her, and it sounded interesting to me, so I put it on hold, too. And then it wound up on the top of my huge nonfiction-books-to-read stack, and it really did fascinate me.

Of course, my initial reason to be interested in the topic is that my own marriage ended after my ex-husband had an affair for a year and a half. The number of lies it took to pull that off ended up shaking my whole sense of reality when I finally found out.

I’m not sure this book gave me a whole lot of insights about that affair, though I did have the ability to understand a little better why some people have them. The fact that I could read this book at all without being overwhelmed by pain or anger says to me that I’ve come a long way in my healing process!

You won’t be surprised when I say this book is not written from a Christian perspective. From my perspective, adultery is wrong, and that’s pretty much all there is to say about it. It deeply wounds someone you’ve promised to love. However, because this author approaches it without judgment – she can find out much more that’s going on under the surface.

She doesn’t judge, but she still doesn’t recommend having an affair. She put it this way:

While I prefer to sidestep flat-out condemnation to allow for a thoughtful inquiry, I do not approve of deception or take betrayal lightly. I sit with the devastation in my office every day. Understanding infidelity does not mean justifying it.

In the Introduction, the author convinced me that it was worth reading on:

There is one simple act of transgression that can rob a couple of their relationship, their happiness, their very identity: an affair. Yet this extremely common act is poorly understood….

Affairs have a lot to teach us about relationships – what we expect, what we think we want, and what we feel entitled to. They offer a unique window into our personal and cultural attitudes about love, lust, and commitment. Through examining illicit love from multiple angles, I hope to engage you, the reader, in an honest, enlightened, and provocative exploration of modern relationships in their many variations. I would like to stimulate a conversation between you and your loved ones about issues such as fidelity and loyalty, desire and longing, jealousy and possessiveness, truth-telling and forgiveness.

I’m afraid she does destroy the idea of an “affair-proof” marriage. And she’s even looked at open marriages where affairs happened. She says that wherever humans set up rules, others will get a thrill from breaking them.

This reminded me of a concept I learned in the book Forgive for Good, by Dr. Fred Luskin: Unenforceable rules. He says that we make rules for our loved ones that we can’t enforce. Instead of saying, “My spouse must not cheat on me,” which you can’t enforce at all, he suggests, “I hope my spouse will not cheat on me.” Then your spouse’s faithfulness becomes a loving gift, rather than meeting a demand. Either way, though, I was reminded in this book – you can’t actually make your spouse do anything.

She explores many different sides of affairs in this book and how it plays out for all parties involved, in many different situations. At the end she’s got a section with the heading, “What Can Marriage Learn from Infidelity?” I’ll finish with some paragraphs from that section:

Some relationships die, some survive and revive. What are the lessons of infidelity, for all of us who love? I hope these pages have served to illustrate that affairs are many things, but at best they can be transformative for a couple. I began this book with the analogy that while many people have positive, life-changing experiences as a result of terminal illness, I would no more recommend having an affair than I would recommend getting cancer. What many people want to know, then, is what they can learn from affairs without necessarily having to go through one. It comes down to two questions: How can we better fortify our relationship against infidelity? And how can we bring some of the erotic vitality of illicit love into our authorized union?

The answer is counterintuitive. The impulse to protect your marriage is natural, but if you take the common “affair-proofing” approach, you risk heading back down the narrow road of stifling constraints. Outlawing friendships with the opposite sex, censoring emotionally intimate confidences in others, nixing water-cooler conversations, curtailing online activity, banning porn, checking up on each other, doing everything together, cutting off exes – all of these homeland security measures can backfire. Katherine Frank argues persuasively that the “marital safety narrative” creates its own demise. When a couple tries to safeguard their relationship through various forms of surveillance and self-policing, they risk setting themselves up for the exact opposite: the “enhanced eroticization of transgressions.” The more we try to suppress our primal longings, the more forcefully we may rebel….

Rather than insulate ourselves with the false notion that it could never happen to me, we must learn to live with the uncertainties, the allures, the attractions, the fantasies – both our own and our partners’. Couples who feel free to talk honestly about their desires, even when they are not directed at each other, paradoxically become closer….

We also learn from affairs that for most, the forbidden will always hold an allure. The ongoing challenge for steady couples is to find ways to collaborate in transgression, rather than transgressing against each other or their bond….

For Viola and Ross, it meant creating secret email accounts through which they could conduct private, X-rated conversations during meetings, playdates, and parent-teacher conferences. For Allan and Joy, it was occasionally leaving the kids with her mom and going out with no curfew. Dancing all night with a sense of unboundedness is the opposite of the regimentation of family life. Bianca and Mags can’t afford to go out, but they want to affirm that they’re not just parents. So once a week they put the babies to bed, light candles, dress up, and have a date at home. They call it “meeting at the bar.”…

Our partners do not belong to us; they are only on loan, with an option to renew – or not. Knowing that we can lose them does not have to undermine commitment; rather, it mandates an active engagement that long-term couples often lose. The realization that our loved ones are forever elusive should jolt us out of complacency, in the most positive sense.

On reflection, I was one of those people who thought that an affair could never happen in my marriage – and I was completely wrong. It’s tempting when I think about starting a new relationship to try to go into it with lots of “safeguards” in place. I think that’s something of what I gained from reading this book – a deeper understanding that people are people. I can’t make someone I love behave a certain way. But a deeper understanding of marriage and what people want out of it and what an affair does to that – is not a bad thing to have, not a bad thing to process.

In the end, this book is fascinating reading about people and relationships.

estherperel.com
hc.com

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Review of Joyful, by Ingrid Fetell Lee

Joyful

The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness

by Ingrid Fetell Lee
read by the author

Hachette Audio, 2018. 9.5 hours on 8 CDs.
Starred Review

I listened to this in audio form, then put the print book on hold so I could pull out the main points for this review. I’m finding I want to read it again.

I’ve read other books on finding joy, most notably Champagne for the Soul, by Mike Mason. This one is very different, not looking at joy from a spiritual or emotional perspective, but from a design perspective. It turns out that certain objects and certain sights can actually spark joy. In this book the author categorizes the types of things that bring joy and tells about visiting places that embody this. It’s a fascinating book and will give you plenty of ideas to try in order to bring joy into your everyday life.

This is a perspective on joy that I never thought of before, and I love it. In the introduction, she talks about finding joy in physical things.

I noticed many moments when people seemed to find real joy in the material world. Gazing at a favorite painting in an art museum or making a sandcastle at the beach, people smiled and laughed, lost in the moment. They smiled, too, at the peachy light of the sunset and at the shaggy dog with the yellow galoshes. And not only did people seem to find joy in the world around them, but many also put a lot of effort into making their immediate environment more delightful. They tended rose gardens, put candles on birthday cakes, and hung lights for the holidays. Why would people do these things if they had no real effect on their happiness?

A body of research is emerging that demonstrates a clear link between our surroundings and our mental health. For example, studies show that people with sunny workspaces sleep better and laugh more than their peers in dimly lit offices, and that flowers improve not only people’s moods but their memory as well. As I delved deeper into these findings, joy started to become less amorphous and abstract to me and more tangible and real. It no longer seemed difficult to attain, the result of years of introspection or disciplined practice. Instead, I began to see the world as a reservoir of positivity that I could turn to at any time. I found that certain places have a kind of buoyancy – a bright corner café, a local yarn shop, a block of brownstones whose window boxes overflow with blooms – and I started changing my routines to visit them more often. On bad days, rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless, I discovered small things that could reliably lift my spirits. I started incorporating what I learned into my home and began to feel a sense of excitement as I put my key into the lock each evening. Over time, it became clear to me that the conventional wisdom about joy was wrong.

Joy isn’t hard to find at all. In fact, it’s all around us.

The liberating awareness of this simple truth changed my life. As I started to share it with others, I found that many people felt the impulse to seek joy in their surroundings but had been made to feel as if their efforts were misguided. One woman told me that buying cut flowers lifted her spirits for days, but she felt like it was a frivolous indulgence, so she only did it on special occasions. It had never occurred to her that for the price of one of her weekly therapy sessions, she could buy a bunch of flowers every other week for a year. Another described how she had walked into her living room after repainting it and felt an “ahhh” feeling – a sense of relief and lightness that made her wonder why she had waited so long to do it. I realized that we all have an inclination to seek joy in our surroundings, yet we have been taught to ignore it. What might happen if we were to reawaken this instinct for finding joy?

As she studied joy and sought out the aesthetics of joy, she was able to make connections and put them into ten categories.

In all, I identified ten aesthetics of joy, each of which reveals a distinct connection between the feeling of joy and the tangible qualities of the world around us:

Energy: vibrant color and light
Abundance: lushness, multiplicity, and variety
Freedom: nature, wildness, and open space
Harmony: balance, symmetry, and flow
Play: circles, spheres, and bubbly forms
Surprise: contrast and whimsy
Transcendence: elevation and lightness
Magic: invisible forces and illusions
Celebration: synchrony, sparkle, and bursting shapes
Renewal: blossoming, expansion, and curves

The ten chapters of the book delve into these ten aesthetics in lovely rambling detail. They give ideas for how you can build them into your own life, but in many cases tell about someone who has indulged in this particular aesthetic in a big way – with striking results.

The final chapter in the print book wasn’t included in the audiobook (unless there were extra files I didn’t notice) – a Joy Toolkit with worksheets to fill out to help you fill your own life with joy.

aestheticsofjoy.com
ingridfetell.com
HachetteAudio.com

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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 Dare to Lead, by Brené Brown

Dare to Lead

Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.

by Brené Brown

Random House, 2018. 298 pages.

I love Brené Brown’s books, beginning with The Gifts of Imperfection, which is wonderful reading for any recovering perfectionist like me.

This current book seemed repetitive, with lots of material from her previous books. Then I noticed the second subtitle on the cover: Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work. This book is all about using the principles from the previous books in a work setting.

It’s not like she doesn’t warn the reader. Here’s a paragraph from the Introductory chapter:

I’ve always been told, “Write what you need to read.” What I need as a leader, and what every leader I’ve worked with over the past several years has asked for, is a practical playbook for putting the lessons from Daring Greatly and Rising Strong into action. There are even a few learnings from Braving the Wilderness that can help us create a culture of belonging at work. If you’ve read these books, expect some familiar lessons with new context, stories, tools, and examples related to our work lives. If you haven’t read these books – no problem. I’ll cover everything you need to know.

There are four Parts to the book: Rumbling with Vulnerability, Living into our Values, Braving Trust, and Learning to Rise. It’s all about living authentically and being willing to be vulnerable with your co-workers and being able to speak truthfully with one another.

Even though it was a bit repetitive, and even though some of the acronyms are clunky, and V for Vault in the acronym BRAVING still makes me laugh – many of the ideas here are worth being reminded about – in a nice consolidated format. After all, I do want to live by my values and be whole-hearted with my co-workers. Putting these ideas into practice will make you a stronger and more authentic person.

brenebrown.com
randomhousebooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/dare_to_lead.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 The Book of Joy, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams

The Book of Joy

Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
with Douglas Abrams

Avery (Penguin Random House), 2016. 354 pages.
Starred Review

The authors speak at the front of the book to explain what this project is about:

To celebrate one of our special birthdays, we met for a week in Dharamsala to enjoy our friendship and to create something that we hope will be a birthday gift for others. There is perhaps nothing more joyous than birth, and yet so much of life is spent in sadness, stress, and suffering. We hope this small book will be an invitation to more joy and more happiness….

Our cowriter, Douglas Abrams, has kindly agreed to assist us in this project and interviewed us over the course of a week in Dharamsala. We have asked him to weave our voices together and offer his own as our narrator so that we can share not only our views and our experience but also what scientists and others have found to be the wellsprings of joy.

You don’t need to believe us. Indeed, nothing we say should be taken as an article of faith. We are sharing what two friends, from very different worlds, have witnessed and learned in our long lives. We hope you will discover whether what is included here is true by applying it in your own life.

The rest of the book is told from Douglas Abrams’ perspective, telling about the joyful meeting between the Dalai Lama and the Archbishop, and their discussions about Joy.

The book is beautiful, reflecting the Joy and Love and Compassion between these two men, but also reflecting thoughts on Joy both the Christian and Buddhist perspectives. It’s lovely how complementary those perspectives are.

The two men met over five days, and the book follows their discussions through those five days. They covered “The Nature of True Joy,” “The Obstacles to Joy” (Fear, Stress, and Anxiety; Frustration and Anger; Sadness and Grief; Despair; Loneliness; Envy; Suffering and Adversity; and Illness and Fear of Death), and “The Eight Pillars of Joy” (Perspective, Humility, Humor, Acceptance, Forgiveness, Gratitude, Compassion, and Generosity).

There’s much wisdom in these pages, as well as a bit of a story of these two men from very different backgrounds and their friendship. I like the way, by using words from leaders of two religions, it has something for people of many different faiths.

Be sure to check some quotations I pulled from this book.

bookofjoy.org
penguin.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/book_of_joy.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?