Tag Archives: books

An Irish Country Doctor

Irish Country Doctor Cover

Book type: FIction

Summary: Dr. Barry Laverty, fresh out of medical school, finds himself in the countryside of Northern Ireland as an apprentice to Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, General Practitioner to the villagers of fictional Ballybucklebo. And as it generally goes in life, what he learned in school isn’t quite how the real world works. He’s frequently disappointed or upset by the methods used by Dr. O’Reilly, but he also learns a lot in his first few months as the senior doctor’s sidekick. He even comes to appreciate the small world of Ballybucklebo, with its eccentric residents–both humans and animals, like O’Reilly’s dog that humps his leg every time he ventures into the backyard. Life in provincial Ulster has its lessons for Barry and has some for us too.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t worry about the consideration of others. Early on in Barry’s introduction to Ballybucklebo, he discovers the dynamic between the country doctor and country villagers isn’t what he expected. One of the first lessons O’Reilly gives him is to never let the patients get the upper hand. At first this seems antithetical to the point of practicing medicine in Barry’s mind, however O’Reilly then tells him that if he didn’t operate the way he does, they would walk all over him, saying: “‘Didn’t take me long to find out that consideration for other people can be one of the lesser attributes of some members of the species Homo sapiens‘” (80). This lesson has an actual application that hits close to home for me, or at least for my brother. Recently my brother told me a story of how our grandmother, when she was still living, had given him some sound advice. He was concerned about how other people would think of him for something seemingly trivial. She stopped him and said, “If you knew how little other people think of you it would hurt your feelings.” Zinger! But really, stop being worried about whether other people consider you or whether they’re considerate to you. As the popular wisdom goes: go ‘head girl, you do you. That’s an Emerson quote, if I’m not mistaken.
    Emerson Quote - Be Yourself
  2. Sometimes life makes you shovel shit. Barry has a friend in the novel, Jack, who is a surgeon at the nearest hospital and he sometimes meets him for dinner or drinks. During one such visit they reminisce about life during medical school and how boring so many things were that they had to do as students, and how boring things continued even after they finished school. Jack reminds Barry of the words of an English registrar from their time there (after he complained to her about his boredom): “‘Old boy, in this life there will always be a certain amount of shit to be shovelled. I really would urge you to buy a long-handled spade and simply get on with it'” (99). This is a valuable lesson for all of us. Some people hate household chores, others hate workplace politics, still others hate family or social obligations. The fact is that either you can refuse to participate in any of those things and have a) no clean underwear, b) no possibility of being promoted, and c) no family/friends, or you can man/woman up and start shoveling that shit.
    Dog Lesson - Kick Grass Shit
  3. Advice doesn’t always have to be true to be helpful. Not long after Barry starts his work with Dr. O’Reilly, he has a day off and takes the train into Belfast and happens to meet a woman named Patricia who utterly captivates him. Unfortunately, she’s also a very serious student of engineering and doesn’t think she has the time or energy to spend cultivating a relationship with Barry, so their courtship ends. Barry, being the hopeless romantic that he is–and I do mean hopeless–is having a hard time getting over the loss of his soulmate. Compounding his sorrow is the fact that he made a misdiagnosis of a local resident, Major Fotheringham’s symptoms, resulting in his hospitalization and a difficult recovery. O’Reilly gives him some advice: “‘So finish your whiskey. […] Forget about Fotheringham. Forget about your heart. Girls are like buses. There’s always another one along soon.'” Barry then asks O’Reilly if he really believes what he’s just said: “‘No,’ said O’Reilly, ‘but there’s no reason you shouldn’t'” (238). Even though O’Reilly doesn’t believe it and even though it may be trite, his advice isn’t necessarily unsound. There’s a reason clichés become just that: sometimes the advice is good, but it’s cited so frequently that it loses its power. Sometimes those sentiments just need to be rephrased to be useful (i.e. instead of “plenty of fish in the sea,” comparing love interests to buses) and sometimes advice doesn’t have to hold true to help someone through a difficult moment.

A final review/recommendation:

Taylor, an established doctor himself, does a great job of creating a backdrop for the education of Barry Laverty. In some ways An Irish Country Doctor is almost a Bildungsroman, except instead of being the coming of age of an adolescent boy, it’s of a nascent doctor. The book is very simple, much like many of Ballybucklebo’s residents, but like them it’s simple in the best of ways: unpretentious, relatable, and entertaining. The first book in a series of many, An Irish Country Doctor is a quick read and makes for great spring reading, so next time March comes around and you’re considering an Irish book for St. Paddy’s day, pick up Taylor’s novel and be entertained by witticisms like this one about a “change of heart” that’s happened to a character named Councillor Bishop: “‘Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. That bugger Bertie Bishop? That man has a heart that would make Pharaoh’s hard one look like a marshmallow, so he has'” (302). And if you’re a reader you’ll appreciate the two doctors’ constant quoting of literature. And if you’re like me, you’ll smile ear to ear for the fact that Dr. O’Reilly is named after the fabulous and somewhat supercilious Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde–the greatest of the great.

Photo credits:

Book cover: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-P-4GrrorB-4/Uxe1N1vaEAI/AAAAAAAAS5A/MRaOfdl-rUo/s1600/IrishCtryDr.jpg
Sassy Emerson: http://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/0273/4903/products/ralph-waldo-emerson-fridge-magnet-1_large.jpg?v=1380467104
Kick That Shit: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/474x/a3/26/91/a326913fd2e35c68d5d8b9016acafe95.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Middle Passage

Middle Passage Book Cover

Book type: Fiction

Summary: Rutherford Calhoun is the narrator from Illinois who recounts the final voyage of the New Orleans slave ship the Republic in Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage. Calhoun is a scoundrel who stows away onboard the ship in order to escape a marriage he’s been forced into by a seedy creditor, Papa Zeringue, and the woman he spends time with (when he’s not whoring around), Isadora. The ship is captained by a man named Ebenezer Falcon who is a captivating but despotic ruler, and it’s manned by his crew, including First Mate Peter Cringle and cook Josiah Squibb. After completing the first portion of their journey, namely picking up slaves from the Allmuseri tribe, they make their way back through the Middle Passage, except things don’t go the way Captain Falcon planned. Mysterious and possibly supernatural forces result in severe storms, insurrection, murder, and even cannibalism and force everyone onboard to rethink their choices and morality.

Lessons:

  1. Always choose quality over quantity. Early on in the novel, Calhoun is faced with the ultimatum of marrying Isadora or facing punishment at the hands of Papa Zeringue, so the night before his forced wedding, he drowns his sorrows at a local bar and meets Josiah Squibb. Calhoun has spent his life as a pretty unsavory character; he’s a thief, a womanizer, and a gambler. Squibb gives him some personal advice that applies to so many of us, telling the protagonist, “‘I’ve seen some things, laddie. Reason I look so bad is ’cause I’ve been livin'” (38), and he also cautions the young man that it “‘Ain’t the quantity of experiences that count […] but the quality'” (39). The point is: don’t just do things to do them, spend time with people you will have quality experiences with and doing things that are worth doing. And remember that sometimes the living you’re doing may have lasting affects. I don’t think that Squibb would’ve had crystal meth, but I’m sure his hard living over a lifetime was comparable to the time lapse of seven years for this lady.
    Addiction - Hard Living
  2. Poverty involves moral decisions the rest of us never think about. Calhoun recounts scenes from his childhood in slavery several times throughout the novel, and at one point he describes the effect that hunger has on those who grapple with it: “If you have never been hungry, you cannot know the either/or agony created by a single sorghum biscuit–either your brother gets it or you do. And if you do eat it, you know in your bones you have stolen the food straight from his mouth, there being so little for either of you. This was the daily, debilitating side of poverty that makes the simplest act a moral dilemma” (47). The moral dilemma for the rest of us is whether we will contribute to lessen these difficulties for people in poverty; what kinds of morals can we claim for ourselves?
  3. Know when to shut up. This is one of the most important skills we all can learn. We’ve all made the mistake of taking something too far, and most of us can probably think of a couple people who do this on a frequent basis. Knowing when to STFU is a vital skill. In Middle Passage, the cook Squibb is the one who possesses this quality, as Calhoun observes: “One thing I liked about the cook was that he knew when to shut up even when he was mubblefubbled and dying to talk” (92). Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our need to share our great idea, or give someone a piece of our mind, that we fail to weigh the benefits versus consequences of opening our mouths. A big part of being good at this skill is being able to read people’s reactions to you. If you want some tips, check out these 18 things you can do to get better, according to Business Insider.
  4. “Love is infallible; it has no errors, for all errors are the want of love.” -William Law (111).
  5. “‘Wealth, you know, isn’t about what a man has, but what he is…'” (118). In a bit of irony, these are the words the slave master of Rutherford Calhoun and his brother Jackson speaks on his deathbed after telling Jackson he will give him his entire estate and Jackson responds that he wishes it to be split equally among all the slaves past and present that he has owned. Rutherford, being the selfish young man he was, interrupted to object to this request, but Chandler cuts him off with a few words of wisdom he should have understood earlier in his own life.
  6. Anger is a dangerous resource. During the mayhem on the voyage back from Africa, Calhoun talks to Ngonyama, one of the Allmuseri onboard, about what his people would do if they took over the ship. Ngonyama responds that they would sail back to Africa and then let the ship’s crew go, because, “‘Anger…is like the blade of a sword. Very difficult to hold for long without harming oneself'” (119). This is similar to advice Wynton Marsalis gives in his book Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life. He explains that anger is fuel, but it’s costly fuel, and it burns quickly, and can harm the person who’s using it. Never let anger consume you, and never let it linger within you.
  7. Somebody is [almost] always worse off than you. After experiencing traumatic chaos and loss on the Republic, Calhoun talks about how his physical appearance has altered: “Where once I had a thick, bushy helmet that only a dogbrush could unkink, I was now almost as bald as Martin Van Buren, though a damned sight less tubby…” (190). It may not always be the nicest thing to do, but sometimes remembering that someone else has it worse than you can be a good reminder to buck up and go on.

    Martin Van Buren Hair

    I wonder if the photographer offered him one of those small black combs from school picture day and he just turned it down with that glance of his that says,”B*&$% this who I am!”

  8. Still water runs deep. At the end of the book something happens to Calhoun that demonstrates that people who are quiet on the surface aren’t always the same way on the inside. Or, as my brother has always told me, “It’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for.” Be wary of people who are too quiet; everything may be still and calm on the surface, but rough seas may lie below.

A final review/recommendation:

Middle Passage is a short and interesting novel with good action and compelling characters. It’s a good book for anyone interested in slave narratives or the complexity of crafting a narrative, something the main character Rutherford Calhoun experiences in recounting the voyage in the Republic’s manifest. We all tell stories, we all try to influence others to see us according to the narrative we prefer. We try to make people laugh or cry, empathize with us, identify with us. In terms of the novel, who hasn’t made mistakes like Calhoun, the Republic’s captain and crew, and others? For many of us, we are fortunate to not have to pay for our mistakes as severely as the characters within Johnson’s story. If you want to find out what happens to each of them, be sure to pick up a copy.

Photo Credits:
Book Cover: http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51Rzmo1973L.jpg
Meth Effects: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01834/drugs-woman-2_1834000i.jpg
MVB (Most Valuable Baldie, or, Martin Van Buren): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/2a/08_Martin_Van_Buren_3x4.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Five Love Languages

The_Five_Love_Languages

Book type: Counseling/Self-Help

Summary: Many of us spent this Valentine’s Day weekend thinking about love–love that we have or love that we hope awaits us. But many of us also spent the weekend feeling unloved, wishing that we had someone who would appreciate us and who would make us feel loved. Whether you fall into the group of people who are happy and feel loved, or the group that wishes someone aside from your cat would notice you when you come home every day, The Five Love Languages is a book that might interest you. It was primarily written for couples with the goal of helping partners to speak the “love language” of their significant others; in essence, that means to communicate with a loved one in the way that fulfills that person the most. Author Gary Chapman provides the metaphor of love tanks to describe how relationships either flourish or falter. He explains that each of us has a personal love tank and that when our love tanks are full (through the words or actions of those we love), then we feel appreciated, fulfilled, and empowered. If, however, our love tanks are empty because our loved one doesn’t know how to speak our love language (or isn’t willing), then we often feel unloved, unsupported, and stifled in several aspects of our lives. So what are these five love languages that Chapman argues we speak? Pictured on the book cover above, they are: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Let’s learn about the languages and how to start speaking the language of those we love.

Lessons:

  1. The feeling of falling in love isn’t love at all. In the opening segment of the book, before Chapman enumerates the love languages and their features, he discusses the phenomenon we call “falling in love.” He cites psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck and his explanation that falling in love is not real love for three reasons:

    First, falling in love is not an act of the will or a conscious choice. No matter how much we may want to fall in love, we cannot make it happen. […] Second, falling in love is not real because it is effortless. Whatever we do in the in-love state requires little discipline or conscious effort on our part. The long, expensive phone calls we make to each other, the gifts we give, the work projects we do are as nothing to us. […] Third, one who is “in love” is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person (33).

    On this last point he provides more detail, namely that when we’re in love we’re unconcerned with growth and development, either for ourselves or the object of our affection; we experience such euphoria that we feel we have already arrived, “that we do not need further growth” (33). All three of these points relate back to a simple understanding of what it means to love in a real way. Chapman points out that “Love is a choice” and that it is “something you do for someone else, not something you do for yourself” (136). This hearkens back to a post I did a while ago on The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, the basic point of which was that love is an action, not an emotion. It is something we exercise, like a muscle, so that our capacity for loving grows. The feeling of falling in love is just that, a feeling, it is not an act of love. Deliberately loving, and doing so by communicating effectively, should be our goal.

    falling-inlove

    Falling in love is just like this. Your euphoria elevates you until you feel like you’re floating. To many others, you appear to be an idiot. And you don’t realize that ahead of you, as far as the eye can see, is desert. But damn it feels good while you’re in the air.

  2. Words of Affirmation. This is the first of the five love languages, and it, like the others, is pretty simple. People with this love language feel most loved when they are told great things about themselves. This could be anything from a quick “Wow, you look gorgeous/handsome today” to, as the author suggests, “You’re the best potato cook in the world,” which is awkwardly specific (40). Even if Words of Affirmation is not your primary love language, it’s always nice to receive a compliment. But if it is the way to fill your tank, then verbal criticisms or lack of receiving compliments can cut right to the bone and leave you feeling hurt or ignored.
  3. Quality Time. Chapman makes a declarative statement in this segment: quality time is NOT watching TV together, since “When you spend time that way, ABC or NBC has your attention–not your spouse” (55). Instead, quality time is about actively sharing time with the purpose of cultivating “Togetherness [which] has to do with focused attention” (59). Quality time does not necessarily have to be staring into each other’s eyes while talking about your childhood dreams and aspirations. It could be traveling, playing games or sports, or even gardening. It’s any activity that you and the one(s) you love do together in order to create memories or to know each other better. It’s not that you happen to be in the same space at the same time.
  4. Receiving Gifts. This one might seem like less of a “real” language than the others because it appears to be materialistic. But really “Gifts are visual symbols of love” (75) and they don’t necessarily have to be expensive. People whose love language is receiving gifts feel appreciated when their significant other picks something up for them at the grocery store, like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream or a bottle of wine, or when the other person picks flowers for them, or sends them a card in the mail. One of Chapman’s main points on the topic of gift giving is that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone (most people aren’t fluent in love languages other than their own anyway), but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

    If you are a spender, you will have little difficulty purchasing gifts for your spouse. But if you are a saver, you will experience emotional resistance to the idea of spending money as an expression of love. You don’t purchase things for yourself. Why should you purchase things for your spouse? But that attitude fails to recognize that you are purchasing things for yourself. By saving and investing money you are purchasing self-worth and emotional security. You are caring for your own emotional needs in the way you handle money. What you are not doing is meeting the emotional needs of your spouse (77-78).

  5. Acts of Service. These are physical actions we do for our loved ones. People with this love language appreciate nothing more than their loved one mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, or making dinner. These and other actions have the effect of telling the person, “Look how much I love you; I do all of these things just because I care about you and want to make you happy.”
  6. Physical Touch. Now, if you skipped over all the other love languages just to get to “the good stuff,” go back and read from the beginning. Physical touch, while it can be on a scale of Marvin Gaye, doesn’t always have to mean “Let’s Get It On.”
    Step Brothers Let's Get It OnThe idea that physical touch automatically means going to Bonesville is a misconception that many people have. While it can be that, it is more likely to be your love language if you long for a kiss goodbye, a back rub when you get home, or fingers through your hair when you’re lying on the couch.

    For these two, it's definitely a sensual trip to Bangtown, USA.

    For these two, it’s definitely a sensual trip to Bangtown, USA.

  7. The law of opposites. If you’re not sure what your primary love language is after reading through the descriptions, try thinking about the opposite of each of them and how you feel in those situations. Do you feel hurt if your loved one doesn’t praise or compliment you or tell others how great you are? What about if you feel like you’re always stuck doing things by yourself or like you never really talk to each other beyond pleasantries? Maybe you feel like your loved one doesn’t care about you if he or she leaves shoes out or never vacuums or dusts. Or is the “Love you, bye honey” with no accompanying hug or kiss like a dagger through your heart? If any of these stand out for you, that might be your language.
  8. The law of projection. Chapman notes that often we don’t realize we’re not speaking the love language of the other person because we’re too busy projecting our own love language onto others. For example, if you find yourself thinking “I always do ____ and (s)he never/rarely does it back” you may be acting out your love language needs and not those of the other person. There’s one couple in the book that illustrates this perfectly. The husband is constantly mowing the lawn, cooking dinner, and washing the dishes, but his wife complains that they never spend time together. The husband doesn’t understand why all the things he does aren’t good enough or why they go unnoticed and unreciprocated. It’s because his wife wants Quality Time from him, like fifteen minutes when she gets home to spend together talking about their day, whereas he wants her to lift a finger and help out more around the house.
  9. Be specific. If you want your loved one to spend more time with you, be specific about when, where, and what you’d be doing. Instead of saying “It’d be nice if we could go out once in a while,” make a specific request, like going to see a movie on Friday night. The more specific you make your requests (never demands), the easier it will be for your loved one to show you love in the way you need it.
  10. Love languages aren’t just for lovers. While most of the book focuses on recognizing and acting out love languages for our significant others, the same rules apply for our friends and family, and especially for children. Chapman makes a connection between children’s love tanks and the repercussions for not filling them correctly:

    I believe that most parents sincerely love their children. I also believe that thousands of parents have failed to communicate love in the proper language and thousands of children in this country are living with an empty emotional tank. I believe that most misbehavior in children and teenagers can be traced to empty love tanks (169).

    For my own life situation, I believe this applies to pets as well, especially dogs. Many people buy or adopt dogs expecting them to fulfill an emotional need but in return to need only food, water, shelter, and a pat on the head. For many dogs, their primary love language is quality time, and specifically, exercise. If you’re having behavior issues with your dog, most likely it’s because your dog is bored out of its mind. Imagine if you were expected to be quiet at all times and chill around the house all day with nothing to do except stare out the window or chew on a toy by yourself. You’d probably turn into a psycho. And yet we expect our dogs and our children to do as they’re told and accept whatever it is we feel like giving them, regardless of whether it’s what they really need or not. Words of Affirmation like “You’re such a nice girl” mean nothing to the child who wants a hug or the dog who’s holding a frisbee in its mouth, ready to play. We need to step up our game.

A final review/recommendation:

I know a lot of people would never want to read this book. For those people, I hope this entry suffices to explain Chapman’s main points and also provides you some ideas for bettering the relationships with those you love. For the people who are more interested, having read the lessons above, go ahead and check the book out. It’s relatively short and has a lot of useful information in it. The only negatives about the book are a) Many examples are outdated for our time, like the number of men in the book that expect their wives to do all of the household tasks, and b) It contains various references to New Testament writings, so if Christianity specifically, or religion generally irks you, you may find those references tedious or annoying. But let’s face it, you’re not going to like every single part of everything that you read, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn something. If there’s one overall recommendation I’d like to make to you, it is to remind yourself frequently that love is a choice and an action, it is something you do, something you must practice and exercise. If you want better relationships, begin with yourself and see what happens.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/d/df/The_Five_Love_Languages.jpg
Jump For My Love: http://kokofeed.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/falling-inlove.jpg
Let’s Get It On: http://imoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/9-Step-Brothers-quotes.gif
Love In the HuhTub: http://i.imgur.com/wmEYBk9.gif

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Amsterdam

Amsterdam CoverBook type: Fiction

Summary: Molly Lane has just died. A middle-aged woman who captured the hearts of several men in her day, she ended up with a rapid-onset neurological disease that quickly destroyed her body and her mind. Now, in the wake of her death, the men intimately related to one another through her magnetism find themselves reacting to her death in different ways. Two of them, Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday (the former a noted composer and the latter a journalist and editor), struggle to continue on with their daily lives in the face of life’s absurdity. Clive must finish his long-expected symphony and Vernon must save his failing publication The Judge. But on top of their work, they have to learn to live or die with each other in the absence of Molly.

Lessons:

  1. Don’t make excuses for showing up late, just show up on time. At one point, Clive ruminates on the annoying nature of many artists who think that their “genius” is an excuse for being inconsiderate jerks: “He had a number of friends who played the genius card when it suited, failing to show up for this or that in the belief that whatever local upset it caused, it could only increase respect for the compelling nature of their high calling. These types–novelists were by far the worst–managed to convince friends and families that not only their working hours but every nap and stroll, every fit of silence, depression, or drunkenness, bore the exculpatory ticket of high intent. A mask for mediocrity, was Clive’s view. He didn’t doubt that the calling was high, but bad behavior was not a part of it” (66). This doesn’t just apply to artistic types. If you’re the friend or family member who’s constantly late for get togethers, then news flash: your friends and family are annoyed. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of other people to bump the meeting time up a half hour just so that you’ll hopefully show up on time, or at the very least, only 15 minutes late instead of an hour. Stop being late. No one wants to hear an excuse when they’ve heard one each of the last 5 times they’ve seen you. It doesn’t matter if you’re busy (everyone is), it doesn’t matter if you’re important (again, everyone is). With the exception of a “science oven” fire like Jennifer Lawrence caused in American Hustle, or a 15-car pileup on your way, there’s no reason why you can’t just leave on time.

    American Hustle Science Oven

    “Oh God, I’m going to be late for the velour runway show with Rhonda. Hopefully she’ll believe me when I tell her the science oven caught fire.”

  2. Create a plan for when you’re struggling. This sounds abstract, but it’s simple. In Clive’s case, being a composer meant that he periodically would hit major creative roadblocks. If you’ve done something for a long time, you’ve likely gotten through difficult times by doing something that worked or helped. “Sometimes the work was hard, and you had to do whatever experience had taught you was most effective” (66). This applies to work and our personal lives. If we pay enough attention, we’ll find patterns that help us overcome obstacles. (One suggestion from my last article on The Name of the Rose was to take a bath/shower if you’re feeling stressed.) Maybe you get overwhelmed at work and taking a walk helps clear your mind. Maybe you feel lonely at home when you’re by yourself and you listen to the radio or a podcast and that helps. Or maybe when you are low on funds you help someone else out to remind yourself that your bank account isn’t everything. Whatever it is, pay attention to the patterns you try. Then when all else fails, see if the pattern helps.
  3. Try writing an alternate ending. Vernon’s publication The Judge is about to publish a scandal involving one of Molly’s former acquaintances, a man who just happens to be the Foreign Secretary for the British government. Anticipating that anything might happen after the story runs, the newspaper prepares a follow-up article in the event that Foreign Secretary Julian Garmony kills himself. Now, while their article is obviously a bit macabre, it’s not a bad idea to write an alternate storyline for your life if you’re feeling unsatisfied. Perhaps imagining yourself as something you might rather be will help you determine whether you need to make changes in order to live that life or whether you’re actually happy with your current situation. In an upcoming entry I’ll talk more about how your alternate path might be the one you really need to be on and how to get there.

    Maybe the something else you want to be is a T-Rex. Go 'head, do you.

    Maybe the something else you want to be is a T-Rex. Go ‘head, do you.

  4. When you get mad, get to work. Clive has been working on his symphony for months and has been having a good go of it lately, until he and his old friend Vernon get into an argument and hurtful words pass between them. Clive determines then that what he needs to do is get back to what matters to him, his work. “Work–quiet, determined, triumphant work, then–would be a kind of revenge” (149). Many people, when faced with irritations or blunders, get angry and shut down. They lose all their productivity. Those who are focused on their goals, however, learn to let go of the setbacks or to channel their frustrations into energy they need for moving ahead. Don’t brood, get busy.

A final review/recommendation:

Amsterdam isn’t a book for everyone. There isn’t a lot of action, but there is a lot of humanity. The characters are very real and the choices they make have very real consequences. After a blowup, Clive writes a postcard to Vernon chastising him for his decision to move forward with the scandal story. But his postcard doesn’t arrive on time–with disastrous effects for their friendship.

We never know how each decision we make affects other people, but it’s a good starting point to realize that our decisions do affect other people whether we intend them to or not. (Case in point: the decision to clean the bathroom before meeting up with your friends, which ends up making you late, and making them irritated.) I’ll stop here since I don’t want to spoil the novel for those who haven’t read it and think they might be interested in picking up a copy. If that person is you, here’s a bonus: it’s only 193 pages long. Score.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: https://unputdownables.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/8507280.jpg
J-Law On Fire: https://uproxx.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/american-hustle-jennifer-lawrence.jpg?w=650

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Name of the Rose

Name of the Rose

Book type: Mystery/Fiction

Summary: Umberto Eco’s famous novel The Name of the Rose follows a young Benedictine novice Adso (from a German monastery) and his mentor, the English Franciscan William of Baskerville, as they investigate mysterious deaths at an Italian abbey while they are there for a meeting of papal and Franciscan legations to debate how poor Jesus really was (and how poor the Church should be). It’s a book full of odd characters, questions about how to approach our mortal lives, and of course, the nature of good and evil. And, as we always find, there are some good lessons to be learned…

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be normal. William of Baskerville is the main character, with Adso–his shadow and our narrator–along for the ride. At one point, in explaining the eccentricities of another Franciscan monk, Ubertino, William notes that “‘It is only petty men who seem normal'” (65). So be better than normal, be different, be eccentric, and stand out by standing up.
  2. Push yourself to learn new things. The primary feature of William of Baskerville (a former inquisitor for the Holy Inquisition) is his unfailing pursuit of knowledge, at almost any cost. While this sometimes does get him into trouble, he makes a good point to Adso when the young man asks him why he wants to know something even if it’s against the monastic rule’s orders: “‘Because learning does not consist only of knowing what we must or we can do, but also of knowing what we could do and perhaps should not do'” (97). Naturally, each of us has different boundaries. Learning something new for one person might be trying bath salts and ripping someone’s face off, for others–like myself–trying a bite of fish for the first time since childhood is enough of a foray into the unknown. Whatever your level is, push your boundaries of knowledge and experience, just consider the effect it may have on you and others.
  3. Even the pros slip up sometimes, so don’t expect perfection. We all mess up, even Umberto Eco. Technically, he didn’t make an error, but the phrasing of the following sentence is not his shining moment: “Symbol sometimes of the Devil, sometimes of the Risen Christ, no animal is more untrustworthy than the cock” (101). You got that right, Berto. The point is, everybody says or does something awkward or unbecoming at some point, so when it happens to you, be humble, acknowledge it, pick yourself back up, and laugh it off. I hope that’s what this guy did.
    Pitcher Fall Fail
    And while we’re on the topic of linguistic fails, do a quick Google search of “headline fails” and get your chuckle on. Seriously, do it. It’s wonderful.
  4. Be careful with your daytime naps. We’ve all been there, not enough sleep the night before, chilling on the couch in the afternoon watching TV or reading, you start to doze and think ‘NBD, I’ll just rest my eyes for a bit,’ except you wake up 3 hours later wondering whether it’s still the same day and if this is the time you’d normally be going to bed. That’s because, as Adso finds out himself after a long night’s investigating, “…[D]aytime sleep is like the sin of the flesh: the more you have the more you want, and yet you feel unhappy, sated and unsated at the same time” (156).
  5. Beware of misdirection. Of course in murder mysteries, misdirection is a common theme. The bad guy always tries to throw the good guy off the trail by misdirecting him to follow other leads. But misdirection happens in our everyday lives all the time. It happens at work when someone doesn’t pull their weight (they got stuck working on something else), with friends (something else came up), and with family (‘Well would’ve let you go, but your father said no’). But we really need to be worried about the bigger misdirections, especially those that direct our attention–and blame–to people and things with little power or agency. Beware of anyone with power blaming someone without it. In the book, Adso asks one of the monks at the abbey why Jews had been attacked by hordes of shepherds, and this was the explanation he received.

    He explained to me that all his life preachers had told him the Jews were the enemies of Christianity and accumulated possessions that had been denied the Christian poor. I asked him, however, whether it was not also true that lords and bishops accumulated possessions through tithes, so that the Shepherds were not fighting their true enemies. He replied that when your true enemies are too strong, you have to choose weaker enemies. […] The lords did not want the Shepherds to jeopardize their possessions, and it was a great good fortune for them that the Shepherds’ leaders spread the notion that the greatest wealth belonged to the Jews (192).

  6. Sometimes you just need a wash. I learned this sound advice from my mother, but Adso speaks of it as well in The Name of the Rose. If you’re feeling down, if you’re anxious, exasperated, confused, or exhausted, cleaning up can do a world of good, “…[B]ecause nothing can restore body and mind better than a bath” (256).
    Zach Galifinakis Bathtub
  7. Google your medical symptoms with a grain of salt. This is another situation I’m sure we’ve all been in: something feels wrong and we take to our keyboards to find out just WTF is wrong with us. It turns out this problem may have affected 14th-century monks too, albeit not with keyboards. At one point, after fornicating with a peasant girl (yes, this book has it’s juicy moments–and you thought Zach Galifinakis in a bathtub was enough for one day), Adso takes to the library collection and starts reading about ailments and then wants the reader to know that he “learned later that, reading books of medicine, you are always convinced you feel the pains of which they speak” (322). While it’s very possible that he had crabs, most of us only make ourselves worse by our WebMD findings. One time I was feeling terrible over the course of a couple weeks. At first I was convinced that it was cancer or diabetes (I drank way too much Mountain Dew back then), then I checked my symptoms against the those of panic attacks and nearly caused myself to have an actual panic attack. It turned out my thyroid wasn’t getting the right messages and I just needed some simple medicine to set me straight. If you know you have a tendency toward being a cyberchondriac, as they are called, next time you feel ill, exit out of your browser and call a doctor if it’s that bad. Otherwise, take a chill pill and wait to see if your symptoms subside in a day or two.

A final review/recommendation:

There is a reason why Eco’s novel has been translated into several languages and read by millions: it’s a great book. That doesn’t mean you’ll like it though (however, it does have over a 4.0 rating on Goodreads.com, with over 150,000 reviews). It’s a long mystery at 500 pages, and it contains extensive passages of theological arguments about whether or not Jesus laughed and how poor he really thought everyone should be. And there’s tons of Latin. Oodles of it. But if you can bear with the religious discourse and are able to let go of the fact that you probably have no idea what the Latin phrases mean, you may really like the book, as I did.

In reading about the book after I finished it today, I discovered some references to it as a specifically postmodern novel, in which not every question has one clear and definite answer. Put in this perspective, the book became more interesting to me than any old murder mystery might be. As the astute William of Baskerville explains to Adso about the books they’ve found in the hidden library, “‘Books are not made to be believed, but to be subjected to inquiry. When we consider a book, we mustn’t ask ourselves what it says but what it means…'” (316). But again, just because a book is a “good book” that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. My best advice is to start reading it and if after the first day’s action–since the book’s chapters are organized by day–you aren’t feeling it, put it down and watch the Sean Connery move version from 1986 on Amazon instead.

Photo credits:
Book cover: http://www.saltmanz.com/pictures/albums/Cover%20Scans/Book%20Covers/Name%20of%20the%20Rose.jpg
Pitcher Fail: http://www.totalprosports.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/pitcher-falling-off-the-mound-baseball-fail-gifs.gif
Rubber Ducky You’re the One: http://cdnimg.visualizeus.com/thumbs/a6/66/bath,bathtub,ducks,funny,man,playing-a6664ffc97b6b6ffa1362428afbe6ab7_h.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Te of Piglet

Te of Piglet

Book type: Philosophy

Summary: The Te of Piglet is a follow-up book to author Benjamin Hoff’s original work The Tao of Pooh. Both books’ purpose is to explain Taoism (and its benefits to humanity and the world) through the familiar characters of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. In The Tao of Pooh we were introduced to some of the figures of the Hundred Acre Wood like Owl, Rabbit, and–of course–Pooh; in that book we learn some of the benefits of following the Way (Tao) of Pooh and some cautionary tales about how other characters believe and behave.

In The Te of Piglet we learn how even the most unsure individuals have great potential, which means that we can all achieve great things, we just have to react to the Universe in a constructive way. Hoff explains that the meaning of Te (pronounced DEH) is “virtue in action” and that it is a “quality of special character, spiritual strength, or hidden potential unique to the individual–something that comes from the Inner Nature of things. And something, we might add, that the individual who possesses it may be quite unaware of–as is the case with Piglet through most of the Pooh stories” (23). So what can we learn from little Piglet and the other Pooh characters? Let’s just see…

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be an Eeyore. That is, don’t be an ass. Anyone who’s read (or viewed) any scene of Winnie-the-Pooh that contains Eeyore, knows that he is first and foremost a complainer. He and those like him are “Whiners. They believe the negative but not the positive and are so obsessed with What’s Wrong that the Good Things in Life pass them unnoticed” (59-60). And further: “Eeyores are Realists, they say. But reality is what one makes it. And the more negative reality one nurtures and creates, the more of it one has” (57). And because Eeyores are so busy complaining about everything under the sun (versus being thankful for being under the sun), they not only miss the good things that happen to them, they are unable to bear the bad things.

    Without difficulties, life would be like a stream without rocks and curves–about as interesting as concrete. Without problems, there can be no personal growth, no group achievement, no progress for humanity. But what matters about problems is what one does with them. Eeyores don’t overcome problems. No, it’s the other way around (58-59).

    This point that Hoff makes, about how boring streams would be without rocks or curves, he then expands upon later in the book, explaining to Pooh and Piglet that “‘When a stream comes to some stones in its path, it doesn’t struggle to remove them, or fight against them, or think about them. It just goes around them. And as it does, it sings. Water responds to What’s There with effortless action'” (157). Most of us probably aren’t at the point where roadblocks (or, in this case, streamblocks) require effortless action from us; however, the more we practice, as Charles Duhigg taught us in The Power of Habit, the stronger our willpower muscles become, and thus, the abler we are at reacting congruously the next time we’re tested.

    If you're thinking 'Hey, that's looking on the bright side of things!' then guess what? You're an Eeyore.

    If you’re thinking ‘Hey, that’s looking on the bright side of things!’ then guess what? You’re an Eeyore.

  2. Don’t be a Tigger. Tiggers, in opposition to Eeyores, are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and always up for the Next Big Thing. What’s wrong with that? The problem is not that Tiggers are eager and happy and full of energy; it is that their energies are easily rerouted. They start one thing, tire of it quickly, and then move on to the next thing in an unending cycle of brief excitement and then boredom. And what’s scary is that “The West is full of Tiggers–restless seekers of instant gratification, larger-than-life overachievers. The West idolizes them because they’re Bouncy and Exciting. Maybe even a bit too exciting. And they’re becoming more exciting all the time” (91). And while, naturally, not everyone is a Tigger, “…It is quite easy to be an impatient, inconsiderate, scatterbrained Tigger in a society that admires, encourages, and rewards impulsive behavior” (92). That means that if you are a Tigger (and many of us are), your task is to be wary of the adoration you may receive and to work on focusing your energies toward what is at-hand before impetuously moving on to What’s Next. “The major lesson Tiggers need to learn is that if they don’t control their impulses, their impulses will control them” (94). So if you’re a Tigger and this is a lesson you need to learn, then as the butler Carson from Downton Abbey would tell you in the Season 5 premiere: Take Steps.

    Does this look like a man who's playin' witchu? Nah. TAKE STEPS.

    Does this look like a man who’s playin’ witchu? Nah. TAKE STEPS.

  3. Know that there is power in being a Piglet. Of all the Pooh characters, Piglet is the most unsure of himself, always fretting about this or that and needing the calming reassurance of good old Pooh to keep him moving along. But while Piglet’s weakness is his insecurity, it also gives him great empathy, and that is his strength. Piglets are inspirational because they remind us that even the meekest of people can do the greatest things.

    In reality, heroes are heroic because they, despite their weaknesses–and sometimes because of them–do great things. If they were perfect, they wouldn’t be here in the earth’s classroom” (64).

    Piglets, in other words, are patient. They are not Eeyores, complaining that things are not as they would like them to be. And they are not Tiggers, excited about the possibility of What Can Be only to become bored when their expectations are not immediately realized. “The final problem we might mention about the Tigger Tendency is that the worthwhile and important things in life–wisdom and happiness in particular–are simply not the sorts of things one can Chase After and Grab. They are instead the sorts of things that come to us where we are, if we let them–if we stop trying too hard and just let things happen as they need to” (98-99). And this is ultimately what Piglets do best. They do not force themselves on the world around them, but when the world comes to them, they prove their strength in responding.

  4. Recognize the importance in giving up and letting go. We are constantly barraged with messaging in our culture that tells us always to persevere and never to give up. And that’s great when we’re talking about Michael Jordan ignoring the rocks in his stream (namely the coach that didn’t put him on the basketball team), or Abraham Lincoln battling depression to become a great American leader. But it’s quite another when we’ve committed ourselves to something that is not in accordance with who we need to be or what we need to be doing. Sometimes we need to let go of things or people who stand in the way of our ability to reach our potential, our ability to act in accordance with the Way (Tao). As Hoff notes, “When we give up our images of self-importance and our ideas of what should be, we can help things become what they need to be” (235). This is what Brad Pitt is trying to explain to Edward Norton in one of my favorite scenes from Fight Club.

Stop trying to control everything and just let go

A final review/recommendation:

It’s been many years since I read The Tao of Pooh, so my memory may be a little fuzzy, but I seem to remember taking a little bit more away from Pooh than I did this time with The Te of Piglet. But really, who knows? I was pretty young when I read Pooh and so maybe sentimentalism is the explanation.

The Te of Piglet retains the charm that Hoff imbued his first work, and it gives some worthy insights into Western–and increasingly global–culture. It points out some of the major failings our society shows in dealing with the Piglets of the world, but it also is adamant that we, individually and collectively, have great power in effecting change, even if the Eeyores of the world tell us otherwise. Overall, Hoff’s book is reflective and will push you to take steps of your own, while providing you the enjoyable company of Pooh and Piglet.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://images.indiebound.com/161/230/9780140230161.jpg
Eeyore’s Optimism: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/4e/e8/0e/4ee80ecdefb7dd1f68bda10ed5a159f6.jpg
Carson Don’t Play: http://static2.hypable.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/downton-abbey-series-4-carson.jpg?324e9a
Fight Club 1: https://38.media.tumblr.com/28e230a82167f2d4632ac8622b4bc93a/tumblr_nc08o14mDu1rz9mezo1_500.gif
Fight Club 2: http://media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m63zt82N801rq71ks.gif

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Annie’s Ghosts

Annie's Ghosts Cover

Book type: Memoir

Summary: I went to an event sponsored by my local public library featuring the author, Steve Luxenberg, who discussed Annie’s Ghosts with a room of mostly old people and students from a local community college English course. I had the interesting fortune to sit next to the author’s cousin, David, who is featured in the book and his friend from the Detroit area. I hadn’t read the book yet (I was one of few who hadn’t), but I got the sense that this book had something to offer for many readers, and across many demographics. Annie’s Ghosts is a true story of how the author and his siblings discovered that their mother Beth had concealed the existence of her sister Annie for decades, taking her secret to her grave. Except it didn’t quite work out that way. The secret came out while she was still living, however it wasn’t researched until after she died some years later. But Annie’s Ghosts isn’t only about the secret of Annie, it’s about family secrets in general and the impact our secrets have on us and our loved ones.

Lessons:

  1. “Secrets…have a way of working themselves free of their keepers” (1). This is one of the opening lines of the book, and of Luxenberg’s author talk as well. In his mother’s case, she happened to mention having had a sister to a hospital psychologist; a family friend at the hospital then saw the case file and casually asked his sister about their mother’s sister, and thus the secret started working itself free. And while secrets can sometimes protect our loved ones, often they have the opposite effect: they can create a separation between us and those we care about. In the Q & A after Luxenberg’s discussion of the book, several people asked him (in only slightly different ways) whether he was angry or upset with, or disappointed in his mother for having kept her mentally challenged (and possibly mentally ill) sister a secret from him and his siblings. He answered no, that he was not bitter toward his mother for her secret because it didn’t directly affect him, but he did add that he thought it being out in the open could have taken a great weight off of her and he was sad for her that she lived with it for so long. He notes in the book that not every secret must be shared; but some secrets are big enough that it might be best to address them while you can, before they work themselves free of you and you’re no longer able to be part of the discussion.

    Families need not live their lives as open books, for anyone to read. Just as a cure can be worse than the disease, revelation can be more devastating than reticence. That’s the fear that seems to drive many of us to embrace silence or deception. But too often, we’re just telling one more lie, this one to ourselves (48).

    If your secret is significant, share it with the people whom it might greatly affect. If they judge you for an act in your past, just remember the Oscar Wilde quote below.
    Oscar Wilde - Every Saint, Sinner

  2. It’s time to stop thinking feminism is a bad word. At one point in the book, Luxenberg discusses his mother’s religiosity, explaining that she wasn’t a very strict, practicing Jew. He notes her “indignation” about going to synagogue, where men and women were not treated equally, but then goes on to say, “(I wouldn’t call her a feminist, exactly–more of a firm believer in equality and opportunity)” (148). A couple months ago, comedian Aziz Ansari was on the Late Show with David Letterman and began talking about feminism. Some have pointed out that his comments weren’t inclusive of all types of feminists and were not anywhere near exhaustive of gender issues that many in our contemporary society face, but for being a two and a half-minute bit, he hit one of the main points on the head:
    Aziz Ansari Feminism1Maybe there’s a word that could better serve to explain what the general goal of feminism is, namely to get society to a point where men and women (and others) are treated with equal respect and acknowledgment of their worth. Until that word comes along, you’re just going to have to be whatever type of feminist is a good fit for you. We don’t all have to be the same.
  3. Give people some slack. This goes along with the Oscar Wilde quote above about saints and sinners. Each person’s life is singular in its own way. We find ourselves in similar situations to one another frequently, but not for everything in life. Forgive people for their pasts and strive to help them on their journey to becoming better individuals. If someone is willing to share their secret with you, it means they’re trusting you with it. Don’t judge them, try to understand them. In the case of Luxenberg’s mother Beth, she entered into a hospital’s psych ward toward the end of her life while doctors tested her medication and she was terrified and pleaded with her son to take her home. Not knowing anything of her secret, he told her it would be fine and moved along. He says that she “had to trust the system, trust that she wasn’t being railroaded into a long-term stay, and trust that her family was looking out for her in case things went wrong. But it’s hard to have trust when you’re afraid. Fear destroys trust” (my emphasis, 271). Help those you love to overcome the fear they might have about sharing their secrets with you by loving them without judgment and giving them some slack.

A final review/recommendation:

It was an interesting experience to listen to an author discuss a book that I hadn’t yet read, but most everyone in the room had. I was concerned that, having heard the book’s general outline, it wouldn’t be as fulfilling when I bought it and decided to read it, much like watching a movie version of a book can sometimes spoil the actual printed word when you read it after. This wasn’t the case. Luxenberg’s book is full of insights into the mental health system in the United States from the 1800s through the 1970s and into American law regarding accessibility to relatives’ medical records. Beyond that, he discusses the fate of his Jewish ancestors who remained in Eastern Europe during the rise of Nazism, and also the effect that his mother’s secret had on her relationships with family and friends. If you enjoy Detroit-area history, memoirs, or family stories and secrets, Annie’s Ghosts is a satisfying read.

Photo Credits:
Book cover: http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1403794107l/4994121.jpg
Saints & Sinners: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BuhxKt6CAAAi_uu.jpg:large
Aziz Ansari & Feminism: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/B6yc0huCMAAx4GI.jpg

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,