I was once very impressed when a former (beloved) supervisor of mine told me that he has a cyclical system for reading books, rotating through the genres: history, theory, fiction, biography. Inspired, I decided that I would develop a system as well, though I had very little interest in reading books about history, and one in four biography seemed like a bit much. I’m interested in “theory” (which, perhaps embarrassingly, I translate to broadly mean anything in the psychology/pop-science/self-help/case-study/spirituality umbrella) but I typically like to read theory alongside something lighter…namely, a novel or collection of short stories.
Taking all of this into consideration, the system that I developed was much less specific than my supervisor’s: I would try to balance fiction and non-fiction. This framework turned out to be less of a system than a reflection of what I was already doing, because I have yet to consciously choose fiction/non-fiction based on what I last read…but still, looking back on what I read this summer, I’m evenly split. And summer is an indication of my true reading tastes, because I give myself lots of freedom in the summer to read whatever sounds interesting in the moment of my library perusing, and I have less frequent reading group meetings in the summer than otherwise, so I’m determining a larger extent of my reading choices.
So, un-persuaded by other book group member’s requests, or by my conscience urging me to read something “deeper,” “more educational” or “useful for work,” here is what I read this summer:
- My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante
- Object Lessons, Anna Quindlen
- Tiny, Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed
- French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano
- The Nest, Cynthia Sweeney
- When Women Were Birds, Terry Tempest Williams (Girlfriends Book Club)
- The Empathy Exams, Leslie Jamison (Athenaeum Reading Group)
- The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (Audio Book)
- Heartburn, Nora Ephron
My favorite non-fiction: Tiny, Beautiful Things. My favorite fiction: The Goldfinch. I will highly recommend TBT to anyone who isn’t offended by talk of sex and drugs, and who isn’t afraid to feel deeply and likely shed some tears. Likewise, I highly recommend The Goldfinch, though with caveats: it’s dark, it’s intense, and it’s troubling. I finished it almost two weeks ago, and still think about it on probably a daily basis. If you are willing to be consumed by it, though, it’s a gorgeous and captivating story.
The page-turner metaphor doesn’t work with audio books, but if it did, I’d be using it for The Goldfinch. To say that the audio book version of Donna Tartt’s pulitzer-prize winning novel has got me excited for my daily commute would be an understatement. I can’t wait to find out what happens next in the life of Theodore Decker, the book’s young-adult protagonist.
I’m about halfway through the novel, and already Theo has experienced tragedy, abuse, homelessness and grief. Where I left off, Theo is basking in a reprieve from the trauma as he finds refuge in an elderly friend’s home, but as I look at the screen of my car-audio system and see that I’m only on disk 14 of 26, I feel anxious and aching. The book is so much longer, something bad is bound to happen.
That’s how I feel about life sometimes. It’s so long, something bad is bound to happen. I’m twenty-seven-years-old, and I have yet to experience hardship in any deep sense. I’ve lost grandparents, an aunt, a dog; I’ve been rejected from schools and jobs; I’ve broken an ankle, failed tests, and been teased. But by all accounts, I’ve been undisturbed by the anguishes that I know are ultimately inevitable in a life — the deaths of those nearest and dearest to me, health problems, financial or employment concerns, and accidents or natural disasters. In other words, though I have faced hardship, my life hasn’t been shattered yet. But it, like The Goldfinch, will presumably be long, and therefore something bad is bound to happen.
I’m going to take the advice, then, that I am yearning to give Theo. Lean on the people who you know have your back. Terribly sad events will likely befall you, but there are people who love you. Don’t be afraid to turn to them for reprieve and help. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone or knock on the door of an old friend. And when you make your way into his patchwork and musky den, rest in the warmth and soak in the care. Life is long. Something bad is bound to happen. And there will be people and light there to catch you when it does.
I’m not sure how we got to be talking about human evil, but when we somehow did a few weeks ago, my mom told me about a book that she read years ago on the topic: The People of the Lie, by Scott Peck. Barely remembering its details, my mom hesitated to recommend the book, but she did tell me that she read it twice. That was enough of a recommendation. I requested a copy from the library. Read more
I just finished reading Jim Manney’s A Simple Life-Changing Prayer, a reflection and guide on praying “the daily examen.” Though the examen is an ancient practice, Manney writes about it within the context of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. (Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, an order of Catholic priests also known as the Jesuits, in the 16th century and the Spiritual Exercises was a practical guide instructing the Jesuits and others on how to experience the presence of God.) The examen itself is a method of prayer in which one reflects on the events and experiences of the day in order to detect God’s presence within them and therefore live with increased sensitivity to the movement of the God in one’s self and one’s life. If the examen is a “how to manual” on experiencing God, then Manney’s book is a how to manual on praying the examen. Read more