“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
It’s a new year, ladies and gentlemen!
May it be a good one for all of us!
This year, the inspiration for my New Year’s “Revelations” stems from some of the sage words and wisdom of the great philosophers and literary figures of all time.
I hope that some or all of these revelations resonate with you.
Take the time to curl up in a comfortable chair and read a book. Read, not skim. A book, not a tablet or computer screen. Turn your phone off, close your computer and let yourself be transported into a beautiful piece of literature, a gripping bestseller, an interesting biography, or a thought-provoking work of non-fiction. Reading is quite simply the best therapy in the world. It’s right up there with music, dance and art. Therapy aside, reading helps you to relax and de-stress. And, of course, there is something to be said about learning new things, opening up your mind and… actually stimulating your mind.
“The art of reading is in great part that of acquiring a better understanding of life from one’s encounter with it in a book.”
I have always been a bookworm. As a child, when my friends would knock on our door and ask my mother whether I was coming out to play, I would tell them that I was in the middle of a good chapter and would come out when finished. Several hours later, I would join them and smile sheepishly as they rolled their eyes at me.
“I consider as lovers of books not those who keep their books hidden in their storage chests and never handle them, but those who, by nightly as well as daily, use them, thumb them, batter them, wear them out… who fill out all the margins with annotations of many kinds, and who prefer the marks of a fault they have erased to a neat copy full of faults.”
A decade ago, I used to read at least three books a week and as 2016 drew to an end, I realized that I had read only 20 or so books throughout the year. For me, that is unacceptable! It’s also simply not in character. Clearly my priorities were all wrong. This will change in 2017.
So I encourage each of you to pick up a good book and take the time to savour each word. Then pick up another.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, this is not a photo of me. I hail from the Baby Boomer generation. This is a photo of a young Millennial who is clearly enjoying a good read.
Summertime is that wonderful season when everything slows down just a tad. It’s when all the bookworms come out of the woodwork –– to grab that enticing novel, inspiring non-fiction or juicy biography that they finally have the time to read. Work attire is hurriedly replaced by t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. And with tall, ice-cold glasses of their favorite libation, they curl up comfortably and begin their summer reads.
These are my (heatherfromthegrove) top picks – all sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read. I just poured myself a glass of white wine and grabbed a book I’ve been dying to read: And the Weak Suffer What They Must? – by Yanis Varoufakis. Now, off to my comfy chair on the patio…
(PS – Hover your mouse over the book titles and authors’ names to get the link to the Amazon and Author’s Bio URLs)
“Patricia is a witch who can communicate with animals. Laurence is a mad scientist and inventor of the two-second time machine. As teenagers they gravitate towards one another, sharing in the horrors of growing up weird, but their lives take different paths…When they meet again as adults, Laurence is an engineering genius trying to save the world-and live up to his reputation-in near-future San Francisco. Meanwhile, Patricia is a graduate of Eltisley Maze, the hidden academy for the magically gifted, working hard to prove herself to her fellow magicians and secretly repair the earth’s ever growing ailments.As they attempt to save our future, Laurence and Patricia’s shared past pulls them back together. And though they come from different worlds, when they collide, the witch and the scientist will discover that maybe they understand each other better than anyone.”
“In 1965, neuroscientist Margot Sharpe meets the attractive, charismatic Elihu Hoopes—the “man without a shadow”—whose devastated memory, unable to store new experiences or to retrieve the old, will make him the most famous and most studied amnesiac in history. Over the course of the next thirty years, Margot herself becomes famous for her experiments with E. H.—and inadvertently falls in love with him, despite the ethical ambiguity of their affair, and though he remains forever elusive and mysterious to her, haunted by mysteries of the past….”
A “hilarious new novel about aging, family, loneliness, and love.”
“The Bergman clan has always stuck together, growing as it incorporated in-laws, ex-in-laws, and same-sex spouses. But families don’t just grow, they grow old, and the clan’s matriarch, Joy, is not slipping into old age with the quiet grace her children, Molly and Daniel, would have wished. When Joy’s beloved husband dies, Molly and Daniel have no shortage of solutions for their mother’s loneliness and despair, but there is one challenge they did not count on: the reappearance of an ardent suitor from Joy’s college days. And they didn’t count on Joy herself, a mother suddenly as willful and rebellious as their own kids…”
“A wild, erotic novel—a daring debut—from the much-admired, award-winning poet, author of Flying Inland, A History of Yearning, and With Robert Lowell and His Circle: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Stanley Kunitz, and Others. A strange, haunting novel about survival and love in all its forms; about sexual awakenings and dark secrets; about European refugee intellectuals who have fled Hitler’s armies with their dreams intact and who have come to an elusive new (American) “can do, will do” world they cannot seem to find. A novel steeped in surreal storytelling and beautiful music that transports its half-broken souls—and us—to another realm of the senses.”
“You can never know what goes on behind closed doors.
Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family s future….
… As “Shelter” veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. “Shelter” is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one’s family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.”
“From Harvard sociologist and MacArthur “Genius” Matthew Desmond, a landmark work of scholarship and reportage that will forever change the way we look at poverty in America.”
“In this brilliant, heartbreaking book, Matthew Desmond takes us into the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee to tell the story of eight families on the edge. Arleen is a single mother trying to raise her two sons on the $20 a month she has left after paying for their rundown apartment. Scott is a gentle nurse consumed by a heroin addiction. Lamar, a man with no legs and a neighborhood full of boys to look after, tries to work his way out of debt. Vanetta participates in a botched stickup after her hours are cut. All are spending almost everything they have on rent, and all have fallen behind…”
“We may love books, but do we know what lies behind them? In The Book, Keith Houston reveals that the paper, ink, thread, glue, and board from which a book is made tell as rich a story as the words on its pages―of civilizations, empires, human ingenuity, and madness. In an invitingly tactile history of this 2,000-year-old medium, Houston follows the development of writing, printing, the art of illustrations, and binding to show how we have moved from cuneiform tablets and papyrus scrolls to the hardcovers and paperbacks of today. Sure to delight book lovers of all stripes with its lush, full-color illustrations, The Book gives us the momentous and surprising history behind humanity’s most important―and universal―information technology.”
“At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.”
“I guarantee that finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option. . . . Part of this book’s tremendous impact comes from the obvious fact that its author was such a brilliant polymath. And part comes from the way he conveys what happened to him—passionately working and striving, deferring gratification, waiting to live, learning to die—so well. None of it is maudlin. Nothing is exaggerated. As he wrote to a friend: ‘It’s just tragic enough and just imaginable enough.’ And just important enough to be unmissable.”— Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“To the charity workers, Dadaab refugee camp is a humanitarian crisis; to the Kenyan government, it is a ‘nursery for terrorists’; to the western media, it is a dangerous no-go area; but to its half a million residents, it is their last resort.”
“In City of Thorns, Rawlence interweaves the stories of nine individuals to show what life is like in the camp and to sketch the wider political forces that keep the refugees trapped there. Rawlence combines intimate storytelling with broad socio-political investigative journalism, doing for Dadaab what Katherinee Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers did for the Mumbai slums. Lucid, vivid and illuminating, City of Thorns is an urgent human story with deep international repercussions, brought to life through the people who call Dadaab home.”
“A titanic battle is being waged for Europe’s integrity and soul, with the forces of reason and humanism losing out to growing irrationality, authoritarianism, and malice, promoting inequality and austerity. The whole world has a stake in a victory for rationality, liberty, democracy, and humanism.”
“Varoufakis delivers a fresh look at the history of Europe’s crisis and America’s central role in it. He presents the ultimate case against austerity, proposing concrete policies for Europe that are necessary to address its crisis and avert contagion to America, China, and the rest of the world. With passionate, informative, and at times humorous prose, he warns that the implosion of an admittedly crisis–ridden and deeply irrational European monetary union should, and can, be avoided at all cost.”
“Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don’t want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you’re doing here. Believe in kissing.” ― Eve Ensler
Every so often, I like to take a ‘time out’ … to reflect and to dream and, yes, to write. Not blogs, but books.
There is no better tonic, in my view, for cleansing emotional toxins and for clearing the mind than the sound of quiet.
Some call it meditation.
For me, it doesn’t involve stretching or sitting in the lotus position or chanting “Om” …. it simply means that I spend some solitary time, enjoying my own company – no phone calls, no Skype, no visitors. My husband, cats and dog respect my solitude and always greet me with a smile, a purr and a wag when I resurface.
Taking the time to breathe and rapture in the sound of quiet is not a luxury. It’s a necessity, a sanity check.
Yes, we all live hectic and busy lives. There’s so much noise all around us. However, I cannot stress enough how imperative it is for each of us to take the time (make the time) to be still and quiet. By “still” I don’t necessarily mean sitting still, but being still in oneself. I do that while gardening, working on a home renovation project, reading, taking a long walk and, of course, writing.
I hope that you will take some time out… just for yourself. Be still. Rejuvenate. Above all, be well.
And so, I’ll sign off for now.
“Cultivate solitude and quiet and a few sincere friends, rather than mob merriment, noise and thousands of nodding acquaintances.” – William Powell
This year, my New Year’s “Revelations” are based on some of the witticisms and words of wisdom that my mother and father imparted to me.
When I was young, I used to roll my eyes and shake my head at them – not really heeding their words.
Or so I thought.
They’ve since passed, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss them.
Most importantly, their words – often colourful and humorous, but always spot-on – resonate deeply with me today.
I now share them with you.
My father used to say:
“If you don’t want to read or learn about what’s going on around the world – in other countries, in other cultures – then, you’re an idiot!”
Those were his exact, emphatic words and they were directed at me. The year was 1974. He was reprimanding me for not showing an interest in an international news story that he was reading out loud to us. Amazingly, I remember that the article was about Russian novelist/historian and Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn being deported from the Soviet Union to Frankfurt (Germany) and stripped of his Soviet Citizenship. Solzhenitsyn had spent 11 years in exile, at a Soviet labor camp for criticizing Stalin. In 1973, he wrote The Gulalg Archipelago (Arkhipelag Gulag) – about the Soviet prison/labor camp system under Stalin. The manuscript, which started to appear in installments in Paris, was seized by the KGB in the Soviet Union.
These were some of the stories that my father tried to engage us with at the breakfast table and in the evenings, after dinner. He would get so frustrated with me when I did not show interest.
But, as the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Ironically, I went on to earn undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science and history. I write books that focus on socio-economic issues affecting everyday people, and I tell their stories by placing them in their political, historical and cultural context.
I feel privileged to have had such an intense, intelligent and well-read father. How I wish that he were alive today. Oh, what wonderful, spirited discussions and debates we would have!
I can’t emphasize enough (as he did before me) how important it is for us to learn about (and appreciate) the wonderful diversity and nuances of our world community. We are all inter-connected, to some degree.
With knowledge, we gain understanding.
With understanding, we become enlightened, compassionate human beings.
With compassion, we can help each other and we can effect change – positive change.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
― Augustine of Hippo
Image via Pixabay.com.
The Reading Mother
by Strickland Gillilan
I had a mother who read to me
Sagas of pirates who scoured the sea,
Cutlasses clenched in their yellow teeth,
“Blackbirds” stowed in the hold beneath.
I had a Mother who read me lays
Of ancient and gallant and golden days;
Stories of Marmion and Ivanhoe,
Which every boy has a right to know.
I had a Mother who read me tales
Of Gelert the hound of the hills of Wales,
True to his trust till his tragic death,
Faithfulness blent with his final breath.
I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.
“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. Especially for girls and women, it is an agent of family health and nutrition. For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…. Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.”
― Kofi Annan
My parents taught me how to read when I was four years old. Avid readers themselves, they passed on their love of books to their children. By the wise old age of five, I was a bona fide bookworm. The library, not the candy store, was my favorite place to be. When I was eleven, I started tutoring kids (my own age and younger) in English and Reading. This valuable teaching experience made me acutely aware that literacy was not something that should be taken for granted.
It also taught me a thing or two about empathy and compassion.
Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, the problem of illiteracy not only persists… it has actually multiplied. According to the most recent (April 28, 2013) data compiled by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute for Literacy, the illiteracy statistics in America (and around the world) are quite sobering:
- 14% of adults can’t read – that’s 32 million adults
- 21% of adults read below a 5th grade level
- 63% of prison inmates can’t read
- 19% of high school graduates can’t read (this is truly disturbing)
- 774 million people can’t read
- 66% of the world’s illiterate are female
There is no shame or disgrace in being illiterate.
There is, however, a good deal of both shame and disgrace in a system which allows a child to graduate from high school, without having the ability to read.
Although there are many solid literacy initiatives in place, such as No Child Left Behind, there is still much work to be done.
“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
― Frederick Douglass
Image via athome.readinghorizons.com.
“I prefer the company of books. When I’m reading, I’m never alone, I have a conversation with the book. It can be very intimate. Perhaps you know this feeling yourself? The sense that you’re having an intellectual exchange with the author, following his or her train thought and you accompany each other for weeks on end.”
― Sophie Divry, Signatura 400
And now it is time to change gears and delve into the world of non-fiction, a genre that is ideal for summer reading because we have more leisure time to absorb ideas, ponder them and perhaps even learn something unexpected.
Tomorrow marks the beginning of non-fiction week, here at heatherfromthegrove. Each day, from Monday through Saturday, I’ll be spotlighting one book/author. There will be a few surprise selections, a couple of memoirs and some humorous-yet-poignant reality pieces.
I hope that you will find my recommendations helpful and I would love to hear back from you, with some of your own favorites!
Image via youwall.com.