BookRiot: A Business Book

Ah, so tomorrow is my eighth wedding anniversary.  Before I married my husband, my longest relationship was three and a half years long, and it rather astounds me that we have had nine years together now as a couple and I’m still okay with that.  No overflowing resentments or desperate scramblings to separate myself from this person, no  discontent that I can’t put my finger on until it all crashes.  I mean, no one can guarantee that any relationship will last forever, I didn’t see the crash coming that I just mentioned, but I’m hoping that since I’m significantly older now that I possibly have learned something from that.  Maybe. I could really be jinxing myself here.  Anyway.  Happy 8 years to us.

So this is the last post before Scary Reads starts so I’ll really be drying it out here with talking about business books. I understand why nonfiction tends to be more popular than fiction, where people may see fiction as more of a waste of time than books that help us more overtly think about how to be better at what we do and how we do it.  And I guess weight loss books are pretty popular too but I can honestly say I’ve never picked one up.   When I’m feeling a little too meaty I make more dates with the treadmill and cut down on alcohol.   Usually works.

These could be a challenge because while they were both good, I didn’t want to think about work during the down time I was reading them.  And they were good for me, and it was good for me to think about how I want to form my reluctant leadership of my clinic.

A Business Book

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Creativity, Inc:  Overcoming the Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, Ed Catmull

Pixar movies’ founder and leader, Ed, writes about how Pixar got started and navigating the business and creative challenges in the team to come out with the awesome movies that are Pixar films.  He talks about merging with Disney and the attitudes needed by leaders and staff to have the best possible creative outcome.

Both of the books I read for this post emphasize wanting to be actionable.  I have read plenty of  books about business or how to do things that are mostly fluff, repetitive chapters, and inspirational talk instead of actionable ways to think about how to be a leader.  This book and the one I review after this try to make their advice more actionable and grounded and they succeed at it.

Ed talks about how attitudes, especially fear of failure and mistakes, have crippled his company in the past from being able to reach levels of genius and creativity.  He encourages people to make mistakes and learn instead of trying make ourselves mistakes proof.  I agree with this.  You learn a lot of the rules when learning to help others but sometimes you don’t really embrace those rules until you mess up with them, don’t do them right.  Then you learn sometimes from what happens after that more than you do about being aware of rules and being able to spew them out.

The other major take away for me from the  book is people having psychological safety at work to be creative and not worry about people thinking they are silly or stupid and not taking feedback on the idea personally.  Feeling free to sit down with people and get down to brass tacks without worrying about being personally judged or what people will think of your ideas opens doorways to new levels of creativity and being.  As a leader I am working on psychological safety in a big way with my team so people don’t feel like islands in a hallway full of therapists and healers.  It’s helpful to me to think about how this can be created.  And this was a read down.  I had had it in my audiobook list FOREVER and I could finally knock this one out.

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Dare to Lead, Brene Brown

Dr. Brown talks about her research on vulnerability and communication in the workplace to unlock one’s greatest potential as a leader.  She encourages leaders to stay curious, ask the right questions, and focus on getting it right rather than being right.  It’s about having empathy and nurturing the person rather than focusing on outcomes at the expense of the person. She gives examples about how her ideas can be put into place and stories about how things go when vulnerability and communication aren’t done the right way.  If you’ve listened to her TED talks, this book felt similar.

I mean, everyone loves Brene, and I don’t think I could truly read business books without finally cracking into her work.  She’s down to earth and human, tries to make things actionable, relatable, entertaining and engaging.  It made me think about, along with Creativity Inc, how to make a psychologically safe space for my staff to really be able to function at their best and have models of how to be a leader but how also to be human and allow others to be human.  It also overlapped in that it talked about nurturing the whole person as a leader and work/life balance, rather than being outcomes driven.  These books went hand in hand in many ways, one being focused on the trial and error at Pixar and Disney to see what made the best outcomes, more like an n of 1 study, and the other focused on research actually done with leaders.  And I chose one because I had it on my list forever and the second because I knew I needed to sample Brene Brown’s work, see what the cutting edge research is in being a leader, seeing as I am one at this point. Whether it was what I set out to do or not.  And I was pleased that the things I value as a leader are supported by research as the right things to value.

So it will be time to post on the fall reads.  I have ONE category left, and that is the poetry books.  I wonder how long it will take me to do those, as I am sneaking in some 2018 books I really shouldn’t have missed out on too and I like them better.  But the most dreaded good for me slogs have been slogged and it’s still not October.

Next year’s reading plans are also taking shape!

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BookRiot: A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

As I’m writing this my husband has the pellet stove on for the first time this season. I will try not to spend all the it’s-getting-colder-season complaining that it’s getting colder.  But it’s not even October!

In a more positive spin on it’s-not-even-October (lots-of-hypens on today’s post, yes?) I have now completed 22 of the 24 BookRiot tasks reading two books per category!  As much as I try not to shuffle the less appealing reads to the end of the year, it happens.  My excuse is that during my least favorite months of the year, January and February, I absolutely need the diversion of interesting books. Preferably whilst crafting.

A Book of Nonviolent True Crime

Ugh, I don’t hate nonfiction, I just don’t always get into it the way I can get swept away by fiction.  I like hearing multiple perspectives on a story, as I have said before, and learning how things came to be in the world, events explained, but I just don’t seek it out in the same way that I do fiction.  Probably because my job is a lot of puzzle assembly and I enjoy it but on my free time I usually want something a little different. To mix it up.

So I really dragged my feet on getting this one done.  I could have dragged them harder.  Much harder. But in the interest of full disclosure, a lot of scary reads were done before I started muddling through this category.

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The Dinosaur Artist:  Art, Obsession, Betrayal and the Quest for Earth’s Ultimate Trophy,  Paige Williams

Eric Prokopi, an obsessive and life long fossil hunter, brings an entire dinosaur skeleton to auction in NYC.  A dinosaur native to Mongolia. People start asking questions as to how such a prize is no longer in its home country and Prokopi starts watching things fall apart.

Okay, so a three sentence synopsis of a 432 page book might not feel like I’m giving it an entirely fair shake.  And of course, being nonfiction, there are numerous threads to follow as this narrative, this story of a full T. Bataar showing up at a NYC auction for sale.  Perspectives of fossil collectors versus academics and striking a balance between them and their political agendas. The story of how Eric Prokopi came to be and who he is as a person and his life moving ahead as a family as well as a fossil hunter.  And natural history sprinkled in there with some history and sociology, all the things I can easily get behind, pet interests I’ll never have the space in my life to pursue. I guess the ability to dabble could be the draw of nonfiction for most people.

I was drawn in enough to google pictures of all the major players.  I usually don’t get to books as recent as this one, especially not nonfiction, published last year, with dates in history where I was muddling around my own corner of the world.   He’s not that much older than I am. Despite this being a significant deviation of my usual reading habits I found myself enjoying it. There is always a human interest story behind how crimes happen, and this one is about passion and the thrill of the hunt.  I can appreciate a man chasing his passion, even if it gets a little too far ahead of him. All of us passionate people have a tendency to get in over our heads.

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Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, Lee Israel

In this memoir turned true crime story, Leonora Israel, a writer in dire straits, turns to forging letters of famous people to dealers as well as forging letters to trade with real ones in order to sell them and make a living.

So, let me say, when I was poking around in the available books for this, I didn’t think I was going to read about a forger.  Like I mentioned in my review of The Dinosaur Artist, I like nonfiction that gives me a chance to dabble in my interests.  Forgery of authentic literary items didn’t sound appealing or align with my interests.  I ended up choosing this one because it’s short, and I kinda didn’t want to work for it like I did The Dinosaur Artist, and because it was recommended as funny. It was both of those things, at less than three hours a listen and because it is written by the person who was sharp enough to make passable forgeries of the brilliance of Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward, among others, it is pretty funny.  It did help with getting through this category when I had been considering The Feather Thief, another story about people wanting to possess invaluable natural history items, but I kept selecting other things to read next.  

This is brilliant and it is funny, but the narrator is not and does not become likeable at any point.  You can see where the forgery started out of being driven to desperation, so I had some empathy for the situation (flies), but I felt that she could have just done a few to get money and then changed to something more reputable.  If one is doing enough research to write passable false letters, why not write historical fiction? I know she was writing in a time where you couldn’t build your own self publishing empire after flopping in traditional publishing, but she easily could have made something reputable about the research and legwork she was already putting in.  She struggles with alcoholism and while she’s open about the mistakes that she makes while drinking, but if you’re looking for someone to change as a result of their mistakes I’m not sure this is your book. I know it’s a movie now and I’ll be interested to see if there’s a little more character change instead of just satiric wit.

I didn’t like the title and initially it seemed at such odds with the tone of the memoir, but no fears:  it makes sense when you get there. I wonder if the movie will make her more likeable.

Two posts left for September and it remains to be seen how soon I’m starting the scaries.  They’re read, but there’s the question of how well I will motivate myself to finish business books, which, even though they do appeal to my Psychologist side, that remains to be answered. One is read. Almost. There.

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Books Written about the Prison Experience

It’s the last weekend of June and it’s been an insane month of changes for me.  I am going to be taking new responsibilities at work and saying goodbye to my first boss in my adulthood career.  I have spent eleven years under his leadership and moving forward will have to figure out my own leadership dilemmas without his counsel.  Like any relationship, it had its ups and downs, but he was part of my becoming an adult in the world of adults.  I had internships and practica and jobs before the one I have now, of course, but I was always sheltered as a student or one with low responsibility.  I still have a way to go, though, in my emotional development as an adult.  Goals for myself to be the best I can be at what I do and to not compromise myself in the process.

Also, my birthday just went by and I really want to enjoy my 40’s.  I am giving myself two years for the emotional growth I need to enjoy that decade, the one that research shows that adults enjoy the most when looking back at their lives.  I’d really like to stop caring about things that don’t need my emotional energy.

It’s no surprise that after my life and the reads I’m reviewing here I went to the safety of some diversion reads.  All the actualization and growth in my life is a privilege in itself.  These books are about the transformative experience of doing time in prison.  I’m grateful that my growth experiences have not had to involve incarceration, whether from a poor choice or being gravely disadvantaged.   Like, I’ll miss my boss, but my life is and always has been a delightful array of choices and will continue to be so.

And I diverted a tiny bit from the category because they were supposed to be written in prison but they are about prison experiences, likely composed after the fact.  So I cheated a little.  I don’t think either of these were actually written in prison.  Sometimes I think that if I went to prison I’d do a lot of writing, but I think I’m assuming my privilege would extend into a situation where it would fall painfully short.

A Book Written In Prison

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The Sun Does Shine:  How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row, Anthony Ray Hinton and Laura Love Hardin

A black man in 1980’s Alabama is unjustly imprisoned and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit.  He is eventually exonerated, but not without a grueling number of years of surviving and trying to clear his name from his extremely disadvantaged standpoint.

This was as riveting as it could be depressing.  Ray Hinton wasn’t born with much but he was likable, just trying to make it in the world before he was imprisoned, and then when he comes out of his emotional dark place to make the best of his situation and survive.  He was impoverished and loyal to his family, and got through it out of others’ undying loyalty to him, both family and when he finally found a lawyer that could get him out.  How he got tossed onto death row without the usually precursors of trauma and abuse and how he was stuck there and what he discovered about the world and about himself were all a compelling journey.  One that I was grateful to experience from the outside.

Stories about inequality, privileges, and resilience have a place in our culture and it’s no surprise to me that Oprah has featured this book.  Bad things still happen to people in this country on the basis of race, and people still hang in there in terrible situations that make most other people’s lives look pretty okay.  I’m feeling pretty white here over my sadness over a change in leadership at my work and what it means to me, the fact I have a career that I can take as far as I want.

The other prison book I read is Prison with Privilege.  Nothing like Hinton’s soul crushing years on Death Row in the Deep South, smelling other people dying and waiting for his turn.

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Orange Is the New Black:  My Year in a Women’s Prison, Piper Kerman

The title sums it up and it’s a Netflix series, so I can keep this short: Piper ran a suitcase of drug money during a less focused time in her life and had to spend 15 months in Danbury Correctional Facility when the people she worked for ratted her out when the ring was busted.

Hilariously I binge watched Season One of the Netflix series in the winter of 2013, when I had a year old baby and a husband watching football in another room.  I didn’t then appreciate the intersection of these facts to create the rare opportunity for binge watching such an adult program.  It was one of those where I could keep going once I got started but I had to be willing to face some of the cringe worthy intensity that makes the show as appealing as it is, and then I would get hooked.  I can’t do this one episode at a time.  I won’t push through the whole thing.  I can only binge it.

Since I saw the show I was going to read the book.  I knew it was dramatized for Netflix, but most of the elements I remember from Season One are in the book, just to a lesser degree of drama.  The show made me petrified of going to prison and I became paranoid for a few weeks that somehow I’d get framed into such a situation.  The book didn’t make it seem exactly appealing, but slightly less traumatizing, until she is transferred to another correctional facility to testify in court.

I’m not well versed in books written about prison experiences, but I am willing to bet that this particular book brings an element of privilege that most others don’t.  She is white, she is well educated and well loved, something she knows sets her apart from the population.  She talks about how her advantages get her through it and how she learns to use her connections to others better, rather than doing it all on her own.  Ray Hinton’s connections also get him through his harrowing experience.  Our connections and the meanings we assign to experiences are what helps us to survive.

She talks about this but I don’t think she looks down on the other prisoners. The show also tells more about the backgrounds of the prisoners to help people understand how women end up in Danbury.  The struggles that lead them there. I always feel that the world could do with more empathy and I get behind any form of entertainment that helps to grow it, especially for the disadvantaged.

So good, but so difficult.  Hopefully next week starts a new chapter of summer posts.  I’m probably reading too much.  I’m trying to keep the joy in my writing but probably avoiding it a little with my reading.

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Not typical: Two Books about the Neurodiverse

I have to say that in June, I believe myself to be living in one of the loveliest places on Earth.  Everything is lush and green, birdsong trilling through the trees, fish jumping, ducks and geese on the water with new babies.  Everything is teeming with beauty.

Usually I slow down on my posting at this time of year and while I am trying not to this year, I see where I get busy with traveling to where it gets to be difficult.  Not to read, really, because audiobooks make car rides beautiful things (and walks, and crafting time), but sometimes to make sure a post gets in on time.  On top of the fact that lately, after this post and the next one, all I have wanted are diverting reads.  It’s a privilege to even have diverting reads, to even be able to take breaks from the realities I read about.  I’ll say that straight out.  Today’s post involves two books of walking around in someone else’s shoes.

A Book by or About Someone who Identifies as Neurodiverse:

 

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The Reason I Jump:  The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A young boy with autism is able to answer questions that others pose to him about what it is like to be autistic and why he does what he does.  It’s not long and is a basic Q&A, but that does not detract from the enormous value of this book.  The preface is by a parent whose own child is also locked in this puzzling and overwhelming world and he also speaks to the magic and value of getting a chance to hear what it is like to be neurodiverse, for the world to be processed in ways that are difficult for us to imagine.  When developing an intervention we always want to know, as best we can, what causes something, what makes someone act the way they do in order to see what else we can do to either manage or sidestep it altogether.

Even though it is short, I didn’t do this straight through.  I had to take breaks.  It’s a nightmare trying to imagine from my relatively neurotypical perspective what it is like to always have so much to process and deal with all the time and feel ill equipped to do so.  Feeling that it takes a long time to do what is asked because my brain has not gotten there yet to figure out and do what is needed.  I mean, this is why it’s a challenge on the list.  Because it’s not easy, and it will make me slow down more when intervening with someone who is on the spectrum.  Rarely are valuable lessons easy to learn.

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A Mango Shaped Space, Wendy Mass

A middle school aged girl discovers that her ability to assign colors and shapes to tastes and sounds is actually a diagnosis (synesthesia) while struggling also with the loss of her grandfather and the changing world and life of being in middle school.

I deliberately chose for my second read a book that was not just autism.  There are many ways to be autistic and there are many ways to not quite process the world the same as others, and I have read books with autism in them for other challenges.  I have wondered about synesthesia since we talked about it in graduate school and have always felt I had a tiny bit of it myself, assigning colors to things like months, days of the week, and numbers.  Like, I have always thought of the number 4 as a pale pink.  It’s faded away some since my brain has had more to do than visualize numbers and words, but that would make sense with how the brain prunes back extra connections that it isn’t using.

I loved this book.  It was about being different and finding your place in the world with a neurological condition, but it was also about the normal issues of grief and loss, first crushes and other constantly changing relationships with peers.  I read through this one pretty fast.  It was still normal enough for me to get carried along by the plot.  It was enough about normal life I think for a child in the intended audience to read it and get something out of it.  It’s also a great book, a little less intense to digest.  Intensity isn’t bad but I have been finding lately that tempering it can be helpful when I am chugging through reading a writing goals.

Speaking of goals, I finally chose a number, 80, for my Goodreads Challenge.  Mostly because Goodreads will provide a spot where I can easily check my book progress this year.  I try not to  make my reading so much about progress, but I do.   June ends next week (with my birthday, of course) and as of this posting I have read 17 of the 24 categories, my added bonus of two books per category.  With, of course, the manga and comics pushed off to the end.  And I am doing something other than challenges for July but I actually found at least one book that fits that.  But I say I’m mostly on track, mostly because although I only have 14 challenge books left in 6 months, I also take time for scary reads and sometimes Christmas reads, which cuts into the challenge reads time.  And I have been reading some books lately just because I want to.  Getting seriously crazy up in here, right?

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A Classic and long-time TBR Lister

And then the snow and bitter cold trapped us all inside.

I loved the bright moon after the storm, the new snow lit up like the day, but I didn’t love scraping off the inside of my windshield as my car reluctantly warmed itself the next morning.  And the sweet little fishtail as I turned out of work across an icy patch of snow, too cold for the road salt to do anything about it.  Intractable in the cold.

So I made a mistake googling (we’ve all done it) and I read a book that I believed counted as a book by a journalist, one of BookRiot’s categories.  After I was fully committed, subsequent googling revealed that the book’s author was not, in fact, a journalist.

This mistake revealed one of the few pitfalls of book list tackling. There was a hot second in there that I was like, damn, I read this book for nothing.  For a few moments I actually thought that maybe I had wasted my time reading because I couldn’t tick off a category on a list!

All my mindfulness training (and years of an ex who complained that if I wasn’t going to marry him I was a total waste of time) rebelled here and said how dare you think that reading a book you have meant to read for like a billion years that’s on a billion other book lists is a waste of time because it does not fit one particular list.  One particular outcome in a world of infinite outcomes.

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In Cold Blood, Truman Capote

In my defense, this is a serialized true story, so it would be a logical inference that the writer could possibly be a journalist, but the late Truman Capote was a novelist, actor, short story writer, and playwright.

There are a number of things worth noting in this classic work.  One, it wasn’t just about a murder, but about America  in the late 50’s, early 60’s, a portrait of Kansas and the Midwest.  The murdered family was in many ways the All American family, especially Mr. Clutter and his youngest daughter Nancy.  Pillars of the community, wealthy by their own hard work, churchgoing, example setters, humble.  Nancy was involved with everything and loved by everyone.  Mr. Clutter was fair and hard working, sympathetic to his ill wife, supportive of his oldest daughter’s marriages.  They embodied the values of the time.

And it wasn’t just the family that provided this portrait. The murderers, both in their own family histories and in the descriptions of their cross country travels together, what it was like to be in the state prison and in the justice system at that time, all painted a vivid picture of America at that point in history.  Even the psychological reports of the men reminded me of the still strongly Freudian interpretations of the times.  Twelve year old boys were allowed to drive the family car to take girls to dances, the death penalty was on in Kansas, young troubled boys could still be sent away to reform schools and abused there at young ages (kids can get out of home placements still, but at least in NY its a very long process for only the ones who truly cannot manage in the outside world, and then they are heavily regulated).

Also noteworthy was the work that went into this.  The care and detail researched and put together a narrative that was not only a mystery but also a psychological portrait. It’s fascinating to trace the factors that lead up to behaviors that step so far out of the norm.  The men had different reasons, different vulnerabilities that led them to commit the crimes they did.  One was abused from a broken family, one was from an intact family but struggled with impulse control before a car accident, which compounded the impulsivity and judgment with a traumatic brain injury.  But the book isn’t just about them.  It is about them and their context, the country at the time.

I only had this on audio and I spent hours lost in the narration of this story, at first a mystery, and then a link to the murderers, how they were caught and then their eventual execution. It’s listed among classics, quintessential reads, books some struggled to finish.

I’ve been finding myself reading two from each of the BookRiot categories this year. I’m back to seeking out books by real journalists.  I am looking at fiction rather than true crime at this point, especially because there’s already a true crime category.  I must be googling correctly now because I’ve come up with Steig Larsson and Laura Lippman.  I have not read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo yet.  Back when it came out I was reading books another different boyfriend wanted me to read (I spent too much of my youth with stupid boyfriends) and then it was a classics binge and I’m not always so great at reading the latest thing anyway.  And then The New Yorker slammed it kind of hard, which further complicates my motivation for an almost seven hundred page novel that only sounded somewhat appealing to begin with.  But it’s taunted me on and off as something I really should read if I want to consider myself fancy.

And we all want to consider ourselves fancy.

Laura Lippman is more appealing, honestly.

In noveling news, I finished another draft of my novel, reworking the ending a little better.  Which now there’s like one other part that needs revising again, but it’s small, and I will be sending it out for a critique in the next few weeks.  This is energizing news for me.   I don’t know where to direct my fiction writing now.  I have to do my prompt for this month’s short story, because I’m going into my third year of that.  I have a few ideas of stories for Wattpad but they need a little more research and, you know, to actually get written.    I might write up an idea I have had for a few years now in a short and toss it up there to get started.  See how I do.

I miss having a Snow Read.  Just a little.  An epic novel to get caught up in. But I’m doing a lot of reading for BookRiot and this two on a theme thing is fun.  I missed reading, but I still need to be writing.   I’ve already finished seven books this year and it’s only three weeks in.  Like my boss says when I am seeing too many clients, that may not be sustainable if I want to write.  I’d consider quitting my job but I’d go batty at home alone all day.

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Sometimes I’m that mom who doesn’t want you to notice what I’m reading

The world has finally turned its face toward Spring.  It seemed as though it was never coming, and now it is here in a rush, the warmth and the green and the long hours of glorious sunlight all at once.  I don’t need the clip on light for my computer again until Fall, even when I am up at dawn to write.

So I’m happy and I missed it more than I even knew.

I am wishing a Happy Mother’s Day to Mothers, in all permutations, around the world today.

Last year for Mother’s Day I posted on books about mothers.  This year I talk about being a mom while reading unusual Mom-terial.  So it’s about Moms.  Sort of.  It’s a tiny bit about me as a mom.

A few weeks ago I took my son on a Mom guilt assuaging trip to the indoor water park.  I thought bringing along a book was a flash of maternal optimism.  I didn’t think I’d really get enough time to polish off a decent part of a book.

What I learned that day was that it’s glorious to have a child who is old enough and has the inclination to play on his own after my obligatory slide runs and trips around the lazy river.  I soaked up every moment of mom reading glory, at least an hour away from every other obligation and my cell phone locked away in a rented locker.

If I had known I would get that reading time I may have chosen a different book, just in case any other parents in the throes of boredom/relaxation looked over to see what I was reading.  I forget in my avid kindle reading that paper books involve covers.  They don’t have the privacy of an electronic device.  I wrapped my book in my towel when I wasn’t reading not because I didn’t want someone to take it, I didn’t want someone to think I was weird.  I mean, it’s a Hannibal Lecter mask on a bust.  Not the shoe, martini glass or handbag that would slip me into true anonymity.

A Book of Social Science:

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The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers Can Teach us About Success, Kevin Dutton

Although my degree is in Psychology, I wasn’t super excited about this category.  Social science books are interchangeable in my mind with self help books.  Books on how to optimize your brain function and stop being codependent or free you from whatever vices you believe yourself to have. Books that break down the nuts and bolts and provide entire chapters on motivation to even change in the first place.  Nah.  Too basic. Too close to work.

My formally educated father in law bought this book for a plane ride and gave it to me when he arrived in my home on the other side of the country from his home.  He’s an engineer, and although I liked this book, I wondered how relateable this book is to those who are educated but not as much as I am in Psychology.  It is clearly written for those who have learned about research methods and how to be a decent consumer of research, at the very least.  I thought this was a definite plus.  I didn’t have to skip over anything too basic.   It was good at firming up my thoughts on psychopathy, especially as it was framed in terms of its adaptive qualities, which, like any quality, has to exist in an optimal range to be beneficial.  And the best creative nonfiction takes a spin on something,  or a juxtaposition, and this talks about the good aspects of something usually acknowledged as all negative.

It talks about how their emotional recognition functions when identifying their own as well as the emotions of others, the difference between if it is state or trait, if they can shut off these qualities at times when they are no longer beneficial in the situation.  It talks about how it psychopathy even stayed in the gene pool due to its benefits as well as how our cultural icons can be seen in terms of this emotional constellation.  It talks about research in a very poetic and interesting way, posing hypotheses and clearly how well the results fit them.  I would encourage anyone with an interest to pick up the book even without formal schooling on research methods.  I might think I am all fancy with my edumacashin and I might be wrong.

There was a time when I thought I was committed to nonfiction writing forever, around the time I was finishing school and entering a golden and brief period of free time in my life that I killed off four years later by having a child.  I would have liked to write something this informed and poetic and relatable.  I would have liked to do the interviews with the researchers, the psychopaths themselves, and gathered my own body of main studies to review.  I would have liked to do this project coming out of school and I would have aspired to it.  It reminded me of where my heart was about ten years ago, going through rounds of dissertation revisions and hoping I could get a job before it was done, sharing a rented house with a stranger.

So I was someone’s mom in my mom swimsuit (and it’s definitely a mom swimsuit, designed to minimize mom body flaws) reading something completely un momlike, following the professional passion that I had long before I even thought seriously about a baby.  No one asked me why I was reading about psychopaths.  I also read it at the playground and the McDonald’s playplace, and nothing.  I must not be notable when my son isn’t announcing farts and swearing in the big plastic tubes of playplace.  I must not be notable in my mom suit in the sunlight that streams through the ceiling of the water park.  When I am a Mom and my kid is behaving okay it doesn’t matter what I am reading.  I am deliciously invisible.

Noveling rolls forward.  Second draft revisions and flashes of panic that the sequence of events doesn’t hang together or make any sense.  Then coping skills, a major one being that someone will look over this for me and help.

Comments/likes/shares!

The Natural Choice for my Nature Read

I just had to yell at someone on the phone to do something I needed to be done via customer service.  The last thing the company wants me to do.  I had to bust it out.  I have some conscience about it because that’s not my standard operating procedure and I ended politely but man.  It’s time to write my post now to cover a much more fun item on the to do list for this day.  This day that is promising that spring is real.

My toenails are even painted.  A sure sign of warmer days to come.

I might have poured me a drink but lets press on, shall we?

I really like it when BookRiot coincides with items I have had on the TBR and already own.  This one came highly lauded from all angles, so it was inevitable, so when my library website said it counted under the nature genre, the decision was MADE.  In a matter of moments, which is impressive, because nature is something I am more likely to read if I wander into the less familiar and less loved territory of the nonfiction.  I had many contenders for this, even among my current collection of kindle and audiobooks.  Like, The Secret Life of Lobsters, which I also want to read.  And a book on reading the clues in water!

For a lot of years grad school seduced me into thinking that nonfiction would be my eventual publishing jam.  And nonfiction is a beautiful thing.  If you can pull off a good juxtaposition between two seemingly disparate things, I will sit back and marvel at your artistry.

And that is exactly what I did.

A Book About Nature:

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H is for Hawk, Helen MacDonald

The only thing that isn’t excellent about this novel, other than the fact that this is a true story of MacDonald’s descent into the blackness of depression, is the title.  I understand it’s high praise.  It even manages to cling to four stars on Amazon after over 1400 reviews, which I also consider a feat because when I am looking up prizewinners some of them only bat a solid three and with not nearly so many reviews.  But H is for Hawk sounds…elementary. And while reconciling with one of nature’s beasts can be thought of as elemental, I would hardly consider it elementary.  And the title makes it sound so.

The surprise in this mesmerizing work was her ties to TH White and one of my favorite childhood stories, The Sword in the Stone.  Of course it was the Disney movie that I really loved and continue to love to this day, not necessarily the actual book that White wrote that I did find and read over a summer in high school.  I did love that too, but the realities and non disney-fied elements of medieval England aren’t quite the same.  I prefer my Disney-esque illusions and I know I am not alone in this.  Also, interesting, he wrote another edition in the fifties that left out the fight with Madam Mim, which was one of my favorite bits of the movie, and I consider that kind of editing a travesty.

But she talks about the parallels between her relationship with a hawk she buys after her father’s death for focus and carrying out a passion that had started when she was a child to his book, The Goshawk, and his repressed, unrealized life.  And how his later creative works fit into that.  I got to better know a man I had had some interest in and didn’t know that I would when I picked this book up.  So that was the fun surprise element for me.  I knew it was about her relationship with a wild hawk, I knew she struggled with a complicated grief, but I did not know that I would better know someone who wrote something that I loved as a child.  Bonus.

She weaves her narrative of grief and losing her ground with the history of England as well as her family, with how the two wars shaped the emotional landscape of the country.  Having never lived in a country at a time where people had lived through a war on our soil, I don’t always think about how it shapes a nations’ consciousness.

And it helps generate some empathy with mental illness.  Because grief is so common I feel that people are more understanding with it in general, but anything that helps not paint the suffering black is always something I can support.

It’s a heavy book but it kept me reading and listening.  My noveling slowed between drafts so I was able to download a book to ravage in the course of a week.  And I loved it. I loved being back in a book for a week.

This book is heavy but it is poetic, somehow magical without having any magic in it, and worth your time.

Plus, there’s the magic of Spring and the magic of having drafted another novel, so I know that magic is real.

Comments/likes/shares!!!

A River Runs Through the TBR

My post today is due to a lucky intersection of my love of the new release shelf at the library and being stuck in my novel.

My TBR could be all new fiction releases.  It really could.  And as I am tearing into today’s book while my son plays at the library I am going back and forth with myself over if it could be a social science book or a nature book for BookRiot.

And then I was like, why does it matter?  I can read and review anything I want and it doesn’t have to fit into a challenge.  It’s Oliver Sacks’ last book.  It’s been on my Amazon wish list since I learned of it.  And when it’s shining at me in its library issue apocalypse proof dust jacket from the new releases cube it becomes mine for the next four weeks with no thought.

And this is what reading can be about, too. Expanding horizons but going back to the old loves.  So I am letting myself read a book before the challenge is completed.  The joy of the book I see on the internet in front of me in all its accessible and free glory.  I can’t forget that.  I can’t forget how I used to choose books as a kid:  some my mother told me to read, but then sometimes I went to the library with the only agenda of combing the shelves to find some unknown gem that I needed to entertain me next.  I used to go to the library before a camping trip and pile up four or five of the things and get through them in a week of binge reading punctuated by being outdoors.

River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks

The last collection of his own essays that he put together, knowing that his death was imminent. I am not counting this even as a posthumous book because this is the year I am reading The Master and Margarita for that.  And it’s his essays, not an anthology.  I am almost embarrassed at how hard I tried to fit this into a category when it was early March when I picked it up and have a ripe 10 months to go to get through a 24 book challenge with a one sitting book and another comic book I have not gotten to on the list.

Oliver Sacks lived one of the academic lives in this world I wish to have a chance to live.  I say academic because he lived through the Second World War in England as a young child and I’ll pass on that.  But in Sacks’ writing he brings back the fascination of the world of science and neurology.  I always looked at an article that would get in the New Yorker of his because I knew it would take me into territory I had not been in before.   He brings back the magic and mystery to science in a world that has imagery now and unbelievable technology.

Even after my fancy psych degree, he adds to my understanding of evolution and the social history of science, as well as explaining the hard to understand neurological concepts behind the functioning of the brain.  He talks about rare case studies, which is how I started reading him in college with An Anthropologist on Mars, but in this book he also considerably talks about the history of discoveries and their context.

It always looks to me like Sacks is playing in his writing, gathering up the existing ideas to challenge our conceptions or help us understand them.  It reminds me of the enjoyment I honestly derived from putting together college papers, learning something new via my research and my own joy of discovery.  The nerdery is real.

There is a fascinating essay in this book on how the changes in the brain can change not only someone’s speed in interacting but their conception of time and how it can be drastically different from what is measured on the clock.  He writes about ideas that were right way before their time but discarded and forgotten about because there was no knowledge base or context with which to understand them.  He writes about how creativity is fundamentally different than virtuosity and how something completely new comes from what has already been done.  He writes about hiccups in neurology that increase our understanding of the typical functions of the brain. He talks about the work of Darwin, the work of Freud pre-psychoanalysis and the times when science was looking at brain function as a collection of centers responsible for a specific task.   He talks about science when it was about classification and description and moving into explanation and theory of why something is the way it is.  And the consciousness of life forms previously thought to have less self awareness than they might in all reality have.

If you like nature, and science, and neurology and social science and the history of scientific discovery, Sacks’ written for an educated public dabbling is absolutely ideal.  I can’t read too much of his neurological accidents because I start to worry that my own brain is too delicate a network of functions that could go awry at any moment of my life leading to any number of weird debilitating conditions.  Conditions that would force me to rely on my own neuroplasticity to overcome more than the fancy medicine of today. While this fear is not entirely without ground I have too many other things to think about while I hope to not have something like that happen to me and take reasonable measures to prevent it, like driving safely and trying to eat more plant based foods than cheeseburgers.  Mmm, cheeseburgers.  And crappy Mom wine.  Sometimes Diet Dr. Pepper.  Anyway.

I am stuck trying to add a villain motivation in my novel.  The one motivation that he does have is not enough and there is a duality that exists and both sides of the duality need explanation.  Can’t just have gratuitous evil with nowhere to go.  I mean, maybe you can, but I don’t want those of my ilk saying, ‘it could have been better if this particular aspect had more use in the context of the story.’  It would be a missed opportunity, right?  Like every time something comes along in your life that you would be really proud of yourself for pulling off but to actually get there is an obstacle course of setbacks, self doubt and general suck.

Comments/Likes/Shares!  Any villains want to share some motives with me?  What about people who also have a deep love for Oliver Sacks and his prolific contributions to the understanding of the fascinating natural world?  Please let me know.

 

I Pause in Making Christmas to be Well Read

So, in addition to the Christmas books that adorn my posts of December, I am also working on finishing the one reading challenge I made it through this year.

I considered doing Modern Mrs. Darcy but she wanted a book about modern issues and that was the last thing I wanted to read, which is pretty dramatic for me, as the books I talk about today were struggles but I made it through them.  I don’t want to read about our mad president, I don’t want to read about climate change and all the other mismanagements that will keep me up all night for the anxiety.  I would rather struggle through books I barely understand than increase my awareness of how screwed up everything is.  Argh.

Next week I shall bestow upon you all the list of everything I read for Book Riot’s Read Harder, but the ones I am discussing today are the last ones that made it under the limbo pole to count toward this year’s challenge.

A Nonfiction Book about Technology:

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Forensics, Val McDermid

I spent most of the year hemming and hawing over what to read for my book about technology as it threatened the sweet place in the sand where I bury my head. There are so many books out there about the internet and how everyone knows everything about you and I doubt there is much I can do about that other than giving up the convenience of my online endeavors, like my deep and abiding love of Amazon.  We are in the middle of a Christmas season and I didn’t want to comb stores for the Lego set I wanted for my son.

Also I need a distinct human interest element to any book about technology. I want people’s stories and how they have changed through time, not something dry on this is how this works. Some people like that, but not me.

I noticed that this gem had been waiting on audio all along in my audible app, just waiting to be discovered.  And it is narrated by a woman with a Scottish accent because McDermid is Scottish herself!  Perfect. It is a primer on the technology used to detect whodunit, complete with famous historical vignettes. I would love to write and research historical fiction like she does and if I did I would absolutely want to make something separate out of my research.

I believe the many reviewers who reported that if you watch enough TV crime shows, much of these topics you already know something about, but I have not done a lot of crime solving TV in awhile.   So I liked it.  It was perfectly tailored to my level of ignorance, and talked about the differences in justice systems around the world, which was a nice touch.

Runners Up: Thunderstruck, Erik Larssen, The Wright Brothers, David McCullough

A Collection of Poetry on a Theme Other than Love:

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King of a Hundred Horsemen, Marie Etienne

I refused to rate this on Goodreads because I didn’t understand it.  There are some brave souls on Goodreads who must have a different, or any understanding at all, of this collection, who rated it, but I needed academic help.  I read it.  The last segment of poetry about birds resonated and made sense but I wandered through the rest.  She very possibly could be brilliant, people who know something about something think she is, so I am in no position to refute that even if I find her work inaccessible.  Does this help my reader understand how little I wanted to read a book about modern issues facing our world? That I would get through a hundred pages of translated poetry I didn’t understand?

I love Mary Oliver, and Stanley Kunitz, and Roald Dahl, and the poetry collections I have on my shelves but this was tough.   I needed context, the old Gothic classrooms and an PhD student at my alma mater to get me through this.   But I did it.  There you go, Ausma Zehanat Khan, author that made me do it!  Anyone who has a better understanding is welcome to help me out here.

Also, thanks to BookRiot for posting about possible fit ins for this category.  It would have been a challenge to even find a  book that would qualify.

A Book Published by a Micropress:

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Tender Industrial Fabric, Toby Altman

This was Roxane Gay’s brainchild and I do love me some Roxane, especially on the Twitter, but I didn’t understand this one either.  There were more stanzas and pieces that made sense that I could hang on to, like some descriptions of grief, sexuality, love and nature.

This looked to me like an artistic labor of love, even though it was somewhat lost on me, which I don’t even like to admit, because I think I am missing out a little here by not getting it.  I don’t know.  My father is a poet and where I get my love of writing and he has always seemed unapologetic about not understanding a poem, even if The New Yorker took it, but really, I have a deep and abiding fear that everyone else really does know more than I do sometimes.  And I am missing out.  Even as it is sitting next to me for this review I keep reopening it and hoping the magic will beam out at me, like it got over its shyness. Naw.

But probably all micropresses and their projects are, by definition, labors of love.

All right, so the roundups continue next week with what I did for BookRiot.  I could have really binged to make it through Popsugar too but I have done slightly more writing this year.  And that is the ultimate goal whilst there is available brain space. A limited commodity.

 

Comments/shares/likes are welcome!!!

I am grateful for Stephen King

I’ll admit some mixed feelings about November: it reminds me of how cold I am about to be for months and I have to re-acquaint myself to driving home every night in the dark.

But November is all about gratitude.  Practicing daily gratitude is a neuroscientifically supported practice in creating happiness.  What we think about, and thank about, we bring about.  I won’t expound here upon my layers of white privilege, but I try to remember it’s there in some superstitious hope that I won’t lose anything that I take time out to be thankful for.  Whatever, I can have my illusions.

Stephen King has not exactly made it onto my gratitude lists.  Ever.  Even last year when I did a thirty day gratitude journal with three different things every day for a month after I read Thank and Grow Rich.  I have been more neural toward prolific authors.  Possibly neutral with a dash of contempt.

I am sure Stephen King does not stay awake at night deeply concerned about my estimation of him.

But what turned it around for me was two of his books:  It, which I may have touched upon in a previous post because I read it in 2013, and On Writing, which I just finished on Friday.

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It is a harder sell as far as gratitude, but I am grateful to him in this story because it was my first real experience of horror that crept into my brain, rather than being scary for more gory or base reasons.  I first watched the miniseries when I was nineteen and I first got to experience his specific brand of talented brain twisting. But then when I tackled his book in 2013, I loved the characters and the relationships in in their families and between each other, the life stories intertwined and their varied resulting fears used against them.

I remember my father reading It and then going to the movie and being disappointed that they left his favorite scene out of the movie.  I like memories of my parents being human, and memories that make me feel connected to them as people.

I am also mentioning him again today as a belated shout out to the new It movie, which I have not seen because I need to see it on a night where my husband is home so I can go to sleep after and I am not good at making time for movies, especially ones where I can’t watch with a five year old sponge scampering about.  It scared the crap out of me but here I am, back for more, back for the first scary thrill that he gave me.  You never forget your first time, right?

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Who doesn’t love On Writing?  I have not combed the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, but it features in the blog posts I have seen about the best books for writers.  And it is true that it has good nuts and bolts of writing and that is important.  Another good nuts and bolts one that I first read when I started reading for writing advice was Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them.

But other than that, it came at an interesting time for me.  I did a ten day writing challenge on allaboutwriting.com and it was awesome.  Inspiring, fun, encouraging, got my wheels turning and refocused me a bit on writing, which is how many writers spend November.  I would recommend the course to anyone. I want to write more often so I picked it up to read during this ten day jaunt, which came at an otherwise busy time in my life as well.

Both the course and this book showed me I don’t have time right now to do the projects I eventually want to complete in my writing.  I wrote every day for ten days and got a post out, and I have more things to work on, but I had to trade in my exercise time to do this.  I am too vain, and too hooked on exercise, to give it up enough to be able to write as much as I would like to right now.  And I am grateful to Mr. King for validating how hard it is to work on writing when you have a day job that requires a good amount of brain space. He specifically mentioned the difficulty in writing on the side when you have a job that needs your brain.  He writes six hours a day.  I don’t have the time to do that.  But that is all right if I don’t right now.  I can still work on things, I just have to go easy on myself sometimes for not.  I could dial back other hobbies, like compulsive knitting while listening to books to write more. That might be a more appropriate sacrifice.  I mean, I can work out a little less often, but I missed it when I was using that time to write.   I had a few days that were just pure anxiety too in there and probably exercise would have helped that.  I got back to my first real workout in a week this morning and it felt great, even though I’ll be sore tomorrow.

Maybe I just need to stop being hard on myself, get better at reading books for writing more often and not spending all my time on fiction. My self imposed break from fiction definitely ended last night when I finished On Writing and immediately downloaded a book that I trusted would help me lose myself.  I took like 1-2 weeks off from reading fiction and I was gazing longingly at a specific shelf in the public library.  Like I used to look at a guy who broke my heart.  Who doesn’t read this blog.

So, this is my journey, and I am glad other authors are there both to twist my brain, show me new things, even if they make me scared, and to say hey, I get how hard it is to do the work of writing while you are doing the work of the rest of your life.  Thanks, Mr. King.

Comments/ likes/shares!  Next week I have an idea on deck that’s more like my typical posts.