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: Trans and Non-Binary Authors

My world is a mass of muddy defrosting, dirty snow, and the excitement of the birds returning.  I love it when the birds come back out.  When the snow melts enough I will go back to putting cracked corn in the yard so I can have my duck friends visit.

I have to admit that vitamin D got me through the winter, taken on the recommendation of any local healthcare provider I speak with.  That’s my justification for complaining about winter is that even the healthcare providers tell everyone to keep up on their sunshine vitamins during the grueling months.

I like to use BookRiot’s recommendations for categories that have to do with someone’s ethnic background or gender preference/sexual proclivities.  Sometimes a google search leads me wrong and I feel voyeuristic combing author profiles for who they are and what they prefer.  Their perspectives are important and absolutely worth reading. Because their gender identity is something that has been salient due to their not aligning with their gender assignment, gender is considered in ways that someone like me, who is cis, never really thought about.  But that’s why we read harder, because those other perspectives deserve awareness and consideration.

But I’d prefer that BookRiot find them for me.  And even after they do, I don’t look into it further, like, are they non binary, or what were they born as, or whatever.

I also found that today’s choices could count for neurodiverse characters, and some other lists I have looked at have wanted to include authors from Africa.  These books push reading parameters in a number of ways.  And they were not easy reads, either one of them.

A Novel by a Trans or Non Binary Author:

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Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi

A young woman is a host to a myriad of spirits in this book, and story is told in the points of view of the spirits who inhabit her.  And before she learns that she is in control of them (sorry, spoiler alert), they control her extensively.  She gives herself up to them through most of the book, although, looking back now that I am finished with it I can see where she gains control of them along the way more clearly.  And the reason I am sharing what the end is because through the book, I was wondering where this was heading, where the plot was.  It is an interesting story but it was a tale of a difficult life and I wondered where it was going and how it would end up.  It does end up in something.  I wanted to keep reading, even though I wasn’t sure if it had a plot.

This book got a decent amount of attention as a debut novel, but some people who reviewed it on Amazon struggled with it.  I enjoyed this book, but it pushes a lot of boundaries and topics I have not typically come across in novels, so I can see where some people truly felt they did not ‘get’ it.  And I might only ‘get’ it because of the amount of my life I have spent studying psychology and thinking about spirituality/mysticism.  I think the writing is obviously beautiful, but the content at times can be difficult, with self harm and rape, a woman struggling with literally her demons, losing a marriage to someone who always stood out and was special to her, as much as she didn’t want them to be.  We all have that person who despite the turmoil they can bring are incomparable to anyone else at that time in their lives.  I have had those people.  I would have hated to lose them in the times they were still so special to me.

This is worth picking up, but I know it isn’t for everyone.  Most books that get a lot of attention really aren’t for everyone.  They have intense psychological themes that are just too much or unrelateable for some people, enough to where the beautiful writing would not be enough to get them through. Like, my educated and well read father couldn’t understand my love for All the Light We Cannot See.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

I guess in writing my reviews and looking up other people’s opinions on the internet I am really seeing how these two books today are about trauma.  (And honestly it worries me about if my own book ever comes to fruition all the well thought out and articulate ways some people will not like it.)  A lower class woman with autism, Aster,  is living in a spaceship with clearly delineated social strata.  Her mother allegedly committed suicide but Aster realizes that she left messages behind and all might not be as it seems.  As in usual dystopian books, she bucks the system.  I won’t say how it ends, but if you have not read it, you might be able to guess enough even from there.  Rape and injustice are commonplace, and everyone notes when discussing this book that the upper classes have genders while the lower deck people are less gender conforming, less constrained by the strict heteronormative rules of above.

Criticism I read of this book indicated that people did not like the ending or that they felt it was too lucky or Aster didn’t display enough agency in the ending.  I don’t know if I missed something because I don’t know how she could have done more in what ended up happening, or how a book set up like this could have ended otherwise?  I had more of an issue getting into it in the beginning.  There seemed to be a lot of information to wade through before my brain could make sense of all of it to move forward.  It’s a lot of world building, and that’s important. One reviewer said it’s a mix between Battlestar Galactica, A Handmaiden’s Tale, and Roots. Listening to it helped because the narrator changed up voices, but even then sometimes I needed to slow it down.  It took me time to get into it.  About 20% through was when I caught on enough to move forward.

And I was driving to work during the last like 55 minutes of it, trying to stop and get my Wednesday Speedway coffee during one of the most dramatic moments.  Kinda interrupts the flow when you’re deciding which pot of house roast looks best and being convinced you left your friend’s borrowed Prius “key” on the counter because you were talking with the sales associate.  I frantically emptied my whole purse on her passenger seat which is probably a breach of friendship unless I get my butt over to vacuum it before I return it, which I will. And then after all that I return to the book where it’s all going to pot.

I also really liked the characters.  Some people said they didn’t feel fleshed out but I felt they were.  I saw in the blurb that Aster was autistic and I set out to 1. see if it was consistent with someone truly not neurotypical and 2. if this tidbit added to the plot.  I wouldn’t have picked up right away that she was, which I actually think is a good thing, because sometimes autism is more subtle, especially in females, and I didn’t want her to be a caricature.  And it added to the plot because she worked through some of her deficits, like her social struggles. So I liked it when initially I was skeptical.  I also very much like the the surgeon, who even though he was higher class was not afraid to be himself and not a mindless part of the brutality more endemic to his class.  I mean, I love healers, and healers who can see through the external trappings to the inner good in someone.

I am getting lots of writing done, which is awesome.  I wrote my first sonnet. I can’t say it’s a great sonnet but it felt overwhelming when it was assigned and I took a few weeks to get through it, and I did, and it won’t be a total embarrassment to post.  And my first wattpad piece is up!  I am writing under Teigan_Blake if anyone wants to check out my re-telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, renamed Those Twinkling Spirit Lights.

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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.

Comments/likes/shares!

BookRiot’s Read Harder Challenge: A True Crime Book

So, as I said in my last post…I have a hard time resisting a book list.  We had our summer reading challenges in high school and while that booklet of doorstop sized titles could be daunting, I liked going through it to see what I was going to read.  It is also how I chose Pride and Prejudice for the first time.

As the summer goes on it is more difficult to resist the pull of ticking things off my BookRiot list.  The last four months of the year go by fast and I like to have things done ahead of time.

BookRiot’s true crime category was more a question of choice than of desire.  True crime fits right into what I do every day:  trying to make sense of something outside the norm.  Trying to appreciate it from another angle rather than coming from a place of judgment. Which is a luxury of mine: the chance to be objective.  I don’t expect the people who these crimes affect to be objective, but I try to expect myself to be.

It also was a question of choice because my library has a ton of true crime available on audio, it seems. I have not compared this count to other forms of nonfiction available, so maybe it’s just that they get more borrows on nonfiction audio, but I was astounded at the choices I had.  If they tend to have more audio of true crime than other nonfiction works, why would that be?  Does the level of drama lend itself better to audio?

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The Spider and the Fly:  A Writer, a Murderer and a Story of Obsession, Claudia Rowe

I chose this one because I felt a reluctant ability to relate to the blurb from the library website.  A young woman looking to make sense of a terrible thing, set in Poughkeepsie, New York.   I knew I would be able to relate some to the setting, as I worked in the state hospital for a year in Poughkeepsie to complete my doctoral hours.  In fact, one of the people in this book also worked for the hospital and with the mentally ill there.   So I had been there:  the country setting just a reach away from the city.    I knew where she was talking about when she talked about what it was like down Rte 9.  I was there more than ten years after she was, so I didn’t know as much about how the downtown had been abandoned to favor the growth around the arterial, but I had stomped where she had stomped.  I drove through downtown to get to the hospital daily.

What struck me when I started to read this was all the trauma on all sides.

The writer’s trauma isn’t revealed until later on but was apparent to me pretty quickly, as one only becomes obsessed with something like a serial murderer when they are looking for their own answers.  There were some skeletons urging her on from her closet too, urging her into trying to make ends of a random and senseless crime. She could relate to all the pieces: the killer, the victims, the setting, the period of time.

I think what makes it even more compelling is that the killer’s trauma is much more subtle.  I have worked with people with the propensity or even history of killing and abusing others and usually the reasons are straightforward: abuse, severe neglect, trauma, psychosis.  This killer, Kendall Francois, appeared to have none of these, his family presenting as completely normal on the outside, even a black family blending into the white section of town.  Other siblings who for all intents and purposes seem to be functioning and contributing members of society.  The inside of his home is a decrepit mess due to hoarding, so there is some illness there, and I have my own theories of what Kendall’s diagnosis could have truly been based on the author’s spin on things, so there is a shade of dysfunction, but there are plenty of harmless people in the world who struggle with hoarding.  Who do not hoard rotting murder victims above their families.

When dysfunction is difficult to see, the press for answers can be more consuming, more challenging.  Pieces need to be put together as they emerge from the mist, subtle in and of themselves.  The pieces of his trauma line up with hers, in that they both come from families that look good on the outside but have their secrets on the inside.  Her trauma matches up with the lives of his victims as well, women who turned tricks due to their own damage that wasn’t addressed.  Of course I would want to read all this wreckage. I make my living sifting through wreckage!

But the author does grow and change from the experience, and that’s what we all want to see when there is wreckage.  Healing. So there is meaning in it in that it helped her figure out some things for herself and move on with the usual adult milestones.

As I said in the beginning, there were many contenders for this one, and if I was not noveling, I may have read more than one for this. Helter Skelter, In Cold Blood, The Devil in the White City.  All classics whereas this one is not as canonical.  Clearly the rest will sit on the TBR for now, and when I get to them, I am not sure they will resonate with me as much as this one.  I was once a young woman too looking for answers and dealing with extreme illness in Poughkeepsie, and in an even weirder parallel, the author and I both had boyfriends at the time who we did not end up with.  And that was a good thing.  So many connections on so many levels.  I’m not old now, but I am certainly no longer the woman I was when I was finishing my doctorate, and neither is she when she finishes with her journey with Kendall.

Comments/likes/Shares?  I’ll be reading harder (in addition to the copious other projects) as we slide into the cooler season…

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.