A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Where love leaves us

This week’s book is another story collection. This one by Renée Manfredi called, “Where Love Leaves Us.”

One story in particular haunted me for years. I remember certain details to this day and I remember dissecting each scene, trying to figure out how she had created this story that just mesmerized me. In “Bocci” ten-year-old Elena is herself mesmerized by her Catholic religion. The story starts with her declaring to her mother, “Jesus Christ is a blood clot in my leg.” Her mother is less then enthralled by her daughter’s obsession. Her father makes up for that by his sheer devotion to his daughter. But that devotion and her devotion to her religion cannot save her from the violent ugliness in the world.

A sentence I underlined: She is ten, an ordinary little girl whose imagination sometimes intersects inconveniently with truth; all of her imaginary friends die tragic deaths and she grieves them as though they were real.

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

If-I-Loved-You-I-Would-Tell-You-This-194x300

I love short stories. I love reading them, I love writing them. Doing both is how I taught myself to write. When I first saw this week’s title seven years ago I knew I had to buy it.

It is “If I loved you, I would tell you this” by Robin Black. The title alone grabbed me but then the writing. Oh, the writing and the characters and their stories. Well, I knew immediately that it would be placed on my Permanent Bookshelf. They are exactly the kinds of stores I long to write—honest explorations of what it means to be human.

Ron Carlson once said that literary fiction is about the complications of the human heart. That’s what these stores explore with such grace and depth.

Today happens to be the 7-year anniversary of this book’s publication. I’ve read everything she’s written since including the novel “Life Drawing” and a collection of essays on writing and life, “Crash Course.” Honestly, I’d read her grocery list. And once I learned that she was 48 when her first story collection was published, my writer crush was solidified. As a writer approaching 52, I yearn for role models of women who didn’t give up, who started late, who set their voice loose into the world. Robin Black is absolutely that role model for me. My writing bucket list includes taking a writing workshop with her.

(As a bonus, there’s a great conversation between Black and Karen Russell at the end of the book.)

A sentence I underlined: Every once in a while. though, that softening patina an extra glass of Chianti can give, that velvet cloth it lays over every jagged edge, evokes a kind of humble gratitude in me.

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature  book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

Anywhere But Here

“Anywhere But Here”  a novel by Mona Simpson

I remember not being able to put this down. I am fascinated by mother/daughter stories—reading them and writing them. This one mesmerized me and made me want to write my own novel. Up to then I had been dabbling in short stories. When a teacher once commented that my writing reminded her of Mona Simpson, I almost swooned with joy.

The first two sentences hooked me: We fought. When my mother and I crossed state lines in the stolen car, I’d sit against the window and wouldn’t talk.

The tension was set up from the first two simple words.The whole novel explored this tension, this parting and coming back together between Ann (daughter) and Adele (mother). They were both such complex characters that I alternately loved and loathed and it made me realize how important that is to a story. No character (or real life person) is all good or all bad.

The story pulled me along but the sentences themselves left me dazzled. I’d set the book down, pausing, telling myself that this was the kind of book I wanted to write. It still is.

#TBT: A Book I Love

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature  book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

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In honor of his reading that I am attending tonight, today’s book is “Fitting Ends and Other Stories” by Dan Chaon.

When I was first teaching myself to write short stories, I turned to this book over and over, poring over each story to discover what made it tick for me. Each one hooked me from the first sentence and kept me hooked to the last. I was mesmerized by his ability  to meticulously dissect the emotional fallout from tragedy: a father and son attend AA together, an accident befalls a fraternity, a father is having chemotherapy, a boy sees his older brother wearing women’s clothes. I remember being haunted by the lingering residue of the stories much like the character in the title story is haunted by the death of his brother. Reading this collection felt like my own master class in short story writing.

A sentence I underlined back then: I remember being surprised by the sound that came from my throat, a high scream like a rabbit’s that seemed to ricochet downward, a stone rattling though a long drainpipe.

Books Read in January.

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“Talking As Fast As I Can” a memoir by Lauren Graham

Some of the most exciting things that happened in my life took place before I turn six years old.

I don’t generally read celebrity memoirs, or any books really written by a celebrity. When Snookie came out with a novel? Well, let’s just say that might’ve been the last straw. I don’t believe in books as brands. Books are breathing entities filled with hope and they lessen the burden of loneliness. Before reading Graham’s book, the only other celebrity book I read was the story collection by Molly Ringwald and it blew me away. As I read I could tell it wasn’t just a piece of her brand puzzle. And she could really write. What she has in common with Graham is that they were both English majors. So, maybe I’m a bit of a snob but if you took time to study literature then I have a certain amount of respect for you and enough curiosity to see what you own writing is like.

I am a huge “Gilmore Girls” fan. I’m a huge Lauren Graham fan, I mean…”Parenthood”…right?I’ve already watched the Netflix revival “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” twice and still wanted more. So, her book. Well, books, actually and I bought both.

This memoir is how I imagine she is when she’s not playing Lorelai or Sarah, but I feel there’s a lot of her in both characters. This book is funny, warm, charming and fast-paced (maybe the quick dialogue thing wasn’t completely Amy Sherman-Palladino’s call).

Not only do we get a glimpse of her childhood and her road to Hollywood success, she gives us a peek behind the scenes of each season of Gilmore Girls as well as the revival! Squee!!! I love seeing behind the scenes of anything, but two of my favorite shows? Well, it was heaven.

She also talks about writing and how she found it. Or, how it found her. And her timer trick to get the actual writing done? I can totally relate to that and it pretty much combines by own process that I’ve pieced together over the years through trial and error. It kind of combines the shitty first draft with a timer. It’s a way of getting and keeping your butt in the chair to get the work done.

So grateful that Graham (although I feel like I can call her Lauren after reading her book) found a process that worked for her to get this book written.

A sentence I love (and made me laugh out loud):

On  being a guest judge on Project Runway

“I can’t even stand giving feedback to the potato peeler I bought on Amazon—what made me think this would be any different?”

“Someday, Someday. Maybe” a novel by Lauren Graham

“Begin whenever you’re ready,” comes the voice from the back of the house.

This fresh, charming novel follows Franny Banks’ dream of acting. She gave her self a deadline to “succeed” that is fast approaching. Does she hang in there just a while longer or does she admit defeat and give up?

I became so caught up in the life of Franny that I forgot than one of my favorite actresses wrote it! One of the things I really loved is how the life of an artist, any artist, is explored. What qualifies as success? Once we achieve whatever milestone we set for ourselves, then what? What if you don’t? Then what?

I realized while reading this that I never set the same kind of deadline for myself as  a writer. Maybe because I have other means of income. But I know that even if I never sell a novel, go on book tour, have my novel optioned for a movie, I will still keep writing.

The advice that her agent, barney, gives her at the end about succeeding in show business can be applied to writing as well: Faster, Funnier, Louder. Read the book to get the details.

A sentence I love: 

(Referring to her filofax but it works as sage writing advice.)

“Just keep at it, like the fictional Franny, keep filling up the pages, and something’s bound to happen.”

“The Hidden Messages in Water” by Maseru Emoto

Understanding the fact that we are essentially water is the key to uncovering the mysteries of the universe.

I borrowed this book from a friend but it is so fascinating and life-changing that I will need to buy a copy for myself to re-read at least once a year to remind me how powerful our thoughts are.

The basic premise is that our words and thoughts have power to heal or hurt. By exposing ice crystals to different words then photographing them afterward he was able to show the physical effect words can have, not only on water but on our selves which are 70% water. Filled with beautiful photographs from his studies, this slim but powerful book lays out how essential it is that we take care with our words.

“Our emotions and feelings have an effect on the world moment by moment. If you send out words and images of creativity, then you will be contributing to the creation of a beautiful world. However, emitting messages of destruction, you contribute to the destruction of the universe.”

Once fully understood, it becomes deeply freeing while at the same time a sobering responsibility.

A sentence I love:

The relationship between love and gratitude may be similar to the relationship between sun and shade. If love is the sun, gratitude is the moon.

Books Read September – December

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“The Underground Railroad” a novel by Colson Whitehead

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

Well, Oprah was right to choose this for her book club. In this brilliant novel, the underground railroad is not a mere metaphor. It is a literal train that runs underground, helping to free slaves, specifically Cora and Caesar. Their story is mesmerizing while shining a light on a brutal history we all share. It’s not only the journey of Cora as she encounters different worlds at each stop along the way, but it’s the journey of an entire people and we are given a glimpse into the terrifying life they were forced into.

A sentence I love: George sawed with his fiddle, the notes swirling up into night like sparks gusted from a fire.

“Hungry Heart- Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing” by Jennifer Weiner

The other day, I was walking home from the hair salon to pick up my eight-year-old after school.

If you have followed me at all, you know that I am incredibly curious about other writers’ lives. So, when I saw this book I just had to read it. She covers her life from childhood through adulthood and everything along the way that made her a writer from a father who left her, to being a journalist. It was great to get an inside look at a life that partially has been played out in her books. The sister from “In her Shoes” has got to be modeled after her own sister. She doesn’t shy away from issues of weight and body image, in fact, she embraces them. Her storytelling keeps you hooked, her humor is quick and a sharp (her tweets about “The Bachelor” make we want to watch it just so I can be in on the jokes!) and I closed the book feeling I knew more about her as both a woman and a writer.

A sentence I love: Remember the way you lived in your body before you learned to see only the wrong in it.

 “The Alchemist” a novel by Paulo Coehlo

The boy’s name was Santiago.

I read this enchanting story years ago but after rereading it, this time after becoming a yoga teacher and living my yoga on and off the mat, it had a whole  new, deeper resonance. It really spoke to my heart, this whole idea of following your heart, following your intuition, which is what led me to become a yoga teacher, which has led me to create a class that combines the alchemy of both yoga and writing. In a world that often feels hopeless, this book shines a light on the very hope we need.

2 sentences I love:

“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

“When we love, we always strive to become better than we are. When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better too.”

“Commonwealth” a novel by Ann Patchett

The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.

Indeed it did, and that turn sets the stage for a chance encounter that reverberates through two families over five decades.

When Franny begins an affair with a literary hero of hers, Leon Posen, she tells him intimate details of her childhood that become the basis for a best-selling book and eventually, movie. She has no idea that she has set in motion  a ripple that will force both families to deal with issues they have kept buried for many, many years. It’s a rich novel full of love and loss, guilt and loyalty, life and death.

Ann Patchett is masterful at creating complex characters with complex stories and I am just happy to be along for the ride.

Several sentences I love:

Life, Theresa knew by now, was a series of losses. It was other things too, better things, but the losses were as solid and dependable as the earth itself.

“There’s no protecting anyone,” Fix said, and reached over from his wheelchair to put his hand on hers. “Keeping people safe is a story we tell ourselves.”

“Ongoingness- The End of a Diary” by Sarah Manguso

I started keeping a diary twenty-five years ago. It’s eight hundred thousand words long.

I literally just finished this book. Part of me thinks I should wait to reflect until I’ve had time to process it, perhaps after I’ve allowed myself the luxury of reading it again all through in one sitting. But another part of me wants to get my thoughts down before they evaporate. Which feels perfect for this book which is all about memory and time and trying not to forget and learning to remember and just being in the experience rather than chronicling it for a later date.

Each page had a sentence that just blew me away. The prose is sparse and powerful. Each page takes on an almost skeletal beauty, getting to the bare bones of who we are, who we think we are. It’s an elegant meditation on the brutal beauty of time and memory.

2 sentences I love (hard to pick just 2 but here you go):

The essential problem of ongoingness is that one must contemplate time as that very time, that very subject of one’s contemplation, disappears.

Perhaps all anxiety might derive from a fixation on moments—an inability to accept life as ongoing.

“We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Okoloma was one of my greatest childhood friends.

This is a modified version of a TEDTalk she gave in December of 2012. I read it and immediately bought two more to put in my daughters’ stocking this Christmas. It’s a book we all should read because we should all be feminists. It’s a book that reminds us that though we are all human beings “…there are particular things that happen to me in the world because I am a woman.” And those particular things need to be acknowledged, seen and heard so they can be changed.

A sentence I love: Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problems of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded.

“Mr. Ives’ Christmas” a novel by Oscar Hijuelos

Years ago, in the 1950s, as a young man working for a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Ives always looked forward to the holiday season and would head out during his lunch hours, visiting churches, to think and meditate, and, if he was lucky, to hear the choirs as they practiced their hymns and sacred songs.

A friend recommended this book years and years ago. I bought it back then and it has sat on my bookshelves until this holiday season when I found it and felt compelled to finally read it.

It was the perfect antidote to the stress I’ve been feeling over the state of the world. I was able to drop into another world each time I picked it up. Not that it was a thoroughly happy world. No, it was not at all. It is about life and death and loss and grief. But something about the writing, the story, the characters was a much needed balm to my battered soul. I found myself tearing up and feeling a particular reverence for the beauty of the world, no matter what state it is in.

A sentence I love: Then there were the swirls of green wire and Christmas lights, those that tipped over and bubbled, those whose glowing filaments pirouetted like ballerinas, those whose collars resembled cherry necklaces—those lights entangled or cleverly strung, adorning store windows, twinkling with benevolence, and, it seemed to Ives, nearly breathing, like everything else in the world.

“Love Warrior” a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton

It’s almost time. My father and I stand at the edge of a long white carpet, laid just this morning over the freshly cut grass.

Maybe it was the holidays or end of the year emotions but these last two books I read this year, though totally different in tone and subject, really touched my heart. I felt incredibly moved by both stories, feeling more connected to the world that I had been hovering over since the election, distancing myself from it. Both of these stories show people who faced the unthinkable and came out the other side.

Melton’s memoir dives deep into the shadows of what it means to be human and flawed. She bravely peels back the layers of herself and her marriage. She is honest and raw and vulnerable and in doing so, she gives the reader lucky enough to read her words to believe it’s okay if they allow themselves to be honest, raw and vulnerable, too.

A sentence I love: At our cores, we are our tender selves peeking out at a world of shiny representatives, so shame has been layered on top of our pain. We’re suffocating beneath all the layers.

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ 5 Fave “New to Me” Author Discoveries or Audiobook Narrations This Year

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Here are 5 new-to-me authors I discovered this year. Loved each and every one of them!

“A Little Life” a novel by Hanya Yanagihara

Made me rethink what I think I know about male friendship.

“Imagine This—Creating the Work You Love” by Maxine Clair

Made me rethink how I go about my own creative work.

“The Chronology of Water” by Lidia Yuknavitch

Made me rethink what a memoir could be and what writing can do.

“The Empathy Exams” essays by Leslie Jamison

Made me rethink the role of empathy in my life.

“Blackout—Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” by Sarah Hepola

Made me rethink how much I drink and why.

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ This Is How We Read

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I don’t exactly have a reading routine or structure. I read whenever I can. I read in the morning before my own writing to “keep good sentences in my ears” as Jane Kenyon advised. I like to try and read poetry before I begin writing, even reading it out loud to get beautiful language in the air around me.

I read:

~ in the middle of the day in my cozy nook by the fireplace, usually with a cup of tea and my favorite blanket. Our dog, Izzy, is usually nearby.

~ at night before bed.

~ in bed in the morning if I don’t have to leap right up and start my day.

I bring a book with me, always. You never know when there will be a pocket of time, but if there is, you can bet I’ll have a book.

Genres tend to be pretty balanced between novel/short stories, memoirs, writing inspiration (I read less craft books these days since I feel I learn my craft best by writing myself rather than reading about it) and spiritual or yoga books.

I tend to have several book going at once, usually from each of the genres mentioned above so there is always something ready to dip into no matter my mood.

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When somebody tells me that they don’t have time to read, I’m sure I must have a ridiculous blank look on my face. Not have time to read? What does that even mean? It’s like saying you don’t have time to breathe. I’ve been a reader all my life. I remember sinking into the backseat of our Oldsmobile station wagon, driving up-north to the cottage with a stack of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books next to me that I had gotten for Christmas. I didn’t even care how long the drive was. Like Rory Gilmore, I take a book with me everywhere. All of my daily use purse are big enough top hold a book.

Annie Dillard’s quote above pretty much sums it up for me. Reading isn’t just something I do, it is large part of who I am.

Check out the challenge here. 

 

Books Read in July + August.

july-august-books

“Gonzo Girl” a novel by Cheryl Della Pietra

Everybody is laughing except for me.

Walter Reade is the infamous writer (based on Hunter S. Thompson) looking for yet another assistant to “help” him finish his next project. Recent college grad, Alley Russo, is just desperate enough to take the unpaid internship as nanny/babysitter/word coaxer/drug and alcohol enabler.

Hoping that if she hangs in long enough to get the job done, she will have the chance to help her own book see the light of day. Reade may be too far gone to help and perhaps much too dangerous.

It’s a great page-turner that explores creativity and what we are willing to do get our own art out into the world.

A sentence I love: Seizures in real life are like nothing out of the movies. They are much more awkward and far less violent.

“Blackout—Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget” by Sarah Hepola

I’m in Paris on a magazine assignment, which is exactly as great as it sounds.

In the tradition of Caroline Knapp’s, “Drinking : A Love Story,” Hepola gives us an unflinching account of her path into drinking and, eventually, out.

She plums the depths of her addiction in a matter-of-fact, I’m-no-longing-hiding-my-shit kind of way. And she doesn’t hide anything from the reader or herself. But it’s not meant to shock us. There’s a desperate sincerity behind her story. She doesn’t look away so we, as readers, don’t either.

As described on the back jacket copy, each morning after a blackout, she became a detective trying to piece together a missing chunk of her life. The whole book feels like she is detective, trying to piece together how she got there, figuring out when enough was enough and, finally, her long haul back from the edge into sobriety.

A sentence I love: Writing required hush and sharpness of vision. Drinking was roar and blur.

“How To Be Here” by Rob Bell

I once had an idea for a book.

Reading anything by Rob Bell always wakes up my soul. And makes me want to stay awake. Makes me want to be here now, every moment of my life.

Do you think that being creative means being an artist? A writer? A musician? Rob Bell is here to tell you different. He says, “All work is creative work because all work is participating in the ongoing creation of the world.”

He explores the concept of the Japanese word “ikigai.” It is “the sense you have when you wake up that this day matters, that there are new experiences to be had, that you have work to do, a contribution to make.”

He explores the importance of craft, no matter what your work is. The act of taking that first step. Of facing the blank page, whatever than may mean to you.

His writing feels effortless, easily accessible and speaks right to my heart. He connects me to my heart, to my self in this moment. If your spirit needs a pep talk, then Rob is the guy for you.

A sentence I love:

Success says, What more can I get?

Craft says, Can you believe I get to do this?

“Carry On, Warrior- The Power of Embracing your Messy, Beautiful Life” by Glennon Doyle Melton

A few years ago, strange things started happening to me at church.

This book read like I was sitting down with a dear friend, a friend who knows all of me—all the messy parts I try to hide from everyone including myself— well, she not only sees those parts, she embraces me more fully because of them. And in doing so, she makes me want to embrace all of me too. It’s quite a gift she has.

She reminds me of the badass Christianity of Anne Lamott along with the honest, wisdom-seeking of Liz Gilbert but Glennon is uniquely her own person. She brings her own voice, humor, compassion and utterly quirky and endearing authenticity to every page.

With her utter honesty she encourages the reader to be honest with herself and those around her as well. Touching on everything from marriage to parenthood, church to work, compassion to grief, these essays will make you laugh and cry and left me eager to go live my life out loud.

A sentence I love: When you write your truth, it is a love offering to the world because it helps us feel braver and less alone.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne

Okay. So, I didn’t realize that this was a play when I bought it. It jarred me, even annoyed me a little. I was ready to just sink into the Harry Potter world again through prose. Once I got over that little disappointment and found a rhythm to read the play in, I was able to proceed. Granted, a little cautiously, but I proceeded. It felt good to visit these old friends. See them grown up and raising children of their own. I enjoyed visiting the wizarding world again. The story was fine. It just felt a little thin and I’m not sure if that’s because of the plot or because of the genre of it being a play. Without the expanse of a novel to roam through the minds of the characters and their lives and world, it felt a little like skim milk when what I was craving was rich, heavy cream.

“The Seventh Book of Wonders” by Julianna Baggott

This is how the story goes: I was born dead—or so my mother was told.

I LOVED this story! It captivated me from the first sentence and the fact that it was about a writer and had a secret book woven in throughout only added to my captivation. Baggott is a storyteller in the best way, layering in complex characters with a plot that makes you want to keep turning the page, all with a beautiful gift for language. In fact, I underlined many sentences that I loved but I can’t share them since I let my best friend borrow it. You’ll just have to pick it up for yourself and see what I mean. And you should pick it up. As soon as possible.

Books Read in May + June.

May June books

“Furiously Happy- A Funny Book About Horrible Things” by Jenny Lawson

This is where I was going to put a simple Mary Oliver quote but instead I decided to replace it with the idea I had for the cover of this book because I’m pretty sure it’ll never get accepted and I don’t want it to go to waste.

A funny book about a lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression? Yep. And only Jenny Lawson could pull it off.

As I read this book, each page either made me laugh out loud or cringe a little or left a little ding in my heart—sometimes all three at once.

If you haven’t discovered Jenny Lawson via her on-line presence as “The Bloggess” (and why haven’t you?) go, right now and check her out. Unless you’re easily offended. Or don’t like edgy, dark humor. But if you do, and if you appreciate a woman who is funny AF and is able to laugh at herself and plunder the depths of her mental illness for all to see then check out her blog and definitely check out this book.

A sentence I love: It’s as if risotto doesn’t know if it’s mashed potatoes or rice so it just decided to be both. But badly.

“Crash Course—essays from where writing and life collide” by Robin Black

The only person in my home who thinks about words more than I do is my younger daughter.

This is probably one of my favorite books on writing. And that is saying a lot. I used to devour writing books in lieu of, you, know, actually writing. The books that really resonate with me are the ones less about craft and more about—well the subtitle of this collection—that space where writing and life collide.

Black covers everything from ADHD to home improvements, from rejections to queries. She writes from her own life and shares a deep, behind-the-scenes look at how her life has impacted her writing and how writing impacts her life.

My favorite essay (if I had to choose just 1!) may be the advice on how (not) to query where she ignored all of the advice on how you should write a query and basically just wrote from her own charming, real self.

Reading these essays felt like I was sitting down over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with a mentor who really gets me and who only wants me to succeed in the space where my own life and writing collide. And for that I thank her.

A sentence I love: I hunt for the points of inaction that my characters might themselves later regret, those decisions that might inspire in them the rich fictions of which we are all such gifted authors when we are sorry to have chosen the safer, less active of two possible paths.

“I Don’t Want to, I Don’t Feel Like It—How Resistance Controls your life and What to Do About It” by Cheri Huber & Ashwini Narayanan

There’s an impulse:

–I want to lose weight, eat better, join the gym.

Aaahh…resistance. That relentless puppy nipping at our heels constantly. This is the first book to not only explain the origins of resistance but what to do to bypass it and live the kind of life you want to live, be the kind of person you want to be.

It’s written in a casual font that helps you to slow down and really read each sentence. There are even simple, hand-drawn illustration throughout. There’s a lot of repletion but it is needed. It’s needed because our Ego doesn’t want us to understand how to bypass it. Ego wants us to stay exactly as we are, as it is.

I love that there are fifteen 2-day exercises to complete at the end to help us implement the tools rather than merely read about them.

A sentence I love: We cannot have the life we want if we are unable to drop the conversation and be present to life as it is.

“The Empathy Exams” essays by Leslie Jamison

My job title is medical actor, which means I play sick.

This eclectic collection of essays explore the idea, role and expression of empathy in our lives. Jamison mines her personal life for spaces where she learned empathy, displayed or encountered it as well as the times it alluded her.

We are given access to her time as a medical actor, pretending to be a patient with a script memorized so medical students could practice on her. They got points for showing empathy. Which led her to wonder what exactly empathy was and how was it expressed. The mere fact that the med student is given points for it takes away from the sincerity of the expression.

She explores her travels outside the country as well her personal health crises and injuries. In the last essay (my favorite) she explores the idea of women and pain, feminine wounds weaving in everything from Dracula to Carrie, from anorexia to cutting.

I led a book group on this and the discussion was fascinating. The feeling that Jamison failed to display the very empathy she was attempting to explore by viewing herself so closely and mining others’ struggles came across as the antithesis of empathy. I find it a fine line writers must straddle when writing from personal experiences. When does it cross the line into navel-gazing? I felt she balanced it all, risking alienating some (as in my book club) by delving deep into her own pain in order to illuminate how we can feel the pain of others.

A sentence I love: [On anorexia] Not just at the familiarity of these metaphors—bone as hieroglyph, clavicle as cry—but at the way they risk performing the same valorization they claim to refute: ascribing eloquence to the starving body, a kind of lyric grace.