Tag Archives: reading

Catching up on books

I have been trying to spend two nights offline a week and to not let myself download any more new books; of course, I started going to the library again. Sigh. So, three short reviews for accountability’s sake.

The Bees, Laline Paul (library) Bee pov, lots of to us, bee-science, rendered as communication and theological worldview, alien sexuality, morality, and really interesting ideas. It went on a bit longer than I thought it should have, but it was really novel and a standalone very good first novel. I guess I would call it sci fi, but since it speculates weird reasons for colony collapse disorder, maybe not really? It’s a good read just for what she does with turning the bee science into the main character’s view of the world, if you are at all into science.

The One and Only Ivan, Caldecott medal winner, book with illustrations. A silverback gorilla in captivity in a mall learns to dream for the sake of a promise he makes to his old elephant friend. This was beautifully told and full of hard, wonderful truths and gorgeous drawings. I cried and cried and cried, but it’s a happy ending. Good for explaining hard truths about people to young people.

Drama, young reader’s graphic novel. A young woman navigates her dreams of tech and set design with the frustrations of friendship, middle school, and budding romance. Lots of friendship drama, very accepting treatment of gay characters, great art and accurate, amazing nonsexist focus on the details of actual backstage theater production ( I was a drama geek). Probably age-appropriately dramatic, and I have just lost my patience for that kind of indecision. The main character’s parents are delightfully patient, and I dig her polychrome hair.

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I’m sitting waiting for the other half of this morning’s work meeting to show up given Boston’s snow & traffic, and thinking random thoughts like:

It used to snow this much when I was a kid, so the fact that global warming has now brought it bag should be no big deal.  Except I didn’t have to shovel it then.

The urban v. suburban cultural differences at work aren’t just race but class and gender-based, and the intersections in trying to build a company culture is…interesting and treacherous.

Adulthood is about not just accepting but embracing the fact that you will “disappoint” your parents’ ambitions for you, and that it’s their problem, not yours.  Which doesn’t mean you can’t try to break that news to them gently, but you don’t have to coddle them either.  There was a more long- winded version of this post in my head at some point, but this is the sum of it now.

I’ve been reading my beloved SciFi novels in between business reads.   Station Eleven is not typical SciFi, and it’s a great standalone read even if you don’t think you like post-apocalyptic reads, because it’s really about people.  Good stuff.

Ways of looking

I follow the English public thinker Alain de Botton on Twitter, and while I don’t always agree with him, he does provoke thought in his posts, books, and links, which of course is the whole purpose of being a live, working philosopher.  Yesterday, he tweeted about the “evils” of photography versus learning to draw and linked to an article in The Philosopher’s Mail about phone-photography versus sketching.  I don’t agree with the article, by and large.

The points I chose to take away from the article were:

1) we shouldn’t be living our lives through our gadgets, and that phone camera snaps shouldn’t substitute for being actually present in a moment, for noticing the minute details versus just collecting proof that Kilroy Was Here before we move on quickly, because there’s a (socially constructed and inherently false) schedule to keep to so that we can document to the next snapchattable moment, and,

2) by cultivating a “slow” skill such as drawing, especially when it’s something that doesn’t come naturally to us, we learn to take in the world in a different way, to truly notice the depth of beauty all around us and all the fine details that we can breathe in if we just look,

3) the ability to look and perceive both the whole and its details is important.

I agree, fully, that there are too many of us who are distracted in our everyday doings, but it didn’t start with the camera– perhaps with the telegraph, or same day post.  The fact is, life is fast and has been getting faster since the invention of the printing press (darn that Gutenberg, he had no value for the small quiet value of hand-inked vellum), and “drawing” as a way to stop & smell the roses is all well and good as a metaphor.  It’s not so great as a general moral proposition.

The points inherent in the article with which I take issue are, if not legion, ones that have been brought up by people far more articulate than me–

1) that a camera phone photograph cannot inherently capture finer details,

2) that the takers of camera phone photographs are all rushing, rushing, rushing, rather than– pausing to notice and focus in on that detail– the cornice of that building, that tulip, that couple embracing,

 

3) that the takers of camera phone photographs do not take the time, later, to share that captured detail with other people later, either in print or on one of the many social media sites where photographers congregate to share photos, look for those details they personally find beautiful and worthy of documentation and sharing (Instagram? Flickr?  Twitter?  Does Mr. de Botton not know about photography social media platforms, or that photos can be shared on the platform he uses?)

4) that all the details & moments captured on camera phones are inherently “shallow”– selfies or fashion shots or pictures of expensive meals or other consumables rather than externally objective objects of beauty– travel, nature, animals, smiles, architecture, “what a wondrous thing is man” when he manages to capture a macro of a peacock feather– when, in fact, a review of any mobile photography website will show you the whole range of human and earthly existence,

5) that drawing is inherently and always better than phone (or any other) photography, and that photography is not, therefore, art, however “art” is defined,

6) that camera phone photography, as an “art” and a “skill” is something that does not inspire the doer toward improvement, toward other forms of the art, toward more technique or toward gatherings with like-minded persons who likewise seek to gather & appreciate the beauty out there in the world.  (One word/hashtag: #instameet.)  I didn’t start out with a camera phone, for my own self, but my little point & shoots, and my desire to improve my own naked eye shots of the things out there in the world have certainly caused me to read more about how to frame, how to compose, whether to upgrade to a DSLR (and I did) so that I could capture better, finer, more beauty than I had been able to heretofore.  I have met and know many, many, many folks online & in person whose “gateway” drug was the point & shoot or the iPhone, but now they go on photo safaris & print out real art, real beauty, real moments that reflect our world as it is– or as we’d like it to be.

I have no problem, at all, with people who have the time and perseverance to sketch, paint, or engage in other forms of non-photography art.  I admire the talent and ambition and stick-to-itiveness that it takes.  But it is an unassailable truth that life does move quickly, and all the slowing down and taking time to smell the roses (or sketch them, as the argument would suppose) doesn’t change the fact that in the every day churn of it all, sometimes we don’t have the time to stop and sketch, because we haven’t got the concatenation of timing, life circumstances and courage to choose to do anything other than get to work and take care of our selves and our loved ones in mundane, material ways.

It would be nice, lovely, ideal, to live a more artistic, more reflective life in more moments over the spread of a lifetime– but sometimes, realistically speaking, a camera phone shot and five minutes to notice whatever image you saw is all the time you have in a day to notice the beauty and humanity around you.

Five minutes’ pause on your way is better than none.

I also freely admit that there are a hell of a lot of pretty pictures of flowers and beloved children and cats of no particular artistic inspiration on the internet and in photo albums all over the world– though I would also argue that art isn’t always the point of a photograph, because it is also useful in capturing a moment, preserving a memory, and whether it does it with more or less technique or artistry is less important than the preservation itself.

In that regard, photography in its speed does what sketching (and those without patience or time or talent or any combination of those you choose to combine in your moral judgment) does not– it preserves a moment in time which, looked back upon, recalls happiness, even if it is done artlessly.

I’d also argue that today’s selfie might be someone else’s coup de foudre— art is at least partly subjective, after all, and however much sarcasm someone else might inflect the term with, to the aficionado, an iPhone shot of “nail art” has meaning and increases the general quantum of happiness– if some of it is at the shallow end of life’s pool, why does everything have to be deep? I’m not trying to say that there is no objective truth, or larger, important set of truths, but if a shallow happiness works for that person in that particular moment, or if something that seems trite to one person is meaningful to another– well.  I’m happy to wait while someone is standing on the sidewalk before me, taking a camera phone shot of something they find to have meaning.

 All pictures taken on my Google Droid phone, and uploaded to my Flickr, via Instagram & its various automatic filters.

 

Ask for it

If there’s something you want, something you need, ask for it.

You have to ask for it, because it’s the only way to make sure you’re going to get it.

Other people aren’t psychic, much less as attentive or empathetic as we’d like them to be.  You might mention it once, but what’s the off chance they’ll 1) remember and 2) care enough amidst the noise in their own heads to act on your expressed need or desire?

This bleak fact, that at the end of the day, we ourselves are the only ones who can make sure we get what we need, what will make us sane, healthy, happy, and that the people we care or love about, by DNA-roll-of-the-dice or by choice may not be able to deliver, even with prompting, is the hardest lesson of being a “grown-up,” and the one I struggle with all the time.

Asking for help, rather than expecting people to see I need it– asking for hugs, or giving them out so I can get one in return– repeating myself over and over about “no, I do not want to celebrate my birthday and it’s not a thing that’s going to happen,” and then carrying through rather than caving– expressing the need for solitude, or quiet, or to not be the one making decisions about anything from what’s for dinner to how some social activity ought/not to go– these are all exquisitely hard at times, especially when I do manage to say them clearly around the hesitations of not wanting to feel like I am actually as bossy/ bitchy/ a spoilsport/ just acting crazy again as other people might think I am for standing up for myself.  Other peoples’ reactions and criticisms are still really wounding.  I still get really paranoid around silence, and overanalyze what’s going on in that silent reaction.

Brene Brown writes in her books about shame versus guilt– that shame is silencing & paralyzing, but guilt isn’t.  I haven’t read enough of her books to have worked out my own processes to pinpoint all the things that make me shame-turtle, but the “you shouldn’t need help and it’s wrong to ask for it” message clearly got driven home at some point.  At some point, my incapacity to competently and intelligently handle a situation all on my own (even when, objectively, it’s more than any one person could handle), or my need for others to give me some positive emotional reinforcement got deeply entwined with my being a “bad” person if I had to ask for help.  If it was freely given, then maybe it was something I could consider accepting (although even then it was suspect, because I have known lots of people who were just manipulative in the end and that reinforced the “don’t ask” button in a different way).  In the meantime, I put on a brave face or a brusque face or just straight out lie.

And asking doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get the help that you need.  You might get half-measures, or none, and have to still do it yourself, with the anti-climax of breached trust in your fellow humans.  (Hooray!?!  At least it tells you who not to waste your energy on? Framing shit as teachable moments just sucks.)  Sometimes, you’ll get help from unexpected quarters– and that’s good, in the end, but can be complex if you’ve been less than gracious to those folks beforehand, and so you’ve got to reevaluate your own shitty behavior.

I’m writing this on day one of my leave of absence, after precisely two hugs (freely given) and four and a half well-meant expressions of taking it easy or good luck or likewise from direct coworkers. I did get several more well-wishes from folks in my working group, and some unexpected help from that quarter, too– which means, again, that I have to examine the divide between my own self-perception and others’ willingness to help when asked not by me, but my boss. I am seriously questioning how long I will stay at my job once I return, having talked myself off the ledge of trying to quit while I’ll out– but the larger question of the cluelessless and/or disinterest of most of my coworkers and my need to look at what I can do to prevent future overexertion as well as to identify– what is it I like about the job, in case I do decide to look elsewhere, what I need to change in this workplace in me and in others for me to tolerate staying, and what conversations I need to have with colleagues & higher ups to see what would work.

Of course, there are other things to do.  Sleep.  Read.  Socialize.  Tackle the garden.  File for divorce.  Get my dad’s mortgage resettled.  Other family health & legal projects.  They will be good distractions and anxiety-reducers around the hard work of “how did I get here again,” and “how do I ask for what else I need to keep going?”

 

Book review: Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages

I got out of Goodreads because: Amazon and have moved over to BookLikes– I am trying to do better there about posting reviews of books as I finish so that I actually finish.

My review of Jill Lepore’s Book of Ages is there, but the TL; DR  version is this– the book is worth reading even if the first third was a slog of Old Testament-style recitation of Franklin & female forebears, there was a bit too much Benjamin for my taste (and I thought he came out as kind of a douche) and I thought Lepore was a bit heavy-handed in foreshadowing/contrasting the whole “Judith Shakespeare”/Room of One’s Own problem that Jane faced.  Jane was a funny, engaged, interesting lady who put up with a lot, and Lepore’s research shed interesting insights onto Revolutionary Boston & everyday living during Revolutionary times through all the secondary sources she used that I hadn’t read elsewhere.  I’ll probably dig up the biography of Abigail Adams (if I don’t read the Margaret Fuller one) next, and see where it takes me.

Reading Roundup

For all that I worked in a bookstore between 2009 and 2012, my reading fell off dramatically for a while.  I tried to get back on track in 2013– I wouldn’t say my attention span’s entirely recovered, for reasons of: general life stuff, intermittent depression, exciting & super-hectic new job, internet attention span disorder, etc., but I do feel like I put a more concerted effort into reading more, even if I didn’t finish everything, and/or am still working on things I started.  Still, in the interest of accountability (and not so much because I think anyone cares) here are the things I read, or tried to, in 2013:  Continue reading