Like most avid readers - and by avid I mean much like oxygen, marshmallows, and hiking, reading is a staple in my life. I know you know all of the metaphors and similes bibliophiles use to express their intense desire and need for reading. We read for pleasure, to escape reality, to learn a new craft, or to experience that far, far away place. And, by looking at the date of this post, you'll know what reality we are escaping, or at least trying to temper. With that in mind, I've selected six books off my bookshelf for you to explore.
As you see in the photo above, these selections cover fiction and non-fiction, current reads and some past treasures. All of these books make an outstanding gift, especially when given with a beautiful bookmark.
Follow me for a quick tour of each title.
You'll notice two books by Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees. I like Kidd's writing because it is beautiful in its simplicity as she tackles complex ideas. The Book of Longings, (Viking Press, 2020) is an intricate exploration of a woman named Ana. At the beginning of the 2020 pandemic, SMK would have been on a book tour, but quickly rebounded with an online book club hosted by independently-owned bookstores. The book club read a section each week, then tuned in to watch a pre-recorded interview with SMK about that section and listen to her respond to questions from readers (find the videos at www.bookoflongings.com/).
Gracious, funny, authentic, and just beautiful, SMK sat in her home (sometimes you could hear the dog bark) and walked us through her research, her writing style, her thoughts, and her philosophy. A reader's dream come true. Readers don't read just for the story. When we find authors we love, we become friends with them. We learn to anticipate their storytelling style, their word choice, their dedication to us as readers. Add an intimate setting with the writer, from the comfort of one's own couch, and paradise has opened its secret gate.
The Book of Longings, a story about a woman named Ana, is not just about a woman, but the wife of Jesus. Yep, that Jesus. And what says happy holidays better than a story about Jesus' wife? I encourage you to find the book club's videos and read/watch along with them. SMK's insights, thoughts, and process will open your mind. I had reservations at first about this book, but coaxed myself to suspend religious judgment and read with an curious heart and mind. I wasn't disappointed and you won't be either.
Under the non-fiction heading, I've selected another SMK title: When the Heart Waits (Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions) (HarperOne, 1990). Notice the publication date - 1990. Read The Book of Longings first (along with the videos) so you can experience SMK's spiritual growth, and inspire your own. She summarizes the theme of this book thusly: "I'm not referring to waiting as we're accustomed to it, but waiting as the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed." She is Christian, so her thought process is heavily influenced by Christian tradition and philosophy. Be prepared to experience God as neither male or female.
The other two non-fiction books on my list are The Making of a Manager ((Portfolio/Penguin, 2019) by Julie Zhuo, a manager at 25 years old of Facebook's design team. She isn't exactly ancient at the time of publication (mid-30's). This book is ideal for those seeking to improve their managerial skill set, or update previously acquired skills. It's a fresh, fast read with powerful takeaway messages like:
"...presenters knew their material forward and back...they experienced what social psychologists call "the curse of knowledge" - the cognitive bias that makes it difficult for them to remember what its' like to be a beginner, seeing content for the first time."
I recommend the second book, Managing Up (How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss) by Mary Abbajay (Wiley, 2018) to anyone over the age of 16. If you're not familiar with the DiSC Behavioral Assessment (it's not part of this book but you cant take an assessment online for a fee), you can use the book's very brief assessment of your boss, yourself and your determination to work better. The chapters outline different types of bosses and how to best work with them. This is where an understanding of your DiSC behavioral style would be very helpful - the insights from the assessment are very specific to you; the information in Abbajay's book needs to be sifted through to find what works best for you. Nonetheless, understanding how and why to manage up is going to make any one feel more powerful and engaged at work.
My next selection is Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie (Knopf, 2001). First, the cover art is sweet, stark, and slightly melancholy. Two little red leather shoes, straps worn, toes scuffed, sit side by side. Outgrown? Abandoned? Left behind?
The story was translated from French and, not having read the original French, (nor being capable of reading French) I am swept off my feet by a person's ability to capture the poetic purity of another's writing in a different language. Balzac takes place during Mao's Cultural Revolution and follows the lives of two boys living in a mountain village, placed there because of their family's high level of education. They discover friendship, love, and the freedom of living through another's writing.
Amor Towles' "A Gentleman in Moscow" is perfect for your "long winter's nap". Clever, endearing, and charming, it's the Cary Grant of novels. Count Alexander Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol in 1922. The entire novel takes place within the walls of the Metropol, with flashback sequences outside of the Metropol, through post WWII. The world within the Metropol is as exciting, mundane, and intricate as the world without. Don't read this book quickly; bask in its luxuriant pace and let your mind and body relax into the elegant world of aristocracy.
How do people read while on the treadmill?