This month I was on a mission to be a “secret shopper” and find out what other people are reading to bring you some interesting Summer Reading suggestions. This meant that I was going to put my 2+ hour daily commute on public transportation to good use by observing what my fellow passengers were reading. I immediately hit three major roadblocks:
1 – Most people reads from their Kindles. Since people tend to read on the train to avoid human interactions, I couldn’t break this unspoken rule by verbally asking them what they were reading. However, I have come to believe that a few individuals were just staring at blank screens and zoning out, clearly some form of meditation.
2 – Most people read their books like they are smuggling contraband, holding them close to their chests. Plus, they either removed the dustcovers or they put on their own book covers, which is a very common thing to do when reading a romance novel in public so everyone doesn’t see a sexy man chest cover the first thing in the morning.
3 – I am no Jenny McCarthy; I could never be a spy. So unless the books were in my immediate area, I really couldn’t see the book titles. I blame the constant swaying of the train on the tracks and not, I repeat not, on my eye sight. I don’t need glasses. (Note to Self: I should probably make an appointment with an Ophthalmologist.)
After all those disclaimers, below are some involuntarily book recommendations from passengers who brought in regular books and made the mistake of sitting near me.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: This 896 page book has the added benefit of also serving as a heavy blunt object in the case of a self-defense emergency. The book also breaks the no talking rule as Jamie Fraser Fever is at a record high. Many women give the nod of approval when this book is out in the open.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein: It was hard not to notice that the reader was holding back tears. I believe this excellent book should come with a warning, to all animal lovers that this book is worth the read but not to expect to have dry eyes.
Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart: As the person next to me read this book, I fought hard against sympathy itching while repressing memories of past poison ivy experiences.
Lastly, My Recommendation: Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, strictly for the synchronicity to my blog’s theme. It’s getting a lot of buzz, awards, and a movie deal so it doesn’t need me to sing it’s praises but that won’t stop me. However it was almost creepy to be reading a book about a complicated woman describing the minutia of daily life on a commuter train when this reader was on a train trying NOT to identify with the messed up main character. It’s kind of like reading Moby Dick while on a boat, why do that to yourself?
So what are you reading right now? Or more interesting, what book have you seen someone else reading?
We live in a united, democratic society. Sort of. Because united as we are, well, we aren’t. The other day I was thinking about all the ways we polarize ourselves. Not typical socioeconomic stuff like education, taxable income, zip code, etc. I was thinking about the more human divide.
For example: Drivers either name their cars or not. My gas-sipping little red Ford is named Foxy. Previous cars were dubbed Smitty and Goldy.
Here’s another: When it comes to borrowing money from relatives there are only two camps. Those who have no qualms about asking for a loan, and those who’d rather sell a kidney than ask Mom and Dad to spot them.
The creative types I hang out with (you know who you are) are definitely in the curious column, while the bean-counter side (I love you guys too) can be driven half-mad by all my questions.
I never really thought about the polarizing effect of curiosity until I picked up, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life. In it, film producer Brian Grazer opened my eyes with his decades of curiosity conversations with notable experts – some famous, like Mick Jagger, some not, epidemiologist Tim Uyeki. Grazer deconstructs curiosity, calling it the engine of innovation and creativity… and yet curiosity is still overcoming its own negative history (Let’s face it, the cat did die.).
Using curiosity to empower others, and later anti-curiosity to sidestep critics, Grazer’s life-long study of this trait is fascinating. Easily the most powerful passage is about how he has no expectation of any immediate payoffs. He is curious for the sake of being curious. It’s an important point he makes. We’ve become this impatient, results-centric world. Sure, we all SAY we’re creative and innovative, but are we? Has the instant Google-ability on any subject we might ponder actually drained our society of ingenuity?
I truly loved this book. A Curious Mind was a tap on my shoulder. A reminder to slow down, have wonder in the present moment, and continue to ask questions – even the ones without answers — that irritate others.
Thank you, Mr. Grazer. Your book would make the late Maya Angelou proud. After all, she said, “When you know better, do better.” And isn’t that the point, to be curious enough to seek out the better in all of our lives? Because ultimately, it’s the better that unites society… including those who name their cars and those who don’t.
This month we’re making — and taking — recommendations for summer reading lists for books that inspire us, make us think, make us laugh, whatever.
The one I want to share is BAD FEMINIST by Roxane Gay. There’ve been a lot of “isms” in the news lately, and I thought I should probably read something about some of them even if I wasn’t sure I really wanted to read something about isms. So right from the start, the idea of being a “bad” ist was appealing to me.
I’m glad I picked it up. The essays aren’t just about feminism or critical race theory or academia — although Gay offers plenty of thoughtful thoughts about those topics. She’s just like one of those interesting friends that you want to spend more time with because whatever she says is bound to make you go “oh”.
I realize I’m probably the choir that Gay is preaching to because I believe in equal rights, equal pay for equal work, equal access to the best family planning that medicine can devise, and various other equals. I believe anyone should be able to pass out drunk and naked in the street and not have to worry about sexual assault — not that I necessarily recommend being drunk and naked in the street unless it’s Mardi Gras or something. I believe people who play Scrabble competitively are a bit weird. I kind of believe everybody should believe these things without question, right — especially the Scrabble part. But apparently we don’t? Anyway, it’s nice to read someone who has thought about these issues and presented them with care and humor and without the excessive vitriol that has sometimes made me want to not read about isms.
If too many daily news headlines hurt your heart then having Roxane Gay as a guide into the underlying issues might be a good first step in climbing this particular topical mountain.
Have you read any ism books that helped open your eyes? Please share in comments.
This month’s blog posts are about collective remembrance. Since we all enjoy stories, I thought it would be fun if we all remembered what book made us fall in love with reading?
For me, it the Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.
It was 1980 something and I was in the 3rd grade. It was close to summer and I was dominating the Recess hopscotch matches so when my teacher passed out books with spines as thick as my hand’s grip, my mind, body, and spirit were elsewhere. I could have cared less about dolphins. Now if it has been a book called the Island of White Horses, I might not have rolled my eyes so much.
But as soon as I started turning the pages, I was transported from my school playground to my very own private island and I read that story as if I was the young female main character. That had never happened to me before.
Karana had the whole place to herself (I’m sure there was some kind of traumatic reason why she had no friends or family around but all my brain filtered in was that she had her own paradise). The most poignant scene was when she found bones from a large whale and built a home by placing them against a cave wall. She MacGyver’ed the outside structure and went Martha Stewart on the inside with things she found all over the island. She was my idol. She had complete freedom to do whatever she wanted (again, apologies if her family actually died and they didn’t just fade off the pages).
When I reached The End, I was like a kid with a twenty dollar bill in a candy store, Give Me More! Returning to my teacher, and after turning in my clearly deserved A+ paper, I asked her what was next?
She instructed me to go to a magically place called the Library. This required parental assistance for transportation and their help to find out that the next book was called the “Black Pearl”. I was not patient. Finally entering the library, the Dewey Decimal system almost stopped me in my tracks. Then his books were on the top shelf and I had to find one of the plastic wobbly stools. It was all kinds of drama for my 1980’s self. But none of that compared to my frustration when I started reading the first few pages and realized that we weren’t picking up from where we left off in the Island of the Blue Dolphins.
I was too young to understand that some authors wrote series while other authors wrote completely different stories. I still can’t tell you what the story of Black Pearl was about but that title is synonymous with childhood disappointment.
Being a very polite little girl, I’m sure I walked over to the librarian with sad puppy eyes and asked her why the author hated me so much but in my mind I slammed that book on her desk and gave a righteous speech about getting robbed of my next great story experience.
Eventually she asked me “What do you want to read?”
“I want to go back to the island.” The simple truth.
The librarian introduced me to books like the Swiss Family Robinson, Pocahontas and the wrong kind of island experience with the Lord of the Flies. Eventually I made it off the island and found a permanent home with Happily-Ever-After stories.
Twenty something years later, when I was volunteering at a local school to help organize their teacher resource room, I ran across a single copy of a well-read Island of the Blue Dolphins and my heart raced as I held the tiny book that changed my childhood.
I honestly can’t remember how the story ended (I’m sure there was a moral I failed to learn). And every once in a while, I have been tempted to go back and read it again but my memories of reading that story are too precious to risk being overwritten from an adult reading of the book.
So that is my story, what’s your book?