One of the best things about being married is the fact that I no longer have to force myself to leave my introverted comforts in the dead of winter and go out and meet people in the hopes of somehow, someday meeting “The One”. Now “The One” and I spend our lovely winter days together, I have rediscovered one of my passions from childhood – reading.
Below is a selection of the books I have read in our cozy condo over the past few months.
- Happy at Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy by Richard O’Connor. This book took me a few months to read, not because it is difficult or weighty, quite the contrary – the writer speaks as if you and he were friends, discussing the nuances of psychological studies over a cup of tea. Rather, the reason for my slow pace was how packed this book was with helpful advice, distilled into exercises to apply the lessons to your own life. (I still haven’t done the exercises, but they seemed worth investing time and effort in). Overall, this is an upbeat book offering lots of practical suggestions on how to reduce misery, increase joy, and generally enjoy life more. The main message I took away was that our brain pathways are fairly malleable, whether by meditation, physical exertion, or new thought exercises, and that changing our outlook on life can be accomplished little step by little step. The book tends slightly to Buddhism/mindfulness techniques (although mentioning Christian mindfulness programs) and there are some likely unnecessary jabs at capitalism (it’s not clear what the author thinks would be a better alternative?) but overall I really enjoyed this book and thought it valuable.
- The Real Thing: Lessons on love and life from a wedding reporter’s notebook – by Ellen McCarthy. The author of this book is a journalist detailed to the Washington Post’s wedding section, who sums up her years of reporting (and her own love story) in short, easy-to-read snippets. Actually her whole book reads like printed blog posts. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just the whole enterprise seems lacking in depth. If you are interested in relationships and how they work (or don’t), and have read some of the research on this topic, then there really isn’t that much new to discover in this book. And it frequently seems that her one piece of advice will be contradicted just a few short chapters later, so it’s hard to get a cohesive understanding of what love is from this short book. If you like reading love stories – particularly about disparate or even desperate couples – this is an enjoyable short read, but don’t expect to retain much for later reference. (There are lot of better books on love and marraige, particularly if you delve into spiritual writings and the wealth of Church resources).
- Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. I’d heard so much about this author, a writer and activist advocating for sustainable agriculture, family farming, rural community life and the good, simple life. Hannah Coulter is a volume of the Port William series, based in a rural Kentucky village and detailing life in the small farming community. I really expected to like this book, and mainly I did, but I wasn’t as caught up in as I had hoped. Perhaps I have had too little exposure to the farming life, never having participated in it myself, but I thought I’d relate better to this story of a life recounted by a twice-widowed woman. It had beautiful and poignant moments, and the life described seemed meaningful, but the writing itself felt a little ‘overtalked’ (a Polish expression I don’t know a good English equivalent for), like the author was belaboring his point because it was so important to him he wanted the reader to get it. And in spite of the repetitions sometimes I still didn’t get the point. Maybe this book is for older readers, or maybe it’s just not a style that I like. I will admit that one of the last chapters on war has a universal, terrifying but probably true depiction of the dehumanizing forces at work in violence and conflict, and is definitely worth reading.
- The Importance of Being Seven by Alexander McCall Smith. Yet another in the Scotland Street series, one of my favorite ‘escapist’ fiction series. I love Scotland Street to which I shall devote an entire blog post at some future time. If you ever find yourself wanting to escape to an engaging, friendly, charming yet realistic Edinburgh neighborhood and spend some time sipping tea or eating pasta with an artist and his ankle-biting dog, an almost-seven-year old, an intrepid anthropologist, an unmaterialistic art gallery owner and his triplets, Scotland Street is your ticket to this world.
There were more books, but not too much more time to describe them, so that shall have to wait for another post.