nonfiction

The Book of Joy by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

thebookofjouyThis book has taken me quite some time to consume. It has been described as a three layer cake with the personal stories and teachings of joy from these two remarkable religious leaders, current studies on joy and the daily practices to root yourself in joy. But I found it to be more like a deliciously well rounded meal. There were parts I struggled to read – healthy bites I knew I needed but didn’t completely enjoy. Then there was the bulk of the book – the lovely meat and potatoes if you will. The background information about these two fascinating leaders and how they have continued to find peace and joy despite their personal difficulties and challenges is nothing short of remarkable. Finally, there was the decadant dessert. These two men may be some of the most well respected religious leaders in our world but they are naughty and hilariously engaging!

At times, I didn’t enjoy the application the author, Douglas Abrams, made of the teaching to his own life. However, there were moments when his astute explanations bolstered and clarified the messages. I also appreciated that, as a Jewish person, Abrams brought a fresh and neutral perspective to the discussions. At times, he made several comments which indicated that he was better acquainted with the Dalai Lama than the Archbishop and that may be why there was more information about Buddhism than Christianity woven into the book. Or, perhaps it was because the Archbishop had travelled to Dharamsala and therefore the meeting took place surrounded by Monks.

Regardless of the reasons, I was deeply humbled by the teachings of the Dalai Lama. While my religious background alines me more naturally with Archbishop Tutu, my fascination with other religions created a greater interest in the Buddhist teachings of this magnificently humble leader. The history of the Dalai Lama and his exile were vaguely in my brain but hearing of his isolation from family and country brought me greater understanding of the trials and tribulations of the Dalai Lama and his people.

Similarly, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a well known figure. However, his experiences in Africa during a tumultuous time coupled with his fascinating personal history made for such an interesting read.

Both men seem to almost casually mention death, fear, anxiety, depression and struggle only to use that experience to show the impact of choosing joy. Next to their experiences I felt unworthy of any unhappiness. Yet, just when I started to believe that perhaps this was a spiritual quest outside of my own abilities, the authors acknowledged that they have not always felt this deep sense of control over their joy. This allowed me to feel that I am still on my path.

I am a spiritual and religious person. There were parts of this book that seemed to be religious dogma and that did not bother me because religion is woven into my life. However, if you are searching for a message of hope without religious entanglement this book may not be for you. I believe that these amazing men are using their religion to explain how they choose joy. But, by comparing and contrasting their religious applications to life to support choosing joy they open the discussion to a more secular approach.

This book is full of solid advice, anecdotal stories and current scientific information about how joy can be found and held onto. The last section of the book includes options for daily practice to find joy in your own life should you want some specific direction. If you are struggling with finding joy I encourage you to read this book. It is far and beyond the best of all the books I have read regarding happiness, gratitude and finding joy.


Tell me, please!

Do you read self-help books? If so, what are you searching for in them?


nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday: The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell

theawkwardthoughtsNo one likes to admit to judging a book by its cover but I will freely admit that I picked this book up for two reasons (1) The word awkward in the title and (2) The front matter description on the cover: “Tales of a 6’4″, African-American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian.” How could I resist?

After reading Awkward, The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome I have come to embrace my own awkwardness as a gift (and a curse) and find myself on the lookout for other awkward people. Truthfully, I had never heard of Mr. Bell until I read his book. This is certainly not a statement on his popularity, rather on my being approximately five years behind on television shows and without access to anything but basic cable and some instant gratification internet platforms. Except, now I have Hulu and therefore access to his fantastic CNN show United Shades of America.

Mr. Bell is extremely funny in my most favorite manner – smart funny. He observes, ponders, and pours over issues that the rest of society either doesn’t notice or spends no time reflecting upon. I wouldn’t call him awkward but I like that he used the word awkward to spark important conversations.

For example, “Awkward Thoughts about Superheroes and Doc McStuffins.” I remember wondering why there were so fewer black superheroes when I was a kid. Really, I was only into the female superheroes (early feminist) and so I only knew Storm. And when they came out with a Black Barbie I was so happy that kids would have a beautiful doll that looked like them. But, these little tiny burst of awareness didn’t extend to imagining what everyday life was like for a nerdy black kid (hello privilege!). I was surprised to find that Mr. Bell’s favorites were The Incredible Hulk and Spider-man because he could easily picture himself under their green skin or red and blue costume. He also points out that the world is changing and including more representation which is essential for his daughters to see. He credits Doc McStuffins, a Disney show I am aware of but have never seen, as one of the most important shows on television because his daughter’s reality includes a female Black doctor. I don’t love Disney but kudos to them for this show.

I volunteer at my neighborhood elementary school that has a high population of Black children. I love to read and they all know it. When I first started volunteering there years ago I would give book recommendations to the kids. And I was shocked (and then embarrassed again by my privilege) by the lack of representation in children’s literature. Have you ever tried to find a book for a Black kid that wasn’t about the Civil Rights Movement? The remaining books seem to only feature a child who lives in the wrong / dangerous / graffiti-ridden neighborhood and is being raised by their grandmother. Or books about sports heroes. In the past two years things have improved slightly in the publishing world. Kids (white ones too!) need to know about racism. But it is vital that all kids are able to imagine themselves as heroes, magicians, time travelers and powerful people. I do not think, as Mr. Bell put it, that white people are uncomfortable imagining themselves as Black heroes. Instead, we just never had to do it. Pick up a book. Oh, this features a child of color? Put down that book and peruse the one hundred next to it with kids that look just like you! We haven’t practiced it like Black children have had to for generations.

I do agree with him that many white people are uncomfortable with Black people playing a role previously held by a white person. He uses James Bond and Idris Elba as an example and he is right. Every time it comes up it becomes a stupid controversy. I vote that we just stop making Bond films altogether. Bond is boring.

The chapters “My Most Awkward Birthday Ever” and “My Awkward Joking Around with the KKK” really struck a chord with me because they directly confront the continuing and pervasive racism in America. Every chapter is woven with the theme of racism but these two in particular stand out in my mind.

In “My Most Awkward Birthday Ever” Mr. Bell is the center of a coffee shop controversy not unlike the one that just unfolded at Starbucks. He was literally shooed away from his wife and daughter in front of a group of her friends (new friends too), on his birthday after he had eaten there earlier in the day. The stand out part for me was how many of his so-called white friends said, “How do you know it was racism?…I mean that sucks, but how can you be sure?”

This statement has been said or thought by, I would guess, all white people at one time or another. We think it and say it because we don’t understand and, perhaps more importantly, we aren’t trying to understand or empathize. We just want it to not be racism. But, it is.

And that brings me to “My Awkward Joking Around with the KKK.” While filming, Mr. Bell was put in close proximity at night to a barbershop owned by a KKK member and proudly flying the Confederate flag. His show runner was telling him repeatedly to get closer without any comprehension of the fear that Mr. Bell must have felt.

When I read this chapter I wanted to punch his show runner. How anyone could be so unfeeling is beyond my comprehension. I find the KKK terrifying and they would never even give me and my bland Irish looks a second glance. In the first five minutes of the episode (which I watched after finishing the book) Mr. Bell walks along a dirt road to politely greet a man dressed in full klan gear with his voice disguised. The klansman is clearly a coward – show your face, let me hear your voice! But Mr. Bell had every right to be terrified and he still shook his hand. I had two hopes after viewing this exchange: I hope his Mother isn’t watching and I hope he washed his hands. But again, here is Mr. Bell putting into action something he has probably practiced over and over again throughout his life – being polite to a racist.

This book really showcases what I have come to learn is W. Kamau Bell doing what he does best: socio-political comedy. I am working my way through all of the United Shades of America backlogs and they are excellent. However, if you want to hear the more unfiltered awkward thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, pick up his book.


Tell me, please!

What non-fiction book jolted your awareness even a smidge?


nonfiction

Ask an Astronaut by Tim Peake

Let me be clear, I am never going to space. Nope. Can’t make me. I went to an exhibit years ago about life on Mars. On the way into the exhibit you had to choose whether you would want to go live on Mars or not and the same question was asked on the way out. Upon entry I was all “Meh, no thanks.” After the exhibit I was a firm, “Hell no. Can’t make me. Never happening.”

askanastronautBut that is the beauty of books! In Ask an Astronaut, My Guide to Life in Space Tim Peake answers all of our questions about traveling to and living on the International Space Station for six months. I get all the fun learning without having to leave the safety and comfort of my home.

The majority of the questions to Tim were asked by children but, honestly, they were all things I had pondered. Questions like, “How do you go to the bathroom in space,” were answered with equal sincerity as, “What is the best advice you ever received?” I quickly learned to appreciate the depth of knowledge possessed by the author as well as how humble he continued to be in the face of his enormous accomplishments.

As to his accomplishments, Tim Peake is the first British ESA astronaut and the first British person to spacewalk wearing the Union Flag. When asked what souvenirs he brought back from space he listed his space cutlery, a crushed Russian coin and the Union Flag patch. Then, almost as a side note he mentions that this flag represents a new chapter in the UK’s long and distinguished history of exploration and scientific research so he had the “honor of presenting this Union Flag to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II” so that it could be placed in the Royal Archives and Royal Collection. So very wonderfully British and modest.

The book is a delightful read and is probably appropriate for all ages. However, the science and technology reference made by the author (again, in that easy breezy manner) are a little more complex. I learned a tremendous amount about the methods for getting to and from the ISS, what arduous work is being done on the space station as well as how much scientific research is being performed on a daily basis as they revolve around the Earth in microgravity. I have a lifelong awe of astronauts but I always considered them elite athletes. Now I understand how incredibly intelligent and multi-talented an astronaut needs to be, as well as fairly lucky, to actually have the opportunity to travel outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Also, astronauts know a lot of acronyms.

Tim Peake’s book will give you a taste of life on the ISS and the adventure of traveling into, walking among the stars, and returning back to Earth. He does so with intelligence, a lovely dry British humor and an unbelievable amount of modesty. I’m still not traveling to space but I loved reading about it.


Tell me, please!

Would you want to travel to space? Where would you go?


 

nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday: I Work at a Public Library… by Gina Sheridan

I have had a serious dry spell in good non-fiction! I read and read but haven’t loved anything enough to recommend it. Then, I picked up I Work at a Public Library, A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks, by Gina Sheridan. I initially chose the slim book because I needed one that could be read in a day for one of my reading challenges. Then I enjoyed it so much I wished it was longer! Imagine my joy when I discovered that it began as a blog and she continues to add entries. You can find the blog here.

iworkI was also interested in reading the stories because my first, third, fourth and fifth jobs were all at libraries. I worked as a page (that person who re-shelves your books), a reference assistant and later a legal reference librarian (worst.job.ever – no books!). I loved being a page because I spent my days looking at the books and seeing what people loved checking out and returning. And, in case you haven’t visited one lately, the public library is amazing people watching. Amazing. There are very few things in life I enjoy more than people watching.

Gina Sheridan embraced the people watching without making me feel like she was mocking the patrons of the library. From innocent questions about internet porn to the crazy antics of the usual customers, it was clear that these people were important to the author. And, I was incredible impressed with her diplomatic answers to some truly rude and probing questions.

For a small taste: One entry on her blog from December 2017 reads,

“Today a patron brought in his own (large) TV and game console and set them up in a study room. He played for hours with no explanation or disruption.”

This is what I love about the public library. It’s public but for many people it is their home away from home. And they treat it just like it belongs to them – for better or worse.

I really enjoyed this funny quick read but the last chapter, the one that focuses on the patrons that return to thank their librarians, made me happy-cry. Librarians are heroes and Gina’s humurous book and blog embrace the beautiful and sometimes weird things our librarians do for all of us.


Tell me, please!

Do you love your public library? 


nonfiction

Awkward, The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro

I am awkward. I don’t mean to be and I certainly don’t want to be, but I am. One of the worst things I do is talk to much. If I’m in a situation where I don’t want to be or I’m nervous I…blather. I will also talk too much when I am excited about a subject matter. And I have a lot of things that excite me. Then, I get home and I re-imagine the whole thing and I physically cringe. For days. I have developed mechanisms and mantras to try and control it but, sometimes, I just cannot. It is one of my many, but most certainly my most obvious awkward feature.

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So, when I saw Awkward, The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome by Ty Tashiro I had to read it. In the book the author covers many of his own awkward tendencies and the awkward mannerisms of some his friends. And he explains, for some people, why these awkward tendencies happen. And, more importantly, why some people are just more awkward than others.

I think the thing I have most in common with the author is my intense self-reflection. I have had a running commentary happening in my mind my whole life. I wonder about all kinds of things about myself and other people all of the time. And, many times, without asking for guidance I have tried to be less socially awkward only to fail miserably. Truthfully, as the book explains, while I was wondering about things I was probably missing the social information people were giving me. For those that don’t know what awkward feel like, the author’s was able to recall and willing to share his own personal awkward shameful moments to help the reader understand.

And, as the author points out several times throughout the book, being awkward has its rewards. Many (but not all!) awkward people are gifted individuals driven in their field. For me, my awkwardness and lack of social success has given me loads of time to read and study and take on a ridiculous number of hobbies. While I don’t consider myself an introvert, I would probably always rather stay home and work on something that interests me than meet up with friend. And, when I do meet up with friends I know I need to take a minute before I walk into a social situation to try and stay calm to avoid talking too much.

That is where the book really shines. Unlike many books about subsections of our society, the author clearly states that while being awkward can be seen in a positive light, awkwardness is not an excuse for anti-social or abnormal behavior. You can embrace the awesomeness of your awkward personality up to the point that it inhibits your ability to be part of society.

If you are awkward or you know someone who is awkward or you work with awkward children, this book is a revelation.


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · nonfiction · Uncategorized

Frighteningly Good Read #17

It is October 29th and the gimme-some-candy moment of Trick or Treat is almost upon us. I have been reading so very many books. Sadly, there have been none which I feel confident recommending at this time. Fortunately, I stumbled across this delightful book which we might all need either for a last minute labor intensive costume making session.

costumeThe Costume Making GuideCreating Armor & Props for Cosplay by Svetlana Quindt is a mind-blowing introduction to how people make cosplay accessories and armor. I have been to one or two events which involved Cosplay but I have never understood how people really put together their outfits. I mean, they sell pieces at the conventions but a single item can set you back $100 so I couldn’t imagine building a whole costume!

But, in The Costume Making Guide, Svetlana aka Kamui Cosplaygives steller tips on how to make cosplay excessories and weapons that look so incredibly real out of regular materials (think saran wrap and duct tape) that I feel anyone could make some armor given the time and the know how provided in this book. And, by this time in October you either have your costume, you are not wearing one this year, or you are regretting not putting one together. Honestly, I found myself just last night on Pinterest looking at, “last minute costumes, stuff around house.”

But with this book I am going to try and make some Wonder Woman arm shields and pair it with regular clothing for an under-the-cover WW. Actually, Kamui Cosplay’s website has a number of other amazing ideas and books but I am pretty tickled with the idea of the arm shields so I am going to try it!

With only two days left in Frighteningly Good Reads I need to put down the stacks and stacks of books (both good and bad) and take a minute to make some kind of costume and I am really thankful to have found this book in time!


Tell me, please!

Do you celebrate Halloween? Are you dressing up?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · nonfiction

Frighteningly Good Reads #5

I purchased a copy of The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells by Judika Illes on a whim a couple of years ago and I use it all of the time. I am really fascinating by different religions and beliefs systems and I was curious about the spells. Alright, honestly, I was extremely frustrated with a situation in my life and there is a whole chapter on The Evil Eye. Sold.

excyclopediaThis Encyclopedia not only offers the spells but also gives fascinating reference information and background knowledge. As a self described, “inclusive encyclopedia and reference book,” The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells feels comprehensive to me but honestly, I have no basis for that opinion. I only know that when I wish there was a spell for something this book has five options.

For example, I know I have mentioned before that I struggle with insomnia. Sometimes, I try to be a good little Catholic and pray on it but, as far as I can tell, there is not a Patron Saint of Sleep. So, I like to try some of the Insomnia Spells – there are at least 10. My favorite is the Insomnia Bath.

  1. Gently warm goats’ or ideally, sheep’s milk (as in counting sheep),
  2. Blend true almond extract and several drops of essential oil of lavender into the warm milk so that the fragrance pleases you.
  3. Add to a tub filled with warm water before bedtime.

After one of these baths (I can never find sheep’s milk and sometimes I use almond milk) I feel better, I’m more tired and I am usually able to sleep. Not to mention, I smell good and my skin looks nourished.

I’m also a frequent user of a domination spell (stay with me! It’s not what you think!) which is called the “Kick a Stone Spell”. Basically, you find a small stone and name it after the person who is making you insane. Imagine the most annoying person at school or work and go from there. After naming it you drop it, kick it around (not to hurt it, just to envision that you are in control) and talk to the rock about what you want it to do. This is probably effective for me since it is like a dry run of being assertive. I also find it very enjoyable. Its cathartic. And hilarious for any onlookers.

The Encyclopedia’s bibliography is pages and pages of references. I cannot imagine the work that went into creating this tome. I feel almost rude in the fun way I use this wonderful book but I cannot help it. The spells and information fascinate me.

If you are at all interested in spells I highly recommend The Encyclopedia of 5,000 Spells the Ultimate Reference Book for the Magical Arts by Judika Illes as a Frighteningly Good Read. I keep mine right next to my Bible.


Tell me, please!

Would you ever try casting a spell?


 

FrighteninglyGoodRead · Halloween2017 · nonfiction

Frighteningly Good Reads #2

I think it is clear that I love books. I also love themes. And, when the weather turns cold I really enjoying cooking again. So, when I picked up The Wizard’s Cookbook by Aurelia Beaupommier, it might as well have said, “Property of Molly Mack,” on the inside.


wizardscookbookThis FrighteninlyGoodRead has magically recipes inspired by such favorites as; Harry PotterThe Wizard of Oz, the delightful Nanny McFeeThe Lord of the Rings and so many more. The first thing I am going to make is The Elven Waybread or Lembas bread. I’m going to try and make some green napkins that look like leaves to wrap them in for my lunch.

Some of the food, treats and drinks in this cookbook look nothing like the way I imagined them. They look better. The full page photographs and small blurbs explaining their origin help really excite my interest in the recipe as well as invigorating my desire to re-read so many books! I enjoy the way the author gives a simple list of ingredients and directions and then adds in extra modern technology. For example, in the recipe for Gandalf’s Pick-me-up beverage the fruits are to be crushed in a mortar (or food processor). Similarly, if you want to make Hippogriff en Papillote you can substitute ostrich meat for the hard to find Hippogriff. Even ostrich meat sounds disgusting to me but I guess a black magician has to eat too.

Obviously, my favorite part is the beverages. I may not have time to whip up Harry’s favorite little steak and kidney pies. But, I think sipping one of Snape’s nice Memory Potions with my PB&J or adding genuine Butterbeer to my evening ice cream just sounds so heavenly. The deserts are also just up my alley too and I cannot wait to finally make and taste one of the White Witch’s Turkish delights.

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The Wizard’s Cookbook is a great addition to any cookbook collection with the added benefit of both the beautiful cover and the delicious looking, thematically fun recipes. I am going to display it in my kitchen for all of October and torture my friends and family with the receipes throughout the year. So, get out your Cauldrons, grab a copy and make something delicious!


Tell me, please!

Do you love thematic cooking?

Is there a treat from a book you’ve always wanted to taste?


 

nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday #5: Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

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menexplainWhenever I come across an author or a concept that I haven’t heard before I like to read a book about it. Recently, a group of people were talking about “mansplaining” – which I thought was a very funny way of describing what all women have experienced at least once.  Mansplaining is a person (usually a man) explaining things to another (usually a woman) in a condescending or patronizing manner. This is the classic, “I had a kidney stone so I know exactly what it is like to be pregnant,” comment. I know, I know. I am way behind (years) on this but I blame my refusal to use Twitter until this year.

Mansplaining lead me to Rebecca Solnit‘s Men Explaining Things to Me. While she is credited with creating the idea of mansplaining she explains in the book that she did not come up with the word. Also, she has doubt about the term and doesn’t use it much herself.

I must back up for a moment and say I never sought out any feminist writing or took a woman’s study class in college. It never occurred to me that people would view me differently simply because I was a woman. I also rarely kept up with national or international news or I would have known that I my experience and mindset was not typical.

Which leads me back to Men Explain Things to Me. I am so glad that I read it now and not when I was under my youthful disillusionment of gender equality or during the misguided years where I thought I had no more or less to fear from the world than my brother. I know that 17 year old me would not have taken this book as seriously as I do now that I have spent time in a world that does not see me as a person but rather as a women.

This short book starts with a very funny anecdote but throughout its 159 pages it marches through deep waters of inequality between men and women. The second of the seven essays, The Longest War, was very difficult for me to read as it centers around the rape crisis in our world. But, things which are difficult to read but are written with a purpose always spurn me into action.

There were two things I really appreciated about this book. First, the author eloquently uses her depth of knowledge on the subject of gender inequality to explain how seeing women as inferior (or men as superior) has created a plethora of problems for our world. I had several mind-blown, eyes-wide-open, aha! moments reading these essays. Second, she frequently acknowledges that not all men and women fit neatly into one category or another. This, I felt, gave her writing as much credibility as her knowledge bank.

I am of the opinion that everyone should read this book. If you find yourself scoffing and dismissing the things presented by the author then I can only wonder – are you part of the problem or just not yet part of the world?


Tell me, please!

Have you read this book or others by Rebecca Solnit?

Do you agree or disagree with her opinions?

nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday #3

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asyouwishHappy Friday! Today’s recommendation is a book I was afraid to read. Terrified, really. As You Wish, Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes was billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the making of one of most favorite books and films of all time. I love (love) The Princess Bride. What if there was drama on the set? Did Buttercup start a love triangle? Was Rob Reiner a terrible task master? I have heard…things about Mandy Patinkin. Will this ruin Inigo?!?  When I finally read it I was stunned at the beautiful memories Cary Elwes shared and deeply impressed by his affection for the project. There is not a single tawdry detail or negative bit of drama expressed in this book. If Cary is suppressing some things then good for him.

If you are a fan of The Princess Bride movie you will enjoy this book. Cary walks us through how he won the part of Westley, his training and thought processes during the filming. He also interviews all the major actors and we get to see their perspective and memories of filming. There are wonderful stories of how they got some shots – I especially loved reading about the stunt required for the dive into the sand in The Fire Swamp. Little details that are shared by the cast just added to my love for the movie.

If you have read the delightful book The Princess Bride by William Goldman then Cary’s book will have added delight.


realprincessbride

If you haven’t yet enjoyed the book – stop reading. Go purchase the book.

Its perfection.


Bill Goldman was on set for some of the filming. The book is excellent and I think one of the innumerable reasons the movie is such a hit was the filmmakers really stuck to the story that Goldman wrote and involved him in the making of the movie. Perhaps this is why it doesn’t matter whether you read the book first or watch the movie first. They share one story-soul and compliment each other beautifully.

The Princess Bride is a magical movie and making it was, apparently, a once in a lifetime experience for the cast. If you are a fan, don’t be afraid to read Cary’s book. It ended up being the sit down chat I always wanted to have with the people who made one of my favorite movies.


Tell me, please!

Are you a fan of The Princess Bride book, movie or both?