Books I read this month: May

Here’s what I read this month.

Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh: This is a short book about creating a mindfulness practice within your home. The language is simple and straightforward, but inspiring. My favorite quotes:

A smile shows that you are in charge of yourself.

The key to creating a home meditation practice is to create a space where the busyness stops.

Lost Lands, Forgotten Realms: Sunken Continents, Vanished Cities, and the Kingdoms that History Misplaced by Dr. Bob Curran: I love Amazon’s monthly Kindle deals because I end up picking up books for super cheap that I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. This book is awesome- as the title suggests, it’s about mythical places (like Atlantis or Avalon), and it goes into what we know about each place and how those stories have changed over time, and then looks at what the stories could be based on in real life and what role the places serve in our collective understanding. So fascinating. It covers places from Davy Jones Locker to Shangri-La to subterranean worlds and places hinted at in Lovecraft’s works.  It’s a really fun, but academic read, and I highly enjoyed it.

The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer: This is another in the Enola Holmes series, and I highly enjoyed it. These are short and sweet, and while there’s no way to solve the mystery, they’re a great ride. This one deals with Enola running into an acquaintance from a former case/book who gives indications that she is in a situation under duress. Of course Enola has to step in, though this time she has to move cautiously as her brother Sherlock is also on the case.

Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck: This is one of the clearest, most applicable books I have read on mindfulness. So many things jumped out and hit me in the face. Shall I share?

So the crux of zazen is this: all we must do is constantly to create a little shift from the spinning world we’ve got in our heads to right-here-now. That’s our practice. The intensity and ability to be right-here-now is what we have to develop.

So as Zen students you have a job to do, a very important job: to bring your life  out of dreamland and into the real and immense reality that it is.

It just means that when I look at another person, I look at them; I don’t add on ten thousand thoughts to what I’m seeing. And that is the space of compassion.


Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less by Christine Koh, Asha Dornfest : I think this book would be really helpful to someone who hadn’t read anything on the subject before. A while back I read Simplicity Parenting and other similar books, and I don’t know that Minimalist Parenting really brings a lot that’s new to the subject. It’s well written and it was an enjoyable read, don’t get me wrong. Best quote:

Recast yourself as a curator of special things rather than as an easily swayed consumer who pounces on purchases due to peer pressure or fear of scarcity.

The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman :  Oh this book. This was the book that inspired me to ask on Facebook, “Have you ever read a book that’s so entirely not what you were expecting that you have to keep reading just because you have to find out what it actually *is*?”

Do you remember a couple months ago when I read A Map of Time and it was not AT ALL what I was expecting? That one was kind of my fault, because I was reading into the back cover copy and assuming a context that wasn’t there. The same thing happened this time, but this one was NOT my fault. I completely realize that I have very particular taste and interests, but rarely has a book come so close to handing me a story full of things I like while completely failing to give me ANY of those things.  It flirts with teleportation devices, pacts with the devil, lizard men, Lovecraftian horrors, conspiracies, but then backs away completely and walks away from each and everyone before they’re anything more than an idea in the mind of the main character. And seriously, I get perturbed when books mess with me like that.   Reviewers have been raving about it, and there are bits that are Evelyn Waugh-ish and that’s one of the highest compliments I can give a book, but I can’t be objective enough to say yay or nay.

House of Havoc: How to Make–and Keep–a Beautiful Home Despite Cheap Spouses, Messy Kids, and Other Difficult Roommates by Marni James : The driving force behind this book is twofold- how to keep a house clean and organized despite kids to whom that isn’t important, and how to decorate a home on a budget. The first part has some great ideas, both about how to create systems for order that sidestep kids and about how to release expectations a bit to create a home where everyone feels comfortable. The second part had some useful information (what’s the best, durable, stain resistant fabric for couch covers) but a lot that just didn’t seem practical. I get that the author is a home improvement columnist and this is her passion, but when a section on decorating on a super strict, spend no money budget includes a project to make drapes for the entry way that uses $250 in supplies (I may be remembering that money amount incorrectly, but I’m pretty sure it was close to that, in the hundreds at least), it’s just not the world I live in. Neither is ordering custom made slip covers for my chairs (though to her credit, she does acknowledge  that can be cost prohibitive and gives other options) or supergluing shiny jewelry to my ceiling.  I realize it sounds like I didn’t like this book- I really did enjoy most of it, and it does have a lot of really useful information if someone was renovating their home.

The Ghost Writer by John Harwood: Oh dear goodness, this book was good. So good. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale, very gothic-y and slightly spooky and mysterious. Gerard, the main character, has grown up with an incredibly over protective mother and a secret pen pal. As he gets older he seeks more information about both, especially about a mysterious photograph and manuscript that sent his mother into a violent rage when she found him with them. Along the way, Gerard finds short stories written by his grandmother that all deal with obsession and ghosts, and pieces from those stories start to show up in the history he uncovers. It’s all twisted and tangley and awesome.

Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie: This book begins with a woman who wants to get married, who has also just discovered that her mother was convicted for murder and wants to know the truth of the matter before she marries (in case the killer tendency has been passed down to her). It reminded me so much of Agatha Christie’s Elephant Can Remember that I wasn’t sure that they weren’t the same book for a while. Both deal with long ago cases, and Poirot is required to go to those involved and ask for their remembrances.  They are, in fact, different books, which was clear when the mystery took off in a completely different direction, and this one is utterly fantastic. The mystery is (obviously) expertly conceived, and makes good use of the unreliability of memory.

Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream by Whitney Johnson: I’ve followed Whitney Johnson’s blog for a long while, and when her book showed up on the Kindle deal I snapped it up. (Yay cheap books!) This is a wonderfully inspiring handbook for looking farther, dreaming bigger, doing more of what you really want to do. It’s full of examples of women reaching for their dreams, whatever those dreams may be. One of the strengths of the book is that it doesn’t give more weight to “higher profile” dreams- there are stories of women taking on Wall Street and creating their own companies and creating non-profits, as well as women creating art programs in their kid’s schools and embracing being a mother and taking cooking classes. It’s all about encouraging individual’s dreams rather than dictating what those dreams should be. Favorite quotes:

Our challenges can be a blessing if we use them as a springboard for our dreams, pushing us to go places and do things we might not have imagined possible.

We may know what our children want, but we ask them to use their words. Why is this important for them? Why is it important for us?

We hate to decide. We avoid deciding. We hide from it…Once someone decides, they almost always succeed.- Seth Godin

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achibe: This book was suggested to me, and I don’t know that I would have read it without an outside push. It’s set in just barely pre-colonial and then colonial Africa, which is a conflicted time period for me. I hated colonial theory in college, mainly because it hurts my brain. There are just so many aspects to consider – so much so that even writing this review has my brain all breaky. But I will say that it was a beautifully written, painful book. Okonkwo is a complicated, complex character, papers upon papers could be written about him and his fatal flaw. Most of the book was heartbreaking to read, and more heartbreaking for the knowledge that it was based on actual ways of life, especially reading about what the women had to endure.

Fool by Christopher Moore: This book was such fun. It’s King Lear, from the point of view of his fool, Pocket. It is irreverent and bawdy and not one that I would recommend to those who don’t like swearing, because there is quite a lot of it. But it is intelligent swearing, done in lyrical and linguistically interesting ways. I’d post examples, but I’m not going to do that.

That’s 12 books for the month, and 50 for the year so far.

What are you reading?

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