Book Review, Discovery

Book Review: Books I haven’t read

Most people would expect the usual practice is to review books I have read. This time I thought I’d write about a few books I haven’t read. Or to be more specific, books I’ve started reading and just haven’t been able to finish.

Being an avid reader I am quite proud of the range of books I have read. I really enjoy reading and have at times read some very unusual genres (for me); biographies of footballers (I am NOT a football fan of any code), farming manuals (thanks Dad), and Mills and Boon romances. I usually don’t give up on a book. I believe that every book has some merit and will do what I can to find it. I once decided to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I really struggled at the start and almost gave up, then I realised that I found the War parts boring. I decided to simply skip the battles and ended up quite enjoying the book.

At the start of this sabbatical I was searching for inspiration for my own blog and started reading a few different book review blogs. In the introduction of one such blog, Life of Chaz, Chaz said that he rates the books he reviews highly because he only reviews books he finishes and he doesn’t finish books that he doesn’t like.

We all do not have the time left in our lives to finish our “To Read” pile.

This was a new concept for me but one that I have embraced during my sabbatical. There are so many options, things to do in the world. Why waste my time doing something I don’t enjoy?

So, what books haven’t I read?

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M Pirsig. It was the title that piqued my interest. It reminded me of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka, a book I quite enjoyed. A quick read of the blurb on the back hooked me in.

… and unforgettable narration of a summer motorcycle trip across America’s Northwest, undertaken by a father and his young son. A story of love and fear – of growth, discovery and acceptance ….

I’ve read seven chapters (about one quarter of the book) and haven’t picked it up since. Five months ago! Some parts are quite good but then the author goes off on a tangent, I’m sure to illustrate a point he is making or to prepare us for the next part. Anyway he went off on a tangent and I put down Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Another book is The World’s Religions by Huston Smith. One of the goals of my sabbatical is to explore spirituality and gain a better understanding of what is out there. To this end I thought I’d learn about the different religions. This book was recommended by a few people online and the clincher was discovering that the author was born almost 100 years ago in the city where I now live!

I started reading with great enthusiasm. I quickly read the chapter on Hinduism. I worked my way through Buddhism. I then started reading about Confucianism, a religion I was quite interested to learn more about given I am living in China. I struggled. Honestly, it really felt like I was reading a text book and had to finish it because I was studying comparative religion at university. I reflected on this feeling and my new mantra, “Why waste my time doing something I don’t enjoy?” I haven’t read any more. To be fair, this book is used as a text book at university and maybe it is pitched at a level way beyond my ability.

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. OK, I honestly chose this book because the author and I have the same surname. I started reading, I got to the fourth chapter. I really wasn’t connecting with the characters. Life is too short and there are too many books to read to waste my time reading one I’m not connecting with. I started reading something else.

Today’s life lesson is to do what you enjoy doing, to value your time and make choices that reflect this goal, even when it comes to reading books!

Finally, I’d love to hear from anyone who has read, finished and enjoyed these books. What did you discover that I didn’t?

(Photo by mvp on Unsplash)
Book Review

Book Review: Journeys into the wilderness

I had diverged, digressed, wandered, and become wild. Cheryl Strayed

Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Tracks by Robyn Davidson on the face of it are two quite similar books. The story of a woman leaving her old life behind to travel alone in the wilderness. However, both are also quite different which is what makes them such good reads.

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found tells the story of Cheryl Strayed hiking 1,100 miles alone along the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California, Oregon and into Washington state.

Tracks is the story of Robyn Davidson’s journey across 1,700 miles of Australian desert with four camels and a dog.

Probably not the most rational thing to do, but I think you have to be a little bit crazy to actually go out on your own and do this. Both had similar reasons for their journeys. Cheryl was quite forthright about her reasoning.

That in truth my hike on the Pacific Crest Trail hadn’t begun when I made the snap decision to do it. It had begun before I even imagined it, precisely four years, seven months and three days before when I’d stood in a little room at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and learned that my mother was going to die. Cheryl Strayed

For Robyn you need to read more deeply to get a sense of why she was compelled to do this.

What I wanted to do, which was to be alone, to test, to push, to unclog my brain of all its extraneous debris, not to be protected, to be stripped of all social crutches, not to be hampered by any outside interference whatsoever, well meant or not. Robyn Davidson

Interestingly Robyn’s mother had also died and, while she didn’t elaborate on her death, you got the sense that her mother’s passing had impacted her and her family as much as it had Cheryl’s.

The trip reinstated a faith in myself and what I was doing. I felt calm and positive and strong, and now, instead of the trip appearing out of character, instead of worrying about whether or not it was a pointless thing to do, I could see more clearly the reasons and the needs behind it. Robyn Davidson

Unsurprisingly there were quite a few similarities in both stories. Both women were escaping society to find themselves, they encountered danger along the way, had periods of madness and times when they were perfectly happy in their aloneness. And both realized they couldn’t escape society forever.

I was beginning to understand that being alone got awfully boring sometimes, and that I needed people, wanted them. Robyn Davidson

There were also differences. Much of this was due to the location of the journey, Australia and the US, and the women’s physical distance from civilization. And the timing. Cheryl’s journey took place in the 1990’s, Robyn’s in the 1970’s. While only 20 years apart much had changed in society. Technology and the perception of women in the community both made a difference to their stories.

As an Australian, I found Robyn’s interest in and connection with indigenous Australians fascinating.

I was caught between two versions of the truth. I liked station people and know that they did not consider themselves racist. When they look at the sordid camps around town, they see only violence and dirt and the incomprehensible lack of protestant work ethic. While they usually have a patronizing respect for the older Aboriginal people, they are unable to see beyond the immediate and beyond their own values, to understand why the demise occurred and what their part in it is, either traditionally or at present. Robyn Davidson

There was very little in Wild about native Americans.

Robyn was much more prepared for her journey having spent a significant amount of time in Alice Springs, mainly learning about camels and how to handle them. Given the isolation of where she was going and how she was traveling this was unsurprisingly essential to her survival.

Cheryl had just her backpack. Robyn had four camels, and the support of National Geographic and a photographer visiting her a number of times on the way.

My hands moved to it on instinct, seeming to bypass my brain. Monster was my world, my inanimate extra limb. Through its weight and size still confounded me, I’d come come to accept that it was my burden to bear. Cheryl Strayed

Wild

I enjoyed reading both books, in fact I have read them twice in the past 12 months and watched the movie version of Wild (and would like to see Tracks too).

At times while reading, I was frustrated by their decisions and wanted to tell them to be more logical and less impulsive. However, on reflection this is probably the reason why I would never seriously contemplate doing this myself. (Although, secretly I’d love to give it a go!)

Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know, though I felt is somehow already contained within me. Cheryl Strayed

The two important things that I did learn were that you are as powerful and strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavour is taking the first step, making the decision. Robyn Davidson

Photo credits: Robyn Davidson – Rick Smolan, Cheryl Strayed – http://www.cherylstrayed.com

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found, Cheryl Strayed, Atlantic Books, 2012,  E-book ISBN: 9780857897770

Tracks, Robyn Davidson, London, Bloomsbury, 2012, eISBN: 9781408834879

 

Book Review

Book Review: You Learn by Living by Eleanor Roosevelt

In the long run, we shape our lives and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.

To continue my journey on reading books by women about their life and what they have learned from their experiences, I was recommended “You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a more Fulfilling Life” by Eleanor Roosevelt.

For those who don’t know Eleanor Roosevelt was the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the US President from 1933 until his death in 1945. Eleanor significantly redefined the role of First Lady by actively involving herself in the public sphere. Following her husband’s death she remained active in politics and served as the first Chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights. Eleanor was widely respected but was also often controversial for her outspokenness. She even occasionally publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies!

The biggest difference with the other books I have read recently was that this was written in 1960 – almost 60 years ago. While there are obvious differences in perspectives, much of what Eleanor writes about really does stand the test of time and remains true today.

Throughout the book, many instances reveal that the writing is very much a product of its time. Despite stepping beyond the role of a traditional housewife and becoming one of the few women actively involved in politics at the time, there is a sense in the book that Eleanor believes that a woman’s first role is to support her husband and children.

It has always seemed important to me that women should try to develop some interests in which their whole family can share. This is valuable all around. It intensifies family solidarity.

And when she discusses how a person can be involved in public life she always uses the male pronoun. She does however recognise that women are increasingly entering politics and gives a few words of advice.

I have been talking as though men were the only creatures to enter politics, but women are doing so increasingly, particularly in their own communities. They have some advantages and some disadvantages. They will generally find that men will tend to “keep them in their place.”

The references to Communist Russia and Eleanor’s concerns about their way of life are also an interesting read. In one chapter she encourages the reader to be an individual. “Its your life – but only if you make it so.” She then refers to conformity and Soviet training where from two months old babies go to an institute while their mother is at work. It is in this institute that the Russian child is trained to follow routines and punished if they do not.

However, much of Eleanor’s advice is as relevant today as it was in 1960. Some of the issues she discusses are so pertinent to the experiences of today that is it both frightening and amusing at the same time.

Here, perhaps, lies the key to our [the United States] growing failure to win friends abroad, though we have, in every other respect, richly earned that friendship, in money, material support, and human kindness that asks no return. We have failed only in enlightened understanding and tolerance – and respect.

Probably one of her most amusing comments was about how people can inform themselves about political issues.  (Although, I am sure that she didn’t intend it to be amusing.)

We must, for the most part, rely for much of our information on four main sources: the President of the United States, who is, or should be, the great educator of the people, bringing issues to them and explaining the situation…

Later on she refers to;

Sometimes, of course, the citizen discovers that he cannot rely on getting information from this source, even in matters that vitally concern his future and his welfare.

*chuckle* *chuckle*

Eleanor divides the book into eleven chapters, with each chapter a piece of advice on how to Learn by Living followed by examples of what she has learned in her life. I could relate to such much of her great pieces of advice that my Kindle version of the book  is full of yellow highlights.

  • Face your fears.

Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier.

  • Use your time well.

Each of us has …. all the time there is. Those years, weeks, hours, are sands in the glass running swiftly away. To let them drift through our fingers is tragic waste. To use them to the hilt, making them count for something, is the beginning of wisdom.

  • Change is never-ending.

Every age, someone has said, is an undiscovered country. We are constantly advancing, like explorers, into the unknown, which makes life an adventure all the way.

  • Accept your responsibilities.

We are the sum total of the choices we have made.

For one thing we know beyond all doubt; Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, “It can’t be done.”

  • And, learn how to learn and continue learning throughout your life.

If you can develop this ability to see what you look at, to understand its meaning, to readjust your knowledge to this new information, you can continue to learn and to grow as long as you live and you’ll have a wonderful time doing it.

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life, Eleanor Roosevelt, New York, Harper, 1960, EPub Edition April 2011 ISBN: 9780062078506

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

The point of this whole Year of Yes project is to say yes to things that scare me, that challenge me. So in order to YES a problem, I have to find whatever it is inside the problem that challenges me or scares me or makes me just freak out – then I have to say yes to that thing.

Of all the books I have read in my year of exploration I have connected with Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes the most.

Oh my God! We could be twins. Shonda and I are the same age. Our birthdays are one day apart. We had the same love (obsession) with reading as we grew up. We’re from big families (five siblings). We both love writing. We both have somewhat unhealthy relationships with food. And almost everything she said in her book I could relate to.

Yes! Yes! YES! That is soooo me!

Can you see the family resemblance?

Shonda Rhimes

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Soul Sisters

It took Shonda a few home truths from her sister and the realization that if she’d been asked (instead of being told) she would have said no to an event where she sat next to the Obama’s. (Because it’s “scary”.)

Then she realized that to her shame, despite her envious job writing Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and Private Practice, despite her three adorable children, despite her loving family and friends and to anyone looking from the outside her AWESOME, AMAZING life, she was, in fact, miserable.

Shonda commits to a year of saying yes.

Of course, Shonda being who she is, her first two yeses are:

  1. Giving the Commencement Speech at her university,
  2. Being interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel.

Scary!!!

This is it. It’s happening. And now that it is here, saying yes stops being just a vague idea. Now the reality of what I am embarking upon send my brain thundering around inside my skull.

Yes to everything scary.

Yes to everything that takes me out of my comfort zone.

Yes to everything that feels like it might be crazy.

Yes to everything that feels out of character.

Yes to everything that feels goofy.

Yes to everything.

Everything.

Say yes.

Yes.

What follows is a genuinely life changing year (and more) for Shonda.

I’m going to leave it to you to read the book and take from it what you will. I do, however, want to share a few quotes that had a huge impact on me.

I think that a lot of people dream. And while they are busy dreaming, the really happy people, the really successful people, the really interesting, powerful, engaged people? Are busy doing.

Don’t dream it. Do it. This is what my sabbatical year is about. Not just to Dream Beautiful but to Fly High.

Dreams are lovely. But they are just dreams. Fleeting, ephemeral. Pretty. But dreams do not come true just because you dream them. It’s hard work that makes things happen. It’s hard work that creates change.

Being a mother isn’t a job.

It’s who someone is.

It’s who I am.

You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever. Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children, with our mothers as human beings, with our darkest fears of who we really are. Being a mother requires us to get it together or risk messing up another person forever.

Absolutely. Yes! Yes! YES!

But only if you decide that YOU are going to do the work to make the programs work. Meaning, that nothing works if you don’t actually decide that you are really and truly ready to do it.

(Shonda is referring to losing weight but it can apply to anything really.)

This year I have set myself some big challenges …. learning Chinese, losing weight, running a half marathon, and more. All of these require commitment to make them work. Monthly, weekly, daily, hourly commitment.

Six months in and I am doing well on some of the challenges I have set myself. Some not so well. And some have gone by the wayside (like writing in my journal every day). But that’s OK. These are commitments to myself. To make me a better person for me. And while I may not achieve everything I set out to do, I have (and I will) become me.

The Year of Yes, I realize, has become a snowball rolling down a hill. Each yes rolls into the next and the snowball is growing and growing. Every yes changes something in me. Every yes is a bit transformative. Every yes sparks some new phase in evolution.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person, Shonda Rhimes, London, Simon & Schuster UK, 2015, Ebook ISBN 978-1-4711-5733-2

 

 

 

Book Review

Book Review: Full Circle: A memoir of leaning in too far and the journey back by Erin Callan Montella

“Knowing your story means living a considered life. Socrates had it right. An unexamined life is not really worth living. Maybe that’s a bit extreme, but without self-reflection, we never learn from our mistakes, condemned to repeat the same pattern over and over.”

This book has been on my reading list for some time. I was drawn to it again when I was searching for books related to my own journey: women seeking to understand their world, taking a break from the work treadmill to reflect on their purpose in life.

Erin Callan Montella’s decision to take time off from work was not fully her own. She was the chief financial officer at Lehman Brothers in 2008 just before it spectacularly collapsed and played a part in kicking off the Global Financial Crisis.

This memoir recounts her journey from a young girl to one of the highest ranking people on Wall Street and how her career became her life.

Erin is an incredibly intelligent, brilliant and driven woman. Her ambition led her to take well thought out risks, to reach a position that no (few?) other women had achieved. While the cracks were already appearing before her resignation (sacking?) from Lehman Brothers it was this event and its aftermath that forced Erin to reflect on her life.

“…. a successful professional athlete who referred to the sport he played as his platform, not his purpose. A jumping off point to accomplish bigger and better things. The things that mattered more in life. The simple idea that a career could be a platform, not a purpose, was like a slap across the face. The good kind. A wake-up call. I had done the opposite, making a successful career my purpose, not a platform for something more meaningful.”

While reading Full Circle I wondered what would have happened if this situation had not been forced upon Erin. Would she have had the self awareness to recognise and acknowledge the pathway she was on was not the meaningful purpose she was seeking?

Needless to say she found her career in tatters, her emotional well-being reaching the darkest imaginable. She needed time to reflect and readjust to a new life and a new way of doing things.

Erin only briefly writes about her new life as a wife and mother, which makes me wonder where this journey has taken her? What is she doing now (she mentions at the start of the book that she is retired) and more importantly what lessons has she taken into her new life? Did she find the balance that was so lacking in her old life? Or has she simply pursued the exact opposite pathway?

While I am a long way from a high ranking career woman and never want to be, I still gained much from Erin’s memoir. To take time for self reflection. To consider what is meaningful to me. Many of her words inspire me as I reflect on my life, it’s purpose and what I am going to do next.

“Because figuring out what really matters to you and how it dictates the direction of your time, your energy, your passion is always at the heart of the matter.”

Full Circle: A Memoir of Leaning in Too Far and the Journey Back, Eing Callan Montella, Sanibel, Florida, 2016, Kindle Edition, ISBN 978-0-9973821-2-9 (e-book)

 

Book Review

Book Review: Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

In taking my own sabbatical, I have become interested in other women’s experiences of taking a break from work.

I have to admit I wasn’t really interested in reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love when it was first published and was even less so when the Hollywood movie was released. I probably dismissed it as the self-indulgent musings of a person of privileged means, if I even thought of it at all.

However, as I was reading Reboot Your Life it was one of the suggested readings. So in the interests of research I thought I would take a look.

Eat Pray Love is the memoir of a woman who, having gone through a bitter divorce and an ill-fated love affair, decides to go in search of pleasure (in Italy), devotion (in India) and balance (in Indonesia).

While I am not so fortunate as to be able to spend all my sabbatical traveling the world, the themes of pleasure, devotion and balance really resonated with me and my journey.

For pleasure Elizabeth went to Italy. After all, what greater pleasure is there than food?

Her time in Italy was what the authors of Reboot Your Life call the reconnecting phase; a time to revitalize connections to people, places, activities and yourself. It would be easy to focus on Elizabeth’s positive, pleasurable experiences; learning to speak Italian, eating, making friends. But it wasn’t always easy as she left behind the issues and worries of her previous life. It was in this section that I found my favourite quote in the book;

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognised yourself as a friend.”

For Elizabeth, pleasure was about finding herself again, perhaps even finding an element of happiness.

For me finding myself is about just being me, being true to myself, to be real. In my work life I have tended to adapt to the image of the company I was representing. In marketing an organisation I have adopted the company brand. Sometimes that has been easy and the organisation’s brand is some part of who I already am. Sometimes I have had to create a new image of myself. Now that I am not working, I don’t have to pretend to be something I am not, even a little bit. I am me. And it feels good, even pleasurable.

In seeking devotion, Elizabeth travelles to India and spends time in an ashram. Nearing the end of her stay she finds a connection with God. “I am suddenly transported through the portal of the universe and taken to the centre of God’s palm.” Another time she recalls feeling a ‘soft blue electrical energy’ and discusses how this energy has been described by devotees of many different religions.

This got me thinking. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists….. aren’t we all really seeking the same thing? Although I was bought up in a Christian culture and am now living in one based in Confucianism I have tended to avoid religion. The negative aspects of patriarchy, war, greed and sexual abuse have kept me away. But what if there is something deeper?  I am now exploring my spirituality and learning more about the different world religions. (Perhaps a blog post for another time?)

Finally, Elizabeth travels to Bali seeking balance. She travels there on an invitation from a Balinese medicine man with almost no research or preparation. She doesn’t have a place to live, she doesn’t know anyone and when she arrives she finds out that the Indonesian visa rules only allow for a one month tourist visa when she had be planning to stay three to four months. (Something that totally freaks my compulsive planner and organizer self out!) However, within weeks the balance naturally falls into place.

“I can feel my own peace, and I love the swing of my days between easeful devotional practices and pleasures of beautiful landscape, dear friends and good food.”

For me, in seeking balance in my life I am trying to find that harmony between having a planned daily routine and taking each day and hour as it comes. To be open to opportunities as they arise and say “Yes!” without over thinking it.

In summary, despite my initial hesitation I enjoyed the book. I stand by my initial thoughts that her experience is somewhat self-indulgent and only possible for those with a privileged life. And the ending seemed to wrap up a bit too neatly. (Hello, Hollywood ending!) However, my take away was that her quest to find peace and happiness took her by surprise. Perhaps I can’t plan for this. I can try seeking it but there is no guarantee I will find it. The important thing is to be open to the possibility.

Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2006, eISBN 978 1 4088 0866 5

 

Book Review

Book Review: Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break, Catherine Allen, et al

Carry me away. Let the tide take me where it will. Let’s see how long it takes to figure out my next career step.

 

I thought for my first blog post I’d review the book that really clarified my thinking on what I was trying to achieve in taking a year off work.

In taking a 12 month break from paid work I knew I didn’t want to spend it sitting around watching TV, having long boozy lunches and getting pedicures and massages. (Although it would be OK to do that some of the time.)

I wanted this time to be meaningful, to have purpose, to be structured.

Like most people these days I went straight to Google for the answers.

Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break by Catherine Allen, Nancy Bearg, Rita Foley, and Jaye Smith helped find these answers.

Reboot Your Life is an easy to follow guide to how and why taking a break from work can help people to re-examine their priorities and re-energise their lives. Written by four women who have taken sabbaticals and drawing on the experiences hundreds of others Reboot Your Life is a book you can read from cover to cover or just dip into the chapters that you need.

Reboot Your Life talks about the reasons for and benefits of taking a career break, how you can fund your time away, the heart of a sabbatical – reconnecting with yourself and your world and exploring opportunities, re-entering the workplace and living a lifelong sabbatical.

It is somewhat targeted at mid-career Americans and some of the advice is not really relevant to those of us from the rest of the world or those starting or part-way in their careers. However, in saying that there enough guidance for people to take something away.

The decision to take a sabbatical – to answer that call to oneself – is a huge step. There’s no question about it. The worries that can cloud people’s minds and tighten their guts as they contemplate taking a break are real and practically universal. At the same time, sabbaticals are as old as time and are a natural rhythm of life. Knowing that and learning a little more about sabbaticals – like their cultural context and great outcomes – may make it easier to decide to take one.

 

Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break, Catherine Allen, Nancy Bearg, Rita Foley, Jaye Smith, New York, Beaufort Books, 2011, First edition, ISBN 978-0-8253-0564-1