Great books I’ve been reading (but not writing)

Happy Monday. I’m still pretty busy with consulting work at the moment, and it’s usually very interesting stuff. Today, however, not so much. I’ve spent most of the day going through facilitator handbooks, slides, and handouts, checking and synchronizing reference numbers for a series of workshops on stress and resilience. O holy tedium.

Part of the problem is that I’ve combed through this material so many times during the last month that I’ve been helping content edit this course. Now, whenever I open the project files the peanut gallery that lives at the back of my mind starts yelling things like, “boringboringboringboringboringboring!!!….” And they throw things – not nice things, either. And sometime they spit.

It’s remarkably similar to the reaction I get whenever I venture to open the draft of my next book, actually.

I like to tell people that I’ve been letting my book sit a while, getting creative distance, so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes for the next (hopefully last) edit before I send it to my agent later this year. Sounds good, huh? Just between you and me, though, I suspect that the following two facts have at least as much to do with my recent dallying on the memoir:

(1) I have not committed to other people to meet certain deadlines.

(2) No one is paying me quite nicely to tell the peanut gallery where to stick all their shrieking and mocking, grit my teeth, and plow forward.

As my husband frequently remarks, I can be bought, so if anyone wants to remedy point 2 let me know.  The currency Mike typically uses is white wine and massages. As one of these bribes, however is currently unavailable to me (thanks a lot, baby), and the other I can source myself with a bike ride and 5 dollars, any offers will therefore have to up the ante a bit.

So, speaking of books, here’s a look at several I’ve read since we arrived in Laos that have provoked an entirely different reaction from the aforementioned peanut gallery – cheers and claps and showers of caramel popcorn.

Twenty Chickens for a Saddle: The Story of an African Childhood (Robyn Scott): I just finished this last night and loved it – a wonderful, often funny, very well-written and thoughtful memoir of the author’s unstructured childhood in rural Botswana.

What Is the What (Vintage) (Dave Eggers) This fictionalized memoir of Valentino Achak Deng – a refugee from the Sudanese civil war – packs a real punch. It’s interestingly structured for a memoir-esque book, poignant, soul-stirring, and thought-provoking.

A Girl Named Zippy: Growing Up Small in Mooreland, Indiana (Haven Kimmel) This memoir is a great example of how a talented storyteller can turn the most prosaic of raw material into a compelling narrative. I don’t know how Haven Kimmel managed to turn a childhood in Indiana into one of the funniest books I’ve read in ages, but she did.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story (Donald Miller) Part memoir, part meditation on story itself as well as the sorts of stories we are all writing with our lives, I read this book with a pen in my hand. Lots to reflect deeply on in here, and lots of wonderful gems on the writing process (My great author friend, Nicole Baart, loved this book so much she did an entire blog series on it, starting here).

Found Art: Discovering Beauty in Foreign Places (Leanna Tankersley) This memoir of meeting, marrying, and then leaving immediately to spend a year overseas, was a perfect book for me to read at a perfect time. It was wonderful to read someone else’s honest, lyrical, reflections upon transition and marriage. I immediately looked Leanna up and subscribed to her blog.

Water for Elephants: A Novel (Sara Gruen) Really enjoyed this novel. Set in the colourful world of a traveling circus it’s an escapist read that is really fun but is also laced with plenty of depth and poignancy.

Belong to Me: A Novel (Marisa De Los Santos) De Los Santos is also a poet, and her novels are lush, dense with insightful gems on relationships and life, but also compulsively readable. This book helped me pass several hot afternoons inside a guesthouse just after we arrived in Laos.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (James H. Silberman Books)(Normal Doige) This is an utterly fascinating look at brain plasticity. Highly recommended for people interested in understanding learning and combating learning disorders, brain damage, and aging. I found chapter four on Acquiring tastes and loves: What neural plasticity teaches us about sexual attraction and love particularly intriguing. There’s a very interesting discussion in there on how pornography changes neural wiring around attraction pathways.

I think that’s enough from me today about other people’s amazing books. What about you? What books have you read recently that caused your peanut gallery to whistle, stamp their feet, and give two thumbs up?

13 responses to “Great books I’ve been reading (but not writing)

  1. I just cracked up at your “peanut gallery remark. I just can’t help picturing it. In my head they mostly dance in a very provoking annoying way. And they won’t stop untill I find a drastic measure to somehow do what needs to be done. Rewards are defenitely the best bet. Talking of peanuts. I think chocolate coated ones might just be the reward of my next two hour battle with boring tasks. Keep up the great stuff!

  2. Lisa! Of course I know nothing of this “peanut gallery.” 🙂 Thank you so much for your kindness and support. It means the world to me to know my story has been meaningful to you in your journeys. Here’s to getting some work done and to bribing ourselves all the way to the finish line! 🙂

    • Yeah, I figured you never struggle with your own peanut gallery. I’ve seen no hints of such in your own writing :). Yes, here’s to work and bribes and both going well. Oh, and motherhood – a track which you are about two years ahead of me on. May that be going well too.

  3. betty rosenkranz

    I recently read The Same Kind of Difference as Me. I don’t have it with me as I am traveling but it was written by and about two men named Denver and Ron. It is an incredible book. I also read a true story about a guy who escaped from the civil war in Burundi and came to New York City. Sorry I am not home to give you the details but you might already know the book. Thanks for your list. I will look them over for a good read.

    • Thanks Betty, I don’t know offhand which book you’re referencing, but I’ve read a number of those types of stories in the last couple of years. Inspiring to see those narratives getting out there.

  4. “Paper Towns” by John Green. A YA novel that was unexpectedly insightful. I found myself not as intrigued by the story (although that was interesting, too) as by the philosophical comments of the main character that resonated with me.

    “Chasing Fireflies” by Charles Martin. This man knows how to weave a story together. Every part of the story and every character came alive, and nothing was stereotypical or half-done.

    Currently reading “Humanitarian Challenges & Intervention” by Thomas G. Weiss and Cindy Collins for an assignment. We got to pick our books, and I’m glad I picked this one. Fascinating, and not too far steeped in academia to be inaccessible.

    • I really liked Chasing Fireflies by Charles Martin, and have read several of his other books. I agree – he knows what he’s doing with story. The other two books both sound interesting, for different reasons. Thanks for the tips. I’ll be looking them up.

  5. I’m currently reading “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All” by Paul Offit. A topic about which I’m passionate written by a doctor that makes science read like a great thriller.

    Also reading “The Other Side of Sadness” by George Bonanno which turns a lot of the conventional wisdom about grief and loss on its head. Another author who makes the science accessible. Nice thread of resilience throughout the book as well.

    • I heard Bonanno speak once on resilience and he was good. Interesting topic. Let me know what you think when you finish it. As for the Anti-vaccine movement… yeah, I’d make them compulsory if I could. I’m all for the good of the herd trumping individual choices on this one.

  6. Still loving your stories of life in Laos (and life in general). Congrats on baby (though I’m sorry you have to be pregnant during hot season)! I just read Half the Sky and can’t stop thinking about it! So much to think about in that book!

    • Thanks Stephanie. Yeah, it’ll be hot for the next couple of months, but I’ll be heading to Australia fairly early during the third trimester so hopefully that will mitigate the worst of the swelling etc as it’s going to be winter back in Ozland. That’ll be nicer for my physically, but being apart from Mike will suck!

  7. Your site is wonderful.I’m revisiting it soon.

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