Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Quote of the Day -- James Clear

What starts as an excuse can easily become a habit. Don't let a bad day become a lifestyle.

-- James Clear


 James Clear is a widely respected speaker and writer who focuses on habits and self-improvement. His best-selling book Atomic Habits has sold over 5 million copies.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Quote of the Day -- James Clear

Your entire life happens inside your body. It's the one home you will always occupy and can never sell.

But you can renovate it.

If you can only pick one habit to build, exercise might be the one. Everything is downstream from how your body is functioning.

-- James Clear


James Clear is a widely respected speaker and writer who focuses on habits and self-improvement. His best-selling book Atomic Habits has sold over 5 million copies.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Wallace Stevens

Her green mind made the world around her green.

-- Wallace Stevens


According to the Poetry Foundation, Wallace Stevens (1879 - 1955) is one of America’s most respected 20th century poets. He was a master stylist, employing an extraordinary vocabulary and a rigorous precision in crafting his poems. But he was also a philosopher of aesthetics, vigorously exploring the notion of poetry as the supreme fusion of the creative imagination and objective reality.

Monday, March 21, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Ted Kennedy

Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, Blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy….

-- Ted Kennedy, 1987 hearing for Robert Bork (who was not confirmed)


According to the Biography web site, Ted Kennedy (1932 - 2009) was the youngest brother of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. He was elected to the Senate when he was 30, and continued to work in Congress throughout his life. Though marked by scandal, Kennedy was viewed as an icon of political progressivism and liberal thought by the time of his death, on August 25, 2009.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Judy Garland

Always be a first rate version of yourself and not a second rate version of someone else.

-- Judy Garland


According to Goodreads, Judy Garland (1922 - 1969), a Minnesota native, was the star of many classic musical films, was known for her tremendous talent and troubled life. She started out in show business at an early age. The daughter of vaudeville professionals, she started her stage career as a child.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Doris Lessing

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag – and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.

-- Doris Lessing


According to Wikipedia, Doris Lessing (1919 - 2013) was a British-Zimbabwean (Rhodesian) novelist. She was born to British parents in Iran, where she lived until 1925. Her family then moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she remained until moving in 1949 to London, England. Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. In awarding the prize, the Swedish Academy described her as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Book Review: Leaving Everything Most Loved

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear is my 10th Maisie Dobbs novel. I'm most definitely a fan. Each novel features an intriguing, knotty mystery with most of the violence happening either before the story begins or outside our view. My kind of mystery... spare me the gory details. Maisie Dobbs is both cerebral and psychological in her approach to solving a case, and she is always haunted by her own demons while she  pursues justice for others.

Leaving Everything provides Winspear's typical satisfying story, combining a social problem (in this case the treatment of Indians in London) with the killer's very personal motives. But reading it, I experienced a stronger than usual sense of melancholy and dread about Maisie's future and the future of her friends and colleagues. I felt like I was supposed to be on Maisie's side and share her desire for adventure and self-discovery, but I kept thinking "Poor James!"

[Spoiler alert coming up for Elizabeth George readers] Midway through her wonderful series of mysteries, Elizabeth George chose to kill off her detective's beloved and pregnant wife, Lady Helen. Readers were livid. George spent time explaining herself on social media and even wrote another entire book about it (What Came Before He Shot Her). In the end, I think most readers forgave her. As George explained, it was something she had to do for her series to continue. Writing her detective as a happily married man with a baby simply didn't work. It lacked the level of angst and drama that she needed. 

And my point in recounting George's journey is because I think that Winspear has arrived at the same juncture. (Meaning she arrived there in 2013, when this book was published. And if you've read all her novels and know the answer, don't tell me!) I don't think she can see her way forward if Maisie becomes happily married to James, plus she needs to change up the cast of characters, replacing Billy and Sandra with new people. She's not exactly bored and out of new ideas, but she's definitely looking for a major change of scenery. When I read the next novel, I'll report back. I remain a serious Maisie Dobbs fan and don't expect to be disappointed with her next adventure.

Friday, March 11, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Tracey Gendron

I define 'elderhood' as the developmental stage encompassing later life. There are two primary reasons why I think the term 'elderhood' is essential. First, we believe that to be 'successful' at aging, we need to maintain roles and interests associated with adulthood. I disagree. I believe that roles and contributions in elderhood evolve and can look and feel different. Sometimes the contribution is active engagement, but sometimes it is a quiet reflection that is more personal. [emphasis mine] Both are developmentally healthy and appropriate. 'Elderhood' accounts for the nuances where the term 'older adult' or 'old age' does not.

-- Tracey Gendron


Dr. Tracey Gendron is chair of the Department of Gerontology at Virginia Commonwealth University and the author of Ageism Unmasked: Exploring Age Bias and How to End It.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Elie Wiesel

Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures; peace is our gift to each other.

-- Elie Wiesel


According to the Nobel Prize organization, The Nobel Peace Prize 1986 was awarded to Elie Wiesel (1928 - 2016) "for being a messenger to mankind: his message is one of peace, atonement and dignity."

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Nobel Prize Lecture -- Maria Ressa, Co-Winner of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize

I heard Maria Ressa interviewed this morning as part of an International Women's Day event. The bad news (the embarrassing news) is that I've never heard of her before. Somehow, the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to two journalists last fall didn't hit my radar screen. The good news is that now I have heard of her and listened to her impassioned plea for truth in journalism, destruction of the disinformation machine, and reining in of social media.

After the brief and impressive interview this morning, I went in search of her Nobel lecture to learn more. Wow!! She is articulate, impassioned, and persuasive. And she is courageous. It is one thing to plead for the protection of truth in journalism in "the West," where you might suffer significant bullying both online and IRL. It is a whole different thing to make that plea in a society where going to jail for what you write and say is a reality. 

Ressa is of course critical of countries like her native Philippines that regularly threaten journalists with imprisonment or government sanctioned violence. She tearfully listed fellow journalists who have recently died or been imprisoned around the world. But Ressa reserves her strongest criticism for the tech algorithms that come out of Silicon Valley. She calls it a behavior modification system that encourages fear, hate, and bigotry in the service of surveillance capitalism than monetizes our clicks.

I can't begin to do justice to her powerful speech. I plan to come back to it here whenever I find myself wondering if Facebook is really so bad. 

Quote of the Day -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

For age is opportunity no less 

Than youth itself, though in another dress, 

And as the evening twilight fades away 

The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


According to the Poetry Foundation, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was one of the most widely known and best-loved American poets of the 19th century. He achieved a level of national and international prominence previously unequaled in the literary history of the United States and is one of the few American writers honored in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Book Review: Reading People

Reading People by Anne Bogel is essentially a "Cliff Notes" to popular personality frameworks. Bogel takes a tour through The Five Love Languages, Keirsey's Temperaments, The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The Clifton StrengthsFinder, and The Enneagram. My primary mission for this book was to learn about the Enneagram because I am constantly encountering references to it and felt mystified.

I did learn enough about the Enneagram to fake my way through a conversation, but much to my surprise, I learned a lot more about Myers-Briggs. I first encountered Myers-Briggs several decades ago in a workshop at work. Since then, I've taken the test several more times. My results always come out the same (INTP) and my feelings about it haven't varied much over the years. 

I have no trouble with the N (big picture versus facts) and the T (driven more by reason than emotion). I tend to be an ambivert but I'm OK scoring as an introvert. But I have always struggled with the P/J. In fact, I can never adequately even describe what they are. Not surprisingly, my P/J score is almost evenly split -- 51 to 49 almost every time I test. And that is the area of my life where I am most conflicted between how I think I should be and how I am.

Reading People gave me valuable new insight. Bogel described the cognitive stacks (how we process information and make decisions) that go with each different type. I'd never encountered this discussion of cognitive stacks, before. I read the descriptions before I looked at the stacks, and low and behold, my cognitive stack is definitely INTJ. And the two stacks (INTJ and INTP) are completely different. No wonder my results always left me feeling conflicted!

I can only say, thank you Anne Bogel. The book in general was delightful to read, succinct and friendly, informative without being academic. And you helped me come to terms, finally, with my Myers-Briggs. Worth the price of admission!!

Quote of the Day -- Carl Jung

Only the paradox comes anywhere near to comprehending the fullness of life.

-- Carl Jung


According to Wikipedia, Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961), was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology. Jung's work has been influential in the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, archaeology, literature, philosophy, psychology, and religious studies.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Quote of the Day -- James Clear

You can't double your intelligence in one hour, but you can use one hour to write something twice as clear. And ideas that are easy to read and easy to understand will make you seem smarter. The better you communicate, the more intelligent you appear.

-- James Clear


James Clear is a widely respected speaker and writer who focuses on habits and self-improvement. His best-selling book Atomic Habits has sold over 5 million copies.

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Samuel Johnson

The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.

-- Samuel Johnson


According to Britannica, Samuel Johnson was an English critic, biographer, essayist, poet, and lexicographer who was one of the greatest figures of 18th-century life and letters.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Book Review: Wish You Were Here

People who write book reviews are careful about spoilers -- either avoiding them or warning about them beforehand. In the case of Jodi Picoult's Wish You Were Here, everyone who writes about it is very careful not to spoil it for other readers because the unexpected turn it takes is such an important part of the experience. So I won't spoil it, other than to say that the turn was huge and made all the difference for me.

In Wish You Were Here, Picoult provides a nuanced exploration of the personal impact of COVID-19 from several points of view. Although this book feels very different from most of her other work, that nuanced exploration is very much Picoult at her best. She looks at survivor guilt experienced by those who are largely untouched (like me) side-by-side with the daily trauma felt by health-care workers. She spends more time than usual, for her, in examining romantic relationships. At times, this book began to feel like a romance novel and I almost put it down. 

Parent-child relationships are central to the story. As she peels back the onion of the fraught relationship that Diana, the protagonist, has with her mother, Picoult takes her on a twisted, often painful journey of self-discovery. Forgiveness and redemption ultimately enable Diana to find her way in the world, but I confess to finding the outcome equal parts sad and uplifting. 

This isn't Picoult's best work but even her "above average" is definitely worth reading.  

Quote of the Day -- bell hooks

Many of us seek community solely to escape the fear of being alone. Knowing how to be solitary is central to the art of loving. When we can be alone, we can be with others without using them as a means of escape.

-- bell hooks


According to her New York Times obituary, bell hooks' incisive, wide-ranging writing on gender and race helped push feminism beyond its white, middle-class worldview to include the voices of Black and working-class women. Her work included over 30 books, and encompassed literary criticism, children’s fiction, self-help, memoir and poetry, and it tackled not just subjects like education, capitalism and American history but also love and friendship. She died in December 2021 at the age of 69.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Book Review: American Nations

I'm a sucker for a book that tackles a "big story," that synthesizes disparate information across time and space to develop a theory explaining the seemingly unexplainable. The book cover of In American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North American depicts the territorial and cultural divisions that Colin Woodard lays out in his book. He traces the history of how each "nation" was settled and describes the underlying values that motivate its citizenry. 

I'm a native and inhabitant of "Yankeedom," and Woodard's summary rings true -- emphasis on education, pursuit of greater good for the whole community, faith in the potential of government to improve people's lives. What I didn't completely understand is why other "nations" don't share these values; why their heritage emphasizes different, even diametrically opposed beliefs and moral virtues. 

Woodard provides a unique lens for viewing key events in our history and highlights the "life and death" battle that Yankeedom and the Deep South continually fight for control and for the ascendancy of their world view. Each considers the others' success an existential threat to their way of life. Each battles, with varying degrees of success, to form coalitions with the other nations to achieve that control.

Understanding the root of a problem doesn't necessarily solve the problem, but it goes a long way toward appreciating how we got here. I'm sure there are holes in Woodard's arguments that astute students of US history will find, but overall, his characterizations ring true and explain so much about the divisions we are experiencing today.

Quote of the Day -- Henry David Thoreau

I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.

-- Henry David Thoreau


According to Wikipedia, Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862) was an American naturalist, essayist, poet, and philosopher. A leading transcendentalist, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience", an argument for disobedience to an unjust state.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Henry Kissinger

Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad.

-- Henry Kissinger


Henry Kissinger,as he approaches his 99th birthday, remains a sought-after political analyst who is both respected and despised. As first National Security Advisor and then Secretary of State under Richard Nixon, Kissinger played an instrumental role on the international stage. He orchestrated rapprochement with China and an end to the Vietnam war, for which he won a Nobel Prize amidst loud criticism. On a personal note, I was in Paris when Nixon resigned in 1973. French students, who were pretty confused by our Puritan approach to lying, asked me "will Henry Kissinger have to resign, too." He was popular around the world. 



Thursday, January 20, 2022

Book Review: We Are Not Like Them

Christine Pride and Jo Piazza, a Black woman and a white woman, long-time friends and colleagues, write a book about a Black woman and a white woman who are best friends faced with incredible challenges to their relationship. It has the potential to be trite or overwrought, but it's neither of those things. It's thought-provoking, gut-wrenching, insightful. The prose is straight-forward, not overly flowery or emotional, but laced with wonderful well-turned phrases and astute observations. As I started reading, I was almost immediately sorry I was reading a library copy because I wanted to underline and comment. Instead, my book is filled with little post-it tabs I'll need to remove before I return it to the library.

When Pride and Piazza talk about their book, they quip "Come for the friendship, stay for the social justice." They explore the challenges of any close friendship (honesty, different life experiences, diverging achievements). And then they add an incendiary social justice issue to the mix. Riley is Black and a rising media figure in Philadelphia. Jen is white and married to a cop who kills an unarmed Black teenager. As a journalist, Riley takes the lead in covering the story. (No spoilers here. This is on the book flap and in the first few chapters of the book.) Through alternating first person narratives, Pride and Piazza explore the many cracks this exposes in Riley and Jen's relationship with nuance and compassion

We Are Not Like Them probes difficult subjects, often painfully, but it does so against the backdrop of a deep lasting friendship. As Riley says to herself, "Sometimes you just need to be around someone who loved you before you were a fully formed person. It's like finding your favorite sweatshirt in the back of the closet, the one you forgot why you stopped wearing and once you find it again you sleep in it every night." Awkwardly constructed but heartfelt. And I'm sure these two experienced writers and editors thought long and hard about each turn of phrase. 

As Jen struggles to cope with the fallout from her husband's horrific mistake, she pleads with Riley, "I just need you to be on my side." Riley, the more introspective of the two, and the authors along with her, understand that's it's not that simple. The situation has multiple sides, and there is no right side. And therein lies the strength of this book. There is no easy answer. There is no escaping the impact of race, so Jen and Riley (and the readers) might as well face it and deal with it. Here's Riley again: "I've been consumed these last few months (or a lifetime, really) with all the ways race oozes its sticky tentacles into every relationship, every interact, every intention... There are no easy choices, no safe choices, you can't plan your way to happiness."

We Are Not Like Them is a terrific, timely, important book.

Quote of the Day -- Eurdora Welty

My continuing passion is to part a curtain, that invisible veil of indifference that falls between us and that blinds us to each other's presence, each other's wonder, each other's human plight.


According to Wikipedia, Eudora Alice Welty (1909 – 2001) was an American short story writer, novelist and photographer, who wrote about the American South. Her novel The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Bird by Bird, Book by Book

TBR (to be read). One of the most seductive and sometimes terrifying acronyms that I know. My physical TBR has reached monumental proportions, justifying the labels aspirational library or the lovely Japanese tsundoku. And my physical to-be-read library is positively dwarfed by the 1200+ titles on my Goodreads TBR. How in the world did I get here and how will I ever dig my way out?

For starters, I've always been an avid reader, and I've always loved to own books. I go through cycles where I try to restrain myself and rely solely on the library, but eventually I re-offend and start buying books again.  My family and friends know that I'm incapable of leaving a bookstore empty-handed, and I love bookstores.

I've stepped up my reading game in the past several years, partly because of the pandemic, of course, but also simply because it was time. Time to get a bit more serious.  Time to get over the graduate school experience of always needing to read so critically that it ruined "good books" for me for years. But those scars have healed. And there are so many "good books," both classic and recent, that I've decided to avoid wasting my precious reading hours on just average books or relying on the Barnes and Noble 3-for-the-price-of-2 table to make my selections.

I'm actively seeking out book recommenders whom I respect, and I'm entranced by all the possibilities. When it comes to books, I'm what Gretchen Rubin calls an abundance lover. I really, really enjoy being surrounded by lots of books. I have a priority list of sorts for my next 5 or 6 reads, but if none of those suits my mood when I'm ready for a new book, I know that everything within reach is "worthy" of my attention. I've set myself up to avoid the dreaded DNF (did not finish).

I sometimes wonder why I feel excited about all these books that I might never read, why I don't feel completely overwhelmed. Then I remember the story Anne Lamott told in her wonderful book Bird by Bird. When her brother was in elementary school, he had a big project that required him to research and report on a number of birds. As elementary school kids (or 70-year-old women) are wont to do, he procrastinated. And then, a few days before the project was due, he panicked. So much to do, so little time. Anne tells us: "Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” And that is my approach to my TBR. My eye isn't on some end goal of reading them all. I just want to take it book by book and enjoy the journey.

Quote of the Day -- Thomas Sowell

The march of science and technology does not imply growing intellectual complexity in the lives of most people. It often means the opposite.


According to Wikipedia, Thomas Sowell is an American economist, social theorist, and senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Sowell has written more than thirty books, and is a National Humanities Medal recipient for innovative scholarship which incorporated history, economics, and political science. Sadly, I had never heard of him until I encountered this quote.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Thoughts on Aging

People today are living longer, dramatically longer. The details of the chart on the right from Our World in Data are a little hard to read but the visual image is striking. For the developed world or the "global north," life expectancy was relatively stable from the mid 18th century through the mid 19th century. Starting in about 1875, it rises sharply from 35 years to nearly 80 years today. In the "global south," the increase in longevity starts almost 75 years later, but it is equally dramatic. And the increase continues. Experts estimate that a child born today in the developed world has a 50% chance of reaching the age of 100.

This trend has huge societal implications, particularly in the global north where the birth rate is declining. The growth in the percent of the population that is "elderly" isn't as shocking as some news stories imply, but it has the potential to become a significant burden. (As an aside, Our World in Data is a treasure trove of fascinating information.)

The Stanford Center on Longevity recently launched a new podcast called Century Lives. Their premise: if many of us now have the possibility of living to see 100, that calls for radical new thinking both as a society and as individuals. We need to construct lifelong learning, for example. The notion that we can educate our children intensely from ages 5 to 22 and equip them with everything they will need to know for the next 80 years is clearly misguided. As is the notion that most people should "retire" at age 65. Doesn't it make more sense to intersperse learning with work? And if we're going to work for 45 or 50 years, should we consider instituting sabbaticals for everyone?

On an individual level, we need to think about age differently. What does it mean to "look your age" or "act your age" when our potential lifespan is so much longer.  This image of the stars of Golden Girls in 1985 and the stars of the reboot of Sex and the City in 2022 is making the rounds on public media accompanied by lots of heated discussion. You can certainly make the argument for ageism and the outsize emphasis on appearance. On the other hand, no matter how much work (both physical and airbrushing) the ladies on the right have had, they simply look younger. 40+ years has made a difference in how people think, act, and feel after 50 (or 60, or 70). We as a society and we as individuals are doing a lot of soul searching about what age really means, and I think that's a good thing.

You can make the argument that we "elders" (the boomer generation) still want to have it all. We are spending substantial time, energy, and money trying to ensure that our wellspan aligns with our lifespan as much as possible. We want both a quantity of years and quality in those years. At the same time, we crave a society that isn't so focused on youth and that values the knowledge and wisdom we've acquired in our 6 or 7 or 8 decades. In my last decade or so of working, I was pretty careful to disguise my age. I dyed my gray hair. I hid my age in social media. I worked with lots of young people and didn't want them to think (or know) that I was old enough to be their mother. I'm not sure that was necessary, but at the time, it seemed the wisest course. When I turned 70 last year, I chose to be very public about it (and to expose my age on Facebook for my friends of all ages to see). I want friends, young and old, to see that you can have a full vibrant life at 70. That a 70-year-old woman knows some things that they don't. That being a "village elder" is something you earn and should wear proudly.


Quote of the Day -- Ingrid Fetell Lee

... most creative endeavors are an exercise of craft, not genius. The initial concept matters, but it’s the slow accumulation of progress that happens when you edit, revise, leave it alone and come back with fresh eyes, that actually makes it great. The first draft of a great idea is almost never better than the tenth draft of a so-so idea.


Ingrid Fetell Lee (age well hidden but she's in her 40's) is a Brooklyn-based designer and writer whose work focuses on the way that design affects our health and happiness. As founder of The Aesthetics of Joy and in her role as IDEO fellow, she empowers people to find more joy in daily life through design (and she has a good publicist who writes this stuff). She is the  author of Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness (on my TBR).

Monday, January 17, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Annie Dillard

One of the things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.


Annie Dillard (1945 -- ) is an American author best known for lyrical, narrative prose. In May 2021, I read and reviewed Pilgrim of Tinker Creek:

I have no interest in being a naturalist, a botanist, an etymologist, but I was enthralled by Dillard's lyrical, enraptured descriptions of nature in all its wild diversity. I can't imagine inching on my belly through long grass filled with who knows what bugs and critters just for the chance to observe a muskrat up close, but I'm glad that's exactly what Dillard did. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek opened my eyes to so many aspects of the natural world that I've never observed or even considered, giving me a new perspective on the "natural order" (or disorder). All in all, a very satisfying reading experience.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Book Review: Parable of the Sower

 Written in 1993 and set in 2025, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler is a story set in a California that has descended into anarchy as a result of the impact of climate change. The fifteen-year-old narrator, Lauren Olamina alternates between fierce anger, gritty determination, and numb acceptance as she and first her biological family and then her adopted family struggle to survive.

With her straight-forward, understated style, Butler lays bare the many horrors of a rapidly disintegrating society. My mom always said "the veneer of civilization is very thin," and that's a central motif in Parable. When pushed to the brink, many will do unspeakable things.

The idea of a new "religion" called Earthseed is central to the book. It stems from the narrator Lauren's attempt to find meaning and hope in the insanity all around her. I confess that I don't really "get" Earthseed. It doesn't resonate with me, but Lauren's struggle to find meaning certainly does. Parable made me feel more terrified than hopeful. Definitely a parable for our times.

I thought that I struggled with dystopian books and that Parable of the Sower is an exception (along with Station Eleven), but then I googled "best dystopian novels" and discovered many I have loved and would even consider re-reading: 1984, Animal Farm, Handmaid's Tale, Hunger Games, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451, Oryx and Crake, to name just a few. I need to figure out the sub-genre I haven't enjoyed (Zone One and A Visit from the Goon Squad) so I don't miss out in the future.

Quote of the Day -- Josh Billings

Love looks through a telescope; envy, through a microscope.


According to Wikipedia, Josh Billings was the pen name of 19th-century American humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw. He was a famous humor writer and lecturer in the United States during the latter half of the 19th century. He is often compared to Mark Twain.

Saturday, January 15, 2022

What Comes After?

It might seem strange to begin a discussion of the afterlife with A Wrinkle in Time, but for me the book was incredibly formative. I was 11 years old when it was published and was lucky enough to read it shortly after publication. I remember very little of the story (which obviously wasn't that earth-shaking for me) but the idea of tessering blew my mind: "essentially the act of traveling faster than the speed of light using a fifth dimension. ... You add that to the other four dimensions and you can travel through space without having to go the long way around." The idea that there were other worlds, that time isn't linear, that alternative ways to approach reality are possible -- just wow!  To this day, I'm fascinated by stories on the page or in film that break the barriers of time, space, or both.

Fast forward to 1989 and another book that has stayed with me, The Boat of a Million Years by Poul Anderson. It gave solidity to my notion that "after," we will be able to see across the expanse of history, understand what happened and why, and ask questions of whatever designer put it all together. I remember attending a confirmation class with our younger daughter. The facilitator asked each of us to describe heaven (assuming, of course, that we all believed in heaven). People waxed poetic about fluffy clouds and angels, beautiful pastures, seeing deceased loved ones. When my turn came, I simply said that heaven would mean getting the answers to life's unanswerable questions.

And that brings me to today and the source of these meanderings about what comes after. I recently read (and loved) The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, which prominently features the ghost of a beloved and irritating book store customer. My treadmill podcast for today was a conversation between Erdrich and Kerri Miller, an outstanding interviewer on our local public radio station, MPR. They had a lengthy, delightful, and funny conversation about ghosts, angels, and being haunted.  I remain skeptical but... as Erdrich pointed off, we often say "(fill in your favorite deceased relative) would be so happy if she saw us having so much fun ... or so much success." And of course, we say "Grandpa X would turn over in his grave if he saw this."

Ultimately, I don't long for immortality. I just long to see more, know more, understand more -- to be able to bridge space and time. In the party game where you ask everyone to name the super power they would love, I rarely hesitate -- Beam Me Up, Scotty.

Quote of the Day -- Margaret Mead

Home, I learned, can be anywhere you make it. Home is also the place to which you come back again and again.


Margaret Mead (1901 - 1978) was a renowned and ground-breaking American cultural anthropologist. Although I've never read her work books directly, I have, like so many others, read about her work and her theories. I have read Composing a Further Life by her daughter, Mary Catherine Bateson.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Octavia Butler

All struggles are power struggles. And most are no more intellectual than two rams knocking their heads together.

-- Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Neil Gaiman

I hope in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world.


Neil Gaiman (1960 - ) is a prolific English author who spans multiple genres. His work is on my TBR.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Quote of the Day -- Hubert Humphrey

Freedom is hammered out in the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate...



Hubert Humphrey (1911 - 1978) is a favorite son of Minnesota. He served for many years in the U.S. Senate and as Vice President for Lyndon Johnson. He ran for President in 1968 amidst the roaring controversy over the Vietnam war. He lost to Richard Nixon. How different history might have been...

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

The Women in My Ear

I'm a podcast junkie. Many extol the virtues of audio books, but I prefer my books on paper, in my hands. When I'm walking, doing mindless tasks at home, or driving any distance, I prefer to occupy my mind with a podcast. My purchase of airpods felt like a splurge (OK, it was a splurge), but it has transformed my listening experience -- the quality of sound, the noise canceling (used judiciously when walking outside), and look, no cord!

It all started with Gretchen Rubin about 5 years ago. I was exploring options beyond my music playlist to accompany my walks and discovered her Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast. It feels like a modern-day Ladies Home Journal, a mix of serious important topics laced with fluffier stuff. Bordering on guilty pleasure. But I was hooked. I still find Gretchen's voice, and particularly her laugh, a bit grating, but I'm a faithful listener. And some of her guests have led me to discover other favorite podcasts.


Another long-time favorite, whose made-for-radio voice is the opposite of grating, is Kerri Miller. She is a first-class interviewer whom I have enjoyed for years on our local public radio station, MPR. My favorite segments have always been her author interviews which are available on podcast. She also hosts several live author events each year, and her guests often compliment her on her skill as a questioner. Kerri's podcast has gone through several iterations and is currently called MRP News with Kerri Miller

A segment on Happier with Gretchen Rubin about book recommenders led me to Anne Bogel and the What Should I Read Next podcast. It has been around for 5 years or so, and I'm a late arrival, so I find myself binging on old episodes. I admire Anne's ability to succinctly summarize the essence of a book and hone in on its target audience. She describes herself as a matchmaker -- recommending just the right books for her podcast guest. her soothing voice and approachable manner balance her vast knowledge and razor-sharp intellect. Listening has of course made my TBR (to be read) explode, but I've also become more selective in what I choose to read. The success of my 2021 reading (measured by the quality and range of what I read) is in large part due to What Should I Read Next.

In an episode of What Should I Read Next, Anne interviewed the team of Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers. They are co-authors and hosts of the podcast Pantsuit Politics. I appreciated their knowledge, their philosophy, and their humor, so I searched out their podcast and fell in love. As their tagline says, it really is a different approach to the news and current events. And for me, a welcome change from other news podcasts I was listening to that painfully try to save America. I've become a Sarah and Beth groupie.

In the vein of "know thyself," I recently find myself turning to Brené Brown's Dare to Lead. Although I hung up my powerpoints and power suits more than a decade ago, I still value her insights about self-knowledge and authentic leadership. And I just love listening to her voice and her laugh. Her book Atlas of the Heart is high on my TBR.


And finally, The Happiness Lab with Laurie Santos. Laurie's famous for the class on happiness that she teaches at Yale, but despite her fame, she is a serious scholar, not a pop psychologist. But like all these women whom I love to have in my ear, she is brilliant, insightful, funny, and approachable. She sifts through the latest research and combines that with the wisdom of the ancients, delivered in bite-sized podcast episodes. Attending her online class is on my to-do list this year.

Notice that all these podcasts feature the voices of women? That seems to be where I gravitate, and I don't think it's because they are in the treble clef. All of these women are truly brilliant and insightful. And they are all funny, accessible, and self-deprecating to just the right degree. The Pantsuit Politics hosts explicitly talk about approaching the world with grace. That's an important word that hasn't necessarily headlined my own lexicon. But more and more, I believe that combining knowledge with grace is the true source of wisdom.