Junior Philosopher

cimg5128The past several lunchtimes, my kids and I have been listening to Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates, with varying levels of attention. Today, my son and I had this conversation:

son: “Are both Socrates and Plato philosophers?”

me: “Yes. They are both lovers of wisdom.”

son: “I’m a lover of wisdom.”

me: “Then maybe you’re a philosopher.”

son: “But I don’t even know how to be a philosopher.”

me: “All you need to do to be a philosopher is to love wisdom and seek wisdom.”

son: “Okay.”

I might need brush up on my Socratic dialogue skills now that I have a seven-year-old philosopher in the house.

Bookends: November 2016

Between the cold weather and the relentless holiday cheer, this is the time of year when I just want to curl up with a stack of books and ignore the world. And that’s pretty much what I’ve been doing this month. It’s really helped me avoid buying holiday cards and putting together our yearly photo book. I’ve been making photo books each year since 2005, and while I like having the books to look through and I like that the grandparents appreciate the books, I’m not all that enthusiastic about actually making the books. And this year it’s even worse because with our weekly hikes there are so many pictures to sort through.

With that kind of task looming over me, I derive even more pleasure than usual from retreating into books and sorting my book lists on Goodreads and LibraryThing. I’m a little surprised at just how happy all of this reading and bookish re-organization has made me, but I’m not sure how healthy this happiness is. With my books, I’m fiercely giddy, like a food-aggressive labrador. Only I guess I’m a book-aggressive Charity. Either way, tread with care.

In other news, I would love your suggestions on some books. I’m on a quest for well written, literary horror that I have to read in bed because after closing the book I get too scared to walk through the house with the lights off.

Books I’ve found that are like what I’m looking for are Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and several books by Neil Gaiman (including The Ocean at the End of the LaneCoraline, The Graveyard Book). Bonus points if it’s literary horror by a woman author. None of the books I read this month fit all of these criteria, although Tananarive Due’s The Good House was close. The books already on my list are near the bottom of this post and in my “scary” shelf on Goodreads.

So, let me know your suggestions, and in the meantime, here’s what my family has been afraid to stop me from reading this month:

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

18266071I’m not entirely sure what to think about this book. Parts I enjoyed, but mostly listening to this audiobook felt like a 32.5-hour slog. Well, slightly less than that because three-fourths of the way through I got a new phone with a different operating system and the new app let me speed up the playback. Boris’s accent sounds…interesting sped up.

Although I thought his description of existential depression was spot-on, I neither liked nor trusted Theo. There were odd inconsistencies in his story, like he has a memory of packing up the apartment, but there’s nothing in his story about going back to box everything up after the quick flight away, so where does this memory come from? And way back in the beginning, why the heck didn’t someone take this kid to a hospital right away? He talks about how he’s writing this at the intersection of fiction and truth. Is he admitting to lying? (I hope this is all vague enough not to spoil the plot, but I apologize if it’s not.) Read More

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

16176440We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was the SBC book selection for November. Join the conversation in the comments or join our Goodreads group to discuss this month’s book or any of our other selections. In December, we’re reading Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle.


This book was darned near amazing to me. Karen Fowler captured college life in the mid-90’s well (at least as I experienced it). Some of the slang was different, but that could have been a geographical difference. There was a mention of the BabyBjörn carrier being used in the mid-1970’s in the United States, which may be anachronistic (the carrier hit the European market in 1973, and while I can’t find a reference for when it showed up in the U.S., I associate the brand more with the mid- to late-90’s and early aughts), but even if it’s outright incorrect, I’m okay letting it slide.

Aside from these small things, the novel rang with emotional truth and depth. I really resonated with an idea that the narrator repeated throughout the story: “Where you succeed will never matter as much as where you fail.” (this one’s on p 288 of the copy I read) I wonder if that’s a particularly GenX sentiment or if it’s just a point of view the narrator and I share. If it is a GenX thing, it could explain why we were so commonly accused of apathy. I feel hopeless just thinking about it. Read More

A Failure of Nerve by Edwin H. Friedman

151881For the most part, this book is amazing. It’s full of the kinds of ideas that make my brain feel like it’s been picked up and turned in a different direction. I feel refreshingly disoriented, as though the world holds more possibilities than I realized.

The pages of the library copy I read are porcupined with neon-colored paper flags as I tried to mark all of the passages I wanted to quote, especially from the first five chapters, which apply family systems theory to explain why there are problems within all sorts of systems—families, corporations, governments—that are resistant to fixing by myriad leadership techniques and logical plans of action. These sections helped me understand better what has been going on in the United States during my lifetime (and perhaps for a long time before I was born) and reading them helped decrease my surprise at the outcome of this year’s presidential election. Read More

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Empathy and Privilege

I woke up on November 9th feeling a little bewildered, but not surprised. There were too many Trump yard signs in my blue state in the weeks leading up to the election for me to be surprised by the outcome. And with a little reflection, even the bewilderment lifted as I realized that this election outcome doesn’t change much for me. I’m white and heterosexual. I live in a blue state. I have a college education and although I don’t personally earn any money, my family’s income puts us firmly in the upper middle class. And as for the misogyny, that was no worse on November 9th than it was on November 8th. Today I can still live anywhere in the United States, just like I’ve always been able to. I can still use my passport and leave the country if I want to—and expect to be let back in—just like I’ve always been able to.

More than this, I’ve already been living my values, never as well as I’d like to, but always in that direction. I’ve been wary all along, watching my elected officials to see if they’re overstepping their authority and the powers granted them by the U.S. Constitution. This election doesn’t actually change that. It might end up giving me more to do, but it doesn’t change my level of alertness.

I also don’t believe that things would be all hunky-dory if Hillary Clinton had won. The hate and vitriol and violence, the ugly and dangerous expressions of racism, misogyny, homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia had already been unleashed. It’s possible that it would have been as bad if Clinton had won. Perhaps it would have been even worse because of the backlash against that election outcome.

The challenge for me remains the same either way: To be aware of the oppression going on around me without making it about me. Because I retain all of the privilege I had before the ballots were cast. I will continue to challenge myself to be aware of inherent bias in my thoughts and behaviors just as I was before. I will continue to be ready to step in if I see violence or mistreatment of another person, just as I was—or fervently hoped I was—before. Read More

Worth Doing Poorly

Growing up and in early adulthood, I heard two conflicting messages about my voice. One was that I have a beautiful voice that soothes and comforts and brings pleasure to the listener. The other was a mostly nonverbal discouragement in the form of ignoring me or making fun of me, which from my perspective was more mortifying than fun. These messages applied both to my singing/speaking voice and my writing voice. I’ve come to understand that those discouraging me from making my voice heard were doing it either to protect me from pain or embarrassment or to protect themselves from injury to their own egos, but the messages stuck so firmly that even dissection and understanding weren’t strong enough solvents.

For one reason or another, I chose to listen to the “keep quiet” message more than the first, and I kept my mouth shut. It seemed safer for me and safer for everyone else around me.

But the desire to be heard, to make noise—a joyful noise, a mournful noise, perhaps even a beautiful noise—persisted. Eventually, the need to be heard overwhelmed the fear of being heard, and in August of 2013, I started taking voice lessons. Read More

Bookends: October 2016

I’m typing this from the stairs that overlook our front door, interrupted every few minutes by children dressed in costumes I can’t identify and begging for candy. Actually, it’s less begging and more demanding, and when I offer them the candy bowl, they empty a quarter of it with two handfuls. If the candy is going to last, I’m going to have to start handing it to them myself. Although if I let them take it all right away, I can turn off the porch light and ignore the door for the rest of the night. What a tempting idea…

These kids and their Halloween. They don’t seem to realize that last weekend was the real holiday: Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon! Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas pale in comparison, and now that Dewey’s has been and gone, there’s nothing to look forward to until the next readathon in April. (Well, except maybe for this in January.)

I’ve read online about people who give books to trick-or-treaters. It’s an interesting idea, but I wouldn’t want to hand out picture books or middle-grade lit. No, this would be my chance to make a difference in the world outside my household by handing out titles like What Are People For? by Wendell Berry, Voluntary Simplicity by Duane Elgin, Living More With Less by Doris Jantzen Longacre, and How to Live Well Without Owning a Car by Chris Balish. Or I could get into the Halloween spirit and share Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I’d bet their parents would really appreciate my promoting a love of reading in their children.

At any rate, here’s what I read (or stopped reading) this month before I devoted myself to being an active Halloween Scrooge:

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Halloween Pie 2016

It’s Halloween once again! This year to celebrate their third reading of The Lord of the Rings (including an audiobook and a read-aloud by each of their parents), my daughter dressed up as Legolas and my son dressed up as Aragorn. I provided transportation to the thrift store and the funds to purchase items, but the design and assembly of the costumes was otherwise all them (thank goodness; I am not a costume person, and this development dramatically reduced my Halloween-related stress).

The costumes might change, but not our tradition of charting their candy haul. Here’s how it all broke down this year:

 

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October 2016 Readathon Wrap-Up

Well, I’ve finished my second readathon, and it was everything I expected it to be and more.

I learned so many things. Here are some of them:

•Audiobooks are my friend.

I took two one-hour walks yesterday. They really helped both my mood and my body, and because I had my audiobook, I was still making progress on my reading goals.

Start early and stay late. Read More