Shelf Life: Summer 2014

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August 1. Can you believe it? Wasn’t it just May like yesterday?

Seems like a summer flies by when you aren’t moving cross-country or exploring a new home. The monotony of a full-time job made the summer blur into an endless Groundhog Day in many ways.

There were no trips this summer—maybe a first for me?—which makes me feel equally sad to not have had some sort of non-Utah adventure and giddy over the lack of stress and money spending in my life.

But that’s not to say our summer hasn’t been fun. It just means that school here starts in two weeks, band camp happens before that and before you know it we’ll be consumed with all things Fall. And football.

And then it will be cold again.

Well that escalated quickly.

Here’s a few glimpses of budding life before getting to the books that kept me company during our fleeting warm weather.

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How circle of life of me!

On to the books! And I’m happy to report that, compared to last summer’s abysmal reading product this summer felt like a slam dunk.

1. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander

Confession: I actually read this during my Spring Shelf Life, but forgot to include it! Whoops!

Some of my best book scouting happens at airports. I stand in front of their best-seller section and take pictures of book covers with my phone so I can request them from the library when I get home. For someone that has moved seven times in the last ten years, I don’t need to be buying every book I want to read. Ain’t nobody got time space for that!

This one really caught my eye. I’ve been a little heaven/afterlife obsessed after reading Heaven is for Real and watching my grandfather pass, so I jumped at the chance to read about a doctor’s near-death experience. It was truly fascinating, but, man, someone should have helped Eben get over his ego and just tell his story. No, I don’t care that the robe you grabbed before realizing you were sick was of the plush, scarlet red, terrycloth variety. I also don’t care that the hospital that employed your father was a feeder hospital to Harvard. *pat on the back* But, the few chapters where he describes his incredible heaven and journey to the beyond is worth every ego-stroke in the book.

2. 10% Happier, Dan Harris

This is totally another airport find. I don’t make it a habit of reading Self Help books, but I do love reading about happiness and where people find it. This was more about big-picture meditation and mindfulness, something I could do better for sure. Here are some of my “ah-ha! takeaways”:

– Our entire lives are governed by a voice in our heads. It’s engaged in a ceaseless stream of thinking, most of it negative, repetitive and self-referential.

– The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, no matter how many arguments we win or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete. It’s constantly comparing itself to others and it thrives on drama. It keeps our old grievances alive through compulsive thought. It’s obsessed with the past and the future, at the expense of the present. We live exclusively through memory and anticipation.

– Mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now–anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever–without getting carried away by it.

– What mindfulness does is create some space in your head so you can, as the Buddhists say, “respond” rather than simply “react.”

– We live so much of our lives pushed forward by these “if only” thoughts (if only I was married, if only I got a promotion, etc), and yet the itch remains. The pursuit of happiness becomes the source of our unhappiness.

– All successful people fail. If you can create an inner environment where your mistakes are forgiven and your flaws are candidly confronted, your resilience expands exponentially.

3. A Feast for Crows, George R. R. Martin

685 pages and two very sore arms later, I did it. *fist pump*

The author’s first sentence in his acknowledgements? “This one was a bitch.” Haha! Speak the truth, George!

This is the fourth installment of the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, which Joe and I avidly watch. At this point, I’ve been reading one book a year because they are so long and consuming, but I’ll have to read the fifth book soon since it takes place at the same time as book four and is where the show picks back up in January. I’m just working up enough courage to start it!

4. The Giver, Lois Lowry

Most people my age read this in school, but somehow I missed out on that bandwagon. Two girls in my office raved about it recently and after learning I’d never read it one quickly loaned me her copy. It was such a fast read, but I really wanted to see it before the movie comes out. As soon as I finished the book I watched the trailer, which—in hindsight—was dumb since the story could not have been more fresh in my mind and of course they hollywooded it. And, I’m sure like most books, the movie version will never compete. Even if Meryl is involved.

5. Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou

When news broke that Maya Angelou had passed away, I probably spent a good hour on YouTube listening to her speak or read sections from her books or poetry. What a true inspiration and what a voice! I knew that she read many of her own books for their audio versions so I did a quick library search to see what they had. This was the only one, which was great because I’d never read it and it was all about her complicated relationship with her mother. I played it through the TV every night after I had already climbed into bed and turned out the lights. It was powerful. This is probably the only time I’ve ever listened to an audio book without being on a road trip, but I just needed to hear her voice. Here’s a collection of powerful excerpts from the book:

6. Delancey, Molly Wizenberg

Molly, like me, is an Oklahoma girl who grew up in a food-loving family. When I read her A Homemade Life, I felt like I had just met an old friend. She beautifully and magically put into words so many of my own childhood memories. She spoke my language. This is her second book and it revolves around the opening of Delancey—the pizza restaurant she owns and runs with her husband. Her story-telling is just as beautiful as before, but one thing is certain after reading of their trials….I never want to open a restaurant! (But I do want to visit Seattle!)

7. Delicious!, Ruth Reichl

I fell in love with Ruth’s writing (and dream job) after reading her autobiographical Tender at the Bone a few months ago, but this is her first foray into fiction. It was verrrrrrry predictable, but you really can’t beat the way she describes food. She obviously knows her stuff and does her best to make it shine. It was a fun summer read—quick and no-brainer-like. Plus, as you can tell, I love reading, thinking and dreaming about food, so that helped.

8. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

And even though I’m *only* 615 pages into Anna Karenina (over ¾ way through!), I’m going to go ahead and count it for this Shelf Life. It’s only 175 pages to go and after reading over 600 that’s nuthin’. This has been on my “to-read” list for years and I’m so glad I’ve now read it. Stories aren’t written like this anymore. People don’t use this language, which is both a very good thing and also sad. What a grand life Tolstoy imagines. I highly recommend taking a month out of your year (which is what it will have taken me) to delve into this amazing piece of literature.

Next up in the queue:

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt (Still! AND it’s being made into a movie!)
A Dance with Dragons – George R. R. Martin
Freedom – Jonathan Franzen
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
The Vacationers – Emma Straub
The Silkworm – Robert Galbraith (aka J.K.)
Running to Normal – Sandra Clark

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One thought on “Shelf Life: Summer 2014

  1. Pingback: Shelf Life: Fall 2014 | hashtag marci

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