The piece I wrote last week for Dad Gone Wild got picked up by Chalkbeat, a national education blog. I’m really excited to get a wider audience for an important topic: school segregation. Check it out if you didn’t see it yet!
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
David Mitchell’s work is weird and wonderful. The Bone Clocks and Black Swan Green are two more of his unique novels. All of his writing features strong attention to language and first person narrators with engrossing, unforgettable voices. I was fascinated by the unpredictability of The Bone Clocks, but Cloud Atlas took that to an entirely new level. It has six different novella-length narratives, arranged in a pattern that is likened in the text to Russian nesting dolls. Finding the connections between the stories, and the scattered metaphors for the title and the novel’s form is like finding Easter eggs. Each narrative is a different genre in a different setting, ranging from the epistles of an English notary exploring the Pacific islands in the 1800s, to a hard-boiled detective novel, to a “corpocratic” future dystopia where “fabricants” are enslaved clones. One main theme connecting the narratives is escape from oppression and slavery. The beautiful humanist vision at the conclusion is one I’ll remember a long time.
I could not put down this creepy ghost story. The narrative is split between two mothers, one in the present, and one about 100 years ago (who becomes the ghost). I related so hard to Bridget, the contemporary stay-at-home mom: the subtle competition with her mom friends, the mindlessness and boredom, her fierce protectiveness toward her baby daughter. ‘Mommy wars’ tension seethes underneath every interaction she has with another woman, including her own mother. Rebecca, the turn of the century farm wife, was somewhat stranger. Through the stories of her older relative, Frau, mythical/fairy tale elements enter the story and lead directly to its horror. The title comes from Rebecca’s birth: while in labor, her mother was asked if she would trade an hour of her life, and an hour of her daughter’s, for both their survival. Of course, there’s a catch. Both Rebecca and Bridget have significant marriage problems. Bridget’s are fairly typical: her husband works too much and is never home, they don’t appreciate each other or connect as they used to. I found it harder to relate to the Rebecca’s marriage issues because they’re caused by extreme sexual repression and the husband’s complete refusal to engage in honest discussion. This is the kind of book I’m not sure I’ll be able to get out of my head. The feeling of being stalked and watched in your own house, of your child not being safe–that is real terror.
I got to see Roxane Gay last night and she was delightful and hilarious. The entire crowd really enjoyed her sense of humor. Some topics she covered: HGTV’s Tiny Houses, online trolls, Beyonce, Outlander recaps, and writing about trauma. She said she thinks of herself primarily as a fiction writer, though she is more well known for her opinion writing and personal essays. She discussed the writer’s conflict between wanting to be seen and understood, and wanting to be invisible, and the way that writing is always misunderstood. Once an audience question got her started trashing the president, she had a hard time stopping, understandably. As a mom of two toddler boys, I deeply sympathize with her wish for “a year of male silence.” Her favorite book is The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton–a book with an ending that blew me away. Two lines I found motivating and inspiring as a writer: “things that intimidate me are the things that I find most intellectually satisfying,” and “do something no one else is doing.”
She’s finishing her book tour to promote her memoir, Hunger. I read the first 100 pages or so while waiting, and it’s incredible. I knew some of the bare bones of her harrowing personal story from reading Bad Feminist, but here it’s really raw, the focus of an entire book rather than a shorter piece. Her voice is one that’s so necessary in the sphere of fat acceptance, which too often is limited to the idea of accepting size 12 bodies. I’m looking forward to finishing the book, and hoping to get into her fiction soon as well!
Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin
This book is about habit formation and what it takes to adopt and maintain good habits, and break bad habits and keep from relapsing. I found it incredibly useful. Rubin talks at length about how people’s different tendencies and personalities should change their approaches to habits. She breaks people into four groups in regards to how they approach habits and expectations from self and others: 1) Upholders, who like to follow rules, 2) Obligers, who follow through on commitments to others but not to themselves, 3) Questioners, who only do things that they can see a good reason for, and 4) Rebels, who resist all habits and expectations on principle. In habit formation, the name of the game seems to be self-knowledge: know yourself so that you can choose the strategies most likely to work for you. Rubin lays out all the tools you’d need to do that. I’m mostly an Upholder, which means that Rubin did not have to sell the notion of habits to me; I was already on board. When you have a good habit, that means you don’t have to think about doing the right thing, you just do it automatically, saving your willpower for tackling other problems.
Rubin tries to talk generically, so that her info is applicable to almost any habit that you might want to take up or drop. She ends up talking a lot about food, especially low-carb eating. Her particular personal habits and preoccupations are a little idiosyncratic, to say the least, but her voice is charming, and she’s usually just using her experiences to make points that are well-researched and reasonable.
Here are some of my habit advice takeaways from the book:
- Avoid feeling deprived.
- It’s often easier to abstain entirely than to consume moderately.
- Anticipate and minimize temptation.
- Habits, good and bad, have momentum and are self-reinforcing.
- It’s ok to make exceptions to your habits, but only if you plan it ahead of time. If you decide at the last minute to break a habit, you’re in danger of dropping that habit altogether.
- Schedule time for the things you value.
- Make it convenient and easy to follow your good habits. And if you want to break a bad habit, put obstacles in your way to make it harder to do that thing.