Solutions and Other Problems

Having finally finished Sarah Bakewell’s At the Existentialist Cafe (taking almost as long as reading The Splendid and the Vile), I found myself happily ensconced in an easier path to philosophical thinking with Allie Brosh’s Solutions and Other Problems.  If you have read her first book, Hyperbole and a Half, you will recognize her cartoonish characters combined with serious thinking. I like books with pictures but tend to shy away from graphic novels. Brosh, on the other hand, offers her heavy insight mixed with a light touch.  It was easy to transfer Bakewell’s evaluation of Sartre to Brosh’s world of grimly smiling characters.

Brosh’s book is full of her own story as she navigates through her sister’s suicide and her traumatic health scare and includes a plethora of sublime and funny vignettes from childhood through her thirty year old self (notice I did not say adulthood). She draws herself as a frog-eyed and neckless stick figure with a blonde shark fin of a ponytail protruding from her head.   She explains why:

“There are a lot of distracting things about humans,” she says. “There are ways we’ve learned to interpret each other, based on all these outside clues. Drawing myself in this spastic, animalistic way allows me to communicate more directly about the things I’m trying to talk about without using this confusing [human] vehicle as a medium.”

Her style works to simultaneously provoke humor and pathos, drawing the reader into funny situations with thoughtful outcomes. Brosh adds her quirky art to a humorous angst reminiscent of David Sedaris talking about his childhood or his favorite pants. Allie Brosh transforms simple stories about her cat, her childhood, and her anxiety into humorous lessons. Some are just laugh out loud funny but others will have you connecting to your own experiences.

Best of all, by exposing her own idiosyncracies, worries, and insecurities, she gives the reader the freedom to admit to some too, and, in the end, become your own best friend. Maybe Solutions and Other Problems was not written to draw us out of our social distancing doldrums in a pandemic, but reading the book sure does a good job of it.

The last line in the book:

Because nobody should have to feel like a pointless little weirdo alone.   Especially if they are.

 

 

Reading Through the Noise

Sometimes the noise of politicians and news broadcasts can be overwhelming, and turning off the dial and turning into a book can be a salve.  A few books I’ve read lately:

Magic Lessons by Alice Hoffman

Halloween may be the same for those in denial, but for many who are cautiously protecting themselves and their loved ones, the old traditions of partying or trick-or-treat from house to house are over.  Witches prevail, however; they are everywhere, both good and bad, and Alice Hoffman reminds readers of their trickery and power as well as the history of their persecution in colonial Massachusetts and seventeenth century England.  In Magic Lessons, Hoffman focuses on the ancestors of the characters from Practical Magic, famously converted into a movie with Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock.  The story combines historical fact with fictional lives, complete with spells and potions, as well as romance, intrigue and betrayal.  If you are a fan of Hoffman’s other witching stories, you will find yourself happily submersed, as I did, in an old world with magical possibilities.

A Life on Our Planet: My Witness Statement and a Vision for the Future by Sir David Attenborough

Writing a book at ninety-four years of age is in itself an accomplishment, but Attenborough’s short tale, complete with pictures, not only recalls the highlights of his amazing adventures through the lens of the tragedy facing the environment and the world, he also proposes a solution.  After chronicling how the world was and how it became desperately what it is today,  Attenborough leans into his own experiences to define the planet’s evolution within his lifetime.   I had expected a large heavy book, and was surprised when the small tome of under three hundred pages arrived.  Attenborough is his usual charming and succinct self, not wasting words or emotions, but calling attention to the world’s dilemma and what we can do to save it.

Leave It As It Is by David Gessner

I listened and watched a zoom discussion of Leave It As It Is sponsored by Powell Books with David Gessner in conversation with Teddy Roosevelt (played by an actor).  As they bantered about Roosevelt’s comment at the Grand Canyon (“leave it as it is”) that lead to creating national monuments throughout the West, they brought the discussion to the environment and the future of caring for the land.

Gessner mentioned the 1906 Antiquities Act,  used by Presidents to designate national monuments that reflect the full measure of the country’s history. President Theodore Roosevelt, who signed the Antiquities Act into law, created 18 monuments, including the Grand Canyon and Olympic National Park in Washington, totaling more than a million acres. Since then, sixteen presidents have used the act for preservation and protection.  The Trump administration is now trying to rescind Obama’s declaration of Bears Ears in Utah as a protected area.

Like Attenborough, Gessner wants to motivate readers to be aware of the importance of preserving the natural beauty of the land, with the same urgency Teddy Roosevelt felt for future generations when he said: “I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”

I downloaded a sample of the book, and it follows the same conversational tone the author established in the zoom interview, often including Teddy Roosevelt quoting his own famous lines. Gessner and Teddy Roosevelt on the zoom call were entertaining as well as educational.

More reviews of books by Alice Hoffman:  Alice Hoffman 

 

The Authenticity Project

Although I am still recovering from the Presidential debate debacle and the shock (well, maybe not so much) of the President being infected, I found a book to distract me.  Clare Pooley’s The Authenticity Project promised to be a light cheery read and I submerged myself in the ebook version.  Starting light with the premise of a journal passing anonymously to subsequent readers and writers, the story quickly morphed into a confessional.

Long before the pandemic was a household word, I often left paperbacks on planes or in terminals.  Sometimes I found a book in the waiting area, and once I accidentally left The Dutch House on a seat.  I had finished it but had to buy it again when it was time for the book club discussion (this time I listened to the Tom Hanks version).  Sometimes, I purposely left a book on a park bench and tried to follow its trajectory through a website created for that purpose, but I quickly lost interest and the website address.

I have never revealed the pages of a personal journal; in fact, I follow the advice of a good friend and destroy the pages after purging my soul, rereading my angst, and moving on.  In The Authenticity Project, the characters not only write about themselves but point to their identities so subsequent readers of the journal can find them.

One reviewer called the book a “cozy, feel-good read.”  It does have a happy ending but the surprise betrayal took it off that course and strengthened the story with tension and realism.  Julian, an elderly artist starts the project, writing about his loneliness and leaves the journal in a cafe where the owner, Monica, picks it up and decides to help him.  She too writes about her desperation, and the book passes to a series of characters looking for friendship and love: an addict and wealthy banker Hazard, Australian surfer Riley, social media queen and new mother Alice, and a few others.  Monica’s cafe becomes home base as they eventually connect in person and become friends, trying to help one another.

Through a series of humorous twists, the story morphs into the revelation of each character’s real inner identity; aspiration meets reality, and friendship reigns.  The Authenticity Project will make you grateful for your friends, and mesmerize you into a better world for a while – we could all use that distraction.

A Quick Inventory of Books

You know where the road to good intentions leads and I seem to have been on it for a while.  Although I have renewed online library books from the Libby site, more often they are returned unread.  How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell is the latest ebook I have on my Libby shelf, but I think maybe I’ve already figured it out.  The list of books returned stays on the site, admonishing me for neglect, and I’ve forgotten why I decided to check out the titles in the first place.  Have you read any?  Should I try again?

  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
  • The Book of the Little Axe by Lauren Francis-Sharma
  • The Summer Guest by Justin Cronin

I have read and finished Bob Woodward’s RAGE, and it offered more than I wanted to but should know.  Things are worse than they seem.  I followed by watching the new not so fictionalized cable presentation of The Comey Rule and my appetite for facts ignored by the general population gave me indigestion.

My books from Powell Book Store finally arrived by slow boat, but Trust by Susan Choi was disappointing.  I have hopes for Jill McCorkle’s Life After Life, with a review from Elizabeth Berg promising magic.  I could use some.

The Authenticity Project by Claire Pooley is an iBook on my phone, as well as The Secret Book and Scone Society, recommended by a friend.

On my to read list (I still have good intentions):

  1. Monogamy by Sue Miller (on the NYT Sunday Review
  2. The Boy in the Field by Margot Livesey (a favorite author)
  3. The RBG Workout by Bryant Johnson

Books to Give Away

Although I have many ebooks on my phone, I have combined my attempt to support independent bookstores and my yearning to hold pages in my hands with a ton of books now crowding my shelves.  Since the library is not accepting donations, I need to disperse my collection some other way.  Maybe this year everyone I know will receive one of my books (only read once, some pages only slightly turned over, few markings in the margins) – the perfect used Christmas gift.  They should be safe to read, although they have not been tested and some of the contents may have contagious ideas.

Here’s my list of two dozen – want any?

  1. The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian
  2. The Second Home by Christina Clancy
  3. American Dirt by Jeanine Cummings
  4. The Secret Guests by Benjamin Black
  5. Feels Like Falling by Kristy Woodson Harvey
  6. Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
  7. Beach Read by Emily Henry
  8. Dumpty by John Lithgow
  9. Don’t Overthink It by Anne Bogel
  10. Naamah by Sarah Blake
  11. Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
  12. Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? by Beverly Tatum
  13. The Confession by Jessie Burton
  14. No Time to Spare by Ursula LeGuin
  15. I’m Not Complaining by Ruth Adam
  16. How to Find Love in A Bookshop by Veronica Henry
  17. Hell and Other Destinations by Madeleine Albright
  18. Weather by Jenny Offill
  19. Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
  20. Inland by Tea Obrecht
  21. The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman
  22. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookshop by Matthew Sullivan
  23. Miss Austen by Gil Hornby
  24. Paris by the Book by Liam Callanan

What books are on your giveaway shelf?