Books I’ve Been Reading – June 2017

PointReyesPoetry-2016

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

What I’ve Been Reading In June

Here are this month’s highlights …

ShatteredShattered by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes follows Hillary Clinton’s election campaign which they suggest was disorganized, disconnected and doomed. The casting is too black and white in this book – and it was ultimately a depressing read for me and I left it on my plane seat for someone else to pick up and feel depressed about. The book doesn’t reference or examine the broader context in which Clinton was operating nor even the fact that another campaign was also seemingly shambolic and yet the candidate was ultimately successful. Still, there are some lessons from reading this book: Be clear about the ‘line of command’ for decision-making; keep close to the ground on issues; sustain the narrative; seek out positive stories and intent; read with a discerning eye.

Emma JungLabyrinths: Emma Jung, Her Marriage to Carl and the Early Years of Psychoanalysis by Catrine Clay
So great to read a book that helps illuminate the powerful role that Emma Jung played on Carl Jung’s life and work. What Clay conveys in her telling is a woman who was resilient, possessed great fortitude and managed to hold together a marriage, family and home while her ambitious husband strays and builds his career. Emma Jung bides her time and ultimately creates her own satisfying career as a psychoanalyst. Emma Jung’s role has been overlooked for year and Labyrinths is a book that recognizes both her contributions as a practitioner of analytical psychology as well as its development. Clay captures Emma Jung’s role well when she says, “The world would not have had the Carl Jung it knew without Emma Jung, steady in the background.”

The Selected Poetry of Robinson JeffersThe Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers – edited by Tim Hunt
I was curious to read some of Robinson Jeffers poetry as I’d recently learnt about him as an icon of the environmental movement. Jeffers spent most of his life with his wife, Una, in Carmel, California, in a granite house that he built called Tor House and Hawk Tower. In this respect, he was like poet, Wendell Berry, in drawing inspiration from the specifics of place. In Jeffers case, it’s California’s gorgeous and increasingly endangered coastline and his vantage looking west across the Pacific.
He loved the sea – like others of us – and many of his poems are an embrace of the natural world including ”Natural Music,” ”To the Rock That Will Be a Cornerstone of the House,” ”Hurt Hawks,” ”Tor House,” ”Give Your Heart to the Hawks.” While he had the reputation as being a dour soul, there are moments of real brightness in his poetry, such as this depiction of an afternoon: ‘
‘And the noise of the sun, / The yellow dog barking in the blue pasture.”

No Time Like the PresentNo Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are by Jack Kornfield
I saw this book at my local bookshop, Book Passage by the Bay. I was a big fan of Kornfield’s book, After the Ecstasy the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path. Skimming through this book it seemed resonant of Pema Chodron’s wonderful books including When Things Fall Apart and The Places That Scare You. It’s also his first major book in several years and I wanted to hear his voice and stories again. The organizing focus for these stories are around different forms of freedoms and strategies follow stories to guide us to discern when to act and when to relax and trust. It was a great book for a long flight and left me feeling light and centered.

Good Night Stories for Rebel GirlsGood Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli
Such an empowering book in its telling of women rebels and resisters across the globe and from many countries and perspectives. The authors provide snapshot bios of these women of courage accompanied by striking illustrations, each by different female artists. These stories speak to each woman’s vision and for me they sparked conversations and literary journeys to learn more about these inspiring role models.

Jane

 

 

Books I’ve Been Reading – May 2017

PointReyesPoetry-2016

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

What I’ve Been Reading In May

Here are this month’s highlights …

Vital Little Plans: The Short Works of Jane Jacobs by Samuel Kipp and Nathan Storring (edsJane Jacobs is a rock star for her writings on urban justice, most especially for her works, The Death and Life of Great American Cities and The Economy of Cities. This book captures some of Jacob’s lesser known writings that cover the course of her career. Standout pieces for me were ‘A City Naturalist’ ‘How New Work Begins’ and ‘The Unfinished Business of Jane Jacobs’.  With issues of mass migration, rising inequality, climate change impact playing out in cities across the globe Jacob’s creative take on urban issues is timely and important.  Hopefully it inspires a new generation of Janes.

First Snow by Bomi Park Those who know me know of my love of snow. So it won’t surprise you to know that I was drawn to the illustrations in this book- and also because they reminded me of my friend, Juniper. In this story, a young girl experiences snow falling for the first time. Soft flurrying snow. There’s ritual in this girl’s wordless encounter with snow, which she experiences with a young puppy friend. We see them rolling snowballs under a yellow streetlamp, and under a bright moon. Later, they’re joined by other children as they create giant balls and snow people.  The scenes move from the universal to the particular – from giant snow creations to this girl’s first taste of snow as she sticks out her tongue to catch the flakes. It’s a joy to turn the pages of this book by Bomi Park’s, her excellent debut.

The Revolution Will Not be Funded by Incite Women of Color Against Violence (ed)
I was drawn to the title of this book and thought initially it was about corporate appropriation of social change however it’s about the role of non-government organizations (NGOs).  The book’s fierce stand is for movement building and activism that’s led by people and not appropriated by NGOs. First published in XXX, the editors make a strong case for grass roots activism that’s not blunted to accommodate funders or organizational goals. With seemingly more people than ever taking to the streets locally and globally to claim their human rights this is an important read.  It’s also a reminder that those who manage to transform systems, power and social norms have been willing to risk everything.

The Little Prince I bought at a bookshop in Bangkok.  It gave me that same bolt feel of magic as when I first read it.

The Secret Oral Teachings in Tibetan Buddhist Sects by Alexandra David-Neel I remember reading my first Alexandra David-Neel book before I took my first overseas trip in 1990 – to Tibet. That book, XXXX was a discovery and an enchantment. This book, found at a second-hand bookshop in Florence, Massachusetts, is an explanation of the Madhyamika (Middle Way) school of Buddhism that was developed by the great Indian teacher Nagarjuna. These clear and present teachings are easy to follow and valuable as a life practice.

For those unfamiliar with her life, Alexandra David-Neel was born in 1868 in Paris. After incendiary anarchist essays and a potential career as an opera singer, Davis-Neel decided to devote her life to exploration and the study of world religions, including Buddhist philosophy. She traveled extensively to Central Asia and the Far East, where she learned several Asian languages, including Tibetan. In 1914, she met Lama Yongden, who became her adopted son, teacher, and companion. In 1923, at the age of fifty-five, she disguised herself as a pilgrim and journeyed to Tibet, where she was the first European woman to enter the capital, Lhasa, which was closed to foreigners at the time. In her late seventies, she settled in the south of France, where she lived until her death at 101 in 1969.

How to eat in the Woods: A Complete Guide to Foraging, Trapping, Fishing, and Finding Sustenance in the Wild by Bradford Angier I saw this edition on a bookshelf above where I sat when I went to a candlelit reading at one of my favorite bookshops, Point Reyes Books. I finally got to read it, or at least skim read it as I was intrigued by the title.  In fact, it seemed to have an unearthly glow about it in the shop although the book itself is anything but – very much grounded in earthly realities. The author, Bradford Angier, was known as a wilderness survivalist and it’s like entering new territory, reading this book and learning about recognizing edible plants, nuts, berries, fruit, preparing food without utensils, finding potable water and building a decent fire. I must admit the title captured me more than the level of detail in the book however for those thinking of living off the land or going bush, this book’s a keeper.

Just starting to read: The Moth Presents:  All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown Edited by Catherine Bur (the 20th anniversary of this storytelling tradition)

Jane

 

 

Books I’ve Been Reading – April 2017

Sunrise Interior Detail

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

What I’ve Been Reading In April

Only a few this month…

All At Sea by Decca Aitkenhead is her story of what happens after her partner, Tony Wilkinson, drowns trying to save their eldest son, who survives. It’s a hardheaded full plunge dive through the heart of grief and it not only transforms the writer, it kind of transforms the reader too, at least for the rollercoaster ride that is the story.

Aitkenhead’s telling is guttural, wild, unsentimental and utterly, achingly true.  There are so many dimensions and stages of grief and Aitkenhead traverses them all in her narrative that takes the form of a mythic journey of a man redeemed only to die saving his son at sea and his family’s own journey to the other side of grief.

 

Me Jane by Patrick McDonnell An independent bookshop called Book Passages opened in Sausalito a few weeks ago and, thrilled to have a bookshop again, I went in to celebrate by buying some books. At the front counter was the last copy of ‘Me Jane’ a children’s book on Jane Goodall’s life and work. It’s a special story for anyone, child or adult, in inspiring us to hold fast to a dream and ride it all the way to fruition. In this case, starting with the chimp she had as a child – Jubilee and taking us on Jane’s journey where she succeeded in completely changing the way we see chimpanzees, saving many from being killed.  And then her growing realization a broader global conservation movement was needed (that became Roots and Shoots) to save chimps from poachers. Like the book, Jane starts with children, and a child’s dream.

My Own Words: Ruth Bader Ginsberg with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W Williams Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an inspiration to millions and I’m one of many in hoping she remains a Supreme Court Justice at least for the next 8 years. This book is co-written with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W Williams and they do a terrific job in retaining Ginsberg’s voice in an accessible style.

There is such warmth, wit and verve to these highly intelligent, stimulating and memorable pieces that I can’t wait for Justice Ginsberg’s autobiography, which apparently is underway with the same co-writers. Particularly moving is her writing about her friendship with Justice Scalia that says a lot about how friendships can traverse political differences. One wonders how Justice Gorsuch might fare in the friendship stakes at a time when Justice Ginsberg herself has publicly acknowledged this is where everything she’s championed is under threat. A book for our times.

Re-reading Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy: This book launched me headlong into a life of adventure and activism and finding a hardback copy of the book was a tangible reminder of the delight this book inspired. This included maintaining an attitude of perpetual curiosity and openness to all that life offers.

I loved that Murphy named her bike Roz (short for Rozthe) and that, on this first trip in 1965, she embarked on her bicycle trek from Dunkirk, across Europe, through Iran and Afghanistan, over the Himalayas to Pakistan and India. That Murphy approached her trips with a political sensitivity and awareness and a deep commitment to human rights is so evident in her writing.

It affirmed for me the profound importance of art and activism, in this case the power of witness by someone with a poet’s eye and a view from the ground.

Flowering Dusk by Ella Young: I was led to this book as a result of a filmmaking group I’m involved with that’s capturing the story of the 1960s transformative community of Druid Heights. This community, perched above Muir Woods in California involved individuals including Alan Watts, Gary Snyder, Elsa Gidlow and Ella Young and the names was inspired by Ella’s own story.

Ella Young was an Irish poet, revolutionary and mystic and this autobiography captures her experience of the Irish national movement and follows her relocation to the United States. In the book Young shares her time spent with individuals including Ansel Adams, D H Lawrence while teaching Celtic mythology at Stanford and exploring eco-feminist ways of living.

It’s a book that has so much resonance for these times in which we live and offers a potent example, of how to live a life of meaning, discovery and joy.

Beginning to read (for sharing next month): The Ground Beneath Us by Paul Bogard, author of a book I loved: The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light

More next month…

Jane Sloane
San Francisco

Books I’ve Been Reading – March 2017

Sunrise Interior Detail

Reading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Perhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world.And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

What I’ve Been Reading Last Month

Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After by Blanche Wiesen Cook is as good as it gets.  For anyone fascinated by the life and impact of Eleanor Roosevelt, and how to influence social change at the highest levels, this book is the one. Wiesen Cook is a superb biographer and this book is the last in her trilogy on Roosevelt, and arguably the most compelling.

I picked up a copy of My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout from my local library, a slender book exquisite in its spare writing. It captures what happens when Lucy Barton is in hospital away from her husband and two daughters and her mother, from whom she has been estranged for years comes to visit.  Lucy Barton’s unsentimental telling of her time with her mother is both heartbreaking and hopeful – I found myself putting the book down several times to just think. It’s such a human book, in these times of fast paced everything. One to slow down with and contemplate.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance has been much written about and it’s worth reading, if only to clarify your own beliefs about what causes and sustains poverty, and what helps people break out of this cycle.

As a counterpoint, pick up a copy of The Book of Joy, a conversation between two of the great teachers of our time, His Holiness Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu about how to manifest joy and deal with pain and stress. It’s a guide to living with hope and purpose.

The Watch at Peaked Hill: Outer Cape Cod Dune Shack Life, 1953–2003 by Josephine Breen Del Deo is worth buying for the gorgeousness of the cover as much as the beautifully told story within. It’s a poetic memoir of those living in the shacks closest to the shore in Cape Cod and the battle to maintain the right to sustain this life. For me, living on a small boat in Sausalito, it’s a tale by kinfolk living simply, close to nature and a love story and hymn to the beauty and inspiration of Provincetown.

Not surprising then, that I should also have read Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver, still one of my favorite poets, together with Wendell Berry and Australian poet, Gwen Harwood (her books, Poems and Poems Volume II are out of print and worth tracking down).

My hippy spirit couldn’t resist reading Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, the Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix & Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock by Barney Hoskyns. It’s evocative and captures the spirit of Woodstock and the complex web of relationships and events that informed that time.

When We Rise: My Life in the Movement by Cleve Jones captures the incredible movement for LGBT rights in 1970s San Francisco, the relentless impact of AIDS and Jones’ co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and AIDS Memorial Quilt. Jones is also a superb story teller and captures the ferment, friends, fun, fury and fire of this period.

I also loved Lab Girl by Hope Jahren who writes of the sanctuary she found in science and friendship with an unlikely kindred spirit. She’s a terrific storyteller and it’s an absorbing read.

Finally, Moonglow by Michael Chabon is a book for all of us moon lovers and members of the dark sky movement, loving the darkness and those buttery yellow moons.

More next month…

Jane Sloane
San Francisco