Book I’ve Been Reading – October 2018

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart

With Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a modern-day heroine for these times, it’s no wonder there are two movies and a spate of books about her life. This book is a full-length biography that provides the facts and arc of Ginsburg’s life without the analysis that would have been a welcome accompaniment. Still, it IS Ruth Bader Ginsburg and so it’s worth reading because her life choices, partner and experience have been so rich and illuminating.  I like what writer Linda Greenhouse wrote in her review of this book in the New York Times: “She has objected. She has resisted. She has dissented,” the text reads. “Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes. This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life — and ours.” It’s almost as if, were we not lucky enough to have Ruth Bader Ginsburg among us in this troubled time, we would have had to invent her. Icons, it seems, are made as well as born.

Adrienne Rich: Essential Essays: Culture, Politics and the Art of Poetry, edited by Sandra M Gilbert

Getting up close and personal to Adrienne Rich’s writing feels like a political act. For anyone not familiar with her work, her writing is SO good.  This book is an immersion experience of her speeches, public and private accounts, criticism and essays. In her writing, Rich is clear about the importance of speaking up, even when we’re still figuring things out. “We can’t wait to speak until we are perfectly clear and righteous. There is no purity and, in our lifetimes, no end to this process.” Her own ‘wokeness’ demands that she speak, and she sees an intellectual life, a political life, as one in perpetual motion, arriving at thoughts and perspectives yet remaining dynamic and in flux.  Her poetry is a revelation and is also on this same continuum– my favorite book of poems of hers remains the Dream of a Common Language. More than anything this book provides insight to the depth of Rich’s intelligence and her political take on the world. She is writing from the margins and her own points of vulnerability, which in itself is an act of courage.

Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds by Joy Adamson (Re-read)

I had a yearning to re-read Born Free and the great thing about my local library is they had a first edition. What joy and revelation in reading it!  Since I last read the book many moons ago, I hadn’t picked up on the subtleties that Joy Adamson recorded when she was capturing Elsa’s life in Kenya in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  For instance, that Elsa sought out solitude regularly, away from people, away from her cubs. She seemed to need the quietude and time to herself. I hadn’t thought of a lioness being attuned to solitude and silence at key times the way many of us seek out this time alone, however, of course, why not? It’s also fascinating to read of how Elsa really did live between two worlds, the world of humans and the world of the wild. And how she raised wild cubs that stayed essentially wild their entire life, while Elsa retained her close connection to Joy and George Adamson as well as the wild until her untimely death from tick fever at the age of five.  I feel like I’m carrying Elsa’s spirit in my heart long after my hands have left the book.

Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks by Stephen Davis

I must admit I only skimmed this book yet I wanted to check it out, given that Fleetwood Mac recorded at The Record Plant, the legendary studio based inSausalito where I live. This bohemian village still feels like classic Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac territory. So, I was curious about the biography. In some ways, the book is a classic rock and roll biography and it’s also a story of a rockin’ woman of substantial songwriting talent rising despite the odds stacked against her. It’s also a classic #Metoo tale of how Nicks fights back against those seeking to minimize and diminish her. Of course, the drugs she takes place her on a collision course with her talent and it’s the Betty Ford Clinic that helps her address her cocaine addiction and support her to rise again as an American legend.

Betty Ford: First lady, Women’s Advocate, Survivor, Trailblazer by Lisa McCubbin

Betty Ford’s courage in facing and sharing her breast cancer and then later her addiction to painkillers and alcohol made it possible for many others to get checkups and seek treatment.   This book is also a love story between Betty Ford and Gerald Ford and is the backdrop for all that they faced, individually and together. Betty Ford was candid about her opinions on topics such as sex, abortion and marijuana from the time her husband was running for President.  She was also smart, funny, unpretentious, a dancer, and an outspoken advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment, among other issues.  She used her voice to make change possible and the Betty Ford Center has been her enduring legacy in supporting many others with addiction problems.

Being A Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide by Charles Foster

I adored this book. Especially the chapter on Charles and his eight-year-old son, Tom, becoming badgers, or at least badger-like.   Its divine to explore humans literally imitating animals and seeking to get as close to being in their skin as their physical bodies and imaginations allow.

There is a serious message to this seriously funny and deeply profound book. It’s that we’re disconnected from the wild in ourselves and from the wildness around us. And Foster tackles this in a way that no other writer I’ve read seems to have done.

Foster sets out to live as a badger, an otter, a fox, a stag and a swift to be steeped in their ways and thus understand their lives better and our own. He does this by setting up residence in different places and moving across landscapes as a stag, foraging through dustbins as a fox, attempting to fly like a swift and dwelling in hillside setts as a badger.

So, we’re taken on a shaman’s journey, one where Baker is clear about the boundary between himself and animal. He’s an evocative writer, an eccentric writer in the best tradition, and he’s also bluntly honest about his failure to success in this grand experiment.

His message is also that wonder is in the detail. “Only those blind to the velvet flow of a caterpillar’s legs and deaf to the grunt of a crocus as it noses out of the earth don’t worship.”

It’s an exhilarating read and one of the most original books I’ve read in a long time.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

Walker is a great advocate for getting eight of hours sleep a night and he makes the case that we’re in the midst of a “silent sleep loss epidemic” that poses “the greatest public health challenge we face in the 21st century.” His credentials are impressive – he’s Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.  Walker tells us that “Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day.” One of the many stories he shares is a conversation with a composer who tells him that sleep often gives him the answer to an unsolved piece of music he wrestles with before he falls asleep.  Walker tests this theory and finds much truth in it.  A good night’s sleep comprises both REM (rapid-eye movement) sleep, and NREM (non-REM) sleep, a deeper sleep state that predominates in the first half of the night. NREM sleep is crucial to memory retention, and to acquiring and refining our motor skills. REM sleep plays a role in our abilities to deal with negative feelings, read other people’s emotions and solve problems.  Our last two hours of sleep are vital, so we shouldn’t sacrifice it for exercise because we sabotage the biggest health benefits.

Other fun facts: You’ll have a harder time falling asleep after reading a book on an LED device than you will after reading one printed on old-fashioned paper; the blue light emitted by an iPad suppresses your brain’s natural release of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleepiness, by over 50 percent. And adults aged 45 and older who get fewer than six hours of sleep a night are 200 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or a stroke than those who get their full sleep allotment. The most straightforward recommendation from Walker is to “Establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time, even on weekends.” It’s a book to keep on your nightstand.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

I’ve only just started this book and I’m engrossed in reading it already. Stay tuned for next month’s book list for my review.