David Foster Wallace – the author of Infinite Jest, The Pale King, and Consider the Lobster- was not known as a dispenser of advice but in 2005 when he gave the commencement address (a speech that is most often associated with giving recent grads one last dose of advice) at Kenyon College entitled This is Water, he nailed it.
Standing in front of an audience of 22-year olds and their proud families, Wallace didn’t tell the graduates to follow their passion or dreams; instead he told the audience how important it is to live a compassionate life where we consider the people around us instead of ourselves. The words make the pursuit of happiness seem so easy (just be considerate!) but when you really think about the daily processes that define our lives, it’s not so simple because we’re not hard-wired to think of anyone but ourselves most of the time. Read more
We can wonder if, for all our separate histories, we are not more alike than different after all. ~Elizabeth Strout
In 1959, life in small town America revolved around family, school, work, and church which was pretty much the same decades before and decades since. Houses may have updated appliances, driveways new cars, and schools fitted with updated technology but people tend to stay the same. They root for a winner but can’t help finding fault, gossiping, and crucifying others for perceived slights, petty jealousies, or simply because they have nothing else to do. And, as soon as a person is knocked down to size, they come together to lift him or her up, rejoicing in their newfound redemption. Such is the story of the townspeople in a small northeastern town in Abide with Me by Elizabeth Strout. Read more
Each Kindness is a beautiful picture book with a powerful message about how we treat people and the regrets we may have. Written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, Each Kindness is told from the perspective of a young girl named Chloe who tells the story of what happened when a new girl named Maya joined her class in primary school (the book does not specify the grade but it appears to be about second or third grade).
Chloe recounts with brutal honesty how she shunned the new girl, made fun of her, and refused all attempts at friendship throughout the school year. When Ms. Albert, their teacher gives a lesson on kindness, Chloe wonders how much better the year could have been if she had shown Maya a little kindness and opened her heart to friendship. Read more
Because if everyone just turns out like their mother, then what’s the rat’s-ass point?”
Elizabeth Strout is one of the few writers who has mastered the art of writing about difficult women we loathe but love to read about. In her Pulitzer-prize winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (2009), Strout gave us an opinionated, forthright, bossy, cantankerous, and self-righteous protagonist (Olive Kitteridge) who was also loyal, honest, and conscientious. Most readers identified in some way with Olive Kitteridge – the school teacher, the wife of the local pharmacist, and the mother who loved imperfectly – but felt relieved the similarities only went so far. Read more
The country that separates fathers and sons has disoriented many travelers.
Many Americans associate Libya with the September 11, 2012 uprising in Benghazi where Islamic militants attacked the American consulate killing the US Ambassador to Libya, J. Christopher Stevens and three others. To better understand Libya and the historical events that define its tumultuous past, it is helpful to know the following: Read more
In 2016, Harvard sociologist Matthew Desmond published Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Evicted) – the story of eight families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction in 2017, the 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award, the 2017 Pen/John Kenneth Galbraith Award, the 2017 Andrew Carnegie Medal, and more, Evicted is the emotional and heartbreaking story of what happens when people are evicted from their homes. As the author points out, it’s not just the roof over their heads that’s lost, but also a neighborhood, friends, schools, and a sense of safety and personal dignity. Read more
Reading a children’s book can be magical even if you’re reading the book to yourself because the story can take you back to a time when you thought extraordinary things were still possible.
Reading James and The Giant Peach when I was 9 years old filled me with morbid fear of Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge who were terribly cruel to little James. But, the story also filled me with great joy when James prevailed despite the odds. And, who could forget Charlotte’s Web where the love of a little girl and the devotion of a spider saved Wilbur from a terrible fate? Read more
Blake Bailey is best known for his biographies of very talented but troubled writers (Yates, Cheever, and Jackson) so when The Splendid Things We Planned – a personal family memoir – was published in 2014, readers took note because it’s one thing to write about other people’s lives but quite another to open the flood gates on your own family. Read more
Before you pick up the book, Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, do yourself a favor and read My Name is Lucy Barton first. Both books stand alone as good reads but collectively these fictional stories are even better because the first book sets the stage and introduces a cast of colorful characters whose lives intertwine in the most bizarre ways in the second book. Read more