February Book Marks
On the East coast, the end of February always feels like we’ve passed the hump and broken the ugly spine of winter. So how better to honor my last ever school winter break than to take off for more winter in Sun Valley, Idaho? But the truth is, winter just feels different out West. Wait an hour and the snow squall becomes a cobalt blue sky. The crags of the Sawtooth Mountains, Nordic skiing and snow hiking, the herd of elk just sitting in someone’s backyard… there have been lots of laughs, various combinations of all six of us and some good downtime turning into human prunes in the hot tub. That’s what family vacation is supposed to be.
This trip to Sun Valley started with a chance meeting at a wedding with someone who knew about the work we do at the Bob Woodruff Foundation. bobwoodrufffoundation.org She mentioned volunteering her time to support an equine therapy program at a local Idaho ranch. One thing led to another and we were planning a trip to speak to the local community about our own journey with injury and recovery.
You can learn more about what Swiftsure Ranch does here swiftsureranch.org and the money raised will go to continue to support therapies with veterans from the Boise VA so that all costs are completely underwritten. Horses can sense emotions, and part of caring for them provides a mission. As someone once said to me about a therapy parrot, “animals don’t judge us, they just show up and offer unconditional love.”
And lastly, no trip to Sun Valley is complete without a visit to their local book store, Chapter One Books in Ketchum, Idaho chapteronebookstore.net
This little gem of a store has embedded itself in the town as the literary watering hole. You can buy new, used and some local favorites. And who doesn’t love a bookstore where a cute boy in pink is reading in a chair?
And now, for some February selections to chase away the last of the winter blues:
It’s an art form to make a book about war read like a novel. And yet this isn’t just a book about war, its about family, love, loss, fear and the ties that bind in active duty. When I first read this book in 2007, I was captivated by the way Raddatz, a seasoned war reporter, effortlessly toggles back and forth between the war zone and the home front in Fort Hood, Texas. Each of the soldiers depicted has a back story, which makes the vivid ambush of “Black Sunday” in Fallujah, Iraq all the more painful as you see war through the eyes of the warrior and their loved ones back home. The book became an eight part National Geographic mini-series that captures the intimacy of service and heroism with the gritty reality of war. Don’t think of this as a book about a war, think of it as a book about how war impacts families.
I love when a book introduces me to a corner of history that I never knew existed. The backdrop of this historical novel is Tupelo, Mississippi in 1936, where an epic tornado pummeled the town. It was so devastating that people were actually found in treetops and cattle lost their horns (can horns really be blown off cattle?) However, the damage to the sector of town where the black families lived (which took the brunt of the gale) was never even counted in final figure of 200 dead and 1000 injured. Gwin breathes life into this story by creating two characters, Dovey and Jo, an African American great grandmother and a white teenager who are connected in the aftermath of the tornado as they help one another survive and try to find their loved ones.
Color, race, sense of place and history tie this book together and move the plot along. And in a year of what seems like natural and man-made disasters, the book takes on a realism that feels very contemporary.
I read a review of this book in the New York Times and was intrigued enough to download it on audible. It did not disappoint. The story begins with an unspeakable act of violence and then moves through time and place between the different characters who are cinched together in a macabre way.
With clever writing, good internal and external dialogue and by holding just enough back, the horror and truth of the past is revealed. Everything you think you knew at the outset, is gradually shaded in by other desires and motivations. Woven into the tale are fun facts about geology, the history of cement (yes, it’s interesting), food porn, bucolic settings in upstate New York as well as the angst of the stock market plunge in 2008. The only place I felt let down was the very end as the author left us to draw a few too many conclusions and I was left wanting more. That makes it a good book club pick for discussion. In the end, the story was a page turner that makes it hard to guess the ending.
When I heard the creator and writer of Mad Men had written a book, I added it to my list. Writing for the screen is such a different genre. But this short little gem of a book packs much into a taut tale; a mother’s helicopter parenting, the ennui of marriage and the snarling, umbilical cord cutting of a teenaged girl. Add in a sinister, sexual predator and the lengths to which a father will go to protect his daughter and you have a clever little story that builds like a thunderstorm to its crescendo. I was sorry when it was over and look forward to whatever he does next.
I’ve long been a fan of Maria Shriver’s writing and everything else she touches. Despite her Kennedy pedigree, Maria is as down to earth and open as they come. She has spent much of her life telling stories, as a journalist, then as First Lady of California, championing women’s issues and now as an advocate to raise awareness about women and Alzheimers. It’s in this present phase of her life that Shriver has turned her lens on helping us to find meaning and purpose with her writings and weekly digital newsletter, “The Sunday Paper.” This book grew out of those reflections and each chapter provokes thoughts, clarity, meditations and conversation. The chapters also provide a warm reminder about the power of faith and how life’s greatest meaning comes from our connection to others. Keep this book by your bed and read a chapter a night and buy one for a friend who might welcome the inspiration.
Oprah, Tom Hanks, Jerry Seinfeld, Gwyneth Paltrow and so many others are on a first name basis with “Bob.” But don’t let his pedigree and list of famous students fool you. His purpose is to teach the world to meditate and share the mantra based technique of Transcendental Meditation (TM) that is proven to reduce stress, raise energy and potentially increase happiness. All true.
Roth’s most recent book is a clear, practical guide to calming mind, body and spirit. He describes the science behind TM, but also provides examples of how individuals have incorporated this simple practice into their lifestyles, by showcasing the evidence. Whether it’s an Iraq veteran with PTSD or a school child in inner city Chicago, Roth has evidence based examples that explain how meditation can help all of us live fuller, happier, calmer lives.
One of the best things I did for myself last year was learn how to meditate. And while I can’t claim to be religious about it, I think of it as a tool I have in my box, or a superpower that can help me self-soothe. Roth is certainly considered the international guru of the trade, although I know he is bristling at the moniker as he reads this!