October Book Marks
Each year I buy a giant Costco sized bag of mixed candy for Halloween trick-or-treaters. And in the past few years, there has been no one home to pass it out. It’s been my custom to dutifully leave a sign next to the bowl ( like the Village Idiot in a ground hog day loop) asking kids to just take a few. And each year, a neighbor has informed me, that pretty much within the first three doorbell rings, some greedy jokester dumps the whole thing in their pillowcase.
As the month draws to a close, there’s that bag of candy on the table. I’m staring at it as I write, thinking about breaking and entering. I can hear the Swedish Fish calling me, smell the Reese’s cups with their bite-sized offer of minimal calories. Right.
Once again, I’ll be out of town. And I’m not going to change my plan. That giant bag of processed sugar has come to represent my annual spring-loaded whack-a-mole faith in human nature. Maybe it won’t happen again this year? Maybe somewhere in the scrum of this year’s trick or treaters, someone’s conscience will rise up and smote the bad boy impulse of the kid in the Dracula costume to take it all with one swipe.
Maybe. Maybe not.
I’m going to continue to believe that the best parts of humanity exist somewhere in just about all of us. Despite the violence and tragic shootings, the rise of mental illness, hate speak and a tide of seemingly bad news and behavior, I’m going to continue to believe that the goodness of human nature can triumph. This year, when I return home and examine the trick or treat bowl, maybe some of the candy will still be inside.
And as November follows quick on the heels— please get out and make your vote count! And remember to honor those who served on November 11th— Veterans Day in America. They are the individuals that preserve your right to vote. More about that next month.
This months independent is Barbara’s Bookstore in Chicago. barbarasbookstore.com It has saved me from a mile-high mediocre reading choice many, many times while passing through O’Hare airport!
The Fighters – Americans in Combat in Afghanistan and Iraq by C.J. Chivers
Pulitzer Prize Winning author and Special Forces Sargent Chivers has proven his expertise reporting from war zones and laser-focusing on the meat of an issue. This book is an honest, 360 degree look at the intimate parts of modern warfare, from courage and commitment to suffering and moral confusion. Chivers uses the lens of his own empathy and understanding to portray the physical and emotional experience of war through the eyes of six different types of combatants, from a grunt to a Special Forces sergeant. This fast-paced piece of long-form journalism re-tells war’s gritty and courageous side to shatter the myth of the glorious battle and serve as a framework from which to weigh engaging in future conflicts.
A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson
Three generations of women criss-cross this deft tale, which is set in a mid-western college town. The story opens with Evelyn, the grandmother, who is dying in the house she has lived in for her entire marriage. Beside her is Laura, her daughter, who is as much a reluctant caretaker and flawed character as everyone else in the book. The men they love are weak and self-centered and we see the interior landscape of disappointments, affairs, dashed dreams, duty and dysfunction. Thompson draws characters who experience heart breaks, set backs and triumphs and all of them harbor secrets.
But it the granddaughter Grace who must break the pre-determined course of the previous generations, the assumption of marriage and motherhood, gardening and cooking to chart her own course. She will be called upon to be peacekeeper for a father and brother who can barely stand to be in the same home as they suffer through their addictions.
Moving fluidly through time, this story explores our definition of home and how we chafe against the constraints even as they tug us back. In the end you don’t outrun or escape your destiny by leaving. In the end, each of the characters will regress, stumble, move forward, fall short of expectations and try to make peace with the life they have been given.
Watch Your Tongue: What Our Everyday Sayings and Idioms Figuratively Mean by Mark Abley
I love words and expressions. So many of them roll off our tongues without us even thinking about the origins. Abley utilizes Shakespeare to help parse phrases or explain the mysteries of idioms and expressions for things like “drain the swamp” to why we say we are “chicken” when we are scared. If you enjoy the history and psychology behind where and how our language developed, you’ll love reading this book. Full of catchy sidebars and illustrations, it’s a fun prop to read aloud at the dinner table.
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
In April 1986 a mysterious fire in the Los Angeles Public Library destroyed or damaged more than a million books. Most of us missed this catastrophic loss of treasures because the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Russia happened the very same day. Orlean uses this pivotal event not just to dig into the characters and the arson story, but to illuminate the way libraries and the people who support them define communities and a civic sense of self. The author of “The Orchid Thief,” Orlean knows how to weave a tale and seize the most interesting facts.
When the Men Were Gone by Marjorie Herrera Lewis
We’re all familiar with Rosie the Riveter, the iconic image of WW2 and the women who went to the factories when the men went to war.
Until now, the story of Tylene Wilson has stayed hidden from the history books. In 1944, football crazed Brownwood Texas had no one to coach the high school football team with every able bodied man at war. Tylene is a football fanatic, who knows as much about the sport as any man when she offers to coach the team.
But the town wasn’t quite ready for a female coach and she must persevere through ridicule, opposition, rival coaches, angry referees and even other women who are indignant over her position. In the end, she wins the hearts of all of her players.
The author, a Texan and a sports writer, became one of the first female football coaches in the country when she joined Texas Wesleyan University in 2017. She was inspired enough by the story of Tylene that she wrote a whole darned book about it. I’m already imagining the movie.
Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister
Long before the #metoo movement, women’s public “anger” was not just a hiccuping historical political catalyst, it was largely viewed as a problem. Traister’s well-researched treatise tracks the history of female anger as political fuel, from suffragettes chaining themselves to the White House to the Anita Hill testimony on beyond. It’s interesting to trace the ebb and flow of this power through time and view today’s current transformative anger as the backbone of a political movement. This timely and fact-filled book will leave you with the sense that anger, when harnessed correctly, can be a galvanizing force.
How to Not Always Be Working – A Toolkit for Creativity and Radical Self-care by Marlee Grace
Well, I can think of about 2,490 people including myself who could benefit from this little wisp of a book. Part advice manual, part love letter and part step-by-step workbook, it’s one of those little reminders that we all need to push back and love ourselves more. Give this with a Starbucks card to a friend and pass it on!