She got her first library card. She’s already read two books shortly after school let out for the summer. She was afraid others might think of her as a nerd.
I found this out at the court hearing. I’d wondered if I should even get her a book. I’d sent her one on softball a month or two ago. She’d told me that she liked softball and basketball. I was hesitant to give her a book since she’d been diagnosed with learning differences that impacted her reading ability. What the heck–it was worth a try. I found out at the hearing that she had liked that softball book. That’s also when I learned that she’d wanted (and gotten) her first library card and read more books. She’d turned 14 since I got her case. A wonderful foster family was in court to take on permanent guardianship of this 14-year old girl.
Reading. I’ve done more of it since retiring 4 1/2 years ago. One thing that helped was joining a book club. We read six books a year–three in the fall and another three in the winter/spring. Summers, we don’t meet.
I began writing reviews of books I’ve read since I retired. My rating scale ranges from 1(lowest/weakest rating) to 5 (highest/best rating). Here’s the latest set of reviews:
The Stolen Letter – by Clara Benson: Not usually interested in books about or featuring war (I much prefer peace and feel that war is over-glorified and normalized to the detriment of us all), I read this novel at my book club’s suggestion. World War II is lurking and then hits, but the heart of the story, the core, centers on the beauties of Florence, Italy–art, rivers with their bridges, villas, cathedrals, and people–Italian, English, and American. Greed and power do their usual egocentric damage on small and large scales. Just as empathy and self-sacrifice hold their sway and remain true for others. Decisions made by the main female character when she is young and naive become literally life-changing (and almost life-ending). Interesting characters come alive and nearly jump off the pages. Italy as a whole and Florence in microcosm bloom (and crumble). Fascism and nationalism and authoritarianism and hatred of “the other” weave and corrupt and erode even personal bonds and relationships. Scarily similar to the U.S. of late. 4 Stars
Little Fires Everywhere – by Celeste Ng: What a great read! Questions of structure vs. whimsy, logic vs. heart, and biology vs. culture–all interweave amidst the everyday ebb and flow of family life. Current issues of race and culture and have’s and have-not’s are just as relevant in the late-90’s when this book is set. The dialogue is realistic, and there are lots of plot twists that bring up values and ethics and hard decisions. As the saying goes, I couldn’t put it down. 4 Stars
Why Buddhism IS True – by Robert Wright: Boy, I had to be alert for this one–heavy content, yet presented with lightheartedness and humor. I gained insights, but actually being able to personally apply them still seems tricky. This book combines Buddhist principles with natural selection, psychology, and philosophy. It meanders a bit too much for my liking. The main emphasis is on meditation and mindfulness, but the concepts of emptiness and not-self had my mind struggling at times. Paradoxes abounded regarding cravings and feelings and perceptions and reality and enlightenment and nirvana and truth. I would’ve liked more practical applications, although the end of the book did explore this to some extent. If I’d had more familiarity with Buddhism, I’d probably have fared much better. I did like the emphasis on peace and a collective one-ness. 2 Stars
Beartown – by Fredrik Backman: One of my (newly) favorite authors, Backman again creates characters that intrigue me with their quirks and eccentricities that make them so fully real and human. Add to this the richness of psychology/emotions, philosophy/insights, and plot development/scandal. His writing is communicative, coherent, and even poetic. Riveting. He explores deep human emotions and circumstances. He raises important issues and questions for us all to consider. He does all this within the context of common people and events. This particular story revolves around youth sports–in this case, ice hockey, and the stories of the teenage players, their overly-involved parents, and the many, many fan(atic) community backers. Blue-collar vs. white-collar; homegrown vs. outsider, and he vs. she–all play out on and off the ice. 4 Stars
No Time Like the Future – by Michael J. Fox (aka, Alex P. Keaton): Full of humor and reflection about his life with Parkinson’s Disease (PD), Michael J. Fox gives us all wonderful lessons to live by. He writes as if he’s talking to you–very conversational–with his trademark wit and smarts that see through to the very core of things. It was fun reliving some of the famous Michael J. Fox characters many of us know (Family Ties, Marty McFly in the Back to the Future series, etc.). It was also really fun learning about his REAL family ties. I named my one and only son after Alex P. Keaton, and I’m still proud that I did. Despite facing obstacle after obstacle, Fox, in real life, continues to enjoy and appreciate the journey. 5 Stars
Me Before You – by Jojo Moyes: I almost quit reading this one, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It took several chapters to get me interested. The story centers around a quadriplegic and the young woman who helps care for him. Major themes and issues surrounding people with disabilities are addressed in a direct, practical way. The young caretaker comes to see her male charge–her attractive and sometimes playful male charge–as much more than a disabled person. She can see way beyond and way inside him. Their relationship develops and goes through unforeseen changes. The main character–Louisa (“Lou”) is absolutely delightful. This book is vital and touching without being sappy. 3 1/2 Stars
Untamed – by Glennon Doyle: The reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars is because I found it somewhat scattered in its presentation. Yet, the clarity of its insights and important messages about accepting yourself, your TRUE self, are high-level. Letting go of cultural indoctrination and societal expectations can lead to a much freer sense of self. And possibilities. With far less stress from less perfectionism and the endless search for control. Views on parenting and marriage and gender roles and mental health are presented with freshness from new angles and perspectives. I can see why so many have read and recommended this book. 4 1/2 Stars
Empty Nest, Empty Desk, What’s Next?* – by Dr. Rita Smith: A game-changer for me as a fairly new retiree. Normalized my feelings of loss–that were NOT expected. The anticipation and then honeymoon of early retirement often give way (devolve) into a myriad of “down” feelings. Retirement is described as one of life’s major transitions–and the transition that few plan for (beyond financial planning). What to do with the 7+ hours of leisure time per day (2,000+ extra hours per YEAR) becomes an issue, especially for women used to being productive and esteemed in their careers. Dr. Smith guides us through by having us look at our values, our pleasures, and ourselves. I gained helpful ways to chart these waters. 4 Stars (not 5 due to many typos)
*Regarding this last book review, I said it was a game-changer for me, and it truly was. In an earlier blog post, I described myself as a late-in-life drop-out. I’d taken a 30-hour training to become certified as a Guardian ad Litem (child advocate for children in foster care). Yet, when the swearing-in was scheduled, I had second thoughts. I had been retired a little over two years, and I just didn’t feel like I wanted to commit the time and energy required to do right by this position, even though it was volunteer work. Paid or not, it is important work to advocate for children and to try to discern what’s in their best interests. Especially in highly volatile and traumatic situations. So, I declined. I did keep my hand in the program by serving on a community board to raise funds to support the Guardian ad Litem volunteers and financial needs for the children not provided by other available sources.
Fast forward a year and a half, including a year of pandemic “living” AND reading the book Empty Desk, Empty Nest, What’s Next?–I was ready to get certified. I started serving as a Guardian ad Litem this past March with my first case–that teenage girl I mentioned in the opening paragraph. A few weeks ago I got my second two cases–a sister and brother. I feel more alive. I feel like I’ve re-found some of my identify that, it turns out, I’d been missing more than I’d realized. You never know what a book can do.
I’m glad she got her first library card. And I’m glad she came into my life.