What I’m Reading

As a historically self-centered person, what’s helped me to become slightly less so over the years has been making unselfish, often joyful people my reference points. Certain books have helped me gain those reference points. I know that it takes effort to procure books, and that it’s easier to fill our COVID 19 homebound time with movie after movie. My personal experience, though, is that a book is more sustaining than a movie: it feeds me far longer than two hours with a nutritious body of thought.

 

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. How can we be happier? And is happiness a selfish goal to begin with? This conversational, well-researched book says it is not, that happier people are actually more generous than unhappy people, and also tend to spread their joy. The number and quality of our relationships with others is the biggest single key to happiness. And disciplined habits – doing the things we’d rather avoid but are then very glad we did – are pivotal. I’ve been greatly helped by this book, its downside being that Ms. Rubin has a privileged life, and little awareness that others suffer for lack of those privileges.

My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. Steeped in compassion for the race-based pain and division in the U.S., Mr. Menakem states that whatever color we are, we need to get out of our heads and into our bodies to heal and be whole. Both black and white people carry trauma; power dynamics make trauma play out more harshly for people of color. He’s a longtime therapist and educator, and supplies exercises designed for personal healing, and ultimately national healing. My lovely colleague Gina pointed me to this book, and I’m excited to be starting a three-Saturday online discussion of it tomorrow.

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. Most of us would like to be part of the solution to racism, rather than part of the problem. Ms. Oluo gives us practical advice on exactly how to do that. For example: Google first for answers to our race-based questions rather than expecting whatever person of color we know to be our unpaid info-source. Check our privileges (for example, mine include an education, having no disabilities, being white, etc.) Include all voices in the room. Own that we cannot help but have racist tendencies, given the culture we’re in, don’t be defensive about it, and work to overcome it.

The Road To Character by David Brooks. It’s popular these days to see ourselves as unique and special, no big faults, quite grand, a Big Me, yes sirree. But the people who have given significantly to this world tend to be much more skeptical of their own goodness. Mr. Brooks examines the lives of eight well-known, flawed but heroic people to find how people from different walks of life overcame their various weaknesses to become major contributors. This book shaped my understanding of giving big and helped set me on my path to kidney donation.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. Imagine your life as a movie, Mr. Miller suggests. Would anyone find it worth watching? It depends on what kind of story we are living. Vulnerable, funny and Christian in the best kind of non-judgemental way, the author shares how he dealt in his thirties with being abandoned by his father as a child, and started living a vibrant, adventurous, big-hearted life.