Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, looks under the hood of the human engine and reveals the vulnerability-shame cycle that drives us all.
We all feel shame—it can’t be helped, Brené tells us. Shame is the fear that we are unlovable and that we don’t belong. People deal with this universal shame by withdrawing, becoming too eager to please, or lashing out aggressively to shame others.
Daring Greatly dares us to go on a journey of self discovery. If we apply Brene’s tenets to our lives, we can deepen personal relationships, abandon stifling masks, and get along better at work. Her shame resilience tactics can help us when we are making big life changes or figuring out next steps—as I am now.
Reading Daring Greatly when I am at a personal crossroad is serendipitous. I must ask myself: am I daring greatly?
I resigned from my job last week—when 23 million Americans are out of work. I am leaving New York, the media-job capital of the world, the city of “never enough.” Finally, I’ve had enough. Where else is self-worth tied so much to achievement? Where else are there more people “chasing down the extraordinary”?
Brené says we adopt armor to protect ourselves from the discomfort of vulnerability. In New York, the armor is out in full force. Here, we can be alone in a crowd, with invisible, barbed-wire shields around each of us.
New York is also a city of disengagement. Picture me reading Daring Greatly on the subway. I don’t want to people to see what I am reading or worse, what I am underlining. New Yorkers don’t make eye contact, but they will read over your shoulder. I feel vulnerable.
As I read the book, feeling the eyes of jaded New Yorkers on me, I recall grade school experiences that shaped my attitudes and actions more than I realized. Over time, I worked out a lot of my vulnerability-avoidance behaviors, though I never called what I was doing “vulnerability avoidance.” I care A LOT less about what others think. I let go of “perfectionism.” I compete only against myself.
Most of the book’s anecdotes come from Brené’s life. By the last chapter, I felt I knew husband Steve, son Charlie and especially daughter, Ellen. By revealing so much, Brené makes herself vulnerable and most importantly, credible.
This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.
“In a way, every story with Paris at its heart is a love story.” –Kati Marton
Paris, the City of Light, is a complex, romantic, and sometimes turbulent city. I’ve only been to Paris once, but Kati Marton has spent a lifetime absorbing the city’s nuances. After reading her memoir, I want to revisit Paris and walk the streets of the city Kati writes about so vividly.
Paris: A Love Story is about Kati’s three loves: husbands Peter Jennings and Richard Holbrooke, and the city of Paris itself.
Richard Holbrooke, Barak Obama’s special adviser on Afghanistan and Pakistan, died suddenly in December 2010. Kati’s grief for her beloved husband is woven throughout the book, even when the memoir takes us to life before Richard: her childhood in Hungary, her youthful exuberance as a student in Paris, and her earlier marriage to ABC anchorman Peter Jennings.
Kati herself has an impressive biography. She worked as a foreign correspondent for ABC News and for NPR. She works on human rights issues and has written biographies and other non-fiction. At first, I thought “Kati” was a pretentious way of spelling “Katie,” but Kati is short for “Katiya,” quite a beautiful name.
But Back to Paris
A few months after Richard’s death, Kati puts her New York City apartment on the market and retreats to her Paris pied-à-terre. She will pass through the tunnel of grief more anonymously and more quietly in the city she loves than in New York. “Grief is not a linear process. It hits you with a force when you least expect it,” says Kati.
“I need to get away. Paris seems the right place. It is where Richard and I started our lives together and lived our happiest times. But, well before that, it is where I became who I am. In a life of multiple uprootings, Paris has been my one fixed point.”
The streets and neighborhoods of Paris sound so romantic to me: St.-Germain-des-Prés, the rue de Écoles, the rue de Sévres, I follow Kati’s wanderings on Google Maps. If you haven’t read a book set in an unfamiliar city and followed along on Google Maps (particularly Street View), I recommend it. The hand-drawn map of “Kati’s Paris” in the Kindle edition can’t be enlarged, so it is unfortunately undecipherable.
The Love Affair Begins
Paris began for Kati in 1967 as a student when she moved into the heart of the city’s Latin Quarter: “two steps from the Sorbonne, across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens.” Her idyll, intellectually curious student life would not last. The following May, Paris would erupt in riots. Her whole life, Kati always seemed to be where the action was—intentionally at times, as an ABC News correspondent, but unintentionally at others, especially in Paris that year.
The 1968 student riots that caught fire in Kati’s neighborhood would balloon into the first wildcat strikes ever and ultimately would involve 11 million French workers. Kati was no stranger to war zones; as the riots wore on, they began to remind her of days in Hungary as a child. She was ready to return to America.
Ten years later, Kati would return to Paris as she zipped around Europe from news assignment to news assignment for ABC. She and Peter Jennings lived in Paris. “Our Paris was the opulent Right Band, the Champs-Elysees and the rue du Faubourg St.-Honore.”
Richard in Paris
Kati and Richard would have an apartment in Paris as well. “My hyperkinetic husband became a Parisian flaneur. There is no native English word for that quintessentially Parisian pastime, quite simply because Americans do not consider aimless ambling a legitimate occupation,” says Kati.
The last time Kati would see Richard is a single night they spent together in their Paris apartment, a quick break from his Washington, Kabul or Islamabad obligations.
Marton shows an admirable tenacity, which she inherited. The most illustrative example is her story her mother’s behavior in a Hungarian prison: “In her lowest moments, she forced herself to do sit-ups in her tiny cell.” That visual will stick with me long after I forget other details of the book.
“ . . . between May 16, 1983 and January 9, 2005, over two and a half million people died of war and war-related causes in Sudan, over four million people were internally displaced in southern Sudan and nearly two million southern Sudanese took refuge in foreign countries.”
—preface, What is the What
What is the What Cover
These facts permeate the narrative of What is the What, a piece of journalistic fiction ala Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The stories are chilling; even more chilling because they are true, or mostly true. Dave Eggers admits he filled in the gaps of his hero’s memory and therefore, wrote a novel.
But Valentino Achak Deng of southern Sudan is very real.
Just before the killing breaks out, Achak, tells the story of creation as told to him by his father:
God created the first Dinka man and woman and offered them the cow, which the man knew would supply everything they needed: milk, money and prosperity. Or, they could choose the What. But what is the What? God said, I cannot tell you what is the What. So they chose the cattle and this was the correct decision.
God was testing the man for his ability to appreciate what is good and available, rather than trading for the unknown.
Years later, his father said Achak’s opportunity to go to the United Sates was the What, but urged him to go anyway. And for Achak, one of the Lost Boys of southern Sudan, the What was not good.
The Jungle is Atlanta
Achak is resettled in Atlanta. As casualties of the Sudanese civil war, the Lost Boys will always be somewhat lost, even in Atlanta. What is the price for clean sheets, electricity and nourishing food? Are these physical comforts worth the diminution of his soul? Achak helps other resettled Lost Boys, but is a few dollars from his gym wages the best kind of help he can give?
After five years, Achak, who had been a leader in his refugee camp, still has not achieved even modest success in Atlanta. He works for low wages at a gym and he struggles at the community college. His trusting nature causes him to let a woman asking for help into his apartment who, with her partner, robs and beats him. He is left tied up overnight to retell his life story in his head.
Eggers’ retelling of Achak’s story transports the reader to Sudan, walks the readers’ hearts with those boys and allows the readers’ souls to suffer with them. What is the What is no dry 60 Minutes piece.
Eggers returns the reader back to Atlanta periodically for an update on Achak’s current indignities: the robbery, the helplessness, and the indifference in the emergency room. In his head, Achak tells his stories to the people who pass through his current life. He speaks to the African-American boy who guards him, calls him “TV Boy.”
He speaks to the photos on the computer screen of people who have just swiped their gym membership cards.
How can anyone who has witnessed and survived so much slaughter, disease and starvation be put through the banal trials he suffers in Atlanta? Achak’s emotional suffering in Atlanta was worse than in Sudan.
In the refugee camp, Achak had gone beyond the suffering there. “It keeps my spirit alive to struggle,” says Achak. He had been educated, he had become a leader, and he affected positive changes in other refugees’ lives. Then he comes to the US and is marginalized and is unable to overcome day-to-day barriers.
No End to the Suffering
What is the What reminds me that just when you think you are safe, you’re not; there is no end to suffering. Eggers conveys the boyish humanity of The Lost Boys, Achaks’ longing for his village despite everything, and his memory of his mother. He cherishes the memory of being wrapped in her bright vibrant yellow dress, the sun he revolved around before the killing began and he became lost.
Eggers explains the politics between northern and southern Sudan, the Arabs and the Dinka, in a way that grinds into your soul. No detachment allowed. Now a new generation of Lost Boys are traveling across Sudan.
Go ahead, blame ebooks for the impending doom of public libraries.
Readers pick a camp these days, Camp Digital or Camp Paper, but few pick Camp Library. Quality paper, elegant typefaces and the act of turning pages evoke sentiment in the traditional reader. Book covers can be an art form.
But readers can mark and store notes in their ebooks. They can reference significant passages in a way unequaled by yellow highlighters and Post-it® Notes. Plus, a reader can see what passages other people marked.
I am an ambidextrous reader; I choose the easiest or least expensive way to get the book I want to read. Sometimes speed is my priority and I buy the Kindle edition. Other times, I have a Barnes & Noble gift card and I am happy to spend it on beautiful hardbacks.
Back to the Public Library
When ebooks catapulted to popularity, I wondered if libraries would survive. But with my home bookshelves crammed full and my wallet a little light, I started using the New York Public Library’s website and book reservation system. Apparently, a lot of other readers are too.
According to the American Library Association:
“Public libraries in many major U.S. cities continue to see circulation rise, with Seattle leading the way with a whopping 50% increase in the past six years.”
“The rapid growth of ebooks has stimulated increased demand for them in libraries. Nationwide, more than two-thirds of public libraries offer ebooks, and availability and use are up. But libraries only have limited access to ebooks because of restrictions placed on their use by the nation’s largest publishers.”
So while the publishers are duking out their price war, I have returned to the library.
The Patience and Fortitude of the NYPL
The New York Public Library is the largest library in the United States not counting the Library of Congress. The two lions guarding the front entrance of the main branch are named “Patience” and “Fortitude.”
Which is what it takes to find anything.
The lending library is across the street on Fifth Avenue and like most libraries, despite their Dewey Decimal system, I can never find anything I want. Even in my Battery Park City library, where everything is brand-spanking-new, the shelves seem impenetrable.
If the books were laid out the way Barnes & Noble is–fanned out on easy-to-browse tables, perhaps it would be different.
The NYPL reservation system changed everything. I add books to my Hold list from my laptop or smartphone. When the titles are available, the library delivers them to Battery Park City. I get an email telling me which of my books is ready. I walk in, head right to the Reserve Shelf, pluck out my book and I am back on the street in about two minutes.
NYPL Hold List sample
Chrisopher Isherwood shows readers that a single day in a man’s life can sum up the nature of his existence.
This particular man, George, is gay and the year is 1962. George is from England, lives near the ocean and teaches at a college. These are just facts of the existence of an entity called “George.”
Jim, George’s long-time partner, died in an auto accident less than a year before and George is still coming to grips with the loss. In his grief, George observes his own actions and those of his friends and students with complete alien detachment.
This detachment is the true state of human life, author Christopher Isherwood is saying.
The book begins and ends with a universal “we” describing George’s body as a machine that functions independently of George. “George,” or any other human machine given a name, has no soul as conventional wisdom thinks of souls. “George” is a named object. “The creature we are watching will struggle on and on until it drops. Not because it is heroic. It can imagine no other alternative.”
This single day of George’s is pivotal in his recovery, though the action is mundane. George is annoyed by neighborhood children; George drives to work; George teaches a class. He dines with a female friend who lives in the past, then spends the night with a male student who lives in the future. The action becomes less mundane.
In A Single Man, Isherwood was finally able to address gay themes head on. In previous works, like Berlin Stories, the main character’s sexual orientation is never denied or asserted. It was the 1930s.
Isherwood lived in England, Berlin and California and he developed a literary circle of friends that reads like a “Who’s Who” of letters: W. H. Auden, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gore Vidal, and Aldous Huxley. (He name-checks Huxley in this novel.)
These literary giants may just have been a group of machines, but these particular machines were top-of-the-line.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What if—suddenly—millions of people disappear into thin air? The Leftovers is about what happens to those who remain.
Why were they left behind? Did they witness The Rapture? No one has a clue. In the end, it doesn’t matter what force was behind the poof of smoke. Forever, the event is known as October 14. Sound familiar? I worried the book would be another 9/11-like tale, but it wasn’t, not really.
The Leftovers focuses on one town, Mapleton, by all measures, a very ordinary town. But these very ordinary townspeople cope in wildly different ways. They are bewildered. If this was The Rapture, why were so many good people left behind?
The people of Mapleton discover life goes on whether they are prepared or not. But everyone is irrevocably changed. Cults spring up, like the Guilty Remnant (GR) who wear all white and chain smoke cigarettes. The GR haunt the town in pairs, following others at close distance. There are the Barefoot People and the Holy Wayners.
Three years later, the town celebrates Christmas and Valentine’s Day; they hold dances and conduct ceremonies. Games figure in the tale, teenage games of chance, baseball, ping-pong; representing the randomness and the repetition of life.
The story’s action centers mostly around one family,the Garveys, who did not lose a family member on October 14, but were profoundly affected nonetheless. Kevin Garvey, who is also the mayor of Mapleton, pretends everything is okay, even as his son joins a cult, his wife joins a more extreme cult, and his straight-A daughter rebels.
I anticipated specific plot twists and kept waiting for them to happen. At some point, Kevin’s wife Laurie will return home. Is it now? How about now? Now she HAS to. Maybe she won’t. At some point, Kevin’s new girlfriend who lost her husband and both her children will be able to open up and see what a great guy Kevin is. Now? In the next chapter? Never?
No one behaves as I would guess, but no one behaves implausibly either. This book does not go the formula route. The Leftovers manages to be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time.
View all my reviews
The Berlin Stories: The Last of Mr. Norris and Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A lot went on in Berlin between World War I and World War II.
After Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts piqued my interest, I read Christopher Isherwood’s The Berlin Stories, a two-novel package of The Last of Mr Norris and Goodbye to Berlin.
The Broadway play and movie Cabaret are loosely based on Goodbye to Berlin.
Like Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the male protagonists’ homosexuality is only hinted at by the author, though it helps the reader’s understanding to be aware of it. The Hollywood productions of both Breakfast and Cabaret turn the heroes straight as an arrow.
The heroes in both novels, William Bradshaw and Christopher Isherwood, are one and the same. Fraulein Schroeder, my favorite character, turns up as the landlady in both novels. In Goodbye to Berlin, Isherwood is not mentioned by name at first. But Frl Schroeder calls out, “Herr Issyvoo, Herr Issyvoo!” Later, he introduces himself as Mr. Isherwood.
Not sure why I find this so funny, but I do.
People think Germans could not have realized what the horrifying outcome of the Nazi regime. But these novels, published before WWII, show the shadow of Fascism spreading across Berlin and the fear the more intellectual citizens felt.
Frl. Schroeder represents the non-intellectual German. Isherwood says of her,
“Already she is adapting herself, as she will adapt herself to every new regime… If anybody were to remind her that, at the elections last November, she voted communist, she would probably deny it hotly and in perfect good faith. She is merely acclimatizing herself. . . Thousands of people like Frl. Schroeder are acclimatizing themselves. After all, whatever government is in power, they are doomed to live in this town.”
The 1935 Goodbye to Mr Norris is more of a fun romp with some foreshadowing of the Nazi takeover toward the end. 1939′s Goodbye to Berlin is more weighted with the political battle between the Communists and the Nazis and the growing atrocities that compel Isherwood to leave Berlin.
Isherwood writes beautifully and I can’t wait to read the rest of his books.I still hear “Herr Issyvoo!” in my head.
View all my reviews
What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America by Tony Schwartz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I have owned this book for many years and have read this book many times; it’s one of the few books I reread when I need a lift. I can open it to any page and start reading. As a result, my paperback copy is looking pretty mangy.
What Really Matters introduced me to people that I went on to read more about, especially Ram Dass and Ken Wilber. I enjoyed the chapter on Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain because I owned Betty Edward’s book and had already worked through her drawing exercises. Schwartz’s drawing chapter, though novel, is not one I go back to.
What Really Matters, published in 1995, predates all the how-to-find-happiness theories that are flooding the bookstores and Internet now. But this old book feels more authentic than a slapped-together manifesto full of tips and tricks.
I am disappointed that Tony Schwartz has created a new career as a “do-better-at-your-job” motivational speaker. The few clips I’ve watched of him lecturing seem more schlubby than my image of an author who sincerely searched for wisdom as he researched people and paths that purported to have the answers.
Read it; you may find an answer or two.
View all my reviews