Tag Archives: Reading

Pages of Intimacy

A friend was recently telling me about a book he was reading and we both agreed that the author (who is well-traveled, multilingual, knowledgeable, funny, and articulate) would be fun to spend time with in real life. In conversation, I expressed how nice it was to find a good “book friend” to spend time with regardless of real life.

Book friend.

That’s how I generally think about authors or even characters in novels. I love Haruki Murakami, for example, because he describes the world in ways that make it both bigger than it is and also so uncomfortably close and personal. Reading his books, I see my world through his eyes and I learn from it. I enjoy Robert Sapolsky because he’s funny and engaging, which is not always common practice for scientists writing for lay people. In the fiction world, Hermione Granger remains a favorite female protagonist for her unashamed love of books. Importantly for a book character, she rarely disappoints. If there’s a fact to find and a book to find it in, she will.

Book friends, unlike real people in unedited daily existence, are manufactured. They’re predictable, omniscient where appropriate, developed in a certain way to achieve certain ends. They weave bits of plot together into a neat story that is literally bound and sealed. And that’s what makes them safe. That’s what keeps me coming back to books I’ve read before, authors I’ve spent time with, characters I’ve learned to love or hate. Book friends are there to be heard and I’m here to listen.

There’s a feeling of excitement when I read something that is just so perfectly, stunningly, eloquently true. There are passage from books that I highlight, write down, keep track of, and return to over and over. Often I find myself looking to share whatever I’ve just found with someone who will appreciate it as I do. I want to share why I’m so thrilled by what I’ve read or what makes me laugh or cry. I want to share what fills me with awe, dread, or horror. If I’ve learned something new, something that I think is important, I look for people to show it to because it’s too special to keep to myself.

I’m cautious, though, because I see sharing passages from books as an intimate action. I’m handing you a piece of my mind in the form of something that has stood out to me as beautiful, honest, and true. I’m telling you, “This resonates with me.” Sometimes, you haven’t seen that side of me. You didn’t know I was looking for those things, believed that, or had come to such understandings. And here I am, holding out something that excited me and hoping that you’ll accept it, meaning that you will also accept me and who I am, what makes me tick. And I am always hopeful that you’ll return my share with one of your own or with conversation about your own found truths, your own beauties.

But sometimes, the people we share with don’t respond in the ways that we hope they will. Sometimes we try again, we ask again that they take us for who we are. Sometimes they surprise us and they do. And other times, we learn to stop asking.

I admit that I am cautious. I love talking about books and hearing what others are reading, but it takes time to feel comfortable enough sharing so much of myself with anyone else. I want to know you and I want you to know me. But I don’t want to overwhelm you. I don’t want to scare you away. Vulnerability is at the forefront in any interactions when we allow ourselves to be seen by others, but vulnerability comes with a balance. We cannot immediately demand that others see us, hear us, let us breathe. We need to give them time to decide that they want to engage in the same way.

We ask for a lot when we say, “These are the words that are meaningful to me and through them, you see my scars. These are the words that I find true, so I am fragile in showing them to you. And these, these are the words that are dark and unspoken and through them, you see what I keep hidden.”

Thought about like this, sharing books with others is intimate in a way that most shared activities are not. It’s a revealing of oneself, a taking off of clothes of sorts. We are unprotected and therefore vulnerable to whatever might be thrown at us. Sharing our inner lives with one another is an act of courage.

But now you know me. Now you see me. And hopefully, you let me see you.

Why (and What) I Read

Until a couple years ago, I read almost exclusively fiction. I read for pleasure and to pass the time, to embark on an adventure to worlds I would never inhabit. I love historical fiction (i.e. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, The Help by Kathryn Stockett, The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks) and just about anything with a hint of magic (i.e. JK Rowling, Haruki Murakami, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, 11/22/63 by Stephen King, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline). I love exploring other worlds, people, places, times. I love feeling part of something that I’m not, something I will never see.

Losing track of time in a good book is an escapist behavior, one that always leaves me feeling more whole than I did when I started. There’s beauty in the pages of books; beauty, truth, and perspective on what does or does not matter. I’ve reread some of my favorite books dozens of times, particularly in times of difficulty, great upheaval, and challenging emotions. When the real world is too painful, it’s comforting to curl up with a world that I know and an ending I can trust.

But in more recent years, beginning around the time I finished my Master’s degree, I found myself greatly interested in nonfiction. My nonfiction reading had previously been course texts and research articles, some of which were terribly interesting. (Others . . . not so much.) When I finished grad school, I realized that I missed the reading that made my brain work a little harder. I missed reading that forced me to draw connections between what I knew from personal experience, empirical evidence, and prior reading. I missed learning new things and drawing more nuanced conclusions about how and why the world works the way it does. So I started picking up more nonfiction, which was initially daunting because of how much there is to read! I discovered that I enjoyed biology and neuroscience more than I had in school, was less enthralled than I used to be with historical tomes, and gravitated towards texts that explained people and ideas rather than places and things. (And yes, I understand that people, ideas, places, and things are related and not mutually exclusive.)

And what I found in that world of nonfiction has had an impact on my thinking, interactions with others, eating, daily routines, career and personal goals, and hopes and dreams. The nonfiction I’ve read especially in the last two years has provided me with knowledge, data, and facts that inform my observations of the world. It has helped me make sense of the patterns, incongruities, and possibilities that I see, seek out, and question.

Reading nonfiction has made me more eager to ask questions because I am constantly humbled by how much I don’t know. It has made me willing to admit ignorance and then prompted me to seek out answers. This path is very much a rabbit hole and I continue to find more twists and turns than I expect. I feel a swell of pride when I recognize studies cited in multiple books because I’ve read those studies and the books that explain them. There’s a little bubble of delight that comes from familiarity with an incestuous family of academics who have all the dysfunctional tendencies of most biological families.

My students often ask me why I know everything, which couldn’t be any less true. I tell them that I’ve just lived longer than they have. I tell them that I read a lot. I tell them what I’m reading. I tell them when I don’t know an answer and I tell them when I find out that answer. I answer their questions with a level of detail that is probably over their heads, but I hope the details prompt more questions. That’s how it is for me. When ideas are challenging, I find myself slowing down, looking up more words, spending more time clicking my way through Wikipedia hyperlinks and Amazon recommendations, finding more podcasts to listen to and blogs to follow. Encountering challenging ideas reminds me that there’s so much more out there and encourages me to continue exploring.  

So, since we’re somehow halfway through 2017, I thought I’d put together a list of what I’ve read so far this year. The books are listed in order of most recently finished. The five with asterisks and authors in red are the most important books I’ve read so far in 2017. Those with asterisks and authors in purple are fiction, still my greatest escape from the world. Have a look. Maybe you’ll find your next favorite! 

***Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Richard Bach
***Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools – Michael B. Horn & Heather Staker
Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education – John Dewey
On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century – Timothy Snyder
Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education – Martha C. Nussbaum
***Cat’s Cradle – Kurt Vonnegut
The Courage to Be – Paul Tillich
***2BR02B – Kurt Vonnegut
Moving Toward Global Compassion – Paul Ekman
Read This If You Want to Take Great Photographs – Henry Carroll
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race – Margot Lee Shetterly
Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life – Susan A. David
The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction – Mark Lilla
Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies – Nick Bostrom
Word by Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries – Kory Stamper
***The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever – Christopher Hitchens
Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life – Dacher Keltner
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow – Yuval Noah Harari
***The Nun’s Story – Kathryn Hulme
Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them – Joshua D. Greene
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi
***Tropic of Cancer – Henry Miller
Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society – Thich Nhat Hanh
Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari
***Caring: A Relational Approach to Ethics and Moral Education – Nel Noddings
Simone Weil: An Anthology – Simone Weil
The Wisdom of Insecurity – Alan W. Watts
***The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined – Steven Pinker
The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays – Henry G. Frankfurt
***How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place – Bjørn Lomborg
***World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students – Yong Zhao
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy – Francis Fukuyama
The Hero Handbook – Nate Green

I’m currently in the middle of a novel, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst, a neuroscience book by Robert Sapolsky. Both are rather long and having been taking me some time to read, but I’m enjoying them very much.

If none of the above inspire you, my 2016 reading list is here for your perusal. You can also follow me on Goodreads to see what I’m reading as the year continues. Click on bookshelves and take a look! Happy reading!


Books for a Cause

My relationship with social enterprises started with a school trip to Cambodia a little over a year ago. Since then, I’ve actively sought out good causes and ways to support them. If I’m buying a book or getting a cup of coffee, two beloved activities, I might as well do some good in the process! That’s why I headed to Housing Works Bookstore Cafe – used books, coffee, and a good cause. I loved it even before I opened the door.

According to their website,

Housing Works is a healing community of people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS. Our mission is to end the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS through relentless advocacy, the provision of lifesaving services, and entrepreneurial businesses that sustain our efforts.

Housing Works has been around since 1990 and opened their first thrift stores as social enterprises in 1995. They provide housing, healthcare, job training, and legal aid to homeless and low-income New Yorkers with HIV/AIDS and provide education and advocacy on these issues.


I added my contact information to the sign-up list for volunteers, so maybe something will come of that!

I have three books still on hold at the library and have been hoping they’d come in before we leave on our trip to Israel so I could take one with me because my Kindle has been misbehaving. As much as I love my Kindle and most forms for technology, real books don’t break. You open them and read. Simple. My library holds are still on hold, however, so I was forced to buy two books at Housing Works. Poor me. I started both of them while sitting in the café. Born to Be Good by Dacher Keltner will be coming with me to Israel but Christopher Hitchens’ The Portable Atheist is staying home. It just seems wrong to flaunt my personal exploration on a faith-based institution’s religious trip to the Holy Land.

Because of the trip, I’ll be on a blogging hiatus for the next two and some weeks. (And I clearly felt the need to make up for that in advance by publishing three posts in three days.) Expect an explosion of photos when I’m back! In the meantime, I invite you to go find a good cause. And read a book or two. If you need somewhere to start, here are some suggestions. Happy reading!