Words can be dangerous, sentences subversive.
At a time when many of us are asking, “What can I do,” I’m starting a very undercover revolution: I’m reading. I’m devouring articles and books—of all genres—from political commentary to memoir, how-to’s to fiction, serious to spiritual. I tried some science, which was a little hard for me, and I’m gobbling up funny. The pile of books near my bed, most borrowed from the library, is ridiculously huge. I want to learn how good writers make us think, feel, and laugh and how they use words.
After years of feeling I needed to hide my education, so as to not alienate people, I’m coming out of the closet! It’s time to reclaim my right to learn new words with my former childlike zeal. I read books in the bathtub and call out to my husband, “Hey Honey, what does preternatural mean?” If he doesn’t know the answer (which he often does), he’ll look the word up. (Preternatural means, out of the ordinary course of nature; exceptional or abnormal.)
Learning a new word makes me feel defiant.
Another act of defiance is raising the flag for critical thinking. It’s an endangered species that we’ve got to protect. As a former academic, I still carry a passion for helping people think. I once directed an undergraduate liberal-studies program for mid-career adults returning to school. Our students enrolled after years of making a living because they wanted to ask questions, think, and share ideas. They were the best!
So, here’s a sample of what’s on the top of my pile of reading this month.
Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. I’m reading David Sedaris’ newest book and enjoying the humanity and humor in his stories. Because I really need to laugh these days! (Any book suggestions to offer?) It’s been hard to read Sedaris at night, because I seem to be in competition with my husband who keeps howling at Bill Bryson’s The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain.
I read the book first and loved it, too. Bryson makes us laugh at the English and at him as he travels around his adopted country. Like a favorite uncle, he’s cranky, irascible, adorable and very, very funny.
Finding George Orwell in Burma. Now that 1984 has become the IT book of the year, (top seller on Amazon last month), I wanted to read Emma Larkin’s political travelogue from her time tracing the steps of George Orwell in totalitarian Burma (now Myanmar). Larkin did research for the book when it was still considered dangerous to be asking questions in Burma. Orwell had lived in Burma at the beginning of his career and Larkin discovered that many Burmese still revered his writing—even if they couldn’t discuss it publicly in their tightly controlled police state.
It’s chilling that 1984 is so relevant today.
The Church of 80% Sincerity by David Roche (with a great foreword by Anne Lamott.) I have a fascination and attraction to works by people who are not “normal” in the packaged-up, beautiful-faced sense of the word. Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face (about living with a face radically deformed by cancer), is on my list of change-your-life books. And now David Roche, whose face is also severely deformed by cancer and radiation, talks about deformity with humor and grace. He’s even performed his acclaimed one-man show at the White House. In his new kind of church: “We do not try to change people by having them conform to an ideal. We try to accept people as they are. We adjust our beliefs and practices to conform to the reality of being human.” I can’t wait to read more!
Along with my subversive support for critical thinking, I’m also campaigning for the role of imagination in our lives (and trying to strengthen mine!) One of my guides will be Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John R. Stilgoe. He writes: “GET OUT NOW. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people…Flex the mind, a little at first, then a lot…Enjoy the best-kept secret around—the ordinary, everyday landscape that rewards any explorer, that touches any explorer with magic.”
I’m on for it! When I lived in New York City in the 1970s, I used to spend days just wandering and exploring. It’s time to reclaim my inner-wanderer.
So now to you, what are you reading? I’d love to hear. And double points for anything funny!