Friday, June 19, 2009

What I've Been Reading Lately

In the last couple of weeks, I've read three books by pretty amazing young women, ranging in age from 22 through 30, which is both a) impressive and b) like, what the hell have I been doing?

I had a conversation with a friend recently that got me thinking about The Simple Life, and what it means to live simply. I realize that we don't live THE simple life (this blog, I'm sure, would be compatible with that), but I do strive to make ours as simple as possible, and by that I mean not buying a lot of material items, steering clear(ish) of technology, eating fresh, local and homemade food as much as possible--in short, trying to avoid the engineered, packaged, processed and industrialized elements of our culture. After our conversation though, I was unsure. Was the fact that I have a job and a mortgage incompatible with simplicity? Then I read the book Made from Scratch by Jenna Woginrich after reading about it on the Cleaner Plate Club blog. Jenna is a young woman (20s I think??), who consciously made an effort to life a simpler, more sustainable life in her Idaho home. The book includes chapters on raising chickens and rabbits, gardening, baking bread, sewing, playing down-home music and even dog sledding. The best part about it is she is not an expert on any of these topics--she's just learning and writing as she learns. It's kind of refreshing to read a book by someone who is not a know-it-all. Oh, yeah, and she works a full-time job too--a (more) simple life and a working life are compatible for her (on the other hand, she doesn't have any kids!)

A co-worker and I stopped at the bookstore after a meeting one day and while I waited for her to get her books, I browsed the new book section and the book Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter caught my eye. It's the memoir of this young (22 y-o) woman's life in the foster care system of Florida as a child. When I got it from the library, it was in the young adult section, which I found kind of odd. While I'm sure it may be interesting for young adults to read, it's really vital that adult adults read it and learn about the craziness of the foster care system in this country. As I read about the over-crowded, emotionally and physically abusive homes Ashley was placed in and the case workers who were fully aware of the horrendous conditions but chose to ignore or cover them up, I had to continue to remind myself that this took place in the 1980s and 1990s, not in some distant historic time or place. At the end of the book, Ashley lists the numbers of social workers, judges and other adults who were supposed to be looking out for her, which came into the 100s, but only one guardian ad litem actually helped her out. The story has a happy ending (Ashley gets adopted), but the fact that such horrors continue today--the Victorian practice of punishing children for their mothers' "sins"--is horrifying.

I haven't read the blog Orangette much, but many of the blogs I do read have recommended it's author, Molly Wizenburg's recent book A Homemade Life. I was fully prepared to not like the book for some reason--I guess if everyone else is doing something, I'll try it, but I'm not gonna like it--but I was profoundly disappointed. The books is a series of essays about different people and events in her short (30 years) life, each followed by a recipe. The first few chapters are a little slow, but the recipes kept me going (that banana bread with the crystallized ginger and chocolate chips I made for the teachers), and as she moves into her adult life--studying abroad in France (and a brief romance with a Parisian boy), her father's illness and death, meeting her husband through her blog--the stories get really interesting. And the food? I want to make about 98% of the recipes therein, which means I'm going to have to buy my own copy of the book (I already splattered the banana bread recipe with water--oops). My first thought after finishing reading it was, I have not paid nearly enough attention to food. I mean, I love good food, but Molly really defines her life through significant foods. Awesome.
What I was most struck by in all three of these books, is how self-assured each of these young women is. Considering I second-, third- and fourth-guess every thought, decision and move I make, I am quite impressed. And I could probably learn a thing or two!

I also recently read The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, the famous dance choreographer. It's kind of part memoir, part self-help for creative people of all persuasions. I found it a bit overwhelming and intimidating, to be honest. Especially when she described her childhood being constantly ferried to music, dance and art classes--well no wonder she succeeded! I thought. Most of us did not have (and would probably not want) that kind of childhood. Thorpe's stories are interesting, though, and while I did not try most of the suggested exercises, I've put a few in my back pocket to try out some day. I especially like her candor in describing her mistakes and failures as much as her successes. The biggest thing I got out of reading it is that I need to surround myself with creative people, role models and mentors. I do know many creative people, but they are not the people I interact with on a daily basis, and most of us keep our creativity on a hot plate over on the side of the counter, with our kids, jobs, spouses, etc. front-and-center. I'll be working on devising a way to be around more creative people more often...I'll keep you posted.

Finally, these amazing and heart-breaking Kansas Stories by women who were patients of Dr. Tiller. These women found out late in their pregnancies that their fetuses had terrible problems--bones so brittle several were broken and re-healed in utero; calcified brains; hearts missing valves. If they survived to term, their short lives would have been marked by severe pain, major interventions and suffering. These women made the most compassionate choice possible given their situations, then had to travel to Kansas because late-term terminations were illegal in their states, walk past lines of protesters who have no real understanding of what it means to honor life, and, luckily, found themselves in the hands of caring, compassionate staff who helped them through their painful ordeals. We can't walk a mile in their shoes, but we can read their stories and mourn their loss, and the tragic loss of a real hero.

2 comments:

Lone Star Ma said...

Those stories are so sad...I am glad that Dr. Tiller was there for those families during such horrible tragedies.

Amy Whitley said...

Thanks for posting these book recs. I'm going to check them out. Off to the library I go!

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