The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson

The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon RonsonThe Men Who Stare at Goats
by Jon Ronson
Published by Simon & Schuster
on April 2006
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 272
Format: eBook
Source: Scribd
Goodreads
four-stars
From the bestselling author of The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry and So You've Been Publicly Shamed.

In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known accepted military practice -- and indeed, the laws of physics -- they believed that a soldier could adopt a cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls, and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by staring at them.

Entrusted with defending America from all known adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back and fighting the War on Terror.

With firsthand access to the leading players in the story, Ronson traces the evolution of these bizarre activities over the past three decades and shows how they are alive today within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and in postwar Iraq. Why are they blasting Iraqi prisoners of war with the theme tune to Barney the Purple Dinosaur? Why have 100 debleated goats been secretly placed inside the Special Forces Command Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina? How was the U.S. military associated with the mysterious mass suicide of a strange cult from San Diego? The Men Who Stare at Goats answers these and many more questions.

 

“Most goat-related military activity is still highly classified.”

I figure I’ve talked about this one enough that I owe you guys a review.

This book is bonkers. Really. How many books do you know that can say:

Remember that the crazy people are not always to be found on the outside. Sometimes the crazy people are deeply embedded on the inside. Not even the most imaginative conspiracy theorist has ever thought to invent a scenario in which a crack team of Special Forces soldiers and major generals secretly try to walk through their walls and stare goats to death.

Yes. They seriously stared at goats. To “death.”

goatfaint

Did they succeed? I really don’t know. But isn’t it weird to think the government even tried? Tried that, and so much more. According to this book, they have dabbled pretty heavily in psychics, remote viewing, and more. And I feel so weird saying that.

How to describe this book. It’s rather like huge conspiracy theories wrapped up in…truth? Hyperbole? Wishful thinking? I was left wondering just what the United States Armed Forces have been up to in the Middle East and other areas of the world, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. And, since this book is over 10 years old, it also left me wondering what they’ve been up to in the years since. It informs somethings I’ve heard in the media and it scares me.

Irregardless of the subject matter, Ronson is an engaging and fun writer. My skeptical feelings are completely informed by him. I could tell while reading the book that, sometimes, he wasn’t sure what to think either and rather than be annoying, it just added to the fun of the book to me. I can’t wait to read more books by him.

Have you read this book? Do you think these things really happened? CAN A MAN STARE A GOAT TO DEATH???

The Wander Society by Keri Smith

The Wander Society by Keri SmithThe Wander Society
by Keri Smith
Published by Penguin Books
on March 29, 2016
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Amazon
five-stars
wan·der
verb  \ˈwän-dər\
to walk/explore/amble in an unplanned or aimless way with a complete openness to the unknown

Several years ago when Keri Smith, bestselling author of Wreck This Journal, discovered cryptic handwritten notations in a worn copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, her interest was piqued. Little did she know at the time that those simple markings would become the basis of a years-long, life-changing exploration into a mysterious group known only as The Wander Society, as well as the subject of this book.

Within these pages, you’ll find the results of Smith’s research: A guide to the Wander Society, a secretive group that holds up the act of wandering, or unplanned exploring, as a way of life. You’ll learn about the group’s mysterious origins, meet fellow wanderers through time, discover how wandering feeds the creative mind, and learn how to best practice the art of wandering, should you choose to accept the mission.
Clicking the above affiliate link, will provide me with a small sum of money, which is used to fund my blog and my book habit.

The Wanderers are Everywhere. 

Do you like to wander? Do you like to disconnect; from life, your phone, from everything – even just temporarily? Do you feel like you’ve lost touch with nature, yourself, with the world?

Then this book, this SOCIETY, may be for you.

It’s easy to do:

wanderprecepts

When we constantly fill up all our “empty” time with stimulation in the form of electronic devices, games, and distractions, our brains become disengaged and the thinking process is effectively halted. We never get to hear our own inner voice-we don’t develop a relationship with ourselves and our minds. We don’t get to know who we are because we’re not listening.

I find that I am too connected. I have to have my phone with me. I can get lost on the computer, for hours at a time. I do not want to be this way. I have started wandering. And I will wander more.

Join me?

The Dead Ladies Project + a personal challenge

The Dead Ladies Project + a personal challengeThe Dead Ladies Project: Exiles, Expats, and Ex-Countries
by Jessa Crispin
Published by University of Chicago Press
on September 22, 2015
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 248
Format: Paperback
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
five-stars
When Jessa Crispin was thirty, she burned her settled Chicago life to the ground and took off for Berlin with a pair of suitcases and no plan beyond leaving. Half a decade later, she’s still on the road, in search not so much of a home as of understanding, a way of being in the world that demands neither constant struggle nor complete surrender.

The Dead Ladies Project is an account of that journey—but it’s also much, much more. Fascinated by exile, Crispin travels an itinerary of key locations in its literary map, of places that have drawn writers who needed to break free from their origins and start afresh. As she reflects on William James struggling through despair in Berlin, Nora Barnacle dependant on and dependable for James Joyce in Trieste, Maud Gonne fomenting revolution and fostering myth in Dublin, or Igor Stravinsky starting over from nothing in Switzerland, Crispin interweaves biography, incisive literary analysis, and personal experience into a rich meditation on the complicated interactions of place, personality, and society that can make escape and reinvention such an attractive, even intoxicating proposition.

Personal and profane, funny and fervent, The Dead Ladies Project ranges from the nineteenth century to the present, from historical figures to brand-new hangovers, in search, ultimately, of an answer to a bedrock question: How does a person decide how to live their life?

Earlier this year, I read The Dead Ladies Project by Jessa Crispin (thanks to Kerri from Etymology of a Book Worm!). Crispin’s story has been stewing in my head and my heart ever since. Who hasn’t, at some point in their life, wanted to just burn it all down and start all over? Or, perhaps, end it all? What do you do? How do you survive that panic, that fear, that panic? If you’re Jessa Crispin, you turn it all in and go off, in search of – something. Just go off and find something else to do with your life. And, you know, sometimes…just sometimes…I get that feeling. That if I wasn’t tied down…if I wasn’t tied down by family and job and bills and had just a modicum of gumption – it is exactly the type of thing I would want to do. This idea, of selling of my life, breaking all ties, and roaming the world in search of the places where expats go to work, to live, to find themselves; is fascinating. What’s more:

“It was the dead I wanted to talk to. The writers and the artists and composers who kept me company in the late hours of the night: I needed to know how they did it. I’d always been attracted to the unloosed, the wandering souls who were willing to scrape their lives clean and start again elsewhere.”

Some small part of me is attracted to this too. That is attracted and wonders, fleetingly, what it’s like. To start all over.

I would never do it. But I’ll never stop wondering either.

And this idea, of picking someone, immersing myself in his or her life and ideas, his or her struggles and successes…. It just sounds fascinating.

I really want to do it.

So I am.

Don’t mistake me, I’ll be doing it in a very limited way. I’m going to pick someone, most likely dead, not necessarily an ex-pat, and learn about her (or perhaps him). I already have a list. I have books. I’m lining things up. And I’m super excited. I’m going on an adventure. And I can’t wait.

I have a long list of (mostly) ladies I want to learn more about, and I’m starting off with Beryl Markham. I plan to reread West with the Night, Markham’s memoir and Paula McLain’s Circling the Sun, a fictionalization of Markham’s life in Africa has a horse trainer and pilot.

Anyone you suggest for my list? 

Reading Notes: Some More Thoughts on Pirates and Adventure

Reading Notes: Some More Thoughts on Pirates and AdventurePirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship
by Robert Kurson
Published by Random House
on June 16th 2015
Genres: Biography, Mystery, Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
five-stars
A thrilling new adventure of danger and deep-sea diving, historic mystery and suspense, by the author of the New York Times bestseller Shadow Divers

Finding and identifying a pirate ship is the hardest thing to do under the sea. But two men—John Chatterton and John Mattera—are willing to risk everything to find the Golden Fleece, the ship of the infamous pirate Joseph Bannister. At large during the Golden Age of Piracy in the seventeenth century, Bannister’s exploits would have been more notorious than Blackbeard’s, more daring than Kidd’s, but his story, and his ship, have been lost to time. If Chatterton and Mattera succeed, they will make history—it will be just the second time ever that a pirate ship has been discovered and positively identified. Soon, however, they realize that cutting-edge technology and a willingness to lose everything aren’t enough to track down Bannister’s ship. They must travel the globe in search of historic documents and accounts of the great pirate’s exploits, face down dangerous rivals, battle the tides of nations and governments and experts. But it’s only when they learn to think and act like pirates—like Bannister—that they become able to go where no pirate hunters have gone before.

Fast-paced and filled with suspense, fascinating characters, history, and adventure, Pirate Hunters is an unputdownable story that goes deep to discover truths and souls long believed lost.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Is there anything better than a good pirate book? Especially in the summer? Arrrr! I didn’t think so.

Way back when, I read a fantastic book about German U-Boats and deep sea divers called Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II by Robert Kurson. One of the divers, John Chatterton, may perhaps be familiar to you? If not, you are missing the adventures of one of the last, great adventurers.

John Chatterton (born 1951) is an American wreck diver. Together with Richie Kohler, he was one of the co-hosts for the History Channel’sDeep Sea Detectives, for 57 episodes of the series. He is also a consultant to the film and television industries and has worked with 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures, and CBS. – From Wikipedia

After reading Shadow Hunters, I (and my extension, my husband, being the history nuts we both are) became obsessed with deep sea diving. We watched Deep Sea Detectives and other such shows frequently. I read Kurson’s next book, Crashing Through; A True Story of Risk, Adventure, and the Man Who Dared to See, even though it had nothing to do with diving, because I just loved his writing. In other words, I really loved the book, the author, and the topic. So imagine my delight when I saw that not only did Robert Kurson had another book coming out, but it featured John Chatterton again! And pirates! Yo ho!

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship has it all. Adventure. History. Danger, greed, and of course, riches. Pirate riches. Gold doubloons, cannons, fine china, and more. I appreciated it all. The reading is fast paced. The research meticulous but not so didactic that it bogs everything down. The tension exquisite. And all to find, not on the ship, but the man who manned it; John Bannister, gentleman pirate. Bannister, lost to history and other pirates more famous, was a singular man with a fascinating story.

One feature of all of Kurson’s books are of man’s determination to be more, to push themselves to be more, than they ever thought possible. In Shadow Divers, Chatterton, Kohler, and company risk their lives to dive to unthinkable depths. Mike May, from Crashing Through, was blinded at the age of three, yet he went on to break records in downhill speed skiing, he joined the CIA, and became a successful business man, inventor, and family man. And again, in Pirate Hunters, Chatterton is thought by many to be too old to be diving at such depths. Now in his sixties, he does it anyway, risking his life, to find the impossible; a real, authenticated pirate ship and make history for finding the actual SECOND pirate ship ever to be found (and authenticated). In my mind, this outlook on life can be inspiration for anyone who wants to be more than they think they can be. Just get out there and do it!

Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this fantastic book. It will look great in your beach bag!

 

Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

Girl in the Dark by Anna LyndseyGirl in the Dark
by Anna Lyndsey
Narrator: Hannah Curtis
Length: 7 hrs and 9 mins
Published by Random House Audio
on March 3rd 2015
Genres: Autobiography, Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher
five-stars
A gorgeous memoir of an unthinkable life: a young woman writes of the sensitivity to light that has forced her to live in darkness, and of the love that has saved her.

“Something is afoot within me that I do not understand, the breaking of a contract that I thought could not be broken, a slow perverting of my substance.”

Anna was living a normal life. She was ambitious and worked hard; she had just bought an apartment; she was falling in love. But then she started to develop worrying symptoms: her face felt like it was burning whenever she was in front of the computer. Soon this progressed to an intolerance of fluorescent light, then of sunlight itself. The reaction soon spread to her entire body. Now, when her symptoms are at their worst, she must spend months on end in a blacked-out room, losing herself in audio books and elaborate word games in an attempt to ward off despair. During periods of relative remission she can venture cautiously out at dawn and dusk, into a world that, from the perspective of her normally cloistered existence, is filled with remarkable beauty.

And throughout there is her relationship with Pete. In many ways he is Anna’s savior, offering her shelter from the light in his home. But she cannot enjoy a normal life with him, cannot go out in the day, and even making love is uniquely awkward. Anna asks herself “By continuing to occupy this lovely man while giving him neither children nor a public companion nor a welcoming home—do I do wrong?” With gorgeous, lyrical prose, Anna brings us into the dark with her, a place from which we emerge to see love, and the world, anew.

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Imagine a world that is dark. So dark that light doesn’t even shine through the cracks. No glimmer of light through the blinds. No shimmer beneath the door. Complete. Total. Black.

This is the life Anna Lyndsey lives every day.

Burns? Burns like the worst kind of sunburn. Burns like someone is holding a flame-thrower to my head.

Anna has an extremely rare and terrible form of photo-sensitivity. At her worst, she stays in complete darkness. At her best, she is able to go out after dusk or before daybreak to take a walk. Sunlight, indoor light, computer light; all of it burns her skin. This means no reading, no television, no work, no cooking, nothing. Nothing. Nothing. And the pain can be unbearable.

How she shares her journey through this debilitating illness is nothing short of beautiful. Her prose is clear and captivating. Reading (or in this case, listening) to her story and how she has made it through is nothing short of inspiring. Being invited to witness her private thoughts on her life and her feelings throughout (is she being selfish, living with the man who loves her, but can’t have her as a normal companion? Does she want to live out her life this way? How does she keep her sanity?) feels like a privilege.

You guys. This book. I mean, this book. You guys. Seriously. It feels kind of horrible to say I loved it, but I loved it. This is the first book I’ve listened to that was narrated by Hannah Curtis and I hope it isn’t the last. Her narration was perfect. As I’m discovering, I love memoirs in audio and this one is no exception.

Highly recommended.

Favorite quotes:

Friendship plants itself as a small unobtrusive seed; over time, it grows thick roots that wrap around your heart. When a love affair ends, the tree is torn out quickly, the operation painful but clean. Friendship withers quietly, there is always hope of revival. Only after time has passed do you recognise that it is dead, and you are left, for years afterwards, pulling dry brown fibres from your chest.

My ears become my conduit to the world. In the darkness I listen—to thrillers, to detective novels, to romances; to family sagas, potboilers and historical novels; to ghost stories and classic fiction and chick lit; to bonkbusters and history books. I listen to good books and bad books, great books and terrible books; I do not discriminate. Steadily, hour after hour, in the darkness I consume them all.

Most of the time, I do not want to die. But I would like to have the means of death within my grasp. I want to feel the luxury of choice, to know the answer to “How do I bear this?” need not always be “Endure.

Orchard House, or, What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.

Orchard House, or, What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow
by tara austen weaver
Published by Ballantine Books
on March 24th 2015
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 304
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
five-stars
For fans of Anne Lamott, a profoundly moving memoir of rediscovering, reinventing, and reconnecting, as an estranged mother and daughter come together to revive a long-abandoned garden and ultimately their relationship and themselves.
 
Peeling paint, stained floors, vined-over windows, a neglected and wild garden—Tara Austen Weaver can’t get the Seattle real-estate listing out of her head. Any sane person would’ve seen the abandoned property for what it was: a ramshackle half-acre filled with dead grass, blackberry vines, and trouble. But Tara sees potential and promise—not only for the edible bounty the garden could yield for her family, but for the personal renewal she and her mother might reap along the way.

So begins Orchard House, a story of rehabilitation and cultivation—of land and soul. Through bleak winters, springs that sputter with rain and cold, golden days of summer, and autumns full of apples, pears, and pumpkins, this evocative memoir recounts the Weavers’ trials and triumphs, detailing what grew and what didn’t, the obstacles overcome and the lessons learned. Inexorably, as mother and daughter tend this wild patch and the fruits of their labor begin to flourish, green shoots of hope emerge from the darkness of their past.

For everyone who has ever planted something that they wished would survive—or tried to mend something that seemed forever broken—Orchard House is a tale of healing and growth set in a most unlikely place.

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Back when I was a kid, I would occasionally (read – often) steal my grandmother’s romances and read them under the covers at night. A bad habit to be sure (kids, listen to your parents!) but at the time, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want me to read them! I do now. Why am I telling you this?

Well, one time, I read one of those romances and it was about a woman who bought old homes and renovated them to sale (and yeah, I think she wound up in love with a contractor and they did the YOU KNOW WHAT all over one of those houses and then fought and broke up then made up and then lived happily ever after the end.) (12-year-old me says “blush.”). Something about that touched the romantic and ambitious part of me. It sounded so fantastic! To buy an old home, rip out all the rot, the ugly, the unwanted, and make it warm, cozy, and a home again. And the garden. My dream garden, with flowers and vegetables and fruit, everywhere. It sounded terribly awesome.

I decided that’s what I wanted to do when I grew up. Refurb houses, not read romances. Because ick.

Flash forward 25 years (or so) and that is definitely not what I am doing. And yet, I still find it a romantic thing to do. I moon over old houses in our area. I love looking at books, magazines, and websites about decorating. And someday, I will take a house and make it my own, although probably not an old one. Oh well.

So, when I saw this memoir, I knew I had to read it. And it’s why I loved so much. Tara Austen Weaver finds just such a house, with “peeling paint, stained floors, vined-over windows, a neglected and wild garden…” just what she (and I) can see so much potential in. She convinces her mother to come to Seattle and they start planning.

This book. Wow, this book. It sounds sappy to say it “touched my heart” but it honestly did and dude, you know I’m a cynic. I did not have a relationship with my mother, but I did with my grandmother and in many ways, the relationship between Tara and her mother reminds me of the one I had with her. We were so much alike and so very contentious. And part of the beauty of this book is seeing how these two souls manage to love and work together, despite their ways.

And the food. Oh the descriptions of food. And the garden. I read this when it was too early to get out in the garden, but I was dying to do so while reading it. I even mentioned starting an orchard on the land we’re going to build on eventually, so perhaps we’d have fruit by the time we moved and my husband said yes! Color me delighted.

All in all, if you love foodie, gardening, mother/daughter relationship, family relationship, etc, type books, I can’t see why you wouldn’t love this book as much as me. Highly recommended.

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken Perenyi

Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger by Ken PerenyiCaveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger
by Ken Perenyi
Published by Pegasus
on August 15th 2012
Genres: Autobiography, Nonfiction
Pages: 314
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
two-stars
It is said that the greatest art forger in the world is the one who has never been caught—the astonishing story of America’s most accomplished art forger.

Ten years ago, an FBI investigation in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York was about to expose a scandal in the art world that would have been front-page news in New York and London. After a trail of fake paintings of astonishing quality led federal agents to art dealers, renowned experts, and the major auction houses, the investigation inexplicably ended, despite an abundance of evidence collected. The case was closed and the FBI file was marked “exempt from public disclosure.”

Now that the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired and the case appears hermetically sealed shut by the FBI, this book, Caveat Emptor, is Ken Perenyi’s confession. It is the story, in detail, of how he pulled it all off.

My mission: To review this book with a straight face. Because I STRAIGHT UP AM NOT KIDDING. I didn’t read it with a straight face.

I had all the laughs.

I don’t think it was on purpose.

Caveat Emptor is a conundrum. I keep thinking about how to tell you about this book. The author is telling his story, and the more I think on it, the more I feel like he is a terribly unreliable narrator. Of course, we’re all an unreliable narrator for our own lives, yes? We all tell our own version of events. We embellish. We gloss. We blur. We paint the picture of our lives, just like Mr. Perenyi did here.

And y’all. This dude. His ego. It is large.

I’m not saying he isn’t telling the truth in this book. He got up to some crazy stuff; crime, drugs, alcohol, sex, you name it, this dude did it. He got away with a lot of shit. He copied the artistic works of some pretty famous painters. And he got away with it. FOR YEARS. He made a TON of money.

Again. So he says.

Like I said, he may be telling the whole, complete, unbiased truth. If he is, his life was crazy. There came I point where I was just like, whoa, this is impossible to believe! How can one man get away with so many things???? And yeah, I had to laugh.

So, obviously, this book was good enough for me to finish. Perenyi is a decent writer. The story is out of this world big. It’s entertaining. It just depends on how big your capacity for bullshit is.

So, a Little More on that Routine Thing…

by Mason Currey
Published by Knopf
Genres: Nonfiction
Source: Purchased

dailyroutineSo, I’m still making my way through Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. I hate to admit it, but it’s a slog. I am about to give myself permission to give it up, even though I’m slightly over halfway through. Like Amanda, some of my problems stem from the lack of balance between man and woman, white and not (and I mean, that is a LOT of my problem, there is basically no balance. If you want to know how a privileged white male finds time to write, this is your book) but, honestly? I think he included too many authors! There are 161 authors, composers, philosophers, poets, playwrights, scientists, mathematicians. After about 50 or so routines, it starts to loose it’s impact.

Where was Currey’s editor?

How did they not see they could have gotten 3 books out of this one?

Don’t they realize that sometimes a brief message is more powerful that one that goes on and on and on and on and on.

I wonder how many more people in this book get up early or late? How many take a walk (or three, like Dickens)? How many have a bit of fun with themselves before they get down to it (seriously Thomas Wolfe? I am NOT looking at you, but you know, I’m looking at you) (and Ben Franklin, with your air baths! Get own down with your bad self!). How many eat meals? Take naps? Sharpen their pencils? Set up the fridge as their desk (Geez, Thomas Wolfe, you were an odd duck).

Another bit of a peeve is the lack of 21st century authors. Yes, there are a few, but the majority of this book is 19th and 20th century writers. Couldn’t you find anyone alive Currey? I have to admit, I am a little more interested in how the creative types of TODAY juggle their routines that those who lived lives of leisure 200 years ago. Times, uh, they have a-changed.

Despite these quibbles though, there is a lot of good information in this book. A couple more favorites:

 “The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”  – Haruki Murakami

And I think I’m OCD:

The founder of behavioral psychology treated his daily writing sessions much like a laboratory experiment, conditioning himself to write every morning with a pair of self-reinforcing behaviors: he started and stopped by the buzz of a timer, and he carefully plotted the number of hours he wrote and the words he produced on a graph. – B. F. Skinner

Actually, I can totally see myself doing that. Heck, I DID do that when I tried to do NaNoWriMo.

I love this from Joan Miró i Ferrà, a Catalan painter:

Miró hated for this routine to be interrupted by social or cultural events. As he told an American journalist, “Merde! I absolutely detest all openings and parties! They’re commercial, political, and everybody talks too much. They get on my tits!

Love it. LOVE. IT. I am totally breaking that line out at parties.

But really, the best piece of advice from the whole book is this, from Chuck Close, another painter:

“Inspiration is for amateurs,” Close says. “The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

And really, that’s all we really need do, right?

Audiobook: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

Audiobook: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer WorthCall the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times
Series: The Midwife Trilogy #1
by Jennifer Worth
(Goodreads)
Narrator: Nicola Barber
Length: 12 Hours and 2 Minutes
Published by HighBridge Company
on September 10th 2012
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible
Goodreads
Amazon
four-half-stars
An unforgettable story of the joy of motherhood, the bravery of a community, and the hope of one extraordinary woman

At the age of twenty-two, Jennifer Worth leaves her comfortable home to move into a convent and become a midwife in post war London's East End slums. The colorful characters she meets while delivering babies all over London-from the plucky, warm-hearted nuns with whom she lives to the woman with twenty-four children who can't speak English to the prostitutes and dockers of the city's seedier side-illuminate a fascinating time in history. Beautifully written and utterly moving, The Midwife will touch the hearts of anyone who is, and everyone who has, a mother.

Finding Call the Midwife was exciting for 3 reasons. One, I found an awesome new reader. Two, I found an awesome story. And three, now I have something to watch on Netflix!

If there is one thing I have learned in 2014, it is that I love narrative nonfiction. I completely adore it. Coupled with a fantastic narrator, a good narrative nonfiction book can be a thing hard to put down. Call the Midwife was a thing very hard to put down. Jennifer Worth’s life working as a midwife and nurse in post-World War II London, in the slums no less, is nothing short of fascinating.

Oh dear. I’m gushing. Let’s get into what the book is about, exactly, and why you should read (or listen to!) it.

As I said, Call the Midwife is about Jennifer Worth’s years of working in the London slums as a midwife. She meets such a colorful cast of characters, almost exactly the sort of people you would expect. My favorite was the Spanish woman with the English husband. Neither one spoke the same language, yet they had 24 children together. 24. (to quote: “Quite suddenly, with blinding insight, the secret of their blissful marriage was revealed to me. She couldn’t speak a word of English and he couldn’t speak a word of Spanish.”) Wow!! Right? What!?! Jenny meets prostitutes, dock workers, cockney barrowmen, and more. And oh, the nuns. THE NUNS. Just like in the Sound of Music, you can’t help but adore the nuns. Sister Monica Joan, a 90-year-old nun who is a wee bit batty is a delight.

I absolutely loved Jenny’s voice. She doesn’t pull punches, but tells it like it is/was. Life was hard in the slums. Women couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, or the hospital, when the time came to give birth.

“Obstetricians also doubted the female intellectual capacity to grasp the anatomy and physiology of childbirth, and suggested that they could not therefore be trained. But the root fear was – guess what? – you’ve got it, but no prizes for quickness: money. Most doctors charged a routine one guinea for a delivery. The word got around that trained midwives would undercut them by delivering babies for half a guinea! The knives were out.”

These midwives were desperately needed and did so much to help turn the tide of death for those women, and the babies, alike. She goes into the history of the times. How the pill wasn’t introduced until the 1960s and the changes that introduces:

“The Pill was introduced in the early 1960s and modern woman was born. Women were no longer going to be tied to the cycle of endless babies; they were going to be themselves. With the Pill came what we now call the sexual revolution. Women could, for the first time in history, be like men, and enjoy sex for its own sake. In the late 1950s we had eighty to a hundred deliveries a month on our books. In 1963 the number had dropped to four or five a month. Now that is some social change!”

Jenny doesn’t sugarcoat it childbirth. The blood, the pain, the smells…poor Jenny had a sensitive stomach. Yet, she soldiers on and through her one comes to appreciate the lives of the East End women and the way they all soldiered through their rough lives in the slums. Through it all, and most amazingly, Jenny never loses her humor, her wit, or the knowledge that each child is a stunning miracle, a gift from God, and something to be treasured.

Nicola Barber is the narrator for all of the books in the Midwife Trilogy. It was my first experience with her. I only wish I had found her much sooner. She has a marvelous, soothing voice, with just the right amount of British accent and perfect for the voice of Jenny. She sounds young, but not too young, and she does a marvelous job of changing her voice for different characters. She gained a hardcore fan with me. If you find you can’t get into reading the book, definitely give the audio a try. Or, just give the audio a try. You will not regret it.

Bits I liked:

“Their devotion showed me there were no versions of love there was only… Love. That it had no equal and that it was worth searching for, even if that search took a lifetime.”

“Now and then in life, love catches you unawares, illuminating the dark corners of your mind, and filling them with radiance. Once in a while you are faced with a beauty and a joy that takes your soul, all unprepared, by assault.”

“Whoever heard of a midwife as a literary heroine? Yet midwifery is the very stuff of drama. Every child is conceived either in love or lust is born in pain, followed by joy or sometimes remorse. A midwife is in the thick of it, she sees it all.”

“Why aren’t midwives the heroines of society that they should be? Why do they have such a low profile? They ought to be lauded to the skies, by everyone.”

About Jennifer Worth

Jennifer Worth RN RM (25 September 1935 – 31 May 2011) was a British nurse and musician. She wrote a best-selling trilogy of memoirs about her work as a midwife practising in the poverty-stricken East End of London in the 1950s: Call the Midwife, Shadows of the Workhouse and Farewell to The East End.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan CainQuiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
by Susan Cain
(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)
Published by Crown Publishing Group
on January 1st 2011
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 336
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Goodreads
Amazon
five-stars
From GoodReads:

At least one-third of the people we know are introverts. They are the ones who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying; who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion; who favor working on their own over brainstorming in teams. Although they are often labeled "quiet," it is to introverts that we owe many of the great contributions to society--from van Gogh’s sunflowers to the invention of the personal computer.

Passionately argued, impressively researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet shows how dramatically we undervalue introverts, and how much we lose in doing so. Taking the reader on a journey from Dale Carnegie’s birthplace to Harvard Business School, from a Tony Robbins seminar to an evangelical megachurch, Susan Cain charts the rise of the Extrovert Ideal in the twentieth century and explores its far-reaching effects. She talks to Asian-American students who feel alienated from the brash, backslapping atmosphere of American schools. She questions the dominant values of American business culture, where forced collaboration can stand in the way of innovation, and where the leadership potential of introverts is often overlooked. And she draws on cutting-edge research in psychology and neuroscience to reveal the surprising differences between extroverts and introverts.

Perhaps most inspiring, she introduces us to successful introverts--from a witty, high-octane public speaker who recharges in solitude after his talks, to a record-breaking salesman who quietly taps into the power of questions. Finally, she offers invaluable advice on everything from how to better negotiate differences in introvert-extrovert relationships to how to empower an introverted child to when it makes sense to be a "pretend extrovert."

This extraordinary book has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how introverts see themselves.
Clicking the above affiliate link, will provide me with a small sum of money, which is used to fund my blog and my book habit.

Rather than gush and gush and gushy gush over this book, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to give you my top ten favorite quotes (trust me, there are more) from this book and let it gushy gush gush for itself. And yeah, I’ll probably talk about the quotes a bit. Don’t never know, now do ya?

“Introverts, in contrast, may have strong social skills and enjoy parties and business meetings, but after a while wish they were home in their pajamas. They prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues, and family. They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation. They tend to dislike conflict. Many have a horror of small talk, but enjoy deep discussions.”

Can I just get this tattooed on my forehead? I always wish I were home in my pajamas. Social awkwardness for the win. But really, it’s just so much more…comfortable…for my brain and spirit to devote those “social energies” to those I am close to. Anyone else is just exhausting.

Also, I love that she calls small talk a ‘horror’.

“Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to.”

All I have to say about this is WORD.

“The highly sensitive [introverted] tend to be philosophical or spiritual in their orientation, rather than materialistic or hedonistic. They dislike small talk. They often describe themselves as creative or intuitive. They dream vividly, and can often recall their dreams the next day. They love music, nature, art, physical beauty. They feel exceptionally strong emotions–sometimes acute bouts of joy, but also sorrow, melancholy, and fear. Highly sensitive people also process information about their environments–both physical and emotional–unusually deeply. They tend to notice subtleties that others miss–another person’s shift in mood, say, or a lightbulb burning a touch too brightly.”

This is me to a T. (Also, what does that even mean, “describes me to a T?” Where did that come from?!)

“Or at school you might have been prodded to come “out of your shell”—that noxious expression which fails to appreciate that some animals naturally carry shelter everywhere they go, and that some humans are just the same.”

I still get told to come out of my shell.

“Don’t think of introversion as something that needs to be cured.”

I just love everything about that sentence.

“I worry that there are people who are put in positions of authority because they’re good talkers, but they don’t have good ideas. It’s so easy to confuse schmoozing ability with talent. Someone seems like a good presenter, easy to get along with, and those traits are rewarded. Well, why is that? They’re valuable traits, but we put too much of a premium on presenting and not enough on substance and critical thinking.”

How many people do you know like this? Cause I know tons. TONS, I tell you.

“The purpose of school should be to prepare kids for the rest of their lives, but too often what kids need to be prepared for is surviving the school day itself.”

Made of gold. That whole sentence is made of gold. I often felt like I was just trying to survive, especially in classes with teachers who expected class participation. I would break out in a cold sweat anytime a teacher called on me. Come to think of it, I still do this with my manager in meetings! I need to get him to read this book.

“I had always imagined Rosa Parks as a stately woman with a bold temperament, someone who could easily stand up to a busload of glowering passengers. But when she died in 2005 at the age of ninety-two, the flood of obituaries recalled her as soft-spoken, sweet, and small in stature. They said she was “timid and shy” but had “the courage of a lion.” They were full of phrases like “radical humility” and “quiet fortitude.”

Not long ago I listened to The History Chicks’ podcast on Rose Parks. It is fascinating. She was fascinating. The above was completely true. She was a shy, soft-spoken woman, with a lion’s share of courage, and truly inspiring lady who didn’t let her introversion keep her from fighting for what she believed it.

“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in the world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted. Introverts are offered keys to private gardens full of riches. To possess such a key is to tumble like Alice down her rabbit hole. She didn’t choose to go to Wonderland — but she made of it an adventure that was fresh and fantastic and very much her own.”

I love this analogy. One thing this book taught me is that introverts have their own special powers. We just have to learn how to use them, something that school, work, and often life itself fails to teach us. It’s almost like it’s something we have to teach ourselves.

“we have two ears and one mouth and we should use them proportionally”

My other tattoo.

Gosh, I could just keep going. So much wisdom from such a wonderfully written book. Whether you are an introvert, an extrovert, or are somewhere in between, there is a lot to learn from this book. I highly recommend it to, like, everyone in the whole freaking world.

About Susan Cain

SUSAN CAIN is the author of the instant New York Times bestseller QUIET: The Power of Introverts in A World That Can’t Stop Talking, which has been translated into more than 20 languages. Her writing on introversion and shyness has appeared in the The New York Times; The Dallas Morning News; O, The Oprah Magazine; Time.com; and on PsychologyToday.com. Cain has also spoken at Microsoft, Google, the U.S. Treasury, and at TED 2012. Since her TED talk was posted online, it has been viewed almost two million times. She has appeared on national broadcast television and radio including CBS “This Morning,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” NPR’s “Diane Rehm,” and her work has been featured on the cover of Time magazine, in The Atlantic, Wired, Fast Company, Real Simple, Fortune, Forbes, USA Today, The Washington Post, CNN, Slate.com, and many other publications. She is an honors graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons. Visit: www.thepowerofintroverts.com