Book Recommendation – The Power of Meaning

book Meaning of Life

What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? These are questions that have taunted mankind since the beginning of time. The Power of Meaning provides a straightforward and inspiring answer, based on extensive research and analysis. Simply put, the meaning of life is to find meaning in life. And it’s actually easier to find than we are often led to believe.

“The search for meaning is not a solitary philosophical quest, as it’s often depicted,” writes the author. “… and meaning is not something we create within ourselves and for ourselves. Rather, meaning largely lies in others. If we want to find meaning in our own lives, we have to begin by reaching out.”

There is so much to this book, it’s hard to boil it down in a review. (I found myself rereading and marking lines on page after page, and I handwrote six pages of notes upon completing it.) By summarizing dozens of psychological studies, presenting scores of anecdotes and stories about real people, and sharing many of her own thoughts and insights on the differences between happiness and meaning, Smith ultimately brings the reader to the simplest of revelations.

Belonging, purpose, storytelling and transcendence: these are the four pillars of meaning, and they are accessible to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds or economic status. As someone who has made a living as a professional writer and author, I was particularly struck by the storytelling section. Though it was not surprising to me that story plays a critical role in finding fulfillment in life, it was fascinating to learn the many reasons why (both for the storytellers themselves, as well as for listeners or imbibers of those stories). The author turned to several novels to help illustrate her points – from Middlemarch and The Little Prince to Life of Pi and The Death of Ivan Ilych – as well as numerous memoirs.

I especially liked this point:

“We are all the authors of our own stories and can choose to change the way we are telling them. One of the greatest contributions of psychology and psychotherapy research is the idea that we can edit, revise and interpret the stories we tell about our lives even as we are constrained by the facts.”

And, how we perceive our lives and stories is directly related to whether we ultimately find fulfillment in them.

The sections on belonging, purpose and transcendence are equally fascinating. They are packed with examples of how seeking and finding fulfillment leads to better physical and mental health, helps us overcome traumatic events, and guides us to lasting contentment rather than fleeting happiness.

I highly recommend this book to all who want to expand how they view the world and the people with whom they share it.

* If you decide to purchase Emily Esfahani Smith’s book, check out Bookshop.org at the link below. A portion of sales at the site supports indie bookstores and authors, including me.


Book Recommendation – All That is Solid Melts Into Air

All That is Solid Melts Into Air

One of the first books I read this year was All That Is Solid Melts into Air by Darragh McKeon. It immediately landed on my list of all-time favorite reads. As 2017 comes to a close, I still miss the people in the book terribly. Yes, I know they are fictional characters; that is the magic that fuels this novel. McKeon has created full-bodied, living, breathing, feeling characters – mistreated, yet resilient; impassive, yet loyal; flawed, yet perfect. Add to that the author’s beautiful prose and his amazing talent for descriptive storytelling, and this is a book that will linger in my mind for years. 

Here is a summary from the publisher:

All That Is Solid Melts into Air is a gripping end-of-empire novel, charting the collapse of the Soviet Union through the focalpoint of the Chernobyl disaster.

In a run-down apartment block in Moscow, a nine-year-old piano prodigy practices silently for fear of disturbing the neighbors. In a factory on the outskirts of the city, his aunt makes car parts, trying to hide her dissident past. In the hospital, a leading surgeon buries himself deep in his work to avoid facing his failed marriage. And in a rural village in the Ukraine, a teenage boy wakes up to a sky of the deepest crimson. In the fields, the ears of the cattle are dripping blood. Ten miles away, at the Chernobyl Power Plant, something unimaginable has happened.

Now their lives will change forever.

If you’re looking for a thrilling page-tuner or a happily-ever-after story, this is not the book for you. It explores the impact not only of the Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster in 1986, but also the horrible repercussions of an oppressive Soviet regime on its people. In the paperback edition, the author also includes a closing essay that details the continued and tragic health and quality-of-life consequences suffered by the people of the region more than 25 years later.

This is a book that will make you cringe, and weep, and think, and worry. It is sad. It is terrifying. And yet, it is exquisite in so many ways. As a reader, I was blown away by its beauty and depth. As an author, I was envious as hell. McKeon raised the bar for all my reading and writing.

* If you decide to purchase McKeon’s novel, check out Bookshop.org at the link below. A portion of sales at the site supports indie bookstores and authors, including me.


Learn from Great Memoirists

Memoirs photo 3Memoirs have always been in my reading repertoire, and Mary Karr’s The Liar's Club is among my favorites. She grew up in a small, poor Texas town in a family rife with alcoholism, violence and mental illness; through it all, despite it all, she maintained a fierce love for and gained a keen understanding of her family. Karrs’ latest book, The Art of Memoir, is technically a how-to writing book, though it also feels part-memoir. She shares many insights about how she wrote and revised her other work — the internal struggles she faced in realizing the truth, coming to terms with it and sharing it with the world. There is much we can learn from great memoirists.

Karr explains many elements of memoir writing – what works, what does not, and why.  As a reader, it explained a lot to me about why I have been deeply touched by some memoirs and have been turned off by others. As a writer, it confirmed my notions that many elements of strong writing cross all genres.

This author has a sassy, smartass writing style, which I love. Karr pulls no punches with the reader, nor with herself. She is honest and real, flawed and relatable. It takes great courage to bare your life and soul in a public way, with the hope for personal healing and the belief that it may help others heal as well. Karr not only rises to this challenge personally, she also highlights and applauds many other writers who’ve done the same in this risky and demanding genre that she loves. Her analysis of their works is enlightening.

I have no desire to write a memoir (pause for collective sigh of relief from family and friends), but this is a book I will keep and reread. If you are a writer and/or enjoy reading memoirs, I highly recommend this insightful tome. I added several titles to my to-read pile, thanks to her recommendations. Her insights also got me thinking about some of the memoirs that have moved me. Here are a few of my favorites (in no particular order):


Becoming an Australian Author Fangirl

Book Railwaymans WifeIt’s possible I’m becoming an Australian author fangirl. Several of my favorite reads in the past few years, it recently dawned on me, are written by Australian authors. Two are set near an Australian coast just after World War II. Two others are set in different countries and different centuries. All are historical novels, masterfully written. They’re lush, lyrical, descriptive works that delve deep into the minds and hearts of their characters. They’re all a bit dark (one incredibly so) and a bit heartbreaking. One in particular made me sob so fiercely I had to pause reading to compose myself.

Is it simply a coincidence these four books captured my attention and lingered in my mind for months, even years, after I read them?

Or is there something unique in the way Australian authors approach fiction writing?

I don’t know the answer. But, I do have a profound urge to travel to the land down under and see if there is perhaps something in the water that cultivates such talent. I aspire to write books with such heart and soul and magic at these.

The following links will take you to my Goodreads reviews:

Click this link for a fabulous review by my friend and fellow writer Melissa Crytzer Fry.

 

Book Light Between Oceans  Book Bitter Greens  Book Burial Rites


Exploring Peru with Book Talk and Authentic Cuisine

Natalia-Sylvester 2Each year, my church's youth group works to raise funds for their mission trips, and I try to help when I can. Since the group is traveling to Peru for their mission this summer, I just had to get my friend and fellow author, Natalia Sylvester, involved.

Natalia was born in Lima, Peru and came to the United States at age four. Her debut novel, CHASING THE SUN, is set in Lima during a time of civil and political unrest, and was partially inspired by family events. Natalia has a generous and fun spirit. When I told her that I planned to assemble a Peruvian-themed Book Group basket featuring her novel for the annual Youth Mission Dinner Fundraising Auction, she was thrilled to contribute a personal touch.

 

Natalia basketFor those who won’t be able to join the youth on the Peru mission trip, they can explore the distant culture through Natalia’s evocative novel. The Book Group basket includes:

  • 2 hardbound copies of CHASING THE SUN, signed by the author
  • A personal note from the author
  • Skype session with Natalia when the book group meets to discuss the novel
  • Favorite Peruvian recipes from the author (3 handwritten recipe cards signed by Natalia!)
    • Seco de Res — cilantro beef stew
    • Picarones — sweet potato doughnuts
    • Chicha Morada — purple corn drink
  • Several recipe ingredients imported from Peru
  • $40 Target gift card (to buy more books or goodies for the book group meeting)
  • 2 additional signed bookplates

Paradise Valley United Methodist Church (PVUMC) has an enthusiastic and active group of high school-aged youth. In the past, they have traveled to Mexico and the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona to lend a hand and share their faith. They have also served communities in Phoenix, Denver, San Francisco and Booneville, Arkansas during summer missions. This year’s fundraising dinner and auction will be held February 28, 2016.

You can visit the PVUMC website if you would like to learn more and if you would like to make a donation to help support youth missions.


Giving Thanks for Great Books

My reading each year is an eclectic gambit. Books include a blend of new
and classic fiction in multiple genres, as well as tomes on the writing craft
and research for my historical novel-in-progress. Of the 20-plus books I read
in 2012, a handful stand out as exceptional and unique. I highly recommend the
following books. They are great reads and would make great holiday gifts for
the readers in your life.





Light Between OceansThe
Light Between Oceans

A stunning debut by this
Australian novelist. The Light Between Oceans grabbed my attention from the
opening pages and held it until the very last. By page 100, it was
unputdownable and I finished reading it in a day or two. It's a uniquely
crafted story about love and loss, grief and anger, right and wrong — and
about how difficult it can sometimes be in life to draw a clear line between
any of them. The book was beautifully written, and the supporting characters
were just as compelling and important as the main characters.



Snow ChildThe
Snow Child

This story and its
characters lingered in my thoughts for days and weeks after I finished reading
it.  I loved it. It's sad and sweet and
magical and lush. This story pulls at your heart in so many ways. The author
does an amazing job of developing the characters so that you get to know each
of them, and grow to love them. I didn't want the book to end, to say good-bye.
Ivey' description of the 1920s Alaska wilderness is also amazing and the novel
is worth the read for that alone.




Night CircusThe
Night Circus

Captivating! This book was
great fun to read. Intriguing and vivid, beautifully told story. Complex and
richly layered with many interesting characters, yet an easy read. Pure
entertainment.



Tree in BrooklynA
Tree Grows in Brooklyn

I had been meaning to read
this classic coming-of-age story for years, and I'm so glad I finally did.
Completely fell in love with young Francie Nolan and her family, immigrants who
strived to make a better life for their children in poverty-stricken Brooklyn
in the early 1900s. Heartbreaking and hopeful at the same time, this book had
me both smiling and fighting back tears many times. As I reached the final
pages, I slowed down my reading, because I just didn't want to say good-bye to
the characters.


Artists WayThe
Artist's Way

A thought-provoking read. The
general idea is that we all were created and thus we all have creativity within
us yearning to be expressed. We are all artistic in our own way, and when we
allow ourselves to express that we are happy. If you've ever dreamed of doing
something creative (whether it's ballroom dancing, painting your living room,
writing a novel, or knitting a sweater), you owe it to yourself to just do it.
"Stop telling yourself that creativity is a luxury." Or that it's too
late or not practical. Allow yourself to let go and do what you want to do, and
learn to ignore the well-meaning (or not so well-meaning) naysayers and devil's
advocates. Don't worry about whether your art is any "good." Leave
that to whatever higher power in which you believe. The simple act of
"doing" will lead to good things.



Leopold bioAldo
Leopold: A Fierce Green Fire

This was an interesting
biography of a man who inspired generations of conservationists. Fabulous
research for my historical novel-in-progress about the Dust Bowl.

 

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“All Different Kinds of Free” is Editors’ Choice in Historical Novels Review Magazine

ADKF Cover web Historical Novels Review is published quarterly by the Historical Novel Society and reviews approximately 200 new releases every issue. Each quarter, the editors select a small number of titles they feel exemplify the best in historical fiction. These novels, which come highly recommended from their reviewers, have been designated as Editors’ Choice titles.

The Editors’ Choice reviews for May 2011 are posted online.

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