Thursday, July 25, 2013

Recommended Reading

 I'm trying to make a point of sharing more of what I'm reading here, and this is a start.  One of the most motivating parts of my job is that I am free to choose some of content I teach.  I thought you might be interested in this short list of some of the readings we've done this semester, as they're all on the theme of simplicity, mindfulness, and technology.

  • Focus. A free ebook about cultivating concentration amid the distractions of our daily lives.  It's written by Leo Babauta.

  • You're Distracted. This Professor can Help.  This article discusses a professor who uses meditation in his classes. He helps students become mindful of the ways in which they use technology so they can become more efficient.  

  • How Not to be Alone. A Times opinion that discusses how technology, specifically smart phones, subtly make it easier for us to isolate ourselves. 

  • This is Water.  If you read nothing else on this list, please read this commencement speech by David Foster Wallace. When asked to summarize the advice DFW gives in this speech, one of my students said, "It's hard for me to summarize because every time I look at it, I see something new."  Today, when I look at this speech again, I see this: 

"If you're automatically sure that you know what reality is, and you are operating on your default setting, then you, like me, probably won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying and miserable. But if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.
Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it."
This had me thinking about DFW, and talking about him to one of my colleagues. It turns out that this colleague is a huge fan of his writing and he immediately thrust some of DFW's short non-fiction into my hands.  In his hilarious piece called "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never do Again", he wrote this, which struck me as something I've tried to express before, but have fallen woefully short. 

"I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing after and after every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I'm starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life's sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through sages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time. it is dreadful. But since it's my own choices that'll lock me in, it seems unavoidable-if I want to be any kind of grownup, I have to make choices and regret foreclosures and try to live with them."

Tell me, what are you reading these days? I will be back tomorrow with a photo, but I'd love to hear your comments any time!


Brec said...

I'm gonna take this question and run with it, because I have done a LOT of reading this summer and am dying to share with someone!

Right now, I'm almost finished with "Zelda" by Nancy Milford. It's a very well researched and well written bio of Zelda Fitzgerald, who was a terribly fascinating person. Her life story and relationship with F. Scott reads like an opera--beautiful, tragic, and extremely dramatic. I'm totally absorbed in it. Highly recommended.

I'm also reading a book called "Quiet", by Susan Cain. In it, she considers the role that introverts play in a society that values extroversion. She theorizes about the "extrovert ideal"; the way this can stifle introverted creativity; and also about the unseen power and influence of introverts, as well as their importance throughout history. It's very interesting, but at times it's a little fluffy.

And because books are my favorite thing to talk about, here are a couple other things I've read recently and would very highly recommend:

"Nicholas and Alexandra" by Robert Massie (everything he writes is great). This one is about the last Tzar and Tzarina of Russia. He details the entire arc of their lifes: the love of the two monarchs and their family, Russia's role in WWI, Rasputin, and hemophilia, which he argues significantly contributed to their ultimate murder and the fall of Imperial Russia. This book may sound a bit boring (I thought so at first), but once you pick it up, it is absolutely fascinating, illuminating, and a surprisingly fun read.

Last, I read "Cutting for Stone" by Abraham Verghese a while back, and I just can't recommend it enough. It is the most beautiful storytelling I've ever encountered; I'd even venture to say it's the best thing I've ever read. This book will take you away and consume your soul well after the last page (in a good way!).

Love your recommendations, Alicia (and I love that you used them for your class!). What your student said about summarizing DFW almost made me cry. I will be looking into it for sure!

Alicia said...

Thank you SO much for sharing your reading list, Brec!

Have you ever read A Moveable Feast by Hemingway? Fitzgerald is a large part of it, including his relationship with his wife. It'd be an interesting complement to Zelda.

Cutting for Stone has been on my list for a long time. You're giving me another push to get on it, and I'm adding Nicholas and Alexandra, too. Tim works with hemophiliacs so we both might have to read that one.

Thanks again, and tell me everything that's going on with you, please?

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