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Swimming Lessons Review: Time Stops When You’re Reading A Good Book

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As you may know, every month this year I’m going to pick something to focus on, depending on what I feel I need during that particular month. For January, it was a no-brainer. Slow Down.

The past few months have been busy, both at home and at work, and I realized that most of my life these days has been a blur. Well, I intend to change that going into the New Year.  Sure, I want to do EVERYTHING but I also want to savor time. Enjoy the slowness. Stop racing around.

One of the things I’ve given up while trying to be more productive is reading fiction. I used to read everything I could get my hands on but these days I mainly read nonfiction since I host the nonfiction book club at work. Or, I watch a lot of movies at home, since I can paint at the same time!

But you can lose yourself in a good book. You can travel to distant lands, meet fascinating people, solve mysteries, laugh, cry, love, hate. All of this can happen in a good book. You also slow down time – the world might rush by but within those pages you have no appointments to keep, bills to pay, or concerns to face. I’ve been avoiding good stories because I feel I’m just too busy to sit down and read. I think, however, that when you FEEL as if you’re too busy, then that’s when you most need to take that time to read. Even if it’s a few pages every night. TVs are loud and too stimulating. Books are quiet – in our world, we NEED quiet – and, by forcing you to rely on your imagination, great creativity boosters as well.

This year, I resolved to read more for pleasure and, as fate would have it, over the holidays I got an advanced copy of Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (Tin House Books.) When this book first came out in hardcover, I was actually so enamored of the beautiful cover art that I made a chalkboard sign inspired by it for our store display.

And the paperback version is just as gorgeous! The palette is very similar but with darker tones. Yet again I was inspired and this time, created a painting to evoke not only the loveliness of the cover but also the captivating, dark beauty of the story itself.

Have you read anything by Claire Fuller yet? If you haven’t, well then you simply must. I’m in cozy, nesting mode for winter right now – surrounded by introspective gray skies and moody, drizzly Pacific Northwest weather. Perfect weather, in fact, for reading Claire’s book ; filled with dark family secrets, the pain of the unfulfilled life, and some of the most lyrically breathtaking prose you’ll ever read.

Here’s a particularly resonant passage (page 265, paperback)

“The world had become harder, more abrasive; sheets scratched, clothes irritated, and people feared. It was when I was underwater or in the garden that I felt relief. But precise moments of grief, like the pangs of childbirth, are hard to recall after ththe most intense pain has passed: nature’s trick to ensure we survive and continue to reproduce.”

Wasn’t that just gorgeous? I’m not going to give anything away but if you like piecing things together, uncovering different perspectives of the same shared experience, and leaving a book wiser and more emotionally aware than you when you started reading it, then this is definitely the book for you.

Book Review: Eruption

“A natural disaster is not a disaster until it becomes a human disaster; otherwise, in the minds of most people, it is a mere spectacle.”

This is one of my favorite lines from Steve Olson’s 2016 book, ERUPTION: The Untold Story Of Mount St. Helens. It perfectly sets the tone for the entire narrative : an honest and humanistic telling of the events of 1980. No one was prepared for what happened – the eruption was one of the largest in American history, killed 57 people and caused over a billion dollars in damage.

ERUPTION is coded as Science and the strikingly beautiful cover – featuring an erupting Mount St. Helens – only hints at the depths the book goes into while telling the tale of this dramatic natural disaster. You think you’re going to learn about the geology of volcanoes – and you certainly do – but the book is much more than that : a sympathetic tribute to the humans who found their lives intertwined with Nature in a powerful, life-altering way that fateful summer.

Olson is a master at weaving these stories through the narrative in a way that is easy and uncontrived. We learn about the science teams, the logging industry, and the local residents who were all major players in what transpired during those months and trace the final days of those who perished. We discover how decisions made even decades ago influenced the events of that day – of all the economic and political factors that shaped the fates of the victims.

I can’t recommend this book enough! It was a sweeping, cinematic look back at an important time in our nation’s history and Olson helped put everything into a larger context, interweaving personal tales with politics and capitalism in a moving and evocative way. It’s a great book for those interested in Natural History, Conservation, or the Pacific Northwest.

Ikigai: Finding Happiness In Doing What You Love

Fall weather is here and I love it! I feel most alive and energized when the sky is grey and there is a slight drizzle of cold rain. Not a popular point of view here in the Pacific Northwest, where everyone lives for sunny days – but hey! I grew up in the tropics; I’ve had more than my share of sun!

Weather like this calls for a warm scarf, a cuddly kitty (luckily I have the perfect one), and a feel-good book! I picked up exactly such a book for the weekend. This latest in a long series of globally-themed life improvement manuals is not from Scandinavia but from Japan! I seriously can’t resist all of these cute little books so of course I had to check this one out!

So, you all remember Hygge – the Danish concept of finding contentment in coziness – well, ikigai is all about finding joy in working on your life’s purpose. And your own personal ikigai is the intersection of what you’re good at and what you love doing.

Makes a lot of sense! I am a firm believer that having goals, and dreams, and a raison d’etre can help you find focus and contentment -even if other things in your life aren’t always going according to plan. When you find your passion and you are able to find a way to work on that passion, your whole life changes. The little things in life don’t get to you as much – you have your purpose to keep you focused and on track.

This book is filled with scientific facts, anecdotal evidence, and interviews with some of the world’s oldest people. I look forward to reading it this weekend.