Book Review: The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

Considering I gave Robert B. Reich’s Saving Capitalism a rave review, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of the former secretary of Labor under President Clinton. So I am thrilled to give Reich’s latest book, The Common Good, another rave review.

The Common Good is a call to arms to anyone who cares about the state of our country and all of its citizens.

And when I mention a call to arms I don’t mean guns and ammunition. This book is a call for us to bring a sense of empathy, sensibility and basic human decency when it comes to politics, business, religion, education, media, activism, and our communities as a whole. And The Common Good is written in an enthusiastic and perceptive manner that will connect with a wide audience.

The Common Good is divided into three distinct parts:

1. What Is the Common Good?

2. What Happened to the Common Good?

3. Can the Common Good By Restored?

Part one is a primer on the common good. It starts out using the sheer awfulness of Martin Shrekeli and how he fully encompasses what is not the common good.

As part one moves on Reich explains both the common good most of us share and origins of the common good.

In part two Reich examines what exactly happened to our nation’s common good through a 3-prong dismantling of the common good’s structure. Believe me, it’s not pretty.

But before readers gnash their teeth in despair, Reich wraps things up with a manifesto on how we can restore the common good, which includes leadership we can trust, the use of honor and shame, resurrecting truth and finally but most importantly reviving civic education for all citizens starting in grade school and high school.

Some of ideas may be a bit difficult to implement and others will be quite simple. But all are vital.

The Common Good is written in an audience-friendly style that instructs and inspires and will hold your interest long after you are done reading it.  I can’t recommend it enough. The Common Good is both timely and timeless.

Book Review: Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community

I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with self-help books, whether it comes to the personal, professional, romantic, and so on. I’ve read my share of self-help books in my life time and I’ve acquired quite a list of the good, bad, and downright ugly.

I can happily proclaim C. Paul Schroeder’s Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community belongs in the good category.

In Practice Makes Purpose, Schroeder takes six ancient ideas and updates for our modern age, which let’s face it, my readers, is often confusing, frightening and downright overwhelming.

What are the six practices you ask? Quite simply they break down to the following:

  1. Compassionate Seeing
  2. Heartfelt Listening
  3. Intentional Welcoming
  4. Joyful Sharing
  5. Grateful Receiving
  6. Cooperative Building

Each of these six spiritual practices starts with a singular issue and ends with an actual practice. Between these two points includes steps Schroeder lays out at as the fix, the deep dive, the mantra, and the challenge, which are fully described in all six of these practices.

For instance, in compassionate seeing, Schroeder asks the reader to view ourselves and others with complete and unconditional acceptance. Now, this does not mean you condone someone’s behavior. Some people are just awful but get the “story behind the story” to find out why they are awful before you completely write them off. Compassionate seeing helps us connect with others and realize how we are all interconnected in various ways. Without compassionate seeing we are in danger of unraveling, which depletes us as individuals and depletes our communities.

As Practice Makes Purpose goes through all its parts, Schroeder describes in full the barriers we may face as well as the triumphs we can achieve. He does this with a clear and concise writing style that is practical, empathetic and audience-friendly. Once a Greek Orthodox Priest, Schroeder is wise enough to realize not every reader is a Christian, so he refrains from strict religious terms that may be off-putting. Nor is this book some odd bit of new age fluff that may turn off readers of more traditional religious orders.

While reading Practice Makes Purpose, I was struck how practical and easy I could use this advice in my own life when dealing with challenging people and predicaments. His advice is healthy in it respects our need to be open to others (his advice when it comes to heartfelt listening, “Tell me more” appeals to the writer in me and I also appreciate how he discusses the boundaries we may need to use in other situations. Yes, be open but don’t get steamrolled by others. I also deserve compassion.

What else do I like Practice Makes Purpose? This book is less than two hundred pages. It can be read in day during a binge read. It can be read piecemeal if you are dealing with a situation or person that requires reflection on only one or two of the six practices. You can easily carry this book in a handbag or knapsack, and its practices can be interwoven in one’s home and workplace. I would love to see all six practices used in our children’s schooling (especially in the wake of the horrific shooting in Parkland, Florida).

As for my life? I am now using Practice Makes Purpose when it comes to my self-care, especially when it comes to my mental health issues. I recently took up meditation and six one-sentence mantras Schroeder provide within this book is now part of my meditation practice.

At this point, Practice Makes Purpose-Six Spiritual Practices That Will Change Your Life and Transform Your Community are thee right words, in the right book, at the right time.

 

 

 

Book Review: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

I think one of the first reasons why I became a feminist is because of Gloria Steinem. To be honest, it wasn’t due to her tireless work on behalf of women’s rights, committed activism towards other causes, and her exceptional writing. It was because I thought she was so pretty with her long streaked hair, her mini-skirts and her trendy aviator sunglasses.

You’ll have to forgive me…I was around seven years old at the time.

Of course, I’m now a grown woman and my love and admiration for Steinem goes beyond her looks. She is so much more than a fashionable feminist (yes, we do exist). So I was overjoyed when my friend Nora gave me a copy of Steinem’s latest book My Life on the Road. I thoroughly adore Steinem’s past books like Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions and Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem. And I’ve been reading Ms. Magazine since middle school. To this day my nickname for Steinem is “Cool Auntie.”

Living a life on the road as an activist, speaker and writer came naturally to Steinem. Her father was a traveling salesman so it’s in her DNA. As a young woman Steinem spent time studying in India. Her career as a journalist had her traveling all over interviewing and covering all kinds of topics whether it be going undercover as a Playboy Bunny or interviewing the likes of Cesar Chavez. Always an activist Steinem was drawn to feminism, acting tirelessly for the rights for women whether it be access to their reproductive rights or issues they may face in the workplace. She helped create Ms. Magazine and has been a dominating force of feminism for decades, not only inspiring women around her own age but also inspiring women young enough to be her daughters and granddaughters.

“Wandering Organizer” is just one way Steinem defines herself and to me this book proves just that. Her life on the road has influenced her in a multitude of ways, especially in the world of politics. She also admits how being a wandering organizer has influenced her physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. And her travels makes for one hell of a read.

Steinem was at the 1963 March on Washington when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech.” She worked on the behalf of farm workers. She campaigned for Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.She was also a big supporter of Hillary Clinton in both 2008 and 2016.

She’s worked along with activists Florynce Kennedy, Dolores Heurta, and Wilma Mankiller. She admits her relationship with Betty Friedan was less than cordial. She joined forces with Generation X feminists like Amy Richards. And now millennial feminists are discovering Steinem and her work. Now in her 80s, Gloria is still traveling, writing and speaking.

Every essay is written in a down-to-earth, yet moving way. She is a powerful voice but one that never seems intimidating. She fully admits things weren’t always rosy on her travels. She dealt with a lot of backlash, especially from the radical right, but kept on fighting on the behalf of not just women, but society as a whole.

I found all her essays fascinating, turning each page as Steinem went on her amazing journey. Her life on the road would make for one hell of a movie. One chapter of My Life on The Road would make for one hell of the movie.

This novel is an impressive and mind blowing account of the people, places and things Steinem encountered on her travels. At times I felt like I needed an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of it all. I feel fortunate to have learned more about this brave and inspirational woman. As with Steinem’s other books My Life on the Road is a must-read for all feminists, one to be visited again and again.

Book Review: Little Book of Hygge-Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

2016 was an immensely difficult year for me and so many others. And as 2017 rolls along I still feel a certain sadness personally, professionally and politically. And I’m not the only one. So it was truly a blessing to find Meik Wiking’s book The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.

Hygge (pronounced “hue-guh”) is the concept of happiness, fulfillment, well-being, and contentment. Denmark is considered one of the happiest countries in the world, and Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen so needless to say, he knows what he is talking about.

And just what is hygge to Wiking and many of his fellow Danes? Well, a lot of it has to do with warmth and light, which is not surprising considering it can get pretty cold and dark in Denmark. Danes love their fireplaces and wearing comfy bulky sweaters. They also have a love of soft lighting from well-placed lamps and burning candles. Only the candles Danes prefer are unscented.

Danes also find hygge in togetherness, whether it’s with their families, friends or just their communities as a whole. Just connecting with a loving soul via actual human contact (not social media) can fill a Dane with contentment and joy.

One way Danes connect with through food and drink. Having tea or coffee with a cherished loved one is a great way to inspire hygge, and so is throwing a dinner party or having a potluck with friends. In The Little Book of Hygge Wiking generously shares some beloved recipes, which as a total foodie I can’t wait to try out. And I now for myself, one way I connect with others is through my love of baking (my sugar mint cookies should be declared a national treasure).

Here are few thing the Danes feel are hygge:

  • Holidays like Christmas
  • Board Games
  • Music
  • Books
  • Sundays
  • Pets
  • Television
  • Parties
  • Plants
  • Sports

I must say I agree with a lot of things on that list. I love to listen to music, and I often use it as a healing balm when I’m feeling a bit down. It’s no secret I love books (or else I wouldn’t have this blog). I love Sundays. I start off my Sundays watching one of my favorite TV programs CBS Sunday Morning, and then I head off to my church First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee, where I am not only treated to a wonderful service, I also connect with a like-minded community. I adore my fur baby, Pokey Jones whose purrs and unconditional love fill me with hygge.

Other countries have their own concepts and words for hygge. Canadians call it hominess. In Norway it is called koselig. German’s call their concept of hygge (yes, Germans want to be happy, too) gemutlichkeit. What would I call hygge as an American? Well, I call it niceties.

Hygge is practiced all year around and Wiking mentions hygge for each Month. January is a great month for having movie nights. In March, you can have theme nights; my theme for the month of March? My birthday, of course! May is a great time for a week-end getaway to a cabin or maybe a lovely bed and breakfast place. Summer picnics are ideal in the month of July. Wiking inspires us to have soup cook-offs in November.

Hygge doesn’t have to be costly. Often they are free or very inexpensive. Wiking suggests making your own “Hygge Emergency Kit.” His suggestions for such a kit include candles, chocolate, your favorite tea, books, a collection of treasured hand-written letters, warm woolen sweaters, a notebook and pen, and music.

In the past few days I have been feeling sad with the state of our world and some personal issues I’m dealing with. But reading about hygge reminded me to think of good things that filled me with happiness and joy. The eclipse filled me with hygge, reminding how inspiring the galaxy can be and how one moment can fill the world with joy and wonderment. This morning I woke up to find a text and an IM from two friends, which lifted my spirits. I’m currently reading some good books. I made a fabulous meal last night. Heck, even a decent night’s sleep helped me feel hygge.

I truly loved The little Book of Hygge and am so grateful for Meik Wiking. This book and its ideas will inspire me for quite a long time. We should all feel and practice hygge.

 

 

 

Book Review: Listen Liberal-Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People by Thomas Frank

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Anybody familiar with my little corner of the Internet, knows I am a liberal. And I don’t feel any shame in that title. I’m very proud of it and it is one that I hold close to my heart…however…

I have been troubled by the ideas, opinions and actions by some of my fellow liberals for a few years now but never could I quite voice it in an articulate, yet simple way.

So thank goodness for Thomas Frank and his latest book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? In Listen, Liberal, Frank pretty much sums it up in a way I couldn’t without coming across like a blithering idiot.

Perhaps, you’re not familiar with the name Thomas Frank, but undoubtedly you’ve heard of his books. He wrote the classic What’s the Matter With Kansas, a book that should be on most political-minded folks reading list no matter what your views. I can also recommend two of his other books—The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right.

This time out, instead of focusing on conservatives and the current state of the GOP, Frank focuses on his fellow liberals and the Democratic party, and his summary is not pretty.

In my life, I’ve always felt I straddled two worlds, not feeling entirely comfortable in either one. I was raised in a middle class home by two college educated parents. I graduated from an excellent college with the highest of honors. I have worked in the professional realm of media, high tech, consulting, finance, law and various creative endeavors. I have eaten brie and drink wine. I enjoy my city’s cultural landscape whether it be our local art galleries or our wonderful film fest.

However, I also grew up in a rural area.  My family history is mostly wooden spoons, not silver spoons (my maternal grandmother never attended high school). I drove to high school in a pick-up truck where guys wore John Deere hats and spit up their chewing tobacco into the drinking fountains. As an adult I lived in roach-infested apartments in really dodgy neighborhoods. My feet have walked on factory shop floors and the floors of several retail establishments. I have worked as a temp for longer than I care to admit. I’ve been poor, really poor, so poor I’ve eaten out of garbage cans and spent sleepless nights wondering if I’m going to end up homeless.

And in both of the worlds, I’ve felt marginalized and misunderstood. I am fully liberal, but today’s flavor of liberal (which favors the first world I noted) doesn’t quite understand the life I’ve lived in the second scenario I noted. And we’re worse off for not realizing this.

For the longest time, the Democratic base included many of those who work blue collar, pink collar and other assorted non-professional, managerial type of labor. Then something happened. This base of working class Jacks and Janes were cast aside for a more elitist class, which included those with college degrees (often post-undergrad) degrees, impressive job titles and even more impressive incomes. These elites are under the illusion that many of them earned their way to the top through mostly their merits. And though many of them had, a lot of them also had supportive families, good connections, went to the best schools, and were able to grab the brass ring of internships, and later great jobs. And a lot of their good fortune is due to just plain good luck.

Now many of these elitist liberals are socially liberal (which is wonderful). But they often ignore the plight of the working and service classes, the gulf between the haves and have nots, those living in rural areas, globalization, and the stagnation of wages (while CEO pay is through the roof).

As I mentioned, a lot of elitist liberals believe their success is due to merit, their talents, smarts, skills, and education. And sadly, many of these people look down at the “others.” Clearly they don’t have what it takes to succeed. It’s total snobbery.

What these liberals (and their “liberal gilt”) need to recognize is the great unwashed, the salt of the earth must be taken seriously. This includes their ideas, concerns, opinions, fears and aspirations. All of us have a stake in our country and its future. There is strength in numbers and those Democrats in power must listen to all of us (so far only Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and not to mention pundit Robert Reich seem to be open to doing this).

Sure, meritocracy is a nice concept. But so is a sense of empathy. Listen Liberal implores liberal elites to stop being such snobs, open their minds, hearts, and souls to those they think as “lesser” to make effective change that works for all of us.

Book Review: I Liked My Life by Abby Fabiaschi

Maddy is a ghost, stuck in limbo. Dead from an apparent suicide, Maddy leaves behind her husband Brady and a teenage daughter named Eve. It is a wonder why Maddy would kill herself for it seems she had an ideal life. She was so kind, smart and generous to her family and friends. Brady was a devoted husband to Maddy and is a loving father. And though Eve is currently struggling with the difficulties adolescence, she’s basically a good kid.

Maddy may be physically gone, but in the spiritual world, she roams, watching over Brady and Eve both overcome and confused by her suicide. Her death leaves a huge gap in their lives and scars that may never heal. Brady and Eve try desperately to understand why Maddy would leave them in such a heartbreaking, tormenting manner. Was it something they did…or didn’t do? Were there any signs? And if there were signs, why were they so blind to them?

Maddy believes one way she can help Brady and Eve is to help them find a wife/mother replacement. Soon she sets her sights on Rory, a teacher whose fun and happy personality can only enhance the lives of Brady and Eve and lead them on a path to happiness and healing.

Through divine intervention Rory begins to work as a tutor for Eve. But she ends up being so much more than that; through her compassion she helps Eve come to grips with her mother’s death, her overwhelming grief, and her difficulties with her father. Rory does this utilizing both her warmth and charm (and sometimes sassy good humor). But what about Brady? Yes, he is drawn to Rory and appreciates the positive impact she has on Eve. But is Rory a suitable replacement for Brady? Hmm…

And during this process Maddy is a constant spiritual guide. She tries desperately to manipulate Brady from becoming a rage-filled man who strikes out at his surviving daughter. She also reminds him that being a good man doesn’t necessarily mean being a workaholic at the detriment to his family. At this pivotal time it is of utmost importance Brady be devoted to Eve and help her come to grips with Maddy’s death as well as the usual trial and tribulations of being a teen girl.

As for Eve, she misses her mother terribly, and lashes out at her father while at the same time understands that he is her father and loves her desperately. Eve also grows quite fond of Rory and is grateful, not only for her tutoring but for her love and empathy at a time she needs both.

But not everything works out so smoothly. Brady and Even often question Maddy’s suicide, wondering if they were at fault. At turns, Brady and Eve are bitter at each other and at other times, content and loving. As for Maddy? Well, her suicide isn’t as clear cut as it seems and as I Liked My Life reaches its compelling end, we begin the understand the complexity of Maddy, Brady and Eve’s lives and how they intertwined. We also are treated to a rather fun, yet unexpected plot twist when it comes to Rory and her life.

I Liked My life is a haunting tale, one written with grace, dignity, warmth and insight. The characters are both complex and simple. They are people we know and maybe they are us. Fabiachi is a gifted writer and I Liked My Life is a striking debut from a true talent. I look forward to more work from her.

Book Review: Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

reasons-to-stay-aliveAfter reading Melissa Broder’s TMI memoir, So Sad Today, I really wasn’t up to reading another memoir, especially one dealing with the thorny topic of depression and other mental illnesses. Then I came across British author Matt Haig’s book Reasons to Stay Alive while browsing the stacks at my local library. I read the book jacket and decided to check Haig’s book out…

…and I’m glad I did. Reasons to Stay Alive might be one of the most important books I have ever read on the issue of depression and mental illness, and one I am happy to share with my readers.

On the surface, Haig has a pretty ideal life. His parents are kind, compassionate and loving. His girlfriend (now wife) Andrea sounds like a delightful woman, one who chose to stick by Haig through even his darkest moments of  mental terror. Haig is educated, well-traveled, good-looking and a successful author. What does he have to be depressed about?

Well, often depression has no reason to exist; it just does. And sometimes there are reasons why people are depressed, which is something Haig also describes in Reasons to Stay Alive. But Reasons to Stay Alive is Haig’s story and it is painful to read at times. I often had to put the book down because at times I related to Haig way too much and have the dried up tears to prove it, and because I felt so much empathy for his struggles.

For Haig, depression was just something that was thrust upon him, almost like being an innocent victim of a violent crime. He couldn’t quite pinpoint why he felt the way he did. Even everyday activities from getting out of bed to doing basic ever day tasks were too much to handle. For a moment, Haig considered committing suicide while vacationing in Ibiza.

I’m just glad he never took that final step.

From these suicidal thoughts to writing Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig chronicles his struggles with depression with clarity that both chills and helps the reader gain insight on the cruelty of depression and how it not only affects the sufferer but those who live with the sufferer.

Haig writes about his anxiety and panic attacks. He is fully honest in how depression affected him physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. He goes through a whole alphabet of emotions—sadness, rage, hopelessness, apathy, frustration, terror and other assorted less than ideal feelings. But he also writes of the glimmers of hope he gained and he acknowledged his suffering and went on a very difficult journey of recovery. And he does it without self-pity, psychobabble or being a self-absorbed narcissistic curator of TMI.

In Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig fully explains why depression is so misunderstood (even by those who suffer from it). With depression, one’s pain is invisible. You wonder what suffering from depressions says about you. You wonder why you can’t get out of bed and stop crying. You worry tomorrow will be worse than today and beat yourself up for not being like everybody else.

Haig also describes certain aspects that some people with depression suffer from, including fatigue, low-self-esteem, irritability, crying jags, moving and speaking at a slower pace, and inability to experience pleasure.

Haig tells the readers that people with depression are not alone. And he names several notable figures who suffered from depression including Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and Buzz Aldrin. Creative types also suffer from depression. These people include Halle Berry, Jon Hamm, Billy Joel, Emma Thompson and Tennessee Williams. Even the ever bubbly ray of sunshine, Dolly Parton, has issues with depression!

However, Haig leaves us hopeful, sharing both his journey and the journey of others. Reasons to Stay Alive, which include everything from kissing (yes, to lots and lots of kissing) and reading books (yes, to lots and lots of books). Ultimately, he shares with us 40 pieces how to not only live but thrive while dealing with depression and also offers names of books that may help those suffer from depression that can probably be found at your local library, on-line and at your favorite bookstore.

Reasons to Stay Alive is at times hard to read; dealing with my own depression is bad enough. But I am eternally grateful for Matt Haig and his valuable book. Reasons to Stay Alive should be read not just by those suffering from depression, but those who love someone with depression. Actually, Reasons to Stay Alive should be read by everyone!