Just a note for readers and friends who happen onto this abandoned blog space: I'm as interested in books as I ever have been, but I've been blogging elsewhere for corporate clients and maintaining a personal blog, Dressed Her Days Vintage. If you'd like to get in touch, you can find my contact information at Leading Reads or Dressed Her Days Vintage!
In the course of a reader’s life, there are so few books one can afford to read more than once. The Elegance of the Hedgehog earns its way into a rare class of stories that makes you want to turn the book over and start again as soon as you’re finished. What makes it so? Well, for anyone who’s ever felt the sting of being underestimated, ignored, or misunderstood, there’s a quiet victory just waiting inside the head of the book’s main protagonist, 54-year-old Renee Michel.
Madame Michel’s role as a concierge allows her a solitary intellectual life that unfolds from beginning to end in a heady journey through film, philosophy, and art. But her ability to appraise the thoughts of the haughty patrons she serves is a bitter cup. What could be more brutal than to know the exact measure of your negligible worth as estimated by others? It would be great to imagine that all readers might see themselves as the arrogant perpetrators in Muriel Burbery’s novel. But, as we all know, it’s difficult to see the ways in which we judge.
Is it worse to live behind a self-constructed façade or to build one for someone else? Madame Michel’s remarkable substance permits her to retain her dignity and her humanity, despite her lowly assignment and the shackles of a distorted past. It also wins her the royal gift of friendship with people who recognize her for what she is. Isn’t this what we all hope for? This novel is a feast for the mind and the spirit, best consumed with a cup of tea. Read it and you’ll see why.
A prissy reader might be tempted to rename this memoir within the first 50 pages. Something like Food, Drugs and Cusswords would do. Or, buoyed by a highly-developed moral code, one might set it aside in favor of something sweeter on the palette. But that would be like foregoing a spectacular feast of honest food prepared by a famous chef like…well, like Gabrielle Hamilton herself.
Hamilton’s memoir is a delicious account of her arduous journey from adolescence to adulthood, hurdling obstacles and carrying baggage that might have put a lot of us on the sidelines of life. Instead, the author matures into talented writer and chef/restaurant owner, who starts her own unconventional family and begins the balancing act known to legions of hard-working women.
Thinking of glamour? Well, forget that. Her journey to chefdom didn’t include a lofty chef’s school. It was made on an itinerant apprenticeship of inauspicious greasy spoons, summer camps, catering gigs, and a hungry, sometimes harrowing traipse through Europe as a young adult. None of it paid well, but it did form an unpretentious chef who can simultaneously write and cook the glory and complexity of unfussy, unadulterated food and of life itself.
Keep your dictionary handy. All but the very most sophisticated of foodies will need it to figure out what’s in the oven or on the stovetop and table. Read to the end and take turns shuddering, gasping, salivating and aching your way through a gritty memoir filled with tenderness, honesty, self-reliance and hope.
If, as Mark Twain once said, a person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t, then surely a person who remains unchanged by what they read is just as disadvantaged. In her memoir, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair, author Nina Sankovitch proves how much a thoughtful reader can milk out of a good book, sharing her experience of reading one book a day for a whole year.
After the devastating loss of her oldest sister, Sankovitch reads her way out of grief, fear and depression back to hope and promise. I know it sounds like a heavy theme, but her shared experience is must reading that will delight all bibliophiles. For reluctant readers who say they don’t have time to read, Sankovitch’s memoir is like a well-baited hook, demonstrating that a well-read life is a well-lived life, especially when we think about what we read.
This isn’t a work of literary snobbery; Sankovitch finds wisdom in popular mysteries and contemporary authors as well as classics. As you follow her year of reading, you’ll experience her steady recovery, not in psychobabble, but in earnest and profound descriptions of how stories and characters connect with real life.
If you’ve ever felt the loss of a loved one, don’t be surprised to find the pangs of your own heartbreak mingled with the author’s as you read. Her words are a sweet balm for one of life’s most universal experiences. By the end of the book, Sankovitch feels like an intimate friend, having shared in glittering detail what all readers love about books—their ability to transport, comfort, elevate, encourage, befriend, and finally, to chasten us into better people who can deal with all that life has to throw at us.
This one is worth reading again and again, especially as a motivating kick-start for anyone who isn’t setting aside enough time to read. In our achievement-driven world, no one is going to reward us for making time to read and think. But we’ll pay a price for not having done so.
Like lots of people who work in and around the business of books, publishing and information, I’m frequently asked about my predictions for the future of the printed word, specifically the book. In this all-connected-all-the-time world, apparently there are plenty of people (not just librarians) who worry that books may go the way of newspapers.
Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age is the latest book to salve the worries of bibliophiles everywhere. The author is a Washington Post newspaper reporter whose family declares all weekends “digital sabbaths” –two-day breaks from smart phones, e-mail, and computer screens. Powers and his wife instituted this practice after realizing that the more connected they were with the world, the less present and connected they felt with each other, family, and friends.
Hamlet’s BlackBerry makes a case for balancing our use information technology without overwhelming our minds – a problem that has plagued mankind since the time of Socrates and Shakespeare, according to Powers. As it turns out, Socrates was the ancient equivalent of a Twitter addict who would overindulge in live orations that dragged on forever. His friends often dragged him away for long walks to encourage reflection. His pals evidently knew what every well-balanced person comes to understand—that downtime is actually very productive.
The modern version of Socrates’ dilemma is what Powers calls digital maximalism—the notion that being more connected is better. He predicts that our overstimulated, underfocused minds eventually crave downtime, reflection and the private pleasure of reading a book. This can only be good news for the future and the value of books.
Hamlet’s BlackBerry challenges myths without completely bashing the good things we get from today’s information technology. Here were a few myths I enjoyed hearing him bust:
Younger people are somehow more native lovers of information technology. Powers says the people who most comment on his book are under the age of 35. They totally get the idea that no form of technology trumps human interaction. Many are willing to admit that total immersion in IT has cost their generation something in the way of interpersonal skills. And they are anxious to reclaim those skills. I’ve got a few young friends in the communications profession (and elsewhere) who will vouch for that.
Information technology results in greater productivity. However useful Google is, knowing things because you Googled them does not always generate retained knowledge. When people are constantly inundated with information, they find it more difficult to do work that requires sustained attention and make thoughtful, analytical choices. There’s a cost to employers when attention is excessively fragmented. People are prone to mistakenly identify time in front of a screen as work. Often it is not.
What a great addition to the ever expanding discourse about the intersection between human connections and information technology! This is a great self-help guide for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the role of technology in their daily life.
P.S. Don't forget to enter the drawing for this month's free book, Straight Down the Middle, by Josh Karp. Visit www.leadingreads.com to learn about the book and enter.
The world of books is a lot like this pizza, come to think of it. It's so LARGE! I love sharing books, ideas, and people that can help you and your organization be at their very best--from the inside out. I hope you'll discover something here that enriches your life.