What is Bill Gates Reading?

UnknownI’d forgotten I’d signed up for the Bill Gates Newsletter; wisely he doesn’t send many – to me anyway.  I skipped his end of the year Christmas summary of his year; I get enough of those from people I actually know – but his list of five books included suggestions I liked.

Among the books he claimed he couldn’t put down this year was Educated by Tara Westover.  I’ve avoided this book as I do most memoirs, especially  those with a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” focus.  This is the third time the book has been recommended.  First, I ignored a good friend’s recommendation to read it; second, when a book club identified it, I groaned; finally, here is Bill, claiming “I never thought I’d relate to a story about growing up in a Mormon survivalist household, but she’s such a good writer that she got me to reflect on my own life while reading about her extreme childhood.  Melinda and I loved this memoir of a young woman whose thirst for learning was so strong that she ended up getting a Ph.D. from Cambridge University.”

Three’s a charm, so I’ve ordered the book from the library.

Next on Bill’s list was 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari.  He had me at “if 2018 has left you overwhelmed by the state of the world, 21 Lessons offers a helpful framework for processing the news and thinking about the challenges we face.”  I probably should have read this book yesterday – or as soon as the recent President was elected.  I’ve ordered this from the library too.

Finally, I found one book I could download immediately to my Audible account. It seemed appropriate to listen to Andy Puddicombe’s The Headspace Guide to Meditation and Mindfulness.  Bill says he and Melinda have “gotten really into meditation lately.”  I downloaded the Calm app to my phone with good intentions, but usually only remember to turn it on when loud noise outside my window late at night is keeping me awake.  Calm has “bedtime stories” to drown out the party clamor.  Bill’s note that the book has “Puddicombe’s personal journey from a university student to a Buddhist monk…” caught my interest.

The other two books on Bill’s list of five did not interest me now, but maybe they will you:  Army of None by Paul Scharre, “a thought=provoking look at A-1 warfare,”  and Bad Blood by John Carreyrou, “…the rise and fall of Theranos.”

No fiction on the list;  I wonder if Bill ever reads any.

The Museum of Modern Love

51vG9TBXECL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_   I read the first paragraph of Australian writer Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love:

“…But this is not a story of potential.   It is a story of convergence. Such things are rarer than you might think. Coincidence, I’ve heard, is God’s way of being discreet. But convergence is more than that.  It is something that, once set in motion, will have an unknown effect.  It is a human condition to admire hindsight. I always thought foresight was so much more useful.”

and before reading more, I decided to find out more about the performance artist, Marina Abramovic, who inspired the book.

In her review for the New York Times, Tacey Rychter summarizes the author’s experience with Abramovic’s 2010 art show – The Artist is Present:

“…Rose was one of 850,000 people who attended Abramovic’s 75-day performance, “The Artist Is Present,” in which visitors {to the Museum of Modern Art – MOMA} waited for hours to take a chair opposite the then 63-year-old artist and share a meditative gaze with her for any length of time. People described transformative experiences. Many wept through their mute encounters. ‘It was as if they were seen in a way they’re not normally seen,’ Rose said. She returned every day for three weeks. She watched the crowds and saw others came back, too.

The books mixes fiction with the real life of the Serbian performance artist, Marina Abramovic, whose career has included knife slashing, self-flagellation, razor blades, and walking the Great Wall of China.  Using the 2010 performance art at the New York City Museum of Modern Art, Rose not only plays biographer to the artist’s life but also connects to a small cast of characters she creates, representing the more than 1000 people who took turns sitting in a chair opposite Abramovic and meeting her gaze and the thousands more who came to observe from the sidelines.

Not knowing about Abramovic, I used youtube to find the live performances Rose vividly describes in her story.  I was sorry I did; some of those images are hard to see and to forget.  At times, the controversial performance art seemed more of a stunt than art,  but Rose’s characters and their stories make the book compelling, and Rose gives the artist a higher level of intention through her characters’ participation.

The central character is Arky Levin, a composer of movie soundtracks; the others who converge with Arky as they each experience Abramovic’s art show include: Jane Miller, a recently widowed middle school art teacher from Georgia; Brittica, a pink-haired Chinese doctoral student from Amsterdam who is writing her dissertation on Abramovic; Healayas Breen, a black art critic and singer and a former girlfriend of Arky’s former musical partner; and Marina’s dead mother, who hovers over the museum watching and commenting.  Abramovic’s performance helps each face and resolve an inner conflict.

The most poignant story revolves around Arky Levin and his wife, Lydia, a brilliant  architect.  Her congenital disease has recently deteriorated to a semi-comatose state, and she is in a nursing home. Arky has learned that Lydia had previously created a court order to keep him from visiting, having long doubted his ability to care for her and wanting to free him from being her caregiver.  Their daughter and friends question Arky’s willingness to abide by the legal document since Lydia is no longer capable of changing it. Unable to write music and not able to decide how to show his love for his wife, Arky finds himself drawn repeatedly to Abramovic’s MoMA performance.  His struggle ultimately has him taking the seat across from Abramovic for his epiphany moment.

Although the focus is on the power of redemption through art, the book is difficult to read.  The background information on the artist reveals not only her grueling performances but also the horrible life in a war-torn area forcing her into creating her own style of salvation.  And Arky’s experience facing his wife’s debilitation has a note of incredulity – what spouse would exonerate the other’s commitment from the vow to be there in “sickness as in health” – maybe that’s a question for a book discussion?  

A key element of Abramovic’s performance art is the eye contact she makes and holds with each one who sits across from her, whether the person sits for five minutes or five hours.  In the “Questions for Discussion” at the end of the book, the author suggests trying this stare or “gaze” with a friend or loved one to see what happens.  Arky practices by staring at a pillow before he attempts trying it with the artist.  It’s not easy to sit perfectly still, staring at someone.  Even in meditation, you get to close your eyes.

Not for everyone, but a book with staying power and inspiration to anyone trying to deal with grief, suffering and recurring illness.

“Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.”

Smile – It’s Christmas

My favorite irreverent poem for Christmas Eve is Shel Silverstein’s Christmas Dog. Read it again – here.

Looking for inspiration, I found another short popular poem by Silverstein:

Unknown“i made myself a snowball
As perfect as can be.
I thought I’d keep it as a pet,
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for it’s head.
Then last night it ran away,
But first – It wet the bed.”

And…another poem from a favorite author, Phyllis McGinley:

Office Party

This holy night in open forum
     Miss Mcintosh, who handles Files,
Has lost one shoe and her decorum.
     Stately, the frozen chairman smiles

On Media, desperately vocal.
     Credit, though they have lost their hopes
Of edging toward an early Local,
     Finger their bonus envelopes.

The glassy boys, the bursting girls
    Of Copy, start a Conga clatter
To a swung carol.  Limply curls
     The final sandwich on the platter

Till hark!  a herald Messenger
     (Room 414) lifts loudly up
His quavering tenor.  Salesmen stir
     Libation for his Lily cup.

“Noel,” he pipes, “Noel, Noel.”
     Some wag beats tempo with a ruler.
And the plump blonde from Personnel
     Collapses by the water cooler. 

And, finally,  a lovely one to dream on by Walter de la Mare:

UnknownMistletoe

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low,
All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.
Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

Unknown

 

Has It Been That Long?

9-year-ribbon-anniversary-vector-illustration_k56953205Nine years ago today I wrote my first post.  A lot has changed since then.  My mother was still alive nine years ago, and I remember seeing the film Avatar with two friends who have since disappeared from my life.  But…a lot is the same:  I am still reading and reviewing.

I wondered what I was thinking as I wrote that first post nine years ago.  Do you remember what you were doing nine years ago today?

Here it is:

Hi Fellow Readers!

Posted on December 23, 2009, 5 p.m.

With Christmas only a few days away, the mall is the last place I want to be – no matter that I still have presents to wrap, cookies to make, and last-minute shopping ads to ignore.  I’m in denial – sure it all will get done – in the meantime, I’m using delay tactic 307 to read.

My latest find is Debra Ginsberg’s The Grift – no, I did not say the gift, if holiday giving is on your mind.  Remember the old movie with Angelica Huston and John Cusak – the Grifters?  otherwise known as scam artists – appropriate for this time of year.

The story revolves around Marina, who starts her life as a fortune-teller/money seeker at a fairly young age, thanks to her mother.  She’s a good scam artist, as in talented, savvy, and not a bad person.  The story follows her from Florida to Southern California, developing her character and her vision along the way, with a cast of characters that fit into the Hollywood clime.

I’m not giving anything away when I tell you that it gets a little hokey about half way through when Marina discovers she really is psychic.  But the author works the magic through the characters, and the story is still satisfying.

So, what are you reading?

 

 

The Library Book

shopping  It seemed appropriate to borrow Susan Orlean’s The Library Book from the library, and her affinity with the institution caught me from the first page.  I too remember walking to the library as a young girl, holding my mother’s hand, and gleefully letting go once inside to enjoy the freedom of roaming the stacks of children’s books.  I too remember checking out so many books; we had to balance those slippery covers carefully as we walked home. If those books had disappeared in a fire, I would have been devastated. The Library Book tells the story of the 1986 fire that damaged or destroyed more than one million books in Los Angeles’ Central Library.

Perhaps the most poignant note in this book had me forgetting I was reading nonfiction:

Orleans says the fire reminded her of the proverb that when a person dies, it’s as if a library has burned to the ground. “A host of memories and stories and anecdotes that we store in our minds disappears when someone dies. It struck me as being a wonderful way of seeing why libraries feel like these big, collective brains — because they have the memories and stories of a whole culture inside them.

Orleans has produced a comprehensive book in her research, documenting what happens behind the scenes in libraries, how the librarians thought about the fire, then morphing into the library today as it adapts to the digital age. She takes the reader inside the stacks, observing and listening to the questions patrons ask and revealing how the library works. When she investigates the life of Harry Peak, the possible perpetrator, she never hopes to solve the mystery of the devastating fire – but you hope she will.

At times, her attempts at solving the mystery of the fire drives the narrative; other times, her observations of librarians and books connect with my curiosity and awe of both.   I read it all carefully and slowly, and it has inspired three resolutions:

  1. To visit the Los Angeles Central Library,
  2. and find its collection of restaurant menus.
  3. To look for the Library’s float in this year’s Rose Bowl Parade.