The Book Jam Blog
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Nature. Calm. Quiet. Reflection. Restoration. Resilience. Sleep. Slowing Down. Cozying Up. Letting Go. Embracing Winter. Authenticity. We could all use a little more of all of these things after an intense year of upheavals from every direction. These three books provide just that in very different ways. Enjoy!
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May (2020). This is a delightful book companion with which to cozy up to winter - but don’t forget to first grab a cup of tea, a blanket, and purring kitty for your lap. I devoured this memoir in one weekend, reading and reflecting by the wood stove. Katherine May sets her story between the months of September and March, chronicling a challenging period in her life in which both she and her husband experienced medical difficulties and her young son faced challenges at his new school. We live through this period of upheaval and hibernation alongside her, during which she leaves her job at a university, and settle in to “winter.” She employs the term “wintering” to imply quieting and retreat. She also uses it to allude to mental health challenges and depression - and in so doing helps to normalize the experience of low mood that so many of us experience. On her healing winter journey, she immerses herself in the deep healing and heat of Scandanavian saunas and in cold winter swims off the coast of England. May also travels to Iceland to witness the Northern Lights and to soak in the Blue Lagoon, sharing myths, legends, poetry, and natural curiosities with readers along the way. I appreciate how the book jacket encourages us to understand this book: it “invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times.” This would make a wonderful gift for a friend who might be in need of encouragement to embrace the concept of resting in our go-go-going modern world. Or perhaps it might be a good gift to yourself, as we enter February, a month of still, cold and quiet promise. ~Lisa Cadow
Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan Slaught (2020). Writing this review, I have the sensation of having just emerged from the the dense forests of the remote Russian Primorye region. Just moments ago, I finished Owls of the Eastern Ice and am reluctant to leave Jonathan Slaught’s quiet and snowy world, one full of old growth trees, person-eating tigers, swimming deer, and careering wild boar. This naturalist’s account of studying the endangered Blakiston Fish Owls, of which there are only an estimated 2,000 in the world, is rich with detail about the region’s flora and fauna. While recounting his adventures over a five year period in the Slavic backcountry, this book also subtly and interestingly teaches the reader how a long-term study of an animal and its ecosystem is designed. It also educates about the challenges that can be encountered when conducting one: funding obstacles, lost tracking devices, unexpected floods, frigid living conditions, and relentless logging and poachers. There are also stories upon stories of eccentric forest-dwelling Russians and enough vodka drinking to last a lifetime. Reader beware that this account is stylistically very different from Helen McDonald’s (H is for Hawk) approach to memoir. It leans more heavily on science and study and less on the lyrical, poetic, and emotional aspects of the human experience. But interestingly, Slaught’s keen observations of the natural world, accumulated while patiently waiting for and watching for fish owls over many years, ultimately leave the reader with a sense of zen and calm that lend an equal but different insight into the animal condition. ~Lisa Cadow
The Gifts of Imperfection: 10th Anniversary Edition by Brene Brown (2020). This anniversary edition caught my eye as I wondered if Ms. Brown's research and stories would resonate in my 50s as much as in my 40s. Somehow, while there is nothing new here (OK there is a new introduction and a new reading tool at the end), they do. For those of you who do not know Ms. Brown's earlier work, this New York Times best seller began what is now a phenomenon - Brene Brown. Many aspects are involved in its, and her, popularity; the stories are relatable, the science sound, and her ability to help the reader identify and eliminate (or at least tame) one's sabotaging expectations may be invaluable. As Ms. Brown says herself, “This book is an invitation to join a wholehearted revolution. A small, quiet, grassroots movement that starts with each of us saying, ‘My story matters because I matter.’ Revolution might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance.” If you want a refresher (or an introduction) on how to be a bit more authentic and/or cultivate a bit more resilience in your own life, or merely need a refresher on why there is a difference between shame and guilt, this anniversary edition provides a charming crash course. Her popular podcasts and/or TED talks may help too. ~ Lisa Christie
For the first time in the history of the Book Jam, both Lisas read the same book at the same time without a plan to do so. We thought we'd honor that coincidence - and the current extreme relevance of the book - by devoting today's post to it. The topics examined throughout this memoir set in Silicon Valley between 2014 and 2018 - a high-stakes, often reckless culture of unchecked and unregulated ambition, extreme fortune making, and power - especially resonated after last week's events in the US Capitol and the subsequent loss of social media platforms for President Trump. So here you go, we discuss Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener. Bonus: it is new to paperback as of 05 January 2021.
Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener (2020). This is probably one of the most timely books you could pick up right now. It wasn’t even on my list as I’m not a woman in tech and don’t have any particular interest in the wheelings and dealings of Silicone Valley. In fact three years ago I stopped participating in social media platforms altogether. However, one of my younger “pod mates” tore through it over the holidays and described it as “a page turner. She passed it on to me and having now finished it, I can say that I agree. It was was one of the most provocative and affecting reads that I spent time with in 2020. Wiener brings a sharp sociologist’s eye to her memoir of the four years she spent working for start ups in Silicon Valley between 2014 and 2018. Interestingly, she started her career in New York City as a 25-year-old in the low tech, low-paying publishing industry for which she had a passion. Realizing, though, that she couldn’t live off of her family’s generosity indefinitely, she reluctantly left for San Francisco, following the gold rush mentality, the money, and the opportunity offered her generation to take a position in a technology company. The rest is history - and an insightful, literary, and atmospheric chronicle of her gradual disillusionment with the sector. She never mentions the players or the companies by name but nevertheless helps the reader to understand the mentality of this moment in time, the easy money and its effects on a city’s ecosystem, the frightening power of the data being collected, the shaky morals being exercised by decision makers, and the speed at which information is traveling unchecked around the globe. And and she doesn’t let herself off the hook either. If, after the events that unfolded in Washington last week, you are seeking a deeper understanding of how we arrived at this particular civic and technological crossroads, this should be your next read. ~Lisa Cadow
There is not a lot to add to the other Lisa's comprehensive review, other than one random thought. In this time of covid safety protocols, I found myself wondering, as I read Ms. Wiener's memoir, about the large group of twenty-somethings currently missing office camaraderie (even the dysfunctional kind teaches people), and what world changes will emerge from their unique position of holding first jobs during covid times. If their future recollections are anything like Ms. Wiener's remembrances, I look forward to reading their memoirs about their first jobs as well. Bottom line, Ms. Wiener’s memoir is a rare first-person glimpse into Silicon Valley culture, and how it grew to impact everything we do today (including the fact you are reading this review online). As another indie bookstore reviewer stated, "With wit, candor, and heart, Anna deftly charts the tech industry’s shift from self-appointed world savior to democracy-endangering liability, alongside a personal narrative of aspiration, ambivalence, and disillusionment." Pick it up if you want to gain insight into our current world. ~ Lisa Christie