Bedside books

On this Thanksgiving morning, I am grateful for books–and the time to read them.

Here are the books currently on my nightstand:

Nine books on my nightstand--and you'd see an iPad too, if I weren't using it to take the photo.

Nine books on my nightstand–and you’d see an iPad too, if I weren’t using it to take the photo.

Two have been there since last winter. One joined the stack after a conversation with a feminist last spring. One is from the library. One was a gift, one a loaner. One is a repurchase of a book I gave away, after it was given to me. Not one is fiction. Funny, the things our books say about us. (What’s on your nightstand? Let me know.)

Now, let’s open a few covers:

Second Wind: Navigating the Passage to a Slower, Deeper, and More Connected Life, (2014) by Dr. Bill Thomas. He’s a self-proclaimed “nursing home abolitionist.” You can find out more about his work at, as I am doing. This is a library copy but I’m ready to buy my own so I can go highlight like crazy. I want to start a discussion group to explore thoughts like this one:

“Although it is hard to believe, a four-decade-long cultural hegemony created by the postwar generation’s occupation of the adult life phase is drawing to a close. We are approaching the postwar generation’s Second Crucible, and with it a spectacular and unprecedented struggle to discover and enter into life beyond adulthood.”

Or this one:

“People living in contemporary society are constantly reminded that doing > being….The Enthusiasts [Thomas’ term for people actively embracing a lifestage beyond adulthood] are set apart from the dominant culture in large part by their desire to reverse the cult of adulthood’s life equation so that it looks like this: being > doing.”

So, want to join my discussion group? Let me know!

Moving further down the stack…

Having the Last Say: Capturing Your Legacy in One Small Story (2015) by Alan Gelb. His message: “As the baby-boomer generation ages, its members are looking ahead to the biggest challenge of all: making sense of life in its third act.” It’s a short-ish how-to book on writing the opposite of a college entrance exam–the essay to be read at your funeral, using one story from you life to convey values, passions, and life lessons. It’s a nice, concise how-to-write book, and I’m getting some nice tips from it on my occasional dips.

Writing Your Legacy: The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story (2015) by Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson. Skimmed this when asked to blurb it last year (the authors are fellow colleagues in the Association of Personal Historians), received my copy  at the APH conference, looking forward to seeing what it adds to a shelf becoming somewhat crowded with these how-to guides.

Cannot Stay: Essays on Travel (2015) by Kevin Oderman. These essays speak to the experience of travel, and I like Oderman’s way with words–the man can turn a felicitous phrase. I’ll draw on this next time I update my “Write Your Travel Memoir” curriculum.

Writing to Learn: How to write–and think–critically about any subject at all (1988) by William Zinsser. Zinsser believes that writing is the best way to learn about a field of knowledge. That might not be true for every learning style, but it sure works for me. (The problem is, not continuing to write about it is the best way to forget what you just learned, I find.) We all need a Zinsser book close to hand at all times, IMHO.

The Artist’s Way: A spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (1992) by Julia Cameron. Repurchased in a recent fit of delusion that I would have time for creativity soon. And when I do, I will do those Daily Pages…

Powers of the Weak (1980) by Elizabeth Janeway. Wow, now THAT was some heavy food for thought! Took me 3 months last summer to read its 321 pages. I look forward to going through it a second time to gnaw more meat off those pages. A friend of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem (although considerably older) and a reviewer for Ms. Magazine, Janeway is a foundational thinker and writer of  second wave feminism. Here’s my distillation:

  • If the weak accept the labels “powerful” and “weak” and accept the roles that go with the labels, they are doomed.
  • The “powerful” use isolation, trivialization and self-doubt to keep the weak believing they are weak.
  • The weak can fight back with disbelief, community, and collective action.

Now if I can just find a way to start applying those insights to the “weakness” that we define as elderhood…  see Second Wind. It’s time to start a revolution. Who’s with me?

Now we’re down to books that haven’t moved since last spring….

Being First: An informal history of the early Peace Corps, (2010) by Robert Klein. Got this at an oral history conference. I dip into this one occasionally and dream about joining the Peace Corps myself (hey, they take older people now!) or at least teaching “Travel Memoir” to a group of retired Peace Corps volunteers. Klein did a great job of collecting oral history interviews for this book about the corps’ creation and first year of service–an incredible testament to John F. Kennedy’s vision and ability to get things done through other people. Good lessons there….

And that brings us down to….

Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America (2004) by James Webb. Last St. Patrick’s Day I was lamenting having no particular ethnic origin (and posted about it here). Once my brother provided genealogical evidence for my Scots-Irishness, My friend Jane lent me this book. Wow, the ethnic pride fairly crackles off its page! I’m surprised the type doesn’t spring up and start fighting. I’m not sure I like knowing such warlike traits are in my DNA.

And there you have it: 7-1/2″ of reading. I am grateful to have an inquiring mind, a fresh prescription in my eyeglasses, a taste for coffee (both of which are required to bring that mind into focus), and a small bracket of time set aside each day for reading. May a holiday here and there bring a second pot of java and a larger bracket for reading, as it did this morning. And may there occasionally arise meaningful action from the delicious swirl of thought provoked by good authors.



About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
This entry was posted in Book review, Sarah's memoir, Writing prompt. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bedside books

  1. Dear Sarah! Recently I have been rereading some of the books from my “never throw these away” bookcase. I just finished “On My Own at 107: Reflections on Life Without Bessie” by Sadie Delaney with Amy Hill Hearth. Sadie and her sister Bessie lived together for 104 years. The story of their “first 100 years” was told in “Having Our Say” which is another great book. The take-away message for this book is even at 107 you can start a new life. Short and sweet is a wonderful before bed read.
    Secondly, I am also rereading “A Fine and Private Place” by Peter S. Beagle. I don’t think this book is well known but it is amazingly unusual. A man, Mr. Rebeck, who has run away from life and is living in a mausoleum in a cemetery fed by a raven with a sardonic sense of humor, greets the newly dead as they emerge from their graves. Laura is happy to be dead. Michael fights to remember every single thing about having been alive. Mrs. Klapper comes to visit her husband’s, grave, she is the fully alive, robust, kind, Brooklyn Jewish, and not too introspective character. But the plot gets complicated when Mrs. Klapper and Mr. Rebeck start to be interested in one another; Laura and Michael start to care for one another; and the big question out in the world they have all left is DID Michael’s wife kill him – or did he set her up and commit suicide? Perhaps sounds grim but the characters are amazingly drawn and every changing, and you end up thinking about your own life. Telling a synopsis I can see why it never made it to the best seller lists but it made it to my read again and again, shelf. Dhyan


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