If I have seen you in recent weeks, there is a very good chance I have handed you this slim little volume, a compilation of a number of Oliver Sacks’ final essays, including his candid, beautiful reflections on the end of his own life. “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.” I highly recommend combining this small volume with Dr. Sacks’ longer memoir, ON THE MOVE: A Life.
If you are a fan of Krista Tippett’s radio show & podcast (as we all surely should be), you will love this book. This is the wisdom drawn from Tippett’s many years of conversations, and just like those conversations, her writing has a lovely way of moving from the deeply personal to the universal. Especially in these tumultuous times, as I find myself wondering about our most essential questions more and more often, these ideas are beacons. (Note: I am not often a fan of e-books, but in the electronic or audio versions of Becoming Wise, you have the benefit of hearing clips from many of Tippett’s conversations instead of seeing them as quotes. This is nicely additive.)
It’s true, these days I see natural systems everywhere – and such is the case with Simple Rules as well. A central theme of biomimicry is the importance of simple, elegant design and operation, and the authors’ premise here is similar: that we can benefit from using simple rules to focus our attention in an increasingly complex and complicated world. I admire that this approach helps us to consider shortcuts that are not simplistic – a welcome difference from the multitude of “solutions” that are really just fragile jumbles of narrow directives. A classic example is seen in Michael Pollan’s list of food rules, highlighted front and center in Simple Rules: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple rules usually have a “duh” quality on their surface, and yet we hardly ever live by them, or use them sensibly, or adapt them effectively. This book will help.
No matter how enthusiastic, how curious, how independent-minded we are, some days we just need a great big pep talk. Are you sure you’re not playing it safe, no matter how good the results might be? There’s a time for temperance and caution, sure, but there’s also a time for diving in, for exploring the nooks that seem a little crazy or scary or, well, amazing. Need a little nudge? Elizabeth Gilbert reminds you of your own greatness.
Have you wondered where the term mansplaining comes from? Do you think it’s (just) a joke, and roll your eyes when you hear it? The title essay in this book is credited with inspiring the term, and it’s well worth your time. In a poignant funny/not-funny anecdote, the author is faced with a party host who is insisting that she must investigate a terrific new book... that she herself wrote. It does not occur to him that she could be the author, even after her friend tells him so, repeatedly. Perhaps as important, Solnit herself wonders whether the host is correct, whether there could possibly be another book on the same photographer, highlighting the same historical and technological themes as her own. There’s been a lot written about this one central anecdote, but the full content of this book, with essays that complement one other in powerful and unexpected ways, weaves together context and insights that are rich, multi-faceted, and well-rooted in history. Especially if you are a Good Guy (of any gender) who is still surprised by stories like #yesallwomen and #notokay, or can’t understand why “all the women leave” your office environment, or don’t see the links between those two phrases I just wrote, this book is a difficult and helpful read. And yes, this is a total bait-and- switch in terms of category, because a good portion of this book is in fact about People Who Are Just Like Me.