The Search for Meaning

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

I’m in the middle of a big career/life change (more on that later), so this is the perfect time to read Man’s Search for Meaning. A psychiatrist by trade, Frankl’s memoir is about his time spent in Nazi death camps and what he discovered about the inner secrets of human survival in the absolute worst of situations. His story casts a harsh glare on our modern existence of relative comfort and excess, and dares readers to examine what is actually at the core of a life well spent, regardless of circumstance.

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“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

See It: St. Vincent

This is such a sweet movie. About unlikely friendship and finding the good in others even when it’s hidden under layers of flaws. Melissa McCarthy plays a more serious role than usual and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She’s a terrific actress. And Bill Murray’s gruff old man has a lot of soul this time around.

Toward the end of the movie, the main kid, Oliver, gets an assignment at school called Saints Among Us. The idea is to identify someone from your life who has the qualities of a saint. The movie will make you think about the people you care about most and  realize that even though everyone is flawed and the world bangs us around until sometimes we don’t even recognize ourselves, there are unlikely saints right in front of us making the road a little easier in their own bizarro way. Made me think.

This entry was posted in Movies.

Morning

“A great sorrow, and one I’m only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”  –Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

morning

Not That Kind of Book

I’ve been looking forward to reading Lena Dunham’s book. I like her show. I admire what she’s accomplished at such a young age. She fascinates me with her nudity and awkwardness and compulsive over-sharing.

I love the retro design of this cover. A great choice by Dunham and her publisher. SO glad it isn't just a glossy picture of her. It's timeless and impactful.

I love the retro design of this cover. Timeless and original. A great choice by Dunham and her publisher. SO glad it isn’t just a glossy picture of her.

I bought it at the airport and read it over two flights this weekend. It went quickly. It just wasn’t what I expected.

I guess I expected either something super funny like Tina Fey’s book or deeply honest and transformational like Cheryl Strayed or a new kind of feminist manifesto.

But it’s only kind of sort of all of these things. And needless to say, my expectations may have been a bit high.

It’s honest in the sense that she bares all and isn’t afraid to expose herself in a less-than-flattering way. But I struggled to pull deeper universal truths from her stories. They were entertaining but felt somewhat insular.

I laughed out loud a couple times, but was hoping for more hilarity like The Crackisdent (best episode of Girls ever). There are awkward moments told in vivid detail, but many of them have a layer of inner darkness that makes them less ha-ha funny. Which is fine. After reading this, I actually don’t think Dunham set out to write a funny book.

Dunham talks about navigating and succeeding in a male-dominated industry (entertainment/directing/producing/Hollywood). Props to her for that, seriously. She believes in showing her body as it is and talking freely about cringe-worthy sex stuff. She shares her neuroses and is self-aware and self-deprecating. The sheer boldness of Dunham’s work sends a message to women to have a voice. But a new feminist manifesto, this is not. It’s the  experience of one Manhattan millenial finding her way.

I love the illustrations by Joana Avillez. They bring a Judy Blume-like quality to the book. Some lightness. And maybe that’s what I was failing to remember as I read. That this is a young talent — someone who has accomplished so much, but still has a long way to go and much more to discover.

I remain a fan and look forward to more of Dunham’s work, on and off screen.

 

 

 

All the Light We Cannot See

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This is a beautiful book.

A book to get lost in.

Set during World War II, it jumps between France and Germany. It weaves together two stories. One of Marie-Laure, a girl who goes blind from cataracts at age six; and of Werner, a young German boy living in an orphanage with his sister, Jutta, in a coal mining town. We watch each of the characters grow up in the shadow of war. Marie-Laure learning to navigate a world without sight, and Werner, a prodigy with unlimited promise whose only options are to work in the coal mines to surely die (as his father did), or enlist as a Nazi soldier.

Doerr renders Marie-Laure’s sensory experience lyrically. It is full of swirls and color and smooth edges and light and sounds. She feels her way over the scale model of her neighborhood that her father painstakingly makes to help her memorize every street, building, and wall — an exercise that saves her more than once. Everything she touches, hears, or feels is amplified. Her world is somewhat isolated, yet full of unique perception and wonder.

“It doesn’t hurt, she explains. And there is no darkness, not the kind they imagine. Everything is composed of webs and lattices and upheavals of sound and texture . . . Color — that’s another thing people don’t expect. In her imagination, in her dreams, everything has color. The museum buildings are beige, chestnut, hazel. Its scientists are lilac and lemon yellow and fox brown. Piano chords loll in the speaker of the wireless in the guard station, projecting rich blacks and complicated blues down the hall toward the key pound. Church bells send arcs of bronze careening off the windows. Bees are silver; pigeons are ginger and auburn and occasionally golden.The huge cypress trees she and her father pass on their morning walk are shimmering kaleidoscopes, each needle a polygon of light.”

By contrast, the things Werner sees once he arrives at the training school for Nazi soldiers snuff out his imagination and character, turning him complicit in horrendous acts towards prisoners, Jews, and even his best friend.

The stories twist together in surprising ways. The book is sad, but tender, and written in short, easily consumed chapters. Marie-Laure’s lack of sight saves her from witnessing the worst horrors of the war; things the other characters will never un-see. Her resourcefulness and courage make her an unexpected heroine and a sweet, almost magical character that I will not forget.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

New York Times write up.

P.S. Thanks, Angie, for this thoughtful birthday gift!

Rereading

My last post got me thinking about rereading.

Some people see it as a waste of time. Why read something again when there are so many books in the world just waiting to be read?

So much to read! Utah Books & Magazine, a quirky overstuffed bookstore in Salt Lake City.

So much to read! Utah Books & Magazine, a quirky overstuffed bookstore in Salt Lake City.

 

It can be so comforting, going back in time like that. Some books are like old friends.

It can also be disappointing. Example: Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett. I read this book the year after I graduated college. I had made a few incredible, lifelong friends during that time and suddenly we were all spread out. Truth & Beauty is Patchett’s only memoir and a beautiful eulogy to her best friend, Lucy Grealy (who also wrote a powerful memoir, Autobiography of a Face, which helped define the category in 90’s). The two met in college and and although their lives went in completely different directions, they stayed connected until the day Lucy died. I loved the way Patchett captured female friendship and I used to recommend this book all the time. But when I reread it a couple years ago, I was surprised to find that it came off as overly sentimental (yes, even to me). It didn’t touch me as deeply as it had when I was 22. I grew out of it.

I’m interested to hear about books people have read twice. I don’t do it often, but here’s a few I can think of:

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume (I haven’t grown out of the sweetness of this book.)

Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (better the second time)

The Great Gatsby (many times)

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

Wild  by Cheryl Strayed

I’m sure there are others . . .

 

Wild

In anticipation of the movie, I re-read Wild. 

I devoured it in four days.

I forgot that my copy was signed by Cheryl Strayed. I forgot that I had done some ferocious underlining the first time around.

The underlines and notes in the margins were a window to the person I used to be.

Some of the passages still struck me just as strongly; others not as much.

Who was I then? What was I working out?

It was comforting to think of the things I’ve moved through since then. To see that some lines that were revelations then just read like common sense now. As Cheryl made her way over that PCT trail lugging her backpack, Monster, I followed the little clues in the margins reminding me of the paths I’ve come down since.

This passage was not underlined, but is one of the truest in the book to me now:

“There’s no way to know what makes one thing happen and not another. What leads to what. What destroys what. What causes what to flourish or die or take another course.”

and, of course —

“How wild it was, to let it be.”

Lake O'Hara. I camped and hiked here with my friend Sky, who coincidentally was the one to introduce me to Cheryl Strayed. We channeled her on the trails, as we have in our lives.

Lake O’Hara. I camped and hiked here with my friend Sky, who coincidentally was the one to introduce me to Cheryl Strayed. We channeled her on the trails, as we have in our lives.

This entry was posted in Memoir.

Favorite Books to Movies

This year, some of my favorite books will be released as movies. I’m excited as I am skeptical (please don’t ruin my books!), but still can’t wait to see these:

Wild

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This is Where I Leave You

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Gone Girl

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