I turn 20 in a week, and I could not have read this book at a better time. Having been raised in an abusive household, I always strive to live with kiI turn 20 in a week, and I could not have read this book at a better time. Having been raised in an abusive household, I always strive to live with kindness, understanding, and compassion in order to break free from my childhood. Kristin Neff's Self-Compassion has taught me many valuable lessons, including what specific behaviors and thoughts comprise compassion, as well as how to apply those principles to myself - one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life. A quote that shows Neff's three tenets of self-compassion:
"As I've defined it, self-compassion entails three core components. First, it requires self-kindness, that we be gentle and understanding with ourselves rather than harshly critical and judgmental. Second, it requires recognition of our common humanity, feeling connected with others in the experience of life rather than feeling isolated and alienated by our suffering. Third, it requires mindfulness - that we hold our experience in balanced awareness, rather than ignoring our pain or exaggerating it. We must achieve and combine these three essential elements in order to be truly self-compassionate."
Oftentimes we take the idea of being kind to ourselves with a grain of salt. We nod our heads when people tell us about the perks of positivity, and we smile and listen to our friends when they need help, and because of society's pressure to achieve a lot and express so little, we lose touch with our internal selves. Neff's book offers practical suggestions to increase self-compassion that transcend mere self-esteem enhancers or ineffective tricks. She delves into the specific ways self-compassion can aid in our own happiness, our relationships with family and significant others, and our general interactions with the world around us. Neff strengthens her argument by citing many studies, and she draws upon several facets of psychology - social comparison, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, group identity, and much more - to add cohesion to her ideas. One of my favorite quotes about why we need to accept our thoughts and feelings:
"Thoughts and feelings arise based on our history, our past experiences and associations, our hardwiring, our hormonal cycle, our physical comfort level, our cultural conditioning, our previous thoughts and feelings, and numerous other factors. As discussed in the last chapter, there are untold prior causes and conditions that have come together to produce our current mental and emotional experience - conditions beyond our conscious choosing. We can't control which thoughts and emotions pass through the gates of awareness and which ones do not. If our particular thoughts and feelings aren't healthy, we can't make these mental experiences go away. However, we can change the way we relate to them."
One of my favorite books of all-time and perhaps my top read of 2015 so far. Recommended to anyone who has had to deal with an internal self-critical voice, as well as to those who want to augment their self-compassion for any reason at all. In my opinion, Self-Compassion serves as the ideal self-help book: it blends original insight, personal experience, research and previous work in the field, and it relays its message in a respectful and easy-to-comprehend way. 5 stars without a doubt....more
A solid book for those interested in learning about and pursuing mindfulness. I have no experience with anything related to meditation aside from watcA solid book for those interested in learning about and pursuing mindfulness. I have no experience with anything related to meditation aside from watching yoga commercials and hearing my mom talk about Buddha, but this book broke down my preconceptions and replaced them with tangible ways to improve my mindset. For example, this passage from an early part of the book discusses how mindfulness does not always mean suppressing brain activity; rather, it involves accepting things as they come:
"People who don't understand meditation think that it is some kind of special inner manipulation which will magically shut off these waves to that the mind's surface will be flat, peaceful, and tranquil. But just as you can't put a glass plate on the water to calm the waves, so you can't artificially suppress the waves of your mind, and it is not too smart to try. It will only create more tension and inner struggle, not calmness. That doesn't mean that calmness is unattainable. it's just that it cannot be attained by misguided attempts to suppress the mind's natural activity."
Jon Kabat-Zinn also provides tangible steps to improve one's mindfulness, including practicing voluntary simplicity, doing non-doing, focusing on one's breath, appreciating each moment, and more. While these actions might seem a little far-fetched or impractical, Kabat-Zinn writes about them in thoughtful and intelligent ways. He gives practical applications alongside his more theoretical passages, and he also zones in on alternative ways to meditate based on one's specific life circumstances. All of his ideas contribute to the thorough and well-honed quality of Wherever You Go, There You Are overall.
Recommended to those who feel any curiosity about mindfulness or who want to learn how to practice living in the moment. I know I will need time to adapt Kabat-Zinn's perspective into my own life, but I do feel excited to try. I will end this review with a final quote I found meaningful:
"It turns out that we don't have to succumb to the addictive appeals of external absorptions in entertainment and passionate distraction. We can develop other habits that bring us back to that elemental yearning inside ourselves for warmth, stillness, and inner peace. When we sit with our breathing, for instance, it is much like sitting by fire. Looking deeply into the breath, we can see at least as much as in glowing coals and embers and flames, reflections of our own mind dancing. A certain warmth is generated, too. And if we are truly not trying to get anywhere but simply allow ourselves to be here in this moment as it is, we can stumble easily upon an ancient stillness - behind and within the play of our thoughts and feelings - that in a simpler time, people found in sitting by the fire."...more
In her self-published memoir What Doesn't Kill Us, Brandy Worrall details her battle with a rare form of breast cancer at the age of 31. She discussesIn her self-published memoir What Doesn't Kill Us, Brandy Worrall details her battle with a rare form of breast cancer at the age of 31. She discusses her struggle with the disease in relation to her American father's and Vietnamese mother's experience during the Vietnam War. Worrall weaves in themes of resilience, heartbreak, identity, and more to make this memoir even more memorable than one might expect.
Worrall's honesty made this book stand out. She curses, she complains, and she admits to buying bras to make herself feel better. Her prose delivers an authenticity sometimes absent in MFA-wielding authors, and she shares her struggle with cancer in a bold, vulnerable way. Worrall incorporates her old blog posts too, revealing how she has developed since her tragic diagnosis.
I would also recommend What Doesn't Kill Us to those interested in the politics of marriage and the nuances within Asian-American families. Worrall's deteriorating marriage with her ex-husband Charles, as well as her fights with her mother and father, take up just as much as space as her cancer does in her story, and all of those issues intertwine to make an effective and compelling memoir.
Overall, a great read for my Transnational Asian-American literature course. While I felt that the ending with Anton had an almost too idyllic, Cinderella-like vibe, I still enjoyed this unique story from a resilient and brave writer. ...more
"Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliter"Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life."
In The Magical Year of Thinking, Joan Didion creates a cerebral, searing, and brutal portrayal of grief. Just days before Christmas of 2003, Didion's daughter, Quintana, fell ill and began life support. Then, while eating dinner around a week later, Didion's husband, John, suffered a massive and fatal coronary. In this book, Didion attempts to pull apart the vestiges of her former reality and reflect on her marriage and her family, before she lost her life as she knew it.
There does not exist one right way to grieve. Didion has an analytical, academic approach to her grief, at least as she portrays in it The Magical Year of Thinking. She approaches concepts such as the meaningfulness of death and the castigation of self-pity with unflinching honesty. As someone who has love and lost, I found Didion's approach heartrending and intriguing, even if I myself could not relate too much to the way she processed emotion. The book felt slim, and Didion's writing packs a punch, even if their impact fell in similar ways at times.
Recommended to those who can handle a more stoic and objective representation of grief. Not my favorite book ever, but I believe that some might relate to it, in particular those who find poignancy in the words left unsaid, or the emotions that remain unexpressed....more
"Instead of shaming women for ending a pregnancy, we should acknowledge their realism and self-knowledge. We should accept that it's good for everyone"Instead of shaming women for ending a pregnancy, we should acknowledge their realism and self-knowledge. We should accept that it's good for everyone if women have only the children they want and can raise well. Society benefits when women can commit to education and work and dreams without having at the back of their mind a concern that maybe it's all provisional, because at any moment an accidental pregnancy could derail them for life. It's good for children to be wanted, and to come into this life when their parents are ready for them. It's good for people to be able to have sexual experiences and know that birth-control failure need not be the last word. It would not make us a better country if more girls and women were nudged and bullied and cajoled and humiliated and frightened into bearing children they are ill-equipped to raise, even if more men could somehow be lassoed into marrying or supporting them. It would simply mean more lost hope, more bad marriages and family misery, more poverty and struggle for women, their partners, and their kids. Don't we have way too much of that already?"
In her powerful book Pro, Katha Pollitt creates an airtight argument in favor of abortion and women's rights. She makes her audience clear from the beginning: the "muddled middle," those who approve of abortion in some circumstances but hesitate in others. She discusses the history of abortion, the repercussions of Roe v. Wade, abortion's connection to feminism, and myths that anti-choice individuals use to stigmatize abortion and women in general. Pollitt's thoughtfulness and willingness to delve into abortion opponents' mindsets make Pro an even more compelling read.
"Terminating a pregnancy is always a women's right and often a deeply moral decision. It is not evil, even a necessary evil. You might make a different decision from a particular woman who chooses not to continue a pregnancy, and you might think your decision is morally superior - but beside the fact that you don't actually know what you would do faced with those exact same circumstances, your judgment about a woman's decision is not relevant to the legal status of abortion as a whole, any more than someone giving a speech you would consider foolish reflects on the First Amendment, or someone voting for a corrupt candidate raises questions about suffrage. A right includes the freedom to use it in ways others find distressing or even wrong. Your judgment of that woman is not even an interesting fact about yourself. There are many things other people do that you think you would never do. That tells us you have a certain idea about yourself, that's all.
I wish I could quote almost every passage of this book. One of my main takeaways, out of many, centers on how the argument against abortion always comes back to the devaluing of women, no matter what. Pollitt includes a wealth of statistics, court decisions, and arguments that show how abortion opponents attempt to skirt around and debase women's rights. However, Pollitt highlights - as many feminist writers have done before her - that if we want women to achieve equality in our nation, we need to have abortion. We need to empower women of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds with access to solid sex and reproductive education, and we need to legalize abortion, without restrictions, without consequences, and without stigma. One last quote, just to emphasize how I cannot recommend this book enough:
"Pregnant women do such things, and much harder things, all the time. For example, they give birth, which is somewhere on the scale between painful and excruciating. Or they have a cesarean, as I did, which is a major surgery. None of this is without risk of death or damage or trauma, including psychological trauma. To force girls and women to undergo all this against their will is to annihilate their humanity. When they undertake it by choice, we should be grateful. That there is no way to equalize men's contribution to reproduction is all the more reason to honor women for volunteering to go through it on their behalf."...more
"Sure, some news is bigger news than other news. War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy fucked her and didn't cal"Sure, some news is bigger news than other news. War is bigger news than a girl having mixed feelings about the way some guy fucked her and didn't call. But I don't believe in a finite economy of empathy; I happen to think that paying attention yields as much as it taxes. You learn to start seeing."
I did not love every essay in this collection, but the ones I did love, I would give six, seven, or ten stars. I came in as a skeptic: how could this one person, Leslie Jamison, capture the essence of empathy? How could she manage to write about such a mysterious, powerful, and often misconstrued emotion, even with her Harvard degree and her MFA from Iowa? As an aspiring psychologist who values empathy more than anything else, I wanted so much from The Empathy Exams, so much that I curbed my expectations even before starting the book. But I ended the book with only good news: that Jamison delivers, and she does it well.
"Empathy isn't just something that happens to us - a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain - it's also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It's made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it's asked for, but this doesn't make our caring hollow. This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always rise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones."
Jamison delves into empathy across several unique situations: her time as a medical actor, when she got punched in the middle of Nicaragua, a sadistic trial known as the Barkley Marathon, the pain of womanhood as a whole. She analyzes these experiences with a powerful blend of fierce insight and vulnerability. Jamison approaches tough topics - Morgellons disease, imprisonment within the justice system - in a way that shows her intellect while honoring her humanity. The theme of empathy soaks into each of these short essays, the emotion sometimes small, sometimes large, but always there.
"Empathy isn't just remembering to say that must be really hard - it's figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn't just listening, it's asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing."
Even though I did not agree with all of Jamison's ideas (in particular her essay "In Defense of Saccharine"), I clung to her every word, riveted by her logic and her ruthless self-examination. Her last essay about her grand unified theory of female pain blew me away, as it integrated feminism, history, empathy, literature, and so much more into a painful and poignant message of hope. And when she quoted Caroline Knapp, whose memoir about anorexia tops my favorite list, I knew Jamison had her bases covered.
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to be a better human, to anyone who wants to read about a woman's attempt to be a better human. I will end this review with the closing lines of the collection, just because I hope the strength of Jamison's conclusion will motivate someone to read the book in its entirety.
"The wounded woman gets called a stereotype and sometimes she is. But sometimes she's just true. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I think the charges of cliche and performance offer our closed hearts too many alibis, and I want our hearts to be open. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open. I mean it."...more
Chords, nerves: the thing is still circulating as I write. The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was toChords, nerves: the thing is still circulating as I write. The point of the essay was never to suggest that I think I am notably oppressed. It was to take these conversations as the narrow end of the wedge that opens up space for men and closes it off for women, space to speak, to be heard, to have rights, to participate, to be respected, to be a full and free human being.
If you come across an ignorant person who pretends that sexism does not exist or that feminism has no merits, please direct them to this book. In her collection of essays Men Explain Things to Me, Rebecca Solnit articulates the problems that arise within the discourse of men and women. She uses brutal, saddening statistics to cement her arguments, but she always composes herself enough so that a wide range of readers will still appreciate her writing. This passage showcases her even-handedness:
Though virtually all the perpetrators of such crimes are men, that doesn't mean all men are violent. Most are not. In addition, men obviously also suffer violence, largely at the hands of other men, and every violent death, every assault is terrible. Women can and do engage in intimate partner violence, but recent studies state that these acts don't often result in significant injury, let alone death; on the other hand, men murdered by their partners are often killed in self-defense, and intimate violence sends a lot of women to the hospital and the grave. But the subject here is the pandemic of violence by men against women, both intimate violence and stranger violence.
This collection of essays does suffer just a little bit from a lack of a unifying theme; Solnit wrote these pieces as individual arguments, so her effort to join them feels disjointed at times. However, she compensates for this slight scramble by writing about a wide variety of topics and how they relate to the conversations between men and women. She analyzes the effects of marriage equality on the patriarchal standards within heterosexual marriages, she pays homage to Virginia Woolf by commenting on her essays, and much more. Solnit's fire for feminism and equality simmers through the pages of this collection, and several individual passages burn as exemplars of original, meaningful thought. Recommended for everyone interested or disinterested in feminism, as this would make a nice companion to Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist. I will end my review with a final paragraph that stuck out to me:
We have more than eighty-seven thousand rapes in this country every year, but each of them is invariably portrayed as an isolated incident. We have dots so close they're splatters melting into a stain, but hardly anyone connects them, or names that stain. In India they did. They said that this is a civil rights issue, it's a human rights issue, it's everyone problem, it's not isolated, and it's never going to be acceptable again. it has to change. It's your job to change it, and mine, and ours....more
I openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as wellI openly embrace the label of bad feminist. I do so because I am flawed and human. I am not terribly well versed in feminist history. I am not as well read in key feminist texts as I would like to be. I have certain... interests and personality traits and opinions that may not fall in line with mainstream feminism, but I am still a feminist. I cannot tell you how freeing it has been to accept this about myself.
In her collection of essays Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay blends anecdote, critical analysis, and humor to create a set of pieces that feel human. She admits to not knowing all the answers, and to hear an empowered, intelligent, and independent woman say that feels so refreshing. She writes about a gamut of topics: feminism, race, pop culture, and more. She tears apart the abusive and unhealthy relationship portrayed in 50 Shades of Grey, she discusses how and why she loves The Hunger Games, she comments on the unhelpful way white directors portray black characters, and more. As a professor of English and an avid follower of pop culture, her ability to discern trends and patterns within the media shone through. This passage about the unnecessary prominence of likeable characters acts as just of her many thoughtful arguments:
In many ways, likability is a very elaborate lie, a performance, a code of conduct dictating the proper way to be. Characters who don't follow this code become unlikeable. Critics who criticize a character's unlikability cannot necessarily be faulted. They are merely expressing a wider cultural malaise with all things unpleasant, all things that dare to breach the norm of social acceptability.
Gay still stands out the most in her acceptance of imperfection. In her introduction, she writes that "feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed" and that "we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always bake the best choices." In this collection of essays, Gay accomplishes so much: she writes about the intersectionality of race and gender, she establishes a consistent, wry, and sharp voice, and she includes an entire chapter about Scrabble that made me laugh and want to read more, more, and more. But, even though she accomplishes so much, she recognizes her own contradictions and the contradictions inherent within the human condition. She strikes a rough and fitting balance by ending her book by admitting this:
I am a bad feminist. I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all....more
"Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a 'standing in,' not a 'falling for.' In the most general way, the active character of love3.5 stars
"Love is an activity, not a passive affect; it is a 'standing in,' not a 'falling for.' In the most general way, the active character of love can be described by stating that love is primarily giving, not receiving."
Thank goodness this book exists. Often in contemporary society we misconstrue love as a cure-all for all of our problems: instead of learning the art of love, which requires great depth and practice, we resort to insta-love, to using others to complete ourselves, and to projecting our own insecurities onto the people around us. In his book The Art of Loving, Fromm deconstructs the shallow image of love so many people possess, and he delves into what constitutes true love: care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. Another quote that stood out to me and will remain one of my favorites:
"Love is possible only if two persons communicate with each other from the center of their existence, hence if each one of them experiences himself from the center of his existence. Only in this 'central experience' is human reality, only here is aliveness, only here is the basis for love. Love, experienced thus, is a constant challenge; it is not a resting place, but a moving, growing, working together; even whether there is harmony or conflict, joy or sadness, is secondary to the fundamental fact that two people experience themselves from the essence of their existence, that they are one with each other by being one with themselves, rather than by fleeing from themselves. There is only one proof for the presence of love: the depth of the relationship, and the aliveness and strength in each person concerned; this is the fruit by which love is recognized."
While this book contains a ton of eye-opening insight, I did not agree with all of its ideas, in particular the concepts it drew from exclusive heterosexual relationships and religion. I understand that The Art of Loving came out in 1956, which may explain its arguments that homosexuality suffers from the pain of never-resolved separateness, or that we must equal love of God with love of man. Still, these parts of the book clouded the rest of its conviction and radiance, which saddened me because Fromm combined theories from history, philosophy, religion, and more.
Overall, recommended to those interested in love or psychology. While my rating might look a little low, I believe that reading this book could change many people's lives for the better. ...more
In his book Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz shows what the elite schools of the United States lack: the ability to produce free-thinking4.5 stars
In his book Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz shows what the elite schools of the United States lack: the ability to produce free-thinking students and independent minds. He provides insight from his own experience as a student and graduate instructor at Columbia, as well as from his years teaching English at Yale. His critique blends how the current system of education reinforces class structure, how the lack of rigor at top schools prevents real learning, and how the race to get into a good college obscures students' search for their true selves. The best part of Excellent Sheep stems from Deresiewicz's willingness to provide answers: he gives tangible and specific methods to improve the education system we reside within. An example of a solution:
Instead of service, how about service work? That'll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables yourself, so you can see how hard it is, not only physically but mentally? You really aren't as smart as everyone's been telling you; you're only smarter in a certain way, and only than your peers in the propertied class. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college, and often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not "smart." You've heard that there are different forms of intelligence? Now go and find it out through actual experience.
Deresiewicz writes in an argumentative and insightful way. He makes sure to drive in just how bad the current education system has gotten while still tempering his criticisms with plausible solutions. He connects his commentary to the mental health of students, to parenting success and failures, and his own personal experiences. While I wish I had gotten more perspective from schools outside of Yale, Pomona, and a couple of others, Deresiewicz still presents well-balanced ideas and thoughts outside of his own. A paragraph I enjoyed about the purpose of education:
We have always seen our nation as a work in progress. We are always striving to create a more perfect union. So college is indeed about more than just you. If you are going to be the leader that your education is supposedly preparing you to become, then you need to question the very terms of that education itself. Instead of worrying so much about building your resume, you need to start working on building your mind.
A few takeaways from the book that I agree with: instead of giving preference to students who attend programs or trips thanks to their parents' money, reward students who survive and surpass real struggle. Base affirmative action on socioeconomic standards. Search for students who excel beyond baseline measurements of GPA, SAT score, and quantity of extra-curricular activities. Within college, allocate more attention to undergraduate teaching and engagement as opposed to research. Encourage students to delve into the humanities, subjects that require asking the big questions. Make college about creating oneself - one's values, one's way of thinking, one's worldview.
Overall, a splendid work of nonfiction I would recommend to anyone associated with the education system at all: students, teachers, parents, professors, administrators, and more. We need more people thinking like Deresiewicz (e.g., thinking for themselves), and we should strive to get these changes made soon....more
A fabulous book I would recommend to any aspiring or current therapist. Irvin Yalom writes concise and easy-to-read chapters that span several pertineA fabulous book I would recommend to any aspiring or current therapist. Irvin Yalom writes concise and easy-to-read chapters that span several pertinent psychological topics, such as how to exude empathy and when to self-disclose. He hits on unique subjects like the relationship between sex and therapy, as well as the role of research in a therapeutic setting. His advice to focus on the present and to engage with clients in a way that transcends typical boundaries shows his expertise and insight to the field of therapy, and his use of case studies keeps The Gift of Therapy an inviting and intriguing read.
Once again, recommended to anyone interested in therapy at all. One of those books that excites me for my future career....more