Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Move Your Body, Your Mind Will Follow

Move: How the New Science of Body Movement Can Set Your Mind FreeMove: How the New Science of Body Movement Can Set Your Mind Free by Caroline Williams
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Subtitle kind of deceptive, it's really about how your body moves your mind into health all over and mental and physical health are dependent; can't have one without the other. Helpful reminders at end of chapters make it good to have on hand for reminders.
So much hope is packed into this little book: a mere 200 pages and 20 pages of notes, with a reminder of key points at the end of each chapter. The information here can improve the quality of your life at any age, even the “senior” years.
The knowledge is old; the scientific evidence is new. What’s good for your body is good for your mind, and vice versa.
As we age, the percentage of us that suffer from chronic conditions grows. We’re slower, our tissues start drying up, it’s harder to get out of bed to face the pain of the day. And this process affects our brain, as well.
Current research in brain science shows an amazing, accessible, affordable approach that can prevent and/or mitigate and slow down the progression of dementia and other diseases.
Though simple, it’s hard for some to implement, because it mostly relies on personal motivation. Physical activity—more than we usually get in modern lifestyles—is the key to health of body, mind, and spirit, at any age.
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to get to a gym, or invest in equipment. The equipment you need, we all have—our bodies. The only other thing we need is to use them, however we can.
For physical and mental health, it turns out, aerobic exercise isn’t as necessary as simply moving more. Moving while focusing on your body provides many of the same benefits as “working out” and can be done by anyone—young, old, able-bodied, injured, or chronically impeded.
Why is the psoas muscle so important? What does the vagus nerve have to do with health? You’ll find out in this sometimes dry, but mostly engaging book, full of anecdotes and interviews with scientists who have both done the research and the lifestyle changes to see if their research holds true.
There’s movement for everyone here, with looks at the benefits of walking, Pilates, Tai Chi, dance, and yoga—even Laughter Yoga—all of which can be modified to practice in chairs.
But the main message of the book is, you don’t need a class, you can build more movement into your everyday life, if you choose. And you can enjoy the process!
I bought the book.

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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Must Love BooksMust Love Books by Shauna Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m always up for a story about people who love books, but I started with the mistaken impression that this was a romance. It’s really more a coming-of-age story, despite the undeniable chemistry & potential between editorial assistant Nora and new star author Andrew Santos. “Must love books” was in the job posting, not a dating profile.
Nora has always loved reading, so when she lands her first job after college in the West Coast offices of Parsons Press, she’s ecstatic. Even though they’re a business/academic outfit & Nora loves fiction, it’s a job in publishing—and moving from Oregon to San Francisco is less scary than moving to New York.
But that was five years ago. Nora’s bosses & mentors got laid off; she’s been doing their jobs, too. Beth, who started at Parsons the same day Nora did, has moved on to a job in marketing. Then stressed-out Nora’s informed that pay cuts are next.
Nora is smart, sweet, kind—and somewhat clueless about life. She’s awkward socially, unless talking about books, and she doesn’t know how to get out of the zombie rut she’s in. Dead starts to sound better than a dead-end job. Her old boss landed at a start-up publishing house, so when they have a catching-up date and Nora hears about some part-time freelance work in acquisitions, she decides to apply—without quitting her current job, without telling either employer. And without telling Andrew, even as they grow close.
I usually hate the suspense of waiting for the other shoe to drop—but the publishing setting is so true, the characters so engaging that I was able to press on, and I’m glad I did. The book made me remember how hard it is to be young. While I hope that my nieces would not get themselves in trouble in the way Nora does, I hope that they would get out of trouble the way she does: being honest with herself and others, asking for help, acting on advice.
Even though Nora has to face the consequences of her deceit, the ending is hopeful.
I think the consequences would be more drastic in the real world, but after the last two years, I could find all the forgiveness barely plausible—though welcome.
I’ll heartily recommend this book that shows and tells how to follow your heart in life.

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Love & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and LoveLove & Saffron: A Novel of Friendship, Food, and Love by Kim Fay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a pleasure to be able to wholeheartedly recommend a book! This is a perfect little gem with “all the feels” and brilliant food writing, also. The tastes leap off the page. I can see why so many women have fallen in love with it. I started with a chip on my shoulder about it, however.
When I picked it up from the library, I was shocked (and disappointed) to find a novella instead of the promised novel. At 189 pages, including recipes, the author says she designed it to be read in one sitting; since I usually read my novels in one sitting, I had to stretch it out, the way one savors a delicious meal. It’s that good.
If you were a woman alive in the 1960s or 70s, you will relate to everything in this book. If you’re from the Western part of our country, you’ll relate even more. It starts out with a young woman from LA writing a fan letter to a columnist of a Pacific Northwest magazine.
Correspondence continues, and friendship ensues. There’s a nostalgia, not from the historical setting—it was not a simpler time—but from the exchanged letters: longer and deeper than the quick texts and posts common in today’s social media. Perhaps it was a less hectic time, a less suspicious time, when it was easier to find friendship.
You will certainly wonder at how much has changed since then, and how much hasn’t.
Imogene, the columnist, was married in 1922; Joan, the fan, graduated college sometime recently when the book starts in 1962. Immy lives in Seattle and on Whidby Island; Joan in cosmopolitan California. As they exchange food journeys and recipes, they discover that kindred spirits have no age, and intergenerational friendship is a marvel. They discover that food makes friends across cultures as well as across generations. While food is central to the novel, it’s really an ode to friendship. So many amazing things in life unfold when we dare to explore another’s heart. Friendship enhances our lives—like spices enhance food—bringing new perspectives and experiences, influences and knowledge. And sometimes you get those friendships that are life-changing.
I’m sure you will laugh and cry along with Immy and Joan—it’s like a Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants for grownups, and I want to buy it for all my friends. Highly recommended!

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SearchSearch by Michelle Huneven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What an honest, funny, thought-provoking book! It covers a year in the life of a church committee searching for their next lead minister; comedy and tragedy, soul-searching and politics ensue—anyone who has been a member of a board, committee, jury, or group project can relate.
We go on this journey through the perspective of Dana Potowski, a cookbook author and food reviewer and member of the Arroyo Universalist Unitarian Community Church— the AUUCC—“awk” for short.
The book begins with the “Preface to the Second Edition”—it’s actually the first chapter of this novel-masquerading-as-memoir. It sets the tone for this darkly comic book.
In writing as in meals, it helps to have all the flavors: hot, spicy, sour, salty, sweet, umami (depth). This is reflected in the characters and life situations of the disparate members of the committee. A church, or any organization, is a microcosm of humanity, after all. And in choosing the Universalists, Huneven can give us a church that includes avowed atheists, agnostics, pagans, Jews, Muslims, and Christians.
The committee is composed of individuals representing each adult decade, 20s through 80s. Dana was asked to apply for the committee because she sidetracked from food writing to attend seminary long ago, and she’s a friend of the current minister. It seems unclear at first the one thing that all those chosen for the committee have in common. I guessed it—but that was the last thing I could predict in the story.
You can imagine the wrangling among generations, beliefs, and lifestyles that occurs during meetings, retreats, and—potluck dinners—recipes and delicious descriptions included. Sitting at a common table with a common goal doesn’t always lead to consensus. It’s hilarious, tragic, and painful to see the train wreck coming.
It’s a truthful portrayal of how our beliefs both unite and divide us, and the difficulty of putting faith and ideals and good intentions into practice; also the unintended and unavoidable consequences of secrets, truths, and lies.
I was left with an assurance and a question. The assurance: individual life, its joys and sorrows, goes on after debacle and disaster. The question that lingers: is a church (or a country) greater than the sum of its parts?
The best comedy comes from truth-telling. This wry and hopeful book that takes faith seriously has become one of my favorites; it was delicious.

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Bloomsbury GirlsBloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I hadn’t realized that this book is a sequel to The Jane Austen Society, but it made the book that much more enjoyable to find familiar characters in the new setting of post-war London. Evie Stone from the previous book is one of the central characters, and the rest of the Society members play pivotal roles in the new adventure, a mix of history, mystery, and romance.
Evie isn’t hired for a position in academia after she graduates from Cambridge—one of the first class of women admitted. She takes the setback and lands at London’s Bloomsbury Books, a microcosm of the larger post-war world where the men are in charge and the women do most of the work, some chafing at being forced to reduce the scope of their lives after having shown great competencies during the war.
Evie’s great desire is to make her life’s work the discovery and promotion of women writers pushed to the margins and trash bins of history—in contrast with Austen, they’re forgotten and uncelebrated. Such treasures might be found in Bloomsbury Books’ rare book department, or in the mess of books acquired but not catalogued that cover the third floor of the building that’s been in the care of Lord Baskin’s family for generations.
Evie’s search and its consequences will change the lives of everyone who works at Bloomsbury, especially Vivien and Grace, the only other women employees; Alec, head of fiction; Lord Baskin, the owner; Ash Ramaswamy, head of science and naturalism; Herbert the general manager; and Frank, head of rare books.
With appearances by Ellen Doubleday, Peggy Guggenheim, Samuel Beckett, and Orwell’s widow, we get glimpses of the artistic celebrities of the day, both the glitter and the longings of the rich and famous mingling with the talents, aspirations, and longings of their “inferiors” in this world where old barriers of class and prejudice are beginning to crumble.
I thoroughly enjoyed the romp, even though I felt fraught the entire time. Would Evie win out in the end? Would Vivien ever get the recognition she deserved? Would Grace be able to grab life with gusto? I was truly invested in the story and I liked it better than the first book.
I hope we get to spend more time in this world that Jenner has created so lovingly and so well. Recommended!

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Tuesday, February 1, 2022

The FriendThe Friend by Sigrid Nunez
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Friend won the National Book Award in 2018 and finally I read it and know why. The plot is usually described as: “After the loss of her beloved friend/mentor, a writer adopts his heartbroken dog.” Dogs in books are usually a promise of comfort, and nowadays it’s not just us elders, the military, and health workers that might know more dead folks than living ones; “How does one go on” is more relevant than ever.
There’s so much of life and death explored in this very short book: love and loss, aging, pets and grief, suicide and survival, career and relationships, friendship and mentorship, power and privilege. Almost every review has a different take on the book—a sign of how excellent it is. Age, interests, and temperament all have a role to play in how you perceive the book, making it a great pick for bookclubs. Some will get into the East Coast academia setting, some will find it off-putting. Whether everyone enjoys the book or not, most can relate to something in it and there’s so much to talk about, it’ll make a lively discussion!
A literal “literary” novel, with writers as main characters and many (very apt) quotes & references to the arts, the book starts as a journal in the form of missives to the departed. It’s not an exploration of the textbook stages of grief, but more a realistic portrayal of how someone’s death—especially someone we’ve known a long time—can force us to re-examine not only the relationship, but our own lives. In this case, so much of the main character’s life requires reframing that she ends up in therapy. Her friend didn’t actually leave her the dog, but the current wife never wanted a dog and won’t keep him. The dog Apollo is bereft, and the writer is also; she takes him in and he becomes the center of both her grief and her healing. Our pets: our relationships, our projections, our selves, our best beloveds. The comfort is there.
For me, the book revealed itself in the last forty pages. The Friend is a meditation on friendship—cross-sex and cross-species, an homage to the souls of dogs, and a brilliant, gently vicious exposé of the dead white male. It made me think, it made me cry, and it made me laugh—recommended!

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Friday, August 6, 2021

A Definite Amusement

Maggie Finds Her MuseMaggie Finds Her Muse by Dee Ernst
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This delicious bit of froth is perfect for a blissful escape read. Maggie Bliss is a romance author who's on the verge of achieving Nora Roberts level success. Except her latest book is due in two months, and she hasn't written a word of it—she's been covering up for herself quite well, but if she doesn't turn the book in, the third book in the trilogy—the book tour for volume two is off, the important cable deal is definitely off, and fans will be disappointed and angry. The stress!

At least she's finally motivated to dump her latest beau after seven years of growing obnoxiousness. When she finally fesses up about the writer's block to her agent, he offers her an apartment in Paris, complete with hereditary housekeeper, to pull off a miracle—a book in two months. What better city for romance writing than Paris, after all. Also good for meeting her daughter, who appears to be going to stay in Brittany forever.

It really is a pleasure to read a book with many likable characters, and who can resist Paris, home of food, fashion, and romance? Of course in this book the romance is not all in the novels Maggie writes. Her daughter has met someone, and also has dreams that her parents will reconnect as lovers, since they've remained friendly in the 20-plus years since their divorce. He's over on an after-breakup visit, as well.

And then there's Max, who she finds in her bathtub one morning, the perfect example of swoon-worthy Frenchmen. Max shows her all the wonders of Paris.

One of the things I love is that it's not all about the romance; the family & friends come off as real people, not mere place-holders. It's a hard thing to pull off a rom-com about a writer writing a book, and about women of a certain age finding love, and Ernst has done a masterful job. If you've been to Paris, you'll know if she pulled that off, but the lovely city she describes is certainly the Paris I've read about in other books. Good humor is the overall flavor of this book and I was left with the warm fuzzies. I look forward to future books!

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