Best books: Spring 2015

Finishing a book was a struggle in the past three months. I put down four of the ten books I tried to read, which is rare for me. Many books I chose just didn’t live up to their hype. This post features only two non-fiction books I enjoyed recently – however, on the plus side, it’s an opportunity to explain why I loved them! The books cover two extreme topics, so get ready for death and happiness.

Being Mortal

being-mortal

I debated whether I should feature this book, because it’s about a topic most people want to avoid thinking about: dying. However, as the world skews towards an older population, and as more people I know take care of elderly parents, it’s a situation that can’t be avoided.

Atul Gawande, a surgeon in the US, tackles this subject with humanity, grace, and insight. Despite the tough topic, I surprisingly enjoyed this book. Some key questions Gawande explores:

  • How do we stay in control of our life story right until the end?
  • What’s the difference between nursing homes, assisted living, hospices, and palliative care?
  • Is the best option to take care of elderly parents at home surrounded by family?
  • When does doing everything medically possible actually shorten your life?
  • How do we understand the sacrifices a loved one will make to stay alive, and when should we let go?

There are many powerful stories throughout this book, and I found I had to put the book down a couple of times to prevent crying. There’s no right answer for these types of questions, but that’s Gawande’s point: we need to actively plan the acceptable way to die because it’s different for everyone. It’s a heavy read, but I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to support themselves and loved ones better in later years.

Ok, and now from death to happiness…

10% Happier

10Happier

If you’re skeptical about meditation, and hate all that hippie-dippy-yoga-granola stuff, then this is the book for you.

This book is part memoir, and part how-to manual for meditation.

Dan Harris, a reporter with ABC, describes in detail what led him to meditation. Depression, post-traumatic stress from working in war zones, a cocaine habit, and an on-air panic attack contribute to his journey of self-improvement.

Harris, who stumbles onto meditation through his role as ‘religion reporter’ for Peter Jennings (which is a crazy concept in itself), realizes that meditation doesn’t solve everything. It does help make him a little happier though. About 10% happier in his estimate.

In meditation we’re supposed to focus on the breath, and silence the mind. Thoughts always intrude though, and you can’t just turn them off. But the way Dan explains it, having a thought, then going back to the breath, and doing it over and over again IS the whole point of meditation.

He uses the analogy that meditation is like bicep curls: you train repetitively over time, you lift dumbbell after dumbbell, and slowly you start to see small shifts in how you react “on the mat” as well as “off the mat.” After reading the book, I feel less discouraged when I have random thoughts during meditation, and tell myself it’s life-long training for my mind. It will always feel like work, but it does slowly get easier.

The subtitle of Harris’s book is “How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works—A True Story.” He says he wanted to call it “The Voice in My Head is an Asshole,” but the publisher wouldn’t let him. The voice in my head is an asshole at times too, and I’d guess, it’s a problem for many people. Meditation might just help a little – and if all it takes is 10 minutes a day, being still, and sitting comfortably – maybe it’s worth a shot?

Summer reads

Hope you liked these book recommendations – and if not, I promise to have more diversity in my September post! I’ll be reading mystery novels, maybe some historical fiction, and biographies as my guilty pleasures, but if you have other suggestions for my reading list, let me know!

Happy summer reading 🙂

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