Tuesday, June 09, 2009

summer reading

I suppose it's that time of year when we begin to hack away at that long list of books that sparked our fancy some time ago but for which we haven't found the time. I confess that until recently I wasn't reading as many books as I'd like. Newspapers, magazines, and the Internet monopolized my reading time for the most part. But things are changing (thankfully).

After many half-steps, about two weeks ago I finished The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography by Martin Lewis and Karen Wigen, which was recommended to me by a professor in graduate school. It's a revealing and fascinating investigation of the underlying misconceptions, inaccuracies, and biases that are rooted deeply in our academic disciplines, in particular geography. These falsities, the authors argue, have resulted in our collective misunderstanding of the complexity and sophistication of world history and intercultural relations.

Soon afterwards, I started to read The Etiquette of Illness: What You Say When You Can't Find the Words by Susan Halpern as the subject for a future resource review for Sloan's newsletter, Bridges. For survivors and their families as well as anyone interested in the relationship between illness and interpersonal relations, this book is a gem. A survivor herself, Halpern offers a rich and thoughtful portrayal of how patients and their loved ones can struggle to express their needs clearly to each other during illness. Moreover, she provides a number of helpful suggestions that anyone can use to bridge the gap of loneliness and frustration that many people feel when confronted with a terrifying diagnosis, such as cancer.

I had been eying Khalil Gibran's The Prophet on my bookshelf for sometime. It used to belong to my nana, who passed away a few years ago. When we cleaned her apartment after her death, we chose a few special keepsakes by which to cherish her memory. Like me, she was a voracious seeker of information and so besides taking a few photographs, naturally I looked through her voluminous library to see what sparked my curiosity. The Prophet is one of several books that I have which were hers.

This very well-known work, which was first published in 1923, had a bit of a revival during the 1960s. It's a very charming text infused with great sensitivity about the human condition. Moreover, it clearly originates from the Christian experience and is quite reminiscent of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount though I think non-Christians and non-theists alike can find something of benefit.

You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

Following this interest for insightful reflections on humanity and its potential for goodness, I read another book that I had found on my nana's bookshelf: Mahatma: A Golden Treasury of Wisdom - Thoughts & Glimpses of Life. Published in India, the book was produced from a unique handmade paper. Nor more than 90 pages thick, Mahatma is a beautiful collection of some of the great civil rights leader's thoughts about human dignity, freedom, religion, economic parity, and other topics.

But through [the] realization of freedom of India I hope to realize and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man. My patriotism is not an exclusive thing. It is all-embracing and I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities. The Conception of my patriotism is nothing if it is not always, in every case without exception, consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large.

It was strange but remarkable holding these two books. Stroking their pages and examining the print, time and space were no more. I felt connected intimately with my beloved nana in quite a remarkable way. To feel humbled and enriched by the same inspiring words that I'm sure also boosted her spirit when she first read them is a sacred and beautiful experience to have.

Reading the loving note left by her friend on the face of this book's back jacket was quite special too. Again, time and space were no more.

Believe it or not, I have never read Jack London's Call of the Wild. I picked up a collection of his most famous short stories recently. Yesterday, I finished "To Build a Fire," which I read for the first time in high school. I enjoyed it greatly. This afternoon I started reading his magnum opus.

There are many more books that I want to get through this summer. This will be fun.

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