It's been a long time since I've taken the time to sit down and absorb some good books, and my "to read" pile was getting pretty out of hand, so I spent most of this weekend catching up. And I read some wonderful things! Some quick summaries:
1. "Inner Game of Tennis" by W. Timothy Gallway.
I heard about this book through eavesdropping on my boss. Her office is across the hall from mine and she was on the phone with someone, telling them about the book. I went to the university website right away and requested it from the library. The book is basically a how-to book for tennis players, but is more about the psychology of the game than the actual tactics. As such, it is widely applicable in other areas. The thing that my boss said that made me go out and order it right away, is that even though it is a sports book, it is being assigned in Dental Hygiene classrooms (oh, btw, for those that don't know, I work in the Dental Hygiene department at Eastern) to help first-year students build confidence, focus, and visualization skills. Sounded like just the thing I needed for my kayaking! I am about half-way through the book and it is wonderful. Gallway talks about how we need to learn to trust our bodies and not second-guess ourselves so much. He also talks about the disconnect between our mental "self" and our physical "self". The mental self likes to take charge of the physical, but often the physical self performs better without the mental interference. The book is really about learning to calm yourself and get that kind of focus that can only come from having a clear mind. I really recommend this book for anyone trying to learn, well, anything. I will let you know if it improves my kayaking :).
2. "The Invention of Air" by Steven Johnson
Steven Johnson is one of my very favorite writers. He is the author of "Mind Wide Open" and "The Ghost Map" and "Everything Bad is Good for You", all of which I love. "The Invention of Air" is his newest. In it, he tells the story of Joseph Priestly, a contemporary of founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and the man who discovered carbonation, among other things. He was the first to discover that air is a collection of gasses and not just blank nothingness. He then worked tirelessly to discern the different gasses. As a child he had put a spider in a closed jar and noticed that after a time, the spider died. He supposed there was something about the air in the jar that became polluted after awhile. Later in life, he tried the same experiment with a plant and was shocked to discover that the plant never died. This is how he discovered that plants create air. It's a fascinating book. I am about half-way through.
3. "God Laughs and Prays" by David James Duncan
Finally, here's a book I actually finished! DJD is one of my very very favorite authors in the whole entire wide world amen. He wrote "The Brothers K" which is, without a doubt, the best work of fiction ever penned. This book, however, is not fiction. It's a collection of essays about religion, the religious right (particularly under the Bush Administration), and nature/fishing/rivers. I have dabbled in all these areas myself, so I found the book fascinating. There are too many great parts to mention, but I will say that his ideas about organized religion are astounding and refreshing. He talks about a back-to-basics approach focused on love, peace, respect, openness, and forgiveness--directly following Jesus' example, rather than following the example of Jesus' less-than-godly followers, preachers, and apologists. DJD is not Christian himself. He is widely read in the great Wisdom literature of the world and sees the good and bad in all of those. His prose makes me laugh and cry. Seriously, read this book :).
4. "How Soccer Explains the World" by Franklin Foer
This book expounds on theories of globalization, using the international soccer phenomenon as an example. Foer took an 8-month sabbatical from a reporting job and traveled to all the major soccer stadiums across the globe, meeting fans, players, owners, mob bosses, and many others along the way. The original theory of globalization that was popularized in the early nineties is that the world would become more and more homogenized as it became more interconnected, until finally we would just have one single global culture. This hasn't happened. Foer explores why this is and why, in some cases, the opposite has happened, with people going back to the old tribal rivalries and divisions. It's good so far; I will let you know how it turns out.
5. "The First Word" by Christine Kenneally
My sister Jaima called me on Sunday morning and told me I had to go out ("right now!") and get this book. She stumbled upon it at Hastings on Saturday and has been unable to put it down since. I of course obliged. I've only read the first couple chapters, but I am loving it so far. Kenneally is a linguist and she is writing about the evolution of language, or how we got all the way from grunting to Shakespeare and the OED. She is an excellent writer. I have been very interested in language ever since I read Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way." This book traces that arc even farther and wider by talking about all languages and going back to the very origins. Very exciting.
I have a couple other books still waiting in the wings, but, really--how many books can one girl handle at once? Still, I should try to get them in before I start grad school in two weeks :).