Self-Help ... Books: Summer 2017 Edition

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

If Summer 2016 was The Summer We Read Austen (as if my whole life is not Austen), then Summer 2017 would most accurately be called More Alive and Less Lonely. Yes, I stole this title from a book of essays by Jonathan Lethem (more on this book at the end of this post). I saw it on the "new books" shelf at my adopted library Sharon Forks, and, although I don't read a lot of nonfiction, I couldn't help but pick it up because, upon reading the title, I thought to myself YES. Yes, that's it. "Anna, why do you love books?" "Because they make me feel more alive and less lonely."

Once again, I've decided to share the beauty of books this summer by compiling in a blog post some of the things I found and was inspired by. I hope you find something beautiful here as well. (I read fewer books this summer than last, but I think -- and told Joe -- it's because he's so cute and fun.)


Those imaginary people, to whom she gave their most beautiful ideal existence, survive to speak for her, now that she herself is gone.

Read Jane's novels. They're there to speak for her: love stories, yes, though not always happy ones, but also the productions of an extraordinary mind, in an extraordinary age. Read them again.

- Jane Austen, the Secret Radical by Helena Kelly

He understands that they want him to be special. It's important to people that he be special, because we need special things in our lives. We want to believe that magic is still possible.

- Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that there lay within me an invincible summer. 

... we all know that you can't judge a book by its cover. You'd miss out on some very good books that way, all those Penguin classics with the orange covers for starters because they all look alike ...

The great surprise of the adult world had been that no one really knew what they were doing, and especially not the people who exuded impenetrable confidence.

- Invincible Summer by Alice Adams

Hello, frozen burrito, old friend. How I've missed ignoring your suggestion that I cook you on high for three minutes, flip you over, and cook you on high for three minutes again. 

Humiliation: what a salve for pain. Someone should just bottle Embarrassment, sell it next to the Advil, make a fortune.

... libraries were like doctors: it was time to see a specialist. 

In the past forty-eight hours, Victor had developed the swagger of someone who had no idea what he was doing but who had made a real commitment to doing it. 

It was a relaxing love, a love in his blood that was nowhere and everywhere at once.

- The Clasp by Sloane Crosley

Later, she'd be a girl you'd want to hang out with for an entire story, a girl you could love.

Hunter used to know what she meant about being in the wrong place; he used to understand how you just needed to be held util the feeling passed. He didn't have the right words for it any more than she did, but sometimes he called himself misshelved. 

That's the worst part of a book ... when you know nothing new can happen.

... certain lines of certain books ... he reread like prayers. 

I'd ask if you ever couldn't find the right words to say. I'd ask if you ever wanted a do-over. I'd ask, If you could go back and change something you said -- something that would make everything different afterward -- what would it be? 

... that's what all heroes are like -- so gung-ho about the saving that they don't always think about what it might take. 

... memory being a tricky thing that sometimes filled in gaps with exactly what you needed and sometimes what you feared ... 

... it seemed to me like cheating that the writers tricks looked like magic but now i think id rather have a story lie to me without my knowing it than have to keep sitting through explanations of how the tricks r done. sometimes you just dont want to know ur being tricked. [sic -- the speaker is a high school-age girl writing an email]

i get ur point about how people cant save each other for real. but I still think we need stories that tell us we can. just so we wont stop trying. 

... hugging a book to his chest as if there's safety inside it.

-  How to Buy a Love of Reading by Tanya Egan Gibson

"I don't know a thing about wine."
"You don't have to unless it's your job. You just have to know if you like it."

- Restoring Grace by Katie Fforde

Austen, I realized, had not been writing about everyday things because she couldn't think of anything else to talk about. She had been writing about them because she wanted to show how important they really are. All that trivia hadn't been marking time until she got to the point. It was the point. 

Those small, "trivial," everyday things, the things that happen hour by hour to the people in our lives: what your nephew said, what your friend heard, what your neighbor did. That, she was telling us, is what the fabric of our years really consists of. That is what life is really about.

I was a regular person after all. Which means, I was a person.

You don't 'fix' your mistakes, Austen was telling me, as if they somehow existed outside you, and you can't prevent them from happening, either. You aren't born perfect and only need to develop the self-confidence and self-esteem with which to express your wondrous perfection. You are born with a whole novel's worth of errors ahead of you.

Feelings are also the primary way we know about novels -- which, after all, are training grounds for responding to the world, imaginative sanctuaries in which to hone and test our ethical judgments and choices. 

The job of a teacher, I now understood, is neither to affirm your students' notions nor to fill them with your own. The job is to free them from both. 

Adults are boring, Austen seemed to feel -- or at least, they all too often let themselves become so.

... the wonderful thing about life, if you live it right, is that it keeps taking you by surprise.

Austen is saying that it's important to spend time with extraordinary people.

Histories tell us what happened, but novels can teach us something even more important: what might happen.

... no one, before they do it, can imagine what it's like to fall in love. We can never reach the end of what's inside us, never know the limit of our own potential.

She knew that our stories are what make us human, and that listening to someone else's stories -- entering into their feelings, validating their experiences -- is the highest way of acknowledging their humanity, the sweetest form of usefulness.

People's stories are the most personal thing they have, and paying attention to those stories is just about the most important thing you can do for them.

For her, I saw, love is not something that happens to you, suddenly or otherwise; it's something you have to prepare yourself for. ... For Austen, before you can fall in love with someone else, you have to come to know yourself. In other words, you have to grow up. Love isn't going to magically transform you, make you into a better or even a different person ... it can only work with what you already are.

You never know the moment that you fall in love, in Austen's vision; you only discover you already have.

True love takes you by surprise, Austen was telling us, and if it's really worth something, it continues to take you by surprise. The last thing that loves should do ... is agree about everything and share all of each other's tastes. True love, for Austen, means a never-ending clash of opinions and perspectives. If your lover's already  just like you, then neither one of you has anywhere to go. Their character matters not only because you're going to have to live with it, but because it's going to shape the person you become. 

The essential requirement for love, in Austen's view -- before the work, before the courage -- is simply to possess a loving heart. And not everyone, she thought, is born with one of those.

Had she married Tom or Harris, she might have been happy, she might have been rich, she might have been a mother, she might have even been long-lived herself. She might have been all of these things -- but we would not have been who we are, and she would not have been Jane Austen. 

- A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me About Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz

All the stories, he thinks to himself, the world is full of stories.

- I Found You by Lisa Jewell

... but instead she was just ... herself. No, not even herself, because really, somewhere inside, she was someone else entirely. She just couldn't seem to let the person she was on the inside, out. 

Love songs fueled the music charts, but it was friends who were so often more deserving of the phrase. 

Maybe there are two kinds of change. One is the kind that involves transitioning toward something new. And the other is more like peeling away your own layers to find what has always been at your core. 

- Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue

In any era, we get the Batman we deserve. 

... and if you want to tell me that I'm yelling at kids to get off my lawn, my only defense is that I've been wanting them off my lawn since I was a kid. In other words, I know it wasn't better before. But it's certainly worse now. 

- More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers by Jonathan Lethem

And, finally, exactly what this post is about:

I followed the higher principle of pleasure, tried to end where I'd started: with writing I loved and wanted to recommend to someone else. That is to say, you. 

More Alive and Less Lonely: On Books and Writers by Jonathan Lethem

I think because I was outside of my normal reading environment this summer (shoutout to the Cabell County Public Library), I made the mistake of not taking pictures of or writing down the quotes I liked from some of the books I read this summer. Oh well, I guess that means I'll have to reread them at some point! Also, some books might be great but don't really have a quotable quote. So on those two notes, here's a list of books I read this summer and liked, not listed above. I won't subject you to the ones I didn't like, although you might like them I guess! For more info, follow me on Litsy at annawhoismagic

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
First Comes Love by Emily Giffin
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (I think I liked it better than her follow up, The Woman in Cabin 10
The Perfect Stranger by Megan Miranda
The Dry by Jane Harper
The Bones of You by Debbie Howells
The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

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