Friday, November 10, 2017

OPTION B, a really useful self-help book...I can't believe I said that...

OPTION B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy

Alfred A. Knopf
$25.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. Beginning with the gut-wrenching moment when she finds her husband, Dave Goldberg, collapsed on a gym floor, Sheryl opens up her heart—and her journal—to describe the acute grief and isolation she felt in the wake of his death. But Option B goes beyond Sheryl’s loss to explore how a broad range of people have overcome hardships including illness, job loss, sexual assault, natural disasters, and the violence of war. Their stories reveal the capacity of the human spirit to persevere . . . and to rediscover joy.

Resilience comes from deep within us and from support outside us. Even after the most devastating events, it is possible to grow by finding deeper meaning and gaining greater appreciation in our lives. Option B illuminates how to help others in crisis, develop compassion for ourselves, raise strong children, and create resilient families, communities, and workplaces. Many of these lessons can be applied to everyday struggles, allowing us to brave whatever lies ahead. Two weeks after losing her husband, Sheryl was preparing for a father-child activity. “I want Dave,” she cried. Her friend replied, “Option A is not available,” and then promised to help her make the most of Option B.

We all live some form of Option B. This book will help us all make the most of it.

My Review: Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband before he was fifty. I lost mine when he was not quite 34. I connect with her pain on every imaginable level.

I also understand why she wrote this survivors' manual. She had to do something positive with her agony or it would sink her, and she was now a single mom. She couldn't afford the luxury of sinking because it would take her children down as well. That is a great reason to do the horrible, painful, disconcerting work of growing around your grief.

Make no mistake: It's awful work, hard and thankless and lonely. Your successes feel fleeting, your failures eternal, and with the best will in the world outsiders (parents, children, siblings, friends) will say, do, preach things at you that will make you furiously angry and hurt inexpressibly.

All normal.

And if you're wondering, we will all lose spouses in our lives, not necessarily to death. Grief is grief. Your loss is not unique, and your loss is not anyone else's so no one else gets to tell you how to go through it. But those who have walked the walk before you have some ideas on what you can do to make this hideous amputation work *for* you.

Yes, that's possible. I promise you that it is. And this book, with its combination of the deeply personal and the professionally informative strands of information, is a great, a wonderful, a tremendously valuable resource for someone experiencing the involuntary transformation that is grieving.

But the best thing about Option B is the fact that it excludes no one from the helping, healing conversation about grief and grieving. No matter the genesis of your trauma, grieving is a process with known parameters. All sources of trauma produce grief in their wake, and that fact...while on its face horrible and actually, in the end, incredibly hopeful. Your grief is unique to you, but grief is universal and grieving is ever-more-completely understood; this is one of the key realizations in the book. It is also the key realization that many people, lost in the fog of grief, need most to hear as it can offer them Ariadne's clew to get away from the devouring Minotaur of misery in their lightless, timeless labyrinth.

Now, the stuff I wasn't crazy about. Sandberg is astoundingly successful. Her world doesn't have survival challenges. She makes more than enough money to do whatever the hell she wants to do even if she stops going to work today and never goes back again. The other 99.99% of us do not have that luxury. If your purpose in reading this book is to figure out how the hell you're going to keep the lights on, cans of beans in the pantry, and a box of rice to go with, this isn't a helpful tome. In fact it will probably make you livid, so pass it up. But if survival isn't the problem for you, there are ideas in here to use...especially some of the out-of-the-box ones. You're likely to have a low bullshit tolerance when grieving, and Sandberg advises going with the flow here. I tend to agree with her.

BUT. Do not think, as Sandberg apparently does, that your grief will insulate you from the consequences of your newfound unwillingness to suck it up. She can tell her boss to do shit right and get away with it because she's a powerful, successful woman with oodles of money. Your manager isn't going to give you the same rope hers does, make no mistake. Adapt this concept to your circumstances. Maybe, if your desire to speak truth to power becomes overwhelming, crank up that job search and get outta Dodge before the sheriff makes you. Remember that Sandberg's journey is her own. Use the ideas though not necessarily the techniques.

Sandberg's discovery that she could find and feel happiness again is the important take-away here. You might not find a good man to have fun with. You might, in fact, not *want* to find a good man to have fun with. Here's the thing Sandberg's saying: Be available to happiness, not sewn to the shroud of wretched miserable loneliness that comes with grieving. However it looks to you. Take roads you haven't been down. Do different things, do them differently. This book isn't a prescription, it's a supplement shelf, and it can lead you back into lighter, brighter, happier life.

Let it.

Friday, November 3, 2017

CRAVINGS, proof that fame doesn't guarantee happiness

CRAVINGS: How I Conquered Food

Nan A. Talese Books
$26 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: Since childhood Judy Collins has had a tumultuous, fraught relationship with food. Her issues with overeating nearly claimed her career and her life. For decades she thought she simply lacked self-discipline. She tried nearly every diet plan that exists, often turning to alcohol to dull the pain of yet another failed attempt to control her seemingly insatiable cravings.

Today, Judy knows she suffers from an addiction to sugar and grains, flour and wheat. She adheres to a strict diet of unprocessed foods consumed in carefully measured portions. This solution has allowed her to maintain a healthy weight for years, to enjoy the glow of good health, and to attain peace of mind.

Alternating between chapters on her life and those of the many diet gurus she has encountered along the way (Atkins, Jean Nidetch of Weight Watchers, Andrew Weil, to name a few), Cravings is the culmination of Judy's genuine desire to share what she's learned--so that no one else has navigate her heart-rending path to recovery.


My Review: A lifetime spent in and out of the limelight, a lifetime of performing for audiences who cheer and boo and ignore, but performing all the same, always always putting her best out enviable life, no?

Not always. Judy Collins made her voice her fame, and when it became harder for her to perform it became another self-lacerating weapon in her battle with her body. Her diets and plans and struggles with her addictive personality are carefully presented here as *personal* struggles. Collins isn't preaching, she's giving witness to the struggle she knows many others go through. That technique is very much more effective than would be another guru prescribing actions and dictating methods for achieving the goal of being in control of one's own body.

I'm also very appreciative of the quite interesting stories behind the gurus whose dictates Collins frequently failed to follow. I found these to be some of the most useful parts of the book, as the motivations of Saviors are almost always excellent means for demythologizing and even debunking the gurus' sacred words. I hasten to add that Collins isn't out to make people feel bad or wrong about their struggles or their need for advice. She just has clear eyes when it comes to the whys of the whats of dieting.

The reason I'm not more generous with my star rating really comes down to one issue: The conquest of Collins's food addiction is so complete and so thoroughgoing that I am left with deep doubts. I don't think she's lying to me or even to herself; I think she's got an iron will forged through a generation-long struggle to control her body. What I question is the declaration of victory over something that's a fundamental part of her identity. She says she's a food addict but she's beaten it. That doesn't scan for me. I'm also not 100% Team Judy on the means by which she's conquered her food addiction, as it's *impossibly* restrictive and simply impossible for a person without her considerable financial and social resources to emulate.

This is, to me at least, the principal failing of all eating-disorder diet nutrition etc etc books. Fine great and wonderful if you're upper middle class and up, have money, servants, time at your disposal. Useless and, worse, counterproductive if you're a 60-hour-a-week wage worker whose paycheck is never quite enough, has kids, a spouse, and no one to do diddly squat for them.

That said, if you're not a desperate soul seeking a way out of the addiction trap, this is a sprightly and involving and educational read. I liked the experience of reading it quite a bit.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

BANDERSNATCH, a group portrait of the Inklings

BANDERSNATCH: CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings

Black Squirrel Books
$18.95 trade paper, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the Inklings met each week to read and discuss each other's work-in-progress, offering both encouragement and blistering critique. How did these conversations shape the books they were writing? How does creative collaboration enhance individual talent? And what can we learn from their example?

Featuring original illustrations by James A. Owen, Bandersnatch offers an inside look at the Inklings of Oxford, and a seat at their table at the Eagle and Child pub. It shows how encouragement and criticism made all the difference in The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, and dozens of other books written by the members of their circle. You'll learn what made these writers tick, and more: inspired by their example, you'll discover how collaboration can help your own creative process and lead to genius breakthroughs in whatever work you do.


My Review: Author Glyer is a past mistress of explication, as witness her previous Inkings study The Company They Keep. That book was more about who, when, and where among the English old boys' club we know as the Inklings: JRR Tolkien, CS Lewis, Roger Lancelyn Green, Owen Barfield, Hugo Dyson, et alii. This book delves into the how and the why of the Inklings' writing community. If literary criticism isn't your jam, this book will bore you silly. If you've never read any literary criticism, I'd encourage you to start here. Author Glyer is a dab hand at writing and a scholar to be reckoned with, two things that don't frequently coincide.

So the sugar coating is the story of the Inklings, two of whom became internationally famous for the works they made in this writers' group for the ages. The meat of the tale is, though, how this incredible group *failed* its members. Tolkien, for example, was subjected to humiliating and deeply personal insults by Hugo Dyson who detested his elves and orcs and such-like goins-on; Lewis did as well; but Lewis was quiet while Dyson was not and, in the cumulative effect of one noisy nastymonger on a group, Tolkien was driven to silence.

In a group of writers wanting to make their art better, that is Death. Shameful that it should have been allowed. And let's not fail to see the irony of the insulter being utterly and completely forgotten by History while the insulted literally changed the world.

Author Glyer offers a few prescriptions for the potential breeding grounds of today's Tolkiens in consideration of her analysis of the Inklings' failures. They are trenchant and they are excellent. If I have a grump with the book, it's the revolting Jesusy tone of a lot of it. It's inevitable, I suppose, given the endemic, emetic christianity of the group's members. I found I could read the book, not usually the case with Jesusy stuff, because it was so much more than a tract.

One facet of the book that stands out, and that merits an entire review of its own, is the beautiful illustrations by James A. Owen. The cover illustration should give you the tone Owen takes throughout the book. These are beautiful artworks and could be reason enough right there to buy the book, simply to make your eyes happy and your heart glad.