Book Review: This Taste of Flesh & Bones

Mr. Russell has clearly studied some of the leading lights of Eastern and Western existential thought. This Taste of Flesh and Bones, his deeply researched, and well thought out book on life’s most fundamental question, ‘who am I?’ is not an easy to read treatise, but it delivers an answer to the question.

We are the result of the universal energy otherwise referred to by we humans as love. The author is cautious in his use of the term ‘god’, using several names for an entity that governs the movement of the stars, and of all of us. Brahman, Elohim, Jehovah, or simply the Universe, all names used to indicate the primary source of energy.

Russell reminds readers that appearances do not equal reality; that we may perceive something to be durable, and solid, and real, nothing truly is substantive. That taken to the molecular level, all is energy, and since energy is neither created nor destroyed, not only will we be around forever in some form, but we already have been.

Similar to Milan Kundera’s ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being.’ this book examines fundamental questions.This Taste of Flesh and Bones: Enlightenment and Endless Possibilities

Book Review: Thrive

Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and WonderThrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder by Arianna Huffington
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here we have a book that might put you to sleep. This is never a good book recommendation, just ask any author. In this case, however, Ms Huffington’s fine book Thrive aims to do just that, to call attention to our sleep-deprived lives, and help us get back to a semblance of sanity. The author cites her own ‘final straw’ moment in April of 2007 when her frenetic lifestyle caught up with her, causing her to injure herself inadvertently, and sending her a wakeup call that caused her to slow down, and for our benefit to write this book. In 4 chapters: Wellbeing, Wisdom, Wonder, and Giving, Huffington tells us why we need to take better care of ourselves, partly because, as she says, ‘our obituaries discuss how we lived our lives, they never mention our successes.’ With relevant references, she tells why we need self-care now more than ever. ‘We’re told to secure our own mask first,’ she writes, ‘before caring for others.’ The book is filled with such advice, especially as it pertains to sleep, or our collective lack of it. For those of us feeling, as Huffington says, ‘whittled and sandpapered down’ by the pace of their lives, Thrive offers a calming respite. It might put you to sleep, and that’s a very good thing. Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder

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Book Review: An Officer, Not a Gentleman

Here we have a wee spangly book written by a bang up lass piloting her Tornado roundabout old Blighty, while happier than little miss happy. It’s true what the wag said some time ago: We truly are two people separated by a common language. Ms Hickson’s fine little book is more than just the dog’s nuts, it’s a well crafted memoir detailing her perilous rise in aviation to become the first ‘fast-jet’ pilot in the RAF.

An Officer, Not a Gentleman is a gripping read, as Hickson takes us through the various levels of her qualification, and grading, and flight proficiency, and training, all while being under perhaps more scrutiny than her male colleagues.

But she comes through without being a numpty, or cocking it up too badly, and does indeed qualify to command the Tornado, Britain’s top of the line attack jet, and then she proves her mettle in combat out of Kuwait.

I make light of the British-isms, but there were times, admittedly, that this yank had a bit of a melon-twister trying to interpret her lingo. Neeps? Tatties? Faffing? Bulling your boots? Hubbly-Bubbly? Under the cosh? I flew for a living for many years, but I admit to being lost at times, not in the dark over the battle zone when it was nail-biting, squeaky-bum time, but in figuring out what the phrases meant.

It was all good fun, and it is a great read. I was a bit mystified that alcohol still seemed to hold its central place in aviation ranks, and that girlie pics still adorned walls of flyboy barracks, but the story is told from a twenty-years ago perspective, so perhaps that’s changed. In any case, this book will not disappoint, so chocks away!

Book Review: Fearless

Rebecca Minkoff is one of those people who heard of the self-made person we hear about from time to time, believed in the concept, and set out to make it her reality. I know little or nothing about clothing/fashion/accessory design, but I do know a great up-by-your-bootstraps tale when I read one, and Minkoff’s is one that’s been stitched together out of whole cloth.

Formatted in 21 different ‘rules’, otherwise known as chapters, the book follows Minkoff’s struggles from her early days in New York starving and struggling to get by, to the creation of her breakout product, the Morning After Bag, which grew legs and secured her place as a name designer.

These self-made tales always seem to be based on a journey to New York City, it seems, and Fearless follows that pattern as well. If Ms Minkoff has a theme to her life’s pursuit, it seems to be that found in rule #2: ‘…design your purpose, not your paycheck.’

Some of her advice and insight is reasonably trite and predictable: ‘The truth is that cutting corners has never paid off for me. Not once’ But it’s never a good idea to dismiss sound advice. The author refers to the way our minds create our reality, and this, too, though a common enough theme, never seems to gain the traction it deserves, so it’s good that she mentions it. The final rule ‘It’s Endless’ can be read either way, as caution, or encouragement.

The author describes various trials and triumphs, the challenges she faced to establish her brand, the events of 9/11, and more recently the COVID crisis and its impact on everything, including walk in establishments. All in all, Fearless is a good rendition of one woman’s journey toward self-branding, and the current fabric of American entrepreneurship.

Book Review: Gay Like Me

Like Imani Perry’s Breathe: A Letter to My Sons, this fine book describes the perilous passage that the different-ed, marginalized citizens of this country must navigate, while teaching their children to cross to safety as well.

Mr. Jackson addresses his beloved boy, who has embraced his own gay existence, with riveting, graphic candor, and with an urgency driven by his own recollections, chief among them the author’s coming of age in New York during the AIDS crisis.

Instead of the dire and dreadful scenario we might expect from the father of a gay son, instead of all the warnings and cautions, Jackson insists that his gay son celebrate his sexual orientation, as he has done. While reminding the boy of the ‘straight-lash’ that’s inevitable, he enumerates the amazing opportunities ahead, and the pride that’s more than just a parade to them both.

We could all wish that our own passage into adulthood had come with the advice and counsel offered to this fortunate young man by a father who loves him fiercely enough to tell him the unvarnished, uninhibited truth.Gay Like Me: A Father Writes to His Son

Book Review: Real American

Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Here we have a very small glimpse into the race issue from a woman who has lived, possibly lives it still, from both sides. The author writes with courage and insight into what her own struggle for identity, her own desire to fit into an America where her appearance—half white child, half black child—elicited stares and discomforting questions such as ‘where are you from, from?’

As the author states, ‘American at first sight’ means color, hair, appearance, not nationality. It meant, she writes, that ‘My existence was a ripple in an otherwise smooth sheet.’ That those who asked ‘where are you from, from?’ needed to remove that wrinkle in their expectation. They needed to ‘iron it down.’

Written with courage, blunt openness, and the right questions for our racially querulous times, Real American is a book that perhaps white readers should go over time and again. It demands the answer to the question as old as our odd republic, what does American mean? Reading books such as these, and there are more of them all the time which is a very good thing, makes any who consider themselves dedicated to the idea of America take note. It makes the fearless reader ask yet more questions, not ‘where are you from?’, but where are we going?

Five stars for lucid and beautiful prose, and for the lessons inside. Real American: A Memoir

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Poetry Review: Wild Seeds

Wild SeedsWild Seeds by James Thomas Fletcher
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wondrous example of ekphrastic poetry from Jim Fletcher, a poet who revels in that poetic tradition. Living as he does in Oklahoma with his nature-artist wife, and surrounded by the natural ‘undulations’ he refers to several times, he has ample opportunity for these efforts. For example, in Aegean Sea, a wonderful poem modeled on his spouse’s painting by that name, we find a perfect example of poetry following nature, as nature abhors not only vacuums, but punctuation as well.
This reader is a sucker for alliteration, so Fletcher had me at page 8, Looking Out at The Garden, with his ‘Bluebonnets blaze bold by the bachelor buttons in baby blue beside pinks poking perky in the breeze.’ Granted, a poet may get away with just so much of this, but that is, to my ear at least, simply marvelous. It gets better at the last stanza: ‘Spring peeks in my office window beckoning me to leave my poetry for hers.’
Like that of most poets, Fletcher’s observations differ from those of us prosaic commoners’. Henry James once said that if you must write down what strikes you, perhaps it didn’t strike you. In Fossil II, Fletcher writes of ‘…a slab of rock mostly not buried.’ And of a time when ‘…the flower had not yet invented itself.’ These are striking visions.
A common theme in Wild Seeds seems to be the poet’s wrestling with entropic universal drift, from the macro to the micro. He writes in The Lyrids of a time 2700 years ago, and then to when ‘…Caesar invaded Briton a mere five orbits ago,’ and on to when ‘…the Lyric rocks pummel Terra in April.’ And in History of The Great Herds he hints at an entity in ‘…vast herds…no one sees them alone and settled.’ The poet doesn’t name whatever it is that constitutes these vast herds, forcing the reader’s imagination wide. From there, the subject dwindles, until we’re left with nothing more than ‘diaspores…weighing nothing.’
Favorite poem? Tough call, but probably American Night, Fletcher’s ‘filmic vision’ of a routine, lights-out Oklahoma stormy night, where ‘lightning takes a negative of the scene,’ and the poet revels ‘…alone to direct the night.’ Or perhaps Walking to School, a sweet little poem that will resonate with anyone of a certain age. Fletcher reifies real people, ‘…Mr. Mayes, and Mr. Spencer, and Miss Dryden,’ people who the poet allows to Wallenda across the pipeline of his life. And who knew that ‘Wallenda’ was a verb? Good stuff. Fletcher’s best yet. Five stars.

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Wild Seeds: James Thomas Fletcher

Book Review: Live Inspired

Live Inspired by Laura Staley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here we have a book of inspiring and courageous anecdotes of the author’s sometimes turbulent, sometimes heartbreaking, often resilient life.

It’s not often a reader comes across a book that truly portrays what is meant when writers are told to ‘open a vein.’ This short but insightful book of prose mixed with the author’s poetry shows that. After reading Live Inspired I feel as if I know her, not just her story.

If a reader has suffered under an abusive parent (not what you imagine), been dismissed and emotionally challenged by men, and discouraged and frightened for their children, that reader will identify with Staley’s journey, and will, hopefully, take sustenance and heart from her successful navigation of her life.

Staley also manages to find the positive and uplifting in every challenge, a life skill we could all use more of. The only comment might be that there isn’t more about Staley’s life as a mother, an aspect of the book that could have enriched it. Live Inspired

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Book Review: A Beginner’s Guide to the End

Here we have the most comprehensive end of life book I’ve come across, and I’ve read a lot of them. Miller & Berger have given us a guide that touches on every aspect of ending our lives well, and with dignity, and peace, and with all loose ends wrapped up.

The book contains several descriptors rarely considered by other similar works, such things as how to tell children you’re dying, how we actually die, what our final 24 hours will be like, and how we can grieve well, if we’re the one left behind.

Addressing a conversation many of us avoid, death and its inevitability, A Beginner’s Guide to the End assumes that we’re ready to plan for it. There are chapters on looking ahead at finances and how to optimize that situation; chapters on coping, and how to tell people, and about love-sex-relationships, every one of which a pending death influences. There are ‘hospital hacks,’ and advice on writing your own obituary, and what happens the day after you die.

Mostly, for this reader, the book reveals the ‘richness’ that acknowledging our coming demise can bring into our lives prior to that day. It’s not a morbid reflection; it’s a loving clarification that too often we live in fear of, the one reality we share as human beings, the only creature that is aware of its own mortality.

Mostly, A Beginner’s Guide to the End affirms that There’s better way to live, and, ironically, it can be in preparing for our own death.

Book Review: Sorted

Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place by Jackson Bird

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: I’m a hopelessly cisgender muggle, and selecting this book I admittedly embarked on a very steep learning curve in reference to our trans friends & acquaintances. I’m glad I did. Sorted was/is more than memoir, it’s a text as well.

Jackson Bird is more than a teacher; he’s an instructor. Plus, he’s a very funny dude, and if I understand what pithy means, that, too. ‘Breast of times’? ‘These hips don’t lie’ See what I mean?

Anyone who writes with such candor, courage, and competence deserves to be read widely, and this author does all those things very well. Formatted like notes to himself for future reference, Sorted is the author’s travelogue from first awakenings of his gender dysphoria, through the maze of physical and emotional, and social, and cultural minefields he had to navigate to get to serenity and a genuine life. All in all, it was quite a journey for him, and quite a payout for the ‘Free My Nipples’ effort where it seemed to begin.

This book enlightened me to just a few of the many struggles, and the very real obstacles transgender people face in this still puritanical, rigidly binary society. In writing Sorted, Jackson Bird has gone a long way toward liberating himself. But he’s also cleared a path toward liberation for us muggles as well.

From one Cisgender citizen to others, if you care to learn the basics of transgender life, and if you care for a trans person, read this brave and important book. Here’s a place to start: Like every trans person, Jackson Bird wasn’t ‘born a girl’; he was was born as himself. As he might say, instead of AFAB, he was AHAB: Assigned Human At Birth. Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place

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