on my shelf

Cannot the labourers understand that by over-working themselves they exhaust their own strength and that of their progeny, that they are used up and long before their time come to be incapable of any work at all, that absorbed and brutalized by this single vice they are no longer men but pieces of men, that they kill within themselves all beautiful faculties, to leave nothing alive and flourishing except the furious madness for work. –Paul Lafargue, The Right to Be Lazy (1883)

We live in an age where being busy is lauded. Popular thinkers craft lists on how you can cram more into a single day. Others publish books on how to get shit done–how to use technology as a means of saving time because the cruelest crime we could commit would be to squander it. A New Yorker cartoon shows two children negotiating thirty minutes of playtime. Consulting their crammed calendars, they resolve to reshuffle, re-jigger until they can secure a slot two weeks from that day when they can actually breathe. This puts me to thinking of my friends, how we always bemoan that we’re overbooked, double-booked, and maybe I can see you next month for a coffee?

There’s no time.

There was a time when I worked sixteen-hour days. When weeks would pass and my only glimpse of the light was during a midday coffee break, when I’d race down the street to refuel to only sit at my desk and stare at a computer screen. I worked to have my food delivered, my groceries that invariably spoiled, delivered, to have books that went unread, delivered. Over the course of four years I gained 40 pounds and became a lesser version of myself. I was always tired, forever tethered to my phone–I was the one who missed the great moments in my friend’s lives–but you can understand, right? It’s work. I’ve so much to do. Over the past few years I’ve been trying to regard time differently–to balance fast and slow. That spending hours making a meal instead of having it delivered, or going for a walk when I could easily take the subway, meant something. So when a friend recommended Carl Honoré’s In Praise of Slowness–a book published in 2004 but is completely valid now, I set aside the stack and devoted time to understand the danger of mindless speed.

From Slow food and workouts to alternative medicine and guided meditation, to meeting people who huddle across the globe as a means of learning how to sit in a place of calm amidst a storm, Honoré doesn’t rally for a device-free era or for us to pick up and create our own version of Walden, rather he espouses ways in which we can manage pieces of our life in a slower way as a means of deeper connection and a more meaningful quality of life. He was inspired to research the art of Slow when he read an article about one-minute bedtime stories. For a moment he was excited because he could read his son stories and get back to work fairly quickly, and then he paused and realized he was completely insane for valuing saving time to get away from his child. The book is not an exploration of time but a personal journey for the author to chill out. I think all of us could relate, because who isn’t shocked/not-shocked by Amazon’s Darwinian work culture? Who hasn’t realized that cramming more in has the opposite effect, that at one point we suffer the law of diminishing returns? We’re spent, feeling as if our breath, and everything along with it, has been stolen from our body.

Sometimes I feel weird for living a slower-paced life because everyone around me is about now. Respond to that email now. Put out that client fire now. But it was only when I took a trip with the objective of doing absolutely nothing did I start a novel that two years later would find a publisher. It was only when I put my phone away during time spent with dear friends did I mend broken friendships. And it was only when I sat in a new home, thousands of miles from the place I’ve always called home, did I have the idea of a new story–something strange and dystopian, kind of like “Black Mirror”.

Because I don’t believe anything exists after we pass on. So why not live the best way we know how? I’m done with putting off my happiness for a later date as a means of sacrificing it now because what if there is no later date? A week ago I found out through Facebook that someone I know slightly died. Suddenly, at 35. It’s not fair, I thought. Wrong, I felt. A few days ago I met up with a close friend who shows me a tattoo she had done in remembrance of a friend who died suddenly this summer of a brain aneurysm. A man who was taken too soon from his wife and two children.

My friend’s tattoo reads: There is no time. So I try to follow Paul Jarvis’s advice and stop doing shit I don’t like. Operative word being try.


This summer I discovered so many wonderful books. Lydia Millet’s Mermaids in Paradise is a hilarious story about a couple who honeymoons in paradise to soon discover the waters are teeming with mermaids. Millet is a hero of mine because she’s able to draw wry, acerbic women as easily as she is in creating a canvas filled with broken people. From the moment I read My Happy Life, I was hooked, and what makes her latest book remarkable is the fact that it’s so absurd it’s almost real. Imagine what would happen if you were celebrating the start of a new life with someone amidst greed, television crew, marine biologists, and Japanese web celebrities–all over a few measly mermaids?

I picked up Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper while waiting for my friend Summer. Another marriage, another trip–a story of two odd people who trek across Northern Europe examining love, fidelity, friendship, desire–all while transforming into unlikely eco-terrorists. The writing is sharp, crisp and funny. Often times you never get to truly glimpse the innards of a marriage–you believe the life your friends represent–but rarely do we hear about the work. Rarely do you hear the whisper of: maybe you’re not enough. Maybe we’re together because we’re terrified of being alone.

“We are never as kind as we want to be, but nothing outrages us more than people being unkind to us.” — Adam Phillip’s On Kindness

While Adam Phillip’s philosophical and historical examination of the history of kindness is slim, it took me nearly a month to complete. Phillips analyzes kindness through the lens of faith, folklore, psychology and literature. Why are we kind? Are we kind merely as a means of serving our own self interests? What is true selflessness and altruism? And what happens to a child when they experience their first hurt, what if our parents aren’t as kind as we think they should be, what then? It hurts when someone is unkind to you but in the same measure we’re able to rationalize our unkindness. On Kindness serves up more questions than it delivers answers, and I walked away from it wondering how I could be kinder in my everyday life. Can I stop myself from making snap judgments of people? Am I able to pause and meet someone’s anger with calm and kindness as a means of quelling someone else’s rage.

It occurs to me that this summer I spent a lot of time dissecting marriage of all kinds–from the familial to the friendship (as I believe we are, in a way, bound to those whom we care about even if not in the legal sense). I think about kindness, honesty and kin, and when my friend Molly sent me this article about a woman who discovered, as an adult, that she was half-black, it put me to thinking about how I’m able to reconcile discovering, last year, that I’m part black. While watching “Little White Lie,” I empathized with Lacey’s story, and admired her bravery in bringing out the truth. That’s my hair, I thought. And like Lacey, I often wonder where I fit. How I identify myself. How I define blackness for myself when I’ve always self-identified as white and possibly something other? I’m privileged in the sense that I have so many wonderful friends who have embraced me and offered up advice on how they define blackness for themselves, and how I can find my own way to it. I’m also acutely aware of my white privilege and how that affords me trespass to places where others can’t go. How I can use that to be an ally. More on this soon.

Now that I’m in my new home, I can finally wade my way through the stack. Up next is Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation, Nick Flynn’s My Feelings (Poems) because he’s a surgeon with the English language, Lauren Holmes’s Barbara The Slut and Other People (Stories) because her first lines slay, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me because it should be required reading, Tracy Daugherty’s The Last Love Song: A Biography of Joan Didion because Joan Didion, and the final book in Elena Ferrante’s Neopolitan series.

What are you reading? Do you have any recommendations for what I can add to the stack?

17 Comments on “on my shelf

  1. I can tell you what I’m reading. I’m not sure if it will add to your stack. I’m a member of a short story discussion group that meets on the last Thursday of every month. Charles Baxter appears in your photo. This Thursday we’re discussing stories about strangers, people who don’t know one another prior to the events in the story. I’ve been busy rereading the stories for Thursday’s discussion. The five stories we’ll be discussing are:

    Charles Baxter’s “Westland”
    “Some Zombie Contingency Plans” by Kelly Link
    “Natasha” by David Bezmozgis
    “All You Have to Do” by Sarah Braunstein
    “No Place for You My Love” by Eudora Welty

    I’m also reading Robert Louis Steven’s “Treasure Island” because my son is fan of “Black Sails,” the TV show prequel to “Treasure Island.”

    I still read a lot of lit journals. A member of my writing group had a story in a recent issue of Kenyon Review and I’m about to read that story, although I already know the story since our group has workshopped it a few times. I just picked up the latest issue of Tin House and plan to delve into that soon.

    I’m still more of a short story reader than a novel reader. Recent short story writers I’ve read and enjoyed include: Edward P. Jones, Claire Vaye Watkins, Lauren Groff, Elizabeth Spencer, and Ron Rash.

    The story collection I’m most looking forward to is “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I loved Bonnie’s “American Salvage.” We’ve been good friend since meeting at a writers conference eons ago shortly after her first story was accepted by the much missed STORY magazine.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi!
    This summer I read 3 whole adult books–I’m a teacher and usually read the latest for the 3rd grade-junior high set. But I took the summer off to read for me!
    1929 by Bill Bryson. I think he’s quite funny and I love his take on American history.
    11/22/63 by Stephen King. An awesome time travel story that isn’t horribly scary!!!
    The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. It’s a graphic novel…amazing story of life passion, love and loss. And the artwork is perfection!
    I know that these aren’t your usual type of reads…but they filled by summer with joy 🙂
    Congratulations on your move to California!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Felicia,

    I’ve just read two books that were best sellers but I was meh on both of them, so I will not recommend.

    I’m still trying to finish Ferrante’s Days of Abandonment in Italian. It’s slow going. I love it but need to look up pretty much every other word and the verb tenses are killing me.

    I do recommend that you read Garance Dore’s recent post about time.


    She mentions feeling out of sync as well with the busy, busy, busy, culture we live in.

    I wore never taking a vacation as a badge of pride. It showed how dedicated I was to my job. The joke was on me. At the production company I worked for, we were all let go two weeks before Christmas (without severance). The next year my family “forced” me to go to Italy for a week. Changed my life, career, everything.

    Looking forward to reading how you will navigate this newish information regarding your DNA.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I am reading “Dreams of my Russian Summers” by Andrei Makine which was recommended to me by my friend who is a retired librarian. It is very dreamy and you absolutely have to be in super-slow mode to appreciate it. It stormed here yesterday and so I read all afternoon and felt like I had just had a really good spa treatment. 🙂

    There is an interesting article that was passed along to me that I have been holding on to pass on to those that might be up for it. You, madame, would be such a person:

    I am so happy that your move was so smooth and yes, I am seriously thinking about getting those Ikea containers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heather! Please get the IKEA carts–you honestly won’t regret it. My bookcases + carts were the best home purchase I made this year.

      And thank you for the book + article reco. I actually read that piece in Brainpickings (I’m so in awe of Maria and what she does on her space), and I always try to find a way to imbue my life with a little bit of leisure 🙂


      • I just found Brainpickings because of the article and I was like, “Wait, what? This exists?!” Very amazing.

        And while I am really proud of some of the work that I have done in my life, the most beautiful moments have always come in the quiet…


  5. Pingback: all the books I read this year | love.life.eat

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