At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life
In At Home in the World, Thich Nhat Hanh shares experiences of his life through vignettes from his childhood in Vietnam and his life as a monk. He recalls encounters with people he has met though his travels as he teaches meditation and mindful breathing.
The central message is one we desperately need at this moment: slow down, learn to truly experience life moment by moment, and don’t ever give up hope. His wisdom is based in natural beauty and the ability to learn important lessons from it.
The lessons of Thich Nhat Hanh are simple but not easy. For those of us who pride ourselves in multitasking, there is much to learn and master in order to find a more peaceful life and to find our “home.” Ultimately this book teaches that home is not a place but the ability to connect with the present moment and, in doing so, discover our entire heritage.
This is the season for celebrating students’ graduations from high school and college. At Home in the World would be a fine gift for anyone but especially for a graduate or someone who is at a crossroads in life.
Thich Nhat Hanh • Jason DeAntonis, Illustrator
The Sky Detective
In 2001, Azadeh Tabazadeh receives the prestigious Macelwane Medal for her research on polar stratospheric clouds and the causes behind the degradation of the ozone layer. With every great achievement, there is a profound story. In the case of Azadeh, her account goes back to 1973 in Tehran to two life-changing experiences: receiving a chemistry kit from her uncle and developing a close relationship with Najmieh, the family’s housekeeper. Azadeh’s world suddenly turns upside down as her country succumbs to political struggles and calamity strikes her family. When she decides to escape in the hope of making it to America, Azadeh has no idea if she’ll see her family ever again.
Azadeh Tabazadeh shares a powerful story of determination amid despair. Tabazadeh’s first person narrative reflects the perspective of young Azadeh and her passion for learning. Falling in love with chemistry by the age of eight, Azadeh sets her educational sites on becoming a scientist. Tabazadeh not only portrays a child growing up in fun-filled and happy environment, but also a young girl who is slowly coming to terms with the world beyond her blissful bubble when she gets to know Najmieha girl from impoverished means.
Tabazadeh’s plot shifts as she paints a drastic portrayal of life in the midst of highly turbulent times. While lacing her text with the driving emotional tension between Azadeh and family members, Tabazadeh’s descriptions reflect a dark tone as Azadeh’s short-lived contentment quickly shatters during the Iranian Revolution (1978), Ayatollah Khomeini’s reign. His full-covering edict for females (ages nine and up), the American Hostage Crisis in Iran, and especially the Iran-Iraq War when Azadeh, her brother, and cousin eventually flee the country.
Engaging readers from chapter to chapter, Tabazadeh’s deft storytelling carefully builds to Azadeh’s harrowing journey to America. Tabazadeh’s punctuates her plot with two aspectsa combination of Azadeh’s pleasant flashbacks and determination to studythat become a means of survival for the seventeen-year-old who is striving for a better life. A stark, yet inspiring, presentation of hope in the midst of hopelessness, The Sky Detective is one gripping page-turner that is a definite must-read by all.
Today, the phrase Drink the Kool-Aid may be one of the only widely known legacies of the Jonestown mass murder-suicides that happened November 18, 1978. Those born since that date likely have no idea where the phrase originated, even as those who were alive thirty-seven years ago surely know but give little thought so many years later to the event that occurred in far-off Guyana. The deaths of 909 people, almost all brought about by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid (not, technically, Kool-Aid brand), were the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2001, as Wikipedia put it.
Kathryn Barbours memorial album of Who Died that tragic day is a sobering reminder that hundreds of good people lost their lives even as they had high hopes for living together in harmony, regardless of color or gender, sharing and working together. Barbour writes that she was a member of the Peoples Temple in California and knew many of the individuals pictured: the photographs show the dead as I last saw them, in 1976-1977, when Peoples Temple was at the height of its influence in San Francisco, its members full of energy and confidence.
The seventy-nine glossy pages with mostly full-color photographs memorialize every single person who was lost, with just a few spaces empty of a photo. Its a yearbook of the saddest kind, a remembrance of remarkable peopleaware, self-assured, and focused; of children of varying ages, of blacks and whites aspiring together for a better society free from the racial tensions of the time. Whenever there is a mass death we tend to think purely in numbers; we mourn but are still somehow separated from the reality of so many full lives being snuffed out. Who Died is valuable in its naming of each person, putting a photograph to each life lost. It will be a treasure for families and friends of the dead; it will be an important addition to libraries; it is a fine way for anyone to appreciate that whenever a mass killing happens, individuals are the casualties, and each life mattered.
Cancer Country: A Survivor’s Memoir
Cancer Country is, as Chet Skibinski puts it, “a guide through my foreign country. It’s an armchair travel guide, safely away from the real thing.” In 2008, at 66 years of age, Skibinski is told that he has a rare and aggressive form of cancer called angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, Skibinski is considered cancer-free and in remission. That all changes a few months later when he receives a dismal prognosis of stage four lymphoma, this time affecting the bone marrow. Skibinski adds lightheartedness to a dark almost two-year season of his life.
Retired high school English teacher-turned-author, Chet Skibinski takes readers on a trip through his bizarre experiences with a disease “so rare, that only one in a half million Americans get it.” A relatively healthy man at the time, bar some peculiar itching, Skibinski takes to the drastic overnight morphing of his well being like an out-of-body experience. Certain that there has to be a cure, he begins to look for solutions…anywhere. And with, as Skibinski says, “absurdly optimistic illusions,” he explains how he approaches this foreign substance that has chosen to wreak havoc on his life. Skibinski’s candid storytellingreminiscent of George Carlin’s incessant tongue-in-cheek commentaries except with a light sprinkling of expletivesis absolutely dead honest and nothing less than hilarious.
Covering just about every emotion imaginable, and then some, as well as many sleepless nights, Skibinski fills these highs and lows with his crazy imagination, fixations with English Lit, and his love for a Porsche Cayman, amid extremes of fears and worries over medical protocol and test results to the mundane near-insane waiting periodsall surrounded by clever comparisons and multihued metaphors. A few great comparison examples include how chemo chemicals let loose in Skibinski’s body are much like a frat party or the Hells Angels in some small California town and how he associates his life after the bone marrow transplant to that of a factory turkey. And then there is this comedic, yet profound, line: “Adding up a person’s possessions at the end to determine the value of a lifetime seems about as irrational as doing an inventory at Walmart minutes before the coffin is lowered.”
Closing on an encouraging note, Skibinski’s sums up his account with this reflection: “Cancer takes a lot out of you, and one thing that it takes is optimismthat casual sort of optimism that you assumed was there all the time and would always be there, as dependable as a beating heart or a sunrise.” Funny and engaging, Cancer Country is, undoubtedly, an eye-opening must-read.
Crowning Glory — An Experiment in Self-Discovery Through Disguise
Stacy has had an unhealthy obsession with her own locks since middle school, when a careless remark brought unwanted attention to her hairs deficiencies. Add to this the issues shes had with men and relationships, and going out in general, and shes had a lot to handle.
On a whim, she purchases a long, red wig, and notices not only the way people respond to her but also changes in her behavior. These events lead her to do an experiment using the same wig in various natural hair colors. In addition to doing important fashion research, it keeps her busy and focused for several weeks, perhaps stopping her critical evaluation of herself and her unpredictable states of psychosis.
She finds an assistant to help with observing and tabulating information, and sets up the experiment. She will wear basic black, tailored for various locations, in New York City, so the focus stays on the hair color. The last week, her control week, will be her natural hair, in the same clothing and the same general places. Her observations from each hair color red, black, blond, and brown include her honest take on her personality changes as she dons the locks about the city. She incorporates her assistants notes and includes related events that happen outside the experiments parameters.
Her honest recap of events sometimes borders on too much information, but helps to show her personal growth throughout the experiment. Her quick, witty self-evaluation during various phases of her experiment bring humor and lightness to something that could have been dry and boring, but is instead engaging and intellectually stimulating. Photographs that coordinate with each chapter help to bring visual interest. Even though the experiment did not strictly follow the accepted scientific research method, those reading this out of pure personal interest may find themselves agreeing with her findings and wondering about the role of hair color in society.
What I’ve Learned from You: The Lessons of Life Taught to a Doctor by His Patients
The doctor/patient relationship is one of the most intimate. Vulnerable, your health in their hands, you may feel powerless and subordinate. After years of schooling, residency, and intense training, doctors seem to know everything; many of them seem to think they do. Additionally, doctors are more overworked than ever and frequently the patient/doctor relationship fails. But this isn’t always the case; every once in a while you meet a physician who takes the time to listen, who treats patients as individuals, personally. It is obvious that Scott Kelly, M.D. is such a physician, sincere when he says he feels honored to serve his patients. Dr. Kelly has written a beautiful memoir marked by humility and wonder as he recalls patients who have had a lasting impact on his life. Far from the pompous, omniscient, and aloof clinician, Kelly is all too aware of his own failings as he struggles, through medical school, residency, stints in the ER, and the tightrope balance between work and family. Although warned to keep his interactions with patients strictly professional (i.e., detached), he allows himself to open up to some of them, to listen, and then to learn. This book is his journey through those lessons.
The writing in this book is sensitive, marked with grace and absolute respect for his patients. Each of the short chapters begins with a personal memory; then Dr. Kelly introduces us to one of his patients. Each taught him an important lesson, on themes as varied as marriage, friendship, faith, happiness, responsibility, perseverance, grief, joy, and love. The book follows Dr. Kelly’s experiences mostly chronologically, so you get to experience the highs and lows of his training and residency, as he learns to keep people in the center of practicing medicine, and through his articulate character sketches, you feel that you know his patients too, or that you wish you could have. You meet Joy, whose deep faith steadied Dr. Kelly in the face of man’s inhumanity. Harrison reaffirmed the necessity of having a strong sense of purpose, and living true to yourself. Emily’s chronic, but privately-endured, pain reminded him to be gentle and compassionate–we don’t know the burdens other quietly carry. There are many others, each story told with love and sympathy, neither moralistic or pedantic. These are lessons we all, in our human endeavor, need to learn, and learn again.