My cat Jefferson who was staring at the wall for a good long time.
Ta da! Your guide to fruitful beach reading!
Dear Friends of the Expat Princess,
Books have always been my soul food, the words contained therein natural healers. Books are my go to space to recover, regroup, recharge. Although I am an extrovert, reading, being alone my head, and getting quiet, are central to my well-being. Seventeen years of being an expat only fomented this – what TV there was was usually bad so we turned it off. Like Thomas Jefferson said, “I cannot live without books.”
In the past decade and a half, though, my reading tastes have changed dramatically. I moved away from novels, primarily, and into non-fiction, religion, and history. When Thing 1‘s migraine struck, I read a lot about migraines, hormones, meditation, and alternative medicine. This was out of necessity but it helped move me forward. Peggy Noonan spoke about the phenomenon of reading tastes changing and the importance of books in a most excellent commencement address you can watch or read here. It comforted me to know that others experience shifting reading sands.
When my mother died, all this changed. For the first time in my life, I did not want to read and when I did, it was all about grief. Grief constricted my reading appetite, much like your throat closes up when you are trying not to cry. I tried innumerable books and nothing held my interest. There was no moving forward, just observing my own life in a sometimes schizophrenic way: Detached one moment and in the throes the next. And then several friends sent me books, all in the same week.
Herewith is how I managed to move forward with reading material selected, for the most part, by others.
In the first instance, snarkiness was key. Keep your judgments to yourselves, please! This seems counter-intuitive but I desperately needed acerbic wit. Kevin Kwan brought it in spades with Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend. I ripped through these in no time at all. If you have ever lived in Asia, these are must reads. If you have never lived in Asia, these are must reads. Kevin obviously travels in higher circles than I did, but it was fun to read about some of my all haunts without experiencing the left lung hocking up coughs and consequent flying gobs of spit first hand. In fact, I don’t remember if Kevin (as I have come to think of him) ever mentions the grotty side of China but whatever. TOTAL FUN. I can’t wait to read his new book, Rich People Problems just published in May of this year and to watch the film version of Crazy Rich Asians.
Once I discovered that snarkiness was the key to my happiness, I remembered a book about the dysfunctional Vanderbilt family I’d been meaning to read. Since my sister is married to a different branch of the Vanderbilt family, I thought this might be a mood elevator and give great insight. Written by Wendy Burden (Cornelius Vanderbilt’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter) Dead End Gene Pool is a memoir of her incredibly wealthy, incredibly crazy childhood. It might well have been titled Crazy Rich Americans. Hilarious and disturbing at the same time. Lucky for my brother-in-law – sometimes it pays to get the short end of the stick! Wendy (as I have come to think of her) now lives in Portland, Oregon. I hope to meet her one day.
Side note: Both Kevin and Wendy are Parsons School of Design/Snark alumni. Maybe it’s just Manhattan?
Now, on to the self-help side of things.
My sister sent me Anne Lamott’s new book Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. I will write about this at length in a separate post at length but suffice it to say, sometimes my only prayer in the past two years has been: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like to read a good snarky Christian author? Oh, relax, people. RELAX.
Then there is the book entitled Kombucha! by Eric and Jessica Childs. This is actually my second copy. The other one is in a kitchen in Arkansas, where I left a batch of the probiotic fermented tea brewing on the counter back in January. My neighbors found the “science project” fascinating and threw it out in late February. I love kombucha. I love making kombucha as much as I like drinking it. For awhile I was concerned that I liked making kombucha for my family more than I liked cooking them a meal. Now, I am over it. They can always drench their cereal with ‘buch! Tazo‘s orange ginger and passion teas make particularly yummy brews good for the tummy – my version of cod liver oil, only it’s delicious. This book is so chatty and well designed that I can imagine Eric and Jessica (as I have come to think of them) encouraging me to take my operation commercial and invest in the stainless steel tanks favored by serious brewers. For good measure, I include a cocktail recipe at the end of this post.
Not only are we grieving the loss of my mother, we are grieving the loss of Mr. Understanding‘s job. I would say career but I am not sure it is over. To that end, a friend sent me the book Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans which helps one figure out what they want to be when they grow up. If you are over 50 years of age, this is called an “encore career”. Mr. Understanding and I are working our way through the book with our Beloved Design Your Life (BDYL) Team via a Facebook video group chat on Saturdays. I am designing my life around the beach, travel, writing, art, yoga, reading, ‘buch brewing, needlepointing, and figuring out how to throw in boutique ownership.
Finally, for Mother’s Day, Thing 1 sent me the book Not Quite Nirvana: A Skeptic’s Journey to Mindfulness by Rachel Neumann to expand my meditation practice. I am not all the way through this yet as I read it only at the beach. Having said that, if all I got out of it was the nugget of a question Rachel’s young daughter asked her, “Are you available?” I would be happy with my summer read. Let me ask: Are you available? Most people are not. Most people do not ask if you are either. If I had taught myself and my children this question two decades ago, I would have been a better mother. Here’s another gem: “When I am not being mindful, almost all of life can seem like a series of interruptions of what I thought was important [emphasis mine].” I can’t wait to hit the beach again to finish the book.
As I look at the stack of joy in front of me at the table that now serves as my “office”, I am grateful for those sweet souls who knew how to feed mine. That most of these books arrived in the same week is not a happy accident, it was divine intervention. I can almost hear my brain opening a crack and telling me it’s okay to read Candice Millard’s latest book Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, A Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill or Kristin Schell’s The Turquoise Table (Kristin makes herself available). Almost. I might need some more snark.
So, to all my new found friends – Kevin, Wendy, Eric, Jessica, Dave, Bill, and Rachel – and to my old friend Annie, I salute your health with a glass of my favorite Spanish summer beverage, tinto de verano (summer red/summer ink) after a hard day reading at the beach. Here is my Bastardized American ‘Buch tinto version:
1/2 cup cheap red wine
1/3 cup lemonade
splash of your favorite kombucha
Or, just eyeball it like I do!