Day 323: Holiday reading

Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
This classic, coming-of-age novel is about Isadora Wing who is in a far-from-happy marriage. Reasons for that all point to her own angst and need for self-discovery, which is what the book is about. In many ways I think I read this at the right time because I could relate to a lot of the questions she raises, the exploration she embarks on I found that her quest for “the zipless fuck” could be a metaphor for so many experiences I have consciously or unconsciously pushed aside in the years after I got married. My recent therapy has unlocked some of these realisations, making me see how much internalised conditioning is a part of marriage, and I am slowly working my way out of some trappings that I have unnecessarily, unconsciously placed upon myself.

The book is set in Vienna where Isadora accompanies her psychoanalyst husband, on a convention, where her sexual adventure begins. But through it, she explores a lot of issues that relate to us women as a whole. Things we have on our mind – age, beauty, conformity, questions we often face – about marriage, about motherhood, about work, many of our worries and fears. She really covers a whole spectrum of things we grapple with — ageing, stagnation at work, finding your creative voice, following your heart at the cost of other worldly pleasures, the seeds of conflicting sexuality, spirituality even. I really enjoyed this book because I feel the subject is never going to get old, It’s something that women will relate to for a long, long time to come, in varying degrees of change. And then you realise this was written in the 70s, which suddenly puts it all in perspective and makes you realise just how far we have come, how privileged I, and the segment of women I belong to, am.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Brene Brown
In short, this is a book that explores vulnerability as the key to moving forward and through life. As a culture that constantly battles uncertainty with planning, the pursuit of security, perfection and guarding ourselves from too much emotional exposure, Brene Brown believes we’re actually killing our ability to embrace vulnerability. As a result we’re limiting our ability to live fully, make genuine connections, feel emotions completely and live creatively. Or what she calls “living wholeheartedly”.

It’s based on Brown’s 12 years of research, and I was sold on the concept even before I began the book. The book kicked my ass for the first two chapters, and I was so excited to be reading it because she addresses concepts that really spoke to me: a culture of scarcity, the pursuit of perfection, the new economy and how our inability to be vulnerable to what we feel as a result, stops us from daring to do great things. For this alone, I really wanted to like the book. Chapters 1 is about scarcity and our constant feeling of “never having enough” – which is something I observe a lot around me. Even amongst my friends, family, and online with my feeds bursting at the seams with people preening their perfect clothes, homes, lives and yet so obviously dissatisfied and feeling the voids in our lives with something or the other, unable to just sit with whatever it is we are going through and work it out. The second chapter debunks some myths about vulnerability which is a logical follow up to the chapter on scarcity, really. It talks about how we’ve built a culture of shame around embracing vulnerability. This is something I’ve woken up to recently, and the crux of my work with therapy, so it was really relevant and it hit home. I even highlighted a lot of bits from the first two chapters.

But that was it. It very quickly went downhill form there sliding into a stream of generalities. What she passes of as case studies, I found to be just very generic (and bad, just too basic) examples of everyday situations. I’d have liked some of her research to come through, or some real case studies of how she helped her clients re-open themselves up to vulnerability. What I got instead was some very basic and obvious advice that was repeatedly stated in many different ways. The crux of the book can be summed up in literally 2 sentences, and maybe I should have watched her TED talk and I could have been done with it, without having to read this book. But to have that basic premise play out over and over and over again through the innumerable platitudes that are frankly not reflective of the so called painstaking research that has apparently gone into the book was not useful at all.

I found the book very tedious and almost gave up half way, because I also realised a lot of it, like much of modern pop psychology, is stuff I have grown up listening to thanks to my parents. Most of this isn’t new to me. I consider myself lucky to have had a “wholehearted” (to use Brown’s term) upbringing that actively touched on a lot of these concepts, so to read it packaged in a far-from-original, banal way was painful. It did read very fast though, so there’s that!

I’m now reading Nigel Slater’s Toast and enjoying it so far.

What have you been reading? Any reccos?

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