Daily Archives: January 20, 2015

Book club with the sweet old biddies

Books clubs are ubiquitous in this day and age, right? Meetup groups, branches of the public library, online clubs with Mark Zuckerberg right now, Oprah’s book club, church book studies, etc.

I remember being in a church book study group years ago where we studied Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God, shown here (see left) with its extremely intense front cover, which matched perfectly the intense prose inside. As I was looking for an image of this book for my blog, I discovered the newer version (see right) of this book. I guess the publisher realized that if they were going to publish such an intense and terrifying book, they better at least make the cover look less terrifying. But I digress.

So, what with the all-consuming nature of my parenting experience the first 20 years of being a mother, book clubs were just a fond daydream, something I could maybe pursue one day when I was no longer doing seventeen things at once.

I’ve been wanting to be in a group for awhile now. But the time finally came in 2015 when the stars aligned; my parenting intensity had lessened, the difficulties of 2014 were seemingly in the past, my brain was available to look around for a book club, and voila, there was a club scheduled near me reading a book by an author that I thought I would enjoy at a time I wasn’t already scheduled to be three other places. Sign me up!

My take on library book clubs is the daytime clubs are populated by an older generation of women, and the evening clubs are populated by younger, working mothers, or women who otherwise can’t get free until the evening.

So, after I completed the multiple tasks of signing up, checking out the book, reading the book, going online to discover whether there were book study questions I might prepare, and managing not to double book myself with a doctor visit for one of the kids, I got in my little Camry and drove me and my book to my First Book Club Experience of 2015. It was actually my first experience of this century!

Indeed, the group of ladies there were mostly grandmothers, and were lovely. I tried the mnemonic trick of associating something beginning with the same letter with the names of the participants. I thought Breta was beautiful. Helen had memorable hair. Things got a bit dicey when all I could think of for a rather heavyset woman was Wanda is wide. Rest assured I did not write that one down on my list. I did my best to be open to the different ways of reading the book and characterizing the story and the characters. Helen reads the end of EVERY book before she decides whether or not it is worth reading. Dear, sweet, grandmotherly Mary Carol had a sheaf of papers where she had written down her gentle observations. Patricia had interesting comments to make about quite a few of the characters.

I was mostly quiet, observing. I was practicing not judging the women, a new hobby of mine. Also, the leader had instructed us to go around the circle and give our impression so that everyone could share what they thought, but a number of ladies didn’t like that idea quite as well as a lively cross-chat where there were lots of ideas being tossed around like juggling balls. My reticence to speak was further fueled by the fact that my response to the book seemed to be qualitatively different than the majority of what I was hearing.

The book we read featured a more minor character called Susan, which is my given name. Susan was a divorced mother of a 19yo son who had impulsively carried out an act which had huge political implications. I felt like I could relate to a lot of what she went through because of my own experiences with a 19yo son who recently carried out quite a few impulsive actions which have had huge legal implications. So, my response to the book was just fine, but very different than the rest of the group who were all repulsed by the character, Jim.

Group members were friendly to me, including me in what was a relatively established group. The leader seemed intentional about guiding the discussion and allowing everyone to speak. There weren’t any group-killing members; you know, the ones who dominate the conversation or somehow make the focus of their every comment themselves. (Oops, the Me who Judges slipped in here, I think).

At the end of group, the leader revealed next month’s book. Two long rows of copies sat on a library book cart. I hesitated for only a moment before I picked up a copy and committed myself to another book club experience next month!

In an ideal world, my book club participants would each pause a moment before jumping in to respond to someone else, thereby allowing just a smidgen of space for internal processing of what was just said. But it’s a busy world, and we all have a lot to say.

Tell me about your ideal book club? Who would be in it? What kinds of books would you read? What role would you play?

Book Review: A Deadly Wandering

Imagine my surprise when I noticed that my last blog post was October 23, 2014. I mean, I knew 2014 was a hectic, difficult year, but I didn’t realize I had gone quite so quiet. Last week, while browsing on Twitter, I discovered #yourturnchallenge, and it felt like the right time for me to commit to seven straight days of blogging. At least for now, I’m back.

I recently finished the book, A Deadly Wandering, and decided to make my book review my first post in this blogging project. 
Coincidentally, I had recently watched a documentary by Werner Herzog on distracted driving. When I finally started this book, I had no idea there was any connection between Herzog’s film and the story in this book. As soon as I started reading Reggie’s story, I knew this was the same guy. 
Reggie crossed the center line early one morning back in 2006, causing the death of two scientists who were beloved fathers and husbands. Although not immediately apparent to anyone, the cause of the accident had been Reggie texting while driving. 
I was half expecting a book difficult to plod through, because I read more fiction than non-fiction, and the fiction I read tends to require less mental energy. However, I found “A Deadly Wandering” to be both fascinating and easy to read. I confess I am in the group of people who have texted while driving, and so this is an extremely timely topic not only for myself, but for our society in general.
Some excerpts from pp 215-216:

In the same way we crave food, we crave connection. Not just for its own sake, but because connection is essential for survival. It helps us form networks, understand sources of opportunity or threat, create alliances, fight enemies. It is primal. … Now come ultra-powerful devices that provide such easy communication that they can, if we’re not careful, use our social survival skills against us. … “We use stone-age brains with space-age technology, and that can lead to trouble.” … Our tech tools let us be “hyper-social,” … which has many benefits, and also costs.

There is much information in this book about attention, and what it allows us to do, and what happens to our brain when we overtax our mental capacities. Anyone older than age 30 has seen the huge influx of demands on our attention over the past 10-15 years. I remember when I was in college. We didn’t even have a television in our dorm room. Now, students are attending to twitter, instagram, tumblr, Facebook, email, text messages, Youtube, YikYak, Netflix, video games, and more. And that doesn’t include the actual humans in the environment, or less demanding things like books, journals, pencils, reflection, quiet.

As for my own experiences with distracted driving, before I read this book, I had formulated the following motto for myself in regard to texting and driving. “Hands on the road. Eyes on the wheel.” Imagine my surprise when my “original” thought turned out to be words from the 1970 Doors’ song, Roadhouse Blues.

Yeah, keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel 
Yeah, we’re goin’ to the Roadhouse 
We’re gonna have a real 
Good time 

Imagine, if you will, my further surprise when the author reported that the issue with texting and driving isn’t my hands or my eyes, but my BRAIN. Having had five children nearly all at once (jk), I feel like I had to get really good at toggling between tasks if I were going to be an effective mother. My kids, like most, had a million questions, and I seemed to feel that it was my responsibility to answer every single question. Thoroughly. In order. Correctly. And I think having to do that helped me to get good at switching between tasks, but my brain is still a human brain and has pretty much the same limitations and capabilities regarding attention.

The story about Reggie Shaw in this book is heartbreaking, but ultimately hopeful. By choosing to do a dangerous activity like texting and driving, he irrevocably changed the lives of the families of the men who were killed in the accident, his own family, the life of the farrier who actually hit the other car, and all of the people involved in the investigation, prosecution and defense. To his credit, Reggie used his authentic grief and remorse to fuel a journey of speaking to young people about the incredible dangers of texting and driving.

I’m encouraged to see that more and more cities and states are passing laws about texting, and even about using phones while driving. Richtel has written a timely, and important “tale of tragedy and redemption in the age of attention” and I highly recommend it to everyone who carries around a cell phone.