Friday, May 27, 2016

Fiction Friday: Burial Rites

Based on real events, this work of fiction by Hannah Kent gives readers an intimate portrait of the final year of Agnes Magnusdottir's life before she is to be executed for murder.  Agnes was the last person executed in Iceland and numerous truths and tales abound regarding the famous murders and the convicted criminals.

Agnes finds herself in the reluctant custody of a farming family awaiting her execution. She has requested the young assistant priest, Toti, to help her through her final days. Shunned and ignored by nearly all in the family, Agnes' conversations with the priest are often her only source of human comfort. Slowly Agnes begins to share bits of her life, but can anyone ever see her for more than that of which she has been convicted? Can inexperienced Toti really help a convicted criminal prepare to meet her own execution? 

This story is deeply powerful, and exceptionally human. The characters, many of whom were in fact real people, are crafted in careful detail with all the curves and dents and sharp edges that are inextricable to the human experience. The dark as well as the light, mixed up with the hardships of life, especially in a place and time where survival was too often marked with desperation and pain. 

Within the sod walls where all in a household, servants and masters alike, share the work, food, drink,  sweat, cold, stench, and chamber pot. They sleep in the same room, tend shared flocks, dig the same rocky soil urging what few bitter greens and potatoes will to grow, and celebrate the harvest with neighbors. The shared experience of surviving harsh winters, watching loved ones die, and hearing The Sagas recited by the glow of a hearth knitted people together. 

Despite the gray horizons, cutting blizzards, and backbreaking work depicted, the people and land of Iceland leave a deep impression. For me it is one of deep respect for those who lived through those ages. Kent's portrait of Iceland is beautifully written and makes me ache to  walk those valleys, cast my eyes upon the rugged mountains, and breath in the frigid crisp fjord air. 

This book is raw and unapologetic in it's portrayal of servant life in that era, but in being so, one truly understands the characters and their situations as if you were witnessing it rather than merely reading about it. An appreciated and impressive skill by the author in my opinion. 

This is a touching story, a moving one, the kind that sticks with you for a long time. The kind that makes you reflective, somber, and solemn. The kind that settles heavy in your gut. Probably because it is true, and that this reminds us that stories have many sides, people have many layers, colors, and untold truths. It reminds us that we are mortal, that life can change in an instant, and that we can so easily and vainly lose it all.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Prairie Tale A Memoir

Originally published in 2009, Mellisa Gilbert, famous for her starring role as Laura on television's Little House on the Prarie series, opens up about what growing up on tv was like, working with Michael Landon, life and love after Little House, motherhood, marriage and more in her memoir.

Gilbert dives into her life with honesty and humility. She doesn't gloss over the messy bits and mistakes, but neither does she dwell on them or make herself out to be a victim of fame either. Despite being a child star, she looks back on those years with the same kind of normal worries and awkwardness as any kid or teenager, and she shares her many fond memories of that period of her life. But she also shares her confusion and anxiety from knowing she was adopted, becoming a big sister, and the duality of real life and acting. Experiencing plenty of firsthand heartbreak, making and losing friends, but eventually taking responsibility for her own challenges, addictions and flaws, Gilbert recalls her life in a matter-of-fact way.

It is hard not to feel drawn to her warm personality through her writing, and I enjoyed getting to know this busy and influential woman. However, a caution to sensitive readers, growing up in Hollywood is a messy business, and Gilbert does not make light of this, some parts of the book do contain sex, drugs, and language, a good number of these parts being brief and easy to skim over, though towards the more grown-up parts of the book the chapters are sprinkled with a little more bad language, mostly in the context of recalled conversations.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Travel Tuesday: Got Here As Soon As I Could

Take a trip to Maine!

Ever since I was about ten years old, I have wanted to visit Maine. As a teenager I fantasized about living there after I graduated. My husband and I briefly explored the idea of working our way up the east coast and back down again, but that proved harder to make a reality after we had a newborn and bills to pay from having to replace the transmission in our truck three times. Sadly, I still haven't made it to the state which calls me, but I will, someday. Meanwhile, I thoroughly enjoyed Sarah Smiley's humorous collection of memories and experiences of falling in love with the last state she ever thought she wanted to live in.

Life with three boys was already busy and loud for Sarah's family when her husband announced that they were being reassigned. Despite hating the idea and swearing she would not stay one day past their assignment, Sarah fell head over heals in love with Maine nearly the minute she arrived. That is not to say she didn't face significant culture shock and readjustment issues. 

I loved reading her lighthearted take on the very hard job of parenting, and how she takes in stride her own flaws as a mother, wife, and woman. I laughed as I also deeply related to many of the day to day chaos life as a family presents, and how we all deal with it in colorful and crazy ways. 

This was a fun book to read, and was great to be able to read in between managing my own household chaos. The self-contained article format made it easy to pick up my place and not feel like if I had to put it down that I was leaving in the middle of a saga. It's a great book to have with you for those times when you have to wait, and just want to read something light and funny!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mindful Monday: Smarter Faster Better

While primarily focused toward building business productivity, this book contains many useful tips that can boost our personal performance in a variety of settings. 

At the outset of each section is a real life experience of how individuals have been successful by employing the particular point of discussion, then the author goes on to break down why these techniques are useful and how to best develop and implement them into daily life. 

The book looks in depth at eight points and how they affect our goals in life or business. They are:

1. Motivation
2. Teams
3. Focus
4. Goal Setting
5. Managing Others
6. Decision Making
7. Innovation
8. Absorbing Data

Within each section, real, applicable suggestions are highlighted explained. Also identified are pitfalls in thinking that lead to mistakes, overlooking important information or ideas, and harmful mental habits that can sap our productivity.

I went through this book slowly, carefully reading so as to get the most out of it. I found it very interesting, and identified more than a few ways I can make personal application of much of the information presented. 

This is a fantastic book for managers, team members, collaborative partners, independent entrepreneurs, and anyone else looking to become more productive in whatever venture they are diving into!