March 2022 Book Club: Laziness Does Not Exist

Cover art for Laziness does not exist by Devon Price

Over the last few months, I have worked very hard to let go of the idea that doing nothing is a sign of laziness. Some of this translated into craft breaks and some of this translated into canceled plans with friends (who thankfully understand needing a break themselves and didn’t take it personally). For the first time in a long time, I started making a concerted effort to listen to what my body was saying that it needed instead of pushing it just a little further. If I took the dog on a hike and didn’t have the energy to make it to the top, I turned around so that I could enjoy the entire hike rather than force myself to the top in a daze. Admittedly, a lot of this attitude came from needing to cope with the changes that being pregnant brings upon your body. You can either get mad at yourself for not doing something or you can be proud of yourself for doing the best you could in that moment. Rather than spend 9 months beating myself up, I chose to do the latter.

I love a good NPR podcast because they’re both informative and easy to listen to. After beating myself up because I pulled a muscle putting on a pair of pants that prevented me from running a race I was looking forward to in October (yep, weird pregnancy thing), I found myself curled up with the dog listening to “You aren’t lazy. You just need to slow down.” by Life Kit. Though they were discussing work, Price seemed to be speaking directly to me. You’re not lazy for taking time off running, your body gave you a sign that you need to do things differently and you’re listening.

Ok, they didn’t literally say that at all, but they did discuss how we’ve been trained to ignore our body’s symbols in the interest of increasing productivity. Combine that with having just beat myself up for having bodily limitations, I decided to take what Price was saying to heart and added their book to my to-read list. This brings us to our book club today.

Laziness does not exist challenged some of the things I grew up hearing, for example, “they homeless because they’re lazy”. Now, I knew going into the book that there are many reasons that someone may be homeless and some of these reasons have nothing to do with whether or not this person is able to find work. I also went into this book knowing that if you are homeless, it becomes harder to do a lot of things, including look for work. What I had never really thought about was how much work many things I take for granted are: going to the bathroom, being able to leave my things safely somewhere, and locating an internet connection. Some of those are made harder to find just due to the stigma of being homeless!

It was also useful to read stories about people with different types of anxiety, ADHD, depression, or other mental health issues, as well as how marginalized people, in general, are quickly labeled as lazy. These individuals are often taught by society that their differences don’t matter and are given less freedom and autonomy as a result of appearing “lazy”. Having heard stories from my dad’s childhood, he was marked as a “trouble maker” early on and placed in lower-level classes. It wasn’t until he scored high on his SATs that someone finally thought about placing him in an honors course where he excelled with fewer distractions and more stimulating material. This circles back to the idea of just because someone does something differently or it takes someone longer to do something doesn’t mean they’re incapable of doing it or that they’re doing it wrong.

This was an interesting read that I’ve started recommending to friends who look like they could use a lesson in listening to their bodies.

April brings us back to fiction as I reach for one of my favorite books: Stardust by Neil Gaiman. If you’re interested in listening to the story instead of reading it, I highly recommend the BBC radio adaptation. I love portal literature that takes me away to unexplored lands and am ready to enjoy the comfort that comes with re-reading a story and visiting with characters you’ve already come to love.

Cover art for Stardust by Neil Gaiman.

In the sleepy English countryside of decades past, there is a town that has stood on a jut of granite for six hundred years. And immediately to the east stands a high stone wall, for which the village is named. Here in the town of Wall, Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the hauntingly beautiful Victoria Forester. One crisp October night, as they watch, a star falls from the sky, and Victoria promises to marry Tristran if he’ll retrieve that star and bring it back for her. It is this promise that sends Tristran through the only gap in the wall, across the meadow, and into the most unforgettable adventure of his life.

February 2022 Book Club: The Henna Artist

Cover art for the Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

The Henna Artist is the story of Lakshmi, a 30ish-year-old woman who fled an abusive marriage in hopes of the freedom that comes with being self-reliant and independent. For ten years, Lakshmi creates beautiful henna designs on the wealthy women of Jaipur and uses herbal medicine to help them with their fertility, arthritis, and other health ails. The interesting thing about Lakshmi is that the things that she’s worked so hard for, the beautiful house where her family can come live with her, create a prison more restrictive than her gender or abusive marriage.

One of the first themes that presents itself in this book is that starting over is not a sign of weakness but a sign of hard work. In some ways, it would have been easier for Lakshmi to stay with her husband than to leave and try to make her way in the world. But she allowed herself to dream and then gave herself the space to make that dream come true. When that dream fell apart, Lakshmi tried to pick up the pieces only to discover that it was no longer her dream. This lead to moving on to work with doctors to create a complementary medicine program, work that she could be truly proud of. Radha (Lakshmi’s sister) throws herself into starting over when she moves to Jaipur, but then struggles to leave behind the idea that her baby wasn’t born of love. Then she struggles to leave her baby behind so that she has the opportunity of a better life. Lakshmi’s struggles to start over after she leaves him, but learns how to support women instead of abusing them.

Freedom is another interesting theme throughout the book. Freedom of choice. Freedom to make money. Freedom to move throughout the world. Yet, everytime Lakshmi turns around she’s faced with something that directly challenges her freedom. First, her husband and Radha come to find her, effectively turning her life upside-down. Then, Lakshmi must balance proving herself to the palace with keeping her benefactor’s wife happy. On the one hand, the opportunity provides Radha the freedom to attend a nice school, on the other hand, it traps Lakshmi into long work hours and leads to her sister getting pregnant. Then the lies start and Lakshmi’s world starts to fall apart around her, which is semi-ironic as the world she created was in itself created by a lie. Perhaps the message is that honesty can set you free as much as true freedom is found when you allow yourself to change your mind.

Another interesting theme throughout the book is the idea of being cursed and having that curse follow you no matter where you go. The curse began when Lakshmi fled her marriage and left her family behind for a new life. By creating a new name for herself, Lakshmi was able to live her day-to-day life with minimal reminders of what she left behind. Lakshmi’s curse was a deep fear of her past catching up with her and a desire for her parents’ forgiveness and approval. Radha’s curse was more out in the open, constantly being called the “bad-luck-girl” and a constant struggle to find self-worth. Both sisters had to let go and take a hard look at their choices/impulses in order to move forward in their lives. I appreciated the hope that this theme brought to the book, as both Lakshmi and Radha were able to take charge of their own destinies and move forward.

Though the story gave us a surface-level understanding of Jaipur and the lives of our characters, the Henna Artist was an enjoyable read. Though I haven’t settled on when, I do think I’ll pick up the second book, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur, to find out what happens next. Something that is unusual for me when an initial narrative wraps up nicely while giving me space to dream about what happens next.

It’s been a little while since I’ve picked up a non-fiction book, let’s give Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price a try for next month. Price came onto my radar after they were featured on the NPR podcast Life Kit: You aren’t lazy. You just need to slow down. It’s a quick 17 minute listen that I highly recommend.

Cover art for Laziness Does Not Exist by Devon Price.

Extra-curricular activities. Honors classes. 60-hour work weeks. Side hustles.

Like many Americans, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure self-worth. Price was an overachiever from the start, graduating from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After Price was diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, they were forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity.

Laziness Does Not Exist explores the psychological underpinnings of the “laziness lie,” including its origins from the Puritans and how it has continued to proliferate as digital work tools have blurred the boundaries between work and life. Using in-depth research, Price explains that people today do far more work than nearly any other humans in history yet most of us often still feel we are not doing enough.

Filled with practical and accessible advice for overcoming society’s pressure to do more, and featuring interviews with researchers, consultants, and experiences from real people drowning in too much work, Laziness Does Not Exist “is the book we all need right now” (Caroline Dooner, author of The F*ck It Diet).

January 2022 Book Club: Lovecraft Country

Cover art for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

Lovecraft Country was an interesting book to ring the new year in with. For starters, it wasn’t the horror book that I thought it would be based on the first episode of the HBO show that I watched. There were no crazy monsters that went bump in the night (although there are definitely some horror scenes!), only a strange organization of Alchemists that somehow possessed magic powers.

As I read each section of Lovecraft Country, I had a hard time following the timeline of events. Where they meant to be short stories that were independent of each other? Connected only in that they were dealing with the same man? It wasn’t until the characters got together to discuss what had been happening to them that I realized the change in narration was designed to illustrate that these things were all happening more or less at the same time after the initial trip to Ardham.

Many of these stories are based around the concept of how getting what you want doesn’t always happen in the way you want it. Atticus begins our tale with a subtle desire to live in a Lovecraft novel and to find his father, who wanted to understand where his wife came from. Both of these desires were the catalyst for our story, so it’s interesting that they spend time ignoring what happened to them despite the clear meddling from Braithwhite. They want to be left alone from the legacy that was left them, which does eventually happen (although getting to that place is a process).

Letitia, one of my favorite characters, wants to leave her mark on this world and is determined to do so since the first page we’re introduced to her. When she comes into some money from a mysterious benefactor, it’s no surprise that it’s used to purchase an apartment building in a white neighborhood. A part of me was even left to wonder if Letitia would have been as interested in doing so if it didn’t also come with the label of “pioneer”. On the one hand, Letitia got what she wanted. On the other hand, she needed to stand her ground and navigate owning a haunted house. Letitia’s story is one of determination and grit, one that you want to succeed from the beginning.

Ruby’s story provides the most insight into how people of color were (and sometimes, unfortunately, still are) treated. You can’t help but feel angry for her as she loses her job because someone else stole a pair of earrings and intrigued when she’s able to try on a different face. Ruby wanted power over her life and Braithwhite gave it to her. This was one of the few relationships in the book were Braithwhite was being used as much as he was doing the using and the cost was “only” lying to those around her and believing Braithwhite when he told her that she was keeping Delilah alive.

Ruby’s story is about being self aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s hard to recognize the privilege that comes with the color of your skin as you observe through Ruby’s eyes what it’s like to interact with a police officer as Hillary. How easy it is to manipulate the men and women around her because they believe that she can do no wrong as Hillary. Ruby wanted freedom and power over her own life, it broke my heart that in order to get those things she had to physically change who she was.

Ruff also takes us through a desire to begin to set things right (the ledger of owed back wages and interest), a desire to discover (the teleporter), and a desire to protect your family (the devil doll, and the trip to meet the Winthrop ghosts). Each of these desires demonstrates how you have to decide between what you want and what you need, all the while taking advantage of the experience (minus the devil doll story, poor Horace).

Lovecraft Country is brought to a cinematic end once each character shares their stories with each other and it becomes clear that Braithwhite is a problem. Perhaps the most poetic part of the tale, Braithwhite loses his powers to the people he manipulated and we are left to assume that he will spend his days trying to get back into an organization that will no longer take him due to the new color of his skin.

Knowing that the show has altered the story’s events, I haven’t decided if I’ll finish it. That being said, I’m glad I picked up Lovecraft Country and stuck it out to the end, it was a fun read.

The icy January winds have me daydreaming of warmer days, so for February’s book let’s step into the pages of The Henna Artist, which takes place in the city of Jaipur during the 1950s.

Cover art for the Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

December Book Club: Station Eleven

Cover art for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

If I had to summarize Station Eleven for someone while only having read the first few chapters, I would describe it as what it would be like to be a part of a traveling Symphony in a post pandemic world where most of the population dies. Now that it’s in my “read” pile, I think a better summary would need to include how one person can shape and connect the lives of many.

Arthur was not a great person, he cheated on his wives and had a hard time prioritizing the right things. Towards the end of his life, more than one person described him as if he was acting off camera/stage. It was as though during his pursuit of happiness, Arthur lost himself and his understanding of what could really make him happy. This isn’t to say that Arthur was a bad man, he had a way of genuinely caring about people and wanting to support them. No, Arthur’s issue seemed to stem from not really knowing what was important when it was important and a misguided quest for what happiness really was.

Despite dying early in the book, Arthur’s life shaped the story of the many characters that we encountered throughout Station Eleven. In some ways, this was for the better. Clark found himself realizing that he had been sleep walking his way through life after having dinner with Arthur shortly after his death. Kirsten turned to Arthur for comfort during her childhood and found herself comforted still by the comics that he gifted her. Miranda came into her own. Jeevan learned that he did in fact want to become an EMT (and eventually became a doctor).

In other ways, Arthur caused a lot of chaos in the new world by not being a good father to his son Tyler. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened if Arthur hadn’t missed so many of Tyler’s birthdays or had been able to move to Jerusalem before the pandemic. Would Tyler have learned to cling to the bible the way that he did? Would he have a world view to balance his mothers? If so, imagine how many people would have lived more peaceful lives.

Another thing that Station Eleven did was point out that there will always be people that try to support and grow from each other. People who do their best to take the ugly and make something beautiful. Just as there will always be people who are unable to see past the ugly, and it’s not that these people are lesser than the first group of people (although you do wish they’d rise to the occasion!), it’s that their version of doing the best that they can isn’t as outward facing. Where some are able to turn to others and raise them up, others are barely able to put their own oxygen masks on.

Station Eleven is what I wanted from The Stand. A story about people putting the pieces back together after trauma and learning how to move forward. There was just enough description of the pandemic to understand what has happening without the feeling of “ok I get it, everyone is dying”. I had a lot of reservations about reading this book in the middle of a pandemic, but honestly the pandemic was simply the spark that started this story.

Last October, I poured over a bunch of horror books and added them to my to-read list. Not because of Halloween (although maybe), but because I found myself rereading The Shinning yet again. Since adding Lovecraft Country to my to-read list it has become a show on HBO and the trailer reminded me that I should read it. I have not seen the show beyond episode one, so I’m coming into the story with a set of (mostly) unbias eyes.

Cover art for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, twenty-two year old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned Atticus’s great grandmother—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of one black family, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today. 

November Book Club: A Court of Thorns and Roses

Cover art for a Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas.

The fastest and simpliest way to summarize A Court of Thorns and Roses to someone who has never read it before is to say that it’s a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. A beautiful land is under a curse that can only be broken by true love.

There is, of course, a lot more to this book than that. For starters, Feyre doesn’t stumble across a castle in the woods because she’s trying to find her father. While trying to keep a promise to her dead mother, Feyre kills a faerie in the shape of a wolf while hunting for food. Though she doesn’t know it, this one action sparks a chain of events that leads to being whisked off to a magical land and her family being elevated back to their original wealthy status.

I want to start by discussing the dedication that Feyre feels towards the promise that she’s made to her mother to look after her family. She was the youngest daughter and was less than ten years old, other than requiring this plot point to put her hunting in the woods, I didn’t really understand this decision. What a weight to put on a young child’s shoulders, in fact Feyre literally complains about how binding the promise is and how heavy keeping the promise feels sometimes. When viewed upon as a plot point, however, it’s clear that this is meant to show us that Feyre is honorable and stubborn.

Feyre’s distinction of hunting for necessity and hunting out of pleasure is another interesting point that should have done more in the realm of foreshadowing what was to come. By knowing this about her during the third trial, we can appreciate her struggle as she fights to remember the fate of many is more important than the fate of a few. Knowing that she only hunts to eat and has no interest when food is readily available, I’m left to assume that Feyre will be affected by the two deaths for the rest of her life (or at least the next book in this series).

I wanted more from the three trials to free Tamlin and the people of faerie. As scenes, they seemed rushed and anticlimactic. I also disliked the use of the fairy wine even though it was done to get her out of the dungeon for a few hours and show Tamlin that she was safe. They could have worked something out where she didn’t have to drink the wine every single night. Also, Tamlin’s indifference was agitating – even if it was to protect her. It would have been more forgiving if he was under a spell as Alice alluded that he might be.

I also found the use of magic something to be desired. True, there was a curse that limited the ability of the faeries to use magic and true, the story stayed true to most of the general rules of faerie land (minus the “if you eat the food you can’t leave”), I just felt as though there could have been more. There was nothing spectacular about Feyre’s day to day minus being pulled from her family. It wasn’t until she went under the mountain that we got to experience what the world had the potential to be.

All in all, I enjoyed this book but don’t feel the need to read the other books in the series. There’s obviously going to be a story line with Feyre trying to deal with being a faerie with a human heart and some sort of love triangle that’s probably brought on by Feyre thinking something like “how can Tamlin love me after all that I did?” and the monthly requirement to spend a week in the night court.

Next month we’ll be reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I think this book made my “to-read” list after discussing it with a co-worker on zoom last fall due to the premise of it taking place after a super flu. I’ve previewed a chapter to make sure that it doesn’t feel too much like the pandemic we’ve been living through (that wouldn’t be escapism!) and am please to report that it seems like a lot of fun.

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.