Unplugged

01Sep18
Anne Lamott fontplay 1340059 BLOG
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”  — Anne Lamott

I didn’t set out to unplug this summer. It happened organically, thanks to meandering morning walks that took longer than expected — and work deadlines that came up faster than expected, too.

I felt guilty at first for neglecting my blog and Facebook friends. But when I realized my absence made no difference, I reveled in the recaptured time.

There’s been some photography and a bit of writing. Mostly I’ve spent the summer reading, though — sometimes devouring whole books in one bite.

Here are 10 of my favorites; maybe one of them will speak to you as well. (If my selections seem a bit eclectic, blame my neighbors’ ubiquitous Little Free Libraries.)

Little Free Libraries BLOG

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler
“Luminous.” That’s the word that comes to mind again and again for this poetry disguised as a novel. The chapters of Andreas Eggers’s story accumulate as gently as the snow in his native Alps. But then it all crashes down like an avalanche and you stumble away, dazed and transformed. Few books have stuck with me like this simple story of a humble life.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
This classic is billed as a “must-read” for all writers, but I’d expand that to include all living human beings. It’s full of fantastic advice (see the top of the post) — and it somehow radiates hope and encouragement, too. I expect it will remain the most dog-eared and highlighted book on my shelf for a long time.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon
If you’re distressed about the state of the American union, pick up this book. It was born in the aftermath of the author’s divorce — which is maybe why his longing for understanding and connection seeps through in every sentence. He’s a master of written dialect, too, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself calling your car a “sumbich.”

City of Thieves by David Benioff
This book is so close to being a screenplay that you can almost picture the camera directions. So what? It’s meticulously researched and richly imagined, complete with a heartbreaking ending. One caveat: The author is also a Game of Thrones co-creator, so expect lots of sex and violence and blood and transgender chickens. (Yes, you read that right.)

Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill
I’ve never read anything like this one-sitting gem. At first blush it’s a collection of random thoughts — quotes, memories, casual observations — that read like entries from a diary. But then they coalesce into a story of friendship, marriage, and betrayal. No new ground is broken here, but the ingenuity of the narrative structure makes it well worth digging into.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
This sprawling, 775-page novel won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Some friends question whether it deserved the honor, but I couldn’t put it down. Tartt creates vivid characters and then seamlessly weaves their stories together against a backdrop of art theft, antique restoration, drug addiction, Vegas … well, you have to see for yourself!

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
“What the hell is happening?” It took me about 20 pages to realize that — like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense — I has crossed to “the other side.” I can’t say I enjoyed this book per se, but I did love the stunning originality of its narrative device. Plus, I learned a lot about President Abraham Lincoln through his contemporaries’ writings.

Paris Was Ours by Penelope Rowlands
This collection of 32 essays is somewhat uneven in its quality, but I did enjoy learning how these writers came to Paris for the first time, how they were seduced, when they fell in love. As with all love stories, there are bittersweet moments and disappointments. But overall you’re left with a mosaic of fond memories as diverse as the city that inspired them.

The Pearl Diver by Jeff Talarigo
Here is another quiet little book about an ordinary life — this time, a young woman in Japan who is banished to a leper colony in the 1940s. Talarigo’s imagery is so vivid that you can practically hear the surf and smell the brine, but the real protagonist here is the human spirit in all of its relentless tenacity.

Rubicon by Tom Holland
Some academic writers use their prose to belittle your ignorance; others speak to you as an equal and then elevate you with their knowledge. Tom Holland is among the latter. With his crisp writing and dry wit, he has somehow turned the demise of the Roman Republic into a page-turner that makes figures like Marius and Pompey feel like old friends.

Well, time to plug back in. I’ll return soon with the obligatory summer recap (with 30% more goats!). And I look forward to seeing what you’ve been up to, as well.

 

 



70 Responses to “Unplugged”

  1. Thanks, Heidi! I will keep this list and make good use of it. You were busy over the summer!

    • 2 Heide

      If you want to borrow any of these titles let me know, Tom! I’m going to start my own little library, I’ve decided. 🙂

  2. I, for one, have missed your e-presence, which has almost always been a great reminder of the value of human connection in a world gone mad.

    And I am jealous of the reading time you found in your life. I was so pleased with myself for making time for one book this summer. Oh well, at least I have started another.

    • 4 Heide

      Thank you for your kind words, J. P. I’ve missed our correspondence too — not to mention your posts themselves, which always teach me something new. But I promise I won’t be a stranger for much longer!

      As for my reading time: I’ve taken to roaming the neighborhood with my book-du-jour in hand. It has meant tripping a couple of times and running into the occasional branch, but totally worth it for all the pleasure I’ve gained. On that note: Good for you for reading even one book! It takes a real commitment to make the time in this busy era of ours.

  3. I love Donna Tartt. But still I think The secret was the best of all 3 I read.

  4. Love those little neighborhood library stands! I drop books off all the time in “) Thank you for the fun sharing and lit critiquing – and the reminder that it’s not only okay to unplug, it’s required.

    • 11 Heide

      Unplugging occasionally is indeed required, dear Lara — whether we realize it consciously or not. I think a lot of illnesses are caused by our bodies saying “ENOUGH!” Hopefully you’ve had time to unplug as well. (In fact, I intend to write you soon and inquire!) xx

  5. Nice to have you back, Heide, and glad to hear you took time for yourself. Thanks for these books suggestions. I have made note of a few – some i’ve already read or having waiting.

    • 13 Heide

      Thanks for your kind welcome back, V. J.! I’ve missed your (beautiful) daily poems and am eager to catch up. And you’re very welcome for the book suggestions! I think my favorite was “Bird by Bird” — so much so that it deserves its own post. If you haven’t read it yet, please consider adding it to your list!

  6. How did I miss this post?
    First and foremost, thank you for the book recommendations. I am always in need of something to read.
    Second, I like the premise of unplugging, but to say that it your absence made no difference–well I take a bit of umbrage with that–It makes a difference to me– and, yes, I realize I am being selfish. You deserve as much of your own time as you want–probably more, but who’s counting.

    • 17 Heide

      I’m always glad to provide recommended reads, Anthony — especially when they’re as good (or as original) as the books on this list. And thank you very much for your kind words. If I may be a bit selfish myself, it’s very nice to be missed. But I’m back now … so brace yourself for the festival of comments to come! 🙂

  7. Hello Heide, welcome back. I have spent years looking for writing guidance but whether I looked at courses or whether I looked at self-help books I always found that their focus was on helping the reader achieve commercial success by writing books that will appeal to the mass market. Now, I am not so obtuse that I want to write unpopular books but I simply want to write about what interests me in a clear and interesting and convincing way and all I was getting were templates and rules and I didn’t want that. Then I found “Bird by Bird” and as soon as the author promised me that I wouldn’t make any money out of writing I was hooked. 🙂

    • 19 Heide

      HA! Great minds must think alike, Xpat. I have no intention to (or hopes of) getting rich off writing. But to have Lamott say that, plainly and at the very start, was both disarming and refreshing. That was the moment I was hooked, too. Now I’m off to Stephen King’s “On Writing.” I’ll let you know whether he promises wealth and fame. 🙂 Anyway, thank you so much for stopping by. It’s always wonderful to hear from you, and I’ve missed our conversations here.

  8. Unplugging is a good thing. . .for a time. I am glad you took the time you needed, but I am also glad you are back. Thanks for the book titles–several are intriguing and will go on my to-read list. Have you tried Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver? It is not new but it is my favorite of hers, but all of hers are good!

    • 21 Heide

      You are right that unplugging is good — for a time, Patti (because if you unplug too much you become a hermit). 🙂 I have not read ANY Barbara Kingsolver, I’m sorry to say, but will add Prodigal Summer to my list. Thank you for the recommendation! And thank you also for your kind comment.

  9. I think unplugging is a great idea. That’s why I don’t blog when I’m on holidays. There are better things to do like sipping an aperol spritz at a streetside cafe in Paris. 🙂

    It sounds like you’ve been busy enjoying life. That’s a great way to enjoy Summer.

    • 23 Heide

      Ah … un apérol spritz. If I close my eyes and use my imagination I can *almost* join you at that streetside café! 🙂 But yes, the summer has indeed been busy — it went by in a flash! No complaints here, though; I savored every minute. Thank you so much for stopping by, and I very much look forward to catching up on YOUR adventures.

  10. Nice to see you again. Those books all sound interesting. Sounds like you enjoyed your summer 🙂

    • 25 Heide

      It was a great summer indeed, Racheal! If you were to read any of the books on the list, I most recommend “Bird by Bird” for my writer friends. Hope you had a wonderful summer too!

  11. Time to be is more important than time being for others, if that makes sense. And look at all the different worlds you visited by reading. 🙂

    • 30 Heide

      “Time to be is more important than time being for others” makes PERFECT sense, Marie. And time to just be was exactly what I needed after a very busy July and August with ailing friends, family visits, and crushing work deadlines. I just feel fortunate that I *can* let some things go when I need to. A few of my friends who have young children or aging parents to look after don’t have that luxury, poor things. Well. Onward! Thank you so much for stopping by.

  12. Oh how lucky you are to live in a place full of Little Free Libraries. I’m intrigued by the design of them – do people build their own or are they popular enough that you can buy your preferred design off the shelf? Is it the custom to place a book of your own on the shelf when you take one off the shelf? Or are the home owners the only choosers of their library’s books?

    How lovely to see William Least Heat-Moon’s ‘Blue Highways’ being shared and enjoyed. I still have the copy I picked up in the serendipity of a second-hand bookshop in San Francisco, back in the 80’s. It’s one of the few books that meant enough to me to earn its place in my luggage as I moved around. It’s been sitting on a shelf for too long, but now, thanks to you, I’m going to dust it off and re-read it. Thanks for reminding me. I imagine I’ll read it differently now.

    I saw a New York Times review from when Blue Highways was published, back in 1983 https://nyti.ms/2Q4Oz9k The reviewer says that “People tend to say profound things to travelers in the attempt to persuade them to pause in their flight and listen.” Has that been your experience in your travels? I think I’d say we listen more closely when we’re far from home and that opens up the space for people to speak to us more clearly, without interruption. We ask strangers things that we’d never ask our neighbours.

    We’ve had old phone boxes pressed into service as micro-libraries in the UK: https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2009/nov/30/phone-box-mini-library-somerset

    • 32 Heide

      Hello, dearest E. Much of the guilt during my self-imposed exile has revolved around a particularly lovely email that has sat unanswered for a shamefully long stretch — a sin I hope to remedy soon.

      But first I must answer your questions about Little Free Libraries! There is in fact an organization (littlefreelibrary.org) that keeps a map of the locations and offers plans — but the ones in my neighborhood seem to be custom-made to match their makers’ homes. Esteban and I regularly donate our “pre-loved” books to various locations — because it just seems like good manners to give a book if you take one. Nevertheless, certain libraries seem to consistently reflect a niche interest (such as political science or mystery novels or children’s books). All of that said, I very much prefer pressing the old phone boxes in the UK into library service! What a marvelously creative way to give the old landmarks a new raison d’être.

      As for Blue Highways … how wonderful that you have read it too, and under such magical-sounding circumstances. If you do re-read it I will very much love to hear how your impressions have evolved in all these intervening years. I put it down with a little twinge of heartbreak at how much my country has changed since 1982 … and yet I believe the fundamental goodness and openness the author found in his fellow Americans still exists.

      Speaking of openness: I thought for a long time about your meditation that we listen more closely when we’re traveling and ask strangers things we’d never ask our neighbors. I think that’s absolutely true. There’s something about being far from home that frees us of the personas that are either projected onto us or adopted in our daily lives. It’s easier also to strip away the baggage and labels, and to just be a human being instead of a lawyer or a writer or a what-have-you. Plus, I think it’s easier for others to receive us in this open tabula rasa state too, because they are often curious about this stranger in their midst. Curiosity is the foundation of many a good conversation I think — and many a good friendship too.

      And you, dear E, are one of the most marvelously intellectually curious people I know! Which is why I treasure your careful readership so much, and your thought-provoking comments that always spark new insights.

      Well … I’ll be in touch again elsewhere soon. But thank you for stopping by here, and for brightening my day with your kind words.

  13. Your audience is here every time you come back! I always fear mine wouldn’t be if I took a break.

    • 34 Heide

      Well … my FRIENDS are here every time I come back, Jim. And I know yours would be too.

  14. Interesting. I had noticed your absence, but it definitely is good to take a break sometimes.

  15. Love this list Heidi!

  16. Good to have you back Heide. I’ve added a few of these books to my Amazon wishlist already!

    I haven’t followed your blog for all that long but the last few posts before your hiatus seemed incongruent and, well, a bit random, compared with the steady series of photo posts I’d enjoyed before. Maybe you needed the summer unplugging to get back on track in a number of ways.

    Love the main quote above…

    • 43 Heide

      It’s great to hear from you too, Dan. If you want me to send you any of these books, just tell me where to mail them! I extra-especially recommend “Bird by Bird.” There is a chapter on being an observer that translates brilliantly to photography as well. I’m working on a post about that already, actually — but first I have to finish sifting through my photos so this doesn’t turn into a literary blog.

      I’ll be eager to head over to your space in a bit and see what you’ve been up to also, and hope above all you’ve been well …

      • Heide, thank you for your kind words. Yes Bird by Bird was the one that appeals most. Once I’ve finished the current (photography) book I’m reading I’ll probably order it. Sounds very interesting indeed.

  17. Wonderful list! I loved the Goldfinch. I love to read too. Welcome back to the blogosphere. Summer is the time to embrace and enjoy being offline!

    • 47 Heide

      Great minds think alike! 🙂 Summer is indeed the time to be offline — and outside, too. Lord knows if we have another winter like last year I won’t want to do anything but stare at the warm glow of my computer screen, ha ha.

  18. I LOVE this! I also unplugged a bit (mostly from Facebook) for awhile. You need it, otherwise it can get overwhelming. I love that your neighbors have free “libraries” that is so cool and I wish my neighbors were half as amazing as that! I am so happy you had a relaxing summer sweets and welcome back! You were missed! 🙂 ❤

    • 49 Heide

      Aren’t those little libraries wonderful, dear Kate? I feel like a little bumblebee some mornings, buzzing from one to another to see if there’s anything new. Pity you don’t have any near you, though. Maybe you can be a pioneer and install the first one? To paraphrase Kevin Costner, “If you build it, others will come.” Ha ha. Anyway. I’m glad you unplugged a bit too and hope the transition into fall is going well for you. Thank you for stopping by, as always! xo

  19. Don’t ever think your absence doesn’t make a difference. It does. Your tunnel of trees here is such an enjoyable beacon of wisdom, seriousness and funniness. In ways you may not realize, “checking out” (for lack of a better term- sorry I’m making you sound like a burned-out prairie hippie) might just be a part of the creative cycle for you. Sometimes a person has to just leave their art for a while and live, right? As for your ubiquitous Little Free Libraries, I certainly had a chuckle and feeling of fondness while perusing your eclectic reading list. Seattle is an obnoxiously big-time hotbed of Little Free Libraries. I can’t walk past one without conducting armchair analyses of my neighbors’ potential literary proclivities (an exceedingly inaccurate science, I will concede). For years I’ve pined to curate my own little library but there’s already one just two doors down and I’ve always felt it would somehow be poor form (grandstanding?) on my part. To make matters worse, the neighboring Little Free Library is a little on the precious side (to the extent the idea of Little Free Libraries isn’t precious by itself) and so I have to grumble and put in a halfway decent book on occasion particularly since my children are the shameless plundering sort.

    • 51 Heide

      I think you’re right that “checking out” occasionally is part of not only my creative process, but my natural life cycle too. Like a cicada! Only I don’t leave those nasty dried-out cicada suits behind. 😀 It’s also great (and hilarious) to get your take on the Little Free Libraries, which can indeed take on an air of precious self-importance sometimes. So maybe an LFL curated by “T-Fir and Sons” would be just the thing for your neighborhood? You could also have other items of value on offer such as feathers, twigs, and snails. At our old house I was thinking of starting my own LFL and stocking it entirely with shocking-sounding titles like “Bombproof your Horse” and “How to Talk to Your Cat about Gun Safety.” You know, just to give passers-by something to talk about. But then we moved to a condo and no longer had the option of scandalizing our neighbors, sigh. Well … as always, thank you so much for stopping by and especially for your kind comment. You always bring a smile, no matter where our paths cross.

  20. Absoluntely amazing. Thank you so much

  21. Hello and welcome back Heide, I missed you! I too disconnected this summer somewhat – being alone for 7 weeks helped – but it left also me a little freer to read other people’s blog posts more often. And the habit seems to have stuck so here I am.
    That said, I failed to read much at all and of the books I bought (I have a lovely local bookshop that does a loyalty card and have had 2 free books this summer as a result) – many are partially read. But I am hoping that those bits have all settled like leaf mould in my brain and are fertilising ideas. And they are still on the shelf for when I need more. No, who am I kidding, they are in piles one the table and beside my bed!

    I am trying very hard to refrain from commenting on the little libraries – other than to say I loved the pictures – though because you would all HATE me!
    I’ll just mutter, royalties, libraries’ public lending rights, sales figures….
    Then shout ‘please forgive me.’
    And run and hide.

    • 55 Heide

      You never need ask forgiveness here, because I always value and welcome your perspective. (Not just saying that, either — your posts and comments always do often interesting insights and grist for the mind.) And believe it or not, as the friend of several authors I do think about the economic downside of sharing books willy-nilly as if they have no value. That’s why I often buy multiple copies of the books I really love and give them to friends as gifts. (Would you like a copy of Bird By Bird, incidentally? I would be delighted to send one your way as a gift …)

      But on a lighter end of the topic, I’m glad you had some time to unplug this summer too — even if not all of it was a bed of roses. Sometimes when I have troubling things on my mind it’s difficult to muster the discipline to stick with a book. (And sometimes fiction just enrages me when my mind is in such a state because DOESN’T THE AUTHOR REALIZE HOW UNIMPORTANT HER PROTAGONIST IS AND THAT DEMOCRACY IS IN PERIL AND POLAR BEARS ARE STARVING?) But that’s the wonderful thing about books, isn’t it: They will sit there patiently until we’re in a more suitable frame of mind. Or not, as the case may be!

      Anyway. Thank you so much for stopping by, and especially for taking the time to comment. It’s always a joy to hear from you.

      • I am very tempted to accept your lovely offer. Have been thinking what I might send in return … looking back at your posts, meandering through your observations. You are such a superb photographer. Do you read non-fiction too?
        I am not at all surprised you have thought about the issue I meanly raised – you are a thoughtful person! Fellow blogger/friend Dale (https://daleleelife101.blog/) is the one who raised it with me, she always makes some kind of recompense if she buys a book secondhand or borrows one. I do love physical books, love type, fonts, paper and ink. And lately so many beautiful hardbacks have appeared. But I really should be writing not reading 😉

        • 57 Heide

          Gosh … I didn’t think you the least bit mean for wondering how to compensate authors whose books are shared and passed around for free. Quite the contrary — it’s admirably selfless to consider how one’s actions (no matter how benign or well-intentioned) can affect others. So if you do take me up on my offer of Bird by Bird, you shall be receiving a brand-new copy! Though I do second your self-encouragement to “be writing, not reading.” 🙂

        • 58 Heide

          PS: Yes, I read nonfiction too. Especially historical nonfiction. “The Last Crossing of the Lusitania” and “The Greater Journey” were both superb, I thought.

  22. Hi Heide, Books are such a great way to unplug and live in someone else space for a while.There is at least four titles there i am really interested to read three of which I had never heard of. I will have to wait to our summer holidays to tackle The Goldfinch ( the one I had heard of). Anne’s Lamont book sounds very tempting too. What a pity I can’t have the luxury of a book on my trek ( too much weight) but I will be unplugged enough without it, Louise

    • 60 Heide

      There are times when being present in nature can teach you more than any book, Louise. Savor your time on the trail … The Goldfinch will be here when you return. 🙂

  23. oh, book boxes. The idea is beautiful and everyone can come to drop books or take a book

    It would be good for all countries to adopt that. There are some at home in France and the last one I saw was in the big park

    • 62 Heide

      I agree that it would be wonderful if this idea existed in all countries — and if all countries shared books, too! I might not be able to read the books in Japanese, but the quality and the illustrations would probably help me appreciate and even understand the culture better. Well … thank you so much for stopping by!

  24. I think I’ll buy that transgender chicken story. Very fetch. If I’m not mistaken, Benioff is the guy who wrote the Troy screenplay. You were right to unplug. I do this every now and often, in fact far less often than I should.

    • 64 Heide

      You’re absolutely right about Benioff also writing the screenplay for Troy! So if you just transpose everything from Turkey to Russia you’ll get a pretty good picture of “City of Thieves.” And yes … we all need to unplug from time to time — especially in this “always-on” digital age of ours. Hope you will have some opportunities soon to get away and turn off the email yourself.

      • Well I do that very often. In fact I haaaaaate email. Been using the thing for 30 years this year and in fact I use it as little as possible. Well let me correct this. I don’t hate email I hate the way a lot of people use it. So when i receive confusing messages i always pick up my phone or go and talk to the sender. Much easier. Having said that I read all my books on my phone and iPad. I love ebooks and my bad eyesight make reading books on paper very unpleasant. It’s mostly email I need to unplug from. Plus social media notifications. This is why I change phones during my vacations.

        • 66 Heide

          You’re right that poorly crafted emails can actually rob us of time (or muck up the communication). So I join you in haaaaaating that category of emails! Otherwise I find it quite nice, because I can reply when it’s convenient. The trick of course is to limit how often it’s “convenient” — as you wisely do by bringing a different phone on vacation. What a clever solution!

  25. Absolutely love “Bird by Bird,” have read it so many times now. Also, isn’t summer such a fantastic time to unplug? The weather, the wildflowers, the rolling hills just seem to call out to leave technology behind and venture for daydreams.

    • 68 Heide

      You have such a beautiful way with words! Yes indeed, summer is the perfect time to unplug and stop to smell the flowers, both literally and metaphorically. Thank you for taking a break from your own travels to stop by here!

  26. We all need to unplugg from time to time. Thanks for the list of books. I am an avid reader, but I have only read Donna Tartt’s Goldfinch. So a good list for me to explore. 🙂

    • 70 Heide

      I’ll be delighted if you find a title among this list that you enjoy, Otto! What did you think of The Goldfinch? I’m still ruminating on it, which would normally mean I have to re-read and make my mind up, but I’m not sure I’m up for the commitment of plowing through those 700 pages again. 🙂


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