If we have our own why of life, we shall get along with almost any how. —Nietzsche
I often detect a subtle elitism among passionate booklovers. I mean, we want our books to be good, really good. But we also want our readers, our good readers, to occupy certain stations in life, you know, novelists, teachers, professors, academics, and critics. They’re the protectors of the literary flame. Not bloggers. And certainly not nurses or lowly technologists. Right? Well, I sincerely hope not. Which is why I always thrill at conversations with people whose livelihoods take place outside of bookish cloisters and academic santuaries, but who still know something about well-plotted novels and well-drawn characters, and who are also intimately acquainted with the shallow breathing and rapid heart rate that attend heated disputes over even minor points of interpretation.
Who are you?
I am an enthusiastic, glass-is-overflowing, love-to-laugh optimist; a technology-loving strategist with an inquiring mind for the fundamentals of science, nature and human behavior; an appreciator of simple beauty; and a recovering control-freak exacerbated by my ex-New Yorker tendencies. But, most of all, I am a loyal, loving and honest-to-a-fault wife, sister, daughter, and friend.
When it comes to books, what are your intellectual interests?
Well, I am a bit of a geek, not a practical “fix my computer” geek but a conceptual “time-space continuum” geek. The fundamental “whys” of the universe and of humanity. The yin/yang of life. The struggle between good/evil. How we struggle to define good and evil. The choices we make as humans that challenge our beliefs in fundamental ways…. and the translation of those choices into how we live our lives. What drives our beliefs and the principles that guide us about love, power, knowledge, success, money, kindness, god… and life. Understanding why people believe what they believe is even more telling than what they believe. How open to changes are we? How set in stone are our beliefs? Basically, getting to the core of existence whether it’s science or human beings.
What books are you eager to read next?
Books are always piled up around my house… kitchen nook, bedside table, all over the office. For some reason, the bedside stack contains the too-tedious Dicken’s Bleak House… I keep falling asleep after only a few pages! I just finished A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amos Oz (for a book club) about a writer growing up in Israel as it is becoming a nation and The Handmaids Tale by Margaret Atwood… perfectly scary and frankly believable. I’m just starting The Political Mind by George Lakoff , a fascinating look at using cognitive and neuroscience to understand reason versus emotion in political change; and the classic The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith; and a few books mentioned on this blog (Herzog, Rushdie, Coetzee, Crowley). To satisfy the scientist in me, a whole slew of science books are lying around the house for when I have quick bites of time to indulge; A Guide to the Elements by Albert Stwertka, On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, and Genetics Demystified by Edward Willett.
What books shaped the “whys” of your existence?
Even with my terrible memory, there are definitely a few books that altered how I think about the world. When I as little. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis started my love for fantasy, the time-space continuum and the ever present battle of good/evil… which was continued by The Lord of the Rings series, leaving me awe-struck by the world of J.R.R.Tolkien. Since I wanted to be an architect, The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand struck a definite chord and expanded my pliable teenage psyche towards individual responsibility, which continues to this day. And last, there was that one high school teacher, Mr. Speight, who taught AP Modern Novels every morning at 8:00 a.m., greeting us with a hilarious stand-up routine mixed with a discussion about the whys of life as told through the authors… my first real experience in being pushed to question my beliefs. I will never forget him and how valued he made us all feel.
Are there any books you routinely recommend?
Books are so personal. What I find touching, moving, life-altering or even just plain hysterical, usually doesn’t translate wholly to someone else. Although I try not to make recommendations, there are a few I’ve bought for people over the years. The Source by James Michener, which tells of historical and present (1960) cultural and religious struggles at an architectural dig site in Israel through a series of uncovered artifacts and an ancestral storyline; two books by the wonderful journalist, turned writer, Geraldine Brooks, Nine Parts of Desire and March; and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. And then there are books that are so beautifully written that they take your breath away when you least expect it, not like someone suddenly shoving your head into a ice cold bucket of water, more like taking a deep inhale on the first page, continuing dizzily, not exhaling until you are forced to rise and put the book down… remembering that you have another life, fuzzy as it seems. Two that come to mind are The Discovery of Light by J.P. Smith and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.