Friday, August 24, 2018

Bridget Jones's Diary by Helen Fielding
Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

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After writing a few weeks ago about the hilarious diaries of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4, I was reminded by Kathy at Catching Happiness of another diary keeper - Bridget Jones. This humorous work by Helen Fielding is one that I missed in the '90s although I did see the movie. I mean really, who could resist a film featuring both Colin Firth and Hugh Grant? Not me.

My library had a copy in ebook form and I was able to download it quickly. It begins, as does Adrian Mole's year, with a list of New Year's resolutions. Bridget's intents focus on not drinking, losing weight, quitting smoking, and not buying lottery tickets. She doesn't have much success.

Bridget is a 30-something single woman living in London who works for a publishing company. She has a heavy crush on her boss Daniel (a sleaze) which eventually turns into an unsatisfying relationship. There is the enigmatic Mark Darcy lurking in the background as well. 

The thing is, and maybe it's just my age, but for all the book's humor, Bridget's self-loathing, her focus on weight (she records her weight at the beginning of every entry), and a proclivity for breaking her promises to herself begin to wear thin. Of course, I have all sorts of journals from my younger days filled with the same railings against my fate. Perhaps that's why it feels a bit uncomfortable to read Bridget's angst-filled pages.

The conversations with her female friends about men and their wicked ways are pretty funny. And her mother, who has recently left Bridget's father, now has a new lover and a new career. She flits in and out of Bridget's life and is not exactly a stable role model for her daughter.

I'd like to go back and watch the film again. I think perhaps Bridget and her trials and tribulations come across better on screen. And then of course, there are Colin and Hugh to admire.

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I just finished another book that also looks at life from a woman's point of view: Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly. This small book runs for only 107 pages and is made up of 52 micro-memoirs — many are only one or two sentences long while others are more fleshed out essays.  They are at once humorous, wistful, and sometimes heartbreaking. 

One essay recounts how one of her neighbor's exotic hens escaped and took up residence in Ms. Fennelly's yard and offered up an egg a day as rent. Another recalls, at age 8, how she and her father and sister slogged  (thanks to the blizzard of '79) through the deep snow to church only to find the doors locked and Sunday Mass cancelled. Then there is the two-sentence report on the contents of a friend's freezer: a bottle of vodka and a dead cat in plastic wrap.

You'll just have to read the book to find out about that cat.

Ms. Fennelly teaches in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and is the state's poet laureate. That should give you an idea of the quality of writing here. There is not a dull verb anywhere. This is one to read again.

I love a book like this — brief memories captured and recorded.  It reminded me of the late Amy Krouse Rosenthal's Encylopedia of an Ordinary Life (here). One of my favorites and another one to be savored.

What's new in your reading pile?

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine

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The dictionary defines your philosophy of life as your overall vision of or attitude toward life and the purpose of life. 

You know, your grand goal in living. Of the things in life you might pursue, which is the thing you believe to be most valuable?

One would think that as a Woman of a Certain Age I would have developed a Philosophy of Life by now. Perhaps I have only I didn't call it that.

I will say, though, that I have long aligned my thinking with the ancient Stoic philosophy of spending one's life trying to attain and maintain tranquility. Nowadays, who doesn't want tranquility?

To that end, when I spotted A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine, I thought I might add to my knowledge of Stoic wisdom. I have occasionally dipped into Meditations by Marcus Aurelius and the writings of Seneca and Epictetus, two other famous Roman Stoics. 

In this book, the author presents a brief history of the founding of the Stoics under a 'stoa' in Athens and on to how Roman philosophers and thinkers made their own adaptations. He then launches into the Stoic spiritual practices used when confronted with unpleasant social relations, anger, grief, the desire for fame and fortune, old age, and death.

Basically, acknowledge what you can change (your own attitudes and beliefs) and what you cannot change (other people and outside forces).

Easier said than done.

I admit this book might not be for everyone. And, it is not like my usual light mystery to be read at bedtime. This is one I am reading a little of each day. I do like an intellectual challenge now and again. And with this book, one never knows what nuggets of wisdom might add to tranquility and joy.

Do you have a grand goal in living? Or a book or philosophy that has informed what you value in life above all else? I would love to hear about it.