My latest television series indulgence is also doubling as my new favorite book!
I was late to The Handmaid’s Tale bandwagon because I’m not a bandwagon person. The instant something is super popular I’m normally not interested. I suppose that is the hipster in me.
Anyway, this story is worth all of the praise! The most intriguing thing to me is that the book was published in 1985, written by Margaret Atwood, and the scenarios she includes are eerily relevant today. I feel that the world she created amplifies what is subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) happening in our current political climate and country.
The handmaid sharing her story is named Offred (Of Fred, her Commander). In the story’s setting, handmaids are simultaneously revered and looked down upon. In this new totalitarian world, fertility is a challenge. Handmaids are the answer to this problem. And although many times they give the gift of life, it can’t be overlooked that in their life before the country changed, they were adulterers, “whores,” “gender traitors” – women who had “sinned.” Their bodies are no longer theirs, but their Commander’s and their Wife. Frequent “ceremonies” occur where essentially the handmaids are raped in an effort to conceive a baby. It is dark and twisted and will take your breath away if you choose to watch the series.
Atwood’s world is built on religion. Those who revolted against and attacked the United States government have created a new era based on The Bible. Everyone is expected to live and breathe the words in The Bible. Any past transgressions or current day actions that that fall outside of the Holy Word result in severe punishment, and in most cases, death.
Freedom as we know it is non-existent. Women are forbidden from reading or writing or working. They must obey their Commander or other men. Free thinking is beaten down. Uniforms are implemented to help others identify your status. Love is arranged. Money is no longer. “Guardians” are omnipresent, guns in hand, ready to shoot you down. Public hangings on “the wall” are the punishment of choice. The outlook is bleak.
BUT, hope resides. Some people were able to escape to Canada before being captured and forced to live the Gilead way of life. Secret messages are exchanged. Revolution bubbles beneath the surface. Stories of what is truly going on are leaked to countries who could potentially help. People exist within Gilead with enough power that they can attempt to assist people in getting out.
It’s the hope that keeps the characters going. Memories of how life used to be. A yearning to eventually get back to “normal.” Although, most of the men in power have no interest in this because they’ve “got it made” in their opinions. So, it might be a long road.
If there’s one thing this story is teaching me is that we have it good. Really good. Today freedom reigns, but in a blink of an eye it could all be taken away from us. So squeeze your family tight. Appreciate your right to share your opinions, thoughts, feelings. Stand up for what you believe. Don’t allow basic rights to be taken from you. Read. Write. EXPRESS YOURSELF. Don’t take it for granted.
Joel and I love books. We're usually pretty good about going to the library so we don't accumulate more stuff, but once in awhile we like to buy items that we either plan to keep or donate to the library when we're done.
Half Price Books is one of our favorite used book stores. The one we go to is in Cedar Rapids. It has an amazing selection and the books are as good as new. They also have music as well, which is where you'll find Joel during the bulk of our visits!
We took an impromptu trip to Cedar Rapids last weekend and paid it a visit. Here are some of the items I picked up:
This is one of my favorite books. It is great for reflection and meditation. I gave my last copy away to a friend who I thought would appreciate it, so needed to get another copy for myself.
This is a book on tape (CD) that I bought to listen to in my car. There are six discs and it is read by the author, Shonda Rhimes (if you live under a rock, she's a powerhouse television writer - Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, etc.). It is SO GOOD! I'm already on disc two and I've loved every minute of it. If you are like me - an introvert to the core with anxiety, social anxiety and/or "stage fright" - read (or listen to) this book. She gets it. And she finds a way to overcome it. It's pretty powerful.
To be honest, I was initially drawn to this book because it was hot pink! But after flipping through, it looked like just what I needed at this time in my life. Earlier in the day I had told Joel that life's about having grace on ourselves and others, so it was quite ironic that this book fell into my hands. I've committed to reading one chapter each night. I don't (can't) speed through personal development books. If I try, I lose interest. It has been a pretty easy read and I enjoy the author's point of view. It can also act as a workbook, leaving blanks for you to answer questions along the way to help you check-in with yourself. I reflect vs. writing my answers down because I want to give this to the library so someone else can benefit from it when I'm done!
Yes, I still buy CDs. I was thrilled to find these albums from two of my favorite riot girl bands - Bikini Kill and Le Tigre. Always a punk girl at heart, baby!
Lastly, here's us, happy to be together for an entire day with no other commitments, wandering as we pleased. Doesn't happen at all anymore, so we definitely made the best of our time with each other!
I've been on the search for a daily reflection book and was lucky enough to run across this gem in a used bookstore we frequent!
The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo contains a reflection for every single day of the year. There are no days or years tied to the dates, so it can be reused over and over again!
The topic of each passage varies - some are personal stories from Mark, others are stories from or about people he knows. Each one is very brief yet insightful. A consistent theme at the end of each entry is a focus on three mindfulness activities. You're asked to focus, to breathe, to silence your mind, to release anything you're holding onto.
Taking time in the morning for daily reflection has been a great addition to my routine. So far, I haven't missed a day. It's become very important to me to start the day in the right state-of-mind. It takes just a few minutes. Whether or not you personally connect to the message that day, at the very least you can feel good knowing you took some time to be still and focus on your personal growth. Namaste, my friends!
This book was a page turner. Couldn't put it down. I finished it in five days, which for me, is a miracle.
Swimming Lessons is a story about a woman - wife, mother, friend - that goes missing after leaving a trail of letters for her husband hidden in his overwhelmingly large collection of books. Ingrid's letters outline her life, in grueling detail, starting from the point when she met her husband up until the day she disappears. There is a lot of speculation around where she had gone. Had she drowned in the sea? Or had she chosen to leave?
Her letters are presented every other chapter. The space in between is filled with a present day account of life without Ingrid through the eyes of her daughter, Flora. She shares the other side of Ingrid's story. How others viewed Ingrid. How her family and friends, primarily her husband, were coping (or not coping) with her disappearance.
If I could choose one word to describe this book, it would be "haunting." Haunting in a way that was mysterious, moody and reflected the deep complication that exists on some level in every parent/child relationship and in marriage. I'll never forget it.
If you're a lover of books with happy endings, this wouldn't be for you. But if you like stories that explore the "things left unsaid" in relationships - you'll love this. Enjoy!
Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave did a great job of delving into the complexity of family dynamics while highlighting the importance of weathering storms together.
The main character, Georgia, was well developed and the members of her family were a delight to get to know. Everyone in the story was keeping some form of secret that was revealed as the book went on, which made this a page turner.
The story primarily took place on and around the family vineyard, which added an interesting element. Although I'm not sure if what they said about managing a vineyard is completely true, it was neat to learn about how wine was made while you got to know the family that made it.
This book definitely pulls at the heartstrings. I'm a sucker for a good story that touches on the special bond between father and daughter. I was in tears as I read the last few pages.
And just in case you're wondering what the title stands for - "The secret number of grapes it takes to make a bottle of wine: eight hundred." Cheers!