My Favorite Books of 2019


My Favorite Books of 2019

 

by Neal Lemery

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plantby Robin Wall Kimmerer

 

“As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings these lenses of knowledge together to show that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgment and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. For only when we can hear the languages of other beings are we capable of understanding the generosity of the earth, and learning to give our own gifts in return.” (Goodreads)

This is a delightful blend of experiences, viewpoints, and meditations. I found this to be engaging, provocative, and simply fun to read.

The Secret Wisdom of Nature: Trees, Animals, and the Extraordinary Balance of All Living Things — Stories from Science and Observation, by Peter Wohlleben. I loved his The Secret Life of Trees. This is an equally enjoyable book about nature and how living things interact and communicate with each other.

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics by Tim Marshall. This is a great exploration of world history and current affairs, from the perspective of geography, and how regional and local geography has profound influences on human activities, politics, and culture.  Much of today’s geopolitics makes more sense after reading this.

Edge of Awe: Experiences of the Malheur-Steens Country. Alan Contreras, ed. This delightful book of essays, poetry, and photography takes you into the soul of southeastern Oregon.  Ursula LeGuin and other contributors are showcased.  Great writing and deep thinking highlight this treasure.

The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities, by Violet Moller.

“In The Map of Knowledge Violet Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity – Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy – through seven cities and over a thousand years. In it, we follow them from sixth-century Alexandria to ninth-century Baghdad, from Muslim Cordoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures and – finally – to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely.

“In tracing these fragile strands of knowledge from century to century, from east to west and north to south, Moller also reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

“Vividly told and with a dazzling cast of characters, The Map of Knowledge is an evocative, nuanced and vibrant account of our common intellectual heritage.”  Goodreads

An enjoyable and insightful look at history and its teachings and preservation.  Very interesting and provocative.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the Worldby Melinda Gates. Inspiring, fresh, and provocative; ideas and projects that are changing the world.  This is a book of hope and progressive thought. The writing is excellent and I found myself captivated by the seemingly simple ideas and her determination to listen to people on what they really needed to change their lives.

 

The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction andPurpose by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah dares us to be hopeful and open to our full potential. There are lots of ideas and inspiration in this, and I found it worthwhile and optimistic.

 

Leadership in Turbulent Times, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. This examination of challenging events and circumstances of four U.S. presidents gives some much-needed historical insight and perspective on what is great and courageous leadership, and the willingness to be daring and put country ahead of politics.

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present, by David Treuer. This is a much needed and appreciated perspective of Native America, a part of our history and culture that is neglected by historians and political scientists. Somewhat akin to Howard Zinn’s examination of under-reported American history, and it belongs on the same shelf of important and timely writings about our past and today.

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Wow. So much I didn’t know and hadn’t thought about. 100,000 years ago, there were six species of humans, and only one has survived. This is the story of how humans came to be, and broadens one’s concept of humanity and cultural development.

 

Artemis by Andy Weir.  The author of The Martianexplores the large lunar colony of the future, with an engaging plot and ideas that stimulate one’s thinking about the future and how space travel and colonization may change our thinking. Well done science fiction.

 

Becoming by Michelle Obama.  The best memoir and autobiography of the year.  This well written story of her life is engaging, thoughtful, and insightful, no matter what your politics may be. I grew to admire her courage and insight, and drive to improve her life.  I found this to be inspiring.

 

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman.  One of America’s finest novelists, Gaiman shares his ideas on how art inspires and changes lives.  This is a short but important read.

 

 

 

Some Less Memorable Books

 

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know, by Malcolm Gladwell.  His hypothesis is somewhat interesting, but not terribly daring or insightful: we are often deceived by strangers who seek to manipulate and lie to us.  I found it repetitive and tedious. But then, maybe I’ve been deceived.

The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, by David McCollough. He’s a thorough historical storyteller, but these tales of adventurers and entrepreneurs who settled Ohio is less than exciting and I think I missed his point of telling this story. Well and thoroughly researched, but this is not a page turner and I ended up not caring about the characters.

On Fire: The Case for the New Green Deal, by Naomi Klein. I was disappointed, as I wanted particulars on what projects and ideas that are “shovel ready” for this political and ecological movement. Instead, this appears to be a collection of blog posts, some quite dated, about general concepts. I wanted actual implemented ideas and stories of success.

The Second Mountain, by David Brooks.  Brooks is a thoughtful writer, who is famed for challenging traditional thinking. He begins by challenging Boomers to be innovative and involved. Yet, he seems to lose stem halfway through the book and never gets to the heart of his ideas and show how his premises can work. I was left hanging and unsatisfied.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Favorite Books of 2018


 

 

 

Educated, by Tara Westwood.  An engaging memoir of a home-schooled Mormon girl in rural Idaho, struggling with uncertainty, violence, and torn between family ties and rigid attitudes, and a bright future in college, inspired by gifted mentors.  This is a book about courage and determination and a life well-examined.

 

Becoming, by Michelle Obama.  Another book of inspiration, determination. She offers thoughtful insights into her own life as one of a first generation to go to college, devotion to family, and living in the whirlwind of national politics.  Whatever your politics, this journey is motivating and profound.

 

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants, by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  What a wonderful journey about spirituality, science, community, and family connection!  Each chapter is a new insight, a new perspective on the world around us, the world we are so completely connected to.  I enjoyed it on so many levels.

 

Exit West, by Hamid Mohsin.  An engaging novel and fantasy about revolution, upheaval, refugees and immigration. This fast paced story digs into the humanity of current controversies over refugees and immigration, and change.

 

Art Matters, by Neil Gaiman.  This delightfully illustrated short book is a gem about creativity, writing, and the jewel of community libraries.

 

No god but God: the Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam, by Reza Aslan. This is an engaging read exploring Islam and its complexity, destroying stereotypes and misconceptions and making for an entertaining and informative read.

 

The President is Missing, by Bill Clinton and James Patterson.  This fast-paced romp through modern politics is a delight, offering occasional outbursts and humor by the former president on current affairs and thinking. It is very entertaining and captivating.

 

Brief Answers to the Big Questions, by Stephen Hawking.  His posthumous book that offers those not engrossed in quantum physics and other “on the edge” thinking some insights and explanations.  I found it engaging and insightful and worth my time.

 

The Tide: Science and the Stories Behind the Largest Force on Earth, by Hugh Aldersey-Williams. This scientist takes us on a welcoming journey into the world of tides, and how they shape our world. This is an interesting read on a subject that is a mystery to most of us.

 

The River of Consciousness, by Oliver Sacks.  This is a delightful collection of essays on a variety of topics, which are thought provoking and engaging.

Yuletide Poems


 

 

 

  1. Yule

 

Shortest day

Longest night

Solstice, Yule

Yule meaning “wheel”

It turns today, a sign of the light

To come

Lifting, shifting

Into the light

The hope of newer

Change for the brighter,

The better.

 

 

  1. Failure

 

“Failure is a feeling

Long before

It is an actual

Result.”                        (Becoming, Michelle Obama)

 

I’m not good enough

Until I decide it’s my fear

That is my limit

And not my destiny.

 

The light in my life

Is for me to decide

How bright it shines.

 

  1. Ambition

 

Leaf in a storm

Sailing over, beyond where I thought I’d be

Expectation of average

Blown away when I accept

The potential

Within me, the wind

Catching me

On its way through

Where I thought I’d end up

And I soar.

 

–Neal Lemery, 2018

Befriending


 

 

Kindness

Comes in so many forms, so many ways

A smile, a cup of tea,

Reaching out, giving a hand

Listening

Accepting.

 

Together

We honor ourselves and each other

Gifts to share, building community

Bonds, interactions, communion

Union, reciprocity

Strengthening, a weaving together

The whole greater than the parts.

 

Compassion

Understanding the Other, each other

By opening our own hearts

Being open, exchanging, offering

Receiving

Accepting

Enhancing

Uniting.

 

–Neal Lemery

11/29/2018

Becoming


 

 

Change

Comes with each moment

Each wave on the beach

Changes

The beach

The observer

Itself

Transforming all there is

In different ways

Renewing, reforming, recreating—

Over time, the difference obvious

A new reality, a new experience

And from that, comes change, again.

 

Change is in our nature – it is what we do,

Who we are, beings in motion

Observing, experiencing, adapting—

Becoming something new, an evolving

Seeking our light, becoming who we are meant to be

Meant to becoming, again and again.

 

Our destiny is in the moment, in the changing, in the becoming—

I am

Ever renewing, ever changing

Ever becoming.

 

—Neal Lemery, 10/7/2018

22


Celebrating 22, birthday man,
Anger’s ashes still cooling
The man he thought was dad, died when he was fifteen,
Real dad never around, never calling him son,
The kindly grandma he thought he had, now not really sure
She even knows he lives, but remembering
Her laugh, her soup after school.

We eat cake and tells stories, play guitar and laugh,
No one else in these chairs now
Behind this prison’s walls
He sings me his song.

5/31/13

Possibility


 

Just at the last bit of night,
all that you will become dawns on me–
I hear your voice and see your face in the new day’s light
and imagine you,
emerging into your now adult life.

You, somewhere else now, awaken and start
your day, fresh, strong, prepared finally —
new challenges, new tasks, a new way
of living free, self determined,
on your own.

No longer tied down to the old ways
free, now, to move ahead, making your own path
and finding your own future,
just like we had talked, just like we had both
dreamt, not that long ago.

I do not mourn our past, together, watching you
take those steps that have led to where you are now,
for I knew this day was coming, this is now your destiny.

You, now, all grown and strong, find your own way,
blossoming into who
you are meant to be, in all your strength and brilliance,
so clear to me, those possibilities, the first day I met you.

You hadn’t realized, then, what you could become,
what you will do,
this promising morning,
until you took a good look in the mirror
of your soul.

The tree in the front of the yard is about to bloom,
the metaphor for you, now, roots solid in the ground,
limbs reaching up to the sky, and blossoms
ready to open
to all that is good,
all this that has become
possible.

—- Neal Lemery, April 2013