Monthly Archives: July 2013

‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead’ by Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW

Daring GreatlystarstarstarstarstarThis is a powerful and important book. In a simple, straightforward anecdotal style (she calls herself a storyteller), Brené Brown Ph.D. LMSW, shares findings from twelve years of pioneering research on the experience of the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable. Her findings were surprising, even to herself. Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is our most accurate measure of courage.

Vulnerability is at the core of difficult emotions like fear, grief, and disappointment, but also the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, empathy, innovation, and creativity. The sub-title of this book says it all. By taking the courage to be vulnerable we can transform the way we live, love, parent and lead. Daring greatly by ‘putting ourselves out there’, is essential to wholehearted living and a sense of self worth. But it can be risky, messy and uncomfortable at first. In her TED talks, Brown shares the personal struggles she had to endure, as she grappled with the truth in her research findings. What she discovered is that by acknowledging fear and by having the courage to be vulnerable, we unleash our creativity and become able to share the unique gifts and contributions that only we can make.

She has written a few other books which also look good, although I have not read them. Here is a link to two 20 minute TED talk videos which would serve to introduce or supplement the message of her book. The link is part of her website where you can also see the titles of her other works.

TED Talks by Brené Brown

‘Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?’ by Rhoda Janzen

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?starstarstarThe subtitle for this part two memoir is a summary in a nutshell: ‘A Mennonite Finds Faith, Meets Mr. Right, and Solves Her Lady Problems’. This is Rhoda Janzen’s sequel to Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, which I thought was funnier and fresher, but then sequels often find it hard to compete with the original. It is still vintage Janzen: funny, honest, grateful, and self deprecating. This is a brave story cloaked in dark humour. Janzen teaches creative writing at Hope College and has a Ph.D. from UCLA. She is a poet and knows how to write.

In the first book she survives the end of her marriage and a serious car accident. In the second book she enters a new love relationship, finds a new church home, and battles a serious cancer, not necessarily in that order. Her life has undergone some significant changes. Although her faith language can be a bit rough around the edges and delightfully irreverent at times, the journey she shares speaks volumes about how much she appreciates her roots and is surprised by faith at every turn. Barbara Brown Taylor said this and I agree with it. “Rhoda Janzen is one of the few people I trust to write about faith without using God to clobber me.”

My best takeaway from  Janzen’s books is that even though inevitably things happen in life that we do not choose and are not able to change, what we do have control over is choosing our attitude about it.  This is a great responsibility, but also a great freedom.

‘The President’s Hat’ by Antoine Laurain

The President's HatstarstarstarstarThis is an original, optimistic, and inventive story about a hat. But not just any hat. President François Mitterrand leaves his black felt hat in a Paris brasserie. His initials F.M. are embroidered into the lining. Daniel Mercier finds the hat after the President leaves the restaurant and decides to take it. He puts it on his head and extraordinary things begin to happen! A highly enjoyable, multi-layered and clever little read!

The setting of the book is the 80’s, which feels rather recent, but when we think about how far technology has come since then, we realise how the story would have played out very differently today, when we have a dizzying array of technological devices at our fingertips. There wasn’t even any internet then and sometimes we feel nostalgic for such a simpler time. So when Daniel is randomly seated next to the charismatic President in the restaurant, there would have been nothing more for him than a special memory and an interesting story to tell. Nowadays, pictures would immediately have been beamed around the planet with the aid of his smart phone. Has the charm of a moment in the 80’s scenario been lost to the capability of the present day?

A brilliant illustration of this question is seen in this photo, comparing the introduction of the new Pope in St. Peter’s Square in 2005 and 2013. Those are not candles burning… 🙂

New Pope in St. Peter's Square

‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

AmericanahstarstarstarChimamanda Ngozi Adichie was born in Nigeria in 1977 but has lived and worked in the US. Her book Half of a Yellow Sun was a masterpiece about the Biafran war. As an “American African” (a distinction she makes from “African American”), she has a foot in both worlds and is good at capturing the nuance of racism in America. This book, although it is fiction, has a very personal feel to it, including some stories that she may very well be gleaning from her own experience. There are amazing snapshots of her Nigerian home country. Having lived for many years in a few African countries myself, I can relate to her descriptions and recognize her character types. Her book is full of insights about racism which she first encountered when she moved to the US. Her character Ifemulu says, ” I only became black when I came to America.”

Ifemulu and Obinze fall in love in Lagos when they are both teens. In Nigeria, at that time, there was a continual striving to move out to Western countries, and both achieve this at different times. But their relationship suffers when they are parted and both establish their own lives until they meet again, after many years. Ifemulu is still the gutsy outspoken unique woman that Obinze remembers, and Ifemulu realizes too late that Obinze was always the love of her life. What happens when Ifemulu returns to Nigeria and they meet again, is best left to the reader. This is a slow and thoughtful book and though the story is enjoyable, at times I felt a bit more plot would have made it even more compelling. The strength lies in the observations she makes and the eloquence with which she makes them. I especially enjoyed the section where she comments on the Obama presidential campaign.