Brooklyn, by Colm Toibin1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I forget when I originally heard about author Colm Toibin, only that his name kept popping up in various places until I picked up his most recent book, Brooklyn. Boy, I’m glad I did. This is one of those books that sneaks up on you. At first it seems like a simple story about a young Irish woman who, through no desire of her own, is shipped off to the US to get a fresh start in the aftermath of WWII. It’s a story that’s been told before, right? But then something happens. You find yourself thinking about the main character Eilis, her elegant sister Rose and their fragile mother even when you’re not reading the book. You find yourself rooting for Eilis as she tries to adjust to her new life, something very relatable if you’ve ever moved to a new city. (One of the most terrific scenes of the novel!) She eventually does settle in with the help of a local boy named Tony and a reliable department store job. Her tiny village in Ireland is never far from her mind and when she must return she’s faced with a difficult decision: stay on for good or go back to Brooklyn and the new life she’s building for herself.

I love the spareness of the prose. Toibin doesn’t need to use big words or paragraphs that go on for a full page to get the reader’s attention. I also love the attention to detail without overwhelming the reader with description. A lesser writer might have harped on the comparisons between Eilis’s Irish small town and the big city Brooklyn as she tries to take it all in and overcome her homesickness, but of course he doesn’t and gives credit to the reader for knowing the difference. In that way, it’s a quiet book. Like several other readers, I did have a small issue with the ending in that I felt it was rushed. The first parts of the book are so tightly drawn and plotted that the ending felt like it wrapped up in a hurry by comparison.

If you’re looking for evil wizards or heart gripping car chases, this one isn’t for you. If you’re looking for a character-driven story where the author is in complete control as the tale is woven, I bet you’ll enjoy this one. (Also look for the movie based on this book coming in 2014.)

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading. Do you have any great book recommendations? 

2. When the going gets tough…You know things are getting tough at the office when someone posts this sign at the sink. It wasn’t me. I swear.

Just do your dishes


3. Of all the theaters in all the towns in all the world, they walked into mine.  During an afternoon off work, I took the opportunity to see the movie Lincoln. I was excited about seeing the movie in the middle of a weekday – something I rarely get to do. I’d have the entire theater to myself, like my own private screening. I was in for quite a surprise when I opened the door of the theater to find 200 tweens filling nearly every seat in the house. I stopped stone-cold in my tracks. It took me a minute to process that they were on a school trip. Of all the theaters in all the towns in all the world, they walked into mine. There were two options: I could ask the manager for a refund or stay and accept that the kids would be whispering and moving around throughout the show. If I stayed I had to fully accept the situation. Not pretend to accept it and be secretly annoyed anyway.

A teacher, who was kind enough to scrounge a seat for me, leaned over and said, “I bet you weren’t expecting this when you bought your ticket.” When the movie started, the kids quieted down – for a while. It’s a long movie about voting on an amendment in the House of Representatives. Not exactly the stuff that titillates the 12-year-old set. But again I was surprised. They were actually paying attention. During the dramatic scene when the votes are being tallied to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery:

Movie: Representative Jones, what say you? I vote nay!

Kids in the theater: Boo!

Movie: Representative Smith, what say you? I vote yes!

Kids in the theater: Yay!

A little later when President Lincoln dropped the f-bomb:

Kids in the theater: Oooooohhhh!

At the two-hour mark, they did start getting restless. A lot of whispering and bathroom breaks were going on. Two girls in front of me where chatting in hushed tones and a boy leaned toward them and said, “Quiet down. I want to find out what happens.”

Indeed. Thanks, kids from PS 183. I had a blast watching Lincoln with you.

4. Just in case. I was searching in my jewelry box when I found an old  costume earring that had lost its mate. In 2005. Instead of tossing the leftover earring I put it back in the box. I thought, why did I just do that? Well, you never know if that missing earring will turn up, I answered myself. I don’t think I’m alone in the “just in case.” (If I am, please don’t tell me. I’d like to remain in a state of denial. Thank you.) But the “just in case” mentality is part of what leads people to end up on the show Hoarders.

Some people try to combat this by living a lifestyle that turns consumerism on its ear called minimalism by only buying what is essential and repurposing when possible. Some take this to the extreme by setting a self-imposed limit of material things. They may own no more than 50 or 100 items.  It’s hard to imagine whittling all of my possessions down to a magic number. Since we’re all friends here, I can tell you I’d cheat by lumping all of my socks together as “1”. When I came across the Reverse 100 Thing Challenge (unfortunately after the challenge had ended), I was intrigued. Instead of having only 100 things, Courtney found 100 things in her house to donate or give away. She focused on personal belongings rather than household items. Just glancing around my apartment from where I sit I can probably list a dozen things I can donate right now. I wonder if getting to 100 would be difficult.

Have you ever donated/gave away 100 things? Do you have any trouble with the “just in case?”

Reggie's toys

Reggie’s toy graveyard. The stuffing has been pulled out. The squeakers are broken. The limbs are ripped off. But I keep thinking he’ll play with them again. Soon.

5. It’s elementary. I’ve been getting hooked on the BBC show Sherlock (better than the US version Elementary and better than the recent movies) which bring the master deducer and his sidekick Watson to modern day. It’s edgy and creative and somehow never feels far-fetched. I’m always amazed at Holmes’s power solve a mystery. It’s not necessarily his smarts or kookiness that aid his conclusions, but his ability to pay attention. I came across an article about Maria Konnikova’s new book Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes which suggests four key strategies for optimizing your attention:

Be selective. Holmes said that your brain is precious real estate. Use it wisely. Be selective about what information you store. In that case, watching the latest Honey Boo-Boo episode was likely a big mistake.

Be objective. Separate the factual situation from your subjective interpretation of it.

Be inclusive. Attention is about every one of your senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, touch. I often tell my writing students to use all of their senses when describing something.

Be engaged.  Staying in the present moment allows us to extract more from what we are doing and also makes us feel better and happier.

Have you seen the show Sherlock? Are you able to pay attention the way he does? 

Have a  great weekend, everyone! 

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