Tag: Inspirational

by Richard Bach 

     On the heels of Argen the Gull I felt like revisiting Jonathan Livingston Seagull, especially since I knew I could read it in one sitting. It was a brief but lovely sitting. I had forgotten how very short it is (half the book is pictures of gulls, very nice pictures too although many are blurred to the point of abstraction). I must\’ve read this five or six times somewhere between ten years old and college age, I was so taken by it. Younger me loved this book. Older me- well, I rolled my eyes a few times, then shrugged and just enjoyed it for what it is.

It\’s an allegory on religion or philosophy- some parts feel very much like Jonathan Seagull is supposed to be a messiah figure, other parts he\’s suddenly transcending space and time, talking of previous lives that led into this one, so- reincarnation? But the overall message is simply: be true to yourself. Strive for what you love to do best, and be kind while you\’re at it. At least, that\’s what I got. On the surface, it\’s a story about a seagull who wants to fly higher and faster, push himself beyond the limits. When the others are searching for food, he\’s out blazing around in steep dives over a hundred miles an hour (how a gull clocks his own speed is beyond me, but hey, one of the things you just have to shrug off). His antics get him banned from the flock, who have rules of conduct and a leader (not at all how gulls actually live, shrug again). Jonathan Seagull is shunned for being different. He flies away to perfect his aerial stunts by himself, and then finds other seagulls, though few in number, who also love flying just for the sake of flying. He joyfully strives to learn more with them. Then one day decides to go back to the old flock and see if there\’s anyone else stuck where he had been so long ago. He thinks of how much faster he would have progressed, if he\’d had a mentor then. And starts teaching some eager young gulls his specialized flying skills, right in front of the disbelieving flock . . . 
Some of the far-out-there ideas in this book: death is just a shift to a different level of consciousness. You can transcend the limits of your body simply by putting your mind to it. Seagulls can communicate telepathically and instantly travel through space and time! But I still really like a lot of the rest of it. Bits like this: 
His vows of a moment before were forgotten, swept away… Yet he felt guiltless, breaking the promises he had made himself. Such promises are only for the gulls that accept the ordinary. One who has touched excellence in his learning has no need of that kind of promise. 

If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we\’ve destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don\’t you think that we might see each other once or twice?

You will begin to touch heaven, Jonathan, in the moment that you touch perfect speed. And that isn\’t flying a thousand miles an hour, or a million, or flying at the speed of light. Because any number is a limit, and perfection doesn\’t have limits. Perfect speed- is being there. [this is where he learned to move from one place to the next in a blink]
Heavily colored with nostalgia for me, of course. If today was the first time I were reading this, well I don\’t know what I\’d think. If you\’ve read the book, go look at the reviews on LibraryThing, you have to read the one that posits Jonathan Livingston Seagull being on Oprah. It\’s absolutely hilarious. I laughed so hard.

Rating: 4/5            93 pages, 1970
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Personal Philosophies of Remarkable 7th Grade Students Vol. II

I feel a bit conflicted writing about this book. But I paid for it, so I wanted to actually read it, so I\’m making notes about it. It\’s a collection of essays written by seventh-graders in my daughter\’s school. Printed near the end of last year and I have taken all this time to read it, dipping in and out of it now and then. The inspiration comes from an NPR program \”This I Believe\” which has now turned into a series of books, containing essays written by famous people, published authors, and everyday folks on their personal belief systems.

The students here- there are about 150 essays- write about what is important to them. You can tell for the most part, these are great kids. They have adults in their lives who care for them and teach them good things. They write about learning to appreciate family and friends, to value their time, to work hard for grades. They write about the grief of loosing pets and family members- so much pain! They write about sports: teamwork, practice and hard work pays off. (A lot of essays involving sports. This would have bored me after a while but I discovered many of them didn\’t mention what the particular sport was– so I would attempt to guess by the description of how the team worked and movments on the field, what they were playing). There were also a few essays about making and keeping friends, being true to yourself in the face of peer pressure, moving to a new house, or a new town- or country, dealing with bullies, discovering individual talents, attempting new skills, taking opportunities, staying positive in the face of failure, overcoming fears and learning to appreciate the beauty in life. A lot of wonderful messages. Some of them were even infused with a good sense of humor.

A few that stood out to me: several essays involving swim practice and meets. I\’ve been there. There were two essays where the kids wrote about keeping fish, and the pain of loosing them to illness or due to a mistake- how I could relate to that. One wrote about his love of books. Another about learning from experience, to be careful when making online purchases. A girl wrote about trying to teach her hamster tricks after seeing a demo video online. She got frustrated her hamster wouldn\’t do what the hamster in the video did. Then realized her hamster had a different skill, and encouraged it to do that as a trick instead. I really liked this essay (and not just because it was about an animal). Another student wrote about sustaining an injury during sports practice and continuing to work through the pain- they found out the next day it was a broken foot. I was appalled that a student would feel pressured to continue practicing while in so much pain. There was another essay written from the perspective of a student who claims she was falsely accused of bullying. It was a very emotional and confusing piece of writing. Another very personal one was about overcoming the fear- as a second-grader- of using public restrooms (I know those self-flushing toilets are very loud- my youngest has always been terrified of them as well).

According to the forward in this book, the students had a required reading assignment Trash by Andy Muillgan (which I haven\’t read), which was inspired by a real dumpsite in Manila. Proceeds from the students\’ book \”has allowed for them to donate to a charity that helps those whose lives and experiences inspired the writing of Trash.\” So it\’s for a good cause. And of course I was going to buy a copy: my daughter was ecstatic to tell me her essay was being printed. At first I was told only the best essays made it into the book though: later it sounded like all the essays from the class were included. There was no selection of the best? The writing quality was very uneven: that\’s to be expected and for the most part I tried to overlook it and enjoy the message the individual students had to share, and their voices.

But it was really hard to ignore the massive amount of errors, especially in the first two sections of the book. Typos, spelling mistakes, bad grammar, missing or wrongly used punctuation, sentences that made no sense. It has all the bad characteristics of self-published books. My kid told me that her teacher didn\’t correct the essays- the students proofread each other\’s work. Seems very sloppy. Some of them sound like they just poured out a bunch of unorganized thoughts and never went beyond a rough draft. I was really disappointed in that regard. I don\’t mind the exaggerated phrases and overused metaphors, after all these are young writers. I can tell when the writer\’s first language is not English, and the misuse of grammar in that case doesn\’t bother me. It\’s the pile of little things that should have been caught by an editor: in this case, the teacher. My guess is that the final section of the book did get correction from the instructor before printing: there were very few errors and even though a lot of the themes were still repetitive, I was able to finally enjoy the stories and think about what the students had to say, instead of getting jarred around by bad writing.

This is the type of book probably no one is going to read unless their kid is included in it. I wonder how many other parents and family members read all the essays, and not just those by students they know.

Rating: 2/5                 329 pages, 2017

by Wilfrid Sheed

This author writes very candidly about his experiences dealing with a number of severe illnesses: polio when he was a young teen, depression and addiction, and finally cancer. His whole point seemed to be, not so much about finding inner strength or describing his experiences, but to extol the joys discovered when you finally feel better. That it\’s worth being sick or unhappy because when the body finally recovers and the light shines again, the feeling of wholesomeness is amazing. At least, that\’s what I gathered from the introduction and the thirty-odd pages I read. I was curious about the polio episode but it\’s not actually much about what it\’s like to live through polio. He writes more about his emotional state of mind, which is intriguing and insightful at first, but so meandering without much grounding in actual events or conversations, that my mind was seriously wandering and I had to pass on this one.

Abandoned           252 pages, 1995

by Jane Goodall
with Phillip Berman

Jane Goodall is one of the field research scientists I have long admired. I was enthralled by her earlier books about studying chimpanzees in the wild and theorizing on what the behavior of these apes, so closely related to humans, could teach us. While this book mentions many of the highlights of her chimp studies, most of it is about her life before and after the pivotal Gombe studies. She tells of her childhood, what her family life was like, at what young age she displayed great concern for all animals. She describes how her life path led to working for Louis Leakey, how she first arrived in the rainforests surrounding the Gombe, and how the chimps changed her life. There\’s a switch in focus when she had a son to raise; by then students and other researchers had taken on the bulk of the chimpanzee work. Goodall learned of the often horrific conditions chimps were usually kept in when captive- whether in the pet trade, zoos, or research facilities, and it became her life work to fight for their cause. She does express regrets and not being able to spend time in direct contact with the apes she had grown to know so well, in the peaceful natural surroundings of the forest. Now her work is about environmentalism and educating the public, especially those living in poor areas near threatened wildlife. Throughout the book she also discusses her own spirituality, her faith in mankind despite the awful things she has seen and pondered over (particularly the Holocaust), how she has overcome personal trials, and various small stories about changing attitudes of individuals regarding the need to care for the environment and wildlife. Such an inspiring woman.

And yet I feel a bit disappointed in the book. It doesn\’t have quite the depth I recall from earlier books that were solely about the chimpanzee research. Sincerity and a good cause, yes. Interesting writing- not really. Overall it is rather bland. I also felt this way about her book on mindful food consumption, but wasn\’t brave enough to mention it then. I do still think I\’d like the read The Chimpanzees of Gombe, but after that I\’m afraid I\’m loosing interest in her books.

Rating: 3/5       282 pages, 1999

by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

This is a heavy book. Rich indeed. One you have to read slowly, take in pieces, ponder over. I\’m not sure I understood all the things Estes was getting at, and its definitely a book that requires a re-read, if not many. In a nutshell, Estes examines and analyzes fairytales, myths and folktales in the context of what they can teach about the inner lives of women. It reminded me a lot of Care of the Soul, a book I haven\’t read since high school. In each segment of the book, Estes examines a particular fairy tale (often several related tales or different versions as well) and goes into great depth about the wisdom and insight it can convey about such things as finding inner strength, recognizing things that take you away from your true self, enduring and continuing on in the face of difficulties, recognizing people you feel kinship with, finding and drawing upon your creative energy and so on. The ways and manners in which women expresses themselves and mine their inner strengths are myriad, and Estes recognizes that. She presents a lot of tales I was completely unfamiliar with, and explains others in ways I had never considered before. I was a bit surprised to find some other reviewers disagreed entirely with her viewpoint, said she forced and changed the stories to say what she wanted, diverted from their original meaning. But I just took it to be part of the power of storytelling, to use stories and word imagery to communicate something strong and lasting. Oh, and there are many comparisons to wolves and how they live. Estes calls the feminine soul your inner Wild Woman, who is keen and responsive and fierce in ways like the wolf…

So is it a bunch of interpretive hogwash, or something profoundly insightful? I guess it depends on the reader. For myself, I found quite a bit to take away and ponder at length, and I am keeping this book on my shelf to delve into again someday.

by Jo Coudert

This is a very pleasant and thoughtful little book. It reminded me a lot of Conversations with Amber, which is a favorite of mine. The author looks back on her years with seven different cats (she\’s owned quite a few more) and in describing their different personalities and behavior, draws parallels to how we human beings deal with life. It feels more like a book about living well and fully, than a book about somebody\’s cats. She talks about character, about patience, about building relationships. She discusses the effects of early childhood- whether secure and loving or stressful and abusive- in influencing one\’s outlook on life. She talks about having self-confidence, about the value of hard work, about breaking ruts of behavior, making positive changes in our lives, putting on appearances, being needy or self-sufficient, jealousy, meditation, etc. A wealth of insights and observations. It only helps that I happen to agree with or admire many of her sentiments.

I find it a bit amusing that she and I have completely different taste in cats, though. Meaning, how they look. I once fell into error by choosing a handsome cat from a shelter based solely on his looks- he turned out to be not right for our family (see below). Coudret, too, is pleased to have cats that are beautiful or striking in appearance, but our opinion on that differs. She likes stocky longhaired cats with luxuriant fur. I like lean, athletic cats with long, graceful tails. I\’ve always thought white cats with tabby patches were pretty. A cat comes into her house with all those qualities- lean, muscled, white with tabby patches, a long tail- and she is always mentioning how much a ruffian he looks, how scrawny and unkempt. I\’m thinking, I\’d like to see his photo! I bet I would find him a handsome cat.

Some readers might be a bit put off by her solutions to problems with a few of the cats- one that turned assertive and began spraying all over the house was relocated to a farm where he disappeared and no one knew his fate. I can sympathize, though- I had a cat once that was very aggressive to children and after trying for months to remedy the situation I gave him to a family without children, who lived on a large property where he could roam (he was a passionate hunter). The same day we took him to his new home, he bolted out their door and was never seen again. I still feel bad about it to this day, but also don\’t know what I would have done differently… Anyway, that\’s a tangent here. I liked Seven Cats and the Art of Living, so much that I want to find a copy for my own shelves.

rating: 4/5 …….. 192 pages, 1996

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by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This quiet, introspective little book surprised me with its candor and depth. I really didn\’t know what to expect when I picked it up. All I knew about Anne Morrow Lindbergh is that she was the wife of famed Charles Lindbergh who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean. In art school I once did a painting of Lindbergh and thus read quite a few books about him.

Gift from the Sea reflects a period of time Anne spent alone at the seaside; a quiet vacation she used to reflect on her life and reconnect with her inner self. She walks the beaches collecting shells and contemplating their beautiful shapes, finding metaphors in the seashells for her musings on the need for simplicity in life, the renewal of solitude, and most of all how relationships change and grow over time. I read it in one sitting but found myself pausing frequently over the words. Even though her perspective on women\’s roles is a bit outdated, I still found it relevant and appreciated what she had to say about women as mothers, the nurturing core of the family who must always be giving, reaching outside of herself, but also needs to find time to be alone and regenerate. It\’s a peaceful, thoughtful kind of book that I feel almost anyone could find a treasure in. In a way its reflective tone and friendliness reminded me of Gladys Taber\’s Conversations with Amber.

A few short passages that stood out to me:

The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. 


I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually loose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round- more whole, even than before, when the other people had pieces of one.


When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others…. Only when one is connected to one\’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.

I\’m curious now about Anne Morrow Lindbergh\’s other writings. I\’m not too keen on poetry, but has anyone read her diaries or other works? Let me know what you thought of them, what I should try next.

My copy of Gift from the Sea is quite worn with tattered edges on the dust jacket as you can see here; so I\’m counting it towards my Dogeared Challenge.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 127 pages, 1955

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A Book a Week

Unearthing Your Creative Roots Through Gardening
by Fran Sorin

This was a lovely book. I\’m glad the Random Reading Challenge put it in my hands this week! It\’s about the creative process and gardening. It\’s been a long time since I read such a clearly-explained, inspirational book about creativity. Even though the focus is gardening, the author also draws examples from people she knows who are creative in many other ways: writing, composing music, cooking, knitting, solving problems at work, etc. It\’s written in a very friendly, encouraging style. And unlike other books about gardening, which feature how to grow healthy plants, or control pests, or improve soil, this book only touches lightly on those things. It\’s mostly about how to make your garden a reflection of yourself. How to discover what reflects the innermost you, and put it into living practice in the garden. There are sections on finding your style, experimenting with design, following your instincts, inviting helpful input, redoing things and also continual working and simply enjoying what you\’ve made. I have to say, if a garden was a true living embodiment of what I liked best in plant life, color, scent, etc it would be a joy to just be out in it. Not that I don\’t enjoy my garden, but it could be so much more! The book inspired me (among other things) to make a list of plants I dearly want to have growing in my yard, in spite of not knowing yet where to put them, or how they\’ll do there: ferns, geraniums, roses, fuschia, coneflowers, forsythia, butterfly bush, lilacs, snapdragons… well, I\’ve already got the hosta!

I got my copy of this book free, at the Book Thing.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 200 pages, 2004

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Anne McAllister

by C.S. Lewis

I read Lewis\’ Narnia books over and over when I was young. It was years before I realized the stories were based on Christian theology, and I didn\’t read any of his nonfiction works until I was in college. This was the first one I opened. The Screwtape Letters is a collection of imagined epistles that a senior devil writes to his younger nephew, Wormwood. The letters include lots and lots of advice, but not from the usual perspective- in this case, Screwtape is coaching his nephew in the craft of tempting human souls into evil. Lewis has plenty to say about good and evil, flaws in human nature, and various moral issues. What makes it all so interesting is to examine this from such a backwards perspective, one that in encouraging evil, proposes to show the reader how to guard against it. There\’s also a sort of portrait of one ordinary man that Wormwood is focusing his efforts on. Through the young devil\’s appeals for advice and Screwtape\’s criticism of his technique, an vague picture is formed of this one man\’s life- how his soul alternately wavers and progresses in his journey through life. There really isn\’t much plot in this book, although I was surprised at how humorous it could be, and the two devils do develop a certain amount of character. I would say its main interest is in the theology, and the wry examination of human nature.

Rating: 3/5                       209 pages, 1942

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Music of the Night(engale)

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
translated by Katherine Woods

When I was a teen I loved The Little Prince. It was one of my comfort reads, and I turned its pages many, many times. Now it rests on the shelf of \”big-kid books\” my daughter is always anxious to peruse, and she chose it for bedtime stories through the past week.

And I\’m sorry to say I was disappointed. I don\’t know if my memories are nostalgically rosy, or I\’ve become more cynical, or it\’s just not really a suitable book for kids. But I found reading it aloud tedious. The sentences are not smooth, or at least they didn\’t feel so coming off my tongue. It might be the translation, I\’m sure it\’s more lyrical in the original. The story jumps back and forth with little explanation, and it was quite confusing for my four-year-old. (Reading it in very short segments became easier, because she would forget what came before and not expect it to follow a linear time-line). It begins with the author (who is a pilot) describing how as a child he made drawings which grown-ups could not understand, then jumps to an incident when as an adult he crashed his airplane in the desert and met a child wandering there alone. This little boy he called \”the Little Prince,\” and their first meeting is a conversation about a drawing of a sheep the Little Prince wants. The author tries to find out what the Little Prince is doing in the desert, where he came from, why he wants a sheep, etc. but he never gets a straight answer and has to piece it all together, slowly.

It turns out the Little Prince is a visitor from a star, a little planet far away. Rebuked by a vain, proud rose he cares for (yes, the flower talks) he runs away to visit other planets. He meets grown-ups obsessed with singular occupations whose purpose make little sense to the Little Prince. He applies a child\’s logic and perspective to everything and shows the reader how foolish grown-up concerns can be. He learns some wisdom about friendship from a fox, and teaches the pilot his pearls of wisdom. The shining message I glean from The Little Prince is about the importance of friendship, about the value of things you love. My favorite quote from the book sums it up very well: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Rating: 3/5                       92 pages, 1943

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All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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