Review: Wherever You Go, There You Are

Wherever You Go, There You Are
Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wherever You Go, There You Are
By Jon Kabat-Zinn

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

The rest of the title is; ‘Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life’ and though it was written in 1994, the concept is pretty timeless. And since the political landscape has gotten so charged, I figured it would be helpful. Similar to Eckhart Tolle’s book, ‘The Power of Now’ author Kabat-Zinn stresses the importance of being present.
Not being a present as in gift, but stepping into your life with clarity and presence of mind is the key element discussed in this guide. This is harder than you may think. One of the linchpins that the author shares, and I find useful, is to focus on breath. Don’t worry that you have to have a fancy chant, use some kind of shrine or bang on a gong. You don’t. But you do have to breathe. The author says it best;
“Think the grass is always greener somewhere else or life is better in someone else’s shoes? If so, life will constantly disappoint you. True contentment comes from within—and you can uncover the spiritual treasure buried within you through meditation.”
“Blending Western thought and Eastern practice, this is the book that introduced meditation to America…you can learn the simple practice of breathing and focus to keep yourself in the present…to let stress wash over you rather than try to shut it out…find strength where you least expect it and even take charge of your health by adjusting your perspective.”
One aspect of this book/guide I did find a tad confusing was the explanation of just exactly what is meditation. Being a semi-normal dude I want to know how it’s done, right? As if there’s this exercise that I can latch onto and power through and when I’m done, and catch my breath, I’ll have this sudden clarity. Well, it’s not as simple as that and this is why the author spends a great deal of time using metaphor and quotes to give the reader examples of meditation.
“Meditation is more rightly thought of as a “Way” than as a technique. It’s a way of being, Way of living, a Way of listening, a Way of walking along the path of life and being in harmony with things as they are.”
In other words, it isn’t something you do in physical terms, though breathing is pretty important, it is a state of mental ‘being-ness.’ Put another way, meditation isn’t a way to change how you think by thinking more. It’s the act of watching, observing thought. This is where so many who want to bring this practice into their daily lives seem to get stuck.
Being ‘mindful’ is another way of considering this.
“TRY: Setting aside a time every day for just being. Five minutes would be fine…Sit down and watch the moments unfold, with no agenda other than to be fully present. Use the breath as an anchor to tether your attention to the present moment. Your thinking will drift here and there, depending on the currents and winds moving in the mind, until, at some point, the anchor-line grows taut and brings you back to the breath in all its vividness, every time it wonders…Think of yourself as a mountain.”

• Mindful groups are forming all over
• Take a walk
• Be present

View all my reviews

Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Man Called Ove
By Fredrik Backman

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

Man. If you have not heard of this author, Backman, you are in for a major treat. Major. Over the holidays my mom handed this off to me and said to ‘just give it a look.’ Right. I read it in like three bites and am going to read everything this author has even thought of writing. Hard to explain his particular technique. First off, this story is fiction, takes place in Sweden and centers around a really unusual character. Ove.
Early on, as the story begins to weave its magic, you learn that Ove’s wife, Sonja, has passed away. How and why and all that surrounds it will be shared in little bits as you move along through Ove’s life in the row house he has occupied for a very long time. To say the man is anal—set in his ways like a train to a track, is honestly putting it lightly. Within this tight framework that will completely envelop you, in waltz the most colorful and kind and broken and overweight and pregnant and needy neighbors. Together they forge a family of misfits that will steal your breath away.
But it’s the love and loss he holds in his enormously huge heart for Sonja and their unborn child that carries him on.
“And she wept. An ancient, inconsolable despair that screamed and tore and shredded them both as countless hours passed. Time and sorrow and fury flowed together in stark, long-drawn darkness. Ove knew there and then that he would never forgive himself for having got up from his seat at that exact moment, for not being there to protect them. And knew that this pain was forever.”
Though the bulk of the story is told in third person; Ove did this, Ove kicked that tire and so forth, many of the kernels filled with gold are given life through author Backman’s snappy dialog.
“Good Go—are you crying now?” Ove asks in amazement. “I’M NOT BLOODY CRYING!” she howls, her tears spattering over the dashboard. Ove leans back and looks down at his knee. Fingers the end of the paper baton. “It’s just such a strain, this, do you understand?” She sobs and leans her forehead against the wheel as if hoping it might be soft and fluffy. “I’m sort of PREGNANT! I’m just a bit STRESSED, can no one show a bit of understanding for a pregnant bloody woman who’s a bit STRESSED?!”
The pacing of the novel was at first a little tricky to get used to; leaping from present to the past and back again, but after a few chapters, you get the rhythm and fall for Ove and can’t seem to stop flipping pages. Throughout the novel are little life lessons all woven into the utterly amazing world of Ove. A world full of need. And it is that single thing that gives him a reason to live without his dear Sonja.
Even if you choose to not read this novel, take this with you;
“One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps. Afternoons in the sun with someone’s hand clutched in one’s own. The fragrance of flowerbeds in fresh bloom. Sundays in a café. Grandchildren, perhaps. One finds a way of living for the sake of someone else’s future. And it wasn’t as if Ove also died when Sonja left him, He just stopped living.”
But you, dear reader, have not. Now go and get you some Ove!

View all my reviews

Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hillbilly Elegy
A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis
By J.D. Vance

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

This is how this book begins;
“My name is J.D. Vance, and I think I should start with a confession: I find the existence of the book you hold in your hands somewhat absurd.”
Well, absurd is how many feel right about now considering the election of Donald Trump. A total opposite of what one would imagine a hillbilly to be. Yet he was elected by what many refer to as the forgotten ones; rural working-class whites. It is from this group that author Vance addresses (in sometimes clumsy prose that truly could have used at least one more edit) an often-neglected sector of voters in search of a hero. His story is full of heart-ache and wrapped up tight in a strong desire to give voice to what he refers to as his people.
“…I grew up poor, in the Rust Belt, in an Ohio steel town that has been hemorrhaging jobs and hope for as long as I can remember.”
Pretty raw. Instead of me waxing on this way or that, I’m going to let Vance paint more of his life for you.
“I was one of those kids with a grim future. I almost failed out of high school. I nearly gave in to the deep anger and resentment harbored by everyone around me. Today people look at me, at my job and my Ivy League credentials, and assume that I’m some genius, that only a truly extraordinary person could have made it to where I am today. With all due respect to those people, I think that theory is a load of bulls@#t…I want people to understand what happens in the lives of the poor and the psychological impact that spiritual and material poverty has on their children. I want people to understand the American Dream as my family and I encountered it. I want people to understand how upward mobility really feels.”
And this, this is the sentiment that sums up Vance’s struggle to find his place.
“And I want people to understand something I learned only recently: that for those of us lucky enough to live the American Dream, the demons of the life we left behind continue to chase us.”
There. That should open the door to this young man’s thoughts and frustrations, his really, really hard struggle to simply find what so many of us, hell, most of us, take for granted.
“…to understand my story, you have to delve into the details. I may be white, but I do not identify with the WASPs of the Northeast. Instead, I identify with the millions of working-class white Americans of Scots-Irish descent who have no college degree. To these folks, poverty is the family tradition—their ancestors were day laborers in the Southern slave economy, share-croppers after that, coal miners after that, and machinists and millworkers during more recent times. Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks, or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family.”
After time in the marine corps, Vance is accepted to Yale Law School and graduates with full honors at the top of his class. Yet this is not a story of how to make it in the world, it’s an expose of the underbelly of a world most of us know little or nothing about.
I think it’s time we did.

• #1 bestseller in—Poverty
• Great for Book clubs
• Needs to end—Poverty

View all my reviews

Review: Sundays at Tiffany’s

Sundays at Tiffany's
Sundays at Tiffany’s by James Patterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

This is the book, the novel, the one to push this particular genre all the way to the top of your list of—mushball! Honestly. They do not get any more heart-grippingly maudlin or filled with more goo or zipped up all nice and pretty with the happiest ending EVER!
So, I figured it would be ideal to have this story be your Christmas goo-gift to consider giving or reading for the ticket to wonderland it truly is. We all need to escape and what better way to do that than to disappear into a sappy story packed with angst and forlorn plot-twists and ice cream. Famous, New York Times bestselling author James Patterson has stepped away from his thrillers to pen a really different kind of story.
Meet Vivienne Margaux, rich, famous and stunningly beautiful. Plastic surgery to her is like buying new shoes; a must. She’s a New York Broadway producer and self-made husband hunter. Her one and only child, Jane, (as in so very plain) at the age of eight, is a self-proclaimed loner. She lives the life of privilege, at the price, well, the price is what this story is built on and around. Oh, and one more element that plays a huge role in this tale of lonely rich girl looking for love in all the wrong places; Michael.
“Of course I was okay, those Sundays, because I had Michael for company. Michael, who was my best friend in the world, maybe my only friend, when I was eight years old. My imaginary friend.”
Bam! You know you want to find out more about this psycho-girl with the made up dude right? Here’s a little dab more and of course the writing is good, author Patterson has been at it for years.
“I will never forget that day, in the same way that someone who survived the Titanic can’t just put it out of her pretty little head. People always remember the worst day of their lives. It becomes part of them forever. So I remember my ninth birthday with piercing clarity.”
And though I’m billing this as a top-rate mush-ball tale, it has some really poignant moments too and those are maybe what set this particular tale apart. Most romance stories have the perfect couple meeting, losing one another and then, after all sorts of fire and brimstone, they meet at last once again and then they kiss. Well, this story may end well, but to get there is a great deal more work, but along the way there are these little gems;
“I don’t know,” said Michael. “Maybe beauty, true beauty, is so overwhelming, it goes straight to our hearts. Maybe it makes us feel emotions that are locked away inside.”
And one more to really get you;
“He finally opened the door, and his eyes took in the room. A nurse sat by the side of the bed, watching a heart monitor. What he saw next took his breath away. His hand went up to his mouth, but a gasp escaped anyway.”
Within this story are woven the many truths about love, loss and letting go and yet, in the end, all there is—is love.
Merry Christmas.

View all my reviews

Review: The Poet

The Poet
The Poet by Michael Connelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Poet
By Michael Connelly

Reviewed by Jay Gilbertson

So, I’m at my folks for an overnight and forgot the book I was reading at our farm. My dad hands me ‘The Poet’ and I take it thinking, yeah, right dude, another spy novel and you know how much I like those. Not. This is a murder-mystery-thriller of the highest caliber and it will hook you bad. Try this first taste;
“Death is my beat. I make my living from it. I forge my professional reputation on it. I treat it with the passion and precision of an undertaker—somber and sympathetic about it when I’m with the bereaved, a skilled craftsman with it when I’m alone. I’ve always thought the secret of dealing with death was to keep it at arm’s length. That’s the rule. Don’t let it breathe in your face.”
The main character of the entire, twisty, puzzle-stuffed, thrill-ride novel is Jack McEvoy. A Denver based reporter who, as the tale opens, learns that his homicide-detective-twin brother, Sean, has just killed himself. I immediately smelled a rat especially since the detective had left behind a line from Poe on the inside of his steamed up cop-car. Most who commit suicide leave behind a note on paper. Most, but not all, but a line from Poe? How original is that?
McEvoy takes a leave from the paper. He’s so distraught by his brother’s death since they were identical twins and were very close, McEvoy knew in his reporter-gut his brother didn’t off himself. So he does what any reporter would do. He does some research. Lots of it. Since this book was written in 1997, there was much less use of the internet, let alone the availability of my favorite detective; Mister Google.
No spoilers, really. But I have to share some more of this tale. Just a few more bites to grab your imagination. And by the way, this book is nearly 600 pages long and the one thing you will constantly worry about is; Oh no, I’m nearly done!
So, of course he finds out that low and behold just maybe his brother was murdered and how he finds this out is by some really interesting forensics tests. And off the story blasts since McEvoy is a reporter and now he has this major story. He learns that there has been an alarming amount of ‘apparent’ suicides by homicide detectives all over the country. Why no one has never looked into this is mainly due to the potential embarrassment of the detective world. They don’t want the public to know that the job of murder can really get to a person. One can only imagine, I mean, how do they do it?
So now the story starts really flying, the more that McEvoy uncovers, the faster it moves. There is a lot of layers and characters and sub-plots and, of course, a hot babe. An FBI hot babe with all the makings of a murderer. This is where author Connely really hits his mark, he is very clever at weaving many characters together into a team trying to find the bad guy and yet all along maybe, just maybe, the bad guy is right there in the team.
Or not.

• Talk about Twists
• Yes, there’s a sequel
• You’re waiting for?

View all my reviews