Book Review: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant.

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy. By Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Book Review. Book Cover. Inspiring and motivating Quotes.“Life is never perfect. We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the sh*t out of it.”

Sandberg is the COO of Facebook whose husband of 11 years suddenly died in May 2015 during their vacation in Mexico. Their friend and psychiatrist Adam Grant helped her cope with the tragedy. This book is the result of Sandberg’s personal insights, Grant’s research, several interesting studies and inspiring stories of many who faced adversity -death, illness, sexual assault, war or other extreme hardships- and how they got over it.

Here are some important points I noted:

  • 3 P’s that stunt ones recovery (per psychologist Martin Seligman) :
    1. Personalization– belief that we are at fault for a given adversity
    2. Pervasiveness – a belief that an event will affect all areas of our lives
    3. Permanence– a belief that the aftershocks of the adverse event will last forever.
  • It is important for family and friends to reach out and acknowledge the pain and assure that they are there, rather than avoid because they are uncomfortable or not sure what exactly to say.
  • Journaling, or even voice-recording, could be a powerful tool for learning self-compassion. By putting feelings into words, you give yourself more power over them. At the end of the day, write down 3 things you are grateful for. Another more active form that builds self-confidence would be to write down three things that you did well in the day, the “small wins”. 
  • Building resilience in children depends upon the opportunities they have and the relationships they form with parents, teachers, friends and caregivers, fostering four core beliefs:
    1. That kids have some control over their lives: This comes with clear and consistent communication of expectations, and giving them structure and predictability.
    2. Learning from failure: Tell kids that if they find something difficult, it means their brain is growing. Foster a “growth mindset” as against “fixed mindset,” e.g. when applauding say “you tried so well” as against ” you are so smart”. The latter actually puts a cap of sorts that discourages kids to go beyond.
    3. That kids matter as human beings: Listen closely to their ideas, make them feel that others notice , care for and rely on them. This helps them create attachments.
    4. They have real strength to rely on and share: Help children identify their strengths. This is a great tool in life and critical after any traumatic events.
  • Just as family stories help children feel a sense of belonging, collective stories create identities for communities building collective resilience that is the need of the hour in today’s fragmented world.
  • We have blind spots- weaknesses that others see but we don’t. It is important to seek constructive criticism; one of the best ways to see ourselves clearly is to ask others to hold up a mirror.

The last part is about learning to love and laugh again, especially after a partners death. Sandberg gives statistics and stories of how prejudiced the society is, particularly towards widows, if they try to find love again. Her own case proves the point: encouraged by her family and friends she started seeing someone, the news story received some very angry and mean comments.

I found Sandberg’s intimate description acute pain she and her kids experienced day in day out quite touching, and left me teary eyed many times. It is indeed difficult to get through loss or trauma, but trying is all we can do. And if there is support of either family – friends, or if one reaches out to groups facing similar struggle, along with right tools, it becomes easier.  Also, finding greater meaning in life makes it bearable.
Option B: Facing adversity, Building Resilience, And Finding Joy is well written, not too big, comprehensive and an easy read. 5 Stars of Goodreads.

Helpful Links: OptionB.org,  Facebook Page.
Some thoughts from the book:
“Self-compassion isn’t talked about as much as it is usually confused with self-pity and self-indulgence. Self-compassion comes from recognizing that our imperfections are part of being human.”
“Children look for acceptance in drugs, alcohol and unsafe sex.”
“Talk to people about their grief instead of avoiding the conversation because you are uncomfortable or you think they will not feel good about it.”

 

 

Book Review: A Man Called Ove

img_0709Intrigued by all the hype, I downloaded  the book on Overdrive (the great app that lets you borrow books online-all you need is a Library Card). I was finishing up other books and somehow could read just a few and it got auto-returned in 3 weeks. As I placed another hold to get the book back, I downloaded the audiobook from Hoopla as well. Part book and part audiobook, I eventually did finish A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The story: is set in Sweden. It is about a 59-year old (though the character actually sounds more like a 70-ish) fastidious and grouchy man called Ove (oo-veh) who has just lost his job to someone of the younger tech savvy generation, and lost his wife of several years, to cancer. He is an old-school, black-and-white kind of guy, who lives to follow rules. A handyman who loves to use his tools, he believes very firmly that Saab made the best cars on earth. The other characters in the story are Ove’s neighbors, including a young Iranian immigrant, Parvaneh, who is pregnant mother of two little girls,  the old couple Rune and Anita, a few other neighbors, and a stray cat. Ove tries to commit suicide (to join his departed wife) several times, but some matter concerning either a neighbor or someone breaking a rule or the stray cat keep him from his matter-of-fact important project of dying successfully. Interjected with backstories from his childhood and about his late wife Sonja, the main story develops with Ove’s increased interaction and involvement with his neighbors and their lives in a series of tragic-comic events.

Good things about the book:
Backman’s has a peculiar way of bringing out humor that Ove’s strong opinions evoke. And that runs throughout the book. Ove, in spite of appearing to be angry with his “rule-breaking” neighbors (and the whole world in general), has a soft heart. How this lonely aging man develops a bond with the two little neighbor girls (like a grandfather to them) is very endearing (As a side-note, and this is as funny as it is cultural, but in India, we address almost all elders or elderly- including those we don’t know, like the vegetable vendors or shop keepers- as either uncle/aunty or grandpa/grandma: less alienating and giving respect that comes with age). However, the most important aspect, I think, that makes this book so popular, despite it not being particularly “exciting” or “deep”, is that it gives the reader a sense of community and togetherness, especially when (or because) it seems to be waning so swiftly from our lives. I digress- but since the time of cavemen, the human race increased its odds of survival against the stronger wild predators and elements of Nature being in groups and communities. It is so basic to our evolution and must be part of our DNA. That the readers all over the world who loved it and felt so good about these basic qualities bears testimony it.

If it is a simple story that is a relatively light read, A Man Called Ove is also funny, feel-good and very heartwarming. As I progressed towards the final chapters, warm tears were streaming down my cheeks and it just felt so good at the same time (I seem to love shedding tears watching movies or reading, and strangely not at all ashamed of it).

So I’d say, give the book a shot.
Check out: the Movie Trailer here, and the entire audiobook here (not sure how long before its taken down!)

SOME QUOTES:

To love someone is like moving into a house,” Sonja used to say. “At first you fall in love in everything new, you wonder every morning that this is one’s own, as if they are afraid that someone will suddenly come tumbling through the door and say that there has been a serious mistake and that it simply was not meant to would live so fine. But as the years go by, the facade worn, the wood cracks here and there, and you start to love this house not so much for all the ways it is perfect in that for all the ways it is not. You become familiar with all its nooks and crannies. How to avoid that the key gets stuck in the lock if it is cold outside. Which floorboards have some give when you step on them, and exactly how to open the doors for them not to creak. That’s it, all the little secrets that make it your home

Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it’s often one of the great motivations for the living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. For the greatest fear of death is always that it will pass us by. And leave us there alone.”

Book Review: Just Kids by Patti Smith

Just Kids by Patti Smith Book ReviewThis book gave me a lot of trouble because I was quite moved by it and so, very much wanted to talk about it, but feared just might spoil it (you will know why*). None of the approaches I took felt right, yet  I could not abandon it. Ergo, this is a simple account of a few themes that ran through the compelling memoir of the poet, singer-songwriter and rock ‘n roll artist, Patti Smith.

Nostalgia. Barely twenty, penniless and unsure, but not without an intense desire to become an artist, Smith steps into New York City, then a petri dish for the counterculture of the 1960’s, with widespread use of recreational drugs, free sexual expression & exploration, psychedelic music, and the Beat generation giving way to the hippie culture. Once past my initial shock over their avant-garde lifestyle (credited entirely to the author’s honest and sober narration), I pictured those times in curious wonderment: the nobodies with the potential to be trailblazers; the weirdos, the drug addicts, the experimentalist; the searchers, the idealists, the artists… Those must have been interesting times!

Patti Smith. Cover of Album 'Horses'
P. Smith. Album cover ‘Horses’. By Robert.

The Chelsea Hotel, where, in a peculiar turn of events, Smith and her friend Robert start living. Known to be a haven for writers, musicians, artists, filmmakers and colorful personalities, famous and yet to be famous, one could trade art could for the room-rent. “The Chelsea was like a doll’s house in The Twilight Zone, with a hundred rooms, each a small universe“, she writes. At this point in the book there are several names mentioned, some known to me, others unknown: Andy WarholJimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Allen Ginsberg and the other Beats,  and a multitude of others that I googled as I encountered, only to get woefully intrigued by their life-stories. Some made it, the rest succumbed to drugs or AIDS, and never lived to see the times they were ahead of.

Patti Smith Robert Mapplethorpe
Patti and Robert

Patti and Robert. What will stay with me is the tender friendship Patti Smith shared with her lover for a while, and best friend forever, Robert Mapplethorpe. It is a beautiful thing to see how they really understood one another, not only as friends but also as artists. “Nobody sees as we do, Patti” Robert would say, and “whenever he said things like that, for a magical space of time, it was if we were the only two people in the world.

Their relationship went through various definitions, but belonged to none. “We were evolving with different needs. I needed to explore beyond myself and Robert needed to search within himself.” With time Robert would discover and accept his homosexuality, and go on to become a famous (albeit controversial) photographer. Smith, a sketch artist and a poet, would finally find her niche and become a musician and the leader of her band ‘The Patti Smith Group’, and start a new life with her husband, Fred. Notwithstanding that, both of them would remain as close friends as they always were.

The last part was heart wrenching and yet there was a sense of innate beauty in its naked truth. Robert gets diagnosed with AIDS. For Patti (and for the reader who is now so invested in their lives), the idea of losing him is extremely unsettling. On his deathbed he wishes that she write their story.

Just Kids is Patti’s a fascinating and poignant tribute to their friendship. *There was something quietly private she tore apart and put out there for the world to read, and it feels like sacrilege to “review” it; one can just relate and respect and carry it in one’s heart. Of course, there is more to the book: Patti’s love for poetry and for poets like Rimbaud and Baudelaire, their times of struggle, their friends and their interesting journey in interesting times. It deserved 5 stars on my Goodreads.

I loved this excerpt from the epilogue ‘A note to the reader’ by the author:

“…There could be many stories I could yet write about Robert, about us. But his is the story I have told you. It is the one he wished me to tell and I have kept my promise. We were Hansel and Gretel and we ventured out into the black forest of the world. There were temptations and witches and demons we never dreamed of and there was the splendor we only partially imagined. No one could speak for these two young people nor tell with any truth of their days and nights together. only Robert and I could tell it. Our story, as he called it. And having gone he left the task to me to tell it to you.

Poem by Smith for Robert- who had the greenest of eyes- for his Memorial:

 Little emerald bird
Wants to fly away
If I cup my hand
Could I make him stay?

Little emerald soul
Little emerald eye
Little emerald soul
Must you say goodbye?

All the things that we pursue
All that we dream
Are composed as nature knew
In a feather green

Little emerald bird
As you light afar
It is true I heard
God is where you are