Books that I have read at sea and what I really think of them

“You should always be reading something.”

There are a couple reasons why I agree, love, and go by this statement. Firstly, I thoroughly believe that reading makes you a better person; it instills a certain thoughtfulness, mindfulness, that other mediums simply can’t. Reading opens up the mind to so many perspectives and ideas, furthermore expanding our worldliness and intellect. Emotionally, reading works our empathy muscle- something that benefits everyone when we strengthen it within ourselves.

Secondly, reading gets the gears churning in the parts of our brains that have been numbed by the hours spent brainlessly watching a Netflix series or mechanically scrolling through Facebook. I try to use my Kindle fire tablet, an awkward present from my dad I never really asked for, as little as possible; our eyes truly aren’t meant to stare at screens as much as we force them to (or really at all). But before you get offended, my kindle/nook/iPad-loving readers: I understand the attraction to the convenience and do not judge you. 

Personally, I love the experience of a non-kindlefied book. A tangible, printed piece of text that you can feel the actual, specific weight of when you hold it in your hand or carry it in your backpack. The smell of the pages; the fresh-ink-and-papyrus scent that comes with the books you pluck off the shelves of a bookstore or the musky, woody aroma that seeps from a yellowed-with-time novel you find tucked away in some corner of your parents’ house. The visual marker you’re able to get when you can measure the thickness of how much you’ve read in a sitting, between two fingers. The satisfying scchhkrr sound of a page turning. Even the “taste” that a book can leave in your mouth, if the author is good enough. I love experiencing a book with all five senses and thinking of how something so tangible possesses such magic to work itself on you simply by being there; no flashing lights or special effects.

When you live in the middle of the ocean and have limited access to wifi (unless you are willing to fork over vast amounts of your paycheck to the very company you are working for), there is lots of time to entertain yourself with things that do not involve the internet. Along with writing (typed blog posts and handwritten journal entries alike), my other main pastime has been reading for the reasons stated above and many more. So after the extensiveness of my last post, I thought for this next one I’d give you something lighter. Something easier to process, but also something I’m passionate about: a list of books I have read over the course of my two contracts living on a cruise ship so far, along with my opinions on all of them.

The point of this list isn’t to give you a synopsis on each and every single one of these books, but to relay my thoughts and feelings about them. You’ll find that I am fond of re-reading books, simply because I believe they remind us of where we were in our lives the last time we read them and because they help us note how far we’ve come as people. You’ll also notice that I am a big believer in self-help books. To be honest, I’ve always been wary of people who so proudly and firmly state, “I don’t do self-help books.” Ok so, what, you have nothing you need to work on? Really? Ha, well, anyways, I digress.

Some of these books were purposefully read within the context of what was happening in my life at that period of time, and others were simply meant to pass the time and help me to get my brain to shut the hell up and focus or meditate. Some of them were more academically challenging while others are, I’ll admit, a little embarrassing to list. As always, please take my perceptions and opinions with a grain of salt and don’t let anything I say keep you from reading any of these books. With that being said, and in no particular order…

~~~~~

tiny beautiful things by Cheryl Strayed

We had finally gotten through crossover (the first two weeks onboard where we live out of our suitcases and get no sleep and finally block the shows onboard our new floating home) and were settling into our cabins. Amidst the messy process of sorting through our own things as well as the person’s who inhabited our cabin prior to us, this book literally plopped into my hands; one of my friends actually discovered it in her cabin and claimed she would be spending the majority of the contract working her way through Stephen King’s IT, so into my hands it willingly went. Already sporting a ripped-off back cover along with jagged underlinings of passages here and there (the furthest thing from a new and unused, this-book-belongs-to-you feel), this book changed my life.

Tiny beautiful things is a collection of questions and answers based off of the author’s previous job as an advice columnist, who went by the name Sugar. It’s kind of like Chicken Soup for the Soul but way more gritty and far less Christian; girl has some dark stories and they are amazing. The way Strayed gives advice as Sugar is by delving into the depths of her personal stories in which she learned her own lessons, sharing the ones that she felt that particular reader needed to hear most. A wide range of entries is presented in this book, some more humorous and trivial and others so intense you need to put the book down because you are feeling that hard. What astounds me about this book is how incredibly detailed the author tells her stories and conveys them in such a way that it seems that they had happened days ago. Her empathy for her readers and their situations is, indeed, radical, as the preface of the book states was the ultimate driving force behind her advice column as Sugar; radical empathy. I got chills so many times working my way through this book because I would read a story that would align so accurately and eerily with what was happening in my own life at the time.

In tiny beautiful things, I assure you there will be at least one entry that will resonate with you (or anyone who reads it) unless you are a robot. It will touch your soul and make you a better person, so just read it.

The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

So I’m cheating a little bit with this one, as it was actually the book I read in between contracts, specifically while I was freshly moved into NYC. Most of us have heard the phrases that go something like, “Everything you want already belongs to you!” or “Just go out and grab it!” And some of you may think that this is just another one of those books that aggressively preach positivity in the most nose-crinkling cliche way, but it’s actually not.

To keep this short (because there is a lot I could say regarding my mental and emotional state at the time I read The Secret) – this book is what helped me keep my head high in those moments where I wanted to just break down crying on the subway and it is the book that played a big part in my getting the job offer that I once thought would be a slimmer-than-slim possibility. It has challenged and changed me. For those of you that typically roll your eyes at self-help books, this is probably the one you need most in your life.

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

I saw Call Me By Your Name, the movie, for the first time on my plane ride home from Europe back in April. I had just finished spending the last two and a half weeks traveling between Portugal, Morocco, and Italy with my boyfriend, and you could say that goodbyes at the airport were r o u g h (next time I am without question wearing my oversized black sunglasses). Once I was thousands of feet in the air on the plane that would take me hundreds of miles away from my incredible adventures and my love, I chose to watch this movie. (As if bursting into tears amongst strangers the moment the plane left the ground wasn’t bad enough- isn’t it funny how much we love emotional self-torture?)

This movie hits home and hits hard for anyone who has been in love and has lost that love. It specifically illustrates the experience of first love. The book is the same way, but (as per usual) an even more concentrated version. Aciman writes in first-person as Elio, the main character who tells the story from his point of view. This book took me a longer to get through than most, as I found myself having to re-read sentences many times over because of the style in which they are written. Call Me By Your Name is a poetic and romantic story, but written academically; the words are meant to be drunken and felt, yet pondered and processed. I love books that change my persona just slightly for a small period of time after reading them, and this one specifically made me want to lay out in the sun all day and walk around with a certain lightness and go for morning jogs and drink fresh orange juice and write passionate love letters and listen to classical music. It made me want to start planning another trip to Italy and become fluent in French and Italian. It re-awoken the introvert in me and shifted the way I observe people.

Aciman depicts the subtle (and not-so-subtle) nuances of infatuation and falling in love with immense care and will tug at your heart strings in all the right ways through this story. Just bellissimo.

You Are A Badass by Jenn Sincero

You Are A Badass was a nice read overall. I will admit that it took me some time to get into, and there was a lot that I had already learned in other books before, but I did pick on some concepts that I really love. A lot of it is manifestation-based, but that shouldn’t be a surprise because the whole premise of it is to live life to the fullest by grabbing it by the cajones and taking charge of your own circumstances; physically, environmentally, emotionally, and mentally. One of my favorite passages goes as such:

“We pretty much don’t ever do anything that we don’t benefit from in some way, be it in a healthy way or an unhealthy way. If you’re perpetuating something dismal in your life because of some dopey story, there’s definitely something about it that you’re getting off on…

Let’s say your story is that you can’t make money. By staying broke, you get to be right. You get to be a victim, which makes you dependent on other people and gets you attention. Other people will offer to pay. You don’t have to take responsibility. You get to give up before you start and avoid possible failure. If things in your life fall far below the Mediocre scale, you get to blame other people and circumstances instead of taking risks to change it because you can’t afford to take risks.

Let’s say your story is that you stink at relationships. You get your freedom. You don’t have to commit and can keep looking for the greener grass on the other side. You don’t have to risk getting hurt by being vulnerable. You get to complain about always being single and get sympathy. You get the whole bed to yourself, never have to compromise, and don’t have to shave unless it’s summer.

We don’t realize it, but we’re making the perks we get from perpetuating our stories more important than getting the things we really want because it’s familiar territory, it’s what were comfy with and we’re scared to let it go. I’ve we’ve been depressed or victimized or whatever since childhood, we trick ourselves into believing that it’s really who we are as adults in order to continue reaping “the rewards.” It’s how we survived as kids, but it doesn’t serve us anymore so we need to get rid of it or we’ll just keep creating more of it.” (Sincero 141-42)

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I have read Gone Girl three times now, and could probably write an entire blog post solely on this book alone. Every time I finish reading any of Gillian Flynn’s work (but mainly Gone Girl) and I go to read another book by another author, it honestly just never compares; I’m always left so impressed by her ability to control her readers every single time. I think that Flynn has such a way of writing, such a unique way of getting into the psyches of each and every single one of her characters in all of her novels, that you totally forget that only one (genius) author is behind all of them. She is so brilliant of a writer in all of her detail work and sensual style that you forget that you are reading fiction; you are involuntarily pulled into the character, the way they think, the way they feel, and how they tell their story. The planning that it must take to craft a Gillian Flynn psychological thriller is both highly respectable and remarkable. Gone Girl may have made it’s way into the chick-lit section of the section of the book store, but don’t let this aspect diminish the writing for one second. I have a tendency to associate books and movies and music to certain seasons, but I think that Gone Girl is truly a work that can be experienced anywhere, anytime; on a knit socks-and-scarves kind of evening in a coffeeshop in October or on a blazing-hot summer day on a sandy beach in the dead of August. It simply but devilishly works in every situation.

This book will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the deep, dark psychological twists of love and betrayal and resilience and destruction. Although Amy is one of the most extreme, complicated, and extremely complicated characters in most fiction out there, Flynn has written her in a way that her reader will have no choice but to find some way to identify with her. And come to think about it, I would say the same about Nick. Even if you aren’t into psych-thrillers or love stories (because, yes, even though it’s a toxic kind of love/love story, I think most love stories out there are crazy in some way or another- Disney’s included), read this book to become a sharper, smarter version of yourself. How many people can say that about a work of fiction?

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Dark Places is one of my favorites as well. A different feel than Gone Girl, but with Flynn’s unmistakeable “icepick-sharp” writing style, this book will undoubtedly take you into the world of it’s characters. What is most fascinating to me about this work of Flynn’s is that she writes in first-person between her five main characters and you have no problem believing that the characters themselves are telling it. And, of course, that you can feel a crazy peak and plot twist coming, but you couldn’t predict it if you tried; she’s that smart. I remember being completely pulled into this book. I would highly recommend to anyone who likes being left completely on their ass by the end of a book.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Sharp Objects was Gillian Flynn’s first novel she wrote and is quite different in style from her preceding two. The shortest read of all three books, this one slightly had the feel of the author dipping her toes in; but that might be highly due to the fact that I read the books in opposite succession of when they were published. It would be hard not to read Sharp Objects if you are a fan of Flynn’s other two works, however I have never felt the need to go back and read it like I have wanted to with Dark Places and Gone Girl.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Ahh, yes. Milk and Honey, the infamous matte black book of poems written all in lowercase that went onto being thee smashing hit amongst 20-somethings circa 2016. For some people, Kaur’s poetry plucks right at the heartstrings, while others find it to be somewhat of a melodramatic joke. I personally think that Milk and Honey is a wonderful read and that it touches many tender and important aspects regarding womanhood and the love and pain that come along with it. I actually read it for the first time in the fall of my senior year of college and it couldn’t have been what I needed to read more at that time. I had already sent in my senior project proposal that was part of the last chunk of earning my BFA degree in Dance, but I still wasn’t solid on the idea. I knew I wanted to choreograph a piece, but my ideas were a little too muddy and a little too spread out. One day, my roommate had this aesthetically pleasing book on her night table and I asked her if I could borrow it sometime. She told me yes and that it was the ultimate breakup-recovery book. Although I was not going through a breakup at the time, I read it and found it to be exactly what I needed to solidify my vision for my piece. Although I can see how Kaur’s style of poetry can be made fun of by the cynics, I still think it comes from the heart and that it serves as a beautiful reminder.

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur

Okay so here’s where I get a little harsh and say that I can actually indulge a little bit in the Rupi Kaur poetry mockery because with this book, so much of it felt so redundant and repetitive in comparison to Milk and Honey that at times I thought it was rather self-absorbed and verging on the edge of self-pitying. Twice as thick as it’s predecessor, I thought it to be about two times longer than it needed to be on top of possessing it’s whiny, self-pitying tone. I didn’t hate the book (although I’m sure it’s sounding like I do because of how I’m writing about it), but if you wan’t my honest opinion, it’s best read if you haven’t read any of Kaur’s books yet or are wanting something to pass the time without too much thought.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“Why do we have to listen to our hearts?”

“Because, wherever your heart is, that is where you’ll find your treasure… Because you will never again be able to keep it quiet. Even if you pretend not to have heard what it tells you, it will always be there inside you, recreating to you what you’re thinking about life and about the world.” (Coelho 132-33)

“People are afraid to pursue their most important dreams, because they feel that they don’t deserve them, or that they’ll be unable to achieve them… Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself.” (Coelho, 134)

A popular tale of adventure, omens, love, Personal Legends, and manifesting the universe’s gifts in store, The Alchemist is on the list of life-changing books for most, including myself. Coelho writes in a poetic way that has a philosophical air to it, but it is crafted in such a beautiful way that the reader will only be able to identify the lessons behind the text if they choose to take the time and ponder the deeper meaning. A story that I have read twice now and plan on reading again and again, The Alchemist is one that you do not want to miss.

Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh

“Breathing in, I see myself as a five-year-old child. Breathing out, I smile to that five-year-old child… Do you think that child is no longer there? The little boy or girl in you in still lives, and maybe still deeply wounded. That child is calling for your attention. But you have no time for him or her. You’re too busy. You conceive of yourself as an adult, but in fact, you are still that little girl or boy who is deeply wounded and afraid. So when you breathe in and see yourself as a small child who is fragile like that, compassion is born in your heart. And when you breathe out, you smile to him or her, and that is already a smile of understanding, of compassion.” (Hanh, 22)

I know I have said it already a few times, but this book changed my life with a capital C. Every time I read a passage from it, I become inspired to be a better version of myself. In fact, I had trouble picking a passage to share with you all because I highlighted so much in this book. The author, Thich Nhat Hanh, is a buddhist monk that has written many books, many of which I plan on reading in the future. Fear gave me so much insight on where negative feelings come from and how we can be more gentle with ourselves. It gave me the method of meditation I use today and the mantra I like to say each time I sit down to eat. It even gave me a deeper meaning to one of my tattoos that I got years ago. This is less of a self-help book, and more of a meditation; you literally feel yourself breathing the words in and letting them calm you. It’s poetic and peaceful, yet rooted in reality and makes complete and total sense. Even if you aren’t going through anything (which would honestly be miraculous and I’d love to hear how you do it), read this book to better your soul and to be kinder with yourself and others.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

An indulgence to the hopeless romantic 16-year-old inside of me, The Notebook was a last-minute pick when perusing through the shabby Merritt Island Mall’s bookstore last December. I had read The Notebook in either late middle school or early high school and remembered there not being a single time where I would sit down to read it and end up sobbing (ahh, the life-or-death times of your early teens). I don’t know why, but I caught myself in a Buy This Book And Read It On The Evenings Where You Are Surrounded By Ocean And Darkness kind of mood, so that’s what I did.

When I went to read Sparks’ ever-famous love story for a second time, I was surprised. I had expected to be brought to the same heights of emotion as the first time I read it, I remember the words being so poignant and gut-wrenching. But this time round, I think I cried maybe once or twice? Toward the end? And that’s when I realized that it was the silliest thing for me to expect a book to have the same effect on me that it did when I was 13. Our minds and our hearts change so much over time, and thank god for that. I do believe that a romantic beach read is needed from time to time and I do still gush over watching Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams fall in love on the screen, but I said I’d give you my opinion strictly on the book and it is this: The story is beautiful, and makes for great cinema, however there is much richer text on the shelves and there are many more issues in the world to read about and care about and cry about other than the ones of these two fictional characters.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson

The title practically demands you to read it with its use of profanity and its paint-splatted cover art. What makes this self-help book different from it’s cousins on the bookshelf is that it is told in a very real way; no sugar coating and not too much sparkle on the silver lining. It’s goal is to encourage positive thinking so you can be free from overloads of negative emotion, but it also outlines the inevitable shitty parts of life. There was definitely a lot in this book that I have heard before, but also some things that, interestingly enough, are almost the antithesis of what some other self-help books say. Here are two examples:

“An obsession and over-investment in emotion fails us for the simple reason that emotions never last. Whatever makes us happy today will no longer make us happy tomorrow, because our biology always needs something more. A fixation on happiness inevitably amounts to a never-ending pursuit of “something else”- a new house, a new relationship, another child, another pay raise. And despite all of our sweat and strain, we end up feeling eerily similar to how we started: inadequate…This is why our problems are recursive and unavoidable. The person you marry is the person you fight with. The house you buy is the house you repair. The dream job you take is the job you stress over. Everything comes with an inherent sacrifice- whatever makes us feel good will also inevitably make us feel bad. What we gain is also what we lose. What creates our positive experiences will define our negative experiences.” (Mason, 34-35)

“The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all. It’s anti-entitlement. People who become great at something become great because they understand that they’re not already great- they are mediocre, they are average- and that they could be so much better.” (Manson, 61)

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

This. Book. I was going to finish the sentence with, “is so good” but decided that it was too lazy and rude of a description for the work that it is. No, this book is heartbreaking and empowering and devastating and soul-deepening and everything in between.

I had A Thousand Splendid Suns along with The Kite Runner, one of Housseini’s other novels, on my shelf for a long time. Like, a long long time. I had my parents send me A Thousand Splendid Suns mid-contract last year, right when I was discovering that ship time passes like molasses and was thus craving more books to read.

This book is one of those books that will make you appreciate so much without even trying to do so. It will stretch the dimensions of your heart and deepen your understanding of the human experience. Following the lives of two Afghani women and their experiences of growing up and living in one of the most dangerous countries in one of the most dangerous times in history, the story is fiction; however I am sure that it is based off of heartbreakingly real experiences. The subject matter is not light-hearted any means, but there are light-hearted moments, even amidst all of the strife and chaos that is happening almost consistently throughout the book. Don’t let the description deter you; I never at any point thought it was too much. Really, just read it; it’s moving and your soul will thank you.

Chan Heart, Chan Mind by Master Guojun

In Chan Heart, Chan Mind, Master Guojun outlines the essence of Chinese Zen (Chan) through telling tales of his calligraphy lessons as a young student and comparing Chan with the art of calligraphy itself. I’m actually cheating a little bit with this one too, as I read it in Toronto this past summer while I was in rehearsals for this current contract, but I want to share with you some of my favorite passages.

“The Buddha said when a poison arrow hits you, don’t think about who shot it or why. Extract the arrow and treat the wound… Sometimes we’re in a situation where we’re helpless and can’t do anything. What we can do is relax. Deal with things as they come. Respond rather than react. Keep returning to the present moment. That is what will sustain and support us. When no one trusts you, trust yourself. When no one loves you, love yourself. When no one believes in you, believe in yourself… When everything is okay inside of you, what’s happening outside is not such a big issue.” (Guojun, 149-50)

“When a couple falls in love they whisper together. They talk softly of their love. When do we shout? When the person we are trying to reach is far away. We talk softly when that person is near. Shouting signals you are far from me. We may not realize that when we shout or are shouted at, distance is being unconsciously communicated… When someone shouts at you, go to that person. Draw near. Talk softly. Be gentle with your words. Immediately that person will soften.” (Guojun, 77)

~~~~~

Thank you always, friends, for taking the time to read- I sincerely hope you got something out of this list! Always be reading something. Seriously. It’s the easiest way to go on vacation, go to therapy, sharpen your mind, and enrich your life.

xx,

Ilana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s