Minimalism: Living in Simplicity

simplicityEach person is messy in his or her own way. Maybe your car never feels clean enough or you’ve forgotten what the surface of your desk looks like, or maybe you could just use some advice on simplifying your worries. These books from the JMRL catalog are here to help you live a more simplified, or minimalist, lifestyle:

L’art de la Simplicité = How to Live More With Less by Dominique Loreau – Provides a step-by-step guide to decluttering one’s home, mind, and body, offering such suggestions as removing unwanted possessions, spending money on experiences, and rejecting negative relationships.

Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Donald N. Sull – A guide for taming complexity in one’s personal and professional life, this book demonstrates how lessons in efficiency can be derived from sometimes unexpected places, from Tina Fey’s experience on SNL to how burglars select their targets.

Downsizing the Family Home: What to Save, What to Let Go by Marni Jameson – Counsels readers on how to downsize a family home filled with a lifetime of memories, sharing practical recommendations for strategies based on the expertise of antiques appraisers, garage-sale gurus, professional organizers, and psychologists.

Simple Matters: Living With Less and Ending up With More by Erin Boyle – Filled with personal essays, recipes, DIY projects, and helpful advice on how to be inventive with a tight space, this book shows that living simply is about making do with less and ending up with more in exchange—more free time, more time with loved ones, more savings, more things of beauty. Continue reading

“Vanishing into books, I felt held.”

famBooks on Tap read Family Life  by Akhil Sharma at  Champion Brewery on May 4.  This highly-autobiographical novel describes the aftermath of an elder son’s accident shortly after the family migrates from India to suburban New Jersey in the 1970s. Birju, the teenaged son, nearly drowns and remains in a vegetative state for decades. To cope, his mother seeks out religious healers while his father slips deeper into alcohol abuse. His younger brother Ajay, the narrator, focuses on his academic success and turns to writing as a way to both escape his current circumstances and to create order in his own world.

While none of us quite understood why this novel won multiple awards, we were intrigued by its structure. Some found it stilted, while others thought that it accurately reflected Ajay’s personality. Sharma, who took over 12 years to finish the book and produced 7,000 pages, ultimately removed extra sensory description, what he called the “sensorium issue,” partially influenced by his early obsession with Ernest Hemingway. The tightness of the prose in the 224 page novel propels the reader along in what is essentially a plot-less story. While the lives of all the family members are defined by Birju’s accident, the story explores the full range of human emotion, not just sadness, isolation and anger.

The family had high expectations for their lives in America and Birju had just been accepted into a prestigious exam high school when he was found at the bottom of a pool. While the family’s expectations of may have been met if Birju hadn’t gone swimming that day, the parents may have divorced and Ajay may not have pushed himself so hard academically. Instead, the family narrowly focuses on Birju’s immense physical needs, bringing him home after he’s neglected in a nursing home early on. Providing in-home care was seen as a means of control, a expression of love, a reflection of shame and a type of trust in the family unit by readers. It also allowed the mother to deny Birju’s brain damage by referring to him as “sleeping,” inviting other Indian migrants in to venerate him and to bring  in various religious healers. While religion is frequently referred to, we readers didn’t get a full sense of what that entailed. While the mother can be compared to a Catholic martyr, one reader pointed out that in a crisis you do what you must day after day to survive but you don’t see how it shapes your life until the years have passed. We compared the scene in which the family, still living in India, receives their plane tickets to America to the isolated life that is their reality in New Jersey.  The entire community celebrated their migration, with constant visits and well-wishes. After Birju’s accident, their visitors are holy men or parents who bring their children to see Birju as a warning. The family not only made a leap in space, but also in time, coming from rural India to suburban America. The family, like other immigrants mostly knew about the United States from American films, which over-promised a perfect life.

Both the accident and the isolation leave Ajay as the second best son, and he has no close adults to mentor him or offer respite. He tells lies to gain attention and escape reality. On Christmas, he complains that “this shouldn’t be his life” and that he at least deserves a pizza. However, the teasing way Ajay talks to his brother shows real affection.

The book ends with Ajay thinking “I got happier and happier . . . That’s when I knew I had a problem.”  Earlier in the novel, his father stares out the window at snowfall, saying  “I’m so happy.”  While we believe both men were happy at the time, we wonder if they don’t know how to deal with happiness. It seems that Ajay has never been happy before and may have survivor’s guilt. We think he can, now that he realizes he can and has created sense of self.

The author wanted to make a “useful” book, so we discussed bibliotherapy. Some members of our group shared that reading a specific book helped shed light on their personal issues. Some found that they had no use for a book upon first reading but found solace in it when they came back to it years later. At the library, we strive to put the right book in the hands of the right person  at the right time. Test us out with JMRL’s personalized recommendation service.  

More Information:
About the author
Other works

Interviews with the author:
Irish Times
The Guardian

Lion(film) – place a hold on JMRL’s copy or come see it at Central in June
Green Revolution in India
The Reivers by William Faulkner  

Similarities to Birju’s care can be seen in the Audrey Santo case.

Books on Tap Information:

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Frozen Treats From Your Kitchen

icycreamyAs the weather warms up we often turn to frozen beverages and treats to cool us down. If you miss the ice cream truck (or don’t have one nearby) why not try a new recipe from home? Check out these books for some tasty ideas:

Icy, Creamy, Healthy Sweet by Christine Chitnis – Collects 75 healthy dessert recipes such as dairy-free ice cream, popsicles, frozen yogurt, slushies, shakes, and vegan toppings.

Zero Belly Smoothies by David Zinczenko – Provides more than one hundred recipes for fruit and vegetable smoothies designed to boost metabolism, improve digestion, and promote weight loss in a fourteen-day eating plan.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts by Jeni Britton Bauer – This collection of recipes features original cakes, cookies, toppings, and other desserts that either incorporate, or are designed to be served with, ice cream including Cumin and Honey Butterscotch sauce, Salty Graham Gravel and Everything Bagel Gravel toppings.

The Art of Making Gelato by Morgan Morano – Shares easy-to-follow instructions for preparing 50 different authentic gelato and sorbetto recipes, featuring such classic Italian flavors as chocolate chip, cinnamon, coconut cream, pistachio, hazelnut, and pine nut. Continue reading