2016: A Reading Challenge and First Review of the Year

Full disclosure: I have been, for the last several years, a terrible reader. I've started a gazillion titles and finished few. I wasn't always this way. As a child, I was a voracious reader, often stealing titles from my older sister's required reading lists while I was barely in junior high and as she was finishing out her high school career. To this day, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich remains one of my favorite books---but it could be in part because my own mother tried to get it banned which only made me want to read it more and love it, which I did very dearly. I still remember being in an airport when I saw Solzhenitsyn's face come across the television screens and they announced his passing. I began rereading One Day... as soon as I landed home. 

For 2016, I decided I wanted to return to that. I wanted to be a reader again. I wanted to set a goal for myself that would push me outside my comfort zone of classical and celebrated white guy author canon and delve more into contemporary literature, but more specifically, literature penned by women and people of color. So as 2015 was coming to a close I devised a list of texts and began plotting my return to Actual-Reader-Land (not a real place, btw) and so far have been pretty successful. I even enlisted the help of peer pressure and started a bookclub (oh hai FWB: friends with books) and promptly went to task on tackling Kim Gordon's Girl in a Band. Since I'm going to discuss that with my FWB, I thought I'd start with my first (of what I hope become a regular thing here on the blog) review of the second book I finished this year, Rising Strong, by Brené Brown. 

How I came to read this book was from my total adoration for Brown following a read of her book, Daring Greatly, which helped me so much in my own healing process following a sexual assault. A lot of what is in Rising Strong builds on her work in Daring Greatly and her other work relating concepts of shame, vulnerability, and what she calls in this text: The Reckoning, Rumble, and Revolution. This text definitely included a deeper reading of her own personal experiences and that seems to be a major turn off for many readers and admittedly for myself as well. I love her exploration of what this all means in her own life is present in the text, but at times it seemed redundant and even a stretch to make the stories fit with her philosophy. Nevertheless, it seems to be a good philosophy and maybe best summed up with the following excerpts:

"I believe that vulnerability—the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome—is the only path to more love, belonging, and joy."
"Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness in our lives; it's the process that teaches us the most about who we are." 
"When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling." 

A lot of the story owning bit really resonated with me because it echoes much of Daring Greatly. And coming to that text in part of my own recovery process following my assault, I realized my identity was forever changed. But rather than being defined as merely a victim, I am able through wading through these vulnerability swamp lands and take back what Brown calls my "SFD" (shitty first draft):

"Our identities are always changing and growing, they're not meant to be pinned down. Our histories are never all good or all bad, and running from the past is the surest way to be defined by it. That's when it owns us. The key is bringing light to the darkness—developing awareness and understanding."

Overall, I would recommend Brown's work, but I definitely feel like this is better as a second or third read from her rather than the first text to gain an understanding of her work. 3 out of 5 stars.