Current reading

The Relationship Handbook -- George Pransky.  The focus is primarily spousal relationships, though there are a few chapters dealing with parents and children. The core message is that our insecure thinking lowers our moods, which causes us to act defensively against our partner and they against us. The chief remedies include simply calming down until our thoughts look less real and choosing to talk about sensitive issues only when both partners are in their best state, when each partner's statements are understood and not simply reacted to. More important than "solving problems" is enjoying your partner's company and basking in a warm relationship. Simple language, readable, and applicable to fostering a better relationship with oneself as well. Pransky is of the first generation of Three Principles practitioners who worked with Sydney Banks. As with other popularizations of the Principles, it focuses more on revved-up thinking than with the other principles. In These Times the Home is a Tired Place  -- Jessica Hollander. Before I started my grad school adventure in 2006, I was in a writing group that counted as its members two people who would go on to publish their fiction. One was David Halperin, who published Journal of a UFO Investigator in 2011. The other is Jessica, who went on to an MFA at the University of Alabama and last year published this book of short stories, which won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (publisher description). They're odd, off-kilter, ethereal stories (or maybe prose poems) that take place in the characters' mundane world of cheap duplexes, loud neighbors, families under pressure, and someone who keeps moving the Welcome mat to other apartments in the building. You know the saying that every line of a poem creates a universe? Every sentence in a Jessica Hollander story does the same thing. The stories all have a voice that is uniquely Jessica's -- a quality her stories had even back in the day. I would kill to write dialogue that oblique and funny, with such a light touch.

How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer -- Sarah Bakewell. Bakewell attacks the life of Montaigne and the life of his Essays by taking the writer's chief question -- How should one live? -- and then drawing from the essays 20 different, sometimes contradictory, answers. Along the way, she paints pictures of the historical, intellectual, and cultural currents of his time (I did not know the horrific conditions in France caused by the Catholic-Protestant conflicts) and how Montaigne's message of Stoicism, skepticism, and delighted self-discovery has been viewed by other thinkers, writers, and readers through the centuries.