Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

When I first read this book, I sped through it: to say the story is riveting is an understatement. What I appreciate even more now is the way that it illustrates both endurance and resilience – concepts that are sometimes related, but not at all synonyms. It is hard to say much about this book without veering into platitudes – just read it. (And thanks to Honeybee Kelly C. for the long-ago recommendation!).

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck

Steinbeck considered this his best work, which is reason enough to read it – but if you’ve seen the movie and think you know the story, READ THE BOOK. I am as big a James Dean fan as anyone and the movie is great, but the book is SO MUCH MORE. It contains the whole world in one volume – lengthy, but as page-turning as any cheesy beach read, and it will stay with you far longer. “Timshel!”  is the key to everything.  Everything.

Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy

My only wish is that this book had come out before all of the searching around described above, as it might have focused my explorations more clearly. (On the other hand, three cheers for serendipity! I’ve learned partly through openended gatherings like the author’s own PopTech that sometimes the greatest results come from wandering a bit off of a linear path.) In this book, Zolli (PopTech Curator) and Healy weave together a wide net of research and insights on resilience, punctuated with intriguing examples all along the way. A great resource for those who want to dive into this topic more deeply, including tons of helpful references to others’ ongoing work in the field (both people and organizations).

The Red Book, by Carl Jung

There are several reasons to check out this (gigantic, costly) book. First, it is physically beautiful, resembling a 15th century illuminated Bible more than a philosopher’s journal. Second, it is a rare chance to see the source material of a great thinker’s work. Jung himself said of this period and these writings (1914-1930, when he was 38-54 years old): “The years of which I have spoken to you, when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life.  Everything else is to be derived from this... the later details hardly matter anymore.  My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream ad threatened to break me… everything later was merely the outer classification, the scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. BUT THE NUMINOUS BEGINNING, WHICH CONTAINED EVERYTHING, WAS THEN.”  Just in case you are an ‘executive summary’ kind of person, here is Jung’s own conclusion:  “I came to my self, a giddy and pitiful figure. My I! I didn’t want this fellow as my companion... I want to live with you, therefore I will carry you through an utterly medieval Hell, until you are capable of making living with you bearable. You should be the vessel and womb of life, therefore I shall purify you.  The touchstone is being alone with oneself. This is the way.”  Interestingly, though the entire book is thick with religious and spiritual discussion and imagery, Jung’s final words are about the self, alone. “My I” !  Isn’t that a beautiful expression, and haunting?  Caring and in opposition, all at once. There has been a lot of press coverage of this book, as it has never been published before, and it was the center of an exhibit at the Rubin Museum this fall – some of the better articles are bundled together at the NY Times link below.

[Various writings] by Loung Ung

A moving example of storytelling on an individual level is found in the work of Luong Ung, activist, entrepreneur, and author of several autobiographical books. Luong grew up during the Cambodian genocide, and she speaks eloquently about the lost, guilty, bad-person feeling that accompanied her survival. Through her writing, over the course of many years, she has explicitly embraced storytelling as a form of resilience, introducing herself and her work by saying, “imagine a woman who authors her own life”. She does not deny the awful past, nor cover it up, but she chooses to frame it in a way that allows for her own ultimate flourishing. She explains, “I cannot let those soldiers cross over time and space to rule my mind.” Luong encourages others to “own what is yours – not what is not yours”, and to “think about your own kick-ass-ness.” Unlike many other speakers, Luong did not talk about happiness or resilience in the abstract. She did not give five handy tips for overcoming obstacles. She just, well, told her story. And that was more compelling than all the Power Points in the world.

Say the Name, by Judith Sherman

This is a tough book to summarize, and it is not a cheerful, happy-go-lucky holiday tome. Judith Sherman is a survivor of the Ravensbruck concentration camp, and this book is a collection of poetry and prose about her life, both then and now. I was fortunate to hear Sherman speak this fall and it was an unforgettable experience – amongst the most important points she asks us to ponder is the role of silence, and what purpose words serve in situations when there really are no words that do justice to their subject.

Jacob Lawrence: The Migration Series, by Elizabeth Alexander

I was first introduced to the striking work of Jacob Lawrence by my economist brother, who studies labor migration. The connection he made has stuck with me ever since, the recognition that all of those charts and graphs and statistics on labor force represent real live people, people who are moving and adjusting and suffering and thriving, sometimes all at once. There is no better way than to convey these many layers of adaptation and evolution than through images like Lawrence’s, and this new volume is a welcome extension of earlier, smaller publications.

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