I think it is common for us, as human beings, to search for purpose and meaning in our time on earth. Psychologist Erik Erikson reminds us that, in the final stage of life, our task is to look back on our journey and contemplate our achievements. Those who see their lives as unproductive experience despair. Those who look back with a sense of closure and completeness move on to face death without fear.
Fear not. The Happiness of Pursuit has been added to the collection at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. This book offers itself up as a tool to help readers “find a quest that will bring purpose to their lives.” Chris Guillebeau, (author of The $100 Startup), interviewed people who hit a turning point in their life that catapulted them onto a quest. He provides an overview of their stories and details on how they are bringing their missions to fruition.
Here are a few of my favorites and I hope they illustrate that there is an adventure out there for everyone:
- After receiving a melanoma diagnosis at the age of 50, Phoebe Snetsinger kicked an interest in birds into high gear and began a quest to document more bird species than any other person alive. She continually challenged herself to travel to remote locations. Her cancer went into remission, she lived for another 18 years and wrote a memoir entitled Birding on Borrowed Time. She also completed her quest, documenting 8,398 species.
- Kristen Goldberg penned a bucket list for herself at the age of 16. It contained 42 things she wanted to accomplish before she died. She picked up the list again as an adult, (now an English teacher and mother of two), and made it her mission to fulfill every item on the list with no modifications. From riding a motorcycle to bathing in a waterfall to running a marathon, she is doing it all. She says it has been enlightening to rediscover the adventurer she was as a young girl, but in hindsight might have left “Visit a nude beach” off the list.
- Sasha Martin wanted to expose her family to different cultures. With young children and limited resources, Sasha got creative. She decided that each week she would cook a meal from a different country. Beginning with Afghanistan, Albania and Algeria, she cooked her way around the world in alphabetical order. The quest took 195 weeks to complete. By the time she finished, her children were as comfortable using chopsticks as silverware and had first-hand knowledge of every cuisine in the world.
There are so many more quests in the book. People who went on fifty dates in fifty states. People who gave $10 to a different nonprofit organization every day. People who attended a game at every Major League Baseball stadium. It is proof that the world is filled with opportunity, and it is there for the taking.
Perhaps this book will catapult you onto a quest of your own. Life is short, but I do believe there is always time to start something new. In fact, there is no time like the present. Happy reading and happy questing.
Last year I recommended Crossing the Sea: With Syrians on the Exodus to Europe by Wolfgang Bauer. As there, unfortunately, has been little positive change in the refugee crisis, it is still extremely topical, and I am suggesting two further titles to delve into this subject.
The first one is called Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey, a children’s book by Margriet Ruurs, a Dutch-Canadian award winning author. The story behind the book is very heartwarming and right up my alley as it is all about cross-cultural understanding and collaboration. Ruurs happened to see some of the intriguing stone sculpture images of Nizar Ali Badr, the illustrator, on the internet, managed to contact him in his hometown in Syria and subsequently to agree on this book as a team project. The images are solely composed of various shaped and colored stones and beautifully illustrate the story of a young Syrian child whose family is swept up in the war. They are forced to flee their home country, leave possessions and friends behind, walk for days on end before making the treacherous sea crossing and ending up in a new country with a different language and customs. Ruurs chose simple but relevant words to go along with the expressive illustrations. This book is not only original for its art work but also for its bilingual text in both English and Arabic. I highly suggest it for children ages 5 and up.
The second recommendation is a title geared toward teens and adults and written by Melissa Fleming, the chief spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. A Hope More Powerful Than The Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel is a nonfictional account of an ordinary Syrian family, focusing on the perspective of Doaa, the family’s fourth daughter. We learn about her upbringing in a close-knit family in crowded quarters, her love for her parents, older sisters and younger brother as well as her natural curiosity and desire to learn and possibly stray further than her expected path of marriage and motherhood. When she is 15, Syria joins the Arab Spring movement and fights against the oppressive regime of Bashar al- Assad, thus unleashing a complicated civil war. To escape the violence and the daily restrictions on freedom and essentials, Doaa and her family initially set out for Egypt, a country that welcomes refugees until its own government is overthrown. At this point Doaa and her fiancé Bassem decide to risk a Mediterranean crossing with the goal to seek refuge in Sweden and bring the rest of the family on a safer route. The crossing is horrific and deadly for most passengers with Doaa one of the few survivors.
This book is a story of an ordinary girl maneuvering through extraordinary times, and the plot driven structure is definitely a page turner in parts. Fleming did extensive research and it shows in her writing, however due to the nature of this being a third person account it is not quite as expressive as I imagine it could be in Doaa’s own words. In any case, I highly recommend this title for its great attempt at portraying refugees as human beings rather than an abstract crisis which might be the first step in moving towards a solution to said crisis.
Going into winter and the urge to cozy up is strong. After unbundling from the growing layers of coats and scarves, curl up and read a new picture book to your little one:
The Lines on Nana’s Face by Simona Ciraolo
As a grandmother is getting ready to celebrate her birthday, her grandchild remarks on how curious they are by all of the lines and wrinkles on her face. The grandmother takes time to explain that each wrinkle reminds her of an important part of her life – laugh lines from smiling so much on the beach, a sad furrow from a goodbye – and the child is excited to hear these stories. This new book carries a positive message regarding our bodies and shares the value of aging, but also living in your body with the acquisition of wrinkles, scars, and stretches.
Bang Bang I Shot the Moon by Luis Amavisca
This is the story of a little boy who gets into mischief and hurts the moon. The moon falls to Earth and can’t get back to the sky. This new book carries a not-so-subtle message about gun violence and could perhaps be a simpler story to help explain such a large issue. It shares a lesson regarding gun violence and violence in general but is also a good story about the consequences of our actions and the value of working together.
City Atlas: Travel the World with 30 City Maps, written by Georgia Cherry, illustrated by Martin Haake
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility.” – Jack Kerouac
Before there were Google maps and GPS, there were Atlases. I remember as a child scouring over villages and towns; examining how cities oozed into suburbs and suburbs succumbed to forests, rivers and lakes. Highways and secondary roads connected everything much like the veins of the human anatomy only instead ensuring the steady flow of traffic throughout the country. Unlike the obligatory “Are we there yet?” of my peers, I was more than happy to enjoy the journey; the car and its rear window my world. City Atlas is a fantastic read for beginning and seasoned geographers young and old. Each page has a beloved city from across the globe.
On the first day we read it, I had my kids choose where we should go. We hit up Mumbai, San Francisco and in celebration of the upcoming Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro all before lunch. Every page is beautifully illustrated to incorporate well-known landmarks, cultural traditions, local food specific to the area and fast facts. As an added bonus there is a picture search on every page. I particularly enjoyed looking for koala bears in Sydney. The illustrations are wonderful; consistently eye-catching and intricately collaged across the page. The colors of each city seemed to be flawlessly aligned with the colors of the country and culture. Mumbai, for example was bursting with myriad colors; Gandhi is drawn wearing lettered garb and a strikingly beautiful elephant God is drawn slightly off center. It is an absolute feast for the eyes. I also enjoyed that the geographical landscape was the original layer and all of the landmarks are placed throughout the city; a man –made topography. You almost feel as though you yourself are sauntering through the cities. So for those budding Rick Steves out there intent on globetrotting, get a head start by navigating these cities from the comfort of your couch- no passport and TSA frisking required!