■ With or Without You (Domenica Ruta; 2013. Non-fiction.)
Pride like this is both tyrannical and tragic, for the chief function of pride is to usher in the fall.
My parents had sufficient raw materials to achieve a level of fame in a small town, but not much more than that.
It made sense to me. There are some things that we have to forget about in order to get through the day.
■ I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This (Nadja Spiegelman; 2016. Non-fiction.)
According to neuroscientists, when we stir up a long-term memory, it floats in our consciousness, unstable, for a window of approximately three hours. During this time, the memory is malleable. The present infiltrates the past. We add details to fill in the gaps. Then the brain re-encodes the memory as if it were new, writing over the old one. As it sinks back down into the depths of our minds, we are not even aware of what we have gained or lost, or why.
It had happened to me once, the unexpected resurgence of a difficult childhood memory. It had made me feel I was losing my hold on reality. It terrified me, already, that I was composed of a past that was so lonely, that was made up of memories and narratives no one else in my family could agree upon. It was too much that it might be unknowable to myself as well. I wondered often how many other memories lurked within me, dark and alien as cancers.
■ I’ll Be Gone in the Dark (Michelle McNamara; 2018. Non-fiction.)
In their reserve and in virtually every other way, detectives differ from show-biz folks. Detectives listen. They’re getting a read. Entertainers get a read only to gauge their influence on a room. Detectives deal in concrete tasks. I once spent an hour listening to an actress analyze a three-line text that hurt her feelings. Eventually I’ll see the cracks in a detective’s veneer, but in the beginning their company is an unexpected relief, like fleeing a moodily lit cast party loud with competitive chatter and joining a meeting of determined Eagle Scouts awaiting their next challenge. I wasn’t a native in the land of the literal-minded, but I enjoyed my time there.
■ A Higher Loyalty (James Comey; 2018. Non-fiction.)
I had never met President Obama before and was struck by two things: how much thinner he appeared in person and his ability to focus.
On the way out the door, I told Kathy Ruemmler how surprised I was by the interesting discussion, telling her, “I can’t believe someone with such a supple mind actually got elected president.”
Though it was a small moment, what struck me about President Obama’s remark is that it displayed a sense of humor, insight, and an ability to connect with an audience, which I would later come to appreciate in a president even more. These are all qualities that are indispensable in good leaders. A sense of humor in particular strikes me as an important indicator – or “tell” – about someone’s ego. Having a balance of confidence and humility is essential to effective leadership. Laughing in a genuine way requires a certain level of confidence, because we all look a little silly laughing: that makes us vulnerable, a state insecure people fear. And laughing is also frequently an appreciation of others, who have said something that is funny. That is, you didn’t say it, and by laughing you acknowledge the other, something else insecure people can’t do.
■ The Rules Do Not Apply (Ariel Levy; 2017. Non-fiction.)
My lined notebooks were the only place I could say as much as I wanted, whenever I wanted. To this day I feel comforted and relieved of loneliness, no matter how foreign my surroundings, if I have a pad and a pen.
(When we expressed subdued versions of our outrage to our elders, their responses invariably included the phrase “paying your dues.” It was not a phrase we cared for.)
How did people do this? People who’d lost children who had existed – not for minutes but days, decades? Children who had voices, who had opened their eyes. Children with names. Did these people wake up every morning until the day they died and beg Mother Nature to return what she had given and then taken away?