MIGRATING TOWARD HAPPINESS

THE SOUNDTRACK TO MY SPIRITUAL AWAKENING

An unconventional and perceptive memoir that aims to inspire readers to “discover the happiness that is waiting to be...

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A restless woman takes an epic road trip across the United States in this musically inspired memoir. 

For most, a layoff is a cause for panic, but when O’Grady lost her job at an unnamed not-for-profit organization, her immediate response was to think, “This is a gift.” Freed from office drudgery and eager to escape New York City, which she saw as “cluttered with concrete and steel,” O’Grady decided it was time to “see the USA in her Chevrolet,” just like her Irish-immigrant paternal grandmother, Catherine, did decades earlier. The latter died before the author was born, so this trip was an attempt to connect with an ancestor whom she never knew. It was also a way for her to “wake up to my soul’s purpose” and refocus a life that had become disconnected from her goals and dreams, which included jazz singing. Remarkably, O’Grady convinced Chevrolet to loan her a vehicle for the journey. With a friend for company, she took off from New York, intending to drive cross-country to Seattle. In thoughtful, insightful prose, she describes her trip and the people she encountered, from workers at an Ohio factory that made General Motors truck engines to the owner of a hotel in tiny Wall, South Dakota. These personal connections are what interest O’Grady the most, so readers shouldn’t expect lengthy digressions on the majesty of Yellowstone or Glacier National Park, where she made brief pit stops. Instead, the book employs an unusual structure, like a mixtape, with each chapter title taken from a particular song—such as Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” for when she travels through South Dakota or Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” as she recalls her beloved Granny Nora’s death. The author proves to be a firm believer in signs (“I must have a guardian angel protecting me or a spirit guide sending me messages. There’s always a sign”), and she tells of looking for messages from her deceased grandmother. She also offers some surprising insights on the nature of the American Dream and the immigrant experience. 

An unconventional and perceptive memoir that aims to inspire readers to “discover the happiness that is waiting to be revealed at his or her core.”

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9822-2099-0

Page Count: 254

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2019

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MASTERY

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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BRAVE ENOUGH

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

A lightweight collection of self-help snippets from the bestselling author.

What makes a quote a quote? Does it have to be quoted by someone other than the original author? Apparently not, if we take Strayed’s collection of truisms as an example. The well-known memoirist (Wild), novelist (Torch), and radio-show host (“Dear Sugar”) pulls lines from her previous pages and delivers them one at a time in this small, gift-sized book. No excerpt exceeds one page in length, and some are only one line long. Strayed doesn’t reference the books she’s drawing from, so the quotes stand without context and are strung together without apparent attention to structure or narrative flow. Thus, we move back and forth from first-person tales from the Pacific Crest Trail to conversational tidbits to meditations on grief. Some are astoundingly simple, such as Strayed’s declaration that “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about and hold in high regard.” Others call on the author’s unique observations—people who regret what they haven’t done, she writes, end up “mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions” of themselves—and offer a reward for wading through obvious advice like “Trust your gut.” Other quotes sound familiar—not necessarily because you’ve read Strayed’s other work, but likely due to the influence of other authors on her writing. When she writes about blooming into your own authenticity, for instance, one is immediately reminded of Anaïs Nin: "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Strayed’s true blossoming happens in her longer works; while this collection might brighten someone’s day—and is sure to sell plenty of copies during the holidays—it’s no substitute for the real thing.

These platitudes need perspective; better to buy the books they came from.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-101-946909

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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