Posts tagged “books

worth posting for: love stories from storycorps

I haven’t posted in so long, I was worried I’d forgotten how to use WordPress.  Thankfully, I’m here.   As for the blog slump – I’ve been feeling that I only want to post something that’s truly worth it.  And this is.

Tonight I went to a magical event presented by WNYC – the public radio station I worked at while I was new and wide-eyed in the city and doing my Master’s degree at NYU.  At the time, it was my dream to be a part of WNYC.  So I went down to the old location at One Centre Street by the Brooklyn Bridge, stood awestruck looking up at the majestic Municipal Building, then went back to my student-housing studio and drafted a passionate letter to the head of human resources.  It worked.

14 years and two transatlantic moves later, I’m at Bonhams – the auction house on Madison Avenue – for the launch of All There Is: Love Stories From StoryCorps.

In case you haven’t heard of StoryCorps, the independent nonprofit has gathered over 40,000 interviews since 2003 from over 60,000 people who’ve stepped into “StoryBooths” all over the country.  The intimate, moving conversations are recorded and preserved at the Library of Congress.  You can listen to them every Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition.

While the stories are varied, there’s a common theme:  we’re not all that different – no matter where we come from, we all share similar hopes, fears, and the desire to be loved.

Tonight, it was all about love.  As StoryCorps founder Dave Isay put it, these stories are about hope and serendipity – about finding love in unexpected places, and finding love when it was thought it wasn’t to be found.  The book is also a testament to the value of relationships and commitment.  My favorite quote of the night: “Being married is like having a color television set.  You never want to go back to black and white.”

No, wait. I think my favorite quote is this one:  “And then we had a honeymoon that lasted 63 years.”

Buy the book, cry like I did, and support this important initiative – StoryCorps is now the largest oral history project of its kind.  And this incredibly inspiring collection reminds us that love really is…all there is.

but my faith in love is still devout

“The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.”
–Blaise Pascal

Despite my love of all things love, the closest thing I’ve ever read to a romance novel is The Thorn Birds – Colleen McCullough’s book that spawned the epic TV miniseries by the same name.  It came out when I was eight years old and held me in a grip year after year, especially during that scene when Meggie is walking down the staircase and Father Ralph nearly drops his bourbon upon seeing her all grown up.   I was in Catholic school at the time – and for several colorful years thereafter.

Fiction has never interested me as much as the real deal, even if it is based on it. I get a particular thrill out of knowing how real people fall in love, stay in love, fall out of love.  And I especially want to know about all the mishaps along the way.

And so I was a little conflicted when a friend invited me to a romance reading last week – that is, until I saw that they’d be spotlighting a new non-fiction book titled Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love.

Now this was more my speed.  I remembered my immense curiosity (and relief) during Philosophy 101 in college when I learned that Søren Kierkegaard spent a lifetime trying to understand love.  And now here was a whole book about how the greatest thinkers were utterly clueless when it came to matters of the heart.

Author Andrew Shaffer wrote the book based on a line of greeting cards he created about the same subject.  After the reading, he told me it was his way of vindicating all those bookish nerds who could never get a girl in school.

Good writers don’t always make good readers; but Shaffer is different.  He understands this is about performance, and he delivered his with exaggerated French accents, comic timing, and laugh-out-loud expressions.  The pages of his book are infused with the same playful tone, and he doesn’t miss a moment for innuendo.  He manages to breeze through the painful, complicated, and often bizarre stories leaving you feeling a whole lot better about your love life.

When Shaffer went up to the microphone, he prefaced his reading by saying that The New York Times called his book “cheeky” and “low minded”.  Then he cheekily added, “If it weren’t for love, romance, and passion, nobody would be here – not even The New York Times.”

As Father Ralph would say:  Amen.

And a very Happy Valentine’s Day to you.

are we all internet inmates? (part 2)

Yesterday, I wrote about Freedom, the software that disables your Internet connection for up to eight hours at a time, thus giving you the “freedom” to get work done.

If the devil lives anywhere, it must be in the idea that freedom can be bought.  Nobody argues this better than Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and Holocaust survivor.  His book Man’s Search for Meaning will change the way you think about freedom, and it’s also short enough to squeeze in between doses of the Internet.


So what happens once you download and run Freedom?  How long will it take you to find another distraction to take its place?  Will you have to lock your phone away, seal off the refrigerator, throw your to-do list out the window?

My point is that if you’re looking for an excuse not to do something, you’re going to find it; and a little piece of software isn’t going to do the trick.


Did you feel compelled to check your email the last time you were willfully and completely engaged in something?   We’re primed to get the most enjoyment out of something only when we are fully experiencing it with all our senses.  That’s why eating, sex, and sports give us so much pleasure.   I was pondering this during a most blissful breakfast of Hallumi eggs at Cafe Mogador (number two on my top eats list for The Times in London).  When I go out to eat, that’s all I do.  No reading.  No phone.  No rush.  It’s sheer ecstasy.

But if you’re not really feeling it for the thing you’re doing, then you’ll look for a way out.  Which makes me wonder about the idea of needing Freedom to get something done.  When we find it so hard to be productive because of Internet distraction, well, maybe we need to question the thing we’re avoiding.  If we’re looking for an excuse, then we haven’t found real purpose in what we’re supposed to be doing, which brings us back to Frankl.


Frankl found that his captors could take everything away from him except the ultimate freedom – the ability to choose how he would respond to his circumstances.  Those in the camps who fervently resisted their captors and lost a sense of purpose would lose it all.  But those who banded together and focused on some bright spot (whether a spouse they yearned to see again, a project they still wanted to complete, or even the beauty of sunshine breaking through the trees) would thrive and even experience joy in their horrid conditions.

It’s a Buddhist concept:  resistance is the surest path to misery; acceptance leads to happiness.  And changing the way you look at things is the true key to freedom.  It’s also free.

are we all internet inmates? (part 1)

Last week, famed British writer Zadie Smith made an appearance at NYU, my alma mater.  She was there to talk about her recent appointment as the New Books columnist at Harper’s Magazine, and yet the most riveting part of the hour-long conversation came about when Smith confessed her Internet addiction.  “Do I have an email?  Do I have an email?  Do I have an email?” she said in rapid fire, referring to her compulsion for checking messages and her need to lock her iPhone in another room.

More fascinating was the revelation that Smith uses Freedom, a program that disables your Internet connection so you can actually get some work done.  I scribbled it down and Googled it as soon as I got home.


One look at Freedom’s website, and you’ll see tons of testimonials from authors who swear they’d never get a book written if it weren’t for Freedom.  You’ll also learn Freedom costs $10 to download and is pretty simple:  you tell the program how many hours of “freedom” you want, and the clock starts ticking.

How come I’d never heard of this?  Apparently, I’m not the only one.  Nobody I’ve mentioned Freedom to knew about it, either.  But everyone can relate – we’re all Internet addicts.


You may be thinking, like I was, “Why not just turn your wireless port off?  Well, the only way to turn Freedom off – and get back online – is to re-boot your computer.  It’s that extra bit of effort Freedom is betting will make you stick to your goal – and is worth your 10 bucks.

In other words, if I’m sitting here with a bottomless plate of brownies in front of me, you can bet I’m going to plough right through them.  But if I have to actually go out and get some, well, that’s another story.

In that sense, Freedom is rather biblical:  you’re cutting off the hand that’s sinning.


At the core of Internet addiction – if it’s an addiction at all – is a yearning to be heard and to connect.  Interestingly, these are the very desires that begat the publishing industry.

Meanwhile, haven’t we rapidly moved into an era where we are absorbing stuff in chunks and in real time rather than devoting uninterrupted time to a larger work?  And shouldn’t the way we produce that stuff evolve in tandem?

It used to be that publishing was the only way to get your words out and connect with other people.   But not now, which is why institutions such as Harper’s Magazine are suffering, and why they were practically giving away subscriptions for free at the event.

We’re in the age of self-selection – no longer do we need agents, publishers, and advertisers to decide what we’re going to read.  Isn’t that the ultimate freedom?

And since, like you, I feel compelled to be heard and to connect, I want to know:  what do you think?