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Helpful, innocent, sweet, informative: four reads

As I write this book review, the presidential election is one day away. Like many of my readers, I have followed the online news regarding this race — the polls, the rallies, the daily barrage of commentaries on who deserves our votes. In the next few days, these weighty and acrimonious conflicts will, I hope, be resolved. 

The rest of the news is eaten up by stories about coronavirus — if I never hear that word again, I will be among the happiest of men — and riots in American cities. 

Grim, eh?

Of course, many of us have ways of escape from this deluge of fear mongering, finger pointing, and at times, sheer hysteria. We turn off our electronic devices, pour a beer, call a friend, spend some time working on the yard, exercising, and so on, and often find rest and recovery in these activities. 

As for me, the next couple of hours will be given over to the frivolity of writing a review of books having absolutely nothing to do with politics, the pandemic, and the madness that has gripped our country for most of this year.

First up is Everyday Mindfulness: 108 Practices to Empower Yourself and Transform Your Life (TCK Publishing, 2020, 244 pages). Melissa Steginus, who lives on Canada’s West Coast, is a life coach and wellness expert with years of experience in her field, and in Everyday Mindfulness she shares her knowledge with readers. 

In her introduction Steginus writes, “You can use your daily tasks and routines to immerse yourself in the present moment and appreciate the wonder of your existence — if you pay attention.” The 108 practices do include paying attention to activities like sleep, cooking, and shopping, but also address such areas as the spiritual, the care of the emotions, work, and relationships. In “Chapter Three: Rational,” for instance, Steginus offers sections on such topics as “Start With What’s Important,” “Write Your Priorities,” and “Assess Your Worries. 

Especially agreeable to many readers will be the short lessons. Each one is only two pages long and is divided into “Purpose,” “Practice,” “Mindful Tip,” and “Reflection.” The first three parts give advice and assignments to the reader, while “Reflection” asks specific questions and leaves space for participants to record their thoughts.

Everyday Mindfulness is an excellent workbook for those who find themselves in a rut or are so stressed by life that they feel overwhelmed. The 108 practices are reminders to reconnect to the moment and to the world.

Lorri Moulton’s Spell Bound (Lavender Lass Books, 2020, 139 pages) is a fairytale novella for everyone from adolescents to adults. Having lost three jobs in as many months, Felicia feels at the end of her rope when she learns of a position in the large, mysterious house of Mr. Oliver Bertrand. Felicia expects to be hired as a housekeeper, but instead serves as Bertrand’s apprentice — a sorcerer’s apprentice, as it were, because Bertrand is a wizard of sorts. 

As she becomes accustomed to the eccentricities of Bertrand, the household staff, and even the pets, Nora the cat and Hob the parrot, Felicia begins exploring the house, goes to the cellar, finds an old book, and with Nora the cat watchfully eyeing her, reads what turns out to be an old spell. When she wakens, Felicia discovers that Nora and Hob have returned to their natural state. They are pixies and are eager to return home to the magical realm in which they and otherworldly creatures live.

In this strange, new world, Felicia finds herself caught up in a power struggle featuring pixies, elves, fairies, and trolls, court intrigue, and an attempted coup. She also falls deeply in love with Hob, and they must decide whether to live as humans or as pixies.

Billed as a “Clean/Sweet Fairytale,” Spell Bound fulfills that promise. Because the fiction I usually review is rarely clean or sweet, this innocent and romantic tale took me back to books I read in my boyhood. 

A fine gift to a younger reader and one for older readers seeking some gentle amusement.

Written by a Catholic nun, Sister Mary Faith, Candy Cane Lane’s Story (iUniverse, 2019, 18 pages) sounds like a Christmas book, which it is in a sense, but really it is a sweet — there’s that word again — look at a mother and father, the birth of their baby, and the beauty and love they share with her. With its excellent photographs and simple story line, Candy Cane Lane’s Story is a fine book for the little folk in your life.

Finally, I have read most of Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (Penguin, 2020, 284 pages). Newport explains how the tech companies aim and succeed at making so many of us addicts to social media, the dangers of that addiction — less engagement with the physical world, stress, a feeling of inferiority for some, hours wasted — and how to “declutter” our tech lives and spend our time in more meaningful ways.

Though we usually associate addiction with drugs or alcohol, Newport includes this definition of the word from psychologists: “Addiction is a condition in which a person engages in the use of a substance or in a behavior for which the rewarding effects provide a compelling incentive to repeatedly pursue the behavior despite detrimental consequences.”

Keeping that definition in mind, here’s what Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, had to say in 2017: 

“The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’ And that means we need to sort of give you a dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.”

Though I am rarely on social media, Digital Minimalism made me more aware of the time I waste daily online “mindlessly following trails of links, skipping from one headline to another.”

Time for me to try and do better in that department.

(Jeff Minick reviews books and has written four of his own: two novels, Amanda Bell and Dust On Their Wings, and two works of nonfiction, Learning As I Go and Movies Make the Man. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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