New releases this week!

Hey y’all!

It’s Monday and I have a bit of a by-week this week, which is perfect, since two books by my go-to authors come out this week. Part of why I’ve been able to blog for so long is that my literary side feels like such an indulgence, such a pleasure and a treat.

(Over the summer, I read How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like, and Paul Bloom spends a lot of time discussing why we love fiction and storytelling. Bloom’s conclusions were more conversational than substantive, but I enjoyed them, and they seemed relatively on point.)

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been avoiding fiction because it feels to visceral, and this year has made me much more defensive about the experiences — vicarious or not — that I open myself up to.

But I listen to a Maggie Stiefvater book whenever I need a good audiobook, and I laud her as my favorite writer. And I’ve reread Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus almost every year since I first read it. It sounds hyperbolic, but THAT read is the closest that any other book has given me to the feeling of reading Harry Potter for the first time as a kid. Rich, distinctive, and completely magical.

I’m trying not to put too much pressure on her next release, but it’s been a long time coming. In full transparency, I haven’t even read the description of The Starless Sea, but I’ve already preordered it.

I’m not a huge audiobook person, because I can read more quickly than I can listen, and I usually prefer music on walks or drives. But when I find one I love, I’m all in. At BEA in 2016, I remember talking with Maggie at a Scholastic function about her agent’s pursuit of Will Patton to narrate the audio, and the glee when they finally got him. This is an audiobook series that would not work half as well without his raspy, characteristic narration — honestly the closest that an audiobook will ever get to perfect for me. I associate The Raven Cycle on audio with rainy evenings at camp, working on the ceramics wheel after the kids have gone to bed. Or early, foggy mornings. Driving with wet hair and the sun dimming and pad Thai radiating heat from a takeout bag, on my way to a mountain overlook. So much LOVE.

I wasn’t particularly happy with the ending of The Raven King, but like I said, it’s the closest that any book series will ever come to perfect in my head for what I want from a particular atmosphere. So the thought of having another read to savor — particularly as we enter a tired season of finals and daylight savings and general dampened spirits — is exactly the pick-me-up I need to make it through the rest of the fall.

So, without further ado, here are the two books coming out today that have me thrilled.


THE BOOKS COMING OUT TODAY!


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Novel: Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater | Goodreads
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Scholastic

The dreamers walk among us . . . and so do the dreamed. Those who dream cannot stop dreaming – they can only try to control it. Those who are dreamed cannot have their own lives – they will sleep forever if their dreamers die.

And then there are those who are drawn to the dreamers. To use them. To trap them. To kill them before their dreams destroy us all.


Ronan Lynch is a dreamer. He can pull both curiosities and catastrophes out of his dreams and into his compromised reality.

Jordan Hennessy is a thief. The closer she comes to the dream object she is after, the more inextricably she becomes tied to it.

Carmen Farooq-Lane is a hunter. Her brother was a dreamer . . . and a killer. She has seen what dreaming can do to a person. And she has seen the damage that dreamers can do. But that is nothing compared to the destruction that is about to be unleashed. . . .

I have no doubt that the hardcover format is lovely, but I HIGHLY recommend the audio version by Will Patton. Companion series give me a small twinge of nerves — because I’m sure we’ll see cameos, but I hope it has equally as much substance and vitality as the original series — but I’m excited. If only to get to listen to Will Patton’s voice for another 11+ hours.

Novel: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern | Goodreads
Release Date: November 5, 2019
Publisher: Doubleday Books

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world--a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues--a bee, a key, and a sword--that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians--it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose--in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

Autumn feels like a time for a vivid fantasy, one rooted in history and detail. A tapestry of sorts, full of colorful scenes and intrigue. I’m also curious to know what’s characteristic of Morgenstern’s voice versus what’s exclusive to her first novel.

What books are y’all excited for?

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

Novel: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk | Goodreads
Release Date: September 15, 2014
Publisher: Viking
Format: Paperback
Source: Bought

A pioneering researcher and one of the world’s foremost experts on traumatic stress offers a bold new paradigm for healing.

Trauma is a fact of life. Veterans and their families deal with the painful aftermath of combat; one in five Americans has been molested; one in four grew up with alcoholics; one in three couples have engaged in physical violence. Such experiences inevitably leave traces on minds, emotions, and even on biology. Sadly, trauma sufferers frequently pass on their stress to their partners and children.

Renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he transforms our understanding of traumatic stress, revealing how it literally rearranges the brain’s wiring—specifically areas dedicated to pleasure, engagement, control, and trust. He shows how these areas can be reactivated through innovative treatments including neurofeedback, mindfulness techniques, play, yoga, and other therapies. Based on Dr. van der Kolk’s own research and that of other leading specialists, The Body Keeps the Score offers proven alternatives to drugs and talk therapy—and a way to reclaim lives.

This book is an important one. Bessel van der Kolk illuminates a simple but startling truth in how we process what happens to us — our mental darknesses having physiological effects. It’s surprising that it took us this long to affirm.

The Body Keeps the Score is dense, but engaging; it deals with specifics, and the nature of trauma means that the circumstances require a lot of processing. It’s a heavy read. It will absolutely give you more empathy for understanding what other people go through, and the classic adage of never knowing another person’s circumstances. It’ll make you sad, but it’s also good for you. It’s not pessimistic, per se, but as someone who has an optimism bias, it’s a tough perspective.

A lot of it made instinctual sense. It’s academic, rather than being self help in nature, but I’m sure some of it is applicable if that’s a service you’re seeking from reading it. The stories are specific, and heartwrenching. They’ll gut you, but they’re worth reading. Dr. van der Kolk believes firmly in treating the cause rather than the symptoms.

“We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

The nature of the book means that it contains a ton of empirical data and studies rather than van der Kolk waxing poetic on emotional issues. The style means it’s harder to read — in terms of time commitment and mental workload — but it’s more convincing.

It’s a slippery slope to be so fixated on the body, embodying the mental in the physical. I’ve always been a big believer in the outside matching the inside, that I can fix my surroundings and my details to match how I feel. It’s why I love artistic pursuits and anything involving expression — the intangible given form. This summer, I spent most days dancing, so many hours in my day. It was so cathartic. Although there’s no comparable pursuit in small town Virginia, I’ve replaced it with spending a lot of my time running although I have to be much more careful about it not wearing me down too much.

Dr. van der Kolk’s main thesis, about events being stored in the body and the brain, doesn’t feel new but forms a helpful structure in which to understand the natures of PTSD, addictions, and other mental struggles. It’s one of those books you can find value in regardless of where you are in your life or what you might be dealing with — although I’d warn again that it will make you briefly sad about what some people have to go through. It’s also effective as a sociological read, understanding certain issues to scale, like gun violence. It’s refreshing to read a psychological book that focuses so much on the physical.

“Psychologists usually try to help people use insight and understanding to manage their behavior. However, neuroscience research shows that very few psychological problems are the result of defects in understanding; most originate in pressures from deeper regions in the brain that drive our perception and attention. When the alarm bell of the emotional brain keeps signaling that you are in danger, no amount of insight will silence it.”

The book mostly focuses on the neuroscience of trauma, rather than the emotion of it, but it’s well-balanced in regards to both. He describes various methods of treatment in incredible depth. (See also How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain to continue on that track.) Certain anecdotes were dark. It’s particularly helpful in thinking about veterans and those affected by military service. Also in terms of certain structures such as foster care, since so much of the issues that van der Kolk covers originate in childhood. (Complement that thought with To the End of June: The Intimate Life of American Foster Care.)

I’ve been on a psychological/neurological kick in my book taste, but I also read it for personal reasons. I’m very upfront about wishing that 2019 had never happened. There’s been too much death, both in my family and among other people whom I love. Too much near-death. Too much else. I didn’t realize that bad things could cluster so succinctly, that the worst events of your life could all happen one after the other. I’ve found bits of joy in it still, found a lot of reflection, so much more risk than I ever would have taken otherwise. But as a whole, I’d be a lot happier if it turned out to just be a terrible dream and I could wake up to it never having happened.

Part of reading books like this also mean acknowledging how much self care and positive psychology have become buzz words. (I also just, in general, have a philosophical interest in what you do to something when you label it — how much of an effect it has on somebody to categorize them. There’s a fascinating chapter on naming and words in Drunk Tank Pink by Adam Alter that discusses the constraints of language.) The wellness economy is fascinating to me.

The Body Keeps the Score emphasizes the necessity of dealing with the physical to control the mental. The capacity of your brain to snap into fight or flight, the toll it has on you over time, etc,. Even aspects of reality like our individual experiences of space and time.

It’s a hard book to read, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it to everyone. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone going through something really difficult unless you have the mental distance to be able to digest some of the issues on an academic and unemotional level. It’s an excellent book as a whole, and well done.

Last Minute Halloween Picks
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Hey y’all!

Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I don’t have much opportunity to celebrate it this year — but have gotten much more peaceful as a whole about being able to defer it to next year when I won’t have exams. (I know I’ll get a solid Halloween again soon, whether just nestled within the natural flows of a working schedule, or at a later point when I have kids and am responsible for creating that magic myself.) College’s Halloween has a different focus, and ya girl has a chem test to study for instead.

I may simply play “Monster Mash” between classes on my headphones, or wear my “Witch Better Have My Money” socks, or play a cheesy spooky movie or audiobook in the background while I finish my laundry. Adulthood!

I’ve considered building time into my day to snag time for one last Halloween-ish read, but that would be irresponsible with my test coming up.

So instead I’m sharing a few choices with y’all, in case any of y’all end up having a free afternoon and want a quick way to get into the spirit of the season.

(I’m also fully planning on reading many of these in November, because for me, spooky season goes until about Thanksgiving anyways. There’s still the scent of wet autumn leaves, grays and oranges and storms everywhere. You still crave drinking spiced cider and baking pumpkin bread and walking outside to goosebumps.)

If you have time to read a quick Halloween pick this year, do it! Let me live vicariously. I’ve always loved having one of these to read on audio while driving around.

QUICK PICKS


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Maggie Stiefvater writes seasonal imagery like no other, and her background as a history major means Ballad is imbued with folky notes.

An irreverent, occasionally shallow, fun, and likable paranormal mystery full of all our favorite high school tropes. So giddy.

Some classic Edgar Allan Poe gothicism, woven through with painful yearning, based on “Annabel Lee.”

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A poetic magical realism author who can do any autumnal plot justice — see her others as well! — with a new release about sexual violence.

One of my favorite favorite books — the cover is worn through. It’s underlined incessantly. I could go on about this one for forever.

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This has been waitlisted for forever at the library, but I love the tension between science and mysticism at an accessible scale.

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An intense + thrilling fallen angel narrative that’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read.

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A tight psychological spiral, with a stunning emphasis on place and escape.

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A whimsical mystery whose strength erupts from the flowery writing. The overall atmosphere makes it a good Halloween read to sink into.

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Children of the Corn-esque. Backwards cult. Cornfield imagery. A complete, startling lack of trust that elevates all of the novel’s events.

A mixture of tender childhood nostalgia — which lends it a storybook style — and notes of fear and urgency that make the conflict radiant.

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A dark fantasy with characters who are morally twisted. The imagery pulls no punches.

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A charismatic family, complicated spells, and an outsider who just wants to be let inside.

Becca Fitzpatrick returns with a snowy thriller with dislikable characters. Snowy cabin in the woods, little chance for escape.

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A weird book with a TOUGH protagonist that narrows in on Irish folklore (with a dystopian twist), structured in an immensely high stakes way. Think The Maze Runner meets dark fantasy.


Each of these books are also ones that start up quickly, that have all-consuming moods, so I’d fully endorse being able to pick them up and read a chapter just to get the Halloween spirit going. They’re ones that aren’t strictly for the night, but could extend easily into November and still just as relished for their creepiness. Some are short enough that you could knock them out in an afternoon, while others are longer but more timeless.

Any on here that you’ve read?
What are your go-to Halloween picks?

October Reading List

Hey y’all!

I originally wrote this post in Nashville a few weeks ago, but got side-tracked by some of the events that unfurled there. (Namely, the theft of my computer and the contents of my luggage, so blogging has been a little slow!) Dancing there was such a refreshing release though — such a way to connect to my summer self as I gear myself towards the fall.

I’ll likely write about the school year as a whole soon — current obsessions: redeye coffees, red, my late afternoon runs, masculine black and white portraits, etc,. — since it’s starting to configure into patterns, but that’s for another time.

I haven’t been able to finish a ton of books this year, but I’ve been chipping away at a few different reads that have continued to shape the way that I think. Still not back into fiction, exactly, since I’ve been on an anti-emotion kick. Fiction feels visceral in a way that even personal essays don’t. (I am reading Americanah though, per Allie’s request.)

In addition to the books I recently bought, here are some additional reads that made it on my list. Midterms make it more difficult to find the time, but I have my ways.

THE BOOKS

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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My friend Allie recommended to me, and asked me if I’d read it as her birthday present — I started the audiobook on the first leg of my drive to Nashville and relished the patterns of the language. A resonant read.


Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

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If my friend Sean recommends a book to me, I have to read it — his recs are always on point for me, and I trust them wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, this is one of the belongings that was stolen (!!!) from my car, but I have a copy coming in soon, which would be helpful. Sleep is such a thorny problem for me — not so much getting to sleep, but sleeping poorly because of dreams— so conquering it would be useful.


Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

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This summer especially, I realized how much of what I love is formalized in the concept of flow. Making art, playing an instrument, dancing. Cooking or working on a problem or running. Challenging yourself feels good and that sense of progress is part of what fulfills me. I like hobbies wrapped up in those values.


Aside from those, I’m reading a ton of Soviet history — thank you, Russian seminar — and attempting to keep myself afloat in other reads. I have a wishlist full of autumnal reads that I never got around to in October but hope that I can savor in November as the season winds down. Ideally, get to share a few on here regardless.


What have y’all been reading lately?

How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency

Who we are is not just how we are seen, but how we are unseen.

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Novel: How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch | Goodreads
Release Date: February 12, 2019
Publisher: Penguin Press
Format: eBook
Source: Library

It is time to reevaluate the merits of the inconspicuous life, to search out some antidote to continuous exposure, and to reconsider the value of going unseen, undetected, or overlooked in this new world. Might invisibility be regarded not simply as refuge, but as a condition with its own meaning and power? The impulse to escape notice is not about complacent isolation or senseless conformity, but about maintaining identity, autonomy, and voice.

In our networked and image-saturated lives, the notion of disappearing has never been more alluring. Today, we are relentlessly encouraged, even conditioned, to reveal, share, and promote ourselves. The pressure to be public comes not just from our peers, but from vast and pervasive technology companies that want to profit from patterns in our behavior. A lifelong student and observer of the natural world, Busch sets out to explore her own uneasiness with this arrangement, and what she senses is a widespread desire for a less scrutinized way of life--for invisibility. Writing in rich painterly detail about her own life, her family, and some of the world's most exotic and remote places, she savors the pleasures of being unseen. Discovering and dramatizing a wonderful range of ways of disappearing, from virtual reality goggles that trick the wearer into believing her body has disappeared to the way Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway finds a sense of affiliation with the world around her as she ages, Busch deliberates on subjects new and old with equal sensitivity and incisiveness.

How to Disappear is a unique and exhilarating accomplishment, overturning the dangerous modern assumption that somehow fame and visibility equate to success and happiness. Busch presents a field guide to invisibility, reacquainting us with the merits of remaining inconspicuous, and finding genuine alternatives to a life of perpetual exposure. Accessing timeless truths in order to speak to our most urgent contemporary problems, she inspires us to develop a deeper appreciation for personal privacy in a vast and intrusive world.

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It feels ironic to be writing and publicizing a post on invisibility when the act of publishing is, by definition, transparent. While I’m grateful to be back on campus again this fall, it’s definitely a small school and small community in which invisibility is mostly impossible. Anonymity is relatively difficult (and undesirable, because you don’t get the same comfort of being around a cluster of strangers.) But sometimes you just need to ghost. I used to study in coffeeshops because I’m most focused when I’m around people, but not people I know. That state is pretty much impossible here, when you know almost everyone who walks into where you are — or are connected to them in some way. (Complement that thought with a fascinating read on social networks.)

My relationship with invisibility, especially in the age of social media when a handful of people know me as the girl from Instagram, is a complicated one. On one hand, I’m shy and introverted, especially at school; on the other, I have specific tastes and deep interests, which manifest in highly visible ways.

My summer of being invisible was such a luxury — something I relished and appreciated. It feels less doable here. I would go offline in a heartbeat again, but here it’s more of an escape than a hindrance.

In the winter, it was refreshing on a few occasions to go out to dinner alone, or to disappear into the woods for an afternoon instead of being on campus in the same apartments, spilling over with all the people you spend all your time with (and love, regardless.)

As I’ve mentioned, I have a few monthly reads queued up as reminders of some values that I cherished over the summer: digital minimalism, humility, appreciating place, and prioritizing character. Somehow, this trajectory emerged as a cobbled-together theme.

I wasn’t sure what function How to Disappear would serve — a how-to guide, full of the practical, or a philosophy. It ended up being a great look at how we define our identities, and how visibility interacts with that process.

MY THOUGHTS

How to Disappear starts out with personal reflection on being in nature, an immediate first person narrative. There’s lush description of color and trees — a quality always guaranteed to draw me in. The detail is expansive, and a little much at times, but underscores the emphasis on how much more you notice when you’re attuned to silence. (There was an excellent Brain Pickings quote in a post the other day, regarding that.)

“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.” Gordon Hempton.

How to Disappear then takes the idea of invisibility literally, going into a discussion of how our vision affects our experience. As it states, humans have “diverse ways of being seen and unseen.” It casually references discussions of narcissism, improved technology, marginalized groups going unseen, flow states — all topics that beautifully illustrate our complicated culture. Invisibility can be a privilege too. Like, I’m not sure I would have had the same response to this book had I read this last winter.

A new vocabulary has emerged for this visibility. The word optics now has less to do with the science of light and more with how visual impressions of events and issues may be more important than the events and issues themselves.

I want to go in a thousand different directions with discussing this book and the various topics that arise within it. Like, one idea I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is that of a model of something, a representation. Or like The Memory Illusion (one of my favorite, most disturbing books of the summer) discussed, that our representations of ourselves on social media become versions of ourselves equally as valid as those we engage with in person. Or I’ve always thought that sometimes I love photos of certain places more than the places themselves. That doesn’t often happen, because I love being outside too much, but sometimes a stunning photo of a natural scene takes my breath away in a way that’s difficult to replicate. Visual impressions as more important.

When identity is derived from projecting an image in the public realm, something is lost, some core of identity diluted, some sense of authority or interiority sacrificed. It is time to question the false equivalency between not being seen and hiding.

I’m astonished by the ability of How to Disappear to rope in all these different topics and effortlessly transition between them; it’s elegant, in a word. And it nails the balance between being technical and investigative in certain areas while still offering personal observations and reflections. It roots a lot of it in empathy and smallness of self as conducive to experiences of awe. And the scope of what it talks about is even more impressive because it’s a relatively short volume.

The unspoken has an accuracy of its own…when I was growing up, he told me that the human mind was designed to forget, designed to filter information and select the things that mattered, and that it sometimes succeeded at this, but not always.

It’s one of those books that feels like it has the whole world in it.

It talked about other bits of visibility and invisibility that so poignantly illustrated ways the natural world grapples with that balance. For example, mimicry in nature. Extending that discussion to mimicry and camouflage in humans, ways we conceal ourselves in society.

In some ways, camouflage is more frustrating to me than invisibility. Blending together. Apathy. (My favorite people are intentional ones.) I dislike the feeling of being interchangeable, although I do relish being unseen. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one, and one that How to Disappear articulated so much better than I ever could. I got really into the idea of essentialism this summer, which, according to Google is,

a belief that things have a set of characteristics which make them what they are, and that the task of science and philosophy is their discovery and expression; the doctrine that essence is prior to existence.

Essentialism meshes well with the specificity of what I love, and alleviates the nerves we all seem to get when we worry that others will forget about us when we’re not around.

This book just understood all of it, and gave me so much to think about. In certain ways, it’s so relatable — the type of read I want to shove into all my friends’ arms in the hopes that they connect with some of the transitory coming-of-age type questions. In other ways, it’s just so sophisticated and thoughtful in a way that’s so admirable, that makes me so jealous that Busch was able to word all of it so beautifully. It’s a meaningful read, and concise.

Facial recognition systems, retinal scanning, and biometric tools that can read everything from voice and heart rate to hormone levels and brain waves have given us nearly infinite ways in which to know ourselves. Now if there were only as many ways to forget ourselves.

I appreciated the musings on identity, because that’s something I’ve had a lot of questions about lately. A lot of philosophy gets too dense about it, and to a certain extent, overthinking your identity is enormously unhelpful. What keeps you the same person? What do you love about the people you love? How visible are we to others? Which “version” of yourself are you at a given time, and which ones are true — or most important?

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I want to talk with someone who reads this about the instability of the human character — the studies that show how little of ourselves remains the same over the years — or what remains the same — and how hard that is to pin down. That the only constant is choosing to see yourself as the same person.

The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting, and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been.

Contemporary identity politics ask for a deep appraisal of what makes us who we are. We all want to be recognized and identified precisely and accurately. We want the images we have of ourselves to be true.

I ALSO LOVED

Descriptions of the calm of being underwater — a concept first illuminated to me in reading The Blue Mind, a recommendation from a friend, but supported by everything else I’ve read.

Gorgeous imagery describing animals —How to Disappear had a sublime way of reminding us of the big picture, especially in regards to nature. There were so many descriptions of sinuous beings interacting with their surroundings, which Busch tied effortlessly to some beautiful reflection on some esoteric topic relating to visibility.

SO many lines I wanted to underline — the problem with writing this review is that there are so many tangents I want to go on, so many lines I want to include. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that if I included everything that I wanted to, the review would be the entire book.

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In essence, How to Disappear is a marvel. It’s smart and spot-on, with poetry and gravitas. I keep wanting to use the word “gorgeous,” which it is, but it gets repetitive. My head is spinning. Read it, so I have someone to talk to about it! It will definitely reappear on the blog, as I continue to mull over its importance and refine how to actually talk about it. It’s on the favorites list for sure.