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Recent & Recommended: Books on Navigating Life’s Challenges and Getting Back on Course

“Hunger,” Roxane Gay
In her phenomenally popular essays and long-running Tumblr blog, Roxane Gay has written with intimacy and sensitivity about food and body, using her own emotional and psychological struggles as a means of exploring our shared anxieties over pleasure, consumption, appearance, and health. As a woman who describes her own body as “wildly undisciplined,” Roxane understands the tension between desire and denial, between self-comfort and self-care. In Hunger, she explores her past—including the devastating act of violence that acted as a turning point in her young life—and brings readers along on her journey to understand and ultimately save herself.
With the bracing candor, vulnerability, and power that have made her one of the most admired writers of her generation, Roxane explores what it means to learn to take care of yourself: how to feed your hungers for delicious and satisfying food, a smaller and safer body, and a body that can love and be loved — in a time when the bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.

“Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over,” by Nell Painter

A history professor in her 60s takes a break from teaching at Princeton University to go to art school in this witty and perceptive memoir. After enrolling at Rutgers University in the fall of 2007, Painter (The History of White People), quickly immerses herself in her drawing and painting classes as she wryly observes her younger classmates “upholding art-school sartorial drama in bright yellow hair and piercings.” She notes that her fellow students, who know far less of the world than she does, are better painters, and she explores how her thinking as a historian hobbles her as an artist.

Her “20th century eyes favored craft… narrative and meaning” while her 21st century classmates and teachers preferred the “DIY aesthetic” and appropriation from popular culture (e.g., cartoons, pornography). Painter goes on to attend graduate school at the Rhode Island School of Design, where she feels like a misfit as the oldest—and only black—student in her class, and is also unappreciated for her intellectual sophistication, though she ultimately develops her own aesthetic and confidence in her work. This is a courageous, intellectually stimulating, and wholly entertaining story of one woman reconciling two worlds and being open to the possibilities and changes life offers.

“The Year of Yes,” Shonda Rhimes

The instant New York Times bestseller from the creator of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away with Murder shares how saying YES changed her life. “As fun to read as Rhimes’s TV series are to watch” (Los Angeles Times).

She’s the creator and producer of some of the most groundbreaking and audacious shows on television today. Her iconic characters live boldly and speak their minds. So who would suspect that Shonda Rhimes is an introvert? That she hired a publicist so she could avoid public appearances? That she suffered panic attacks before media interviews?

With three children at home and three hit television shows, it was easy for Shonda to say she was simply too busy. But in truth, she was also afraid. And then, over Thanksgiving dinner, her sister muttered something that was both a wake up and a call to arms: You never say yes to anything. Shonda knew she had to embrace the challenge: for one year, she would say YES to everything that scared her.

“The Book of Joy,” Desmond Tutu and Dali Lama

Two spiritual giants. Five days. One timeless question. Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships — or, as they would say, because of them — they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.

In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the face of life’s inevitable suffering? They traded intimate stories, teased each other continually, and shared their spiritual practices. By the end of a week filled with laughter and punctuated with tears, these two global heroes had stared into the abyss and despair of our time and revealed how to live a life brimming with joy.

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This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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