ABCs for a Happy Life

ABCs_allAt the age of six, my sister told a stranger, “Don’t have a lugubrious day!” Even at a young age, she knew big words. She and my mom would practice vocabulary and would always stop to look up unfamiliar words when reading. They enjoyed distinguishing shades of meaning between similar words.

This was their thing; I didn’t bother. I read for plot, easily skipping over gaping, unfamiliar words. If I could understand the general meaning of the sentence, I wasn’t bothered by a quick skip over a missing word here or there. When it came time to study for the SATs, this attitude showed. I spent a bit of time with flash cards to make up for this. I learned the meaning of obdurate and lachrymose (words that my mom was shocked that I hadn’t known by then). Yet, even with new this new vocab, I didn’t fully understand the importance of words and their power to shape how we see ourselves and the world. (read more…)

Small Answers Readers Recommend…


Do you remember the feeling, as a kid, of losing yourself completely in a book? That dreamlike state, composed of emotion and timelessness, that comes with complete absorption of something outside yourself?

When I remember that feeling, I think of the “Little House” books, of “Bridge to Terabithia,” of the “Alanna: Song of the Lioness” series. I still chase that feeling when I pick out books to read now, as an adult, and a few months ago I captured it. After hearing for many years about Jane Smiley’s “A Thousand Acres,” I took it out of the library and spent the whole weekend reading it on my couch. It had been a long time since I had lost myself so wholly in another world; for two afternoons I became fully consumed with the story of the Cook family, their choices, the world of Zebulon County, IA. It felt intoxicating.

Since we know that the Small Answers community is full of dedicated readers, we wanted to mine the wisdom and taste of our audience. We asked you to tell us about a book or two that has been meaningful to you at some point in your life. What follows is an amazing list of book recommendations along with notes about why these reads were significant. (read more…)

What are you afraid of?

Giant red eel-like sea serpent on antiquarian maritime map, extendedThe wildest thing I ever did to impress someone was jump out of an airplane.

It was terrifying. I am not, by nature, an adventurous person. But I was dating someone (who I later married) who got deep pleasure and satisfaction from giving himself a rush of adrenaline, and skydiving was a hobby of his — along with watching scary movies, snowboarding in parks and backcountry, and other things designed to induce the sensation of jolting your heart into your stomach.

I’ve spent over ten years not understanding this rather significant part of my husband’s personality. To me, the activities he finds exciting and thrilling are all things to be avoided: they scare, upset, and disturb. But a recent episode of Hidden Brain about the science of fear finally explained some of the reasoning behind it. (read more…)

Innocence is the Crime

The Subway_George TookerSometimes I wonder, if I had been alive during the Civil Rights movement, who would I have been? Would I have marched on Washington? Would I have traveled to protests? Or would have simply watched on TV and read transcripts of MLK’s speeches printed in the newspaper?

I fear that I would have sat by, agreeing with the movement, but going about my life, the weight of day-to-day living overwhelming all else. This seems most likely (especially since I can count the number of protests I’ve attended on any issue on one hand), and I am not proud of this. I am not proud that I have done nothing to protest the many police shootings of unarmed black men and women. I have not even done superficial things to show my solidarity and belief in the fundamental validity and value of the movement, like tweeting #BlackLivesMatter or changing my Facebook icon. (read more…)