Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen

Sweet biography of Virginia Woolf’s dad, organized by his pal Fred Maitland and consisting of Stephen’s letters interspersed with reminiscences from friends, pages from Leslie’s mother’s diary, and memories from Woolf’s own pen. The ordained Cambridge clergyman who turned his back on religion and made his way with journalism in London, surviving two wives’ deaths and churning out books and articles and managing the Dictionary of National Biography in between long walks. Beati omnes qui ambulant. I appreciating his mellowing with age, “I know a good many plants now, and feel the pursuit excellent for an elderly gentleman. It gives a motive for many pleasant strolls at a mild pace.”

Virginia Woolf: A biography

I don’t know why I was so reluctant to read her nephew’s biography. You can clearly see his bias and inflating certain areas of her life (undue emphasis on the competition between VW and the author’s mother about having had children, perhaps too much emphasis on her mental illness), and if you’re aware of it, you can tolerate its presence. Bell does an admirable job weaving together bits and bobs from her diaries and letters at a time when not everything was public, when in fact his wife was doing the far more heroic job in transcribing and editing Woolf’s journals. Worth reading, obviously.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

I normally view business-y type book recommendations with a lot of skepticism but Suzann kept referring to this book (and held it up as a North Star that guided her decision to make a recentĀ  change), so I gave in and was delightfully surprised to enjoy it immensely. Do less, better; ask yourself what really matters and do that; you can apply the very self-help-y suggestions to both work & real life. The pandemic induced change to routine is the perfect time to reshape life along these lines, and I found that I’ve been doing many of the suggestions naturally.

We’ve lost our ability to separate what is important from what isn’t, and people try to do everything. Choose how you spend your time. Most things in life are noise/not essential. There are tradeoffs, but instead of trying to to everything, ask what problem do you want. Don’t surrender your power of choosing what to do with your one precious life. Unless something is a clear and resounding YES! then it’s a no.

How to say no: “I’m flattered that you thought of me but I’m overcommitted at the moment.” After the ask: pause & count to three, give yourself time to consider. “No, but…” say what you will do. “Let me check my calendar and get back to you.” “What should I deprioritize?”