All About Love

I abandon books. Perhaps it’s the grad school tendency to read just enough to get the gist, or the compulsion to read all the things, but either way I’ve left quite a few half-finished books in my wake.

Most of the time this pattern is not a judgment on the book itself, or my interest in it. I just get distracted by another thing to read. (Squirrel?)

I read a great post this morning discussing this very issue and it inspired me to pick up a book I’ve abandoned: All About Love by literature professor/feminist/social critic bell hooks.


The first time I picked this book up was years ago at Powell’s – used of course. It’s fascinating to see markings I made, at an entirely different point in my life. Especially in relation to my capacity to love.

Love is a risk. Love is, as M. Scott Peck defines, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” It is a forever bending, melding, conflicting, intense movement that hopefully nourishes us throughout our lives.

hooks explores love through her own self-reflection and deconstruction of the societal and personal constructs that kept her from a deep, soul-fulfilling love. Her insights truly challenged me to examine my own relation to my partner and what it means to love.

One of the most challenging aspects in my life is hooks’ encouragement to “be here now.” I am a planner, color-coder, must-understand-know-everything-now type of woman. At times, this is not helpful.

She reorients this culturally mandated future-anxiety to reveal the damage and unrealistic expectations it produces. hooks implores us to consider another way:

“Love empowers us to surrender. We do not need to have endless anxiety and worry about whether we will fulfill our goals or plans. Death is always there to remind us that our plans are transitory. By learning to love, we learn to accept change. Without change, we cannot grow. Our will to grow in spirit and truth is how we stand before life and death, ready to choose life.”

Admittedly, there’s a lot there. One of the harder things about reading hooks’ writing for me is not her ideas, but the feeling that they only scratch the surface. Her own self-reflection is valuable, as are the touchstone authors she leans on, but I felt myself leaving with more questions about the finer points of her argument. Granted, this is the first in a trilogy, so maybe it’s just the set up.

Despite this small criticism, the book’s prose shines. hooks effectively uses poetic, spiritual writing to point toward the emotion we all desire most, and can heal our deepest wounds, but that we do not understand.

“We understand that the presence of light is not a result of darkness ending. Peace is found not in the absence of challenge but in our won capacity to be with hardship without judgment, prejudice, and resistance. We discover that we have the energy and the faith to heal ourselves, and the world, through an openheartedness in this movement.”

– Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman, Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and Heart, in All About Love


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