For her ninetieth birthday, Laberta Altermat bought herself black lingerie. My friend Greer told me this... as we drove to a gathering of a book club in Virgin, Utah, near Zion National Park. Greer also said that Laberta looked more like seventy than ninety.
Still, when we arrived, I didn't immediately take the vibrant woman on the couch to be Laberta. I heard her hearty laugh before I even entered the room. She had pure-white hair in a chic, asymmetrical cut and wore a tiger-striped sweater and a large, Picasso-inspired necklace. Her confidence of style endeared me, but I was most engaged by her flashing, mischievous eyes.
That vivid picture of Laberta Altermat opens the essay on love, one of 45 mostly short chapters in this personal book exploring virtue and vice in daily life. The book's subtitle sums up its aim: A Meditation on the Search for Meaning in an Ordinary Life. Teresa Jordan clearly knows how to tell a story and hook a reader. What keeps us reading is her wide-ranging, open and erudite mind—and where she takes the story and what she makes of it.
In other hands than Jordan's, living virtuously could make a dull book. But enhanced by her perspective and that of thinkers as disparate as Aristotle, Immanuel Kant and the actor Johnny Depp, along with Jordan's utter fascination with the world and our part in it, these meditations on love, stubbornness, trust, cleanliness, temperance, wrath, justice, forgiveness and the whole range of human behavior are compulsively readable.
As Jordan explains in the introduction, the chapters originated as an online journal inspired, she writes, "by Benjamin Franklin's list of thirteen virtues and the seven deadly sins." In those blog posts, she "counterpois[ed] stories about how virtue and vice play out in ordinary life with the views of theologians, philosophers, ethicists, evolutionary biologists, and a whole range of scholars and scientists within the emerging field of consciousness studies." All well and good, but if there's a flaw in this engaging book, it comes from its genesis online: what works as a blog essay is not always effective in book format. Some of these essays could have used revision from blog-voice to book-voice.
Still, whether Jordan is comparing the lives and ideas of Benjamin Franklin and Ayn Rand in the chapter on Self-Reliance or talking about the names on cemetery headstones and "the mysterious lightness of being" that is gladness; whether she's considering cognitive behavior, philosophy, politics or horse-training, the ideas and stories in The Year of Living Virtuously will stick with readers long after the end of each chapter.
Teresa Jordan was raised on a cattle ranch in the Iron Mountain country of southeast Wyoming. She has written or edited seven books about Western Rural life, culture, and the environment, including Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album. She and her husband, Hal Cannon, live in southern Utah.
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