Books Read in August.

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“Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo

When my mother was a young woman a man used to follow her to work every morning and masturbate, in step behind her.

Elizabeth Gilbert raved about this book on her IG feed and I went out and bought it that day. Liz never steers me wrong.

This book was no exception. It’s an amazing journey into the heart of female desire told from the vantage point of Taddeo’s exquisite research over the course of 8 years and thousands of hours spent with three women across the country.

Lina is a housewife and mother in the midwest who only longs for her husband to kiss her on the mouth. 

Maggie is a high school student from North Dakota who, at first, finds a confidant in her married English teacher then it slips into something more clandestine.

Finally, in the northeast, we meet Sloane, a beautiful, successful restaurant owner who is married to a man who enjoys watching her have sex with other men and women.

This book is nonfiction but so often the writing carried me so deeply into their lives that I forgot that and thought that it was a novel. It is a fascinating and harrowing descent into how women’s desires are so often dismissed, ignored or become a vehicle of shame.

An essential read.

A sentence that blew me away:

We pretend to want things we don’t want so nobody can see us not getting what we need.

“Women in Sunlight” a novel by Frances Mayes

By chance, I witnessed the arrival of the three American women.

It was interesting to read this novel on the heels of the previous book. Both are about what women want and if they will allow themselves to indeed admit what they want and then, will they allow themselves to take it.

Susan, Camille and Julia meet at an open house for an active retirement community. They are at the point where either they or their families, think it is the next right step in their lives. The women come to believe the exact opposite. Instead of heading into the pasture of retirement living, they embark on an adventure together in Italy, renting a villa, connecting with the locals including their neighbor, another American, Kit who is a writer.

It’s a beautiful story filled with luscious descriptions of the Italian countryside, food, wine and friendship. It explores women’s desires and creativity and reinventing the second or third acts of their lives.

As a writer, I was particularly intrigued by her very effective use of combining first person and omniscients points of view.

It was the perfect novel to begin to wind down my summer reading.

A sentence I love:

My words fly off the page and float over the desk, rearranging into what I meant to say.

“Boundaries & Protections” by Pixie Lighthorse

What is a boundary? Why do we need protection and from what?

Boundaries are dividing lines between sand other creatures this application, humans.

Her words really speak to me. I loved her book “Honoring Voice” and I used it as guide through a few months of teaching my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class. She cuts through all the surface bullshit and gets down to the raw heart of being human.

Boundaries have always been a struggle for me. Actually, for many women if my conversations are any indication. Women are taught to be nice. To not make waves. I know that I am often uncomfortable standing up for myself, asking for a raise or naming a price for my work. I am uncomfortable calling a person out if they say something racist or misogynistic in front of me. I often say yes when I want to say no and no when I want to say yes. 

All of this reflects on my struggle with boundaries. And she addresses all that and more in this slim but powerful book that I know I will return to again and again as I empower myself to set those necessary boundaries in my life.

A line I underlined:

Boundaries make room for the deeper connections and intimacy we actually want to have.

“Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across” Poems by Mary Lambert

ONE

my body is terrifying,

idaho is a giant shithole,

and other wholesome stories

I am trying to read more poetry. Dissecting it in high school kind of ruined it for me for a long, long time. I felt I didn’t “get it.” Now I understand that I don’t have to get it, I just have to feel it.

When I read this title I knew I had to read it. Sadly, I didn’t know who she was before I picked it up. Now I do and her music is playing as I type this. So, I gained a new poet and new music to inspire me.

Her writing is raw, the truths she writes are dagger sharp. There were moments when I had tears in my eyes quickly followed by laughter bubbling up in my throat. 

Some lines I had to underline:

All I now of love is hunger.

Yes, I want the promise of the cathedral

of your mouth for the rest of my life.

Yes, I want to be the temple of your unraveling.

“Eleanor Elephant is completely fine” a novel by Gail Honeyman

When people ask me what I do—taxi drivers, dental hygienists—I tell them I work in an office.

As a writer, I appreciate the hell out of this first line. It reveals so much about our character in very few words. We learn that her world is very small because the people who ask that question are people she goes to for a service. These are not friends. 

I read many comments about this book before picking it up. Most were good. Some said the character was too unlikeable. That is a criticism that I tend to dismiss. Why must a character be likable? And it is often reserved for female characters just as it is reserved for female CEO’s, politicians and women in general who claim their space in the world. 

But once I started reading this amazing novel and getting completely drawn into Eleanor’s world and story and her POV, I couldn’t imagine what people were thinking with that comment. Did they not read the whole story? Did they not understand that she acts in such a way to protect herself from some horrific pain that we, as a reader, have yet to learn? That why she acts the way she acts is, in fact, the beating heart of this beautiful story about being human in all of its messy complex pain and the moments of beauty.

A sentence that made me both laugh and wince at its truthful precision:

At the office, there was that palpable sense of Friday joy, everyone colluding with the lie that somehow the weekend would be amazing and that, next week, work would be different, better. They never learn.

“Fearless After Fifty-How to Thrive with Grace, Grit and Yoga” by Desiree Rumbaugh and Michelle Marchildon

The inspiration for this book came some time ago when Michelle and Desiree each turned 50 and discovered that life was now very different both on and off the mat.

The irony is not lost on me that I hurt my low back while I was reading this book. 

But, it was also the perfect book to be reading when that happened. I was finally past the fear of hurting my back, 4 years after the initial injury. I had traipsed across Europe for 16 days and felt like I could finally trust my back again. I did yoga that morning, hiked for 2 hours then played on my mat with poses I had been too afraid to try like crow. I felt great! Then, I moved in just the wrong way (or the right way) and I was down. Like in the fetal position sobbing. Less from pain and more from anxiety and that feeling of being blind-sided and far from home. 

This book helped guide me off that precipice of fear and back into the reality of my body and my mind and life at 54.

Sure, I will still feel fear but I can’t let it hold me back. The first time I hurt my back I was SO afraid to move that I didn’t move unless sit was absolutely necessary. Not this time. I walked every  30-45 minutes and did some chair yoga after each walk. 

Movement is essential in life. Not just physically but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. 

Stagnation is something I struggle with but this book helped me see that even the smallest movements are progress. That aging doesn’t mean curling up in a ball waiting to die. Aging does mean meeting my body were it is on any given day and balancing resting with strengthening.

Desiree and Michelle guide us deeper into our lives through a physical practice that offers levels from grace to grit as well as how to weave the philosophy of yoga into our lives off the mat. 

A line I had to underline:

Aging, with all of its complexities, bizarre adjustments, strengthening and weakening of various systems, has the power to bring about our greatest transformations.

Aging can make us better human beings. We might seek out answers to long held questions about our behaviors, our fears, and our willingness to change our focus to what matters, and practice non-attachment to the things that don’t matter.

“The Opposite of Loneliness” Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan

We don’t have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that’s what I want in life.

This has got to be one of the most heart-breaking yet inspiring books I have ever read. Keegan, a recent graduate of Yale University, had already had a play produced and had a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Her final essay for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness” went viral.

She had a voice.

She had stories to tell.

She had truths to share that resonated.

Five days after her graduation, she died in a car accident. She was just twenty-two. Tears fill my eyes as I type that number. Twenty-two.

This book gathers her essays and stories that explore the POV of a woman struggling with what lies ahead of her, wanting to make an impact on the world.

The epigraph comes from a poem of hers and is eerie in its prescience:

Do you wanna leave soon?

No, I want enough time to be in love with everything…

And I cry because everything is so beautiful and so short.

I closed this book, holding it close to my heart, holding her words close to my heart, determined to be in love with everything, taking the time to create anything and everything that honors the fact that everything is beautiful and so short. 

A line I underlined that broke my heart:

We’re so young. We’re so young. We’re twenty-two years old. We have so much time.

 

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The Heart of the World.

heart of the world

Image found via Pinterest.

I read to slip into other worlds. To escape the world I am living in. While writing is solitary and it isolates me, it doesn’t allow me to escape the world. I don’t escape my life. If anything, writing slams me smack into my life. It slips into the crevices ands corners, hiding in the shadows that I’ve overlooked, taking me deeper into what I think, feel, believe at any given moment. 

Meditation, yoga and writing all allow me to slip deeper into myself, rather than away from myself. In each practice, I meet myself exactly where I am. I sit on my meditation cushion, set a timer and just observe my thoughts, observe my breath. Some days it is easier than others but it is never easy. I step on my mat and meet my body where it is that day. Rather than just moving through the poses, I try to drop deeper, connecting with my breath and my mind. Writing brings all of these together. It’s a practice I’ve been showing up for for over 30 years when I first picked up “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. I began filling notebooks with timed writings, not expecting them to lead me to a destination such as a story or a published book, for once just being content on the journey.

Once my girls were in school and Pre-K, I used my precious alone time to go to the Starbucks around the corner from the school to write. I didn’t call myself a writer. I just wrote. Sitting there with my soy chai latte and pumpkin scone I picked up a pen, opened my notebook and let the words spill out of me. Being a stay-at-home mom, I had a lot of pent up words.

I began to use writing as a way of untangling the knot of thoughts in my head. Stories that were guiding my actions—and reactions—but that were rarely based in reality. Once I found yoga, I learned that those stories have a word: samskara. Things that happened in the past that we don’t process and they get stuck in the body as energy. 

No matter what I write—fiction, memoir, personal essays or a blog post—there is no hiding from the world, from myself. Everything I write reveals my obsessions, reveals a piece of me that I may have been avoiding or was completely unaware of. Natalie Goldberg says, “Wild Mind isn’t just your mind; it’s the whole world moving through you.”

Reading allows me to go into other worlds; writing takes me straight into the messy, pulsing heart of the world.

Books Read in July.

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“This Naked Mind- Control Alcohol- Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change your Life” by Annie Grace

3:33 a.m. I wake up at the same time every night.

Continuing my exploration of my relationship with alcohol, I came across this book and it was eye-opening. Sharing her own story as well as thorough research into the industry of alcohol and the effects it has on society as a whole, Grace offers a new perspective into the role we allow alcohol to play in our lives. 

Her intention is to lay the facts out there, to help us see how the unconscious mind is what keeps us stuck in the cycle of drinking and show us a path out. 

A sentence that resonated deeply as soon as I read it:

Alcohol erases a bit of you every time you drink.

“Remedies” a novel by Kate Ledger

Simon Bear knew he probably shouldn’t have hired the young nurse with the bouncy ponytail, a slender woman whose clavicle bones protruded like bicycle handlebars at the base of her throat.

I love when I can peruse my own personal library and select a book that has been lingering on my shelves for years!

Told in alternating chapters from Simon and Emily’s POV, we get an intimate look into a marriage headed for trouble. Simon is a physician who specializes in pain management and is willing to do whatever his patients need to help them find relief. Emily is a public relations expert who is struggling to connect with their 13-year-old daughter. A tragedy from their past has taken up residence between them, a new breakthrough sends Simon off on a new quest and Emily is left trying to figure out what it is that she wants.

This is a gripping sage of a family is crisis. A story of the many kinds of pain we endure as humans navigating our lives and the relationships with those closest to us.

A sentence I love:

What kind of pain had she been enduring? Something dull and tight and forced, imprinted under the skin like a watermark, and yet there were times when she’d convinced herself she had everything in order and she’d managed not to feel it at all.

“The She Book” by Tanya Markul

Once a silent star in the sky, lost, alone, and unnoticed, she began to dream her life awake.

I literally just sat down and devoured this entire book, underlining words, phrases, entire passages that spoke to me. Making notes in the margins of the page and the margins of my soul. I found myself unearthing prompts from her writing, to take me deeper into own writing. Right after finishing it, I started writing using the free 30-day class she is offering if you buy the book in July + August. That led me to then write a post for my blog and a promise to write one each day this week, leading up to my birthday.

Her words are both soothing and stirring. 

They cool me and light a fire with in.

They make me write YES!!! on the page. Me, too!!

They inspire me to go deeper into my own life, my own heart, my own darkness to discover my own truth, my own sparkles.

A sentence I love:

Because my self-limiting beliefs are a mere pile of tinder, shame the spark, and fear the oxygen it takes to burnt all to ashes. 

“The Lightest Object in the Universe”  a novel by Kimi Eisele

Thirteen days into the second month of the year, the light began to go out.

One of my favorite bookstores, mentioned this book in their social media and since I have a bit of an obsession with dystopian/apocalyptic fiction, I had to get it. Especially since it was reviewed as a hopeful end-of-the-world as we know it scenario. And I don’t know about you, but I can use all the hopeful scenarios I can get.

What might happen after a global economic collapse and the power grid goes down? Sounds like the recipe for chaos. And perhaps there is some of that. But this novel dives deeper into the experience of being human in the face of that chaos. Beatrix is from the West coast and Carson is from the East. Though apart, they still hold each other’s heart but  without communication or travel options, how or will they even be able to find other? Carson sets out on a journey while Beatrix learns to work with the people who remain in what is left of her community.

This story is not just a love story between two people, it reads like a love story to humanity, of what we are capable of in the face of the unimaginable.

2 sentences I love: 

In all the reflective surfaces, you could practically see the desire there between them, like a third person, large and billowy.

The  sky was a pure gray but for a single cloud in the shape of a whale, large enough to swallow everything—the field, the house, June’s sickness, his sorrow.

“Severance”  novel by Ling Ma

After the End came the Beginning.

This book was mentioned in the same recommendation as the previous book. So, keeping with the end-of-the-world theme I picked this one up, too.

Quoting from the back cover: “A satirical spin on the end times—kind of like “The Office” meets “The Leftovers.” This is the perfect description of this novel. 

Candace, working in a company that produces Bibles, continues to cling to her work routine after her parents’ death. She is so entrenched in her structure that she barely notices as the world begins to fall apart around as a plague sweeps through NYC followed by Shen Fever. As people around her succumb to the fever, Candace agrees to stay on at the request of her boss who offers her a huge bonus at the end of her work period. Soon, there is no work left to do. Candace begins roaming the city, photographing the eerie remains as the anonymous NY ghost Blogger.

Eventually,  a survivalist group led by Bob, encourages her to join them as they make their way to what is only known as “The Facility.” Bob promises that the Facility will be a place of renewal, a place to reimagine and reinvent society. But Candace is leery. She is not sure if she trusts Bob or anyone else.

It’s a story that is both moving and quirky about how we respond when everything familiar is lost.

A line that scared me because if feels prescient:

The End begins before you are even aware of it. It passes as ordinary.

“Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Son, Last Sunday the host of a popular news show asked me what it meant to lose my body.

In a deeply moving and profound letter to his son, Coates offers all of us an examination into the story of inhabiting a black body in this world. How his body no longer belongs to him, how everything choice he makes, every  interaction he has is informed by this essential fact. 

He explores the history of our country, the falsehood of “race” and how it exploited and continues to exploit the black body. 

Because it is addressed to his son, I could feel how he holds both exquisite love for and fear for his own blood. He shares with his son his experience of being a black body in this society, while knowing that his son has his own journey to make.

Toni Morrison says of this book, “This is required reading.”

I couldn’t agree more.

A passage I marked: 

The point of this language of “intention” and “personal responsibility” is broad exoneration. Mistakes were made. Bodies were broken. People were enslaved. We meant well. We tried our best. “Good intention” is a hall pass through history, a sleeping pill that ensures the Dream.

And another:

This need to be always on guard was an unmeasured expenditure of energy, the slow siphoning of the essence. It contributed to the fast breakdown of our bodies.

And one more: (the mother of a murdered black man tells this to Coates’ own son)

“You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”

“More Than Enough- Claiming Space for Who You Are (No matter What They Say)” by Elaine Welterworth

Growing up, Oprah was my favorite imaginary auntie.

First of all, I want to thank Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach for posting about this book on Instagram. I went out and bought it that day. Though I had watched “Teen Vogue” begin to morph into this powerful political, social and cultural voice, I didn’t know the story behind it. Or the woman behind it. Know I do and I am forever grateful.

Elaine Weltherworth is a powerful force. Her voice, her vision, her story, her example have created huge waves of change in the fashion and magazine industry. She has changed the trajectory for so many young women by showing them what is possible. She explores the roots of her own struggle with not-enoughness—something that so many of us can relate to. We see her determination to pursue her dreams even when she isn’t sure what the dream exactly is or if it is too big for her. We see her step out into the abyss time and time again, learning  to trust her inner guidance, trust that not only is she enough but that she is MORE than enough.

No matter what decade of life you are in, this book, her story will resonate and inspire.

So many gems to share! Here are just a few:

When women affirm women, it unlocks our power. It gives us permission to shine brighter.

But as I saw it, we were all in it together, in an ongoing process of waking up to how we could be better journalists, better allies, and better citizens in a world in turmoil.

Our lives are a series of dreams realized.

Books read in May + June.

May June 2019 books

“Your Second Life Begins When You Realize You Only Have One” a novel by Raphaelle Giordano

The raindrops crashing against my windshield grew louder and louder.

I picked this up in the English section at a bookstore in Italy while waiting for our train. It seems to be hybrid of a novel and self-help.

Camille, a seemingly happy woman, begins to realize she is not as genuinely happy as she thinks she should be despite her roles as wife, mother, daughter and employee.

A chance encounter leads her to an intriguing man, Claude who offers to help her through the process of “routineology.” He gives her specific tasks and assignments designed to help her become who she truly is.

It’s a charming, feel-good story that makes you consider if perhaps you might also benefit from working with a routineologist. And if you don’t have access to one, the book comes with a glossary of the steps Camille took.

“Best American Short Stories 2017” edited by Meg Wolitzer

Rarely do I sit down and read these editions straight through. Normally, it’s a book I dip in and out of but since I was on vacation I read it all the way through. Well, all but one. And that is also rare. Not all short stories are my cup of tea. I find it often depends on the editor and apparently, Meg Wolitzer and I enjoy the same kind of stories and writing.

I was really excited to see that 50% were written by women. I’ll be even more excited when that stat is no longer on my radar.

Reading these stories drops me into the center of many different worlds, which felt appropriate as I travelled from country to country.

It reignited my love of reading and writing short stories. I’d find myself beginning to narrate my own experience as if writing a story.

I love how each story is a lesson in structure, in voice, in character. 

We encounter a widower trying to raise their son in the age of social media; a person with both a boyfriend and girlfriend; a woman who hooks up with a Famous Actor.

Each story thrums with urgency.

A line that made me laugh out loud:

First sex is like being in a stranger’s kitchen, trying all the drawers, looking for a spoon.

“Crudo” a novel by Olivia Laing

Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married.

Set against the backdrop of the Trump presidency, Kathy leads us through her external  and inner worlds in the days leading up to her wedding.

The voice is electric, which makes  sense since Kathy is also a writer. But how to make art in the face of racism and being tweeted into a nuclear war not to mention that the planet is dying? Why bother making a life-long commitment to someone when the world could end with a tweet? And is the Kathy of this novel actually meant to be Kathy Acker?

Laid out in real time, we get up close and personal into the inner workings of Kathy’s mind and heart.

A line that chillingly reflects our times:

Numbness mattered, it was what the Nazis did, make people feel like things were moving too fast to stop and though unpleasant and eventually terrifying and appalling and were probably impossible to do anything about. 

“Girl Logic {the genius and the absurdity}” by Iliza Shlesinger

Women are not crazy. We are not crazy. We are conflicted. Crazy implies an impartiality to our thoughts when in actuality, we ar processing so many dichotomic thoughts that we get frustrated.

I discovered Iliza Shlesinger when friends told me I had to watch “Elder Millenial” on Netflix. I’ve watched it at least 4 times since then and I recommend it all the time. She is fucking hilarious but in a a way that is incredibly smart and observant. 

Her book is no different. Sure, it is funny but her advice and her observations and what she is learning along the way all really resonate.

She exposes that voice in our heads, what she calls “Girl Logic” and we think, oh… it’s not just me. She talks about what it is like for her to be a female in comedy, how she gets treated differently (sometimes shitty) just for being a female who had the nerve to beat a bunch of men in “Last Comic Standing.” She tells how she has learned to stand up for herself and that we teach people how to treat us. She explores dating in the age of social media and texting. Her lens may be Hollywood and the comedy circuit but her observations relate to any field and to any woman at any age.

A line that lands on something I STILL struggle with:

Evaluating your worth based on the opinions of others is a dangerous trap. The perpetual juggling act of trying to process everyone else’s assumptions about you—assumptions that are often incorrect—is as exhausting as it is useless.”

“Waisted” a novel by Randy Susan Meyers

Everyone hated a fat woman, but none more than she hated herself.

I have to admit, this was a tough read. Excellent read, but tough. It brought to the surface all the ways I have betrayed my body since I was old enough to realize I had one and that it “should” look a certain way. Meyers takes the question, “How far will women go to lose weight?” and creates an entire world from that premise. And it is not pretty. It is honest and unflinching as she explores not only weight and body image but also race and marriage and parenthood and friendship. She peels back the layers of the relationship women have with their bodies and how it is influenced by family and media and society. 

It is hard to read but equally hard to look away or put down.

I encourage all women, and men to read this.

It may be fiction but it is based in our reality.

A sentence that hit home:

Fat women look more naked than normal-weighted women.

Clothes made the woman. Naked made the shame.

“The Beautiful No and Other Tales of Trial, Transcendence, and Transformation” by Sheri Salata

So, this is my story.

Salata worked for years as a producer for the Oprah show. It was a dream job. But at some point she realized she wasn’t living her dream life. 

I used to devour every single self-help/self-improvement book that came out, desperate to find the answers to questions I wasn’t even sure I was asking.These days I am more discerning about what I allow into my energy and mind. I rely on intuition and as soon as I read about this book, I knew I was meant to read it.

I was right.

What I love is that she doesn’t spoon-feed you a set of rules to follow just because they worked for her. She shares her journey, the ups, the downs the in-betweens and what she learned and you take what resonates. I appreciate that.

One thing that truly resonated with me was her discovery that mid-life depends on your attitude. Is it downhill form here? Or is a chance to rediscover who you are now? That it’s never too late to begin again, to dream a new dream, to dream a new you into existence. She is clear that it is not easy. It’s not all wishful, magical thinking, that  changing your inner narrative is key. 

I am almost 54 (the age she warns us that women drop off the radar of marketing companies, becoming invisible) and though I have been writing for over 30 years, I still don’t have a book published. Part of me believes I have wasted my time, that it is too late. Now I am thinking what if it took me this long to write raw, true stories that resonate deeply not only within me but others? What if I am meant to struggle with my doubts and fears and procrastination so that I can share them with others? What if I am meant to be the writer I dream of being starting now, not back when I was in my twenties and barely had a self much less a voice to write from?

Thank you, Sheri for sharing your story and giving me to the courage to reimagine and reinvent mine.

And reading about Nate and Jeremiah’s wedding brought me to tears.

A sentence I needed to read:

Miracles were shifts in perception.

Not three hours earlier I had written how the cynical part of me was getting loud as I read a book about money and the author shared her so-called “miracle” stories of manifesting the exact amount she needed when it seemed impossible to do so.

“On Being Human- A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Hard, and Listening Hard” by Jennifer Pastiloff

When I finally got out the tools to build what I thought I needed to get the life I wanted, I realized that what I needed was within. But first, I had to rebuild everything. Once I did that, I would be on my way to a different kind of living.

Jen Pastiloff popped up on my radar when I first started teaching yoga and just knew that I needed to combine it with writing. I knew that these two practices would deeply enhance each other. I googled “writing and yoga” and found her! I haven’t had the chance to attend one of her workshops but it is definitely on my to-do list. I subscribed to her newsletter “The Manifest-station” and eventually had a piece published there.

Once I heard that she was writing a book, I marked it in my calendar once the pub date was announced and bought it the day it was released. I pretty much devoured it in a couple of days. 

If you follow her on social media, you know that she is all about being real and her book is no different. I imagine that when I finally meet her in person, it will be like I’ve already met her through her words.

In her workshops, women are encouraged to be vulnerable and she doesn’t ask anything of others that she is willing to do herself. She dives deep into her story and shares all of it, not just the shiny trinkets: her father’s death, grief, hearing loss, body shame and eating disorders. She shares her journey. And it is a journey. She transforms her life by beginning to listen hard to others but also to herself. Yoga helps her do that, so does writing, and just showing up to her life exactly as she is in any given moment. Her raw, messy, beautiful realness encourages us to show up to our own lives exactly as we are.

Some sentences I underlined:

Before we are molecules, we are memory.

I began my apprenticeship to the art of unknowing, a skill that would take all my life to unravel.

In my workshops, I talk about how unbelievably hard it is to break patterns. How we can’t beat ourselves up when we struggle. We all struggle. Always. It’s part of being human.

“City of Girls” a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert

I received a letter from his daughter the other day.

This was the perfect summer read: a delightful romp that allowed me to escape into another world. I am always amazed and impressed by the amount of research Gilbert does for her novels. The immersion into the world she creates feels seamless to me. And the themes of women’s pursuit of pleasure and their sexuality, freedom of choice and how men are held to a completely different standard mirror issues the we are confronting today.

If you are looking for an escape this summer, I highly recommend this book! And if you want a listen inside the process fo writing it and how it was juxtaposed against an almost unbearably loss in Gilbert’s life, please listen to her interview on the “Good Life Project” podcast.

A line I loved:

At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” Vivian mused. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.”

“Lush” a memoir by Kerry Cohen

I wasn’t a drunk until I was.

Cohen examines her life, her self and her drinking in this relatable and incredibly honest memoir. She realized in her forties that she had a drinking problem, using alcohol to blur the edges of a life she wasn’t entirely happy with or present for. She noticed that she was not the only one struggling with this. That many, many women her age drank on a regular basis, drank to feel joy, to ease stress, to bond with friends, to escape the monotony of their lives.

She wrestles with her own demons chapter by chapter, letting us know we are not alone as we struggle with our own. 

A line that resonated:

Shame is like hammered metal inside you. It lodges there, sealed forever.

Books Read in March + April.

March books

“The Water Cure” a novel by Sophie MacKintosh

Once we had a father, but our father dies without us noticing.

I could not put this book down. The feminist dystopian novel, mesmerizing and chilling is told through such exquisite writing. The mood is dreams-like but the three sisters, Grace, Lia and Sky are living a disturbing reality of their father’s creation. They live on an isolated island designed to protect them from the outside world where masculinity is literally toxic to women or is the island designed to keep them trapped there? 

Their father, King, the patriarch and protector, goes to get supplies and doesn’t return. Their mother steps in to fill the void. Soon, their supposedly idyllic world is invaded when two strange men and a boy wash up on shore. King is the only men the girls have ever known. They are intrigued, repelled, angered and confused by their presence. 

It’s a thorough exploration of the different worlds that men and women inhabit, the power of female desire and what happens when they clash.

I especially loved the structure of the book, how certain chapters are told in the plural second person through the eyes of Grace, Lia and Sky as if they are one entity. The language MacKintosh uses is beautiful and so many sentences just made me gasp in admiration.

A passage I love:

Llews puts the lid of the piano down without comment, pushes the stool back. There is a fluidity to his movements, despite his size, that tells me he has never had to justify his existence, has never had to fold himself into a hidden thing, and I wonder what that must be like, to know that your body is irreproachable.

“The Art of Hearing Heartbeats” a novel by Jan-Philipp Sendker

The old man’s eyes struck me first.

I love when a friend recommends a book outside of my usual genre. This one sat on my shelf for a long time. I do have quite the TBR stack. When I was returning another book she had given me I decided I may as well give this one back, feeling bad that I’d had it for so long without reading it. But then I glanced at the first few pages and decided to just put my other books aside and read it.Good decision. It is a lovely story that follows Julia to Burma on a quest to discover what happened to her father. It is part mystery, but mostly it is a story of love and connection and the human spirit. 

It’s good to step outside your reading comfort zone. In fact, I think it is essential and will try to so more often.

A line I loved:

This girl moved  with a grace Su Kyi had never before seen. As if her oddly formed feet had given her a different, heightened sense of her limbs and movements.

“The Fifth Risk” by Michael Lewis

Chris Christie noticed a piece in the New York Times—that’s how it all started.

Lewis is a genius at going behind the scenes of what could appear to be boring topics and making them fascinating. This book takes a deep dive into the heart of government. Not just the sexy stories that get all the media attention but the nuts and bolts and people who run the many departments that make up our government.

What inspired me was the dedication that the people who work in the government exhibit. They are there to serve, regardless of party. As Obama’s term came to a close, all the different departments prepared detailed binders of information that the next administration could use. They didn’t have to agree with the policies but the information would be helpful as they transitioned from one administration to the next. What happened instead is…well, is the point of this book. It’s a book every American should read just to understand how our government works. And how it doesn’t work. It’s a book that should be discussed within the media so that we can all see how our government is being broken from the inside.

Some lines that stood out:

“…fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions.” 

“If your ambition is to maximize short-term gain without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing the cost. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is an upside to ignorance, and a downside to knowledge. Knowledge makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.” 

“My biggest concern is the misuse of science to support policies.” 

“Broken Things” a YA novel by Lauren Oliver

Five years ago, when I had just turned thirteen, I killed my best friend.

How can you not read on from that first line? Weaving together then and now with pieces of a novel they became obsessed with called, “The Way Into Lovelorn,” we learn about the summer that everything changed for three barely teenage girls. It felt like it might have been inspired by the Slender Man story but if it was, Oliver took it in her own original direction. I had a hard time putting it down as I kept turning the pages to see how it all fit together.

A line I loved:

Words would be less frightening if you could swallow them again, chew them and digest them into nothingness.

“A Happier Hour” a memoir by Rebecca Weller

A blaze of sunlight snuck its way through a gap in the blinds, drilling directly into my eyelids, punishing me.

 I started this in the late afternoon and stayed up until 1:30 in the morning to finish it.

Though I am not writing much about this myself, I am currently exploring not drinking for 60 days. I’m attempting to redefine my relationship to drinking. Reading her story was fascinating. While I don’t drink as much, I could absolutely relate to the amount  of energy expended around drinking. How much? Should I or shouldn’t I? What’s one ore glass? And on and on.

Being able to read her story made me feel less alone. Isn’t that what all reading does? She inspired me to stay the course, to create a toolkit, to be as honest with myself as she was with the world in writing this book in the first place. 

It reminded me yet again of the power of sharing our stories, how we can lift each other up, support and inspire each other when we are authentically ourselves.

A line I could relate to: 

Waking up without a hangover—or heart full of regret—felt utterly delicious, and the thought of not having to deal with another one for three whole months was sublime.

“Era of Ignition- Coming of Age in a Time f Rage and Revolution” by Amber Tamblyn

On the bar in front of me, a tea candle meekly flickered at the end of its wick as I sat next to my husband and wondered how I was going to tell him what I had to tell him.

Back before the 2018 mid-terms, I put out a call to women who lived near me to read Rebecca Traister’s new book, “Good and Mad.” I had a huge response. Women were angry. Women were fired up and wanted to be around other women who felt the same way. Then the mid-terms came and went and a new wave of progressive women came into office and there was hope again. And that hope quelled some of the anger. I tried to put a meeting on the calendar but only one person could make it so I put it off. And we haven’t rescheduled it since then.

Reading Tamblyn’s book now reminds of all the work we still have to do. That we don’t have the luxury of feeling relief that things might be beginning to turn around. That we have the responsibility to stay engaged, to stay angry, to stay fired up and let that energy move into action.

She does an amazing job of weaving her personal story with the larger narrative of feminism and inter-sectionality. She is using her voice and her platform to inform us, to motivate us, to support those who don’t have her kind of reach and voice and power. 

A necessary read for this time of rage and revolution. 

A line that resonated:

“But if ignorance can be a learned behavior, then so too can illumination, and it is within each of us to teach someone willing to grow, and to put our defenses down and receive the same gift in return.”

And you must read the letter she wrote to her daughter.

Books Read in January + February.

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“Rapt-Attention and the Focused Life” by Winifred Gallagher

Far more than you may realize, your experience, your world, and even your self are the creations of what you focus on.

This was the perfect book to enter the new year with. It’s not a self-help book. It doesn’t offer a step-by-step process to harness your attention. What it does is explore the meaning of attention and focus on our lives. How it shapes us, our relationship, our health, our happiness. I love any information about how the brain works and there is definitely some of that. Our brains are fascinating. But what I came away with was that the quality of our lives is determined by what we do—and don’t—pay attention to.

The epigraph sums it up beautifully:

“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” ~ William James

I underlined so many things but here are a couple that stand out:

As the expression paying attention suggests, when you focus, you’re spending limited cognitive currency that should be invested wisely, because the stares are high.

By helping you to focus on some things and filter out others, attention distills the universe into your universe. 

“How to Not Always Be Working- a toolkit for creativity and radical self-care” by Marlee Grace

Here is a book, a workbook, a guide, an ode to not knowing.

If you are looking for some grace in your life, space to explore, play, be and create, then this delightful book is for you. It reads like a love letter or creative manifesto. She offers exercises but they are gentle nudges towards creating balance in our lives, guiding us into how to not always be working as the title says. As she writes, “this book is for anyone who is looking to show up to their life, this one true journey of being alive.”

A sentence I love:

 This book is not about self-care for the self, but  self-care for the collective and liberation from the obsession fo work.

“Insomnia” by Marina Benjamin

Sometimes the rattle of a clapper sounds over your bed.

Anyone who has struggled with insomnia will deeply understand this book. For those lucky enough to have never experienced it (are there such people) they will still deeply understand what it is like.

It’s a graceful meditation on being awake in the dark hours, on the mysterious world of sleep where we spend such a large part of our lives and on a long-time marriage.

While she explores her own relationship to sleep and insomnia she also weaves in so many other lovely pieces from philosophy to literature that it reads like a beautiful mosaic, each piece better informing the whole. 

A sentence I love:

At the velvet end of my insomniac life I am a heavy-foot ghost, moving from one room to another, weary, leaden—there, but also not there.

“The Dreamers” a novel by Karen Thompson Walker

At first, they blame the air.

I devoured this book in less than three days and I have to say, I think it is one of my most favorite books ever.

The story itself is so intriguing: a mysterious sleeping illness spreads across a campus then out into the small California town of Santa Lora. We see what happens when fear spreads just as fast as this unknown illness. The writing, the sentences are just beautiful. If I underlined every sentence I wish I had written, the whole book would be underlined.

I love how the novel explores time and memory, sleep and dreams, while being anchored in the lives of these characters. Reading it felt like I was entering a dream state with them. 

Simple beautiful and stunning.

A sentence I love:

While Rebecca sleeps, and while the nurses change in and out of their suits, and while, outside, the soldiers go on and off shift, and while the world watches the continuing coverage of the Santa Lora sickness, the small developments of one minute human being go on unfolding at a perfectly predictable rate, like the intricate ticking of the most delicate clock on earth. 

“You Are a Badass-How to Stop Doubting your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero

I used to think quotes like this were a bunch of crap.

If you are looking for a supportive kick-in-the butt, check out Jen Sincero. 

If you’re feeling stuck in your any aspect of your life, read this book.

If you know you are not living up to your potential, read this book.

I was feeling all of those things and now I feel like I am a badass!

For once, I actually did the exercises and uncovered and rewrote some deeply held beliefs that were holding me back. As I wrote in another blog post, once I did that I felt aligned with the flow of the Universe and that has totally shifted how I show up to my life, how I view my writing and the publishing process.

I underlined a lot but here are couple of gems:

So often, we pretend we’ve made a decision, when what we’ve really done is signed up to try until it gets too uncomfortable.

You playing small simply withholds your gifts from the people who were meant to receive them, including you.

Your faith in The Universe must be stronger than your fear of not getting what you want.

“Lightworker-Understand your Sacred Role as Healer, Guide and Being of Light” by Sahvanna Arienta

In order to understand your lightworker soul, we have to begin with where you come from—Source. Source is an all-knowing, all-powerful entity that dwells in every crevasse of the universe.

I hadn’t really heard the term “Lightworker’ before, or if I had I didn’t give it much energy. But in my roles as writer and yoga teacher, I often write about my intention to be a light in the world, to bring light into the world through my words, through my classes and invite my students to shine their own light. The world just needs more light.

This book was a lovely exploration of what that means. She writes, “It is the Lightworkers’ mission to lend their light energy to a planet heavy with fear and negativity.” And they aren’t just gurus or well-known spiritual teachers. She writes, “They are musicians, shopkeepers, accountants, stay-at-home moms, and people you pass on the street. They share their gifts by speaking out for those who have no voice, and they create glorious works of art that beautify our planet, or write music that elevates our spirits.”

I got a glimpse into the different planes of the universe which will also help me as I write my YA Fantasy trilogy. I learned how important it is to protect and ground my my own energy. I’ve just become more aware of the energy I bring into a space.

A sentence that resonated:

It (Source Energy) is what connects every single thing in the entire universe with every single other thing in the entire universe—from huge things such as solar systems right down to the tiniest atom.

“Inheritance- A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love” by Dani Shapiro

When I was a girl I would sneak down the hall late at night once my parents were asleep.

This book has been on my radar since Shapiro announced its impending publication. She is one of those writers that I would read her grocery list. 

I could not put this book down. It took me maybe 2 days to finish. The story itself is fascinating. She and her husband, almost on a lark, send their saliva into a genealogy service as so many of us do these days, hoping to learn a bit more about their families’ origins. What starts out as a lark soon becomes a shattering discovery when it is revealed that her father is not actually her biological father.

If you’ve read any of her other books, you know that both of her parents died a long time ago so they are not available now to question, to find out exactly what the hell is going on. Shapiro is left to her own devices to unravel the mystery of her paternity and the agonizing question of how much her parents actually knew. Had they been lying to her her entire life or had they been lied to as well?

As always, Shapiro explores her life with an honest yet tender gaze and heart. We feel her pain, her confusion, experiencing the ups and downs as she experienced them as she searches for some semblance of the truth. 

If you look at an index of the books she’s written, it almost seems as if this story was thrumming beneath the surface of her life for years. They all tend to point toward secrecy, history, discovery, this yearning to know and tragedy:

Playing with Fire

Fugitive Blue

Picturing the Wreck

Slow Motion: A True Story

Family History: A Novel

Black & White

Devotion: A Memoir

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Hourglass

Can’t recommend this book enough.

A sentence I love:

I now understand it as shock: the sense of my own body as foreign, delicate, fractured, and the world at once hostile and implacable in its anonymity.

“The Crossroads of Should and Must- Find and Follow your Passion” by Elle Luna

It was a Tuesday, around 7 AM, when I clicked “publish” on an essay on medium.com titled “The Crossroads of Should & Must.”

The response to that essay was swift and wide-reaching. Clearly, she had hit a nerve.

That nerve led her to write a book based on that essay. It is a delightful book filled with hand-written texts and whimsical illustrations. She shares her own experiences and encourages the reader to explore what is holding them back from following their passion. 

It reminds me a bit of Sark and Mari Andrew but with her own point of view. She really leaves you wondering if you are living a life of should or must.

A question I love:

How long will you wait to honor who you are?

“The Largesse of the Sea Maiden” stories by Denis Johnson

After dinner, nobody went home right away.

Finished shortly before his death, this last collection is just as haunting and moving as his previous work. I remember reading “Jesus” Son” and just being mesmerized by his ability to draw us into the dark corners of life. He does the same here, but there seems to be a certain angle of light in these stories. They aren’t sweet and sappy by any means. No, they still have an edge, a darkness but with humor and the possibility, no matter how small, of hope that beats within the heart of being human.

A passage I love:

I’m writing letters to each one of you lucky winners who has a hook in my heart. Every time your heart beat I can feel a little jerk, just a little something. Whether you like it or not, that’s love.

Five on Friday.

Each Friday I try to share five links that made me think, inspired me or I just found entertaining throughout the week.

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  1. Do you know your writing purpose? Read this to see why you should.
  2. Deep breathing helps not only on your mat. It helps you as a writer, as a human.
  3. I love reading about projects of committing to something creative daily for a year.
  4. Why you should resolve to read more fiction this year
  5. 39 fiction books to add to your TBR list..

Books Read in November + December

Michelle Obama and me

“Shrill” by Lindy WestShrill

I am writing this two weeks after the 2016 presidential election, and in case you don’t remember what that was like, because things have gotten either better or worse—the world feels concussed.

When a writer writes with such clarity, such precision, such honesty I hesitate to add my own feeble words into the mix. All I can say is: read this book. There is not a subject she will shy away from. In fact, she runs head long into each and every subject she takes on including being fat, abortion, her marriage, career, trolls, the internet, death. Each chapter is an artful dance with and dissection of topics that need to come out of the shadows. West shines a light on each one with humor, truth and (to take a phrase from the back jacket copy) “vulnerability and vicious charm.”

I underlined SO many lines but here is just one on the significance of the title:

“‘Shrill’ is a gendered insult; calling a man ‘shrill’ makes as much sense as calling a smell ‘tall.’ To be shrill is to reach above your station; to abandon your duty to soothe and please; in short, to be heard.”

Amen, sistah!

His Favorites“His Favorites”  novel by Kate Walbert

This is not a story I have told before.

Looking back on her girlhood, Jo shares the incident that sent her life and that of her family into a complete different trajectory. She end ups needing to escape her hometown after the tragedy that she caused so she enrolls in a prestigious boarding school. Looking for freedom from that tragedy, for a second chance she tries to navigate this new life the best she can. There are cliques and roommates and the hierarchy of classmates as well as a teacher who grooms selected girls, his favorites, by first inviting them into his coveted Modern Lit class. 

Reading this in this new era of #MeToo reiterates the need for such movement. This slim but powerful novel explores boundaries, time, memory as well as the narrative choices used to be able to tell the story at all. As Jo says, “Someone once told me that memory  is just another draft of a story.”

And this is one of the most beautifully written and satisfying endings of a novel I have ever read.

A description of a golf course (and an exquisite bit of foreshadowing) I love:

“Only sounds of nature and maintenance, dark expanses of expertly mowed grass and hills, sand traps banked against shorn greens with ramrod-straight flags dead in the no-breeze and still water. The all of it designed for entrapment.”

“When Breath Becomes Air” a memoir by Paul KalanithiWhen breath Becoomes Air

I flipped through the CT scan images, the diagnosis obvious: the lungs were matted with innumerable tumors, the spine deformed, a full lobe of the liver obliterated. Cancer.

This book has been on my radar for quite a while. I just love the title. There’s a simple beauty and grace to the words and that same beauty and grace made illuminated the entire book. Despite the heaviness of the topic (cancer, death) there was a lightness to his story. It helped that not only was Kalanithi a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist but hr also studied literature and turned back to literature as a doctor looking for guidance soon the human condition, on loving and dying. His compassion, curiosity and exquisite observation of self and the world around him made him a beautiful writer.

I close the book with sadness. Sadness at the loss of such light in the world but so grateful that he used his precious time to write his story, to share it with us, to illuminate this dance between life and death. But I also closed the book with a sense of peace. He made dying just the tiniest bit less terrifying to me because he lived his life so fully and with such depth. 

A sentence I love:

I had come to see language as an almost supernatural force, existing between people, bringing our brains, shielded in centimeter-thick souls, into communion.

Becoming“Becoming” by Michelle Obama

I spent much of my childhood listening to the sound of striving.

I’ve bought several books that have emerged from these political times and this is the first one I’ve finished, reading it cover to cover, not wanting it to end.

I admit, I was sightly nervous before I began reading it. I’ve admired her immensely for so long and I didn’t want to judge her writing but I also wanted it to not suck. One of my pet peeve is shoddy writing by celebrities.

Well, I needn’t have worried. She is a beautiful writer. She writes of her life and experience with depth and grace. I have several friends who are listening to her read the audio version, and honestly, it felt like she she was sitting next to me, talking like girlfriends. She is fierce and compassionate, intelligent and funny. I admired how she mined her life, looking for the threads that wove together to allow her to become who she was meant to be.

But it is not only about she became Michelle Obama. It is how we each have the ability to rise up and become who we are meant to be.It is about how how our country is still in the midst of becoming who we are meant to be.

A passage I love:

“Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”

“Hazards of Time Travel” a novel by Joyce Carol OatesHazards of Time Travel

They would not have come for me, naively I drew their attention to me.

In a not too distant future, Ariadne pushes the boundaries imposed on the citizens of NAS (Reconstituted North American States). A valedictorian speech brings unwanted attention by those in charge and the consequences are swift and severe. She is transported back to 1950’s Wisconsin to complete four years of college. Ripped from her family, her friends, her time in history, she is left to manage a life alone. It could’ve been worse. She could’v been deleted. Given strict instructions to not travel far from her epicenter and not to get intimate with anyone else from this time, Ariadne, now going by the name Mary Ellen tries to forge a life in this completely different world than the one she knows. What she knows of this one she learned from history books and stories from her parents. When a professor catches her attention, Ariadne is convinced he is an Exile, like her. A relationship is forbidden, but her loneliness is deep and raw. In a love story that looks ahead as well as back in time, JCO has created a mesmerizing world that is really two worlds reflect that who we were, who we are and who we become.

A passage I love:

I felt like a soft, winged thing, a moth that has been batted out of the air. Not hard enough to break its wings, but hard enough to knock it stunned to earth, and the wings slow-moving, wounded and mute in wonderment.

 

Books Read in September + October.

Sept. Oct. books

“Vox” a novel by Christina Dalcher

If anyone told me I could bring down the president, and the Pure Movement, and that incompetent little shit Morgan LeBron in a week’s time, I wouldn’t believe them. But I wouldn’t argue. I wouldn’t say a thing.

Just like watching “The Handmaid’s Tale,” reading this book scared the crap out of me. I read it with equal parts fascination and horror. 

America is now governed by a far-right Christian idealogue whispering in the president’s ear about the role of women and how they need to know their place and be quiet. Nothing new, right? Only now, the ideas have taken hold and are being  advanced in the most insidious ways possible.

Women are removed from the workforce and replaced with men.

Adultery and same sex relationships invite cruel and unusual punishment.

Far right Christian theology is taught in schools.

And, most insdious of all, females are given a mere 100 words a day to use.

100 words. Total.

They are given word counters to wear on their wrists and if they go over the limit they receive increasingly strong shocks.

Cameras are everywhere so even sign language or non-verbal signals of any kind are abusing the rules.

They aren’t allowed access to the internet, books, pen and paper, the mail. Everything must go through the male of the house.

Dalcher created a world based in reality. I saw echoes of what we are currently living through and it chilled me to the bone.

It was a very hard read but also, an incredibly necessary one.

A sentence that made me gasp in recognition:  “…you can’t protest what you don’t see coming.”

“The Slippery Year- A Meditation on Happily Ever After” a memoir by Melanie Gideon

One day when I was sitting in the carpool line waiting to pick my son up from school, it occurred to me that I had been sleepwalking through my life.”

I am in the process of reading books that have been on my shelf for years. Pretty sure this one called to me back when my daughters were younger and that first sentence grabbed me. When I look back at videos of that time, I see this vacant almost stepford-wife look in my eyes. Back then, while I desperately tried to enjoy every moment, mostly I was just trying to back it through each day.

Now my daughters are about to graduate college. My youngest leaves for a semester abroad this week. I am in a whole other phase of life but parts of this book still resonated with me. Each year feels slippery to me. Each years slips away and I find myself standing there dazed, trying to find my footing. By the time I get used to a particular phase of being a mom or a family, it changes.

I no longer feel like I am sleepwalking through my life. Yoga and writing have changed that. Instead, I am awake to everything, which can be a challenge.

Gideon rises to that challenge as she examines her life, her family and marriage as well as her thoughts and actions even when they don’t reflect her in the most shining light. But that’s what being awake is all about: shining a light into the darkness of ourselves, bringing it out of the shadows so we can live from a space of awareness rather than sleepwalk  through our lives.

A sentence on marriage that really resonated: This is what happens when you’ve been together for nearly twenty years. You become strangers and then you recognize each other and then you become strangers again and you repeat this pattern this loop this skein over and over again.

“Waking Up in Winter- In Search of What Really Matters at Midlife” by Cheryl Richardson 

I woke up to a cool breeze drifting through the bedroom window.

September is  month of transitions. Transitioning into fall, back into a routine, back to school. Midlfe is a transition I am currently examining, exploring, living it so I am drawn to books that do the same.

I love that Richardson was inspired by the journals of May Sarton. I discovered her back in my thirties but I think now may be a good time to read her again.

Richardson sets out on year of discovery as she dives into her life by writing in a journal, trying to get beneath the surface of things, finding depth where life feels shallow, discovering who she is and what she wants at this midpoint of her life. 

I absolutely relate to this. It makes me want to keep a similar journal, one that isn’t morning pages or writing practice but a space to meander and really explore my life as I navigate this latest transition.

Sentences that resonated: 

Autumn will soon give way to winter, the perfect time to hole up and explore the inner world.

I’ve never been motivated to do more by feeling less than, I’ve never been inspired to reach higher by putting myself in the one-down position. I’ve never ever done my best after berating myself for not being good enough.

Today has been a tender day.

“Journal of a Solitude-The intimate diary of a year in the life of a creative woman” by May Sarton

Begin here. It is raining.

So, after being inspired by the previous book, I picked up this one to reread. I don’t often reread books anymore because so many books, not nearly enough time. But this one was worth it.

I first read it when I was in my thirties, now I am in my fifties. Not quite as old as Sarton was when she wrote it, but definitely in a totally different stage of my own life.

Some passages that I underlined then still resonated but so many new ones emerged that didn’t resonate at all 20 year ago.

One big thing  I noticed is that the last time I read it I completely related to her struggles with her temper. It’ s a big theme in this book and back then it was something I struggled with as well. Now, at 53, I no longer struggle with it. Oh, I get angry for sure but it never feels out of my control. I never feel this shame afterward like I used to. It might be age but I really think it is yoga. Living my yoga both on and off the mat has had the biggest impact on me.

I love how she is so connected to nature and the weather and the seasons–it becomes almost another character in her journal, in her life. It makes me want to create that same awareness in my own life.

A sentence that still resonates: 

I have written every poem, every novel, for the same purpose—to find out what I think, to know where I stand.

A sentence that resonates now:

The ash has lost its leaves and when I went out to get the mail and stopped to look up at it, I reduced to think that soon everything here will be honed down to structure.

P.S. After reading the next book I stumbled across this passage that perfect captures how I felt upon rereading this book: 

“When we revisit a book we’ve read before, we see how life has woken us up to understand passages that previously went over our heads. The book itself highlights the gap between who I am and who I used to be.”

“I’d Rather Be Reading-The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life” by Anne Bogel

“Can you recommend a good book?”

I couldn’t fall asleep the other night so I picked up this new little book to read until I got sleepy. Big mistake. I stayed up until two in the morning getting more than half way through. And yes, I get the irony of staying up late reading a book about reading books.

I identified with pretty much every word: finding sanctuary in libraries and bookstores, recommending books, not reading the books people have loaned to me, rereading books and connecting with them in a new way, the joy and soothing quality of organizing my book shelves, my fascination with the acknowledgments in books, crossing the line from being told what to read by parents and teachers to finding the books I want to read.

I could go on and on but I’ll just say that if you love books, then read this one.

A passage I love (and explains perfectly why I’ve been keeping this reading log for so many years):

“We are readers. Books grace our shelves and fill our homes with beauty; they dwell in our minds and occupy our thoughts. Books prompt us to spend pleasant hours alone and connect us with fellow readers. They invite us to escape into their pages for an afternoon, and they inspire us to reimagine our lives. Good reading journals provide glimpses of how we’ve spent our days, and they tell the story of our lives.”

“Miss Portland” novel by David Ebenbach

Zoe knew what other people didn’t: she knew that life wasn’t perfectible.

I discovered this awesome writer and human when he graciously reached out to let me know how much he enjoyed reading a story of mine he found at literarymama.com. He’s a generous writer who seeks to connect and support the creative community around him.

This novel is a beautiful journey into the depths of Zoe Tussler, a character I won’t soon forget. Always seeking something, some key that will turn things around for her, Zoe moves her life to Portland, Maine where she sill be near Gordy but insists she didn’t move for him.

She hopes to follow through on their plan to open a mindfulness center but when Gordy doesn’t seem to be moving in that direction, Zoe tries to round up a few clients on her own, hoping to build some momentum that will finally propel her into being the person she desperately longs to be. 

Always feeling out of place, Zoe attempts to find her place there in Portland where people seem to keep to themselves, and she tries to find her place within Gordy’s life.

Exploring from deep inside the experience of mental illness, I found myself deeply connected to her internal dialogue and her internal struggles while rooting for her to find a peace within herself.

A sentence I loved: 

Late at night, Zoe would keep the main lights off in her room so that her roommate, who was a generally exasperated woman from Missouri somewhere, could sleep, and Zoe would turn on a little clip-on book light and huddle over one of her books from this religion class she was taking, or over her spiral-bound journal, writing so intensely that the force of the ball-point pen grooved many pages underneath the one she was writing on, like her ideas were already creating ripples in the universe.

“Inadvertent” by Karl Ove Knausguaard

The question of why I write sounds simple, but simple is treacherous, for now I have been sitting here in front of my desk in southern Sweden for three days without making any headway.

Part of the “Why Write”series, Knausguaard explores exactly that but it’s not a linear trail from point A to Point B. Instead, he takes us on a journey from the inside out, circling in and zooming back out as he wrestles with this question of why he writes. What propels him to put marks on a page? What is his intention? It’s a beautifully complex exploration that takes us deep into his psyche, as well as deep into literature and reading and ultimately what is the purpose of stories at all.

A sentence I love:

To read is to be the citizen of another country, in a parallel realm which every book is a door to.

“Good and Mad-The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger” by Rebecca Traister

The contemporary reemergence of women’s rage as a mass impulse comes after decades of feminist deep freeze.

I found this book in the middle of the Kavanaugh hearings when my own rage was reaching its peak. (Though, I think that every week and it only gets bigger and deeper and stronger.) I tossed out an invite to local women who might want to read it and gather at some point to discuss and almost every single one was in. 

Women’s rage is a thing, people. A thing to take seriously. A thing to dismiss at your own peril.

Traister is a brilliant researcher and writer. She not only lays out all the reasons we currently have to be angry but she maps out the history of our rage and how it has changed the course of history. From suffragettes who chained themselves to the White House to Rosa Parks. She thoughtfully examines the ways that white women have let down women of color over the decades and why that can’t happen now. She explores the double standard that we saw on full display at the hearings where men are revered for their righteous anger while women are held in contempt if they allow their anger to leak out at all.

Reading this book was infuriating, enlightening and empowering.

A must read. For everyone.

I underlined and starred and stuck post-it notes and scrawled WTF?! in the margins of so many pages so here is just one passage I will share:

This is one of anger’s most important roles: it is a mode of connection, a way for women to find each other and realize that their struggles and their frustrations are shared, that they are not alone, not crazy. If they are quiet, they will remain isolated. But if they howl in rage. someone else who shares their fury will hear them, might start howling along. This is, of course, partly why those who oppress women work to stifle their anger.

“Made by May” a novel by Laura Catherine Brown

Unfortunately, we are unable to consider you as adoptive parents on our register at this time. 

After the heaviness of Traister’s book, I needed to escape and this novel (that came on radar via David Ebenbach) did just the trick. I took it on vacation with me (a highly coveted role for my books) and fell into the world of Mary and Ann and their search for connection with each other and the world.

Because of a medical condition, Ann is unable to conceive, because of other reasons, they are unable to adopt. Her mother, Mary, a hippie, pagan, sensual woman steps forward to offer the ultimate gift. She will be a surrogate for Ann and Joel. Together they all enter the ethical minefield of surrogacy, parenthood and technology all swirled within the world of Goddesses and crystals and tarot cards and magic.

It’s a beautiful story of finding your path, straying off of it, finding a new path and connecting with what you most deeply desire and those you love.

A description I love:

The house appeared uninhabited, its raw wood exposed like naked skin beneath flecks of peeling paint. A torn sofa commanded half the porch. Dead plants drooped in pots suspended from the porch eaves, as if someone had once made an effort.

“Almost Everything-Notes on Hope” by Anne Lamott

l am stockpiling antibiotics for the apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paper whites on the windowsill in the kitchen.

Anne Lamott is one of those writers who if she wrote a grocery list, I’d want to read it. She has been getting me through challenging times since I first discovered her book “Operating Instructions” when my children were little and she helped me feel a little less crazy when I read that not every moment of motherhood is a Hallmark moment. 

She continues to soothe my battered soul today with this new book on hope. I went to see her in Ann Arbor and she is just what I needed. Her presence, her wisdom, her truth, her humor lifted me briefly out the stew of perpetual angst I’ve found myself in for the last two years.

Reading her words is like sitting down with a dear, tough friend who knows exactly how to talk you off whatever ledge you find yourself on. She never sugarcoats it, but still manages to find the bloom of hope in even the bleakest of times.

Must-read for these times.

The best description of God I’ve ever come across:

“We are talking about a higher power, a power that might be called Not Me, a kindness, a patience, a hope, which is everywhere, even in our annoying, self-centered, fraudulent selves.”

Books Read in July + August.

Books read in July + August

“Middlesex” a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

This book has been on my shelf for years and when I decided to choose a big juicy novel for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio where I teach, this what I chose. And what an excellent choice it was.

It is a writer’s book because of the beautiful language and stunning sentences. It is a reader’s book because of the story than spans generations.

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, “Middlesex” tells the story of Calliope Stephanides and three generations of her Greek-American family. The story takes us from a tiny village in Asia Minor to Detroit during the Prohibition then into the race riots of the 1970’s. Behind the scenes of all that, Calliope knows she is not like the other girls but it takes unraveling a deep family secret to discover why and discover who she truly is meant to be on her journey from Calliope to Cal.

It goes so far beyond a coming-age-story and immerses us in an epic tale of belonging versus not belonging and finding our place in the word whether in a new county, in tumulus cultural times, in our own family or within our own body.

Breathtaking.  A feast for the heart, for the mind, for the imagination.

A sentence I love: From an early age they knew what little value the world placed in books, and so didn’t waste their time with them. Whereas I, even now, persist in believing that these black marks on white paper bear the greatest significance, that if I keep writing I might be able to catch the rainbow of consciousness in a jar.

“Days of Awe” stories by A.M. Homes

She is on the phone. He can see her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the headset wrapped around her ear as if she were an air-traffic controller or a Secret service Agent.

Homes is a master of the short story, leading us to what we think is one world but we end up in a totally unexpected place. A sense of unease that Americans are feeling runs through many of the stories. In one, a man is lured into running for president while shopping with his family in a bog box store with his family. The title story centers around  a conference on genocide and two old friends meet there and meet themselves in the process.

Each story feels like several stories, what’s happening on the surface and the layers of what is happening beneath the surface. The stories made me laugh, cringe and shimmer with a certain recognition of the human condition that I was able to briefly touch while immersed in her worlds.

A passage I love: The view is limitless, all of Los Angeles spread out below. She takes off her shoes and dips her toes in—hot. The heat is like a physical lozenge, a sedative. There is no edge—she has no body, there are no boundaries; she, the water, and the air are all one.