Books Read in May 2020.

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“An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” a novel by Hank Green

Look, I am aware that you’re here for an epic tale of intrigue and mystery and adventure and near death and actual death but in order to get to that (unless you want to skip to chapter 13—I’m not your boss), you’re going to have to deal with the fact that I, April May, in addition to being one of the most important things that has ever happened to the human race, am also a woman in her twenties who has made some mistakes.

This is one of the most unique stories I have ever read. It starts with giant sculptures popping up in cities across the globe. Enter April May and social media turning her into a celebrity and this odd occurrence into a movement.

I was intrigued by how the story seems to mirror what is happening in our country today, dividing into sides, social media being used as a tool to sow that division. 

A sentence I underlined:

In the end, my brand was me, so whatever I said became something I believed.

“Atomic Habits” by James Clear

On the final day of my sophomore year of high school, I was hit in the face with a baseball bat.

All of my habits, good and bad, useful and not useful have been amplified during this stay home, stay safe order. So, I am looking for motivation. Looking for inspiration. And I came across this on on my bookshelves.

Clear lays out exactly how our brain is trained and how habits are formed. Then gives us step by step actions to take in order to break old habits and create new ones.

A sentence I underlined:

We all deal with setbacks but in the long run, the quality of lives often depends on the quality of our habits. 

“Today will Be Different” a novel by Maria Semple

Because the other way wasn’t working. The waking up just to get the day over with until it was time for bed.

Well, stumbling across this book among my many hundred to-be-read books now seems serendipitous. As I embark on the 77th day of staying home, staying safe, I yearn for today to be different. I yearn for me to be different. To not succumb to the lure of social media, the news, or Netflix. 

Eleanor Flood yearns for today to be different as well. So, we follow her on one particular day, where despite her best intentions to greet it differently, she finds herself sinking into the same patterns and reactions.

Today she has her son who has decided to play sick to get out of school. Today she discovers something extremely unsettling about her husband that sets her on a quest for the truth. And today she encounters people in her life out of their normal context.

Eleanor is quirky and the plot twists and turns as we follow her throughout this day, hoping that it all will, indeed, be different. 

A sentence I underlined: 

My lungs were butterfly wings.

 “Keep Going-10 Ways to Stay Creative In Good Times and Bad” by Austin Kleon

Whether you’re burned out, starting out, starting over, or wildly successful, the question is always the same: How to keep going?

Another book that seems written for these times. I read it when it first came out and felt compelled to read it again as I struggle to find my creative footing during these times. 

My focus is a little limited lately so I appreciate how short and digestible each chapter is. And how each chapter is filled with inspiration and motivation. He really does help us find ways to keep going no matter what is going on in our lives or the world. 

A sentence I underlined:

The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on.

“Minding the Muse- A handbook for Painters, Composers, Writers, and Other Creators” by Priscilla Long

Learning to work is about learning to sink into the work.

I’ve been having a hard time sinking into the work so I picked this up off of my TBR shelves. Each chapter is concise, has a perfect quote to start it and ends with questions to contemplate. It works for whatever creative practice calls to you. It is more about the energy we bring to our work. She offers so many isights into the creative process and makes it all seem not only accessible, but also essential. 

A sentence I underlined: 

Here’s where our habit of discipline is our ally—the discipline to put aside anxiety, to sink into the work, to keep the problem open, to have faith in the process of making art.

“Deep Listening- A Healing Practice to Calm your Body, Clear your Mind, and Open your Heart.” by Jillian Pransky with Jessica Wolf

Deep listening is the process of truly connecting to ourselves and our lives. It is not so much a specific technique as it is an approach to how we receive and respond to ourselves and others.

Another book that feels essential to this time. It is a sequence of practices designed to help us listen deeply to our bodies, our selves and the world around us. It is filled with meditations and yoga poses and journal prompts to help us practice deep listening instead of merely reading about it. 

A sentence I underlined:

Well-being is the ability to stay grounded, relaxed and open to whatever your circumstances are.

Books Read in April.

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“Cozy- The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World” by Isabel Gillies

It makes sense that I was drawn to this book in the middle of a pandemic and being forced to stay at home. I am all about coziness. Cozy clothes. Cozy spaces to read in front of my cozy fire with a cozy cup of tea. 

Gillies takes us through a journey of coziness as we live our daily lives. We journey from ourselves to our homes to nature and technology to traveling to facing difficult challenges. 

In the end, coziness comes from a deep sense of self.

A passage I love:

Cozy is an attitude, not a thing—a shortcut to bringing the most essential parts of ourselves with us wherever we go. Once you put your finger on what makes you feel solid, supported, and calm, you can arrange yourself in a world that can be cold, awkward, dangerous, inauthentic, and unpredictable. 

“Station Eleven” a novel by Emily St. John Mandel

The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.

I’ve had this book in my to-be-read stacks for a while. I am obsessed with dystopian literature. Not sure that choosing to read this particular novel about a flu pandemic that devastates the world population was the best choice but once I started it, I couldn’t put it down.

It is so beautifully written and the structure that moves back and forth in time was perfect. We see life before, during and after the pandemic, and some of the scenes felt way too close to what we are currently experiencing. The story itself is mesmerizing and the writing, lyrical. I even teared up at the ending. 

The sentence that made me teary:

If there are again towns with streetlights, if there are symphonies and newspapers, then what else might this awakening world contain?

“Know My Name” a memoir by Chanel Miller

The fact that I spelled subpoena, subpoenas, may suggest I am not qualified to tell this story.

To be honest, this book wasn’t really on my radar. I thought it would be heart-breaking, enraging and I wondered what the quality of the writing would be.

Well, it was heart-breaking. It was enraging. And the writing was phenomenal. 

This post from Glennon Doyle made me run out and buy it.:

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Everything she says it spot on.

I admit, that I will often skim passages in books. But with this one I felt compelled, even obligated to read every word. To honor her with my devoted attention. To honor her story. To honor every word she put onto the page. 

Every single person should read this.

Reading it now, in the midst of this crisis was interesting. While it is not the same AT ALL, her resilience was inspiring. Her story hopeful.

Chanel and her story and her writing are all lights in the darkness.

This sentence felt like a punch in the gut:

The judge had given Brock something that would never be extended to me: empathy. My pain was never more valuable that his potential. 

“Big Magic-Creative Living Beyond Fear” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Q: What is creativity”

A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.

So, even though I have 593 books in my home that I haven’t yet read, (Yes, I counted them this week cuz quarantine.) I picked up this gem to read for at least the third or fourth time.

I was listening to Liz give a TedTalk about the current pandemic and the challenges presented by sheltering -in-place and I found so much solace in her words. So I decided to find even more solace in this book again. Her vision of creativity and inspiration is both pragmatic and filled with magic which I love. I picked it up  because I’ve been feeling anything but creative and inspired these days. 

I found myself nodding at the many sentences and passages I had underlined previously and underling new ones that speak to me now.

It was so worth the re-read. I felt thoroughly restored and rejuvenated after closing the pages. 

A new line I underlined:

Work with all your heart, because—I promise—if you show up for your work day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.

And this:

We are all just beginners here, and we shall all die beginners.

“This Is Not Your City” stories by Caitlin Horrocks

It is July and we are a miraculous age.

I heard about this amazing writer several years ago at a writing retreat when the instructor praised her as the most talented student he’d ever had. So, I immediately bought her book. Sadly, it got lost in my many many many piles of TBR books.

I recently read her current novel and was blown away by the story and her writing and I remembered having her story collection. So, I searched my shelves and found it. 

It did not disappoint. As a reader, I was hooked by every story which is unusual for me. There is often at least one story that I skim. Not so in this case. 

As a writer, this collection felt like a masterclass in writing short stories. But not the kind that seem like they are workshopped and born out strictly of an MFA program. They are born out her experience and imagination, each story a world rich with detail and complex characters.

Reading this book has me itching to return writing short stories again.

A passage I love:

Then I realized that the pain doesn’t travel so much anymore as live there. It’s settled on in, it’s farming her bones, and it doesn’t need to travel because it’s never going anywhere. 

“You Are a Badass Everyday” by Jen Sincero

It always surprises me when people say, “I’m not a creative person.”

I was looking for something easy to read. Easily digestible. My focus can be shaky these days. As I perused my shelves I landed on this one. Since I’d read her other two books I opened it up. Yep, this would do. The chapters were short and sweet. As I read, I could see it was a reminder of some of the more important lessons in her other two books. It was just what I needed. A reminder to stay present, to be myself, to stay motivated and overcome challenges but to also lighten up and find joy. 

This was a good reminder:

Motivation, commitment, focus—these are a muscles that, like any muscle, required strengthening. 

Books Read in March.

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“The Vexations” a novel by Caitlin Horrocks

Conrad doesn’t have the key.

I was looking for a story that I could lose myself in and this did the trick! I lost myself in the story, in anther time, in the settings, in the way she structured the novel, in her beautiful writing.

I actually didn’t realize that Erick Satie was a real composer and I am even more impressed by the depth and breadth of her research. 

It’s a novel about family and the need to belong, about art and the need to create, it’s about living a life on your terms.

Highly entertaining and boldly original.

A sentence I love:

Both men grope for some music that can fill death’s mute wake, as if a life is anything other than noise. 

“We Are the Luckiest-The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life” by Laura McKowen

On July 13, 2013, the night of my brother’s wedding, I left my four-year-old daughter alone in a hotel room overnight because I was blackout drunk.

So begins a story of addiction and the journey through it. She is brutally honest about what it is like for her. She doesn’t hide parts of it and yet I never felt she was beating herself up. She was finding clarity and within that clarity she found some grace.

I find it helpful to read these kind of memoirs as I continue my own journey of not drinking just to remind myself why and to remember that I am not alone.

A sentence the resonated:

Addiction was a learned behavior born of the natural, human impulse to soothe, to connect, to love, to feel good.

“Why we Can’t Sleep- Women’s New Midlife Crisis” by Ada Calhoun

One woman I know had everything she’d every wanted—a loving partner, two children, a career she cared about, even the freedom to make her own schedule—but she still couldn’t shake a feeling of profound despair.

So, I felt that same kind of profound despair as I read this book. Don’t get me wrong, it is well worth the read. It is thoroughly researched and I love how she shared real-woman stories as well as statistics.

It’s about Gen-X women. Now, I am just barley Gen-X. I was born in 1965, the first year of Gen-Xer’s but I could relate to almost everything she explored: that not-enougnness as we try to do everything, being the first latchkey generation, always looking outside of ourselves, the anxiety about money.

While I felt that despair she described, I also felt hope and power as I finished reading it.

I passage I could relate to hard:

Our problems are beyond the reach of “me-time.” The last thing we need at this stage of life is self-help. Everyone keeps telling us what to do, as if there’s a quick fix for the human condition. What we need at this stage isn’t more advice, but solace.

Ah-men, Sister!!!

 

Books Read in January 2020.

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“Quit Like a Woman- The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol” by Holly Whitaker.

People are often shocked when I tell them that addiction was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Pretty sure I bought this the day it was released. Whitaker is the founder and CEO of the tempest (formerly Hip Sobriety) both of which I remember coming across  when I was first dipping my toe into this sober world. 

I love how she she shares her own story and journey but also sets out to research the culture of alcohol that we are immersed in. She explores the difference between seeing alcohol as a drug versus only seeing alcoholism as a disease. How advertising tries to convince (successfully!) that we need alcohol to have fun or be social or happy.

I am still not drinking and I don’t know if the will ever be something that changes or if I will ever forget that I am not drinking and just be. It’s all still pretty new. So I find these books to remind me why I am doing this. To remind me I am not alone in this struggle. And that the struggle is totally worth it.

A sentence I love that really flipped my perspective on alcohol:

I imagine our grandchildren will one day be shocked by the idea that there was once a point in time when we drank ethanol at almost every occasion and boasted of hangovers and drunken antics, the same way I’m always shocked to see pictures of my aunts and uncles smoking indoors at family parties in the seventies.

“Heart Talk- Poetic Wisdom for a Better Life” by Cleo Wade

Self-care is how we fuel our self-love so that we are able to share our love with everyone around us.

Cleo Wade has become an essential part of my self-care/self-love arsenal. Her words are a balm to my soul. Her books feel like a reminder from the wisest parts of myself, looking out for me, reminding me who I truly am.

A line I love:

We take care of ourselves by asking what our needs are.

“American Housewife” stories by Helen Ellis

Inspired by Beyoncé, I stallion-walk to the toaster.

I love when I pull a book off my TBR shelf and it is amazing. So funny and sharp and just the right amount of whacky. I laughed out loud many times as I read.

One story is told purely through email exchanges between two women and while i could feel the tension building, I did not see the ending coming and it was fantastic. 

These stories shine a light into the crevices of womanhood.

The first line of a story that made me laugh out loud:

“Is this too dressy?”is Southern Lady code for: I look fabulous and it would be in your best interest to tell me so.

“You Are a Badass at Making Money- Master the mindset of Wealth” by Jen Sincero

If you’r ready to make more money, you can.

I finally finished this book! I took a break for awhile. I did all the exercises and learned a lot. And I still struggle with the concept. Even that first line kind of rubs me the wrong way. So, if I’m not making a lot a money, it means I’m not ready? 

I get it. I have money issues. I am bringing them to light. I am trying.

I love her voice. It’s no-nonsense yet engaging. She makes anything seem possible. 

A friend is hosting a group to work though the book, chapter by chapter. I think I might do that. There’s always more to learn, right?

This sentence is I why I kept reading and did all the exercises:

“…you have the ability to heal it, transform it, and become such awesome pals with money that you wake up one day too find yourself standing in the middle of the life you’ve always wanted to live.”

“To Love and Let Go- A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Gratitude” by Rachel Brathen

It came out of nowhere.

I knew the basic story of Yoga Girl. I listen to her podcasts. I subscribed to her yoga community for a while. But I had no idea the depth of her losses and what she has overcome.

Her book is a generous gift as she shares her whole self within its pages. 

It covers death and loss and grief and love and motherhood and family and just everything the creates a life. That first line sums it up. Most things come out of nowhere. We are all going to be or have been walloped by life and loss. Brathen shows us not only how to move on but how she healed at a deep level and thrived.

A sentence that made me teary:

He room said to her: “You can trust me. Let me be your mom again.”

Books Read in December.

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“Now You Love Me” fiction by Liesel Litzenberger

After I saw the man who could bend spoons with his eyes, everything just fell into place.

When I picked this book off of my TBR shelf, I had no idea that it was set in Michigan, nor that it seems to be a novel-in-stories. I live in Michigan and am drawn to that genre, so much so that I wrote one myself, so I was immediately smitten.

Nine-year-old Annie tells the story of her sweet yet odd family consisting of herself, her younger brother Gus and their beautiful mother, Paige. Her father is gone and Annie knows he is not coming back. Her mother is trying hard to keep them emotionally afloat but she struggles with that herself. When she starts dating Shepherd, Annie isn’t sure if it’s the best tithing or the worst thing for her mother and their family.

The relationships are tangled as families are. Each story stands on its own but they each work together to reveal the arc of a family and a young girl trying to find their footing in a complicated world.

A sentence I underlined:

Seeing our house like that, from the outside and in secret, felt like a mistake, like opening a door and accidentally catching someone changing their clothes.

“Where to Begin” by Cleo Wade

This is for you. And me. And us. We are the builders who are building a world that has never been built before. 

As soon as I read this I knew I had to read this book. Because it feels so true. The world is shifting. We are building a new world and it is experiencing tremendous growing pains that often leave me wanting to dive under the covers and hide indefinitely.

But Cleo Wade offers wisdom, insights and truths that make me want to go back out into the world and be the difference I want to see.

I say it’s must read for these times.

A sentence I underlined:

 We just have to be brave enough to care.

“Tell Me More-Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say” by Kelly Corrigan

There was no real reason for it to fall apart that morning. And in fact, it didn’t. I did. 

Some things are hard to say. We all know this. It’s why we don’t say them. Corrigan explores the 12 things she finds hardest to say and gives us all permission to find the courage to say them in our own lives. She shares pieces of her life with us as well pieces of her heart.

A sentence I underlined:

Maybe being wrong is not the same as being bad, I thought, not a sign that your insides were rotten.

“Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D.

Wildlife and Wild Women are both endangered species.

This book, this book, this book! I don’t even know where to begin.

I bought it when it first came out in 1992. I was 27. I tried to read it. I wanted to read it. but I kept putting it down.

I picked it up again in my 30’s. Same thing. Then again in my 40’s. And sometime around there I must’ve decided the book just wasn’t for me and I got rid of it.

Then I hit my 50’s and out of the blue I knew I had to read it. 

But I had gotten rid of it. So I bought another copy. I dipped in and out of it then I decided to make it the winter read for the book club I facilitate at the yoga studio I teach at.

Once I really committed to reading it, something deep within me stirred.

After each chapter I thought, “Well, the book is worth it for this chapter alone.” Then I’d get to the next one and the next one and think the same thing. 

I underlined, starred, circled so many things on so many pages.

It just deeply deeply resonated with me.

But I wasn’t ready for it when I first bought it at 27.

At 54 I was ready.

More than ready.

The first thing I underlined on the first page:

It’s not by accident that the pristine wilderness of our planet disappears as the understanding of our own inner wild nature fades. 

Books Read in November.

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“Keep It Moving- Lessons for the Rest of Your Life” by Twyla Tharp

Twenty years ago, I wrote a book called “The Creative Habit,” sharing the message that we can all live creative lives if only we could stop waiting for a muse to arrive with divine inspiration and instead just get down to work.

I’ve read that first book of hers at least a half dozen times. It’s inspiring and the kick in the pants when I need that.

This is the same kind of kick in the pants to just keep moving. For our physical as well as our mental and emotional health.

Tharp is a tough cookie. Her advice is to just do it whether that is getting up at the crack of dawn to go to the gym or write the novel or plant the garden of your dreams. Just. Do. It.

As with the first book, she writes from her own experience and gives the reader exercises to do in order to incorporate more movement into our lives.

The first passage I underlined:

What I believe in is change and the vitality it brings. Vitality means moving through life with energy and vigor, making deliberate choices and putting to good use the time and energy that we have been granted.

“The Last Book Party” novel by Karen Dukess

Walking up the dirt driveway to the summer home of Henry Grey, I reminded myself that I was an invited guest.

I am a sucker for any stories set in the writing/publishing/book world. This is all three. 

Eve Rosen is an aspiring writer, much to her parents’ dismay, working as an assistant at a publishing house. Feeling at a dead end there, she decides to take a job for the summer as the assistant to Henry Grey, a famed New Yorker writer married to a famed poet.

Eve has little idea of what exactly she is walking into and her life becomes completely upended by her decision and she is left wondering if the world she so longed to be part of is really what she wants at all.

A sentence on marriage that intrigued me:

Maybe that’s what marriage was, a Mobius strip of togetherness, so that no matter how much a couple twisted and turned away from each other, even toward someone else, the attachment remained.

“They Said She Was Crazy” a novel by Kristine E. Brickey

Mara Sutherland couldn’t believe her bad luck.

Mara is getting ready to celebrate her son’s graduation from high school. It has been just the two of them for so long after she found herself in the position of being an unwed mother in college. But she raised him and he was her pride and joy. Then the unthinkable happens. She comes home to find his lifeless body. Her son had taken his own life.

The novel explores a mother’s deep grief and rage and longing to know why her son did what he did. She begins to see Zane and though she finds comfort in these visits, she wonders of she is going crazy.

It’s a painful story of a mother’s raw grief.

A sentence about trying to write into her grief:

Over the next few days, she would try to find more words, gain back the freedom o releasing what was barricaded inside her broken heart.

“Let’s Call It  Doomsday” a YA novel by Katie Henry

Here is one way the world could end:

If you follow this blog at all, you know I have a bit of a fascination with end-of-the world stories. So, of course I would be drawn to a novel whose main character has the same obsession.

Ellis Kimball deals with anxiety. She obsesses over the myriad ways the world could end. She stock-piles supplies to help her and her family survive when the inevitable happens. Ellis is prepared.

What she isn’t prepared for is meeting Hannah Marks in the waiting rom of her therapist’s office. And she definitely isn’t prepared when Hannah tells her that she has visions and knows exactly when and how the world will end. And that Ellis is with her when it happens.

Ellis is quickly drawn into Hannah’s world, trying to decipher clues from her dreams, looking for a mysterious man that Hannah insists holds the key to the answers they are seeking.

But how far will Ellis go to help Hannah? And how far will she go to let the people around her know what she knows about the fate of the world? 

A sentence I love:

Is there anything that makes your heart jump more, than someone wanting to keep your words?

Books Read in October.

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“The Testaments” a novel by Margaret Atwood

Only dead people are allowed to have statues, but I have been given one while still alive. Already I am petrified.

I was both thrilled and terrified when I heard that a sequel to “The Handmaid’s Tale” would be coming.Thrilled because that story fascinated me. Terrified because it often feels like that fictional world is merging with our reality.

I went to the theater on pub day to watch the live presentation and interview. Atwood is brilliant and funny. Actors read from the book and I left itching to dive into myself.

Once I did, it was hard to put it down. I appreciated that it wasn’t a sequel in the sense the that it merely continued with June’s story. It is so much more than that. We get a wider, deeper perspective on Gilead and its citizens. What it was like to grow up there, what was intended compared to what actually manifested.

Rarely have I been so enthralled and pleased with a sequel.

A sentence that made me laugh out loud (In a story that is anything but funny):

“Nobody is any authority on the fucks other people give.”

“Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl

This book does not claim to be an account of facts and events but of personal experiences, experiences which millions of prisoners have suffered time and again.

This book has been on my radar and TBR shelf for years and I finally made time to read it. With all that is going on in the world, it felt extremely, even urgently, relevant.

Frankl, a psychiatrist, labored in four different camps between the years of 1942 and 1945. His parents, brother and pregnant wife died. He had every reason to allow the events happening to him to define his life and his experience. Instead, he chose to cope through finding meaning in suffering.

It is a moving and thoroughly inspiring story of finding resilience within no matter what you are experiencing outwardly.

A sentence that resonates:

They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

“The Reason I Jump” by Naoki Higashida

When I was small, I didn’t even know that I was a kid with special needs.

So begins this wholly original, thoroughly enchanting memoir written by a 13-year-old boy with autism.

Each chapter starts with a question posed to him about being autistic. Questions he is often asked.

In incredibly self-aware, often poetic language, he describes what it is like to be him in this world. What it is like to experience the world through his brain, his body. 

A passage that blew me away:

But when I’m jumping, it’s as if my feelings are going upward to the sky. Really, my urge to be swallowed up by the sky is enough to make my  heart quiver. When I’m jumping, I can feel my body parts really well, too—my bounding legs and my clapping hands—and that makes me feel so, so good.

“Mrs. Fetcher” a novel by Tom Perotta

It was a long drive and Eve cried most of the way home, because the big day hadn’t gone the way she’d hoped, not that big days ever did.

Exploring her new empty-nest life, Eve embarks on a sexual awakening that makes her question much of what she thought she knew about herself and those closest to her. Perotta takes us to the teetering edge of what could be catastrophic consequences but pulls back just enough to allow his characters the space to royally fuck up while still managing to grow.

A passage I love:

It was nothing, really, just a passing shadow, and Eve had lived long enough to know that it was foolish to worry about a shadow. Everybody had one; it was just the shape your body made when the sun came out.

Books Read in September.

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“Future Home of the Living God” a novel by Louise Erdrich

When I tell you the my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not.

Continuing my dystopian fascination, Erdrich leads us into a future where evolution has stopped. Pregnancy and childbearing become matters of state security and concern. 

Cedar is four months pregnant when the world begins to dissolve. She is on a journey to bring her child into the world, to find her birth family all while navigating  a new society where pregnant women become a commodity.

Fiercely moving and original, I couldn’t stop turning the pages. 

A sentence that gave me chills:

The first thing that happens at the end of the world is the we don’t know what is happening.

A sentence I love:

Perhaps we function as neurons ourselves, interconnecting thoughts in the giant mind of God.

“Sober Curious” by Ruby Warrington

When I first got Sober Curious, one persistent question kept blinking into view, like a lighthouse on a stormy night:

Would life be better without alcohol?

That same question blinks at me.

Warrington coined the term “sober curious” which I like. It allows someone like me who has not hit a dark rock bottom to find a space in which to begin to question my drinking. To rethink the role it plays in my life, own my health, in my body. 

She weaves her own sober curious journey with research and interviews, laying out a possible path for each of us to find on our own. No judgment.

She is honest, funny, engaging and invites us on this path she has lit for us, but always encouraging us to find our own way. This is what works for her and she is generous in sharing it with the world.

A sentence that makes so much sense:

Thinking back to Marc Lewis’s theory that all human behavior stems from our desire to seek out pleasure or to avoid pain, it seems obvious that our specific FOMA (fear of missing alcohol) triggers will be individual for each of us, even if they are rooted in the same basic needs.

“Ursula K. LeGuin- Conversations on Writing” by Ursula K. LeGuin with David Naimon

The interviewers I fear most are the ones who’ve read what the publisher’s PR people say about your book, along with some handy pull quotes.

Divided into 3 parts with passages of her own writing interspersed, Naimon discusses Fiction, Poetry and Non-fiction with LeGuin. The title is accurate in describing them as conversations rather that interviews. Luckily, Naimon is not the kind of interviewer she fears most. Each conversation ends up being a dance between two intelligent people about literature and its role in society.

I am ashamed to say I have read very little of her but that will be changing. She has a fascinating mind and is not afraid to say what needs to be said. 

One of my favorite pieces was “On Serious Literature” in which she responds to a review of a Michael Chabon book and it is clear that the reviewer is not a fan of so-called genre fiction. The lesson? It was never a good idea to piss off LeGuin.

A passage I love:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Since explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stocking endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

“I Remember” by Joe Brainard

I remember the first time I got a letter that said “After Five Days Return To” on the envelope, and I thought that after I had kept the letter for five days I was supposed to return it to the sender.

Those two little words create a life. 

Those two little words were the first writing prompt I used. It opened a flood of words and images and memories that I then spilled onto the page. It is a prompt i still use to this day, along with the opposite: I don’t remember. 

When Dani Shapiro recommended this book, I immediately went on-line and found it. 

It’s truly amazing how an entire life can be revealed through memories. What we choose to remember, what we don’t. How one memory leads to the next. 

I can’t tell you how many times I read his words and thought, “Me, too!” like this one:

I remember milkmen. Postmen. Guest towels. “Welcome” mats. Avon ladies. 

This is an original book that reads like a path of memories laid out like breadcrumbs to reveal this particular human soul that is both universal and deeply personal sometimes humorous, sometimes deeply moving. Just like life.

A sentence I love:

I remember trying not to look lonely in restaurants alone.

“Awakening the Spine” by Vanda Scaravelli

This is not really a yoga book, nor is it a book on how to do the asanas.

This is a beautifully written and designed book that feeds both the eyes, the body and spirit. 

I can already feel how I carry my differently, or how it carries me. I feel like I am much more aware of my spine and how it moves. So, yes, reading this book helped me to awaken my spine. 

A sentence I love:

You have to learn how to listen to your body, going with it and not against it, avoiding all effort or strain and centering your attention on that very delicate point, the back of the wist (where the spine moves in two opposite directions).

“The Pursuit of Alice Thrift” a novel by Elinor Lipman

You may have seen us in “Vows” in the New York Times: me, alone smoking a cigarette and contemplating my crossed ankles, and a larger blurry shot of us, postceremony, ducking and squinting through a hail of birdseed.

I pulled this gem out of my stacks and am so glad I did. I don’t remember laughing out loud while reading a novel in a long, long time. 

Alice Thrift is a surgical intern, very smart but also very awkwardly social. In fact, at one point her own mother wonders if she might be on the spectrum. 

The life of an intern, doesn’t leave much room for romance but that doesn’t stop Ray Russo, fudge salesman and extreme extrovert, from pursuing her. 

Filled with memorable characters, this novel was hard to put down.

A sentence that made me laugh out loud:

Finding Ray’s chin hooked on her shoulder while asleep:

Didn’t heads belong on pillows? Hadn’t beds evolved to queen-and king-sized so that body integrity could be maintained during sleep?

“Her Body and Other Parties” stories by Carmen Maria Machado

(If you read this story out loud, please use the following voices:)

I don’t even know where to start with this remarkable collection of stories. They are mesmerizing, startling, lush and stake out new territory in this genre.

I began each story as if carefully opening a precious gift, never quite sure what I would find inside. I discovered worlds that (and I have to quote the back jacket) “blithely demolish the borders between psychological realism and science fiction.” A mysterious green ribbon around a woman neck tempts her husband. An inventory of lovers is revealed in the wake of a world catastrophe. Smack in the middle is this enthralling yet disturbing rendition of “Law and Order: SVU.”

Reading this collection as a writer reminded me to go where the characters take you, allow the writing to twist and turn and writhe on the page. And, most importantly, don’t be afraid to take risks.

A description of a baby that I loved:

She smells clean, but chemical. And behind it, an edge of milk, bodily and sour, like something tipped askance.

A description of being put under anesthesia:

As they put me to sleep, my mouth fills with the dust of the moon.

A description of autumn that took my breath away:

And then, autumn, the first autumn, our first autumn, the first squash dish, the sweaters, the burning smell of the space heater, never leaving the heavy blankets, the scent of smoke that reminds me of being a Girl Scout and being twelve and camping with girls who hate me. The leaves catch fire, color burning away green like a disease. More rain, another carpet of leaves, yellow as dandelions, red as pomegranate skin, orange as carrot peels. There are strange evenings when the sun sets but it rains anyway, and the sky is gold and peach and also gray and purple like a bruise. Every morning, a fine mist coats the grove. Some nights, a bloody harvest moon rises over the horizon and stains the clouds like an alien sunrise. 

Books Read in August.

August books.JPG

“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.

 

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.