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.”

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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.

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

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“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I don’t remember the first book I ever read.

I can’t remember that moment when the strange black marks on a page turned into words, which turned into images which turned into stories I could see in my mind.

I do remember that Library Day was my favorite day of the week in elementary school. I checked out the same series of books over and over about three Swedish sisters named Flicka, Ricka and Dicka.

At some point I gravitated to “Gone with the Winds’ but the librarian steered me away, deeming me too young to read it.

I remember receiving Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden books for Christmas and being so happy we had the 4-hour drive up north so that I could lose myself in them.

I went through an Agatha Christie phase and a Taylor Caldwell phase spurred on my older cousin who was also a bookworm. I went through a phase of devouring romance novels in a single sitting.

I now have six bookshelves bulging with books, both read and to-be-read. The ratio is getting to be about 50/50. Don’t judge. There are worse habits I could have than loving books and having way more than I can possibly read in this lifetime.

I try to read widely and diversely: different genres, authors of varying ages, ethnicities, gender.

Not surprisingly, before I was a writer, I was a reader. A huge, avid reader. Every single report card mentions my love of words.

As a writer, I am even more of a reader, if that is even possible. I still read for the reasons I used to: to escape, to immerse myself in other lives, other cultures, other worlds. To see life through the lens of another. But I also read with this other layer of attention, of curiosity, of wonder. How did they structure the book, the story? Why did they choose to use that point of view? How did they write such a beautiful sentence that took my breath away?

I may not remember exactly when I learned to read or what my first book was. I definitely don’t remember all of the books I’ve consumed over the years, and “consume’ is the perfect word. Each book is absorbed into who I am, helping to mold me into who I am becoming.

As Emerson so eloquently states, they have made me.

Happy National Book Lovers Day!! What are some of your favorite books? Book memories? Writers? Please feel free to share in the comments.

Books Read in May + June.

May + June Books

“This Messy Magnificent Life” by Geneen Roth

From the beginning, I was always more anxious than the average bear.

Once again, Roth dives deep into the brilliant muck of her own life and struggles to offer us a blueprint on how to do the same for ourselves. 

Yes, she talks explores women and body image but it goes so much deeper than that. She shares stories from her own life and those fo her students, guiding us out of the gotta-get-more mentality and into the peace of being enough in our messy, magnificent lives.

A sentence I underlined (and starred):

I’ve tried versions of not fixing myself before, but always with the secret hope that not fixing myself would fix me.

“You Think It, I’ll Say It” stories by Curtis Sittenfeld

Nell andHenry always said that they would wait until marriage was legal for everyone in America, and now this is the case—it’s August 2015—but earlier in the week Henry eloped with his graduate student Bridget.

That’s a hell of a first sentence! So much packed into it and it drops us right into the heart of who this couple tried to be and who they actually are now.

Each story seems to explore that edge between the image projected versus what is really going on inside whether it’s a woman fanatazising the downfall of an old friend who had become a lifestyle guru to a woman on her honeymoon who runs into a nemesis from high school.

Sittendfeld weaves in the poetics of the times but as background, also like white noise that adds texture to the stories, to the characters who will stay with you long after you put the book down.

A sentence I love:

Being in touch with her offered a cushioning to my days, an antidote to the tedium and indignity of being a person, the lack of accountability of my adulthood; it gave me stamina with Bonnie and willpower with Therese.

“The Rules of Inheritance” a memoir by Claire Bidwell Smith

My father’s voice is tinny through the phone line. I am in the booth at the bottom of the stairs in Howland dorm. It is my freshman year of college.

A student loaned me her copy before class one day. I started reading it as the rest of my students gathered and before class even started I already had tears in my eyes. 

This memoir is one of the most honest explorations of grief that I have ever read.

At fourteen, both of her parents are diagnosed with cancer within months of each other. By the time she is in her twenties, both of them have died.

The book is structured within the framework of the five stages of grief. She also moves through time in a very fluid way that I imagine mimics grief itself.

She made the deliberate decision not to use quotation marks throughout and it works. It is a constant reminder that these are memories. The lack of punctuated conversations reminds us over and over that they are gone.

Her sentences are stunning.

The story is powerful.

It wasn’t my book but if it was, I probably would’ve underlined something on every single page.

Some sentences I loved: 

“We kiss for the first time, there in the kitchen, and Ill always remember it for many reasons. One of them is because, for the first time in a long time nothing about the kiss serves to fill a void.”

“We agreed that I would move my things out this week. We parted ways at the door and there was a wildness between us, something frightening and alive, fluttering like a bird.”

“She turns her head to me now and runs a hand down my cheek. I’ve adored being your mother, Claire. Sometimes I think it’s the only thing I did right with my life.

She is crying now. I can tell by the way her voice has gone tighter. I still can’t bring myself to look at her.

We’ll get through. Okay, sweetie? I promise.

I finally look up at her and nod the tiniest nod. She turns on her side, pulling me into her like a comma, and we lie like that for a long time.”

“If We Had Known” a novel by Elise Juska

It was an unseasonably hot late summer day in Maine when Maggie’s daughter read about the shooting.

A mass shooting at a local mall rocks a small college town. It reads like a common national headline. Juska takes us behind the headlines, into the stories of the people left behind. Those that survived, those that knew the shooter, those that wonder if they could’ve—or should’ve—done something to prevent the tragedy. 

Maggie is a professor and divorced mom getting ready to send her only child off to college when the shooting happens. Through the internet and social media speculations run rampant , linking the shooter to an essay he wrote for Maggie in a class she had him in years earlier. Did she miss something in his writing, something dark that hinted at the crime he would later commit?

The novel explores these questions as well as the territory of this mother-daughter relationship in such gripping prose that it was hard to put down and hard to forget once I finally did put it down.

A sentence I love:

Her head hurt on contact, a small flowering of pain in her temple.

“Her” a memoir by Christa Parravani

I used be an identical twin. I was Cara Parravani’s twin.

Those first two sentences are at the heart of this exquisite memoir. After an act of brutality sends her twin down a dark path of depression and drugs, leading to her early death, Christa is left behind to try and remember who she is without her twin. To try and remember how she even is able to exist without her counterpart to balance out her existence in the world.

It is a haunting story that moves beyond  loss and grief, diving deep into the complicated heart of being an identical twin and how they can both lose and find themselves in each other. 

A passage I love:

All of our stories and hurts were now mine alone. I’d grown so used to stories being shared that without Cara it was as if neither of our lives had ever happened. With her death, my history had been erased.

“Silence in the Age of Noise” by Erling Kagge

Whenever I am unable to walk, climb or sail away from the world, I have learned to shut it out.

I finished this beautiful book in less than twelve hours. I started it before I went to bed then finished it upon waking. It opened me up to the possibility of cultivating silence within my life, not letting all the constant noise of the world in. Each page has plenty of white space for my eyes to rest and photos throughout that float in the center of the page, providing yet another resting space for my mind.

Kagge is a Norwegian explorer who has completed the Three Poles Challenge on foot—the North Pole, the South Pole, and the summit of Mount Everest. Using those experiences he then travels inward to explore the realm of silence in our lives. The book is filled with grace and wisdom and after closing the final page I found myself seeking out more moments of silence, becoming more aware of the noise I invite in on a daily basis.

A sentence I love:

Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

“Let the Whole Thundering World Come Home” a memoir by Natalie Goldberg

I travel all the way to Kitada, Japan, to Taizoin Temple, near the Sea of Japan, to find the ashes of my Zen teacher, Katagiri Roshi.

Those of you who have been following my blog will no doubt know of my special connection to Natalie Goldberg. I’ve often written about how her book, “Writing Down the Bones” first set me on this writing path. How the first time I gave myself persuasion to be a writer was when I attended her week-long retreat in Taos, New Mexico.

I have read every single book she has written at least once, often more than once. When I saw that she had a new memoir out I immediate checked my local bookstore, saw that they had it in stock, got in my car and bought it. Once again, I finished it in less than twelve hours. 

Since I have read all of her books, i noticed that this particular one seemed to emerge from a deeper, richer place. It comes from her years of writing practice, of Zen practice, of painting practice and this time, from her practice of being with her illness. Being in a body that has cancer. Being within a medical system that she fights against. Being in a relationship where they are both fighting cancer.

It’s a memoir that explores the practice of living. Of being present to all of it not just the shiny pieces we share on social media. It reminded me of the beauty and necessity of writing practice. The practice of relating to my world, to my self, my body, my mind word by word, moment by moment.

After reading the final sentence, I lay the book on my heart, resting my hand on the cover and I could feel my heartbeat reverberate up through the pages, through the words, tears filled my eyes and I silently thanked Natalie over and over, for setting me on this writing path, for giving me the tools to connect with my wild mind, heart + life, for always showing us the way through her own writing straight into the white hot messy center of our living and dying.

A sentence I love:

But I came in direct contact with the groundless disaster—I could not hold on to my old life; I could not manage or form a new life. 

 

Books Read in March + April.

books read in march and april

“An American Marriage” a novel by Tayari Jones

There are two kinds of people in the word, those who leave home, and those who don’t.

This is Oprah’s latest book club selection, but it was on my radar long before that. I will read anything Tayari Jones writes. (And I keep waiting/hoping for her to write a book on the writing process.) 

It takes a lot these days to draw me into another world. I desperately need it, but it takes a lot of to pull me away from the constant drama that is our current reality. But this novel did just that. And I gratefully fell into it. Not only is it a beautiful, complex exploration of marriage but also of race in America. 

The chapters alternate points of view and are filled with letters between the two, letters that break your heart as you see their marriage steadily frayed by circumstances beyond their control.

As I neared the end, I did not know who or what I was rooting for. Jones did such a masterful job of keeping every character real and flawed. There was no bad guy or good guy. Just human beings with their messy,complicated hearts doing the best they knew how to do.

Without giving anything away, when I got to the end I closed the book and thought, “That is exactly how this story needed to end.” Not that it was expected or cliche. Far from it. It just felt inevitable and right.

A sentence I underlined:

“When she gives a song, it isn’t entertaining; rather, it sounds like she is telling secrets that are not hers to reveal.”

“Big Love- The Power of Living with a Wide-Open Heart” by Scott Stabile

I was fourteen when my parents were shot and killed in their Detroit fruit market.

The first sentence sets up this brave exploration of pain and how one traumatic event impacts a life. Stabile does not shy away from the tragedy that shaped his young life, nor the aspects of his personality that need to be healed. It is his utter honesty that ties the book together. You don’t walk away with a tidy list of things to do in order to love with a wide-open heart. Instead, you are invited to look at your own life, at the events that have shaped you, at how your are behaving now, today, in this moment and bring a wide-open hearted compassion to everyone involved.

A sentence I underlined:

It’s impossible to communicate with love and clarity when we’re filled with judgement.

“The Body is Not an Apology- The Poser of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya ReneeTaylor

Let me answer a couple of questions right away before you dig too deeply into this book and are left feeling bamboozled and hoodwinked.

This disclaimer was the perfect way to start this book. It is not the usual self-help book guiding you on a journey to body acceptance, body love. It is more of a call to arms. She is calling for a revolution on every level: in each individual body, in our relationships, our communities, our governments. In calling for radical self-love, Taylor is asking us to get real with ourselves, with our bodies, with the body shame we are immersed in, the body terrorism that haunts us. 

Don’t pick up this book if you are looking for a gentle voice, coaxing you to love your thighs or belly. 

Don’t pick this book up if you are looking for easy answers to the body shame you’ve been carrying for decades.

Do pick up this book if you want to wake up to all the ways we have been indoctrinated into body shame, all the ways we perpetuate body shame and oppression.

Do pick up this book if you want to be transformed on a deep, sacred, level.

Do pick up this book if you are ready to embody radical self-love.

A sentence I underlined:

Radical self-love demands that we see ourselves and others in the fullness of our complexities and intersections and that we work to create space for those intersections.

“Barbara the Slut and Other People” stories by Lauren Holmes

In Mexico City the customs light lit up green, which was lucky because I had fifty pairs of underwear with tags on them in my suitcase.

How could I not buy this book when that is the first sentence that greets me? And every story had that same kind of edgy first line that just drew me in. 

These stories are poignant yet laugh-out-loud funny at times. They explore the tangles of our emotional and physical lives as the characters navigate relationships with others and themselves.

A woman learns that she prefers the company of her dog to the foreign guy she was having a fling with who has somehow set up camp in her apartment. A woman who graduated law school decides to sell sex toys instead of practicing law.

Each story is fearless and precise. A voice to watch for sure. 

A sentence I underlined:

 My mom and I were going to stop to break up with my boyfriend on our way to Emerald Isle, but the muffler fell off my car right before we got to the exit we needed to take to Raleigh, and my mom said we couldn’t stop anymore. 

“Half Wild” stories by Robin Mac Arthur

“You want to jump in the creek?” my mother asks.

The title of this collection is perfect. Each story and the collection itself feels like they are half wild—the settings as well as the emotional terrain.

Each story seems to linger at the edge between the wilderness and populated areas, between the wild space of the hearts of the characters and the lives they are actually living.

So many sentences took my breath away. I longed to linger in the wilderness of each story. An amazing debut collection.

A paragraph I underlined:

What is it about fields? The way they make all directions viable. The way they give houses, porches, voices perspective. The way the word itself—fields—makes you capable of heading toward that porch with its smoke and laughter, or toward the woods, where you could quietly and, without a sound, start walking.

“The Possibilities” a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

I pretend that I’m not from here.

I’ve been a huge fan of Hemmings long before her novel,”The Descendants’” was made into a movie starring George Clooney and  Shailene Woodley. I used to devour her blog, “How to Party with an infant” when I had infants myself. 

Her latest novel is another dive into the complex emotional terrain we are all called on to navigate at some point in our lives. This time, Sarah St. John is reeling from the death of her 22-year-old son, Cully, from an avalanche.

They live in a resort ski town in Colorado where she hosts a TV show for the guests of a resort, giving them tips on where to go, what to do, where to eat. But after her son’s death, it seems pointless.  

When a strange girl shows up at her home, with a secret related to her son, it turns everyone’s lives inside out.

Hemmings explores the rocky terrain of grief with honesty and compassion. It feels real, not like what somebody thinks it might be like to lose a child, but how it actually is.

Set against a backdrop of a town whose soul purpose is to entertain and provide and escape from reality while the tourists visit, Sarah and her family and friends are immersed in the complicated reality of their own lives.

A passage I underlined:

We all look around at the well-dressed people of the surrounding rooms. Everything harkens back to a time when people had the same problems yet used a different language.

A Love Letter to Indie Bookstores.

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Image found here.

“Consumers control the marketplace by deciding where to spend their money. If what a bookstore offers matters to you, then shop at a bookstore. If you feel that the experience of reading a book is valuable, then read the book. This is how we change the world: we grab hold of it. We change ourselves.”

~ Ann Patchett, bestselling author and co-owner of Parnassus Books

Dear Indie Bookstores,

Thank you.

Thank you for your love of books, of stories, of community.

Thank you for standing strong in the face of e-books and on-line selling.

Thank you for your passion.

That you for knowing the difference between fiction and non-fiction. (I’ve been to chain stores where this was not the case.)

Thank you for not only knowing what book I am trying to describe but offering another book I might like as well.

Thank you for being a third place for us to gather, allowing neighborhoods to thrive.

I love how you support writers, how you give them a platform to connect with their readers.

I love how you respect your customers by knowing us, knowing books and knowing the communities you are part of.

I love how when I walk into an indie bookstore anywhere in the world, my soul feels like it has come home.

 

The Company of other Writers.

Write Smart, Write Happy

Today, I find myself sitting at the bookstore cafe with a grande soy chai, notebook and laptop open. Not an unusual scenario.

What is unusual, these days, is for me to be drawn to a book on writing. A book that promises to help me “become a more productive, resilient, and successful writer.”

Now, I used to devour these books daily when I first knew I wanted to write. It was how I taught myself to write. I read books on writing fiction, writing essays, writing from prompts, writing practice, the writing life, writing goals. You name it, I bought it and read it. What I didn’t do was write very much.

Oh, I’d write Morning Pages and I filled notebooks with writing practice gleaned from Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones.” I loved how she made writing so much more accessible by declaring that just as an athlete practiced drills or a pianist practiced scales, a writer also needed to practice. It bought writing back from that lofty pedestal I had placed it on. It took the fear out of it by calling it practice.

I hunkered down into my writing practice for years, filling notebook upon notebook. The problem was, I got stuck in practicing. Don’t get me wrong. It served me well. I learned to put pen to page and write under pretty much any circumstance. I learned how to make space and time for writing in the life I was currently living ( a stay-at-home mom with young children) instead of waiting for the perfect time. I learned to write past my censor.

But I didn’t use what I had learned to actually get in the game of writing. When I finally began writing stories, taking classes and workshops, that’s where the bulk of my learning took place. Writing and finishing stories taught me how to write.

I’ve written dozens of short stories, some published, some not. I have a completed novel-in-stories (looking for an agent). I am well into my second novel, about 6o,000 words into the first book of a YA fantasy trilogy and am beginning to gather notes for a memoir on writing and yoga.

So, with all that writing under my belt, why  do I find myself drawn to this particular book today?

Because it’s a process.

Because I am always a student.

Because I am not afraid to be a beginner.

Because of course I want to be a more productive, resilient and successful writer.

Because now I know that I can read a book like this but, more importantly, I know I have to follow through with action: writing, querying, submitting, reading, setting goals and meeting those goals.

I know there are no quick fixes or shortcuts to being a writer.

I know that merely reading about becoming a successful writer is not enough but I am humble enough to be open to advice from others along the path.

I know that I am willing to put in the hard work necessary. And these kinds of books feel like my own personal cheerleading squad, telling me I can do it. Telling me that I am not alone.

Telling me that it’s okay, that we can walk this path together.

I am grateful for their company.

Books Read in January + February.

Jan. Feb. books

“The Year of Less- How I stopped shopping, gave away my belongings, and discovered life is worth more than anything you can buy in a store” by Cait Flanders

The idea was born on a trail, as many of mine seem to be.

I’m a sucker for writers that take on a challenge and write about it. It inspires me to take on my own challenges of adding things into my life or taking them away. It’s always a lesson in mindfulness.

After pulling herself out of $30K in credit card debt, Flanders found herself slipping back into old patterns. To break the pattern, she decided to set herself a new challenge: she wouldn’t shop for an entire year.

She made rules as to what was allowed on the shopping ban and what definitely was not. She found she had to adjust the rules along the way but they provided a necessary structure. While I was inspired by how much she was able to save and the changes she made in her life, it fascinated me how it impacted her relationships. Just as when somebody is on a diet or choosing to be sober, choosing to not spend money triggered interesting reactions. Like offering a sober person beer, some people tempted her with shopping. Or she found that a lot of her social life revolved around buying things just as much of our social life revolves around food and drink. What happens when you step out of the normal activities that bond people? And she was dealing with both: a shopping ban and continuing her sobriety.

A sentence that really resonated with me:

“But there were really only two categories I could see: the stuff I used, and the stuff I wanted the ideal version of myself to use…There were books I thought smart Cait should read, clothes I thought professional Cait would wear, projects I thought creative Cait could tackle…I would do it all one day, and become a better person one day.”

“Behold the Dreamers” a novel by Imbolo Mbue

He’d never been asked to wear a suit to a job interview.

This timely novel takes us deep into the lives a family desperate to stay in America, to live the life they have always dreamed of, a life not possible in their home country.

Jende Jonga lands a dream job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Jende is making money, he carries a briefcase, wears a suit. He drives Clark and his wife Cindy and son Mighty wherever they need to go on any given day. His wife, Neni, is able to go to school to pursue her dream of becoming a pharmacist. Then the financial crisis hits and things begin to fall apart quickly. Cracks within the Edwards’ marriage begin to show as do cracks within the marriage of Jenge and Neni, everyone desperate for things to stay as they have been even as it all is shifting beneath their feet. It’s a beautiful, compassionate glimpse into lives of immigrants dreaming of a better life, the obstacles to realizing that dream and what they are willing to do to achieve it.

A line I love:

“They would lose the opportunity to grow up in a magnificent land of uninhibited dreamers. They would lose the chance to be awed and inspired by amazing things happening in the country, incredible inventions and accomplishments by men an women who look like them.”

“My Friend Fear- Finding Magic in the Unknown” by Meera Lee Patel

Like everyone, I came into this world without fear.

That first sentence just grabbed me. We aren’t born with fear, we learn fear. So that must mean that we can unlearn it. This beautiful book is filled with Patel’s personal exploration of how fear has manifested in her life alongside her lovely watercolor drawings and questions that demand reflection. It provided an insightful conversation at the yoga studio book club I facilitate and it is a book I will return to again and again as I learn how to unlearn fear and make it my friend.

A line I love:

“I thought about bodies another imperfections and why we carry them around as unforgivable symbols of who we really are.”

“Bluets” by Maggie Nelson

  1. Suppose I were to begin by saying that I had fallen love with a color.

Describing this slender yet powerful volume as a lyrical essay or prose poetry does not do it justice. Nelson uses the color blue as a prism though which to reflect on everything from philosophy to saints, desire to religion, physical pain to soul pain with the thread of lost love woven throughout connecting and illuminating the whole. Beautifully explored, beautifully written.

A sentence I love:

“I am writing all this down in blue ink, so as to remember that all words, not just some, are written in water.”

“A Selfie as Big as the Ritz” stories by Lara Williams

And so it begins. You graduate university.

The women that populate these stories are searching for something: love, desire, companionship and ultimately, to be seen. Several stories use the second person POV reminding me of Ann Beattie but Williams’ voice and perspective are fresh and unique, as are each of these quirky yet deeply moving stories.

A sentence I love that made me laugh out loud:

“He sniffs the bell and turns from you, slowly, hopping onto the bed and sitting down, with a calculation you cannily describe as sociopathic.”

Books Read in November + December.

“Deep Work- Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport

In the Swiss canton of St. Gallen, near the northern banks of Lake Zurich, is a village named Bollingen.

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This book popped up on my radar via Ben Percy just as my own attention was feeling frayed into nothingness. And I am really hard on myself about this. I feel like I should be able to just say no to social media. Just not check it. When I see another writer who I really admire and who appears to have an incredible work ethic struggling with the same kind of thing, I was intrigued enough to get the book.

Weaving together science, cultural criticism and actionable steps to take today, Newport makes a strong case for finding ways to drop deeply into your work whether it is writing, coding or gardening. He defines “deep work” as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. He makes the case that work that emerges from this state is more valuable thus making you more valuable to your company, clients, the world.

At times, his advice seems a bit stringent but it works for him. The point is to get us to be able to drop into our work, have the time to mull and experiment and just be present without being pulled in a million different directions by others, by technology, by our own impulses.

Since finishing this book, I took the step of taking Twitter off my phone. A small step for sure but with huge benefits. I am not drawn into the 24/7 drama that sends me spinning off into a turmoil of rage or despair. I feel calmer, more focused, two thing that will help me sink into deep work.

A line I love:

The key to developing a deep work habit is to move beyond good intentions and add routines and rituals to your working life designed to minimize the amount of your limited willpower necessary to transition into and maintain a state of unbroken concentration.

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“Braving the Wilderness- The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to stand Alone” by Brené Brown

When I start writing, I inevitably feel myself swallowed by fear.

I chose this for the book club I facilitate at our yoga studio not knowing that much of the book was born out of the extreme division our country is facing. At first I was a little nervous about selecting this, about bringing politics into the space. But it was a perfect choice, a necessary and timely read for everyone.

Brown says, “It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our idealogical bunkers, and living from our wild heart rather that our weary heart.”

My own heart lit up at that. Yes! Exactly. My heart and soul have felt battered and incredibly weary over this past year. And it is so easy to stay in my tribe of like-minded, liberal leaning people who agree with everything I say, everything I post. But there’s a whole other world out there. A whole other part of the country that voted for this man, wanting something from him that they felt they couldn’t get any other way.

Brown guides us through her research and stories about belonging, not belonging, the need to belong, the need to stand alone out in the wilderness of our truth.

A line I love:

No matter how separated we are by what we think and believe, we are part of the same spiritual story.

And this:

True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.

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“When Women Were Birds- Fifty-four Variation on Voice” by Terry Tempest Williams

I am fifty-four years old, the age my mother was when she died.

This book had been on my radar for years. Recently, it began popping up a lot. Friends would talk about it, recommend it to me, I’d stumble across it on-line. One day I was writing in my journal about voice, using voice as a theme for my Poses, Pens + Inner Peace class that I teach when I saw that the subtitle of the book was “Fifty-four Variations on Voice.” Okay, okay, I got the not so subtle hint. I needed to read this book. So I ordered it, it arrived and I read it in two days.

I fell in love with every page, every word.

I read with a pen in my hand underling those sentences that made my skin tingle. Honestly I could have just underlined every single sentence.

I m still processing what I read and I will most definitely read it again. For now let me leave you with the blurb by Susan Salter Reynolds:

“Williams is the kind of writer who makes a reader feel [her] voice might also, one day, be heard….She cancels out isolation: Connections are woven as you sit in your chair reading—between you and the place you live, between you and other readers, you and the writer. Without knowing how it happened, your sense of home is deepened.”

That last line especially resonates with me. My sense of home has been deepened—home as the house I live in, the place I inhabit, the place in time, my body as home, community as home, writing as home.

I love the structure of the book, how one section echoes the one before it but takes you to a completely different and unexpected place. How she made the bold choice to have empty pages within her book. How lists are woven through the prose.

The writing, the story is simply stunning.

Some lines I love:

My mother’s voice is a lullaby in my cells.

Word by word, the language o women so often begins with a whisper.

She exposed the truth of what every  woman knows: to find our sovereign voice often requires a betrayal.

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“Little Fires Everywhere” a novelty Celeste Ng

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

The pace of this novel doesn’t slow down from that first line as we become enmeshed in the lives of the Richardson family and their new tenants, Mia and Pearl Warren. Mia is the anti-Shaker Heights. the city is a well planned, well thought out suburb of Cleveland, everything is orderly and rules are essential to the success of the town and the residents. Mia Warren is a n artist who doesn’t plan, her life is a pieced together to give her enough money and time to create her art. Her presence shakes the stars quo and the people of Shaker Heights up as alliances are made and broken and secrets come to light.

A passage I love:

She had never seen an adult cry like that, with such an animal sound. Recklessly. As if there were nothing more to be lost.

How about you? Why have you been reading lately?

A Book I Love. #TBT

Each Thursday in honor of #TBT, I am going to feature a book that I truly love, that helped shape me as a writer, as a woman, as a human.

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This book saved me. I read it when I was a new mother myself. It was before I had found my circle of other mom friends. I was far from family, my husband was often on the road for his job so it was just me and the girls. Her daily reflections sustained me through the dark times when I was exhausted, had no idea what I was doing and felt incredibly alone and lonely. It wasn’t a sugar-coated version of motherhood. It wasn’t the Hallmark version. It was real. It was honest.

Exhausted, she leans over the bassinet as her son wakes up from his nap and thinks, with great hostility, “Oh, God, he’s raising his loathsome reptilian head again.”

I laughed out loud, I cried and found solace in her words. Here was another mom going through the same joys, the same shit, the same despair, day after day. She gave me permission to not enjoy every single aspect of motherhood even though it would go by so fast. By being herself, she gave me permission to be more of myself.

 “We had another bad night. We finally slept for two hours t 7:00 AM. What a joke. I feel like thin glass, like I might crack.”