Books Read in January + February.

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

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

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

The epigraph sums it up beautifully:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sentence I love:

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

“Insomnia” by Marina Benjamin

Sometimes the rattle of a clapper sounds over your bed.

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

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

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

A sentence I love:

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

“The Dreamers” a novel by Karen Thompson Walker

At first, they blame the air.

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

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

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

Simple beautiful and stunning.

A sentence I love:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I underlined a lot but here are couple of gems:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sentence that resonated:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing with Fire

Fugitive Blue

Picturing the Wreck

Slow Motion: A True Story

Family History: A Novel

Black & White

Devotion: A Memoir

Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life

Hourglass

Can’t recommend this book enough.

A sentence I love:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A question I love:

How long will you wait to honor who you are?

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

After dinner, nobody went home right away.

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

A passage I love:

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

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