Books read in May + June.

May June 2019 books

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

The raindrops crashing against my windshield grew louder and louder.

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

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

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

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

“Best American Short Stories 2017” edited by Meg Wolitzer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Each story thrums with urgency.

A line that made me laugh out loud:

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

“Crudo” a novel by Olivia Laing

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

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

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

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

A line that chillingly reflects our times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

A line that lands on something I STILL struggle with:

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

“Waisted” a novel by Randy Susan Meyers

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

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

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

I encourage all women, and men to read this.

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

A sentence that hit home:

Fat women look more naked than normal-weighted women.

Clothes made the woman. Naked made the shame.

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

So, this is my story.

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

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

I was right.

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

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

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

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

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

A sentence I needed to read:

Miracles were shifts in perception.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some sentences I underlined:

Before we are molecules, we are memory.

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

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

“City of Girls” a novel by Elizabeth Gilbert

I received a letter from his daughter the other day.

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

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

A line I loved:

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

“Lush” a memoir by Kerry Cohen

I wasn’t a drunk until I was.

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

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

A line that resonated:

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

Books Read in 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.

Five on Friday.

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

  1. This whet my appetite for more international travel.
  2. Pretty sure I’ve had ALL these feelings.
  3. I love doing this kind of workout when I don’t have a lot of time.
  4. A great resource for vegan recipes. And these brownies look ah-may-zing!
  5. One of the best pieces I’ve read on the horror that descended on Charlottesville.

Books Read in May.

May 2017 Books

“Marlena” a novel by Julie Buntin

Tell me what you can’t forget and I’ll tell you who you are.

Some say that we never forget our first great love. I believe we never forget our first great friendship. That friend that shines a light into our darkness and casts a shadow on our light. The friendship is deep, quick, complicated. That’s how it is between fifteen-year-old Cat and seventeen-year-old, pill-popping, seen-too-much-life-already Marlena. Cat moves with her mother and older brother to a rural town in northern Michigan. The setting itself is exquisitely wrought, becoming an accomplice to the friendship. Cat’s mother is newly divorced, her father unavailable, her brother postponing college to help out financially and emotionally. Marlena is a perfect distraction. Cat is drawn into her life, her secrets, her pain as Marlena initiates her into her first everything: kiss, drink, pill. Within a year, Marlena is found dead in the woods nearby, drowned in a mere six inches of icy water. The story weaves the past and the present, moving back and forth between Michigan and New York as adult Cat receives a call from the past, whisking her back into the summer that changed everything. This is a gorgeous story of the complications of teenage female friendship, addiction, lust, boredom and searching for something to hold onto in the midst of things falling apart.

A sentence I love:

She’s leaning into my face, her cheeks iridescent as if recently wiped clean of tears, her mouth against my chin, finding my lips, and the her tongue, something un-cooked and too wet about it, something silly, and just as I begin to formulate a word for what is happening, kissing, she disintegrates into laughter, breathing it into me until it bubbles from her throat and overflows. like her laugh is my creation. And a smell, like scratching a branch with your nail until its green flesh shows, the residue left behind on your fingers.

“American War” a novel by Omar El Akkad

When I was young, I collected postcards. 

A second American Civil War breaks out in 2076. In our current incredibly polarized country, this isn’t hard to imagine. Reading this rich, complex novel we don’t need to imagine it, we only need to drop into the near distant future he has painted for us. In this world, war is not some abstract entity but a specific atrocity that impacts the daily life of Sarat Chestnut and her family. Woven with historical documents, letters and oral history to give a full picture of how we got to civil war again and what was happening behind the scenes, “American War” often read less like a novel and more like an inevitable reality. Stunning.

As an added incentive to check this novel out, my husband rarely reads fiction. Well, he picked this up on our vacation and finished it in in less than 72 hours.

A sentence I love: 

Why was safety, anyway, but the sound of a bomb falling on someone else’s home?

She’d learned recently that solid land was not the natural skin of the world, only a kind of parasitic condition that surfaced and receded in million-year cycles. the natural skin of the world was water, and all water on earth was connected.

“The Universe Has Your Back- Transform Fear to Faith” by Gabrielle Bernstein

In the spring of 2015, I had a meltdown in a yoga class.

I chose this book for the book club I lead at our yoga studio. I had one week to read it when I finally picked it up. It turns out it was perfect (divine) timing. My low back started given me problems last Sunday. Seemingly out of the blue. I had no choice but to slow down. Way, way down. In doing so, I gave this book much more attention than I normally would have. I was able to really absorb what she was saying as well as write out the prompts and even do many of the meditations. So, because my back went out-ish, I was able to dive deep into her words. And they have had a profound effect on me. The main gift I took away was how prayer and co-creating with the Universe is a dance that can happen all day long, in any situation. I guess I usually think of prayer as a bookend to my days, not something to call on throughout the day as needed.

Even the title spoke to me. The Universe has my BACK. It’s not just all on me to figure out what is happening, to fix it, to heal it. My back has become this metaphor for fear and how I become so tentative in my life for fear of hurting it. And then, just when I was finally feeling free of that fear, it went out for no discernible reason. Transforming fear into faith was exactly what I needed to explore.

I underlined, starred and wrote in the margins of almost every single page. So much to take in, so much to explore. Seriously life-changing for me.

A sentence I love: 

As a spiritual activist, I believe that the greatest power we have to combat the terror of these times is our power to live in love. Love casts out all fear.

Books Read in February, March + April.

Feb-April Books

“The Exquisite Risk- Daring to Live an Authentic Life” by Mark Nepo

Before stories were recorded, what happened to the living was told and retold around fires, on cliffs, and in the shade of enormous trees. 

I underlined oh-so-many sentences and passages throughout this book. Many that just spoke to me, some that I want to use as themes in my yoga classes, some for the sheer beauty of the language.

I did find it hard to finish since I didn’t feel compelled to keep turning the page in spite of all the nuggets of wisdom I found there. Another reader said that is why she loved it—she could pick it up at any time and just dip into it and put it back down.

You can tell that poetry is his natural language. Such beautiful images and metaphors throughout. He weaves in his experience with cancer and other personal stories that helped him learn what he is now teaching in this book about living an authentic life.

It’s definitely not a step-by-step plan to lead that authentic life. It’s more a process of osmosis-—just sinking into the stories and wisdom he gifts us with and letting them percolate in your soul until they are ready to rise to the surface of your life.

A sentence I love:

That each time we take the exquisite risk toward being whole, toward living in the open, toward recognizing and affirming that we are, at heart, each other, we put the world back together.

“The Lifeboat” a novel by Charlotte Rogan

Today I shocked the lawyers, and it surprised me, the effect I could have on them.

It is 1914 and Grace has married Henry Winter, unbeknownst to his parents. On their way back to America from London on an ocean liner, the ship suffers an explosion and passengers and crew are forced into lifeboats. Henry arranges for Grace to get in a lifeboat without him. We learn of Grace’s experience in that lifeboat with over thirty others as well as how she met Henry. Not only do they face the relentless sea, they must deal with dwindling resources, leaks and choices that people should never be forced to make.

It’s an unforgettable story of perseverance as well as the pettiness and strength of being human in extraordinary circumstances.

A sentence I love: 

Unable to restrain my laughter, which kept lapping at my insides and bursting out of me like gigantic waves, I was not allowed to accompany the lawyers into the dining room, but had to have my meal brought to me in the cloakroom, where a wary clerk perched vigilantly on a stool in the corner as I pecked at my sandwich. 

“Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kauer

I basically inhaled these words in one sitting, letting the language and images and power of them just wash over and through me. I definitely need to read it again. Maybe many times. I love the structure of the book, how it is broken up into parts: the hurting, the loving, the breaking, the healing. I want to use each one as a jumping off point for my own writing. Then I love how each page is structured with so much white space so that the words and the story behind them have room to breathe. Words sometimes combined with simple line drawings. The words, the drawings and the white space all work together to give a certain urgency yet create an urge to pause and savor what we are reading, what we are seeing, what we are feeling.

A sentence I love: 

the first boy that kissed me

held my shoulders down

like the handlebars of

the first bicycle

he ever rode

i was five

“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth”  a novel by Lindsey Lee Johnson

Cally Broderick lingered in the doorway of the resource office, waiting to be noticed.

“Waiting to be noticed” is basically the calling card of every human on earth, but particularly for high school students. Johnson takes us deep into the social strata of of a wealthy northern San Francisco high school, where a middle school tragedy haunts the students as they struggle to live up to expectations from teachers, parents, peers and themselves. The inside jacket says it is told in a “kaleidoscopic narrative” which describes it exactly. We see the story from different dizzying perspectives that join in various designs to reveal new slices of the story. It’s a brilliant structure that taught me a lot about structuring a novel and finding the right voice(s). I am impressed that she was able to take a teenage drama and create such a dynamic story that kept this adult turning the pages.

A sentence I love:

Maybe Calista’s mind—maybe Molly’s own—was like this. An immense space, at once apart from the world and embedded within it, a secret place that was strange and dark and vast enough to make its own weather. 

“Ill Will” novel by Dan Chaon

Sometime in the first days of November the body of the young man who had disappeared sank to the bottom of the river.

I read everything Chaon writes from his stories to his novels. This latest one feels different. Not just the heft of the physical book (458 pages) but the psychological heft of it as well. Dustin Hillman is a psychologist in a Cleveland suburb. His wife died, older son is away at college and the younger one is home but drifting away from him. Or is he drifting away from his son? Dustin has a lot on his plate. Still processing his wife’s death, he gets the news that his adopted brother is being released from prison after serving 30 years for the massacre of Dustin’s parents. aunt and uncle. The case came to epitomize the  hysteria over Satanic cults that the the 1980’s spawned. On top of that, one of his patients has lured Dustin into a conspiracy theory involving the deaths of numerous drunk college boys in the area.

Chaon does an amazing job of weaving all of these threads together into a suspenseful thriller that kept me turning the pages. It is a master class in the power of using an unreliable narrator that explores all the ways memory fails us and we fail it, those around us and, most of all, ourselves. Brilliant.

A sentence I love:

But now,with my eyes opened in the dark, the clicks and hums of the house settling, the radiators stirring, the appliances doing their secret nighttime work, with my heart beating in an uncomfortable noticeable way, I couldn’t help but think: What if the dots are connected?

“Hourglass—Time, Memory, Marriage” by Dani Shapiro

From my office window I see my husband on the driveway below.

This is a beautiful, thoughtful and honest meditation on a marriage filtered through time and memory. Shapiro plays with time in a way that feels completely organic to the story, never manipulative or confusing. She explores the depths of her marriage, unafraid of exposing the cracks that inevitably arise out of a long term commitment. She is honest and the writing is beautiful. It feels like she is guiding you by hand as you both walk into the woods, unsure of what you will find but knowing what is there is better than not knowing. The trust she puts in the reader is only equaled by the trust I had in her to tell her story with a clarity that can only come from a commitment to seeing her marriage, her husband and herself as they really are. It is just stunning and I can’t wait to read it again in one glorious sitting so I can savor the entire arc of the story at one time.

A passage I love:

We know each other in a way that young couple couldn’t have imagined. Our shared vocabulary—our own language—will die with us. We are the treasure itself: fathoms deep, in the world we have made and made again.

“The Middlepause- On Life After Youth” by Marina Benjamin

I had always assumed that when the time came I would meet menopause with a certain dignity.

It used to be that menopause was never spoken about much less written about. But there is a whole new conversation being had between women and within an array of books on what it is like to age as a woman. What does it mean universally and specifically to this particular body. I, for one, am grateful that it is no longer talked about in hushed shame. With my yoga community I’ve spoken with women about hot flashes, mood swings, insomnia. We support each other, swap tips on how to deal with the changes. Mostly, it just feels good to know that we are not alone.

Middlepause is a perfect balm to the possible isolation a woman may feel as she enters middle age. Benjamin weaves her own story and experiences together with science, literature and philosophy to give us a new vision of what it means to age as women. I love the way the book is structured: Organs, Hormones, Skin, Muscle, Heart, Guts, Teeth, Head, Spine. Each chapter dissects with fresh candor her own sudden plunge into menopause and the myriad changes and losses and gains that middle age brings from aging parents to her teenage daughter mirroring her own cascade of hormones, from nostalgia to a brutal clarity about the present.

This is not a self-help book. She does not prescribe dietary changes or herbs or exercise. No, this an eloquent, intelligent, informed reflection of what it means to enter your 50s as a woman today. I found it much more valuable than any possible diet tips and tricks.

A sentence I love: 

And fifty feels heavy at some elemental level, as if dense with neurons.

And 1 more:

When you are young, a mirror is not so much a tool for self-inspection as it is a window onto a series of potential yous.

#MonthofFaves2016 ~ #WeekendReading {Picking Favorites} 

Let’s support each other by sharing your favorite post, book, or something else, mentioned on other #AMonthofFaves participant blogs.

~ Tamara of Traveling with T really piqued my interest with her reflection of “All is Not Forgotten” by Wendy Walker.

~ Love the inspiring changes Sarah at Sarah’s Book Shelves made this year! And I love the graphic in her header:)

~ I really like how Akilah of The Englishist gave herself specific categories of diverse books to read this winter. It’s making me want to get out of my reading comfort zone!

~ Kailana of The Written World motioned using a bullet journal as one of her favorite things. I have pinned some things on bullet journals but have yet to implement them. Maybe that will change in 2017…

~ I absolutely relate to Kristen’s (of We Be Reading) desire to seek solace and joy in books when we are in a difficult and challenging emotional space.

Check out the challenge here. 

#AMonthofFaves2016 ~ 5 Books on My Winter Reading List 

Which books are your must read this winter?

5-winter-reads

I don’t usually make a list of books I intend to read. It’s more intuitive for me, picking up what calls to me or maybe something I see on-line or in the bookstore.

But here is a tentative plan for my winter reading (and I totally reserve the right to change my mind at any time!):

I chose 5 different genres: novel, short stories, spiritual, memoir, writing craft/process

~ “The Exquisite Risk- Daring to Live an Authentic Life” by Mark Nepo (I chose this for the book club I lead at our yoga studio.)

~ “Thrill Me- Essays on Fiction” by Benjamin Percy (I love his storytelling and his incredible work ethic.)

~ “Half Wild” stories by Robin MacArthur ( a back cover blurb compared her to Annie Proulx, Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor so how could I not buy it?)

~ “Love Warrior” a memoir by Glennon Doyle Melton (I fell a little in love with her after “Carry On, Warrior” and following her blog.)

~ “The Book of Strange New Things” a novel by Michael Faber (Can’t have a winter reading list that doesn’t include at least one big, juicy novel. The flap copy calls it a “monumental, genre-defying novel more than ten years in the making.)

What’s on your winter reading list?

Check out the challenge here.