Books Read in August.

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“Three Women” by Lisa Taddeo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An essential read.

A sentence that blew me away:

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

“Women in Sunlight” a novel by Frances Mayes

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sentence I love:

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

“Boundaries & Protections” by Pixie Lighthorse

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

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

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

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

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

A line I underlined:

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

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

ONE

my body is terrifying,

idaho is a giant shithole,

and other wholesome stories

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

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

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

Some lines I had to underline:

All I now of love is hunger.

Yes, I want the promise of the cathedral

of your mouth for the rest of my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A line I had to underline:

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

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

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

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

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

She had a voice.

She had stories to tell.

She had truths to share that resonated.

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

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

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

Do you wanna leave soon?

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

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

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

A line I underlined that broke my heart:

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