i’m a serial reader. (pause so that the people who feel the need to make the obligatory pun about being a cereal reader, that is, someone reading the Cheerios box, can get it out of their system.) as in, I can’t be reading only one book at a time. i overlap them, putting one down and picking another up when my mood just isn’t up to serious historical commentary, or when I’ve had a rough day and need something immersive to drag me out of it.
in the past month or so, here are the books I’ve overlapped with each other:
1. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown
This book is basically one long list of everything Kelly has learned about how to be a responsible independent human, and since I am about to become a responsible independent human, I finally picked it up from the shelf where I had left it half-read and finished it.
The concept sounds really cheesy and preach-y, because obviously a book can’t actually teach us how to be decent people. But it does include a lot of “been there, done that” tips on things I haven’t done before and am about to, like what to look for when you’re inspecting an apartment for a lease, and how to deal with offensive behaviour at work. It also includes a lot of really helpful templates for tricky correspondence, like thank-you messages after a dinner at a new friend’s house, or a phone call where you have to give a friend bad news.
If you’re interested, Kelly also has a blog about “adulting” over here that you can have a squizz at (for free!).
2. Elizabeth Gilbert’s non-fiction.
Eat Pray Love has a really stinking bad rep. I think a lot of people associate it with the huge avalanche of bad chick lit that publishers put out in its wake, and the crowds of thoughtless white women who used it as grounds to take a holiday to India, pose in front of the Taj Mahal and “find themselves”. I also think it gets pretty roundly depreciated because it is a story written by a woman about her feelings, and our society has a pretty low opinion of women who talk about their feelings.
But listen up: it’s freaking great. It is wise, kind, funny, accurate and thoughtful and not many days go past when I don’t apply a concept from it to a situation a friend (or myself) is going through. I think it’s also worth noting that while it is the story of a white American woman travelling through other cultures, she presents those cultures in a way that is respectful and sympathetic, not imperialistic, and she has put in the effort to research those cultures and their languages. I also enjoy the sheer contrarian pleasure of reading a book about women and our feelings despite society wanting me not to. Suckers.
Big Magic is a sweetly-written incitement for those of us who want to be creative to get out and do it and stop worrying about whether we’re doing a good job. Again: wise, kind, funny, accurate and thoughtful. I got a lot out of it and even more out of the audio book (which is expensive, so check if your local library has it.) It gets into spiritual places pretty quickly and talks about shame and fear – it’s not the “just write a page every night” kind of creativity guide, it’s compassionate and theoretical and thoughtful.
3. Happiness and How it Happens by Suryacitta, writing as “The Happy Buddha”
A better name for this book would be “Mindfulness and Why to Do It”, because in the first couple of pages it proposes, basically, that striving for happiness is a great way to avoid getting it, and spends the rest of the book showing why mindfulness and meditation are more effective at improving our wellbeing. I think (please let me know if I’m getting this wrong) that it does a good job of acknowledging the Buddhist sources of mindfulness and meditation, whereas a lot of materials for a Western audience tend to whitewash over the origins of mindfulness. This book is pretty small, but it gets deep quickly and two or three pages is about all I can take in at a time.
4. The Flow Mindfulness Workbook
Is this a book? Is it a magazine? It’s kinda both. It’s a spin-off of Flow magazine and I stumbled on it in a newsagent. Thank heavens, because it’s a very easy-to-take, slightly interactive, super beautiful guide to mindfulness that is just fun to use. Reading a bit of it is a great break before I go to bed to clear my mind. It’s called a “workbook” but it’s about 70% articles, 30% workbook pages. Flow magazine is Dutch and its English products are a lovely combination of translated and original pieces, so there’s a very sweet Scandinavian tone to the whole thing.
5. Red Bird by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver writes poetry about the sheer glory of nature and grace and wonderment. you will love her if you love this, from the poem Summer Story, the way I do: