I realized while compiling this collection that looking back at the books you’ve read in the span of a year is a great way to take stock of the recent chapters of your own life.
Each book on my 2014 list is reminder of the mindset I was in at the time I read it, of what compelled me to buy/borrow/open it in the first place, and what made me continue turning the pages.
What if every year you catalogued what you read, and at different stages of your life looked back at the archive, using the books as placeholders of your experience? It’s an interesting lens to see through, an alternate way of accessing memory for the purpose of self-reflection.
So much of our collective energy is focused on what direction we’re headed and what we haven’t yet accomplished. It’s easy to feel, continually, like we aren’t quite where we want to be. Amidst the highs and lows of the past year, I’ve felt at times like I’m somehow ‘behind’. Perhaps thinking back on our reading choices and how they reflect different aspects of our lives can help us see our process (and progress) more clearly, so we value and respect the growth we’ve undergone.
So I’ll start here, with my 2014 reading list.
About the title — why, “In Bed”? Because that’s where I seem to get my reading done. Always before sleep, always wishing I’d crawled in earlier so I’d have more time. How does midnight creep up, without fail, so quickly every night? I remind myself of the nine year-old kid I used to be, staying up past bedtime with a flashlight, reading Sweet Valley High under the covers while my mom called “get to sleep!” from the hallway.
Onto the list…
The Creative Habit (Twyla Tharp) I heard about this book in an interview with Danielle Laporte, author of The Desire Map (see below), who recommended it for anyone wanting to develop their creativity.
Twyla Tharp is an American ballet dancer and choreographer who started her own dance company at 23, and by 73 was premiering her 130th work. Needless to say, she knows a thing or two about creativity, and a lot about discipline. The book reveals 32 exercises Tharp has used throughout her career to keep her creativity flowing, which can translate to pretty much any creative pursuit. I’m always intrigued by how others create, and found it a really fascinating and useful read.
In Tharp’s words: “Reading, conversation, environment, culture, heroes, mentors, nature – all are lottery tickets for creativity. Scratch away at them and you’ll find out how big a prize you’ve won.”
The Desire Map (Danielle LaPorte) I discovered Canadian writer Danielle Laporte — whose website was named by Forbes as one of the “Top 100 Websites for Women”— while I was living in Korea, and have been reading her work ever since. Her style, voice, and insights on how to create the life you want are different than anything else I’ve come across, particularly on the topic of goal setting.
In The Desire Map, LaPorte asserts that when you set goals, you’re not “chasing the goal, you’re chasing a feeling you hope reaching the goal will give you.” In which case, shouldn’t we first get clear on how we want to feel? The book is a practical and incredibly insightful tool to help people figure out exactly what their desired feelings are and how to apply that knowledge to making choices in every area of their lives. It’s softcover, beautifully designed, and doubles as a workbook and guide.
A couple of the desired feelings I tuned into while working through the book in early 2014 are “connection” and “vitality”. I often check in with myself to see if what I’m doing or planning aligns with those, with how I want to feel. It’s a wonderful (and quick) way to keep yourself on course when life gets murky. I can’t recommend The Desire Map enough. (I bought a copy for both my mom and sister last year.) Check it out, friends.
Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year (Anne Lamott) I’ve been a fan of Anne Lamott since reading Bird by Bird, her book on the writing process, and Operating Instructions just made me a bigger fan.
Lamott was a single 35 year-old writer and recovering alcoholic when she had her only child, a baby boy named Sam. The memoir recounts the first year of his life, and it made me, cry, laugh out loud, fear/anticipate motherhood, silently praise all single mothers (and the friends who help them), and want to write with the raw honesty and insight that Lamott does. She takes you inside her experience in such a beautiful, gut-wrenching, funny way. After I read it, Joe read it, and every time he laughed, I’d ask ‘which part is it?’ wanting to know what he found funny and wanting to hear the writing again, out loud. Read this book.
Family Experiences of Bipolar Disorder (Cara Aiken) Two of my family members are bipolar, and coping with the illness is an ongoing challenge for all of us. There are a lot of books written about bipolar disorder, but not many that focus on the experiences of family members/support people. This is one I found. The writer is bipolar, and she interviews family members of various people who have the disorder.
The book features several first-hand reflections of family members talking about the impact of their relatives’ disorder on them and their family unit. The writing isn’t particularly strong, but the stories and emotions are ones I could relate to. Bipolar disorder is so difficult to understand and explain to others that as a family member you can feel somewhat alone in grappling with the chaos it creates. Books like this ease that sense, which helps.
Caribbean Hideaways (Van Reesema, Meg Nolan, Jessica Antola) As part of my efforts to minimize screen time, I borrowed a few coffee table books from the library last spring. Why spend time on pinterest when you can curl up on the couch, flip through the photos of private island villas in Caribbean Hideaways, and daydream about a tropical escape?
In the Slender Margin: The Intimate Strangeness of Dying (Eve Joseph) The amount of research that went into this book blew my mind. Joseph has taken the topic of death and explored it from what feels like every possible angle: “history, religion, philosophy, literature, personal anecdote, mythology, poetry and pop culture” (Amazon). Reflecting on her experiences as a hospice care worker and the death of her brother when she was a young girl throughout, she examines the question of what happens to us when we die, how those left behind (in various cultures) navigate the transition, and why the language of poetry is akin to the language of death. Personal, powerful, and evocative, it was designated one of Globe Books 100: Best Canadian non-fiction of 2014. (You can read my interview with Eve Joseph here.)
Just Kids (Patti Smith) An old boyfriend recommended this book a long time ago, so when I saw it for $1 at a garage sale this summer, I scooped it up. About three pages in, I thought, ‘wow’, Patti Smith can write. The memoir traces her relationship with the artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 60’s and 70’s, with much of the story reflecting on the era they lived at the Chelsea Hotel in New York, surrounded by other artists and musicians, many who became icons with names you’ll recognize. They share an incredibly close connection, first romantically and then as friends, and Smith writes about their bond, creative pursuits, and the artistic culture of that time in a beautifully lyrical way.
Beach House Style (Coast Living Editors) This coffee table book will make you want to buy an old rustic dwelling on the coast, any coast, and spend the rest of your days fixing it up and watching the tide roll in from your front porch. (Or just take some of the beachy inspiration and apply it to your apartment in the city, which is what I did.)
Bringing Up Bébé (Pamela Druckerman) One of Joe’s former co-workers recently had a baby, and while pregnant, she mentioned to Joe that she was reading this book. Want your baby/toddler to sleep through the night, eat anything, have amazing table manners, and listen respectfully? The French have it figured out, as the book’s American author Pamela Druckerman discovered while raising her family in Paris. If and when we have a kid, this will be a go-to source. (The woman who mentioned the book to Joe credits it for why her three-month old son is already sleeping through the night.)
Annabel (Kathleen Winter) This was one of five books in the 2014 Canada Reads debate, a debut novel by Winter that centres around the life of a child born in 1968 with both male and female genitalia. The child is raised a boy by his parents in their small community in Labrador, but has recurring dreams that he is a girl and a sense of disconnection from the male figures in his life, including his father. I’m halfway through the story as I write this, and have been drawn in by Winter’s original use of language and detail to convey how the child’s sense of identity evolves within (and despite) the restrictive nature of the community surrounding him.
Color: The Perfect Shade for Every Room (Lisa Cregan) The first thing I did in decorating our new apartment last spring was figure out the color palette: mostly grey, blue, white, and pale green. This book (another coffee table pick) has some over-the-top bold looks that I would probably never opt for in real life, but the homes are beautiful, and it’s a fun source of inspiration.
Carry On, Warrior (Glennon Doyle Melton) You know that friend who opens up about everything when you get together, who is honest and raw in a way that invites you to shed any pretense and just be real? Glennon Doyle Melton, writer and creator of the blog Momastery, is that friend.
As she explains at the beginning of Carry On, Warrior, a collection of personal essays, Melton was “lost to food and booze and bad love and drugs” for 20 years before finding out she was pregnant and vowing to quit everything. The book (a New York Times bestseller) delves into her experiences as a mom, wife, writer, recovering addict, friend, sister, and woman who is determined to live and express herself as authentically as possible. She doesn’t hold back. She tells it like it is (including the times she puts a paper bag over head to stop herself from having parental breakdowns) and encourages you to do the same. And she’s really, really funny. I want all my girlfriends to read this book so we can discuss. Okay?
And that brings me to (almost) the end of the year! Looking back, I read about creativity, desire, motherhood, bipolar disorder, the Caribbean, death, artists in the 60’s, gender, home decor, and living authentically. I can’t help but wonder what my list will look like when I’m 80. (If I’m still alive, not senile, and writing this blog by then, I will post my 2058 reading list, I swear it. But that means you guys gotta keep stopping by here :)) Side note: I just told Joe about this plan, and he said “by then you probably won’t be blogging anymore, you’ll be “mind-tweeting.”
What did you read this past year? Anything on your list for 2015? I would love to know!
I’ve got a few unread books I’ve gathered over the years I plan to finally get to, and three different girlfriends have recommended Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, the author of Wild. I realized through writing this that all the authors I read this year are female, so I’ll mix up my choices with some male writers this year; one by Tom Robbins is waiting on my bookshelf.
And I want to start devoting some time to reading that isn’t just before sleep. I won’t call it a resolution, but it’s one of the many intentions for the new year I’ve got on my brain right now :)
Happy reading, everyone.