This is a photo I took of a father and his two daughters, who were waiting for the fireworks show in Melbourne on New Year's eve. They were huddled under a pool of light, reading books. There was a throng of people bustling around them, but they had created their own restorative niche – right in the middle of the madness. It was a touching little scene.
Fifteen books. Had I planned to read fifteen books this holiday, it would not have happened. Had I known that I would read fourteen non-fiction books, many of which fall into the self-help category at first glance, I would have balked. This was to be my holiday of rest.
Well, this holiday, books decided to take me on a journey. Instead of rest, I got restoration. Subtle difference.
Disclaimer: I always read two-to-three books at the same time. Well, obviously not all at once, but in rotation so that I can pick up where my mood leaves off.
At the end of 2014 I was exhausted: physically, mentally, and emotionally…so when I saw a recommendation on Twitter for 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Yes, my holiday started with a self-help book. So much for light summer reading! At the same time, I also picked up Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, and The Murder of Allison Baden-Clay by David Murray. I have to admit, I was not interested in Sheryl’s story for the ‘female empowerment’ element. I was intrigued because I have been developing strong feelings about the phrase ‘work-life balance’ – particularly because I believe it is a noxious expression. Her story did not alleviate my aversion. I still think there is a better way. I am, however, starting to think differently about feminism…I am not sure that I am at a point where I can articulate my thoughts yet, but I will keep you posted. The story about Allison interested me because it has a Southern Africa connection, and in that it seemed to have parallels with Behind the Door: The Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp Story by Barry Bateman and Mandy Weiner. It does. Dots.
10% happier was a revelation. THIS. Meditation had intrigued me for years on end, but always seemed kind of woo-woo and fluffy. Au contraire. Harris recommended another Harris, whose image I have always thought of as unnecessarily polarising, but I decided to read him anyway. Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion by Sam Harris, in turn, led to Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart: A Buddhist Perspective on Wholeness by Mark Epstein. Long story short, I started meditating on a daily basis this holiday. The idea of mindfulness has floated around me for years, and these books scientifically justified the various points that I had picked up on before. Perfect, life-changing simplicity. The meditation books were an extension on the idea of minimalism that I had been flirting with from earlier in the year. Everything That Remains: A Memoir by The Minimalists, and Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown are two that have stayed with me. Dots.
I then decided to re-read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Things were falling into place in my mind. Dots.
At this time, I had the thought that my friends and family might find it very strange that I was holed up with these seemingly ‘out there’ concepts: meditation and minimalism and introversion and all. I thought I would just keep them to myself – haha I find it hilarious that I am now writing this to share, but it shows how far I have come on this journey…so, on to the next books.
My favourite book from last December then popped up on my Kindle app – Families of the Vine by Michael Sanders. My dad had recommended it, and he was right, it is one of the best books I have ever read. After we both had read it, we spend days sourcing French Cahors Malbec wine in South Africa, and made it our holiday hobby…sad to say we only found Argentinian Malbec. I have since been to France though, and have a bottle of the real deal waiting to be shared with him when I see him again! While I am on the topic, my dad had also recommended another one of my favourite books at a particularly apt moment of my life, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. All I will say is, Maktub. My dad has great taste.
My next lot of books came from an online forum where I have interacted with creatives, mostly writers. One was a recommendation from Savio Meireles of Just Keep Travelling, The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life A book about quest by Chris Guillebeau. Yes! It seemed to mirror another one of my favourite books of all time, The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson (note: this one is from a religious perspective, which is not the point – the love I have is for the parable à la The Alchemist). The other book was from, and by, Kat Argo of A Red Rover after I read her poignant blog post about her book, The Shadow of the Bear: From Ukrainian Activists to Pro-Russian Separatists. Courage and connection are at the core of her story. Beautiful. Dots.
It was at around this time that I saw a Facebook post by Elizabeth Gilbert (she of Eat Pray Love – yes, which I am not ashamed to say I adored) about collages. As she put it “collage is the gift gave to those of us who cannot draw. You can make a pretty thing without, you know, actually having the ability to make a pretty thing”. The funny thing was that I was feeling creative, and I mean properly creative, for the first time in years. The memories of my mom encouraging my sister and I to make collages around this time of year when we were younger came flooding back. Well, I collaged. It still makes me smile! I re-watched Gilbert’s Ted Talk on Your Creative Genius, and this led me to watch Amanda Palmer on The Art of Asking. I didn’t really know who she was, but had recognised her name and knew that she had a book that people were raving about.
Well, The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer has to be my favourite book of this holiday. THIS. I am still suffering from “that moment when you finish a book , look around, and realise that everyone is just carrying on with their lives” ~ as seen on a meme. This book devastated me in the best possible way. It brought me right into the meaning behind going to pieces without falling apart. This post, and video, by and with Maria Popova on her always beautiful Brain Pickings is worth a look. Amanda Palmer’s take on creativity, on connection, on authenticity spoke to me. Dots.
To the artists, creators, scientists, non-profit-runners, librarians, strange-thinkers, start-uppers and inventors, to all people everywhere who are afraid to accept the help, in whatever form it’s appearing.
Please, take the donuts.
Take the flower.
~ Amanda Palmer
Dots. Patterns. Books share stories that can lead us on an unwitting journey, and add texture to our lives.
Rest v restoration. Not such a subtle difference after all.
I would love to hear your thoughts on any of these books, and would also love some suggestions for books that you think I may enjoy! Let me know!
What am I reading now? Well, when I have recovered from my book-hangover, on glowing recommendation from Amanda Palmer, Brene Brown’s two books The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead are next on my list. Brene delivered a stunning Ted Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, which I had watched before (as it currently is one of the most popular talks of all time), but had not ‘felt’ it then. On re-watching now? Mind. Blown. Looking forward to learning more through her books.