Well, yesterday it all went downhill, but I’m so frustrated and tired with talking about my health that I’m absolutely not going to get into it today.
Instead I’m going to go into books (it’s been a while!), in particular, into the books that inspire or resonate with my personal view of life. Maybe that sounds very woo woo to you, or maybe you know what it’s like to read something and have the feeling that the author is looking at things in the same way you do? Or even in a way you would like to be able to?
I love that feeling of reading a book that feels like an extension of your heart.
Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed: I keep having to rewrite this because it is so hard to do justice to this book. It’s a collection from Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar advice column, and even though I have a great fondness for the classic and gossip-y Miss Manners advice column fare, this isn’t that kind of book. The questions deal with some of the deepest and most painful life experiences like loneliness, betrayal, and the death of a loved one. Sugar’s responses are so honest you might almost describe them as brutal if she weren’t also so unwaveringly kind.
I’m not much more than twenty years old, but like most people I’ve had times in my life that have been harder than others- harder to get through intact. And reading this book made me realize how okay it is to be broken. How weighing your values will help you make your choices. It reminds you of the pain and shortness of life, and the love and happiness you can give, receive, and show despite adversity.
Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh: This book is basic, but that’s what gives it its meditative quality. It’s divided into short and easily internalized reminders and wisdoms with titles like “The Dandelion Has My Smile” and “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment.” See? I told you it would be a little woo woo. And I haven’t even talked about crystals or a paleo diet. The passages are written with a beautiful measure that almost makes me feel like its helping to pace my breathing. If you’re trying to bring an appreciation for quiet and small joys to your life, this is a lovely read. And if you’re interested in establishing a meditation practice- or even if you have trouble sleeping- try reading one of these first. You’ll have a subject to center your mind on (I have so much trouble completely clearing my mind- it’s like there are three or four tracks going at once and as soon as you shut one off another two start up) or think over when your tucked in bed.
Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu: This is the poetic and simple classic that outlines Taoism, a belief system that encourages a life lived with wonder and grace (and I’m sorry, I’m sure that description is very flawed). This book is also very meditative. Here’s an excerpt:
“They (the wise) produce, but do not hoard;
They act, but expect no praise;
They build, but do not dwell therein.
And because they do not dwell therein,
They never depart.”
Isn’t it beautiful? The outlook of Taoism (as I understand it and I’m not by any means an expert!) is lighthearted and sunny (in comparison to Buddhism’s touches of bitterness). I find Taoism really interesting and it reminds me of how I feel at those very brief moments when I feel very happy and very myself- when you get that sudden rush of happiness and contentment unconnected to anything but a hazy sense of wellbeing at being alive.
The Plague, Albert Camus: Sometimes I talk to Dad about the meaning of life and the question of individual purpose. I think it’s a question a lot of people struggle with. And it’s become a bit of a family tradition to turn to Camus for that kind of thing. Mom recommended it to Dad, he recommended it to me, and now I think it’s my job to recommend it to others. This one is a fictional narrative about a town that is hit by a plague. First the rats start dying and then the people. The town is quarantined and everything begins to fall apart as normal everyday life becomes some kind of nightmare. But it’s not nearly as depressing as all that.
Camus’ feeling was that life has no purpose or point. And maybe that opens up abysses of uncertainty beneath you that make you want to scream. But it also gives you a lot of freedom to live your own life and define your purpose for yourself. You can think about what you would aim for your purpose to be. Or maybe there’s a day where the best you can do is to get through things. The point is… there is no point. So the pressure is off and the world is yours to explore. You have your whole life.
Goddesses in Everywoman, Jean Shinoda Bolen: Okay, this is as crunchy as it will get, I promise. My Mom recommended this book to me and I read it quite a few years ago, but it’s stuck with me. And I gave it to Lily during college freshman year (back when we actually lived in the same room) and would surreptitiously read it sometimes when she was out (She didn’t mind, and I don’t actually know if she ever read it). It examines women’s diverse personalities through the lens of Greek goddess archetypes (Aaaah, I know, I mentioned it was crunchy!) But it’s also absolutely endearing. The different goddesses have different strengths and weaknesses, different ways of approaching challenges and reacting to pain. So there’s advice on how to dial back your Hera jealousy or highlight your Athena scholarliness, but above all this is a tract on embracing all the types of humanity that are present within you. No one type of attitude is correct. You contain multitudes, and they are all goddesses (I think I’m a Hestia-Artemis-Persephone trinity, if I’m being honest).
The World According to Mr. Rogers, Fred Rogers: I think Mr. Rogers was truly one of the greatest philosophers of modern times. And if we all can embrace a little more of what he taught to the children who watched him and his neighborhood on television, I think the world would be a better place. This is a small book, almost a kid’s book, of little wisdoms, excerpts from his songs, and longer asides on topics like music and friendship. When you read each sentence you can hear it being said in his voice (Well, I can- and I don’t think I spent a lot of time with Mr. Rogers in my youth). All of us are young and fragile inside, even if we tend to forget (or pretend that we’re not). Do you remember how you would read books or watch television shows, and each one was formed to teach you a certain lesson, like ‘be honest’, ‘keep your hands to yourself’, and ‘help others’? I feel like we as adults could use some reminders of those lessons every once in a while.
Earthly Paradise, Colette: I feel pretty sure that I’ve mentioned this one before, and triply sure that I’ve fawned over Colette already. While most of Colette’s works are shorter fiction, Earthly Paradise is a collection of nonfiction diary entries, journals, and excerpts of other nonfiction stories. I know it’s completely cliched to talk about the French and their ‘joie de vive’, so I’m not going to. I’ll just say, Colette’s appreciation for nature, small details, her eye for the people she wrote about, all of it is amazing and touching. It’s a look at the world through very romantic and adventurous eyes.
Unfortunately missing from the list are The Tao of Pooh and Siddhartha, which I read too long ago to give adequate descriptions of (I tried). The Wind in the Willows was another close one, but in the end I decided it was too tied to the fictional to give enough to others, even if it impacted me a lot. Same with Steinbeck.
And despite the fact that Danish hygge has become the new joie de vivre, I haven’t read any hygge books and I’m likely to wait until I stop hearing about it being an instagram trend. Because it’s annoying.
Good job internet- you made coziness, tea, and books in front of a fire annoying. I hope you’re happy.