Things I love and books I read

These are just some of my favourite things, especially the books that have helped shape me, escape me, console me, enlighten me and entertain me. 

NON-FICTION

The Choice by Dr Edith Eger                                                         

Probably the most powerful book you might ever read. This book isn’t just the story of an Auschwitz survivor… it’s a manual on how to live your life.  You are shaken by her story – some of her narrative is moving, and some of it is breathtakingly horrific, and at times you are shaken by her message. She’s not someone who just arrived at self-knowledge – she describes her life after the war and the mistakes she made until she came to the conclusion that we all have a choice. Even when we think we don’t. We always have the choice of which way we respond.   It is so beautifully written and so mesmerising, it’s one of those books that will nestle in your mind, a permanent part of you now.

My favourite quote (and this was hard, as I wanted to quote most of the book):              As they enter Auschwitz, Dr Mengel (known as the Angel of Death) asks 16 year old Edith if the woman standing beside her is her mother or her sister. Not knowing the significance of her answer, she tells the truth. Her mother is sent left – to death, and she is sent right.   How easily the life we didn’t live becomes the only life we prize. How easily we are seduced by the fantasy that we are in control, there we were ever in control, that the things we could and should have done or said have the power; if only we had said or done them, to cure pain, to erase suffering, to vanish loss. How easily we can cling to – worship – the choices we think we could or should have made.                                                              Could I have saved my mother? Maybe. And I will live all the rest of my life with that possibility. And I can castigate myself for making the wrong choice. That is my prerogative. Or I can accept that the more important choice is not the one I made when I was hungry and terrified, when we were surrounded by dogs and guns and uncertainty, when I was sixteen; it’s the one I make now. The choice to accept myself as I am: human, imperfect. And the choice to be responsible for my own happiness. To forgive my flaws and reclaim my innocence…… I can make the choice that all of us can make. I can’t ever change the past. But there is a life I can save. It is mine. The one I am living right now, this precious moment.”

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown                                                                                             

Brené (I feel I can call her by her first name because I’ve listened to her and read her so much) has changed how we talk and think about our feelings.  This book is about taking risk, making ourselves vulnerable to connect, create, and put ourselves out there. She reframes vulnerability from something that we avoid to something we absolutely need to grow. In order to be vulnerable we need to become resilient to shame. When that happens we no longer are afraid to ty – in relationships, in work, in life.

My favourite quote: “Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. In a world where scarcity and shame dominate and feeling afraid has become second nature, vulnerability is subversive. Uncomfortable. It’s even a little dangerous at times. And, without doubt, putting ourselves out there means there’s a far greater risk of feeling hurt. But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”

Everything is F*cked; A book about Hope by Mark Manson                                                  

I read a lot about psychology, and the concept of owning your thoughts and responses as part of my belief in never-ending learning. Some of the books I read are good, others are important and some are difficult and challenging (and not in a good way).  I was reluctant to pick this one up, afraid it was just another attempt to regurgitate the same old stuff, but with a trendy approach of significant swearing.  I’m delighted to say this book sits in the category of great books I’ve read on the subject. Manson is a research nerd and this book is layered and layered with history, psychology, philosophy, from which he mixes it all together and produces new words of wisdom.  It’s a no-bullshit approach to getting the best from your life, with a really clever look at how our minds work (we have 2 brains – the Thinking Brain and the Feeling Brain) and how to make them work for us.

My favourite quote: “Pain is the universal constant. No matter how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ your life gets, the pain will be there. And it will eventually feel manageable. The question then, the only question, is: Will you engage it? Will you engage your pain or avoid it? Will you choose fragility or antifragility?  Everything you do, everything you are, everything you care about is a reflection of this choice; your relationships, your health, your results at work, your emotional stability, your integrity, your engagement with your community, the breadth of your life experiences, the depth of your self-confidence and courage, your ability to respect and trust and forgive and appreciate and listen and learn and have compassion.

If any of these things is fragile in your life, it is because you have chosen to avoid the pain. …………That while pain is inevitable, suffering is always a choice. That there is always a separation between what we experience and how we interpret that experience.  That there’s always a gap between what our Feeling Brain feels and what our Thinking Brain thinks. And in that gap you can find the power to bear anything.

Pussy: A Reclamation by Regena Thomashauer                                                                     

 If you’re not easy with the word pussy, then you need to be.  This book is all about discovering and living by your pussy power.  Refreshing, funny, and revolutionary, this book is important for women who just need to step out of the pressure of pleasing everyone else, and learning to listen to their own voice.  This isn’t just about sex, or about having sex lots, it’s about listening to your inner voice (Regena labels this your Pussy Power) but really it’s about your inner gut instinct.  It’s about pursuing pleasure (not just sexual) and being ‘cliterate’ (love this word play).  In a masculine world, being cliterate means not being ashamed of being a woman.

My favourite quote:  “We want experiences that continually break and remake us into the radiant, powerful, erotic women we were mean to be. We have been conditioned to believe that people outside of ourselves – teachers, parents, husbands or priests and rabbis – will do that for us, more powerfully than we could do it on our own. But how could anyone do it better than we women can do it ourselves? We each have the divine inside of us, the Goddess within. She wants to have her voice, her choice, her day in the sun. Pussy has been buried under 5000 years of patriarchal conditioning, but thankfully she is ready to reemerge.”

 

FICTION

Circe – Madeline Miller                                                                                                                     

If you’d have told me I’d love a book about the Greek gods I wouldn’t have believed you. Perhaps that’s because its not really about the gods, but about the power of a girl to overcome prejudice and abuse of power against her.  The writing is stunning (her previous book The Song of Achilles won the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction), the setting is ancient but the story is modern – how does a woman find her space and place in a world where she isn’t valued.  I took it on a pilates retreat and missed most of my classes because I couldn’t put it down!

Milkman – Anna Burns                                                                                                                 

I read A LOT of books and I have a shelf set aside for the ‘special’ ones.  Milkman nearly has pride of place on that shelf.  I was worried before reading it because it had been nominated for the Man Booker and often those books don’t live up to the hype, or they’re almost too clever for their own good. But I loved this book from the first page and could not put it down.  It’s so rare to find such a powerfully normal / authentic inner voice and I just felt like I wanted to be her friend and have her back.  I loved every single word of this book – and it IS clever. I was reading three pages about the insides of a car before I realised that she had just explained in exquisite detail the complex issue of flags in Northern Ireland where I was born and grew up.  It is a clever, funny, witty, warm, revolutionary novel.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne                                                                                

The first book of John Boyne’s I read was Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and his ability to wrap a story around you so that you feel as if you are part of it is very special. This book takes it to a new level. It’s like the old fashioned sagas my mum used to read and by its end I felt I was one of the family.  It takes a young boy who doesn’t fit in his own family, and follows him through a world where fitting in to the society around him was never easy. He is gay in a world and time that had no desire to understand or accept him, and this book – outrageously moving and funny in equal measure – takes you through his attempts to navigate it with no compass.

The Colour Purple by Alice Walker                                                                                             

 I first read this book when I was about 18 or 19 and thirty years later I can still feel the feeling I got from it when I remember back. It was the first book I’d read that wasn’t just a ‘story’ but that touched my mind and my heart. It, and the subsequent film, is still one of my favourites.  Celie’s fight to survive and then to thrive in a world and time where, as a black woman, all the odds where against her is so brutal, uplifting, heart-wrenching it will stay with you a long long time.  All these years later when I walk past wild flowers I still think of Celie’s voice when she said ““I think it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout                                                                                       

 This book confirmed to me that its our mannerisms and thoughts that matter; the little deeds and nuanced conversations that make the biggest impact.  It follows a retired schoolteacher in a small American town as she comes to terms with changes in her life and while she comes across as indomitable, the writing is exquisitely articulate as Olive impacts the people around her. (The Netflix series of this too is wonderful).

Fear of Dying by Erica Jong

There’s more than 45 years between this book and her acclaimed Fear of Flying which scandalised the early 1970’s with her depiction of female sexuality and the infamous ‘zipless’ sex (no strings attached. I loved that book, and so was nervous reading Fear of Dying in case it disappointed. But it too smacked me round the face lest I think I know everything. This time the woman pushing her sexual boundaries is 60, with parents who are dying, a rebellious daughter and an older husband who has a heart attack. She decides to delve into the world of sexual encounters to help her get a grip on her ageing, changing life. The writing as ever is witty, forthright and sublime.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

This is one of my favourite books of all time.  I’m almost reluctant to explain the plot, because telling you it’s a hostage situation in an un-named Latin American country might distract you from the beauty of this book.  As the subsequent siege unfolds, the relationships between the hostages and their captors develop in a breathtaking narrative. Every time i see this book on my shelf i have to touch it, like an old friend. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

OTHER HANDY STUFF I

LIKE AND RECOMMEND!

Silk pillowcases! I was given a silk pillowcase as a present and I can honestly say it’s one of the best I ever got. (Another friend gave me a silk eyemask – I have good friends!).  I was a bit dubious about ‘the science’ but unlike cotton, which absorbs moisture, these babies help your skin retain it. AND my hair is still in style the next morning, rather than the usual ‘dragged through a bush backwards’ look. As the chocolate ad articulated well, why have cotton when you can have silk?  I’ll be buying one for all my gal pals this Christmas.  They can be found is good homeware stores or this is where mine is from. 

SelfPlanners  I’m a no-excuse-making, colour-coding planner and so for the last year I’ve trailed some planners to help me keep track of my multi-tasking life.  I’ve tried the PandaPlanner which is good, the FullFocus Planner which is better, but the best one (for me) is the Self Journal. I’m a big believer in writing down goals, keeping track of my projects (personal and professional) and I’m a big fan of the power of gratitude journaling and this planner allows for it all. From big goals to monthly plans, to great weekly layouts, and daily breakdowns which end in a gratitude list, this allows me to plan, perform and journal in one. 

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