Four books that helped me grow in 2018

Four books that helped me grow in 2018

the book of joyThe Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This is an absolutely beautiful book by two of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time, and, so charming: they are close, loving friends! The book is a conversation that took place over several days between the two on how Christianity and Buddhism handle the stress and strain of daily living. Many of the principles of the two beliefs are essentially the same, and it helped me to realign religion with the spiritual tenants that I hold to be personally to be true for me. Also, these men, who have endured and seen more than many could imagine, have retained a strong sense of faith and joy, it is impossible to not be inspired by them:

“Discovering more joy does not, save us from the inevitability of hardship and heartbreak. In fact, we may cry more easily, but we will laugh more easily too. Perhaps we are just more alive. Yet as we discover more joy, we can face suffering in a way that ennobles rather than embitters. We have hardship without becoming hard. We have heartbreaks without being broken.” -Desmond Tutu

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott

As I wrote in my post on Bird by Bird, I haven’t always been an Anne Lamott fan, however this book converted me. I believe that Grace is the core of spirituality, that we are forgiven and loved regardless of who we are or what we have done, and that we owe that same forgiveness to each other, is the bedrock of everything else. So when I spotted this title available on my Libby App, I decided to give Lamott’s writing another try, which I can only say was a moment of pure serendipity. Her chapters detail some of the hardest moments of her life: the death of her best friend, her strained relationship with her parents, extreme highs and lows of her spiritual journey, and above all, seeing the humor in it all. Anne Lamott writes with nothing to hide, and this book made me want to be braver, more resilient, and more at peace with the beautiful and heartbreaking experience that it is to be human.

 

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Cover image shown with permission by Scribner from Simon & Schuster

Grit by Angela Duckworth

I read (and wrote) about this book last spring and found it really encouraging as it gave examples on the values of hard work over natural talent. Duckworth’s argument is that not only is hard, consistent work vastly more important than being talented, but also that the experience of overcoming hardship is one of the greatest determinants of potential success. It also reminded me that if I really want something, I need to work at it, and making mistakes along the way is part of the process of becoming great.

“Our potential is one thing. What we do with it is quite another. Angela Duckworth

 

Why Buddhism is True by Robert Wright

Mindfulness is an essential principle of Buddhist philosophy, and this book is an excellent discourse on the science and psychology of mindfulness and how it helps the human mind fight issues such as depression, anger and greed. Robert Wright is not a Buddhist and the book doesn’t focus on the more spiritual tenants of Buddhism such as Nirvana or reincarnation, but really on the values of meditation practice and examining ones thoughts, emotions and actions without judgement. This book encouraged me to focus more on my meditation practice, which has helped me to maintain better control over my emotions, the words I choose, and how I react in stressful moments. It’s always a work in progress, but I believe I have grown, maybe just a little, through meditation and mindfulness. At the very least it’s been an extremely refreshing and empowering journey.

These books were all so special to me, what are some books that have really impacted your life recently?

Have a Fancy Friday and a wonderful weekend!

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

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Cover image shown with permission from Putnam

At the age of six Kya Clark is abandoned by her mother and slowly her older brothers and sisters follow out, unable to share space with an abusive and alcoholic father. As time goes on Kya must learn to fend for herself in the wetlands of North Carolina as she traverses life completely alone. Set in the 1950s-60s, her only friends are Jumpin’ and Mabel, a black couple who take pity on her and embrace her as one of their own in the segregated area called Colored Town. The rest of neighboring town Barkley Cove rejects her, and the young, abandoned child who only wants the love of a family is cast aside and simply known as the wild “Marsh Girl.”

When the beloved local quarterback is found dead in the marsh, detectives begin to stack evidence, mostly unsubstantiated, against Kya, slowly building suspense as your concern for Kya’s well-being grows. Alternating scenes of the investigation and Kya’s life growing up paints a striking portrait of the biases and bigotry endured by those who deemed to be separate or other. Owens, a skilled non-fiction writer who until this book has only written about her experience as a wildlife scientist, deftly creates a story set in the natural world that also understands what it means to be human and loved. The novel is as wild and as rich as its setting and builds to a climax that left me absolutely floored.

Delia Owens
Delia Owens © Dawn Marie Tucker

I couldn’t put this book down and ultimately read it in one day, staying up way past my bedtime to come to the end. However, I also found some parts very hard to read, the scenes of Kya being ostracized clipping my heart a little too close.  This is ultimately a story of survival, and Kya manages not only to survive but to thrive, finding her own way and learning to trust over fear of abandonment. Beautifully written, filled with lyrical poetry and striking prose, Where the Crawdads Sing is a remarkable story with an unforgettable ending, I would recommend it for those looking for stories of justice, wildlife survival, and the perfect read for a book-club (it’s best read with a friend, you will have a lot to discuss!)

 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Published: August 14, 2018

I read this as: A hardback gifted by a friend

If you like this you might like

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

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Cover image provided with permission by Random House

I think this might be the most perfect book I have read on the subject of writing, it actually might be the most perfect book I have read, period. I have fallen in love with Anne Lamott’s writing style recently: crisp, funny, sad, and honest, she has come to me at a point in my life when I have fallen and gotten back up enough times to realize there is humor and grace in our darkest moments. In understanding this have I found freedom in sharing and saying “Hey! Yes, life can be terrible, but it also can be beautiful and you have to take the messy parts to experience the miraculous joy that is there too.”

I haven’t always been here, a few years ago while pregnant with my daughter, a friend recommended Lamott’s “Operating Instructions”, a book she wrote on raising her son as a single mother. It’s dark, she swears a lot, she’s a recovering alcoholic, and it made me feel uncomfortable. I wanted to project myself as a beautiful, clean, perfect mother, and I did not approve of swearing in front of my child(!). I returned the book after a few chapters, I didn’t think I was anything like this woman, I was completely confident in my worldview, I did not need to hear about her spiritual journey and bouts of depression. I was judgemental pretty out of touch, honestly.

A few years later of wonderful highs, along with some real lows and moments of grace, Lamott feels like a friend, sometimes she feels like me, and her depiction of the writing process is very real and very human. I love that she cares about her readers, she does not try to instill some kind of magical idea that one will become successful beyond all expectations if they just try hard enough: we are not all going to be Kristin Hannah. She writes so eloquently about the ups, but mostly downs of the writing process: the jealousy of watching others succeed, the stress of waiting for your writing to be reviewed, the pain of a bad review, and that getting published is not all it’s cracked up to be. Writing is important because of what is learned through the process, not because of its potential for success or notoriety. Here is my most favorite quote from the book (and I had many favorite quotes):

“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good enough at it, and I don’t think you have time to waste on someone who does not respond to you with kindness and respect. You don’t want to spend your time around people who make you hold your breath. You can’t fill up when you’re holding your breath. And writing is about filling up, filling up, when you are empty, letting images and ideas and smells run down like water…”

While this book is mainly on writing, Lamott experiences writing as part of life, so it also has a lot of great insights on the human experience and spirituality as well (Lamott is a Christian- a very liberal Christian). I would recommend this book to writers (and a writer is one who writes, not just someone who gets paid to do some), those looking for spiritual insights, and anyone who has fallen on their face enough to know it’s the getting up part that really matters.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Published: September 1, 1995

I read this as: a library book

If you enjoy this book you may like:

Calypso by David Sedaris

Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott