Archive for ‘Book Recommendations’

November 4, 2014

The secret to a rich life? It’s in each individual thread

I recommend reading the book Outside, an enchanting and mystical collection of short stories by Barry Lopez. The anthology’s last story in particular expresses the idea of life as a tapestry composed of hundreds of exquisite threads, each deserving of our notice and care, and together forming a beauty that shimmers far beyond the reach of words.

In “Empira’s Tapestry,” the narrator Marlis stands in awe of a magnificent tapestry woven by her mysterious friend Empira. The tapestry depicts “a wilderness scene of bright sunlight over a canyon,” and it stuns Marlis with its intricacy and radiance, as she expresses in this passage:

When I first looked at [Empira’s tapestry] I thought it had to be a painting, so fine was her weave. Only with my glasses on could I distinguish the threads from one another or, more amazing, the boundaries between colors. A hundred spools of thread pegged on a board ran the spectrum from plum through saffron to ruby red, with dozens of shades of blue and green and hues of brown.

Marlis struggles for words to compliment Empira on the depth of her skill, but Empira has a simple explanation for her handiwork:

It’s each individual thread, Marlis. Tying off each single thread. Pulling them from the spools, holding them to the light, feeling their tension, like violin strings, before they become part of the pattern.

Empira then draws a lovely parallel between the care she has taken in weaving the tapestry and the care many of us fail to take with the threads in our own lives:

We suspect so little of what goes on in the world, of what is happening or has happened to us. We don’t gather the threads, Marlis. We let them go and then the wind weaves them. We let go and float. We eddy up along the river somewhere, most of us, and just wait out our time.

The threads of your life, if gathered and appreciated for their own unique qualities, create a rich and striking tapestry that is yours alone. The key, Lopez reminds us, is to discern the line and shape of each individual thread, to turn it over in your hands and appreciate what it has to offer, then to tie it with care and understanding into the bigger picture that is your life.

Only you can weave the tapestry of your life – but you have to dedicate yourself to the task first.

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November 30, 2013

Book Recommendation – “Finding Jim” by Susan Oakey-Baker

On April 30, 1999, Susan Oakey-Baker lost her mountaineer husband, Jim Haberl, to an avalanche on Mount Ultima Thule, Alaska. Finding Jim is Oakey-Baker’s incredibly candid story of her journey through the grief that followed. Oakey-Baker hides nothing about the intensity of her struggles to make sense of the tragedy and “do well” in the aftermath. Her writing is honest, unapologetic and deeply poignant, the emotions sometimes so raw and present that they seem to well up from within your own body. If you have ever “lost” a loved one (in any sense of the word), this book will speak to aspects of your experience. Oakey-Baker has bravely put herself “out there” in a way most people don’t, and the result is an intensely beautiful testament to both the messy complexity of human feeling, and the resilience within each of us to finally accept and move on.

Cover image of the book "Finding Jim" by Susan Oakey-Baker

“Finding Jim” by Susan Oakey-Baker

September 27, 2013

Book Recommendation — “Have Mother, Will Travel” by Claire and Mia Fontaine

It’s a book for women of all kinds, but it’s especially a book for mothers and daughters seeking insight into their own relationships. In Have Mother, Will Travel, mother-daughter (and author) duo Claire and Mia Fontaine embark on a four-month journey around the world together. The ultimate goal of their trip is to revive their flagging relationship, but along the way, 51-year-old Claire and 25-year-old Mia gain fresh insight into their own life journeys, as well as new appreciation for what they each have to offer — to themselves, to each other and to the world. Well-written, funny and very reflective, this book is definitely worth picking up!

havemother-final-cover

“Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other, and the World” by Claire and Mia Fontaine

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the book:

I’ve become very clear that finding my way forward in life isn’t going to come from figuring out what I want to do, but by staying grounded in the person doing the wanting. The very core of my being, my essential, authentic, whatever-you-call-it self, never has any trouble knowing what she wants, and certainly never worries about how she’s going to get it. (Claire Fontaine)

Sometimes I wonder if we make big moves because we underestimate the importance of smaller ones. Years are just an accumulation of thousands of hours, and what we choose to do with each of them matters. (Mia Fontaine)

Adulthood isn’t a destination, it’s a process, and, as women, we are always coming of age. (Mia Fontaine)

There are some advantages to stumbling around lost for a while. It allows for discovery. (Claire Fontaine)

Change happens in the small moments, when a sliver of light finds its way through the cracks. (Claire Fontaine)

All relationships happen in stages, with varying depths, multiple layers. You invariably reach a point where you hit the ceiling of a certain level of intimacy and then have the option of staying there — which risks the relationship becoming predictable or stale — or you can take it to the next level. (Mia Fontaine)

July 3, 2013

Book recommendation: “Love and Friendship” by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice, this ain’t. Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship and Other Early Works is a light-hearted, 120-page collection of the author’s early works — most of them short novels written in letter format. It is a gleeful romp through the literary and social mores of the time, irreverent, witty, tongue-in-cheek and immensely fun to read. Austen’s absurd plots had me laughing out loud and turning the pages eager for more. Highly recommended.

Cover of the book "Love and Friendship and Other Early Works" by Jane Austen

“Love and Friendship” by Jane Austen

April 22, 2013

Book Recommendation – “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

Nearly half way through her 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed watched the hiking boots she had just taken off sail over a ledge, cartwheel through the air, and disappear forever into a carpet of trees far below.  Bootless yet undaunted, Strayed continued her hike.

Gritty is one way to describe Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, in which she tells the tale of her solo three-month trek on a long-distance hiking route that spans 2,663 miles and crosses nine mountain ranges in the states of California, Oregon and Washington.

But the book is also very human. Besides the boot fiasco and other unexpected obstacles — like record snowfalls that buried portions of the trail, and having to hike 100 miles with only two cents in her pocket — Strayed trudged through a landslide of grief over the failure of her marriage, the death of her mother, and the disintegration of her family as she knew it.

Alternately laugh-out-loud funny, eyes-bug-out awe-inspiring, and crumble-inside heart-wrenching, Wild is the story of not just a physical hike, but a trek to pull the loose strands of a fraying life together into a new and cohesive whole. . . one step at a time.

Highly recommended.

Cover image of the book "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail" by Cheryl Strayed

“Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed

April 5, 2013

Book Recommendation – “The Raven’s Gift” by Jon Turk

The Raven’s Gift chronicles adventurer Jon Turk‘s journey to healing and self-awareness over six years of travel on the Siberian tundra and a series of encounters with a “magic” that permeates the natural world and connects it (and us) to the spiritual realm.  Insightful and incredibly well written, Turk’s story is a reminder of both life’s fragility and its resilience.  His experiences suggest that moments of awareness, connectedness and self-understanding are out there waiting for us, if only we trust enough to switch off our rational minds and just believe.  “It’s not how we seek self-awareness,” writes Turk, ” it’s whether we take the time and energy to make the journey [italics added].”  An excellent read.

 

Image of the cover of the book "The Raven's Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness" by Jon Turk

“The Raven’s Gift: A Scientist, a Shaman, and Their Remarkable Journey Through the Siberian Wilderness” by Jon Turk

January 31, 2013

Book recommendation — “Beyond the Sky and the Earth” by Jamie Zeppa

Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan by Jamie Zeppa is a well-written, insightful account of how travel (and the willingness to leave your comfort zone) can transform you, change you, and, ultimately, lead you to the one thing you’ve been looking for all along: yourself. An excellent book. I liked it so much I quoted from it three times this month — on January 5, January 7, and January 23!  Highly recommended!

Cover of the book "Beyond the Sky and the Earth:  A Journey into Bhutan" by Jamie Zeppa

“Beyond the Sky and the Earth: A Journey into Bhutan” by Jamie Zeppa

January 20, 2013

Book recommendation — “Haroun and the Sea of Stories” by Salman Rushdie

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.  Very different from Rushdie’s other work, this book is like Dr. Seuss for adults — and children will love it, too!  Clever, magical and simply delightful.

Cover of the novel "Haroun and the Sea of Stories" by Salman Rushdie

October 12, 2012

Book recommendation – “Sleeping Naked is Green” by Vanessa Farquharson

I highly recommend the book Sleeping Naked is Green by Vanessa Farquharson.  Farquharson is a twenty-something arts journalist from Toronto who pledges to make one “green” change to her lifestyle each day for one year, and to keep every one of those changes going for the duration.  From switching to recycled paper towels and toting a reusable coffee mug to selling her car and unplugging her fridge, Farquharson shares her experiences — and their impact on her life — on her blog Green as a Thistle.  Her book is a humourous, candid look at what it takes (or doesn’t take) for the average person to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Check out a list of Farquharson’s 366 lifestyle changes here:   http://greenasathistle.com/green-listed/

Cover image of the book "Sleeping Naked is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged her Fridge, Sold her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days" by Vanessa Farquharson

“Sleeping Naked is Green: How an Eco-Cynic Unplugged her Fridge, Sold her Car, and Found Love in 366 Days” by Vanessa Farquharson

What I found particularly interesting was Farquharson’s final assessment of the effects her “green year” had on both herself and the people around her.  Some examples:

  • After lowering her thermostat to 64 degrees Farenheit (18 degrees Celsius) and keeping it there for months, Farquharson soon found herself “uncomfortably hot in most other indoor environments.”  Her body had adapted to the lower temperature, despite the extra blankets and sweaters she had required to weather the change at first.
  • After switching to natural, non-toxic cleaning and beauty products, Farquharson found her body reacting adversely to the run-of-the-mill products she had used before.  “When I was staying over at [a] friend’s place and had to use her concentrated, Clean Breeze-scented, neon green laundry soap as well as the purple lavender dish soap, both of which were crammed full of artificial fragrances, my eyes kept bursting into tears and my nose suffered perpetual seizures,” writes Farquharson.  “I’ve always prided myself on not being one of those flaky, ultra-sensitive types with weak immune systems.  But after making my body adapt to a more natural lifestyle, it’s apparently decided that, from now on, it will accept nothing less.”
  • Finally, Farquharson’s green challenge rubbed off on her family and friends in some unexpected ways.  Her formerly indifferent mother now stocked her fridge with only organic dairy and free-range meat; her SUV-loving father rented only subcompact hybrid cars while travelling; her friends carried coffee thermoses and bought bicycles to cut car use; and her co-workers shunned disposable water bottles and take-out lunches.  “Over the course of a year, I watched my friends and family make changes I never thought they would,” writes Farquharson. “At first, it would often be for my sake, just to accommodate my green restrictions, but now I truly believe they’re doing it for themselves and for the earth.”

Interesting book, and inspiring, too.  In the end, every little step we take towards attaining a more sustainable lifestyle helps!

September 28, 2012

Book recommendation – “The Hills of Tuscany” by Ferenc Máté

This book, a memoir about a couple who spontaneously left life in New York City to buy an ancient house in the rolling hills of Tuscany, had me laughing out loud at some moments and wishing to go Tuscany at most others.  A wonderful story about embracing a slower, simpler life filled with good food, warm friends and beautiful wide open spaces.

"The Hills of Tuscany" by Ferenc Máté, book cover

“The Hills of Tuscany – A Memoir: A New Life in an Old Land” by Ferenc Máté