2017, in books

"What are you reading?"

It's one of my absolute favorite questions to be asked. It's an opportunity to share the experience of a little universe in which I have been taking part in solitude. It's a chance to bring someone into a world I am just discovering.

Lately, I find myself buying and reading books that fall into the following categories: classics, contemplative spirituality, poetry, motherhood/parenthood, historical novels and biographies particularly by women and people of color, and sociological issues of our time.

I continue to love my Audible subscription and whizz through books while I cook, drive, clean, or wile away a few moments.

Here is my list of the worlds I peeked into in 2017. This list does not include countless children's books, read over and over and over and...

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Operating Instructions - Anne Lammott
 A must for any mother with a baby. Lammott's journal of her son's first year is honest and hilarious and heart-rending. She makes you feel a little bit less crazy about fluctuating between wanting to leave your child forever and put them in a cage so you'll never be apart. When she described her postpartum tummy as a little dog curled up beside her when she flips on her side, I wanted to raise my glass to her. 

Letters to a Young Poet - Rainer Maria Rilke
Likely the most popular work of one of the world's most-loved poets, this slim book should be taken out and read regularly. I underlined half the book and had to pause frequently to let his words sink into my being. With Rilke, you see the world beyond what is visible. As he says, "If your everyday life seems poor, don't blame it; blame yourself; admit to yourself that you are not enough of a poet to call forth its riches."

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nahisi Coates (as an audiobook)
Ta-Nahisi's unflinching letter to his own son on the realities of being a black man in America today is sharp and uncompromising. There is no effort to make his readers comfortable. There is no consolation at truths of racial injustice and for this reason, it was a hard read (or listen). And because it was a hard read, I knew I had to listen. I skipped backwards a few times to let his words come at me again, to make myself look into his reality. I think all Americans should read this book.

The Abundance - Annie Dillard
If anyone can call forth the riches of their everyday life, as Rilke urges us, Annie Dillard can do so. She is seemingly normal woman who lives a seemingly normal life, as far as I can tell, but they way she engages with and learns from and describes her very normal life makes you want to step into your own with a little more vigor. These collected essays describe everything from a solar eclipse to watching a giant water bug suck the life out of a frog. My very favorite was her essay on dirt. Yes, she even makes dirt into the most interesting subject. "Beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them," she says. "The least we can do is try to be there."

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Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (as an audiobook)
As an American living in Africa, I greatly enjoyed this novel describing the experience of an African moving to America. Maybe of the very same things that tend to confuse me about Ugandan culture confused Adichie's character (a Nigerian) about America and it helped me to see my own country from a fresh perspective. It's an enjoyable novel interwoven with cross-cultural experiences and integrating identities that seem to be worlds apart.

Nurture the Wow - Danya Ruttenberg
I've been toying with the idea of writing a book about motherhood as a contemplative path, so I've read all I can get my hands on that approach the topic. Ruttenberg's book is the closest thing I have found and it was a great read. As a rabbi, Ruttenberg was immersed in spiritual practice until she had her children and struggled to find the time. But it didn't take long for her to realize that her spiritual life is not practices apart from her everyday life and her parenting journey in particular. She shows us how motherhood is a path to discovering the Great Mystery.

A Year with Rumi - Coleman Barks
I had this book on my bedside table and would read one short poem before bed every night. Rumi is said to be the world's most-loved poet and he has a way of opening your heart. I loved ending my day and falling asleep with his words dancing through my head.

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Other books I read this year:

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  • Gift from the Sea - Anne Morrow Lindbergh
  • The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke - Stephen Mitchell
  • Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Tao of Motherhood - Vimala McClure
  • New and Selected Poems, Volume One - Mary Oliver
  • My Antonia - Willa Cather
  • Radical Optimism - Beatrice Bruteau
  • What Really Matters - Tony Schwartz
  • You Are Your Child's First Teacher - Rahima Baldwin Dancy
  • Momma Zen - Karen Maezen Miller
  • Faithful Families - Traci Smith
  • Eager to Love - Richard Rohr
  • Women Who Run With the Wolves - Clarissa Pinkola Estes
  • Tales from the Arabian Nights - Sir Francis Bacon
  • Three Daughters of Eve - Elif Shafak
  • Kleopatra - Karen Essex

Listened to as audio books:

  • Jayber Crow - Wendell Berry
  • Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
  • A Wrinkle in Time - Madaline L'Engle
  • Small Great Things - Jodi Picoult
  • The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander
  • Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
  • Dreaming the Eagle - Manda Scott
  • Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi
  • Wild - Cheryl Strayed
  • Hannah Coulter - Wendell Berry
  • Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness - Arundati Roy
  • Sula - Toni Morrison
  • The Course of Love - Alain de Boton
  • Brida - Paulo Coelho
  • The Fellowship of the Ring - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
  • The Notorious RBG - Shana Knizhnik and Irin Carmon

Books or sections of these books read for The Living School:

  • Jesus and the Cosmos - Denis Edwards
  • A Brief History of Everything - Ken Wilber
  • The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching - Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Christ in Evolution - Ilia Delio
  • The Four Quartets - T.S. Eliot
  • The Roots of Christian Mysticism - Oliver Clement
  • The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three - Cynthia Bourgeault
  • Christophany - Raimon Panikkar
  • Integral Spirituality - Ken Wilber
  • The Wisdom Jesus - Cynthia Bourgeault
  • The Wisdom Way of Knowing - Cynthia Bourgeault
  • Discourse on Thinking - Martin Heidegger
  • Disputed Questions - Thomas Merton
  • Search for the Meaning of Life - Willigis Jager
  • Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - Ursula King
  • The View from the Center of the Universe - Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams
  • God's Ecstasy - Beatrice Bruteau
  • The Sayings of the Desert Fathers - Benedicta Ward
  • Harlots of the Desert - Benedicta Ward
  • Julian of Norwich - Grace M. Jantzen
  • Revelations of Divine Love - Julian of Norwich
  • The Spiritual Espousals - Blessed John Ruusbroec
  • Jacob Boehme - Peter Erb
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2016, in books

Time for reading is time I treasure, but this year my reading wish list grew faster than I could finish books.  I discovered the magic of an Audible subscription and I now download 1 new audiobook every month so I can listen while driving.  It's no cozying up with a cup of coffee and a blanket, but it provids me an opportunity to get through some of the long classics and absorb myself in a story while facing traffic.

My reading list this year was also shaped by a program I began in August called The Living School.  The writings of mystics and those leading a contemplative life encouraged and inspired me in my own inner journey, complemented with guidance from the treasured faculty of the program.

So this year's list is a bit all over the place.  The stories and perspectives I read this year come from all around the world and each book has added a new thought, a new inspiration, a new appreciation for something I did not know.  That is the magic of books and here is the magic I encountered in 2016:

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (as an audiobook)
This simple story lifted my spirits at the end of a heavy period.  Listening to a story of life being given to a forgotten garden, which then gave life back to children was a delightful respite and ended up giving me some life as well.  It made me want to go dig my hands into some dirt, too.

Vitamin N - Richard Louv
In relation to the above theme of children and the outdoors, this book outlines why interaction with nature is a must for children, with plenty of benefits.  It provides 500 practical ways for children to interact with nature, both in grand expanses of the wild or just in your backyard or a city park.  I will keep this one around and refer to it throughout Leo's childhood.  It inspired me to keep nature in my life daily, even in tiny ways.

Mornings in Jenin - Susan Abulhawa (as an audiobook)
This story holds so much - tragedy and hope, how war and trauma affect generations to come, and a more-than-compelling story of one of the most captivating conflicts in recent history.

Madwomen - poems of Gariela Mistral
Earlier this year, I rediscovered a poem that was passed down through the women of my family.  I noticed the author and looked her up and then purchased this book of her poems.  I went through it slowly and I found myself turning down pages of poems I wanted to revisit, which I often did throughout the year.  There is one in particular, called The Dancer, that I just can't get enough of.

Prayer and Identity - Beatrice Bruteau
With much division in our world, exasperated in 2016 by a brutal election, I have given much thought to whether it is possible to stay in community with people so different than ourselves.  I have contemplated over and over again the tension between "staying at the table" and unapologetically living into who you know yourself to be.  Can you do both?  I've somberly asked this countless times, then this essay by Beatrice Bruteau gave me hope and light and some semblance of an answer. 

Others listened to as audiobooks:
Shantaram - Gregory David Roberts
The Signature of All Things - Elizabeth Gilbert
The State of Wonder - Ann Patchett
East of Eden - John Steinbeck
Adventures of Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
Don Quixote - Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Joyous Body - Clarissa Pinkola Estes
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery
Roots - Alex Haley

More books I enjoyed this year:
Beauty - John O' Donohue
The Gift of Story - Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Merton's Palace of Nowhere - James Finley
The Naked Now - Richard Rohr
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening - Cynthia Bourgeault
Nice Girls Don't Change the World - Lynne Hybels
Lady of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Art of Power - Thich Nhat Hanh
No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame - Janet Lansbury
The Mind's Road to God - St. Bonaventure

Excerpts of these texts, assigned through The Living School:
The Cloud of Unknowing - Anonymous
Living Presence: A Sufi Approach to Mindfulness and the Essentail Self - Kabir Helminski
Guigo II: The Ladder of Monks and Twelve Meditations
The Interior Castle - St. Teresa of Avila
Sermons by Meister Eckhart
Christophany - Raimon Panikkar
Christ in Evolution - Ilia Delio
The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three - Cynthia Bourgeault
Theological Investigations, Volume III - Karl Rahner
Chanting the Psalms - Cynthia Bourgeault
Love is Stronger than Death - Cynthia Bourgeault
 

2015, in books

Books are always in the background of my life, but in 2015, with the arrival of Leo, they were pushed a little farher into the background.  In comparing my list of reads from 2015 to 2014, this year is a much shorter list.  Although I'm always reading through 3 or 4 books at a time, this year I went through them slower.  With the exhaustion a baby brings, I frequently fell asleep with the pages open.

Leo also influenced the type of books I read.  Unsurprisingly, you'll find books about birth and parenting on my list this year, but I realized another theme within my choices in 2015 - books about nature, particularly by women.  If you've been following this blog, that shouldn't surprise you.  Of course, the books on our shelves say a lot about us.

So here is a reflection of me this past year, in books.

The Invention of Wings - Sue Monk Kidd
My favorite novel of the year, by one of my favorite authors.  Sue Monk Kidd managed to discover an incredible true story about two sisters from Charleston - Sarah and Angelina Grimke - who became 2 of the first American abolitionists.  She brilliantly brings to life Sarah's upbringing in an aristocratic Southern family and parallels it with the story of Handful, the slave girl given to Sarah on her 11th birthday.  This is a treasure of a novel and those who I've recommended it to have come back to tell me how much they loved it, too.

Womanly Art of Breastfeeding - Diane Weisseinger and Diana West
This has been my breastfeeding bible since Leo came along.  From La Leche League, a well-known organization and well-trusted source for breastfeeding women, it takes the anxiety out of your nursing relationship and allows you to simply trust yourself and the bond with your baby.

The Moral Imagination - John Paul Lederach
One of my favorite books I've read about peacebuilding by a professor in one of the best-known Peace Studies programs in the world.  It avoids all the dryness of overly-academic books and, in fact, I found it speaking to me on a profound spiritual and personal growth level. 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek - Annie Dillard (as an audiobook)
Annie Dillard's writing was the perfect antidote to Kampala traffic.  I listened to her words opening entire worlds within nature and it took me out of the city and into a spectacular universe - the simple creek near her home.  Her descriptions of stalking muskrats, the lives of praying mantis, and the overlooked worlds of insects, flora, and fauna manage to take you to an unexpected philosophical place, but don't let that scare you.  Beauty and wonder are interwoven into every paragraph and you'll find yourself viewing the world around you in a new and fantastic way.

The Art of Communicating - Thicht Naht Hahn
Communication is an essential part of our life and one that can often be the root of division or the beginning of reconciliation.  The renowned Vietnamese peace activist inspires his readers how to build peace at the most interpersonal levels with simple, but meaningful insights.

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu
I read at least one passage from this treasure in bed each night for a month and often I would poke Eric to see if he was still awake, to share with him the profound lessons in such a simple book.  The Tao, also known as "the Way," is grounded in simplicity and can guide your heart to embrace the wisdom of paradox, among so many other lessons.

The Engaged Spiritual Life - Donald Rothberg
How is a "big" (international, global, cross-cultural) peace connected to a "little" (personal) peace?  This is a question I've asked myself often and this book gives practical ways to answer that.  For practitioners of social justice work, it guides us in ensuring that we emulate the very peace we want to bring into the world and provides practices to nurture that peace within ourselves.

The River Why - David James Duncan
Given to me by a friend after publishing my book list from last year, this novel surprised me in its humor, depth, and beauty.  I never imagined I would enjoy a book about fishing, but I quickly came to love the main character and enjoyed following his path through life, fishing on The River Why in Oregon, and discovering meaning, purpose, and love.

Other books I enjoyed this year:

Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver
A Girl of the Limberlost - Gene Stratton Porter
Leo the African - Amin Maalouf
The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd
The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle
The Conscious Heart - Gay Hendricks and Kathlyn Hendricks
The Gift of Being Yourself - David Benner
The Sacred Balance - David Suzuki and Amanda McConnell
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth - Ina May Gaskin
Attached at the Heart - Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker
The Tao of Motherhood - Vimala McClure
Goddesses in Every Woman - Jean Shinoda Bolen
Of Woman Born - Adrienne Riche

Audiobooks:
Yes Please - Amy Poehler
Freckles - Gene Stratton Porter

2014, in books

I've been an avid reader since I was a little girl.  Books are still some of my most treasured possessions.  When I visit someone's home for the first time, I love to look at their books.  I feel like the books we keep and read are a great expression of our selves, which is one reason I hesitated to publish this post.  It feels like opening the door to a private place and letting everyone in to see who I am.  It's a vulnerable act, but this is who I am.  This was my year in 2014, in books.

 
 

The Land of the Grasshopper Song – Mary Ellicott Arnold and Mabel Reed
A lovely book I picked up in a gift shop during our drive through California’s Redwoods.  It’s the true story of two women from the East Coast, commissioned by the US government to, for lack of better words, culturally colonize the native people in California.  But during their two years in the Land of the Grasshopper Song, these women grew to love the Karok Indians and advocated for their rights.  In the time of the gold rush, they were the only 2 white women around and their humorous tales are a satisfying read for anyone who admires adventurers, who can relate to the hardships and the humor of living cross-culturally, and who appreciates the depth of female friendships.

Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
If there is one book I would suggest to any woman, this would be it.  I went through this book slowly with a friend over a couple of years and now that we’re finished, we’ve decided to start over again!  The author uses stories and myths she has collected from around the world to tap into the experiences and psyches of women.  She somehow manages to always find the right words for a feeling or thought you could never describe.  It’s a book I will always treasure and, if I have a girl, will pass on to her.

The Way to Love – Anthony Di Mello
Eric and I slowly work our way through this pocket-size book, packed with depth and insight into what love really means.  We’ll read a chapter once in a while before we fall asleep or together at the breakfast table.  Anthony Di Mello always finds a way to take an old verse to a new level and often the only thing you can do with his wisdom is let it sink in.

The Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet – Benjamin Hoff
A splendid explanation of Taoism using one of our favorite childhood characters.  Its simplicity and charm will draw you in quickly and you’ll see the wisdom of becoming more Pooh-like.

The First Muslim – Lesley Hazleton
Zealot – Reza Aslan

An American Agnostic Jewish woman wrote a biography about Mohammed, the Muslim Prophet, and an Iranian American man who grew up Muslim, converted to Christianity in his teens, and now calls himself simply a follower of Jesus wrote a biography about the savior to Christians.  I had to read these books back-to-back and it was a fascinating comparison.  Both writers are compelling and place their subjects in historical context, shedding new light on their lives that is often unconsidered and overlooked by their followers and skeptics.  I highly recommend both of these books to anyone interested in religion and its relevance to our times.

In the Body of the World – Eve Ensler
Eve Ensler doesn’t tell us how our bodies, particularly as women, are connected with our Earth – she makes us feel it deep inside as she takes us on the journey of her cancer treatments and with the women of Eastern Congo.   It’s a quick read, but you’ll often want to put the book down and just feel her words and cry or laugh with her on her journey.

Strength to Love – Martin Luther King Jr.
Coretta Scott King has said people tell her that this book, of all of the books written by or about MLK, has changed their life the most.  It’s a compilation of some of King's best sermons and Eric and I have both marked up the whole book, underlining powerful quote after powerful quote.

Black Elk Speaks – John G. Neihardt
A classic of Native American spirituality, I found this biography of Black Elk, a Holy Man of the Oglala Sioux, simply fascinating.  The recounting of his life dives deeply into a spirituality our world has largely lost, while also touching on key events in the history of the Sioux.

Trauma Stewardship – Laura van Dernoot Lipsky with Connie Burk
A great read for anyone working in the field of social work who has ever felt burnt out, cynical, tired, or has just lacked inspiration.  You realize that you truly must care for yourself before you can adequately care and advocate for others.

Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom – Christiane Northrup
I originally bought this book to refer to from time-to-time, but upon picking it up, I found it too fascinating not to read from cover-to-cover.  I have kept it by my bedside for the last 2 years and was actually sad to finish it.  Northrup takes a very holistic approach to women’s health and has made me love and appreciate my body for the wisdom it gives me, should I choose to listen, rather than wanting my body to look differently and being scared it will somehow rebel against me.  This is another must for any woman and I have given out many copies to friends and family.

Hildegard of Bingen – Matthew Fox
This incredible nun from the 12th century, largely unknown, wrote the first opera of the West 300 years before any other, composed music anticipating Mozart 600 years before his birth, taught methods of healing and medicine that are still used today, and called out kings and religious leaders for hypocrisy, which got her interdicted at the age of 80.  She was a painter, a poet, a musician, a prophetess, a reformer, a mystic, and a healer.  She called for a reverence of nature and our Earth, called science a gift from God, and interwove the feminine into her worship of the Divine.  She is recognized as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church and was recently named a Doctor of the Church in 2012, but, as the author points out, the Catholic Church doesn’t quite know what to do with her teachings that were way ahead of her time, and quite relevant to ours!

Illumination of a Skyrider – Eric Kreutter
I am now officially married to an author.  My husband finished writing a book this year, and has even made significant progress in turning it into a trilogy!  I was honored to be the first to set eyes on the very first draft!  He has managed to use a chicken and a turtle as his main characters in this story to teach us deep life lessons.  It is an outpouring of my husband’s depth and an expression of his truest self, but it’s still a light read and fun to follow along with the journey of Fenix, a chicken trying to find his way in life!

Moving Towards Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee
If you’d love to practice yoga at home, but are like me and think the videos on the market are too cheesy and poorly-made, this is the perfect alternative.  Rodney Yee takes you through 8 weeks of yoga, explaining every pose.  Even if you’ve done yoga for a while, it will help to remind you what each pose should feel like, and you get to go at your own pace!

The Soul of Money – Lynne Twist
I wasn’t excited to read a book about finances, but I was required to for a class I’m taking, and I am so glad it was this book on finances.  Lynne Twist challenges us to evaluate our deepest values and guides us on how to use our money to advance these values in our lives, making us richer in so many ways.

Invitation to Solitude and Silence – Ruth Haley Barton
Solitude and meditation have long been a part of Eastern traditions, but Ruth Haley Barton highlights how Western Christianity has become so frenzied, that we are missing out on the many spiritual, emotional, and physical benefits of solitude and silence.  She makes her points gracefully and provides simple practices after each short reading to pull you into this special invitation.

The Hidden Face of Eve – Nawal El Saadawi
A powerful Egyptian author, all of Nawal El Saadawi’s books have a particular punch to them and this one is no exception.  An overview of her experiences and perspective of women in the Muslim world, it is a compelling read, but one that I could only take in a little at a time due to the severity of the issues she addresses.

A Call to Action – Jimmy Carter
Jimmy Carter has called this the most important book he’s ever written.  He brings our attention to the plight of women and girls across the world as well as within America, shedding light on issues many would prefer to ignore.  It’s a nice summary of these compelling issues and it’s a relief to read such words from a powerful Western, white man.

More books I read in 2014:

Birthing from Within – Pam England and Rob Horowitz
The Untethered Soul – Michael A. Singer
When the Heart Waits – Sue Monk Kidd
Meeting the Shadow – Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams
Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea – Mark Kurlansky
The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown
The Garden of Burning Sand – Corban Addison
Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe
The Call of the Wild and White Fang – Jack London
Hobomok – Lydia Maria Child
A Woman’s Book of Life – Joan Borysenko
The Wisdom of the Enneagram – Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson
Wisdom of No Escape – Pema Chodron
The Abstinence Teacher – Tom Perrotta
Wise Women – Susan Cahill
Devotions: Wisdom from the Cradle of Civilization – Danielle and Oliver Follmi

Audiobooks

Hard Decisions – Hillary Rodham Clinton
The Terrorist’s Son – Zak Ebrahim
Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy