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

Yes Please - Amy Poehler
Freckles - Gene Stratton Porter

July reads

A few great reads I came across in the month of July:

The mystery of peace is located in the nature of relationships developed with those most feared.
— John Paul Lederach

I'm currently reading a book called The Moral Imagination about "the art and soul of peace."  The author, a man who has worked to build peace all around the world, talks about the importance of relationships, authenticity, creativity, and knowing we are connected when it comes to establishing peace in places of violence.  I find it incredibly inspiring.

Because you won't hear about this on the news, here is a beautiful moment in the wake of the tragic Chatanooga shooting.

I work with young women aspiring to be leaders in their own contexts and often find it is the most personal, deeply entrenched issues that hold them back from their dreams.  This was a nice read, encompassing how we can naively prevent our daughters (and it mentions a thing or two about sons) from living into who they can truly be. Are You Holding Your own Daughter Back? 5 Ways to Raise Girls to be Leaders

Should universities go beyond academics and also teach us How to Live Wisely? Harvard thinks so.