Five books to soothe sore souls
It has been a rough year for all of us. From the explosion of xenophobia and the election of a sexual predator to the White House, to the near constant headlines of police brutality and senseless gun violence, 2017 required us to take an exhausting look at the sickness of our society. Those of us navigating a sick society with sick bodies have had an even rougher year, with constant threats to Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act adding more stress to our already maxed-out bodies.
While the shitstorm of 2017 grew inside and out, I turned to mankind’s greatest comfort: books.
Books are the ultimate window into humanity. They draw out love, grief, fear, despair, hope – those universal truths of humanness that all of us feel so intensely and yet too often make us feel alone. Books are the ultimate tools for empathy. A good book shines a light on truths inside of yourself and helps you see the truths in those around you.
As Maya Angelou wrote:
“Information helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else.”
For me, books have almost always housed the medicine I need and this past year was no different. Here is a round-up of a select few books to soothe that have helped keep me sane and thriving despite sickness in 2017.
The Art of Mindful Living: How to Bring Love, Compassion, and Inner Peace Into Your Daily Life by Thich Nhat Hahn
This audiobook is only two hours long, but it contains more wisdom and guidance than an epic tome. Read and written by Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hahn, this book has changed my life. I have listened to it many times and use the principles within it every single day in my mindfulness practice. I will gladly spend the rest of my life practicing the teachings of this book.
This book is perfect for: humans; those seeking peace or healing; anyone interested in mindfulness, spirituality, or meditation
When Women Were Birds: 54 Variations on Voice by Terry Tempest Williams
My boss, friend, and mentor Margaret Eissler at the National Park Service gave this book to me shortly after Chronic Migraine turned my entire life upside down. That was four years ago, and I just got around to reading Terry Tempest Williams’ poetic memoir this year. made my heart sing and my eyes fill with tears. Her voice is so honest, so strong, so clued into the natural world and what it means to be female.
“We come into this world through women, a woman who is spent, broken open, in awe. No wonder women have been feared and worshipped ever since man first saw the crowning of a human head here, legs spread, a brushtroke of light.
We are Fire. We are Water. We are Earth. We are Air.
We are all things elemental.”
This book is perfect for: writers, poets, hikers, environmentalists, strong women
The Grim Sleeper: The Lost Women of South Central by Christine Pelisek
True crime is my ultimate weakness. Nothing distracts me from my own pain and trouble like a gory, true, and horrifying tale of crime. While I get my fix mostly from podcasts (SSDGM!), The Grim Sleeper was absolutely worth the commitment. With respect and journalistic integrity, Christine Pelisek tells the true story of a serial killer in Los Angeles who murdered women of color over the course of decades. The book takes a hard look at our justice system, race relations, and violence against women. It’s a horrifying story that absolutely needs to be told.
This book is perfect for: true crime aficionados, making the hours fly by, sleeping with the lights on
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Honestly, I hate it when books make you cry but sometimes it’s necessary. Angie Thomas’ young adult novel about a young black girl who witnesses the murder of her friend by a police officer had me in tears at least three times. The story is heavy, relevant, important, and wonderfully told through the eyes of a 15-year-old narrator. I usually don’t go for YA books, but this one is so much more adult than I expected. And it manages to cover serious themes without being preachy. A+
“Sometimes you can do everything right and things will still go wrong. The key is to never stop doing right.”
This book is perfect for: white people; fostering empathy
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
As far as I’m concerned, Jennifer Egan is a goddess. Her genre-bending Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad blew me away in its scope and creativity, so when I saw she came out with a new novel in 2017, I immediately got my hands on a(n audio) copy. Manhattan Beach is on the longer side, and I almost lost interest part way through, but I am so, so glad I stuck with it. This historical fiction novel takes place during WWII in New York City and follows the life of Anna as she navigates what it means to be a working woman during wartime in a society that prefers women to be invisible. It is an adventurous and unpredictable novel filled with memorable characters, a vivid setting, and an exciting plot. In short, everything I look for in a good book.
This book is perfect for: history lovers; fans of the Sopranos; modern-day Rosie the Riveters
Peace out, 2017! I can’t wait to see what 2018 will bring: the adventures, the tragedies, and the books to soothe both.