December 31, 2016
For several years I have started the New Year by sharing the books I’ve been privileged to read for the past 12 months. In the library of Ol’ Henry the Farmhouse, there is a specific shelf where I stack the year’s books so at the end of the year I can offer a summary of each. My goal is to read at least 4 books a month. I always try to read one book from a Nobel Prize winner, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one book to receive the Newbury Prize for children’s literature. I try to read at least one classic. I read all kinds of genres, although I admit that I’m pretty limited when it comes to Science fiction and Poetry. I share these books in no particular order and offer a brief opinion of each.
1. From Fear to Serenity with Anthony de Mello by Thomas G. Casey, SJ and Margaret Brennan Hassett
I’ve read this book more than once. It has become an essential reference, stock piled with gems like this one:
~ There is a big difference between gratitude and judgment. Gratitude comes from the heart and expresses the heart. Judgment comes from the mind. Gratitude sees what is good and beautiful, but judgment often looks for what is deficient, ugly, or missing; it regularly finds fault. If you judge yourself negatively, you will see the worst in yourself. If you are grateful for yourself and your life, you will see the best.
2. The Family under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson. A Newbury Honor winner. This is a curious story. Suspended my state of belief immensely.
3. The Red Queen by Phillipa Gregory. This is the first book from this prolific author I have read. It was by far the most tedious and boring book I read this year. Her ability to develop characters was elementary at best and her storyline was repetitive. Yawn! I’m glad I read it though. I won’t need to read any more and that’s a relief.
4. Buddha’s Little Instruction Book by Jack Kornfield. I loved it! This tiny booklet is perfect bathroom reading. I mean no disrespect here. We all have to sit several times a day, so why not pick up something easy and delightful to read that inspires and refreshes the mind!
5. They Had a Dream; The Civil Rights Struggle from Frederick Douglass to Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King and Malcom X. by Jules Archer. This book is probably a middle school read published in 1993. I loved it. I needed to go back to the basics in order to gain a broader understanding of what continues to happen in the lives of people of color. This was easy to read, difficult to digest, horrifying to hold, and inspiring to my spirit.
6. The Gift of Years- Growing Older Gracefully by Joan Chittister. This was one of my favorite books of 2016. This prolific and accomplished writer has set the bar very high in this work. Here’s one exquisite example;
~ The unselfish generosity of forgiveness is a myth. Forgiveness is more important to the one who forgives than it is to the one who is forgiven.
…We are who we are—and so is everyone else. And it is our forgiveness of others that gains for us the right to forgive ourselves for being less than we always wanted to be.
7. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Seriously mind-blowing.
8. Stars Above; A Lunar Chronicles Collection by Marissa Meyer. This is total word candy! I loved every bit of it. A friend introduced me to Sci-Fi with this series and it was wildly fun.
9. The Gospel of Buddha by Paul Carus. I loved this piece. It reminded me in some ways of the children’s bible I grew up with. Wonderful stories and teachings. Another reference book for my shelves for sure!
10. Old Friends by Tracy Kidder who is a Pulitzer Prize winning author. This book was just marvelous! I highly recommend it particularly for those of you whose parents are making ready to wander on out of this life. His story shines a bright light, sometimes glaring and sometimes sweet, on life in a nursing home.
11. Wild—From lost to found on the pacific crest trail by Cheryl Strayed. Loved. Every. Single. Word. I haven’t seen the movie but I completely understand why this adventure was put onto film. WOW!
12. Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman. A Newbury Honor winner. Just a fun easy read!
13. The Princessa Machiavelli for Women by Harriet Rubin. This was a complete surprise! I had been studying Machiavelli and I mean that sincerely. I had to study. Sit at the kitchen table and read and process sentence by sentence. It was difficult for me to digest. Strategy of war and power was like something stuck in my throat that I couldn’t swallow. This book just happened in my gaze one day. I can’t remember where I found it but it will be another reference on my shelf. Here’s a lovely little note:
~Enlarge your life, your circle, your mind. Boundaries do more than keep others out; they lock you in.
14. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Reo was reading this for his 9th grade English class, so read it with him. I’m pretty certain I read this in high school, too but I couldn’t fully remember. I am so glad to have read it again! Reo wrote an essay about mental illness in the 30’s when this story was set compared to today. What a great thing! I had so much fun working with him on his project.
15. Secret Daughter by Shipli Somaya Gowda. Total departure from my reality! I loved this take me away read.
16. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout. Winner of the Pultizer Prize. Oh. My. God. I had no idea. I’m not going to say anything but get this book and read it right now!
17. Falling Leaves—a Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah. Brutally sad and completely compelling. Just WOW!
18. The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee. A Nobel Prize winner. This story. I just can’t even…The writing…The sensory palette…Beyond the beyond. For me to say it was outstanding is small and pathetic.
19. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. Another take you into the depths of a fantastic story. 500+ pages. A commitment for sure but one you will not be sorry for having made.
20. Leading with Soul by Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal. What I remember from this book is how delightful and easy it was to read. I think I devoured it over lunch. I did not mark this book in any way, which tells me that I read it purely for pleasure. There was nothing particularly outstanding about it, just a simple pleasant read that I think I’ll have to read again!
21. Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence. I have to read at least one classic and this one chose me. This is another 500+ page book and it is dense! The language, the character development, the tension. Oh my God. The tension that is created in this book is like nothing I have experienced before. It’s a commitment to read and not a fast read so be ready. Incredible.
22. Circle of Stones; A Woman’s Journey to Herself by Judith Duerk. When I grow up, I want to be like this! I absolutely loved this book. The copy I have is on textured raw type paper, which felt so good in my hands. It’s organic and encouraging. The inspiration written throughout is something I shall turn to again and again and again. Here’s a little sample:
~ To discover who she is, a woman must trust the places of darkness where she can meet her own deepest nature and give it voice…weaving the threads of her life into a fabric to be named and given…sharing it with the women around her as she comes to a true and certain sense of herself.
23. Bury Me Not in a Land of Slaves; African Americans in the Time of Reconstruction by Joyce Hansen. This was an incredible book. It brought me into the awareness of slavery’s chronology and many of the main players involved. The featured biographies; Phillis Wheatley, Frederik Douglass, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, Martin R. Delany, John R. Lynch and Charlotte Forten Grimke were fascinating to read. This is probably another middle school age book, which I need from time to time. I can’t handle full adult academia on every subject. I need an elementary presentation sometimes in order to better match my basic and limited understanding. It was important to revisit where we’ve been to better understand where we are.
24. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. A Newbury Medal winner. Holy Wonder! Fabulous story!
25. They Don’t See What I See; How to Talk with Loved Ones who have Crossed Over by Ruth Berger. I confess, I don’t remember much of this book at all. Clearly made little to no impression upon me. General rating on this kind of stuff? Meh.
26. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jaqueline Woodson. A Newbury Honor and National Book Award winner. This book blew my mind! I loved every word and basically wanted to start stalking Jaqueline Woodson so we could become friends because I felt like we already were! Seriously wonderful.
27. The Griffin and Sabine Trilogy by Nick Bantock. I hadn’t seen these books in ages and I scored the set of three in a second-hand bookstore. I was blown away all over again. Everything about these books…the art, the story, the interactive-ness, and the creativity. Just pure fun!
28. The Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan. This guy! Okay. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 and I wish-wish-wish I was smart enough to really get him. Alas, I do not! I read this book but it was a chore. It bored me to tears in places and there’s little of it that got my juices flowing.
29. Lesbian Nuns Speaking Silence by Rosemary Curb and Nancy Manahan. I. Had. No. Idea! I’m serious. I grew up with nuns for God’s Sake and I knew that some nuns were likely gay but I had no idea just how many! I’m sitting here writing, smacking my forehead with a resounding, “Duh!” I loved this book. It was raw, real, honest and heart-breaking too. That we STILL seem to think we have the right to dictate how people are going to be and who they are going to love is something that fills me with despair and disgust.
30. First Light by Rebecca Stead. Absolutely huge fun!
31. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. How have I never read this book? I can’t stop thinking about it! Absolutely fantastic! Here was one of my favorite parts;
~He still had some doubts about the decision he had made. But he was able to understand one thing: making a decision was only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision.
I can relate to this completely!
32. My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. WOW!! The science in the beginning was so much fun! I loved every word. Her personal story is overwhelming and powerful. It’s so easy to say, “Life can change in a moment.” It’s something else to actually live that! Furthermore, she has a great way of explaining difficult neuroscience in a way that regular people can have access! Here’s one of my favorite examples;
~As members of the same human species, you and I share all but 0.01% (1/100th of 1 percent) of identical genetic sequences. So biologically, as a species, you and I are virtually identical to one another at the level of our genes 99.99%. Looking around at the diversity within our human race, it is obvious that 0.01% accounts for a significant difference in how we look, think, and behave.
Um. Just wow… Do you understand the significance of this fact? We are 99.99 % more alike than we are different and yet we are forced to believe and behave as if we are 99.99% different from one another! This has stirred up a cynicism in me like nothing else. Those in power waging war on people who are 99.99 % just like me and just like you is something I cannot bear. That the powerful have increased their power through the suffering of my global brothers and sisters at the expense of our Mother Earth, who supports us all, is just not something I will tolerate. I can’t and neither can you. We have to come together as a global people and why wouldn’t we? Genetically we are identical minus 0.01%.
33. Outliers; The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Kaboom! Mind blowing.
34. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. A Newbury Honor and National Book award winner. Totally fun story.
35. Hercules and Other Tales from Greek Myths by Olivia E. Coolidge. This is an old kid’s copy. I have no idea from what crack this thing emerged but it was fun. I hated reading myths when I was little but I love them now.
36. The Dream Watcher by Barbara Wersba. What a trippy story this was. I have no idea where I picked this one up either. Totally loved it.
37. The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown, Ph.D. I’m a little late to the party. I know you’ve all probably read this and loved it. Me too. Interesting note. I didn’t make a single mark in this book, which always tells me that there was nothing remarkable or outstanding that I would want my attention called to repeatedly. That’s not a bad thing. It simply suggests that there wasn’t anything here that was particularly new or earth-shattering, but what I LOVED is her presentation. She’s absolutely wonderful. She’s hilarious and smart. She’s unapologetic and sincere. Her tone was so refreshing to ideas that needed a new stir. Highly recommend.
38. Love and Power by Lynn V. Andrews. I loved this book. I’ve read everything she’s written. Some of it is completely la-la and takes me to places of my dreams but this one totally grounded me. This was one of her smartest pieces filled with questions and poetry. Here’s something from a chapter called Life is like a Clay Pot:
~When you are filling the vessel that is you, you are imploding energy, or taking energy into you through knowledge and practice. Though we live in a male dominated world, the filling of the clay pot represents the female, receptive mode. At some point, there has to be explosion, an opposite and equal reaction, which is the male mode. And so the emptying begins.
39. The Dance of the Dissident Daughter by Sue Monk Kidd. I have to read this one again. I remember being thoroughly entranced. There’s SO MUCH here. This was an exceptional read! I may have to begin 2017 right here!
40. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks. I read this 3 times and loved it each time discovering something new with each read. It’s a short little book full of beautiful gems like this one. He’s referring to his experience of being gay.
~The matter was never mentioned again, but her harsh words made me hate religion’s capacity for bigotry and cruelty.
41. The Feminine Face of God; The Unfolding of the Sacred in Women by Sherry Ruth Anderson and Patricia Hopkins. I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoyed this read. The collaboration is impeccable. The questions are smart and sharp. The answers or perhaps the direction they are suggesting and guiding us toward, are going to be difficult to absorb. This book is already 25 years old and some of the ideas probably strike a radical blasphemous nerve. I say, “Good and about time!” Time. Repetition. Daring. These are the main ingredients for the shifts to come. Check this out;
~ In North America men and women alike can now choose from an almost limitless number of paths and practices and teachers. Hindu yogis teach next door to South American shamans, and Congregationalist churches share their space with Buddhist and Taoist communities. Jewish men and women become Zen masters and Catholic priests learn Japanese forms of healing and purification.
With so many options and so little background, it is difficult to discern what is really needed. How do we know which tools best fit our needs and which are unreliable or even dangerous? Who can we trust to show us? What are the risks and what are the benefits of these tools and can a benefit become a risk without our realizing it?
For women in particular, the situation is paradoxically more difficult and more advantageous. It is more difficult because most of these tools, as well as the systems that gave rise to them, have been devised by men and do not adequately meet women’s needs. It is more advantageous because women have had to search for new tools.
42. Women Food and God; An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth. Fantastic! Great Story Telling. Tears. Laughter. Highly recommend.
43. Across Many Mountains by Yangzom Brauen. My favorite memoir of 2016. This was an edge of my seat read at times. What people must endure. That people survive such horrors and struggle. Profoundly humbling in every conceivable way.
44. Tying Rocks to Clouds; Meetings and Conversations with Wise and Spiritual People by William Elliott. Man I loved this book. So William Elliott’s stories about meeting with his spiritual heroes and heroines is just fun! He’s humble and curious. He’s smart and respectful. He’s taken down paths he doesn’t expect. He lights up the page and warms the reader’s heart! Beautiful read.
Here’s a little something from Frances Vaughan:
~On what do you base your life?
I believe consciousness is evolving, and we participate in the process, with or without awareness. Evolution, however, is only part of the process. Simultaneously there is a process of involution that sustains life. Life is essentially a journey of awakening to the reality of who and what we are.
45. A Separate Reality; Further Conversations with Don Juan by Carlos Castaneda. The thing I loved about this book is how never in a million years could I imagine myself being like the main character of this story. I’m not a wanderer in the truest sense of the word. Not even close. I’m not much of a thrill seeker and I definitely avoid substances that alter my state of reality. But none of that is to say that I don’t enjoy reading about other peoples’ experiences. I do. Thoroughly. And I completely admire the courage it takes to abandon one’s familiars. The wisdom here. The unapologetic insanity. I loved it all. I’ll want to read again.
46. The Path of Power by Henri J. M. Nouwen This tiny booklet was a wonderful step into Christian wisdom. Like this:
~My Strength is made perfect in weakness. 2 Cor. 12:9
The thing I love about this is the invitation to examine the word weakness. You can take weakness literally and scratch your head. Literalism does that a lot and is therefore easy to read and dismiss. BUT if you pause and read the poetry of this holy wisdom, you have to wonder about what weakness it is pointing to. What is the reference? To me, weakness is nudging us toward humility and all the ways we avoid it. If you pause further, you will recognize that the most powerful teachers of wisdom throughout the ages have been those who taught us how to exercise humility. This is going to be increasingly important to remember because we have a lot of people who think that power in the absence of humility is strength. We have a lot of examples throughout history to illustrate just how misguided that thinking is. Power in the absence of humility is destructive and leads to great suffering. I don’t know how many times we’re going to have to experience this in order for the teaching to really sink in, but apparently at least one more time, considering the blathering blustering brat elected to our highest office. Good thing we have Holy Scriptures to guide us back.
47. Great Dames by Marie Brenner. What can I say? The stories of women are compelling because so few of them exist. This was a marvelous collection.
48. No More “Nice Girl”; Power, Sexuality and Success in the Workplace by Rosemary Agonito, Ph.D. The title was what drew me in. This is a wonderful academic piece and a great reference for my shelves.
49. Meditations with Hildegard of Bingen by Gabriele Uhlein Matthew Fox wrote in the preface to this book, Hildegard can be called the Grandmother of the Rhineland mystic movement, a movement of creation-centered spirituality. The year of her death (1179) St. Francis of Assisi was born; there followed Thomas Aquinas, Mechtild of Medgeburg, Meister Eckhart, the anonymous author of the Theologica Germanica and Julian of Norwich. It is doubtful any of these mystic-prophets would have sunk so deeply into truth and experience had St. Hildegard not preceded them.
I read the works of Saints because they embody a devotion to which I aspire. I read these ancient thoughts, stories and experiences because they help me stay connected to the teachings of Jesus. So little of modern Christianity holds my attention or interest. I look upon most of it like picnic food that’s been picked over and left out in the sun.
St. Hildegard writes, Divinity is aimed at Humanity.
This I believe with every fiber of my being. Amen.
50. Betsy Ross Quaker Rebel by Edwin S. Parry. Published in 1932 presumably for elementary school children, this 250 page book was an absolute delight! The author’s grandfather was one of Betsy Ross’s grandsons, so he had access to familial oral traditions that are woven throughout. He reminds us that she never wrote her story down…there are no known letters, in fact Revolutionary documents of any kind are sorely lacking. So I read everything with a grain of salt, a curious imagination and an open heart. Fun!
51. Wicked; The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire. Confession time. I loathed this book! I know it was wildly popular and for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I put it down several times throughout the year to try to turn my attitude around and get a more comfortable seat on this band-wagon but no go. This read, for me, ranks right up there with Phillipa Gregory for pure tediousness and bore. I remember finishing it, tossing it across the room and screaming, “Fucking Finally!” This one will accompany The Red Queen in the ‘can’t get rid of these fast enough’ give away pile.
52. The Ancient One by T.A. Barron. What a wonderful book of fiction. Again, a children’s book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The story was creative and the characters were well developed. Great good departure!
53. There are 2 magazines I read cover to cover that are almost like books and I wanted to offer their titles here;
Parabola and Tricycle are two really smart and insightful Spiritual reads. I highly recommend you grab copies if ever you have the chance. I’ll also mention that I read Time Life’s Magazine featuring Mother Teresa, which I also highly recommend. It never ceases to amaze me the degree to which some react out of envy and jealousy. This is an element of the human condition that is deeply disturbing and yet St. Mother Teresa rose above it all. Every. Single. Time.
Happy Reading everyone! Please send me your recommended reads!