My year in books

I’m an avid reader and have been for as long as I can remember. My first novel was The Secret Garden. To this day, it remains a personal favourite for both the quality of the story and for the nostalgia of sparking my love of books. Since then I’ve consumed countless numbers of books for personal enjoyment, school, professionally and as part of a long-standing book club (we’ve been meeting monthly for almost 9 years).

As a passion, my love of books has stayed the course, if on occasion taking a reluctant back seat to study exhaustion or baby exhaustion. This year though, the kind of reading I’ve enjoyed has been different than before. I credit fellow bloggers for introducing me to so many authors and my own pursuit for new and meaningful direction.

If you’ve been reading Coffees & Commutes since it’s inception, you may be able to trace the path of literary influence I’ve followed all year through various posts. Most certainly you can if you are a friend on GoodReads.  I thought it would be fun and provide some closure if I wrapped up the year, a year filled to brimming with sadness, confusion, fear, and deep personal growth with a round-up of the words that made a difference in my lif; to look back at 2010 not just for the challenges, but for the opportunities they presented and the change they sparked. I’m also using this as a jumping off point for the kind of writing I hope will come in 2011. I’m still sorting it out in my mind, but these books and others will provide the impetus for much of the discussion I intend to pursue here in the New Year.

I keep each of these books close at hand in my home workspace. I enjoying looking at them. They fill the space with an awareness that has been absent in my life. Each affected me in profound and important ways. Each are filled with pencils marks (I’m a sucker for a traditional wooden pencil, sharpened to a point) underlining important passages I hope to come back to and write about, and notes jotted in margins when the author’s words ignited an important thought I didn’t want to lose. Many of you will have read some of these, but if you haven’t I certainly recommend them.

Raising Happiness by Christine Carter was part of Kristen at Motherese’s online book club. I wrote a couple of posts about it, here and here.  I was ripe for a better understanding of the issues Carter explores in the book and found it to be full of powerful revelations and helpful guidance for my parenting style and for my own self awareness. Without question, I believe it is a gift to write a book that appeals on both levels.

Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for Ordinary Life by Karen Maezen Miller was the single most significant impetus for my own journey. At the beginning of 2010 I embarked on project finding me and  shared some personal revelations from the last decade and thoughts about goals I had for the coming years. At the time it was abundantly clear to me that I had spent the last 10 years building my life. I declared that the next 10 should be all about living my life. But until reading this book I really didn’t get it. Even after reading this I didn’t completely embrace it. With time, much thought and the privilege of a personal phone call with Karen, I realized that though I believe the answer was to set new goals that would energize and keep me focused, Karen managed to ignite my first understanding that it really is all about living life now.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg  spoke to me as a person and a budding writer. She writes about the importance of self in our writing and how to use our words to find and root ourselves in the moment. I found it so relevant to what I’ve been trying to do here and look forward to integrating her ideas and suggestions into my own writing. I expect to come back to her words for inspiration and focus often.

Lit by Mary Karr was somewhat surprising and very resonant. While my personal struggle is not with alcoholism, I happened to be reading this book at the very pinnacle of my depression and cannot express how grateful I was for her words. Her candor not only refreshing, but a balm for my battered and panicked soul. Even now, this passage so eloquently describes this place I find myself in:

If you live in the dark for a long time and the sun comes out, you do not cross into it whistling. There’s an initial up rush of relief at first, then—for me, anyway—a profound dislocation. My old assumptions about how the world words are buried, yet my new ones aren’t yet operational.

Devotion by Dani Shapiro was intensely evocative. Her words whispered to me, filled me up with a sense of beauty and wonderment. The connection came from my own desire to fill my life with meaning and peace and from a quest to honour the joy that is right in front of me, for both my own sake and that of my family.

Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali is the most recent in a collection I am sure will grow in the coming months. It was recommended to me as “homework” by my therapist. It came at just the right junction, when my mind was ripe with the awareness of where I needed to go but was looking for a framework to root my thoughts. It’s a practical introduction to Buddhism that speaks directly to mothers and lays the foundation for a mindful practice that is both realistic and empowering.

This year has been steeped in so much, more than can easily be expressed. I’m ready to see it go, and equally ready to face a new year with a new enthusiasm for life. I see goodness ahead. I feel more confident than I have in a long time. A welcome place to end the year. A hopeful place.

With that I send all of you warm wishes for  a happy and safe holiday season. Until we meet again in 2011!


21 thoughts on “My year in books

  1. Lindsey says:

    I love hearing the books you have read and are reading!

  2. Rudri says:

    I love reading book recommendations from the blogger community. Writing Down the Bones is great as well as Devotion. If you are looking for other recommendations, consider Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird) and Kelly Corrigan’s Lift. I read alot of fiction and just finished Little Bee by Chris Cleave ( a sad, but very poignant portrayal of two women). Thanks for letting us take a peak at your bookshelf.

    • Christine says:

      Great recommendations Rudri! Actually I’ve read Bird by Bird and Lift. Both excellent. I also really enjoyed a few non-blogging/writing books this year including: Her Fearful Symmetry and Freedom.

  3. Given our chats through Goodreads, I’m not surprised to find that we read and enjoyed many of the same books this year. (I’m actually reading Hand Wash Cold right now on your and Corinne’s recommendations.) I’m also very glad to see that Raising Happiness has remained a favorite of yours.

    Looking forward to sharing more reading with you in 2011 and the years to come! xo

  4. Christine, you write and read beautifully! And you know where to find me.

  5. alita says:

    I am a book lover as well. I’ve been a book club for 5 years now, but I’ve been a long time fan of books. My first novel was Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald. That book has a special place in my heart like Secret Garden has a special place in yours.

    I have not read any of these books. However I’m quite interested in Writing Down the Bones. Thank you for these suggestions. I can’t wait to get reading.


  6. Wonderful references, Christine. Goldberg remains one of my go-to resources, when I need the words to find ground again, so they may soar.

    We look forward to reading you in 2011 – and meanwhile – have a safe and happy holiday season.

  7. Stacia says:

    Wow, I’m a reader, too, but I only know a few of these. How exciting to have so many new titles and authors to add to my library waiting list!

    Merry Christmas, Christine! See you on the flip side, as they say. =>

  8. Amber says:

    Books are a tricky thing for me because though I love them, I am extremely picky. If it has too much cussing and racy scenes, I put it down in disgust. Recently I’ve returned to the classics–Alexandre Dumas, Leo Tolstoy, and Charles Dickens. The problem with those? They are like NINE HUNDRED PAGES LONG. Since I check them out at the library, my time is very limited. And, since I am reading for like a few minutes here and there, I hardly ever finish them. Drat.

    Yeah, now that I’ve moaned about my book woes I want to tell you something else–I miss you in this space. I understand why you need a break and can relate (more than you know) to your struggle with depression, but I still miss coming here and reading your treasured words. I hope you are doing well, my friend.

  9. Belinda says:

    Hi Christine, I’ve read and enjoyed a few of these books on your list as well. I’m intrigued by Buddhism for Mothers — will no doubt watch out for a review from you here.

    I’ve enjoyed reading you this past year and though I don’t always comment, please know that I always appreciate your voice.

    Happy holidays to you and I look forward to reading more from you in the coming year.

    • Christine says:

      A review is top on the list for 2011 when I get more firmly back into the saddle: writing and reading. Thank you so much for your kind words, they truly mean a lot to me.

  10. Leslie says:

    I made a note to look at Buddhism for Mothers last week, when you referenced it in a different post. I look forward to checking it out, to looking at your Goodreads updates, and to reading and being inspired by you here in 2011. Warm wishes!

  11. Kelly says:

    Great list of books. I made a decision to stop reading the self-help/counseling type books this year. I needed to stop finding things about myself to improve and just accept that I’ve come a long way on my journey. I can rest for a while and then get back to work when I’m ready. And when that happens, many of these books will be on my list.

    • Christine says:

      I can understand why you would, acceptance is a big part of feeling good about yourself. I try to balance out the heavier reads with lighter reads in between. For me, many of these books were less about improving my life and more about planting the seed of seeing things differently and learning how to appreciate what I already have.

  12. A great list of books. I have only read a few of these, but plan to read the others. I am a big fan of Writing Down to the Bones and think I might have to break it out during these holiday weeks for continued inspiration. Happy holidays, Christine!


  13. Ironic Mom says:

    A great list, Christine. I read Devotion on your recommendation and enjoyed it immensely. I’m definitely going to pick up Buddhism for Mothers (and I loved Lit). For a slim volume worth its weight as a daily meditation, try Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Peace Is Every Step.”

    May 2011 bring you moments of peace, many of them.


  14. […] reflect, but I’ll do that partly through the my own words and through the exploration of words that I have read that have resonated with me. This collective wisdom will guide my writing and exploration. And this […]

  15. […] Life by Karen Maezen Miller, Devotion by Dani Shapiro, Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali, to name a few. Each has played an important part in my journey to find myself, and to live a live filled with […]

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