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5 Books I'm Re-Reading (Again)
Is it an overstatement to say these books changed my life? Well, they did.
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Beside my bed (probably like a lot of you😬) I have a stack of books…a pile that has basically become my everyday Essential Library. Many of the books here (and on another special shelf) are ones I’ve read over and over again at different times in my life, often too many times to count. In college it was Natalie Goldberg’s Long Quiet Highway. In my 20s it was The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing, A Moveable Feast, and The Secret History. Later on in my 30s, it was Alison Rose’s memoir, Better Than Sane, Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, and Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. And then, in my 40s ALL the vintage NYC, California, and London stories I could get my hands on like Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Slow Days, Fast Company, Just Kids, and From A to Biba. Mixed in there was/IS plenty of Nora Ephron, Hilton Als, Truman Capote… the list goes ON.
But lately, there have been five books—one from 1946, one from 1977 (the second edition), and the other three much newer—that I can’t seem to stop reading…and re-reading. They’ve become like talismans…practical manuals for modern life, which for me usually means getting to the root of what really matters and getting down to do what I need/want/have to do while I still can. AND, most importantly: for the right reasons. These five books have helped me to see life in sharper focus. They’ve helped me to start doing things I was too afraid or insecure to ever consider or tackle before. But it was time. Lately, I’m almost never without at least one of these books. They aren’t just fortifying and enormously inspiring to read, they seem to always be working in the background, doing their magic, whether I’m aware of it or not. Most of all, each of these books has helped me see the path ahead more optimistically💡 while making better use of my life/skills as a human and a creative. And, perhaps the best part—they’ve taught me how to get out of my own way to allow something much bigger to emerge with space to grow🌻.
Inhabiting The Negative Space by Jenny Odell—Sometimes things show up in our paths without warning. And, sometimes those things are remarkable books. It was more than a year ago that I found Odell’s 2020 Harvard Commencement speech in book form on someone’s stoop. I grabbed it, intrigued by the title, read the slim volume in about two hours, and then proceeded to read it again…and again. Marking new paragraphs and lines with each fresh read. Odell is best known for her book “How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy.” But it is this book, just 72 pages of writing, photos, and topographical images, that serves as a mini masterclass in design, space, time, perspective, and the deep need to connect back to why we create what we create…and why it actually matters. It’s changed not only how I see the world around me, but it’s also made me care just as much now about the reflection and observation part as I do about the creating. At this point, I’ve highlighted almost every line on every page (see below)…it just keeps getting more interesting.
Keep Moving by Maggie Smith—Following the end of her 19-year marriage, poet and award-winning author Maggie Smith embarked on an experimental writing project that began with posting a goal for herself every day on social media, asking: What now? What came next was this miraculous book literally BRIMMING with sparks and thoughts on writing, looking forward instead of backward, and, in essence, having the courage to rewrite our own stories. It’s smart and introspective without being excessively sentimental. Best of all…you can pick it up on any page and find a jewel to guide you for the rest of your day. I’ve bought this one as well as Odell’s for a handful of friends, and, even after the third or fourth go, it continues to serve as a kind of lighthouse…always there, guiding me.
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks—When I left Refinery29 at the end of 2020, I was a ghost of myself…neither here nor anywhere. And, thankfully, I had the good fortune to do some work with Amina AlTai who helped me begin the slow, gentle process of recovering who I was, wasn’t, and who I was actively becoming. When I say she is operating on a whole different plane of intuition, I mean it literally. She was able to see things in me and my experience I wasn’t able to see in myself. And one of the gifts she gave me during that coaching work was this book.
Since that first time reading it nearly three years ago, I’ve read The Big Leap about four more times (once in a mini book club with a friend). And, every time I do, I glean something new from Hendricks’ insights about how we move from our Zone of Competence or Excellence (essentially, the things we’re really proficient at that people rely on us for) to our Zones of Genius (the things we are truly gifted at, things that don’t even feel like work…the things we’ve been thinking about since we were kids…real HEART stuff). There’s no question this book has touched every corner of my life, my relationships, how I parent both Raf and myself. And also, how I stay focused on how I really want to spend this next big chapter of my life and work. I feel like I zoomed through 25 years of therapy just by reading this book. If you’re yearning for a growth spurt, this could definitely be IT.
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda—This mythical memoir was written in 1946 and has since been translated in over 50+ countries. A classic now, it’s the story about Yogananda’s search for a guru (and finding one) while also sharing his encounters with extraordinary spiritual figures and becoming one himself. Mostly, what I love about this book is the purity with which it shares what it is to be in a state of awe, of expansiveness, and believing in things we can’t always see. I read somewhere that all throughout the ‘70s, this book could (always) be seen tucked in one of George Harrison’s back pockets. I couldn’t find a photo of it. But I believe it.
Case Study Houses, 1945-1962, second edition by Esther McCoy—If there was an essential text for building a small, efficient, modern house, this collection of experimental, revolutionary plans and buildings could be it. The post-war program that endeavored to explore progressive uses for space, materials, planning, structure, even sustainability is endlessly giving us more to think about when it comes to how we utilize and conserve space and how that ultimately enhances/honors the surrounding landscape, too. In the end, 20 homes were built of the 36 that were conceived, most notably Case Study House #8, the Charles & Ray Eames House…a 1,500 square-foot small-space masterpiece….xxCb
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