I hate chain letters. Remember the chain letters of our childhood? Copy this letter and send it to seven friends or else you will break the spell… Rubbish. Even for me who believes in magical thinking. I just couldn’t believe that if I didn’t participate by bothering my friends and adding guilt to them, I was going to have terrible things happen to me.
So I didn’t forward chain letters of any kind. And miraculously survived and made it all the way to adulthood.
But eight days ago the modern version of a chain letter, a Facebook post, tagged me and invited me to post photos of one book cover a day for a week with no explanation to promote reading. I was sucked in. It involved books you see and I can’t say no to books. It also didn’t promote any kind of spell or tragedy befalling me if I didn’t participate.
So I did it. I posted seven book covers without explanation over seven days. And I tagged some friends throughout the week who also love books. It’s been an interesting social experiment if nothing else, as now much of my Facebook feed is covers of books. I’m enjoying seeing what books others love, seeing what cross-over there is with my book list, if any, and getting ideas for other books to read.
But I’m frustrated. I like discussing books. I like hearing why someone loves or hates a book. The books I posted all had a reason behind them and I now want to know the story behind the stories my friends are posting. I hated just posting the covers and not explaining what the book meant to me. So here’s my stories behind the stories I chose. I’ll try to keep each brief but no guarantees. These are books I love.
Day 1: Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar – Cheryl Strayed
This book fell off the shelf at me in Powell’s Bookstore in Portland just two months ago. I was looking for Brave Enough by Cheryl when this book, which I had never heard of, came flying off the shelf and hit me. I took it as a sign, put Brave Enough back on the shelf, bought this one instead and fell in love with it immediately. I must confess, I was already in love with Cheryl Strayed. I have a total girl crush on her. She, like me, chose her own last name after life knocked her around. She picked herself up, walked the Pacific Coast Trail alone and found herself through hiking. Then she wrote the book Wild which was turned into a movie where she was played by Reese Witherspoon. I’ve always thought I chose the better of our two names, but I love the parallels in our life stories. Writing is a hard gig. Even for accomplished writers who have published books. Tiny, Beautiful Things is a compilation of letters people wrote to Cheryl when she took a job as an advice columnist in order to pay her bills. Those writing in had no idea who they were writing to, as her pseudonym was ‘Sugar’. The letters contain questions about life, love, marriage, birth, death, and everything in between. It’s her raw, real answers that cut through and touch my heart and soul.
Day 2: When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
The New York Times said ‘Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.’ I would agree. At the age of 36, Paul Kalanithi was within weeks of finishing the last of his neurosurgeon training. He had a brilliant career ahead of him, a beautiful wife, a young child. Then in one moment he went from doctor who healed the sick, to being a patient diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. He had always wanted to be a writer and so, he penned this beautiful memoir and tribute as a guide to coming to terms with his own mortality. He questioned how we treat the sick, the dying and what it means to really live. This book truly is a gift to those who are living.
Day 3: Are We There Yet? – Alison Lester
I have a number of favourite children’s books from both my childhood and my daughters’ that I’ve hung onto despite all of us having outgrown them. But this is one I personally haven’t outgrown. It follows a family caravaning their way around the coast of Australia for a year and chronicles their adventures along the way. One of my dreams is to buy a combi and hit the road, writing as I see this beautiful country by road. I’ve been to many places in this book as stand-alone destinations, flying in and flying out: the Great Barrier Reef, Darwin and Kakadu, Broome, Perth and the South-western corner of Australia, Adelaide, Uluru and Kata Tjuta, the 12 Apostles and Great Ocean Road, Melbourne and the coast from Melbourne to Sydney. But to do it all – the whole continent by road instead of flying in and flying out is my dream. For it’s the adventure between the destinations that I’m looking for.
Day 4: Jordan – Lonely Planet Guide
This book was chosen for two reasons. One, because I always use Lonely Planet guides wherever I travel and Jordan was no exception. So it kind of represents all of my LP collection. But I also chose it because my three weeks in Jordan in 2017 were life changing for me in many ways. I traveled on my own in a country where many women wouldn’t dream of going alone or without an organised tour. By driving solo from one end of the country to the other, I faced my own fears head on. I met the most incredible, generous people and no longer take what is presented in the news about the Middle East as truth. I had a soulmate experience in the middle of the Wadi Rum desert. And returned home knowing what it is like to travel on my own where I don’t speak a word of the language and where I had to rely on my intuition. This experience itself will play a big part in my current job as I help tailor travel packages and experiences for women who may be traveling for the first time alone or in a foreign country.
Day 5: Daring Greatly – Brené Brown
It was hard to choose which Brené Brown book I love the most. The Gifts of Imperfection? Daring Greatly? Rising Strong? Dare to Lead? I Thought It was Just Me? Braving the Wilderness? They are all phenomenal and transformational. I chose Daring Greatly because I read this book and then attended a three day Daring Greatly workshop that blew open my own personal growth. If I hadn’t read her, I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. It’s all about connection and vulnerability. Brené is Queen.
Day 6: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – JK Rowling
I’m an old school HP fan. I read each book as it came out, on day of release, and then had the interminable wait until the next one came out. HP & the GOF is not my favourite of the Harry Potter series (that honour goes to HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban) but this fourth book in the series had the most profound impact on my life at the time of release. I worked for Amazon.co.uk as their Public Relations Manager and was in charge of all PR for Amazon.co.uk around the launch of this book. I worked endless hours from a small office at our warehouse in the lead up. I took journalists on tours of the warehouse where they could take photos of the book but not touch a copy or open a copy. We were all under strict non-disclosure agreements to not read a word before release. I poured heart and soul into this book launch for weeks. At the same time I was newly pregnant with my first child and no one at work knew. It was too early to tell anyone, but I was cognisant of the fact that I really shouldn’t have been working and on my feet in the warehouse for the hours I was. But all was good in the end. My baby was born healthy months later. The book launched to worldwide acclaim. No one broke the NDA. And I had a part in one of the world’s largest online marketing campaigns to date. As someone who was finishing a Master’s Degree in Marketing Communications at the time, it was heady stuff.
Day 7: Women Who Run With the Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estés
I can’t even describe how much I love this book. If I ran the world, I would make it required reading. This book explains women. If you want to understand more than half of the human beings on this planet, start here. It mixes poetry and feminine power, through traditional stories and fairy tales alongside psychology and interpretation. It explains and teaches us much of our forgotten medicine and ways of being. This book speaks to the inner Wild Woman who lives in me.
So there you have it. My recommendations over the past week. I found it difficult to limit myself to just those seven as there are so many books out there that I love. And there are so many more crying out to be on the list: A Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball by Joe Bageant, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck (a gift 30 years ago from an old boyfriend that I still carry with me), Staying by Jessie Cole, Educated by Tara Westover, The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, Desperately Seeking Spirituality by my friend Meredith Gould, almost anything by Tim Winton, collections of poems by Mary Oliver, the list goes on and on.
I’m reading Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life by David Brooks and Witches: What Women Do Together by Sam George-Allen at the moment. Do you have a suggestion for me to read? Please let me know. I’d prefer if you commented below, but if you want to send me a chain mail, that’s fine. Just please don’t make me send it to seven friends, ok?