What I've been reading: summer 2016

reading 2016

It was a bit of a slow season for reading: I started plenty of books but these are the only ones I finished and liked enough to tell you about. That should change, though, now that the temperature has dropped and I'll be taking the bus instead of riding my bike. I have at least an hour and a half of extra reading time each day. Can't wait!


State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

I wanted to read this book because Elizabeth Gilbert mentions it in a beautiful story in her book Big Magic, about how the inspiration for a novel seemed to leave Gilbert and land inside Patchett's mind when they shared an intense connection, and how delighted Gilbert was when she realized that the story she had abandoned had been taken up by someone else.

Obviously, I had to know what it was about. One of the few books that was unanimously liked by our book club, this was definitely a page turner. It's the story of a woman working for a pharmaceutical company who is sent to the Amazon by her boss and lover to find out what happened to her colleague, and to check up on the doctor who was supposed to be developing a fertility drug. When she gets there she learns to take control of her own life, and her own past. The writing is crisp and vivid and each character is meticulously developed.

A stranger sitting next to me on the bus said that Bel Canto (Ann Patchett's most famous book) is better so now I look forward to reading that one as well!

The Girl Who was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill

Set in Montreal in the 90s, this is an eloquent portrayal of a young girl and the province she lives in, both struggling with an identity crisis. If you're not familiar with Canadian politics/history, Quebec tried twice to separate from the rest of the country and this story hits smack dab in the middle of the second referendum. While I wasn't completely sold on the characters or the story, I LOVED the writing, especially the poetic descriptions of cats infiltrating almost every scene. I also appreciate O'Neill's ability to smack you in the stomach with a pithy one-liner, capturing the essence of love, life and the universe as seen through the eyes of a 19/20-year old girl.


Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

I did it. I succumbed to the international sensation that is Marie Kondo, and I have to say that I love her advice. The idea of handling every single object in your house and keeping only those that spark joy resonated strongly with me. I often feel like I am in a battle with my home, rather than enjoying a peaceful oasis. I just went through the 'KonMari' method for my clothes and the transformation is stunning. Here's a great recap of the first stage of tidying.

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

The follow-up to the previous book, this one goes into more detail on the logistics of each category of objects (clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous and sentimental) and helps to answer some questions from the previous book. It's not necessary, but it did convince me further that clearing out your home will lead to greater happiness and peace of mind.

Radical Acceptance: Embracing your Life With the Heart of A Buddha by Tara Brach

This book was life-changing in a more traditional sense. I read it shortly before my first meditation retreat and it helped to prime me for a lot of the teachings. It's all about the Buddhist approach to acceptance: observing reality without trying to fight against it. This doesn't mean that you become passive and lose agency, but rather that you use the twin tools of mindfulness and compassion to see clearly and 'love what is'. It covers techniques like pausing to watch what's happening in your body in a moment of intense emotion, approaching each moment with a feeling of friendliness, embracing rather than fighting against fear, and developing compassion for yourself and others. It was so good I'm in the process of reading it again to see what more I can get from it!


When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano

This is an adorable collection of short, simple poems and accompanying illustrations that chart each of the seasons in turn. Though small, the poems describe both minute moments and big feelings and many of them had me sighing in recognition. Here's one that feels particularly appropriate right now:

october please

get back in bed

your hands are cold

your nose is red

october please

go back to bed

your sneezing woke december

Art & Comics

Picture This by Lynda Barry

Last week I wrote about why Lynda Barry is one of my creative role models: because of this book and others like it. Here, Barry explores why we draw and why we don't draw, interspersing drawing exercises with cartoons and collages. It's a workbook, a graphic novel, and an absolute delight.

Cat Person by Kim Seo

I spotted this book on the shelves at Powell's Books in Portland months ago and then finally borrowed it from the library. It's a series of hilarious cartoons about the author, a cat owner, and her misadventures with cats and drawing. I read the whole thing in one Saturday morning sitting, laughing out loud, and kept making Matt pause his video game to read the best strips.

What have you been reading and enjoying lately? Leave a comment below!