February 10, 2017
Having a bad day, a bad week or maybe a mini-existential crisis? Here are three books I’ve read and re-read when things seem overwhelming.
Each one is charming in its own way, and each one can be read easily in about an hour. Perfect to keep on your nightstand for those nights when your brain won’t shut off. Each time I read one of them, I come away with much more hope and a calmer outlook. Each conveys the message that while life can be messy, difficult or just plain painful, there is always something of beauty to see if we are open to it. Maybe one of them can help shift your perspective during a rocky time.
“Help. Thanks. Wow. The Three Essential Prayers.” By Anne Lamott
It’s funny, and fresh, and profoundly down to earth about the big questions. Lamott shares personal stories about herself and her friends, as well as some well-known prayers besides the title to her book. It’s an acknowledgment of the grace of “appreciating what we have that is good, and feeling awe at the world around us – that can get us through the day and can show us the way forward.”
I particularly like this passage: “Gratitude begins in our hearts and then dovetails into behavior. It almost always makes you willing to be of service, which is where the joy resides. It means that you are willing to stop being such a jerk. When you are aware of all that has been given to you, in your lifetime and the past few days, it is hard not to be humbled, and pleased to give back.”
“Survival Lessons” By Alice Hoffman
As Alice Hoffman writes, “In many ways I wrote Survival Lessons to remind myself of the beauty of life, something that’s all too easy to overlook during the crisis of illness or loss. I forgot that our lives are made up of equal parts of sorrow and joy, and that it is impossible to have one without the other. I wrote to remind myself that despite everything that was happening to me, there were still choices I could make.”
Reading this book felt like sharing a cup of tea and a heartfelt talk with a close friend. It’s full of grace and gracefully written. Wisdom she shares after having breast cancer and looking at what’s important to her life. She frames her mini-essays as matters of choice, as in “Choose how to spend your time”, “choose to accept sorrow”, “choose to dream”, ”choose to forgive” and other thoughts to consider when you’re examining your life.
Plus, she includes a brownie recipe given to her by an old friend that is really a treat, instructions on how to knit a hat and Julia Child’s tips for making a hardboiled egg.
“Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness.” By George Saunders
“Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times.”
This book had me laughing with the first paragraph. It’s personal, brief and memorable — just as a commencement address should be.
Saunders shares his biggest regret as well as the biggest lesson he’s learned in life (which I won’t reveal, no spoilers alert here.) He also gives his best advice for how to show up for the important stuff. It’s encouraging and inspirational, and written with a wry style that makes it super easy to read.
As he writes, “That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will, is as bright and shining as any than has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s.”
How can you not help but feel better after reading those words?