For me, the new year is always marked by contrast, a stark representation of the yin and yang that, quite simply, defines a life. The hope of change, the promise of a fresh start, the crushing weight of falling back into old patterns, and the worry that, with one step forward, it may always feel like two steps back. The new year is the epitome of the new day, the fresh start and, equally, the knowledge that it is a day like any other. Progress and change are slow and we must treat the new year as a look back to see how far we’ve come rather than a magical spell that changes thoughts, patterns and habits overnight.
With all the things that the new year represents, it remains the perfect time to slow down, reflect, quiet the noise and, as always, get lost in a story. That’s what I’ve been doing these first few weeks of 2019 – slowing down, reflecting and turning to my favorite form of self-help – joining a character on their journey through a book. Here’s a peek at my recent reads.
Living the Good Life by Helen and Scott Nearing
I’ve had this book on my shelf or bedside table for years and often return to it when I need a little grounding, and during this holiday season in particular I craved a sense of the ground. The chaos and blur of December took me over and the frenzied energy felt a bit too loud for me, this year. I needed break, a shift from the onslaught of emails marking yet another Black Friday sale – one day that seems now to last four weeks. And so, I pulled this gem off my shelf as a constant companion during the last days of the year.
Written in the 1950s and published again in the 1970s, The Good Life outlines Helen and Scott Nearing’s journey from New York City to Vermont where they decided to live simply, with intention. A book of philosophy peppered with practicality. Their story often inspires me to look around and discover what gives me meaning and fills me with joy, a pre-Marie Kondo's TheLife-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in a sense, and a reminder to focus on the essentials: friends, family, work, and meaningful activity. In Living the Good Life (alongside subsequent books written by Helen), The Nearings share their outlook alongside the nitty-gritty, weaving the concrete and the ephemeral in a way that makes a strong case for simplicity, balance and gratitude. This book is a wonderful companion to a 2019 resolution to live with grounded simplicity and intention.
I stumbled upon this book in December, probably by way of an IG wormhole, and it seemed to fit my search for grounding. Sundeen’s The Unsettlers is a great book that shares three stories of people living differently than the majority, and in some cases, profoundly changing their communities by doing so. In particular, as a Michigan transplant, I was deeply moved by one couple’s work to revitalize Detroit with urban farming. This book works as an in-hand read or by audiobook, I found myself turning to both equally as Sundeen’s writing style is conversational and engaging.
The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay
Released on January 15th, Madhuri Vijay’s debut novel blew me away. I picked up an advanced copy and read the 400+ pages in one day, it is one of the most engrossing and beautiful stories I’ve read. The Far Field tells the story of Shalini, a woman in her mid-twenties from Bangalore who, mourning the loss of her mother, travels to the Himalayan villages of Kashmir in search of a man remembered from her childhood, who has now taken on the proportions of an almost imagined hero. Shalini's journey brings her to the forefront of civil and social politics, while also grappling with the intimate matters of family and memory. A stunning new release from an author to watch.
The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker
In Karen Thompson Walker's fast-paced, gripping new novel, a small California college town becomes host to a plague that is wholly unique: a sleeping sickness in which victims fall into an eternal sleep without warning. Walker's characters include a pair of preteen sisters and their survivalist father, married professors with a newborn, and patient zero's introverted roommate. Each story seamlessly intertwines as the plague progresses at harrowing speed. At the of this literary thriller lies a deeper question for both the characters on the page and for us as readers – what do our dreams really say about our waking lives? This book swept me up and is the perfect read for a long winter’s night (especially when sleep feels elusive).