Favourite Books of 2018

I love settling into a good book, whether it be an enthralling story or an informative non-fiction book. Each morning, along with my tea, I devote some time to reading non-fiction. At night, I look forward to crawling into bed, picking up my book and immersing myself in another world.

FICTION

1. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom

I adored this book! Magical, mystical and delightful. How can it not be when Music is the narrator?

"I know the unknown details of Frankie Presto's birth, the ones historians and music critics—even Frankie himself—always labeled a mystery.

I can share them if you like.

Does that surprise you? My willingness to begin such a coveted story? Well. Why delay? I am not one of the 'slower' talents, like Reason or Mathematics. I am Music. If I bless you singing, you can do so from your first attempt. [I want to know where in the heck Music was when I was born?] Composing? My best phrases often lie in the opening notes. Mozart's Eine kleine NachtmusickDum, da-dum, da-dum da-dum da-dum? He burst out laughing when he played that on his fortepiano. It took less than a minute." (Page 6)

Frankie joins many bands throughout his lifetime. Some of them are musical, others are bands that are made up of family, friends and lovers. His musical styles are as varied as the people whose band he joins, even if it is only for a short time. Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Django Reinhardt, Hank Williams, Wynton Marsalis and others all 'drop in' to add to the score that is Frankie's life.

That's all I'm going to tell you. I hope that you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

2. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barberry

The setting: No. 7, rue de Grenelle à Paris.

"A fine hôtel particulier with a courtyard and private gardens, divided into eight luxury apartments." (Page 19)

The characters: Renée (a concierge), Paloma (aged 12 and the precocious daughter of La Famille Josse), Kakuro Ozo (the newest resident), Manuela (cleaning lady and Renée's friend) and the other residents of No. 7.

This book is tragic, funny, intelligent and endearing. It's about secrets, healing the past, friendship and trust.

On page 304, Renée thinks:

"Yes, our eyes may perceive, yet they do not observe; they may believe, yet they do not question; they may receive yet they do not search: they are emptied of desire, with neither hunger nor passion."

Learn about kairos on page 68 (intuition of the right moment). How about adopting a tea ritual?

"It has the extraordinary virtue of introducing into the absurdity of our lives an aperture of serene harmony." (Page 91)

3. The Baker's Secret by Stephen P. Kiernan

Set in a village in Normandy, France, during the horrors of WW II, The Baker's Secret tells the story of Emma, a young woman who bravely rises to the aid of her friends and neighbours. Despite wartime losses - her mentor, Ezra; the Jewish baker, Philippe; her sweetheart, and her dear father, she resolves to carry on doing what she can, while looking after Mémé, her grandmother.

This book highlights the indomitable spirit that fights to survive, despite the cruelty of the occupying forces.

It was a page-turner, right from the beginning on page 5:

"All through those years of war, the bread tasted of humiliation.

For as long as their nation had possessed a history, the residents of Vergers village had been a people of pleasure, devoted to the senses without shame, and none savored more unapologetically than those of the kitchen. Over a span of centuries, their culture had turned the routine animal act of feeding themselves into an art form. Delectable breakfast morsels with steaming coffee as dark as mud, calming lunches in the shade when haste is the enemy and cheese is the dessert, dinners luxurious, candlelit, and lasting hours—such was the rhythm of their days: Who has a story to tell, and shall we place some flowers on the table?"

Yes, this book is to be savoured, just as the villagers savoured their mealtimes. I stayed up way too late at night while reading The Baker's Secret. I have added Stephen P. Kiernan's other books to my ever-growing reading list.

4. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

You'll know Michael Ondaatje as the author of The English Patient. I never did get into the book, nor the movie, but after reading Warlight, I plan on revisiting the book.

The writing is sublime. It took 25 pages before I was hooked, then I had to finish it, which I did in two evenings! With phrases that danced on the page, but were never overheated, the story glided along beautifully.

"In spite of our night journeys, I knew Olive's profession usually meant daylight work, measuring the effects of nature on coastlines. She had worked apparently within the Admiralty on sea currents and tides, barely out of her teens, during the first stages of the war. (She admitted to this modestly only after it had been almost revealed by someone in The Moth's group.) There were all these landscapes within her. She could read the noise of forests, she timed the rhythm of the tidal slop along the embankment of Battersea Bridge." (Page 59)

"His ancestors were generations of lightermen and thus he had a river body that showed an accent only on land. Daniel's description of The Darter, a man who had a peculiar way of walking on land." (Page 77)

Wouldn't this be a great way to work, as described on page 195:

"He and his father and his two brothers had roosted up there through the early summer, sometimes sunstroked, sometimes buffeted by great winds, the clan of them working with efficiency, always in conversation with never a doubt among them, myth-like in unison."

On page 204, an important lesson on perspective:

"She'd taught him the 'lost-roof technique' on the heights of Trinity, a phrase, she said, borrowed from Japanese art, where a high perspective, as from a belfry or cloister roof, allows you to see over walls into usually hidden distances, as if into other lives and countries, to discover what might be occurring there, a lateral awareness allowed by height."

5. Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill

This book is unlike anything else I've read. Jean is the proprietor of Bookstore on Dundas Street West in Toronto. Early in the novel, the question of identity arises, when a customer comes in to tell her that he just saw her in another location, but dressed differently and had shorter hair. Jean has a doppelganger, or does she?

Jean describes a bookstore as a collection that reflects someone's taste.

"In the same way that curators decide what order you see the art in, I'm allowed to meddle with the browser's logic, or even to please myself." (Page 7)

Eventually, Jean spends less time minding the store and more time prowling Bellevue Square where she meets the regulars - many of whom have mental health issues, or are quirky, to put it mildly.

I particularly liked: Review: Michael Redhill's Bellevue Square probes questions of identity and veiling.

NON-FICTION

I accidentally typed "Non-Friction," which I suppose is an equally suitable title for this section of recommendations.

1. The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditation on Codependency by Melodie Beatty

Strictly speaking, this isn't solely a 2018 Favourite. In fact, I've rarely felt the need to refer to it over the course of the year. However, it has been a powerful ally in my journey to deal with the trauma of growing up in an alcoholic home. I can't remember when I first began reading this book, but each time a daily meditation sparked an "A-ha! Pay attention!," I would make note of it in the index. As the years rolled by, the lessons were taking hold. I felt less of a need to put a tick beside that particular meditation.

As an ACOA (Adult Child of Alcoholic), the short, to-the-point lessons provided me with a framework that helped me look at my early experiences in a different light. With meditations on self-care, empowerment, relationships, responsibility, change, control and so much more.

Let it go. Three simple words that when consistently activated, sometimes elegantly, other times awkwardly, can bring about healing, peace, learning, change and growth.

2. The Seven Laws of Enough by Gina La Roche & Jennifer Cohen

I often say that even if I get one idea out of a book, that book has proven valuable. One of the ideas presented early on in this book was written in a way that snagged my attention and unravelled a long-held, non-resourceful idea. It had to do with the word "declaration." The authors explain on page 7:

"Many of us are living inside of declarations made long ago in a faraway place called our childhood. Some we made, and some were made for us before we were even born. Some of those declarations served us well for a long time. Some might have even saved our lives. Like when we tell ourselves, 'I will never feel like that again.' or when we say, 'I will survive no matter what they do to me.'

These declarations then become guiding principles, often invisible to s, but guiding nonetheless, and we live according to them, faithfully, often until we want something else that we can not have if we keep living inside the old declarations. Old forgotten declarations that are running our lives will often interfere with our ability to fulfill on declarations we want to make now."

Each chapter concludes with some practical exercises that are designed to get you thinking, feeling and being actively and mindfully involved, both in your life and that of your community.

Both authors have a varied background, which includes business, psychology and meditation. Jennifer is a certified Master Somatic Coach from The Strozzi Institute, something I will explore. Currently, they run Seven Stones Leadership Group.

3. The Power of Eight by Lynne McTaggart

The Power of Eight beautifully dovetails with some of the stress addressing strategies that I use on a regular basis. My sister-in-law brought this book to my awareness by inviting me to be a part of her Power of Eight group. Each week, one of us clearly stated what we would like help with. The rest of the group spent 10 minutes at the appointed time and sent healing thoughts, vibes and prayers to the designated person.

Lynne is resolute in her quest to gather evidence on the power of using the focused attention of a group to help effect positive change in the target person or place. This book explains how she quantified some very ambitious projects in various hot spots in the world. She discovered that healing also occurred in smaller groups - groups of eight.

What is healing? It can take many forms. Sometimes it's a lessening of pain. Perhaps feelings of anxiety evaporate. Or an increase in peaceful feelings is noted. It may be support, at home or at work. Relationships may be mended, too. The list is endless.

Lynne says:

"Something about the promises we make to each other may carry more weight than the promises we make to ourselves. They give us the courage, like Guy's vitalists, to remove the branches lying across our tracks with greater ease. A statement in the presence of a small group is a contract we make with the universe - to do and be better than we presently are. There is also the power of support and connection, a condition as necessary to the human spirit as oxygen is to the human body. The most fundamental promise we make to each other, the most basic of our social contracts, is to support each other through adversity. I will be your witness. At every point of our lives we need to know, that somewhere out there, somebody's got our back, and this knowledge becomes a larger certainty in our lives when a group of strangers connect together to heal us." (Page 231)

Sign up to participate in The Intentions of the Week. Each Sunday, three people are nominated for healing intentions. Do one, or do all three for ten minutes each. Why not give it a shot? Ten minutes or more per week to discover what changes occur in your life. It costs nothing and may bring incredible value to your life as you participate on a consistent basis.

4. Better Than Before: Monitoring the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Doesn't it seem like the bad habits are easy to pick up, while the good habits take forever to instill?

Gretchen readily shares her habit trials and tribulations, along with those of her friends and family members.

"How does a person respond to an expectation?" she asked. Based upon her own observations, she developed a framework called The Four Tendencies to help people realize how they can best establish their habits using their natural tendencies.

According to Gretchen, there are two types of expectations. Outer expectations - meet work deadlines, observe traffic regulations, etc. Inner expectations - eat more vegetables, meditate 10 minutes daily, etc. Her premise is that habit formation becomes easier when you determine your tendencies. She admits that while The Four Tendencies provide crucial insight into human nature, it doesn't fully answer the how-to of habit formation. She does suggest actionable steps. Perhaps there is something here that will work for you.

"As I studied habits, I slowly began to recognize the tremendous importance of the time of beginning.

The most important step is the first step. All those old sayings are really true. Well begun is half done. Don't get it perfect, get it going. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Nothing is more exhausting than the task that's never started, and strangely, starting is often far harder than continuing." (Page 179)

In my personal life and also in my work, I've found this to be true. Too much thinking-about-doing/starting, is a sure-fire way to put the breaks on. You just need to start, even if it's messy, inelegant or poorly done. How else do you get better, if not by practice, practice, practice! (That's the teacher in me speaking!)

I particularly like what she has to say about guilt on page 275:

"When we do stumble, it's important not to judge ourselves harshly. Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more."

As a person who was quite over-weight, giving up the guilt helped me on my slim-down project/habit. I would beat myself up for cheating, which would then lead to a "What the hell!" attitude - one that would last a very, very long time. I've since learned to recognize that I will indulge, or perhaps over-indulge is a more honest term! As another sister-in-law says, "I will eat smarter the next day." In other words, the horse is still in the barnyard and not off on a cross-country gallop!

Better Than Before may provide you with the spark you need to ignite those dying embers of your New Year's resolutions.

Over to you:

  • What is your favourite genre?
  • Do you have any recommendations?
  • Book-book or e-book?
  • When and where do you do your reading?

Books and More Books

Just in case your reading list isn't long enough, here's a recommendation from the British Columbia Teachers' Federation: 100 Best Books for BC Secondary School Students. Here's another list, courtesy of Amazon. How many of these titles have you read?


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