Thursday, January 21, 2016

New Year, New Me, Part 2 ~ The Books

I like to think I disdain self-help books, but whenever I hit a sticky patch in life, I find myself turning to books for answers (note the grocery sack full of books on managing early childhood that I just donated to a local family resource center). Maybe it's just the cheesy self-help books I don't care for--the ones that promise financial and romantic miracles if only one follows these 13 easy steps. Or maybe I should just get over myself and admit that I'm a willing victim of the self-help industry.

In any case, starting this year with a strong sense that something's got to change in my life, I picked up three books to help me calibrate my compass in the direction I want to travel.

The first one I read was the Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion, by Elle Luna. I ran across the essay by the same name a couple of months ago and promptly asked Santa for the book. The basic idea of the book is that there are two pressures in our lives--Should, which comes from expectations mostly imposed externally (or our responses to expectations we think the outside world has of us), and Must, which is what our soul clamors for--our passion, our creativity. Moms have a lot of shoulds vying for our time (like last night, when I Should have--and did--spent three hours at my kid's high school for parent-teacher conferences and a how-to-prepare-for-college presentation). Sometimes I think our Must gets buried so deeply we don't even know it's there anymore. This book was a fun and inspiring reminder of how to get back in touch with that passion. I noticed that in the book Luna doesn't mention the six-week trip to Bali she took after quitting her job, which is a big focus of the essay. Maybe someone suggested that such a drastic (and costly) life change was not accessible to most people and they would just hate and resent her if she talked to much about it. Instead, she offers small steps for finding your Must (if you don't know what it is) and making room for it in your life without drastic change.

Speaking of people who got to disappear into Bali for an extended period of time, the next book I read was Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was a little skeptical going into this one, for no good reason, but I love, love, loved it. It's really inspiring without in any way diminishing the hard work aspect of creativity. Basically, it's about falling in love with your creative work, letting your work love you back, working really hard and diligently, being open to inspiration, being serious in your work but not taking yourself too seriously, and skipping all the angst, drama, and self-abuse that creative people often seem to court. She also writes about what to do if you don't have a creative passion already--which is, simply, to follow your curiosity. Following her own curiosity in the garden led her to write The Signature of All Things. The book is not about writing specifically, or exclusively--Gilbert has an expansive definition of creativity and makes an effort to encompass a range of creative pursuits from cake-baking to figure-skating--but because she is a writer, and her personal anecdotes come from the writing realm, I felt especially connected. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted to read it again, to pick out the bits of advice I want to remember.

Neither of the above books has one iota of scientific research backing up the author's claims of how best to live a creative life. The next book, on the other hand, has 18 pages of notes. The author of Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin, was a lawyer-turned-biographer before she landed in the self-help book realm with The Happiness Project, so of course her books are meticulously researched. I have to admit, I didn't really like The Happiness Project--the whole time I read it, I kept thinking, "Of course you're happy! You're being paid to write a book about making yourself happy!" I started reading the follow-up--Happier at Home--last year, but didn't get very far. But I like the premise of Better than Before--that change in our lives comes from change in our habits--and though I've only read the first chapter so far, I'm excited to see where she goes with it.

What inspiring books have you read lately?


  1. I choose two books purposely for my reading over the last two months. Big Magic to finish off 2015, and Daring Greatly to begin 2016. I loved Big Magic, and Daring Greatly is proving to be pretty awesome too.

  2. I, for once, am on a fiction kick, and I am going to ride this wave as long as it lasts! (Once it's over, though? I really would like to read Guy Claxton's Hare Brain Tortoise Mind and Intelligence of the Flesh. I'm not sure if those are self-help, but I think they will be helpful to me)

  3. Oh that first one by Elle Luna sounds right up my alley! Thank you for that recommendation. I have Big Magic on my wish list. It just may make the cut when I allow myself new books later this year. I've been reading "Buddhism for mothers of school children (3rd and last of her series) and have been enjoying it immensily. Next on my stack is "How to See Yourself As You Really Are" by the Dalai Lama. It has been on my shelf for 2 years now. Looking forward to diving in. I really nejoyed the Art of Happiness.


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