In our fast-paced and overloaded world, alone time has become a rare commodity. In contrast to the typical hustle and bustle of everyday life, extended time in isolation has allowed for some serious self-reflection. Although I adamantly dislike time alone with my thoughts, there is a lot of good that can potentially grow from these less-than-ideal circumstances. We often find ourselves mindlessly going through the motions in our daily lives, without investing time to reflect on where we are devoting our energy. This is the perfect time to take a step back and re-evaluate the way we are living our lives. As we prepare to head back out into the world, it can be worthwhile to take stock and look at the places where we invest our time and energy. In doing this, I found the following books to be instrumental to creating a life more firmly-centered around mindfulness, intentional living, and overall well-being.
Notes on a Nervous Planet— Matt Haig. Following the publication of his highly-lauded memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig wrote Notes on a Nervous Planet, a book about the ways in which modern society fosters anxiety and unhappiness. His book consists of bite-sized tidbits (that are somewhat chaotically arranged) to advise people on managing their anxiety in the twenty-first century. Haig likens our planet to a sentient being on the brink of a breakdown and explains how the modern world is one that deteriorates our mental well-being. This book is especially versatile in that it is broken up into small segments that are easy to digest and put into practice. The sections I found particularly useful include ‘Maybe,’ which speaks to the transient nature of happiness, ‘an excess of everything,’ in regards to our overloaded lives, and ‘What I tell myself when things get too much,’ a list of reminders when we are feeling overwhelmed.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—Marie Kondo. While this may seem redundant give the title of the book, I can’t stress enough that this book will change your life. As a firm believer that the state of your living space reflects the state of your mind, Kondo’s book is revolutionary in that it offers tips and tools to create both an organized house and mind. On the surface, this book seems like it would have nothing interesting or practical to offer other than, you know, don’t make a mess. The KonMari method goes far deeper than this, though, and introduces a lifestyle centered around intentionality and mindfulness with your physical possessions. She urges you to only surround yourself with belongings that “spark joy,” and that doing this will simplify every aspect of your life.
Tuesdays with Morrie—Mitch Albom. Mitch Albom tells the story of his old college professor, Morrie Schwartz, who is dying from ALS. Instead of being angry or saddened by this news, however, Morrie chooses to focus on the wonderful gift of knowing that he is dying, and the freedom this grants him to live intentionally. Morrie spends his last months teaching Mitch—and, by extension, us—about where we should focus our attention in our lives. Tuesdays with Morrie is a book that I think everyone could benefit from owning and finding time to read once a year. Every time I come back to this book, I learn something new that I can apply to my current situation in life.
10% Happier—Dan Harris. Dan Harris was a newscaster with ABC when he suffered from a panic attack on live television. This event sparked a period of self-reflection in Dan’s life, and, through this, he found his way to meditation. A lifelong skeptic and nonbeliever in meditation, Harris’s book is written specifically for skeptics and lays out in no-nonsense, scientific terms how meditation can be beneficial for the mind and body. Instead of professing the life-changing nature of this practice, however, Harris remains a realist—he explains that engaging in mindfulness activities will make you 10% happier. When the stakes are so low, it’s hard to find a good reason not to introduce meditation as a habit in your life.
The Little Prince—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This book might seem like an odd addition to the list, given that most of the other books here are of the self-help variety. Personally, I tend to be a bit skeptical of books that tell me how I should live my life, and that’s why I added Saint-Exupéry’s children’s book. The Little Prince is a well-loved classic, and for good reason—this story reminds us in the simplest possible terms where we should be focusing our attention in our lives. We as humans have a tendency to overcomplicate things, and this book is the perfect way to recenter and remind ourselves that “what is essential to the heart is invisible to the eyes.” A simple, oft-stated message, but one that is sadly kicked to the curb in our hurried and fast-paced lives.
As fashion editor for Haute magazine, Margot seems to have the glamorous, picture-perfect life of any girl’s dreams. Looking forward to deepening her relationship with her oldest friend Winnie through their shared experience of pregnancy, Margot prepares and looks to the future, even handpicking her maternity replacement, Maggie.
But when Winnie’s baby dies, their friendship falls apart as Winnie rejects Margot’s attempts to reach her. Margot spirals into negative cycles of neuroses as she grapples with her repressed trauma from an accident years before, her fears of her own baby’s death, paranoia that Maggie is too good of a replacement in her job, and the intense pressure from a social media harasser that seems to know a little too well how to jab her where it hurts.
Though focused primarily on Margot’s anxieties and struggles, this engaging thriller also contains scenes from Maggie and Winnie’s perspectives, as the three women’s lives become more progressively, and darkly, intertwined.
I picked up this book one evening intending to read for fifteen minutes before starting my homework—only realizing that I had forgotten about my homework hours later when I actually gasped out loud at the unexpected ending. Walker’s writing pulled me in immediately, and the characters felt so real I forgot I was reading until the very last pages.
Besides being totally gripping and engrossing, The New Girl also provides insightful glimpses into female insecurity, motherhood and career, and the effects of cyberbullying, among other subjects. By dusting the veneer off of an outwardly perfect life, Walker reveals the gritty reality of the anxiety of comparison and compulsion for her vivid characters.
With consistent pacing and a surprising ending, this page-turning debut would be good fit for those who like thrilling surprises, complex relationships, high fashion, and/or unreliable narrators.
Thanks to the Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange for this honest and unbiased review.
Publisher: One World Genre: Memoir Pages: 320 Format: Hardcover Buy Local My Rating: 5/5 stars
Sometimes, the only way to find yourself is to go back to your roots. In Crux, Jean Guerrero travels back four generations to understand her father, Marco Antonio, who has been absent most of her adolescence. She starts with her mother, Jeannette, and paternal grandmother, Abuelita Carolina, and proceeds to climb further up the family tree.
Diagnosed with schizophrenia, Marco sees sinister shadows that pursue him around the world when he tries to escape them by leaving his family behind.
Jean is shaped both by her mother’s unwavering dependability and her father’s desertion. She searches for answers in Mexico, her father’s birthplace, a country that holds as much enigma for her as an adult as it terrified her as a child.
Through a series of life-changing experiences, she finds herself at the edge of an age-old chasm and preparing for the crossing: the crossing across country borders, the crossing into lunacy, the crossing between life and death—amalgamated into one flickering fence.
Stretching as far back as the Spanish invasion of Mexico, it is a memoir that reads like a novel owing to the poetic symmetry of the events and characters. Guerrero captures quite a few of her unique experiences in this book along with an element of mysticism—presented with a commendably unbiased view.
Crux is clearly a product of meticulous research and a highly perceptive mind. It uses interviews and historic documents among others as its sources. The compilation of these into a coherent narrative could not have been easy, as first-hand accounts of the family’s lives in or before the early twentieth century were hard to come by. It is a fascinating read and I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in human psychology and/or ancient philosophy.
Thanks to Changing Hands Bookstore for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.
Turtles All the Way Down tells the story of Aza “Holmsey” Holmes, a high schooler attempting to solve a mystery while also struggling to co-exist with her mental illness. When fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett goes missing and a hefty reward is offered for information leading to his whereabouts, Aza’s best friend, Daisy, convinces her to investigate. Reuniting with her childhood friend (and Pickett’s son), Davis, in hopes of learning more about the case, Aza soon finds herself enamored with this kindred spirit and a relationship begins to develop.
Amidst the romance and mystery, however, Aza spends a great deal of her time trapped within her own mind. Suffering from severe OCD and anxiety, she lives with a constant fear that she will contract a fatal disease and be overrun by the bacterial colonies breeding beneath her skin. These intrusive thoughts regularly impede her daily life as she grapples with “thought spirals,” in addition to navigating the treacherous waters of friendship, romance, and sleuthing.
Fans of John Green’s other works will feel right at home within the pages of this book, which contains many characters and philosophies that have become classic Green staples. Turtles All the Way Down echoes The Fault in Our Stars in terms of the instant love connection between Davis and Aza, as well as the exploration of the meaning of life through untimely deaths. It is worth mentioning, however, that this is one of Green’s heavier works, as the reader spends the majority of the novel subjected to the intrusive thoughts of the protagonist. Aza spends a large portion of the novel wrestling with irrational fears and trying (and often failing) to fight her compulsions. Despite the discomfort experienced in parts of the novel, this only makes the story being told all the more important, as it provides a glimpse into the often-ignored realities of mental illness. Suffering from OCD himself, Green has remarked that this book is very personal to both himself and his experiences.
One of the most poignant aspects of this novel lies in the way Green alludes to deep, universal themes without explaining them too much. A theme explored both throughout the book and throughout Green’s writing is realizing and accepting that some things aren’t meant to be fully understood. Readers can take as much away from this book as they wish, at both a surface level and with deeper analysis of symbols and motifs.
At its core, Turtles All the Way Down sends a hopeful message, while still managing to stay true to the narrative of mental illness. Despite the sometimes darker aspects of the novel as Aza sometimes fails to grapple with her own mind, she continues to ceaselessly press on and chooses to believe that we have more control over our lives than we might believe. Turtles All the Way Down is the perfect read for those who wonder about our smallness, our vastness, and the integration of our seemingly-irreconcilable selves. The underlying sense of hope serves to soothe anxious minds and remind us that “your now is not your forever.”
Destroy All Monsters, by Sam J. Miller, is a book with its feet in two worlds. In one world, Ash is as normal as any other teenager fighting to protect her homeless best friend, Solomon, who is on the verge of being swallowed up by the system. In the other world, Solomon rides on an allosaurus and believes Ash to be a princess in hiding with dormant magical powers that can save the world. While their perception of reality is vastly different, there is something that their worlds have in common—they are plagued by a secretive group spreading hate and divisive attitudes through vandalism, targeting those who are already marginalized. All the while, the story is driven by a mystery—what happened between Solomon and Ash when they were twelve that put them on their present course?
This book is incredibly imaginative and ambitious in its form. It is told from both Ash and Solomon’s perspective, though each of them view the world very differently. Subsequently, scenes are revisited and replayed, however, the result is anything but repetitive. Reading this book is like listening to a concept album that continuously finds ways to integrate a thematic melody in fresh and exciting ways! It has a memory of its own, and it comes alive to create a nearly interactive experience for the reader.
While I would not describe reading this book as anything less than fun, it also finds a way to deal with some pretty heavy issues. Chief among them is the way that it addresses the relationship between trauma and mental health, and the way that it explores the spectrum of homelessness in a way that goes beyond static perceptions of the community. Most importantly, at least in my opinion, it also lays out a blueprint for unifying communities against the divisive rhetoric that has become so prevalent as of late.
Destroy All Monsters is a book of immense power and imagination. In its pages there is an adventure to be seized, mysteries to be solved, and worlds to immerse yourself in; but, there is also an examination of community and our responsibility to take care of one another. For these reasons, I cannot recommend this book enough.