When times are tough, there is nothing more rejuvenating and distracting than a good book! Something you can sink into and discuss with others – a common thread that uplifts and connects us to each other, and allow us to forget about the world and all its problems.

One of my writing mentors had mentioned to me that in my memoir writing, I should weave into the story the book that I was reading at the time, since books set the stage and bring you back to the time period, similar to smells and historical events. So true!

This year I came across eight amazing books – hope you find something here that you will enjoy as much as I did!

1. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – This is one of my favourite books ever. Eleanor is quirky, independent, and troubled. Her life is scheduled and under perfect control, except as you soon begin to sense, there is something lurking beneath the surface that needs to reveal itself in order for her to heal. This was a book club pick and also recommended to me by a dear Aunty, and we all loved it. You can’t help but fall in love with Eleanor and her charming friend Raymond, the IT guy from her office whose sweet and patient nature makes him a perfect compliment to Eleanor’s general distrust and skepticism. The book adeptly describes the experience of loneliness, with humour and charm and a bit of suspense. Although it initially seems like chick lit, you will be pleasantly surprised by the depth of this novel.

2. Atomic Habits by James Clear – This mighty book about small changes was a gift to me from my brother, and came to me at just the right time in my life. I read this book throughout the summer, while soaking in the sun on the deck, on my favourite comfy chair with a cup of tea, and finished it in the winter. What I liked most about this book were Clear’s insights on human nature and motivation gleaned from a lot of trial and error. The author says that he was surprised to find that a secret for success for Olympians and athletes was the tolerance of boredom. There is nothing glamorous about training every day, void of accolades and rewards, yet those who develop discipline and stick to it are those most likely to succeed. The book also provides ways in which to break bad habits – for example removing cues from your environment… although some of his suggestions are a little extreme, like unplugging the TV so that you have to make a conscious effort to plug it in to watch it! In my experience, if you focus on developing good habits, the bad ones will automatically fall away, because you are so thrilled with your new and improved self that the bad habits no longer seem as appealing. I highly recommend this book if you are looking for a structured method of self-improvement. It reminded me a lot of another great book, Better Than Before, by Gretchen Rubin.

3. Home Body by Rupi Kaur – In her third book of poetry, Rupi delves deep into her experiences of trauma and abuse as a child. It is difficult to read, and your heart aches for her… yet it is in this intimate knowing of her do you sense the power in this woman and in her ability to express her pain and healing. The book explores family relationships, misogyny, and the appreciation of love beyond romantic love – love of family, community, and self. Sometimes you wonder how such small poems can have such an impact on the world, but that is the magic of Rupi – it cannot be defined, only experienced.

I stopped resisting
the unpleasant feelings
and accepted that happiness
has nothing to do with
feeling good all the time
– balance

RUPI KAUR

4. Women, Food, & God by Geneen Roth. This book will change the way you think about food. Geneen hosts retreats for women who are struggling with compulsive eating and forces them out of their conditioned habits and into deep self-awareness. Food is life energy. When we pay attention to what we eat, we pay attention to our emotions, our patterns. The author’s writing is beautiful and intense, and her stories about the women in her retreats shed insight into my own experience with food. I tried one of her exercises, eating mindfully in solitude, and found it initially very hard. My tendency was to reach for a book or my phone, but once I committed to the experience, it was interesting to experience the meal in this more intimate way. Probably not the best book to read around the holiday season!

5. Changing My Mind by Margaret Trudeau – This book, a deeply personal account of living with mental illness, really struck a chord with me. Margaret writes about her struggles with bipolar illness and her long journey to recovery and empowerment. It was a tough read at times, because she often let it go too long before reaching for help, but in every circumstance, it was her family that pulled her through, as well as her desire to get better. “I find that when I eat well and sleep well, everything else falls into place.” Margaret brushes with the rich & famous, gets into the wrong crowds, and is scathingly judged by the media for abandoning her children, being reckless, and causing embarrassment to the Canadian people. I found her to be very unfairly judged throughout her life, and you can see that people’s opinions are getting the best of her. I enjoyed reading about her relationships with her kids, and it was uncanny reading about little Justin Trudeau in a stroller while watching the adult version give daily updates on Covid-19. Margaret’s initial romance with Pierre Trudeau is written in a very light-hearted way; they seem to really connect despite the 30-year age difference – she is 22 and he 52 when they marry. The marriage does take a turn for the worse and becomes painful and quite claustrophobic. An honest memoir that must have taken an incredible amount of courage to write.

6. The Book of Secrets by Deepak Chopra – I read this book during the summer, leaving Ottawa to spend a few weeks at my brother’s place in T.O. It helped me to deal with the grief of my grandfather’s passing, and explored the shadow self that we often try to suppress, but is an essential part of us and must be explored for any type of spiritual growth. I know this book will be a life-long reference for me of what it means to long for the truth and reveal the secrets of life through experience, awareness, and trust.

You will know every secret about life when you can truly say ‘I must know. I can’t wait a moment longer.’ Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree and Jesus wrestling with demons in the desert are symbolic of the same drama of the soul that you were born to repeat.

Deepak Chopra

7. Amazing Me! Dance! by Carol Thompson – I bought this book for just a few dollars from the sale section at Indigo, thinking it looked like a fun children’s book, and that I would give it to one of my friends when they had a baby. Little did I know how much joy it would bring to one special child – my adorable little niece. This book is a dance adventure… the characters (all little babies) come alive when they dance, and the words go “Boogie woogie woogie… move and groove”…. “Shimmy shake shake…. do a monster move!” (at which point my niece throws herself back with joy). She loves to turn the pages too. You will also love Amazing Me! Sing!, Amazing Me! Music!, and Amazing Me! Dressing Up!

8. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood – This is a beautifully told memoir by an executive who at age 35 leaves it all behind to help some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. I could relate to this desire so well! Don’t we all have this type of deeply held dream of doing something different than the daily grind? Wood recruits a few others and creates Room to Read, an organization that provides books to Nepal’s school children. Despite skepticism and obstacles, his organization is a big success, and he is addicted to the joy this type of work brings. As of today, the gift of knowledge has been brought to over 16 million children in 16 countries. This book is a pleasure to read – uplifting and inspiring – a must read.

Notable Mentions:

  • My Dark Vanessa – Kate Elizabeth Russell
  • The Library Book – Susan Orlean
  • It’s a Good Thing – J.L Witterick
  • The Path Made Clear – Oprah Winfrey

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