This past year I read some wonderful books, despite finding it a bit difficult to focus on reading with everything going on in the world. With one catastrophic news story after the other, it felt like an epic novel with some pretty monstrous villains, but they were relegated to the shadows and incomparable to the heroes taking centre stage – President Zelensky, the women of Iran, and Greta Thunberg, who won the internet (again).
Books help connect us to stories that matter to us, rather than stories that we are often inundated with even when we aren’t seeking them.
Here are my 10 favourite books of the year:
1. A Politics of Love by Marianne Williamson – This book is a manifesto for revolutionary love in politics. I attended Marianne’s talk in Toronto this year, and had the pleasure of meeting her after the show! She is lovely, and we chatted while she signed my book. She considers the current transition of humanity a rebirth, a painful labour necessary to give rise to something new. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in American politics and some of the motivations behind key decisions throughout recent history. Her vision is one where we return back to the root of the word politics, which means “of the people.” One where a country is run more like a family rather than a business. I read this book on my solo trip to Quebec City, sifting through a chapter on wealth inequality while at a cafe near the St. Lawrence river. Marianne ran for president in 2019, and I really hope she’ll run again next year – she is exactly what the world needs right now!
2. The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor – I read this business/guide book as part of a book club for work. The author presents seven principles of happiness in a humorous and well-researched way. Shawn studied happiness at Harvard, and observed the difference between those that saw attending Harvard as a privilege versus those who quickly lost that sense of appreciation and were soon caught up in the competition and everyday pressures to succeed. He describes how what we do for a living affects our happiness lens – for example if you routinely scan for issues (for example an editor, auditor, or quality analyst), you may be applying that lens in daily life! He provides ways on how to retrain the brain to scan for positive patterns. If you don’t get a chance to read the book, there is always the Ted Talk.
3. Whereabouts by Jhumpa Lahiri – This a beautifully written work of fiction by the author of The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies. It’s about a woman who strolls through an unnamed Italian town, her reflections in solitude, and coming to terms with relationships in her life. The author wanted a change of pace in her own life, and so she moved to Italy and learned Italian. She then wrote the book in Italian and translated it herself into English. Her use of words is exquisite, and I definitely learned a lot of new words while reading this book. I wonder how much of the book is reflective of the author’s own life, as the main character seems to be a similar age and perhaps experiencing a similar restlessness and need for reflection.
4. You Still Look the Same by Farzana Doctor – I loved this collection of poetry! I met the author years ago at a writing workshop, and recently attended her session at the festival of authors, where she read some of her poems aloud. There are some light poems about being a woman in her forties (Forty-three is bang on and happens to be my age), poems about love and Tarot-inspired musings (“Husband in one life, lover in another. Did we switch genders last time? – she thinks you were once my unhappy wife.”). She writes poems about the city (Rockette lines on Queen West and New Toronto on page 69), and some very beautiful and courageous poetry about her childhood, past traumas, and activism. I’ve been writing more poetry recently, and paid close attention to the different styles and structures she employs. She signed my book, “Mita, may your poetry fly out into the world!”
5. Loose Woman by Beth Kaplan – I loved this memoir by Beth Kaplan, who was one of my writing instructors at U of T. She writes very loosely about her multitude of experiences as an actress, lover, writer, volunteer, and mother. I thought it was neat how the title is similar to the subtitle of my blog Diary of a Loose Woman, which has a similar meaning – to be free, uninhibited, and open. Beth lets it all loose and doesn’t hold back in places where I feel that many people would have. I admired her honesty about her insecurities and description of the ugly demons of self-hatred, self-doubt, and self-sabotage. My favourite part was her description of a transformative experience where she volunteered at a community in France for disabled men for a few months, answering the call of her very own hero’s journey. “It felt like something big and rich and wise was growing in me, a fund that hadn’t been tapped yet.”
6. Sadhguru – More than a Life by Arundhathi Subramaniam – The Mumbai-based author is a renowned poet who develops a relationship with Sadhguru that is different than most – it is down-to-earth, stripped of formalities, based on a genuine curiosity coupled with a bit of skepticism. The biography describes his childhood, enlightenment, and his mission to create consecrated spaces, and bring Shiva’s teachings and energy to the world.
7. Invisible Sisters by Jessica Handler – After reading the first few lines of this book, I instantly knew that it would be a good read. Jessica’s family is unique in its journey – she loses both of her younger sisters to illness – one to leukemia and another to a rare blood disorder. I read this book on the subway and at Playground Cafe in Cabbagetown. The author’s journey through grief and desire to chronicle her sisters’ lives while not forgetting her own is well worth the read.
There are times when I slip up, when time runs back-ward and I say without thinking, “I wish I were dead.” I say this under my breath when a stack of paper slides off my desk, or I discover that the blouse I want to wear has lost a button, or I can’t find a parking space and am running late. The words come in a monotone, triggered by a minor transgression.Jessica Handler
8. Maid by Stefanie Land – This personal account of a woman’s poverty-stricken mind and heart is searing and eye-opening. Stefanie leaves an abusive relationship that she can never really leave because of joint custody of their daughter. She struggles to work and care for her child, while trying to heal and putting her dreams of being a writer on hold. It is the story of one woman, but also of the working poor and the constant hoops one must face just to live a dignified life. You would think that the system would make it easier for those in hardship to get back on their feet. Stefanie and her daughter do persevere, climbing to the highest mountaintop. This book was my choice for the Kanata ladies book club, and we had a great time discussing it one summer evening under the stars in my parents’ backyard.
9. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – Liz Gilbert has a way with words – especially words that point to the inner genius inside of us, and how to tap into the power of the universe to unlock creativity and wisdom. “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.” I met her this year online at a book club event – I asked a question about her mental health (knowing her struggles, and how depression runs in her family) and her answer was quite lengthy and thoughtful! She doesn’t see it as a struggle any longer, instead more of a spiritual practice – “Writing is my part-time job; taking care of my mental health is my full-time job,” she said. I recommend the audio book which is narrated by her.
10. Aria Finds Her Voice by Sarah Palmer – Loved this children’s book about an introverted little girl who feels like she doesn’t fit in with her peers. Friends along the way help her to discover her voice and the true magic within!
- Lost in the Valley of Death – Harley Rustad
- The End of Trauma – George Bonanno
- Dead Mom Walking – Rachel Matlow