Happy New Year 2016, friends!
May your year be filled with meaning, marked by joy in your relationships, and surrounded in peace.
Thank you for reading my reflections over the past year. I love writing about the Third Culture, Motherhood, Language, Birth, Spirituality and other topics close to my heart. And, I love it even more, when people asking similar questions about life are willing to read what I write. Time is precious these days and you’d be a fool not to be selective about what you read.
Speaking of reading and being selective, here are five books that have helped shape my thoughts and writing this past year. Some of these books came as referrals from friends and some of them were recommendations based on Goodreads‘ algorithm using my favorite books. If you aren’t familiar with this brilliant website, it’s worth checking out. Think of it as Facebook for those of us interested in tracking what we read and want to read. It’s great for setting reading goals, stalking what friends read, accessing advance copies of books and even a platform for new writers who want to put a chapter out there for an audience to critique.. But, back to the short list.
These were my five most inspiring reads in 2015:
What do you get when a biologist-teacher-mormon-influenced, feminist-grieving daughter-writer tries to make sense of shelves and shelves of her late mother’s blank journals?
This meditative, brutally honest, endlessly poetic, unapologetic book about finding one’s voice. In the author’s case, through grieving the loss of her mother, her grand-mother and by questioning her LDS heritage in the first place.
I found this to be a spectacularly creative, philosophical read. It is a book full of surprises in 54 chapters, representing 54 variations on voice.
I wholeheartedly agree with one statement that Haruki Murakami’s piece on running is “Easily accessible, yet profoundly complex”. I loved every page of this memoir at the cross-section of running, writing and growing old.
The writing style and translation from the Japanese do take some time getting used to. I hear that some readers love it, while others despise it. The memoir at times reads somewhat staccato, simplistic and translated, rather than flowery and clever. Precisely thanks to this style however, the reader finds himself unknowingly swept into deep realities of this life on earth.
The humble, yet infinitely wise Haruki invites us into profound observations of a seemingly basic activity: running. As he travels to run or write, he makes connections between running and being a novelist..and aging along the way.
“One of the privileges given to those who’ve avoided dying young is the blessed right to grow old. The honor of physical decline is waiting, and you have to get used to that reality.”
Presenting a helpful book, particularly for those of us coming from a more classical model of education where art and culture are most certainly valued but where the messy, explorative, creative process is not so much.
I picked it up to read about ways to encourage my kiddos to experiment more and create more. The book turned out to be more of a self-exploration for the parent, who models his/her own creativity within the home. It got me into a magical habit of writing daily “morning pages” at the crack of dawn, helped me identify creative activities that I do not value (and pass on judgment through my comments and actions) and unleashed the desire to participate in creative activities where perfection has reared its ugly head and told me “you’ll never be good enough, so what’s the point anyway?”.
Within this book, there is a lot of common sense, some repetition and a few too many illustrations. Still, I found the exercises to be both practical and insightful, and the premise of our spiritual freedom having a direct impact on our ability to create, pretty ground-breaking. I loved the idea of creating as an act of faith, stemming from generosity, acceptance, safety, boredom etc.
This was a book I intentionally chose to read over a few months so I could take in all the different concepts and take action. After reading one chapter in particular, I realized we had asked our children to share everything in the house to the point where there was no space to create and be an artist. Soon after, we created a small area for each child to call their own. They have loved it ever since and we are eager to see what comes out of those ‘creative corners’. The book has also fostered discussions between myself and my husband of our creative prejudices and which ones we want to learn to embrace.
The author makes some assumptions as a mother of one on how to become creative adults and just file the kids away so we too can create. In my experience, it isn’t quite so easy with several, very young children. Also, I think the book is missing the “whole family” dynamic in the creative process (parents interacting, creating, the father’s empowerment in the creative process..). We can’t fault her too much as she is a single parent of one girl. All in all a good book that I would recommend to other families looking to unleash more creativity into their home.
You might remember my review on Americanah here.
Introducing a book that depicts life pretty accurately on three continents and unpacks the sensitive subject of race in a relatively non-judgmental fashion. It’s is a book that also humanizes the plight of illegal (and legal) immigration and demonstrates tensions related to being a Third Culture Kid (TCK), all in captivating the reader in the twists and turns of a love story. Introducing Americanah (2013), a charming novel with a huge agenda, written by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I feel that Americanah might particularly appeal to those who are on a similar journey of global transition, of stewarding cross-cultural relationships and actually willing to question our own social prejudices.
“The only reason you say that race was not an issue is because you wish it was not. We all wish it was not. But it’s a lie. I came from a country where race was not an issue; I did not think of myself as black and I only became black when I came to America.”
On a most simple level, Americanah is a love story that takes place on three continents. As you turn the pages, you quickly realize that Adichie astutely uses the novel format as a social commentary about race. Protagonist Ifemelu discovers that she is black as she leaves a politically tormented Nigeria for the United States, while her lover Obinze uncovers his own slew of racial experiences in England.
I won’t give any spoilers in case you would like to pick this book up, and I don’t want to rehash the scores of brilliant reviews of this blockbuster novel available online. Instead, I want to focus on what most reviews seem to gloss over and that is the real Third Culture Kid story unfolding between Ifemelu, (an Adult Third Culture Kid, as she is leaving her homeland as a young adult) and Dike, the child of Ifemelu’s aunt, who grows up as a Third Culture Kid in the United States, with all the pressures of needing to belong to Nigeria, of which he knows very little.
“I realized that if I ever have children, I don’t want them to have American childhoods. I don’t want them to say ‘Hi’ to adults I want them to say ‘Good morning’ and ‘Good afternoon’. I don’t want them to mumble ‘Good’ when someone says ‘How are you?’ to them. Or to raise five fingers when asked how old they are. I want them to say ‘I’m fine thank you’ and ‘I’m five years old’. I don’t want a child who feeds on praise and expects a star for effort and talks back to adults in the name of self-expression.”
These characters’ impressions about integration and the agony they each face in order to belong are intertwined with shrewd observations about repatriation, sizing up and distancing between African blacks and African Americans, the value of dark skin in Caucasian societies, the arrogance of the white savior mentality and the fascinating world of African hair.
“Relaxing your hair is like being in prison. You’re caged in. Your hair rules you. You didn’t go running with Curt today because you don’t want to sweat out this straightness. You’re always battling to make your hair do what it wasn’t meant to do.”
“If I had not grown up in Nigeria- and if all I knew of Africa were of popular images- I too would think that africa was a place of beautiful landscapes, beautiful animals and incomprehensible people fighting sensless wars, dying of poverty and aids- unable to speak for themselves and waiting to be saved by a kind white foreigner.”
Generally, I am not a huge fan of fiction but I decided I wanted to read more of this genre this year to rediscover the intrigue of human story. What I realize is that an essay with this content would definitely have been labeled “angry” or “over-sensitive”. The novel format, littered with insightful blog posts written by Ifemelu as she experiences America, lets your guard down just enough to allow for the reader’s introspection.
I do tend to agree with some of the commentaries that think the story could have been stronger. However, I loved how Adichie used rich character and scene descriptions like Balzac or Zola often did (which bored me to death when I was a young adult, let’s be honest!) that foster an astonishing kinship between the reader and the characters. What I was less fond of was how explicit and morally destitute the novel was in places and ended where it really didn’t need to be. In the same breath, I don’t deny that debauchery is often a temporary band-aid of pain of not belonging. It must be a hard call as an acclaimed writer, to describe the desperation of the protagonists and draw readers into the love story without some gratuitous and cheap sex.
All in all, I thought that Americanah was a magnificent, ambitious and generous literary piece.
Over the past five years, I have read a number of books about pregnancy, birth and life in the postpartum phases. Pregnant with our third born, I realized I hadn’t ever read “Birthing From Within”, which is quite famous in the natural birth community.
You might recognize the title from my recent blog post Pregnant! Now what?!. This book presents pregnant couples with a very holistic approach to birth. It is an empowering resource on variations of birth and how to be an active participant. There are plenty of hands-on ideas to stay connected and process pregnancy and birth before it happens.
Don’t let the alternative spirituality in this volume discourage you from the wealth of knowledge and reassurance for new parents.
There you have it. It was hard to make a shortlist. There are seriously so many fantastic books out and so little time. If you are interested, you can find more reviews by linking up with my Goodreads page.
What are you reading these days?
Help me stay inspired in 2016!