my summer reading list!
When I was growing up, I eagerly awaited the release of the summer reading list each year. To say diving into books and writing reports was one of my favorite summer pastimes isn’t a stretch.
In fact, even today, any wide open expanse of time I might have on a summer day, be it a few hours while my toddler, Lou, naps or a pocket of a morning while he’s entertained by doting grandparents or if my husband, Sam, takes Lou out for an afternoon adventure on the lake, the most deeply luxurious way to pass the time is still with a good book in my lap — you can have the water. I’ll be at its edges, preferably shrouded by some good shade. With anywhere from two to a half a dozen books and my own journal to write down all the inspiration I get from my reading.
The journal component, the liaison to my own writing, is essential. So essential, in fact, I walked down the “aisle” (the grass down to the lake) at our wedding celebration a few summers ago with wild flowers in my hair and in my hand, my journal filled with bits of love poems and other favorite authors' lines about love.
It seems that most lists about books I come across feature the latest and greatest, the new releases everyone can’t get enough of. You’ll notice that most books on this list are far from the latest hits — in fact, many are several decades old. And most of them I’ve come back to again and again and again. If I ever tire, I’ll turn my attention to more contemporary creations (in fact, one gorgeous book on this list is in fact from 2019!).
But for now, these books feel like old friends who always welcome me. (Note that I’m so faithful to these old friends that I once took a whole (heavy!) suitcase filled with them on a month-long adventure that brought us from Costa Rica to Australia, likely testing my patient husband’s generosity as he helped me lug my bag of books halfway around the world that summer!).
I hope you find friends in these books too. And your own invitation to return as often as you’d like.
And while some of these are “yoga and meditation books” many are not explicitly so.
No matter, all of these authors are good teachers to me, revealing something new or deeper and essential about my practice. And their books have offered me some of the best instructions I’ve ever received on presence and compassion and fluidity and how to pay attention.
Though this list is by no means exhaustive and will never be “finished,” here are some the books that have truly changed my life.
To feel like you belong — and to remember that you can extend that feeling of inclusivity and true belong to other too…
John O’Donahue’s Eternal Echoes: Celtic Reflections on our Yearning to Belong is good medicine in a moment where so much of what we consume from the media makes us feel like we are missing out, not a part of the club, or simply not good enough as we are. And O’Donahue’s prose sound purely poetic and prayerful. His work is steeped in wisdom that comes only though experience meeting deep study & contemplation. His work is pure alchemy of the two coming together.
O’Donahue’s other works build on complementary themes: His Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom is a meditation on the Gaelic concept of “anam cara” or soul friend — further reflection on how from that place of deep belonging in ourselves we can reach out to others and nurture relationships that last over a lifetime. A worthy investment in what’s real, to be sure, when so many of our “friends” are tenuous virtual connections where the conversation is only in “likes” and “tweets” and “comments.” And O’Donahue’s To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings reminds us we all have access to the ancient, arguably lost art of blessing each other, whether we’re soul friends or strangers. And that blessings can be fortifying incantations at life’s threshold moments like birth and death, sacramental occasions like marriage or preparing for a vocation, and everyday inevitabilities like sickness or beginning anything new. O’Donahue’s writing helps me to imagine filling the space between us all with blessings, rather than barriers. And reminds me that in any moment, in any occasion, we can step toward each other in a welcoming, warm way.
If you love John O’Donahue as much as I do, I suspect you’ll also enjoy, Krista Tippet’s Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and the Art of Living (her podcast On Being is one of the most reliable resources of encouraging and vivifying writers I’ve discovered, and her conversation with John O’Donahue is one of my favorite all-time listens).
For better understanding of each other, for improving our the ability to listen and ask questions to better understand how we participate in systems that leave people out and how we might all do better together…
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo is a book I’ve been moving my way through over the last few months. It feels like I have — as a person who finds themselves in an undoubted position of privilege — a common sense responsibility to not only read this but access real-life ways to bring the work to life in my day-to-day experiences.
Two years into parenting, I know that in order to pass along values I hold dear — like understanding, inclusivity, responsibility, thoughtfulness, compassion, the ability to say I’m sorry, to do better, and to learn — the only way to do so is allow my child to see my own daily work to embody them (admittedly not always successfully). I’ve got to do the work. Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie eloquently and insightfully provides us all with lessons to return to for ourselves and to share with our children.
I’ve got her earlier work, We Should All Be Feminists, on my list of books to check out. Also on that list — This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa — which is (over)due for another read, sixteen years after I first woke up to this rich tapestry of narratives, as a freshman in the Gender and Sexuality Department at NYU.
More than most work, this is essential. And ongoing.
Speaking of work!
To help find your way and your good work in the world…
So many of us find ourselves in not-so-linear professional paths. Whether it’s a side hustle or a second (or third or fourth or fifth) act, it seems that so many of us are embracing a more expansive idea of what it means to create a life and a living and livelihood in the world.
I know from my own seemingly circuitous route (from college straight to law school to corporate law to … yoga and meditation and nurturing my creative life through teaching and writing and quietly endeavoring to create welcoming and compassionate spaces and experiences for others) I completely understand that leaving behind the straight, narrow linear path can feel lonely and daunting.
These books have been like roadmaps and guides for me along my own path. I hope they will be good companions for you on your journey too.
Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation is the exact opposite message that the one we receive all too often — that we’re behind, not good enough, not successful enough, that you’re a total failure while everyone else’s life seems to have a flawless filter on it.
Palmer’s words offer an unhonest, and unshiny, peak into how it feels to honestly endeavor to find your own way:
"I was in my early thirties when I began, literally, to wake up to questions about my vocation. By all appearances, things were going well, but the soul does not put much stock in appearances. Seeking a path more purposeful than accumulating wealth, holding power, winning at competition, or securing a career, I had started to understand that it is indeed possible to live a life other than one's own. Fearful that I was doing just that -- but uncertain whether it was real or trustworthy or within reach -- I would snap awake in the middle of the night and stare for long hours at the ceiling. (emphasis, my own:))
And if your vocation includes teaching of any kind, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, also beautifully by Parker Palmer, is required reading.
(For a more workbook-type approach in this category, I can’t recommend Danielle LaPorte’s work enough. Her Firestarter Sessions: A Soulful + Practical Guide to Creating Success on Your Own Terms and The Desire Map: A Guide To Creating Goals with Soul helped me create my own treasure map out of the world of big law (and the attendant trappings of “success” in the corporate world) to a life filled with work that comes from my heart and a relationship with success that holds so much more than numbers).
For women looking to harness the potency and potential of cycles, to feel at home in your body, to come home to yourself, to embrace feminine wisdom and deeper rhythms…
Essential, essential reading for all of us — the healing, archetypal stories of women through the ages, across time and cultures, I don’t know where I’d be without Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, a-lifetime-of-a-work written by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I’ve turned to it again and again since I first picked it up 6 or 7 or 8 years ago. And each time, I come away with a new kernel of essential truth about what it means to move through this world as a woman, buoyed by the support of all who’ve come before me. Truly, healing ancient stories for all of us.
Encyclopedic in a different way, yet still packed with essential wisdom is Dr. Christiana Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Heath and Healing. Her book is good medicine, inviting us all to take ownership and exercise agency in the way we take care of ourselves and our bodies. Rather than simply looking to experts outside of us, each one of us contains infinite and innate wisdom to take good care of ourselves. Dr. Northrup reminds us of that here.
And the only book of 2019 on this list, comes from another of the Northrup wise women. Kate Northrup’s Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time and Energy Management for Busy Moms harnesses the wisdom of the natural world (from moon cycles to ovaries) and applies it to the everydayness we face in our modern lives, especially if you’re a woman, a mama, and an entrepreneur. Kate’s a shining example of how we can support each other as sisters.
For the most “yoga” book on this topic and my own ultimate resource for creating classes and workshops and trainings is Tending the Heart Fire: Living in Flow with the Pulse of Life by my dear teacher Shiva Rea. Shiva is like none other. Her work soars, breaks every mold about what “yoga” is and can be. Shiva is deeply steeped in a lifetime of practice and study and the embodiment of living, breathing yoga. If you love yoga, if you teach yoga, this book is essential. We are so lucky to have Shiva sharing her wisdom with us.
To meditate in any moment, to access ease with any breath…
The Radiance Sutra: 112 Gateways of the Yoga of Wonder and Delight by Lorin Roche is a translation of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, an ancient offering of Tantric meditation practices is pure poetry, yet the simplest of instructions. For me, engaging with this work is a practice of a lifetime (and it has been for Roche too, who has been studying it and engaging with it since the early 1970s). This work guides my own meditation practice, anchors any meditation offerings I teach. The Radiance Sutras is my daily reminder of learning to discover what gradualness is and how to be with my life in each moment. It feels like a blessing of my life to simply have found these teachings.
Two other meditation books I draw from regularly, have learned from deeply, and share often are Pema Chodron’s How To Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind is a gift. Pema shares the wisdom of meditation techniques grounded in the Buddhist tradition she has practiced for decades in an accessible and inviting way. Her teachings are a humbling reminder that rather than “mastering meditation in 5 days or less" (or whatever quick tips and tricks and fixes we’re all secretly hoping will do the trick), the best we can hope is to learn to how to be with it all, to come into relationship with our lives (and all its coming together and falling apart and coming back together), and to learn to stay with our lives and each other. (Bonus reading from Pema that I have well-worn and often-gifted copies of and could write pages singing their praises: When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times and Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change).
To Fall in Love with Poetry…
Growing up, studying poetry in school, I always thought it was the province of somebody unlike me, someone with wisdom and lyricism and an innate knowing I simply did not have access to.
Until, as an adult, poetry finally found me.
I can’t say words enough to do them justice, I let these poets speak for themselves. But I will say that the poems of Mary Oliver and Nayyirah Waheed and Rumi have shown me the truth: poetry is for all of us, it lives in each of us, we all have access to it, it is the language of life.
To create as a daily, spiritual practice….
Thank goddess for Julia Cameron’s The Artists Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. I truly believe that this book finds you when it’s supposed to. I had heard about it for years and years from raving readers who’s lives had been transformed by it — I’m sure it’s true that anyone’s who’s ever read and worked through it is an evangelist — but it wasn’t my time to pick it up and stay with it until last August. It has expanded and transformed my own experience of daily spiritual practice (which includes yoga and mediation on my best days but my “morning pages” are now my essential everyday). And it allowed me to believe that I’m a creator, a creative person, an artist, even. Something I never thought possible. If you hear the call to this book, trust that you’ll answer it when you’re ready.
(Another book that has inspired me daily since my mother-in-law graciously loaned me her copy, from her own mother — Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Brilliant, simply brilliant).
And now, I’m out of words!
So, happy reading, xo Cath
p.s. I didn’t include hyperlinks to any of these because one of my intentions for the year ahead is to do my part to help keep my local bookstores in business and make better use of the library. I’d love your support in my endeavor!
p.s.s. I always welcome new suggestions and I’d love to hear about your favorite books. I’ve received so many of these myself from other’s suggestions. Please do leave a comment below about books that have moved you.
p.s.s.s. I conspicuously left off all books related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum life, and motherhood off this list. I’m putting together a special resource for the mamas and will share soon! stay tuned!