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Pond-side view. Bench awaiting seated reflection. Or, a great book!
Autumn and winter are prime curl-up-with-a-book seasons so I thought I’d send out a few favorite highlights from the updated “book pile” section of my website. (You’ll find the more extensive pile via the “writing” tab on my homepage.) I’ll be sending these excerpted recs every so often, while the e-letter with my own original content will be a monthly-or-so occurrence.
When thinking about these recommendations I’ve had to reflect upon my own evolving practices as a reader. The very idea of having a “book pile” section on my website arose from my habit of living amongst different piles of books, often with multiple stacks on the table right in front of me, visible at all times. Fodder for my reflections. A haven of evocation. Maybe an anchor of belonging.
As I settle into a new phase of my life and a new home, I’ve been hitting a deep need and desire to live with more clear space. In particular, I’ve found that I don’t need—in fact, can’t have—my books physically around me in the ways that I have in the past. I’ve unpacked many books only to recognize they are no longer needed. I’ve placed many out and around my house, only to realize that they too are no longer special emblems of my identity.
Most strikingly, for me, has been my decision to no longer live amidst small piles of books, each pile vying for my attention and kindling my sense of duty toward it. I am relinquishing the promiscuous proliferation of these piles to instead allow myself the realistic possibility of savoring a few gems at a time. Simply put, I can’t have books around my body, in my space, in the way that I used to.
I need more air and less piles. To really be with a book for the pure pleasure of its weight in my hand and its content in my imagination. A time for serial monogamy, perhaps, after decades of trying to honor a whole host of textual dalliances, affairs, and beloveds!
We each evolve as readers in the ways that our lives require and yearn for. More important than trying any of the recommendations below is to ask yourself: What kind of reading do I need in my life today? What would it look like for me to shake up my reading habits? How can reading be refuge, and, at other times, disruptive transport? Could I use a few more piles in my reading mix, or, is some winnowing in order?
If these recommendations spur your reflections upon these queries, great. If they don’t, and if you want other avenues to explore, feel free to get in touch! Book ideas are one thing I have in great supply and still love to talk about.

The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed, John Vaillant

I read this book during a late-summer backpacking trip and it kept me up at night under the stars as I tore through its tale of a once-on-a-planet tree, the dwindling forests of the Pacific Northwest, and a larger than life man with crazy survivalist skills named Grant Hadwin. Suffice it to say that for the rest of the trip "What Would Grant Do?" became our running joke anytime we were faced with an occasion for potential derring-do. Grant, if you're out there, I'm available.
     But seriously, autumn is all about trees, and this book is not merely an account of one man's wildly committed vision. It also offers a beguiling portrait of the history and character of the forests of the Pacific Northwest and the logging culture that intersects (and harvests/destroys) them. A thriller and captivating cultural-historical-botanical lesson all in one. 

Woolgathering, Patti Smith

I don't know about you, but I find fall a prime time for woolgathering in various modes. My handy little computer dictionary defines "woolgathering" as follows: "indulgence in aimless thought or dreamy imagining; absentmindedness." Well, Patti Smith's book is hardly absentminded, though it is replete with the kinds of dreamy imagining particular to remembrance, especially when expressed through the words and pictures of an artist. Completed on her 45th birthday and initially published in 1992, this 2011 reprint by New Directions is expanded from the original and includes new illustrations and photographs. Some of you may know Smith from her music, her poetry, or her award winning Just Kids (to me, one of the only compelling love stories I've ever read).
     Woolgathering is classic Smith: it melds undomesticated reverie with the grounding condensation of truth-telling, all to transportive effect. And, its wee size 5''x7''x .5'' makes it utterly transportable in the hand or large pocket. Many gems to savor, many potent fruits that may spur your own attempts to remember your life and to write its shape.  

Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, translated David Hinton

If you're feeling the need to pare things down, to get to the heart of the matter with less clutter, but still seek richness and evocative gestures toward reality as it is, Chinese poetry is the way to go. This collection by Hinton is the perfect place to start and is especially resonant in autumn. You could read one of these poems in the time it takes to make tea and then savor it for the rest of your life. Yes, they are that good. 

Faithful and Virtuous Night, Louise Glück

Hungry for writing for adults and about adult life that eschews any and all pandering in its sober-eyed and brilliant depiction of life as it is lived, not just as it is imagined to be lived? Then Glück is your woman and her latest book is a must read. The first poem alone arrested me in my morning seat with a jolt of clarity and that particular kind of adrenaline that gets released when you read something not just true, but something gorgeously un-prettified in its form of truth-telling.


No Time to Lose, Pema Chödrön

I'll be frank: in my early 30s this is the kind of book (and Chödrön the kind of cultural figure) that I would raise my eyebrows at with internal disdain for those who succumbed to such avenues of self investigation and solace. And then life happened to me and my cherished, "better" avenues stopped working. And I actually started reading some of the things other people raved about. Not all of them were good. But Chödrön stuck in my craw. And she was definitely not about solace. Or the self.
     If you are one of the ones who thinks she has nothing to say to you that would resonate, I commend to you the audio set "Don't Bite the Hook" (a kind of transcript of key sections of this book). Deft piercing of the solid ground of behavior we take ourselves to stand on. And, it will make you laugh out loud. A lot. At one point I kept it in my car and just listened to it on repeat for a whole month.
     If you are curious to try out the "one book - one focus" style of reading, this title is a great candidate. It could easily take you through a whole year and you would really just be getting started. Particularly recommended for those of us who tend toward the fiery side of reactions, toward pride and self-surety, toward neglecting the tender core of strength that makes love possible. Pema!


The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell

Maybe the melancholic and reflective aspects of autumn have you hankering for a reading experience that will transport you away from all that introspection and dazzle you into other worlds. Well, if that's the case then David Mitchell is a remarkable and fabulously fun candidate for your fall reading. He is a master of creating worlds, personages, and dialects with such vibrancy and believability that you don't notice your jaw dropping at the level of craft at hand because the rest of you will be caught up in the realm his uncanny craftmanship has made. Ten pages in I was full of the pleasure of anticipation of wondering what would unravel and morph for Holly Sykes (a central character) and how Mitchell would go about doing it. For transportive bedazzlement look no further. If you are averse to highly imaginal worlds in fiction that blend in with more recognizable worlds, then this may not be the book for you. See below.

Kalimantaan, C.S. Godshalk

If your fall mood is for good old-fashioned epic novel writing, for something set in a distant land with sumptuous detail and a penetrating view of the tragic realities of lives lived large, then this 1998 novel may fit the bill. Not unlike Mitchell's novel-- though within a totally different kind of book--a female character caught within the kind of ordinary extraordinary turn of events that women have always had to navigate is the pivot and heart of this great tale. 19th century colonial Borneo (now Kalimantan in Indonesia) is the backdrop and foreground for a portrait of a man's ambitions, a women's intrepid life force, and the marriage between the two. This book is so saturated with evocative detail and texture that, were Instagram able to come up with an analogous filter, you would be drowning in technicolor remembrance. Good thing not everything is Intragramable.   
Autumn Elixirs to Enhance Cozy Reading!

Internal Massage Elixir

Ingredients = Coconut oil (refined or not doesn't matter), Rooibos or Black Tea (depending on your caffeine prefence), honey or real maple syrup. 

Brew the tea. Add about 1 tablespoon of coconut oil. Flavor with honey or maple syrup to your liking. Mmmmm...enjoy how the inside of your throat says "thank you." (I'm not totally kidding.)

Autumn Soother Broth

Ingredients: 5-6 cups water, 1 lemon, ~5-7 cloves of garlic finely chopped, ~1 inch peeled piece of fresh ginger (chopped or just smash the whole piece). Optional: ~ 1 teaspoon turmeric for savory broth, ~ 1 tablespoon honey for sweet broth.  

Bring water to a boil. Add juice from the lemon, the chopped garlic, the ginger. Fine as is, or, choose to add turmeric or honey for one of those variations. (Turmeric bumps up the flavor and healing aspects of the broth.) Simmer for ~10-15 minutes. 

Strain 1 cup of broth into a cup that you like to hold in your hand. Drink before bed and upon waking. You can just keep the leftovers in a pot on the stove with a lid on and reheat as needed. If I'm feeling run down or a bit mojo-compromised I do this broth ritual for 3 days. Will have you feeling strong again, like Jane's Addiction belting out the tune "Three Days." 

[Note: Turmeric can have a staining effect on some surfaces, so I'd avoid using it in anything white or anything you would like to keep pristinely color-free. Shout out to my naturopathic doctor, Elspeth Seddig, for suggesting this broth a few years ago. I added the turmeric bit.]

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