A few of my recent favourite reads…

“Books break the shackles of time – proof that humans can work magic.” – Carl Sagan.

I have been writing about the benefits of finding moments of stillness and quiet in our busy lives over on my Leaping Tracks blog recently. Becoming absorbed in a good book is one of my favourite ways to find a place of calm, even if there is plenty going on around me. I have read some cracking books recently, largely as a result of recommendations by fellow book lovers. So I wanted to share a few thoughts on these titles in case they prove to be of interest to others too.

 

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood – this book was highlighted via Madame Bibliophile Recommends who has been participating in the currently running ‘Margaret Atwood Reading Month’. I liked Madame B’s description of this story and was able to download an e-library version (hoorah for libraries!). So rather unexpectedly, I can count myself as having participated in MARM too.

Being Atwood, this story is of course set in a dystopian near-future. But I found it to be much more light-hearted and comic than her other work. In fact it reminded me a lot of Carl Hiaasen‘s rather whacky and chaotic crime stories. In his books, as is the case with The Heart Goes Last, the characters get themselves into highly improbable situations, yet we can see clearly how their journeys have a sense of inevitability about them. Atwood explores very deftly the age old conundrum about whether the grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. And the reader is constantly challenged to consider what they would do in a similar situation. If you have every asked yourself ‘how on earth did I get myself into X position’, which must be most of us, this story is for you.

 

Carol by Patricia Highsmith – this was recommended by Kate over at Booksaremyfavouriteandbest and I completely agree with her that this is a beautiful narrative which explores different kinds of love very sympathetically, without ever becoming schmalzy or judgemental. I constantly stopped to re-read passages which I found heart-stopping and poetic. Overall, this is a quiet novel which hums along with its compelling story. I plan to watch the film, and will definitely be reading more Highsmith.

 

Mary & O’Neil by Justin Cronin was also a Kate recommendation (thanks Kate!). This is another quiet book which gently and tenderly explores parental, sibling and partner relationships. Cronin has a wonderful writing style and is able to hold the reader’s attention with a simple yet gorgeously rendered story. I will be looking out for more of his work.

 

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan was mentioned by Ann in one of her reading round-ups. It caught my eye because I have already ordered Ryan’s latest novel, From a Low and Quiet Place. It is very creatively structured into a series of short story-esque chapters, all from a different character’s point of view. Each narrative links with and illuminate the others and in this way it reminded me of the wonderful Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (who, by the way, will be bringing out her second Olive book next year – can’t wait!). Ryan’s portrayal of the individuals in a beleaguered Irish community is absolutely captivating and I am looking forward to reading his other work.

 

The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman – I very much enjoyed Borman’s contribution to this podcast with fellow author Manda Scott (whose latest book, A Treachery of Spies is currently on my nightstand). The starting point for The King’s Witch is the relentless persecution by the newly crowned James I of anyone (usually women) who demonstrated any kind of ‘suspicious’ skills, such as helping and healing others with natural remedies. Borman creates a page-turning narrative packed with historical interest, which is not surprising because she is well known as a historian focusing mainly on the Tudor and surrounding periods.

 

Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers – last but not least, I have re-read this book after picking it for one of my six degrees of separation posts. It is even better than I remembered. I have savoured every word of this gentle and moving tale which explores our tendency to develop preconceived ideas about things, and the wonder which comes when we allow ourselves to be ‘wrong’ and instead set ourselves free to think whatever we like about anything or anyone.

 

I love reading the thoughts of fellow bloggers on the books they have enjoyed, and my own reading life is very much the richer for it. Keep up the good work folks! 😀📚💕

 

 

It’s The Inside That Counts

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My sister, Rachel, is the most amazing person.  She has met and surpassed the challenges of all kinds of battles in her life, always with dignity, pragmatism and a positive attitude.

“Because one believes in oneself, one doesn’t try to convince others. Because one is content with oneself, one doesn’t need others’ approval. Because one accepts oneself, the whole world accepts him or her.”
~ Lao Tzu

In the last couple of weeks, she has once again had to draw on all her strength and resources.  Out of the blue, she discovered that she had developed the condition called Alopecia Areata.  The most difficult aspect of this has been coping with the experience of clumps and clumps of hair coming out over a short period of time.

Happily, now that she has lost virtually all her hair, she has been able to see her new look as just that; the latest of many different ‘hairstyles’ that she has rocked over the years.  I wanted to share with you this short video she filmed today in response to the many messages of support received from friends and family.  She is the living embodiment of the premise that what’s inside us matters 100% more than the outside.  Her message of acceptance; perspective and calm is an inspiration.

Thank you, Rach, for setting us all such a shining example of how to live our best life.  Love you loads. Xxx 🙂

“Beauty is about being comfortable in your own skin. It’s about knowing and accepting who you are.”
~ Ellen DeGeneres, Seriously… I’m Kidding

 

It Is What It Is

 

Copyright tonibernhard.com
Copyright tonibernhard.com

Welcome to the start of another week.  What kind of plans do you have in store?  Are you able to embrace the thought of dealing with whatever comes your way?  Raring to go, full of joy for being alive and in the moment?

Or are you anxious about the days ahead? Stressed? Fearful?

The spiritual teacher Byron Katie says “You can argue with the way things are.   You’ll lose but only 100% of the time”.

It can be hard to accept what is in front of us with equanimity and a peaceful mind.  It is a simple concept, but not an easy one.  Yet we can get there in a split second.  We control our thoughts, not the other way round.  We can decide what to think about any event or situation.  We can choose acceptance over resistance.

To use a relatively trivial-sounding example, I have a residual fear of engaging with e-mails, as a result of a devastating experience at work a few years ago.  These days, I lead a blessed and happy life.  But when it comes to thinking about my in-box, I am consumed with anxiety about what might lurk there.  So I put off opening my mailbox for as long as possible.

Eventually, given the way the world works these days, I have to draw on those famous words by Susan Jeffers and ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.  Having taken a deep breath and opened my messages, what do I find?  A long list, not of horrors after all, but of stress-free items which I can handle perfectly well.  Once I can see the true content of my in-box, only then do I recognise that it is the muscle-memory of past times which has been controlling my thoughts and therefore my emotions, not the logic behind what is most likely to exist when I switch on the computer.

I am using the practice of acceptance to help me overcome this fear.  By taking a moment to recognise my present reality, and by relaxing into it, as Pema Chödrön puts it, I can engage with this aspect of my life with a calm, still presence, regardless of what shows up.

I hope this approach might also be useful for you, if and when you find yourself dealing with difficult or unexpected events.

There is no path to peace.  Peace is the path.

~ Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

Friday Quote: the beauty and joy of nature

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Indian Proverb (click to enlarge)

Nature is so handy, isn’t it.  A walk in beautiful countryside or along a coastal path can soothe and calm many troubles.  Spending time in urban leafy areas can have a similarly restorative effect.

And what’s more, I find that even just thinking about, reading about or even looking at pictures of nature inspires peace and reduces stress.

I had such fun producing the artwork for today’s quote.  It took me a little while to produce the border, but in doing so I had the opportunity completely to switch off and immerse myself in the process of drawing and painting the flora and fauna.  A total antidote to any worries or fears.

And, in an echo of the quote itself, I enjoyed the element of randomness in my selection of each little drawing as I progressed around the circle.

Wherever you are, and whatever you do this weekend, may you find joyful and beautiful times. 🙂

PS – mega thanks to my gorgeous, clever Hub for his help and expertise with photographing my artwork for publication.