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What We’re Reading: Self-Help Round-Up

2017 May 25

What We're ReadingI don’t know if it’s just the state of the world, or because I’m going through a breakup, or because all of that is happening all at once in my mid-twenties and it’s culminating in a quarter-life crisis, but I’m all about the get-your-shit-together self-help books these days. So if you, too, are just now realizing nobody ever taught you how to cope with anxiety, depression, heartbreak, political turmoil, environmental catastrophe, and the inevitability of losing everyone and everything in your life—while also somehow being a responsible adult with a good income-to-debt ratio—then I can’t recommend these books enough:

Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie KondoThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, 2014)

I read this book while preparing for a move, and I can’t express how much Kondo’s insights helped me purge my possessions and minimize my lifestyle. If you are surrounded by so many things that you don’t even know what you own or where to find it, this book is for you. Change your life. Get rid of excess. Then get rid of more. Then surround yourself with people and things that bring you joy. It’s worth it.

Best advice: Don’t decide what to throw away, decide what to keep. Only keep things that spark joy, and get rid of everything else. Yes, everything.

Mindfulness on the GoMindfulness on the Go: Inner Peace in Your Pocket by Padraig O’Morain (Harlequin, 2014)

Great for keeping at your desk or in your bag, this little book can help you find opportunities for cultivating mindfulness at work, at home, on your commute, while waiting, while traveling, and before sleeping. Brief chapters explain why mindfulness helps with managing stress and anxiety while making room for creativity and thoughtfulness. The “on the go” exercises and quick tips are easy to incorporate anywhere, anytime. Spending even one minute focusing on your breathing can go a long way to improving your mind and mood.

Mind Over MoodMind Over Mood: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine A. Padesky (The Guilford Press, 1995)

Speaking of your mind and mood—if you are the kind of person who really likes doing their homework, then this workbook is for you. It was created by clinicians over twenty years ago but is still being recommended by therapists today—and for good reason. If you’re willing to take the time to read the lessons and do the exercises, you can create your very own DIY cognitive behavioral therapy practice, which I especially recommend if you are not going to therapy (and I’m the kind of person who will recommend therapy to everyone).

When Things Fall ApartWhen Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala Publications, 1996)

Let me take a moment to recommend every single book by Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. I just think you should start with this one. Written in the wake of her divorce and subsequent spiritual journey, it basically answers the question I’ve been asking myself for months: How do I go on? With advice on acceptance, openness, and compassion—starting with compassion for yourself—this book forces you to look inward and evaluate your habitual patterns, attachments, and addictions so you can let go of your ego and your fixed ideas and learn how to simply be.

Best quote: “Without giving up hope—that there’s somewhere better to be, that there’s someone better to be—we will never relax with where we are or who we are.”

The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh (HarperOne, 2013)

Once you’ve learned how to be with yourself and reflect on your feelings, read this to learn how to communicate those feelings more openly and honestly in your relationships, at work, and with yourself. Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s succinct, conversational tone makes his writing approachable and easy to digest. So even if Buddhism isn’t really your thing, the advice can guide you toward thinking, listening, speaking, and acting with understanding, kindness, and love.

Three Things: The Mother Edition

2017 May 15

In honor of all of my fellow mothers out there: let’s all take a little lie down. For a second. Because, let’s face it, that’s all we usually get.


Barrington Watson, Mother and Child, 1958-59. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Jamaica, Kingston, Jamaica.


David Graeme Baker, July Bride, 2008. Oil on linen mounted on panel.


Mary Cassatt, Breakfast in Bed, 1897. Oil on canvas. The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.


Three Things: The Kid Edition

2017 May 8

As we approach Mother’s Day, let’s focus on the little folks who make mothers what they are: crazy people. Just kidding. But let’s give some young’uns some adventures, shall we?


Angela Strassheim, Untitled (Horses), from Left Behind series. Photograph.


Holly Andres, River Road: Milepost 39, from The Fallen Fawn series. Photograph.


Jeremy Geddes, Acedia, 2012. Oil on board.


What We’re Reading: May Round-Up

2017 May 4
by Wren

What We're ReadingMay is when spring really takes hold here in Minnesota, and it’s also coincidentally my (Wren’s) birthday month. Both the spring awakening and the pending mark of a new year for me makes this time of year feel especially magical in its newness and fresh perspectives. Even if it’s not your birthday, I hope this month marks the start of something new for you. Maybe a new habit, a new adventure, or a new book on your reading list. This round-up can help you with at least one of those new things. Happy reading and spring-vibing, folks!

Ice by Anna Kavan (Peter Owen Modern Classic, 2006)
Reviewed by Aaron

Ice is a stuttering slipstream novel that follows a nameless narrator through nameless cities in the face of an oncoming apocalypse. He trails a pale waif of a woman, alternating between parental worry and abusive obsession. Kavan’s prose coyly switches between sparse, realistic description and fantastical phantasmagoria. Ice is an evocative novel about war, trauma, and abuse.

Various works by Louise Glück
Previewed by Liz

I’m reading Louise Glück. I mean her poems from 1965 to 2012. In the poetry world, Glück is practically a household name, and not only because she is a Pulitzer Prize winner, former Poet Laureate, and winner of many other prizes and fellowships. Louise Glück has consistently offered the world poetry that offsets trying loss with image, challenges narrative logic with surprising diction, and speaks to various audiences with simple honesty. Because she looms so large in the tradition of contemporary American poetry, I wanted to go back, and see how her voice developed and changed throughout her career thus far. I’ve only just begun, but I’m already fascinated… some of her earlier works (from The House on Marshland (1975) in particular) feel like an emotional mirror. I’m so interested to see what else I notice as I read on.

We Are All Stardust: Scientists Who Shaped Our World Talk about Their Work, Their Lives, and What They Still Want to Know by Stefan Klein
Reviewed by Taylor 

I picked this book up at a time in my adult life when I just started getting really, really into science, and it was the perfect book to begin my foray into reading more nonfiction—books on history, economics, science, and space in particular. It’s filled with fascinating interviews between Stefan Klein and scientists and experts on their life’s work, with topics ranging from empathy, morality, memory and consciousness, to chance in history, motherhood, animal behavior, and the critical first three minutes of our planet’s existence.

Each interview introduced me to a new topic (and about five books the interviewee wrote or recommended) that I immediately wanted to know everything I could about. I reread a lot of pages while reading, just to be sure I was taking it all in, and because the chapters built off each other very well. Even across a range of topics, each discussion was ultimately about us, as people, and our shared humanity.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang
Previewed by Wren

After recently finishing 300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso (another great, and slim, book to add to your list), I just switched to what might be a challenging read: The Vegetarian by Han Kang. The book is a three-part novella, telling of Yeong-hye’s sudden change to vegetarianism. Yet the story develops in a way that continuously surprises, shocks, and guts the reader (or so I’m led to believe by other reviews and the first handful of pages I’ve read). It’s told from the point-of-view of a different character related to Yeong-hye in each section of the novella. I’m currently in the first section, told from the point-of-view of her bland, kind of awful husband. Throughout the book, Yeong-hye changes, both in her own perspective, and in the perspectives of the three narrators—and in somewhat horrifying situations, including sex, violence, and a retreat from daily life. I can already tell it’s going to be a book that will haunt me after I finish, but nonetheless, I’m eager to sink my teeth into it.