“The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson

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Subtitle: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life

Recommended to me by: a client

I liked the message of the initial chapters, although delivered in a more crass way than I prefer. Rather than avoiding negative experiences and seeking positive experiences, pause and accept what you have and who you are. I agree that thinking that we should be having a more positive experience, and that we could be if only we were doing something better or differently, is a setup for misery.

Instead of trying to avoid problems, try for better problems. I had gotten a sense of this from “Artist’s Way,” that becoming more skilled and successful just means the challenges get bigger. We can seek challenges we enjoy, rather than trying to avoid challenges altogether.

Our attitude toward failure and rejection determines their impact on us. When we step back and look at our deepest values and what we want in our lives, we can weather negative events more easily. Choose what you give energy to, what you “give a fuck about.”

And then, there is a chapter endorsing False Memory Syndrome and saying we should trust ourselves less, which bounced me right out of the book.

Clearly, vulnerable survivors are not the target market for this book. Some of the advice is clearly aimed at young privileged men: stop traveling and having one-night stands so much and settle down in one place, with one woman.

This book reminds me why representation is so important. I’m glad I have the option to read books by people who include my perspective, and the perspectives of other vulnerable people.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Under Plum Lake” by Lionel Davidson

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I wish I could find the post that recommended this book to me strongly enough to put it on hold at the library. When it showed up, it didn’t look like my kind of thing, but it’s short and pulled me through all the way to the end.

It’s a portal fantasy as a vehicle for the author’s messages about spirituality and humanity’s possible future. I can’t even tell if the very advanced society under the ocean is meant to be aspirational, or a cautionary tale. Their science (sufficiently advanced to be indistinguishable from magic) is certainly enticing, but their main character Dido is arrogant and callously indifferent to his human visitor’s safety.

There is a brief sentence explaining why they all have white hair and green eyes, but it reads as a coverup for yet another future where the people of color have been erased.

It reminded me a little bit of George MacDonald’s children’s books, but the moral lesson was more ambiguous.

Tygertale posts more of the story and excerpts from an illustrated edition.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Through the Shadowlands” by Julie Rehmeyer

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Subtitle: A Science Writer’s Odyssey into an Illness Science Doesn’t Understand

Julie Rehmeyer chronicles her descent into Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and her ultimate ascent into carefully managed recovery. She includes investigative journalism into why Chronic Fatigue and mold sensitivity receive so little credibility and research funding.

She chronicles her relationships as well. She was incredibly fortunate to receive assistance when she needed it, and also incredibly determined to keep surviving and moving forward on her own.

Her mother brought her up as a Christian Scientist, and she herself is a science writer and mathematician. She weaves together her pursuit of medical treatment for her illness along with looking inside for the meaning of the illness and the lessons to be learned. She learns to be in the moment with suffering, and realizes that not all suffering can be solved by trying harder.

With the help of people writing about their experiences on Internet forums, she discovers that extreme mold avoidance and later, careful gradual re-exposure improve her health to a manageable level. She notes that this was her personal experience, and each Chronic Fatigue sufferer responds differently to different possible causes and treatments.

Beautifully written, even the excruciating parts. Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Journey to the Dark Goddess” by Jane Meredith

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Subtitle: How to Return to Your Soul

Recommended to me by: Mereth

Jane Meredith weaves together research and interpretation about three myths of descent into the underworld with her own experiences of unintentional and intentional descents. The book is divided into sections on Preparation, Descending, In the Underworld, and Coming Back Out.

The three myths are: Inanna as she descends to her sister’s realm, Persephone as she is taken to the underworld and marries there, and Psyche who is sent to the underworld by Aphrodite as part of a series of tasks to win the right to partner with Eros. These myths are maps of what we might encounter in our own descents – times when everything comes apart through illness, loss, or other transformations.

Jane Meredith strongly advocates for descending consciously with rituals, rather than being dragged into descents without preparation or warning. She makes the case that our lives ebb and flow the way the moon does, and contraction is just as valid as expansion. She also advocates for making maps of our journeys, recording our experiences for the benefit of ourselves and others.

I participated in a Descent of Inanna ritual twenty years ago, and still have the plaster mask I made then. I’ve encountered plenty of descents in my life as well. I wanted the book to tell me how to Ascend, how to find that turning point when things start to get better, rather than living in the underworld. She talks about ascending slowly and consciously, integrating new information. Mirroring the descent of Inanna where she gives up seven aspects of her power and self, in an Ascent we reclaim what we gave up, possibly in changed form.

My body sensed the return of the sun after the recent total solar eclipse as a turning point. The light does return! Things do get better! I’ll have to pay attention to what I’m reclaiming.

Overall, these suggestions and rituals are about confronting the raw truths of ourselves and our lives. Descent is about surrendering everything. Choosing to descend is about reclaiming our power to live fully, even in the hardest times.

Highly recommended as a guide for moving consciously through hard times.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“8” by Amy Fusselman

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Recommended to me by: a client

This is a book about healing, rather than a book about trauma.

Amy Fusselman layers incidents with “her pedophile” among meditations about the nature of time, parenting, relationships, healing, bodywork, therapy, New York City cab rides, and writing in a coffee shop when celebrities walk by. She loops among the topics gracefully, like the figure skater she was as a girl.

Recommended for one person’s perspective on the effects of childhood sexual abuse, putting it in its (admittedly important) place among the rest of the events in a life. Recommended for touching on the topic of abuse forthrightly, and then going on to something else, rather than sinking into it more and more deeply. This is how healing works.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Vision For Life” by Meir Schneider

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Subtitle: Ten Steps to Natural Eyesight Improvement

Recommended to me by: David Mitchell

Meir Schneider tells the story of his own vision improvement starting from near blindness using the Bates Method, and then shares detailed exercises and instructions for vision care and improvement. He founded the School for Self-Healing in San Francisco to share his discoveries.

His 10 steps to improve vision take time and energy. Some can be done along with daily life, like looking into the distance and looking at details. Some are specific exercises, like the long swing. Some require additional equipment and setup to block the stronger eye or use red/green glasses. He recommends integrating the work throughout the day as part of a commitment to better vision.

10 steps:

  1. Long swing: standing, swing the body back and forth with an index finger raised in front of the eyes about a foot away.
  2. Look into the distance
  3. Explore the periphery: wave hands out to the sides while looking in the distance, and block central vision with a small square of stiff paper or cardboard.
  4. Sunning and skying: move head side to side and up and down with closed eyes facing the sun (or sky)
  5. Night walking
  6. Palming: cover the eyes with relaxed hands and visualize darkness or blackness
  7. Shifting: look at details
  8. Block the strong eye
  9. Blink
  10. Vision and body

There are additional exercises for various conditions such as crossed eyes (tape a narrow piece of paper over the center of your face and toss a ball from hand to hand) and glaucoma (lots of exercises to improve blood flow and reduce neck tension).

The writing in the book is warm, encouraging, and carefully detailed. Recommended to learn about how to care for our own vision and our own bodies.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Sacred Economics” by Charles Eisenstein

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Subtitle: Money, Gift & Society in the Age of Transition

Recommended to me by: Tina Tau

This book has a hopeful story about our current disastrous economic and political situation. In reaching for connection rather than separation, we can build a new sustainable world to emerge from the ruins of the old. I love that story, and the support it gives me for the ways I choose to live my life.

The book itself is repetitive, and attempts to convince by comparing an unsubstantiated idyllic past with an admittedly problematic present and attributing the difference to charging interest on money, as well as monetizing the Commons. I’m not convinced that ceasing to charge interest will return us to the idyll, nor am I convinced that it’s possible to wrest the world from the interest-charging people in power.

My doubts were awakened when the author blithely states in passing that poor people are fat because they are addicted to food because of scarcity. When I see such a blatantly false unsubstantiated statement in his book, I start questioning the rest of his narrative.

I also noticed that the book makes no mention of sexism or racism as it describes the appropriation of the commons. I didn’t notice any mention of most of the appropriation being done by white men. Seems like an egregious omission not to have that truth front and center. The Resistance is being led by middle-aged women, many of them of color. It rankles to be erased twice, first in being the ones who are stolen from, and second being the ones who are rebuilding.

I like the impulse to envision what we do want, rather than fighting what we don’t want. We need people to do both, and I am more suited to the former than the latter.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Wired For Love” by Stan Tatkin

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Subtitle: How Understanding Your Partner’s Brain & Attachment Style Can Help You Defuse Conflict & Build a Secure Relationship

Recommended to me by: Nora Samaran

I bounced off this book the first time I tried to read it. The second time, I got past the over-simplified initial examples and cutely simplified brain science to get to some useful relationship suggestions. They boil down to: Make your relationship a priority. Pay attention to what your partner likes, and do that. Pay attention to what upsets your partner, and offer comfort. Negotiate in good faith rather than trying to control them. Be aware of attachment styles and threat responses.

I took serious exception to calling the ventral and dorsal vagal nerves the “smart vagus” and “dumb vagus.” That’s just plain inaccurate, and has all sorts of ableist implications that don’t belong in a relationship book (or anywhere).

As frequently happens, the disorganized attachment style is left out. He uses the metaphors of anchor (secure), wave (anxious), and island (avoidant).

There are some same-sex couples in the examples, and the genders are not painfully stereotyped in the heterosexual couples. The names even have a bit of cultural variability. Yay.

Recommended for the relationship advice, but not the brain science.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“An Emotionally Focused Workbook for Couples” by Veronica Kallos-Lilly and Jennifer Fitzgerald

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Subtitle: The Two of Us

Recommended by: David Mitchell

I love the diverse couples on the cover of this book. They create a sense of inclusion and emotional safety right away.

Sue Johnson introduces Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) in “Hold Me Tight.” EFT assumes that adult attachment is natural and normal, and that it makes sense that we feel terrible and protest loudly when our attachment bonds feel threatened.

This workbook kindly and carefully works through the steps of creating emotional safety in a relationship. Clear explanations alternate with questions that invite self-reflection and partner communication. Topics include: cycles of relationship distress, attachment bonds, past influences, emotions, how we feel now, more about difficult emotions, security, rebuilding our bond, repairing relationship injury, stories of change, maintaining intimacy and revitalizing your sex life.

For example, the chapter on emotions asks, “In my family or previous relationships… What messages did I get about experiencing and expressing emotions?” In my family, emotions were never a topic of discussion. I hadn’t consciously noticed that before.

Highly recommended! Useful as an adjunct to couples therapy, or on its own. Each question takes time to answer and process, so this is a workbook to go through slowly and gently.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“If the Buddha Dated” by Charlotte Kasl

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Subtitle: A Handbook for Finding Love on a Spiritual Path

I read and liked this a long time ago. I’ve been recommending it to folks lately, so I reread it to refresh my memory.

The part I remembered and liked was the encouragement to be yourself in dating. Show up as you are, and see if the other person likes the real you.

And what if no one is liking the real you, for a long time? Charlotte Kasl suggests looking at what internal barriers you might have in the way of relationships, and also strongly affirms that it happens when it happens. You might be doing everything right and still remain single, especially if you’re in a location or situation where you don’t meet a lot of eligible people.

The spirituality in the book is down to earth. Show up for your life as it is. Sit with yourself as you are. Bring in more compassion, more gentleness, more acceptance.

She talks a lot about accepting a new love as they are, signing up for everything they do in the present, with the awareness that it all might stay the same or change. Acceptance is important, and at the same time I find relief in LaShelle Chardé’s position that acceptance includes clear boundaries and communication of needs and feelings.

When you are truly in acceptance there is a sense of ease, clarity, openness, and often warmth. When you are thinking you “should accept your partner” (i.e., accepting your partner too much), there is a sense of effort, heaviness, contraction, and lots of deep breaths.

On the topic of discerning whether a new love is or will become abusive and controlling, Charlotte Kasl suggests keeping a list of your bottom lines on the fridge, and noticing when they get crossed. If the list starts looking like a completed shopping list, pay careful attention. Also notice when you’re reluctant to tell good friends about what’s happening in the relationship because, “They just wouldn’t understand.” I would have liked to see a stronger affirmation that you can’t always tell in advance, and abusive behavior is the responsibility of the abuser. Of course we’d like to avoid pain whenever we can.

Overall, a wise, hopeful little book, a quick read that covers a lot of complex topics, touches into some depths, and also skims over some complexity.

Available at Powell’s Books.