7 books I’m dying to let you borrow

Oh hello friends! I’m a reader. A slow reader. A let-me-digest-this type reader. And also a distracted-by-all-the-cheeses-I-could-be-tasting type reader. So besides my Mastering Cheese textbook, 2021 had seven books for me that I’m going to be raving about to everyone I talk to anyway, so you may as well just see the list now.

I hope you pick up one or two in 2022 and find your mind opened and your heart moved and your energy sparked.

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See No Stranger
A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love
by Valarie Kaur

3 words this made me feel: Human, Love, Connected

1 thing this inspired me to do: Listen and learn about way more people.

A surprising thing I learned: The hatred and violence against Sikh communities in the wake of 9/11, and how radically loving their responses were.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Honestly, this one is just going to make you a better person. A more connected human. I don’t know what else to say.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Not. It’s easy to get lost in, hard to put down.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “You are a part of me I do not yet know. . . . Wonder is where love begins, but the failure to wonder is the beginning of violence. Once people stop wondering about others, once they no longer see others as part of them, they disable their instinct for empathy. And once they lose empathy, they can do anything to them, or allow anything to be done to them.”

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To Shake the Sleeping Self
A Journey from Oregon to Patagonia, and a Quest for a Life with No Regret

by Jedidiah Jenkins

3 words this made me feel: Adventure, Free, Brave

1 thing this inspired me to do: Spontaneously take a winter hiking and meditation trip to the snowy, icy Minnesota north shore. Oh and revive my old pastime of spending hours and hours browsing Google maps.

A surprising thing I learned: Even though North America and South America are connected by land, you have to travel by water or air between Panama and Colombia because there’s a roadless jungle called the Darien gap that is known as a “smuggling corridor” and is considered one of the world’s most dangerous places.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: It challenges everything you’ve settled into. It pulls messy honesty out of you. It makes you dream again.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Another nail-biter. Honestly this reads more like an epic movie in IMAX. Difficulty negative ten.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “As thirty approached, and ‘youth’ was passing into ‘adulthood,’ the terrible reality of time hit me like a wet rag. I looked back on my twenties and realized that every time there was a crossroads, I took the first and safest path. I did just what was expected of me, or what I needed to do to escape pain or confusion. I was reactive. I didn’t feel like an autonomous soul. I felt like a pinball.”

~

Mating in Captivity
Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
by Esther Perel

3 words this made me feel: Understood, Excited, Inchargeofmyself

1 thing this inspired me to do: Communicate more.

A surprising thing I learned: Just how codependent and enmeshed American love relationships tend to be, and just how unsustainable and unfulfilling romance is when its core is a pursuit of absolute security.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: For almost all of us, sex and eroticism is a core part of us and so worth exploring and learning and getting help with. But it’s also not supposed to be talked about, so that getting help and exploring thing doesn’t always happen. This book is a life-changing, sigh-of-relief-giving, absolutely amazing place to start your own conversation about it.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Esther Perel is a story-teller who thinks and speaks and guides in stories. And through each story she somehow introduces you to your truer self. It’s not difficult, it’s completely engrossing.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Fear–of judgment, of rejection, of loss–is embedded in romantic love. Sexual rejection at the hands of the one we love is particularly hurtful. We are therefore less inclined to be erotically adventurous with the person we depend on for so much and whose opinion is paramount. We’d rather edit ourselves, maintaining a tightly negotiated, acceptable, even boring erotic script, than risk injury. It is no surprise that some of us can freely engage in the perils and adventures of sex only when the emotional stakes are lower–when we love less or, more important, when we are less afraid to lose love.”

~

Stamped from the Beginning
The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
by Ibram X. Kendi

3 words this made me feel: Disgust, Determination, Love

1 thing this inspired me to do: Make a habit, every time I hear someone (including myself) place responsibility on BIPOC and other minorities to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” of redirecting the responsibility first and foremost onto the ones who are doing the oppressing or enjoying giant advantages from the oppression. In other words, while a Black person may choose to fight for themselves, a white person is fully responsible for making the world a safer and fairer and more equitable place for Black people and other minorities–and that is not done by ignoring away our head start and enthusiastically cheering them on to fix it all themselves.

A surprising thing I learned: While it was a huge and needed step forward, the passing of the Civil Rights Act also made way for a new version of racist argument in America: Since opportunity was now supposedly, officially “equal,” we could now just blame the Black population for ongoing disparities, instead of grappling honestly with the hundreds-of-years head start white Americans and their families had and the reality of ongoing racism.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: It is such a powerful eye-opener and motivator. It is incredibly informative and it’s a deep motivator for making the world a better place.

Reading difficulty 1-10: Honestly, this one’s challenging. I’d say it’s a 10 in difficulty, because it’s just got so much gross, depressing, nauseating truth for America to face. Which also means it’s a 10 for needing to be read by you and me.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Time and again, racist ideas have not been cooked up from the boiling pot of ignorance and hate. Time and again, powerful and brilliant men and women have produced racist ideas in order to justify the racist policies of their era, in order to redirect the blame for their era’s racial disparities away from those policies and onto Black people.”

~

Play
How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
by Stuart Brown

3 words this made me feel: Childlike, Happy, Relief

1 thing this inspired me to do: Make opportunities to laugh more. And sometimes swim laps less like a human and more like a dolphin frog. Or a frog dolphin. A frolphin.

A surprising thing I learned: Humans have a real developmental for “secret spaces” where we can be totally and safely alone, free, and uncensored.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Because you’re too busy right now, and it’s making you sad.

Reading difficulty 1-10: 1 if you read it, 10 if you don’t.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Once she realized that she would need time for her heart play and started acting on that realization, she began to experience true play again. She began to feel an excitement with life that she had forgotten. . . . Setting out to remember those feelings can be dangerous. It can seriously upend your life. If [her] marriage wasn’t as strong as it was, her husband might have felt she was pulling away when she went on long hikes by herself . . .”

~

The Body Keeps the Score
Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
by Bessel van der Kolk

3 words this made me feel: Hopeful, Understood, Likeiactuallyhaveabody

1 thing this inspired me to do: Yoga, swim. “Think through” less, hug myself more.

A surprising thing I learned: Retelling trauma in talk therapy can actually continually retraumatize. Sometimes saying what happened isn’t what it takes to make your body trust that it’s safe again.

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Because if you’re somehow one of the people who won’t find yourself deeply in these pages, you love someone who does, and this will help you get it. And whether for you or your people, there are so. many. practical. options. So good.

Reading difficulty 1-10: There’s science stuff, but it’s worth it.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe.”

P.S. Bonus fact, when you get to the part where Bessel van der Kolk remembers the feeling of being a “little boy” with “stern, Calvinistic parents” . . . . . . same, friend, same. . .

~

Deep
Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves
by James Nestor

3 words this made me feel: Amazed, Excited, Powerful

1 thing this inspired me to do: Learn free-diving.

A surprising thing I learned: The deeper you go underwater, the more blood flows away from your limbs toward vital organs to keep them functioning longer. Peripheral vasoconstriction. “When a diver descends to three hundred feet–a depth frequently reached by modern freedivers–“ and I’m having to just quote this verbatim because I mostly skipped science, thank you home school, “vessels in the lungs engorge with blood, preventing them from collapse.”

Why I think you should (there are no shoulds, but still) read it: Honestly, this sounds like a niche book for a niche audience, but I 100% swear you’ll enjoy it. Also, do you like sharks?

Reading difficulty 1-10: Less than 1.

A favorite excerpt (how do I even choose?!?) to whet your appetite: “The ocean is usually silent, but the waters here were thundering with an incessant click-click-click, as if a thousand stove lighters were being triggered over and over again. Schnöller figured the noise must be coming from some mechanism on the ship. He swam farther away from the boat, but the clicking only got louder. He’d never heard a sound like this before and had no idea where it was coming from. Then he looked down. A pod of whales, their bodies oriented vertically, like obelisks, surrounded him on all sides and stared up with wide eyes. They swam toward the surface, clicking louder and louder as they approached. They gathered around Schnöller and rubbed against him, face to face. Schnöller could feel the clicks penetrating his flesh and vibrating through his bones, his chest cavity.”

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Want to borrow one?

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Sneak peek of what’s next . . .

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Maybe all this reading results in a few helpful thoughts from my fingertips this year. Want to hear them?

Cut yourself some slack, it’s just how brains work

Sights, sounds, smells, and all those senses enter the brain through something called the thalamus.

The thalamus passes this mix of sensations in two directions: The amygdala and the frontal cortex.

The amygdala keeps you alive by freaking out about stuff. It quickly checks with the hippocampus to see if the new information might remind us of any yucky stuff that’s happened to us in the past. And if it feels any threat, it goes “Okay, it’s time to stay alive!” And it bombards you with stress chemicals and makes you do things like fight or fly or freeze.

The frontal cortex, on the other hand, thinks a bit more critically. Like “Um that’s just a shadow” or “Not all bosses are as evil as your old boss” or “No stress, zombies aren’t real” or “Actually not everybody who calls your name from another room is about to beat you.” And so it helps you not try to hit everybody or run screaming from the room.

And here’s the fun thing.

The information travels from the thalamus to the amygdala more quickly than to the frontal cortex.

In other words: “Not responding emotionally” is literally impossible.

Your brain is wired to save you from lions and to feel suddenly hurt by your partner when they didn’t mean anything. You literally can’t help freaking out sometimes about things you don’t need to freak out about, especially when it looks or feels or sounds a little bit like something that has hurt you before.

This doesn’t mean you can’t practice and get sort of good at slowing your reactivity so that your frontal cortex has a chance to be like “Um you don’t need to punch them in the face.”

But it does mean that you’re not a bad or defective person just because you get emotional or scared or react sometimes in ways you wish you wouldn’t.

Especially when it’s stuff that brings up your deepest scars.

Your amygdala is just trying to save your life.

Deep breaths, count to 3, trust the process, your frontal cortex can help you sort it out.

That being said, for some of us these pathways have been screwed up by especially rough experiences. If you feel like you’re always, always being hijacked by overreacty feelings, don’t blame yourself–maybe you’ve just had to work too hard to keep yourself safe in life. It’s not fair, but don’t give up hope. There are some PTSD therapies that can really help to rewire this.

But in general, I think it can really help to understand about ourselves: None of us are “calm, cool, and collected” the instant something happens. Your amygdala will always show up before your frontal cortex. Which means working on nurturing a baseline of safety and taking deep breaths and counting to 3 are all a much better and fairer use of your energy than calling yourself stupid or sensitive or irrational.

You’re just good at staying alive, and sometimes it makes life weird.

That’s just human.

~

For a so-much-deeper-life-changingly-eye-opening exploration of this and other humany topics, read The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Good luck with your amygdala. <3

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