Best Books, Part 1

Best Books


I know that “Best Books” is a pretty strong title for this post but I full stand by it. I used to be a pretty avid reader. There was nothing else that I liked better than getting lost in a good book, usually a novel. Something that would take me away, often to places that I only dreamt of traveling to one day. I would also obsessively re-read books. The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank was reserved for breakups. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger was a love story for when spirits were a little higher. In high school, I read Kicking Tomorrow by Daniel Richler countless times. Each time it was borrowed from the Port Hope Public Library. It was a coming of age story. I would dream of the freedom that the characters had in it. Of their coolness. One day I would be like them (or so I hoped).

In the past year or so, I have made a point of getting back into reading. And also in expanding my literary horizon beyond fiction. I even joined a book club (the only hitch is that they are in LA so once a month I Skype in at 10:30pm while they sit together at their 7:30pm with a lovely potluck meal. Hi friends!). Now that biking season is over for me in Toronto (thanks to winter), I am enjoying taking the streetcar to the studio because it gives me time to get in a few pages. Reading is fun. It is better than wasting time staring at your phone before bed. Plus, it’s better for you. It changes perspectives. It expands your mind. It transports you to new places.

So I have been reading a lot lately. Sometimes I read the book on my iPad. But I prefer the feel of the real thing in my hands. I love the paper. I love reading about the typeface used. I love the smell of the pages. Here are some of my favourite books that I have read as of late. I’m posting three here and will continue dishing more out in the coming weeks. All are by female writers which I kind of love. I suppose it is because I can relate to their perspective, how they live in this wacky world. While I read, I am constantly saving quotes from books. I am obsessed with words. I used to keep a Word doc just for this. I would alphabetically organise these words that I read and I would later refer to them when I needed some wisdom. As a result, you bet I have some good quotes saved from these books.

Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein
I read this book in three days over the holidays. It wasn’t that it was a simple read. It is that it was a great story and reading it was a breeze. I had no idea what to expect from Carrie as I knew little about her previous to reading her book. I have always been a fan of Sleater-Kinney. I saw them play for the first time last January and I have to admit that I was a little underwhelmed with the show. After reading this book, however, I wish that I could see her perform again. This book is a memoir about Carrie’s life and the music scene around her. It’s a story about her band and how they got places, how their paths crossed with others and why they made the choices that they did. Carrie’s writing is wonderful. She writes a paragraph describing some event and the next is filled with this incredible life advice that just makes you stop. I loved that.

Quotable Gems:
“Nostalgia is so certain: the sense of familiarity it instills makes us feel like we know ourselves, like we’ve lived. To get a sense that we have already journeyed through something – survived it, experienced it – is often so much easier and less messy than the task of currently living through something. Though hard to grasp, nostalgia is elating to bask in – temporarily restoring color to the past. It creates a sense of memory that momentarily simulates context. Nostalgia is recall without the criticism of the present day, all the good parts, memory without the pain. Finally, nostalgia asks so little of us, just to be noticed and revisited; it doesn’t require the difficult task of negotiation, the heartache and uncertainty that the present does.”

“There is something freeing in seeing yourself in a new context. People have no preconceived notion of who you are, and there is relief in knowing that you can re-create yourself. When you’re entrenched in a community of people who know you, it’s scary to proclaim wanting to be different and wanting to experiment.”

“She sang whatever melody first came to her. The notion of simple or complex didn’t really matter as much as sound. I guess you’d call that punk, but I also think it’s just a matter of creating without the watchful eye of an audience or outside expectations in one’s head.”

“I love being a new onlooker, a convert. To become a fan of something, to open and change, is a move of deliberate optimism, curiosity, and enthusiasm. Touring with Pearl Jam allowed me to see how diminishing and stifling it is to close yourself off to experiences.”

Rising Strong by Brené Brown

Rising Strong by Brené Brown
I bought this book after hearing a podcast with Elizabeth Gilbert where she talked about her good friend Brené and her new book Rising Strong. As soon as I cracked it open flipped to the intro (on my iPad) and read it, I was sold. Brené Brown is a research professor, an academic and an incredible thinker. Her book is based on her own research but also on her own personal experiences. She takes true proven scientific facts and she takes lyrics from musicians. She’s so well-rounded that it makes me want to nod my head in agreement to everything that she says in this book. This book is about rising after a fall. It’s about picking yourself up and it’s about learning to understand those around us. I believe that it is a book that everyone should be required to read.

Quotable Gems:
“I’ve come to believe that we all want to show up and be seen in our lives. This means we will all struggle and fall; we will know what is means to be both brave and brokenhearted.”

“If we’re going to put ourselves out there and love with our whole hearts, we’re going to experience heartbreak. If we’re going to try new, innovative things, we’re going to fail. If we’re going to risk caring and engaging, we’re going to experience disappointment. It doesn’t matter if our hurt is caused by a painful breakup or we’re struggling with something smaller, like an offhand comment by a colleague or an argument with an in-law. If we can learn how to feel our way through these experiences and own our stories of struggle, we can write our own brave endings. When we own our stories, we avoid being trapped as characters in stories someone else is telling.”

“We own our stories so we don’t spend our lives being defined by them or denying them. And while the journey is long and difficult at times, it is the path to living a more wholehearted life.”

“Being all light is as dangerous as being all dark, simply because denial of emotion is what feeds the dark.”

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

“When I look back at this rising strong example now, I think about how often we all try to solve problems by doing more of what’s not working – just doing it harder, grinding it out longer. We’ll do anything to avoid the lowest of the low – self-examination.”

“Regret is one of the most powerful emotional reminders that change and growth are necessary.”

“To live without regret is to believe you have nothing to learn, no amends to make, and no opportunity to be braver in your life.”

“I believe that what we regret most are our failures of courage whether it’s the courage to be kinder, to show up, to say how we feel, to set boundaries, to be good to ourselves.”

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
A second reference to Liz (note: I have a tendency to speak about well-known/famous people as though I know them, we are obviously on a first-name basis, she can definitely call me ‘Jess’). Get used to it because this woman is fabulous. I first learned of her after Eat, Pray, Love exploded. My dear friend Katie picked up this book for me when we were in California. After reading a lot of non-fiction lately, I was pretty excited to dive into a novel. It’s nearly 500 pages long and I read it while we were on vacation in November. I could not put it down. When I wasn’t reading it, it was all that I was thinking about. Unashamedly, I cried while reading it and I definitely laughed out loud a number of times (this was the best when I was lying in a lounge chair alone, surrounded by vacationing strangers). The book centres around Alma who was born in 1800. It’s about her quiet and complicated life and it takes the reader all over the world. It’s about botany and family. About love and life. At times I wanted to give her a hug to let her know that things would be alright and at other times, I wish that I could grab her by her shoulders and give her a good stern shake, asking “What the heck are you doing?!”

Quotable gems:
“In all of our lives, there are days that we wish we could see expunged from the record of our very existence. Perhaps we long for that erasure because a particular day brought us such splintering sorrow that we can scarcely bear to think of it ever again. Or we might wish to blot out an episode forever because we behaved so poorly on that day – we were mortifyingly selfish, or foolish to an extraordinary degree. Or perhaps we injured another person and wish to disremember our guilts. Tragically, there are some days in a lifetime when all three of those things happen at once – when we are heartbroken and foolish and unforgivably injurious to others, all at the same time.”

“The trick at every turn was to endure the test of living for as long as possible. The odds of survival were punishingly slim, for the world was naught but a school of calamity and an endless burning furnace of tribulation. But those who survived the world, shaped it – even as the world, simultaneously shaped them.”

“Lastly, she knew one other thing, and this was the most important realization of all: she knew that the world was plainly divided into those who fought an unrelenting battle to live, and those who surrendered and died. This was a simple fact. This fact was not merely true about the lives of human beings; it was also true of every living entity on the planet, from the largest creation down to the humblest.”


What are you reading right now? What are you loving? Have you read any of my suggestions? What are your thoughts on them?

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