Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way (Macmillan) This can be an infuriating book — entitled, materialistic, New Age prosperity gospel. But it is a brilliant tool for those looking to connect with their inner artist, creative child, buried desires, etc, and I would be remiss not to share it as a resource. If you can stomach the cringe-worthy bits, you will find a wealth of truly valuable insights, tools and opportunities. The book is designed as a 12-week programme, though it can easily be stretched out over a longer period. I recommend doing it with a friend.
Audre Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” This essay is hard to categorise, but as it’s about engaging the body’s deep, generative, joyful creativity, I’m putting it here. You can read the transcript of Lorde’s 1978 talk in adrienne maree brown’s Pleasure Activism (AK Press 2019) or, better yet, listen to Lorde deliver it herself. The way she connects the spiritual, the embodied, and the political blows my mind.
Pema Chödrön, Start Where You Are (Shambhala) There is a genre of dharma books which are all about accepting yourself exactly as you are. Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance and Sharon Salzberg’s Lovingkindness are two popular examples. I’ve decided to recommend this one because I so admire and appreciate Pema Chodron’s direct, penetrating voice. Take these opening lines: ‘We already have everything we need. There is no need for self-improvement.’ There is no one like her for getting right to the heart of things, and I recommend everything she has written. If it’s all a bit too Buddhist for you (as it was for me when I first picked up her books), you can just pay attention to what feels might be useful and allow yourself to experiment.
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Parrallax) Full of insights, even if you have no interest in meditating. The section on the noble eightfold path – which includes right diligence, right concentration, and right livelihood – is especially pertinent to thinking about productivity in work and life. I also love the section on seed consciousness.
Sebene Selassie, You Belong (HarperOne) My newest go-to dharma book recommendation. Published in 2020, totally accessible and real, funny, and absolutely beautiful.
Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (Shambhala) The classic starting point for beginning a Zen meditation practice. Spare, straightforward, and full of little gems. One example: ‘Calmness of mind does not mean you should stop your activity. Real calmness should be found in activity itself.’
Rick Hanson, Hardwiring Happiness (Rider) If you are wondering why you are always focusing on the negative – the mis-steps, the problems, the fears – rather than on the positive – a commitment kept, a warm smile, a compliment received – this is your book. It’s not some personal pathology; it’s called negativity bias and it’s just how your human brain is wired. Brains can be retrained, and this book tells you how.
PRODUCTIVITY & TIME MANAGEMENT
James Clear, Atomic Habits (Random House) You know those guys who read a lot about something and decide they’re experts, even though they are mostly just repackaging other people’s ideas? Don’t read this if they bug you. If you can deal with that, this book offers good, clear summaries of literature on habit-building, with some very useful concepts (1% better and habit stacking are two of my favourites). You’ll especially like this book if you’re into weight lifting metaphors.
Neil Fiore, The Now Habit (Tarcher) The book I most often recommend. If you struggle with procrastination, read this book. If you struggle with perfectionism, read this book. If you struggle with developing a realistic sense of how much time you have to work each day, read this book.
Brittney Cooper, Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower (Picador) While I suspect this one may be too US-centric for some of you, I know I want to read about rage. I want to feel connected with and empowered by others who are angry, I want to better understand the lived struggle for racial justice, and I want to know how my own fight against patriarchy and neoliberalism can contribute to the other, intersecting fights against injustice and oppression that are being fought simultaneously.
Lama Rod Owens, Love and Rage (North Atlantic Books) I have not read this carefully yet, but I listened to Lama Rod Ownens give a talk on it in which he said, “My anger is a testament that I’m paying attention somehow. My love is what cares for my anger.” Read that again. Those two sentences alone are enough for me to recommend this book.
Josh Cohen, Not Working (Granta) While much of this book is very literary theorist amusing himself, and mostly about men, the introduction stopped me in my tracks. This could be because I was sick in bed while reading it, but I’ll give Cohen more credit than that. His introduction is a terrific antidote to the rest-is-a-great-way-to-work-more angle you get from books like Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s Rest. In fact, Cohen is fairly revolutionary in arguing for the importance of rest for rest’s sake. He suggests it’s time to stop ‘sacralizing work.’ Instead, we might stop and let ourselves develop ‘a sense of how we might float free from gravity’s pull.’
The Nap Ministry. This blog (and associated social media) is the work of a collective founded by artist, activist and healer Tricia Hersey. The Nap Ministry sees rest as resistance. Naps are, in its words, ‘a radical tool for community healing,’ and sleep deprivation is a racial and social justice issue. A useful (and I think very necessary) counterbalance to Cohen’s work.
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants (Penguin) This comes highly recommended by a few of you and has been sitting on my bookshelf for months. I pick it up today, on the hunt for a book about solidarity with and for the earth, and read: ‘Alone, a bean is just a vine, squash an oversize leaf. Only when standing together with corn does a whole emerge which transcends the individual. The gifts of each are more fully expressed when they are nurtured together than alone. In ripe ears and swelling fruit, they counsel us that all gifts are multiplied in relationship. This is how the world keeps us going.’
Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, and Nancy Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto (Verso) Revolutionary. You might find it says everything you’ve been thinking but have been unable to articulate about what feminism needs to do, and what you want to do as a feminist. Or, you might find it quixotic and borderline-offensive. Or you may be somewhere in between. But if you have ever been troubled by questions like: Whom is my feminism really serving? Does ‘leaning in’ actually fix anything? What if the answer is much bolder than finding a way to get more women into corner offices? Then I urge you to read this book.
The authors made a decision not to burden their manifesto with footnotes or a bibliography. The result is a slim, quick-to-read volume; the sacrifice is that no credit is offered those on whose ideas and research (which includes their own) their manifesto is built. The reader is left with a feminist revolution arriving picture-perfect like a movie star on a red carpet. What about the Spanx? You might try the next two as a starting point.
Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch The book, first published in 1998, which firmly established the long-brewing argument that feminist struggle is necessarily anticapitalist, and that anticapitalist struggle must address both gender and race.
Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (Routledge) My search for an all-in-one primer on black feminist thought landed me here. Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Alice Walker, the whole (African-American) canon.
Sarah Powers, Insight Yoga (Shambhala) A fantastic resource for incorporating yoga and meditation practices into your life. Powers is a leading teacher of yin yoga, which she correlates to traditional Chinese concepts of how the body works – the meridians along which chi flows, and the organs with which each meridian relates. If this is your cup of tea, then this book will help you identify which organs needs your attention and which yin poses will help. Even just 5-10 minutes each morning will make a difference.