The Book Jam Blog
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Nature. Calm. Quiet. Reflection. Restoration. Resilience. Sleep. Slowing Down. Cozying Up. Letting Go. Embracing Winter. Authenticity. We could all use a little more of all of these things after an intense year of upheavals from every direction. These three books provide just that in very different ways. Enjoy!
Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May (2020). This is a delightful book companion with which to cozy up to winter - but don’t forget to first grab a cup of tea, a blanket, and purring kitty for your lap. I devoured this memoir in one weekend, reading and reflecting by the wood stove. Katherine May sets her story between the months of September and March, chronicling a challenging period in her life in which both she and her husband experienced medical difficulties and her young son faced challenges at his new school. We live through this period of upheaval and hibernation alongside her, during which she leaves her job at a university, and settle in to “winter.” She employs the term “wintering” to imply quieting and retreat. She also uses it to allude to mental health challenges and depression - and in so doing helps to normalize the experience of low mood that so many of us experience. On her healing winter journey, she immerses herself in the deep healing and heat of Scandanavian saunas and in cold winter swims off the coast of England. May also travels to Iceland to witness the Northern Lights and to soak in the Blue Lagoon, sharing myths, legends, poetry, and natural curiosities with readers along the way. I appreciate how the book jacket encourages us to understand this book: it “invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times.” This would make a wonderful gift for a friend who might be in need of encouragement to embrace the concept of resting in our go-go-going modern world. Or perhaps it might be a good gift to yourself, as we enter February, a month of still, cold and quiet promise. ~Lisa Cadow
Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl by Jonathan Slaught (2020). Writing this review, I have the sensation of having just emerged from the the dense forests of the remote Russian Primorye region. Just moments ago, I finished Owls of the Eastern Ice and am reluctant to leave Jonathan Slaught’s quiet and snowy world, one full of old growth trees, person-eating tigers, swimming deer, and careering wild boar. This naturalist’s account of studying the endangered Blakiston Fish Owls, of which there are only an estimated 2,000 in the world, is rich with detail about the region’s flora and fauna. While recounting his adventures over a five year period in the Slavic backcountry, this book also subtly and interestingly teaches the reader how a long-term study of an animal and its ecosystem is designed. It also educates about the challenges that can be encountered when conducting one: funding obstacles, lost tracking devices, unexpected floods, frigid living conditions, and relentless logging and poachers. There are also stories upon stories of eccentric forest-dwelling Russians and enough vodka drinking to last a lifetime. Reader beware that this account is stylistically very different from Helen McDonald’s (H is for Hawk) approach to memoir. It leans more heavily on science and study and less on the lyrical, poetic, and emotional aspects of the human experience. But interestingly, Slaught’s keen observations of the natural world, accumulated while patiently waiting for and watching for fish owls over many years, ultimately leave the reader with a sense of zen and calm that lend an equal but different insight into the animal condition. ~Lisa Cadow
The Gifts of Imperfection: 10th Anniversary Edition by Brene Brown (2020). This anniversary edition caught my eye as I wondered if Ms. Brown's research and stories would resonate in my 50s as much as in my 40s. Somehow, while there is nothing new here (OK there is a new introduction and a new reading tool at the end), they do. For those of you who do not know Ms. Brown's earlier work, this New York Times best seller began what is now a phenomenon - Brene Brown. Many aspects are involved in its, and her, popularity; the stories are relatable, the science sound, and her ability to help the reader identify and eliminate (or at least tame) one's sabotaging expectations may be invaluable. As Ms. Brown says herself, “This book is an invitation to join a wholehearted revolution. A small, quiet, grassroots movement that starts with each of us saying, ‘My story matters because I matter.’ Revolution might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance.” If you want a refresher (or an introduction) on how to be a bit more authentic and/or cultivate a bit more resilience in your own life, or merely need a refresher on why there is a difference between shame and guilt, this anniversary edition provides a charming crash course. Her popular podcasts and/or TED talks may help too. ~ Lisa Christie
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