As every year, I reflect on the books that have most inspired me during the year. This year, in addition to non-fiction and fiction categories, you will find the parenting/pregnancy category. Enjoy. 

NON-FICTION

Richard P. Brown & Patricia I. Gerbarg (2012) The Healing Power of Breath

This gem of a book was part of my reading assignments for my yoga teaching training. It’s written by two medics (psychiatrists, actually) who successfully mainstreamed breathing techniques for their practice, bringing them out of hippy-dippy territory and providing the scientific link to the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system. While medication can downregulate the sympathetic nervous system, underactivity of the parasympathetic nervous system cannot usually be regulated with drugs such as anxiolytics, antidepressants, etc. Regulated breathing practices can significantly influence the vagus nerve, whose branches innervate all internal organs and main glands, and thus improve symptoms of trauma, depression, anxiety and other conditions. So the book provides the basis for the breathing techniques I use in my yoga classes and on myself but also provides stories about trauma patient recovery that the two authors have witnessed and accompanied. 

Matthieu Auzanneau (2016) Or noir 

Having done about a decade of reading on peak oil, it takes quite a bit to excite me when it comes to that genre, I must say. Auzanneau’s book, recently translated into English, is brilliant, and successfully captured my attention wholly for a few nights (in the age of distraction, no minor feat). It features, of course, Rockefeller, countless wars, oil shocks, and, of course, the end of this amazing substance that has changed our world forever. 

Romain Meyer (2018) François Bausch.Der Un-GeduldigeSkizzen eines politischen Lebens. 

This book gave me a very good insight into the beginnings of the Green Party and its cultural and political context at the time, as well as Bausch’s career beginnings with the railway union (where I believe Bausch an the author met/worked together for a while). His personality and political aspirations are drawn out in a compelling way, and I lent this book to various people, who, as a consequence of reading Meyer’s account, got a deeper and more sympathetic understanding of Bausch’s becoming as a political force in Luxembourg. And it’s damn well written, oh yes.

Robin L. Graham, Derek L. T. Gill (1972) Dove

I read this book alongside some other books and adventures involving sailing boats and ships to satisfy a certain yearning for the ocean (and to have some model sailing descriptions for my fiction book-in-progress). It’s the account of Robin Graham’s 1965 mostly (he did meet his future wife along the way) solo journey from California across the Pacific and around the world on a smallish sloop by the name of Dove. It’s a good story, most of all with nice insight into what boating culture and Pacific Island culture were like almost 60 years ago. 

Carla Bergman, Nick Montgomery, Hari Alluri(2017) Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times

I read this as an attempt to make sense of 2018 in general and specifically of my departure from all formal roles at CELL (February 2018) and to help me take my next steps on my ongoing actionista path. The authors suggest that trust and relationship building, as well as curiosity and openness can offer space for social transformation just as paranoia, binary thinking and moralism close these spaces down. Sometimes it is repetitive and Spinoza is mentioned a little bit too much for my liking, but I was inspired to reflect on its contents and excited to talk about it with fellow activist friends. Here are some quotes that you may find interesting. 

There is something that circulates in many radical movements and spaces, draining away their transformative potential. Anyone who has frequented these spaces has felt it. Many (including us) have actively participated in it, spread it, and been hurt by it. It nurtures rigidity, mistrust, and anxiety precisely where we are supposed to feel most alive. It compels us to search ourselves and others ruthlessly for flaws and inconsistencies. It crushes experimentation and curiosity. It is hostile to difference, complexity, and nuance. Or it is the most complex, the most nuanced, and everyone else is simplistic and stupid. Radicalism becomes an ideal, and everyone becomes deficient in comparison.

The anxious posturing, the vigilant search for mistakes and limitations, the hostility that crushes a hesitant new idea, the way that critique becomes a reflex, the sense that things are urgent yet pointless, the circulation of the latest article tearing apart bad habits and behaviors, the way shaming others becomes comfortable, the ceaseless generation of necessities and duties, the sense of feeling guilty about one’s own fear and loneliness, the clash of political views that requires a winner and a loser, the performance of anti-oppressive language, the way that some stare at the floor or look at the door. We know these tendencies intimately. We have seen them circulating and felt them pass through us.

Maintaining transformative relationships is not easy in a world full of violence, in which Empire continually induces us (especially white, cis-male settlers) to construct flimsy relationships based in leisure and to abandon them if they are no longer pleasurable.

FICTION

As you might know, I am not a serious fiction reader these days, but this year, I read quite a lot of young adult fiction to learn about how to craft stories for youngsters (for the book-in-progress). Two stand out in particular. 

Sharon Creech (1994) Walk Two Moons

Awarded with the Newbery Medal for this beautiful account, Creech intertwines two stories in this young adult fiction book. Here’s the blurb, maybe it makes you curious: 

“Thirteen-year-old Salamanca Tree Hiddle, proud of her country roots and the “Indian-ness in her blood,” travels from Ohio to Idaho with her eccentric grandparents. Along the way, she tells them of the story of Phoebe Winterbottom, who received mysterious messages, who met a “potential lunatic,” and whose mother disappeared. 

As Sal entertains her grandparents with Phoebe’s outrageous story, her own story begins to unfold—the story of a thirteen-year-old girl whose only wish is to be reunited with her missing mother.”

Daniel José Older (2015) Shadowshaper

This book is an urban fantasy, young adult fiction of the great kind: featuring a strong, feminist, non-white (Puerto Rican), female protagonist, other pretty cool characters, a furious pace with lots of action (but sometimes not enough depth). And there is a sequel, which I have not read (yet). I leave you with the following description:

“Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.
Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future …”

Roland Meyer (2018) Wenn immer alles so einfach wäre.

For a while, I thought Romain (see above) and Roland Meyer were one person. My bad. They never were, I know. I blame it on the pregnancy brain fog. I read this book with delight. It’s beautiful and fluid, it has some great characters, it is complex enough to keep the reader interested in terms of its narrative strategy, it has murder, sex, love and nation branding, not necessarily in that order. What more does a Luxembourg need?  

PARENTING

So, not surprisingly, 2018 has seen a sharp rise in the number of pregnancy and parenting books as part of my own ongoing journey into motherhood.

I have been very lucky to have on my secret contact list a brunch amazing women that happen to be badass mothers as well that have given me guidance and support at various stages of my pregnancy and after N’s birth, with in-your-face conundra, such as early breastfeeding and mental health issues, etc. The exchanges with these women have been just as or more valuable as the reading they recommended. If I find the time, I might write about this sometime (feel free to get in touch if you find yourself pregnant for the first time and want to talk about any of this). Meanwhile, here are the books that have inspired me in different ways. 

Ulrich, Isabella (2015) INSTINCTIVE BIRTH – Geburt aus eigener Kraft: Handbuch zur ganzheitlichen Vorbereitung auf ein positives und selbstbestimmtes Geburtserlebnis

For someone quite startled and upset by the slightly impersonal way in which my pregnancy was accompanied from a medical point of view, and being swept up with the culture surrounding the medicalization in ways that made me lose orientation, a few people recommended Instinctive Birth, which, along with other encounters, including a Hypnobirthing course, helped me to recover my confidence with regards to the birth. 

Grantly Dick-Read, Ina May Gaskin (1959, 2004) Childbirth Without Fear: The Principles and Practice of Natural Childbirth

This is an old book that has aged well. For me this was essential in learning about the role of midwives in the birthing process, but also about the power of women as childbearers. Ina May Gaskin is a renowned midwife who opened her natural birthing centre in the US at a time when birth was fully colonised by obstetrics, and the tendency was to knock out women completely. Dick-Read was one of the few gynaecologists advocating for a different type of childbirth. It was with this book that I became very interested in birth stories, the ways women speak about their birth, the trauma it can create, the roles they saw in the people supporting their birth, the empowerment potential it held for them, and the ripples their birth had on subsequent postpartum etc. 

Nora Imlau (2013) Das Geheimnis zufriedener Babys

After hearing Nora Imlau at a graphic recording gig in October, I revisited this book that had already been recommended to be by a friend who organized the same gig. It is a great, practice-based, non-ideologically-trapped introduction to all things attachment parenting, its potential, but also ways in which to compromise to ensure mother-and-baby-wellbeing. It’s also a kind of historical review of approaches to parenting and how needs-based parenting is in line with the latest from developmental science with regards to baby’s development and cognition. 

Naomi Stadlen (2004) What Mothers Do (When It Looks Like Nothing)

This book came to me through a friend during early postpartum, and I cannot praise the general perspective enough. While not explicitly feminist and with a Christian perspective, this book highlights the important relational labour of care and attending to that mothers do with their children. Having been quite overwhelmed with the cultural stereotypes of the Mother and the way these are thoroughly steeped in patriarchal culture, this book helped me untangle the true value of mothering and care work, often invisible and devalued in our culture. 

Brigitte Schorr (2017) Hochsensible Mütter

So I had prepared well for birth itself as a HSP, but not for my unplanned hospital stay, for instance, and I became conscious of the fact that HSP was going to impact my parenting quite early on in the postpartum period. This book was great to map out the ways in which HSP mums are different, and it helped me to craft my own strategies for coping with the overstimulation of, for instance, infant crying, when totally sleep deprived and with no possibility of withdrawal from the situation. 

Erica Ghidi-Cohen (2017) Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Early Motherhood – and Trusting Yourself and Your Body

This book has great no-nonsense descriptions of all different stages of pregnancy and postpartum that I relished in revisiting (my brain may have read most parts during pregnancy, but did not take anything in regarding breastfeeding etc) bit by bit when they became relevant. This book does not sugarcoat any of it, particularly the birth chapter, which I liked the straightforwardness of. It also makes the connection to mindfulness, and the tools people might already have in terms of other practices they have been doing prior to pregnancy such as breathing exercises or yoga, etc. 

Johnson, Kimberly Ann (2017) The Fourth Trimester: A Postpartum Guide to Healing Your Body, Balancing Your Emotions, and Restoring Your Vitality

Yes. Focus on maternal health during postpartum seems to be important for her to be able to take good care of bub and also engage meaningfully with other things that have been around since before pregnancy (e.g. partner, friends, animals,…). Personally, while I had reflected and observed a number of things, I had never completely understood what a crazy transformative and potentially difficult time early motherhood can be before I was literally, there. I am all for honouring the fourth trimester for the mum and the bub as a very special time of healing and protected growing.

Anne Lamott (1993) Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

This is a lovely account of one single mother’s journey through early motherhood. Moving, hilarious, enjoyable, refreshing. With my deepest respect to single parents.