As every year, I reflect on some of the readings that have most inspired me during the year. Here’s the link to the 2018 readings. Enjoy. 

NON-FICTION

Gabor Maté (2010) In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Encounters with Addiction.

Maybe you didn’t know that I’m a follower of Russell Brand’s podcast series Under the Skin, where he has in-depth conversations with a range of interesting people, including Brené Brown, Karamo Brown, and so forth. I have been aware of his work around addiction for a while, and during my early motherhood days, glued to the sofa, baby on boob, I watched quite a bit of Netflix, and came across Brand’s documentary From Addiction to Recovery, which features Gabor Maté. I was intrigued and checked various interviews (and also came across the long feature on Under the Skin). Long story short, I then read In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, because I liked Maté’s long-term experience with working on addiction issues in Vancouver, where he opened a clinic that seeks to work on addiction in a different way. He calls for decriminalization of drugs and a more empathetic approach to addiction. I cried a lot when I met the patients described in the book, because Maté has a great way of translating the interactions, the struggles and the humanity of these people, and also because I recognized some of the patterns within myself and people around me, albeit, perhaps less short-term self-destructive in terms of the substances. 

Baron Baptiste (2016) Perfectly Imperfect: The Art and Soul of Yoga Practice.

One yoga world discovery I made through one of my yoga teaching training colleagues was Baron Baptiste. I just love his voice and his approach to yoga. I read Perfectly Imperfect, 40 Days to Personal RevolutionJourney into Power, and everything I found online. You can tell, I love the guy, and I’ve never taken a class with him (maybe one day ;-)). So his most recent book Perfectly Imperfect takes you beyond the foundations of the practice of yoga by speaking to everything that happens in practitioners’ bodies and minds after they get into a yoga pose. According to Baron Baptiste, that is where true transformation occurs, and where much rich spiritual and emotional growth is available. I resonated a lot with his initial assessment of when he stopped to think about his yoga practice and go into the tense and resistant spaces of ourselves. And become a ‘yes’ for our true inner longing. 

Dahr Jamail (2019) The End of Ice: Bearing Witness and Finding Meaning in the Path of Climate Disruption.

Dhair Jamail is a left-wing journalist and mountaineer. In The End of Ice, Jamail climbs Denali, the highest peak in North America, dives in the warm crystal waters of the Pacific only to find ghostly coral reefs, and explores the tundra of St. Paul Island where he meets the last subsistence seal hunters of the Bering Sea and witnesses its melting glaciers. Accompanied by climate scientists and people whose families have fished, farmed, and lived in the areas he visits for centuries, Jamail begins to accept the fact that Earth, most likely, is in a hospice situation. Ironically, this allows him to renew his passion for the planet’s wild places, cherishing Earth in a way he has never been able to before. This is a moving account of the catastrophic reality of our situation and the incalculable necessity of relishing this vulnerable, fragile planet while we still can.

Pablo Servigne et al. Yggdrasil Magazine.

Edited four times a year by a team around Pablo Servigne, this project (with a life span of a few years) investigates the subject of collapse of our societies. Starting from the recognition that the state of our planet is overwhelming and that we are sliding towards the end of the world as we know it (climate change, loss of biodiversity, social and economic crisis, etc.), this beautiful magazine full of surprising, beautiful contributions in different formats (interviews, poems, fictional texts, …) was quite the discovery. The end of the world may be a shock, but also a reoccurring opportunity to come together, build, find our right place in the web of life, and imagine together other modes of organization and possible horizons.

Trebbe Johnson & Susan Griffin (2018) Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty in Earth’s Broken Places

Johnson argues that we need new methods for coping with loss and invites readers to reconsider what constitutes ‘worthwhile action’. She discusses real wounded places ranging from weapons-testing grounds at Eglin Air Force Base, to Appalachian mountain tops destroyed by mining. These stories, along with tools for community engagement—ceremony, vigil, apology, and the creation of art with on-site materials—show us how we can find beauty in these places and discover new sources of meaning and community. What I take away from the book is that contemplative approaches are deeply political. How we respond to current mass extinction needs to re-weave the relationships with other lifeforms that we have been culturally severing for a long time. 

Ted J. Rau & Jerry Koch-Gonzalez (2018) Many Voices One Song: Shared Power with Sociocracy.

So I’ve been a big fan of sociocracy ever since I discovered it through a training with James, Andrei and Lili of Sociocracy 3.0 in 2015, and have been integrating it into my work for the last 4 years in whatever way possible (meeting structures for safety, consent decision-making, structuring organisations). While not exactly the book for people very new to sociocracy, for me, Many Voices One Song was great because of its detail and because of the depth of experience of Rau and Koch-Gonzalez oozing out of it. I go back to it time and again and find new exciting perspectives. It has all the templates and descriptions of how sociocracy applies to organizational structure, CDM, feedback, meetings, roles and elections and so forth, and I think this is the best handbook out there at the moment. 

Pema Chödrön (1996) When Things Fall Apart

‘To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.’

This is a collection of talks Pema Chödrön gave between 1987 and 1994. So human life presents difficulties and human beings are emotional beings full of fear and ego. But that is not the end of the story, as this book, filled with beautiful quotes as the one above, teaches us how to use painful emotions that arise to cultivate wisdom, compassion and courage, how to communicate in order to encourage true sharing, how to reverse habitual patterns, how to work with chaotic situations and how to take effective social action. 

Martin Shaw (2016) Scatterlings: Getting Claimed in the Age of Amnesia

I didn’t know whether to put Scatterlings into fiction or non-fiction. Martin Shaw is the amazing story and myth teller from Dartmoor, so in a way none of this is fictional in any sense. When Martin Shaw opens his mouth to tell a story I tend to be transfixed. Same when I read his stuff, and the magic in myth telling is definitely alive even in our broken world. Scatterlings is a tapestry of seven stories of Shaw walking around Dartmoor. In a move reminiscent of indigenous teachings, Shaw uses what actually occurs on these walks as the main source of information on the tales, not the interpretations of literary blabla. The swoop of raven, the swamp, the thinking that moves through him, all form a knot of relationship between the land and the story. As he walks he tells the story of the place back to itself. Speech here is part of place-making and of being related to a place. In a time of rapid migrations and climate crisis where everything seems to be nomadic and mobile, Shaw asks: how could we be not just from a place but of a place? When did we trade shelter for comfort? What was the cost of that trade? 

FICTION

Octavia E. Butler Kindred (1979) & Parable of the Sower (1993) & Parable of the Talents (1998)

I love Octavia Butler’s work. It has great characters and addresses the issue of the intersectionality of power, race, and gender in various constellations. 

Kindred was the first science fiction volume written by a black woman. Dana, a young African-American woman has an uncanny connection to a white son of slave owners on a plantation in the southern US. The book is gripping and beautifully paced. It reads like an ethnography of how power relations worked out within the white supremacist paradigm where black people could be owned, and where black women were even more oppressed than black men. 

I also enjoyed the Earthseed series a lot (Parable of the Sower & Parable of the Talents). It is an incomplete series as the third book in the trilogy Parable of the Trickster was not finished before Butler’s death. The two books are woven around the protagonist Lauren Olamina, who is a hyperempath living in a collapsed USA. She forms a new belief system, Earthseed, which posits a future for the human race on other planets. When the gated community she grew up in is destroyed and Lauren’s family and neighbours killed, she and two other survivors flee north.Recruiting members of varying social backgrounds along the way, Lauren relocates her new group to Northern California, naming her new community Acorn. The second book in the series dramatizes her relationship to her daughter, Larkin, who was taken away when Acorn was turned into a religious reeducation camp by a renegade group of Christian America, a right-wing fundamentalist political and religious movement that the president of the USA also happens to be a part of. There are echoes of slavery in the religious ‘re-education’ programme that Acorn undergoes, in terms of its violence, its tools e.g. electronic collars around the neck that dispense extreme pain, and its methods, e.g. removing children, raping women, etc. 

Maja Lunde (2019) The History of Bees. 

This one I leave you to discover by yourself. 

England, 1852. William is a biologist and seed merchant, who sets out to build a new type of beehive—one that will give both him and his children honor and fame.

United States, 2007. George is a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, but hopes that his son can be their salvation.

China, 2098. Tao hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees now that the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident, she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.