Permission to relax

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Last Friday, on my day off, I gave myself a wonderful gift.  It didn’t cost any money and I didn’t even need to leave the house. It was a grey rainy day outside and I knew I had an intensive weekend ahead, so I spent a large part of the day just lying on the sofa, reading.

I let myself be swept into the characters’ lives and was completely absorbed in another world for hours, while totally ignoring my real-life to-do list and not feeling like I needed to stop reading to do something more important.  It was wonderful and it recharged my batteries much more than ticking off items on my to-do list ever would. I plan to do this again soon. Here’s to giving ourselves permission to relax and recharge in whatever way works for us, regardless of what still needs to be done!

2018 reading statistics

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It’s always interesting to look back at the past year’s books and crunch some numbers to observe if there are any trends and help plan for the year ahead. This year I started tracking which books I read on Goodreads, which is great because it means I have an accurate overview, as it’s easy to forget which books I was reading 12 months ago.

Findings from 2018

In 2018, I read 56 books, corresponding to 16320 pages (!), I doubt I’ve ever read that many books in one year.  I mostly read novels (64%), the rest was a combination of non-fiction/memoirs/self-help books.

Of those books, 59% were written by women (33 books), 39% by men (22 books)  and 2% by a woman/man couple (1 book).  I paid more attention this year to selecting books written by women so I’m glad that is reflected in these numbers and it balances out my 2017 gender gap.

Without particularly trying to diversify, the authors of the books are from 13 different nationalities (Austria, Australia, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Norway, Switserland, USA), however with a high proportion of the books written by authors from the USA. I read mostly in English, and just a few books in French and one in Italian.

The books I read were published between 1946 and 2018, however the large majority  of what I chose to read was written from 2000 onward (84%). Like for movies, I tend to be attracted more by recent books.

Plans for 2019

I would like to make a more conscious effort to support new authors, as well as read more books from different countries. (I’m so inspired by the story of the lady who read a book from every country in the world)

I will continue to strive for gender balance. I plan to source my books from a combination of the public library, independent bookstores, gifts (I received four great books by women authors for Christmas, hooray!) and the little free libraries in the neighbourhood.

I’m curious to hear your reading plans for 2019. Feel free to share in the comments:)

Not-quite-end-of-year book recommendations

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The first snow has made its appearance in Amsterdam this weekend, and it is the perfect weather for cupping a warm cup of tea with two hands with a good book in my lap. It’s not quite time to review the statistics about all this year’s reading, so for now I’ll just share three recommendations from the last months, as inspiration to read during the cosy evenings of the Christmas holidays!

All the birds, singing – Evie Wyld

I came across this book at the library by chance and it kept me in its grip for the few days I spent reading it.  The story telling is well done and you can really feel the heat of the Australian bush as if you were there. It brought back very clear memories of a trip we took with my family over 25 years ago to a farm in Australia where we saw sheep being sheared, it’s amazing how those images remain ingrained in some deep corner of the brain after all those years!

Tattoos on the heart: the power of boundless compassion – Gregory Boyle

I found this book in a little free library, and though it is written by a pastor it is not at all the ‘religious’ as I thought it may be. This book will warm your heart. It is a bundle of anecdotes from Father Gregory’s time working in Los Angeles in a neighbourhood with high gang activity and his amazing project to find concrete solutions.  It’s a powerful mix of down-to-earth, hilarious stories and deep reflection about hope and how to value every single person whatever their situation. It’s inspiring to read about the effects of acknowledging our common humanity and approaching it with unconditional love.

Vox – Christina Dalcher

This is the latest book we are reading in our book club (great suggestion by Paolo!), about a world very similar to ours, except women can only say maximum 100 words a day, after which they receive an electroshock for every extra word.  The frustration and anxiety you feel just reading about such a situation is a serious reminder of how precious our voices are and a powerful call to activism.

*****

Previous book recommendations: books I enjoyed lately, books about creativity, non-fiction books, discovering new voices.

Guide for fun and energising Xmas gifts

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Tired of shopping for presents just before Christmas in overcrowded shops? There’s nothing wrong with presents as such, but I feel like the pressure to buy gifts pushes us towards quick fixes that are not always satisfying. There has to be a better way, right?

As with everything, I believe it is possible to make the whole experience much more energising and sustainable, both for the person giving and the one receiving:) By being more mindful, we end up with intentional gifts and stories that lead to more fun and greater connection.

Giving

  • Experience gifts:  They are the norm among my family and friends for several years already compared to material gifts.  It’s a chance to offer someone an experience, based on their interests that they will remember and cherish, rather than just one more object. You can make it as cheap or expensive as you like (a home cooked meal or time spent together are great options).
    Over the last years, I’ve given tickets to concerts, escape rooms and plays, offered vouchers for massages, made vouchers to spend creative time with friends and family…
    TIP: if it is an activity for several people, plan a date immediately with all participants, so you have something to look forward to!
  • Secret Santa: instead of buying gifts for everyone, organise a secret santa so you can focus on getting a quality gift for just one person
    TIP: get people to be very specific about that they want so you get them a gift that makes their heart sing (see below on Receiving).
  • Support small businesses: If you are buying material gifts (jewelry, clothes, decoration items…), think of this as an opportunity to support small/local businesses that make you enthusiastic and for who your purchase will make a difference, leading to a happy dance.
    TIP: Keep a list of the small craft businesses/independent brands you come across all year around at local craft markets, Etsy or social media, so you can recall them when you need a gift.
  • Books: Buy from independent bookstores, this is the chance to browse through all those lovely covers and keep local bookstores alive
    TIP: Experiment with books that you don’t know but are drawn to, discover new voices or authors from other countries
  • Wrapping: no need to spend money on new rolls of wrapping paper, just recycle newspapers or old magazines.
    TIP: Try to personalise the wrapping paper for the recipient (it is a very mindful activity for winter nights:)

Receiving

Actually reducing the number of physical presents received is quite a lengthy process as culturally we feel we should not to come ’empty handed’.  In the past, I’ve written emails to family and talked with friends to try and gracefully explain that I value experiences over material gifts. Slowly the idea is making its way and I have the secret conviction that it will inspire them too;)   The experiences I received and participated in were super fun and created memories I’ll not forget like going to London for an incredible workshop with my favorite author or exploring the Japanese gardens with friends:)

Another idea is instead of people searching for a gift, to tell them upfront you would prefer to receive some money for you to give to your favorite charity. Alternatively,  you can ask the person to use the money they would have spent on your gift on their favorite charity or to support their favorite artist on Patreon. They have more say on where the money goes and it is a win-win for everyone.

I’d love to hear more ideas! How do will you make your Xmas shopping more intentional this year?

Books I enjoyed lately

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #86

At the beginning of the year, I looked back at the books I had read in 2017 and the statistics about how many of those books were written by men and how many by women. I aimed to read more books by women in 2018 to counterbalance that number.

As we are half-way through the year (already!) I thought I’d check my progress. So far I have read 22 books, of all sorts of genres (novels, crimes, non-fiction, self-help…).  Of those books 12 were written by women, 8 by men and 1 by a woman/man couple (Nicci French). Some books were favorites that I re-read just for the pleasure and others were new discoveries.  I thought I’d recommend the books I preferred for anyone looking for some holiday reading:

Carpentaria – Alexis Wright

A dear Australian friend recommended me Carpentaria when I told her I was looking to read more works written by women and wanted discover some new voices.  Though it took me a little while to get into the book, pretty soon I was captured by the story and characters. It reads like a mix between ‘A hundred years of solitude’ and ‘Life of Pi’, with changes of rhythm as the author portrays the Aboriginal reality of a small town in Northern Queensland. A great read!

Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff

I found this book discounted in a local book shop and though I’d never heard it, I was tempted by the cover. It was a flowing read and I love a good peek into people’s lives (even if they are entirely fictional!). I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil it for you (something the cashier at the book shop couldn’t help doing when I bought it… luckily I enjoyed it all the same:).

The Monk of Mokha – Dave Eggers

If you like coffee and adventures, this is one for you! It’s the true story of a Yemeni American importing coffee from Yemen, the birthplace of coffee. An incredible and gripping true story of how far following your dreams will take you.

Happy reading!!

Word on the water

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #81

Bookstores are magical places for me. I get lost for hours, attracted by the colourful covers, picking up one book after another, feeling their weight, reading the back and thinking about all the wonderful stories I have yet to discover.

While in London, we stumbled across Word on the Water, a barge which houses an independent bookshop on Regent’s Canal, close to where we were staying.  As we passed several times over the course of the next days, we got a peek into the rhythms of this lovely bookshop.

First time we passed by it was not open yet and a dog snoozing blissfully in its own armchair in the entrance. Later that evening, there were musicians playing a concert on the roof of the barge.  As the music drifted to our ears, we explored the shelves full of new and second hand books, in the cosy interior, trying to find some treasures. Another day, some students were staging a photo-shoot in extravagant glittery costumes.  I am grateful for independent shops, which bring life and joy to local neighbourhoods.

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Discovering new voices

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Last year in the context of work, I discovered the power of data-driven decisions and started to apply it in other spheres of my life.  In 2017, I aimed to read more books and watch less series, so I started to count and make a list of the books I had read.  Half-way through the year, though I was happy to be progressing on my goal to read more, I realised a large proportion of those books were written by men.

While there is nothing wrong with books written by men, I strive for equality so I decided to balance out the trend. I paid closer attention and consciously chose books written by women, as well as looking out for some voices that were new to me, and in the end, 43,6% of the 39 books I read were by women authors.

Now for 2018 I plan that at least 56,4% of the books I read are written by women.  I’ll report back on how it is going throughout the year:)

*****

Here are some of my favorite books written by women from my 2017 readings, perfect for curling up on the couch in these days of icy cold weather:

A little life – Hanya Yanagihara

This is one of the best books I read last year.  I keep coming back to the story and its characters who I couldn’t help but care for deeply and their relationships.  Utterly heartbreaking and not for the faint-hearted (there are images of abuse and violence that I still find difficult to shake off today).

The buddha in the attic – Julie Otsuka

The story of Japanese picture brides who moved to the United States in the 1900s. I really enjoyed how their stories are told anonymously and at the same time so personally. It was gripping and fascinating as I had never heard of this part of history.

New people – Danzy Senna

A modern love story about racial identity and figuring out what one really wants in life. I enjoyed the sneak peek into a Brooklyn lifestyle in the 90s and got caught up in the shenanigans of Maria, the main character whose behaviour is both mindboggling and completely relatable.

Salvage the bones – Jesmyn Ward

Day to day life of a family in the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina. So beautifully written and poetic. The characters are great and you really feel like you are there with them.

Luxury is a state of mind

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #61

I am excited about the pile of new books on my dresser that are waiting to be read and the fact that it’s weekend, meaning I have plenty of free time to laze about in pyjamas with a delicious cup of tea and can delve uninterrupted into the worlds between their pages!

Recommended reading

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This weekend, whilst looking online for titles of books written by women to suggest at our next bookclub meeting, I came across this piece DEAR IJEAWELE, OR A FEMINIST MANIFESTO IN FIFTEEN SUGGESTIONS, by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  I really enjoy how she writes and particularly liked this piece because it addresses many topics around gender inequality with a fresh perspective and has so many concrete examples.

It’s a long-read but well-worth your time.  I’d say sit comfortably on the sofa with a nice warm cup of tea, and let yourself be carried from one suggestion to the next. These suggestions apply to any human being really and can benefit both men and women.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women.”

“If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential. Please see Chizalum as an individual. Not as a girl who should be a certain way. See her weaknesses and her strengths in an individual way. Do not measure her on a scale of what a girl should be. Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself.”

And after reading the article let it sink in for a while and read it again;)

Some of my favorite non-fiction books

As the days are getting shorter and the rain pours down outside, I’m enjoying reading more, it’s the perfect way of spending a quiet afternoon indoors. If you are looking for some ideas for non-fiction books to read, here are a few that I’ve read over the last years that really changed my view on the world.

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The gifts of imperfection – Brene Brown

This was the first book I read by Brene Brown, who is now one of my favorite authors and inspired my joyful gratitude posts. It’s a thin book that goes straight to the point, and really helped me to put things into perspective about how I wanted to live and what is important to me.

Non-violent communication – Dan Rosenberg

My Dad gave me this book years ago and my copy is falling to pieces from frequently going back to it. Despite its strange title, this book is a wonderful guide to communicating better with others. I’ve read it many times over the years, and even if I have to admit I am far from being capable of applying all its wisdom I am glad that it at least makes me more conscious of the traps we fall into.

Art of Non-Conformity – Chris Guillebeau

I found this small book whilst exploring the shelves of a lovely second-hand bookstore in Chicago. It’s a great reminder on how the status quo can and should be challenged, and the power of doing things your own unconventional way.

Cross-roads of should and must – Elle Luna

This is a colourful and beautifully illustrated book that I couldn’t resist buying once I flipped through its pages in the bookstore. It is very simple and gets you to be aware of all the ‘shoulds’ we have in our life and what might happen if we identified and chose our ‘must’ more often. So inspiring!