That spring feeling

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #169

Even if it has been a very mild winter, this week I clearly felt the sparks of joy linked to the first signs of spring.  Like realising that I feel a tiny bit more energetic, and how lovely it feels to cycle through the city when it is still daylight on my way home from work, and feeling the sun’s rays a little sharper on my face during my lunch walk…

I am grateful for winter and its quieter days, but I am also glad that spring is on its way.  I can’t wait not to have to wear two pairs of socks to keep my feet warm and to bundle myself in layers of clothes and scarves.  I’m ready to watch nature waking up and bringing to the world its colourful buds and fresh green leaves, to hear bees buzzing among tiny flowers and watch ducklings by the canals.  I look forward to the simple pleasure of sitting in the park to read in the sun.

What is it you most look forward to about spring?

Diving back into a good book

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #164

In January, I’ve been lucky to borrow several unputdownable books from the library. I am grateful to live in Amsterdam, a city with such a well-stocked public library, which means all these amazing books are easily accessible.

Winter is perfect for going to bed early and having the luxury of reading in peace after a busy day.  I love the feeling of being in the middle of a great book and not being able to wait to dive back into it and find out what happens. I relish being drawn into new experiences and seeing the world through different characters’ eyes for a while.  As a novice writer, I am in awe of the authors’ craft and hope to soak up their expert story-telling techniques and absorb their beautiful way with words.

Reading review for 2019

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A couple of years ago, I realised that tracking and reviewing what I read helps me to be more intentional of my choices and it has made my reading experience more stimulating and rewarding. Here is a summary with some key data, as well as my plans for 2020.

In 2019 I had a surprisingly good year in terms of reading. I read more than I expected reaching 54 books, with on average one book a week, for a total of about 14400 pages.  24% of those books were written by men (13), so I feel like this year I did a great job at exploring more women’s voices. The authors of were from all around the world: UK, USA, India, Italy, Ireland, Hong-Kong, Comoros Islands, Palestine and France.

This year I read a very diverse batch of novels, self-help and non-fiction books, both light and deeper topics. I really enjoyed expanding my horizons on topics such as slavery, the environment and genres like dystopia.

Over the year, I treated myself to a few books to support my local bookstore, but most of the others were from the public library, the little free libraries, gifted to me or borrowed from friends and colleagues.  Eight of these books we read with our book club and had lively discussions about over good coffee. Next to the book club, I have lately been enjoying chats about books with my colleagues as we make our way through the lunch queue at work.

What I haven’t included in my overview are short stories, which I read a lot of this year, in the context of my writing course to get inspiration for my own writing.  Being transported in a few pages to totally different worlds and styles is wonderful and has led me to encounter authors I’d never heard of.

Looking at this summary, I realise that in 2020 I’d like to read more books by authors from a wider range of countries, to support translated works and discover voices that are new to me. I will try to be more conscious of this when I list books on Goodreads. I will also continue to read books on topics such as feminism and social injustice to broaden my understanding of complex issues.

I welcome your reading suggestions, please feel free to write them in the comments! Thanks and happy reading in 2020:)

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You can find my overviews of 2018 and 2017, and further book lists.

Books about walking

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Hibernation season has decidedly arrived and as the cold settles in and raindrops hit the windows, I’m happy to live vicariously from the comfort of my sofa, while I wait for the right season to pull on my hiking shoes and go for a long walk. Here is a short list of books about walking to accompany you in these cold months.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s beautiful memoir of how walking can lead you back to yourself in times of deep loss and grief.  It doesn’t sugarcoat the experience of long-term hiking, and it’s funny, desperately sad and hopeful all rolled in one.

Walking: One step at a time – Erling Kagge

I read this book in Italian, I was drawn to its title which is translated as ‘Camminare – un gesto sovversivo’, meaning ‘Walking – a subversive act’,  and therefore appealed to the rebellious part of me. It’s a poetic ode to walking on a day-to-day and a reminder of how slowing down and walking is a powerful way of resisting being pulled into the vortex of ever-increasing speed.

Walking to listen – Andrew Forsthoefel

The true story of how Andrew set out to cross the US by foot and actively listen to people’s stories. He shares stories from people from all walks of life, races, ages, who were generous on his way.  I enjoyed how it reveals a lot about privilege and how stereotypes are put to the test when we realise we are all simply humans trying to live our best lives.

Without ever reaching the summit – Paolo Cognetti

Cognetti’s account of his hike at the foot of the Himalayan mountains makes you feel you are right there with him. I like this book because with no intention of conquering the summit it is focussed on just experiencing the landscape at 4-5000 meters, observing its nature and wildlife, and describing the inhabitants and the human connection born on such a trip.

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*****

Putting together this post, I took a dive in my photography archive to look for some relevant pictures from when I was walking the Camino along the Northern coast of Spain.  Just looking at these photos I am drawn back to the remote places along the path, I can feel the weight of my backpack, the exhilaration of having no other task than to walk 6 to 8 hours a day and the repeated joy of overlooking an amazing landscape after an upwards climb.

 

Reading short stories

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I’ve been appreciating reading short stories lately.  Some I found in a pile of decade-old New Yorkers that I came across at the little free library, some in the anthology of short stories that is our syllabus for my next writing class, some online in literary magazines I’m thinking off submitting to or other links unearthed in some internet rabbit-hole…  I usually read novels or non-fiction books, but I’m having a great time picking up the huge doorstop of an anthology, and browsing for a familiar name or a story with an intriguing title and dive into a new world for a few pages.

It’s fascinating to see that some stories don’t resonate with me at all, while others I am drawn into after just a few words and held breathless to the end. Also, it’s reassuring because it reminds me how subjective taste is, and how much is personal, projected onto the story by the reader. It’s a nice format in these days where attention spans are ever-shortening, and it’s encouraging to see how short pieces can pack a punch and feel how they stay with me long after I’ve finished reading them.

Pockets of downtime

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #122

As I type this, it is Friday morning on my blissful day off. It’s quiet and I don’t need to rush to work. I’ve enjoyed a slow breakfast and a chat, looking over a lovely bouquet of flowers towering in an improvised jug-vase on the kitchen table.  Ahead of me I have a peaceful creative afternoon with a dear friend, and afterwards a low-key weekend to process the past week, read, stare out the window perhaps, do a little writing and generally take the time to relax. I am grateful for pockets of downtime, tranquil moments to recharge in between the busy office days.

Inspiration is everywhere

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #115

January has come and gone, with its short days and a bit of snow sprinkled here and there.  It turned out to be a month for getting more grounded, with indoor activities like making mood boards, journaling, reading and writing.  It feels like ‘maintenance’ on myself to recharge and set a good basis for the months to come.

A recurring theme has been creativity.  I am grateful for Paolo and my friends’ encouragement as I take steps outside my comfort zone.  I’m glad to be stretching myself and trying new things which I believe will help me to grow in unexpected ways.

Lately I’ve noticed how when I give creativity some more attention, it starts to infuse everything. Taking the tram to the office becomes a chance to observe people and become aware of how the city is changing, rather than just a boring commute. Sitting in meetings at work is like watching improv theater, unscripted human interaction in an ecosystem complete with its unwritten rules and often incongruous behaviours. Cleaning the bathroom becomes a quiet time to search for memories hidden deep in my brain as inspiration for my next writing assignment. I can’t wait to see where these creative paths will lead me…

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.

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