Emily's 2017 Reading List and Book Review

Hi friends! I'm back with some more reading recs. I know I said I would do this every summer, but let's be realistic here. When the sun is out, I'd rather be playing outside than inside writing a blog post if I have the choice. But, I did do a ton of reading this year! And I wanted to make sure I follow through with my annual book review as promised. I know it's already 2018 but let's pretend I posted this on December 31st. ooook? This list a little bit more "clinical" in nature, but they are all books that really stood out to me this year and would be amazing reads for anyone, no matter their background or professional interests. Happy New Year and happy reading!

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

I read this book in the early months of 2017 and it has still stuck with me. I read and held onto every word, I underlined and dog-eared and took notes. I would argue that this is one of the most important works published in the field of psychology and mental health in a very long time. Van der Kolk is a pioneer in trauma research who asserts that in order for us to truly understand the impact of trauma on our brains, bodies, relationships, and community systems, we need to step away from the rigid medical and disease model of psychopathology and look at humans as complex, unique beings that are deeply influenced by our environments and experiences. He defines trauma as any experience that overwhelms the central nervous system to a point that it alters our memory, compromises our sense of safety, and creates an imprint on our brains and bodies that can sometimes make us respond to stimuli as if the experience is still happening in the present moment. Ven der Kolk gives the reader a thorough understanding of the impact of trauma, but he also offers an explanation for what is truly healing beyond the current medical paradigm of treating a “disorder.” He primarily focuses on the importance of a deep felt sense of safety in relationships and community, which in turn allows a person to relax and be able to be present with their physical and emotional experiences. There is so much amazing information and insight in this book and my tiny paragraph about it will never do it justice. If I could recommend any book right now for helpers and healers of any kind, it would be this one. I also think it could be extremely valuable to anyone who has experienced trauma that they are still trying to understand and heal.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

In his book, Dr. Maté brings us right into the intimate world of his work with people suffering from addiction in downtown Vancouver, BC. Maté is such a brilliant, thoughtful, compassionate writer and practitioner, and I have to say, he has become a role model for me. This book is so beautiful and compelling for many reasons. He gives the reader a close look at the work he does, the way he invests personally in the relationships he has with patients and how he works to understand their unique stories, knowing they are truly doing the best they can with what they have. He gives us an example of how we can approach and understand addiction from a relational and spiritual place, always finding the courage and strength in his patients, rather than viewing them from a pathologizing, shaming place. I ended up feeling so invested in his work and unbelievably inspired after reading this. Honestly, this book is very special. You could pick it up and put it down a million times and take years to read it, but every time you read a chapter, you will learn something valuable not just about being a good clinician, but about being a compassionate and open-hearted human.

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

I mean… obviously this was going to make the list. I actually think that this is my favorite of all of Brené Brown’s books so far. Brené bases this book on her own theory of belonging, which she believes is found within ourselves first before we can experience it in our relationships. Brené uses this theory to address the polarization of our political/social climate and how it shows up on social media - which we all know is a serious cultural crisis right now. She addresses how we have difficult conversations while maintaining compassion, curiosity, and boundaries, and how we understand trust in our relationships through learning how we trust ourselves. She draws the very important connections between belonging to ourselves, being authentic, and having integrity as a means to a true sense of belonging in the world, and an honest experience of connection with others. She talks about what it means to come back to each other amidst our cultural disconnect, while also feeling at home with ourselves when we need to do the hard work of standing alone in order to be true to ourselves. Brené Brown continues to blow me away with her insight and ability to speak to things that I know in my heart but struggle to find words for. I was lucky enough to see her speak on her book tour this year and I was very moved by her thoughtful presence and message. I can’t imagine anyone reading this and not getting something out of it.

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

I appreciated this book particularly because it addresses the reality that many helpers experience: the very real feeling of absorbing the pain and suffering of those we care for, and how it impacts our own ability to take care of ourselves. We all spend a lot of time researching, reflecting on, discussing the ways that we can best help others - trying to identify what others need from us. So we easily forget about what it takes for us personally to be effective helpers in the first place. While we all share the value of making the world a better place, many of us can end up feeling burned out, hopeless, or numb if we aren’t taking care of ourselves and paying attention to the vicarious trauma we might be experiencing. What I liked the most about this book was the various strategies she presents that we can use to notice how our work might be impacting our own wellbeing. I really took it to heart. A must read for anyone who is spending their days working to relieve suffering of any kind.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I focus on grief and loss in my practice, so this book has been on my list for a long time and I wish I had read it sooner. Joan Didion is such a beautiful writer; her writing is so poetic and yet so approachable. This is her memoir of the year after she suddenly lost her husband to a heart attack while her grown daughter was hospitalized for life threatening reasons. This memoir is a beautiful account of her grieving experience as well as her marriage as a whole, as she reflects on what she has lost. Didion is so vulnerable and honest in her writing about the complex issues in her marriage and the reality of how she handled her grief. She describes the shock, the avoidance of acknowledging it for almost a year, the desperation for him to come back, the ways she continuously relived memories, the ways she focused on concrete details and struggled to piece together the sequence of events, feeling confused by her own choices and behaviors. This book helped me normalize our unique grieving experiences even more, confirming the truth that there is no prescribed path to grief and healing, and that we all have our own process by which we face loss. I read this quickly and felt very touched by every page. I can’t wait to read more from her.

Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle

Oh, Glennon. I love this woman. She is such an inspiring public figure. She is so much fun to follow on social media, she has wonderful ted talks, blog posts, and opinion pieces. This memoir is about the struggle to overcome a serious betrayal and fallout in her marriage. Since I follow her, I know there is far more to her story since this book was published. But what I appreciate about her is that no matter what, I know her words are full of truth and integrity, and the remainder of her story will align. Glennon is a woman who has been through a lot in her life, and has had many revelations and reckonings with herself. She is brutally honest in a way that would help any reader feel less alone with their feelings and true experiences. I loved all of the insight that came from this memoir about what it means to face hardship head on, one day at a time, choosing to keep going even when it feels like our world is collapsing beneath us. A really good, quick read for anyone going through a hard time and needs another’s words to keep them company and nudge them forward.

*Other books I loved this year:

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

Hunger by Roxane Gay

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Brainstorm by Dan Siegal

You Cant Touch My Hair by Pheobe Robinson

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

*On next year's reading list:

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood by Lisa Damour

Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity by Julia Serano

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg

Superbetter: The Power of Living Gamefully by Jane McGonigal

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

The Heart of Trauma: Healing the Embodied Brain in the Context of Relationships by Bonnie Badenoch

The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

In the Company of Women by Grace Bonney