Every fortnight on a Friday, I send an email called Word Love. I share one book, one article, and one podcast that recently delighted or inspired me. It’s kind of like a virtual book club – such a fun way to connect with other word lovers.
Want a sneak peek before you subscribe? Here are 18 of my most recent reads, copied straight from previous Word Love emails. Happy reading!
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
“Human beings are so capricious, so complex, so delightfully contradictory, that they deserve not only our consideration, but our reconsideration - and our unwavering determination to withhold our opinion until we have engaged with them in every possible setting at every possible hour.”
A delightful, thought-provoking book. You'll fall in love with the narrator (the Count) within a few pages, and the mystery around his circumstances will keep you reading way past bedtime. Set against the dramatic backdrop of the Russian Revolution, it's both a history lesson and an eloquent reflection on what it means to lead a noble, kind, generous life.
Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
“Zeke embodied the contradiction of his generation: jaded about the fate of the world, idealistic about personal prospects.”
A bleakly beautiful (or beautifully bleak?) novel about unexpected poverty, crippling student loans, climate change, Trump, and Darwin, among other things. It's complex, confronting, highly political, and wonderfully thought provoking – irrespective of your political views. Some find Barbara Kingsolver's writing tedious (it's no chick lit), but I think she is one of the most gifted writers of our time.
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton
“I know I don’t always practise this but, basically, you know, the whole point of life is doing things that are right over things that are easy.”
I almost can’t find the words to describe how much I enjoyed this book. It’s deeply sad and traumatic in parts, but when I think about the story my heart feels light, happy, and hopeful. Australian journalist-turned-novelist has truly crafted a masterpiece. Please read it so we can rejoice over this incredible book together.
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all at the same time. You could see it every time you looked at her: layered in her face was the baby she’d been and the child she’d become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all, like a 3-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get in.”
There's a reason this book is so popular. If you still haven't picked it up, do! It offers just enough intrigue to keep you reading way past bedtime, without being too heavy. And, of course, it's beautifully written. My only disappointment: I was left wanting more.
Books about business
You Are A Badass At Making Money by Jen Sincero
“Everybody arrives on this planet with unique desires, gifts, and talents, and as you journey through life, your job is to discover what yours are, to nurture them, and to bloom into the most authentic, gleeful, and badassiest version of yourself.”
Firstly, what a title! I wasn't brave enough to read this book in public. I stuffed it quickly in my bag when I picked it up from the library, blushing at the thought of people catching me red-handed with a sassy book about money (of all things!!). Who do I think I am, wanting to be a badass at making money?!
Well, apparently I'm Jen Sincero's ideal reader: someone who is attracted to the idea of making money while doing some good in the world, but has a tonne (and I mean a TONNE) of icky money issues holding her back. The purpose of this book is to help you see money for what it is: an essential resource, NOT the 'root of all evil' or 'something for greedy people' or whatever weird money myths you subconsciously believe.
This book was my first foray into financial self-help, and I enjoyed it – but I took Jen Sincero's tips with an extremely large handful of salt. She's a big advocate of 'believing your way to success' and sometimes the manifestation woo-woo was too much for me to stomach. But many of the principles are interesting and I took away some good tips I can action immediately.
I'd recommend it if you're interested in improving your money mindset, but you're wary enough to avoid taking her advice too literally (some of which involves leaping into extraordinary amounts of debt on faith alone). Like most self-help books, it's important to read this one with an open mind and a critical eye.
Winging It by Emma Isaacs
“I’ve never been out to impress anyone other than my kids. I know I’m good at the stuff that matters - being there for endless cuddles, listening intently to their woes, gently encouraging and guiding, and trying to instil the values that I hope are going to best get them through life.”
Emma Isaacs is the founder of Business Chicks, a friend of Richard Branson, and a prolific Australian entrepreneur. Oh, and she has FIVE young children! I picked up Winging It because I was desperate to know: how does she have five children, an epic career, travel a lot, and not get consumed by mum guilt?
I wouldn't be asking any of these questions if Emma was a man. But she's not. She's a woman, and even though it's 2018 and we're all meant to be totally 'woke', most women feel an enormous pressure to be the primary caregiver/homemaker (myself included). So I was fascinated by Emma's situation and hoping her book would glean some insight into how she navigates her complex, exciting life. I wasn't disappointed.
The chapter on parenting - 'Don't Call Me Superwoman' - offers gems like the quote above. I ADORE this perspective: "I've never been out to impress anyone other than my kids". This made me stop in my tracks and realise I need to stop trying to be a 'people pleaser parent' and instead focus on the most important question in the world: is Zoey safe, content, and loved? Yes, yes, and yes. When I know she's thriving, I can pursue my career and interests without guilt, even if our life doesn't look picture perfect in the eyes of others.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
“Feminism wasn’t supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising children better, organising more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free - to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without feeling that we’d somehow gotten it wrong.”
I'm a few years late to the Lean In party, but I finally read this prolific book by Sheryl Sandberg. It's not perfect (is any book?) but it's thoughtful and thought-provoking, and I finished it knowing a lot more about workplace [in]equality than when I started. I really enjoyed the chapters on being a working mum and all the associated guilt/baggage that often comes with that. I love the quote above; to me, it's a reminder not to get trapped in a guilt-spiral.
Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
“I am a traveller, not a mapmaker. I am going down this path same as and with you.”
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know I love Brené Brown. I can’t get enough of her wisdom, research and wit. Dare to Lead is a bit different from her other books as it’s aimed exclusively at leaders, but I think anyone and everyone should read it. Whether you’re leading a corporate organisation of thousands or your family of three, it’ll help you show up more wholeheartedly (which is what Brené is all about).
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
“Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push - in just the right place - it can be tipped.”
This year, two major New Zealand supermarket chains banned plastic bags. Just like that. After years of plastic bags being the norm (and everyone wondering if this would ever change), they've disappeared from checkouts. Poof. Gone. And it's no big deal.
Whenever I think about this, it reminds me of The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. And it gives me hope that other things that once seemed impossible will soon reach a tipping point, and there will be change, and everyone will cope, and the world will be a better place. I'm hoping for a tipping point with electric cars. And takeaway coffee cups.
The Healing Power of Writing: A Therapist’s Guide to Using Journaling with Clients by Susan Borkin
“I still find a great deal of discomfort and fear attached to writing. Writing is one of those things few people are neutral about.” - Susan Borkin
Written for psychologists, this book is packed with practical tips for tapping into the healing power of free-form journalling. I love how Susan acknowledges that writing triggers a lot of fear and insecurity in some people – I come across this every day in my career. Many people think they have to be a good writer in order to write, and are therefore missing out on the HUGE benefits of journalling. I truly believe writing is one of the most profound things we can do for our mental wellbeing, so it's wonderful to discover a book that backs this up with scientific evidence and practical exercises. Well worth a read if you're interested in this kind of thing.
Books about parenting
The Rainbow Way: Cultivating Creativity in the Midst of Motherhood by Lucy H. Pearce
“We live in a world where we have to decide our own enough. Children will always want more, need more, that is human. And society will always require more of us too. So it is up to us to decide and clearly communicate our limits: it is our sacred duty to ourselves and our children if we are to share a loving and healthy relationship.”
Part memoir, part self-help, The Rainbow Way is dotted with personal stories from writers, artists, and other creatives trying to honour their creative calling while mothering. I love reading experiences of motherhood, so this was right up my alley. I must admit, the book loses steam towards the second half but I thoroughly enjoyed the first chapters. It’s a good read for anyone trying to blend creativity with parenting.
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley
“We expertly envision the big picture, we think about the consequences on a broad scale, we adapt easily to the unexpected, and we put heart into the work we produce, the relationships we nurture, the interactions we stumble upon.”
Fed Up is an earnest exploration of the emotional labour that many women put into relationships, especially with their partners and children. Through a series of essay-style chapters, author and mum of three Gemma Hartley argues that emotional labour is an undervalued, incredibly important skill set that we could all benefit from learning more about. She encourages women to value the emotional labour they do and urges men to take on more of the mental load.
I enjoyed this book because it gave me the language to describe the many ways I perform emotional labour on a daily (if not hourly) basis. However, I wouldn’t describe it as an easy or light read. I found some chapters quite repetitive and even skim-read a few sections.
I picked up this book because I’m passionate about maternal wellness and the mental load is a big part of that picture. If this topic interests you, too, I’d recommend starting with Gemma Hartley’s article in Harpers Bazaar: Women Aren’t Nags - We’re Just Fed Up and then reading the book for a deeper analysis.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
“You got somewhere by building that better reality, if at first only in your own mind. Or as Barack had put it that night, you may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be.”
I loved so many things about Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. It’s candid, honest, refreshing, REAL, and mostly about her journey. I especially enjoyed reading about her grappling with new motherhood and trying to blend her ambitions on the work and home front. (As you can imagine, Michelle Obama knows a thing or two about The Mental Load). So, it kind of irks me that my favourite quote/sentiment from the book is actually a quote from her husband. But it’s just so good: “You may live in the world as it is, but you can still work to create the world as it should be.” So much yes. I look forward to reading Barack Obama's memoir when it finally hits the shelves!
My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem
“If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen to them. If you hope people will change how they live, you have to know how they live. If you want people to see you, you have to sit down with them eye-to-eye.”
Something compelled me to request My Life on the Road from the library and the prologue alone changed my outlook on life (not kidding). The bit about the purple motorcycle (you'll understand when you read it) had me in tears. I remember crying with happiness and marvelling at the power of words to shift something within you. This is why I love reading and writing so much!! You just never know when you're going to pick up a book that will have a profound impact on the way you see the world.
So who is Gloria Steinem and what is this book about? She's an 84-year-old professional organiser and activist and this book is about her life on the road. She's spent much of her life travelling across America to listen to groups of people and often campaign on their behalf (or at the very least write about their shared experiences). At 84, she knows a thing or two about life and to read her words felt like drinking a refreshing glass of wisdom! She has a hopeful-yet-pragmatic outlook on life and humanity which I loved. I think this could be my new favourite book.
Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discovery by Scott Kelly
“In my half-awake state it occurs to me that one day we’re all going to be dead, that we will all be dead much longer than we were alive. In a sense I feel I know what it will be like, because we were all ‘dead’ once, before we were born. For each of us, there was a moment when we became self-aware, realized that we were alive, and the nothingness before that wasn’t particularly objectionable. This thought, strange as it may be, is reassuring.”
This quote is both unsettling and intriguing, which is how I found much of Scott Kelly's memoir Endurance: A Year in Space, A Lifetime of Discoveries. The NASA astronaut spent a year living onboard the International Space Station in the name of science, and this book is his account of that 12 months. I found it unsettling because the very idea of being in space makes me feel anxious, but intriguing because up until reading this book I'd never stopped to think about how space travel works or truly marvelled at how amazing it is. This book jolted me from my day-to-day reality and expanded my understanding of what is possible. If humans have developed the technology to allow someone to live in space for a year, imagine what else we could develop – or what else could be in the works right now that we don't even know about?
Educated by Tara Westover
“Curiosity is a luxury reserved for the financially secure: my mind was absorbed with more immediate concerns, such as the exact balance of my bank account, who I owed how much, and whether there was anything in my room I could sell for ten or twenty dollars.”
Whoa. Wow. WOW. That’s pretty much how my thoughts went as I read this book. It’s hard to believe some sections are real, but I’ve done a little post-reading research and it all adds up. I found it hard to read in places, especially during moments of violence (at the hands of her father and brother) or when she kept returning home despite how much she’d learned and how far she’d come. There were some moments I felt like throwing the book across the room in frustration and dread! But that’s what makes this memoir all the more fascinating and powerful… it’s about education, yes, but it’s mostly about family bonds and how difficult it is to leave your family, even if they are clearly destructive and abusive. I know Educated will stay with me for a long time.
Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
“When my parents were together, I felt something inside me click into place, like the magnet clasp.”
Lisa Brennan-Jobs is the eldest daughter of Steve Jobs. Like most people, I’m fascinated by the Apple founder. I listened to the audiobook of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs about six years ago, and I still rate it as one of the best biographies I’ve ever read. So, when I saw Brennan-Jobs had published a memoir, I immediately added it to my reading list.
Small Fry is good. At its core, it’s an insightful, beautifully-written memoir about coming to terms with a fraught father-daughter relationship. Brennan-Jobs was raised by her mother and didn’t develop a relationship with her father until she was around nine or ten. For years, Steve Jobs publicly denied paternity and refused to admit that he’d named one of his first computers, the Lisa, after her.
Despite this rocky start, the two somehow find their way - although not without a few scenes which made me feel slack with shock. Brennan-Jobs suffered rejection after rejection yet her memoir doesn’t feel resentful. She has a way of writing that speaks the truth without casting judgement. It’s almost as if she refuses to cast herself as a victim, and has consciously mined her childhood for lessons instead of wounds.
Overall, it was a fascinating read. I’m not sure if I would have picked it up if it wasn’t linked to Steve Jobs, but now that I’m familiar with Brennan-Jobs’ writing style, I hope she writes many more books.
A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
“I exaggerate a lot and I get fiction and reality mixed up, but I don't actually ever lie.”
My good friend Alex put me onto this collection of short stories by Lucia Berlin, and my word, they took my breath away. I hardly ever read short stories (they always leave me wanting more!) but A Manual For Cleaning Women reads like a memoir. Each story is inspired by Berlin’s own colourful life, drawing on her struggles with failed marriages, single motherhood, love and loss, alcoholism and recovery, youth and old age, and so much more.
Berlin's writing style is direct and realistic. She has a way of making you feel like you’ve known a character for years after reading just a few lines. I closed this book with a newfound appreciation for short story writing and deep respect for Berlin’s life and work.
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