I started this blog post because I was looking for a super-easy way to talk about books and also pay a little homage to the year 2016. I blocked four hours on my calendar and gave myself one morning to write it. And then five days, eighteen hours, and thirteen gray hairs later, I've come up with not so much a quaint little list, but rather an endless blog post of how my life changed in 2016 as experienced through what I read.
I don’t really spend too much time looking back. I’m not a dweller, which serves me in many ways, but also can be a real pain in the ass when it comes to writing. I often don’t remember the details of my life unless they are happening to me, and the thought of writing a memoir just makes me think of a heart attack having sex with a fabrication. But then I sat down to write this, and something about going through the books I read over the past year forced me to take stock of what actually happened. I remembered everything, in chronological order!, and I remembered it all because just like sometimes seasons of my life have a soundtrack to music, my life now also has a soundtrack set to paperback.
January 2016 | Admittedly, I read this book for the third time this past January, and I'll be starting it again this coming January. Because it's an easy read, and also, because it's that good. The first time I read YAB was on vacation in Italy in 2015. I was on a beach, I was kind of working but not really, and I had, quite simply put, forgotten my power. I don't know what it is about Jen's words and her work, but she specializes in making one BELIEVE in one's self. Like, in that special way that after reading certain passages you want to tear off your shirt and beat your chest. This book is responsible for giving me the confidence to move out of 1:1 coaching and into running programs (and now beyond into new uncharted terrifying territory), for giving me faith that not all the good men are taken, for lighting the fire under my ass to leave San Francisco, for giving me the confidence to buy the car I couldn't afford with the faith that I would be able to make the payments (I know that sounds irresponsible but it was, in fact, one of the best things I've ever done), for helping me get over A LOT of money shit in general, and more than anything, for reminding me that I make my reality with my thoughts and energy.
January 2016 | An advisor gave me this book as I was just starting out with HS, and while I want to say he was intending to give me something that would help me work smarter, the book ended up becoming foundational in helping me understand how willpower works, and how to take care of our brains during recovery to improve our chances of resisting urges to drink. I read this book as I was preparing for my second Hip Sobriety School this past January, and while it was an incredibly dense read, I couldn't put it down nor could I stop underlining every other sentence (I've since read it again). This book could be called "how to be superhuman" - it deals with helping the reader understand WHY we feel so overwhelmed and out of time, WHY making good decisions at the end of the day is so damn hard, and WHY our brains have a finite capacity, and then it shows you HOW to work around all of this. It's geared at professionals who are looking to be more productive/in control/happy in an increasingly chaotic and non-stop world, but I genuinely see this as the book that helps people recovering from addiction understand how to best work with the part of the body that gets hit the hardest in addiction - the brain.
3. Harley Loco. year. 2013 | pages. 320 | author. Rayya Elias
January 2016 | Addiction/ recovery memoirs are not my jam. Which is funny, because, um, I write about memories of my addiction and recovery. But, I have had a long-running aversion to them. It took me a few years to read Drinking: A Love Story and even then I had my hand over my eyes the entire time (and found myself thinking about drinking WAYYY more than I was comfortable with). I think the aversion to the whole drinking memoir thing comes from my aversion to sit in the story or dwell in the pain. I am a fixer, not a dweller. Anyway, this is to say that when I read a recovery memoir and I like it, it's a big thing. This is one of those.
You may know Rayya as Elizabeth Gilbert's best friend (and now lover), but her claim to fame lays in her unbelievable story of survival. From the moment she opens the book and talks about what happened to her as a child through to her incarceration (Rykers!) and eventual rehabilitation, you are left falling in love with one of the sweetest and most vulnerable souls, understanding the the Universe will go SUPER FAR to wake us the fuck up, and remembering that we humans are capable of overcoming almost anything. ALSO, Dry by Augusten Burroughs gets an honorable mention in the drinking memoir category of books I read in 2016 that made an impact. I loved it for the same reasons I loved Rayya's, except his story is bitchy, and hilarious, and you can't help but strategize how to become his BFF.
4. Unbroken Brain. year. 2016 | pages. 352 | author. Maia Szalavitz
April 2016 | I read a lot of books on how to overcome addiction (including many this year). This is the only one that I’m giving a shout-out to. This is the second book that I’ve read that asserts something outside of the disease model that was introduced by Jelinek and AA in the 50’s. Like Marc Lewis before her in The Biology of Desire, Szalavitz dives into the latest developments in neuroscience and concludes what makes most sense to me - chemical addiction as a pathological over-learning of what we are as humans inherently designed to do - seek pleasure. It also asserts that addiction can be overcome, rather than the idea that those of us that cross over into addiction are doomed to a life of managing a chronic condition. The book is well written, sometimes lengthy in the narrative, but it is the first of its kind and leads the reader to understand that overcoming addiction is not just a matter of abstinence - it is a matter of attacking it from all angles, holistically, and pairs really well with the principles introduced by John Dupuy in Integral Recovery.
5. Love Warrior. year. 2016 | pages. 272 | author. Glenn Doyle Melton
April 2016 | In early spring of this year, a few miracles happened. 1. Glennon wrote a new book. 2. Glennon agreed to come on our podcast and talk about her new book. 3. Glennon sent me an advanced copy of her new book and I got to read her new book before everyone else.
I got my copy in April of this year, right after a meditation retreat in Hawaii and also right after round two of rejection from Peter Cigarettes. I read it in ONE sitting, in my bed, and when I set it down, even though I wouldn't put my finger on what had happened to me for some time to come, I knew something very big had happened to me. Something had been stirred and poked and prodded and split open, and I was pissed. A few nights after finishing it, I sat up in bed, middle fingers raised to the sky, and told Jesus he could fuck right off (sorry Jesus but I know You of all people understand). I went back to bed seething with anger, and the anger was different, and the anger was delicious. It wasn't the typical "I'm-mad-because-I'm-single-and-all-the-men-are-dicks-and-I'm-destined-for-cat-lady-hell" kind of anger that really feels more like self-deprecation, but rather, it was a new "I'm mad as hell and I don't give a FUCK" kind of anger, and for the first time, I wasn't sorry or ashamed or any of that extra stuff I pile on top of mad. I was just mad. And that kind of mad just felt like power.
It was from that place that something new broke free. I began to question what feminism is and where men fit into the picture of my brand of feminism. I became even less apologetic about my point of view, my voice, and my right to share it. I started to raise my dating standards and the standards of what I accept from the opposite sex, and eventually, overcame the idea that there was something wrong with me when it came to romance. It was as if the perfect force that had been welling inside of me for years was finally ignited, and I stepped into a power that had eluded me for my entire life. I could write a book about this, and I probably will. But for now, um, this was a really good book?
6. Contagious. year. 2016 | pages. 256 | author. Jonah Berger
May 2016 | A good portion of the books I read are some sort of business book. This is one of them. Most of them leave me with a handful of tips. This one changed my life. It is the book that helped me get closer to solving the riddle that's plagued me since I started this thing: how do we make sobriety catch on in a world where those of us that suffer chemical addiction are so heavily stigmatized and encouraged if not forced to remain anonymous? I won't go into too much of what the book is about here, but I do hope (if you haven't already) that you read this post on How To Fix The Addiction Epidemic Through Rebranding and Social Proof, because it was conceived from Berger's genius.
7. The Radical King. year. 2015 | pages. 320 | author. Cornel West
July 2016 | One of the things that I continually try and do is find out as much about my heroes and teachers as I can. I want to know about their human-ness, how they struggle(d), what a day in the life is/was like. There is something about knowing Gandhi failed as a lawyer, or that MLK doubted himself (a lot), or that Elon Musk was minutes away from running out of money before Tesla and SpaceX were Tesla! and SpaceX! - coupled with the play-by-play of their beyond-human achievements - that allows me to make sense of my work, my life, and to be honest, get the lady balls to do a lot of the stuff I do. I was fortunate enough to take this with me to Italy in July, and so as racism took center stage in the news back home and I was stuck across the world feeling helpless, I had the privilege of reading about a different time in the same struggle. This book is Cornel West's compilation of some of King's more radical speeches and sermons, and it is essential in not only diving deeper into what got us HERE today in America but also understanding the importance of love, non-violence, and an unwavering commitment to service. King's words and life are as close to my bible as anything else.
8. The Alchemist. year. 1988 | pages. 208 | author. Paolo Coelho
July 2016 | You know how like, everyone has read The Alchemist? Well, I wasn't one of them. I thought it was a silly story that was accidentally over-rated. But then in Italy this summer, as I was working to secure an investment to grow my baby (Hip Sobriety School), and feeling like I was on the very wrong path, it started popping up everywhere - even in Italy. Still, I didn't get the message. And then I asked someone if they had a good book rec, and she said "The Alchemist!" There are some books that you feel are written just for you, and just for you in that exact moment of your life, and this is one of them. I won't spoil any part of it by enumerating why, but let's just say that I was reminded that the great work of your life will never be easy, and the most important things that happen to you will never make sense in the moment (and often feel very awful).
9. Bodhisattva Mind. year. 2006 | length audiobook only). 8 hours, 6 minutes | author. Pema Chodron
August 2016 | The first time I ever listened to Pema was in Italy, in August 2015. The man I had been dating in America had flown in to meet only to tell me he'd gotten back together with his girlfriend on the way there, and so I (obviously) jumped into a relationship with an Italian dude and lost my fucking mind. It was manic, and I was manic, and I forgot who I was, and was in that special place where one thinks they will FOREVER BE A HOT MESS WITH MEN, and Rome was renaming itself Francesco, and Laura told me that the only thing that could save me was Pema, and Laura was right. I dropped a few hundred dollars on Pema talks - literally bought EVERYTHING I COULD THAT PEMA HAS EVER DONE - and I walked around Rome, and I found myself again.
I’ve since listened to lots of Pema things, including the Bodhisattva mind at least five other times. But there is something that I will never forget about that first time in Rome with her, and so when I went back this year, I listened for a sixth time, and I walked the same walks I had the year before, because there are some things you will never stop trying to re-live.
10. Rome. year. 2012 | pages. 512 | author. Robert Hughes.
July - August 2016 | The first time I went to Italy was June 2013. One of the first places I went to was Syracuse (in Sicily), and it was then that I realized I wanted to know everything there was to know about how and why Rome became Rome - this before I had even stepped foot in the Eternal City.
In 2013, I didn't know who the Etruscans were, or what Helenistic meant. I didn't know that Caesar died under a pine tree in the middle of what is now a cat sanctuary, or that Augustus was the first emperor, or even what the Empire was. I didn't know that we get our word grotto from Nero's Domus Aurea and vomit from the Coloseum, or who Caravaggio was and how he went mad, or that the Pantheon is 2,000 years old and Raphael is buried there, or that Napoleon's sister Paulina was such a damn badass. I know all that now. And a whole hell of a lot more. And yet I still know relatively nothing.
I know this sounds like something that has nothing to do with recovery. But for me, this has everything to do with my recovery. Had I gone there in 2012 I would have remembered the wine, and spent all my money and time drinking it, and I'm afraid I would have missed the love affair of my life. Had I gone there any time before the exact time I did, I wouldn't have been present enough or open enough to experience what it really feels like to pray in a Pilgrimage church or touch a Michalangelo sculpture. But I didn't go there before. I went after. And I went 3 months sober, wide-eyed and curious and ready to fall in love with something as big as Rome. And this book here - which is THE BEST BOOK EVER WRITTEN ON ROMAN ART HISTORY - is a reflection of that complete and total love affair. Hughes gets it in away that no other author on the subject of Rome gets it, and each time I read this (2016 was the second time), I fall that much more in love.
11. The Untethered Soul. year. 2007 | pages. 200 | author. Michael A. Singer
July 2016 | Around September 2015 I started to see my old therapist again, because I was completely and totally fucked when it came to men things. I sat on the big red couch I’d sat on years before fighting my way towards sobriety, and recounted the ways I had lost my shit that summer. At the end of the conversation she said something like, “When you first came to me, how did you feel about quitting drinking?” and I said something like “I wanted to never drink again” and then she said “How do you feel about all this boy drama” and I smirked despite myself and said something like “Oh I’m not done.” And I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to do the work on the one thing that was then killing me the most and stunting me the most, and so I decided maybe I could just, you know, give myself a fucking break for once. Which sounded amazing, but didn’t happen, because often we don’t get to decide what lessons we’re supposed to learn. And so it went that from that moment in her office until I made my way to Italy the next summer, I was TORTURED by men.
Laura turned me on to Michael Singer as we were preparing for an interview for our podcast, and I hated him. I hated his voice and I was certain he was a dick and I refused to read his work. But also, I bought his books anyway, because I do things like that, and then there I was in Italy with all these man scars and time on my hands, and for whatever reason, I decided I just had to read Untethered Soul.
I’d been doing the work on the men stuff almost non-stop for the past year, and learning all kinds of things, like how to not base my worth on a man’s interest in me (or, in my case, lack thereof), or his ability to follow through, and how to not leave myself entirely for someone I wasn’t even that into in the first place, and a few thousand other things. I was already so much stronger when I read this book, completely unrecognizable from the girl on Leah’s couch who couldn’t give up the junk. But my heart was so closed, so painfully closed, and I was pretty sure it might never find it’s way open again. And then I read this book, and somehow for the first time in my adult life, I learned how to not close my heart in the face of my biggest wound.
Mostly, Michael’s work taught me that I could control the closing and the opening of my heart, and so that is what I did, and constantly, as I made my way around Rome for two months. Literally (not figuratively!), I spent my days noticing my heart, noticing all the ways it closed and all the things that made it close, and I practiced cranking it back open again and again and again and again and again and again. Even when I was stood up and disappointed and hurt and smashed. And so that by the time I came back home I had learned that I could be in the greatest of pain, and even then I could still keep my heart wide open. I don’t know if you’ll have that same experience reading it. But I do know that sometimes the right book finds you at the exact right time, even when you think you are not ready to do the work it is asking you to do, and then you are changed forever in the way you thought you could never be changed.
12. Rise Sister Rise. year. 2016 | pages. 320 | author. Rebecca Campbell
October 2013 | I don't know exactly what it was that inspired me to pick up Rebecca's first book, Light Is The New Black, this past September. I'd been told to read it multiple times by many people but I want to say something like, there are only so many books on being a lightworker than one can stomach. However, I did pick it up, and I found that I couldn't get enough of Rebecca Campbell, and so when I saw she'd written a new book called Rise Sister Rise, I knew I wanted to eat it.
There are so many words I want to write about what this book did to me. It came on the heels of Glennon's book and my new found anger, and on the heels of Michael Singer's books and my new big open heart, and it came as the country was changing and women were getting louder, and it came on the heels of one of the biggest disappointments of my career. In what felt like a hot minute I went from thinking that success came from pain, that women have to act like men just to be successful, that periods are an inconvenience, and a few hundred things, to thinking the complete opposite of all that. After reading this book I started to track my cycle so I could start working with it instead of against it, I changed course in what I wanted to do with my business, I bought candles and flowers for my home, I stop thinking everything had to be such a god damn struggle, and - most importantly - I found my way back to Meggan Watterson, and found one of my Teachers. (See #13).
13. Reveal. year. 2013 | pages. 193 | author. Meggan Watterson
October 2016 | The first time I saw Megg Watterson’s work was while preparing for her interview on our podcast. My first reaction was No thank you witchy goddess woman, not for me. I didn’t prepare for her interview, and the one thing I remember the most from it was her story of being a young girl and realizing that women’s stories were missing from the bible in her Sunday School class, which mostly made me think something that sounds like a shrug. And so it was interesting that some months later, as I was going through my own little feminist revolution, she started showing up everywhere. In real life, in books, on social media, in conversations. Everywhere. And because while I might be an asshole, I’m not immune from signs when they are slapping me in the face, I decided that maybe I needed to actually read her book.
I don’t know how to describe Reveal, but I do know that just like Untethered Soul and Rise Sister Rise, it came to me the moment I could actually understand it. My sister recently sent me a text that said “I’m pretty sure the only way we’re going to survive is if women take their power back.” And to that I say, I’m pretty sure that women will learn to take their power back if they find what Meggan Watterson has found. Reveal is required reading for every woman on the planet.
14. The Body Keeps The Score. year. 2015 | pages. 464 | author. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.
I’ve read my share of books on the subject of trauma and how to overcome it - one of the biggest indicators of whether or not someone will become chemically dependent is whether or not they have unresolved severe trauma, and one of determiners of whether one will overcome their chemical dependency is tied deeply into how they renegotiate their trauma. So it's part of my work. I’ve learned so much from what I’ve read, but everything has always felt disjointed if not impractical. It wasn’t until reading this book that I fully understood the depth to which trauma effects us (and all of us - not just those with PTSD), and also, was finally able to pull together an idea of how to make renegotiating trauma accessible to those of us in recovery. It is the bible you guys, and Bessel van der Kolk is one of the most practical and knowledgable voices of our time when it comes to mental health and trauma. If you are reading this blog, regardless of where you are in your recovery, do yourself a huge favor and buy this book. It’s soaked with useful information - from describing what trauma is, what it does to the brain, where it lives in our body, how it effects our lives, to the many ways we can begin to work with the effects of trauma in our everyday lives. It’s also a fairly interesting read with a lot of good stories that make some very high concepts concrete.
15. You'll Grow Out Of It. year. 2016 | pages. 204 | author. Jessi Klein
December 2016 | Don't ask me how I found this. I think Lena Dunham or Jenni Konner or one of their friends was reading it. Not sure. Anyway, I had no idea who Jessi Klein was, but I know it looked pretty and that I had to have it. As it turns out, Jessi Klein is the head writer for the Amy Schumer show, and she’s fucking hilarious. I LOL'd.
The book isn’t life changing in any way, and Jessi mentions alcohol so much you’d think she was a wine merchant, but it’s one of those books that you love because you relate so deeply to some of the stories. Her description of women being either poodles or wolves was awful, but also not far from things I’ve felt my whole life. And her constant recounting of only owning four pair of shitty Gap underwear felt like home. But that’s not why it’s a book that grew me. It grew me because I read it as I was spinning into panic over the next steps in my career - namely, writing a damn book and speaking in front of live audiences - and Jessi reminded me that fear is a stupid bullshit reason to not do what you dream to do. Her chapter on becoming a comedian and the story of how she finally got the lady balls to stand up and tell jokes in front of people put into perspective that risk is the step we take on our path to doing great things. By the time I put it down, I had suffered my first panic attack in over 13 years and come to the conclusion that I didn’t want to die wishing I’d had the courage to stand on a stage. (Also I just have to mention that she talks a lot about vaginas and people who talk a lot about vaginas are my peeps.)
16. The Icarus Deception. year. 2012 | pages. 241 | author. Seth Godin
I’ve been reading Seth for about four years now, and I’m a full on Godini, or whatever the hell one calls the Treki-equivalent of a person who’s obsessed with a middle-aged bald white marketing genius. I’ve read almost every blog he’s posted for the past few years (and he posts everyday!), and almost every single book he’s written - most of them twice (Tribes is where it's at people). But this one I hadn’t read. Honestly, it’s because I thought it was a book about a bird and for that I blame the cover art. But then he sent out his annual reading list and there it was, right around the time I needed a kick in the ass about being brave. The book is about the new economy and a lot of the crap I already know from reading his other work and Dan Pink’s work and like, reading the internet, but also, the book is about hiding. I opened it the day after I finished Jessi Klein’s book, and the first sentence of the introduction says “How long are you going to wait?” And so I end this year long chronology of the books that grew me with The Icarus Deception, aka the one that I’m reading because the next thing I have to do scares the ever-living crap out of me and I need Seth Godin to scream at me to stop waiting to fly closer to the sun.