Strength in Stillness by Bob Roth
When my New York Public Library reserve for this book came through, I had no recollection of how I’d come upon the title. But I took it home and read this little book in a day. Bob Roth took up Transcendental Meditation in the 1970’s and has been a practicing teacher of and writer about TM since then. I was so impressed by the clear and convincing account of TM’s benefits and by the scientific research that supports such claims that I did the 4-day TM training last summer and have been meditating since then. If you have even the slightest interest in taking up some form of meditation, I recommend that you read this first.
Deep Work by Cal Newport
While most of us simply wonder where all our time goes and why we are not as productive as we’d like to be, Cal Newport has developed a way to maximize his productivity every moment of the day with the end result of greater satisfaction and more time to play with his young children. An assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown University, Newport has devised a method for getting the noise, distractions, and irrelevant efforts out of our lives. The techniques he developed for himself are widely applicable to us all. Reading the book transforms your view of what really matters in life and how to align your goals with your actions. I loved it so much that I typed pages of notes from the book before returning it to the library.
The Child in Time by Ian McEwan
I remember exactly where I was some 40+ years ago (my boyfriend’s flat, Stamford Hill) when I read Ian McEwan’s first collection of short stories. Since then, he has continued to be one of the few fiction writers whose work I read. I have recommended The Child in Time to countless friends. The opening chapter will send you into a paroxysm of anxiety, but your suffering will pay off. I can’t say much about the plot without spoiling it (unless you have seen the 2018 movie of the book with Benedict Cumberbatch), but it is about time, love, and grief. And, of course, as it is by Ian McEwan, it is beautifully written.
Stag’s Leap by Sharon Olds
I share with my good friend Judith Johnson a love of Sharon Olds’s poetry. This Pulitzer Prize-winning collection was occasioned by the author’s divorce, and it is in turn raw and elegant. The poems are arranged in a narrative sequence that takes the reader through Olds’s journey from disbelief to anger to grief and, finally, to acceptance and healing.
The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord
If you feel that your spirits need lifting after reading my last two recommendations, The Giant Jam Sandwich is the book for you. This is a children’s book that delighted my daughter when she was young, and which I often send to parents-to-be. Even very young children will be intrigued by the complex plot, for it is conveyed with such energy, action, and rhythm (along with delicate illustrations) that it will hold their attention and leave them wide-eyed as you turn from page to page. If you want to find out how the town of Itching Down deals with an invasion of four million wasps, you’ll just have to read the book yourself.