Oh, the Joy of Books!

Several titles this year have been unexpectedly BIG in my life. I wanted to share the BEST of those with you.

If, like me, you relish the chance to dive into some new titles over the Christmas – summer in my part of the world – holidays, I have packed up a few ideas to take with you.

These are absolutely and unashamedly my Top Reads for this year and in my order. You’ll notice I’ve got two no. 1s – cheating, I know! – and also I’ve been a bit slow at finding a couple of these titles – not all are 2015 publications – so don’t worry if at first you are confused.

  1. Die Empty: Unleash your best work every day by Todd HenryDie Empty by Todd Henry

A dear friend, Miya, recommended this for me and WOW, she was right. This is a wonderfully challenging yet energising read. (I had an initial resistance to the ‘Die Empty’ title – it sounded negative. If you have the same reaction – trust me, read on).

As I dived into the book, I got this message from Todd – “Michelle, quit being comfortable! You have SOOOO much more in you. Get moving, now, this minute. Each day is important to squeeze out every bit of creative juice you have and not rest on your past achievements! Your message is unique and NEEDED in the world.”

OK, powerful stuff.

[Having said goodbye to four close members of our family and one dear friend in the past two years, the message hit me in the chest. I have no plans for checking out just yet, but neither, frankly, did they.]

Todd helps clarify the urgency for all of us to work from our best selves each day, so that we can make our unique contribution in the world. He identifies the factors that stagnate us and ways to keep momentum in doing our important work.

I guarantee reading Die Empty will bring a new sense of urgency to your work.

  1. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love,
    Parent and Lead
    by Brené Brown

Brené starts out with this powerful quote:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”—Theodore Roosevelt

So much of this book recast the way I thought about vulnerability and bravery, how the simple act of creating is one of ‘stepping into the arena’.Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

Vulnerability, from Brené’s telling, is at the core of the difficult things we experience – fear, loss and disappointment and the catalyst for love, true intimacy and courageous acts.

In one of the opening chapters, Brené talks about the brave and vulnerable-making acts such as reaching out and connecting even when you know there is nothing you can do. She gave the example of calling up a friend when a loved one close to them has died. Knowing there is nothing you can do to ease their pain, but making the call – as uncomfortable as it is – anyway.

Reading that brought tears to my eyes.

The gut wrenching sensation when nothing in life’s bag of experiences gives you an answer to lessen the pain for someone you love.

It must be borne, persevered, survived. In that moment, true vulnerability.

In many ways, there are common threads through both books I have picked as my no. 1s.

Putting ourselves out there, doing the extra, the uncomfortable, those things that take us to the edge of our experience in this world and beyond.

If you want to dig deeper into your soul this coming year, make these two titles (if you haven’t already) must-reads.

ps. While I was reading this book, I found a wonderful interview with Brené by Chase Jarvis – a well-known professional photographer in the US who also hosts a show, Chase Jarvis LIVE where he speaks with other artists and performers who have inspired him. Click here to see that interview.

2. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth GilbertBig Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

If you have been avoiding this because you were over Eat, Pray, Love, (the book, the smash good and bad reviews and then Julia’s bad acting) then I recommend you set that aside and consider Big Magic.

Elizabeth is in my view an engaging narrator. She weaves her anecdotes and life lessons into an enjoyable read. Her messages about the pursuit of a Creative Life are pragmatic and help ground those of us with dreams of starting – or expanding – our artistic expression, whatever the mode or medium.

There were times when I had to stop and write down her words…

Debt is the abattoir of creative dreams

… was one of my favourite. (But then again, I do help business and professional women break free of their unconscious money programming in my Soulful Money Makeover program.)

While the book speaks to the Creative Writer, the messages and lessons leap the boundaries into other creative endeavours. There is a simplicity that cuts through the mumbo jumbo that sometimes surrounds creativity and how to bring that into the world.

3. Brave Enough: a mini instruction manual for the soul by Cheryl StrayedBrave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

I picked up this book after seeing an interview with Cheryl by Jane Hutcheon on One Plus One recently (watch Cheryl’s interview here). I loved ‘Wild’ which I read when it first came out. That was a Best Read for 2013 for me.

Cheryl’s story of coping after the loss of her mother to cancer and turning to heroin and sex to cope with her grief and finally embarking on the 1,800km walk across America’s Pacific Crest Trail came months after losing my own mother to cancer.

In Brave Enough, Cheryl gathers together a book of gems about the tough ride of life in an honest and sometimes confronting way. She swears and has strong opinions and is unashamedly (and refreshingly) OK with that.

So am I.

A great title that you will be able to get through in a long coffee break, but that I guarantee you will write some of Cheryl’s quotes in your diary / journal / in a letter to a friend.

Trust that all you’ve learned was worth learning, no matter what the answer you have or do not have about what practical use it has in your life. Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into the crazy beauty that awaits.

So that’s my top four reads.

Happy reading and here’s to the Joy of Books.