When I was little, my family had a walk-in linen closet on the second floor of our home. My mom transformed the bottom two shelves into book shelves for me because I loved to read. It felt like the most special place to me, and I called that closet the library. Often as a child, I’d go and sit in my personal library, away from the world, and read for hours. I’d also draw and think in there, and for me, it was my favorite refuge growing up. Having a place like that in any home is key for me now, a place where I can read, think, draw and write.
I love to peruse a good tome, though I’m not as quick as some of my own readers. In fact, some of you are updating your Goodreads lists and books read in the time it takes me to watch one episode of Nashville. So, if that’s you, maybe you’ve already read these. If so, let me know what you think! For the rest of us mere mortals, below is a list of four books worth your time, compiled by me and my good friend and ultra-fast reader, Lisa Valentine.
A note on Lisa, to introduce her to Conjure readers: She’s one of those super-human readers who used to set an alarm to read before she went to work. You can often find her at Starbucks reading while enjoying a tasty coffee drink, or sitting in her comfy “psychic readings chair” reading a good story. She’s a talented editor and writer, and I hope to see more of her ideas on Conjure moving forward.
Here they are, four books to read now:
“The Casual Vacancy” by J.K. Rowling
This book was so good, it made me want to be a better writer. In fact, I want to re-read it to soak it all in again because this story was just that different and inspiring. It follows residents of a small town in England in the aftermath of a local public official’s death, and how it affects those in his life for many different reasons. It’s written in a way that made me go back and re-read the first chapter because I wanted to make sure I had all my facts straight after getting further into the book. That’s a damn good novel if you ask me. Anyway, if you haven’t read this, do put it on your list. Be forewarned, it’s not a straightforward story with an ending you’d expect. But to me, that’s what made this particular book so lovely and why it’s still on my nightstand shelf even after I finished reading.
“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown
My boss recommended this book to my department at work, but it’s not ultimately why I read it. After I saw the title, I requested it from the public library immediately. I believe, wholeheartedly, that humans are ultimately happiest when things are streamlined, because it leads us to abundance and a place where we can operate from our best selves, thus living our best lives. This book emphasizes whittling down aspects of your life to just the essentials, thus carving out more time for the important things. The REALLY important things. Not 100 things. 3. Maybe even 2. It challenges you to think in terms of clearing a path for yourself to be your most productive, happiest self. It helps teach balance and reinforce ideas about why you can’t actually do it all and be productive. Instead, it teaches that if you focus on just one thing, you will be hyper-productive, and that thing will soar. And it’s true. So to anyone and everyone, I highly recommend this read if you’re looking for inspiration.
“Such a Fun Age” by Kiley Reid
I couldn’t put down this debut novel by Kiley Reid that tackles themes of race and privilege in a modern-day setting. The story centers around a young black woman in Philadelphia who goes to work as a babysitter for an upper-middle class white woman who is an aspiring entrepreneur/author and wishes she still lived in NYC. As the story unfolds – following an unfortunate incident at a grocery store involving the babysitter, the entrepreneur’s 3-year-old daughter and a security guard – a surprising connection between the two women is revealed. Reid tells the story from the perspective of both women, showing how vast the gap between intention and perception can actually be, especially when race, class, privilege and unconscious bias are involved.
“You Are Awesome: How to Navigate Change, Wrestle with Failure, and Live an Intentional Life” by Neil Pasricha
This book is a quick and easy read that packs a lot of powerful messages into a few words. Neil offers practical tips (and many points for contemplation) regarding how to become more resilient in your life and better handle failure by taking it down to brass tacks: What’s really important to you, and why are you wasting so much time on the other crap? For example, I absolutely love what he says about going “untouchable” at least one day a week: Put away your phone, unplug from social media, find a change of scenery if you have to, and 100 percent focus on getting done what’s most important to you. Neil says on a typical day (full of meetings, phone calls and Instagram posts) he writes maybe 500 words. On a day when he’s untouchable? He produces about 5,000. I’ve tried blocking out an untouchable day for myself on my work calendar every week since reading this book, and it makes a huge difference in my productivity.