12 Books that got me through 2020

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

1. Man’s Search for Meaning

- Viktor E. Frankl

Viktor Frankl was an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist and author who survived Nazi concentration camps. This book tells his story, and is an exploration of what it means to be human and how we can survive and find meaning in suffering and hardship. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This book was like a wise friend for me on some dark days of 2020.

2. Awakening Joy

– James Baraz and Shoshana Alexander

Full of sweet and simple stories, practices and encouragement to weave joy into your life, even amidst the daily grind, stresses and challenges – and as I found, even amidst a pandemic!

3. Me and White Supremacy

– Layla Saad

Sales of this book rocketed after the tragic death of George Floyd. To understand ourselves and the world we live in, sometimes we need to get to get a bit uncomfortable. This book encourages us to ask ourselves difficult but very necessary questions. It has helped me to see my unconscious biases and understand that racism is not just about “bad people doing bad things”. Helpfully, this learning and understanding can also be applied to other areas of bias and prejudice. This is going to be a lifelong journey.

4. Resilient

– Rick Hanson

An accessible, readable blend of neuroscience, ancient Buddhist wisdom and modern psychology to bolster your capacity to deal with the ups and downs of life. Highly recommended.

5. Queenie

– Candice Carty-Williams

We can’t understand others until we take a walk in their shoes for a while. Candice Carty-Williams takes us on an essential, eye-opening walk through the life of a brilliant, funny, but traumatised young black woman in London. I love this character.

6. Boundless Heart

– Christina Feldman

This nourishing book was my companion, my soul food, my compass pointing me back again and again to wisdom and compassion while going through two colitis flare-ups. My go-to quote at the time: “A Zen master was once asked, ‘what is the secret of your happiness? He answered, “Complete, unrestricted co-operation with the unavoidable.’”

7. Heal Thy Self

– Saki Santorelli

An eloquent, touching and beautifully profound book, threaded with ancient Sufi wisdom, that reminded me of Rumi’s words: “Keep looking at the bandaged place. That’s where the Light enters you.”

8. The Salt Path

– Raynor Winn

The gripping true story of Raynor and her husband Moth being made homeless just after learning that Moth was terminally ill – and choosing to walk the 630-mile South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset. Inspirational.

9. The Republic of Love

– Carol Shields

An incredible writer, who somehow spins the ordinariness of people’s daily lives into gold. A dazzling and seductive page-turner!

10. The Compassionate Mind

– Paul Gilbert

Written by an NHS clinical psychologist who founded ‘Compassion Focused Therapy’, this is an enlightening blend of evolutionary biology, neuroscience, psychology and Buddhist wisdom. Great for understanding how our minds and nervous systems work, and why – and very comforting.

11. Selected Poems and Readings

– Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice

This was a booklet given to me at the end of my first mindfulness teacher training retreat with Bangor University. It’s not available for purchase but here is a list of the wonderful poems. My copy is very battered and well-thumbed, and I often read poems from it at my mindfulness sessions.

You should be able to find each of these by searching online, but feel free to message me if there's one you can't find!

12. Devotions

– Mary Oliver

This was one of my birthday presents this year from my parents. A satisfyingly chunky book of poetry to dip into for little pearls and treasures, bliss. Here's a sample:

This Morning

This morning the redbirds' eggs

have hatched and already the chicks

are chirping for food. They don't

know where it's coming from, they

just keep shouting, "More! More!"

As to anything else, they haven't

had a single thought. Their eyes

haven't yet opened, they know nothing

about the sky that's waiting. Or

the thousands, the millions of trees.

They don't even know they have wings.

And just like that, like a simple

neighborhood event, a miracle is

taking place.

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