Books I Read in 2018
Every year I read a load of books and then forget what I have read or what they are about. I usually retain the feeling of the book, and know whether it had a profound effect on me or if they excited me, but I so often forget the content.
This year I decided I’d make a note of all the books I read, so I could go back at the end of the year and see how these books have shaped and influenced my journey through 2018. It felt important, as I know that alongside creating space to explore a deeper internal knowing and the conversations that I’ve been having, the content of these books seep into what I’m doing at some level and challenge my assumptions, allow me to discover new perspectives, and enter different worlds. All of this must in some way manifest into Ministry of Change in some subtle way.
I wrote this list for myself mainly, so they aren’t in-depth analysis, or high criticism or anything like that. Some are more in depth. At the beginning they even link through to more detailed Google Docs but I wasn’t able to keep that up. It isn’t designed to be a prescriptive list, they don’t fall under a particular genre, most aren’t directly mental health books.
These are simply the books that I read, in the order that I read them, split into Non-Fiction and Fiction.
Hopefully you will find this list useful in someway too.
It would be lovely if you could add some of the books you’ve read and enjoyed throughout the year in the comments, so I can read them!
A spiritual book that honestly and authentically asks some of the most difficult questions about life, and then invites us to take a hard look at ourselves and to enter into our fears, and live out the deeper longing in our hearts.
By opening ourselves up to the things that society shuns and sees as ‘weak’ we will learn new ways of living together and build stronger, more compassionate communities.
“Contentment begins with acceptance. We must look our idiosyncrasies and imperfections squarely in the face to begin their transformation into empowerment”
A nice little introduction to the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi, told in the form of an elderly Japanese grandmother figure, Obaa-san, passing on pearls of wisdom to a 14 year old Taro Gold on a trip to Japan weeks after his father has died.
Wabi Sabi is a philosophy which originated in art, but in its essence it is about celebrating imperfections, simplicity and uniqueness of our lives.
This was a really informative introduction into Wabi Sabi. It covers the history, and also the history of Taoism and Zen from which the principles arise. The philosophy of Wabi Sabi is described through its aesthetic relation as applied in the arts - the less is more approach, and the balance between the hand of man and the hand of nature. Juniper shows us how Wabi Sabi is not just a historical practice, but guiding principles that bear perhaps more relevance today than ever before, as we look to reestablish our human connections to nature and the natural pace of life.
Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone, (Brené Brown, 2017)
An important book for anyone that truly wants to facilitate change. Brené Brown looks into what it means to really belong and the fears we need to face in order to get there. She highlights the social and political narratives that often keep us trapped in cycles of hate and anger, and provides some tools and insights to help us on a transformative path of love and understanding for our fellow human beings. She discusses the importance of differences in opinions, and the how we can disagree with each other better. Ideas such as breaking down the us versus them mentality that creates insurmountable barriers and damage to ‘both sides’. A really nice mix of interviews, facts and storytelling that provides an easy to read doorway into the painful journey we must undertake to really find our way home.
‘Love is not the absence of fear, says Osho. It is, rather, the total presence of fear, with the ability to face it.’
In this book Osho explores ideas around courage, leaning into pain and fear. It is an exploration into the self, an exploration into the concept of home, the concept of God, and what it means to be true to yourself. For Osho, fear is the foundation of everything that holds us back. It is only by wholly accepting fear, and going on regardless that we can experience love in all its totality.
Update: I read this before I watched Wild, Wild Country - now I’m not sure how to take it!
Collaborating with the Enemy: How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with, Like or Trust, (Adam Kahane, 2017)
A really interesting and I think important book about how to work with the people that are not on the same page as you. This book had really interesting points about how to listen to people with different perspectives and opinions. Kahane challenges the widely held view that we need to have a shared vision to be able to successfully collaborate with people, instead suggesting it is possible to work together and achieve the things we need to achieve without necessarily having an agreement on what the vision is, a skill that seems incredibly valuable in the complex and volatile situation we find ourself in as a planet.
The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Alex Evans, 2017)
Humans are not a species that thrive on facts, we thrive and connect with stories. In this book, Evans uses the recent examples of Brexit and Trump (amongst other things) to suggest that what we are lacking is a strong, interconnected narrative about how to grow as a species, leaving a space for the simplistic narratives of divide like the ‘Us versus Them’ that inevitably lead to a greater rift in our societies. Evans suggests that any one that sees themself as a progressive needs to become a mythmaker and storyteller to help us move towards a view of the world that takes into account long term, generational time spans and a move away from material growth to a more holistic and interconnected way of living.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Human Kind, (Yuval Noah Harari, 2014)
I’m probably one of the last people in the world to get round to reading this (Correction, I actually listened to it on audiobook). I read the follow up to this book, Homo Deus, last year and loved that, so I went back and listened to this. It’s an amazing overview of our species, from our first forays onto the plains of Africa up to the present day, zooming out and seeing how decisions made thousands of years ago by our earliest ancestors and later generations have led to many of the problems we are experiencing as Homosapiens today.
Games People Play, (Eric Berne, 1964)
To be honest, I found this one quite difficult to get in to and it took me months of on and off reading to get through. That said, despite being a bit dated and academic for my liking, it provides a fascinating insight into Transactional Analysis and the various mind games we play as humans and the toxic relationships that form around these games. It is a really interesting book for anyone keen to explore themselves and their own relationships.
The Planet Factory: Exoplanets and the Search for a Second Earth (Sarah Tasker, 2017)
I loved this book, but I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to things about space. It’s stuffed with hard to retain but mind blowing facts about how our planet formed and how the universe formed. Until recently we had basically no knowledge about exoplanets, but in the last two decades technology has opened up the search for exoplanets into one of the biggest areas in space exploration. I liked the book for it’s mind blowing facts, but more so for the humbling nature of what the opening up of our knowledge of the universe means for us as teeny weeny humans on our mote of dust suspended in space.
Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions (Russell Brand, 2018)
So many people I know need convincing that Russell Brand is for real, or perceive him as someone not worth listening too. I love Russell Brand. I think he is one of the most open and honest people in the mainstream today. He is not afraid to be vulnerable, to ask difficult questions and to challenge the dominant thought leaders of our time. Recovery is a book which tackles the serious subject of addiction in an engaging and often humorous way. The book is basically Brand’s own experience with addiction (Alcohol, Heroin, Sex, etc) woven into a rewrite of the AA 12 step programme minus the overtly religious language, which can be off putting for some. For example, Step 2: We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity, becomes, Step 2: Could You not be fucked? I think this is a book that would help anyone to uncover and make sense of their hidden addictions, not just people with obvious addictions.
The Bhagavad Gita (Eknath Easwaran, 2017)
This book is the actual text of the Hindu scripture of the Bhagavad Gita - which to massively over simplify, is the story of Prince Arjuna, who on the brink of a ‘righteous war’, seeks counsel from Krishna about the moral and ethical dilemmas that he is facing. It’s a tale that is about spirituality, ethics, philosophy and what it means to be human. In between each chapter Easwaran provides an informative break down and discussion around what is happening and why it is relevant today)
Floating: A Life Regained, (Joe Minihane, 2017)
Joe’s book is a really insightful exploration of his anxiety through wild swimming. Joe travels around the UK retracing the outdoor swimming spots that Roger Deakin wrote about in his book, Waterlog, and uses the experience to get a greater understanding of his anxiety, connect and reconnect with friends and open up a world of self-exploration that before finding wild swimming had seemed like an impossibility. I also recorded this podcast episode with Joe on the topic of wild swimming and anxiety.
The Order of Time (Carlo Rovelli, 2018)
Did you know that time moves more slowly at sea level than on a mountain? Yep. It does. A fascinating book about time that melted my brain. I will need to build up the courage to read it again. Maybe one day I will get my head around entropy and understand the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and then my little brain will not explode reading things like this - but despite not really being able to grasp the concepts I know that whatever you think about time and what time is is probably not at all what time is. Is that clear?
An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (Georges Perec, 1974)
“What happens when nothing happens?” - over a three day period in 1974, Georges Perec sat in various cafés in Place Saint-Sulpice in Paris, and attempted to write down every single detail he saw. The number of motorcycles parked on the pavement, the colour of the clothes the people walking by were wearing, the number of pigeons in the square. Basically, anything and everything that came into his view. I really liked this book. It’s really short, but it offers not only a small glimmer into a specific moment in time, but also deconstructs the way we create narratives. Despite essentially being just a collection of mundane observations the way Perec constructs the scene makes it feel like being an extra in a long panning shot in a Godard movie. I have to thank my friend, Graeme, for having this on his bookshelf.
Exercises in Style, (Raymond Queneau, 1947)
This is my kind of book, and I need to once again thank Graeme for pointing me in its direction. Exercises in Style is the same trivial moment, about an encounter on a busy subway train, told 99 times each in a different style. It’s fun, bizzare, and a really interesting examination of storytelling and perspective. Oh yes, you should read this one.
Lost Connections:Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions (Johann Hari, 2018)
I’ve read lots of books and articles on depression and this was by far the best one. After nearly 2 decades of taking antidepressants, Johann Hari wanted to know why he still felt depressed so set out on a 3 year journey to look into the scientific data, investigate Big Pharma, talk to people about their experiences with depression and to explore what is happening on the edges of research into depression. It’s a fascinating portrayal of what I think many of us already know deep inside. That depression is not really a medical issue, but one born of our lost connections to ourselves, to our communities, to nature and to the planet. This isn’t a book that is anti-medication, but a book that asks the question, what else is possible?
Climate - New Story (Charles Eisenstein, 2018)
I love Charles Eisenstein’s work. The first book I read of his was The More Beautiful World Your Heart Knows Is Possible. What an amazing title, right? It is a beautiful book. I think Climate: New Story is a really important book. It doesn’t follow the pattern of most books/articles I’ve seen on climate change of picking a side. This book is more than just an exploration of climate, it is an exploration of narratives, and the danger of creating polar debates. In the book, Eisenstein looks at the myths and distractions we have created on ‘both sides’ and the damage that is causing to making any progress in terms of creating a better world that takes into account the interbeingness of the planet we live on and are part of and ideas of how we could change that story. Did I mention I recorded a podcast with Charles Eisenstein and had a lovely chat with him about mental health. Yes, of course I did. I’ve pretty much banged on about it since August, I know. Here it is.
The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity (Julia Cameron, 1992)
This book is a guide to help you access your creativity and inner wisdom, through working through internal barriers and discovering a deeper connection with yourself. The thing I connected with the most was the Morning Pages - a stream of consciousness journaling process, and Artist Dates - an invitation to take yourself on little dates to help nurture a deeper love and connection with yourself and to give yourself the time and space needed to really grow. It’s a book that a lot of people swear by and I can see why. Once you get past Julia Cameron’s overwhelming desire to name drop, I think there is a lot of wisdom waiting in these pages that really help on the journey of understanding what the hell life is all about. I only made it to week 9 and then life got in the way. I’m keen to give it another go, probably with a group of people rather than on my own like this time.
Man’s Search For Meaning: the classic tribute to hope from the holocaust (Viktor E. Frankl)
This is an incredible book in which Frankl recounts his experience of life as a prisoner in Auschwitz and other concentration camps during the Second World War. I think this book will have a profound effect on me for years to come. Rather than being a straightforward diary of his own experiences, Frankl draws out universal principles and shatters illusions of what people are capable of. One of the things that sticks with me most is his idea that we don’t need to ask the question What is the meaning of life? But rather, What is the meaning of my life right now? I’ll be recommending this book to everyone.
Deep Country: Five Years in the Welsh Hills (Neil Ansell)
Right, I’m off to the Welsh Valleys. This book is incredibly inspiring. I always have the idea somewhere inside me to move away from everything and live in a cabin in the woods. That is what attracted me to this book in the first place. Deep Country is an account of when Neil Ansell did just this - he lives alone in a small cottage in the woods, without technology, chopping wood, carrying water and learning to live in time with the natural flows of the seasons and nature. As the years pass Ansell’s deep connection to the flaura and fauna which he is part of is magical to watch unfold.
Alan Watts: Out of Your Mind
This is one of my favourite audiobooks to listen to in the van. It is 15 of Alan Watt’s lectures recorded, I guess, in the 1960s covering topics around spirituality, existence and what it means to be human. Alan Watt’s is a really charismatic speaker, and his humorous and engaging speaking style makes his talks about some of the deepest philosophical and spiritual questions that can be asked very accessible.
Siddhartha - Herman Hesse
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else ... Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
I reread Siddhartha a lot, so it makes it into the 2018 list. This was one of those rare books that when I first read it a few years ago changed my perception on life. It’s essentially the story of Gautama Siddhartha, a.k.a. The Buddha, retold by Herman Hesse. It’s great and I’m always buying copies to give to other people.
The Book Thief - Markus Zuzak
“The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. (Death)”
Wow, what a book. I thought I read this years ago, then I realised I was thinking of City of Thieves, another astonishing book following a boy as he struggles to make sense and survive Stalingrad. The Book Thief, is a beautiful, sad, funny, tragic tale. It is narrated by Death, after he finds the diary of 9 year old, Liesel. He recounts her story, the story of the inhabitants of Himmel Street and the tragedy of war as the Third Reich marches on.
The Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut
"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved."
Everytime I read a Kurt Vonnegut book, it battles with other Kurt Vonnegut books to be my favourite. Sirens of Titan is a great, absurd book which primarily focuses on a martian invasion of earth with a twist. It’s a fabulous exploration into free will and purpose, with Vonnegut’s trademark dark humour.
The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
“...the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. That is their mystery and their magic.”
This is such a beautifully written book, the way Arundhati Roy uses language is truly magical. It’s set in India and follows the story of two twins and their family, forbidden love between different castes, and a political backdrop of Marxist revolution.
The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
“Sometimes the thoughts and feelings I had didn't really agree with each other, so I decided I must be lots of different people inside my brain.”
Bloody hell. Disturbing but also great. Not for the squeamish.
Frank is a teenager living on a lonely Scottish island with his distant father and his pyromaniac clinically insane brother - throughout the book we are brought into Franks bizarre, sadistic world (the story is told from his perspective) as he explores his trauma, family relationships and troubled youth. It is a seriously fucked up book, but I think it is also a great book. Not one for Grandma.
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolfe
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.”
I hadn’t actually read any Virginia Woolfe before, so on a trip to an exhibition about her life at the Tate in St.Ives I decided to pick up To The Lighthouse. When you read a classic, you quickly realise why it is a classic. I love the way Woolfe captures a specific moment in time and then beautifully, and with quite a lot of subtlety and sadness, shows that time morphing into something else.
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson
“I don't know how to answer. I know what I think, but words in the head are like voices underwater. They are distorted.”
My friend Ellie lent me this book. It’s one I’d heard of for years but never got around to reading. It is a short autobiographical novel in which Jeanette Winterson explores her childhood growing up with an ultra-Christian adoptive mother and her inner (and I guess outer) conflict when she meets Melanie and realises that who she is as a person and who she loves is deemed unacceptable by the people she has devoted her life too.
Matt Haig - How To Stop Time
“That's the thing with time, isn't it? It's not all the same. Some days - some years - some decades - are empty. There is nothing to them. It's just flat water. And then you come across a year, or even a day, or an afternoon. And it is everything. It is the whole thing.”
When I first read The Humans a few years ago, something profoundly changed inside of me. I then read his non-fiction book Reasons To Stay Alive and that helped me a lot during a time when I was going through a difficult bout of depression. I enjoyed reading How To Stop Time, it’s an entertaining book about a group of people who live really extended life spans and how they try and assimilate into with ‘normal life spanned’ people. There’s this really interesting analysis of how time passes, and memories layering themselves on top of memories that really reflected how I feel sometimes.
The Road, Cormac McCarthy
“You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.”
This book is amazing! I can’t believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. I picked it up on one of my ill advised trips to Waterstones (I always end up spending way to much money that I don’t have on books). It is a pretty bleak book, set in a post-apocalyptic future, where a father and son make their way along a road through the charred remains of what was once America. Despite it’s bleakness, I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that more beautifully and viscerally captures the mood of the landscape and atmosphere. The is a film version, which I haven’t watched, but in my mind it feels so much like I’ve seen a film version because the imagery is so vivid.
My Cat Yugoslavia, (Pajtim Statovci, 2017)
'After living together for just a few weeks he told me he dreamed of changing profession. He no longer wanted to be a cat; he wanted to be a film director.'
I really enjoyed this book. It took me a while to get into, but once I did it was fascinating. It’s a story told from two perspectives - one from a young muslim Kosovan woman in the 1980s getting married off to a man she hardly knows, which is set in Yugoslavia, in the build up to the war, and focusing on the family fleeing Kosovo and becoming refugees in Finland. The other narrative is that of her son, Bekim, told in the present day, which is interspersed in a non-linear, time jump style, about his life as a young gay man in Finland. The mother’s narrative is quite straightforward in style. Bekim’s narrative is bonkers. He hangs out in gay clubs and ends up in a relationship with a giant cat and owning a giant boa constrictor. I won’t give too much away, but it is definitely weird and exciting.
I usually read lots of graphic novels but not so in 2018 - I think this is the only one I read? But if you are going to read only one graphic novel in a year, I don’t think this is a bad one for it to be. It’s a darkly funny, a bit disturbing story of a lab cloning experiment gone wrong, and follows two people as they come to terms with living with their genetically and intellectually superior clones.
You made it all the way to the bottom? Congratulations. Please do leave a comment about which books you enjoyed this year, I’m always thirsty for new books to feast my eyes and nourish my soul on.