terry tempest williams wrote her book finding beauty in a broken world in an attempt to increase understanding of our world’s staggering suffering. she writes of spending time in rwanda working with a small group of americans, known as barefoot artists, to create a memorial to those who lost their lives in the horrific genocide of 1994. surrounded by refugees, rwandans trying to reestablish families and communities, she employs her myriad gifts to connect at a spiritual level, the level of deepest need.
in describing the people, many of whom have little more than the insufficient clothing they wear, tempest williams brings them to life as dignified yet devastated, compelling yet staggeringly naked in their vulnerability. the people are achingly human, existing in inhumane circumstances. yet life continues, and the will to not only live but to thrive is demonstrated by the desire to participate, to engage, and to create.
the children she spends time with are arid soil begging for moisture–knowledge–to instigate their sprouting. and when terry leaves the community, the children call out to her, when you come back, bring us more pens and notebooks!
not food, not clothing, not candy, not money: pens, and notebooks.
for it is with those tools they can draw and write, they can create something from nothing, they can hold on to it and have both record and proof of their creations. their existences.
I, too, crave pens and notebooks. I, too, desire record and proof.
and I wish the same for everyone on earth.
a crazy-avid reader, I devoured dozens of wolf books as I researched canis lupus and its history on our continent. though I learned from every tome–as an example, jim and jamie dutchers’ book living with wolves is not only informative but filled with breathtaking photography, and comeback wolves is a compelling literary collection–the following books made my top 5 list as a result of what lay beneath the words and pictures. a book that leaves you somehow different is the kind of book that resonates, and remains. the books I’ve listed below are powerful in not only the storytelling, but in the understandings both stated and alluded to.
of wolves and men, barry lopez. lopez is a master, so exceptionally talented and committed to his craft that reading anything of his will transport you. this book is the ultimate compilation of all things wolves, as experienced by mankind.
a society of wolves, rick mcintyre. beautiful photographs interspersed with facts and stories: reading mcintyre’s book will leave you not only feeling like you understand these wild creatures, but that you should quickly plan a trip to go see them.
among wolves, marybeth holleman. holleman shares wolf researcher gordon haber’s story, some of his findings, and his enthusiasm for canis lupus. beautifully told, this book brings back to life a fascinating man who lost his life doing the work he loved.
decade of the wolf, douglas smith & gary ferguson. place the top yellowstone wolf biologist together with an exceptionally thoughtful and elegant writer in a canoe, in the wilderness, and in the presence of wolves, and the result is this insightful glimpse into the lives of yellowstone’s wolves. together they point a lens on specific wolves, and widen the view to encompass man’s history with wolves.
howl: of woman and wolf, susan imhoff bird. (how could I not include this one?) returning balance to ecosystems requires perseverance, even when it is difficult. as does life. give it a read: maybe you, too, will see yourself in a wolf.
if your favorite wolf book isn’t on my list, let me know.
at a workshop I attended last week, the presenter asked if anyone in the audience knew how to remain excited by their work throughout their career. the room was silent. he looked at each of us and then said, stay curious.
when I read a book–essay, article, news flash–I want to learn something. I’m insatiably curious. I love historical fiction for what I learn about a land, an era. I love mysteries set in an unfamiliar field or locale for what they teach about what to me is unlived, and thus unknown. I read nonfiction to increase my knowledge of a specific subject, and essays to open my mind to new thoughts and paths. creative nonfiction is thus one of my favorite genres, because it often combines a bit of everything I just mentioned.
creative nonfiction magazine defines creative nonfiction as “true stories well told.” its founder and editor, lee gutkind, goes on compare the genre to jazz— “it’s a rich mix of ﬂavors, ideas, and techniques . . .”
below is a sampling of creative nonfiction journeys I have taken, sitting on my couch, savoring every chapter.
the language of the night, ursula k leguin. a collection of essays that challenge thought so beautifully, guide gracefully, and delight completely. this woman is extraordinary in her creativity, and in her humanity.
rising from the plains, john mcphee. I could list just about every mcphee book here, but this is my absolute favorite, the one that taught me how to love difficult terrain, and the people who love it. mcphee is a master teacher with a poet’s heart.
refuge, terry tempest williams. terry is a force. though all her books are powerful and challenge our relationship with other, this book touches me more deeply for its theme of personal loss.
where rivers change direction, mark spragg. this book showed me how men encounter a different world than I do, and gave me not only a glimpse into that experience, but a deeper understanding of what it might be like to be male.
a little more about me, pam houston. I’m cheating a bit to add pam here: in her own words, her books are about 82% true. but they feel true, one hundred percent true, and they grab you, keep you solidly in your seat, pull your heart, and get you in the gut. this book is my favorite of hers.
I’d love to know which creative nonfiction books keep you riveted!
I love these books. images of their covers are banked in my memory, and they each engaged me so deeply that I lost myself in their stories. I cried, I wanted to meet their characters and converse with them. or just be in their presence. I am so grateful to each of these authors for creating a world in which I lived, vividly and wholeheartedly, for a magical length of time. these books are not ordered, because each is fabulously unique and ultimately, incomparable.
the history of love, nicole krauss. I fell so deeply in love with leo, an elderly jewish man, and his generous heart, I could barely stand to let the book end. and yet.
the poisonwood bible, barbara kingsolver. kingsolver introduced me to a world I didn’t know–the congo–and a family so extraordinary, all the while lulling me with such beautiful prose I never wanted to set the book down.
cutting for stone, abraham verghese. my heart broke again and again, yet following the tale of marion stone’s history and journey kept me completely spellbound.
the dog stars, peter heller. oh, so spare and beautiful. I cried, I believed, I closed the book reconsidering what a purposeful life might truly look like.
the time traveler’s wife, audrey niffenegger. henry and clare live on my bookshelf, barely contained in the pages, and have even seeped into my being. an amazing, intricately woven love story across tangible and intangible boundaries. just wow.
please comment with your own best-ever books! I am always looking for more books for my stack.
like millions of other humans, I am curious about how to be in this world. how to balance my wants/needs/desires with those of the greater community, how to find my own “happy place,” how to accept things I don’t really wish to accept. over the years, I’ve read many books written by masters, by students, by yogis and wise ones and commonplace folk. in each I found something, but in those listed below, enough welled up to place the book on this list.
the four agreements, don miguel ruiz. everyone should read this book, and work to live by these agreements. everyone. I work, daily, toward better living them.
the alchemist, paulo coelho. I have read this at least a half dozen times, and each experience is as heartful as the first. be true to yourself.
the tao of pooh, benjamin huff. that is one wise bear, with a lovely sense of humor.
true love: a practice for awakening the heart, thich nhat hanh. everything this vietnamese zen buddhist writes is geared toward inner–and thus outer–peace.
traveling light: releasing the burdens you were never meant to bear, max lucado. lucado is a master teacher, and reading him helps me refine and re-find me.
I’d love to know what’s on your list ~ the only way we expand ourselves is through experience with other.
I love to learn, but I, alas, need a bit of entertainment along the way. diatribe, argument, and philosophical discussion can quickly drown me, whereas metaphor, a titch of light-heartedness, allegory, and surprises work to keep me engaged and sometimes even engrossed. the following books kept me hooked while not only educating me, but also creating a sense that I would enjoy coffee or dinner with their authors. (watching elizabeth kolbert on the daily show with jon stewart affirmed that sense.) if you haven’t read these, I recommend you do. kolbert’s book is especially relevant in our changing world ~ start there.
the sixth extinction, elizabeth kolbert. kolbert hopes that readers will “come away with an appreciation of the truly extraordinary moment in which we live;” I can’t imagine the reader who wouldn’t.
the social animal: the hidden sources of love, character, and achievement, david brooks. how our unconscious mind guides us… both fascinating and enlightening, and filled with story, allegory, and eye-opening fact.
quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, susan cain. I can’t help but like a book about people like me.
the swerve: how the world became modern, stephen greenblatt. a story about lucretius’s “on the nature of things” and how its discovery, centuries after being written, had a revolutionary affect on great thinkers, artists, and scientists.
a brief history of everything, bill bryson. “how we got from there being nothing at all to there being us.” like kolbert, bryson is gifted with the ability to clarify scientific complexities for those of us unfamiliar with that realm.
as I stated, I love to learn: please share your list!