At SYJ, our offerings are inspired by Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, art and culture. It’s no wonder, then, that our teachers and students are lovers of music, poetry, and story.
While we can’t all get together right now for a book club, we want to share that spirit of gathering together to discuss the stories that make us laugh, make us cry, spark a fire within, or help us feel less alone. So we asked our teachers what books they’d recommend you add to your nightstand stack this winter.
Here are some of SYJ’s favorite winter reads.
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
I like my writers and their writing unpretentious like my sweatpants: cozy, comfortable, messy, real, forgiving, honest, hopeful and a little stained. Read this book because it is relatable. You will laugh and cry and say, “yup, oh my goodness, me too,” “so and so is just like that,” and “goddamn, that’s funny.”
The book can be summed up by Backman’s dedication: “This book is dedicated to the voices in my head, the most remarkable of my friends.”
— Liz Lowe
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer
If you’ve been in my classes recently, you know how relevant I believe the teachings of this book are to our current moment. I’ve been reading from it A LOT! My initial approach to this book was in my usual fashion: I have to finish this quickly so I can join a book club discussion and cross another book of my TBR list. Pen in hand, as I began to read, I found myself underlining and reading, rereading, savoring.
Kimmerer’s style is part memoir, part treatise on dendrology and botany, part poem. This book invites us to slow down. To turn within in silent prayers of reflection, but also to open our hymnals and sing together in praise of the sacred world around us. In her studies on the gifts of corn, maple, sweetgrass, and strawberries, Kimmerer reminds us that we are all braided together. Yoga is the weaving of ourselves as individual threads back into one. Yoga is union and “all flourishing is mutual.”
— Anna Jump
Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
This book belonged to my mentor Lynn. Her husband asked me if there was anything I wanted when she passed, and I chose this book from her extensive library. On a particularly sad day at the beginning of the pandemic, I went to my book case and the green and the white of the spine jumped out at me.
Grace is a common theme in my classes and so much of how I interpret grace comes from Anne Lamott’s writing. I love opening up to any page and finding a sentence that grabs me, that informs me, that somehow lets me know the messy nature of my life is bound by grace.
Here’s a gem I just opened to: “I suppose if you were snatched out of the mess, you’d miss the lesson; the lesson is the slog.”
So much of this year I have found myself slogging and this book has been one I turn to, like a salve or a conversation with a friend that eases the anxiety and sadness that slowly creeps in. Anne Lamott’s books are like religious texts written in a language I can understand, finding grace by fumbling through the challenges and triumphs we experience in everyday life. In Grace (Eventually) she teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously, but to find grace simply by seeing your shortcomings, asking for help and opening your heart and mind to receive it when it arrives.
I find her honesty refreshing in a self-effacing, irreverent, tender and oh-so-very-human kind of way. I think it is important to keep a book by your side these days that can remind you that you aren’t alone and with a little faith, grace will show up (eventually).
Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott
This is my bathroom read. Yes. I read in the bathroom and I bet you do too. I could have been polite and said it is my bedside read and that would sometimes be true. I also believe Anne would be proud to be in my bathroom. Don’t we close that door and cry? Look in the mirror and beg or stare at our reflection and tell her ‘you got this?’
I like to keep one of Anne Lamott’s little books, that’s what I call them, in the bathroom at all times. She has several books that are each approximately 5” x 8” small, all very colorful to display on a real bookshelf if you fancy, and all very insightful. These books are non-fiction essays and stories full of humor, honesty, fear, courage, vulnerability and inspiration. I have read each about 4 times over and will never stop.
Help, Thanks, Wow are Anne Lamott’s three favorite prayers and they can be yours as well. She shares more than her chocolate (read the book and get the joke).
— Liz Lowe
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