Ten things to read or listen to between Christmas and New Year's Eve
Portland’s iced over, and I’m obsessively reloading my son’s flight info (Delayed? Cancelled?). Meanwhile, I’m poring through everyone’s year-end “top ten” lists and “what I learned in 2022” posts. I love year-end recaps reviews. I secretly hope they’ll unlock some elusive clarity about the last twelve months, or perhaps reveal my Golden Ticket to 2023. (I’ll let you know.)
As I skid toward the end of this monumental year, I feel both relieved and a little dinged up. Both grateful and numb. Both aware of possibilities and wary of pitfalls.
It’s a season of both/and.
Next to walking, my favorite curative is reading. so I thought it would be nice to share a few of the books/podcasts/websites that have kept me company this year and helped me realize my both/and-ness isn’t unique. I especially love to settle in with some good reading (or listening) during the hushed days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when everything’s on pause. It my own winter oasis of calm.
I hope these recommendations will comfort and fortify you, too.
I’ve included Amazon affiliate links, but several of these books might be available at your local library. Read my affiliate link policy here.
Bittersweet by Susan Cain
This season of life has required me to get better at holding joy and sorrow at the same time. (Both/and.) I’ve had to process more grief and loss in these last few years than in all my years previous, yet there’s unmistakable beauty in the experience. It’s hard to talk about without minimizing it or sounding precious. In Bittersweet, Susan Cain describes this duality in language that’s both approachable and transcendent.
I’m new to Susan’s work. Nine years ago, her blockbuster Quiet changed how we think about introversion. I never read it so didn’t pay much attention when this book came out earlier this year. But then I heard her podcast conversation with Tim Ferriss and bells went off. I was struck by her perceptiveness, and even more, by her kindness.
Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman
Here’s what no one needs: another dude-guru telling us how to wring a few more drops of work out of our already wrung-out days.
Oliver Burkeman’s genius in Four Thousand Weeks (the length of an average lifespan) is in how he upends the premise of productivity by pointing out how little we actually control. This is a reality we parents of adults viscerally understand. He doesn’t suggest we throw our hands up and become nihilistic sloths, nor does he pretend time, deadlines, and ambition don’t exist. But he playfully puts forth a philosophy on time that tilts toward abundance even as it reminds us to use our limited time wisely.
Bomb Shelter by Mary Laura Philpott
This collection of personal essays touches on precarity, limited time, and the poignance of watching our kids grow up and our parents grow older. But with such a light touch! And deft humor! And a turtle!
Mary Laura Philpott’s both/and stories made me feel seen, and helped me see more clearly. She’s is in this with us.
We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman
Speaking of topics you didn’t know could be funny, how about death? A best friend’s death? From cancer?
Before you think, “that sounds too sad,” recall the both/and theme I’ve got going here.
You may remember Catherine from her Babycenter blog, Waiting for Ben and Birdy, which I read religiously when my son was a baby. She’s written a ton since then (including an advice column for Real Simple magazine). This is her first novel for adults.
Like its main character, Ash, We All Want Impossible Things is hilarious, heartbreaking and totally lovable. By hilarious, I mean that you will laugh, often, possibly out loud, while reading. Along the way, you’ll accompany Ash as she attends to her hospice-bound friend, parents teens, stumbles through relationships, makes questionable decisions, faces limitations, and, most of all, loves with her whole body and heart. You must read this book.
Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer
Andrew Sean Greer’s sequel to Less is no less endearing, which is saying something because the first book won the Pulitzer Prize.
Less is Lost is a road trip book, a romance novel, a comedy, and a bittersweet meditation on aging. More laughter, wonder, and amazement at Greer’s writerly skill. Reading this felt like going on a journey that was over too soon. The best escapism brings you home.
Finally, five online offerings that swim in both/and waters with us:
Kelly Corrigan Wonders podcast: Kelly is a fellow parent of adults, and one of my favorite explorers of the human condition. I pretend she’s my friend, as I expect do most of her listeners.
The Red Hand Files: Through responses to his readers’ often vulnerable questions, musician Nick Cave has created a singularly generous, life-affirming body of work.
The On Being Podcast: Krista Tippett approaches the Big Questions with great heart in conversation with scientists, philosophers, spiritual leaders, and literary figures.
The Marginalian: A wonderous chronicle of Maria Popova’s reading, thinking and dot-connecting. This is my favorite website of all time.
Humans of New York: Brandon Stanton had been running this project for years, and yet the power of one person’s story never fades.
So much talent in this list! I hope you enjoy all the great work. If you’ve got a reading or pod recommendation for me, I’d love to hear it.
Wishing you and your families a lovely holiday. 🤞🏽 for everyone’s travel plans!