Books of 2019

I didn’t read much this year, but out of those few, these books struck deeper than others.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller. Circe deserves all of its accolades: the plot dances and the writing sings.

I passed a pear tree drifted with white blossoms. A fish splashed in the moonlit river. With every step I felt lighter. An emotion was swelling in my throat. It took me a moment to recognize what it was. I had been old and stern for so long, carved with regrets and years like a monolith. But that was only a shape I had been poured into. I did not have to keep it.

Madeline Miller, Circe
Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chodron

Welcoming the Unwelcome by Pema Chödrön. Short essays on how to live wisely. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to get something from this book.

The Buddha spoke a lot about the importance of working with one’s ego. But what did he mean by “ego”? There are various ways to talk about this word, but one definition I particularly like is “that which resists what is.” Ego struggles against reality, against the open-endedness and natural movement of life. It is very uncomfortable with vulnerability and ambiguity, with not being quite sure how to pin things down.

Pema Chödrön, Welcoming the Unwelcome
The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar

The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar. I’d never read fantasy as poetic. The Winged Histories is lyrical, but also difficult—I read it twice before I understood the plot.

It was there in the desert that my blood returned, there that Seren taught me to seize black ants and snap them between my teeth, there that my heart came open in two halves and words poured out of it: my heart had not been empty after all. I talked night after night until I was hoarse. There was a curl of whiteness in the dark sky, what the feredhai call the track of the goddess Roun, the wake of her boat in the sea of the heavens and this is what was coming out of my heart, memories pouring out in waves. All of my life.

Sofia Samatar, The Winged Histories
Zen and the Ways

Zen and the Ways by Trevor Leggett. This is a treasure I’d long feared forgotten. My 1987 edition is worn and yellow, and I was delighted to discover it’s been reprinted.

By what I did yesterday, I win today;
This is the virtue of practice.

Remember the old saying, The plan for a day is a cock’s crow,
The plan for a life is something serious.

In the knightly arts, first see that you yourself are right,
And after that think of defeating an opponent.

The unskilled man does not know his own faults.
And yet dreams vainly of defeating another.

Songs of the Way of the Spear, Zen and the Ways