My Healing Bookshelf

Books have always been my happy place. They have been a way for me to learn, hide, see the world, grow up, pretend, remember, and become. Professor and author Rudine Sims Bishop wrote a piece about books being like mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Books can present the reader with a different worldview than their own, a reflection of the reader’s own life experiences, or an opportunity to step into a story and live inside its pages for a while. I can attest to all those ideas.

In the latest season of my life, books have assumed a new purpose: as a means of healing. I’m not sure what comparison I could add to Bishop’s theory . . . books as an antidote? a band-aid? a medication? For me, the following books helped guide me through the painful and necessary process of healing. I don’t mean that they healed me, however, certain books seemed to shepherd me through each tiny step forward. The words allowed me to feel my feelings fully, think deeply, laugh, and most importantly, breathe. The healing is far from over (is it every truly over?) and I expect that this list will continue to grow.

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #7: The Clue in the Diary – Carolyn Keene (Mildred Wirt Benson)

This was the first book I completed this summer. When I was having trouble falling and staying asleep, I would read this and feel comforted that the pieces would fall into place for Nancy. Nancy Drew was my hero when I was 10 and 11. She’s a spunky, intelligent, and kind heroine with a sweet car and good friends. She is brave (or reckless, depending on how you read it). She trusts her gut, her dad, and her friends. This book helped me feel safe when the world and my life seemed too scary to live. It brought me back to a time of peace and fun, a time when I was eager to get out and solve some mysteries with my best friend. There is healing in remembering the silly, spunky girl you used to be.

Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling

This book was a re-read (maybe a re-re-read). Mindy is a hilarious writer and storyteller. Her stories of post-grad life in New York City and her time working on The Office got me laughing – which very few things were able to do then. It also reinforced the truth my mom told me, that life is never a straight line. That was hard to believe. But reading about Mindy’s fits and starts, the random opportunities that came her way, her failures and successes reminded me that no one’s story is linear, and I shouldn’t expect mine to be. There is healing in laughter and healing in learning universal truths.

Love Warrior – Glennon Doyle Melton

My friend Greta sent this book to me in a care package this August along with fuzzy socks, colored pencils, bubble gum, and a word search book (with some pages already completed). Oddly, my friend Tracy had told me about Glennon earlier in the summer and encouraged me to listen to some of her talks online. Through her painful story, Glennon’s raw words and emotions spoke a lot of life and truth to me. This was one of those books that I underlined and starred and marked up. I felt empowered reading about a woman who started from scratch, who rediscovered herself, her likes and longings. A woman who learned how to take care of herself. A woman who wrote that “Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. . . . The courage to surrender comes from knowing that the love and pain will almost kill us, but not quite.” There is healing in reading something that puts to words so beautifully your own experience. There is healing in knowing that someone else has traveled this road before.

Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair – Anne Lamott

It was inevitable that I read this book. My friend Caitrin sent it to me early in the summer, with a note that said, “maybe, when you’re ready, it’ll give some light to your healing.” I wasn’t ready. A couple months later, I got a second copy in my care package from Greta. They had no idea. It seemed like an unmistakable sign that my two friends who have experienced their share of grief and trauma should be moved to pass along these words to me. They get it. If you’ve read anything by Anne Lamott, you know that she is a wise, funny goddess who writes tragically beautiful truths. I read this short book twice. I underlined, cried, reread, and treasured these words. Reading this book helped me to unclench my hands, open my palms up, breathe in and out, and allow both pain and light to coexist in my being. There is healing in each breath. There is healing in letting go.

Bittersweet – Shauna Niequist

This is another book that I revisited. Shauna has an easy, engaging writing style that I relate to. Her essays on grief and learning the hard way felt like my own. She wrote about blazing past all the signs that she needed to slow down and “be quiet verging on bored, to be silent enough to hear our lives changing.” I needed to read about someone who stopped everything, someone who lived from a manic, soul-crushing place and said enough already. As a goal-driven perfectionist, it was wrenching to let go of things I had carefully planned out and worked toward. I didn’t understand that in clinging so tightly that I was wringing the life out of my own body. There is healing in being still, in letting your soul breathe and be free.

Game of Thrones (the series) – George R. R. Martin

These were the first books I checked out with my new library card. I just needed a 900-page fantasy novel. (You know that feeling?) Reading about kings and queens, dragons, a sneaky dwarf, an iron throne, and lots of death was amazing. That feeling being completely engrossed into a different world and envisioning it in your head is an experience that only books can provide. Watching TV shows and movies can be immersive experiences, but you’re always living in someone else’s vision. This was the first time since reading Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings that I’ve fallen so deep into a fantasy series. There is healing in imagining.

Daring Greatly – Brené Brown

Brené is my spirit guide. Seriously, as a writer, storyteller, researcher, speaker – if I could model a career after anyone, it would be Brené Brown. Her research focuses on shame and vulnerability, two complex emotions that I’ve experienced many times in recent months. She wrote about how essential vulnerability is to live what she calls a Wholehearted life. Embracing our vulnerability helps us to cultivate resilience to shame. “We can’t give people what we don’t have. . . . If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.” Wow. I needed to learn (again) that I can’t love someone without loving myself. I can’t care for someone without caring for myself. Vulnerability is necessary. I’ve learned that over and over during this season. At my weakest, my most vulnerable, my worst, I saw my friends and family show up in incredibly loving and tender ways. I kept every letter and card in a box on my dresser to remind myself that I am loved. Every phone call, visit, and piece of mail were moments of joy in sometimes bleak days. At times when I could barely show up to exist in my own skin, the strength of people I love held me up. There is healing in responding to vulnerability with love.  

This eclectic list represents my gradual process of grieving, healing, and growing. Brené wrote about boundaries and how she doesn’t share experiences until she’s feels like she can share them from solid ground. I can’t share my experience from solid ground yet. For now, I’ll keep writing what I can say for sure. I know that books are powerful. I know that books are helping me heal. I know that my friends and family love me. I know that it feels good to write again.

Thanks for reading, friends.

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