|Frederick Livingston, author of The Moon and Other Fruits, shares what he’s been reading lately.
As spring wakes the soil up, I spend more time preparing my garden. While I do, I often listen to audiobooks through my local library. Most recently, I have enjoyed Merlin Sheldrake’s “Entangled Life”, which is an excellent book to deepen fascination in soil. As an ecologist and educator, I was familiar with the vast network of fungal fibers beneath the soil that connect plants, but still discovered plenty to amaze me in each chapter.
Did you know that fungal species have evolved mechanisms for hunting animals independently throughout evolutionary history? Oyster mushrooms can produce barbs tipped with toxins that paralyze passing nematodes just long enough for them to surround and consume their prey. Still other fungi weave hyphal nooses that tighten and ensnare their target. Other sections focus on ways fungi demonstrate an ability to learn, or ways fungi have been “trained” to decompose cigarette butts and dirty diapers by reaching into their DNA for ancestral enzymes with new applications. Exploring the rich creativity and intelligence of one of the most underappreciated kingdoms of life helps decenter the human mind from the story of consciousness and provides a much larger landscape upon which to imagine the future of life on this planet.
For poetry, the book I find myself going back to the most recently has been Andrea Gibson’s “You Better Be Lightning.” Although their spoken word performances are powerful, their passion for truth still comes across clearly on the page. What I appreciate most about Andrea’s writing is how they hold all that is wicked and painful alongside all the beauty and love they encounter. By not asking the reader to choose between the two, we are invited into a world big enough to hold bigotry, small joys, violence, bicycles, aliens, and the unfaltering love of our planet for her children. Andrea’s words are a testament that not only is love possible, but it is essential to our survival as individuals and as a species.
Other recent reads I would highly recommend include “All We Can Save” for the diverse and necessary perspectives it contributes to the climate discourse, “The Age of Overwhelm” for the way it succinctly names some of the factors contributing to a mental health epidemic in the Western world, and “The Dawn of Everything” for those of us interested in wading through a history tome that reimagines and expands what it means to be human.”
Michelle Freret Prather, author of My Family, gives us a peak of what she’s been reading, as well.
“I’m one of those people who has a stack of books going at once. They range from profound to funny and everything in between. I gravitate toward memoirs and history, but I love a good novel and am awed when a poem resonates in my heart. I’m planning a trip to Charleston this summer, so Pat Conroy, the King of Memoir, and Patti Callahan Henry are among the authors I’m reading. Books by David Whyte, Peter M. Wolf, and Rachel Naomi Remen complete the stack.
My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy was a gifted storyteller and a master wordsmith. He used metaphors to express emotions that are too broad and deep to be conveyed using ordinary descriptions. He reveled in the beauty of language and its ability to help us understand the human condition. In My Reading Life, Conroy revisits the books that shaped him as a writer and a person.
Unclaimed Soul: A Memoir by Patti Callahan
Unclaimed Soul: A Memoir recounts a journey of healing, self-discovery, and acceptance. Callahan writes with raw emotion about betrayal and deception, feeling invisible and unworthy of love, and discovering her true self.
Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words by David Whyte
Poet David Whyte nudges us to take a nuanced look at seemingly ordinary words and discover the power of language to set us free or encapsulate us. After reading and rereading Consolations, I am convinced more than ever that writing is an art, and its most important tool is the heart.
The Sugar King: Leon Godchaux, A New Orleans Legend, His Creole Slave, and His Jewish Roots by Peter M. Wolf
Peter M. Wolf is from my hometown of New Orleans and is an award-winning author. The Sugar King chronicles the life of Leon Godchaux, Wolf’s great-great-grandfather, who came to New Orleans in 1837. When Godchaux, a thirteen-year-old Jewish boy, arrived in New Orleans from France, he was alone, penniless, and illiterate, but by the end of his life, he had built a sugar empire and a wildly successful clothing business. I was initially drawn to Wolf’s book because he wrote about how Norbert Rillieux, a free man of color whose invention revolutionized the sugar industry, was instrumental in Godchaux’s success. I wrote about Rillieux in my book and was thrilled to see that others are waking up to his genius and telling his story. I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Wolf at a book signing, and his passion for this complex tale goes far beyond the simple recounting of a success story. Peter Wolf lays bare the complexities of the South, particularly New Orleans, and the man who was Leon Godchaux.
Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.
Rachel Remen is a retired physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist, and founder of the Remen Institute for the Study of Health and Illness. Dr. Remen has lived with chronic illness most of her life, profoundly changing her approach to medicine and healing. In Kitchen Table Wisdom, Remen shares what she has learned about life through her own struggles and the stories of her patients who faced serious illnesses. Remen sees the work of medicine as a spiritual practice and has made it her life’s work to help doctors treat the whole person rather than just the disease. She believes understanding our stories is part of healing, even without a cure. “She writes, “The places in which we are seen and heard are holy places. They remind us of our value as human beings. They give us the strength to go on. Eventually, they may even help us transform our pain into wisdom.”
Like Dr. Remen, I have also lived with chronic illness for many years. If we take the pause that chronic illness or adversity gives us and notice the themes that emerge in the narratives of our lives, we can unchain ourselves from our limited ideas of who we are. The personas we have built fall away, and our hidden parts emerge. We rediscover parts of ourselves that help us move forward on a new path and expand our understanding of our true natures. Reading the stories in Kitchen Table Wisdom and other memoirs inspired me to examine my own story and invite others to share theirs. I created www.livingwellwhenyourenot.com for people who want to live well with chronic illness.”