I was gazing over at my bedside table the other morning and noticed that the content and size of my ‘currently reading’ pile has changed over the last few months. In the world before Covid, there was always a judicious mix of business books and literary novels—literature and business being two of my great passions.
I’ve always said you can tell a lot about someone by their ‘Currently Reading’ pile; books give great insight into people’s interests, passions, hobbies and obsessions. Lately, though, that pile of books may say more about how we’re coping with life than it does about who we are.
Is the pile on your nightstand full of fantasy and romance titles? Pandemic-themed books? Self-help and spiritual tomes?
I can tell you that since about March 13th, my pile has grown and expanded and is now spilling onto the floor by my bed. It’s not just that I’m reading more, which I am, it’s also what I’m reading that’s changed. Covid has opened me up to a couple of new non-fiction genres that I rarely made time for in pre-pandemic times. Now, in addition to my usual fare, I’ve also got at least 2-3 spiritual and parenting books on the go at any given time.
I’m a pretty busy person, and frankly the notion of curling up with a spiritual book used to feel like something of a luxury. Now, it’s become my salvation. As for parenting, I used to feel like I had a decent handle on raising my kids. I confess I hadn’t turned to a parenting book—at least to read it cover to cover—since What to Expect When You’re Expecting. But after several weeks in quarantine, both my kids began to struggle with feelings of emptiness, anxiety and all the frustrations of online school. Things got hard real fast. We’re also spending so much time together, it’s like all their quirks and foibles and oddities are under a microscope. I want to fix them. I want to make their pain go away. I want to not feel so powerless.
Enter my new saviours, the authors of the books I’m currently reading that are guiding me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. And so, inspired by the ever-expanding pile of books beside my bed, I present the Covid Edition of “What’s On My Nightstand,” focusing specifically on the 6 non-fiction books keeping me sane during this pandemic.
Conscious Parenting, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
This booked radically changed the way I approach parenting. Before I had my kids, I thought I would be able to shape them into the people I wanted them to become. I thought having them was a selfless, noble act. I thought I was going to have control over everything from their character to their futures. And I failed on all fronts, as spectacularly hard as I tried. What Dr. Tsabary posits is that my kids are actually on this planet to help me transform. It turns out that everything they do that makes me uncomfortable or pushes a button is my problem, my wound—not theirs. I literally have to pick up this book on a daily basis to be reminded of that and to help me let go—especially in these challenging times.
The Awakened Family, by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
Dr. Tsabayi’s second book is similar to her first, with more focus on the family as a whole. It’s just as powerful, thoughtful, and gentle in its teachings about becoming more present and more conscious when interacting with our kids. It’s not rocket science, but I seem to need constant reminders that my kids are just mirrors of me—and not always in a good way. When I’m reacting poorly to how they’re coping with the current state of the world, I often find myself running back to this book for strategies on how to take care of my own pain first, so that I can be there for theirs.
The Untethered Soul, by Michael Singer
Michael Singer’s great gift is the simple, straightforward language he uses to express some extremely complex spiritual principles. In this mind-blowing masterpiece, he explores the notion that our true selves are not our personalities—not the mother, writer, wife, Joanna, I believe myself to be—nor is the real me the annoying “roommate” in my mind. Rather, our true selves are our deeper consciousness. Simply put, Singer suggests it is the awareness of ourselves—that ceaseless chatter in our minds, our pain points and triggers—which allows us to tap into true peace, regardless of what’s happening in the world around us. This book is an exploration of mindfulness like no other, in language that is as stunningly clear as it is powerful.
Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach.
Tara Brach had me the moment she introduced the concept of the “trance of unworthiness,” a term she uses to describe paralyzing self-judgment and perfectionism, which is all too familiar. Have you ever tried working full-time at two separate careers and home-schooling two kids in lockdown while also being an uber-perfectionist? Well, it’s not for the faint of heart. I’ve spent the better part of the past six months beating myself up for failing at everything, especially quarantine. Thankfully, a close friend recommended Radical Acceptance at exactly the right time, and it’s been on my nightstand ever since. Brach, a psychologist and Buddhist teacher, introduced me to the “wings of awareness and compassion” as the path to peace and healing. Compassion. For myself! What a novelty!
When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron
For those of you who don’t know renowned Tibetan Buddhist, Pema Chödrön, the title of this book says it all. Chödrön is warm, witty, honest and real, and you get exactly what is promised here: heart advice for hard times. The best way I can describe this book is soothing. When I’m extra anxious and stressed, this is the one I reach for. Just a snippet or two and I find myself feeling calmer and steadier, like maybe everything is going to be okay. That’s what Pema says, and I believe her.
The Great Work of Your Life, by Stephen Cope
I’ve never thought of myself as Buddhist before, but I notice as I complete this round-up of soul-nourishing books, that Buddhism seems to be the recurring theme. Here again Stephen Cope explores the journey to finding your life’s deepest (& sometimes hidden) purpose—or dharma. For me, this global pandemic has inspired some deep soul-searching. Forced inside my home for months, without all the usual comforts I once took for granted—like being with friends, travel, writing at Starbucks, “alone time,” freedom—I began to feel trapped, lost. I started to question everything. The Great Work of Your Life helped me to reconnect with my true calling, my “raison d’être,” and restored my clarity of purpose. Covid, I was reminded, cannot take that away from me.
Joanna Goodman is the author of the bestselling novels The Home for Unwanted Girls and The Finishing School. Originally from Montreal, she now lives in Toronto with her husband and two children. For more information, please visit her online at www.joannagoodmanauthor.com and follow her on Twitter @joannagoodman.
THE FORGOTTEN DAUGHTER is set in Montreal, Quebec in 1992 against simmering English-French language tensions. The wild and beautiful Véronique Fortin, daughter of a radical separatist who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a prominent politician more than twenty years earlier in1970, has embraced her father’s cause.
When Véronique meets journalist James Phénix, who is French Canadian but opposed to Quebec separation from Canada, she captivates his heart. Their love affair is as passionate as it is turbulent, as they negotiate the collision of love, morals, and loyalty. When Veronique joins an extremist cell taking her further down a path to violence, their relationship seems doomed.
At the same time James’s older sister, Elodie Phénix, one of the Duplessis Orphans is fighting for reparations for their suffering in the 1950s when Quebec’s orphanages were converted to mental hospitals—a heinous political act of Premier Maurice Duplessis that affected 5,000 children.
Elodie and Véronique are kindred spirits, both constrained by their pasts, but desperate to move forward. Véronique is the only person Elodie can rely on as she slowly wades into the fight for retribution, reliving her trauma along the way; and Elodie takes on a sisterly role for Véronique, who continues to struggle with her father’s legacy of violence as she navigates her fraught, freighted relationship with James.