As I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now, I like to write. My love of writing hearkens back to the first grade, when I remember making my dad write/bind large sheets of printer paper with duct tape and draw pictures for them with me in our basement den, a sort of self-publishing father-daughter activity (one that continues even to this day, as I just recently helped my dad edit his book on financial investing). Young Lauren even wrote a Native-American themed “informational book” after watching Disney’s Pocahontas, where I “taught” people “Native American words” like “Wingapo” (*face palm*). I also took it in for my first grade teacher to read to the class during our reading hour (*double face palm*).
In any event, in addition to writing, I also like to read, and actually credit my passion for reading at a young age with developing my skills as a writer. I was that kid who, when it was summer break, would immediately head out to the public library to take out the maximum number of books allowed (14), devour them all in 2-3 weeks, and then head back to the library to pick out more. Sweet Valley Twins and The Babysitter’s Club were among my favorites (I always identified with Elizabeth, even though I secretly thought Jessica was cooler and I definitely wanted to be in the Unicorn Club). I also belonged to a Mother/Daughter book club, where once a month we would read a book and then get together at the elementary school library with other moms and daughters to partake of book-themed snacks and discuss the reading.
Nowadays, it seems like I have less time to read full length novels, in part because I’m spending my free time working on a couple of writing projects, trying to learn SEO, and above all, getting my little side photography business ~Lolo’s Photos~ up and running. That doesn’t mean that I don’t read though – I’ve read a lot this past year, actually, and have found that reading is still just as important for cultivating creative stimuli as it was when I was a child. It’s just that nowadays, living in NYC and juggling so many different activities, hobbies, side hustles, a dog, friends, family, and a boyfriend…a book has to be really compelling for me to stick with it. Out of the many books I read in 2018 (a list which included the likes of The Haunting of Hill House, The Handmaid’s Tale, a rereading of The Catcher in the Rye, and several workbooks on personal growth and development), there are a few that I highly recommend – because if they can hold your attention in the city that never sleeps, they must be pretty darn good.
- The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
This book is hands-down the best book I’ve read all year – possibly ever. I don’t say that many things are “life changing,” but this book is truly an exception. If you’ve not read anything by Eckhart Tolle, the idea behind his philosophy is the simple truth that only the Now exists. The past is but a memory, and the future is a mere wish; the only thing we have is this very exact moment we are living in in the present. He argues that by tuning in to the present, we can live a fuller, more experiential life free of the modern anxieties so often created by negative past experiences and worries about the future. He discusses techniques for tapping into the present, such as bodily awareness (breathing, meditation) and acting as the “observer” of our own mind and thoughts. These tools essentially give YOU back the power you relinquish when you let your emotions/doubts/fears – caused by thinking about the nonexistent past and present – take the wheel. This is an extremely reductive summary of a really profound book that absolutely needs a second reading, but if there is one book I would recommend to people who are truly trying to change behaviors and thought patterns to live a happier life, it would be this.
- The Gratitude Diaries by Janice Kaplan
But this book would be a close second! It is certainly less cerebral than The Power of Now, which was sort of refreshing since The Power of Now took me a while to read/digest properly. The premise of the book is a study the author herself undertook of actively choosing to be more grateful in her life. Over the course of a year, Janice Kaplan tested out the theory of the laws of attraction by choosing specific areas of her life on which to “look at the bright side,” including her marriage, career, children, etc. It By choosing to be grateful and reframe situations that others might view in a negative light, Kaplan outlines the positive changes she personally experienced as a result of choosing an attitude of gratitude. It was inspiring to see how this simple shift in thought had such positive effects (backed by science, which she sprinkles throughout the book).
- A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett Scribner
Totally changing gears from personal development to a nonfictional memoir of sorts, this book was one that I absolutely could not put down. It was written by Amanda Lindhout, a young American journalist who was kidnapped by Islamic militants in Somalia when she was 23 and held captive for over a year. It’s the true story of how she ended up in Somalia and what happened to her while she was there, and I could NOT put it down. Besides the fact that it’s a compelling story, it was extremely well-written. I hate to use the word “thriller” because the events in the book were tragically real for Amanda, but it was a book that I devoured in just a couple of weeks because it was THAT intense.
- Godsend by John Wray
I’ll never forget the time that I was on a flight, sitting next to the nicest Lebanese woman, a professor at the American University of Beirut. After chatting with each other for the majority of the flight, the discussion inevitably turned to travels, politics, and the friction between the Middle East and the US. “Hezbollah is not a terrorist group,” she told me plainly and simply before proceeding to outline the roads they built, hospitals they constructed, and armed security they provided. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the concept that not everyone views these organizations as inherently bad or evil, but rather, views them as legitimate political parties providing much-needed supplies, services, and security to impoverished people. I sometimes think about this conversation, nearly 15 years later, which is perhaps what led me to pick up the book Godsend by John Wray. Godsend is a fictional book based off of the real-life story of a young American who traveled to Pakistan to join the Taliban. What actually drew me to the book was the interesting cover picture, but then I saw that it was written by John Wray, who won a writer’s fellowship at the arts foundation that I interned at in the summer of 2012. We lived and worked together in a remote castle in Umbria (along with 12 other fellows) for six weeks, a unique experience that tends to bond participants in a unique way. (Side Note: Debra Winger was also there at the same time, and lemme tell you…I have stories!). Godsend is intriguing, compelling, and even though I find that there are a few plot holes/gaps (i.e. the main character disguises herself as boy, successfully, for a long time and NO ONE notices?), it is a book that I can’t seem to put down. It’s a highly original story and for anyone looking to read something different, this is it.
My goal for 2019 is to read at least 15 books this year, which is where I need YOUR help – I would love it if you could share some of the books you read last year that inspired you, changed you, motivated you, entertained you – and above all, the ones that you literally couldn’t put down. Doesn’t have to be serious, self-help, or anything like that (though those are also most welcome!) – I’m just looking for a good book to get lost in. So far on my list I’ve got A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle (thanks to my fabulously talented hair styling goddess, Brianne Dubé – New Yorkers, check her out!) and The Magician series by Michael Scott (yes, that’s his real name; no, he’s not from Scranton). Please help ya girl fill out her book list and comment with your recs!
Wishing you a happy and book-filled 2019!