January Books & Poetry

01_2019_January Books

What a difference consistency makes! I added reading to my morning routine back in mid-December and I’m finding it so much easier and pleasurable to read these days. I usually just tried to fit it into the little nooks and crannies of a busy day and while that worked okay, I never got that relaxed feeling of really dropping into the pleasure of reading. Now with a guaranteed 15 to 30 minute block each morning, I’m loving the experience so much more and really get more out of what I’m reading.

Here is what I finished in January and some of my poetry favorites too.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker J. Palmer

This is a repeat read for me. I read it at the beginning of last year as I was preparing to quit the company I had worked at for over a decade. This is a slim little book that is full of deep thinking and insights. It’s only a little over a hundred pages, but it took me about a month to read as I could really only process about five to ten pages per sitting. I reread it this year because the true gift of this book is in the questions it poses to the reader. These are questions that make you take stock of what you are doing and why you are doing it. These were important questions for me last year and I had a feeling they would continue to be important to me this year, so I gave it another read and will most likely read it again next year. I definitely want to check out more of Parker J. Palmer’s work.

  • Biggest Takeaway: How acts of reflection and honest curiosity about your life can be some of the best tools in helping you make a path forward.
  • Favorite Quote: Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to life up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.
  • Recommend This Book?: Absolutely!

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Critic Battles by Steven Pressfield

This is another repeat for me. I read it sometime in 2017 and loved it. I decided to read it again because I’ve been working on getting more of a disciplined writing practice in my life and I knew this book could help me shake loose some of the hold that fear and procrastination had on me. It’s another short read, but it goes much faster than Palmer’s book since there are lots of short chapters and Pressfield’s writing style is less dense and more playful. It’s a great book for anyone that is struggling to start and continue doing something they really love doing. This may be in the arena of creative work or it could be in other areas. Pressfield shines a light on the biggest block…resistance.

  • Biggest Takeaway: The greater the fear and resistance of creating and doing the work, the more important it is to find a way over, under and through that fear and resistance. Art matters; creativity matters; creating matters.
  • Favorite Quote: Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.
  • Recommend This Book?: Yep!

Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

I’ll start by saying that I loved this book and I’ll be adding it to my yearly reread rotation. I’ve been a reader of James Clear’s blog for a while, so when I heard about his new book and what it was about, I was excited to read it. I got even more excited when one of my Bright Line Eating (BLE) mastermind groups decided to read it as a group and discuss on our weekly calls. This is a great book to read with others that are invested in trying out some of his ideas because you can discuss how things are going and help each other be accountable to what you are committing to trying.

Clear shares a lot of great ideas for being better equipped to start and continue habits. Some of these strategies I’ve gotten to know through my personal experience with starting and continuing my BLE program or from other books, but the real gift of this book is having it all together in one place and having the concepts put into mathematical type formulas that make it easy to remember, implement and follow.

While the strategies are great, I got the greatest value from the chapter discussing how habits shape your identity and how identity in turn shapes your habits. This inside-out approach to habits has been truly transformative for me. I know “transformative” sounds like a pretty hyperbolic word to use, but I’m being quite earnest here. When it comes to things like my weight and health, writing and physical fitness, I’ve spent a great deal of my life working from the results/goals inward to the habits and never even considered what role my identity around these goals could have on how successful (or not) I am with the goals.

It turns out, that considering identity first can really help create a stable platform for building habits that support that identity. Because of this book, I’m now embracing new and more empowering and supportive identities for the habits and goals I want to build and accomplish. Some of these newly crafted identities are:

  • I am a food addict in strong recovery.
  • I am a writer.
  • I am an athlete.

Each one of these identities helps me stay strong and committed to new habits and helps decrease and eliminate habits that no longer fit with my identity.

  • Biggest Takeaway: Effective habits, like most things in life, are, at least in part, an inside job. Knowing yourself better and taking the time to notice when things are or are not working plays a big part in starting and keeping habits you want in your life.
  • Favorite Quote: The habits you follow without thinking often determine the choices you make when you are thinking.
  • Recommend This Book?: Yes, and twice on Sundays!


I decided that this year I was going to quit wishing I read more poetry and actually start reading more poetry. I did this through a technique called habit stacking that James Clear shares in Atomic Habits. Habit stacking is when you identify a current habit you already do each day and then stack your new behavior on top. I took my daily habit of writing and committing my food plan for the next day (thank you BLE for that habit) and added the new habit of “Read a Poem.” I supported this new habit by pulling out some poetry anthologies I had brought with me to Manila and downloading the Poetry Foundation’s POETRY app on my phone. The app made it possible for me to access poetry even when I wasn’t at home with my books. James Clear would label this as “decreasing friction” for a habit you want to encourage. 

In January alone, I read twenty-six poems. This is about twice the number of poems I read in all of 2018. Of the twenty-six that I read, the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Mary Oliver was the most memorable for me. But of all the individual poems I read, Mary Oliver’s Morning Poem caught me the most and I returned to it a couple of times over the course of the month. I love the lush imagery of the world becoming itself each day and doing so with brave indifference to how you or I are feeling.

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

There is such magic in a world that knows there is darkness and illness beating in its breast and yet creates anew, without interruption, the beauty of a fresh morning. I think that is also the magic of poetry. It creates something new, something magical and surprising out of all that is visible and invisible, all that is radiant and mundane and all that we embrace embrace and hide our faces from.

Until next month, I’ll keep turning those pages…

2 thoughts on “January Books & Poetry”

  1. I absolutely love book recommendations! _War of Art_ helped me push through the resistance I had towards sharing my writing with others on my blog, livingwiththequestions.com. I’ve also just started reading _Atomic Habits_ and love the concept of habit stacking.

    I really appreciate that you shared Mary Oliver’s poem, and the poetry app link. I’ve often wished that I could read more myself, and this seems like an effortless way to start the habit. I’m curious enough to put _Let Your Life Speak_ on my reading list too.

    I hope that you continue to share your reading recommendations…I enjoyed the way you presented everything and am always, always on the lookout for something to add to my own bookshelf.


    1. So glad the reading recommendations were helpful! The act of writing them up was a great way to reflect on what I learned and to put on my critics hat and think about what worked about these books. I hope you enjoy adding more poetry into your life. I’m finding that it is a really lovely addition to my daily practices. Let’s all keep reading, learning and growing!


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