The frisson of a new year is the ideal time to shake up stale mindsets and dropped dreams. Why not catapult the new year in the right direction with a new direction? Books are often the fastest (and cheapest) ticket to motivation and can double as vital inspiration when creating a realistic New Year’s resolution list. Whether you want to stretch your mind or your hamstrings, these books will make you want to do both. Most likely after a surreptitious sleep-in on January 1st and a few cups of coffee.
The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings. Edited by Karen Schauber (Heritage House, 2019)
Seeking equilibrium? This book is like a yoga session without the scheduling logistics and hustle to class. Balance is found in The Group of Seven Reimagined both as an intelligent coffee table book and tangible source of meditation.
Twenty-five writers with notable street cred contributed “flash fiction” to colour iconic paintings by the Group of Seven (and their tagalongs). Flash fiction are stories categorized by length—they are 500 words or less which means they allow for one decent, undistracted cup of dark roast or whisky on ice. For writers or artists, the temptation to reimagine these works will be irresistible. And, what an intriguing resolution to make! Fiction and paintings both rely on interpretation and consideration. Fill in the gaps and colours with your chosen or perhaps newly discovered medium (watercolour?). As Jim and Sue Waddington suggest in the foreword, an art gallery visit becomes suspended in time. We keep returning to certain paintings that resonate and haunt and inadvertently, “Your mind sets off on a journey.”
However you choose to reflect, the ‘om’ is easy to tap into. I’m still poking around Emily Carr’s oil, “Mrs. Jones’ Farm” while looking over Tom Thomson’s shoulder in my own genuine version of “Grey Day in the North.”
Walking to the End of the World: A Thousand Miles on the Camino de Santiago. By Beth Jusino (Mountaineers Books, 2019)
If you’re ready to walk away from your routine and a flatlined career, Beth Jusino’s Walking to the End of the World might help you find your Way. In April 2015, Jusino and her husband decided to take a three-month sabbatical from life as they knew it, eager for an epiphany along the historic Way of Saint James. Jusino lays her confessions out immediately—she’s not an athlete, an outdoorsy-type or interested in revisiting her Baptist upbringing. She can’t speak a lick of French or Spanish. Pilgrims who choose to walk the Camino de Santiago usually check one or more of those boxes.
Feeling intrinsically and disappointingly wired to her smartphone and Facebook, Jusino longed for authenticity. Spain’s thousands of years history grounded her and as the couple explores their individual and combined restlessness with like-minded company. If you’ve walked the Camino, the story is frighteningly familiar. Anyone with pilgrim credentials will remember the necessity of a steady feed of vino tinto to numb the insomnia induced by a dozen snoring bunkmates. My wife and I walked the Way in 2018, so I can appreciate every bit of Jusino’s sensory and edible recount.
While you might not be so inspired to walk a thousand miles, maybe you’ll be ready to tackle The Bruce Trail or simply walk your loyal dog just a little further, because as Jusino proves, the miles are totally mental. If you are moved to move, this book will serve as your personal earthquake preparedness guide!
The Expedition: Two Parents Risk Life and Family in an Extraordinary Quest to the South Pole. By: Chris Fagan (She Writes Press, 2019)
If you’d like to focus on resilience in 2020, this is your one-way ticket. The average person’s Fitbit would blow up in one day if it were strapped on Chris Fagan’s wrist. The reward of pulling a 220-pound sled across one of the largest ice shelves on earth, on the northwest coast of the continent ending at the geographic South Pole? Calories! With an estimated calorie burn of nearly 8,000, their daily intake clocked in at 5,400 calories. Which explains the 26 pounds of hard cheese and 16 pounds of salami that they towed.
The exhaustion and elation of their 570-mile feat is enormous. It netted the couple a Guinness World Record as the first American married couple to ski without guide or resupply to the South Pole. It should be noted that Chris and Marty are the kind of couple that build their own kayaks from scratch and run 100-mile races for kicks. They fell in love summiting Denali– everything about their life together since seems elevated.
The Expedition is an emotional treadmill with familiar sacrifices. The couple have a 12-year-old son that they leave in the hands of a rotating cast of relations and confidantes. There’s so much to contend for them to contend with beyond the elements: hot flashes, Chris’s ailing 80-year-old father, Marty’s chronic ski binding issue that causes his ankles to roll dangerously outward with each stride. Their tent becomes an open concept one-bedroom, kitchen and living room (the tent’s vestibule serves as the en suite, eliminating any inch of privacy).
There’s such a heightened focus on survival and the penultimate destination that the couple’s individual and alternating breaking points actually propel them forward as an unstoppable team. If this is the year to recalibrate your coping mechanisms, The Expedition puts everything in 360-degree blinding-white perspective.
With You By Bike: One Couple’s Life-Changing Journey Around the World. By: Katrina Rosen (Rocky Mountain Books, 2019)
Admittedly, the journeys are getting longer here—but, it’s a long way to within! If you’re eager to repair patchy relationships this year, With You By Bike will be your trusty beacon.
After 11 years together, Katrina and Mike have shifted to casual roomie status. While many couples might discuss establishing a date night and bingeing on This is Us together, this Canmore, Alberta couple opted for the daily and relentless therapy found in a 13,000km bike ride. Navigating 54 flat tires and a good dose of altitude sickness is a rare but genuine litmus test for commitment and forgiveness.
Rosen gently pulls you into her ruminations and inner conflict, the kind of stuff that’s usually only privy to a best friend. Maybe it’s more about attitude sickness and resisting change that will reverberate with astute readers. Warning: personal failed relationships may float to the surface as you sit on the handlebars of this bumpy bike ride without shortcuts. It’s real, it’s human. It has the open-heart surgery rawness of This is Us. Was Rosen subjected to truth serum injections as she wrote her memoir?
Regardless, it’s a healthy reminder that communication can move a relationship in a better, smoother direction. Maybe you don’t need to experience the same debilitating heat exhaustion in Vietnam to figure it all out. But, this year, maybe it’s time to prop up the kickstand on a relationship or put some more grease on your chain. Exercise comes in many forms, especially patience.
With You By Bike is a scenic re-build of a relationship that will leave passport stamps all over your heart.
Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies, and Jays. By: Candace Savage (Greystone Books, 2018)
There’s a reason why TED talks and the online juggernaut MasterClass are surging in popularity. Continuing ed is cool and you can still kick it old school with a tangible book like Bird Brains. I scribbled down so many factoids that I practically recopied the entire book. Author Candace Savage’s wheelhouse is a blend of Prairies, cowgirls, wizards, wolves and crows. In this revised edition of her 1995 compulsory classic, two dozen wildlife photographers give flight to the mythology, courtship and engineering feats unique to corvids. Savage’s affection for them is evident in a glowing tribute to their peculiar and endearing behavior. Witnessed in dog and cat imitations, trapeze antics, and funeral ceremonies, the intelligence of corvids has registered on par with school age children in experiments.
Leaning on pioneering studies and recent bird mentality discoveries, Bird Brains is full of marvel and wonder at every turn. Skip reading your new Nest manual for real nest content. Did you know magpie nests are constructed using more than 1500 sticks and a mortar of cow dung and mud? Magpies are known to go all Frank Gehry with a twig roof, thorny branch exterior and second entry way. Did you know there’s a crow roost in Oklahoma with 8 to 10 million crows?
Even if you are bird crazy to begin with, there’s so much more to learn and smile at. Most fascinating? They can sleep with one eye open, even while flying, to rest one half of their brain. If you’re nodding along (with the other eye open), maybe it’s time to establish better sleep patterns in the new year. And before bedtime, resolve to read really good books in 2020.