2021 has been a big year for me. It was the year I published my first book. Completed my coaching certification. Started a new relationship. Claimed my identity as a writer and a coach. And finally allowed myself to give voice to some of my biggest dreams – to publish a novel someday. To build a house and raise a family in my hometown. To enjoy the process. And, maybe most important, to truly love exactly who I am along the way.
Throughout my life, books have been friends and guides for as long as I can remember. The Babysitters Club series was my reading obsession from 1st – 4th grade until a series about horses took over. Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Little Women and some many more were as real in my life as friends, dogs and family. I would spend hours every summer in my hammock delighting in the stories and places my giant tote-bag of books could take me.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, how much books play a role in my life as an adult. Especially as a writer. But it surprises me anyway! I think it’s one of those things that I just take for granted. Doesn’t everyone bring at least five books on every trip they go on, even if they literally never get read? Aren’t all of your side tables filled with stacks of book at least ten books high? Don’t you have a favorite novel that you read every summer without fail?
As a way to honor these incredible friends and mentors (the books themselves), I decided to put together a list of the five most influential books for me this year. In no particular order:
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
It’s not a surprise that many of these books are related to creativity, as embracing the creative life has been a major theme for me. Both as an entrepreneur and a writer, learning how to work with creativity was a major theme for me this year. A trusted, steady, always-there-with–a-helpful-tidbit book I truly enjoyed was Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’d read some of her work and liked some more than others, but this, whose Subtitle “Creative Living Beyond Fear” could be the story of my year, has been a good friend. I don’t really read books cover to cover anymore, which is part of the reason why I don’t frequent my public library very often. Six or even twelve weeks to finish something just isn’t enough time! I bought this book at least a year ago and it took me six months to finish. I got what I needed from it every time I opened it. Usually, I picked it up when I was in my own fear cycle. Then I would read about how the creative process works for other people, or how Elizabeth wrote her books and I’d realize that I’m not alone. Or crazy. I’m just a writer, and here are some ways I can be a writer that feel more joyful and good.
One of my favorite chapters in the book is the chapter about her friend and one of my favorite authors, Robin Wall Kimmerer. I was delighted to learn that the two authors are friends! I was even more delighted to see Kimmerer’s philosophy of reciprocity between humans and the natural world applied to creativity. If we love writing and creativity but don’t believe creativity loves us – well, that just doesn’t make sense. Receiving love from the Earth has been a huge new eye-opening revelatory shift for me this year. Developing a similar two-way relationship with creativity feels like it will be similarly earth-shaking.
Stay tuned. My hope is that this budding reciprocal relationship will breed many creative works over my lifetime!
Psst – I’m leading a 4-week deep-dive book club on Big Magic in January 2022 and there are spots available! Learn more here: https://www.chelseafrisbee.com/book-club
2. My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Manakem
You know when someone tells you about a book, and then it falls off your radar for a few years until it comes back into your life at exactly the right time for you to read it? This happens to me all the time, and especially with this book I really appreciated My Grandmother’s Hands because it’s written for different audiences, but approachable for all, including people of color, white people, and law enforcement. I also love that it’s actionable—there are practices that accompany each chapter, as well as a quick summary that boils down some of the most dense concepts into easily understandable sound bites. It’s also rooted in practice. Resmaa has an extensive professional background in therapy, wellness and counseling services and consistently cites his clients, real-world scenarios and decades of work in this field. Finally, it comes across without judgement. Especially for white people who are actively seeking their own personal and collective healing of internalized and institutional white supremacy, this book is an incredible tool that has profound ripple effects.
3. Atomic Habits by James Clear
Talk about an actionable book! Similar to My Grandmother’s Hands, Atomic Habits is chock-full of ways to take the content and actually turn it into long-term, sustainable change in your life. I’d been introduced to many of these concepts by a business coach I worked with, Krissy Leonard. Reading the book itself, especially after having seen success in building my own habits over the last few years, helped seal in a lot of the transformational habit-forming work I’d been doing for some time. If you’re looking to build a business, a creative practice, a healthier lifestyle, or parts of your day that add up to you feeling better, this is an incredible resource. The practice that helped me get up at 6 AM every day, write every day, and meditate daily for 20 minutes was using an accountability buddy. So TLDR? Find someone who you can check in with daily or weekly on a goal you’re working with, and start small. Then, in a month, or 6 months, or a year, you’ll look back and see how much your habits, how you spend your time, and your life have changed.
4. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
There’s something about reading books composed of short essays that really works for me. I savored each one within Braiding Sweetgrass. and was truly disappointed when the book came to a close, which, to me, is the sign of a great work of art. Braiding Sweetgrass has become a steady companion in my own exploration of what it means to have a relationship with land, place, plants and animals. Robin Wall Kimmerer is both a botanist and a poet, and her writing allow for the weaving of science and art in a way that is hard to describe, and easier to experience. It’s especially significant to me that she writes about and from upstate New York – further upstate than where I live, but still, the relationship to place is central throughout the essays. Stories of maple syrup season, family trips to the Adirondacks, and sweet hours spent in the garden mirror my own relationship with upstate New York. Wherever you live, I think you’ll walk away with a deeper connection to your own place and the beings we co-inhabit the Earth with, as well as a greater appreciation and deeper understanding of indigenous earth-connecting traditions, reciprocity, and relationship.
5. The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
I’m cheating here. I read this book – and led a Spiritual Book Club on it –in 2020. But it was so influential that I read it again in 2021, so I’m going to include it here! This is the only novel to make the list, as much of my reading these days is taken up by non-fiction. It’s one I’ll return to again and again, though. The premise is that it’s historically likely that Jesus had a wife and – what if she wasn’t written out of history? What might be her story, her struggles, her voice? Sue Monk Kidd expertly weaves together historically accurate depictions of the times, stories that might be familiar from the Bible, and a rich female-centered story line that creates a beautiful spiritual and creative tapestry.
One of my favorite quotes from the novel is this:
Lord our God, hear my prayer, the prayer of my heart. Bless the largeness inside me, no matter how I fear it. Bless my reed pens and my inks. Bless the words I write. May they be beautiful in your sight. May they be visible to eyes not yet born. When I am dust, sing these words over my bones: she was a voice.
When I am dust, I hope you’ll be saying this about me as well: she was a voice.