As you may know, every month this year I’m going to pick something to focus on, depending on what I feel I need during that particular month. For January, it was a no-brainer. Slow Down.

The past few months have been busy, both at home and at work, and I realized that most of my life these days has been a blur. Well, I intend to change that going into the New Year.  Sure, I want to do EVERYTHING but I also want to savor time. Enjoy the slowness. Stop racing around.

One of the things I’ve given up while trying to be more productive is reading fiction. I used to read everything I could get my hands on but these days I mainly read nonfiction since I host the nonfiction book club at work. Or, I watch a lot of movies at home, since I can paint at the same time!

But you can lose yourself in a good book. You can travel to distant lands, meet fascinating people, solve mysteries, laugh, cry, love, hate. All of this can happen in a good book. You also slow down time – the world might rush by but within those pages you have no appointments to keep, bills to pay, or concerns to face. I’ve been avoiding good stories because I feel I’m just too busy to sit down and read. I think, however, that when you FEEL as if you’re too busy, then that’s when you most need to take that time to read. Even if it’s a few pages every night. TVs are loud and too stimulating. Books are quiet – in our world, we NEED quiet – and, by forcing you to rely on your imagination, great creativity boosters as well.

This year, I resolved to read more for pleasure and, as fate would have it, over the holidays I got an advanced copy of Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller (Tin House Books.) When this book first came out in hardcover, I was actually so enamored of the beautiful cover art that I made a chalkboard sign inspired by it for our store display.

And the paperback version is just as gorgeous! The palette is very similar but with darker tones. Yet again I was inspired and this time, created a painting to evoke not only the loveliness of the cover but also the captivating, dark beauty of the story itself.

Have you read anything by Claire Fuller yet? If you haven’t, well then you simply must. I’m in cozy, nesting mode for winter right now – surrounded by introspective gray skies and moody, drizzly Pacific Northwest weather. Perfect weather, in fact, for reading Claire’s book ; filled with dark family secrets, the pain of the unfulfilled life, and some of the most lyrically breathtaking prose you’ll ever read.

Here’s a particularly resonant passage (page 265, paperback)

“The world had become harder, more abrasive; sheets scratched, clothes irritated, and people feared. It was when I was underwater or in the garden that I felt relief. But precise moments of grief, like the pangs of childbirth, are hard to recall after ththe most intense pain has passed: nature’s trick to ensure we survive and continue to reproduce.”

Wasn’t that just gorgeous? I’m not going to give anything away but if you like piecing things together, uncovering different perspectives of the same shared experience, and leaving a book wiser and more emotionally aware than you when you started reading it, then this is definitely the book for you.

I’m on a constant journey to improve myself so I can’t ever walk past the Self Help section without taking a peek at all of the latest books! Here are some that caught my eye this year

1. SIDE HUSTLE – Chris Guillebeau

We all dream of making a living while living our dream – whether that’s being a full time artist , opening up your own food truck, or spending more time at home with your family – but for most of us, the cold hard fact is that we just don’t make enough (or have enough saved) to be able to quit our jobs. Enter Chris Guillebeau with his wise and easy-to-follow guide to increasing your revenue stream : SIDE HUSTLE. While the added income is not bad at all, the most important things a Side Hustle can bring you are job security and improved options. I got to work a book event with Chris when he came to my store this year and it was packed – a good indication that he knows what he’s talking about!

What I loved a great deal about this book is the layout – when you’re busy with life, work, AND  side hustling, you really don’t have time to sift through large books of esoteric information. Chris writes in a very accessible, well-formatted way, offering step-by-step guidance on how to launch and make money from your side hustle in a month. A MONTH!! Now, I think, that if this is truly your dream, you can devote one little month to giving it a shot. A great book for just about anyone – we all have dreams AND need more money! – and a wonderful book for those starting to make their new year’s resolutions and plans.

2. IKIGAI – Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

I love staying busy! On any given day, you’ll probably find me working on at least three different projects, and writing lists and plans for even more in the future. This intentional work and purpose brings me joy and feeds my mind and soul. So, imagine my thrill when I saw this exquisitely lovely little book tucked into the Self Help section at my book store!

The New York Post has said:
“If hygge is the art of doing nothing, ikigai is the art of doing something—and doing it with supreme focus and joy.”

This book is based on research on the residents of a Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100 year olds and how they found the ikigai – the place where passion, mission, vocation, and profession intersect-that brings joys to their lives. When you find what you love, you have a reason to get up every morning and you never want to retire from your job. Now, who wouldn’t want to live that way! Start off the new year by using this book to find your OWN ikigai – and make 2018 the year

3. WAYS OF SEEING by John Berger

This book is technically not coded for Self Help (it’s in Art Criticism) but I’ve included it in my list because it WILL change your perception of the world and hence, change your life. It’s not a really book either but we studied it in my book club a few months ago and I really got to know it well!

John Berger’s classic, based on a BBC series from the 70s, will open your eyes to the subtle nuances and inherent implications of art and other visual imagery, such as ads. Little things like how the figures are posed in the painting or photo to the environment they are placed in all come together to , excuse the pun, create a larger, deeper picture. This book makes you think and question things. And that is always a good thing.

4. A BOOK THAT TAKES ITS TIME from FLOW magazine

I adore Flow and it’s one of the few magazines that I get make sure to get every issue of. It’s beautiful to look at, inspiring, and full of great advice on living a more creative and mindful life. This book of theirs is no different! Full of activities, illustrations, and tips to help you slow down, reclaim your life, and focus on the simple joys. You can learn calligraphy, create a collage, even use the postcards they include to send snail mail. The perfect book for the artists and journal keepers in your life – and pretty much anyone who wants to start a creative habit and live intentionally in the new year.

I was part of a group of five booksellers who spoke at our Holiday Book Talk this evening at the bookstore. Since I’m currently doing a series on great literary gift ideas, I thought I would share my picks from tonight!

1. THE SECRET LIVES OF COLOR by Kassia St. Clair

This beautifully-presented book tells the stories and history of over 70 shades of color – from the white that protected against the plague to how shocking pink came to be called “shocking”. This is the perfect book for the artist on your list who is interested in the symbolism of the hues in her palette, the history buff who is intrigued by how color, politics, and sociology influence each other , or even perhaps the science lover who is interested in discovering the origin and chemical composition of the colors we take for granted daily.

2. BIRDMANIA by Bernd Brunner

I had the pleasure of hosting our recent event with the author and after hearing him speak about it, I can say that this is truly a book for the bird lover on your list. The beautiful full color illustrations are a visual feast and while you may be tempted to ask yourself whether the world needs yet another bird book – I am here to tell you YES, it certainly does! Because this book is not only about the birds but is unique in that it tells the fascinating, humorous, and sometimes even slightly disturbing stories of the passionate ornithologists – amateur or not- throughout history. Lovely tales such as that of a loyal friendship between a woman and a lyre bird as well as rather odd ones such as the story of George Archibald, who performed mating dances for an endangered whooping crane to encourage her to lay and Mervyn Shorthouse, who posed as a wheelchair-bound invalid to steal an estimated ten thousand eggs from a Natural History Museum.

3. WHERE THE ANIMALS GO: Tracking Wildlife With Technology In 50 Maps And Graphics

This is also full of wonderful illustrations and packed with maps, charts, and information. Hence it would be the perfect book for pre-teens to grandparents! Where the Animals Go is the first book to offer a comprehensive, data-driven portrait of how creatures from ants to hawks to sharks navigate the world. Based on pioneering research by scientists at the forefront of the animal-tracking revolution these stunning, four-color charts and maps tell fascinating stories of animal behavior, such as how baboons make decisions and what storks like to snack on.
It’s the perfect book for nature lovers, conservationists, and even those tech-obsessed friends and family on your gift list.

4. LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES by Sara Rich And Wendy MacNaughton

It’s hard picking gifts out for foodies sometimes. They usually buy all of the latest cookbooks and gadgets for themselves. However, LEAVE ME ALONE WITH THE RECIPES is more than just a cookbook – it combines graphic design with food in a fun, unique, and gorgeous way!  Sarah Rich and Wendy MacNaughton discovered a painted manuscript of recipes at an antique book fair that they immediately fell in love with. Completed in 1945, this stunning collection by one of the most influential graphic designers of the 20th century, Cipe Pineles, is like a scrapbook of her childhood’s Eastern European food.

Filled with beautiful illustrations, recipes, and letters, this book is perfect for lovers of design, fashion, history (especially mid-century ) , memoir, and , of course, food,

5. IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret To A Long And Happy Life
By Hector Garcia

What would the end of the year be without resolutions and promises to live a better life in the new year. This lovely little book is perfect for those interested in that or looking for an alternative to the Hygge trend of the past couple of years.
As the NY Post puts it : If hygge is the art of doing nothing, ikigai is the art of doing something with supreme focus. It’s the place where passion, mission, and profession intersect and is a wonderful and meaningful gift to pass on to friends and family this season.

6. My final book is SEATTLE WALKS by local author, David Williams.
This book practically sells itself so I don’t need to say much about it but if you’re looking for another great gift to start the new year off right, this would be a good one. In Seattle Walks, David Williams weaves together the history, nature, and architecture of Seattle and recommends walks that take the reader on a wondrous, unexpected tour of a city that you may think you already know everything about. A great gift for the outdoorsy types on your list, architecture and history buffs, and for families looking to find ways to spend time together in the new year.