Saturday, 28 April 2018

I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice: wild swimming, coping, and finding your people

I tend to read more slowly now than when I was younger, usually taking a week or two to read a book. But every so often something comes along that changes that.

A few months ago, I spent a snowy weekend reading A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler. And more recently, I read I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice one afternoon on my balcony under the hot spring sun.

I Found My Tribe came to me at just the right time. I have been reading a lot of business and self-improvement books lately and was in need of something more refreshing and beautifully-written. I wanted a book that celebrates the big and little things. And that was what I found:

Some people understand that the small things make a difference. A nice pen to write with that slides perfectly on the page. Hot coffee in a particular cup. These things matter when your soul is on the edge.

I Found My Tribe

As well as its beautiful writing, what drew me to I Found My Tribe was some common ground with the author: wild swimming.

Ruth Fitzmaurice is a cold water swimmer, her home ground being on Ireland's east coast, in Greystones in County Wicklow. After her husband, writer and film director Simon Fitzmaurice, is diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, she’s drawn to the freezing Atlantic water to feel whole again. She isn't alone in this – she has what becomes the "Tragic Wives' Swimming Club” for company.

During her swims, diving into the Irish sea is a shock to the system that forces her to momentarily forget and click reset. And she soon ends up craving it.

This last winter, I swam every week in the Aare River that flows through Switzerland’s Berner Oberland. Swimming in the freezing cold was a challenge to focus on, as well as a way to feel stronger and to let go of stress. I loved every swim, especially how it made me feel afterwards: like I could get out the water and do anything. I Found My Tribe gave me so many wonderful echoes of this.

But the book is not just about swimming – it’s about love, friendship, parenting, sickness, caring and coping. It’s about putting down your roots where you have people to love and support you through anything.

You could say the book is like When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi. It will get you thinking about life but also make you want to throw yourself into nature, especially if you already have a bit of a hippie soul like I do. If so, you’ll probably want to go swimming naked under the full moon too.

Cold water hits you with a head-slam. Don’t fight the cold. Let go and let it seep in. But it’s so cold! Keep treading water. This too shall pass. Ten seconds later you don’t feel the sting. Ten seconds later is pure freedom.

My own swimming territory in Interlaken, Switzerland.

Other books about wild swimming:

What else I’ve been reading:

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Tuesday, 2 January 2018

My favourite books of 2017: A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, plus 6 others

“To acquire the habit of reading is to construct for yourself a refuge from almost all the miseries of life.” ― W. Somerset Maugham

Re-reading Wind, Sand and Stars in Morocco last month.

2018: 41 books, 11,211 pages

1. A Whole Life - Robert Seethaler (4.50/5.00)

The kind of book I adore. It's a story of the simple life of Andreas Egger, who knows every path and peak of his mountain valley in the Austrian Alps. It's a beautiful, heartbreaking little book about what life is really made of. Choose whether you'd like to read it fast (like I did on a snow day) or try to savour it.

“You can buy a man’s hours off him, you can steal his days from him, or you can rob him of his whole life, but no one can take away from any man so much as a single moment. That’s the way it is.”
— A Whole Life, Robert Seethaler

2. All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr (4.50/5.00)

I was given this back in 2014, but never read it until now. I'd recommend it if you love science, art, and messy human emotion exploding together. A great companion book is Surely You're Joking, Mr Feynman!, which inspired Anthony Doerr's main character. I got very excited when I found this out reading the two books at the same time.

3. The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between - Hisham Matar (4.00/5.00)

Hisham Matar was nineteen when his father was kidnapped and taken prisoner in Libya. He would never see him again, and couldn't return to Libya until twenty-two years later with the fall of Gaddafi. This is his memoir; a story of his journey to find out what happened to his father and to rediscover his native country. I read this at the same time as a few of my Via Alpina hikes this summer.

“Nothing can happen to me now that can be worse than that time. And always, I managed it. I kept a place in my mind, where I was still able to love and forgive everyone,’ he said, his eyes soft and lips smiling. ‘They never succeeded in taking that from me.’”
— The Return, Hisham Matar
Reading The Return by Hisham Matar at 7:55am one drizzly Sunday morning, by the Oeschinensee in the Swiss Alps.

4. The North Water - Ian McGuire (4.50/5.00)

A murder mystery on a boat to the Arctic!

"1859. A man joins a whaling ship bound for the Arctic Circle. Having left the British Army with his reputation in tatters, Patrick Sumner has little option but to accept the position of ship's surgeon on this ill-fated voyage. But when, deep into the journey, a cabin boy is discovered brutally killed, Sumner finds himself forced to act..."

5. How to Love - Thich Nhat Hanh (4.50/5.00)

I wish I'd read this years ago. It's also good to think about alongside The Course of Love by Alain de Botton.

“Love is a living, breathing thing. There is no need to force it to grow in a particular direction. If we start by being easy and gentle with ourselves, we will find it is just there inside of us, solid and healing.”
— How to Love, Thich Nhat Hahn

My favourite new role model (who died ninety-one years ago). Gertrude Bell was at one time the most powerful woman in the British Empire and the driving force behind the creation of modern-day Iraq. She chose to leave her wealthy upbringing to read history at Oxford and go on to become an archaeologist, spy, Arabist, linguist (speaking 8 languages), author, poet and photographer.

She was a legendary mountaineer too. Between 1899 and 1904, she recorded 10 new paths or first ascents in the Bernese Alps (where I live) wearing just her underclothes. She also spent 48 hours stuck on a rope on the notorious Finsteraarhorn.

7. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm and Mindful in a Fast-Paced World - Haemin Sunim (4.00/5.00)

My most-gifted book of the year. Try and get a hard copy; it's beautiful.

With other shout-outs to:

My full list is here (over on my personal website). I'd love to know what you enjoyed this year, especially if it's a book from a country I haven't read anything from yet.

Happy reading in 2018!

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Building our relationship with a place day by day, just by looking

I like to think about our relationships to places. How, sometimes, we fall in love with a place as well as a person. Or, we love a place because we love a person — or even the opposite sometimes.

I spend a lot of time alone, but a lot of that is time looking out at the mountains. I love hiking in them on solitary weekends and letting the environment help me process what’s going on in life and where I’m heading. Those days make me feel light, happy, and at home.

I receive a lot from just looking and watching the mountains from afar as well, in the evenings or on lazy weekends. Each week I spend here I feel more familiar with the mountains that form the valley in which I live.

You can watch the mist roll in, envelop the peaks, and roll away again.

You can see the snow come and go, settling only momentarily in late summer months before taking up a more lasting presence as winter nears.

There’s the fresh morning light that makes the glacier shine and there’s the deep red glow of the evening sun on the rocks.

There are beautifully clear and bright days as well as moody, bad visibility days where you feel sorry for the tourists. And many days in-between.

If it feels like things are changing or falling apart, I look more to nature now than I ever have before. I think we have landscapes just like we have good friends, food, wine, music, poems and books.

I live in a very beautiful place, but I think there’s always something uplifting to pay attention to. We can get closer to nature or look for the little glimpses of it around us in the city. There’s the night sky, the water, the trees, the flowers, and the sunshine.

As you slow down, look, and watch a while, a lot happens inside of you. Anchor yourself to your home surroundings and let them grow close to you. Build on that familiarity with time.

- - - - -

Just to say:

I now write about my adventures over here on my personal website. I also share on Instagram and Twitter

I'm hoping to get writing about books again soon, but let's see how that goes. For now, sending my warmest wishes to you all.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

19 quotes for people who love books from Books for Living: A Reader's Guide to Life by Will Schwalbe

Will Schwalbe's Books for Living: a Reader's Guide to Life was published earlier this year, five years
after The End of Your Life Book ClubBack in January, I wrote about how Books for Living had
helped me to slow down, make time for the important stuff, and ask others more often, "What are you reading?"

Since writing my review, I've been pondering the book and asking some questions about my own reading habits. First and foremost, why am I not reading as much fiction these days? 

To start addressing this, I recently read – and absolutely loved – Elephant Moon by John Sweeney and The North Water by Ian McGuire. Both books reminded me of how much I enjoy (and need) regular doses of fiction.

Reading fiction is how I wind down, escape from work and worries, and become a better me. The business and self-improvement books I can sometimes gravitate towards don't cut it.

To help keep this in mind, I've compiled some of the many quotes I highlighted, underlined, and applauded in Will Schwalbe's Books for Living. I hope that other keen readers will enjoy these too.

- - - - -

1. On looking to books for answers

2. On being a librarian, bookseller and reader

3. Reading makes us feel less alone

4. Talking about books is the greatest gift

5. Searching for books to help us make sense of the world

6. On accidentally discovering books that change your life

7. One question we should ask more often

8. Don't ignore book recommendations from the universe

9. The best part of interrupting a book with a nap

10. Let others nap

11. Books improve us without us trying

12. Books and people are bound together

13. Every book changes your life

14. The love of reading is greatest when we don't know we're reading

15. Reading is an art

16. Books don't need to be thick enough to stop bullets

17. Reading brings with it responsibility

18. On beautiful endings

19. Reading widely is a way to become more fully human – and more humane

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