In time honoured tradition, it’s that sunny time of year where I head to my library and select my summer reading. Below are a few of gems which I have been enjoying.
Every Family Has a Story by Julia Samuel
This is the third book by Julia, following her very successful Grief Works and This Too Shall Pass. In Every Family (like in her previous books), Julia centres her exploration around real life client experiences, this time in regard to family therapy.
Julia covers a wide range of family structures, dynamics and issues including such themes as adoption by a gay couple, doubts around paternity and terminal illness. At the start of each chapter, Julia includes a family tree (or the therapeutic version known as a genogram) which nicely sets the scene and helps the reader follow the narrative.
I found the first few case studies a little too neat and tidy, all seemed to end well with the therapy being relatively (it seemed) straightforward. I found myself yearning for a bit more conflict, tension and challenge (typical therapist). Thankfully later chapters covering stepfamilies and suicide introduced a far more complex and rich discourse. Julia also includes the story of a Jewish Orthodox family which she sought out for the book as research, not therapy, to explore the impact of generational trauma.
One of the many aspects I appreciated was that Julia allowed the outside world to come into her work and her words, the impact of Covid and the Black Lives Matter movement was expertly woven into the case studies. In her conclusion, as with the previous books, Julia moves her focus from the personal case studies to the more general topic of family in our society. She also includes a very useful chapter outlining her twelve touchstones of Family well-being, giving the reader a chance to reflect on their experiences.
Overall, this was a worthwhile read, Julia has a lovely writing style which is honest and accessible. I look forward to reading what she does next.
A Life of One’s Own by Marion Milner
“For a long term I was continually putting off the next step in my exploration because I felt I ought to know more, knew there were many books written about these things, felt that I must read them all before I could go any further. Whenever I gave in to this impulse, I found it disastrous.” Marion Milner
I was inspired to read some of Marion Milner’s work after hearing about her work in recent workshop. So, I began to read this book, with its inspiring title, with a fair bit excitement.
Marion Milner, a British psychoanalyst, published this deeply personal book in 1934. The book essentially records seven years of Marion’s exploration of what makes her happy. Milner explains that she didn’t feel fully connected to herself or others and this vague sense of not being ok inspired her personal work.
She is very honest throughout (as you can see in her quote above) including extracts from her diary, dreams and sketches. Despite this being written not far off 100 years ago, Marion’s journey and exploration has a place in our modern discourse. For example, she talks of her personality as a people pleaser and her struggle to focus on her own thoughts and feelings rather than that of others. Towards the end of her book, Marion includes a chapter on “relaxing” which covered many aspects which we would now call mindfulness. Milner was ahead of her time!
I enjoyed Marion’s account but if honest I sometimes struggled to stay with her words at times. I wasn’t always one hundred per cent engaged as I experienced some parts as a bit over explanatory and repetitive. I feel, if published now, the book might be edited down to its fundamentals. Am glad I picked up her book but not sure how much I learnt or whether I’d return to it (sorry Marion).
Bodies by Susie Orbach
“Bodies now are our ever-malleable calling cards, either erasing or articulating our class, geographic and ethnic back grounds and gender aspirations.” Susie Orbach
First published in 2009, Bodies is a fascinating, and at times alarming, exploration expertly told by psychotherapist Susie Orbach about how our bodies have changed in modern times. Orbach writes an almost call to arms in her 2019 prologue to the book, describing how our bodies have become a “battleground” and are very much under attack or at the very least in distress. She argues that bodies now are made not born and “are no longer seen or experienced simply”.
The book is very well written with Susie laying out her arguments and explorations clearly and smartly. She draws on lots of research and individual case studies. As I read, I couldn’t help but question my own relationship with my body and potentially sit with some uncomfortable realities (literally).
Susie covers many related areas of the body discourse including obesity and diets, plastic surgery, sex and self-harm. I especially enjoyed her chapter on “speaking bodies” which focused on the language we use about our bodies including what goes on in therapy.
I concur with Susie’s argument that just as there is a critical period when a child learns to acquire language, there is also a period where body acquisition occurs leading to hopefully the child experiencing their body as stable, which they will then carry into adulthood.
I would very much recommend this book to anyone with a body(!) as this topic is so very vital. This book has already become part of my body bible and I have dipped into it numerous times.
Atlas of the Heart by Brene Brown
“Language shows us that naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding and meaning…I want to open up that language portal….” Brene Brown
I have been a massive fan of Brene Brown and her work centring around aspects of shame and vulnerability for many years, so I was very keen to dive into her wonderful new book with its enticing title. As the quote above explains, Brene compiled this book to help us enhance our language around our emotions so we can “find our way back to ourselves and each other.”
Essentially the book explores eighty-seven emotions, expertly grouped together in chapters such as “places we go when life is good” (including joy, gratitude. relief) or “places we go when the heart is open” (including love, trust, betrayal).
The book is beautifully presented with stunning visuals, with each emotion given enough space on the page to stand alone. Brene expertly explores the emotions with just enough depth to satisfy but not too much to overwhelm.
There are so many gems it’s impossible to name only a few. So far, the golden nuggets I’ve found include “worry is not an emotion; it’s the thinking part of anxiety”, confusion is vital to learning and our pursuit of happiness might be getting in the way of more meaningful experiences like joy and gratitude.
I especially enjoyed the final chapter where Brene shares with us her recent dissertation findings on the topic of connection. Brene proposes a grounded theory on cultivating meaningful connection and discusses the elements that are required to make this happen.
My copy of this book is already full of post it notes, and highlights and I haven’t even covered all of it yet. It’s a truly nourishing read.
I hope my book reviews this month have added a little reading inspiration for summer break, enjoy!
Photo by Chen Mizrach on Unsplash