5 Books I Enjoyed in 2010: Michele Tracy Berger

Posted on December 27, 2010


As a professor and creativity coach, I read plenty for work. I usually start the year with a stack of books that I must read just to keep up with national conversations on creativity, health, and women’s issues. The first three books below reflect ones that I literally stumbled upon either at a book sale or from a personal recommendation. The last two books are by writers that I was lucky enough to take workshops from during the year. I started with their nonfiction and in 2011 will read through their fiction. Here’s to more happy accidental readings in 2011!


Grass by Sheri S. Tepper

Rigo Yrarier, a narcissistic and petty bureaucrat is sent on a covert diplomatic mission to Grass, a remote planet, to find answers to a plague sweeping over all the known worlds. His wife Marjorie, teenage children , and his lover follow him, each with their own misgivings. What they encounter on the planet with 20,000 varieties of grass are the ‘Bons’, descendants of Terrans who have set up an odd and troubling “hunting” relationship (based on British aristocratic culture), with the local wildlife known as Hippae. The Hippae are sentient, gigantic disdainful creatures that psychically prey on the Bons, to further their aims. The Bon community is insular, stubbornly elite and provincial.  Insert Sanctity, the controlling religious authority that is intent on finding a cure for the plague for their own purposes, terrorists known as ‘Moldies’ who want the plague to spread so the world can be “cleansed”, wayward monks stuck on Grass and Marjorie, a middle-aged devout woman who has lost her identity by compromising too much and you’ve got an unforgettable futuristic tale. Marjorie undergoes a remarkable transformation of spirit and character in this subtly feminist and anti-authoritative novel. A must read.


Relax – You May Only Have a Few Minutes Left: Using the Power of Humor to Overcome Stress in Your Life and Work by Loretta LaRoche

Need a pick me up to counter all the bad news about global warming, government politics and America’s growing waistline? Ms. LaRoche, a well-known humorist and motivational speaker will not only pick you up with her puns, catchy sayings and reflections on our  foibles, but  you can’t put down her wise-cracking humor about the ingenious ways we stress ourselves out. Relax, is a laugh-out-loud read crammed with insights about the health benefits of relaxation, stress reduction and good old deep belly laughter. If you’re a ‘director of the universe’, ‘control freak’ , ‘perfectionist’ or all three (you overachiever, you)—this book is for you. So, cheer up and remember to apply LaRoche’s saying, “Life is not a dress rehearsal, nor is it a stress rehearsal!”


Tassajara Dinners and Desserts: Recipes and Stories from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center by Dale Kent and Melissa Kent

I received this sumptuous looking cookbook as a gift last year and in January began exploring its contents. Every month this year I have tried a new recipe and have not been disappointed yet. The authors collect stories and recipes from the fledging cooks, guest cooks and trainees thatTassajara Dinners and Desserts- review have passed through the famous Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California. While reading the book, I fantasized about running away to Tassajara just to be under the tutelage of foodie Zen students whose description of chopping onions embodies  a revelatory act. The vignettes that accompany the saliva producing photos are of dishes gone wrong, as well as bursts of inspired genius that save a meal for eighty. Again and again the reader is encouraged to see the outcomes beyond easy categories of good or bad, but as an invitation to embrace the moment and to open to whatever is happening in the kitchen. We are reminded gently throughout the book that the challenge of cooking is a microcosm for what we face in our daily life. The easy to fix yet elegant and healthy recipes will make you want to both cook and meditate. Two recipes that changed my life are ‘Kashmiri-Style Greens with R oasted Potatoes’ and ‘Cardamom Carrot Cake’.


Searching for Virginia Dare: A Fool’s Errand by Marjorie Hudson

Searching for Virginia Dare - ReviewIf you were paying attention in fifth grade and /or grew up in North Carolina you may have vaguely heard of Virginia Dare. Virginia was the first child of English descent born on American land in 1587 on the shores of Roanoke, North Carolina. She, her mother and the other colonists all disappeared without a trace within two years. Over the centuries, this little babe and the ‘lost colonists’; has been the subject of intense speculation. The most likely endings are not pretty: attacked by hostile Native Americans, starvation, or swept away from one of the many hurricanes that were common in the area. Marjorie Hudson weaves a new tale from the shards of history. This book lives in multiple genres including mystery, history, memoir, and adventure. She talks to everyday folk, scholars, and roots around in forgotten archives. She leaves no stone unturned—investigating even the most outrageous claims about what happened to the colonists.  Ms. Hudson’s search for her family and desire for family life are beautifully interspersed with snippets of history, real (and imagined) letters and musings of the lost colonists and family members they left in England much to the delight of the reader. This is a book to be read aloud to a friend on a dark winter’s night.


A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning, and Life by Nancy Peacock

There’s an old saying that writers have superbly neat houses. This is due to long bouts of procrastination that strike consistently and mercilessly.A Broom of One's Own - Review Nancy Peacock in A Broom of One’s Own turns this oft cited condition on its head as she explores what it has means to clean others houses as a    way to support a writing career.  Her prose is frank, funny and sharp-witted. You’ll never look at housecleaning or writing the same after you finish.


Michele Tracy Berger is a writer, professor and creativity coach. Her coaching practice is called The Creative Tickle. She writes a blog on creativity which can be found through her website: creativetickle.com