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New Year, New You: 7 Self-Care Books to Enlighten and Educate

As we navigate an uncertain world, these books offer fresh perspectives on body, mind and spirit  / BY Kim Honey / January 13th, 2022

There is no dearth of non-fiction books on the COVID-19 pandemic and its physical, emotional and spiritual toll. In World War C, CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells us how to prepare for the next pandemic, while Toronto’s expert on personalized medicine, Dr. Elaine Chin, advises us how to detox and de-stress in Welcome Back! There are calls to environmental action from renowned primatologist and peace activist Jane Goodall, who urges us to work together, rely on our intellect and tap into our “indomitable spirit” in The Book of Hope, and Thich Nhat Hanh, the master of mindfulness, offers a road map to becoming “a Buddha in action” in Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. As we contemplate new ways to live in an uncertain world, here are some more fresh perspectives on body, mind and spirit. 

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover image. 

1Immune: A Journey into the Mysterious System That Keeps You AlivePhilipp Dettmer

We’ve heard a lot about our immune system lately, but how many of us know exactly what it is and how it works? In this graphically illustrated book, the Munich-based founder of the popular YouTube channel, “Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell,” applies his passion for explaining science in easily understood terms to “a wonder of nature” as old as life itself. Day in, day out, the body’s defence system attacks millions of pathogens, from bacteria and viruses to cancer cells, and without it, we’d be dead (or living in a plastic bubble). Chapter by chapter, Dettmer gives the reader a crash course in immunology, explores “your most vulnerable parts,” explains what happens when your immune system is too aggressive or too weak, and how to boost it. (Hint: Stop smoking.)

2Deep Fitness: The Mindful, Science-Based Strength-Training Method to Transform Your Well-Being in Just 30 Minutes a WeekPhilip Shepherd and Andrei Yakovenko

After packing on a few pandemic pounds, a workout sounds like a good idea. Shepherd, an embodiment expert with a Toronto practice, and Yakovenko, who runs a Toronto fitness company that trains clients with very slow strength exercises, have created a new fitness regime they call Mindful Strength Training to Failure (MSTF). MSTF can protect seniors from frailty, because, as we age, our muscles get smaller and weaker. Their workouts target sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, which affects breathing, posture and the accumulation of fat. They offer six 30-minute workouts – three for the gym and three for home – that focus on one muscle at a time, require slow movements and work each muscle to the point of exhaustion. “MSTF is not
a fad to try out and then graduate from,” they write. “It is an anchor in your life that elevates your well-being every time you come back to it.” 

3Open Every WindowJane Munro

In this memoir, Munro writes with deep love and blunt honesty about caring for her husband, Bob, after his Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  Framed by descriptions of the moon in India – where she has studied and practised Iyengar yoga – and in her hometown of Vancouver, the book charts the unravelling of two lives in “genre-bending prose.” As Munro watches her husband lose his autonomy, the Griffin prize-winning poet’s identity as a writer, yoga practitioner, mother and grandmother is subsumed by her new job as a caregiver. It has been compared to Joan Didion’s book about mourning her husband’s death, The Year of Magical Thinking, and Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women for its exploration of the social conditioning of women. As one doctor asks her: “What job could be more important than caring for your husband?” 

4Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human ExperienceBrené Brown

Emotions are Brown’s stock-in-trade, and business is booming. “Keeping it awkward, brave, and kind” has garnered the research professor at the University of Houston 3.7 million followers on Instagram, five No. 1 New York Times bestselling books, a Netflix special on courage, and, coming soon to HBO Max, an eight-episode series based on Atlas of the Heart. This tome maps 87 human emotions and experiences, and promises to give readers the tools they need to share their “bravest and most heart-breaking moments,” in order to form meaningful connections with people. The social worker has spent 20 years studying courage, vulnerability, empathy and shame, which she calls “one of the most complex and multifaceted emotions.” If you’re into emotional intelligence and believe human connection is the key to life, this book will give you “the power of understanding, meaning and choice.” 

5The End of Craving: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating WellMark Schatzker

Schatzker, a Toronto-based food journalist, gave us a taste of meat in Steak, explored how the food industry manipulates flavour in The Dorito Effect and now, in The End of Craving, tackles the obesity epidemic. With apologies to evangelical dieters who have sworn off fat, carbs, gluten or sugar, Schatzker says every attempt to lose weight – short of restricting calories forever, which he calls “a life-consuming effort” – will fail. We blame food even as we change it to the point where we can’t recognize ingredients on the label. So how do we stop eating ourselves to death? Schatzker explains how our dysfunctional relationship with food began and how food technology fed our cravings. The solution lies in reconnecting with the joy of eating and deleting the calorie counters from our smartphones.

6On Consolation: Finding Solace in Dark TimesMichael Ignatieff

Consolation may seem like a fitting subject for Ignatieff, the one-time Liberal leader who guided the party to its worst-ever showing in the 2011 federal election, but the historian, public intellectual and author says his 20th book was inspired by a 2017 choir festival in Utrecht, Netherlands, where they sang all 150 Psalms. Although he is a nonbeliever, the performance had “a cathartic effect I have been trying to understand ever since.” As Ignatieff, the former president of the Central European University in Budapest, worked on the idea, bewildered friends and colleagues asked why he had set himself such a difficult task. Then the pandemic hit, and everyone was trying to comfort one another. Ignatieff says he is returning to the work he did “as a historian of ideas,” and in this book, he draws on the work of great thinkers, writers, musicians and artists to show how consolation depends on hope, which “allows us, even in the face of tragedy, to remain unbowed.”

7 Disorientation: Being Black in the WorldIan Williams

After George Floyd was murdered and the Black Lives Matter movement showed time and again that police brutality and racism are alive and thriving, white people were encouraged to educate themselves on white privilege and implicit bias. There is no shortage of notable books by prominent Black thinkers like Ijeoma Oluo (So You Want to Talk About Race), Ibram X. Kendi (How to Be an Antiracist) and Toronto’s Desmond Cole (The Skin We’re In), but Disorientation is an eloquent and thoughtful treatise on what racism looks and feels like. The Giller Prize-winning author of Reproduction says one of the reasons he never learned to swim is because he internalized a story about a swim instructor who refused to help a Black boy struggling in a pool, and used the N-word. After that gut punch, there’s this: “It is estimated that at least two million Black people died while crossing the Atlantic ocean on slave ships. Some jumped, choosing to drown rather than to be enslaved.” Williams says he’s not an expert on race, and he doesn’t want to recount every racist experience he’s ever had. He wants white people to feel the disorientation and disassociation Black people feel in the face of racism and to understand the depths of their ignorance. As Williams writes: “Hope lies in caring for something beyond the self.” 


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