Books I live by

openbookReading is my great love, matched only by sharing these books, whether it’s by passing them on to others or telling friends about the stories I’ve read. I’m curious about so much in life and reading both satisfies and fuels this curiosity.

Jane SloanePerhaps that’s why my taste is so eclectic – it’s a response to the messiness of life. I pivot equally to fiction and non-fiction in both wanting to answer the ‘why’s and ‘how’s as much as wanting to be entranced by a story well told. I’m drawn to the feeling of being carried away and I also love standing on the shoulders of giants, figuratively speaking, and appreciating new perspectives on the world. And of course being up close and personal with others whose view is from the ground or from the margins.

Often when I’ve spoken at events and have mentioned various books that have influenced me, I’ve been asked for a book list after the event. And so I feel like I’ve sent out as many book lists as books over the years – which has made this list below much easier to compile! Here, then, is my treasure chest of good reads, like a glory box opened to reveal jewels and treasures that give so much pleasure as well as insight and discovery.

I hope that some of these titles will resonate with you and I invite you to share this list with others and to let me know what you think! Jane

{ this is currently a work in progress , I am slowly adding  links to Amazon Books as time permits   – september 2012 }

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Adamson, Robert,
Swamp riddles
Inside Out: An Autobiography 

I found Robert Adamson by accident when I was riffling through the poetry section at Sappho Books in Sydney. I felt kinship with his language and his human-ness in a more than human world. Swamp Riddles is dedicated to his wife. Inside Out is his own story from childhood to adult artist, which is compelling.

Ackerman, Diane,
One Hundred Names for Love:A Stroke, a Marriage and the Language of Healing  

I was in Ubud, Bali when I picked up my friend Jeremy’s copy of this book. I was riveted and couldn’t possibly leave it behind as I traveled on to Candidisa so Jeremy waved me goodbye with book in hand. Ackerman’s love of her husband and of life and her extraordinary command of language as well as her embrace of eccentricity is refreshing and captivating.

Allende, Isabel,
The House of the Spirits: A Novel
I carry this book close to me. House of Spirits depicts a world of women and spirit life, and live spirits, that inhabit her childhood and grown up word. As someone who grew up with the voices of crones in my head, Allende’s book was an affirmation and a homecoming. It still is.

Alinsky, Saul,
Rules for Radicals
Okay, I’ve got to admit, it was the name that drew me to the book. I was curious if radicals did have rule and, if so, what they would comprise and what I found was a very practical book on how to catalyze social change.

Anderson, Joy,
A Year by the Sea: Thoughts of an Unfinished Woman
A Walk on the Beach: Tales of Wisdom From an Unconventional Woman
If you want to curl up by the fire or lie on the beach for an afternoon then these are two books to take with you. I was intrigued by Anderson taking a year off to be by herself by the sea and, in her second book, her life-enhancing encounter with the wise and truly wonderful Joan Erikson.

Angelou, Maya,
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
The book is as special as its title, as special as its author. Maya Angelou is a consummate writer and poet, a woman of such immense courage and attunement to the lives of women, to the lives of all who sing under duress, especially the lives of black women. This is the first of five volumes of autobiography.

Athill, Diana,
Somewhere Towards the End: A Memoir
A candid, often very funny and always engaging, memoir on growing old.

Attlee, James,
Nocturne: A Journey in Search of Moonlight
I bought this book soon after moving to New York as even though I loved my new city, I was yearning for the kind of connection to nature I had in Piccadilly, Australia, perched on my moon loft, head tipped to the stars. This book reconnects me to that world and as Atlee embarks on his own trip to chart moon sightings and stories across continents.


Bail, Murray,
Eucalyptus: A Novel
Ian Fairweather
I read Eucalyptus, a modern fairy tale and love story, in one extended sitting, not wanting to let go of the magic. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was the same author who produced a seminal celebration of Fairweather’s art and life. I’d heard about Fairweather years ago when I visited Briby Island where he lived the life of a recluse. I was struck by his extraordinary tenacity and courage at heading off on a makeshift raft he built from Darwin across the seas to East Timor where he spent time before being deported by the Indonesian authorities and then going on to Singapore and London before returning to Briby Island where he built his hut. How could his painting not be influenced by a such a stripping back of self to embrace the elements in such a raw way. His painting struck me like lightning. The work of Emily Kame Kngwarreye had the same affect.

Bambara, Toni Cade,
The Sea Birds Are Still Alive
I learnt about Bambara’s writing when I was directing the 6th International Feminist Book Fair in Melbourne in the early 90’s. Toni Bambara was born in Harlem in the late 1930s and this book, as one of many she wrote, is as absorbing as the title suggests – ten stories of the lives of working class black people. She tells it as it is.

Bauby, Jean-Dominique
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
I cried my way through this book, trying to imagine if I would have had the courage to write a book after having a massive stroke, resulting in Locked in Syndrome, leaving only the blink of one eyelid as the one function left as a human being. I wondered if, as Bauby did, I could also have made a pact with an extraordinary woman who helped to develop the language of translation possible to produce this book. I don’t think I could have – Bauby’s fierce courage seems beyond human, his tenderness the very essence of being human.

Bell, Diane,
Daughters of the Dreaming
I was introduced to Diane Bell through Spinifex Press. A stunning anthropologist who has committed her life to sitting with, living with Aboriginal women, here Bell examines the lives and rituals of Aboriginal women in Central Australia in a fascinating and accessible read.

Berrigan, Daniel,
To Dwell in Peace: An Autobiography
Berrigan’s story, as a Jesuit, of his own acts of civil disobedience and struggle for justice and a just peace. Reflective and unforgettable.

Berry, Wendell,
A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997
This was the book that introduced me to Josh, my partner, and so it holds a special place in my heart. Between us I think we have all of Berry’s poetry and prose.

Berry, Thomas,
Evening Thoughts
A book that invites prayer and reflection as Berry shares with us the ecological crisis framed as one that is as much spiritual as physical. His ability to lay out a unified vision for the world and our place within it is stunning while his call to action is urgent.

Berryman, John,
The Dream Songs
Carries along the poetic intent of the title. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1965 and deservedly so. The themes and topics are autobiographical as they bring you close to Berryman’s world.

Bhave, Vinoba,
Moved by Love: The Memoirs of Vinoba Bhave
Bhave was one of Gandhi’s followers and completely selfless and without ego. He spent half a lifetime walking from village to village in India persuading landowners to give land to the poor who had none. This is his autobiography as one who was powerfully convinced of the need for non-violent action and loving-kindness.

Bloom, Amy,
Where the God of Love Hangs Out: Fiction Love Invents Us
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You : Stories
I love the edgy nature of Bloom’s writing and stories. They speak to the edgy parts of myself and carry me into other conversations, imaginary and real.

Bolen, Jean,
Crossing to Avalon: A Woman’s Midlife Quest for the Sacred Feminine
This was wonderful book for me in the deepening awareness of myself as a woman and as a feminist, and the journey ahead In this book Bolen accepts an invitation to go on a pilgrimage to visit sites of the sacred feminine -Chartres Cathedral, Iona and Glastonbury. And in so doing fuses her personal experience with the mythic dimensions of the places they visit.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich,
Letters and Papers from Prison
So much has already been said about these letters. The writings are potent and are testimony to someone tipping and testing ethical questions in his all too brief life.

Boo, Katherine,
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Drawing from her own experience of time spent in the slums near Mumbai airport, Boo creates an imaginary settlement called Annewadi as the stage for this story of people scrapping for a better life, living in the shadows of prosperity and richness as India’s economic muscle flexes itself.

Boulding, Elise,
Children’s Rights and the Wheel of Life
My part in the Quaker adventure Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History (Peace and Conflict Resolution)

Children and Solitude ISBN-0875741258

A Quaker and a passionate advocate for the rights of women and children. She spent almost as much time with Catholic monks as with Quaker family, Boulding embraces so many worlds as a peacemaker and a woman of immense dignity and wisdom. As a Quaker myself these writings by Boulder give me both comfort and a compass.

Bourgeault, Cynthia,
The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming An Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart
In this clear eyed and soulful book, Bourgeault shares here own graceful interpretation of the Christian tradition. It made me want to go and read all her other books, which I did, and which are just as wonderful.

Brady, Veronica,
South of My Days: A Biography of Judith Wright
A consummate biography of Judith Wright’s life by a biographer who was as much a path-breaker as her subject. This book brings Wright to life in all her brilliance and contradictions as a conservationist, poet, activist for Indigenous peoples, women, and artists. The biennial Two Fires Festival in Braidwood was created in her name and in celebration of her artistry and activism.


Campbell, Joseph,

The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell)

I saw the video before I read the book. The series of lectures on Joseph Campbell’s the Heroes Journey is compelling. This book no less so. Here Campbell charts the Hero’s journey as a universal theme of transformation that can be found in all the mythical traditions of the world.

Carpentier, Alejo,

The Lost Steps

I bought this book because I read an article where one of my favorite broadcasters, Phillip Adams, said this was one of his favorite books. I can see why – it’s a classic and very hard to find now. In this story a composer leaves a meaningless existence in New York and joins his mistress on a journey to the upper reaches of the South American river where few have been. In so doing, he launches himself on an inner journey that far exceeds the outer in its reach and depth.

Carson, Rachel,

Silent Spring

The Edge of the Sea

The Sea Around Us

The Sense of Wonder

Silent Spring needs no introduction and Carson’s other books are spare and beautiful accounts of the sea, seashore and watery worlds that we inhabit, internally and externally.

Carver, Raymond,

Cathedral: Stories

Where I’m Calling From: Selected Stories

Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?: Stories

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love: Stories

These gritty oh so human stories that Carver wrote cheer me up as I always feel lighter in my own life after a good Carver read!

Cheever, John,

The Stories of John Cheever

If you want to learn how to write stories, read Cheever. If you want to have a storytelling immersion experience, read Cheever.

Chittister, Joan,

The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully

I first heard Chittister speak in all her fiery glory in Aspen on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration. She’s iconic and has an immense following worldwide and her writing and speeches are testimony to her magnificent voice and vision.

Chodron, Pema,

The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times (Shambhala Library)

 When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (Shambhala Library)

I found both these books at Buddha House in Adelaide. Who wouldn’t be drawn to such titles? I’d buy anything by Chodron for her direct and dignified writing that encourages our own deep spirit dive.

Coles, Robert,

The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination The Erik Erikson Reader
A gifted writer, whether writing about children, stories or the immense talents and life work of Erik Erikkson.


Collins, Billy,

The Trouble with Poetry: And Other Poems

Picnic, Lightning

Gorgeous writing with his quirky, luminous images that make me smile and laugh and feel light as I go about my day.

Cotton, Olive, 

Olive Cotton: Photographer

I bought this book of Cotton’s photography at an exhibition. The black and white images are lustrous.

Courtmanche, Gil,

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

Gut wrenching and gritty, compelling and real set in the midst of Rwanda’s genocide. One of the books I’ll keep with me to remind me of how other people live and die and why we must never, never stop doing all we can to create a kinder, just world.

Curle, Adam,

True Justice. Quaker peace makers and peace making

How lucky I am to have met Adam Curle in this last year of his life. A Quaker, a deep humanitarian in thought ad deed who inspired so many with is writings of peace and justice, truth and love


Davidson, Robyn,
One of my heroes – a woman who ventured out with her camels across Australia on a journey that came close to breaking her, and ultimately to making her. A deeply soulful encounter with the land and people of Australia and with self. Her subsequent writing on nomads and inner and outer journey have extended the themes of pilgrim and explorer, which is what she is.

Day, Dorothy,
The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of the Legendary Catholic Social Activist
One of the most committed social activists of her day, her legacy remains as strong as her commitment and dedication. Here is her story in her own words where she said ‘I’m working toward a world where it is easier for people to behave decently’.

De Chardin, Pierre Teilhard,
Building the Earth A passion for the earth written as a spiritual treatise. His writings and thoughts are as relevant today as when they were first written. Inspirational.

Didion, Joan,
Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays
The Year of Magical Thinking
I read Slouching Toward Bethlehem just before heading to New York for my first visit. Oh! How I loved this book and all it invited – and now here I am in California! A quintessential portrait of America in the 60s. I held fast to it for years, afraid I would lose the stories as much as their physical casing. The magic of Didion’s last title was in the spare language of her writing at a time of unimaginable loss — of husband (best friend) and her daughter.

Dillard, Annie,
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
If I had to choose one book that is my all time favorite then this is it. I hope you read it and find out why.

Dowrick, Stephanie,
Forgiveness & Other Acts of Love
The Universal Heart : Bring out The best in Yourself and All Your Relationships
Choosing Happiness: Life and Soul Essentials
Intimacy and Solitude: Balance, Closeness, and Independence
Running Backwards Over Sand
Tasting Salt
My first encounter with Dowrick’s writing was Running Backwards over Sand. I so related to the young woman in the book and how much I’ve since related to every other book Dowrick has written. And how fortunate I am to now call her a friend.

Dupleix, Jill,
Old Food: New Ways with Old Favourites
I first bought this book for my dear friend, Kim’s wedding. She’s kept it in clear sight in her kitchen ever since and it inspired me to buy my own copy. Such a divine o/Old foodie book and hard to find now.

Dylan, Bob,
Chronicles: Volume One
The gorgeousness of Dylan’s writing is as compelling as his journey. I hope Chronicles Two isn’t too far away.


Eggers, Dave,
McSweeneys I found Zeitoun at Imprints Bookshop in Adelaide and drove straight home to read it. Eggers writing is so amazingly good, his power of observation and imagination so astute that I hope he doesn’t ever stop writing. I sought out everything else by Eggers, which is pretty substantial when you start looking. When I wrote to him about speaking at an event, he was good enough to reply himself.  And now I find myself living in the same place as him and his family – Sausalito.

Ehrlich, Gretel,
The Solace of Open Spaces Islands, the Universe, Home Drinking Dry Clouds: Stories From Wyoming

I think it was via my reading of Annie Dillard that I found Ehrlich. She embraces a similar love of wild spaces and the natural world. Her writing is revelatory and a joy to read.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo,
His poetry is transcendent and incandescent.

Englander, Nathan,
What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank Eight new stories from a writer of such emotional intelligence and maturity.

Estes, Clarissa Pinkola,
Women Who Run with the Wolves
I read this on a train going to somewhere and, coupled with Allende’s House of Spirits, it lit me from within in its language and call to us to run with our own wild. I re-read I recently and it was just as potent.

Erikson, Joan,
Wisdom and the Senses: The Way of Creativity
Of course I had to search out Erikson’s writing after reading A Walk on the Beach (see Anderson). What an extraordinary woman Joan Erikson was. She deserves to be better known for her ideas and practice, like her famous husband.


Fejes, Claire,
People of the Noatak
Claire Fejes moved with her husband to Fairbanks, Alaska and sought to understand Eskimo life. In so doing she gives a rich and intimate account of her time with the Noatak peoples.

Frankl, Victor,
Man’s Search for Meaning By Victor Frank
The book you’d hope every person on earth would read. About how even in the face of the unimaginable terror and inhumanity – the Holocaust — we still have a choice about how we respond. Here is Frankl’s own experience and conviction that we can still hold on to our dignity and humanity even when facing almost certain death.

Freire, Paulo,
Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Cultural Action for Freedom
One of the best known educators who dedicated his life to the cause of democracy, and equality. In this powerful book he advocates for the role of education to be a political force for freedom and liberation rather than for oppression through rote learning and describes the approach required to achieve this.

Funder, Anna Funder
Interviews about the East German Stasi during the Cold War- with both victims and former Stasi.  A compelling look at the most extreme methods of social control ever attempted by the most oppressive secret police and intelligence agency in history.


Galbraith, John Kenneth,
A Contemporary Guide to Economics, Peace, and Laughter
It was the title of the book that drew me and the strength of the writing and arguments kept me engaged. Only a man of Galbraith’s deep intelligence and insight could write such a book.

Garner, Helen,
The Spare Room: A Novel
Joe Cinque’s Consolation
The first stone: Some questions about sex and power
The Feel of Steel
I’ve loved all of Garner’s books. Her non-fiction can challenge and shake us up in profound ways. Garner’s voice is authentic and often so brave. Her short stories are divine as we enter the small and large dramas of people’s lives.

Gawain, Shakti,
Return to the Garden
For those of us who’ve never lost our bohemian natures and our ‘Joni Mitchell flowers in our hair floaty long dress playing the dulcimer’ stage, this is a book in which to steep yourself.

Ginibi, Ruby Langford,
Haunted by the Past
To read this book is to understand more fully some of the challenges facing Aboriginal people in Australia today. Ruby Gangford Ginibi tells a gutsy, gritty story of her family’s survival in all its tragedy and turn-around.

Goldsworthy, Andy,
I first discovered Andy Goldsworthy’s books, reverentially placed on a small alter at Aspen Institute. It seemed appropriate for these books that are themselves visual hymns to nature.

Goleman, Daniel,
Emotional Intelligence
Years ago when I read this book it helped me to name what was not that time so well understood – ways of navigating situations with smart emotion rather than just intellect alone. It remains a classic for its style and substance.

Gore, Al,
An Inconvenient Truth: The Crisis of Global Warming
I was one of the first group of Climate Change Messengers trained by Al Gore in Australia and at the end of the course he gave us each a signed copy of An Inconvenient Truth to accompany us as we embarked on our own speaking tours.

Gorn, Eliot J,
Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America
This book charts the activist life of this amazing woman, whose life’s work is the inspiration for Mother Jones magazine. Jones remains an inspirational icon for many of us in the world today.

Greene, Graham,
The Quiet American (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition)
I finally read The Quiet American when I went to Saigon for the first time and of course stayed The Continental Hotel, where Greene himself stayed. Reading the photocopied version of his book in the country he wrote about brought it all home for me. The central character in this book is Pyle, a young and naïve American sent to promote democracy and which instead causes bloodshed. His cynical reporter friend, Fowler, watching from the sidelines is then forced to act himself. It’s a devastating read.

Greenleaf, Robert,
Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness
The idea of leaders as servants sparked my attention and has now spared a movement. This lucid book gives life to the theory.

Griffin, Susan,
Woman and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her
Raw, as much as roar, in emotion and intellect.  A deeply affecting anthem to women’s connection to the natural world.

Griffiths, Bede,
Return to the Center
An intimate sharing of a life lived in spiritual service. Griffiths begins by sharing the impact of his time in India and then centres outward to reflections on the vows of religious life and his reconciliation of these with his lived experience.

Griffiths, Jay,
Wild: An Elemental Journey
In Griffith’s journey to reconnect with the wild within herself through throwing herself into wild experiences and spaces, she helps us to re-imagine and reclaim our own connection to wild. Not the least in a new-agey way but in the guttural, essential way that makes way for new life.

Gourevitch, Philip,
We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families
A damning portrayal of the genocide in Rwanda and of the failure of the United Nations and any other country to act to stop the bloodbath. Gourevitch’s is one of the best accounts of what happened and why it still matters today. His has been a constant voice holding those in power to account and to impress on us all the importance of political will to stop such crimes against humanity.

Gusmao, Kirsty Sword,
A Woman Of Independence
The moving story of Sword Gusmao’s  meeting with Xanana Gusmao while he was still in prison through to his becoming President of a newly independent East Timor and her becoming First Lady. She portrays their life, the birth of their sons and their commitment to country and people with the same grace and beauty she exhibits in person.


Hahn, Thich Nhat,
Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals, 1962-1966
I Have Arrived, I Am Here The Thich Nhat Hanh Collection
Fragrant Palm Leaves is Hahn’s own journey from Vietnam to the United States to his current life at Plum Village, Deer Park and elsewhere in the world. His journey is intense and fragrant, as per the title. The collection takes you deeper while I Have Arrived is the story of Plum Village. Everything he’s written is worth reading and his voice is akin to the Dalai Lama’s.

Hancock, Graham,
The Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business
This book is well known by many working in development aid for its searing analysis of the aid industry and of why extreme poverty remains with us still.

Hartnett, Sonya,
The Silver Donkey
My magical book.

Harwood, Gwen,
Poems Poems Volume 2 Just the best poems from the late Australian poet, Gwen Harwood. Musical and memorable.

Hass, Amira,
Drinking the Sea at Gaza: Days and Nights in a Land Under Siege
I read this book while I was doing a Masters in Peace and Conflict Studies. An Israeli journalist bases herself in Gaza to understand what’s really happening and embraces the complexity of her situation with grace and great prose. She was the first journalist to live in this gutted enclave and to report on what she saw.

Havel, Vaclav,
To the Castle and Back (Vintage)
One of the truly great and heroic figures of the twentieth century. His writing is phenomenal A renowed playwright and later the President of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution. Here he shares the situation in his country and the impact of globalization and continuing conflict. He moves beyond the situation in his country to reflect on pressing issues impacting other countries and the world at large.

Hawken, Paul,
Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History Is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World
One of the best writers writing about citizen led change. Compelling. Follow his blog.

Hawthorne, Susan,
Wild Politics: Feminism, Globalisation, and Bio/Diversity
A stunning examination of the intersectionality between these spheres and a re-imagining of a new world order.

Heilpern, John,
Conference of the Birds: The Story of Peter Brook in Africa
Having brought my sleeping bag to the 12 hour performance of Peter Brooks’ The Mahabaratha, I was always curious about his Conference of the Birds. In this book the author follows Peter Brooks and his theater company as they travel across Africa improvising plays with local people in the communities they visit over the course of many months. It’s a fascinating insight to the man and his method as well as the troupe and its ways of seeing and being in another continent.

Hreniko, Vilsoni,
Woven Gods: Female Clowns and Power in Rotuma (Pacific Islands Monograph
I found this book in a dusty corner of a bookshelf in the Pacific Studies Centre at the University of the South Pacific when I was living in Fiji. It captures the culture, customs and community of Rotuma life and just as importantly opens up Pacific writing written by women of the South Pacific.

Hewitt, Dorothy,
Neap Tide
The Toucher
Fabulous writing by this larger than life poet and author. I love both the overt and undercurrent sensuality of Hewitt’s writing.

Hitchens, Christopher,
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens
Hitch-22: A Memoir
What a loss for the world with Hitchen’s death. His was such a formidable intellect and his books remain the best expression of his magnificent life journey.


Iyer, Pico,
Video Night in Kathmandu: And Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East
The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama (Vintage Departures)
Man Within My Head
I read Video Night in Kathmandu just before I made my first trip overseas, to Nepal and to Tibet. The book grabbed me by the throat and I’ve been reading Iyer’s books ever since. He connected me to a completely new way of writing, depicting globalism at a time when it was not being written about by writers in this way. His book The Open Road is as much about his relationship with his father as with his observations of the Dalai Lama while his latest book is The Man Within My Head, about his connection to Graham Greene.


Jamie, Kathleen,
Waterlight: Selected Poems
Findings Among Muslims Meetings at the Frontiers
The Autonomous Region: Poems & Photographs from Tibet
I was at the Mildura Writers’ Festival and asked David Malouf about his favorite writers. He seemed grumpy with my question though he did mention Kathleen Jamie in his response. I sought her out and in so doing discovered her stunning poetry and literature. Truly beautiful.  Among Muslimsis unforgettable – please read it!


Kauraka Kauraka,
Taku Akatauira =: My dawning star: Poems
Eloquent, arresting poetry A posthumous collection of poems by Cook Island poet, Kauraka Kaurake who died in 1997.

Keneally, Thomas,
Chant Of Jimmie Blacksmith
Toward Asmara
I feel close to this book both because of the searing writing and also because my late friend Charles bought land that encompassed Jimmy’s mountain and he felt as close to the writing and invocation as I did. Keneally is a masterful writer and he has many other books that I could recommend, most memorably Toward Asmara. In this book four Westerners travel to Eritrea and experience the drought and despair in its capital, Asmara. As they witness the devastation and futility of war coupled with the Eritreans’ courage and humanity they themselves change as they are challenged in ways unexpected and unthinkable.

Kerr Conway, Jill,
Road From Coorain True North: A Memoir
These books came at a critical point in my life in showing me both what is possible and how to make sense of one’s journey. I still hold Conway’s compass in my heart.

Kohen, Arnold S
, From the Place of the Dead: The Epic Struggles of Bishop Belo of East Timor
I read this book after we learnt of the massacres in East Timor by Indonesian forces and when I was asking, like many people, ‘how could we let this happen?’ Kohen’s book captures the brave spirit of Bishop Belor in the fight for justice for East Timor and its people.

Kogawa, Joy,
The author accounts her own experience of her family’s internment as Canadian citiens of Japanese ancestry during the Second World War. This terrible injustice is gracefully told.

Kumar, Satish,
Path Without Destination: The Long Walk of a Gentle Hero
One man’s walk across the world for peace – this is his journey in words and deed. I hope to join him with others on a short pilgrimage some day soon to meet the man and share conversations on the journey. In the meantime I subscribe to his journal, Resurgence, my most favorite magazine.

Kunitz, Stanley,
The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden
The loveliest image of Kunitz in his garden graces the cover of this book and his reminiscences of time spent in his garden, part poetry, part prose, are just as graceful and glorious.

Kingsolver, Barbara,
The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel
A consummate storyteller, this is the book for a long plane ride without interruption. Or swinging on a hammock on some lost island.

Kornfield, Jack,
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry
Like Pema Chodron, Kornfield has a gift for titles as much as stories, This is my favorite of his books as it connects his own journey to wider ideas about spirit/Buddhist life and the spirit journey.


Lane, Belden C,
The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality
A book in praise of wild places and spaces.

Larsen, Kay
Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists

Language collapsed and all sound flowing, exploding – and then silence – in this zen bender of a book. A stunning story, a stunning life of a man whose influence is still so strongly felt and experienced. Also charts his relationship and life partnership with Merce Cunningham.

Le Guin, Ursula,
Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places
Some know her more for her feminist sci-fi writng; this book is special in a different way as Le Guin shares her perspectives on women and life through these essays, talks and reviews. It’s an exhilarating read.

Leopold, Aldo,
A Sand County Almanac
A classic. Here Leopold expounds his deeply held view that it is a human duty to protect the wildness of the land. Published in 1949, just after his death, the book is often cited as one of the most influential books about nature and the natural world ever published. Leopold wrote it while based at his summer shack on the banks of the Wisconsin River in a style that encompassed reflection, essay, memoir and polemic.

Levertov, Denise,
Poems 1968-1972
Tesserae: Memories & Suppositions
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant poetry. These books are two of many of Levertov’s majestic collection.

Lopez, Barry,
Arctic Dreams
About This Life: Journeys on the Threshold of Memory
Crossing Open Ground Of Wolves and Men Winter Count Field Notes: The Grace Note of the Canyon Wren
A body of writing that is so important and imaginative, an invocation of our interconnectedness with wilderness and wild paces.


McKinney, Meredith,
The Equal Heart and Mind: Letters Between Judith Wright and Jack Mckinney
A love story, keenly told, of Judith Wright and her husband, Jack McKinney. The letters cast their own spell as we follow their lives apart and then together.

Mabey, Richard
Home Country Glorious writing and out land and love and life. I seek out Mabey’s writing whenever I can.

Macy, Joanna,
World as Lover, World as Self Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy
Macy’s written a deeply thoughtful and inspiring body of works of which World as Lover is a fine introduction while Active Hope is her latest offering.

Mahood, Kim,
Craft for a Dry Lake
Shimmering memoir of her life connection to family, outback and identify. It’s a book at once individual and complete.

Malouf, David,
Collected Stories The best collected stories I’ve ever read.

Matthieson, Peter(ed),
The Snow Leopard
I read this while traveling across Tibet. It’s similarly a pilgrim’s quest for understanding self and life through a cultural and wild immersion experience.

McCulloch, Ann,
Dance of the Nomad: A Study of the Selected Notebooks of A.d. Hope
Gifted insights to the world and writings of AD Hope.

McDonald, Roger,
The Tree in Changing Light
I used to walk the tree-streets of Kensington at night and feel so happy. This book is an evocation of tree life and light in all their types and timbres. A meditation on landscapes and an evocation of people’s own tree stories.

McKibben, Bill,
The End of Nature
Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future
Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth
McKibben is very involved in the Occupy Movement and also writes for one of my other favourite magazines, Orion. McKibben continues to inspire a new generation of ecologists, eco-warriors, Occupy-ers and nature lovers with his incisive takes on what is happening to and of the world — and what we can do as citizens to preserve it.

Merton, Thomas,
The Seven Storey Mountain
Here Merton shares his early years and the decisions that leads him becoming a Trappist monk, one of the most demanding Catholic orders, at the age of 26, and then his gradation through different types of monk-hood. Compelling.

Moore, Thomas,
Dark Nights of the Soul
The perfect book for a midlife crisis or to help restore soul to self and couple-hood.

Monk Kidd, Sue:
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (Plus)
I found this after reading The Secret Life of Bees
. A feminist journey of faith and awakening by a fabulous writer.

Morrison, Toni,
My introduction to Morrison began with Beloved, and how fortunate I was. This book is my favorite of hers though her other books are just as sought after. This book won the Pulitzer Prize for its dazzling and commanding story of a woman haunted by the past.

Morrison, Blake,
When Did You Last See Your Father?: A Son’s Memoir of Love and Loss
For anyone who has a father with big ideas, big determination and a big heart, this is a book to read. I ached when I read it, so much did I connect with the story and the writing.

Murphy, Dervla,
Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle
One of the first women travel writers I read and once I started her books, I couldn’t stop. I was so inspired by the power of Murphy’s imagination and her courage as a single woman traversing the globe on foot, pedal-power or mule, to name just three forms she utilizes.


Narayan, RK,
The Mahabharata
Of course I read this after my 12 hour marathon effort watching this in my sleeping bag in an outdoor performance presented in a quarry. Memorable.

Nafisi, Azar,
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books
Riveting account of a teacher in Tehran carrying on teaching literature to young women in the hoped for safety of her own home when teaching them at the university was no longer an option due to the political repression of women and violence unfolding across the country.

Neel, Alexandra David,
Magic and Mystery in Tibet
Not long before I went to Tibet I wanted to connect with all the magic and mysticism of the country which seemed to me akin to some kind of Shangri-la aka Lost Horizon. Neel’s book opened up this world to me as one that has changed eons again since I was there.

Newell, Patrice,
Ten Thousand Acres
Earthy revelation of life on the land in all its texture and contour. The book is a work of art – it draws you in.

Norris, Kathleen,
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography
The Rich Mrs. Burgoyne
I found Norris out of my quest to read more books by women who were grappling with their own faith and who were on explicitly spiritual journeys, whether they be via church, synagogue, pilgrimage, temple or meeting house. Norris is a gifted writer and Dakota is a great read. The Rich Mrs Burgoyne is her latest.

Nyro, Laura,
Lyrics & Reminiscences
I wanted to learn more about the singer who deserves to be better known than she is, as one who sang in the time and tradition of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell. It’s a wonderful book, finely written.


O’Donoghue, John,
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom
Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
Deeply wise and uplifting book on Celtic life and spirit, Anam Cara speaks to my own heritage. Beauty was the first book I sent Josh after we met.

Oates, Joyce Carol,
On Boxing
Of course she’s written many books of fiction and her short stories are real gems too however Boxing is iconic and is worth scouring the net to find a copy!

Okri, Ben,
An African Elegy Paperback
The book of poems I still read out loud the most. Velvety.

Olds, Sharon,
The Wellspring: Poems
For a long time I couldn’t read the titles poem in this collection without crying. Maybe I still can’t. It’s so intimate. The poem True Love  – the last one in this book – is my most favourite poem.

Oliver, Mary,
Dream Work
American Primitive
Red Bird: Poems
Our World
And I could go on. I have more books of Oliver’s poetry than any other poet. Josh has even more. Love, love, love her poetry. Her poem ‘When death comes’ has consoled me so many times after the death of a friend or family member, as much as any poem can after a death.

Ondaatje, Michael,
In the Skin of a Lion
My gorgeous friend, Maria, gave me this book. Her inscription is as precious as the book itself. So many of Oodantje’s books are irradiating. The English Patient
has language and scenes I can evoke even as I type.

O’Rourke, Meghan,
The Long Goodbye: A memoir
The best book on the grief following the death of a parent that I’ve ever read.


Palmer, Parker,
Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring
I heard about Palmer when I was at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in the US. He’s a deep thinker and practitioner in connecting people to their passion work and his books are a joy to read.

Peacock, Doug,
Grizzly Years: In Search of the American Wilderness
A recommendation from the Abstract Wild reading list, this book is about Doug Peacock, a Vietnam Veteran who finds peace within himself through contact with the grizzly bears in whose presence helps to banish his inner demons.

Plotkin, Bill,
Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World
Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
Divine writing on nature. His workshops are just as engaging as his books.

Pollan, Michael,
A Place of My Own
The blue lit core of this book invites creation. I read it at a time when I was hankering to build my own place of one’s own.

Plumwood, Val,
Feminism and the Mastery of Nature
Environmental Culture: The Ecological Crisis of Reason
I was fortunate to meet Plumwood at the Two Fires Festival of Arts and Activism in Braidwood near Canberra a year before she died. She was providing festival goers with intimate walks on he own wildlands, a bush paradise. Bereft on learning of her death, I sought out her works and how seminal they are.

Pryor, Boori,
Maybe Tomorrow
I read Pryor’s books while I was a consultant at Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute. His generosity and outreach as a teacher and educator takes us on a journey with him as he explores Aboriginal culture, customs, kinship and connection to the wider world while also sharing his own life story. Pryor does this with his wife, writer/photographer, Meme McDonald. Her own books are also worth reading. Put Your Whole Self In
was the first of McDonald’s books that I read.


Rich, Adrienne,
The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977
This is my favorite of Rich’s many books of poetry and prose.

Richards, MC,
Imagine Inventing Yellow
Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person
I discovered Richard’s writing when I was clay making with my teacher, Freya Povey. Imagining Yellow is as uplifting as the title implies while Centering takes the reader into the heart of creating.

Rowley, Hazel,
Christina Stead: A Biography
Richard Wright: The Life and Times
Tete-a-Tete: The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (P.S.)
Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage
I was at the launch of Rowley’s first biography on Christina Stead and I’ve read all of her books through to her most recent, Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage until Rowley’s untimely death in 2010. Rowley is one of the best biographers of her generation and her legacy lives on through her books and a fellowship in support of other biographers.

Roy, Arundhati
An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire
The Cost of Living The God of Small Things: A Novel
was my natural introduction to Roy and I’ve followed her courageous journey in advocating for those without a voice, who are dispossessed and persecuted. Fiery and necessary reading.

Rupp, Joyce,
Walk in a Relaxed Manner: Life Lessons from the Camino
I’m hoping to walk the Camino in the next couple of years and this book is an eloquent introduction to the journey.

Russell, Bertrand,
Unpopular Essays
I first discovered Russell when my close friend, Sarah, and I were living in a farm that had belonged to a recluse who worked for the CSIRO and bequeathed his property to the RSPCA the year the CSIRO commenced testing on animals. His farm was filled with amazing literature, everything from Russell to a little known Plant Hunters of  Tibetwhile his musical taste ranged from Vaughan Williams to Japanese Water Music. Russell is similarly expansive in his writing in this classic book of provocative essays. Then read all else he has written.


Said, Edward,
A lucid treatise in dismantling popular views of the Orient that associated it with being mystical, illogical, mythical and primitive and thus somehow less advanced than Western countries. In this way of seeing, Said, argued, it allowed a culture of superiority to prevail over the Arab countries.

Salzburg, Sharon,
Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience
A wonderful Buddhist writer whose views on faith are refreshingly candid and enlightening.

Sarton, May,
Plant Dreaming Deep
This luminous title is reflected in the lit language of the book. You can start with any Sarton book, her writing is a joy and her year books on growing older provide such rich reflections on the experience of growing old/er.

Schumacher, EF,
Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered
I read this book in university. Schumacher was a pathbreaker for me in the art of living simply. It’s taken me years to get close to the practices he espoused.

Seed, John,
Thinking Like a Mountain: Towards a Council of All Beings
Beautiful man, beautiful book.

Selznick, Brian,
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
One of out the box. Truly inventive and memorable.

Shawcross, William,
Deliver Us from Evil
An immensely important book by a writer of towering intellect and emotional force.

Shearer, Sybil,
Without Wings the Way is Steep: The Autobiography of Sybil Shearer, Vol. 1
It began with a newspaper cutting about Shearer’s death and led to a magical journey of discovery about her life, her dance, her sensational creativity and imagination of expression. There is a DVD included in this too. The Midwest Inheritance (Without Wings the Way Is Steep: The Autobiography of Sybil Shearer, Volume II)

(added 20120912)
Gorgeous, spin-me round midpoint biography of the extraordinary creative dancer and lifeforce, Sybil Shearer. The photographs are a stunning testament to Shearer’s exhilarating expressive dance.

Sheen, Martin & Estevez, Emilio,
Along the Way: The Journey of a Father and Son

An intimate parallel journey of father and son spliced with their Camino piligrimage in Spain.  It’s the pilgrimage I plan to do when I’m 50 and their tracing their own cultural traditions and ancestry is beautiful to behold

Shiva, Vandana,
Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace
Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge

Shiva, Vandana, Linette, Jamey and Petrini, Carlo,
Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed
Her book, Ecofeminism, remains a vital manifesto for an ecologically sustainable word. She deservedly has a large global following for her work, activism, intellectual and practical leadership.

Slade, Madeleine,
The Spirit’s Pilgrimage
Ibu Gedong, a former member of Indonesian Parliament and founder of a Gandhi Ashram in Candidasa, Bali, introduced me to Slade’s book when I was staying at the ashram. This is the story of Gandhi’s English discipline and of her spiritual pilgrimage pre and post, and with Gandhi.

Snyder, Gary
Back on the Fire: Essays
A Place in Space: Ethics, Aesthetics, and Watersheds
The Practice of the Wild
The Back Country
and many more! While traveling through Canada years ago, I happened on a book of Snyder’s poetry. Transfixed, I sought him out and I continue to carry his writing with me wherever I go.

Solnit, Rebecca,
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities
Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics
A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster
Wanderlust: A History of Walking
Solnit’s writing is luminous, her subjects wide ranging, from a history of walking to ways to get lost. Her book, A Paradise Built in Hell, is about citizens assuming their own power in disaster response rather than giving over power and control to authorities. Read it in conjunction with Dave Egger’s book, Zeitoun.

Spratt, David and Sutton, Philip,
Climate Code Red: The Case for Emergency Action
I met Philip Sutton when we were both speaking at an event and I was impressed by his argument and later by this book. The book makes an urgent case for taking bold action to stem the impact on the Earth’s climate so that catastrophe can be averted before action is beyond human restoration. The authors emphasize an environmental emergency that cannot be dealt with by business as usual strategies and provide both a balanced analysis as well as laying out a pathway for action.

Dreaming the Dark : Magic, Sex, and Politics
A magical thinker and writer, connected to the planets and the universe in her ways of seeing and being.

Statler, Oliver,
Japanese Pilgrimage
A meditation on this writer’s pilgrimage with the mystics and within the mountains of Japan.

Stretton, Hugh,
Urban Planning in Rich and Poor Countries
I was fortunate to study under Hugh Stretton and this book remains a classic on the principles and practice of best urban planning.

Sykes, Roberta,
Snake Cradle (Snake dreaming)
Snake Dancing: Part Two of Snake Dreaming
Snake Circle Eclipse
Black Power in Australia Black Majority
Roberta Sykes was a mentor to me and a gift to everyone who knew her and read her writing. Her activism opened up education horizons at Harvard for many black women and her fierce and sustained fight for justice saw many victories in her lifetime. Her Snake Dreamingseries (trilogy) is her own potent story.


Terkel, Studs,
Hope Dies Last: Keeping the Faith in Difficult Times
The most phenomenal oral historian of this generation. Read everything he’s written. In Hope Dies Last he offers this ‘Hope never trickles down, it always springs up.’ Indeed.

Thoreau, Henry David,  
On Walden Pond
Faith in a Seed
Civil Disobedience
What can I say? On Walden Pond is Thoreau’s anthem to a life lived in sync with the rhythms of the natural world. I keep it on my bedside table at my loft cottage. Tibetan Book of the Dead (Karma-glin-pa) Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, (Sogyal Rinpoche) THE books to read to understand death and dying – and thus life and living.

Truitt, Anne,
Turn: The Journal of an Artist
What a treat to discover this artist-writer and her turns and triumphs throughout a life of exploration, art, family, sculpture, education and expression.

Turner, Jack,
The Abstract Wild
My friend, Tony from The Humanity Foundation introduced me to this unforgettable book. It is an eloquent manifesto for maintaining the wild, not as national parks or accessible wilderness so much as wild spaces beyond the control of humans. Wild for wild sake.


Walker, Barbara, 
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets
In the company of Starhawk and others, a kaleidoscopic dive into the power and mystery of women’s natures and lives.

Walker, Kath,
The Dawn is At Hand
Walker later reclaimed her indigenous heritage in the renaming of herself Oodjeroo of the tribe Noonuccal. This a stunning book of poetry speaks to her experience of land, people and self as an Aboriginal woman.

Watts, Alan,
Nature, Man and Woman
I still have my tattered early paperback edition of this book. What a revelation! It’s earthy and sensual, a rare and delicious read.

Wheatley, Margaret,
Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World
I was moved by Wheatley’s intelligence in fusing the scholarship of leadership and science in this book. Its unity and purpose was so helpful to me when I read it and I’m excited to soon be attending one of her workshops many years after first reading this book.

Wieseltier, Leon,
My close friend, Kate, gave me this book one birthday and it remains as precious to me as when she first gifted it. This story is of a man whose father dies and he reclaims the power of Kaddish and of his own Jewish heritage, saying Kaddish for the first year after his father dies, as is tradition.

Williams, Patricia,
Alchemy of Race and Rights: Diary of a Law Professor
A book as relevant today as when I first read it. I hope it is read and reclaimed by a new generation of young feminists.

Williams, Terry Tempest,
Desert Quartet: An Erotic Landscape
The Open Space of Democracy
A writer of immense spiritual depth as she traverses territory not often explored by others. Start anywhere.

Williamson, Marianne,
A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles”
Radiant with love and wisdom, hope and direction. All Williamson’s books follow this path and yet this book is still the brightest for me.

Winton, Tim,
Breath: A Novel
The Turning: Stories
The Riders
Blueback: A Contemporary Fable
A powerful, authentic writer with a huge following in Australia and overseas. Blueback is special for me and for many kids and kids at heart. Breath remains my favorite because I love the sea and have always wanted to surf – this takes me in as a voyeur if not a wave-rider.

Woolfson,. Esther,
Corvus: A Life with Birds
A book I’d love to give all my friends. It is more than a book about and with birds, it’s about being human and being connected to life in all its forms.

Wright, Judith,
Collected Poems
So much of Wright’s work I love, both poetry and prose and yet her Collected Poemsseem to encapsulate so much of her radiant spirit and poetic sensibility.


Zinn, Howard,
You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History of Our Times
A legendary writer with the kind of following you’d expect. This memorable title wraps round a book that traverses some of the key moments of advocacy and activism in the twentieth century.

Last Updated September 2012 Jane Sloane