It's February, it's cold, it's time to turn up the heat a bit on your to-read list. But not just any trashy old erotic paperback will do — you want something that will warm up your brain as well as — ahem, other parts of your body. Here are some books that will keep you warm all winter long while stimulating your intellect as well as your passion.
By Mary Roach
For you sexy science nerds out there. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Why doesn't Viagra help women-or, for that matter, pandas? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Mary Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm-two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth-can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to make the bedroom a more satisfying place. — From Amazon.com
Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair
By Pablo Neruda
Could “Neruda” be Spanish for “Swoon?" That's exactly what could happen once you start reading this beautiful collection of poems published in 1924 when Neruda was 19 (trust me, he was a much better poet than you were at that age). His most famous line: “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Yes.
Red, Hot and Holy
By Sera Beak
With a rare combination of audacious wit, scholarly acumen, and tender vulnerability—vibrantly mixed with red wine, rock songs, tattoos, and erotic encounters—Sera candidly chronicles the highs and lows of her mystical journey. From the innocence of her childhood crush on God; through a whirlwind of torrid liaisons and bitter break-ups with Christianity, Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism, and the New Age; and finally into committed monogamy with her own Red Hot and Holy Goddess, Sera shares transformative insights, encouraging us all to trust our unique path and ignite our own spiritual love affair. — From Amazon.com
Women on Top: How Real Life Has Changed Women's Sexual Fantasies
By Nancy Friday
I first read Nancy Friday in junior high when I found my mother's copy of Men In Love on the book shelf, and whoa mama, that book taught me just about everything I needed to know about sex (the book collected men's sexual fantasies). In Women on Top, Friday collects detailed sexual fantasies from over 150 contemporary women from diverse backgrounds. Based on intimate personal interviews and letters, this book updates the conversation opened in her earlier works on women's sexual fantasies, detailing how women's erotic lives have changed over the past few decades-and remained the same.
The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love
By Thomas Moore
Known for his international best seller Care of the Soul, this book delves into a subject much more controversial, but with an intelligence and historical perspective that I haven't seen since.
Thomas Moore wants us to think more deeply about the spiritual implications of everyday life. Which is to say that this is serious stuff — no sexy beach reading here. What does interest former Catholic monk are the historical, philosophical, religious, and psychological aspects of sexuality that people tend not to consider. "We have a habit of talking about sex as merely physical, and yet nothing has more soul," Moore begins. This wide-ranging meditation moves from the history of the word "orgasm" to the mythic presence of Marilyn Monroe. Those willing to follow Moore's mind as it courses through these subjects will find it a fascinating journey, one that ends by stimulating their own thinking about the relationship between sex and the spirit.
Another book that was formative for me , and very highly recommended.
By Diana Gabaldon
Unrivaled storytelling. Unforgettable characters. Rich historical detail. Plenty of steamy sex scenes. These are the hallmarks of Diana Gabaldon’s work. Some my question whether this book is "smart," but her novels have earned the praise of critics and captured the hearts of millions of fans. Here is the story that introduced us to two remarkable characters, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, in a spellbinding novel of passion and history that combines exhilarating adventure with a love story for the ages.
A very strange thing happened when I read this book. It all started with a terrible cold, which was bad for my productivity (from a business-running standpoint) but good for allowing me to get in some much-needed reading time. So I spent a good part of the afternoon lying on the couch, nestled among between the tissues and the humidifier. And about 3-4 chapters in to this story about a woman who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease, I started to feel like I was the one with Alzheimer’s. My phone somehow seemed harder to operate. Getting up to make myself a cup of tea required more effort. That’s the kind of effect this book had on me.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a novel (and soon-to-be-released movie with Julianne Moore) about Harvard psychology professor Alice Howland who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease just before her 50th birthday. Alice is your typical high-achieving academic: she works really, really hard, and takes great pride in her extremely high intellect (about one extremely narrow topic — linguistics). Her husband John, also a Harvard academic but in biology, leads a similar life.
The book starts with Alice's small bouts of forgetfulness: she can't remember what an item on her written to-do list is about; soon after she forgets a word during a professional presentation she’s giving at Stanford. She waves off the memory lapses as a symptom of impending menopause. But then the little things begin to pile up and get worse — like when Alice becomes disoriented while running a familiar route — and it isn’t long before Alice discovers the truth: it’s not menopause that’s causing the forgetfulness but Alzheimer’s.
Overall, I feel like the book is well written. It's told in first person, from Alice's viewpoint, but also skillfully pulls in the lives and perspectives of her husband and three children, Lydia, Anna and Tom (and to a lesser extent, Howland’s dead mother and sister, through flashbacks).
Alice’s story is told over a period of three years, where the reader gets an up-close-and-personal view of what it’s like for Alice as the Alzheimer’s begins to take over in terrifying detail: believing a rug is a hole in the middle of the floor, entering someone else’s house and removing all the dishes, not being able to remember where the bathroom is located.
Towards the end of the book I felt like the narrative lost a bit of its momentum, and even became a little preachy (Alice's speech at a conference had me skipping over whole sentences). I wished the author would have dug a little deeper at the emotions and confusion surrounding Alice’s downward spiral. The most compelling character in the book was Alice's husband, John; I wish Genova would have worked harder to show us his emotions about having a wife diagnosed with this devastating disease. But overall it was a worthy (and fast — always a bonus) read, and I’d recommend it to anyone, especially those who are dealing with a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
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One night I recently mentioned to my husband how my dentist wanted me to replace some fillings. I hate the dentist, always have, and so out of habit I started to use my old standby metaphor of how I'd rather go ice fishing than go to the dentist
But before the words made it out of my mouth I suddenly stopped myself — because I realized in one surprising instant that I really did want to go ice fishing.
I am not the person I was a year ago.
The idea that I could consider ice fishing an enjoyable, or interesting or even tolerable activity would have been unthinkable a year ago. Last January, being even a little bit physically uncomfortable was a nonstarter for me. Cold? NO WAY. Wet? Nuh-uh, not no how.
It's not like I was a mousy, pink-loving, spa-living, scared of everything kind of girl. After all, I joined the Army. I survived a divorce, then navigated single motherhood without killing myself or my kids. I ran on the treadmill and lifted weights several times a week. I was a survivor.
But "outdoorsy"? No, I was not outdoorsy.
So what changed?
What changed was I made the decision to take a risk. I came up with an idea — the concept of Outdoor Book Club — that I knew would change the world. But I also knew that idea would require me to show up in the world in a much different way than what I was used to. I would have to learn to find my way in the woods, how to put a kayak on the top of my car without help, how to lead other women out of their comfort zones and into the starry night of their own adventures.
Here's what didn't change: I have always valued experiences over things. I'm an INFJ on the Myers Briggs scale, which means I tend to be introverted but deeply committed to seeking out a meaningful life that has a positive impact on others. So the fact that I had to learn how to backpack, how to mountain bike, how to lead women out into the wilderness to discover how truly strong and amazing they could be? That became a mission I could get behind.
So I sought out the experts, and learned by doing. These days, I spend my days seeking out adventure. Whether that's calling up the editor of the local paper to see if she wants to write an article about my company, or talking with my sixteen year old daughter about her college options (which is actually pretty scary for me), I'm always trying to push myself to risk just a little bit more.
Often that means hanging out with women who were just like me, women who know there's more to life than just work and zoning out in front of the TV or internet. I help them move past their fear and into a zone of bliss called self-discovery. I help them discover that they are capable, strong, amazing, and best of all, KICK ASS.
Never could I have imagined the changes that lay in store for me
This change has also showed up in my own life in some unexpected ways, and here are four areas of my life that have completed changed since I've become more adventurous:
1. I've lost weight — effortlessly
About 15 years ago, after my first child was born, I was tipping the scales at 180 pounds and was sick and tired. I decided to change my lifestyle using the fairly draconian fitness and diet program. I won't lie, it was a TON of work. Cardio, weight-lifting, complete diet overhaul. I became lean and strong and lost 20 pounds of fat in eight weeks. Eight long, hard, ABSOLUTELY BANANAS weeks.
But a person can work out like crazy and obsess about food only for so long. Fortunately, I've found something more sustainable: going outside and having fun. Today I walk my dogs, ride my bike in the woods, cross-country ski for date night, hike with friends, kayak first thing in the morning — whatever it takes to get outside and move. Although I may have a slightly unhealthy relationship with pizza and wine, it turns out that when you're physically active as part of a dedicated spiritual and mental daily regimen, achieving a healthy weight comes naturally. I may not have the 7% body fat of my post draconian-fitness days, but I'm also a lot more accepting and appreciative of my body and what it can do.
2. I attracted an amazing love into my life
I remember a moment less than five years ago after my husband left me. It was 3 a.m., I couldn't sleep and was staring out the kitchen window at the snow, despairing at the mess my life had become, with one thought running rampant through my broken heart: no one is ever going to love me again.
It was an incredibly difficult journey back from that point, one that included an eventual divorce and a shit ton of emotional work on my own insecurities and flaws, but the transformation has been life-changing. Two years after splitting from my ex, I met Mike, who eventually became my husband. He was (and continues to be) impressed by my passion for life, my curiosity, my ability to decide to do something and then do it. He has enriched my life in so many ways that there was no other option than to marry him. Today I take risks, both physical and emotional, with him that I NEVER would've taken in my previous life. Adventure can show up in your life in some really crazy ways.
3. My confidence has skyrocketed
Perhaps as a direct result of the improvements in my weight and my relationship, or maybe the other way around, my ability to own who I am as a woman feels like coming home. I still have anxious days, but that's more of a function of what's going on in my life right at this moment (blending five kids into a new family). I finally wrote that book I've been meaning to write (I also have a novel that I'll someday finish). Today I spend my days saying what I mean, asking for what I want and generally enjoying being happy and strong.
4. I make money that is all my own
Last year I started Outdoor Book Club, and though it's barely been a year, the financial freedom that comes with owning your own business feels incredible. I'm working my ass off to market and sell the trips and workshops that I offer, and have some big plans for this company in the future. When I spend money that I make doing what I love, it's an act of strength and power so enormous that I feel invincible. In fact, it feels so good to own my own business I'm passionate about helping other women launch their own successful businesses (want to learn more? I've got a workshop for you!)
Here's how I define adventure
Eleanor Roosevelt once said “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” That sums up exactly how I live my life — whether that's deciding which book I'm going to read next, or the goals I'm going to set for the next 20 years.
The weight loss, the relationships (I didn't even mention my new network of strong women who bring joy and strength to my life in a myriad of ways), the confidence and the money have all shown up since I made a conscious decision to seek out adventure, wherever it may be hiding. Now instead of living a life of constant struggle and self-doubt, I live a life that I'm proud to have built on my own.
Let me know in the comments if adventure has changed your life, or maybe some ideas of how it will in the future. If you're still figuring out how to find more adventure, stay tuned. If you want to lead a more adventurous life, I've got some great tips and guidance coming up soon.
In the meantime, I have an ice fishing trip I need to plan. :)
Want to add more adventure to your life? Take the plunge, or leap, or spin or whatever it is you do and join us for an adventure weekend that will change the way you see the world.
Jill Hinton Wolfe