Non-fiction review: Wintering, by Katherine May
My second of Katherine May's books in just a couple of months, so you know that she's touched something in me. (See review of The Electricity of Every Living Thing).
Title: Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
Author: Katherine May
Publication Info: Riverhead Books, 2020. 245 pages (Kindle edition).
An intimate, revelatory book exploring the ways we can care for and repair ourselves when life knocks us down.
Sometimes you slip through the cracks: unforeseen circumstances like an abrupt illness, the death of a loved one, a break up, or a job loss can derail a life. These periods of dislocation can be lonely and unexpected. For May, her husband fell ill, her son stopped attending school, and her own medical issues led her to leave a demanding job. Wintering explores how she not only endured this painful time, but embraced the singular opportunities it offered.
A moving personal narrative shot through with lessons from literature, mythology, and the natural world, May’s story offers instruction on the transformative power of rest and retreat. Illumination emerges from many sources: solstice celebrations and dormice hibernation, C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath, swimming in icy waters and sailing arctic seas.
Ultimately Wintering invites us to change how we relate to our own fallow times. May models an active acceptance of sadness and finds nourishment in deep retreat, joy in the hushed beauty of winter, and encouragement in understanding life as cyclical, not linear. A secular mystic, May forms a guiding philosophy for transforming the hardships that arise before the ushering in of a new season.
Once again, Katherine May's writing touches on things that relate strongly to my life. Her concept of "wintering"--the idea that we will have our times of retreat and reduced "productivity"--makes sense as I've gone through major changes in my life that have at times derailed me from what I think I "ought" to be doing.
I was especially interested in her discussions with people who live in places with true winter--the far northern areas where winter days almost disappear and live perforce draws in on itself. These times represent, to me, a sanctioned opportunity to retreat and recharge. Modern life, maybe especially here in the US, tends to assume we can go all-out, all the time. Katherine May points out that we can't, and uncovers how our desire to hide that truth messes us all up.
"I've been busy doing nothing, giving the outward appearance of purpose while I''m really just scrolling through my phone.
"But sitting quietly in church has done me good. My job was to do nothing but listen and feel and contemplate, and it was a liberation." (p. 96).
We can all use more time when just to sit and "listen and feel and contemplate" is all we are meant to be doing.
Well worth reading, especially for anyone who feels they can't keep up with the demands of life (and that's all of use, at one time or anther--that's part of her point).
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