8 books to help you slow down and escape the hustle

From a hike on the Axalp sculpture path in Switzerland's Berner Oberland

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Slowing down is the answer to so many things.

By slowing down, we give our bodies and minds the opportunity to recharge that we so desperately need.

We can remedy the feelings of burnout and anxiety that leave us exhausted from doing too much and resting too little.

We can tune into what we most need and recognise what isn’t serving us.

We can clarify what our priorities are and where we should be putting our focus – including our health, wellbeing, relationships, and creative projects that light us up.

One of my favourite ways to slow down is with a book, and especially those I’ve shared below. They’re not only perfect to slow down with, but also fantastic reminders of the value of slow living.

P.S. If you’re looking for more book recommendations, you might like Tolstoy Therapy, the book blog I started nearly a decade ago. Happy reading!

Books for slowing down & enjoying a gentler pace of life

1. Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Combining indigenous wisdom, science’s findings on the mysteries of nature, and the teachings of plants, Braiding Sweetgrass is a true love story to the land.

As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.

Kimmerer beautifully brings these two lenses of knowledge together in Braiding Sweetgrass to take us on what Elizabeth Gilbert describes as “a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise”.

There’s now a stunning hardcover edition that makes for the perfect gift to your own bookshelves or those of others.

“This is really why I made my daughters learn to garden—so they would always have a mother to love them, long after I am gone.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

2. Timeless Simplicity: Creating Living in a Consumer Society by John Lane

I’ve shared before how Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki is a fantastic book to remind ourselves of what’s really important in our lives and follow a more minimalist way of living.

But after changing the pace of our lives and being less driven by our possessions, how do we really want to be spending our time?

The answer is a unique balance for all of us, but there are some commonalities. Timeless Simplicity: Creating Living in a Consumer Society by John Lane is a fantastic exploration of these.

It’s a book about having less and enjoying more – having time to do the work you love or spend with your family, finding the energy to pursue creative projects, eating good food slowly, and just enjoying the time to be.

3. Circe by Madeline Miller

I adored reading Circe. It’s a dream of a novel, weaving myth, magic, nature, and solitude together to let us retreat to the island of Aiaia where Circe, daughter of the sun god Helios, is banished.

Madeline Miller is a master of retelling mythology – if you haven’t read much fiction lately, Circe is a great way to fall in love with reading and imagined worlds again.

If you’re looking for more of the same, here are some of my recommended books to read if you loved Circe.

“On the hilltop before me was a house, wide porched, its walls built from finely fitted stone, its doors carved half again the height of a man. A little below stretched a hem of forests, and beyond that a glimpse of the sea. It was the forest that drew my eye. It was old growth, gnarled with oaks and lindens and olive groves, shot through with spearing cypress. That’s where the green scent came from, drifting up the grassy hillside. The trees shook themselves thickly in the sea-winds, and birds darted through the shadows. Even now I can remember the wonder I felt. All my life had been spent in the same dim halls, or walking the same stunted shore with its threadbare woods. I was not prepared for such profusion and I felt the sudden urge to throw myself in, like a frog into a pond.”

Madeline Miller, Circe

4. Laziness Does Not Exist by Dr. Devon Price

Called a stirring call to “a better, more human way to live” by one of my favourite non-fiction authors, Cal Newport, Laziness Does Not Exist is a rallying cry for readers to do things differently.

Following the conventional path of extra-curricular activities, 60-hour work weeks, and side hustles shoehorned into empty pockets of time despite having no energy to pursue them, Dr. Devon Price believed that productivity was the best way to measure self-worth.

Price graduated from both college and graduate school early, but that success came at a cost. After being diagnosed with a severe case of anemia and heart complications from overexertion, they were forced to examine the darker side of all this productivity.

“The Laziness Lie is a deep-seated, culturally held belief system that leads many of us to believe the following: Deep down I’m lazy and worthless. I must work incredibly hard, all the time, to overcome my inner laziness. My worth is earned through my productivity. Work is the center of life. Anyone who isn’t accomplished and driven is immoral.”

Dr. Devon Price, Laziness Does Not Exist

5. Walking Nature Home: A Life’s Journey by Susan J. Tweit

In Walking Nature Home, Susan J. Tweit nails the formula for a woman-alone-in-nature memoir. As a young woman diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that was predicted to take her life in two to five years, she found no clear direction through conventional medicine and turned to the natural world for solace and her field of study as a plant ecologist.

In tracing the arc of her life from young womanhood to middle age, Tweit tells stories about what silence and sagebrush, bird bones and sheepdogs, comets, death, and one Englishman have to teach us about living.

As she spends days alone in the wilderness, growing an organic kitchen garden, and restoring a neighbourhood creek, Tweit notices the connections between the natural processes and cycles all around her and those of her own body. But above all, it’s love – of the natural world, her husband and family, and of life itself – that transforms and saves her in this graceful book about what’s really important.

6. A Country Year: Living the Questions by Sue Hubbell

This laid-back, witty memoir about starting over as a beekeeper in the Ozarks makes for an ideal way to slow down with a book.

Left alone on a small Missouri farm with little but the commercial beekeeping and honey-producing business she started with her husband, Sue Hubbell finds a way to solace in the natural world – and then, in writing about it.

Describing the ups and downs of beekeeping from one springtime to the next as she navigates middle age, A Country Year transports us to a different, simpler place that celebrates the joy of a life attuned to nature.

“Today my life has frogs aplenty and this delights me, but I am not so pleased with myself. My life hasn’t turned out as I expected it would, for one thing. For another, I no longer know all about anything. I don’t even know the first thing about frogs, for instance.”

Sue Hubbell, A Country Year

7. Closer to the Ground: An Outdoor Family’s Year on the Water, In the Woods and at the Table by Dylan Tomine

I picked this up from the books section of the Patagonia online shop, and am so glad I stumbled upon it.

In Closer to the Ground, Dylan Tomine shares stories from his family’s year on the water, in the woods, and at the table. From foraging for chanterelles to digging clams and fishing for salmon, it’s a celebration of nature around his home turf on Puget Sound, but also an ode to the beauty of just getting outside and living closer to the wild.

It’s a book to read if you marvel at the natural world, have a nose for adventure, and equate foraging for mushrooms with the finest dining.

8. Down to Earth: A Guide to Simple Living by Rhonda Hetzel

Rhonda Hetzel is like a grandmother with all of the secrets about slow, simple living you want to know.

Down to Earth is half-celebration of the joys of slowing down to live simply, and half-guide to the practicalities.

Whether you want to learn how to grow tomatoes, bake bread, make your own soap, preserve fruit, or just be inspired to slow down and live more sustainably, this book is a beautiful accompaniment to your journey.

“I was pulled into simple living before I knew what it was. It crept up on me using the smallest of steps and didn’t reveal its true beauty and real power until I was totally hooked. I was searching for a way to live well while spending very little money. What I found was a way of life that also gave me independence, opportunity and freedom.”

Rhonda Hetzel, Down to Earth

If you love books about escaping the hustle and retreating into nature, you might also enjoy my book about slowing down in a beautiful Swiss mountain town. It’s called Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps and is available as a lovely illustrated hardcover. Or, you can pick up a copy on Kindle.

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