by Katherine May
Publication Date: February 28, 2023
Genre: essays, non-fiction
From the New York Times-bestselling author of Wintering, an invitation to rediscover the feelings of awe and wonder available to us all.
Many of us feel trapped in a grind of constant change: rolling news cycles, the chatter of social media, our families split along partisan lines. We feel fearful and tired, on edge in our bodies, not quite knowing what has us perpetually depleted. For Katherine May, this low hum of fatigue and anxiety made her wonder what she was missing. Could there be a different way to relate to the world, one that would allow her to feel more rested and at ease, even as seismic changes unfold on the planet? Might there be a way for all of us to move through life with curiosity and tenderness, sensitized to the subtle magic all around?
In Enchantment, May invites the reader to come with her on a journey to reawaken our innate sense of wonder and awe. With humor, candor, and warmth, she shares stories of her own struggles with work, family, and the aftereffects of pandemic, particularly feelings of overwhelm as the world rushes to reopen. Craving a different way to live, May begins to explore the restorative properties of the natural world, moving through the elements of earth, water, fire, and air and identifying the quiet traces of magic that can be found only when we look for them. Through deliberate attention and ritual, she unearths the potency and nourishment that come from quiet reconnection with our immediate environment. Blending lyricism and storytelling, sensitivity and empathy, Enchantment invites each of us to open the door to human experience in all its sensual complexity, and to find the beauty waiting for us there.
Enchantment by Katherine May is my second book by Ms. May, which I checked out from the library earlier this year when it was published in February. Like Wintering, it’s a bit difficult to pigeonhole, being a memoir, a book of essays, and, as well, a bit of straight up science writing. Unfortunately, it didn’t resonate with me quite so well as May’s first book, which I read back in 2022.
by Katherine May
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: memoir, non-fiction
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.
There was something about this book that really worked for me – I think there was a bit of serendipity in my decision to read it. I was, myself, in a bit of a difficult time, experiencing a period of dislocation. It was the tail end of the pandemic, and work was really getting me down. Things were pretty miserable, I was pretty miserable, it was the dead of winter (literally and figuratively – it was January, 2022) and I stumbled onto the book.
I wish that I had read it ten years ago. Maybe even twenty years ago. This would have been difficult, because of course, it wasn’t published until 2020, but nonetheless, May’s open acknowledgment that some years are light and some years are dark, but both are normal, was an extraordinary insight that I had somehow avoided making on my own. I’m very GenX – I’m a buck up. shut up and get it done sort of person. But, of course, there are times when all of the bucking up, shutting up, and getting it done don’t really make me feel any better. Sure – I feel better about the thing that was the issue, but that doesn’t mean that the issue has gone away.
A good example of this was my career, from which I am now retired. There were years when I was able to handle the stress, manage my caseload with aplomb, get my work done and support my colleagues. And then there were years when I pretended that I was able to do all of those thing, but underneath, I was a frigging mess. It would have helped me, personally, to be able to offer myself some grace when things were bad. Maybe I wouldn’t have burned out. More likely, I would still have burned out, because my work eventually burns out everyone, but I would have been kinder to myself along the way.
So, of the two, Wintering was the one that worked for me better, although I liked both of them.