Laura McKowen is a writer and self proclaimed ‘recovery warrior’. Her blog is extremely popular, with her audience being regularly inspired by Laura’s battle with addiction. Laura McKowen writes about her struggle with addiction, her journey back to sobriety and motherhood. In an act of admirable courage, Laura quite her full-time career to pursue her dreams of writing, teaching yoga and speaking. Laura McKowen regularly holds wildly popular retreats, events and workshops. When not doing that, Laura is also a regular contributor at The Huffington Post, and has also had work published in XOJane, The Mid, Scary Mommy and Elephant Journal. On top of all of that, Laura McKowen is also the co-host of the HOME Podcast, alongside fellow co-host Holly Whitaker. The podcast explores big questions on the subject of addiction recovery. After learning of Laura’s incredible story, I was eager to learn how books may have helped her in life, she was more than happy to oblige my curiosity! Please enjoy my interview with Laura McKowen…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I usually say I’m a reformed corporate girl and now I write and I teach people yoga.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
I’m sure I read something earlier than this, but my first memory of really loving books was reading the Ramona Quimb books by Beverly Cleary. I collected them all and would pull them off the shelf in my room and rearrange them all the time. I felt like they were my friends.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I have a hard time with this question! I would never tell people to read only one book, because I think the most important thing is trying lots of books and finding one that really gets you lost, so you know what it’s like to fall in love with reading. But if I have to pick one, I’ll pick The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis because it has a little bit of everything.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
Yes and no. I’m reading a lot less now that I’m writing my book, and I’m not reading any memoirs because that’s what I’m writing and it messes with me too much. So I’m reading a lot, but not my favorite stuff (memoirs).
What books do you feel are important reading for people on your career path?
In terms of writing, I think the must reads are:
On Writing by Stephen King – he tells the truth about what it’s like to be a writer and offers the best practical advice I’ve found. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott- she’s funny, humble, and honest (plus she’s in recovery and I resonate with that). And Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – simply profound and beautiful.
I think regardless of what your career path is, the best book to read is The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope. It shifted everything for me, in terms of how I think about work and what’s possible and even necessary for fulfillment.
Only a few. On Writing by Stephen King I’ve read five or more times. At first I read it for the writing advice, but got sucked into his personal story (it’s also a bit of a memoir). Then I read it again for the writing advice. Then I read it again to re-hear the story of alcoholism and recovery, when I was struggling myself. And I’ve read it a couple more times since, for all of it.
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed I’ve read countless times as well. It’s a collection of letters and her responses to them from her column on The Rumpus called, “Dear Sugar,” where she wrote anonymously before her name was big. I’ve referred back to them for personal advice on the topics of love, heartbreak, loss, motherhood, family. But perhaps I refer back even more because her writing style really broke my brain in terms of what’s possible, and helped me to really find my own voice.
Lit by Mary Karr I’ve read several times as well, along with Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp. Two of the best addiction memoirs I’ve ever read. I’ve gone back because I read both before I was sober, then read them again as I was working through getting sober, and again once I was sober. Beautiful voices.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
The books I’ve recommend most are:
East of Eden by John Steinbeck,
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz,
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed,
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (although I do this less often, because it is my favorite fiction book, and so I don’t recommend it without knowing the person a little bit.),
When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron – when people are struggling or in pain, I always recommend this book first.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
My favourite genre is memoir.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
No! I can’t.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
I will read anything by Cheryl Strayed.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
What book do you feel humanity needs right now?
I think humanity needs The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.
Toughest question. I would say The History of Love by Nicole Krauss because it’s the book I named my daughter after, and it touched a place in my heart so deeply I’ve never been able to forget it.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I would also include:
Dry by Augusten Burroughs – he’s one of my absolute favorite writers, and I think this is his best memoir (he has several).
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – simply one of the most incredibly writers.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt – she’s best known for Goldfinch, but I believe this is her best work. It’s a book that creates a feeling that is hard to shake.
Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – Her work is stunning and I believe this is the way in, to see if you want more.
Devil in The White City by Erik Larson – riveting, even for someone who doesn’t typically like historical fiction.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’m currently doing a lot of learning around trauma, addiction, the brain, and deeper studies of The Divine Feminine. So I’ve got stacks of books in the queue, including The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk, When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone, and such. I will hopefully be completing my own book soon, so I’ll also be able to return to memoir!
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?