The lovable Goofy once asked, “Do ya need a break from modern livin’?” As tech- and gear-obsessed as we may seem here at Tools & Toys, even we need to unplug now and then. We bet the same is true for you, our lovely readers.
Below you’ll find a list of books and other essentials for going offline to rest, relax, and think. Once you’ve finished reading the guide and made any suitable purchases, we hope you’ll take some time for yourself and escape from all the screens, distractions, and torrents of information for a while. Go outside. Breathe.
[Note: Though the theme of this guide is “unplugging”, for your convenience we do offer links to digital versions of books listed below. This is not an oversight. I (Chris) personally only ever buy Kindle and iBooks editions anymore, as my family and I are about to become full-time RV’ers and we no longer have a good place to store physical copies of all the books we love. —Ed.]
There’s almost nothing better than taking a relaxing, peaceful nap outside when the weather’s nice. And for that, you’ll want a hammock.
The Eagles Nest Outfitters DoubleNest Hammock is one of the highest-rated hammocks on Amazon — 5 stars from 1,250 reviews as of this writing. It comes in a variety of colors, includes aluminum wiregate carabiners, supports up to 400lb, and is triple-stitched for extra durability.
It’s big enough to fit two, so send the kids to grandma’s and treat yourselves to one of the most relaxing shared experiences you can have. Let the gentle swaying carry you away from life’s worries, if only briefly.
When it comes to relaxing during these summer months, it never hurts to have a cold drink nearby. Whatever your beverage of choice, make sure you’re using large ice cubes like the ones made in a Tovolo King Ice Cube Tray.
This thing makes 6 ice cubes, each measuring 2 cubic inches. Why is this helpful? Well, the bigger the ice cubes the slower they melt. Thus, these are perfect for drinks where you want to keep the liquid cold without diluting it with melted water before you’re finished drinking — for example, iced coffee, soda, or your favorite on-the-rocks drink (just a single King Cube in a double old-fashioned glass is all you need ((besides, only one will fit anyway)).
And did we mention that enormous ice cubs are significantly more fun than plain ice cubes? Because they are.
These headphones are quite comfortable and sound surprisingly good for what they are. The volume controls are pretty neat too. From The Wirecutter’s review:
The sides of the headphones are touch sensitive (rather than using push buttons) and look like little rubber records. To increase/decrease volume, you glide your finger in a circular motion forward or back. To change tracks, you tap the front or back of the circle. The volume adjusts the volume level within the phone, not just boosting dB in the headphones. This means that you don’t have to dig in your bag to mess with your your device if its volume is set too low.
Books for the Soul
Meditation has a long history as one of the world’s greatest relaxation techniques. Unfortunately, it can be a surprisingly hard habit for beginners to take up.
Mindfulness in Plain English — written by Henepola “Bhante G” Gunaratana, a Theravada Buddhist monk from Sri Lanka — is exactly what the book title suggests: A straightfoward, practical guide to meditation and mindfulness.
When we say “practical”, we mean it. Not only does Gunaratana guide readers through the basics of meditation and why it can be an important practice in today’s manic world (whether you’re Buddhist or not), he even addresses common issues people face during meditation, such as sudden boredom or irritation, and even legs that fall asleep.
Here are a couple excerpts taken from separate parts of the book, yet together sum it up nicely:
You can’t make radical changes in the pattern of your life until you begin to see yourself exactly as you are now. As soon as you do that, changes will flow naturally. You don’t have to force anything, struggle, or obey rules dictated to you by some authority. It is automatic; you just change. But arriving at that initial insight is quite a task. […]
Through the process of mindfulness, we slowly become aware of what we really are, down below the ego image. We wake up to what life really is. It is not just a parade of ups and downs, lollipops and smacks on the wrist. That is an illusion. Life has a much deeper texture than that if we bother to look, and if we look in the right way.
Our friend and fellow writer Patrick Rhone is the kind of guy who has a lot of thoughtful insights about the world, and conveys them in a most calming manner. His book, This Could Help, is a collection of nearly 100 essays based on those sorts of insights.
There is no particular theme to the book, other than that just about anyone can find at least one thing within that will help them on their journey — whether they’re struggling in a relationship, job, creative endeavor, or something else. I realize this is a somewhat vague description so far, so here is an excerpt from the book that struck us particularly, a short essay titled Shaping the Light:
Think about a lightbulb. Soft, white, diffused light. It speeds in all directions, illuminating the room. Unfocused.
Now, place a mirrored cup around that same light, point the cup’s opening at a specific point, and now you have a spotlight. Focused in one direction.
Now, start to constrain that opening. Shape it as a cone. Make the opening smaller and smaller and you’ll have a beam. Perhaps, if done correctly, a beam powerful enough to burn a hole in any object it is directed at. Like a magnifying glass to a leaf. Extreme focus.
It’s the same energy. Just shaped in different ways. And, once shaped, its strength, intention, ability, and purpose is changed.
This is you. This is your time. This is your attention. This is your energy.
The same energy that you currently spread amongst the many tasks you are now doing, can be focused to put a real, deep, burning, hole right in the center of the one thing you should be doing.
Coloring books aren’t just for kids anymore. Adult coloring books are a surprisingly relaxing trend that’s becoming more popular all the time, and a great one to start with is Fantastic Cities: A Coloring Book of Amazing Places Real and Imagined by Steve McDonald.
This 60-page book contains highly intricate, aerial-view illustrations of various cities around the world — both real and imagined. One Amazon reviewer summed it up nicely: “The list is simply too long but includes cities in Germany, Canada, Greenland, France, Yemen, New York, Italy, Japan, Singapore, the Netherlands, Rio de Janerio, Turkey, India, Mexico, England, Australia, and Greece.” What’s harder to convey in words is just how complex the illustrations are.
Lunenburg (left) & Lunenburg mandala (right):
Singapore (left) & Amsterdam (right):
Needless to say, you’ll have plenty of time to sit and relax as you fill in all the minute architectural details.
If you’re just getting started with adult coloring books, pick up Sargent’s 50-count pack of colored pencils ($12), and if you really want to up your coloring game, check out Prismacolor’s 132-count pack ($99). (Don’t go with markers or gel pens on this one because the book’s pages have illustrations on both sides and they will bleed.)
As an aside, I should point out that if you’re looking for more great literature not listed in this guide, we’ve written two other guides that should take care of your reading needs:
Pen & Paper
The dot-grid Confidant by Baron Fig is, in our humble opinion, just about the best journal notebook on the planet. It’s exactly the right size, has exactly the right type of paper, and is very well made. We never leave home without one in our bag. Use it to keep a journal, jot down ideas, or simply sketch to your heart’s content.
There’s something comforting about having a drawer full of your favorite pens, reassuring you that if you lose (or lend one out) it doesn’t matter because they’re cheap and replaceable. For us, we prefer stocking up on the Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm. Its fine, somewhat scratchy tip just feels good to write with, and the ink goes on nice and clean. Also, the balance and weight of the pen feels great in the hand.
For more pen & paper recommendations, check out our guide to analog writing tools.