The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert

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Originally published in: 2014

What it’s about: Kolbert talks about how we (humans) may be orchestrating the sixth major mass extinction on Earth and the possible consequences.

What made me pick it up: I tried to read The Ends of the World and while it was good, I didn’t finish it. When I found this book available on audio I remembered it being similar in theme and highly recommended by Jon Stewart a few years ago so picked it up.

My favorite things: I learned so much about past extinction events (the ones before the dinosaurs) as well as the diverse evolutionary backgrounds of humans (I might be 4% Neanderthal). It does a great job of exploring how other extinctions occurred and why our current situation appears to be the same, if happening at a faster clip. It’s horrifying to think that more species than we are aware of are presently dying out without our knowledge, but honestly not all that surprising. Tl;dr – this isn’t good for humans either so let’s get it together.

Who it’s great for: Readers interested in the history of Earth. People concerned for the future of our planet and our species. Animal and plant lovers. Science nerds.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book from your local library or from Amazon.


 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

 

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Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: A modern southern gothic story set in a contemporary rural Mississippi Gulf Coast community chronicling a family’s struggles with poverty, addiction, incarceration, and the ghosts of past injustices.

What made me pick it up: I read Ward’s early novel Salvage the Bones last year and was excited to pick up her newest work.

My favorite things: Sing, Unburied, Sing is beautifully written and almost painful to read from the first page. The climax, however inevitable, left me stunned and heartbroken – but I’m here for it. The saddest parts of Ward’s stories don’t feel like cheap shots or emotional manipulation the way writing sometimes comes across. Instead, it feels honest and necessary. I love the way she seamlessly incorporates ghosts and spirits into the fabric of this family’s life.

Who it’s great for: Southern gothic readers; fans of Beloved.

Abby’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Originally published: 2017

What it’s about: Prolific author Brown tackles how to find true belonging by being your authentic self.

What made me pick it up: I love love love Brown and her works. She is a personal hero of mine and I always feel empowered and slightly shaken by her books. I recommend them to everyone so when I found out about this I grabbed it asap.

My favorite parts: This book was very powerful in a quiet, personal way. If you have ever tried to speak out and stand your truth and been ridiculed or worse, then you have an inkling of what she’s talking about in this book. Yet, she encourages you to do even more of just that. And if you haven’t experienced it, she makes the strong case for beginning. Being kind but fierce and living our truth are points she really hammers home but she has such a inviting way of phrasing that you’ll be thoroughly convinced and ready to give it a go. I may have teared up at the line “No one belongs here more than you.”

Who it’s great for: Anyone who needs a pick me up or a reminder that you are great the way you are. People who feel we’re too divided and want to find our way back together.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

White Working Class by Joan C. Williams

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A very astute explanation of the reasons for the class divide among white voters in America and how it can be bridged.

What made me pick it up: I had read White Trash and was intrigued by this one which seemed to be similar in theme, if not scope.

My favorite things: I appreciated Williams even-handed explanation of this divide and very easy to understand explanations of how and why the White Working Class votes. As someone who grew up smack in the middle of a WWC area I saw firsthand a lot of these beliefs and behaviors demonstrated both pre- and post-election in 2016. For those without a thorough upbringing or understanding of these folks this is a great read. More than anything I identify strongly with her plea that we pursue social and economic opportunity for all — which will work to alleviate issues besides class problems, like sexism and racism (to a point).

Who it’s great for: Readers looking to understand working class Americans and why their actions don’t always mesh with their interests. Anyone who needs a reminder that we’re all in this together, or at least we should be. You. READ IT.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon.


 

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

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Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: Think Winter’s Bone meets a politician’s pre-campaign book release and that’s pretty much what you’ve got.

What made me pick it up: Let me start by saying that I’m not from Appalachia, but I grew up in a much more economically stable (read: college town) community nearby. Growing up I was acutely aware that there was a sharp economic and cultural divide between families associated with the university and those from working-class backgrounds that had been around for generations. That is to say that I am not from the community Vance is discussing, but I have lived most of my life in close proximity to another part of Appalachia and have been consistently disappointed with the way it is represented and talked down to by people who want to ‘save’ it. When I saw the rave reviews for Hillbilly Elegy I was excited to read a voice from within Appalachia speaking about it.

My favorite things: Okaaaay. I did not love this book. I probably should have read reviews a bit more closely, but I wasn’t prepared for this book to be quite so politically charged as it is. Maybe I read it this way because I am inclined to disagree with nearly all of his conclusions, but it seems to me that Vance has incredibly little compassion for the members of a community he professes to love. Vance spends the first chunk of the book singing the praises of his hillbilly Mamaw and Papaw and then subtly, and perhaps not intentionally, turns toward a much more critical discussion of the challenges faced by these communities. What I am struggling with the most is that this book is being read and celebrated as universally true for people from Appalachian communities when it is definitely not. Vance’s Appalachia is comprised of people who would rather talk about working hard than actually work hard, suffer addiction due to poor choices, and are – apparently – all white.

Abby recommends: Look, everybody seems to be reading this book right now and many are taking it as a universal truth for Appalachian life and poverty. So, definitely read this, but then read bell hooks’ poetry in Appalachian Elegy.


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

The Universe in Your Hand by Christophe Galfard

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Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: Galfard, protégé to renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, takes readers on a journey through space to broaden their understanding.

What made me pick it up: I saw my coworker checking out the audio CDs from the library and I loved the font on the cover and then I saw the word universe and got my Google on. Another book about astrophysics? Yes please!

My favorite part: Galfard brings together imagination and analogy to help readers visualize complex astrophysical concepts. It also contains a fair bit of humor. I just love all the different books about these concepts and gobble them up. This one definitely had me texting friends things like “part of space is opaque” when I read interesting new tidbits. I still can’t totally explain string theory to dinner party guests but this book was fun and I’m recommending it to everyone.

Who it’s great for: Space nerds. Science geeks. People like me who have wandered into an astrophysics book bunny trail and want to keep going.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon (affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

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Originally published in: 1988

What it’s about: A young man discovers his life’s purpose and heads out on an adventure to locate the treasure it promises him.

What made me pick it up: One of my friends said it was her favorite book ever so I figured I should check it out. Turns out it is also conveniently short.

My favorite things: If you are into semi-mystical, quasi-spiritual books similar to The Little Prince or The Prophet, then this is right up your alley. It follows a traveler on a journey while dropping big metaphysical ideas into the text about love and life and the soul. It had me in tears in parts because I enjoy reading about characters who figure out the secret to life and what their outcomes are. I also enjoyed the message of how long it might take and how hard you might have to work to reach such treasure.

Who it’s great for: Readers looking for a brief adventure. Anyone who wants to take a spiritual journey.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Get this book on Amazon or at your local library.


 

The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin

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Originally published in: 2012

What it’s about: A group of 50 African-American soldiers who were tried for mutiny for refusing to work in unsafe conditions in the Navy during WWII after a catastrophic explosion and how it led to the desegregation of all military forces for the US.

What made me pick it up: It was part of a Stand Strong & Stand Together collection of Overdrive titles the library offered in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy and it was short.

My favorite things: This story was so well told. I am really into learning more of the stories I never learned in school about civil rights heroes and this is one. These men stood up for better treatment for people of other races and prevailed. Not without hardship or penalty and despite threat of death. It tells an important story that your small, personal decisions can benefit larger groups and have lasting positive repercussions.

Who it’s great for: History buffs. Civil rights students. Readers looking for diverse books.

Erica’s rating: five-shells


Find this book on Amazon(affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

The Death and the Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: The Great Lakes and how important they are to the world and how poorly we’re treating them.

What made me pick it up: I grew up on the southern shore of Lake Ontario and spent my summers swimming in its waters. I know the vital connection between the land and the people and the water so I get really worked up whenever I find out that something catastrophic has happened to them or is about to due to government or personal negligence. The imminent threat of Asian carp invasion is just the latest, scary possibility that could’ve been prevented. *sigh*

My favorite things: This book is so informative. It details the history of mistreatment of the waterway as well as all the man-made changes which have led to the problems faced today. Most importantly he even-handedly makes the point that this water is vitally important and we need to care for it and protect it. To do so we can’t let it leave the watershed and we can’t allow massive ecosystem collapsing species like carp to get in. We need to try harder to keep these great bodies of water alive and well for future generations. It will make you sad in parts and furious in parts. Hopefully it will also make you ready to fight for these beautiful lakes.

Who it’s great for: Water babies. Great Lakes lovers. Environmentalists. Anyone interested in future international affairs.

Erica’s rating: four-shells


Find this book on Amazon(affiliate link) or in your local library.


 

Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: An unintimidating guide to getting started with yoga for people of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, and abilities.

What made me pick it up: Stanley is something of an Instagram star, so I was curious to see what she’d have to say to reluctant would-be yogis.

My favorite things: Part guide for the reluctant yogi, part memoir, Stanley openly shares her own complicated history with yoga to make it more accessible to anybody that’s been afraid to try because they don’t think that they will be capable. She’s so inspiring and encouraging that I, who have always had trouble with the quiet and introspective aspects of yoga, found myself anxious to give it another shot. She also includes several sequences for feelings that it’s easy to identify with, such as I Need To Chill the F Out (pg 206) and  I Need to Love Myself (pg 212).

Who it’s great for: Anyone who’s considered practicing yoga but been too intimidated to start.

Abby’s rating: five-shells


Find this book at Amazon or in your local library.