Thanks a Thousand by A.J. Jacobs

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The author’s efforts to improve his mental health by practicing gratitude, which he does by attempting to personally thank everyone who had a role in providing his daily cup of coffee. All 1000+ of them.

What made me pick it up: Jacobs is one of my favorite authors. As an intermittent gratitude diarist, I was doubly curious.

My favorite parts: I’m a fan of experiential writing, especially if written with humor which Jacobs’ books always are. As much as I enjoyed his gratitude practice and the awkward and heartwarming moments of thanking it generated, the story of how coffee gets to you and all the humans involved in it was even more interesting. Jacobs tackles everything from the farmers who raise and harvest the crop to the barista who serves the cup. It really makes you pause and refocus on the great miracle any modern thing truly is. It may also make you want to take a trip to Colombia, but that’s completely understandable.

Who it’s great for: Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Dopesick by Beth Macy

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The opioid crisis in America, how it started, and why it is only going to get worse.

What made me pick it up: I was having yet another bitch session with a friend about not-even-Appalachia-adjacent author J.D. Vance and how his only solution for the opioid crisis is an offhand “it’s the addict’s own fault” and they should “pull themselves up by the bootstraps”. Then my friend said if I want to read an actual good book about actual Appalachia, I should pick up Dopesick.

My favorite parts: This book is nothing but heartbreaking from start to finish. I cried a LOT. After everything that has been done to Appalachia by Big Coal to then have them taken advantage of by Big Pharma was too much. The reporting here is excellent. The unlayering of the onion is well done by the author and I couldn’t put it down. But what she’s describing is horrific and worsening and its epicenter is just a couple hours from where I live in my beloved adopted state. As someone who was employed in a public library for years as this epidemic built, and saw the adoption of library staff-administered Narcan treatment, I know something needs to change. I have humanities degrees. I should not be the front line against this drug problem. And addicts should not need me to be. What confounded me most was the stubborn adherence to abstinence-only addiction treatment that science says fails with this type of addiction. Other countries know it fails is why there are methadone clinics everywhere else but rarely here. The author doesn’t have a lot of suggestions for battling the drug’s presence, but does have recommendations to be made about treatment. And we should listen. If we do, maybe we can lose fewer lives. This book will leave you feeling grateful for all the recovering addicts you still have in your life and heartbroken for all those lives missing due to heroin. Because we all know at least one.

Who it’s great for: Everyone.

Erica’s rating: five shells

 

The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The author’s refugee experience escaping the Rwandan genocide and the years she spent traveling from one camp to another before immigrating to the US.

What made me pick it up: It was really well reviewed.

My favorite parts: Wamariya escapes at such a young age she almost doesn’t understand death and war and why they are walking and not stopping. She yearns her whole life to go back to her family, as it was, even as she reconnects with them. It is heartbreaking, both reading of the little girl who does not comprehend and as the adult who cannot stop grieving all that is lost. I so admire her indomitable spirit and the unbreakable will of her older sister who helped her survive through multiple countries and camps. Wamariya examines the many ways to move past trauma, especially that caused by civil war and genocide, with no easy answers only her personal truth and what she sees others attempting as well. If you are American you will feel shame for the atrocities we ignored in 1994 and the ongoing ones we continue to ignore worldwide. You will also be immensely grateful for all you have lucked into based on the geography of your birth. Mostly, you will want to help refugees any way you can.

Who it’s great for: Readers who want to learn more about the unending trauma of war.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

There There by Tommy Orange

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about:  An exploration of identity, community, and meaning-making in contemporary Native life. Told through multiple perspectives, there is a focus on what it means to be, as Orange describes, an Urban Indian when the rest of the world believes the American Indian story exists only on reservations and in history books.

What made me pick it up: I read a few promising blurbs. It also has a page count under 300 and my attention span is short right now.

My favorite things: I tend to love stories told from multiple perspectives, and Orange does an incredible job of tying all of his varied characters’ lives together. He also brings in his own identity as an enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma to inform his characters’ experiences.

Who it’s great for:  People interested in contemporary Native American voices and experiences and readers of stories that complicate our understanding of identity and the world.

Abby’s rating: four shells


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


 

Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: Memoirist Corrigan uses anecdotes to impart lessons about hard things she’s learning to say.

What made me pick it up: I had listened to her on Jen Hatmaker’s For The Love podcast, and she was irreverent and funny and I wanted to learn/hear more (since she reads the audio).

My favorite parts: This reminded me strongly of The Bright Hour, if it was instead written by a grieving friend. She tells stories about the most ordinary parts of her life – fights with her spouse, disappointing her parents, reckless youthful activities – and you feel like you are having coffee with your bestie. But that’s the gem that is her writing, these tiny parts of each day and each life make up the beautiful whole. It was a great reminder that we’re all trying and if we aren’t perfectly good that doesn’t make us bad and losing people is hard, full stop. Bonus points: It’s also short and has a great cover.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who likes stories with humor and heart.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Give People Money by Annie Lowrey

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A look at the theoretical and literal outcomes of providing citizens with a universal basic income.

What made me pick it up: You’ve probably heard this come up repeatedly recently. If you’re curious about what it is or how it could work, like me, then pick up this book.

My favorite parts: Lowrey doesn’t shy away from the difficulties we would face implementing this or what caused us to get so  mired in intractable social safety net programs we currently have. She does provide plenty of examples of more functional social programs abroad and how and why we might implement ones like them. Mainly, there’s no way you don’t walk away from this book without seriously reconsidering how your life and the lives of many people would be totally different if no one had to toil for their livelihood. Maybe you have to work some, but you wouldn’t worry that not working would cost you your home, health, or life. It certainly seems worth trying.

Who it’s great for: The curious. The undecided. The staunchly against.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: How an awkward late bloomer overcomes her anxiety. Or at least tries to.

What made me pick it up: If there is one thing I love it’s other people’s late bloomer stories. As someone who feels like they got a late start on this blooming process I like to meet the other members of the club and see the ways in which they blossom.

My favorite parts: Her voice. She’s honest and funny at the same time, which is necessary given she’s talking about some big topics of mental and personal health. Also if you find yourself employing “defensive pessimism” to manage your anxiety you’ll find a kindred spirit in her tiny triumphs, big attempts, and catastrophic outcomes. Life is scary and hard. Let’s employ all our tools so our brains don’t hijack it and make it MUCHWORSE. To see a good example: pick up this book.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to step outside their comfort zone, even vicariously. Anxious ones. Readers who feel like they aren’t yet at peak bloom when the world expects them to be.

Erica’s rating: four shells

 

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay

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Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A (former) doctor in the National Health Service in the UK on why it’s great and why it’s awful and why he eventually had to leave.

What made me pick it up: I love memoirs. I love medicine and all things miscellany about the body. And I enjoy humor writing. This had it all.

My favorite parts: This book is hilarious for the first ¾. Kay tells ghastly stories with heart and levity like you expect he’d do at any party, if he could get out of work in time to attend. Then it reverses completely and the reveal he promised you takes up the next ¼ of the book – why he left. It’s so sincere, and powerful, and profoundly sad you will be in tears. Failed relationships, rocky friendships, low pay, and no breaks bring him to his decision to walk away. Anyone who has ever had a job they invested much of themselves in for a long period of time, trained for, and overspent resources qualifying to do can relate. Now add the horrific pressure to save lives, and the catastrophic realization that sometimes you can’t.

Who it’s great for: Fans of medical memoirs, tv shows, movies/documentaries. Former or current medical professionals or their close relatives.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

 


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


 

Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: How we could all be working a 20 hour week but instead we’re creating even more useless middle manager roles, and also the history of humans and work.

What made me pick it up: It had an intriguing title that seemed like it might be…. uh…. relatable.

My favorite parts: I actually really like the historical lens this book has about how humans have done work throughout history and how we got to this “standard” 40-hour week. Spoiler: it’s a ridiculous social construct we could all agree to change, and boy do I wish we would. I do not have a bullshit job, since mine actually helps people, but like most jobs mine does have bullshit aspects. The author is actually talking about jobs that straight up have no purpose, and sometimes no real tasks, yet we keep creating more of them because of progress and capitalism. Doing nothing is more torturous to humans than extreme manual labor – as he shows. He also examines the concept of being able to monetize time and “own” someone else’s hours per day. It’s a frustrating, pointless, slavery-esque notion that we should seriously re-examine. More than anything this book might make you finally take that leap to be your own boss so you can escape this societal entrapment. Unless you, too, have student loans. *sigh*

Who it’s great for: Working adults. Anyone who wonders if there is a better way.

Erica’s rating: four shells


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


 

She Caused a Riot by Hannah Jewell

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: Women from history that were badass but also often overlooked or forgotten in the male- and white-centric retellings.

What made me pick it up: I love reading compendiums of awesome women.

My favorite parts: This book is hilarious. I highly recommend it on audio — performed expertly by Rachel Beresford. It has just the right level sarcasm for me and a very healthy dose of #yesallmen. If you are in the mood to find some feminist sisters to make you feel like carrying on, pick up this book. I also really enjoyed that it truly was about a bunch of women I’d never heard of, instead of the usual suspects. That made it even more informative and intriguing. Since it’s about history, these stories do not all have happy endings and some unfortunate parallels can be made to the present day. It can be disheartening, but let’s turn it into empowerment instead.

Who it’s great for: Women of all ages. And men, too. Maybe especially men.

Erica’s rating: five shells


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