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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What it’s about: A boy who leaves his cramped, chaotic life in NYC to survive in the Catskills.
What made me pick it up: I remember this being my brother’s favorite book when we were little. I was recently talking about it and Hatchet with someone and realized that while I knew the premise and a lot of details, I couldn’t remember reading it myself. So I did.
My favorite parts: Any book that can make me feel like I’m in the middle of the woods surrounded by nothing but nature is pure magic. This not only makes you feel that way but convinces you that you, too, could forage and hunt and trap and fish and live off the land. It will make you feel carefree and hopeful and want to go take a walk in the forest. The ending is bittersweet, but strikes a good balance between the importance of self reliance and the importance of human connection. Also, this takes place in my beloved home state of New York and any reminder of the extensive natural beauty there is welcome.
Who it’s great for: Nature lovers. Adventurers. New Yorkers spread far and wide.
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.
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.
What it’s about: A woman who started a business while still in college and how she learned to be a successful leader through a series of failures.
What made me pick it up: The title.
My favorite parts: I really enjoyed the candor of the author while recounting her less than perfect moments. She was highly relatable and made an entrepreneurial path seem attainable if you were willing to work hard and define your values. I especially was drawn to the concept of company culture and how important it was to know what it was and support it at all costs. More workplaces should follow suit. This is a quick read but enjoyable, almost like sitting down with a friend to hear what she’s up to. If you’re wondering how to be a better leader or work the kinks out of your org pick this up.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who wants to be a better leader or wants to work the kinks out of their business. Readers who want to start a business and need inspiration to get started. Erica’s rating:
What it’s about: A boy who wants to be friends with a girl in his class but is too nervous to talk to her. And his friend, who is a psychic. And the class bully.
What made me pick it up: It beat Long Way Down for the Newbery and WHAT KIND OF BOOK CAN DO THAT? I had to find out.
My favorite parts: This book has four main characters and they are all wonderfully fleshed out. The bully is a cringingly accurate portrayal of fragile mscunlinity and bravado/posturing. The other three are excellent weirdos in their own way learning how to be brave enough to reach out to others in the morass that is middle school. OMG I love this book so much. I love the strength it takes for these characters to step outside their comfort zones and how they are such individuals. Middle school to me felt like the time to blend in and try to be as homogenous as possible. But not for these kids. They have special circumstances that make them unique and it’s wonderful. And I love the tiny fragment of hope the book ends on. You will want to know how the story continues after this heartwarming adventure.
Who it’s great for: Upper elementary and new middle school readers.