Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris


Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A book about “secular” mindfulness meditation and Harris’s work to share his beloved practice with those that want to try but have many excuses not to.

What made me pick it up: As a newbie mindfulness meditator I am curious about all books mediation-related.

My favorite parts: I like this for the reason laid out in the title – this is for fidgety skeptics. If you’ve tried and immediately not achieved enlightenment so you think you’ve failed – it’s for you. If you’d like to try but “just don’t have the time” – it’s also for you. It’s not mystical in any way but it does make it sound accessible by shouting down your excuses, providing strategies to help, and detailing examples of the ongoing struggles from long-term practitioners. You will want to keep trying because they extol how it has helped them. And if you’ve tried even a little bit you’ll know of what they speak. Meditation helps me be quieter in my mind and reactions and I heartily endorse any book that can bring that peace to others. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Who it’s great for: Anyone interested in meditation.

Erica’s rating: three shells


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


Evicted by Matthew Desmond


Originally published in: 2016

What it’s about: A firsthand account of how eviction exacerbates extreme poverty.

What made me pick it up: Bill Gates said it was one of the best books he read in 2017.

My favorite things: I learned so much about the inequalities in housing, the callousness of slum lords, and the huge impact an eviction can have on all areas of your life. Reading about how owning poor quality inner city apartment buildings is a cash cow whether your tenants stay or leave was disgusting. This book is told in stories, which makes it all the more accessible. Sure a treatise on unfair housing practices would’ve been informative, but it wouldn’t have been this visceral. You will react physically to some of the horrible living situations subjects find themselves in and with horror that we, as a society, do not help them find better. I liked all of the personal stories, even if they were heartbreaking. I appreciate the author’s ability to maintain objectivity, for the most part, but don’t think I have the stomach to do spend years watching these small personal tragedies unfold while only providing a small amount of assistance. Desmond makes a compelling argument, based on extensive research, that we could fund a voucher system that would alleviate this problem and put us on par with many other developed and even developing nations in providing a leg up to our poorest citizens if only we would reallocate some money. In short, BY NOT SPENDING ANYTHING MORE we could fix the horrible, demoralizing situations you will read about in this book. How can we do anything other?

Who it’s great for: Everyone. Especially those interested in poverty and its mysterious persistence in extremely wealthy America.

Erica’s rating: five shells

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


Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

lighter than my shadow

Originally published in: 2013

What’s it about: A personal memoir of surviving and recovering from an eating disorder and abuse.

What made me pick it up: I love graphic memoirs and find they are a great medium for exploring personal traumas

My favorite things: Green is achingly honest and relatable. Her art is both lovely and despondent. She sheds light on the reality that eating disorders are about more than food and that not all are textbook cases.

Who it’s great for:  Readers struggling to understand mental illness in someone they love.

Abby’s rating: five-shells

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


The Nature Fix by Florence Williams


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: How spending as little as 30 minutes a week in nature can help us be happier.

What made me pick it up: I’m a nature girl. I grew up running through orchards and living outside in our yard. My favorite pastimes reinforce what this book tells me is true — nature helps. More of it is better.

My favorite things: I love that she includes the research. I love that there is research that says we need more, not less, exposure to nature and that it can lead to all sorts of health benefits like less depression and ADHD. It might even be equal to or better than meditation! I enjoyed that she tells it as her personal journey to find out what works and why and how to incorporate more of it into her life. It makes me want to add “go for a walk in the trees” to my to do list and “end up somewhere wild” to my travel plans.

Who it’s great for: Nature enthusiasts of all stripes. Tree lovers. Walkers. People who feel a bit off and are looking for a solution.

Erica’s rating: four-and-a-half-shells

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


I Can’t Breathe by Matt Taibbi

i cant breathe

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: The life, death, and legacy of Erica Garner – the man whose death at the hands of the Staten Island police made headlines with the release of a video of his dying words; “I can’t breathe.”

What made me pick it up: I was already thinking about reading this, but I made it my top priority after his daughter, Erica, passed away in late December.

My favorite things: Though at times it feels a bit voyeuristic, Taibbi dives deeply into the lives and histories of numerous people involved in or impacted by Garner’s death. He is very thorough in his reporting in order to paint a more complete picture of exactly how and why Eric Garner dies.

Who it’s great for:  True crime readers. Those interested in the human stories involved in racial profiling, police violence, and systemic discrimination.

Abby’s rating: three-shells

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


The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein

color of law

Originally published in: 2017

What’s it about: A thorough history of the ways in which the government – local, state, and federal -created and has maintained segregated communities in the United States.

What made me pick it up: A colleague read this and recommended it.

My favorite things: Rothstein is incredibly thorough. He delivers a lot of informative content in an accessible way and uses a lot of evidence to back up his claims. There is a FAQ section at the end where he addresses questions that might still linger.

Who it’s great for:  Readers interested in racial justice. Those interested in US history, discrimination, housing law, or civil rights. I’d recommend reading it with Desmond’s Evicted.

Abby’s rating: four shells

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


Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence


Originally published in: 2017

What it’s about: A librarian writes love letters (and some break up ones) to all the books she has loved.

What made me pick it up: List of books, written by a librarian? It was a no-brainer.

My favorite things: This book is hilarious, even if you don’t get all the library work references. But they did make it even more enjoyable for me. I’ve recommended it to all my coworkers and library working friends. It’ll make you remember all those books you love, or at least used to love, and why and maybe reminisce or pick them back up and read them again. While it did remind me a little of other books about books, most notably those by Will Schwalbe, the repeated doses of levity helped this one rise above the rest. She’s not trying to change your life, she’s just someone who wants to talk about the books she loves/hates. So get a glass of wine and enjoy this book chat from your new author bestie.

Who it’s great for: Readers of every variety. Librarians.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Find this book in your local library, or if the holds lists are too long, on Amazon (affiliate link).


Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers by James Gulliver Hancock

artists writers

Originally published in: 2014

What’s it about: A visual biographical encyclopedia of innovative individuals throughout history.

What made me pick it up: I was intrigued when I stumbled across it while browsing an ebook and downloadable audiobook collection curated to inspire writers during NaNoWriMo.

My favorite things: Hancock believes that the objects and people that individuals surround themselves with can be very revealing. He enhances the understanding of notable historical figures by focusing on these aspects of their lives, rather than simply on their achievements. Hancock’s cartoonish drawings are an engaging jumble of small images that help to paint a picture of each subject’s life.

Who it’s great for:  Readers intrigued by the daily lives of famous artists and thinkers. Fans of graphic biographies.

Abby’s rating: three-and-a-half-shells

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


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.


Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

This post contains affiliate links.

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.