Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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Originally published in: 2015

What’s it about:  The author recounting the horribly debilitating deep depression he unexpectedly sank into in his mid-twenties and the ways he learned to cope with it and eventually, mostly, got better.

What made me pick it up: It was recommended by a blogger on her Instagram.

My favorite things: Haig somehow manages to describe what it feels like inside your head and your body when you are struggling through the heavy darkness that is depression. As someone who has also been nearly lost in the fog before I really appreciated how well articulated this depiction was and the twenty years of distance he needed to be able to write it down. If you’ve never been depressed and have difficulty truly understanding how it could be “that bad”, please pick up this book. He tells what he found helpful for him while emphasizing that mental illness is as individual as we each are, so all treatments should be on the table.

Who it’s great for:  Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four shells


For those who regularly dip into deep depression or are only recently out of one reading this book may be a bit of a trigger. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health concerns please seek help. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. It can sometimes be hard to believe, but the darkness will not last. It does get better.


 

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

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

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).


 

Permission to Screw Up by Kristen Hadeed

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Originally published in: 2017

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: four shells


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


 

You Have the Right to Remain Innocent by James Duane

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Originally published in: 2016

What’s it about: A quick guide to avoiding implicating yourself in criminal activity while talking to the police. Tl;dr don’t talk to the police. No really, don’t.

What made me pick it up: It is very short and the title intrigued me.

My favorite things: Duane tries to balance every critique of police interrogation techniques with positive words about their work. He doesn’t identify the police as a problem, but rather insists that they are very good at finding evidence – even when it implicates innocent people. Duane also offers very specific advice on what you do have to tell the police and when and how to effectively demand to speak with a lawyer.

Who it’s great for:  Anyone curious about what you actually have to tell the police. A good primer for anyone worried about dealing with the police

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


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


 

The Crossroads of Should and Must by Elle Luna

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Art from book discussed. This post contains affiliate links. 

Originally published in: 2015

What it’s about: Why you should follow your passion one tiny step at a time.

What made me pick it up: It was mentioned in When To Jump, which I read recently.

My favorite parts: This is colorful and short and full of inspirational quotes and the tiny push you might need to begin following your calling. You don’t have to quit your job or go on an intense spiritual journey or backpack around Asia for any period of time, unless you feel you really need to. Just get up a few minutes early to paint or write or do whatever it is you feel you need to do. See where it leads. I do appreciate reminders now and then that you can listen to your inner voice and see what it’s telling you without disrupting your entire world. Or maybe it will and that will also be a fun adventure.

Who it’s great for: Anyone wondering if this is it.

Erica’s rating: three shells


Find this book in your local library or on Amazon.