What it’s about: Tyranny and actions you can take to prevent it.
What made me pick it up: I was looking for new downloadable audiobooks and this one was quite short (less than two hours).
My favorite things: Give to charities, join organizations of shared interests, travel, read. This book has many good, and somewhat unexpected, lessons and suggestions on how to keep your country (any country, although specifically aimed at Americans) from devolving into a tyrannical, fascist state. It leans heavily on examples from pre-WWII Europe, especially Nazi Germany, which can be hard to stomach for the simple fact that it feels so familiar and we know how atrocious it ended up being. This is less political than you might expect, but it does spend some time pointing out behaviors in current American leadership that mimic those that led to disastrous consequences in other countries in the past. It’s short enough and generalized enough to make it worth dipping into by readers on both sides of the aisle.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who feels like we are far too polarized for our own good. Fans of history, politics, current affairs, or international relations
What it’s about: A teen sees his older brother shot to death on the basketball court and how he deals with his grief.
What made me pick it up: I’ve read two of Reynolds’ other books and this one was getting really good reviews.
My favorite parts: This novel is in verse, which always amazes me that as much story can be told in few words and some authors need many. The best part for me was the beautiful language the author uses — describing the sidewalk as “the pavement galaxy of bubble gum stars” and so many other great turns of phrase. I also liked the dilemma he gave his character. On the one hand he’d like to avenge his brother’s death, but on the other that would dramatically change his life. I can’t say too much about the premise without giving away the wonderful structure Reynolds used to tell his story, but it invokes the best of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but with a delectably ambiguous ending.
Who it’s great for: Teens, especially urban ones who may have to deal with gangs, violence, and less than stable living conditions in their daily lives. Anyone who has wondered if revenge was worth it.
What it’s about: Baldwin writing a letter to his young nephew, telling him how it is to be a black man in America.
What made me pick it up: Abby mentioned it was very short, and I’d been meaning to read it so I checked it out. We both finished it in one sitting.
My favorite things: This really reminded me of Between the World and Me (as it should, since that is structured similarly and inspired by this) — beautiful writing, and unfortunately timeless observations about the treatment of black people in this country. I wish this weren’t still so resonant, but that is not the case. Baldwin talks about the difficulties of maintaining relationships with people of all colors during the distrust of the black power movement and his hopes for a more equal standing for African Americans in future America. I also learned a fair amount about the Nation of Islam and the empowering effect the Muslim religion had on African Americans in the 60s.
Who it’s great for: Anyone reading voraciously on the themes of racial justice.
What’s it about: A variety of writers reflect on specific lines or verses that they find to be particularly profound or informative and discuss how those lines impact their writing processes or the way they approach writing.
My favorite things: This is such an interesting insight into the minds and processes of so many favorite contemporary authors. I would never have connected some of these writers to the pieces that inspire them. There are more than forty contributing authors and each essay is relatively short, which makes this an easy book to dip in and out of as you need inspiration or have the time to pick it up.
Who it’s great for: WriMos in need of a little inspiration through the second half of NaNoWriMo. Anyone interested in reading about the writing that highly regarded contemporary writers find inspirational and formative.
What it’s about: A sixteen-year-old girl who has extreme anxiety which leads to thought spirals that can only be controlled through compulsive, self-harming actions and how she deals with her mental illness while she continues to also be just a normal teen with crushes on boys, a best friend, and straight As in school.
What made me pick it up: John Green is a phenomenal writer who structures his stories so the blows come at you hard and fast at the end and leave you happy/sad and bawling. He just gets teens and how to write them and when I found out he had incorporated aspects of his struggle with mental health into this book I admired him all the more.
My favorite things: My favorite thing is also the thing I hated the most and what made me keep getting exasperated and putting the book down and walking away. Green writes so honestly and in such a raw way about this character’s experience of thought spirals and the compulsive behaviors they lead to which she feels will help that it was hard to read about her suffering. I needed frequent breaks because staying in the fictional situation for too long made me uncomfortable for her and sad for her and in pain for her. It is masterful, but it may be a trigger to some individuals, and it is certainly overwhelming to read if you have any amount of empathy at all. I like how he portrayed it as a struggle by a normal person who has a normal life and only ever aspires to be her authentic, balanced self able to do normal things. Most of all I was brought to tears by the honest depiction of the process of treating and managing a mental illness and the very hard-earned hope that can come from continuing to try.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who has struggled with or known someone who struggled with mental illness. Readers who need hope.
Pick this up in your local library or get a copy online somewhere like Amazon (affiliate link).
What it’s about: Award-winning surgeon Gawande looks at how medicine approaches death and dying and some new ideas that might provide a more holistic end-of-life experience.
What made me pick it up: I’m curious about medical everything, and already had a place on my death Goodreads shelf to add this. I think anyone who has seen a loved one waste away in a nursing home or hospital has a sense that maybe we aren’t focusing on the right things at the end of life. I really like how much he recognizes the great work of hospice.
My favorite things: I liked how the author recognized that the drive to fix patients comes at the expense of quality of life sometimes in both general medical practice as well as his own professional experience. I also liked his emphasis on how we need to have hard conversations before it’s too late so our wishes can be documented and our loved ones can know what we want. This will make you reconsider how you might want your life to taper and move you to support alternatives in elder care that are just emerging. More than anything it will help you realize that there is more to life than medical sustainability at the end.
Who it’s great for: Adults of any age who are facing or will face end-of-life situations (so, that’s…. let’s see… all of us). It’s never too early to think, plan, and share our wishes.
What’s it about: A little boy facing his fears and jumping off the diving board.
What made me pick it up: It looked summery and fun.
My favorite things: I really like the father-son relationship. The dad is supportive of Jabari’s struggle for independence but lets him know he can take his time getting there. I really liked Jabari’s sense of adventure, even when he was afraid. The realistic depiction of fear was also nice. I liked the message that you can do things you are afraid of and that sometimes that takes more time to warm up to than you might think.
Who it’s great for: Littles trying to be brave. Intrepid swimmers. Young adventurers.
What’s it about: A woman working a soul-sucking job as a programming for a robotics company is gifted a mysterious, and possibly magical, sourdough starter.
What made me pick it up: I adored Sloan’s first book, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, so was delighted to see he had another one coming out. I recommend the audio.
My favorite things: I love how Sloan infuses realistic fiction with tiny fantastical elements that are wonderfully bizarre. I’m so curious where he got the idea for magical sourdough starter. Anyway, this book will have you salivating over the protagonist’s newfound passion for baking delicious bread but also scratching your head while trying to figure out the tiny mysteries. This isn’t as great of a scale as Mr. Penumbra but it is full of zany, enjoyable characters, bits of humor, and low-key high jinks.
Who it’s great for: Readers looking for a bit of magic in their reality. Fans of Sloan. Anyone looking for a tiny adventure.
What it’s about: A little girl named Maple and the namesake tree that is her best friend.
What made me pick it up: I’m a lifelong maple tree and maple syrup fan so when I saw the name of this book I checked it out.
My favorite things: I love the depiction of Maple’s relationship with the tree. How it listens to her and doesn’t mind if she’s too energetic or loud. I really liked how she lays under the tree and watches the leaves rustle. It reminded me of many afternoons spent doing just that when I was little and made me want to go outside and do it again. But most of all I enjoyed the tiny surprise at the end.
Who it’s great for: Tree lovers. Rambunctious little ones and parents of them.
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.