Still on schedule to finish reading 100 books during this year of travel! Since we’ve been in the states visiting friends and family for a few months, many of these books come from their shelves while we bask in the glow of their sweet hospitality. We’ve even had some chapters and poems read aloud to us in warmly lit, cozy living rooms by friends who are clearly more cultured than us. In short: reading is awesome whether it’s in a comfy bed, on a bus to kill time, or shared with sweet friends. As always, more book suggestions, please!
Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton
What a gift this book is. It’s a bullhorn of truth in a world where we’re so often led astray. Melton is the inspiration behind the blog Momastery and shares the messy and beautiful parts of her life wherever she can. In the beginning of the book, she confides that she got fed up with feeling like the only acceptable answer to the question “how are you?” is fine or good or great and subsequently decided to start getting real with people about the messy, hard things in life. Because as she says, “Life is hard—not because we’re doing it wrong, just because it’s hard.” She swears, loves Jesus but doesn’t much like some Christians, and used to have a drinking problem, so let’s just say I connect with a lot of what she writes. Read this book of short stories and you’ll be happy-sobbing and laughing until there’s laughy tears. It’s a good one, folks.
Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity by Melanie Snyder
Author Melanie Snyder interviews Marie “Grace” Hamilton and the people whose lives she touched through her decades of volunteer work in the Pennsylvania prison system, encouraging inmates and helping them find purpose in their lives. Marie created unique programs built on principles of nonviolence and restorative justice, and brought together prisoners, prison staff, and the community, thus challenging countless people’s expectations of those serving time in prison. After reading a few similar books and working a bit with Black and Pink this summer, my interest and passion for all things restorative justice is at an all time high. I hope I keep coming across stories like this one so I can keep learning how we can continue to fix a very broken, expensive, and failing system.
Beyond Good Intentions: A Journey into the Realities of International Aid by Tori Hogan
This was a great book, not only about the ineffectiveness of the majority of foreign aid, but about alternatives that are gaining prominence and traction. Tori Hogan has been an international aid effectiveness researcher for almost a decade. It didn’t take her long while volunteering in Africa to realize that the system is badly broken. In summary: the whole white-usually-American-savior thing just isn’t working. What does work? Listening to the governing bodies of villages, towns, and countries and creating systems where they are accountable for decisions and change. Hogan’s ultimate epiphany is that you really do need to start small. Can you change the world? Who knows. But you can certainly change someone’s life.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
Erik Larson makes history fun. So so so so fun. In Dead Wake, he compiles everything that is known about the Lusitania’s final transatlantic crossing in 1915 that sparked US involvement in World War I. With this information, he paints a beautiful and harrowing story filled with vivid characters, their dreams, and their relationships – including President Wilson’s love life. Everything he writes is true, salvaged from the wreckage or correspondence. I can’t say I’ve willingly ever read anything about U-boat warfare or the intricacies of how the war began, but this book is a strange joy to read that will send chills up your spine.
The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
I know. A book about checklists and their application in our healthcare system and world. I am still geeking out that this book even exists. And it’s wonderful. Yes, you can’t actually say too much about checklists, but Dr. Gawande shares how he developed a surgical checklist that has saved thousands of lives around the world. He explores the development and application of checklists in other professions such as construction, air travel safety, and venture capitalism. The American healthcare system, he says, is freakishly late to the game. We need more checklists and we need them now. He offers great advice and considerations for anyone thinking about developing a list to solve a problem of their own. Which begs the question: is there a challenge you’re facing at work or at home that might benefit from something as simple and profound as a checklist?
The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) by Seth Godin
Since Nate and I are in a place where we have time and space to evaluate what we loved about our pre-travel life and what we want in years to come, I found this tiny book especially relevant. People don’t often encourage you to quit things, but the fact is, we typically can’t do everything we want. It’s a powerful and personal dynamic shift to be able to say, “Yes, I want to accomplish these 10 things this year. But I’m going to focus on doing these three things really well.” It’s counter-cultural. But it’s better for our souls, relationships, and ultimately our outcomes. Godin presumes you can’t be the best at any one thing unless you push through all the conflict and tension that thing throws at you. That’s The Dip. If you push through at that one thing, which many people don’t, you can end up being among the best.
Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems and Drawings by Shel Silverstein
I found this gem on our cousins’ bookshelf in Philadelphia and read it every night before going to bed. Actually, I stayed up really late reading it as if it were a new Harry Potter book. I just couldn’t put it down. These poems and images that I hadn’t seen since childhood came rushing back to me and I loved it. Reading Shel Silverstein as an adult, I had a whole new appreciation for his talent, wit, creativity, and perspective. As a child, I thought his work was rhyme-y and fun, but decades later I can see that this man had an awful lot of important things to say about the world. I think a few of his books will be staples in our next home.
Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan
This nifty pocket-guide was found on my friend Sara’s bookshelf in Washington, DC and I was glad for the review of Pollan’s In Defense of Food. It’s essentially that book in bulleted rule form; helpful hints to guide you as you peruse the grocery store aisles. As I don’t think the food industry has any plans to stop making things so endlessly confusing for us (Low-fat? Low-carb? High protein? Good fats? Bad fats? What should we eat?), this book gives timeless and insanely simple advice: Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.
Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read by Stanislas Dehaene
It’s a unique experience to read about how your brain reads. Like most books in this group, this was found on a friend’s bookshelf. Possibly thicker than it needs to be, it was an interesting journey into the neuroscience behind how we understand written language and how our ability to do that developed. I found myself curious about the implications of this research for visual languages too, like American Sign Language. My biggest takeaway was what this neuroscientist has learned about literacy development: the “whole-word” teaching method (which I didn’t even know existed) is much less efficient and effective than our phonetic based system. This makes sense. When I encounter a word or name I’m not familiar with, I still sound out the phonemes in my head. Nice to know our approach to reading over the last few decades is still our best guess for literacy. Now if we could only figure out how a phonics based system of teaching best translates for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, we’d really be making some strides.
The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica Turner
I think I have finally lost my interest in self-help books like these. Nothing in The Fringe Hours was a new concept to me. Maybe it would be wildly helpful for a different type of woman, but it seems to be written solely for busy matriarchs with no time management skills. The overall message is: take advantage of the little free time you have by filling it with creative projects that bring you joy (scrapbooking was used as an example just about every time). But I’ve had the absolute privilege of filling my time with jobs and roles that I deeply love. And projects tend to wear me out. So my fringe hours are spent sneaking in some Buffy the Vampire Slayer reruns or maybe a bubble bath, even when I’m not traveling the world. And that’s just the way I like it.