It is a new year! Decorations have been stowed away, stray needles tidied up, empty chocolate boxes have been thrown in the blue box, and New Year’s Resolutions are still fresh in our minds.
I have never been one for New Year’s resolutions (in our family, my brother always made the resolution to not eat haggis that year- it was an easily kept one!)It may be because they often feel sort of empty or overwhelming (lose weight, work out more, be more organised). But what if we focused on resolutions that helped those around us, either directly, or by helping us to be healthier and kinder people and therefore making our communities healthier places to be?
It is pretty well understood that grateful people are often healthier people. In Thanks a Thousand, New York Times bestselling author A.J. Jacobs takes on a journey in which he endeavors to thank every single person involved in producing his morning cup of coffee. The resulting journey takes him across the globe, transforms his life, and reveals secrets about how gratitude can make us all happier, more generous, and more connected. And by the end, it’s clear to him that scientific research on gratitude is true. Gratitude’s benefits are legion: it improves compassion, heals your body, and helps battle depression. Along the way, Jacobs provides wonderful insights and useful tips, from how to focus on the hundreds of things that go right every day instead of the few that go wrong. And how our culture overemphasizes the individual over the team. And how to practice the art of “savoring meditation” and fall asleep at night. Thanks a Thousand is a reminder of the amazing interconnectedness of our world. It shows us how much we take for granted. It teaches us how gratitude can make our lives happier, kinder, and more impactful.
For a book lover, starting the year off with some book lists/challenges is pretty common (and exciting!). In Books for Living, Will Schwalbe presents us with a book about books. “I’ve always believed that everything you need to know you can find in a book,” writes Will Schwalbe in his introduction to this thought-provoking, heart-felt, and often inspiring new book about books. In each chapter he makes clear the ways in which a particular book has helped to shape how he leads his own life and the ways in which it might help to shape ours. He talks about what brought him to each book–or vice versa; the people in his life he associates each book with; how each has led him to other books; how each is part of his understanding of himself in the world. And he relates each book to a question of our daily lives, for example: Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener speaks to quitting; 1984 to disconnecting from our electronics; James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room to the power of connecting with people face to face; Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea to taking time to recharge; Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird to being sensitive to the surrounding world; The Little Prince to finding friends; Elie Wiesel’s Night to choosing to do something in the face of injustice; Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train to trusting. Here, too, are books by Dickens, Daphne Du Maurier, Murakami, Edna Lewis, E.B. White, and Hanya Yanagihara, among many others. A treasure of a book for everyone who loves books, loves reading, and loves to hear the answer to the question: “What have you been reading lately?”
Thinking about consumerism seems like a pretty natural thing coming out of the holiday season. We are bombarded on all sides by ‘holiday shopping’- in our inboxes, on the radio, tv etc. Giving gifts to the ones we love can be a natural outpouring of that love, but most of us will feel that tug, or bad aftertaste of consumer culture at some point. And it is a complex topic that can feel overwhelming at times.
In The Hidden Door : Mindful Sufficiency as an Alternative to Extinction, author Mark Burch gives us hope that what we do matters to our communities and to our collective future. Many people sense that consumer culture is dragging us toward extinction. We feel trapped in a cell of our own making. If humanity is to have any sort of future worth living in, we must discover an exit from our confinement. There is a door, hidden in plain sight. What sort of culture might appear if we took seriously the essential values and principles that form the deep structure of voluntary simplicity and used them to inform a new perspective of the good life? Might we discover an exit from the confining cell of consumer culture? Can we find the passage leading beyond individual lifestyle choice to cultural renaissance? This book aims to help seed this renaissance by widening the conversation about how we transition from the road to extinction to a path with heart that has a future.
When asked simple questions about global trends–what percentage of the world’s population live in poverty; why the world’s population is increasing; how many girls finish school–we systematically get the answers wrong. So wrong that a chimpanzee choosing answers at random will consistently outguess teachers, journalists, Nobel laureates, and investment bankers.
In Factfulness, Professor of International Health and global TED phenomenon Hans Rosling, together with his two long-time collaborators, Anna and Ola, offers a radical new explanation of why this happens . They reveal the ten instincts that distort our perspective–from our tendency to divide the world into two camps (usually some version of us and them) to the way we consume media (where fear rules) to how we perceive progress (believing that most things are getting worse).
Our problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know, and even our guesses are informed by unconscious and predictable biases.
It turns out that the world, for all its imperfections, is in a much better state than we might think. That doesn’t mean there aren’t real concerns. But when we worry about everything all the time instead of embracing a worldview based on facts, we can lose our ability to focus on the things that threaten us most.
Inspiring and revelatory, filled with lively anecdotes and moving stories, Factfulness is an urgent and essential book that will change the way you see the world and empower you to respond to the crises and opportunities of the future.
I was tidying in the picture book room at our branch when I happened upon this gem of a board book. Counting on Community is author Innosanto Nagara’s follow-up to his ABC book, A is for Activist. It is never too early to begin reading to your child, and in that vein, I think we can say that it is never too early to teach them the value of community. Counting up from one stuffed piñata to ten hefty hens–and always counting on each other–children are encouraged to recognize the value of their community, the joys inherent in healthy eco-friendly activities, and the agency they posses to make change.
What books are inspiring you on these long, thoughtful winter days?