As a new year begins, we’re ready to look at things from a fresh perspective. We love these non-fiction and fiction books for their authors’ unique takes on hard topics like aging, love, isolation, grief, privilege, and healing.
You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy
Murphy’s proposition is simple: If you’re feeling isolated, wondering why it’s so hard to make a genuine connection with others, try listening to them. The goal of listening to other people is understanding them, not educating, fixing, or changing their minds. It’s also an important reminder to think about who really listens to you. Eventually, by having the patience to listen to others, you’ll have more meaningful conversations, healthier relationships, and you’ll feel less alone in this increasingly disconnected world.
This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism by Ashton Applewhite
Men and women of all ages will benefit from Applewhite’s proclamation that ageism is a way of thinking that harms us all. Ageism happens when you look at teenagers and think they’re naïve. It happens when you look at the elderly and assume they’re depressed. It happens when you look at yourself and decide that you’re too old for something new. The fact is, none of these things are true. Keep this in mind the next time you’re looking for courage to seize the day.
Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett, Ph.D.
Brackett, founding director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, has devoted his life to helping people understand themselves. This starts with granting permission to feel. Having emotions is inescapably human, and Brackett provides a method for defining and understanding them. Once we do this, we can finally begin to take responsibility for our feelings, handling them instead of being controlled by them. Ultimately, we’ll recognize other people’s feelings, empathy will grow, and our relationships with others will improve.
Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss by Margaret Renkl
Renkl’s essays celebrate the beautiful, wild details of nature that she explored as a child — the bugs and plants and dirt that still cycle through life around her suburban Nashville home. Simultaneously, she shares the story of her aging parents, and her life as their caregiver through the end of their days. She elevates the simple, quiet joys that make life so precious, and she lays bare the grief that comes with loss. “Grief is only love’s own twin,” she concludes, a painfully real and loving way to synthesize two of our most human experiences into one.
Kindness and Wonder: Why Mister Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever by Gavin Edwards
Mister Rogers and his children’s television show was an iconic, heartwarming part of so many of our childhoods. Thanks to Edwards we now have a behind-the-scenes look at the history of the show, and the way that Mr. Rogers’ message of curiosity and acceptance were baked into every episode. Also included, interviews with dozens of people who met Fred Rogers and how he changed them for the better. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to open your heart to others, there’s no better role model.
Saint X by Alexis Schaitkin
Claire never truly knew her older sister Alison, who was mysteriously found dead on a Caribbean island during a fateful family vacation. Now an adult, Claire encounters one of the men accused in Alison’s death and quickly slides into an obsession to find out the truth. Told from alternating perspectives, Saint X challenges readers to think about how privilege and race collide in ways that both obscure and reveal the truth.
This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
Parenting is fraught with doubt. We want our children to grow up to be happy, healthy, and independent. At the same time, we want to protect them from the world that can be indiscriminately cruel. Rosie and Penn grapple with these issues early in their son Claude’s life, a boy who openly identifies as a girl. They love Claude completely, but keep her secret for as long as they can, until they think the world is ready to love her, too. What they learn, however, is that love and acceptance can’t be put on a timeline, and what will save Claude in the end is courage.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
In Powers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, human life mirrors plant life in one basic way: eventual interdependency. Nine lives, over decades, awaken to the truth about the Earth and humans’ misplaced role upon it. Nine people gradually devote their lives to trees with irreversible consequences. Some use art, some use science, some use law, and some use fire, but all of them spend the rest of their days in service to nature and ultimately, each other. If you’ve ever felt insignificant on the face of the Earth, this book will validate that moment of wonder. As one character explains, “This is not our world with trees in it. It’s a world of trees where humans have just arrived.”
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Count Alexander Rostov is under house arrest in Moscow at The Metropol, a luxury hotel brimming with spies, celebrities, intellectuals, and Russian royalty. His only contact with any of this is Nina, a young girl who helps him finally see those who have been always invisible to him — the seamstresses, drivers, and other workers, who are finally grasping for power as the Bolshevik revolution matures. Resigned to a life of isolation in extravagance, Rostov reconsiders the life he has lived and embraces the one that was miraculously spared.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
In the 42 years since it was first published, Ceremony has become a cornerstone in the canon of contemporary Native American fiction. After surviving the battlefields of WWII, Tayo returns to his home on the Laguna Pueblo reservation and suffers through alcoholism along with other veterans. When he meets a medicine man who understands the dangers of the modern world, Tayo receives a ceremony designed to spoil the destructive forces swirling around Pueblo and save his life in the process. This is a tale of loss, regret, and the power of culture to heal.