Books On Courage and Conversation for Challenging Times

Happy Monday, friends! Hopefully your weekend was better than the one previous? I don’t know about you, but last week was a total wash for me. I was completely distracted and rendered heartsick by everything happening in the news. One of my most nagging pain points was my sense of paralysis: I want desperately to contribute positively in some way to the crisis facing our country, but I’m unsure of exactly how to do that—and I don’t want to act simply for the sake of action, only to add frivolously to the noise. I worry I don’t understand enough of the big picture and its many nuanced components to say and do the “right” thing.

And so, while reading isn’t stepping into action per se, becoming more broadly informed on the issues at hand can bolster our confidence and our ability to choose the healthiest, most effective course for ourselves and our communities. Inroads to understanding come from all directions: historical reportage that details how we’ve arrived in the current political landscape, personal memoirs that give us glimpses into lives completely unlike our own, practical roadmaps that help us navigate the uncomfortable conversations we can no longer avoid, vivid fictional tales that bring to life how far we have come (and that inspire us to keep going), and heart-driven advice that encourages us to care for ourselves so we can then care for everyone around us. Here’s just a few titles that fit the bill; please let me know of others you’d include on the list!

1. The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage: At the top of my reading list is this deep dive into the origins and evolution of the anger that characterized the 2016 election—and that continues to boil over today.

2. Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age: Remember when you used to pick up the phone instead of sending it to voicemail? No, me neither, so I’m delving into this MIT researcher’s findings on how our recently acquired digital habits are impacting our relationships—and what we should do about it.

3. Beneath a Scarlet Sky: Not much has been written about the Italian resistance to the Nazi regime; this novel changes that with its tale of the real-life heroism of a Milanese teen who guides Jewish refugees over the Alps into Switzerland (then joins the German army as a spy!)

4. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture In Crisis: Think of this less as a political statement and more as a testament to the power of an individual’s experience, authentically and courageously revealed, to render invisible the lines that would divide us.

5. The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You’re Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate: Harriet Lerner is one of my go-to’s for advice on interpersonal relations, and this book is like an indispensable guide for hearing and being heard, knowing and being known.

6. When Things Fall Apart: This slim collection of essays has seen me through a lot. First released over 20 years ago, it offers timeless wisdom on how to handle difficult emotions, experiences, and interactions with a mindful and loving approach.

7. The Underground Railroad: If you haven’t yet read Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning story of a young woman’s escape from slavery, then get on it STAT. You’re in for a gripping and unforgettable journey!

8. Rabbit: The Autobiography of Ms. Pat: Pre-order this much-anticipated memoir, which tells the story of the author’s heartbreakingly resourceful childhood in 1980’s Atlanta.

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