Nonfiction Poll

Good morning, readers!

Just a couple of quick things that I hope you read before skipping to the poll.

We are reading nonfiction next, and I personally think we have a lot of really great options from which to choose. As always, thank you so much to those who submitted recommendations. 💙

We meet tomorrow evening to discuss The Wandering Inn. I hope that everyone who wanted to read it had the time to do so. I know many people have already read it prior to it being chosen, but I’d like to remind you to please in future respond when/if you are able when I ask about there being enough time. I can’t keep track of who has read what, so any input (even if just to say that you’ve already read it and I should really know that by now) is really helpful. I don’t know whether a lack of response is because you think I know something or because you forgot to respond/didn’t see the question. 🙂

Our nonfiction meetings will take place on September 3 and 17. I’ll probably close the poll some time on Sunday, but I’ll let you know beforehand.

By popular request and due to the overwhelming love for the first book, we will also be meeting some time in September to discuss all five of the Dungeon Crawler Carl books. Based on your responses and people’s schedules, I think it makes the most sense to do it on Sunday, September 18. Let me know if this doesn’t work for anyone for any reason; I’m more than happy to change it. I know this is a lot of books to read over the next month.

Finally, we are going to seriously try to have regular writing meetings for those who wish to participate. These will take place on Teamtalk on Saturdays at 4:00 pm eastern. If you would like to be added to the associated Telegram group and Dropbox folder, please let me know. We will be doing one this weekend.

And here are your book options! You may vote for two.

Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power, it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.

Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”

Notable Review by Theresa Alan

I found this illuminating and thought-provoking in a way I wasn’t expecting. In this nonfiction book, Brown examines 87 emotions that define us as a human. For example, she has some interesting thoughts on perfectionism. “Perfectionism is not striving to be our best or working toward excellence. Healthy striving is internally driven. Perfectionism is externally driven by a simple but potentially all-consuming question: What will people think? . . . Perfectionism kills curiosity by telling us we have to know everything or we risk looking ‘less than.’”

I’ve spent my entire life thinking that empathy was doing my best to see things from another person’s perspective, the walk a mile in another person’s shoe definition. In Atlas, Brown says, “Rather than walking in your shoes, I need to learn how to listen to the story you tell about what it’s like in your shoes and believe you even when it doesn’t match my experiences.”

On loneliness: “When we feel isolated, disconnected, and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. In that mode, we want to connect, but our brain is attempting to override connection with self-protection. That mean less empathy, more defensiveness, more numbing, and less sleeping. Unchecked loneliness fuels continued loneliness by keeping us afraid to reach out.”

This has suggestions for ways to better communicate with others and be gentle toward ourselves. It helped me think of things I thought I knew in a new way.

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, host of the podcast Revisionist History and author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Outliers, offers a powerful examination of our interactions with strangers — and why they often go wrong.

How did Fidel Castro fool the CIA for a generation? Why did Neville Chamberlain think he could trust Adolf Hitler? Why are campus sexual assaults on the rise? Do television sitcoms teach us something about the way we relate to each other that isn’t true?

While tackling these questions, Malcolm Gladwell was not solely writing a book for the page. He was also producing for the ear. In the audiobook version of Talking to Strangers, you’ll hear the voices of people he interviewed–scientists, criminologists, military psychologists. Court transcripts are brought to life with re-enactments. You actually hear the contentious arrest of Sandra Bland by the side of the road in Texas. As Gladwell revisits the deceptions of Bernie Madoff, the trial of Amanda Knox, and the suicide of Sylvia Plath, you hear directly from many of the players in these real-life tragedies. There’s even a theme song – Janelle Monae’s “Hell You Talmbout.”

Something is very wrong, Gladwell argues, with the tools and strategies we use to make sense of people we don’t know. And because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, we are inviting conflict and misunderstanding in ways that have a profound effect on our lives and our world.

Notable Review by Mimi

As I sat at the airport, head deep in a book, I suddenly heard, “Hi!” What? To my left stood a handsome man. “I just thought I should say hi since I see you’re reading Talking to Strangers.”

I too thought Malcolm Gladwell’s new book was going to teach me how to literally talk with people I don’t know, but as always he turns all my assumptions on their head with this book. If that’s what the book was about, that stranger and I might be on a date by now.

If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy… We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues.

At the 2019 book conference BookExpo America, Malcolm pointed out that the problems exemplified by the death of Sandra Bland, a black woman arrested by a white policeman, are everywhere, not just in the darkest areas of America. It lies not only with these individuals but within each of us.

In his book, he takes huge scandals (and who doesn’t love to read about a scandal?), reaches deep inside like you would your skinniest jeans and then pulls them inside out. Except that when he does this, you suddenly realize your jeans had actually been inside out before. It is mind bending, which means that you have to follow along to at least page 54 before you start to understand where Malcolm is going. You will either find this too convoluted to keep going at some point or you will read it all in one sitting, as I did flying from NY to CA. My one frustration with this book is that at the very end Malcolm spends only 2 pages (2!) saying what we should do about all he just taught us. After speeding through the book, that feels like an abrupt stop. On the other hand, I can’t stop thinking about what he reveals along the way. I can’t unsee what he has shown me and now my framework of looking at the world is different. And isn’t that the mission of any good book?

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb

From a New York Times best-selling author, psychotherapist, and national advice columnist, a hilarious, thought-provoking, and surprising new book that takes us behind the scenes of a therapist’s world — where her patients are looking for answers (and so is she).

One day, Lori Gottlieb is a therapist who helps patients in her Los Angeles practice. The next, a crisis causes her world to come crashing down. Enter Wendell, the quirky but seasoned therapist in whose office she suddenly lands. With his balding head, cardigan, and khakis, he seems to have come straight from Therapist Central Casting. Yet he will turn out to be anything but.

As Gottlieb explores the inner chambers of her patients’ lives — a self-absorbed Hollywood producer, a young newlywed diagnosed with a terminal illness, a senior citizen threatening to end her life on her birthday if nothing gets better, and a twenty-something who can’t stop hooking up with the wrong guys — she finds that the questions they are struggling with are the very ones she is now bringing to Wendell.

With startling wisdom and humor, Gottlieb invites us into her world as both clinician and patient, examining the truths and fictions we tell ourselves and others as we teeter on the tightrope between love and desire, meaning and mortality, guilt and redemption, terror and courage, hope and change.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is revolutionary in its candor, offering a deeply personal yet universal tour of our hearts and minds and providing the rarest of gifts: a boldly revealing portrait of what it means to be human, and a disarmingly funny and illuminating account of our own mysterious lives and our power to transform them.

Notable Review by Justin Tate

Face it, we could all use therapy. This memoir pulls back the curtain on the benefits of therapy, the stigmas, our hesitancy to open up about mental health, and also becomes a celebration of life.

The setup is that Lori, a therapist herself, experiences a life-shattering breakup and decides to start therapy mostly for selfish reasons–getting someone to agree that her ex-boyfriend is a jerk. Juxtaposed with that are the stories of Lori’s clients and their growth. While Lori experiences growth, she has an increased understanding of the other side of the sofa, and her own complex emotions.

It’s all a little sappy and a lot awesome. The stories of her clients are funny, heart-breaking, and touch on relatable topics. Some intimately and others in theory. She changes names, of course, but otherwise doesn’t hold back. I suspect consent forms had to be signed because we get to eavesdrop on many unfiltered, deeply personal conversations.

(Side note: if anybody knows the true identity of John, the Hollywood TV writer, please leave a comment. I’m dying to know!)

Honesty and extreme vulnerability is what makes this stand out. For those of us who have never experienced therapy, it’s a great way to understand how it works and how it helps. The book itself is therapy, however. Seeing Lori cry her eyes out on the therapist coach, once even anxious when her therapist is late for a session, is beyond beautiful. We all have baggage, and even mental health experts need support.

Lori only covers the stories of a few individuals, and herself, but their dilemmas are universal enough that reading this book is probably the equivalent of several therapy sessions. Or maybe it’s the gateway you need to actually sign up with an open mind. I’m giving it four stars for now because I do think it’s overlong in places, but I suspect the more I think about it, the more this will round up to a perfect five. Any book that can change my perspective on life, as this one does, deserves top praise.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

A deeply moving and mind-expanding collection of personal essays in the first ever work of non-fiction from #1 internationally bestselling author John Green

The Anthropocene is the current geological age, in which human activity has profoundly shaped the planet and its biodiversity. In this remarkable symphony of essays adapted and expanded from his ground-breaking, critically acclaimed podcast, John Green reviews different facets of the human-centered planet – from the QWERTY keyboard and Halley’s Comet to Penguins of Madagascar – on a five-star scale.

Complex and rich with detail, the Anthropocene’s reviews have been praised as ‘observations that double as exercises in memoiristic empathy’, with over 10 million lifetime downloads. John Green’s gift for storytelling shines throughout this artfully curated collection about the shared human experience; it includes beloved essays along with six all-new pieces exclusive to the book.

Notable Review by Mari

I am not super familiar with the podcast of the same name, but still, I knew that I was predisposed to love this. And love this I did.

This is perfectly what I enjoy in a collection of essays: each essay well crafted, but all tied together by a strong central theme. Green writes with the flair of a seasoned storyteller so that I can imagine even readers who are not usually fond of or used to non-fiction would find it easy to sink into The Anthropocene Reviewed. These are stories, after all, told accessibly, in beautiful language, and by a keen observer.

In his postscript, Green reflects on the contradictions of the human experience, the wonder of it all alongside the misery of it all. Throughout this work, Green captures those contractions well. He flawlessly ties together bits of human history and invention with personal stories, presenting both with equal skill. The macro parts of the story are clear, concise and well presented. The micro parts are vulnerable and full of emotion. I found myself also experiencing the highs and lows alongside the author. It was particularly emotional hearing Green muse on his own writing, on the pandemic, and on his relationship with his family, themes that appear throughout. Also layered throughout is a love of art and literature. At the end, Green wonders if his work is too full of quotes, as he is too full of quotes, but any other readers also full of quotes will find it a joy.

I finished the book and wanted immediately to listen again. To slowly go back through and pick out those quotes, to do a few deep Google searches into Monopoly or geese or the QWERTY keyboard. To experience again the coziness of someone telling me an interesting story, about himself, but also about myself, and also about us all.

I give The Anthropocene Reviewed 5 out of 5 stars.

Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century by Alice Wong

One in five people in the United States lives with a disability. Some disabilities are visible, others less apparent—but all are underrepresented in media and popular culture. Now, just in time for the thirtieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, activist Alice Wong brings together this urgent, galvanizing collection of contemporary essays by disabled people.

From Harriet McBryde Johnson’s account of her debate with Peter Singer over her own personhood to original pieces by authors like Keah Brown and Haben Girma; from blog posts, manifestos, and eulogies to Congressional testimonies, and beyond: this anthology gives a glimpse into the rich complexity of the disabled experience, highlighting the passions, talents, and everyday lives of this community. It invites readers to question their own understandings. It celebrates and documents disability culture in the now. It looks to the future and the past with hope and love.

Notable Review by Richard Propes

In a world where the disabled voice is often viewed through the lens of what disability rights activist Stella Young coined as “inspiration porn” or with the rah-rah sympathies of the latest Lifetime Channel movie, a book like “Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century” is an act of revolutionary love and claiming of space.

There is no “Chicken Soup for the Soul” to be found here. In its place, you find #CripLit at its finest – bold and brash, heartfelt and passionate, and incredibly well-informed essays and reflections on the vast diversity of the disability experience as told by a relatively small smattering of the leading disability voices in the 21st century.

Trust me, there are more. Lots more. However, “Disability Visibility” editor Alice Wong has chosen her subjects well in representing the remarkable love and chaos of the disability experience. The writers themselves, representing a broad spectrum of disabilities both visible and invisible, have written with tremendous authenticity, remarkable transparency, and a vulnerability that frequently had me in tears throughout this rewarding collection.

Being released just in time for the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), “Disability Visibility” doesn’t mute the harshness of the disability experience. Indeed, many of the essays in the collection begin with content warnings regarding the subject matter about to be discussed – “Disability Visibility” is relentless and fierce in its commitment to an honest portrayal of the disability experience.

It begins with Wong’s own introduction to the collection, an introduction birthed out of Wong’s own life experiences and her own work with the Disability Visibility Project, a collaboration with StoryCorps, that serves as the framework for this collection.

It would be unjust to describe the essays in “Disability Visibility” with any detail, though some highlights include Harriet McBryde Johnson’s riveting and squirm-inducing account of her debate with Princeton University philosopher Peter Singer, an animal rights activist who doesn’t possess the same kind of regard for the lives of persons with disabilities. Upcoming authors Keah Brown and Haben Girma share involving original pieces, while some of my own favorites included s.e. smith’s essays on crip space, Jamison Hill’s poignant and beautiful “Love Means Never Having to Say…Anything,” Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “Still Dreaming Wild Disability Justice Dreams at the End of the World,” the intelligent and angry Harriet Tubman Collective’s “Disability Solidarity,” Britney Wilson’s disturbing essay on NYC’s Paratransit program, and Mari Ramsawakh’s “Incontinence Is a Public Health Issue And We Need To Talk About It,” the latter being an essay that truly connected with pieces of my own disability experience as a 54-year-old writer, creator, and film journalist who is also a paraplegic/double amputee with spina bifida.

There were more essays that I loved, truly loved. There were essays that flew over my head including Jillian Weise’s “Common Cyborg.” I felt like I wanted to find Wong or Weise on social media and say “Explain this to me, because I have the feeling it’s brilliant and I just don’t quite get it.”

The truth is that I’d be hard-pressed to cite a single weak essay. These essays are revolutionary proclamations of the incredible richness and complexity of the disability experience. While there is much pain and anger within the pages of “Disability Visibility,” it is also filled with much love and hope and wonder. As Neil Marcus so beautifully stated “Disability is not a brave struggle or “courage in the face of adversity.” Disability is an art. It’s an ingenious way to live.”

That truth, that disability is an ingenious way to live, is brought to life again and again in this groundbreaking collection of first-person stories from the twenty-first century that challenge and confront, claim space and serve as a literary companion of sorts. There’s so many enlightening truths to be explored here, truths that will be easily embraced and understood by those with disabilities and their allies yet truths that also invite readers to challenge their own assumptions and understandings of the disability experience and disability culture.

“Disability Visibility” is a book that illuminates the disability experience with equal parts intelligence and authentic emotional resonance. It’s a book that is, at times, difficult to read yet a book that is necessary to read. It’s a book I will undoubtedly revisit time and again, yet it’s also a book that required I pace myself due to its stark honesty and and the often trauma-tinged stories of individual disability experiences. It’s a book that captures it all and for that I am grateful and for that I highly recommend it.

Vote Here

What shall we read next? (Choose two)

  • The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (33%, 7 Votes)
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell (24%, 5 Votes)
  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb (24%, 5 Votes)
  • Atlas of the Heart: Mapping Meaningful Connection and the Language of Human Experience by Brené Brown (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-first Century by Alice Wong (5%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 11

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