Education Nonfiction Reading

Books I Read in 2018.

I know this post is late (i.e., “These are the things I did in 2018” posts usually appear in December), but perhaps some of the books I read in 2018 will make it onto your reading list for 2019.

Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation. I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up this book. Because the authors are people of color, they bring a different perspective to Buddhist thought and practice. In some ways, this was a refreshing change from much of published the Buddhist literature (i.e., written by white authors, or written by Asian authors who seem to have a white audience in mind). The authors also share personal anecdotes about their journey in Buddhism that may resonate with readers of color.

The Nonviolence Handbook: A Guide for Practical Action. This was the most compelling book I read in 2018. This slim book offers both concrete suggestions about how to practice nonviolence in daily living and how individuals (often Gandhi) applied nonviolence principles in history. I found this book inspiring, challenging, and meaningful. It also reminded me that I should not take cooperation for granted.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century. This book is definitely a “handbook”: It is small and to the point. The table of contents alone provide useful guidance on what we all can do every single day to support our democratic society. I appreciated that the book does not rely on fear alone; it empowers the reader to take action in the face of uncertainty.

Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. This book pairs well with the next book (Hillbilly Elegy). Obama’s writing reveals a thoughtful and idealistic perspective. He wrote this years before he served as President and I found myself recognizing elements of his character as President in this book. It is a story of a man trying to learn about himself and his beliefs in a world that passes judgment on him because of his heritage and skin color. It also highlights the importance of his relationship with his mother.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. I read this after Dreams from My Father and, in many ways, I felt like I was reading the same tale with different details. Vance also tells the story of his efforts to learn about himself and his beliefs in a world that passes judgment on him because of where he was born and raised. Vance, too, highlights the importance of his relationship with his grandmother. Because Vance and Obama have different political ideologies, these two books show how, despite our beliefs, we share more in common than we allow ourselves to believe.

Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness. I picked up this book with hopes of learning more about how to find or create silence in a world that seems full of sonic garbage. This was the most “woo woo” book I read all year. I often wrote question marks in the margins. I intend to re-read this book at some point; I may always find it esoteric. I found the ideas of different silences (e.g., the silence within our hearts versus the “big” silence of the universe; how silence is always with us) useful for my own application.

The Girl on the Train. I rarely read fiction, so this was a treat. I picked this up on a public bookshelf for airplane reading. The story was engrossing, though I couldn’t help but think about the lack of coping skills the characters demonstrated. I also discerned the identity of the villain early on, so the “twist” not surprise me. The book nonetheless makes for fine brain candy.

Falling Leaves: The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter. This book was also a selection for airplane reading. The intercultural issues of the memoir are familiar to me and the storytelling is satisfactory. This memoir seemed to lack the depth of self-reflection as seen in the Obama and Vance memoirs. I wanted to learn more about how she grew and understood herself as an individual as a result of her experiences with her stepmother.

Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise. This was yet another effort to apply more silence in my life. This text is similar to other works by Thich Nhat Hanh, though does comment more on cultivating silence within (which, in some ways, paired nicely with the Sardello book above on silence). Did I learn anything new? No. Did it nonetheless bring me comfort? Yes. This book was another reminder to me that we often have to generate our own silence, particularly when there is a lot of noise “outside” that we cannot control.

Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others. I read this in anticipation of a talk from the author, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. Many of the examples in her book come from her previous clinical work in Seattle, so the book felt particularly familiar. The book offers validation to all of us who work in clinical settings. I was hoping for more commentary on how we can adjust or shift systems to better support people who work in human services; the book focuses chiefly on what the individual can do. I also hoped that the book would offer a more evidence-based framework for these individual interventions, though also appreciate that there are spiritual aspects of trauma work that are difficult to measure. Laura is a compelling and energetic speaker. You can watch her TED talk.

Extreme Government Makeover: Increasing Our Capacity to Do More Good. I received this book from a colleague, who received it from the author for free! (My colleague and I both work in local government and when she asked him if he could provide the books at a discount for the staff, he sent a stack of books to us at no charge.) The major premise of the book is the reduction of waste: Reducing the amount of time between tasks (much of which is waiting, with no action happening); eliminating bottlenecks (e.g., where only one person is the “decider”); and minimizing processes that only serve to prevent lawsuits. I suspect that selection bias is at play, though: The people who choose to read this book are probably already aware of how to make things more efficient.

Here are all the books I started in 2018, but did not finish:

A People’s History of the United States. I’m actually over halfway through this book. I found myself getting angry while reading it, though, given the current context of the federal administration in the United States. Some of the events described in the book were similar to the ideas coming out of the current White House. I like reading and don’t need to experience more anger than necessary. I do want to finish this book, just not now.

The Making of Asian America: A History. I found myself getting angry while reading this one, too, so I put this one down. I like that the author discusses the experiences and events of different Asian groups, as, indeed, Asians are not all the same. I will get back to this one, too.

The Art of Memoir. I want to write a book, and that book is a memoir. Writing is already difficult, but the writing for this memoir presents particular challenges. I hope to learn from the mistakes and experiences of others. However, reading about memoir writing takes time away from actual memoir writing. Sometimes we fool ourselves into thinking we need to learn from others when, in fact, we just need to do the work.

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are. I had never read a book by Brene Brown, though I enjoyed listening to Krista Tippett interview her on the podcast On Being. The book is like a personal cheerleader, which is fine, though that’s not what I needed or wanted.

Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction. I enjoy reading good sentences. I continue to strive to craft clear, meaningful sentences because I want to write stellar stories. As I noted above, though, sometimes we just need to do the work.

Chinese Culture and Mental Health. While Western psychiatry is getting better at acknowledging the role of culture in the manifestation of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, it still ain’t great. This book is an academic textbook, so while it is informative, it isn’t the most exciting reading. I will finish this one, too, though it may take a while.

How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business. I picked this up primarily to help me think about my clinical and administrative work in a different way. I have already learned interesting perspectives about measuring seemingly immeasurable things in the first quarter of the book. This book requires a level of concentration that I often did not have by the end of the day. This is a book I want to finish, but it will take time.

If you want to share with me what books have changed your life for the better or made you think about the world in a different way, let me know (e-mail, Twitter, Facebook).