January to March Books I Read

This blog post contains notes and reviews of the books I read during January through March 2021.

Quiet

By Susan Cain

Quiet is a non-fiction book about introversion in an extroverted world (or society). In Quiet, Cain offers an explanation for culture’s obsession with extroversion. She debunks the idea that extroverted people make better leaders than introverts, citing sociological studies. One of these studies by Adam Grant posed the following: “extroverted leaders enhance group performance when employees are passive… introverted leaders are more effective with proactive employees.” Later in her chapter “When Collaboration Kills Creativity”, she says “we should actively seek out symbiotic introvert-extrovert relationships, in which leadership and other tasks are divided according to people’s natural strengths and temperaments.” So then, rather than trying to make natural introverts something they’re not, why not instead look at the strengths of introversion, and those talents of introverted individuals? 

Cain goes into the biology of introversion too – “serotonin-transporter (SERT) gene… helps to regulate the processing of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. A particular variation, or allele, of this gene, sometimes referred to as the “short” allele, is thought o be associated with high reactivity and introversion, as well as a heightening risk of depression in humans who have had difficult lives.” She also goes in the nurture side of things too but doesn’t skimp on the positive traits of introverts (those that are often disregarded because we’re so fixated on the loudest, most extroverted displays). 

This book is a treasure for introverts and offers deep understanding and validation. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

The Drama of the Gifted Child

By Alice Miller

The Drama of the Gifted Child is a non-fiction self-help work about living after an abusive childhood. First of all, this book is difficult to get through as it offers a handful of horrifying anecdotal stories. Get through those (they’re sprinkled throughout) and you can glean some very useful and validating information about healing from an abusive childhood. She leans on some heavy and necessary truths like, “As adults, we don’t need unconditional love, not even from our therapists. This is a childhood need, one that can never be fulfilled later in life, and we are playing with illusions if we have never mourned this lost opportunity.”

A rather useful understanding on healing, she states: 

We cannot, simply by an act of will, free ourselves from repeating the patterns of our parents’ behavior… We become free of them only when we can fully feel and acknowledge the suffering they inflicted on us. We can then become fully aware of these patterns and condemn them irrevocably.” 

I found her approach satisfying and honestly, and much more productive than the “your parents did the best they could” inspirational quotes I see therapists posting on Instagram. I highly recommend this book to those who come from abuse, and please be very gentle with yourselves while reading it as it’s quite emotionally taxing to read (mainly due to the stories included). 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

The Soul of Money

By Lynne Twist

The Soul of Money is a non-fiction book about philanthropy, activism, and money. Overall, this book was about putting your money where your morals are. I have a fine-tuned understanding of this as it’s something I say in my animal rights activism to show people that their individual actions do matter, and every person has the potential to impact our collective future. I think she says nothing too revelatory here – though this may be because I come into reading it as an activist and she herself is an activist. So maybe we’re on a similar wavelength. Read it for the personal stories, and for enriching your experience with money, especially if you are an activist of any sort, a minimalist, someone who cares for the planet, or someone who wants to remind themselves of their individual power through spending. 

All in all, I came into it already agreeing with her premise and already thinking in a similar fashion, so the takeaway was minimal for me. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Frientimacy

By Shasta Nelson

Frientimacy is a non-fiction self-help book about making friends and deepening friendships. If you’re like me, you wouldn’t know how one can fill a whole book on friendship but I was rather pleasantly surprised by the amount of depth and insight this book contains. My primary takeaway from this book applies to all types of relationships – and that’s the Triangle of Intimacy. Basically, she posits that all friendships have three requirements: positivity, consistency, and vulnerability. 

She draws a triangle, and on the bottom, there’s positivity. That’s the baseline. Without it, you can’t go upward and you can’t build a healthy friendship. The two sides of the triangle slanting upward are consistency and vulnerability. She then says that the level of consistency and vulnerability must somewhat match, or your relationship is going to get off balance. So this means that the amount of time you spend with your friend should somewhat reflect the vulnerability you exhibit. Off-balance can look like over-sharing and under-sharing, all comparable to the amount of time invested. 

I’d recommend this book to those who need a good model for healthy friendships, so basically anyone. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

At the Center of All Beauty

By Fenton Johnson

At the Center of All Beauty is a non-fiction memoir and reflection of solitude, singleness, and being a creative. Each chapter is dedicated to the stories of one or two solitary artists – from Emily Dickinson to Henry David Thoreau. Johnson looks at the rather voluntary aspects of being alone, for the sake of one’s art, for the sake of one’s soul need to be with oneself. He walks through his own history and parallels with “great” artists. It requires the right headspace for reading, and not one of seeing aloneness as deprivation – which it can be. 

When he speaks of solitude, it is not hermithood. But rather, he identifies solitude as the purposeful choice to spend a life in recognizing oneself as a solo passenger through life. He includes married people in solitude, and identifies it as a state of being, not a legal standing. 

I’m not sure who I’d recommend this to, perhaps someone entering a new phase in their life – retirement, buying a home solo, planning a trip that has deep personal meaning. Maybe this book is for nobody and maybe there’s an intentional piece to that. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Complex PTSD

By Peter Walker

This is a stunner of a book on Complex PTSD. It’s a non-fiction bible on the experience of CPTSD – from the author’s first-hand life with this diagnosis, to detailed information on how to live day-to-day with this incurable experience. I won’t go too far into describing the book as it has a very specific audience, but I would recommend it highly to anyone with this diagnosis. It genuinely changed my life for the better and I have not found any other book comparable so far. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

Attached

By Amir Levine and Rachel Heller 

Attached is a non-fiction self-help book that you’ve likely heard of if you’re in the dating world. It’s become (thankfully) quite popular for individuals to identify their attachment style – avoidant, anxious, secure, or some combination of two. This book is quite valuable for anyone to pick up, as it brings to awareness some of your own traits, and also enables you to identify those folks who may bring out some aspects of you that you’re not fully a fan of.

I highly recommend this book to everyone – whether you’re in a romantic relationship or not. It can really help you with healing from trauma, unhealthy patterns, and curiosity you might have about why you act the way you do in relationship. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 

How Not to Die Alone

By Logan Ury

Though this has a hyperbolic title, it was not as profound as advertised. This non-fiction self-help book goes through attachment theory (just get Attached – reviewed above). It also goes through how to make an awesome online dating profile for those swiping, implores everyone to go on a second date (not axing people after one date), and nudges you strongly not to “slide” into milestones like moving in together. Instead, about moving in together, she says this should be a conscious choice, not just a default because someone’s lease expired. 

My biggest takeaway from this book was her very interesting types of daters who are very much still single (I really like a good self-categorization) – the Romanticizer, the Maximizer, and the Hesitater. The Romanticizer believes in fairy tales, soul mates, the ultimate love of a lifetime. So they exit when things are simply not dreamy, when they are not being swept off their feet to the max. This type believes they are single because they have not met the right person yet. Their challenge is to become more realistic about their expectations. 

The Maximizer always things there’s something better out there, and they never want to settle. Their challenge is recognizing when they are actually settling versus when they are nitpicking. The Hesitater perpetually thinks they’re not ready to date because they’re not the person they want to be yet (ME!). Their challenge is diving in unready and acknowledging that they will continue to grow even inside of a relationship (and that’s totally okay). 

This book is a great primer on some different ways to view dating differently. You can skip it if you’ve read Attached and a bunch of other dating books. If you haven’t read a dating book before, it’s a good entry point. 

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link). 


2020 Most Impactful Books I Read

In my second installment of “Books I Read”, I’m going to talk about the most impactful books I read in 2020.

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

This is probably my new favorite (fiction) book, even surpassing Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse. Drive Your Plow is written by Polish author Olga Tokarczuk, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Man Booker International Prize. It is dark, fixated on the intersection of the mundane and the fantastical, and holds a message about the widespread abuses and disrespect towards our fellow animals. Drive Your Plow tells the story of an older woman, an unreliable crone archetype who swaps people’s names for descriptors and lives in a remote village with harsh winters and pleasant vacation-worthy summers.

She and a neighbor discover the murder of another neighbor, who appears to have been trampled inside him house by deer. The story teeters from there between eccentric narratives, pulling you into a fantasy land, discoursing with fascinating villagers with wits and uncommon specializations, sitting at the woman’s table for drinks and a meal, all before landing you back down to earth with a heavy realization that slowly creeps on you (and the villagers) as you near the final pages.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

The Highly Sensitive Person

This non-fiction self-help book is validating to those who literally are more sensitive – to light, sound, taste, all of it. I easily qualified as a highly-sensitive person (HSP) given the results of the quiz that starts off this informative and kind book about what it means when the world is louder and more abrasive than you’re able to easily navigate through. Where “sensitive” is an insult in our culture, the author details how some (including me) just interact with the world in a different way. And there are plenty of benefits to being sensitive – it shows in my writing for one.

We’re quickly outgrowing last generation’s “tough as nails” brainwashing and bringing in a new era of acknowledgment of the simple fact that the world is incredibly diverse and all the more interesting and rich for it.

Author Elaine N. Aron says,

“We are the writers, historians, philosophers, judges, artists, researchers, theologians, therapists, teachers, parents, and plain conscientious citizens. What we bring to any of these roles is a tendency to think about all the possible effects of an idea. Often we have to make ourselves unpopular by stopping the majority from rushing ahead. Thus, to perform our role well, we have to feel very good about ourselves. We have to ignore all the messages from the warriors that we are not as good as they are. The warriors have their bold style, which has its value. But we, too, have our style and our own important contribution to make.”

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

Paganism: An Introduction to Earth-Centered Religions

Paganism is a non-fiction introduction to Paganism. Though I already knew a bit about it, this book did an outstanding job of overtly discussing the critical aspects of Paganism – from morals and ethics, to the convergence of religion (or spirituality) and science. I thoroughly enjoyed journaling to the prompts at the end of each chapter.

This book enabled me to refine my practical approach to relating to the earth. It doesn’t require leaps in logic or reaching to unfounded and irresponsible (and destructive) ideologies based in shame and punishments (if you catch my drift).

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).

Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language

Wordslut is a pop take on gender linguistics by Amanda Montell. As a writer, it’s affirming to be reminded that criticism of women’s speech and writing is in aims to uphold a false idea of the “right” (white male) way to speak.

This book gave me some fresh takes on the state of language right now and got me thinking a lot about women in the workplace. With all the articles coming out about women needing to drop the “ums” and “likes”, I’ll proudly keep speaking in a way that’s connection-focused and community-oriented.

Montell says,

We’re also living in a time when we find respected media outlets and public figures circulating criticisms of women’s voices – like that they speak too much vocal fry, overuse the words like and literally, and apologize in excess. They brand judgments like these as pseudo-feminist advice aimed at helping women talk with “more authority” so that they can be “taken more seriously.” What they don’t seem to realize is that they’re actually keeping women in a state of self-questioning – keeping them quiet – for no objectively logical reason other than that they don’t sound like middle-aged white men.

Buy on Amazon (affiliate link).