2020 in Books

So I was finishing grad school. And taking national exams. Hiring and firing lawyers. Representing myself in court (again). White knuckling a 26′ moving truck down the highway by myself in a household move. Starting a brand new career. And being suffocated by the national disaster that is Remote Learning with my children. That’s all. But I still managed to read quite a good number of books this year! Maybe that was my salvation… books are loyal friends and steady solace for wounded hearts. They also have been and will continue to be the source of much of my clinical learning in this newfound vocation; the expensive education and piece of paper at the end were just the beginning. Literature has provided the most meaningful mentorship in my development as a competent therapist.

I have learned an extraordinary amount from my own life. From my clients’ lives. And from books. Similar to last year, I am only highlighting twelve of the most important or meaningful ones for me personally this year.  (Also… I don’t know which faithful few have actually been clicking through my links over the years but every couple months or so I get like a $13 gift card from Amazon. Joy! Thank you!!)

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs by Johan Hari. I’m only putting this one above his other excellent one: Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression because I read it first. But both are journalistic sociology of sorts. And both are absolutely eye opening to understanding concepts that get lost under the weight of politics, business and propaganda.

 Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. I was in the middle of reading this when the George Floyd situation happened. What strange, uncanny, and helpful timing! An extraordinary book that—in Gladwell fashion— is interdisciplinary in its content… I can’t recommend it enough. The audio version is excellent, by the way.

 Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift. Here’s the thing. Humans need to learn about random things. It’s important. It helps humble our intellect to be confronted with off-the-beaten-path interests, stories, theories or sub-cultures. If you aren’t curious about the the world… I just… can only meet you so far in friendship. This book was just geek-candy. Really interesting perspective here on a disappearing people. My son gave me this for my birthday. 🙂

 The Will to Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy by Viktor Frankl. This is something of a follow-up to his more famous (must read) title Man’s Search for Meaning but designed to have more clinical implications. While I can’t advertise myself as “an Existentialist Therapist” without making people think of dim, hazy rooms and aliens— I am constantly working angles of logotherapy in session to help others find some sense of meaning in their struggles.

 The Betrayal Bond: Breaking Free of Exploitive Relationships by Patrick Carnes, PhD.  This book was superb. I wanted to know more about how trauma bonding and interpersonal exploitation happen, and was blown away by how Dr. Carnes explained this phenomenon which seems to be fairly misunderstood in our world. I’ve since recommended this book to many of my own clients who’ve found it powerful as well.

 Intellectuals and Race by Thomas Sowell. When race relations became front and center in our country, I felt like I needed to get more perspective. I still do. And I will. But I resisted some of the big, popular titles that everyone was pushing (because I have an initial prejudice against “popular” things) and I didn’t have a lot of time to invest. So, Thomas Sowell to the rescue. This book didn’t necessarily do a lot to explain the current state of affairs in full, but it explored some of the really strange relationship “the elites” have had with minorities over the course of American history. Truly eye opening.

 Discerning the Will of God: An Ignition Guide to Christian Decision Making by Fr. Timothy Gallagher. So, if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll see why this book was relevant to me this year. I’ve had some big decisions I had to make and as God doesn’t speak to me in neon signs, I wanted to be very diligent in not letting my emotions or biases get in the way of important matters. This book was instrumental in helping to create peace of heart in some of the choices I’ve made this year.

 The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandyr Solzhenitsyn. I finished Volume 1 and have barely cracked into Volume 2. This had been on my to do list years before Jordan Peterson caused its resurgence in popularity so I bought the set in their hardback, first edition glory and called it “self care.” It’s been more than I hoped for. I expected more dry history, less philosophical triumph. And it’s been something I’m taking my time with because there’s nothing like it. I have long running notes of excerpts and quotes from this book and have found so much solace in my own weak parallels to Solzhenitsyn’s interior life during his exile.

 A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Each year I like to re-read at least one “old friend” in literature. It’s been many years since I last spent time with Francie in Brooklyn and I swam in the familiar story with a new appreciation. This is among the tops of my list with regards to favorite classic literature.

 The Plague by Albert Camus. The first full Camus work I’ve read since The Stranger back as a teenager. I’ve been flirting with Camus more and more over the years, via his quotes and short excerpts from his works, and was happy to make an excuse to dive into one of his books. Here was an exception where I DID jump on the popularity bandwagon to read this book, this year. I mean… because. It did not disappoint.

 Death in Other Words by Dom Hubert van Zeller. A few years ago, I discovered the Van Zeller is one of My People. And I’ve done what I can to read everything of his that I can get my hands on. This was Lenten reading this year and it was beautiful. “However muddled and unpleasant our affairs may become, we should never doubt that life is a gift from God and a good thing. He does not place us in the world just to be muddled and unhappy. The chief reason why it is a good thing is that it gives us the chance of getting nearer to Him.”

 The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron, PhD. Finally. I can make sense of my inner world. I’ve sometimes felt so often on edge for no reason and have an extraordinarily high startle response. The volume of life is overwhelming to me and light fixtures and smells at certain stores make me feel nauseated. I thought I was a freak. Thought I had PTSD that would never go away. Being an HSP isn’t a diagnosis or a disorder. It’s simply a way that certain brains work to process stimuli in this world and it is both a blessing and curse. It’s different from being an “empath”. (While the two sometimes overlap, one is a neuro-scientific construct and the other a pop-cultural construct.) I’m not an empath… I just need you to not yell in my face please. Having the knowledge that I am an HSP doesn’t suddenly “fix” my autonomic nervous system, but it has made me aware of what I need to do in order to feel at home in my own body.

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Goals for 2021?

I have a some very specific titles on my short list, but other than those I plan to finish my time in The Archipelago, explore polyvagal theory, and read my very first Stephen King novel… may there be ample moments of stillness for all this to happen. Happy reading!


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