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January 19, 2017  

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Good Books
A growing collection of recommendations to move and inspire you.

A Dog Year: Twelve Months, Four Dogs, and Me
Jon Katz (Villard Books, 2002)

Jon Katz didn't plan to get four dogs. In fact, he was more than delighted to live with his two even-tempered, dignified, gentlemanly Labs. He had just sent his only child off to college. Life was calm -- until the fateful day an enthusiastic friend persuaded him to rescue Devon, a dog desperately in need of a home. Of course, this wasn't just any dog; it was a young Border Collie. And anyone who knows Border Collies knows that they aren't exactly a recipe for serenity. In a matter of hours, the wildly intelligent, yet out-of-control, Devon supplied Katz with more excitement than his Labs had ever provided. In this hilariously true story, Katz describes life with Devon -- a life most of us are delighted to read about but thankful not to live. A Dog Year is a truly wonderful dog story guaranteed to keep you chuckling for years. (Review courtesy of Chinaberry, Inc.)

:: Buy your copy of A Dog Year from our wonderful affiliate, Chinaberry. (And if you decide you want your own copy, be sure to tell Chinaberry we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! We hope you'll love their wonderful site as much as we do.)

Another related title:
Amazing Gracie: A Dog's Tale by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff

What are you reading and why is it good?

Voices for Peace
Anna Kiernan, ed. (Scribner, 2002)

This new collection of essays -- now available in the US -- is predicated on the basic human notion that the only real solutions to the world's conflicts lie in a steadfast dedication to ideals of peace. The book was originally published soon after it became clear that the tragic attacks of September 11 would lead ultimately to a devastating bombing campaign that affected the lives of many innocent and desperately poor citizens of Afghanistan in an effort to root out likely terrorists. Voices for Peace is comprised of essays from some of the many people who believe there is another answer. Edited by Anna Kiernan, this volume is distinctly human and presents a range of perspectives -- some intellectual, others from the position of human rights activists, still others representing the emotional view that war is truly the ultimate exercise in self-destruction -- including well-known people like the late Stephen Jay Gould, novelists Edward Said and Ben Okri, musician Annie Lennox, and former Beirut hostage Terry Waite. They're all part of the Voices for Peace project because they are idealistic enough to believe that peaceful resolutions to the world's conflicts are both preferable and attainable.

Proceeds from the sale of Voices for Peace go to support the work of the non-profit humanitarian organization, Warchild.

Buy your own copy of Voices for Peace from our affiliate [powell's] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Barn at the End of the World
Mary Rose O'Reilley (Milkweed Editions, 2001)

Spirituality may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of sheep, but it is for author Mary Rose O'Reilley, who spent a year tending sheep on a farm in Minnesota. In her book, The Barn at the End of the World, O'Reilley describes in vivid detail her daily interactions with the woolly creatures that serve as her Zen masters. Through the intensive daily drudgery involved in taking care of the barn animals -- which includes everything from shearing udders to performing enemas -- O'Reilley draws upon previously untapped wells of inner strength and resolve that serve to illuminate her personal path. Her descriptions of farm life provide the backdrop for her musings on religion, love, family, relationships and her own quest for meaning in life. She transitions from a vivid account of inoculating sheep with vermifuge to reflections on meditation with the ease of someone who has come to realize there is not a huge difference between the two acts. Both require concentration, commitment, focus, and a feeling of oneness with surrounding life. As O'Reilley puts it, "Farming is one of the few remaining reflective occupations. It's inward, solitary, yet social."

O'Reilley's decision to work on the farm stemmed from a desire to experience spirituality through being connected to her body rather than through an attempt to transcend it, as other religions had encouraged her to do. And based on her description, there is no better way to feel "connected" to one's body than by attempting to control a temperamental 250-lb. Dorset ram.

The Barn at the End of the World is an amusing and refreshing approach to the examination of spirituality and meaning in modern day life. It is a powerful reminder that our greatest teachers may often arrive in the humblest of forms. - lm

Buy your own copy of The Barn at the End of the World from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

Forgive For Good
Fred Luskin (HarperSanFrancisco, 2001)

Many of us have a story to tell about how we were mistreated by someone significant in our lives. We can't change the past, but how we react to the past, and create our present and future is the focus of Forgive for Good, results from Dr. Fred Luskin's Stanford University Forgiveness Project.

The premise is simple -- holding on to resentment or hurt disrupts our lives, leads to bad decision-making, and releases stress chemicals that ultimately have a negative effect on physical health. Learning to forgive is not approving of bad behavior, forgetting what has happened or even reconciliation -- it's making a commitment to find the peace and strength to learn and move on in creating a fulfilling life.

It would be too easy to dismiss Forgive for Good on the surface as another in a long line of "self-help" books. After all, the book has all the elements common to the genre, including a nine-step forgiveness method illuminated by poignant personal stories of study participants. But, for the more skeptical among us, it's difficult to reject the comprehensive research behind the process.

The principles of a "science of forgiveness" are exceedingly well-documented throughout, citing several university studies (including Dr. Luskin's own), coupled with results from the HOPE (Healing Our Past Experiences) Project carried out with residents of Northern Ireland who have lost family members to violence.

To forgive -- yourself and others -- may be divine, but it's hardly easy. Forgive for Good provides a guide to make the opportunity to do so possible. - tp

[Read a New York Times column about forgiveness, which mentions Dr. Fred Luskin's research. We featured it as our Good Grab for May 30, 2002.]

Learn more from

Buy your own copy of Forgive For Good from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Voice of Hope
Aung San Suu Kyi & Alan Clements (Seven Stories, 1997)

With the May 6, 2002, release of storied political dissident and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from a second extended stint under house arrest in Burma, the eyes of the world have turned again to one of the most enduring and notorious dictatorships and the military that keeps it in place in southeast Asia. Suu Kyi is the daughter of one of Burma's most beloved revolutionary leaders, Aung San, who died in 1947 in the fight for his country's independence. Unfortunately, soon after independence, the country descended into dictatorship that, in the late 1980s, finally seemed to be collapsing when purported free elections were to be held. Suu Kyi returned to Burma from exile in Great Britain and immediately became the people's leading presidential candidate. Just before the 1990 election, which she and her party -- the National League for Democracy (NLD) -- won in a landslide, Suu Kyi was put under house arrest, where she remained until recently. Although she is now free, at least 1500 NLD members remain incarcerated.

During her time as a political prisoner, Aung San Suu Kyi continued as an impassioned voice for the dreams of the people of Burma, many of whom are gravely poor. In 1995 and 1996, journalist and former Buddhist monk Alan Clements conducted a series of interviews with Suu Kyi in an effort to publish a written account of her wisdom, passion, and inspiring dedication to non-violence. The astonishing result was The Voice of Hope, a transcript of the interviews that are defined by Suu Kyi's extraordinarily articulate use of the peaceful language of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Voice of Hope provides an extremely readable primer for anyone intrigued by the political context of Burma. More importantly, it confirms that Suu Kyi, like Nelson Mandela, is one of the world's most important leaders. Her story is powerful and inspiring, and this book is a treasure for anyone who believes in progressive and sustained change.

Learn more from the Burma Project and Aung San Suu Kyi's Web site.

Buy your own copy of The Voice of Hope from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

Queen Bees and Wannabes
Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends, and Other Realities of Adolescence
Rosalind Wiseman (Crown, 2002)

In late 2001, GoodThings told you the story of Washington DC's Empower Program. Founded by Rosalind Wiseman, Empower works to address the societal damage caused by cruelty and the violence that often ensues by addressing it where it first rears its ugly head -- among teenagers. Empower gets everyone involved: parents, teachers, school counselors, and most importantly, the teenagers themselves. Of particular interest to Wiseman is the way that teenage girls interact and ultimately organize themselves into complex, and often hurtful, hierarchies.

Wiseman's new book gets its title from those she considers to be the haves and the have-nots of the intriguing kingdom inhabited by teenage girls: Queen Bees and Wannabes. Her ultimate goal with the book is to provide families and educators with the tools and inspiration to prevent their adolescent daughters from becoming victims of cruelty or becoming victimizers. It's a book that attempts to sort out the politics of cliques and to help parents raise more compassionate kids. It also explores the confusing landscape of dating, especially the damage that is often done to teenage girls by the dating experience. Queen Bees and Wannabes benefits from Wiseman's very accessible voice and her ability to confront difficult issues with grace without taking herself too seriously.

Learn more about Rosalind Wiseman's non-profit organization, the Empower Program.

Buy your own copy of Queen Bees and Wannabes from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

Home Cooking
A Writer in the Kitchen
Laurie Colwin (Harper, 1988)

Home Cooking is a gentle and witty collection of essays about discovering and rediscovering the joys of simple cooking shared with family and friends. Do you like to eat? Like to talk about eating? Like to eat while talking about eating? Somewhere in "Friday Night Suppers," "Stuffing: A Confession," or "Repulsive Dinners: A Memoir," you'll find your own awesome roast chicken, burnt stew, or slightly underdone and sticky vanilla pudding, served to an audience of of appreciative, bemused, or befuddled diners. Author Laurie Colwin brings alive the enthusiasm of "just cooks" committed to uncovering new uses for old vegetables, feeding the ones they love, and creating community through the kitchen stock pot. Whether you read it for the writing or the recipes, you'll finish the last page of Home Cooking and find yourself hurrying to see what you can whip up from the cupboard.

Buy your own copy of Home Cooking from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

From A Distance
A First Book of History
Julie Gold and Jane Ray
(Dutton Books, 1999)

Something that would forever change the way we think about our world happened when the first photographs of Earth were sent back from space. Seeing our beautiful planet suspended in the blackness of space, colored by the deep blue of water, the luscious green of forests and the pearly white swirls of clouds suddenly made us realize just how lovely and fragile Earth is. In retrospect, the environmental movement began at that moment, when we humans started to understand that this planet is indeed living and is our home, needing our care and our respect.

I mention this not only because that photograph of Earth is a milestone in humans' consciousness, but also because in a way, From A Distance is about exactly this. It is the song by the same title coupled with the sumptuous, exquisite illustrations that Jane Ray has come to be known for.

From A Distance is a message of hope in a world that often seems as if it has lost its way. Simply, the words explore the space between the beauty that can be seen from afar and what lies before us when we look closely, between untarnished creation and the world we wish we could create - where justice prevails and where war does not exist.

Ray's dazzling art is rich with detail, where the keen eye will find perceptive illustrations in which discord and dis-ease are counterbalanced by the promise of peace and harmony. This is a gorgeous book! (Review courtesy of Chinaberry, Inc.)

:: Buy your copy of From A Distance from our wonderful affiliate, Chinaberry. (And if you decide you want your own copy, be sure to tell Chinaberry we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! We hope you'll love their wonderful site as much as we do.)

Other related titles:
Who Is The World For? by Tom Pow
In My Hands: Memories of Holocaust Rescuer by Irene Gut Opdyke, Jennifer Armstrong

What are you reading and why is it good?

How Children Lived
A First Book of History
Chris and Melanie Rice
(Dorling Kindersley, 2001)

If any book conveys that children will be children, that they are alike all over the world and indeed have been alike over millennia, this one does, and it is indeed a treat. How Children Lived visits 16 different children who have lived at different times in history and I only wish it could have introduced us to yet more young people over time and over distances.

Each 2-page spread introduces us to a child from times past. Starting with the most ancient period, Egypt in 1200 BC, we meet 9-year-old Hori, who is learning to be a scribe. We see a house similar to that in which he lived; we learn a bit about the trade for which he is training; we see his tools and his toys. Bordering the detailed drawings are panels with yet more detail, written in the first person, in which Hori describes highlights of his day - from how he sleeps on the rooftop to keep cool at night, to his lunch of fish and beer, to the types of games he plays with his friends, to why his sister shaves his head for him.

Moving through the ages, we meet Lysander from Greece in 500 BC, Miao from China in 130 BC - up through young Jack in 1925 America. In every case, the format is designed in the same manner as that for Hori: we learn about the environment, the child's duties, toys and a bit about a typical day. A time line and glossary can be found at book's end.

Just detailed enough for the curious child, this is one of those books that invites exploration and ultimately, the discovery that we are - and always have been - part of a huge and fascinating web of life. (Review courtesy of Chinaberry, Inc.)

:: Buy your copy of How Children Lived from our wonderful affiliate, Chinaberry. (And if you decide you want your own copy, be sure to tell Chinaberry we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! We hope you'll love their wonderful site as much as we do.)

Other related titles:
Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta
A Street Through Time by Anne Millard, Steve Noon

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Unsavvy Traveler
Women's Comic Tales of Catastrophe
Rosemary Caperton, Anne Mathews, Lucie Ocenas, eds. (Seal Press, 2001)

Looking for a light and lively page turner to cure you from the winter blues -- or at least from that sense of regret that you haven't been more than 10 miles away from home in months? A new collection of personal narratives, courtesy of feminist publisher Seal Press, is the perfect elixir. The Unsavvy Traveler: Women's Comic Tales of Catastrope is often laugh-out-loud hilarious in its accounts of the vivid misadventures of women out in the world on journeys of all kinds. Pam Houston, author of the popular collection of short stories Cowboys Are My Weakness, gets the ball rolling with a rollicking tale of her first trip to Alaska. 28 similarly rich tales follow from Cuba to the Czech Republic to Japan and all other points in between. They're from women on explorations of the spirit, or on would-be relaxing rambles, or trips with more defined goals. What they all seem to have in common are sidesplitting stumbling blocks of both the internal and external varieties.

Many of us suffer from the tendency to be a bit too overzealous, a little too driven to accomplish certain things when we set out to see the world. The Unsavvy Traveler is a welcome reminder to take our adventuring selves just a little less seriously.

Buy your own copy of The Unsavvy Traveler from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

Take Me With You
A Round-the-World Journey to Invite a Stranger Home
Brad Newsham (Travelers' Tales, 2000)

Travel writer Brad Newsham has been fortunate enough to see the world. Certainly, that makes him one of a very small minority of people, even within the relatively affluent West. The global journey Newsham recounts in his book Take Me With You: A Round-the-World Journey to Invite a Stranger Home is the realization of a personal dream he had when he was 22 years old. Finding himself in Afghanistan as his first international journey was coming to a close, he began to realize what a gift it was to be able to move beyond the familiar surroundings of his own home, to have the time, the freedom, and the means to experience a world full of rich cultures different from his own. He decided that one day, while traveling the world, he would extend an extraordinary gift to a stranger he met: he would give them an all-expenses paid opportunity to come back to the United States with him to travel for one month.

Never mind that Newsham's goal was to coincide with his achieving great fortune as a writer. That doesn't happen. But what does happen is a truly remarkable exploration of the world, one that -- at least for Newsham -- was one grand interview process. He leaves his home and heads for Manila, Philippines, where he meets the first candidate in his unique sweepstakes. His travels take him throughout southeast Asia and then on to Egypt and then down through east Africa. He encounters many people and even more stories, some inspiring, others startling, funny, or deeply moving, before coming to the decision that carries him from place to place. Newsham starts an interesting idea; he finishes with an even better written account of what happens.

Buy your own copy of Take Me With You from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

Living Big
Embrace Your Passion and Leap into an Extraordinary Life
Pam Grout (Conari, 2001)

Looking for a quick ticket out of the winter funk? Need a cure for the January blues? The lively, inspiring words of Pam Grout - author of Living Big: Embrace Your Passion and Leap into an Extraordinary Life - may be the perfect cure for what ails you. Grout takes an unapologetic "glass half full" view of life and sets out in her conversational writing style to share words of wisdom about infusing your life with more imagination and creativity. Wait just a minute, you say, another "self-help" book? Well, if by "self-help," you mean that it's the kind of book that will change your outlook, then clearly that's what it is. But if by "self-help," you mean preachy and pedantic, you won't find it here. In Living Big, Grout shows that she's a storyteller at heart. The book is full of brief tales and yarns about people who beat the odds and emerged triumphant out of their workaday existences to live more fully, passionately, and constructively. There's Maizie, for example, an 82-year-old Kansas grandmother who spearheaded the creation of a public pool in a poor rural town. Or Margaret, a teacher who used art and comedy to break the cycle of violence in her New York school. They're just the tip of the iceberg.

Not just a storyteller, Pam Grout is also a graceful debunker of myths. "Be careful." "Look out for number one." "Stay in line." Grout pours water on every single one, all in the name of pursuing a more fulfilling life. Best New Year's resolution? Read Living Big.

Buy your own copy of Living Big from our affiliate [amazon] or from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!)

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Breadwinner
Deborah Ellis
(Oxford University Press/Groundwood Press, 2001)

After spending time speaking with Afghan women and young girls in refugee outposts throughout Pakistan and Russia in 1999, author and mental health residential counselor Deborah Ellis was inspired to write The Breadwinner, a children's book describing life during the fundamentalist Taliban regime. Recent events have focused the eyes of the world on the abuses of the Taliban, particularly those pertaining to the basic rights of women in Afghanistan. Ellis' book tells the story of Parvana, an Afghan girl too young to be subject to the Taliban's harshest restrictions on women. When her family faces tremendous crisis, she is called on to go to extraordinary lengths to ensure the survival of her mother, older sister, and younger brother. Impersonating a young boy and under extreme pressure, Parvana infiltrates the men-only craft and food markets of Kabul to support her family.

No doubt, The Breadwinner's subject matter is at times intense and heavy, but Ellis' storytelling skills make it fascinating reading, not only for teenagers (its intended audience) but also for their parents. It's an educational, horizon-broadening book for kids with intrigue, suspense, and characters as vivid as the best Harry Potter. More importantly, proceeds from the sale of The Breadwinner have gone toward supporting educational programs for girls in Afghan refugee camps.

:: Buy your own copy of The Breadwinner from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliate [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?
Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger For a Faith
Studs Terkel
(New Press, 2001)

You might not consider Studs Terkel a visionary sort since he's built his reputation as an interviewer who, by design, speaks through the words of others. But it's exactly because he so effectively enables us to hear the voices of real people that he is worthy of this Favorite GoodThings honor. Having conducted countless interviews over the course of his career, Terkel has chronicled the passing of the last century through the voices of ordinary people speaking to him, and through him, to us, about the most complex of human issues -- war, work, race, death. History books can't relate the feelings of people enduring the Depression. But Terkel's oral histories have helped us hear authentic voices. His latest work, Will the Circle Be Unbroken? Reflections on Death, Rebirth, and Hunger For a Faith explores people's perspectives on death. Sixty very different people share their intimate views on dying, and in the end, readers realize that life and our choices in living are death's constant companion. In Terkel's own words: "These testimonies are...about life and its pricelessness..." Terkel's genius is in his adoration of the human experience, his belief in people's ability to use their own voices to tell their stories, and his trust in people's need to listen.

Will The Circle Be Unbroken? was featured as part of our Favorite GoodThings 2001 campaign. Learn more about other honorees!

Buy your own copy of Will The Circle Be Unbroken? from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliate [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

:: Good Holiday Gift Ideas

For the world traveler:
-- Seal Press'
A Woman Alone
For the parent-in-training:
-- Marc Parent's Believing It All: What My Children Taught Me About Trout Fishing, Jelly Toast, and Life
For the person finding themselves:
-- Meghan Daum's My Misspent Youth
For the essay enthusiast:
-- Scott Carrier's Running After Antelope
For the bird-watcher:
-- Marie Winn's Red-Tails in Love: A Wildlife Drama in Central Park
For children:
-- our children's book guide
For the fiction lover:
-- Nick Hornby's How To Be Good
For the environmentalist:
-- Arctic Refuge: A Circle of Testimony
For the job-searcher:
-- David Whyte's Crossing the Unknown Sea
For the social thinker:
-- Bill Shore's The Cathedral Within
For the nostalgic:
-- Tony Earley's Jim the Boy
For the non-reader:
-- Classic Treks: The 30 Most Spectacular Hikes in the World
For the new parent:
-- Nan Jeffrey's Adventuring with Children


Jeremy Thrane
Kate Christensen
(Broadway Books, 2001)

Thanks to reader Lara Fischman of Los Angeles, California, for sharing this recommendation:

"I'm wild about a book I just read, Jeremy Thrane by Kate Christensen. It's her second novel (following In the Drink) and is an outstanding piece of work. The story follows a New York City writer who is dumped by his movie-star boyfriend and forced to adjust to "normal" life. He finds various ways to make a living, including writing for a childhood friend's magazine and copyediting for a New York gossip rag. The secondary plots are too numerous (and engaging) to describe, and the characters are all neatly drawn. Christensen avoids writing a story about a person's struggle to make ends meet after the honeymoon ends -- the novel is more about the complex friendships and relationships that make up all of our everyday lives. Her writing style marries highfalutin and hilarious with Jeremy's funny and compact epithets and observations abounding. I can't recommend this book highly enough!"

Buy your own copy of Jeremy Thrane from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Conjuring Maud
Philip Danze
(Greycore Press, 2001)

In his first novel, Conjuring Maud, Philip Danze takes us on a journey through Africa and, in the process, the human heart. It is the story of David Unger, born to Australian parents and raised in 19th century colonial West Africa. As a teenager, David meets and falls in love with Maud King, a feisty British trader who spends her life collecting natural specimens throughout the African continent for the British Museum. After spending a summer working with Maud, David becomes hopelessly infatuated with her, only to learn over the ensuing years that Maud's heart belongs first to Africa, and only then to him. The novel tracks their lives as they weave frustratingly in and out of one another in a star-crossed fashion. David goes to London to study medicine while Maud continues her African adventures and goes on to become the most famous female scientist in England. Throughout this light but enjoyable novel, Danze weaves in commentary on weightier issues such as personal freedom, inequality, and the effects of imperialism on a people and a continent. Danze's novel is so rich with descriptive detail of West Africa, it is hard to believe he himself is not from there. Ironically, he grew up in Queens. - L.M.

Buy your own copy of Conjuring Maud from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Material World
A Global Family Portrait
Peter Menzel
(Random House, 1995)

Material World is the most eye-opening, human, absolutely stunning book I have seen in years.

Simple in concept, but exquisitely executed, this book is a gigantic photo essay on families. Photographed outside their homes with all their worldly goods, these are average families from countries all across the earth. Brief text and a table of statistics elaborate on how this family fits into their world. From the detailed statistics, we learn about their country and we learn about the family. These statistics range from area, population, life expectancy and literacy rate, to household size, most valued possessions and wishes for the future. The comparisons between countries are fascinating. We get an intimate glimpse into daily life from the text and the photos. We see the people at work and how their children spend their day. We see what their homes are like and what the earth looks like where they live. We see the poverty, the affluence, the dignity, the smiles. We see the threads that bind our humanity together. We see the beauty inherent in the incredible diversity of life on our planet. The photos in this book fill my heart with smiles and my eyes with tears... (Review courtesy of Chinaberry, Inc.)

:: Get your copy of Material World from our wonderful affiliate, Chinaberry. (And if you decide you want your own copy, be sure to tell Chinaberry we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! We hope you'll love their wonderful site as much as we do.)

Other related titles:
Women in the Material World by Faith D'Aluisio, Peter Menzel, Naomi Wolf
Wake Up, World! A Day in the Life of Children Around the World by Beatrice Hollyer

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Wonder of Boys
What Parents, Mentors, and Educators Can Do To Shape Boys...
Michael Gurian
(J.P. Tarcher, 1997)

As a parent in the early 80's I bought into the "Nurture vs. Nature" approach towards the raising of girls and boys. A particular, popular parenting book, which espoused the belief that the only reason the two sexes behave so differently is because we treat them differently and have different expectations of them, was one of my "bibles." A little bit older and wiser now, I know that what this book taught simply is not true. When I succumb to feelings of guilt, which tend to haunt many of us parents no matter "how" conscientious we try to be, the fact that I feel I could have done a better job of embracing Evan's natural "boy-ness" early on ranks right up there in the "regret" category.

There have been only a few times that I've read a parenting book and truly wished I had a chance to start all over again with my children. The Wonder of Boys is one of these books. (As far as parenting boys is concerned, The Courage to Raise Good Men is also an exceptional, vitally important book, I believe.)

This book shows us that there are hundreds of ways to nurture boys and who they are and in so doing assist them to find healthy and socially acceptable ways to release tension, to get gratification and to be happy. Here, Gurian enthusiastically and competently teaches us what makes a boy tick and shows us how to value and work with the traits in our sons that make them boys. This vision of boyhood grows from the many boys and adults around the world with whom he's worked as therapist, consultant, teacher of male development, researcher and father... (Chinaberry, Inc.)

:: Read the rest of Chinaberry's review of The Wonder of Boys. (And if you decide you want your own copy, be sure to tell Chinaberry we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! We hope you'll love their wonderful site as much as we do.)

Other related Chinaberry titles:
Our Last Best Shot by Laura Sessions Stepp
A Teenager's Guide to School Outside the Box by Rebecca Greene
Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Wilderness Family
At Home With Africa's Wildlife
Kobie Kruger
(Ballantine Books, 2001)

What a life this woman had! Wife of a ranger in South Africa's Kruger National Park, Kobie raised her three daughters amidst the remote splendor of the African bush. Malaria, unbearable heat, the unpredictability of wild animals, and living far from medical care were constant threats to their lives. Yet the overwhelming beauty was what filled their hearts. This is a story that will widen your eyes and brighten your heart. Although it was written for adults, The Wilderness Family is a perfect read-aloud for older elementary and middle school age children. Kobie's extraordinary life is filled with adventures that will utterly captivate children. Nursing a honey badger back to health, crossing a river filled with unpredictable hippos in order to reach their car, and avoiding cranky elephants on hot days are just a taste of what you and your children will experience through the eyes of this gentle woman. But nothing can compare to the story she tells of raising Leo, an abandoned lion cub. She tells her story with a calm matter-of-factness that defuses some of the intensity of the dangers her family faced. This makes the story appropriate for children. The Wilderness Family is nothing short of amazing and deserves to be read to every child that ever loved an animal. - Reviewed by Chinaberry, Inc.

Get your own copy of The Wilderness Family from our new affiliate and absolute "goodthing," Chinaberry! (Tell them we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! And thank them for their wonderful review.)

What are you reading and why is it good?

A Woman Alone
Various Authors
(Seal Press, 2001)

Who says international travel isn't safe for women? A new collection of essays suggests that not only can it be safe, but it can also be exciting, enriching, and empowering. A Woman Alone: Travel Tales from around the Globe seeks to debunk the myth that true solo adventures -- the kind that take travelers off the beaten path and into thoroughly uncharted territory -- are really only available to men. One reviewer has called these twenty-nine essays "delightfully testosterone-free." Better yet, they feel like personal journal entries. They're exceedingly readable, unpretentious explorations by women bent on proving to themselves -- and to those around them -- that the world is indeed their oyster.

Many of the travel destinations represented in A Woman Alone would be daunting to even the most weathered adventurer. The central Asian nation -- and former Soviet republic -- Uzbekistan is certainly one (readers will recognize this remote country for its support role in the current international crisis). In Solo in Samarkand, Ena Singh describes her travels into Uzbekistan for signs of her ancient ancestors and for a glimpse of a world few outsiders have seen. Other essays describe places like Senegal, Jordan, Pakistan, Guatemala, and Mongolia with both affection and a keen sense of observation and insight.

Still, it's not always the places themselves that best represent these women's adventures, but the people. In The Truth about Italian Men, Dawn Comer Jefferson warmly spins a yarn about her experience as an African-American woman strolling the streets of Venice. Warned by her friends to be aware of the persistent advances of local men, Jefferson feels welcomed by those men and completely unconvinced of the stereotypes that preceded them. The essays in A Woman Alone provide light, entertaining reading that will offer an education to many men and will instill many women with inspiration and enthusiasm for the world and all it offers. - wt

For more women's views of the world, visit the current feature on women nature writers at the World As Home Web site.

Get your own copy of A Woman Alone from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliate [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

All Over But the Shoutin'
Rick Bragg
(Vintage, 1998)

The odds were against young Rick Bragg, who grew up dirt-poor in northeastern Alabama. His daddy had not only run out on him and his mother and brothers, but he hadn't laid eyes on him, his middle son, until the boy was nearly two years old. Daddy later drank himself to death, leaving Momma to pick cotton, to take in the ironing of the rich so she could support her three growing boys as best she could. She slept on the couch in the tiny house they shared with their grandmother, its outhouse sat just beyond, between the trees. It wasn't much, this timber box on concrete blocks, but they lived on land owned by compassionate kin and, heck, it was home.

After he graduated from high school, Bragg had enough money saved up for a single class at the state university. It was feature writing and he wasn't half bad. "It would be the first step, the first act, in a series of moves and machinations -- most of them involving dumb, blind luck -- that would give me what I was searching for," he writes. Encouraged, he volunteered for the school newspaper and, before he knew it, was recruited to a local newspaper. It was the end of his college career, for now, but was the beginning of the rest of his life.

All Over but the Shoutin' is a memoir, written by a man whose talents bring him far from home, down dimly lit New York City alleys to report on gruesome murders and overseas to Haiti to cover a blood-spattered rebellion. His writing brings him north to Harvard University for an esteemed fellowship and south again to the Atlanta bureau of the New York Times. His writing won him a richly deserved Pulitzer Prize. Yet Bragg's memoir was written with one person in mind: his mother. It was written to chronicle her life and to document the backbreaking efforts she made for him and his two brothers. She gave her life to them and Rick Bragg won't ever let his momma forget it. - Reviewed by Ellen Cady

Get your own copy of All Over But the Shoutin' from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

How To Be Good
Nick Hornby
(Riverhead, 2001)

Author Nick Hornby has built a career trying to bring to light the strange workings of the male mind. In each of his previous novels Fever Pitch, High Fidelity, and About a Boy, he has always explored a man's version of things, and particularly men with difficulties committing to mature long-term relationships or to the idea of raising children or to anything, it seems, other than sports or music. But from the opening lines of his new novel How To Be Good, it's immediately clear that this will be a different Nick Hornby. His protagonist is not named Will or David but Katie, and she's not a writer or a record-store owner but a doctor. As she likes to remind herself (and us) throughout the book, she is undeniably "a good person." But when she begins an affair that threatens to destroy her imperfect marriage and family of four, she begins to question her own benevolence. When her husband -- previously the voice of a newspaper column called "The Angriest Man in Holloway" -- changes his world view with the help of an odd sort of an advisor and becomes something of a caricature of those who would make a difference in the world in everything they do, Katie's own life becomes one grand moral dilemma.

More than anything else, How To Be Good fictionalizes the exploration of what it means to truly "walk the talk." What seems to fuel Katie's husband's transformation is a desire to move beyond the role of simply examining all that is wrong with the world. He becomes determined to use his energy changing the world on key issues that concern him and, significantly, encouraging his family, friends and acquaintances to do the same. Besides being an incredibly entertaining read, the book raises many important, provocative questions. With marriages failing and children descending into violence, how much time, energy, and money can we dedicate to improving the world around us? More importantly, how can we afford not to? Is how we happen to make a living enough of a contribution to the world at large? How good can we possibly be? How To Be Good is a novel for the moment if there ever was one. - wt

Nick Hornby is also the editor of the collection of essays Speaking with the Angel, sales of which benefit programs for children with autism.

Get your own copy of How To Be Good from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Adventuring with Children
The Complete Manual for Family Adventure Travel
Nan Jeffrey
(Avalon House)

My idea of a good family vacation involves adventure. I'm not the type to consider "5 nights at a nice hotel at Disneyland/5 days of sightseeing/3 meals a day in restaurants including all taxes and gratuities" a vacation. In my book, there has to be something truly memorable (an adventure) if I'm going to savor it for months to come. And, after orchestrating several "adventure" vacations for my family over the years, I am happy to say that the rest of them are hooked, too.

This book was written by the mother of a family who has spent its free time adventuring around the world. (She defines "adventure" as something which forces you to confront situations outside the established, secure, familiar structure of your life.) The book inspires the reader to use however many weeks available (from several to many) to take the plunge that so many people dream about, but seldom feel capable of doing. Fears are put to rest concerning unnecessary trepidations about the realities of making such trips with children... [There's more! For the rest of this review, please visit Chinaberry.]

Get your own copy of Adventuring with Children from our new affiliate and absolute "goodthing," Chinaberry! (Tell them we sent you by entering "GOOD" when you order! And thank them for their wonderful review.)

What are you reading and why is it good?

Lean and Green
Profit for Your Workplace and the Environment
Pamela J. Gordon
(Berrett-Koehler, 2001)

Pamela Gordon's new guide to integrating basic environmental principles into the workplace -- Lean and Green -- is a no-nonsense guide to using common-sense environmentalism to boost the corporate bottom line. From the get-go, Gordon makes it clear that she takes issue with the assertion that making money and having an environmental conscience are diametrically opposed, and throughout Lean and Green, she hammers that idea home -- with convincing results. A successful businessperson who has long worked as a management consultant focused on corporate strategy for high-tech firms, Gordon documents real-life initiatives at twenty well-known corporations, where simple, often employee-suggested operational changes have saved money and benefitted natural resources at the same time.

Many have made Gordon's same arguments, but where her book is different is in its case studies. She features elements of groundbreaking corporate programs -- like the Sony Corporation's waste-reduction campaign or Texas Instruments' strides to eliminate hazardous materials from its processes or Agilent Technologies' energy-saving techniques -- throughout the book. As such, it becomes easier to make critical connections between the different case studies, giving the book a universal message that isn't limited by any one corporation's particular culture. Lean and Green does not declare environmental doomsday but instead uses financial language business leaders will understand. She urges those driven by the Lean and Green philosophy to open up dialogues within their organizations, be willing to collaborate in creative ways, and be prepared to measure progress. This helpful, progressive, solutions-oriented book offers great ideas and more than a glimmer of hope.

Get your own copy of Lean and Green from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Believing It All
What My Children Taught Me About Trout Fishing, Jelly Toast, and Life
Marc Parent
(Little, Brown, 2001)

A former case worker for New York City's Emergency Children's Services, author Marc Parent may be familiar to readers for his 1996 book Turning Stones: My Days and Nights with Children At Risk about the shortcomings that exist in our programs to rescue abused children. In his new book, he turns his focus on his own children, Casey and Owen, whom he and his wife choose to raise on twelve acres in bucolic upstate New York, far from their cramped urban apartment. As he writes:

"I hoped for a setting that would broaden their minds like a good classroom. A welcoming and forgiving place. A place where they could let down their guard and make mistakes on the way to getting things right. One overflowing with props to engage the senses and provoke the mind -- a dizzying flow of dying things and things being born, some falling down and others springing up, some killed, some mended. A place that challenged without intimidating. Comforted without pacifying. A place with ice cream in the freezer. Crayon marks on the walls.... And at least one carpeted room with space cleared for wrestling."

Believing It All is Parent's affectionate and admiring nod to the innate wisdom of his children. This is a beautifully written journey through Parent's attempts to learn parenting as he goes along and his willingness to take helpful cues from his boys (he takes care of them during the day while his wife teaches school). With guidance from Casey and Owen (with whom he enjoys walks and age-appropriate "drinking" games), he comes to understand simple truths about life and death, secrets about ecology, aging, spirituality, and neighborliness, and the real meaning -- beyond obligation -- of commitment to family. This book is a joy to read for anyone -- parent or not -- pondering what it means to come of age.

Get your own copy of Believing It All from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Finding and Following an Authentic Life
Gregg M. Levoy
(Three Rivers Press, 1998)

Did you read the GoodThings story Pieces of Beauty by contributor Elisabeth Keating, about learning to retap your own creative abilities? Gregg Levoy's Callings is an ideal resource for learning more and for gaining additional inspiration. Levoy uses poetic language to suggest that, indeed, it is inspiration from things of splendor, things that tantalize the senses, rather than formal answers to equally formal questions, that may alert us to ways that work and life can be more meaningful:

"Instead of demanding clear-cut answers, it is better to hope for visitations, images that linger like alpenglow in the mind's eye, a flood of lyrics or music, a voluminous and eloquent silence, a surge of electrons in the brain that illuminates a vision or a dream."

Levoy offers psychological, spiritual, and practical guidance that will help you quiet down, cut through the distractions of daily life, and listen to yourself to discover your true callings. A calling can be anything from doing something (changing careers, getting into a committed relationship, taking a trip) or becoming something (more creative, less judgmental, more loving). You will learn to recognize an authentic calling and to overcome your internal resistance to it. Levoy reminds us that our intuition can and should be trusted, and that by learning to trust it we can lead a larger, more authentic life.

Get your own copy of Callings from your favorite local bookstore (tell them we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Dear Exile
The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean
Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery
(Vintage Books, 1999)

Worlds apart. That's what co-authors Hilary Liftin and Kate Montgomery are in Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (For a Year) by an Ocean. After graduating from Yale, old chums Hilary and Kate face the proverbial globe spinning at their fingertips. Kate and her new husband take the leap to Africa on an assignment from the Peace Corps, while Hilary sets her sights on New York City to pursue the working world. Their paths could not be more different yet, for these pen pals, each letter is a lesson on life.

From Africa, Kate writes letters that are rich with flavor, that chronicle her surroundings amidst aggressive cattle and fetid drinking water. "Yes, about the water," she writes. "We are currently a bit troubled about our water, seeing as...[it] smells like the Exxon Valdez, so Peace Corps is sending in a bit of it for a test, to find out what those chunks are made of." Sent to Kenya to teach, Kate and her husband delight in the children of the community, but are distressed by the mounting tensions between the school administration and its pupils. Students -- whose families or whole villages pay for their public education -- have not received school supplies to keep up with the curriculum and, as a ritual, are caned for any wrongdoings. Predictably, violence erupts and is vividly recounted in Kate's letters.

In contrast, Hilary's letters record her new life as a singleton in metropolitan New York, where she lands a job in "a sterile office at an ill-defined new job in a big, generic office building on a highway in Westchester." Bedding boys and throwing parties, Hilary's narcissistic writings bring levity to the starkness and complexities of Kate's Africa. "In Act I, scene i, of the kiss a single sentence ran through my head: 'This man is thirty-five.' Eight extra years he'd been alive and kissing. So long, ex-boyfriends, I thought, the way an astronaut thinks, So long, Earth. I'm going with thirty-five. But this was Sunday, and now it's Wednesday, and...I'm not even sure I would recognize him...on the street." Hilary, desperate to fall in love and find success, won't let descriptions of Kate's malaria or village conditions get in the way. Her city existence, though shallow at the skin, is one of honest insecurity and reasonable desires. To each writer, the recipient is a trusted diary.

With many miles, cultures, and climates between them, Hilary and Kate's friendship reaches a new, more reflective level, bridging the gap between metropolitan and village life with the lost art of letter-writing. - Reviewed by Ellen Cady

Get your own copy of Dear Exile from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

All the Powerful Invisible Things
Gretchen Legler
(Seal Press, 1995)

It is a sister's suicide and its effects on her family that lead Gretchen Legler on a journey of self-discovery in her memoir, All the Powerful Invisible Things.

The opening essay introduces the reader to Legler, an avid outdoorswoman as she explores -- among other things -- her love for the outdoors and its creatures. But this love -- for duck and deer hunting or fly-fishing for rainbow trout, for morel mushroom hunting deep in the forest or the intricate webs that spiders weave -- is multi-faceted. She delights in the natural world for its aesthetic beauty and feels compassion for its life force, but faces discrepancies in this appreciation as she contemplates her role in it. Legler wonders, “I want to know how I can say I love the swimming greenheads in Lake of the Isles, when every fall I make an adventure out of killing them? How can I say that killing has anything to do with love?”

Added to the mix is Legler's strained relationship with her father, whose very presence sends her back to her girlhood, where words don't form in the throat and where feelings are repressed. Acceptance arrives slowly, but she wonders, “Is it time? Is it all right to go ahead and admit that I am blood of his blood, that I am my father's daughter...?

Equally burdensome is her dissolving marriage to a man whom she leaves despite his warmth and loving companionship, for she has come alive to a new awareness, to loving women. “Being married was a good, bright, honest, shining thing,” she writes. “A right way to live. But I know now how fiercely I ignored my heart, how deliberately I smothered the insistent voice that spoke to me over and over again, saying 'This is not right. This is not right.'” These hurdles, though agonizing, prove to be the path to what is real and, ultimately, to what is right. Struggling to find her position in her family, to find her place as a woman, Legler's collection of essays is triumphant in its breadth and celebrated in its quest for life's painful truths. - Reviewed by Ellen Cady

Get your own copy of All the Powerful Invisible Things from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

My Misspent Youth
Meghan Daum
(Open City Books, 2001)

In last week's GoodThings on Public Radio, we told you about a piece that aired on NPR's Morning Edition by author Meghan Daum about the shock she faced when she left the cultural mecca of New York City for Nebraska's heartland (in short, she realized she needed to trade in her all-black wardrobe for a much more appropriate regional color). Daum writes with a voice as keen and clear as the eyes with which she sees the world. In My Misspent Youth, her new collection of essays, she confronts a different kind of culture shock, namely that of having grown up in northern New Jersey, just across the Hudson from the Big Apple, but returning from college intent on becoming a resident of the city itself and a working writer. Predictably, her noble and fairly courageous quest is rife with pitfalls, most which throw Daum off balance but none which dampen her sense of humor or her dedication.

These essays, essentially a non-linear memoir, deserve a prominent place in the red-hot genre of creative non-fiction. The utterly hilarious Music is My Bag charts her childhood as the daughter of a father obsessed with reading musical scores and a mother who harmonized while singing "Happy Birthday." She tries her hand at a type of cultural investigative journalism with her look into the puzzling lives of flight attendants (Inside the Tube) and the even more perplexing world of polyamorists (According to the Women I'm Fairly Pretty). Daum wields the English language with the skill of a tested, confident writer, guaranteeing that even the more self-indulgent pieces in this collection (Publishing and Other Near-Death Experiences, Carpet is Mungers) are eminently readable. The final essay in the collection, Variations on Grief, is some of the most gutwrenching non-fiction I've ever read and deserving of its anchor position in My Misspent Youth. No matter what or when the life transition, these are essays that will always come in handy.

Get your own copy of My Misspent Youth from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

On Writing
A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
(Pocket Books, 2000)

Though readers might expect Stephen King's latest book to open with a bogeyman hiding under the bed, On Writing takes us on a different path: the story of his life. One part memoir, one part style manual, On Writing is a page-turner with a twist. Midway through writing the book, King was hit by a car while walking near his home in Maine. His injuries and ensuing pain were so severe, he questioned if he'd ever put pen to paper again. Fortunately for readers, and thanks to his wife's prodding, King gradually returned to his writing, his love for the craft beginning to lessen the aches and pains left over from the accident. Writers and fans alike will enjoy King's frank lesson on writing and will delight in his candid style of storytelling, for this time it's autobiographical.

As a little boy, fascinated with comic books and science fiction, he would hitch to the double features or bang out homegrown stories on his typewriter. As an adult, he has had those stories published -- more than thirty bestsellers -- many of them made into feature films, yet his writing instruction is much more than a batch of expert tips; it almost feels like advice from a friend. Not a writer, the nonplussed fans wonder? Spend a day in the life of Stephen King and find out where a few of his best ideas were born. Poke around his book list, see what makes him tick. Heck, skip those chapters. On Writing is not macabre or hair-raising; it is a must-read. - Reviewed by Ellen Cady

Get your own copy of On Writing from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliate [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Learning to Fall
The Blessings of an Imperfect Life
Philip Simmons
(Xlibris, 2000)

Thanks to Jenn from Seattle for this recommendation!

"My mother gave me Learning to Fall with her highest recommendation. I'm always skeptical of any book she considers good because we don't normally have the same tastes. I also thought it might be either fluffy new age stuff or too spiritual for me. Well, I couldn't have been more wrong, and Mom, of course, was right. My entire family has read this book and loved it equally (very surprising, given how different we all are). It is a moving account of coming face to face with your own death. At the height of his personal life and career, author Philip Simmons was diagnosed with ALS (better known as Lou Gehrig's disease, a debilitating neuromuscular illness that affects speech, breathing, and swallowing, among other things).

But there is nothing depressing about Learning to Fall. In fact, it is uplifting, intelligent, and very inspiring. It's also light and insightful and real. Philip Simmons has obviously spent a lot of time reading and studying and thinking about his disease, his life, his dreams, and the people and places that are important to him, and he relies upon humor -- often wry and self-deprecating -- and an amazingly inclusive, broad perspective on spirituality to share his story.

Each of the chapters motivates you to think differently about your life. This is not another Tuesdays with Morrie. To me, it is more authentic, human, poetic, practical. (Can the poetic and the practical be joined together? I think Simmons has done that.) Simmons' stories are lively and refreshing expressions about life's uncertainty, and in a remarkable way, each of the stories leaves a lingering sense that uncertainty in life is worth embracing. I can't recommend this book enough. One of the reviews on the Learning to Fall Web site says the book is for "everyone who loves life -- or needs to love it more." From my perspective, that pretty much sums it up."

Get your own copy of Learning to Fall from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliate [amazon]. 20 percent of proceeds go to the ALS Association for research toward a cure.

What are you reading and why is it good?

Creative Kindness
People and Projects Making a Difference -- And How You Can, Too
Nancy Zieman with Gail Brown
(Reiman Publications, 2000)

One of the many ideas this book contains for using creativity to make a difference in the lives of others is how to craft for a make-it-yourself beret that's flattering and truly functional for hair-loss sufferers. Those who have family, friends and coworkers coping with cancer treatment, alopecia, auto-immune disorders, surgery and other conditions that cause baldness understand that many sufferers can't or won't wear wigs and need alternatives. This beret can help preserve their dignity and hope and is one of the many ideas this uplifting, easy-to-use book has to offer. It's also full of stories about how real people have come up with their own "creative kindness" innovations.

Get your own copy of Creative Kindness from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or online.

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Cathedral Within
Bill Shore
(Random House, 1999)

What does it take to build a cathedral or a magnificent structure of any sort? Long-term, sustained effort from hundreds of people. Belief and vision and passion. Leadership. It took 500 years to build the central cathedral in Milan. Bill Shore, author of The Cathedral Within, is on a quest to build a figurative cathedral around the challenge of saving people, particularly children, from the ravages of poverty and hunger. And he's convinced we can make a difference, that we can design a new "architecture for how society uses its resources to help children," that we can share our strengths, combine our passions and leave a long-term legacy.

Millions of kids in this world live below the poverty level, suffer from malnutrition (both the physical and emotional varieties), drop out of school, are at-risk from guns and violence in the home and neighborhood streets. What are we, as a society, doing about this?  Lots. What can we do? Lots more. Bill Shore highlights examples of a few amazingly committed and innovative folks in this world who have dedicated their lives to making a difference. Dr. Debra Frank leads a team of medical practitioners at Boston Hospital's Grow Clinic who day in and day out use a multi-disciplinary approach to help rescue kids from malnutrition. Nancy Carstedt is fired up about giving kids new opportunities at the Chicago Children's Choir -- an incredible organization that's exposing kids to music, discipline, commitment and excellence. Over the years, over 3000 kids have found a safe and empowering space at the choir. Alan Kazei and his co-founders at City Year have made change possible with their national youth service program through which over 4,000 young people have worked full-time for a year to revitalize our urban communities.

Against the backdrop of these inspirational stories is Shore's own quest with Share Our Strength. Since its inception almost 20 years ago, SOS has raised over $90 million for organizations that fight poverty and hunger. Shore and his colleagues have introduced an innovative community-wealth building model that engages for-profit and not-for-profit organizations in unique strategic partnerships that benefit all involved. Shore believes that doing something that matters is a basic human need, so he's making sure lots of people have an opportunity to fulfill that need.

Get your own copy of The Cathedral Within from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Running After Antelope
Scott Carrier
(Counterpoint, 2001)

The sound of Scott Carrier's droning, yet remarkably captivating, voice has become one of the things that's made This American Life -- Ira Glass' weekly public radio gather-around-the-campfire-pick-a-theme-and-tell-real-stories show -- so incredibly successful. David Sedaris, another This American Life regular and author of Naked and Me Talk Pretty One Day -- calls Carrier's essays "sad and a good way," and he's right. Running After Antelope, Carrier's new collection of his essays which originally appeared in Harper's, Esquire, or on public radio, is good, very good. It's the mark of an extraordinary writer with a remarkable gift for observing and examining life in all its nuance.

Like Sedaris, Carrier is a writer who first became known for his spoken voice. This American Life listeners will remember his voice and words as examples of why the show has become "appointment radio" for many. If you're listening to a Scott Carrier essay on the car stereo but reach your destination before the story ends, you're paralyzed until the final sentence. His pieces are that powerful and revealing.

At 130 pages, Running After Antelope is a short volume. Perhaps it's his experience in radio, but Carrier is something of a master at brevity, not unlike your friend who seems to be able to pack a tremendous punch in a very short e-mail or even a hand-scrawled postcard. In many ways, Carrier's essays read like postcards. They describe his travels all over the world -- Cambodia, Pakistan, Mexico, throughout the American West. But they don't read like someone making predictable swings through tourist traps. Carrier demonstrates a keen ability to connect with real people from the world's most remote places about their personal quests for something better in spite of personal disappointment, relentless political conflict, and their workaday existences.

The essays are tied together by Carrier's own quest to see if, as Native American legend has it, people can run with antelopes until the animals can run no more. It's the rabbit-hare question: does slow and steady win the race or do the sprinters always triumph? The way Carrier confronts this universal question unifies the essays of Running After Antelope -- some of them gutwrenching -- and gives them hope.

Get your own copy of Running After Antelope from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

The Botany of Desire new review
A Plant's-Eye View of the World
Michael Pollan

Author Michael Pollan has explored the intriguing evolution of plants in his fascinating new book The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World. He contends that the plants we humans have grown to love through the centuries are just practicing a little self-preservation. They've evolved to guarantee their survival by appealing to the inalienable desires of people (namely, sweetness, splendor, exhilaration, and control). Unable to move themselves, plants have developed a remarkable bio-chemical complexity that enables them to seduce -- or choose -- us in the same way they lure winged pollinators.

Get your own copy of The Botany of Desire from your favorite local bookstore (tell 'em we sent you!) or from our affiliate [amazon].

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

What are you reading and why is it good?

Uncommon Friendship new review
From Opposite Sides of the Holocaust
Bernat Rosner, Frederic C. Tubach, Sally P. Tubach

Bernie Rosner is more than a Hungarian Jew, and Frits Tubach is more than the son of a former Nazi officer. They're both Americans and, since 1983, have been the closest of friends. They've written a new book together called Uncommon Friendship: From Opposite Sides of the Holocaust that charts Bernie's experience as the only member of his family who survived Auschwitz and Frits' struggles as a youth being trained to become one of Hitler's crusaders. Through the years, Bernie has learned to avoid associating people with evil because of their ethnicity, and Frits has realized the danger in identifying with a group where the source of power is invisible. They concede, though, that the tennis court will forever be a battleground. (University of California Press)

Get your own copy of Uncommon Friendship from our affiliate [amazon].

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

What are you reading and why is it good?

Jim the Boy
Tony Earley

Thanks to a reader in Seattle, Washington, for this recommendation!

"Lately, I have had the feeling that in choosing to read modern fiction, I have signed on for a continual dose of tragic characters and disturbing plotlines. Tony Earley's recent novel Jim the Boy taught me otherwise. Jim, the book's central character, is not immune to the steady stream of tragedy that occurs in life, but he is loved unconditionally and taught by example that humor and integrity are a person's greatest assets. Although set in a period in history defined as depressing, this refreshingly simple and honest story left me feeling that all was/would be right with the world."

Set in small town North Carolina at the time of the Depression, Jim the Boy is the tale of a year in the life of a white Southern boy. The prologue to the story warms you to the character of Jim immediately and Tony Earley's voice as a ten-year-old boy is flawless. But don't be fooled by the simplicity of the story -- the lessons of friendship, tolerance, family and self are deep and universal. His family and community waning, young Jim may be the "last of his kind" but at the end of Jim the Boy, you'll find yourself hoping that this is not the last you hear of his story. Adults will find Jim's story compelling and, at the same time, will relish the opportunity to read it to children.

Get your own copy of Jim the Boy from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Arctic Refuge
A Circle of Testimony
Hank Lentfer and Carolyn Servid, compilers

The debate over oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge rages on. Why, you ask from your home far from Alaska, should you care? A new collection of essays eloquently explains why. But Arctic Refuge: A Circle of Testimony isn't full of predictable environmental sermons. It's made up of impassioned pleas from an amazing variety of perspectives from all over the map. Writer cum petroleum geologist Rick Bass may capture the Arctic's intrinsic value best in his essay, One Moderate's Heart:

"When I discuss [this issue] with my geologist friends, they often grow combative, challenging me about whether I've ever seen the Arctic. I have, I tell them, although I have not seen the Liberty Bell, nor the original Declaration of Independence, nor the Sistine Chapel, nor many other things whose existence and undiluted integrity is important to me." (Milkweed Editions)

Find out how to get your own copy of Arctic Refuge from [Milkweed Editions] or [amazon].

What are you reading and why is it good?

Crossing the Unknown Sea
Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity
David Whyte

David Whyte is no stranger to the Fortune 500. He's consulted for heavy-hitters like Boeing, AT&T, Procter & Gamble, and American Express, but he doesn't bring spreadsheets to his strategy meetings. The tool of his trade? Poetry. And in an uncommon career spanning 15 years, he's made a compelling case to his clients that the rhythmic words of Walt Whitman, William Blake, Rainer Maria Rilke, T. S. Eliot, and others have a remarkable way of shedding light on some of the more intangible aspects of doing business, like the impact of employee morale on productivity. For companies concerned about the bottom line, that's argument enough. His 1994 book The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America has become something of a classic.

Now, with his new book Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity, Whyte shifts his focus slightly, moving away from larger corporate entities to the real cogs in the wheel, their employees. He contends that poetry motivates and empowers employees to bring passion and purpose to their pursuits. In the book, Whyte is able to accomplish with personal anecdote and verse what organizational consultants and career counselors may only dream of. Without resorting to the drivel of most self-help guides, his words make occupational struggles feel normal and common. He acknowledges that while most of us dream of more creative, soulful, personal work, we face a crisis when we consider pursuing it because our potential failure might represent "a failure in our very essence, a kind of living death." Whyte argues that liberation from the fear of such failure may be as simple as seeing ourselves as the captains of our own careers, complete with a willingness both to stand firmly behind our ideas and beliefs and to accept accountability. Whyte says this kindles a "fire at the center of the conversation" about work and lifts career far above its former linear look and feel. To read Crossing the Unknown Sea is to feel as if you've already built the ideal ship for the task. (Riverhead Books)

Get your own copy of Crossing the Unknown Sea from our affiliates [powell's] or [amazon].

Songs Without Rhyme
Rosanne Cash, editor

Some might say that the stories of our lives are told in music. How many songs can you associate with special occasions in your life? What about the ones you associate with heartache or current events or people long gone but not forgotten? Music helps us to chronicle our lives, and even if the songs aren't exactly always on topic, they certainly help to give the years a nice soundtrack.

In Songs Without Rhyme, editor Rosanne Cash has collected a series of stories that are all based on actual songs. Cash may be best known as the daughter of Johnny Cash and as a distinguished musician in her own right. But she's also established herself as a writer of note. Her 1995 collection of short stories Bodies of Water enjoyed critical acclaim, and her children's book Penelope Jane: A Fairy's Tale from last year will long be a favorite of mothers looking for ways to build their children's confidence.

The authors of each of the Songs Without Rhyme in this collection are singer-songwriters. All but one of the writers (Johnny Cash himself) has written a short story based on the lyrics of or the inspiration behind one of his or her own songs. Sure, the singer-songwriter-as-short-story-author approach makes for a solid gimmick, but there are real writers here. In "I Walk the Line Revisited" (based on a song from his new album The Houston Kid), Rodney Crowell tells a charming tale about growing up in east Texas listening to the radio and learning about "love and common decency, my grandfather, cussin', spittin', and cheatin' at cards." Shawn Colvin's "Bonefields" explores the nuances of her relationship with the folks next door. And Steven Page, better known as the lead singer of Barenaked Ladies, writes a laugh-out-loud account of his spirited duel with a feisty raccoon in "In the Car." Suzanne Vega, Paula Cole, David Byrne, Jane Siberry, and Marc Cohn are among the other musicians trying their hands at a different kind of storytelling in this collection. (Hyperion)

Get your own copy of Songs Without Rhyme from our affiliate [amazon].

My Grandfather's Blessings
Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging
Rachel Naomi Remen, MD

I'm almost never drawn to books about spiritual or emotional enlightenment. So the fact I found My Grandfather's Blessings a pleasure to read is proof that sometimes even the most hardened skeptics are actually capable of opening up to new and meaningful experiences.

Dr. Rachel Remen has a rare gift for packaging wisdom about life's many lessons into thoughtful and engaging vignettes, stories of lessons learned from friends, colleagues, patients, and, of course, her grandfather. Each story ends with a wonderful idea for finding compassion or healing or living life fully and openly. Remen patiently reminds us of our own individual capacity and need for human compassion and connection.

As a physician and counselor for people dealing with chronic and terminal illnesses, the author gives us a rare glimpse into the realm of healing, and she teaches us it's about much more than taking appropriate medical steps to recovery. It's also about being heard and understood and touched and cared for by loved ones and strangers alike. Her insights give us hope that it is possible for medical practitioners both to be professional and to "live from the heart" at the same time. They also remind us that if we strengthen connections with people around us, we'll never be alone. (Riverhead Books)

Buy your own copy of My Grandfather's Blessings from [powell's] or [amazon].

Work Naked
Eight Essential Principles for Peak Performance in the Virtual Workplace
Cynthia Froggatt

Public radio reviewer David Molpus says the soon-to-be-released book Work Naked has more going for it than just its catchy title and quirky cover. It's a bona fide guide to evolving employee expectations in a rapidly changing economy. It urges managers to allow for employees' personal styles in being productive and to understand that early-morning time spent in front of a computer screen is the peak performance scenario for very few people. Molpus calls this "a passionate conversation starter."

Buy your own copy of Work Naked from [amazon].

Rules for the Unruly
Marian Winik

Author Marian Winik states what most mothers consider to be the obvious: there's no such thing as a mom who doesn't work. In the continual cultural struggle to build healthy families alongside busy careers, mothers are on the frontlines. Now a convert to the idea that families breed creative power, Winik once believed that she could only be productive in quiet solitude. She concedes, though: "Family life nourishes everything."

Buy your own copy of Rules for the Unruly from [amazon].

The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

A reader from Palo Alto, California, wrote to recommend Flow:

"What distinguishes Flow is that with volumes of self-help babble out there, it takes a rational, research-based approach to what makes people happy. Through exhaustive and very creative studies of the conditions under which people feel energized, focused, fulfilled, etc., the author isolates the conditions that lead to a state he calls "flow." Not surprisingly, his research suggests that people are happiest when participating in challenging activities requiring skill. Sailing, rock-climbing, even reading are considered flow-producing activities. Watching TV is not and is, in fact, associated with some of the lowest scores in terms of producing happiness, self-esteem, etc. Of course, few of us have the energy to engage in serious flow activities all of the time, but for me, understanding the conditions and the potential power of flow helps me get that much closer to living a fulfilling life."

"Flow" is a profoundly appealing concept. I remember one time watching the remarkable blues guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps perform and being almost paralyzed with awe. He wasn't concentrating on the mechanics of his guitar-playing, like where his fingers were supposed to be or how to maintain his tempo. Instead, his playing had an uncommon, almost rapturous fluidity. He had become his music. It was a phenomenal thing to witness. It's like listening to the virtuosity of Mozart or Maria Callas or witnessing the athletic prowess of Michael Jordan or Mia Hamm. There's a profound sense that they transcend the ordinary. They achieve "flow." And the best thing about this book -- aside from its no-nonsense tone -- is Csikszentmihalyi's insistence that with awareness, a flow-like optimal happiness is attainable by everyone. (HarperCollins)

Buy your own copy of Flow from [powell's] or [amazon].

Check out another of Csikszentmihalyi's books on "flow": Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention.

Red-Tails in Love
A Wildlife Drama in Central Park
Marie Winn

Nature is in everything we see -- or don't see. So says Marie Winn in Red-Tails in Love, her engaging account of a pair of red-tailed hawks who take up residence in New York's Central Park and give meaning and purpose to the city's seemingly invisible bird-watching community. Winn discovers that the places in Central Park she was always afraid to go are compulsively inhabited by dedicated birders -- and, more importantly, the avian objects of their affection. These urban birders, called "the Regulars," become enamored of a male hawk they dub "Pale Male" and his escapades, both migratory and romantic. It's the birds, not the people, who are at the heart of the book's plotline. Initially, Pale Male takes up with First Love, a female whose attempt at hatching viable offspring fails. A romance with Chocolate follows, and an impassioned birders' vigil ensues to see if her chicks survive in their nest high atop a Fifth Avenue skyscraper (Mary Tyler Moore and Woody Allen are their human neighbors). Red-Tails in Love is a fascinating read, equal parts mystery (Will the birds return each year to Central Park? Will the chicks survive?) and romance. Winn realizes that nature -- in all its resiliency -- is in front of her all the time in nooks and crannies that she, in the rush of her daily life, never took the time to notice or appreciate.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Best Friends
The True Story of the World's Most Beloved Sanctuary
Samantha Glen (intro by Mary Tyler Moore)

The story of the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary is as inspiring as they come. This no-kill animal shelter occupies hallowed ground in Utah's Angel Canyon and has become a glorious foster home for as many as 3,000 animals. With a goal of "no more homeless pets," Best Friends succeeds in placing 75% of the animals it houses in loving homes all over the country. Most of the animals who end up at Best Friends have been cast out by owners who no longer wanted them or could no longer meet their special needs. In the twelve years between 1987 and 1999, Best Friends and other no-kill shelters like it reduced the number of pets that were destroyed in the United States by 12 million. Many are familiar with what the no-kill movement does. The story of how shelters like Best Friends started is less familiar. Samantha Glen's heartwarming account of the birth of Best Friends and the dedication of its staff, volunteers, and donors to a simple, exceedingly humane idea is powerful. Glen extols the importance of creating and being true to a vision, and she gives that vision a glowing human -- and canine? -- face.

Learn more about Best Friends.

Kids are some of the best "Best Friends." Read about Cool Kids Kim and Nicholas on the LEGO Web site.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Speaking with the Angel
Nick Hornby, ed.

Need one single reason to buy this edgy collection of original short stories? Buy it for Nick Hornby's moving introduction, a loving and raw tribute to his autistic son Danny to whom the collection is dedicated. Hornby made a name for himself as the author of such novels as "About a Boy" and "High Fidelity" (which spawned the John Cusack movie of the same name), and now he's using his celebrity to make a difference in the lives of kids like Danny who need innovative educational programs to open them up to the world. Hornby's been inspired by the work of TreeHouse, a special school in the North London for children with communication disorders. It's changed Danny's life, so Hornby has spearheaded the "Speaking with the Angel" project to change the lives of other autistic kids. And he's enlisted the support of some of today's hottest young writers. Melissa Bank ("The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing"), Roddy Doyle ("Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha"), Zadie Smith ("White Teeth"), Dave Eggers ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"), and Helen Fielding ("Bridget Jones' Diary") are all here in rare form.

Learn more about TreeHouse.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Speak Truth to Power
Kerry Kennedy Cuomo
Photographs by Eddie Adams

Desmond Tutu's name is as synonymous with the struggle to bring down South African apartheid as the exiled Dalai Lama's is with the ongoing campaign to liberate the Tibetan people. Their stories are both featured in this remarkable book, but no more prominently than the stories of Gabor Gombos, a Hungarian advocate for the rights of the mentally ill, or Maria Teresa Tula, a crusader for Salvadoran women and children, or Jose Ramos-Horta, a leader in the quest for an independent East Timor. This is a hopeful, human book filled with incredible images of the 50 heroes that are profiled. Compiled by human rights activist Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, these personal stories draw needed attention to campaigns for basic human rights in every corner of the globe.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Dawn of the 21st Century
Alx Klive and David Kilgour, eds.
The Millennium Photo Project

A timely recommendation courtesy of Connie Wragge of West Chester, Pennsylvania:

"Late last year (November 4, to be exact), the only photo book on how the world welcomed the arrival of the year 2000 was published. What makes this book so extraordinary is that it was produced entirely by volunteers who were recruited over the Internet. The volunteers took 269,000 photographs between noon on December 31, 1999, and noon on January 1, 2000. The photos were then judged, and the best were selected for the book, 'Dawn of the 21st Century.' Alx Klive is the founder of the Millennium Photo Project, and thanks to him, the world has a bound documentary of an event that will not take place again for another 1,000 years. I am one of the volunteer photographers. More than 3,500 of us participated in the Project so this documentary could be realized."

Buy your own copy from [amazon].

Round Ireland with a Fridge
Tony Hawks

Tony Hawks puts the "rave" in "travel" writing. This raucous, upbeat account of his inspired spin around Ireland is as wild as they come. Calling him just another hitchhiker on the road might very well be the understatement of the year. His buddy (convinced that Hawks' tale of seeing a guy hitchhike around Ireland with a refrigerator was a myth of absurd proportions) bet Hawks he couldn't do exactly that, hitchhike around Ireland for a month with a monkey, er, fridge on his back. What began as Hawks' Waterloo turned into something of dream. When he called into a hugely popular Irish talk show and explained his situation, the quest picked up a head of steam. With a daily pint of Guinness, a mountain-sized sense of humor, and a nation on his side, Hawks could have won the bet with an elephant.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Quidditch Through the Ages
Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
J. K. Rowling

When the founder of the non-profit Comic Relief went to Harry Potter creator J. K. Rowling and asked her to lend support to the organization's work, he was overwhelmed by her response -- two brand-new Harry Potter books! "Quidditch Through the Ages" and "Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them" will bring a minimum of $15 million to Comic Relief's Children's Fund to reunite families separated by war, and that's just the first printing.

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Buy your own copy of "Quidditch Through the Ages" and "Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them" from [powell's] or buy them both from [amazon].

My Dream of You
Nuala O'Faolain

Nuala O'Faolain was a struggling Irish opinion columnist when she rushed her memoir "Are You Somebody?" to press in 1998. The book was widely read and earned such great praise that a newfound "joie de vivre" welled up inside of her, along with fresh creative energy. Now, with "My Dream of You," she's a first-time novelist with a story that has its roots in the Irish famine of the 1840's but is more about the hunger for passion. What's next for Nuala? A sojourn in North America -- a land she says is full of "optimism and self-belief" -- and some quality time in the pub.

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Brush Up Your Shakespeare
Michael Macrone

William Shakespeare benefited tremendously from writing in the beautifully "elastic" language that is English. Author Michael Macrone says he shaped it more than it shaped him. He may not have been solely responsible for words like "amazement" or "epileptic" or phrases like "wearing my heart on my sleeve" or "in my mind's eye," but he brought them into common usage.

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Saturday. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

A Lesson Before Dying
Ernest Gaines

Committed to the belief that books can be catalysts for change, a Rochester, New York-based group Writers and Books has formed a different brand of book club. They've sparked a movement to get the entire city reading the same book, Ernest Gaines' "A Lesson Before Dying." Gaines' novel tells the tales of a wrongly accused young black man on death row in 1940s Louisiana. The ad hoc book club has invigorated the local conversation on race relations. It's left room for conflict as well as unity ("I'm Reading Ernest Gaines" pins are everywhere in town).

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Alistair MacLeod

With an intensity that reviewer Alan Cheuse says "takes your breath away," Canadian Alistair MacLeod writes short stories about his home on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. The tales ooze with authenticity and connect the reader more and more strongly, one story at a time, with a place as powerful as the ocean surrounding it.

Listen to Alan Cheuse's review on National Public Radio's All Things Considered. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Next: The Road to the Good Society
Amitai Etzioni

George Washington University sociologist Amitai Etzioni has written a book called "Next: The Road to the Good Society," arguing that we should be moving toward a culture of mutuality rather than one based on empty good deeds. Referencing the environmental movement and savings and loans, he says communitarism is based on reclaiming our sense of community and obligation to each other.

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Interested in looking beyond good deeds? Buy a copy of "Next" from [powell's] or [amazon].

Animal Dreams
Barbara Kingsolver

Need a page turner? Consider this Kingsolver classic. A reader had this to say: "It's not only a wonderful book about sisters, family ties, and finding yourself, but it also made me question who I was and what I could ultimately do."

Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

How To Write a Love Letter
Barrie Dolnick and Donald Baack

Everybody knows that on Valentine's Day, the pressure's on. Was this year's love letter some of your best work? The author of the book "How To Write A Love Letter" says it requires wit, sublety, liberal use of other people's words, and absolutely, positively no apologies.

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition Sunday. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Need help? Buy your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

What To Expect When You're Expecting
Arlene Eisenberg

What do women dealing with pregnancy for the first time need the most? Humor, conversation, and, please, no medical jargon. Arlene Eisenberg's "What To Expect When You're Expecting" provided all of those things.

Listen to a story about it on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. You will need RealPlayer to listen.

Not an Eisenberg disciple? You can be. Grab your own copy from [powell's] or [amazon].

Diagnosing Jefferson
Norm Ledgin

Diana Leonard of Kansas City, Missouri, recommends this intriguing perspective on Thomas Jefferson:

While listening to a local talk show on KCUR-FM in Kansas City hosted by Walt Bodine, we heard the author speak about his new book, "Diagnosing Jefferson." It was life changing for us and our adult son. This book addresses a condition called "Asperger's Syndrome," a high-functioning form of autism. As the author described his son's childhood behavior patterns, we realized he could have been talking about our son. This information will do wonders for our son's self-esteem. Today Walt Bodine said the show had received the highest number of calls in the history of the program and had a profound effect on countless listeners. Asperger's Syndrome is frequently misdiagnosed in adults as bi-polar disorder. Apparently, from studies done on historical records, such greats as Thomas Jefferson (about whom Mr. Ledgin wrote his book), Thomas Alva Edison, and Albert Einstein had Asperger's. The three of us are delighted with the information that Walt's program provided us!

Buy "Diagnosing Jefferson" from [powell's] or [amazon].

Short Guide to a Happy Life
Anna Quindlen

In this little "instruction book," bestselling novelist and Newsweek columnist Anna Quindlen reflects on what it takes to "get a life"--to live deeply every day and from your own unique self, rather than merely to get through yet another day.

Buy it from [powell's] or [amazon].

Read an interview with Anna Quindlen.

Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community
Robert D. Putnam

Overheard in a Memphis airport bookshop during a recent holiday trip:

(Man in his 70s to another man in his 50s or so):

"My granddaughter had me read a book she was reading in college. It's called Bowling Alone. The author fella talks about how we are staying home more and not interacting with our communities. It really helped me see why our Rotary Club membership is declining. You oughta read this. Really, everyone oughta."

Did you know that we spend about 35% less time visiting with friends than we did thirty years ago, and American families have dinner together only two-thirds as often as they did a generation ago? Putnam also gives ideas for how we may reconnect.

Buy it from [powell's] or [amazon].

Or check out the author's Web site and get a taste of this important work.

Classic Treks: The 30 Most Spectacular Hikes in the World
Bill Birkett, Editor

A great gift book for the holiday season. Scrumptious photos and daydream-inducing destinations: England's Coast to Coast walk, Machu Picchu on Peru's Inca Trail, Colorado's Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, California's John Muir Trail through the Sierras, Vermont's Long Trail, the High Route between France and Spain in the Pyrenees, a Nepalese loop in the shadow of Everest, Mount Kenya in Africa, and New Zealand's Ring of Fire, to name a just a few.

Pick up a copy for yourself and those on your gift list. Plus, maybe, a walking stick?

Buy it from [powell's] or [amazon].

Prodigal Summer
Barbara Kingsolver

Janice, a goodletter reader in Chicago thinks you should run, not walk, to get your hands on Barbara Kingsolver's new novel.

"I am a business person, not a biologist. I live in a city, and the closest I get to enjoying nature is my daily run through a city park or a weekend hiking trip with friends. I'll call it like it is -- I am basically out of touch with nature and with the ecology of our planet. I don't want to be, but the sad truth of the matter is that I live in a place that is largely disconnected from the beauty, the harshness, the dynamism that makes up our natural world.

So, reading Barbara Kingsolver's latest offering, "Prodigal Summer," was a good thing for me because it reconnected me with the larger realities of living on Earth. It made me cognizant (in an engaging narrative form that was not too too preachy or argumentative) of the fact that the choices we make, as we attempt to create a world that is comfortable for humans, have huge ramifications on the natural world that we seem to value so much. Every living species has a place in the larger ecosystem. Maybe this is a no-brainer for many people, but I have to say it was a good reminder for this city-bumpkin."

Pick up a copy and get yourself back in touch.
Buy it from [powell's] or [amazon].

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Difference
Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell, a staff writer for The New Yorker, wants to help you make a difference. About his book, he says: "One of the things I'd like to do is to show people how to start "positive" epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. This is not an abstract, academic book. It's very practical. And it's very hopeful. It's brain software."

Visit the author’s site.

Buy it from [powell's] or [amazon]. You'll swallow it whole.

Gardening by Heart: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Garden
Joyce McGreevy

With warmth, wit, and wisdom, author Joyce McGreevy encourages us to look to gardening as a source of creativity, spirituality, and inspiration. My mother bought a copy for her hospital's waiting room. I bought one for my nightstand to dip into regularly. Try it--you'll laugh, you'll think about our Earth, and you'll pass along a copy to a dear friend.

Buy a copy from Sierra Club Books. Or, if your prefer, [powell's] or [amazon].

Read an excerpt from the book.

Where Rivers Change Direction
Mark Spragg

Drawing from a landscape of separation where "next-door" neighbors can live a day’s drive from each other, author Mark Spragg discovered connection. His remarkable collection of essays recounts his own struggles to find humanity in rural Montana, a place where – by many accounts – it's the elements that most routinely prevail. Find out why one reviewer says this memoir "could ride a horse better than most 'westerns'" and why author Terry Tempest Williams calls Spragg's narrative true "blood-writing" with "every sentence alive."

Pick it up from your local bookstore or online from [powell's] or [amazon].

A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You
Amy Bloom

Amy Bloom established her glowing reputation as a short-story craftswoman in her National Book Award-winning collection, "Come To Me." Her newest crop of short stories, "A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You," focuses on the complicated relationships between intimates. Novelist Michael Cunningham describes Bloom as "a compassionate writer who . . . loves the world too much to sentimentalize it," and author Jane Hamilton calls these stories "at once achingly funny and heartbreaking."

Pick it up from your local bookstore or online from [powell's] or [amazon].

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