Tuesday, March 17, 2020

5 Good Books for Bad News Days

It goes without saying that there’s to be an awful lot of bad news right now.  A sort of rule about blogs is that each post should have an accompanying picture, which has always been an interesting challenge for me (causing me to come up with the “silly selfie” theme as seen in posts like the story about the bear or my challenges with my property manager in Busan).  I was thinking hard about what picture should accompany today’s post, when I came across this headline from the San Diego Union-Tribune  “No toilet paper was just the beginning.”  I just... I mean... I have no words.

A horrible tornado struck a city I love and have family in two weeks ago, there’s a virus spreading around the world that has affected the way I’m living right now and probably you as well, politics are dividing people and breeding anger and hatred, and stores are selling out of toilet paper.(?!?!)  And that’s not even talking about “every day” sorts of bad news and stressors we might be facing on a personal level, like losing a job, facing a big move, or having a scary health diagnosis.  

Here, though, are five good books that are sort of literary antidotes for the bad news days.  I won’t pretend these books can fix all the problems for you.  But what they will do is provide you with some good insight, helpful tips, and humorous perspectives for whatever comes next.  While I preface each one with a specific scary scenario, I also think they’re just plain great reads any ol’ time.  

{Note: These are affiliate links, and if you purchase through these links, I may receive a small compensation at no additional cost to you.  See my full disclosure here.}

When you face a scary diagnosis: 

Little Victories: A Sportswriter’s Notes on Winning at Life by Jason Gay

From the Wall Street Journal’s popular sports columnist comes this collection of inspiring narratives that tell of his own battle with cancer, as well as his father’s.  He also shares openly the infertility struggle in his own marriage.  All this might sound oppressive, and definitely could be in the hands of another author.  But Gay manages a healthy degree of levity and optimism that keeps you laughing more than you’d expect while still being honest enough to bring you to tears at times.  

Even if you’re not reading this after some bad health news, Little Victories has truly excellent stories, plus some fantastic words of encouragement about losing your job.  And I strongly feel that every. single. parent. out. there should read his letter to his imaginary Little League team.  My goodness.  It’s so good. I was driving while listening to it, and I wanted to stand up in my seat and cheer.

When you’re chosen to give a big speech (or you realize you’re just not communicating well):

Talk Like Ted: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo

Okay, I’m just going to be completely honest here and tell you that giving a big speech doesn’t scare me at all.  In fact, I’d be perfectly happy to.  But I know many people find the thought of giving a speech to be utterly terrifying.  So let’s say you find out you have to give a huge presentation at work, or a speech on something, and you’re waking up in cold sweats at the mere thought of it…

Or like me, you picked this book because you’ve had too many of those moments where you wonder how the other person could have possibly gotten what you thought you were saying so completely wrong…

In my opinion, this is a book everyone should read.  I was telling Jayna (my college student daughter, in case you’re new here) about this book, and she said, “Oh yeah, that was one of my texts for my general ed communications class.”  I was so happy to hear this because I knew for sure that she would be leaving college with at least some very practical knowledge applicable to so many different situations — definitely not just giving a speech!

There’s so much good stuff in this book, but one fascinating takeaway for me was that the perfect length of time for an effective speech is 18 minutes.  This is something I have long believed, being a girl who grew up going to church — actually, many different churches all over the place — and thinking, “This could be said better in a lot less time.”  My granddad was a Navy chaplain and then a chaplain for the California Youth Authority, and both are places where chapel is allotted a very strict amount of time.  You can’t just pontificate endlessly.  He always said that if you can’t say what you need to say in 25 minutes, you’re saying it wrong.  Turns out he was mostly right! (Just seven minutes off.)  There is, in fact, an entire science to it!  Less truly is more.

When the world just looks entirely too divided and angry:

Capital Gaines: Smart Things I Learned Doing Stupid Stuff by Chip Gaines

Okay, another moment of honesty here: I really did not have high expectations for this book.  I checked it out because the book I was waiting for had not come in, but I have since purchased it because I was very happily surprised by how good it was.  Don’t get me wrong — I’ve always liked Chip Gaines.  Who doesn’t, right?!  He’s funny, silly, down-to-earth.  I just thought it would kind of be a lot of goofiness and not so much substance.  Chip Gaines, if you ever happen to read this, I’m sorry!  

What I found though was so much real heart in his writing, and a man driven not by net profits and quarterly earnings but a deep and genuine care for community.  His vision that started in his hometown of Waco — which, as he mentions, was mostly known for the Branch Davidian craziness in the early 90’s, though he also mentions that wasn’t actually in Waco — is his vision for everyone, coming to the table, talking, learning about and loving each other despite our differences.  I realized through reading this book that his business is really more of a mission, and when I finished it, I felt hopeful and optimistic.  (Ummm… Chip Gaines for president?  Yes?)

Fun bonus: the true stories from people who have worked for him.  

When you’re facing a big move (or not loving where you live):

This is Where You Belong: Finding Home Wherever You Are by Melody Warnick

I would put this on my list of top ten books for every military spouse, but everyone could benefit from reading it.  Melody Warnick describes a life very similar to mine, where she moved frequently for her husband’s job.  With every move, she believed she’d found the magic place that would finally make her happy.  But it wouldn’t take long for her to feel jaded and/ or bored and start looking for the next place.  

Finally, the author realized it was time to quit this kind of thinking and figure out what it takes to be happy in a place.  She began to research what was supposed to increase satisfaction with place and implement what she found in her own life.  To that end, there are chapters on buying locally, walking more, taking an active role in local politics, getting to actually know your neighbors, and so much more.  As Warnick did this, she began to feel a growing connection to where she lived instead of an eagerness to leave it.  

I’ve definitely been trying to apply this book to my own life, and reflecting on my many (many!) moves, I could see how times I’d implemented certain strategies helped.  While I don’t want to spend the rest of my life here, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that there’s a lot I will miss when we move. 

When you’re fired from your job (or contemplating a big career change):

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff

Okay, it might sound a little funny that I read this book since I don’t have a career in the sense of trying to get promoted or climb any kind of ladder.  Sure, there are times when I’m sure my kids would like to fire me or have a few thoughts about my job performance!  But I read it thinking mostly of this blog, and things I could do better.  

The information in this book, though, was applicable to so many different areas of life.  The pages are peppered with humorous and interesting anecdotes and illustrations.  And, while I personally am not facing a job change, I think Acuff’s entertaining writing would be extremely welcome to anyone in a stressful situation of that sort.  Also… this might sound weird… but I could think of specific people who truly need to read this book.  As in, I might even go so far as to say, “I think God wants you to read this book,” even though I usually stay far away from statements like that.  


Most of us have some extra time to read right now, so why not pick up all these books?!

Interested in more book recommendations?  Try:

3 Great Books for Hard Days

It’s Okay to Cry: 10 Kids’ Books to Make You Weep (don’t worry, it’ll be a cathartic, “good cry”!)