America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks by Ruth Whippman: A Englishwoman living in California and bemused by the U.S.’s emphasis on pursuing happiness, Whippman puts her journalistic chops to work scrutinizing research and social movements and offers some well-known, and some more surprising, insights about where our pursuit of happiness fails. For some reason I found her occasional sarcasm distracting — too English for me, maybe? — but her critical analysis of the positive psychology movement in Chapter 8 is worth its weight in gold. (And there’s a convincing argument that gold *is* more likely to contribute to your happiness than positive psychology….) As somebody who’s read a LOT of books about happiness, I found this book to be a welcome change of pace, and I recommend it if you’ve ever entertained any doubts about the vast and very profitable U.S. happiness industry.
Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach: The title of this book seems a little condescending to me, but once I got past that, I found this to be typical solid David Bach financial advice. You’ve probably run across some of it online, if you’ve read any financial blogs at all, but this is a deeper dive with an eye toward issues that affect women’s finances in particular: lower pay rates, longer life spans, dependent children, and husbands who often manage — and sometimes mismanage — the household money without keeping their wives involved. The book has been recently and comprehensively updated, so it’s worth a look even if you read the first edition years ago. Since I’m doing some financial spring cleaning — something I loathe! — I need books like this to encourage me through it. Bach’s advice gave me several ideas about various savings and investment options I might want to consider changing or adopting and got me to take some necessary steps toward monitoring my accounts and Social Security. Worth a read, even if the title makes you squirm a little….
Playing with FIRE by Scott Rieckens: If you’re already reading blogs about FIRE (Financial Independence, Retire Early), then there won’t be anything new in this book for you, although I always enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of peeking into somebody’s personal self-improvement journey. If you don’t know much about FIRE, then this is a gentle introduction to the basic concepts and also addresses all the challenges, doubts, and uncertainties that come along with a major lifestyle change; you may want to check out the associated documentary, as well. Back when I was the author’s age, this process was called downsizing or simple living … but no matter what you call it, “spend less than you earn” is often challenging. This book provides anecdotes but doesn’t offer too much practical advice; for that, I’d recommend one of David Bach’s books, see Smart Women Finish Rich, above.
Love for Imperfect Things by Haemin Sunim: This colorfully illustrated book from a Zen Buddhist monk currently based in Seoul is a pleasant mix of anecdotes and advice that deserved more thought and time than I gave it, impatient reader that I am. As a professor, I appreciated Sunim’s anecdotes about going through grad school and working at the university level, and his reasons for deciding to become a monk instead. (Some days, I’d like to run off and join a monastery, myself….) Some of his blank-verse advice felt generic or bland to me, but other verses hit home, so I imagine what you’ll find relevant in this book will depend a lot on where you are and what you’re struggling with as you read it.
How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency by Akiko Busch: Essay-like chapters touch on invisibility technologies, the invisibility of underwater diving, invisible ink, hiding in nature, and other matters. I picked up the book hoping for some sort of argument against our cultural value of visibility on social media, and this book does address that topic, but more as a touchpoint for meandering discussions of the various ways invisibility shows up in the world and in literature than as a problem to be analyzed, addressed, and fixed. I ended up skimming it, but I imagine more contemplative readers would enjoy it.