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The self-help genre has a long history of providing advice to readers seeking change, guidance and empowerment. These two highly anticipated books, while wildly different, are positive, entertaining additions to the bunch.

In Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, bestselling author Luvvie Ajayi Jones uses her trademark humor and insight to show readers how to break down—and break through—the fears that hold them back from their professional and personal goals. Her principles are explained in three sections: Be, Say and Do.

In the Be section, Ajayi Jones emphasizes how important it is to first know who you are and what you want. As you determine these things, remember that being audacious and dreaming big aren’t just for other people; they’re for you, too. In this section, readers meet Ajayi Jones’ grandmother, a joyful woman who took time to celebrate her life and always made space for herself in the world. In the Say section, Ajayi Jones explores how speaking up and setting boundaries are steps worth taking toward fighting your fears. Finally, in Do, she explains that there is no progress without action. 

Throughout the book, Ajayi Jones provides helpful examples of fear-fighting from her own life, such as the time she almost turned down the opportunity to give a TED Talk because she was scared of failure. She also provides useful exercises like writing a mission statement and listing your values and goals. Ajayi Jones’ fans will appreciate this bold display of her signature fearlessness, and new readers will connect with her funny personal stories and flair for language, which make reading this book feel like talking to an old friend.


ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our review of the Professional Troublemaker audiobook. Luvvie Ajayi Jones’ commanding, cheerful voice will hype up even the most fearful listener.


Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist with a hugely popular Instagram account, debuts with Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself. Tawwab, who specializes in relationships, began writing this indispensable guide after her Instagram post “Signs That You Need Boundaries” went viral. Her book aims to address frequently asked questions from people who may not even know they have boundary issues, since they’re often disguised as other problems such as time mismanagement, anxiety and burnout. Once someone understands boundaries better, Tawwab explains, they can begin to improve their relationships through open communication.

Beginning with a description of Tawwab’s own process of setting boundaries with family members, the book establishes six types of boundaries—physical, sexual, intellectual, emotional, material and time—and gives examples of how these issues might play out in real-life scenarios. Tawwab then dispenses advice about how to handle each type of situation through personal anecdotes and examples from anonymized therapy clients.

Although Set Boundaries, Find Peace is written with authority, Tawwab’s voice is friendly and sincere as she presents her ideas in a clear, no-nonsense fashion. For example, when explaining time boundaries, she gives a brief description of the issue; follows it up with examples of time boundary violations, such as overcommitting or accepting favor requests from people who won’t reciprocate; then tells the reader what time boundaries might sounds like (“I won’t be able to make it to your event on Tuesday”) and ends with an exercise to reinforce the information. 

Tawwab excels at presenting complicated ideas and behaviors in an accessible, nonjudgmental manner, helping the reader feel at ease and understood. Anyone looking to regain control over their time, energy and needs will appreciate her book’s wisdom and practical advice.

These two highly anticipated self-help books are positive, entertaining guides for readers seeking change, guidance and empowerment.

In Buddhism it’s referred to as “monkey mind”—that cascade of often critical and judgmental self-talk that runs in a ceaseless loop in our heads. In Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Ethan Kross provides a useful introduction to some of the intriguing research on this phenomenon and offers a toolbox full of constructive techniques for quieting our persistent inner voice or, better yet, turning it in a positive direction.

When he received an anonymous threatening letter several years ago, Kross, who directs the Emotion and Self-Control Laboratory at the University of Michigan, first turned inward to investigate how our default biological state creates an “inescapable tension of the inner voice as both helpful superpower and destructive kryptonite.” Any attempt to silence that voice, he explains, is doomed, but through a process of trial and error, most people can find some method of transforming it from foe to friend.

Relying on a host of laboratory studies and compelling anecdotal evidence—like the story of major league pitcher Rick Ankiel, who suddenly lost the ability to control a baseball but reinvented himself as an outfielder—Kross is an amiable guide through this fascinating and complex territory. He illustrates the value of the simple act of distancing—visualizing oneself as a third-party observer or invoking mental time travel—to gain perspective on how a momentary crisis might appear to a neutral party or with the benefit of hindsight. In one experiment, something as simple as a temporary shift from negative “I-talk” to referring to oneself in the second or third person provided dramatic benefits. And in one revealing chapter, Kross explains how placebos and rituals can help tame the worst aspects of the inner voice.

“The challenge isn’t to avoid negative states altogether,” he concludes. “It’s to not let them consume you.” Anyone seeking help along that road will find Chatter a useful traveling companion.

In Chatter, experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Ethan Kross offers a toolbox full of constructive techniques for quieting our persistent inner voice or, better yet, turning it in a positive direction.

From autism to anorexia, people with mental illnesses or neurodivergent brains have long experienced stigma. The extent of what they endure depends on their culture—for example, some Nepalis are placed in restraints, and some Americans are incarcerated when they should be in treatment—but for centuries, humans have placed less value on humans who need more help. In fact, mental illness categories were first invented in Europe during the industrial revolution, to separate those who were not productive workers.

“We’ve long idealized the autonomous individual, dignified those who produce the most capital, and stigmatized those who produce the least,” writes anthropologist Roy Richard Grinker. In the fascinating and illuminating Nobody’s Normal: How Culture Created the Stigma of Mental Illness, Grinker explores the origins of this stigmatization.

Much of how Americans think about mental illness stems from the traumas of war and our nation’s woeful response to troops’ needs. At the beginning of World War II, the U.S. Army only had 35 psychiatrists, most of whom were doctors with minimal training in mental health. In 1973, Vietnam veterans began lobbying for more attention to their psychological needs, as they experienced homelessness, substance use disorder and depression.

Yet even as society began recognizing mental illness as a real issue, there remained significant controversy about how to treat it. Grinker recalls the grim midcentury period when a neurologist in Washington, D.C., performed thousands of lobotomies by inserting an ice pick into patients’ eye sockets. His patients included Rosemary Kennedy, who was institutionalized for the remainder of her life after this surgery.

Pharmaceuticals have, of course, helped individuals with mental illness live fulfilling and stable lives, and Grinker explores how use of drugs and therapy has evolved over time. His compassion shines through in this meticulously researched and carefully written book, a passionate call for humans to think about how we view those with mental illness. “Of course, it is impossible to end stigma completely—every society can find something to demean and marginalize,” Grinker writes. “But we can still resist, name, mute, and shape it. Stigma is not a thing but a process, and we can change its course.”

In the fascinating and illuminating Nobody’s Normal, Roy Richard Grinker explores the origins of the stigmatization of mental illness.

Let your freak flag fly. There is pride in being a weirdo, in not fitting in with the rest of the pack—along with isolation, loneliness and myriad other emotions, both good and bad. In Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Inside World, Olga Khazan explores what it means to be weird and how being different can be both a hindrance and a superpower. Though we are often taught to celebrate what makes us unique, “being the only one of your kind is doable, but wearying.”

The book is filled with stories of various “weirdos,” from doctors with dwarfism to politically conservative psychologists, among others. It’s difficult to imagine that there are any people who don’t feel weird at some point during their lives, but Weird delves into the complications of consistently being an outsider. Khazan goes to great lengths to look at multiple types of outsider stories, since so many people feel different for such a wide variety of reasons, and they all respond to it in their own ways.

This book isn’t just a lighthearted, anecdotal tale of how it’s OK to be an outsider. Instead, Khazan outlines the fascinating, often heartbreaking reality of how difficult it can be for people who don’t fit in—for example, the loneliness of leaving behind your Amish community to break into the modern world, or the cruelty of a painful medical condition that threatens both your life and your son’s. She interweaves these stories with tales of her own isolated childhood in Texas, where her Russian heritage often made her feel unable to click with the people around her.

There is no clear answer for how to be successfully weird. The people Khazan interviews all take wildly different paths—a conservative who moves from California to Texas to finally fit in, or one missionary’s attempt to stay with a church he has growing concerns about. Some people choose to embrace communities of like-mindedness, and some choose to remain different, and all these pathways come with new complications and considerations.

There is nothing simple about being an outsider. Khazan celebrates the power of the weird banning together, such as when people who are unique offer a boost of creativity or the minority voice challenges the status quo. But she celebrates these benefits without glazing over the hardships of being an outsider—the ways loneliness and isolation can have serious mental health effects, or the gritty hardships of finding partners, work, friends or places where you can be yourself. The people Khazan interviews are fascinating, and she does a magnificent job of bringing their stories to light with both gentleness and honesty while reminding the reader that no one is ever alone in feeling weird.

Let your freak flag fly. There is pride in being a weirdo, in not fitting in with the rest of the pack—along with isolation, loneliness and a mirage of other emotions, both good and bad. In Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Inside World, Olga Khazan explores what it means to be weird and how being different can be both a hindrance and a superpower. Though we are often taught to celebrate what makes us unique, “being the only one of your kind is doable, but wearying.”

Twelve children. Six diagnoses of schizophrenia. Two parents navigating a meager mental health care system in midcentury America.

At the center of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family are the Galvins, who are unlike any family you’ll ever read about. “This could be the most mentally ill family in America,” writes author Robert Kolker. 

Hidden Valley Road blends two stories in alternating chapters. The first is about the overwhelmed Galvin parents, Don and Mimi, and how raising a boisterous Catholic family of 10 sons from the 1950s to the ’70s may have allowed mental illness to hide in plain sight. A “boys will be boys” attitude excused much aberrant behavior.

Hidden Valley Road is a must-read for anyone who seeks to understand how far we’ve come in treating mental illness—and how far we still have to go.

The Galvin daughters, the two youngest, provide the emotional heart of the book. They grew up watching their brothers suffer, while also being terrified of—and terrorized by—them. Granted access to the surviving Galvin relatives, Kolker brilliantly shows how mental illness impacts more than just those who are sick, and how festering family secrets can wreak generational damage.

The second story in Hidden Valley Road details the thankless psychiatric research that has gone into defining schizophrenia and establishing treatments. This research has run parallel to the Galvins’ lives—from early beliefs that bad mothering caused schizophrenia to an institutional reliance on Thorazine, an antipsychotic medication, to more contemporary treatments involving talk therapy and other medications. Kolker walks readers through to the present day, where genetic research into schizophrenia happens largely at the whims of pharmaceutical companies. 

The author creates a powerfully humane portrait of those diagnosed with schizophrenia. The Galvin brothers have done terrible things—sexual abuse, domestic violence, murder—but Kolker is a compassionate storyteller who underscores how inadequate medical treatment and an overreliance on “tough love” and incarceration underpin so much of the trauma this family experienced. 

Hidden Valley Road is heavy stuff, especially for readers with mental illness or sexual abuse in their own families. But it’s a must-read for anyone seeking to understand how far we’ve come in treating one of the most severe forms of mental illness—and how far we still have to go. 

Twelve children. Six diagnoses of schizophrenia. Two parents navigating a meager mental health care system in midcentury America. At the center of Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family are the Galvins, who are unlike any family you’ll ever read about. “This could be the most mentally ill family in America,” writes author […]

Are you pondering personal goals for 2020? Then you’ve come to the right place. 


We’ve gathered a stellar collection of books targeting a wide range of New Year’s resolutions. From fitness and finance to political activism, the volumes featured here are loaded with inspiring ideas for improving your life and the lives of those around you.

Remember: Progress is a process. Any step you take toward achieving your objectives—no matter how small—deserves to be celebrated.

If your resolution is to take better care of yourself

The new year is a time to take stock of both body and mind. If you have visions of getting in shape, spending fewer hours online or simply developing a more upbeat attitude, Dr. Jennifer Ashton’s The Self-Care Solution: A Year of Becoming Happier, Healthier, and Fitter—One Month at a Time can help you move from dreaming to doing. 

In this warm, welcoming book, Ashton—a nutritionist who is the chief medical correspondent for ABC News—suggests self-care strategies for every month of the year, with recommendations for firing up your cardio routine (April), eating more veggies (May), cutting out sugar (September) and sleeping better (November). Ashton herself completed this yearlong plan, and she breaks down each month into weekly chunks with directives that will guide you toward your goals. Trying out a new technique each month, Ashton says, can bring about permanent, positive change. So get out your calendar and get cracking. The Self-Care Solution will support you every step of the way.

If your resolution is to speak your truth

In an era when “fake news” is all too real, and shiny social-media facades conceal less-than-perfect lives, honesty—once a bedrock value—seems to have lost its gravitas. How did this happen, and how can we be more forthright and fearless in our daily lives? Award-winning journalist Judi Ketteler explores these questions in Would I Lie to You? The Amazing Power of Being Honest in a World That Lies.

Throughout the book, Ketteler probes the meaning of honesty in contemporary culture and assesses the ways in which the concept shapes our morals and beliefs, our in-person and virtual relationships, and our experiences at home and on the job. Along the way, she weaves in intriguing behavioral science data. She also provides guidance through 11 “honesty principles” that address social and family interactions. If confidence issues or personal disappointments are keeping you from living an authentic life, pick up Ketteler’s book for wise counsel on managing those obstacles, and move into 2020 with a bold new attitude.

If your resolution is to cultivate more justice

Readers looking to combat inequality in our society will connect with Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist. In this thought-provoking volume, Kendi, a National Book Award-winning author and scholar, explores antiracism, a concept that runs counter to the attitudes that have caused America’s social fabric to fray. “An antiracist idea,” he writes, “is any idea that suggests the racial groups are equals in all their apparent differences—that there is nothing right or wrong with any racial group.”

Blending history, sociology and autobiography, Kendi investigates the ways in which discriminatory perspectives both subtle and overt influence how we experience other genders and races and shape our notions of physical beauty. He also opens up about the evolution of his own prejudiced perceptions. Recognizing racist prompts and shifting our mindset, Kendi says, can lead to progress. His powerful narrative proves that, for those willing to put in the work, bridging differences in today’s world can be done. Here’s to a hope-filled 2020.

If your resolution is to become more financially literate

If you want to get savvy about savings but don’t know the difference between a 401(k) and an IRA, you should check out Tina Hay’s Napkin Finance: Build Your Wealth in 30 Seconds or Less. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Hay formed Napkin Finance, a multimedia company that arms consumers with financial information via easy-to-understand diagrams and terminology.

The company’s accessible approach is reflected in this entertaining book. In short chapters filled with nifty infographics, Hay demystifies subjects like investing, budgeting, building credit and preparing for retirement. Writing in a frank, friendly style, she presents practical advice about money matters, and she makes sure her audience gets the gist through quizzes and key takeaway sections. Hay also clarifies head-scratching topics like cryptocurrency and blockchain. Her appealing M.O. makes financial planning seem feasible and (dare I say it?) fun. Now’s the time to get smart and start saving, and this book will put you on the right track.

Remember: Progress is a process. Any step you take toward achieving your objectives—no matter how small—deserves to be celebrated.

If your resolution is to participate more in our democracy

2020 promises to be a watershed year on the American political front. Reform-minded readers who want to do more than cast a vote will find essential information in Eitan Hersh’s Politics Is for Power: How to Move Beyond Political Hobbyism, Take Action, and Make Real Change. Hersh, a political science scholar specializing in voting rights and the electoral process, brings unique expertise to this important book.

Most of us engage in what Hersh calls “political hobbyism” by checking the news online, listening to podcasts and perhaps expressing our opinions via social media. Through galvanizing stories of everyday folks whose participation in civic matters have had a marked impact, Hersh urges readers to put an end to the political dabbling, step up and get involved—by establishing local political groups, bonding with neighbors and building solidarity at the community level. His book is a fascinating mix of history, statistics, social science, storytelling and personal insight. Making the shift from political bystander to change-maker is easier than you think, and Hersh’s book can help you do it.

If your resolution is to be a better listener and to exercise more empathy

Given the disparate distractions of modern life—career demands, family matters and social media all desperately vying for our attention—focusing on what’s right in front of us can be tough. Journalist Kate Murphy delivers tips on how to stop getting sidetracked and start being present in You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters. While researching the book, Murphy interviewed people around the world about the topic of listening; it proved to be a sensitive subject. Many interviewees admitted that they felt no one in their lives really—really—heard what they had to say and confessed to being inadequate listeners themselves.

In a narrative that’s lively and fact-packed, Murphy recounts personal anecdotes (as a journalist, she earns a living by listening), talks with other professional listeners (including a CIA agent and the production team behind NPR’s “Fresh Air”) and shares input from psychologists and sociologists. “Done well and with deliberation, listening can transform your understanding of the people and the world around you,” Murphy writes. She gives sound advice in this timely book. So listen up!

If your resolution is to spend less time worrying and more time living

Taking action to combat anxiety requires a special kind of resolve. Dr. Kathleen Smith offers hope for coping in Everything Isn’t Terrible: Conquer Your Insecurities, Interrupt Your Anxiety, and Finally Calm Down. A licensed therapist, Smith encourages readers to focus on their inner selves and cultivate awareness. Learning to identify and defuse anxiety-induced reactions, she says, can result in an improved outlook and a more grounded day-to-day experience.

“We all want to live a life guided by principle rather than fear or worry,” Smith writes. “And by choosing how we handle our anxiety, we choose our fate.” In the book, she considers life categories that can be impaired by anxiety, from friendships and family to career and religion, and proposes healthy methods for navigating those areas. She also includes exercises for doing the important work of teasing apart thoughts and emotions. Through the inspiring stories of clients, she gives readers motivation to follow through on their goals. 

Banishing the haze of doubt is perfectly possible, Smith says, and she supplies the tools for doing it in this empowering book.

If your resolution is to get in shape as a family

Is your household in need of a lifestyle overhaul? Introducing healthy habits into your family’s daily routine is definitely doable—and more easily achieved when the entire clan is on board. Family Fit Plan: A 30-Day Wellness Transformation is chock-full of tactics for implementing new wellness practices that everyone under your roof will embrace. This program—created by Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, a pediatrician, dietitian and mother of two—is well rounded and designed to energize. It features delicious recipes, easy exercises, ideas for reducing device usage and pointers for staying focused. 

As Muth demonstrates in this holistic guide, getting in shape as a domestic unit can actually be a blast. Consistent family check-ins are central to her vision for better health. She simplifies the lifestyle adjustments by including sample menus, activity logs and fitness assessments. By making incremental changes over the book’s prescribed 30-day period, you can set an example the kiddos will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Grab Muth’s book, gather your group, and start planning.

Are you pondering personal goals for 2020? Then you’ve come to the right place.  We’ve gathered a stellar collection of books targeting a wide range of New Year’s resolutions. From fitness and finance to political activism, the volumes featured here are loaded with inspiring ideas for improving your life and the lives of those around you. […]

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