LJ Best Books 2016

A jury of our peers discussed, debated, disagreed, and finally declared LJ’s annual Top Ten Best Books of the year, selected by our editors, as well as Top Five lists for genre fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and SELF-e titles. VISIT THE WEBSITE

The Good Life—And How To Find It | Self-Help Reviews, November 15, 2016

The Good Life—and how to find it is the theme for this column’s assortment of self-help books. While each author offers a different technique for doing that, some common themes include taking responsibility for one’s own well-being, spending quality time with the people we love, and simply beginning by doing one thing in the right direction. In The Power of Off, Nancy Colier proposes using less technology, while James H. Austin’s Living Zenremindfully suggests that regular meditation fosters authenticity and creativity. Four selections deal with all aspects of romantic relationships from the wedding to communication to divorce. There’s an array of ideas to enhance a library collection or enrich oneself.

Abby, Laura Leigh. 2Brides 2Be: A Same-Sex Guide for the Modern Bride. Archer. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781941729175. pap. $15.95. wedding planning/relationships

2brides2be-jpg111416In response to the dearth of guides on same-sex weddings, Abby (2Brides2Be.com) draws from her own experience and that of wedding planners to create a handbook to help women achieve the wedding of their dreams. She covers basics such as putting together a guest list, inviting exes, registering, and establishing a budget, but also takes on issues specific to same-sex couples, including coming out to announce the relationship and deciding who walks first down the aisle. Advice on changing one’s name and wording the ceremony pronouncement are other useful additions. Verdict An accomplished book about the meaning of marriage for same-sex couples and how to represent that in the wedding.

Austin, James H. Living Zen Remindfully. MIT. Nov. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9780262035088. $32.95. self-help

To clinical neurologist Austin (emeritus, neurology, Univ. of Colorado Health Sciences Ctr.; Zen and the Brain), authentic Zen means committing to ongoing daily practice, which prepares people to unlearn negative habits and live more creatively. Blending the confluence of Zen, clinical neurology, and neuroscience to demonstrate how mindfulness can extend into the subconscious and cultivate the affirmative resources of memory itself, Austin demonstrates how we can adapt to change more effectively and experience the world genuinely. Verdict Ideal for mindfulness practitioners who want to probe deeply into the neuroscience of meditation.

Bennett, Sam. Start Right Where You Are: How Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference for Overwhelmed Procrastinators, Frustrated Overachievers, and Recovering Perfectionists. New World Library. Nov. 2016. 236p. index. ISBN 9781608684434. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781608684441. SELF-HELP

In her latest book, performer and author Bennett (Get It Done) offers an antidote to feeling overwhelmed. By making small changes such as turning complaints into requests, stopping imaginary arguments, and allotting time for creativity, people can engage opportunities for growth and happiness. Tackling the demons of clutter, fearful thinking, and more, each chapter concludes with motivating “Little Changes Action Steps.” Verdict This comprehensive book supplies a wealth of simple exercises that anyone can use to break out of an emotional quagmire and begin to live fulfilled.

Buchanan, Laurie. Note to Self: A Seven-Step Path to Gratitude and Growth. She Writes. Nov. 2016. 296p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781631521133. pap. $16.95. SELF-HELP

Teacher and student of purposeful living Buchanan (TuesdayswithLaurie.com) invites readers to evaluate the seven aspects of the soul that comprise personality: self-preservation, self-gratification, self-reflection, and so on. She asks readers to assess their physical and social health along with levels of self-acceptance and connection to a higher self. A particularly enlightening chapter contains 366 internal inventory questions that guide readers on a self-discovery tour, leading them to next steps. Verdict Helping readers appraise their lives realistically, Buchanan then suggests how to make transformational adjustments. ­Familiar yet relevant advice.

redstarColier, Nancy. The Power of Off: The Mindful Way To Stay Sane in the Virtual World. Sounds True. Nov. 2016. 240p. bibliog. ISBN 9781622037957. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781622037964. Psych

Psychotherapist and interfaith minister ­Colier points out that leaving ourselves endlessly available to our electronic devices paradoxically shuts us off from other people and real life. While the author doesn’t disparage technology, she does emphasize that it tends to provide a means of escape and immediate gratification instead of participation in the present, which results in healthier emotional interactions with others. Using mindfulness practices and directed questions, plus a 30-day tech detox with useful ideas for paying attention to one’s current situation, Colier demonstrates how to achieve an appropriate relationship with technology. VERDICT Excellent proactive suggestions for plugging into reality and relegating technology to a healthier role in everyday life.

Evans, Jimmy & Allan Kelsey. Strengths Based Marriage: Build a Stronger Relationship by Understanding Each Other’s Gifts. Thomas Nelson. Nov. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9780718083625. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9780718083632. SELF-HELP

strengthsbased-jpg111616Founder and CEO of the ministry Marriage Today Evans and Gallup-certified strengths coach Kelsey have woven together their areas of expertise to present couples with new ways to appreciate and relate to each other. They advise first taking the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment, then looking at both strong and weak traits, and analyzing these in terms of relating to others within and outside of marriage. The authors then convey how to “speak love” in your spouse’s language, and how tone, time, trust, truth, and team go a long way toward successful communication. VERDICT A superb tool for those wanting to understand and be ­understood by others.

Frederickson, Jon. The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How To Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life. Seven Leaves. Jan. 2017. 174p. ISBN 9780988378889. pap. $15.95. SELF-HELP

Directing readers toward a new tack in constructing a more complete life, psychotherapist and cochair of the Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy training program Frederickson (Co-Creating Change) enables clients to acknowledge who they are absent excuses and explanations. The first tenet, of course, is to alter one’s own actions, not wish for changes in others. The author compels readers to let fantasies go, to face what is real, and to accept suffering and their own feelings and desires, painful though it might be. His parting words encourage readers to relate to others by walking in their shoes. VERDICT Commonplace advice but timely and thought-provoking.

Harley, Willard F., Jr. Love Busters: Protect Your Marriage by Replacing Love-Busting Patterns with Love-Building Habits. rev. ed. Revell. Nov. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9780800727710. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493405565. relationships

Proposing the concept of a “Love Bank” into which a person either deposits or withdraws emotional support in a relationship, Harley (He Wins, She Wins; Love Busters: Overcoming Habits That Destroy Romantic Love) delivers guidance for reviving a floundering marriage. He explains that withdrawals from the metaphorical bank are made with selfish demands, disrespectful judgments, angry outbursts, annoying habits, and dishonesty, while deposits include actions that make the other person happy. Ergo, the goal is to perform more deposits than withdrawals. Harley outlines the many ways in which spouses can enjoy a more pleasing and romantic relationship. VERDICT As with most self-help books, the onus is on oneself to change, and this is no exception. Harley suggests practical yet soul-searching approaches to doing this.

Kelly, Matthew. Resisting Happiness. Beacon. Aug. 2016. 192p. ISBN 9781942611912. $24.95. SELF-HELP

In beginning his book, Kelly (Perfectly Yourself: Nine Lessons for Enduring Happiness; The Seven Levels of Intimacy) asks readers why they feel overburdened, resist what is good for them, and instead do what is not good for them. In 37 short chapters, he asserts that although this is a daily battle, there are strategies to overcome the lethargy. Kelly comes from a Christian perspective and recommends that readers listen to their body, their conscience, and God. He suggests that what’s needed when people become discouraged is to do one thing that will move them toward their goal. VERDICT Positive counsel on keeping on keeping on.

Lambert, Carol A. Women with Controlling Partners: Taking Back Your Life from a Manipulative or Abusive Partner. New Harbinger. Dec. 2016. 240p. bibliog. ISBN 9781626254718. pap. $16.95. Relationships

Lambert, a psychotherapist with over 30 years of domestic violence expertise, has written a guidebook for women who suspect their boyfriend or spouse’s behavior is controlling. She explains in depth components of psychological abuse and how low self-esteem feeds into the pattern beginning with small exploits and continuing with controlling tactics and possible physical harm. Lambert depicts numerous scenarios and repeated behaviors that indicate abuse and affirms readers’ rights to be treated with respect. She provides exercises for building strength and countering domineering tactics. A wealth of websites and battered-women hotlines are included in the appendixes. VERDICT A poignant and necessary book for all women who live in fear in their own homes.

redstarRiss, Suzanne & Jill Sockwell. The Optimist’s Guide to Divorce: How To Get Through Your Breakup and Create a New Life You Love. Workman. Jan. 2017. 304p. illus. ISBN 9780761187424. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780761189763. reltationships/self-help

Cofounders of the Maplewood Divorce Club, a community of divorcées, Riss and Sockwell maintain that the end of a significant relationship is the best time to introduce positive change. Using a girlfriend-to-girlfriend style, the authors apply their own and many other women’s experience to help new divorcées “deal” (e.g., how to tell the kids, find legal help), “heal” (e.g., work through anger and loss), and “reveal” (e.g., create community and explore fresh relationships). The book offers practical advice on living alone, handling credit problems, and coping with jealousy as well as working toward building healthy relationships, forgiveness, and managing grief. VERDICT A valuable resource for recently divorced women who need to get back on track.

Sellers, Scot. Regret-Free Living: How To Find the Intersection of Your Passions and Giftedness. Elevate. Nov. 2016. 136p. ISBN 9781943425723. pap. $13.99; ebk. ISBN 9781943425730. motivational/inspirational

During his tenure as CEO of Archstone, an S&P 500 real-estate company, Sellers worked with people to build relationships and strong investments. He also encountered the greatest regrets people have toward the end of their lives and here provides steps forward on a journey that embraces all that life has to offer. He challenges readers to take risks to discover their giftedness, reserve time for friends and family, and release the “as soon as” mentality. Sellers recommends setting goals and priorities, reviewing them frequently, and making adjustments when necessary. The author further identifies specific methods he himself implemented following the book’s advice and folds his own story into the lessons. VERDICT Short, intriguing, and highly readable for company managers and others in leadership positions.

Smith, Emily Esfahani. The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters. Crown. Jan. 2017. 288p. bibliog. ISBN 9780553419993. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780553446555. SELF-HELP

According to Wall Street Journal writer Smith, Americans are beginning to shift their focus from the pursuit of happiness to a life of purpose that can be found by being useful to others and connecting with something larger than themselves. She draws from the writings of philosophers, historians, and authors who describe, in various ways, how doing “what feels good” can lead to depression and suicide, and how concentrating only on the self can result in feelings of emptiness and isolation. The advice to seek the company of others, step outside oneself, and have a worthy mission in life permeate the text. Many points are repeated for emphasis. VERDICT While Smith makes thorough points, her work tends more toward a doctoral dissertation than general self-help, making this quality discussion material for philosophically inclined readers.

Deborah Bigelow is an Adult Services Librarian, Dexter District Library, MI

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