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Big Magic

posted by: October 22, 2015 - 7:00am

Big Magic coverIf you’re an artist of any kind, if you aspire to live a life driven by curiosity, if you believe that inspiration and creativity are literal magic, then you will find a kindred spirit in Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.


Gilbert is best known for her 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love about her life-changing travels to Italy, India and Indonesia. But Gilbert advises that it’s not necessary to pack up and travel the world for the sake of your art—you can and should make room for creativity and magic in your everyday life, and Big Magic provides the roadmap. She also warns against putting unnecessary pressure on your creativity or burdening it by asking it to financially support you. This advice could feel inauthentic coming from a writer who does support herself with her art, but Gilbert is so earnest in her beliefs, it’s impossible to begrudge her success.


Instead of advocating fearlessness, Gilbert says that we should allow plenty of room for our fear, but realize that it should not control our creative lives. She also dismisses the popular stereotype of the tormented artist. Instead, she suggests that your work should be a positive collaboration between you and your creativity. Gilbert theorizes that ideas are incorporeal entities longing to be brought into existence and that if we aren’t receptive to them, they will knock at the next artist’s door. She relates an anecdote about a novel she failed to write, only to discover years later that a very similar idea had magically found Ann Patchett.


After writing Big Magic, Gilbert didn’t feel like she was finished with the subject of creativity and began a podcast called Magic Lessons where she and guests, including Patchett and Cheryl Strayed counsel writers and artists who are having issues in their creative lives.


Beautifully written and full of fresh ideas on the nature of creativity, Big Magic is sure to become recommended reading along with classics like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird.


Failing Bravely

posted by: October 7, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for Fail, Fail Again, Fail BetterCover art for Brave EnoughWhether you’re a recent graduate cautiously beginning your post-college existence or someone who has been fumbling through adulthood for years, you will find something to inspire you in these two new books about living a brave and compassionate life. 

Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown by Pema Chödrön was originally a commencement address made at Naropa University to the graduating class of 2014 — which included Chödrön’s granddaughter — on the “fine art of failing.” Chödrön, an American-born Buddhist nun, has written extensively about the themes she touches on in her speech, and her message resonates at any stage of life: Prepare for the inevitability of failure, and welcome the unwelcome. This slim volume with its simple brushstroke illustrations also includes an interview with the author where she addresses a variety of real-life situations, including what to do when your failure is so great that it results in another person’s death. 

Memoirist and novelist Cheryl Strayed gives us Brave Enough, a compilation of quotes from her previous books, including Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, and her “Dear Sugar” advice column. Rather than recounting anecdotes from 18th century Tibet, Strayed uses metaphors and imagery more grounded in the contemporary experience. “Forgiveness doesn’t just sit there like a pretty boy in a bar,” she writes. “Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill”. Devoted readers will enjoy revisiting Strayed’s most memorable and favorite bits of advice, but new readers will also find sagacity in her straightforward yet gentle voice.   



Only 10 Percent?

posted by: August 18, 2014 - 8:00am

10 Percent HappierIn some circumstances, 10 percent may seem insignificant. A $50 item listed at 10 percent off, in reality, only saves you $5. Yet Dan Harris, in his book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works – A True Story, demonstrates that his 10 percent increase in the happiness department really has made a significant difference. Harris is the co-anchor of ABC’s Nightline. His years of covering international combat, followed by hard recreational drug use, culminated in an on-air panic attack about 10 years ago. Realizing that his greatest battle was with the “voice in his head,” Harris researched non-traditional remedies which led to Buddhist meditation and mindfulness development as a way to improve health and his outlook on life.


Described as a book written for, and by, “someone who would otherwise never read a spiritual book,” 10% Happier provides plenty of practical, authoritative information about meditation and its benefits, as well as Harris’ own journey to master his internal struggles. His time at a meditation retreat is especially telling of his progression and introspection. Along the way, readers learn about his career, his encounters with famous figures like the now-notorious Ted Haggard and James Arthur Ray, and his time with news legends like Peter Jennings. Some of the laugh-out-loud moments include his research into famous gurus like Eckhart Tolle, as well as his memories of yoga class as a child.


I recently read The Last Best Cure, and much of Harris’s research and experiences affirm the lessons in that book: There are scientifically founded ways to “green” your mind and repair your brain’s damaged pathways. Hilarious and well-written, this book steers clear of being a hokey, clichéd self-help guide. I especially recommend the audio version, which Harris narrates.


You Must Remember This

posted by: July 5, 2012 - 2:06pm

Total Memory MakeoverMarilu Henner of Taxi fame offers a unique memory manual in Total Memory Makeover: Uncover Your Past, Take Charge of Your Future. As one of a handful of people with Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM), Henner discusses her strong recall ability. She shares how it has helped her, and offers advice for boosting recollection. Henner knew from an early age that her memory was different, but she did not know there were others like her until she began working with researchers at the University of California,Irvine. While the average person can recall up to 11 events from each year of their life, Henner remembers every day of her life since the age of 12 in detail. 


Henner’s approach to memory strengthening is not about using mnemonic devices or strategies. Combining anecdotes from her personal and professional lives with scientific data and exercises designed to spark specific types of memories, Henner gently guides readers on a tour through their past. Simple exercises have the reader revisiting personal events (21st birthday) or recalling major world events (President Reagan’s assassination attempt) and remembering details from the day. Other chapters include effective journal keeping and working with children to develop a strong memory at an early age.


Henner documents methods to stop turning painful memories into emotional baggage and maintains that strong memory will create a positive blueprint for your future. Would you still eat that doughnut if you remembered the thrill of fitting into skinny jeans five years ago? Would you ask for that raise if you recalled the confidence boost when your prom date said yes? Would you get out of a new romance sooner if it brought back memories of a bad ex? Shakespeare wrote that “the past is prologue,” an idea supported by the principles behind Marilu’s memory makeover, where the focus is on you.


Can You Swim Faster in Syrup or Water?

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 2:43pm

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?The answer to that and other tricky posers used by Google in interviews can be found in William Poundstone’s Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?: Trick Questions, Zen-like Riddles, Insanely Difficult Puzzles, and Other Devious Interviewing Techniques You Need to Know to Get a Job Anywhere in the New Economy.  Since its first recruiting campaign in 2004, Google has been notorious for conducting some of the toughest job interviews.   They include brainteasers and other open-ended mental challenges, along with the standard behavioral questions to identify the candidates most capable of creative problem solving.  In adopting this approach, Google is looking to better predict employee performance, seeing where candidates run out of ideas. The questions are designed to measure mental flexibility, entrepreneurial potential, and the ability to innovate. 


Google is a cutting-edge company where Human Resources is called People Operations (People Ops) and every job candidate is the subject of a 50-page package.  In addition to the usual academic, professional and social history, this report also critiques the potential employee’s overall “Googliness.”  The perks associated with working at the Google campus are legendary and include free food, coin-free laundry facilities, and an annual ski trip.


Other employers have taken notice, and today, along with passing social network checks and displaying above-average intelligence, candidates must sit through more interviews than ever before and pass questions that try to screen for a particular personality.  Poundstone offers strategies for making the best of these nerve-racking situations, identifies interviewers’ hidden agendas, and offers tips for saving a failing interview. This informative title will appeal to job seekers looking for inside information and interview strategy.  Those safely employed will enjoy the compelling writing and puzzles and be glad they don’t have to face such an ordeal.


Try your hand at the Google interview at  And just so you don’t have to swim in syrup, the surprising answer to the question above is that there is no difference in speed!


Dancing in the Street with Introverts

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 1:49pm

Dancing in the Street with IntrovertsMany introverts will rejoice, exult and maybe even (quietly) dance in the street after reading Susan Cain's thoroughly engaging new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Far from being a self-help guide, Quiet celebrates introverts and the unique qualities they bring to their workplaces, classrooms, marriages and friendships. Combining fascinating anecdotes and extensive research from a variety of scientific fields, Cain makes a convincing argument for re-assessing the “extrovert ideal” in American culture.


In a society that increasingly favors “groupthink” or brainstorming sessions, Cain maintains there is also reason to value those people who prefer solitude, avoid social situations and prefer to express themselves in writing. Indeed, many of our greatest thinkers and artists have been introverts and have required absolute solitude to create, think and write. She shares fascinating glimpses into the lives of several famous introverts such as Warren Buffett, Albert Einstein and Dr. Seuss.


One of the many strengths of Quiet is Cain's pragmatism. As a former corporate lawyer, she is no stranger to the highly social world of the American workplace. Introverts often prefer to work in a quiet environment, may find social situations draining, and usually prefer to work with few distractions. However, these conditions are simply not practical in today's workplaces and classrooms. Cain offers realistic, pragmatic solutions methods that allow introverts to be successful in the workplace and other social settings while remaining true to their own biological wiring. She also gives excellent advice to parents of young introverts. She advises parents to celebrate a child's true nature but also suggests useful navigation strategies for social situations in the classroom and playground.


Susan Cain has written a highly readable book. She manages to bring historical and psychological context to her subject while consistently maintaining the interest of the reader. Quiet is highly recommended not only to those who identify as introverts but also to parents, managers, and educators who want to develop a deeper understanding of the introverts in their lives.


Level Up!

posted by: April 18, 2012 - 9:31am

The Nerdist WayComedian Chris Hardwick, former host of MTV’s Singled Out and recent contributor to Attack of the Show, Chelsea Lately, and Web Soup, has a message for all geeks, gamers, dorks, and dweebs. You can actually use your nerdy traits to improve your life and find personal fulfillment!


Nerdists (a clever pairing of the words “nerd” and “artist”) skillfully combine creativity, focus, and a sense of fun in order to achieve his or her full potential. In this self-help/humor/philosophy title, Hardwick recommends treating your life like a role-playing game (RPG). This means using personal data to quantify, measure, and graph your success as you reach your goals. Gain experience points (XP) by completing tasks like working out three times a week, paying your bills on time, and meeting deadlines.  Watch your character and yourself quickly get to the next level.


With chapters on anxiety, time management, fitness, and maintaining your finances, this book is perfect for the self-improving nerd. Hardwick gives plenty of helpful tips, such as ignoring your brain (don’t believe everything you think) and becoming a “Charlie Rose of your own mind” (ask yourself a lot of questions). He recommends taking hints from evil geniuses: have a goal, stay focused, and never back down.


Filled with strikingly honest personal examples, hilarious anecdotes, and genuinely positive affirmations, The Nerdist Way is recommended for anyone who has ever let their overly stimulated brain get in the way of living the life they want.




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