favoritecourageousbooks5

It’s that time of year again! We’re pleased to present this year-end list of our favorite courageous reads of 2016, nominated by our Courage & Renewal facilitators and staff! Use the index below to see books under each topic.

Add your own favorite courageous reads in the comment section! Which books inspired, challenged, or nourished you this year?

Our Favorites for Everyone

kyle-aerial-ashleeVITAL: A Torch for Your Social Justice Journey
by Kyle C. Ashlee and Aerial A. Ashlee

“Our world is wracked with division and differences. Racial tension and social injustices plague our communities. Conversations about diversity, identity, and social justice are at a momentous tipping point. Too often people feel overwhelmed, angry, and uncertain about how to respond. What if instead there was a way to feel completely empowered? What if instead of being railroaded by guilt there was a way to find courage in vulnerability? What if instead of getting shut down by triggers and tip-toeing around issues we could find strength in storysharing and authentic dialogue? VITAL – Vulnerability, Identity, Trust, Authorship, and Liberation – the five core principles of this book, will give readers the tools and confidence they need to effectively integrate social justice into their everyday lives.”

annie-dillardThe Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New
by Annie Dillard

“Carefully culled from her past work, The Abundance is quintessential Annie Dillard, delivered in her fierce and undeniably singular voice, filled with fascinating detail and metaphysical fact. The pieces within will exhilarate both admiring fans and a new generation of readers, having been “re-framed and re-hung,” with fresh editing and reordering by the author, to situate these now seminal works within her larger canon. Intense, vivid, and fearless, her work endows the true and seemingly ordinary aspects of life—a commuter chases snowball-throwing children through neighborhood streets, a teenager memorizes Rimbaud’s poetry—with beauty and irony, inviting readers onto sweeping landscapes, to join her in exploring the complexities of time and death, with a sense of humor: on one page, an eagle falls from the sky with a weasel attached to its throat; on another, a man walks into a bar.”

hope-jahrenLab Girl
by Hope Jahren

“Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more. Lab Girl is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together. Jahren’s probing look at plants, her astonishing tenacity of spirit, and her acute insights on nature enliven every page of this extraordinary book. Lab Girl opens your eyes to the beautiful, sophisticated mechanisms within every leaf, blade of grass, and flower petal. Here is an eloquent demonstration of what can happen when you find the stamina, passion, and sense of sacrifice needed to make a life out of what you truly love, as you discover along the way the person you were meant to be.”

The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dreamcourtney-martin
by Courtney E. Martin

“Are we living the good life—and what defines ‘good,’ anyway? Americans today are constructing a completely different framework for success than their parents’ generation, using new metrics that TED speaker and On Being columnist Courtney Martin has termed collectively the “New Better Off.” The New Better Off puts a name to the American phenomenon of rejecting the traditional dream of a 9-to-5 job, home ownership, and a nuclear family structure—illuminating the alternate ways Americans are seeking happiness and success.
The New Better Off is about the creative choices individuals are making in their vocational and personal lives, but it’s also about the movements, formal and informal, that are coalescing around the New Better Off idea—people who are reinventing the social safety net and figuring out how to truly better their own communities.”

kathleen-dean-mooreGreat Tide Rising: Towards Clarity and Moral Courage in a Time of Planetary Change
by Kathleen Dean Moore

“Even as seas rise against the shores, another great tide is beginning to rise – a tide of outrage against the pillage of the planet, a tide of commitment to justice and human rights, a swelling affirmation of moral responsibility to the future and to Earth’s fullness of life. Philosopher and nature essayist Kathleen Dean Moore takes on the essential questions: Why is it wrong to wreck the world? What is our obligation to the future? What is the transformative power of moral resolve? How can clear thinking stand against the lies and illogic that batter the chances for positive change? What are useful answers to the recurring questions of a storm-threatened time – What can anyone do? Is there any hope? And always this: What stories and ideas will lift people who deeply care, inspiring them to move forward with clarity and moral courage.”

Upstream: Selected Essaysmary-oliver
by Mary Oliver

Upstream follows Oliver as she contemplates the pleasure of artistic labor, her boundless curiosity for the flora and fauna that surround her, and the responsibility she has inherited from Shelley, Wordsworth, Emerson, Poe, and Frost, the great thinkers and writers of the past, to live thoughtfully, intelligently, and to observe with passion. Throughout this collection, Oliver positions not just herself upstream but us as well as she encourages us all to keep moving, to lose ourselves in the awe of the unknown, and to give power and time to the creative and whimsical urges that live within us.
Emphasizing the significance of her childhood ‘friend’ Walt Whitman, through whose work she first understood that a poem is a temple, ‘a place to enter, and in which to feel,’ and who encouraged her to vanish into the world of her writing, Oliver meditates on the forces that allowed her to create a life for herself out of work and love. As she writes, ‘I could not be a poet without the natural world. Someone else could. But not me. For me the door to the woods is the door to the temple.'”

Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Artkrista-tippett
of Living
by Krista Tippett

“Peabody Award-winning broadcaster and National Humanities Medalist Krista Tippett has interviewed the most extraordinary voices examining the great questions of meaning for our time. The heart of her work on her national public radio program and podcast, On Being, has been to shine a light on people whose insights kindle in us a sense of wonder and courage. In Becoming Wise, Tippett distills the insights she has gleaned from this luminous conversation in its many dimensions into a coherent narrative journey, over time and from mind to mind. This book offers a grounded and fiercely hopeful vision of humanity for this century – of personal growth but also renewed public life and human spiritual evolution. It insists on the possibility of a common life for this century marked by resilience and redemption, with beauty as a core moral value and civility and love as muscular practice. Krista Tippett’s great gift, in her work and in Becoming Wise, is to avoid reductive simplifications but still find the golden threads that weave people and ideas together into a shimmering braid.”

charles-vogl
The Art of Community: Seven Principles for Belonging
by Charles H. Vogl

“Strong communities help people support one another, share their passions, and achieve big goals. And such communities aren’t just happy accidents—they can be purposefully cultivated, whether they’re in a company, in a faith institution, or among friends and enthusiasts. Drawing on 3,000 years of history and his personal experience, Charles Vogl lays out seven time-tested principles for growing enduring, effective, and connected communities. He provides hands-on tools for creatively adapting these principles to any group—formal or informal, mission driven or social, physical or virtual. This book is a guide for leaders seeking to build a vibrant, living entity that will greatly enrich its members’ lives.”

jesmyn-wardThe Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race

edited by Jesmyn Ward

“National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time. Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns. The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future.”

The Underground Railroad
colson-whitehead
by Colson Whitehead

“Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood—where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor—engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil.
Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey—hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.”

Our Favorites in Poetry

yi-lu
Sea Summit: Poems
by Yi Lu

“Influenced by both the “gray, sinister sea” near the village where Yi Lu grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and the beauty of the sea in the books she read as a child, Sea Summit is a collection of paradox and questioning. The sea is an impossible force to the poet: it is both a majestic force that predates man, and something to carry with us wherever we go, to be put “by an ancient rattan chair,” so we can watch “its waves toss” from above. Exploring the current ecological crisis and our complicated relationship to the wildness around us, Yi Lu finds something more complex than a traditional nature poet might in the mysterious connection between herself and the forces of nature represented by the boundless ocean. Translated brilliantly by the acclaimed poet Fiona Sze-Lorrain, this collection of poems introduces an important contemporary Chinese poet to English-language readers.”

anna-k-silverFrom Nothing: Poems
by Anya Krugovoy Silver

“In her third collection, From Nothing, Anya Krugovoy Silver follows a mother, wife, and artist as illness and loss of loved ones disrupt the peaceful flow of life. Grounded in the traditions of meditative and contemplative poetry, From Nothing confronts disease and mortality with the healing possibilities of verse. Whether remembering the sound of whispered secrets on a family vacation or celebrating a favorable PET scan, in Silver’s keen observations of seemingly mundane moments we glimpse the divine. As she addresses profound questions about how to make meaning out of suffering, Silver’s poems attest to the power of art to help us face difficult realities in an often painful world.”

The Remedies
katherine-towers
by Katharine Towers

“Katharine Towers’ second collection is a book of small wonders. From a house drowning in roses to crickets on an August day, from Nerval’s lobster to the surrealism of flower remedies, these poems explore the fragility of our relationship with the natural world. Towers also shows us what that relationship can aspire to be: each poem attunes us to another aspect of that world, and shows what strange connections might be revealed when we properly attend to it. The Remedies is a lyric, unforgettable collection which offers just the spiritual assuagement its title promises, and shows Towers emerging as a major poetic talent.”

kevin-youngBlue Laws: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1995-2015

by Kevin Young

Blue Laws gathers poems written over the past two decades, drawing from all nine of Kevin Young’s previously published books of poetry and including a number of uncollected, often unpublished, poems. This collection provides a grand tour of a poet whose personal poems and political poems are equally riveting. Together with wonderful outtakes and previously unseen blues, the profoundly felt poems here of family, Southern food, and loss are of a piece with the depth of personal sensibility and humanity found in his Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels or bold sequences such as ‘The Ballad of Jim Crow’ and a new ‘Homage to Phillis Wheatley.'”

Our Favorites in Leadership


adam-grantOriginals: How Nonconformists Move the World

by Adam Grant

“With Give and Take, Adam Grant not only introduced a landmark new paradigm for success but also established himself as one of his generation’s most compelling and provocative thought leaders. In Originals he again addresses the challenge of improving the world, but now from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. How can we originate new ideas, policies, and practices without risking it all? Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent.”

lisa-laskowAn Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization
by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey

“What if a company did everything in its power to create a culture in which everyone—not just select ‘high potentials’—could overcome their own internal barriers to change and use errors and vulnerabilities as prime opportunities for personal and company growth? Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey (and their collaborators) have found and studied such companies—Deliberately Developmental Organizations. A DDO is organized around the simple but radical conviction that organizations will best prosper when they are more deeply aligned with people’s strongest motive, which is to grow. It means fashioning an organizational culture in which support of people’s development is woven into the daily fabric of working life and the company’s regular operations, daily routines, and conversations. This book demonstrates a whole new way of being at work. It suggests that the culture you create is your strategy—and that the key to success is developing everyone.”

Our Favorites in Education

michael-fullanIndelible Leadership: Always Leave Them Learning
by Michael Fullan

“Learn to lead well and leave a lasting impact with this compact, richly innovative book from the Corwin Impact Leadership series. Discover six specific leadership attributes to stimulate deep learning—and deep leadership—that transforms schools for the future. Concrete examples and critical, yet implementable action steps help readers to: commit to deep, meaningful work; master the content and process of change; co-learn and co-lead simultaneously; collaboratively develop individuals and groups; link your goals to the larger school system; and produce new, capable leaders.”


ken-robinsonCreative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education
by Ken Robinson, Ph.D., and Lou Aronica

“Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader on creativity and human potential focuses on one of the most critical issues of our time: how to transform the nation’s troubled educational system. Robinson argues for an end to our outmoded industrial educational system and proposes a highly personalized, organic approach that draws on today’s unprecedented technological and professional resources to engage all students, develop their love of learning, and enable them to face the real challenges of the twenty-first century. Filled with anecdotes, observations and recommendations from professionals on the front line of transformative education, case histories, and groundbreaking research—and written with Robinson’s trademark wit and engaging style—Creative Schools will inspire teachers, parents, and policy makers alike to rethink the real nature and purpose of education.”

Our Favorites in Health Care

paul-kalanithiWhen Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi

“At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality. Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.”

david-kopaczWalking the Medicine Wheel: Healing Trauma and PTSD
by David R. Kopacz MD and Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow)

“Psychiatrist and holistic & integrative physician, David Kopacz, and Native American Visionary, Joseph Rael (Beautiful Painted Arrow), create a healing path to help our veterans suffering trauma and PTSD to come home. Even when out of the war zone, combat-readiness persists in the veterans’ nervous system. This book uses the circular pathway of the medicine wheel to re-train the nervous system.
Rather than viewing trauma, obstacles and disappointments as negatives, the medicine wheel offers a way of transforming these events into opportunities for initiation. Walking the medicine wheel is walking a spiritual path – integrating body-emotion-mind-spirit, within the circle of the four directions. The book provides practical exercises of guided imagery and ceremony to help returning veterans feel they have a purpose and have something, not only of value, but, of critical importance to give to their families and their communities.”

Our Favorites in Faith & Spirituality

kerry-eganOn Living
by Kerry Egan

“As a hospice chaplain, Kerry Egan didn’t offer sermons or prayers, unless they were requested; in fact, she found, the dying rarely want to talk about God, at least not overtly. Instead, she discovered she’d been granted an invaluable chance to witness firsthand what she calls the “spiritual work of dying”—the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life, the experiences it’s contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams. Most of all, though, she listened as her patients talked about love—love for their children and partners and friends; love they didn’t know how to offer; love they gave unconditionally; love they, sometimes belatedly, learned to grant themselves. This isn’t a book about dying—it’s a book about living. And Egan isn’t just passively bearing witness to these stories. An emergency procedure during the birth of her first child left her physically whole but emotionally and spiritually adrift. Her work as a hospice chaplain healed her, from a brokenness she came to see we all share. Each of her patients taught her something—how to find courage in the face of fear or the strength to make amends; how to be profoundly compassionate and fiercely empathetic; how to see the world in grays instead of black and white. In this poignant, moving, and beautiful book, she passes along all their precious and necessary gifts.”

At Home in tthich-nhat-hanhhe World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh

“This collection of autobiographical and teaching stories from peace activist and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is thought provoking, inspiring, and enjoyable to read. Collected here for the first time, these stories span the author’s life. There are stories from Thich Nhat Hanh’s childhood and the traditions of rural Vietnam. There are stories from his years as a teenaged novice, as a young teacher and writer in war torn Vietnam, and of his travels around the world to teach mindfulness, make pilgrimages to sacred sites, and influence world leaders. The tradition of teaching the Dharma through stories goes back at least to the time of the Buddha. Like the Buddha, Thich Nhat Hanh uses story–telling to engage people’s interest so he can share important teachings, insights, and life lessons.”

dalai-desmondThe Book of Joy
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

“Nobel Peace Prize Laureates His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have survived more than fifty years of exile and the soul-crushing violence of oppression. Despite their hardships—or, as they would say, because of them—they are two of the most joyful people on the planet.
In April 2015, Archbishop Tutu traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home in Dharamsala, India, to celebrate His Holiness’s eightieth birthday and to create what they hoped would be a gift for others. They looked back on their long lives to answer a single burning question: How do we find joy in the fact of life’s inevitable suffering? In this unique collaboration, they offer us the reflection of real lives filled with pain and turmoil in the midst of which they have been able to discover a level of peace, of courage, and of joy to which we can all aspire in our own lives.”

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone