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6 Books that Make You Feel and Think

Beach girl cartwheel crop by Jenifer Joy MaddenWhen reading or giving a book, you want the experience to be uplifting or at least thought-provoking. These titles are worthwhile because they exemplify redeeming qualities of human nature – or prompt us to work harder to retain them.     

Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson cover compressRESILIENCE. One reason Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s Rare Bird has rocketed to the top of the non-fiction bestseller list is because of her extraordinary candor. Here she recalls what happened when her young son was swept to his death by a swollen creek near their home. Anna admits she’d always been the kind of  mother who let her kids play out in the rain, which she did that fateful afternoon. In her book, she intimately describes her struggle with the ensuing anguish and guilt. Her humor, honesty and faith are startling and cathartic, making Rare Bird soothing to the soul of anyone who has experienced a sudden loss, whether of a loved one or a way of life.

 

HOPE. In The Survivor TreeCheryl Aubin tells the story of a lone Callery Pear lovingly rehabilitated after it was buried in the rubble of the collapsed World Trade Centers. Beautifully illustrated in watercolor by Sheila Harrington, this is technically a children’s book, but has brought consolation, peace and hope to 9/11 survivors of all ages and the loved ones of those who were lost. Cheryl says she was called to research and write this story after seeing a tiny mention in USA Today about a little tree that was unearthed mangled and badly burned – but alive.

 

Best Care Possible cover compressCOMPASSION. In The Best Care Possible: A Physician’s Quest to Transform Care through the end of Life, which I wrote about here, physician Ira Byock presents a positive approach to palliative care – the science and art of helping people in the end stages of life. In his sensitive and sensible guide, Byock holds the reader’s hand, making a heart-wrenching subject easier to face, as he summarizes in this statement: “We will encounter people whose lives we cannot save—diseases we cannot cure and injuries too grave to repair—but we can always make dying people more comfortable…to walk with patients, alleviating the person’s discomfort, optimizing his or her quality of life.”

 

Courier by Terry Irving cover compressIMAGINATION. We humans take delight in a good story, which Terry Irving delivers in Courier. Set in Washington, D.C. during the 1970s, a Vietnam vet, entrusted with delivering sensitive documents and fresh video for a major news network, rides straight into the center of a nation-shattering political scandal. Terry, whom I had the pleasure of working with at ABC, paints an accurate and vivid picture of the heyday of network news, bringing back the clatter of the old Associated Press wire machines even as he hints at the coming digital age. I never thought I’d be enthralled by the details of high-speed motorcycle chases, but Terry Irving proves me wrong with this delectable thriller.

 

The Circle by Dave Eggers cover compressPERSPECTIVE. As our lives become more entwined with technology, in The Circle Dave Eggers issues a dystopic wake-up call about what could happen if we don’t watch out. Set in the near future, Eggers describes how online life has been simplified to the point where everything we do is accessed through a single password and our activities are integrated by one, giant company which has managed to subsume all its competitors. We witness how one young woman, her family and her freedom are quickly transformed when she’s plucked from a dead-end job and brought into The Circle. This book presents a discomfiting look at one way that humans might figure in the future’s equation.

 

DURABILITY. The Durable Human Manifesto is an antidote to Eggers’ unnerving scenario. Baby giggles, crashing waves and other sounds of life accent the new audio version of this slim book which inspires you to be happy and effective in an increasingly digital world. As one reader describes it: “This quick 25-minute-listen is well worth your time.” From another: “Madden helps me understand how paying attention makes us more durable and better equipped to thrive in everyday life.”

Read more by Jenifer Joy Madden by joining the Durable Human News email list and following her on Google+.

Lessons From the First Kid Community Organizers

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A no-nonsense group of 6th, 7th, and 8th graders has transformed “the most depressing park in America” into a kid-friendly community mecca. No small accomplishment since it’s located in what has been considered one of the roughest U.S. cities: Camden, New Jersey.

The short history of the Student Leaders’ Von Nieda Park Task Force is in my last post. What you’ll see here are the secrets of their success.

The kids who may be the first-ever middle-school community organizers were in Washington, D.C. recently to visit their congressional delegation. They also shared with students from a multi-cultural Catholic parish in Silver Spring, Maryland, the Task Force formula for action: Continue reading

My Painful Meeting with Mindfulness

Handlebars latch 2 by Jenifer Joy MaddenHandlebars latch 2 by Jenifer Joy MaddenBike on ground by Jenifer Joy Madden compressalmost knock you upside the head to get you to pay attention. That’s what it took for me to be mindful. Handlebars latch 2 by Jenifer Joy MaddenHandlebars latch 2 by Jenifer Joy Madden

It was a Saturday morning in the middle of winter. I was getting ready to tackle a long list of home projects when I took a last peek at my email. A town meeting popped up that I didn’t notice before, and suddenly I had to be there. I figured I could also get some exercise if I rode my bike.

The week had been sunny and I was confident that snow covering the trail had melted. I grabbed my foldable bike, filled the tires and quickly assembled the frame. The latch for the handlebars didn’t look quite right, but it felt secure so I was off and rolling.

Finding the meeting less than scintillating, I soon grew antsy and before long was rushing back toward home. By then, the trail was more crowded. Up ahead were a duo of walkers and a small patch of ice. As I tried to pass between them, my handlebars buckled and I crashed to the pavement.

Stunned and embarrassed, a searing pain in my back, I was glad for the help of the pedestrians I had tried to avoid. One gave me a hand up as the other secured the handlebars—carefully this time. Offering a shaky thanks, I winced my way home with only a cracked rib and a bruised ego.

It took a trip to San Francisco to find out why the accident happened.

I was lucky to get a scholarship to Wisdom 2.0, a conference jammed with Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and executives from the likes of Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. But they weren’t there to talk tech. This gathering was meant to connect people “in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.” Since I’ve written a book on that subject, I was curious to know what “ways” they were talking about. Continue reading

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