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Empath Heart: Relationship Strategies for Sensitive People

Tanya Richardson. Sterling Ethos, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-454-94688-5

Richardson (Love Notes to My Self) sets out to help empaths better navigate relationships in this upbeat guide. Empaths, she writes, are hyper-perceptive and pick up energies of other people and groups, which frequently leaves them drained or overstimulated. She encourages readers to “treasure [their] energetic heart” but also to manage their sensitivity and maintain meaningful relationships with partners, friends, and others. To that end, she emphasizes personal “assertiveness” and advises empaths against becoming default mediators in social settings, and instead “own their power”—which involves setting healthy boundaries. She addresses empaths’ tendencies to share in loved ones’ emotions, and recommends they instead validate others’ feelings without internalizing them. And as empaths can be vulnerable to relationship issues like codependency, it’s important to form habits that strengthen self-identity, such as maintaining close friendships or keeping up hobbies. Richardson does a good job of highlighting empaths’ strengths without sugarcoating challenges they face, lending her advice credibility and real-world applicability. Empaths aiming to improve their relationships and coping skills should take a look. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/16/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Blame Game: How to Recover from the World’s Oldest Addiction

Denis Liam Murphy. Post Hill, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-1-637-58754-6

Performance coach Murphy addresses those suffering from “a blame addiction they never knew they had” in his befuddling debut. According to the author, blame addiction causes “fear, shame, guilt, anger, and regret,” which are “not a natural part of being human,” and when people heal from this habit, life can become “effortless.” Murphy’s basic solution hinges on breaking the “victim cycle,” in which blame triggers feelings of victimhood, followed by anxiety, attempts at control, and blame (again). For example, Murphy discusses a client whose misbehaving son threw his work phone into the toilet. Murphy helped the overworked man reframe this “symbolic act” as something he’d subconsciously wanted to do himself, helping him exit the victim mindset, stop blaming the boy, and behave empathetically. Elsewhere, he describes a different client who came to him with an ongoing nosebleed; when he urged her to stop blaming her nose and “open the door of communication” with it, the bleeding stopped the next day. Even readers curious about Murphy’s bold claims will be put off by his circuitous logic and bizarre anecdotal evidence. This oddball volume will confuse more than help. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/16/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Selfless: The Social Creation of “You”

Brian Lowery. Harper, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-062-91300-5

Stanford social psychologist Lowery dissects the foundations of the self in his incisive debut. Lowery defines the self as “a construction of relationships and interactions” that’s shaped by the human need to “exist in a coherent way” and is “in search of the feeling of freedom.” Unpacking this conception in individual, collective, and cultural contexts, Lowery touches on the misconceptions of the individual (mentioning the “absurdity... of life as a finite, isolated individual”), the importance of the collective (“You can’t have a social identity without a social group.... Who these people are... becomes part of you”), and the far-reaching effects of the cultural (“We understand our selves based on the rules provided by our culture”). Lowery discusses how humans are trained to exhibit customs of particular social groups, including the way they walk, speak, and occupy public spaces. Complications arise when mismatches occur between one’s sense of self and one’s publicly perceived identity: “When an... identity that is crucial to our sense of self is not validated,” he writes, one’s dignity—and sometimes safety—can be on the line, such as when transgender women fight for access to women’s bathrooms and immigrants protest for recognition in their adopted countries. It’s an accessible introduction to modern theories of the self for all fans of pop psych. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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All Else Failed: The Unlikely Volunteers at the Heart of the Migrant Aid Crisis

Dana Sachs. Bellevue, $19.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-954-27609-3

Journalist and novelist Sachs (The Secret of the Nightingale Palace) delivers a moving eyewitness account of the 2015–2019 refugee crisis in Greece and the grassroots relief networks that emerged in response. In 2015, one million refugees and migrants from the Middle East and Africa crossed the Mediterranean into Europe. An estimated 3,700 people drowned during the journey, while Greece, burdened with an economic crisis, struggled to help those who made it to shore. With the world’s major humanitarian organizations and the E.U. constricted by their own internal rules and slow-moving bureaucracy, dozens of ad hoc volunteer organizations fed and cared for the displaced. Sachs describes dystopian refugee camps devoid of basic comforts such as beds, running water, and electricity, and profiles refugees including the Khalil family, who fled Syria with the help of smugglers and lived in a makeshift camp in a gas station and a squat in Athens before they were granted asylum by Germany. Throughout, Sachs interweaves incisive analysis of such policies as the E.U.’s plan to give Turkey €3 billion in refugee aid in exchange for clamping down on “irregular migration” with heartfelt profiles of migrants and aid workers. This is a stunning portrait of hardship, despair, and resilience. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Blood Money: The Story of Life, Death, and Profit Inside America’s Blood Industry

Kathleen McLaughlin. Atria, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982-17196-4

Blending memoir and reportage, journalist McLaughlin debuts with a disturbing look at the predatory nature of the blood plasma industry. Plasma, “the watery, yellowish protein compound of blood,” is collected by hooking donors up to a centrifuge so their blood can be extracted, spun into its parts, and infused back into the donor’s arm. One of only five countries that allows payment for plasma donors, the U.S. is the primary source of the world’s supply, and McLaughlin, who suffers from a rare nerve disease treated with infusions of a plasma-borne medicine, profiles sellers, many of whom come from “economically disadvantaged” communities like Flint, Mich., and El Paso, Tex., where donation centers thrive. About 10,000 Mexicans cross the border into the U.S. each week to sell their plasma, she notes. McLaughlin also sketches the history of the plasma economy in the Chinese province of Henan, which became ground zero for a devastating AIDS outbreak in the 1990s. Throughout, she interweaves shocking revelations about lax regulations, tainted blood, and potential side effects for frequent donors with piercing meditations on how it feels to know that her medication “is built on the backs of quiet, hidden economic desperation.” The result is a captivating and anguished exposé. Agent: Ian Bonaparte, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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All the Knowledge in the World: The Extraordinary History of the Encyclopedia

Simon Garfield. Morrow, $28.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-329227-7

Replicating the A-to-Z structure of its subject, this quirky and entertaining history of encyclopedias spotlights volumes that are “the most significant or interesting or indicative of a turning point in how we view the world.” According to journalist Garfield (The End of Innocence), these include the 1768 first edition of the Britannica (the “gold standard” in English) and its modern-day descendant, Wikipedia, which “plundered huge amounts” of the Britannica’s 11th edition when it launched in 2001. Along the way, Garfield covers ancient Roman scholar Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, a 37-volume series that enthusiastically (“Pliny seemed to be in love with the entire world”) encompassed wine growing, geography, mineralogy, and more; the “Dime Bank Close,” a door-to-door sales technique highlighting the affordability of a World Book set in the 1970s and ’80s (“Three dimes a day to put all the knowledge in the Western World at your child’s fingertips”); and the yearslong, collaborative efforts by classics scholars to translate the Suda, a 10th-century Byzantine Greek historical encyclopedia. Garfield also makes room for lighter affairs, recounting episodes of Friends and Monty Python that featured encyclopedia salesmen. Fast-paced and fact-filled, this entertaining compendium is a worthy tribute to the pursuit of knowledge. Illus. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Nature of Spring

Jim Crumley. Saraband, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-912235-37-7

The Scots Magazine columnist Crumley (Lakeland Wild) ruminates on the splendor of springtime in this delightful companion to his previous outings on winter, summer, and fall. He describes visiting sites in northern Scotland during the spring of 2018 and stresses the importance of taking “time to marvel, to relish, to be a fragment of landscape.” Doing so, he suggests, can lead to being awed by the mundane: “If you have never thought there could be beauty in a fly, you need only watch a newly hatched horde of mayflies trekking upstream into the afternoon sunlight above the course of a Highland river with a song in its step.” Relating what he witnessed on nature walks, he serves up Planet Earth–ready anecdotes about ravens pestering a sea eagle, a friendly meeting between a fox and a pine marten, and territorial competition between peregrine falcons and kestrels. The author laments the changes humans have made to the environment, from over-logging and hunting to climate change’s disruption of seasonal patterns. The lyrical prose elevates Crumley’s detailed descriptions of the natural world he encounters, as when he compares the movements of a family of stoats to “spilled mercury.” Readers will be transported by this immersive outing. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Brevity: Crafting the Very Short Story

Grant Faulkner. Univ. of New Mexico, $19.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-82636-473-9

These meditative reflections from Faulkner (All the Comfort Sin Can Provide), executive director of National Novel Writing Month, consider the merits of flash fiction. “Our lives are as much about the unspoken as the spoken,” Faulkner contends, waxing poetic on short stories and imparting advice on how to write them. Flash fiction, he posits, works by calling attention to the “spectral blank spaces” around “stray moments,” highlighting the fleeting sensations of everyday experiences, and subverting any pretense to “comprehensiveness and finality.” He offers exercises for composing “tiny stories,” suggesting readers try telling a story in 100 words, capturing a character’s day in seven moments, or spinning a yarn based on emails in one’s spam folder. Enlightening aphorisms from famous authors are peppered throughout, such as poet Robert Southey’s advice, “If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams—the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.” The exercises are creative, and Faulkner’s dissections of short stories offer revealing glimpses into the many possibilities afforded by the format, such as when he holds up Lydia Davis’s “A Double Negative” to demonstrate how she uses the eponymous technique to sow doubt and suspense. This makes a convincing case for keeping it short. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Black Guy Dies First: Black Horror Cinema from Fodder to Oscar

Robin R. Means Coleman and Mark H. Harris. Saga, $19.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-982186-53-1

“Unlike ‘The Black Guy,’ Black horror has managed to not only survive, but thrive,” contend Coleman (Horror Noire), vice president and associate provost for diversity and inclusion at Northwestern University, and journalist Harris in this animated chronicle. The authors examine how Black representation in horror films has changed since the 1960s, beginning in 1968 with the releases of Spider Baby and Night of the Living Dead, the former of which is an early example of the “Black guy dies first” trope. A particularly strong chapter dissects Black horror stereotypes, noting that witch doctors from such films as Child’s Play (1988) “have African origins that lead” to their portrayal as “primitive, uncultured savages,” and that the selflessness typical of the “Magical Negro” (The Stand, The Green Mile) is usually in service of a white protagonist. The authors bring appropriately sharp humor to their examination of contemporary satirical fare inspired by the success of Get Out (2017) and remark that The Forever Purge (2021), in which Black characters struggle to survive “against rich White elitists who view them as expendable,” is “like the NFL.” Coleman and Harris’s encyclopedic knowledge of horror astounds and their critiques yield fresh insights. Horror aficionados will want to take note. Photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Number Ones: Twenty Chart-Topping Hits That Reveal the History of Pop Music

Tom Breihan. Hachette, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-0-306-82653-5

Music critic Breihan debuts with a rich analysis of chart-topping hits from the Billboard Hot100 charts from 1960 to 2020, contending that each song marks a moment in history when pop culture pivoted in a new direction. Breihan starts with Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” noting the dance sensation it caused, and goes on to correlate hit songs with changes in the musical landscape: Brian Wilson used different studios and musicians to record the Beach Boys’ 1966 song “Good Vibrations,” making it the most expensive single of its time; 2007’s “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” harnessed the power of the internet to rise to fame; and Michael Jackson’s 1983 hit “Billie Jean” was a “marvel of engineering” that melded different styles into one “layered psychological portrait.” Breihan also addresses how the music business was reflected in songs and the performance of them, whether via Dick Clark’s strict onstage dress code, Motown’s upsurge from a small label to an empire (triggered by the Supremes), or the role MTV played in moving heavy metal into the mainstream. Breihan makes a persuasive case for the broader power of a #1 hit, spotlighting music’s ability to connect on a deep level in the most unexpected ways. Music lovers will find this universally appealing. Agent: Jack Gernert, Gernert Company. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/09/2022 | Details & Permalink

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