Walk a mile: Book suggestions to change your brain

By Amie Pilla – Berthoud Community Library CEO

The Surveyor

Statistics can be a useful tool for people analyzing market trends or predicting the weather, but statistics are not much good at helping us develop or change our thinking. Knowing how many refugees came to the United States between 2016 and 2019 doesn’t help anyone understand what it is like to be forced out of a home and shipped off to a crowded camp in a foreign country. Knowing how many wheelchairs have been sold in the last year gives no perspective of what it’s like to use one to navigate our sidewalks and buildings.

For empathy, we need stories, not statistics. Why is that?  “Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes” isn’t just a cliché, it’s an actual brain pattern. Jonathan Gottschall has done fascinating research with MRIs and determined that when we read stories, our brain activity matches that of story participants, not observers. Our brains literally put us into the story. If you’re a nerd like me and want to hear more about his research, look up his TEDx Talk or his book, both entitled, “The Storytelling Animal.” If you’re ready to dive into some stories, fiction, or nonfiction that will let you view the world from someone else’s perspective, here’s our list of recommendations.

Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison. Penelope, the teen sleuth at the center of this story, has OCD—not the helpful, you-notice-more-clues kind, but the interfere-with-life kind.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas. A young black woman struggles to follow her dream in the wake of racism and poverty. This story pulls no punches.

We Should Hang Out Sometime: Embarrassingly a True Story by Josh Sundquist. Josh shares his story about losing a leg to childhood cancer and his struggle to find companionship afterward.

Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein. Ricky’s life is already messy when a tough physical diagnosis makes everything worse for her.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Two Nigerians struggle to find their identity and their way in the U.S. and the U.K.

Normal: One Kid’s Extraordinary Journey by Magdalena and Nathaniel Newman. The memoir is written by mother and son about their experiences navigating the hardships of Nathaniel’s Treacher Collins Syndrome, a craniofacial condition that led Nathaniel to endure 67 surgeries before he turned 15.

If At Birth You Don’t Succeed: My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny by Zach Anner. Zach is a comedian who opens his book by admitting that he botched his own birth and was born with cerebral palsy. This one is both eye-opening and hysterical.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Don decides it’s time to find a wife, but knows that his Asperger’s may make it difficult to overcome the lack of social skills that are usually a key component of romantic relationships.

If you exhaust this list, there are plenty of more recommendations we can give you. Just give us a call at the Berthoud Community Library and we’ll set you up with even more options.

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