It was not until I read Bessel Van Der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score that I began to consciously make some of the connections that had been swirling in my head for years. Van Der Kolk makes the clinical and scientific case that our bodies and our brains are deeply altered by trauma. He goes as far as suggesting that childhood trauma “is “arguably the greatest threat to our national well-being,” an assessment I’ve come to agree with.
When I was in the fifth grade, our D.A.R.E. officer – you know, the “just say no to drugs” guy? – used to play basketball with my friends and me at recess. Jim, we’ll call him, was probably in his thirties. Playing with Jim was far beyond his job description, and of course it gave us all a huge thrill to have an adult paying attention to us. One time, though, when he was demonstrating his moves on the court, his cigarettes and can of dip fell out of his pocket.
Elsewhere on this blog, I have told the story of bullying a classmate who had the last laugh in the end. But like many people, I’ve been on both ends of bullying. In early grade school, I had a “best friend” at school who I’ll call Andy. Lest I ever forgot that fact, Andy instructed me to repeat my allegiance to him every day on the playground. Out-loud and for his sake, I would say “We’re best friends forever.” And we were best friends (so long as I did everything he told me to do).
My reading hasn’t always been this focused, but I’ve found that almost everything I’ve read in the past few years could be classified into three categories: memoir, self-help, or social sciences/cultural commentary. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that there are some commonalities those genres. Chalk it up to the the #therapythirties if you’d like, but I suppose at my core I’ve been interested in a few very basic questions. How does this world work? Is it possible to change? What is the good life?
It’s no stretch to say that the work (and the reading) has been fueled by its share of discontent, by the frustration and disappointment of feeling like life isn’t turning out the way I want it to. The good news is that the journey — both in and outside of the reading — has been incredibly rich and that there have been signs of progress along the way. I feel more hopeful now than I ever have before. For anyone who’s interested, here are 15 books — which I’ve grouped into six different topical categories — that I’ve found helpful along the way:
Some time late summer or early fall of 2015, I remember tweeting my lament that the media kept giving Donald Trump so much attention. It was essentially my belief that he wasn’t a serious candidate, that this was all a big game to him, and that the primary season would show that. How could everyone else not see that? After all, those who are labeled as early front runners often don’t win. Around that same time, I also wrote a blog post — motivated by a kind of realpolitik instinct — that predicted that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton would cruise to their respective Republican and Democratic nominations. I thought those two individuals, more than any others in the race, had the names, history, money, and power to move convincingly toward the White House.