Nonfiction November, Week 3: Be the Expert/Ask the Expert

(Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash)

This week Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness brings us Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert!

Here’s our topic: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).


Self-improvement books make me very, very happy.

When I look back on the ones that have made me the happiest, these books wing their way to the top of the list. These five authors are my gurus.

Starting with the most sweeping and challenging…


Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown   

Probably Brene Brown needs no introduction. But if her work is new to you, the quickest way I can sum it up is:

Warm. Honest. Challenging. Hopeful.


The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin  

While I’ve never officially done a happiness project, I’ve definitely been a lifelong dabbler in the science. Rubin, who now has an entertaining podcast along with her sister, breaks happiness down for us here, and she does it by making herself the experiment. It’s informative, it’s fun to read, and it’s inspiring.


Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

The latest self-improvement Big Impact book I’ve read, Deep Work asks us to slow down and go deep. And as a multi-tasking whirlwind (actually, I’m hooked on stacking and nesting tasks, cuz we all know multi-tasking doesn’t work), I resisted this concept like my stubborn toddler self used to dig in her heels. (People who know me now find this unfathomable, but this is the way I was.) But once I gave it a try, I was on board. And now I’m one of those annoying converts who can’t stop proselytizing. This stuff works.


Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

Ever since I read Getting Things Done the second time (about 2 years ago), I’ve been following this system, and I don’t know how I lived without it. It’s made me both more organized and less stressed. That subtitle don’t lie, my friends.


Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley 

Narrow the focus to writing, and this book is my hands-down favorite. Handley is encouraging and she’s wise and she makes me want to be a better writer. And she makes me want to actually sit down and write. (Sometimes that’s half the battle. Am I wrong?)


So, good people of the Interwebs… What self-improvement book changed your life? 

Why I love Brene Brown

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown

3 words: narrative, thoughtful, engaging

Oh my goodness. Brene Brown.

I seriously can’t say enough good things.

When I want to feel both encouraged and challenged, she’s my go-to writer. For me, she appeared out of nowhere just when I needed her research to help me out.

And life just keeps offering ways to use the ideas she puts out there.

When she spoke at the American Library Association conference, she talked about and directly demonstrated the concepts in Braving the Wilderness, and she brought us along with her:

“People are hard to hate close up. Move in.

Speak truth to BS. Be civil.

Hold hands. With strangers.

Strong back. Soft front. Wild heart.”

We were all singing together and it was beautiful as all heck.

So she’s walking the walk and inspiring others to do the same. It’s hard work, y’all. (I sometimes slip into Brene Brown speak when I’m thinking about her.)

But there’s such warmth and humor here, too. This part made me smile out loud:

“After fifteen years of this work, I can confidently say that stories of pain and courage almost always include two things: praying and cussing. Sometimes at the exact same time.”  (pp. 24-25)

She spoke about that at ALA, too — the fact that some organizations ask her not to cuss, and others ask her not to mention God. But she’s gonna do both, doggone it.

It’s hard stuff, this living a good and decent life. And she makes us realize that to do it really, really well is super hard and super rewarding.

Give this book a whirl if you like…books that explain society and challenge us to be our best selves, reconnecting with yourself and others, cultivating integrity, showing up as our true selves

What book or author showed up in your life just when you needed them most?





Deep Work is deep work

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

3 words: game-changing, thoughtful, practical

The book that’s most challenged me recently? Here we have it.

I’ve both craved and resisted the message of this book, which is:
In order to do our best work, we need to restructure things so we can work without distraction.

And I seriously love a good multi-task. Or at least a good layering of activities. (As I type this paragraph, I’m at the track, stretching my calves before a run. I’m guessing Newport would say this is fruitful time for germinating ideas but not for doing actual work.) So this new method does not come naturally to me these days. Especially with the tug of email and other distractions.

But when I’ve tried it in small doses, it’s been abundantly fruitful. Some tasks require focus, and when I give myself permission to go into the thinking cave, I’m surprised by how much I accomplish.

Newport’s method requires larger scale changes than I’ve made thus far, but I’m implementing it in small ways to gather my own evidence that it can work for me. And then I’ll experiment with other ways I can expand it.


  • Logging out of email while I spend 40 minutes dedicated to a project at work
  • Placing my iPhone in another room when I’m working on a project at home
  • Clearing my workspace so I’m not distracted by clutter (sometimes. I do this sometimes.)

So far, so good. So far, so amazing.

Give this book a whirl if you like… productivity, diving deep, focus, denying distractions, taking back control , living a rich life

My fellow self-improvement junkies… what habits are you trying to build?


I found my Strengths, and my Strengths won


My Strengths mug!

Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

3 words: descriptive, practical, personalized

Oh my goodness. When I was running a couple of months ago, I heard an episode of Side Hustle School where a guy started selling customized mugs that list a person’s top 5 strengths from Strengthsfinder. And I was all, “Must Have Mug.” (I’ve also been meaning to go for the Strengthsfinder thing for a while now, but it took a mug to tip the balance. Because: mugs.)

So I bought the Strengthsfinder 2.0 eBook via the Gallup website, which also includes the strengths evaluation. And I got my list of 5 strengths.

And now… back to the podcasts. I’ve been listening compulsively to the Gallup’s Theme Thursday podcast, especially to the episodes dealing with my 5 strengths. Oh, my.

The coolest thing is that when you buy this book, you gain access to the Strengthsfinder quiz, which reveals your top 5 strengths. And you also receive these great info sheets that tell you how to use your strengths to their best advantage.

Totally worth the $15 price of the eBook!

This book is full of concrete tips for each strength. While the sections about my key strengths spoke to me directly, it was also fascinating to read about all the other strengths. One nice feature is that each strength chapter contains a section called “Working with others who have [that strength]” — which makes each section more relevant to every reader.

So now I’m writing goals that align with my strengths, and I review them while sipping tea from my customized mug. It would be embarrassing if it weren’t so enjoyable. (Maybe it’s more embarrassing because it’s so enjoyable?)

Give this book a whirl if you like… personality types, building on your strengths, self-improvement books

What’s your favorite book about personality types?

Little evening of American hygge

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking

3 words: cozy, happy, intimate

Biologically speaking, I’m ⅛ Danish. But when we talk about hygge*, I’m pretty sure I’m 100%.

Hygge: it’s the domestic trend of 2017, and I’m totally into it.

Hygge: it’s a word to represent the Danish concept of coziness

I was born for coziness.

(Probably most of us were, but I’m thinking I’ve got some serious natural gifts in this department. I’ll challenge anyone to the building of the world’s coziest little blanket-and-pillow nest.)

Denmark frequently ranks near the top of the list of happiest countries, and this book’s author (CEO of the Happiness Research Institute) says hygge is an important part of the picture.

And this charming little book is a handbook to creating your own experiences of hygge.

The book itself is pretty darn hyggeligt (cozy), cuz it’s small and includes pleasant drawings in soft blue tones that represent the key elements of hygge. We’re talking: candlelight, comfort, togetherness, a cozy nook, a fireplace, books, ceramics, blankets and cushions, vintage touches, and pleasures like warm beverages, chocolate, and cake.

Dear heaven, people. I want that life.

So the Dear Man and I set out to build it.

On a recent February evening, we did all the cozy things… we did some meandering tourist-style grocery shopping at a completely fascinating international market where we bought Danish cheese and butter because: hygge: it is Danish.

We also bought lots of other delightful things (including chocolate), because hygge demanded it.

Then we cooked Bookbinder Soup (I know!!!) and dined by candlelight and it was cozy as all heck.

And there was even the requisite book-as-coziness-object because, while the soup simmered, Book Nerd here kept reading aloud to highlight all the ways we were having the most hyggeligt evening ever in all the world.

(Did I mention I was wearing my fuzzy new slippers? I was.)


Give this book a whirl if you like… nesting, learning about other cultures, slowing it down a little to savor the coziness of winter, and books about the quiet pleasures of domestic life.


So, my friends… What are your hygge superpowers?


*pronounced: hoo-gah

Getting Things Done: The Re-Read Edition

Getting Things Done by David Allen


This October, I’ve been in re-read mode.

It’s actually pretty darn fun, to feel the freedom to re-read– so often, I feel pressured to read something new.

So today, we’re looking at my first re-read of the fall season.


Earlier this year, when I finished reading Getting Things Done, I put a reminder in my calendar (Google Calender is one of my key GTD tools) to revisit the book in the fall.


This time, I decided to listen to it. And that was a brilliant idea, if I do say so myself. David Allen, the author, narrates the book, and it’s one of those delightful instances where the author reads the book better than anyone else could. Dude has a soothing voice, and he speaks with quiet confidence. It was like a private coaching session.


And, just like he says in the book, the next time I read it, I gained new insights. And I was inspired to fine-tune my system. These changes sound small, but They Are Not.


Here’s what I did:

First, I improved my Capture systems.
In GTD lingo, “capture” refers to catching ideas when they arise, and saving them in a system you trust.

I did this:

  • Placed small notebooks in 2 additional places where I often have ideas, so I can capture them
  • Bought bathtub crayons so I can write my shower thoughts (anyone else do their best thinking in the shower?) right there on the wall


Next, I hacked my system to make myself more accountable to myself.

I did this:

  • Created hyperlinks to connect related Word documents. This one works especially well in the Projects List doc, where I’ve added links to my various project pages. When I do my weekly review, I now actually look at each project page, because I’ve made it easy. And it’s paying off — I’ve already thought of some new ways to approach some of my projects. [small squeal of delight as I realize he ain’t kidding about the subtitle to the book: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity]


And finally, I kept myself honest.
Here’s where I was goofing up: Instead of making sure my Next Actions List contained only actual “next actions,” I allowed some of the items to be projects that needed to have “next actions” defined for them. So…
I did this:
  • Reviewed my Next Actions list with a discerning eye, then turned vague
    statements into concrete Next Actions. Again: immediate results. It was a
    sudden kick-start to some projects that I’d allowed myself to glide
    past, because they required thinking. Once the actual thinking is done and I decided what to actually do: super easy.



Anyone else completely infatuated with a self-improvement book? If so, which one?  



How to Love Where You Live

This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live by Melody Warnick
3 words: personal, informative, domestic
“What if a place becomes the right place only by our choosing to love it?” (p. 15)
Interesting question, right?
I’m super lucky, because I’ve loved my town since I first laid eyes on it. In many ways, it chose me first.
But ever since then, I’ve chosen it over and over again, and I feel rooted here. But when I read this book, I realized that my roots aren’t nearly as deep as they could be. 

And I liked the book so much, I didn’t even mind the discovery that I still had a lot of work to do. 

This book is a wonderfully pleasant mash-up of personal narrative and handbook.
As the book begins, Warnick and her family are on the verge of moving to Blacksburg, Virginia, after several moves in their recent past. And she’s decided to love where she lives.
So she does the research, and then she walks the walk.
It’s rather Happiness Project-esque, and coming from me, that’s a huge compliment.
Warnick is a cheerful guide through the ways a person can become more attached and more fond of her community. I liked hanging out with her in these pages.
And I was impressed by the work she did to connect herself to her new city.
Though occasionally I longed for introvert-friendly variations on some of the steps. I just gotta tell you: There ain’t no way I’m inviting everyone on my block to my home for dinner anytime soon.
But many of the tips are easy and fun.
For example: “Find a place in your town to become a regular. Clues: Google the name of your town with ‘hidden gem,’ ‘local,’ ‘secret,’ ‘neighborhood,’ or ‘undiscovered.’”  (p. 179)
And this one: “Read about your town’s history so you have a better sense of what it’s been through.” (p. 243)
Each chapter concludes with a “Love Your City Checklist,” and while some of the stuff I’m not doin’, I was glad to have some items to put on the to-do list.
And I learned that my house has a Walk Score of 70 — very walkable. (I already knew this: I can walk to the DQ and the library, so basically I’m all set.)
And I walked the walk a little bit, too…  literally.
I walked (walking is one of the ways to love your city) to a locally owned cafe (buying local: that’s another way) that’s a few blocks from my house, and I sat in the shade and looked at the sunshine on the old buildings, and I ate wonderful food and I read my book.
This is what it looked like, and it was heaven.
So this book offers tips for people who already love where they live — you can always take it up a notch — but especially for those who don’t feel particularly connected to their town. 

So, good people… What do you love most about where you live?

Simply productive

Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style by Carson Tate
Hello, my pretty…
3 words: individualized, practical, energetic
Oh, people, I seriously love the productivity books.
And this one is seriously good.
During a conversation with another librarian, I mentioned Getting Things Done (of course I did) and how it had revolutionized my workflow.
And she recommended the book Work Simply by Carson Tate, which she had found similarly helpful.
So I dashed right back to the library to check it out. 
And the thing I liked about this book — well, there were lots of things. 
First, I liked that Tate incorporates a lot of the principles I recognize from Getting Things Done, such as the 2-minute rule (or however many minutes you want to say — 1-minute rule, 5-minute rule, whatever). Basically, the idea is: If you can get it done in 2 minutes or less, do it now.
Second, I was wildly intrigued at Tate’s concept of the four productivity styles: Prioritizer, Planner, Arranger, and Visualizer.
And there’s a quiz that will tell you which is your primary and secondary style.
And of course, I was the boring styles, in a dead tie. 
You’re looking at a Planner / Prioritizer here.
There’s no glamour there, guys — no sparkle, no pizzazz. I simply get the stuff done.
The other styles (those Arrangers and Visualizers) are encouraged use multi-color sticky notes and file folders and cute, decorative office accessories. They’re prompted to use large whiteboards for brainstorming and inspiration. They’re told to decorate their offices lavishly.
This book explains why I don’t like those things (too distracting!) even though part of me wishes I did.
I’m the plain, simply-labeled file folder type. Times two. (Planner + Prioritizer)
I sighed heavily, accepted my fate, and got down to business.
That’s what we prioritizing planners do.  
Here are some tips I immediately implemented from this book:
  • Created a list of “10 Minutes or Less” action steps
  •  Started actually scheduling buffer time (to accommodate the time spent in transition from one task to another)
Seriously helpful stuff here!
I’ve actually made it into a game (the prioritizing planner type of game) that I’ll do one item each day from the “10 Minutes or Less” list, which is forcing me to pick off some of the stuff that I’d otherwise push off to another day. It gives a little jolt of satisfaction that I’ve checked something off the list, and that thing took only a small amount of time.
This book also gives tips for dealing with interruptions, improving productivity of meetings, and writing more effective emails.

There’s really something here for everyone, regardless of work style. 

Talk to me… What are your favorite books about productivity? 

KonMari’d librarianwear

Just in case you thought I was all talk and no action when it came to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (dang, I love that book)…

I give you…

My librarian cardigan shelves!

I know. It’s a beautiful sight.  
My closet doors actually close now (due to all that tidying up), but sometimes I keep them open anyway — because: the view, people! The view!!

Creature of habit

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
3 words: informative, inspiring, thought-provoking
To a confirmed self-improvement book junkie, this book was as tantalizing as a rabbit to a greyhound. I just couldn’t get enough of it.
Duhigg harnesses the power of story to convey big truths about habit formation, and he’s a darn good storyteller.
He’s selected anecdotes that clearly illustrate each concept, so even if a person (that would be me) tends to forget the details, simpy recalling the story helps to bring the details back into focus.
For me, the biggest takeaway is the concept of keystone habits — the habits that create an avalanche effect on other habits.
With a keystone habit, once you change one habit, lots of other good habits follow, almost of their own accord. It’s like giving yourself a master key that unlocks all the doors.
And I really loved this part:
One of the biggest, most consistent keystone habits is exercise.
Once a person starts exercising, she tends to start eating more healthfully and getting better sleep. And exercise creates some really great benefits that fuel other good things that help a person stick with a habit: increased energy, improved mood, endorphins. It becomes the best kind of feedback loop.

As a running junkie (a habit even more deeply rooted than the reading of self-improvement books), it was fascinating to read this analysis, which so clearly explained many of the reasons that once I started running, I really started smiling.  

Last fall I read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before. While The Power of Habit covers the same topic, they’re quite different books. And I like them both so very much. They complement each other well.

If you’re into the self-improvement stuff, oh, guys… pick up this book.