By Jonathan Haidt

Cover art to Jonathan Haidt’s, The Righteous Mind. Image courtesy Penguin Books.

Rabbi David A. Cantor, Temple Beth Shalom | The most important book for people to read right now is “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” by Jonathan Haidt. It teaches liberals and conservatives to understand (and even have compassion for) how the “other side” thinks, and even explains why—just two months ago—the current pandemic was so hard for most people to imagine as a possible reality.

To get a taste of a sense of the power of the book, try answering this question: If I were to offer to sell you a ball and a bat for $1.10 (great price! easy for math) and tell you that sold individually, the bat costs $1.00 more than the ball, what would your answer be? If your ball costs 10 cents, I would suggest you take a look at the numbers again. In my opinion, everyone needs to read this book (or otherwise understand its premise) for a healthy democracy to flourish in America. (By the way, the correct answer is five cents.)

Where this fits into compassion and empathy and understanding is that human beings tend to make up our minds quickly, emotionally, and then only look for evidence to back up our already-made decision when it is challenged. In looking at the arguments, we will discount what disagrees with our already-made-up mind and highlight what agrees with us. That’s the hearkening to the 3% of scientists who disagree with reality but “should be given equal weight in the argument” on, for example, climate change or human evolution.

This book is available as an eBook download from the Long Beach Public Library, hereIt is also available in paperback, electronic and audiobook versions on Amazon, here.

By Lily King

Jhoanna Belfer, owner of Bel Canto Books | For home-bound readers seeking new worlds to escape into, Lily King’s novel Euphoria, loosely based on the revolutionary life of 1930s anthropologist Margaret Mead. It offers the intrigue of a doomed love triangle between three young anthropologists who set out to explore tribal life in the Amazonian rainforest. Full of poetic language and startling details about the customs of early Amazon tribes, Euphoria provides unique insight into who we love, what we value and why we crave the unknowable or unattainable.

Hardback and paperback versions are available on Bel Canto Books website, here. Versions of this book are available as an eBook download from the Long Beach Public Library, here. It is also available in hardback, paperback, electronic and audiobook versions on Amazon, here

By Anthony Storr

Courtesy Chris Giaco, Page Against the Machine.

Chris Giaco, owner of Page Against the Machine | Like many of us have been experiencing, these quarantine days have been a kind of pendulum-swing between pandemic panic and peacefulness. And while I assume many introverted readers like myself might not be much bothered by this enforced solitude, I know that some people might be kind of freaking out. I thought this might be a perfect read for both groups as it is an accessible, well-written book that examines the concept of solitude through quick biographical sketches of a wide array of creative types including Beethoven, Henry James, Goya, Kipling, and Beatrix Potter, all of whom found themselves alone at crucial periods in their lives.

You can find this book on PATM’s website, which will be up and running in the next week or so. In the meantime, check in on Instagram @patmbooks and on PATM’s Facebook page here for updates. It is also available in hardback, paperback and electronic versions on Amazon, here.

By Michelle Alexander

Cesar Armendariz, public school teacher (Downey Unified) | The United States has the largest system of mass incarceration in the world. This system was not built by accident, but by design. At the heart of this design is a history of racial discrimination. From slavery, to Jim Crow, to the war on drugs, Alexander traces the evolution of our system of racialized social control which has targeted mainly Black folk and people of color.

This book is an indictment of the racist policies and actions carried out by legislators, judges, district attorneys and local law enforcement. But the author makes it clear that our modern system of oppression depends more on racial indifference than racial hostility. The real challenge is for us, the readers: are we willing to confront our implicit racial biases while challenging our assumptions about incarcerated people?

If your goal during the quarantine is to become better informed and more compassionate, then The New Jim Crow is for you.

Bonus: Watch the documentary “13th” on Netflix if you’re up for the challenge.

This book is available as an eBook download from the Long Beach Public Library, hereIt is also available in hardback, paperback and electronic versions on Amazon, here.

By Aimee Bender

Nancy Lynee Woo, literary columnist, Long Beach Post | While we’re entertaining ourselves at home during quarantine, I’d love to return to this book. It’s a collection of short stories written in a fantastical vein of magical realism. I was recently talking with Jhoanna Belfer of Bel Canto Books, playing a fun game where she asks you some questions and then recommends books you’ll probably like. The Color Master was the first non-poetry book I thought of as an indicator of my literary tastes. This is the type of book I’d really like more of. I savored every page as I read it, and it left a mark.

As a poet, I’m drawn to short form. I love shiny, deep things. The Color Master is a book of very shiny, very deep things. Each story exists in its own universe, compact in length but expansive in imagination, from tigers molting their stripes to the concoction of colors.

Though I’m due for a reread, what I remember most is the wide range of feelings I had: at times teary, heartbroken, affectionate, puzzled, uplifted. Each story is distinct and profound, both delightfully playful and deftly packaged with emotional truths. I love surreal otherworlds that pack a mystical punch, and The Color Master delivers moment after spinning moment of wonder and awe.

What Bender really offers is a shining lifeline, asking us to ponder with her the meaning of things from the specifically off-kilter angle of kaleidoscopic whimsy. I could definitely use a bit of that right now.

This book is available in hardback, paperback and electronic versions on Amazon, here.

By Shawna Potter

Porter Gilberg, Executive Director of The LGBTQ Center Long Beach | One book I definitely made time for last year was Making Spaces Safer by Shawna Potter. I’m a huge fan of Potter and her Baltimore-based hardcore band War on Women, so it was really cool to learn that she’s also an accomplished trainer who works with venues across the country to create spaces that are more welcoming and more responsive in taking action when someone acts gross (you know what I’m talking about and it’s a big deal when this happens). What’s great about this book is that she’s able to talk about how harmful harassment is for people across different communities and explain it in a way that makes sense for businesses that serve the public.

What’s even better is that she describes specific techniques, training tools, policies, and signage we should all have to ensure we’re taking care of all people visiting our spaces. For folks who can’t fathom digesting 200 incredible pages about creating safer bars, venues, and community spaces, she also published a small pocket guide with a lot of the same info. Since we’re not going anywhere right now, it’s the perfect time for us all to be thinking about how we can better take care of folks in our different spaces once we open back up.

I got my copy, and I know they have the pocket guide too, at local bookstore Page Against The Machine, which will have its website up and running soon. This book is available in paperback and electronic versions on Amazon, here.

By Ian Urbina

Tim Grobaty, columnist, Long Beach Post | For a fascinating and frightening book, try “The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier.” The title isn’t lying. New York Times Pulitzer Prize-winning author Ian Urbina’s 40-month journey took him to five oceans and 20 other seas, spanning more than 12,000 nautical miles over what is surely the last untamed frontier, and “untamed” doesn’t begin to describe what Urbina discovered over his journey: A terrible, terrifying world that makes the old lawless west of “Deadwood” look like “Mamma Mia!”

Any reader who’s not a true psychopath will be mortified by what goes on as they drift far from the cruise ships and find a world overflowing with thievery, brutality, slavery, poverty, murder and torture where whatever scant laws exist, they are poorly and unenthusiastically enforced.

Each chapter is another misadventure, taking in the daring and perilous 110-day, 11,500 nautical mile of Sea Shepherd’s (an offshoot of Greenpeace) pursuit of a trawler poaching Chilean sea bass in the southern seas and covering the horrifying treatment of workers aboard the various money-making ships that spend months and years at sea, from chaining crewmembers to doors and masts and “rafting” misbehavers by setting them adrift alone with no food or water.

Many of us who confine our journeys to dry land and the occasional offshore excursion might have always expected that it’s a jungle out there in the ocean. It’s worse than you imagined.

This book is available in hardback, paperback and electronic versions on Amazon, here.