News & Opinion

Inside the 2022 Longlist | Personal Development & Human Behavior

Emily Porter

December 08, 2022


We are creatures that need guidance, love, compassion, and (we believe in) books that bring us back to considering and working on ourselves, which is what this category is all about.

We sometimes forget that at the root of all business are individuals who are going through everyday life events and struggles. Businesses can’t exist without them, without us. And regardless of how thoroughly and intimately computers have come to dominate our work lives and commerce, we are not machines. We are creatures that need guidance, love, compassion, and (we believe) books that bring us back to considering and working on ourselves, which is what this category is all about. Porchlight Book Company’s mantra is to Keep Books Human. Behind that phrase, we mean that we take care of our team, we value and cherish our clients, customers, authors, reps, and publishers. We consider many our good friends! Oh, and we all absolutely love and believe in books, of course! These five awe-inspiring and thought-provoking books that graced our shelves moved us in a way that changed us at our core, and I believe they will bring this awe into your life as well. These books urge us to think about how we live our lives, move through the world, impact others, and what we bring to the job and businesses that we are able to come to and create every day.   



Bittersweet: How Longing and Sorrow Make Us Whole by Susan Cain, Crown 

When I read this book at the beginning of the year, I knew it was something special. After her brilliant,  debut Quiet, I expected nothing less from Susan Cain. What I didn’t know or expect is how much it would stay with me over the next 12 months. There was no way I could have known that it would be like a balm reapplied to my soul when I re-read during our awards season, which happened to coincide with a time that I needed to help care for my sick father. So, I cannot stress enough how important I think this book is for any sentient human being. We live in a society where happiness is always urged, so the bittersweet moments of life become confusing, or even shunned at times. How do we process them if we don’t allow ourselves the freedom to really feel them? Cain helps us find the emotional depth and space we should allow ourselves by sharing some of her toughest experiences and how they made her who she is today. She explores questions like why some of us are drawn to the saddest songs that have ever been written (including herself), why our culture shuns the “negative” and expects us to exude positivity even when we are struggling and need to go through the waves of grief. Mostly, Susan Cain shows us that there is a balance we play with in life, the bitter and sweet aspects of our existence intermingling in a way that makes us more whole.  



Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari, Crown 

I’ve been trying so hard to keep my distance from screens when I can this year, and I’ve found it to be incredibly difficult. Talking about it with others, I know I’m not the only one. I have also noticed when talking to others that nearly everyone is having a harder time focusing. Our minds are scattered, and it seems impossible to have coffee or dinner with a friend without checking your texts or taking a photo to prove you did something that night. We are all connected to screens for work, for play, and even to maintain relationships with family and friends. You are looking at one right now, reading this either on your phone or some other device you most likely have with you most of your day. What is this doing to us? Where are our barriers and how do we think deeply and pay attention again?  

Johann Hari found and interviewed the foremost scientists and experts on the matter and gathered up the latest research on the act of focusing. The book follows Hari’s quest to discover how we can reconnect with the world around us and tame the metal beast that tends to control our every move. He even embarks on a journey to Provincetown to fully disconnect from tech to see if he can reconnect with himself and the beautiful simplicities of life for three-months, as “depth takes time and attention.”

The computer always at our fingertips receives more of our attention than the people we love, and the companies that steal our attention have designed them to do exactly that. I don’t think most of us want to live this way. This book will help every distracted office and any individual who finds themselves unfocused throughout their day reprioritize and regain their focus. 



Living a Committed Life: Finding Freedom and Fulfillment in a Purpose Larger Than Yourself by Lynne Twist, Berrett-Kohler 

Where should I begin with this incredibly moving and inspirational read? Perhaps with my own life, and why I was personally moved and inspired by it. As a yoga instructor and overall self-proclaimed activist and environmentalist, this book spoke to the realms of possibility within every aspect of my life when looking at the current state of the world. It addresses work, family, community, and beyond, and I found lessons throughout my reading that I could put into immediate practice. Part memoir, part instruction manual, Lynne Twist shares her incredible and inspiring journey from stay-at-home mom to finding her passion and committing her life to end world hunger. She joined The Hunger Project early on and went on to make huge impacts and strides within the movement, eventually creating several organizations of her own to continue and expand that work. Twist asks us first to look at how we are impacting others now and guides us to answer our calling by pushing our passions forward and living a committed life that is beneficial not only to ourselves, but to the organizations we work for, for our loved ones and communities, and potentially even the entire world. 



Thinking 101: How to Reason Better to Live Better by Woo-Kyoung Ahn, Flatiron Books 

After reading Thinking 101, you will understand why Woo-Kyoung Ahn’s class at Yale, that it was modeled after, is one of the most popular classes the university has ever had. In the book, Ahn explains how we think, how others think, and how we can expand and understand our thoughts to live a better existence in our personal, work, and every other area of our lives. You’ll come away with an understanding of why the way we think has a huge impact on not only our lives, but the lives of those we interact with. And it will likely change the way you think, or at least make you think about the way you think about… well everything! One thing that caught my attention, and that most of us come across fairly often, is confirmation bias. She gives the example of someone believing that echinacea helps cure the common cold. That is confirmed in their mind because they always eventually get better after ingesting the herb. But, because the individual takes echinacea every time they have a cold, they don’t really know if the herb has any effect or if their body is actually just curing itself. As a believer in natural remedies, I have been down this road many times and then some! And now I have some new tools to test what works best. Ahn provides insight on how the natural act of thinking and the power of reason can help us live a better life. 



Viral Justice: How We Grow the World We Want by Ruha Benjamin, Princeton University Press 

When we think of social justice activities, we visualize people marching in the streets, we remember vivid moments in history when an idea becomes a movement and bends the arch ever closer toward justice. This powerful read shows how we, as humans, as a society, even the world, can grow the future community we want to see with small meaningful steps. Ruha Benjamin, who shares her own experiences, but also findings from other visionaries, shows the reader how urgent and prevalent shining the light on sexism, racism, classism and other issues we face are, especially as we live through an age where change is being made. As Ruha Benjamin shows us, that isn’t really a “what if” but what is and how it works. Because the truth is that how we think about and behave toward each other in the quieter moments might just lead to quantum leaps forward.  

It is this “relationship between seemingly small actions and larger structures” that is explored in Viral Justice. Benjamin shares her own story and personal experience alongside findings from other sources and stories from work being done on the community level. We need changemakers at every level, especially as we live through an age where dramatic change is being made in so many aspects of our lives. Deeply personal and overtly political (advocating for equal rights shouldn’t be seen as political in its negative connotation, but as political in the sense of it being the “art of the possible”), we hope Viral Justice goes viral. 


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