The Balanced Book Shelf

ReadingFeb 20, 2018by Tracey Jackson Comments

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.  

~ Dr. Seuss

We are never too old to stop learning.  And as Dr. Suess so wisely says ( how awesome was he?) the more that you learn the more places you will go.

It’s no secret that reading, the reading of books is down.  You get mixed stats, audio books are being consumed at a higher rate.  E-Books sales are apparently down.  The independent bookstore is an endangered species and Barnes and Noble’s stores are shuttering at an alarming rate. The smartphone and Netflixization of our culture have resulted in people not just abandoning books as a form or entertainment, enlightenment, and escapism, but the average person’s concentration abilities have diminished to the point they just can’t focus long enough to read a full book.

“The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds. Goldfish, meanwhile, are believed to have an attention span of nine seconds.”

It’s hard to get through a book if you can only focus for eight seconds at a stretch. But meanwhile, goldfish are devouring everything from Stephen King to Tolstoy.

If we are aiming for balance here, books have to be an integral part of our lives.  Books wake us up, shake us up, they take us on adventures and pose and answer pertinent questions.   I have been devouring self-help books since I was fourteen.  There has never been a time when I was not reading something in the form of a book. It breaks my heart as both a writer and consumer of books to see so few people taking part in them.

Next time you are in any form of public transportation be it a subway, a bus or a plane, look around and count how many people are reading a book. Granted they might be reading one on their phones, but chances are they are playing Candy Crush or scrolling their Instagram feed.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m as hooked on Instagram as the next sixteen-year-old, but I allow a certain amount of time each day to read a book. Reading centers me, it never ceases to teach me something. I actually read with a little pack of sticky tabs that I mark the pages and sections I want to return to.  And being a seeker reading leads me down so many paths I could have never found without the help of books.

These stats are slightly upsetting.

You can’t be a balanced human being and spend your time staring at a tiny screen, binge-watching Travelers, and looking at three-minute cake demos on Buzz Feed. You can do all of the above, but again, not at the expense of other activities.

So here on Balance and Beam, we are big on books. We will have our Bookshelf that we will constantly be adding to and we will have book reviews and suggestions. We might even have some book giveaways.

The average American watches five hours of TV a day. FIVE HOURS!  That’s thirty-five hours a week, for those of you without a calculator handy. But the really scary thing is people fifty and over,  yes, that would be many of you – watch the most TV, fifty hours a week in front of the boob tube. And it makes total sense as people over fifty also read the fewest books of anyone else.

Come on Boomers, let’s find some balance here.  Is that how you want to spend your final thirty – less educated than a goldfish?


A book I not only go back to time and time again, but one I buy for gifts and used to demand all my screenwriting students read. Anne LaMott’s classic will become part of your inner language the way it’s become part of millions of others. My mantra is often “Bird by Bird.”

Buy on Amazon

William Powers was one of the first writers to show us how we can get our smartphone and internet addictions under control. Full of fascinating history and excellent advice, this book is a must-have if you want to live a life of balance and not one where you are tethered to your device.

Buy on Amazon

Pema Chodron is one of our greatest thought leaders.  This may be her classic book, as no matter where you are in your life, things will fall apart from time to time, especially the further you advance on life’s journey.  This enlightening book will give you the tools and the comfort you need to muddle forward into the light.

Buy on Amazon 

Sometimes you don’t need a long read, somedays you just need. a little pick me up, a bit of wisdom to help you see your way through whatever life slowing sludge you are trying to work your way through.  Cheryl Strayed’s Brave Enough is one of those books to keep on your nightstand or your desk for just those moments. Turn to any page and you will find something to help you re-balance and move forward.

Buy on Amazon

Marie Kondo and then some.  Fumio Sasaki takes the art of decluttering and minimalism to new heights. He attacks the topic from a highly spiritual place.  He sheds his things and with every item he gets closer to his real self.  I won’t spoil it for you, but when I put it down I declared I would not buy anything for a year. I lasted a bit over two months, but this book truly changed the way I think about things, clutter, possessions and how they relate to who I really am in ways no other book ever has.


Marriages, especially long ones are many things at once and different times. With her sharp eye for detail and refined emotional intelligence, Dani Shapiro digs deep into what really makes a marriage work, slip out, then slide back into place.

“Change even one moment, the whole thing unravels. The narrative thread doesn’t stretch in a line from end to end, but rather, spools and unspools, loops around and returns again and again to the same spot. There is no other life than this. You would not have stumbled into the vastly imperfect, beautiful, impossible present.”

You will see yourself on many of the pages of this slim, yet powerful book.


I read this book for the first time before I turned fifty.  It might be what started me on my live as well as you can for as long as you can mindset.  But Chris Crowley’s  friendly uncle style of writing makes it easy to absorb the truths and the solid advice he dishes out.  Every day I ponder blowing off the gym I remember one outtake from this book,  “Every day your body makes a choice it’s either going to get a little bit younger or a little bit older. Every time you workout you get a little bit younger.”  It was worth the price of the book for that tidbit alone.



Leave your safe place. Travel to where more than one billion people live, the slums of the world. It’s a very readable book on a very difficult topic. But one we cannot ignore.  It’s deeply disturbing and eye-opening if you haven’t witnessed what real slum dwelling is like.  We get upset when they turn the hot water off for a few hours. Over a billion people live in situations without running water, proper plumbing or electricity.  We cannot pretend it doesn’t exist and if you read this book Mike Davis will not allow you to forget it.



All families have their problems. No matter how happy you thought the people across the street were compared to you, one day you learn that there was more turmoil in their house than yours.

And growing up often doesn’t change the problems that parents and off-spring experienced when the kids were young.  “When Parents Hurt” is a book that helps you navigate the often unsettling wounds and resentments that drift from childhood into adolescence, then adulthood.

Unlike many books on parent/child dynamics, this is a book for the parents.

Nobody wants to be estranged from their children, especially the older one gets.  That is all baggage to hopefully be healed and left behind.

It can’t always work out the way we want, but Dr. Coleman gives us tools to repair the damage, no matter whose fault you think it is. And fault isn’t the issue, forgiveness and closeness are what people long for.


The book I reread, suggest and gift constantly.  Krznaric was way ahead of the curve in figuring out how the job market had changed and the types of work people would be doing.  He acknowledged early on that purpose and meaning were often higher on the contentment graph than a whopping salary.

But he also knows we live in a society where the rent must be paid and the kids need to be fed and educated.

One of his meta-theories is we don’t have one career in a lifetime anymore we can have many. And we can have some of them simultaneously.  The one that feeds our bank account and the one that nourishes our soul.

Krznaric feels the five keys to making a career meaningful earning money, achieving status, making a difference, following our passions, and using our talents.

This book applies to people of all ages. But if you are in that transition phase from high powered job to scaling down or deciding how you want to be engaged and contributing after fifty. this book is gold.


The book you can go back to time and time again and always find new wisdom, reasons to be grateful and just humbled by the honesty and insights on what is important. Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture remains one of my favorite books, inspirational or otherwise.



Thomas Moore is always a great guide to the soul. Here he takes on our souls as we age. A truly inspirational and helpful book for all ages as Moore points out we are always aging in one way or another and our ideally our souls show us the way.




Barbara Hannah Grufferman is sort of the queen of tips on aging. In her new book Love Your Age she covers it all in bite size pieces. You can pretty much pick up at any point in the book and read for a few minutes and walk away with some new info on what to do with all the various puzzle pieces that make up a life and in this case an aging one.