Fully Booked: Self-help books that aren’t B.S.

Can’t decide what to read next? Librarians at the Iowa City Public Library have some ideas. This month, Melody Dworak highlights great nonfiction advice books. Browse print books and audiobooks available for checkout at the ICPL.

As a reader who loves to learn about conflict-resolution strategies, I embrace books on negotiating agreements and finding win-win situations.

I first read Amanda Ripley’s High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out in June 2021. Ripley is a veteran journalist who’s been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Atlantic, to name a few. When I come across a book by a journalist, I know it’s going to be written well. Ripley’s writing is clean and direct, quick to read and easy to understand.

Do you all remember June 2021? COVID-conflict was like no other discord I’ve seen before. Tensions and anxieties were constantly high. This was an extended period of high conflict, and Ripley’s book provided lessons on how to move through it.

Ripley provides case studies that demonstrate people getting dragged deep into the tar pits. She points out the “us versus them” dynamics and introduces the concept of “conflict entrepreneurs,” or people who exploit high conflict for their own purpose. The appendices at the end guide you through discovering high conflict in the real world and in yourself, as well as offer strategies to prevent the situation.

My biggest takeaways? Remembering that the only way past conflict is to go through it, and that my liberation is bound up in yours. If your loss is my gain, then what I gain is reveling through your suffering.

Another enlightening book is Liz Fosslein and Mollie West Duffy’s Big Feelings: How to Be Okay When Things are Not Okay. Published in April 2022, this book benefited from witnessing the conflicts occurring in the pandemic and elucidated the “big feelings” underneath. Win or lose, a person’s ego and feelings are affected most.

The authors list seven emotions and traits that are at the bottom of these big feelings: uncertainty, comparison, anger, burnout, perfectionism, despair and regret. Each chapter features delightful drawings to illustrate the authors’ points.

Working through these emotions helps ground a person and get back to their core, unagitated self. When you realize the fear you’re feeling stems from uncertainty, you can forecast different outcomes and the ways to embrace or mitigate the upcoming change. Duffy’s book also offers assessments on how much that feeling is controlling you; just how urgently do you need to take a break and take care of yourself?

Navigating conflict well depends on knowing how to negotiate. The same people who founded the Harvard Program on Negotiation — William Ury, Roger Fisher and Bruce Patton — also wrote the 1981 book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. I read this book in a college course on Peace Studies, and its messages hold. It’s a down-to-earth business book about building agreements, one that applies to everything from buying a new car to international politics.

“Conflict lies not in objective reality, but in people’s heads,” the author states.

These three books can help you get out of your turmoiled thoughts and into a position to advocate for your needs.

Melody Dworak is a librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, juggling two to three books at any given time. She served on Little Village’s editorial team from 2005-2010. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 317.