Josh's Staff Picks

By Underground Books

By Underground Books

The Four Winds

Kristin Hannah

$28.99 $26.67

I devoured Kristin Hannah’s masterful work of historical fiction. I found myself desperately rooting for the Martinelli family as they face a persistent series of crises during the Great Depression & the Dust Bowl. This is character driven storytelling at its best — each time I stepped away from it I couldn’t stop thinking about them. The Four Winds is a deeply moving story about a particularly dark era of profoundly relevant American history.

The Overstory

Richard Powers

$18.95 $17.43

My favorite novel in years, a sweeping, brilliant, page-turning environmentalist epic. It’s long, but I listened to the audiobook and was devastated when it was over. It’s like Richard Powers kidnapped Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, John Grisham, Margaret Atwood, Rachel Carson, and a shaman and spent 5 years in a room with them while writing this book. Whether you’re a tree hugger or not, this is storytelling at its best.

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Becky Chambers

$17.99 $16.55

Becky Chambers is my new favorite science fiction author. The Wayfarers series is so emotionally satisfying. I know "cozy mysteries" is a genre, and I'm not sure if "cozy sci-fi" is really a thing or not, but it is kind of how I think about this series. It's fun, smart, character driven goodness.

Mexican Gothic

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

$27.00 $24.84

I don't consider myself to be a horror genre reader, but I loved this one. Megan refers to it as "deliciously creepy" and that is the perfect description. Such a satisfying read. Hulu is producing it as limited tv series as well, but you should totally read the book first!

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Yuval Noah Harari

$24.99 $22.99

Harari's brilliant cross-discipline synthesis of humanity's last 100,000 year story arc is sweeping and brilliant. I would almost use a phrase usually reserved for beach read thrillers-it's a page-turner. Rarely does a book stir up conversation in academic circles while still being so accessible to a general audience. That a history book has been on the recommending reading lists of such big name entrepreneurs as Tim Ferris and Bill Gates is worth noting. I finished the book feeling both inspired and disturbed. And that's about where homo sapiens sapiens is a species about now--both inspired and disturbed. 

Braiding Sweetgrass

Robin Wall Kimmerer

$18.00 $16.56

A beautifully written book, full of profound and lyrical insights. Perfect for illuminating the scientific skeptic mind to the complementary truths of native spiritual wisdom. Everyone interested in world changing ideas and perspectives, and hope for the long term viability of human life on earth should read this.

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us about Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

Michael Pollan

$18.00 $16.56

Pollan didn’t create the local food movement, but his books brought our attention to it, catapulting the conversation to farmers markets and dinner tables everywhere. In How To Change Your Mind, Pollan has turned his eye to psychedelic drugs. What The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules did for food, this book is set to do in the fields of end of life care, addiction treatment, depression, and (most radically) questions of spirituality & meaning. A+!

Southern Discomfort: A Memoir

Tena Clark

$17.00 $15.64

Tena Clark’s memoir about growing up in rural Mississippi is the southern memoir of the year, y’all. This isn’t my wording, but I will paraphrase the publisher’s blurb: Southern Discomfort is The Glass Castle meets Fried Green Tomatoes. A powerful, satisfying, page-turning memoir, good for fans of this year’s earlier hit memoir, Educated by Tara Westover.

Educated: A Memoir

Tara Westover

$28.00 $25.76

How a young woman, raised without modern medicine, any schooling, or even a birth certificate, in a remote Mormon, survivalist household in Idaho, made it to college and ended up receiving a PhD from Cambridge is the incredible story of this memoir. Outstanding! This true story is a beautifully written, soulful, hilarious, heartbreaking, even suspenseful page-turner, and not to be missed!

Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Declineof America's Man-Made Landscape

James Howard Kunstler

$18.00 $16.56

This pop history of urban planning in America opened my eyes to the ways our built environment has contributed to the social problems we face today. Kunstler was an early  advocate of “New Urbanist” design, emphasizing walkable & bikeable neighborhoods and mixed use village-style planning. Part of my love for downtown Carrollton was explained to me by this book, celebrating the human scaled intimacy of pre-automobile urban village design. Kunstler’s biting sense of humor makes learning about the dark and sad history of America’s urban planning a less bitter pill to swallow.

Breakfast of Champions

Kurt Vonnegut

$17.00 $15.64

Vonnegut’s 1973 novel is set in the fictional town of Midland City, and is the story of "two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast." Breakfast introduced me to the offbeat, brilliant humor of an author who thinks like a kind of zany alien anthropologist. Illustrated throughout with Vonnegut’s own childish drawings, the book also explores serious and troubling aspects of U.S. history by providing simplistic explanations of things like racism, oppression and inequality without the contextual explanations that are often used to excuse these trends.

Still Life with Woodpecker (Reissue)

Tom Robbins

$17.00 $15.64

During my years as a philosophy undergraduate, I read only nonfiction. After graduating, this was the first work of pleasurable fiction I read. It concerns the love affair between an environmentalist princess and an outlaw. The novel features aliens and redheads, consumerism, the building of bombs, romance, royalty, the moon, and a pack of Camel cigarettes. The novel continuously addresses the question of "how to make love stay" and is sometimes referred to as "a postmodern fairy tale". Still Life is a fun, easy read, but still full of witty, thought-provoking, and quotable aphorisms.

Ishmael

Daniel Quinn

$18.00 $16.56

When I read Ishmael at age 16, it blew my mind and forever changed my perspective on the world. It examines the mythological thinking at the heart of modern civilization, its effect on ethics, and how this relates to sustainability and societal collapse on the global scale. The novel uses a style of Socratic dialogue to deconstruct the notion that humans are the pinnacle of biological evolution. It posits that anthropocentrism and several other widely accepted modern ideas are actually cultural myths and that global civilization is enacting these myths with catastrophic consequences. 

Gods of Howl Mountain

Taylor Brown

$17.00 $15.64

Two words: Granny May. The story here is good, great even, but the bawdy, foul-mouthed, Appalachian folk-witch healer and herbalist steals the show. Her dark, earthy wisdom is balanced with a sly, almost miscreant humor. I think Taylor Brown captured Tom Robbins and Flannery O'Connor and shook them in a cocktail shaker with moonshine and out poured Granny May's character for The Gods of Howl Mountain.

An American Marriage (Oprah's Book Club)

Tayari Jones

$16.95 $15.59

I devoured the audiobook of this in a little over a day. Couldn't get enough! Beautiful writing, a moving story, complex characters, profound ethical dilemmas, injustice, family, love, art, magic, science, and gritty reality! So much good stuff packed into one book!

Watchers

Dean Koontz

$9.99 $9.19

At about age 12, I was probably too young to be reading Koontz. Like Stephen King, he’s a master of suspense and horror. Not usually my genre of choice today, Watchers was one of the first books to really ignite my love of reading. When the protagonist, Travis, encounters two genetic experiments escaped from a government lab, he’s drawn into a dark and dangerous tale of adventure and secrecy. The story is most famous for its exceedingly intelligent and lovable golden retriever character, Einstein. A definite page-turner and “beach read” that won’t be too taxing for the already mentally exhausted.

Tropic of Cancer

Henry Miller

$17.00 $15.64

Another one read initially as a teenager, it was given to me by my older brother as if it was some kind of dangerous and sacred object. Famous for its candid sexuality and the 1960’s free speech trials it aroused (ha!), Tropic is the semi-autobiographical tale of Miller living as a nomadic-bohemian-expatriate in Paris in the early 1930’s. The book meanders around and among Miller and his musician, artist, and writer friends as they drink and carouse. As a story it really goes nowhere linear, with a lot of stream of consciousness chapters leading toward big epiphanies, meditations on the human condition, and social critiques. If you can overcome the pretension, it’s a fun and dirty romp through 1930’s Paris, with a good dose of lyrical philosophy and social criticism.

God Is Red: A Native View of Religion, 30th Anniversary Edition (Anniversary)

Vine Deloria Jr

$24.95 $22.95

This book was the primary textbook of my college course “Introduction to Native American Religious Traditions” at Western Kentucky University. God is Red is not just an introduction to native religious ideas, it is an in-your-face challenge to Western Christianity. It details the hardships faced by Native Americans as their country was quickly flooded with foreigners eager for land and other resources. Deloria links the anthropocentrism of Christian orthodoxy and subsequent American economic philosophies with increasing environmental upheaval. Deloria also explains how religious views are rooted to "place" as opposed to being universal. God is Red is a challenging and important read that transformed my understanding of all religions.

Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia, Revised and Expanded: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings (Revised, Expanded)

Rob Brezsny

$21.00 $19.32

Pronoia is the suspicion that the universe is a conspiracy on your behalf. Rob Brezsny, one of America’s most popular astrologists and the author of the “Free Will Astrology” column appearing in most of the country’s alternative newsweeklies (like Creative Loafing), persuasively argues that we attempt to go along with the Universe’s good intentions. He uses witty parables, tender rants, cultural riffs, pagan wisdom, and lively rituals to make a case for a cagey optimism that requires a vigorous engagement with the dark forces. He asks us to rethink life as a sublime game created for our amusement and illumination. It’s easy to dismiss Pronoia as ridiculous new age fluff, but for those with less deeply ingrained cynicism, it can be a playful and enjoyable breath of fresh air. In fact, I credit it with the inspiration to be foolish enough to open a bookstore!