Looking for an uplifting winter read? Try a scholar-recommended book on topics such as love and mindfulness. (Photo: Library of Congress.)

4 books to reset your perspective in the new year

USC Dornsife scholars suggest captivating reads that offer fresh ways to navigate personal — and global — challenges.
ByMargaret Crable

As winter sets in, a dark evening with a good book offers a chance for a mindset shift. Scholars at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences provide book ideas that can help readers rethink their place in the world, overcome conflicts and get inspired for the year ahead.

Diana Blaine, professor (teaching) of gender and sexuality studies. Blaine’s research and teaching focuses on representations of death, as well as the body and gender, in the media. She recently led a class to India to explore the country’s traditions around mortality.

all about love book cover

All About Love (William Morrow Paperbacks, 2018) by bell hooks

“What is the link between personal pain and political chaos?” asks Blaine. “As Americans, we don’t tend to see connections between our own psyches and the tensions of the public sphere. In All About Love, feminist author bell hooks explains how the damage sexism inflicts on all of us reverberates out from our own homes and into the world. She makes a fearless argument for global healing through an intimate embrace of love and spirituality.”

JoAnna Hardy, lecturer in the Department of Physical Education and Mind Body Health. Hardy is a meditation teacher and co-author of the book Teaching Mindfulness to Empower Adolescents (Norton Professional Books, 2020.)

Brené Brown Atlas of the Heart

Atlas of the Heart (Random House, 2021) by Brené Brown

“When polarization and confusion are rampant, we have choices. We can decide to widen the divide through criticism, rage, harmful speech and actions, or we can open our hearts and minds to the possibility of deeper understanding and care,” says Hardy. “In Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, she helps the reader explore emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human and discover a new framework for cultivating meaningful connection.”

Richard Wood, president of the USC Dornsife Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies (IACS). Wood is helping to lead IACS initiatives focused on topics like ethics in the digital age and rethinking justice within the Catholic tradition.

Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future (Simon & Schuster, 2020) by Pope Francis and Austen Ivereigh

“In Let Us Dream, Pope Francis reflects on the pandemic and offers a blueprint for a hopeful future,” Wood says. “Written with Vatican journalist Austen Ivereigh, the book might be seen as Francis’ re-appropriation of the political slogan ‘never let a crisis go to waste.’ Here, Francis steps back from the depths of the pandemic’s social isolation to detail how we might build a world that better reflects the best human values and spiritual commitments across traditions. As we re-enter mask season, this book offers wisdom and inspiration.”

Why We're Polarized book cover

Why We’re Polarized (Simon & Schuster, 2020) by Ezra Klein

“This book from 2020 remains crucial for understanding our political moment as we head into the 2024 electoral season. Klein shows how we have allowed our institutions to deteriorate so far that they reward behaviors that undermine our society. People today are motivated by incentives that make rational sense to them in their narrow organizational and social environments, yet add up to vast dysfunction on a societal scale. This poses real dangers to our democratic commitments and economic well-being. But if we can change those incentives, we can construct a way forward,” says Wood.

For additional inspiration, check out the Engaged Spirituality project run by the USC Dornsife Center for Religion and Civic Culture, which highlights the intersections between spiritual faith and humanitarian work. You can find stories on a Nigerian school teaching “love for all” in the heartland of the jihadist Boko Haram sect, a woman using ancient Mayan traditions to provide healing for Guatemalan widows and much more.