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“Thanks a Thousand: A Gratitude Journey”

  • By A.J. Jacobs
  • c. 2018, TED Books
  • $16.99, $22.99 Canada; 140 pages

A great big bear. That’s what you’ve sounded like all week: a growl here, a snort there, grump, grump, snarl. Everything that could go wrong did – spectacularly. But what went right? Hmm. Grab a mug, take a seat, and turn your frown around with “Thanks a Thousand” by A.J. Jacobs.

Ever have one of those days where everything goes off-kilter?

Yep, A.J. Jacobs has them, just like the rest of us. And like most of us, he’s “ridiculously lucky” overall, something he recognizes even when “daily irritations hijack my brain.” Sadly, that happens about half the time he’s awake.

He tries to be cognizant of his grumpiness; in fact, while making a point about gratitude to one of his sons, Jacobs began to think. Maybe we treat gratitude too superficially. He decided to take thankfulness to the next level by thanking every person who had a role in bringing him his daily cup of coffee.

He started easy, with the coffeehouse barista whose bubbly personality reminded him to “affirm and recognize” everyone who serves him. Then he visited the coffeehouse’s coffee buyer, who taught Jacobs to slow down because “it’s hard to be grateful if we’re speeding.”

He thanked the designer of the cup lid, the designer of a coffeehouse logo, and the people who developed the cup sleeve. At this point, with no end in sight – how far back, how deep should he go here? – Jacobs switched his goal. Rather than making his project “a lifetime job,” he’d thank a thousand people for his coffee.

That included roasters, who ready the beans for sale. It included a trip to the Catskills, to thank those who bring water to New York City homes. Jacobs thanked the people who make coffee safe to drink, the folks who warehouse the beans, truckers who transport it, pallet-makers, scientists, and the Colombian farmers who own coffee-bean trees passed down for generations, and who invited Jacobs to visit them again.

“I won’t take them up on the invitation,” he says, “but I’m grateful to have it.”

One thing goes wrong in the course of your day, and it’s like falling into the mud on the banks of a rapid river: whoosh, and everything goes downstream. “Thanks a Thousand” reminds you that there are a million reasons not to let it go.

But don’t think this is a self-help book filled with sunny platitudes; quite the contrary, author A.J. Jacobs actually dissects gratitude with the help of science and research. Yes, as it turns out, being thankful is good for us and offers benefits that you may not realize. Add to that an appealingly puppyish sense of purpose in finding people to thank, and you’ve got a book that educates, informs, and charms the socks off you.

If “Thank you” is perfunctory, you need this book. If it’s an impossible-to-say phrase in your world, you really need this book.  For anyone who’s grateful, appreciative, and in a thanksgiving mood, “Thanks a Thousand” is a book to bear in mind.

“National Geographic Almanac 2019”

  • c. 2019, National Geographic
  • $19.99, $25.99 Canada; 399 pages

You know? Of course you do, because you’re no dummy. You’re on top of things, ear to the ground, you make it your business to have the 4-1-1. Yes, you know – until you don’t, which is when you need “National Geographic Almanac 2019.”

For several years now, the NatGeo folks have put out a children’s almanac each fall, in which kids could find information and fun facts that they can drop into conversations to impress grown-ups and others. National Geographic Kids almanacs are fun, but while you’re certainly welcome to read them, they’re more for the under-13 set.

Finally, though, adults can know things, too. Take, for instance, the planning of your next vacation or weekend getaway. “National Geographic Almanac 2019” has ideas for hiking, exploring, diving, camping, and eating in America and around the world. That, of course, includes photos of spectacular places you’ll want to add to your itinerary.

With the legacy like the National Geographic magazine behind it, you shouldn’t be surprised to know that science, oceanography, environmental concerns, and wildlife have their own sections inside this book. Learn about the Spinosaurus (and be glad you didn’t live near a river 97 million years ago). Read a mini-biography about astrophysicist Jedidah Isler, “the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Yale.” Read about coral reefs, dolphin brains, and ancient humans.

Speaking of us, learn about languages, their evolution, and how new languages become new ways to communicate. See how researchers are working to make sure we all have enough to eat in coming decades. Find out why you can compare a virus to “a kind of vampire,” read about inventions that we can’t live without, check out a few quick bios of America’s First Ladies, see why addictions take hold of your brain, find out how to be happy, learn about the benefits of spending some time in a park today, enjoy photographs snapped around the world, and take a light quiz or two.

Why leave all the fun to the kids?

Indeed, you shouldn’t have to, which is why “National Geographic Almanac 2019” is an easy pick for any home.

Filled with the goodness you’ve come to expect from its parent publication, this book is part reference, part browsing fodder and part irresistible. Dive in on any page and pop back out in a minute or three; jump back in anywhere and learn about something else. Articles are brief - which leads to this: brevity could be an advantage or it may rankle a reader, since subjects are presented on pages long enough to pique interest but not quite long enough to satisfy a deeply curious mind.

Consider this, then, a spring-board book, or a good argument settler for anyone ages 13 and up. Consider it as homework helper or a supplement to the National Geographic Kids almanacs. Consider it, if your family needs a good full-color, all-around general-interest time-killer but beware: with photos, fun facts, and maps inside, “National Geographic Almanac 2019” will be addicting, you know.

More: The Bookworm: Hair raising but no hair touching, please

More: The Bookworm: Talking death and hashing out differences

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.

 

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