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May 13, 2024
By PW Staff
Four authors were named finalists for the 2023 BookLife Nonfiction Prize in the categories of Business/Personal Finance, Inspirational/Spirituality, Memoir/Autobiography, and Self-Help/Relationships. Let's meet the finalists!

Business/Personal Finance

Men-in-the-Middle: Conversations to Gain Momentum with Gender Equity’s Silent Majority by Kori Reed

The BookLife Prize report for Men-in-the-Middle said the following: "By dissecting and analyzing an unusual viewpoint on gender equity, the male perspective, Men-in-the-Middle provides an important voice in the discussion of such a complex issue. By discussing this point of view with intelligence, empathy, and sensitivity, new ideas are presented for both positive change with gender equity and the business world in general."

When speaking about gender equity in the workplace, why do you think it’s important to address the male perspective in addition to the experience of women?
First, I acknowledge that gender has become a beautiful mosaic addressing many layers of identity, and I respect that. I study one niche related to male and female identities. This issue is a complex combination of data and dealing with the “F” word, FEELINGS. First, the data: Men hold 75 to 80 percent of C-Suite positions in corporate America, and, therefore, influence pay, promotions, policies, and more. The data is something I knew before I did the interviews. Feelings are an insight I gathered after analyzing the one-on-one conversations. These include uncertainty about the future, ambiguity related to role clarity, and uncomfortableness with the complexity of openly addressing an issue with many layers. The men shared that they did not doubt the business case for diversity and inclusion; however, they did not know what the changes meant for them. As a communication professional, I know the situation perpetuates if we don’t address the root cause and acknowledge the feelings of all involved. Unspoken issues get buried, not resolved. I also am a mom of two sons and two daughters, and I want all to feel seen and heard as well as show respect for each other and their unique gifts. 
As you explore in the book, many men are resistant to speaking about gender equity in the workplace (and elsewhere). Do you see this changing?

I sure hope so. A big theme in this book is to normalize men speaking about gender equity, a concept that can benefit them too. The last chapter is entirely dedicated to reinforcing what the men shared in interviews to encourage change and invite men to speak up, especially to share ideas for solutions. I have worked with several men and women throughout my professional career who I consider to be great people of integrity. This includes professional male colleagues with whom I traveled and joined for dinner and drinks “on the road.” There was never a hint of inappropriate behavior. On the other hand, I also am not immune to other exclusionary behaviors. I want to change the narrative. The book is an appeal to look at things differently and start a conversation, especially about the undiscussed topics so that we can gain momentum toward equitable solutions for all.  Each chapter ends with key takeaways and questions so that the book can also serve as a discussion guide to get conversation going.

Do you believe you would have written this book if not for the #MeToo movement? From your perspective, what will be the lasting impact of #MeToo going forward?

Yes. #MeToo exacerbated a circumstance I had noticed early in my career: women speaking up about some conditions of unfairness and injustice while, for the most part, the men remained silent. I was curious, especially because it was the opposite of generalized behaviors about men speaking over women and dominating conversations in meeting rooms. The men I interviewed helped me better articulate the answer to your second question. In this case, the movement(s) encouraged people and victims of assault and inappropriate behaviors to speak out and not suffer in silence. There is power in unifying and feeling seen and heard among shame-filled experiences. Some of the men described it as a pendulum, swinging higher from one extreme to the other, that has not quite settled at a new state of people equity.  We have rightfully opened a door for a group to speak out, and now another group is silent, not sure what to say. My hope is that we gain momentum again for more inclusive conversations.
How did you go about selecting the individuals you interviewed in the book? Throughout these conversations, what did you find most enlightening?
I hired a market research professional to provide consistency with the interview process, and we defined our target—males in corporate America, from managers on the career progression path all the way up to CEO. I put together a description of the ask and then reached out to my network of professional women and men with my ask. We got a good mix of managers, directors, and C-suite professionals. After the analysis, I backed up the insights with secondary research. When the researcher and I, along with a trusted colleague, interviewed the men, we embraced listening mode, open to hear but not react to what the men said. I have hours of transcripts to show that the men had a lot to say about gender equity, just maybe not at the office. There are so many “favorite” nuggets and stories throughout the book, but here is one that makes me smile. When I called one man, he said, “Oh, my gosh, I have been waiting 18 months to talk about this!” After the formal interview guide questions, I asked him why he waited to talk as he had much to say. He hesitated and said, “I guess no one ever asked me.” That was my enlightenment. Let curiosity be your guide and ask the question. Even the silent majority will reveal insights that you never even thought of, and those ideas may eventually change history. 



The Hijacked Conscience by Debra Peck

The BookLife Prize report for The Hijacked Conscience called it "an essential guide for pastors, those affected by religious scrupulosity, or mental health professionals."
For those who aren’t familiar with the condition, what is religious scrupulosity disorder?
Religious scrupulosity is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. People who suffer from it constantly fear that they have sinned or not committed their religious duties correctly. They often have unwanted and intrusive thoughts such as blasphemous thoughts or sexual thoughts about religious leaders or even God, and think that because they had the thoughts they must be evil. Scrupulosity causes extreme anxiety and to deal with the anxiety, sufferers will do compulsions such as repeating prayers or scripture verses, reading religious text for hours, or avoiding situations that might trigger intrusive thoughts. People with scrupulosity experience their faith as fear and anxiety instead of as peace and joy. It has also been called the doubting disease because people doubt their salvation, doubt God’s love, and constantly seek certainty in everything. With scrupulosity, everything is either black or white, right or wrong, sinful or not sinful, requiring constant diligence to make sure one is not sinning.
In what ways can the seeds of religious scrupulosity be planted, and are there ways to protect individuals from developing the condition?
Like other forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, there seems to be a genetic component as well as personality traits that more naturally lend themselves to developing religious scrupulosity OCD. Scrupulosity is seen in all religions, and is even experienced by atheists, so, in that sense, scrupulosity isn’t “caused” by certain types of religious experiences. Having said that, though, it’s also true that religious teachings that are focused on perfection pose an especially fertile ground for developing scrupulosity. From a Christian perspective, then—I can’t speak for other faith traditions—it’s important to emphasize God’s love and grace as the starting point, rather than the sinfulness of man as the starting point. Responding to God from love rather than from fear of God’s wrath is helpful for combating the relentless pull of perfectionism that is the hallmark of scrupulosity.
What hope and help is available to those who suffer from this mental health condition? Where can they turn for guidance and understanding?
One of the most challenging aspects of religious scrupulosity OCD is that it is so frequently unrecognized and undiagnosed. Because it is perceived as a “spiritual issue” instead of as a mental health issue, it generally shows up in a pastor’s office instead of in a counselor’s office, and pastors can do more damage in the process of trying to help. Scrupulosity is one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat because of the fear of eternal damnation. However, when it is recognized, there are effective treatments. The same treatments that work for other forms of obsessive-compulsive disorder—such as exposure and response prevention, and medications for anxiety–can be very helpful. Educating religious leaders, counselors, and families about scrupulosity can provide them with the tools to help rather than hinder the healing journey of those with scrupulosity. Taking a book like The Hijacked Conscience to their pastor or counselor who might not be familiar with scrupulosity can help pave the way for understanding and proper treatment.
It must have been very healing to write The Hijacked Conscience. What do you hope readers take away from the book?
It definitely was healing, but it was also one of the most difficult things I have ever done. To share my deeply personal journey of scrupulosity in such a vulnerable and honest way required a level of courage I didn’t know I possessed.  I did it, though, with the hope that nobody else would ever have to suffer the years and years of living with scrupulosity that I suffered. I write in my book that I feel like if just one of my pastors over the course of my life had known about scrupulosity, my life could have been so different. I am passionate about educating religious leaders, counselors, families, and especially those who might have scrupulosity about the hope and healing that can happen when scrupulosity is properly diagnosed and treated. Most of all, I want those who have scrupulosity to be able to find hope that it’s possible to experience joy and peace in their relationship with God.


Daughter of Korean Freud by Haewon Hake
The prize report for Daughter of Korean Freud praised the book, saying that "Hake's memoir is unique in its storytelling approach. The blend of biographical content with a piercing perspective on trauma, family secrets, and psychological defense mechanisms, is fascinating, as is the unusual perspective on the psychotherapist/patient relationship."
How has your practice as a therapist informed your writing and vice versa?
I believe our work reflects our life experiences. My trauma, education, and psychotherapy practice have informed not only my writing but also how I engage with my clients, as my early life grants me additional insight on trauma victims. And despite feeling whole, I knew that writing this book would be the final stage of my healing. I had to relieve every experience – processing it once again, embracing the pain, and releasing the helplessness that I felt as a child. I used many of the same techniques to write this book that I have applied to my self-therapy, and to my counseling with others.  While my book is not intended to replace psychotherapy, I wanted readers to understand that they already possess the strength to work through past traumas. My counseling background allows me to walk with my clients, to experience suffering alongside them, while retaining a detached perspective based on my belief that we can and do heal.
You explore the relationship between a therapist and her patient via the story’s framework, but ultimately surprise readers with new revelations. Why did you decide to tell your story in the manner you did?
When I was in South Korea, I felt enchanted by Korean plays as they always had parts that were whimsical. No matter how sad the storyline was, each play had surprises that made my heart skip. This was like finding an oasis in the desert, and I was hooked.  I would save money whenever I could, finding myself in various small playhouses in the backstreets of Seoul. I was probably an oddball, as I was the youngest among the audience and I always alone.  I was reminded of my intrigue when I watched Korean drama in 2018.  When I first came to America, I had stayed away from watching Korean shows in order to focus on learning  American English and the culture. So when I finally allowed myself to look at K-drama, the sweet and funny twists in the stories brought back my first love of Korean literature. I wanted to make sure I had this element in my memoir, hoping it would also provide readers with the enchantment I had experienced.
For readers grappling with healing their own wounds, what do you hope that they take away from reading the book?
We are as sick as our secrets.  Getting hurt, especially if repeatedly, brings fear, shame, and other protective gears that we want to hide not only from others but also from ourselves. Owning our wounds is the first step in moving beyond them so we can heal. Finding ways to come out to the light with our vulnerable secrets can be enormously empowering, leading us to ultimate freedom. I really hope readers see that the shame belongs to the people who inflicted the wounds and those who didn’t do anything to stop the abuse when they could have. When we put accountability on the perpetrator and not the victim, we as a society can find true healing. Also, when perpetrators are willing to take full accountability, showing a willingness to transform themselves so they won’t repeat the same behavior, we can offer them forgiveness–knowing that they, too, are healing.
The book is written so that readers can digest small morsels of wisdom in dealing with their wounds, or step back and view the big picture of the spiritual journey we are all on. All of humanity needs to see their suffering relieved. For this reason, I hope readers will be inspired to relieve their own trauma when they read how I was able to overcome my harrowing experiences and transform painful events into opportunities to move forward.
What surprised you the most as you crafted your memoir? What did you find to be most difficult? 
 As a first-time writer, I didn’t know how much goes into writing a book.  The whole process took so much more than I ever imagined, which gave me a new respect for all the writers. When I first began to draft my memories, it was difficult for me to believe that somehow these little pieces of thoughts would become a book one day. I didn’t necessarily know from moment to moment how everything was going to turn out. Nor did I have a clear idea of what was expected of me as a writer.  
Writing memoir was like going through the whole psychological process of healing–from the beginning to now–all over again. I think that is why there are so many therapist writers who offer a special type of counseling for people who want to write memoirs. I was surprised at how emotional I was, going over the past events that I thought I had already overcome. There were days when I was just silent as the pain was so piercing that I couldn’t speak. And then there were days when I felt so grateful and proud to have finally arrived at my destination. I experienced many ups and downs, to say the least.  During my writing, my dad passed away.  Since he is the 'Korean Freud,' I had so many mixed emotions about that. Processing that, along with reconnecting with my brother, and then eventually with my niece, felt like surviving the Titanic.


Stress Wisely: How to be Well in an Unwell World by Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe

Author Michelle Johnson, who selected Stress Wisely as the finalist for the Self-Help/Relationships category called the book "a practical, accessible, and beautiful guide for the stressful times we are all living through now. The author masterfully bridges knowledge, practices, personal narratives, and prompts, as well as offers tools for how we can make choices that allow us to stay grounded amid the many storms (stress due to work, our relationships, family stress, climate chaos, uncertainty, the current social and political context)."

You write about the expectation to answer the question, “How are you?” with one word–”fine.” How is this a disservice both to ourselves and, ultimately, to those around us?
The reality is that many of our interactions have become transactional. When we automatically respond with "fine" to the question "How are you?" we're often brushing aside the complexity of our emotional state or the opportunity to offer a true insight into how we are really doing in that moment. We truly are feeling factories and at any given moment we can have a kaleidoscope of feelings. By defaulting to this one-word response, we miss the opportunities for real connection and possible support. This pattern not only disconnects us from our own emotions but also sends a message to others that we are not invested in engaging in real conversations.
In Stress Wisely, I was curious to learn, explore, and share how the tendency to simplify our emotional state is really holding us back. We cannot out-think the heart, and the heart wants connection.
Ultimately, this disservice to ourselves perpetuates a culture of emotional suppression and superficiality, which can hinder meaningful relationships and growth. By challenging the expectation to respond with just one word, we can foster greater authenticity, empathy, and connection in our interactions with others. Now, in some situations, the person asking may not be interested in a real connection, and therefore a ‘fine’ is just fine! It is important to have people in our lives though, we genuinely want to know ‘How are you, really?’ and we can share authentically. 
I love your examination of “wicked problems.” Can you elaborate on what this means and why such ‘wicked problems’ are so frustrating and/or seemingly insurmountable?
"Wicked problems” are frustrating and feel insurmountable because they do not have straightforward solutions, require ongoing adapting, and have inherent complexity and ambiguity, and they also often rely on multiple stakeholders. Unlike "tame" problems, which have clear solutions and defined boundaries, wicked problems lack a single right answer or approach. This can lead to feelings of overwhelm, as individuals and organizations grapple with the uncertainty and unpredictability inherent in these challenges and many individuals and groups struggle to make meaningful progress.
In Stress Wisely, I wanted to validate and acknowledge that our well-being is very much a wicked problem, yet it is workable when we have access to solid approaches and the right guiding philosophy. I also believe that the ‘well-being’ and personal development industry are contributing to the feelings of overwhelm but making solutions inaccessible for most people. People are stepping over hundred-dollar bills to pick up pennies when it comes to finding meaningful solutions to navigating our well-being and working with our stress. For example, I am often asked what supplements people should take, what diet to follow, or what things they need to buy to be well. We believe that we are one podcast away from solving all our life’s problems!  The reality is that the current way we are living our lives is going against our biology and no supplement can ‘replace’ lifestyle and livelihood approaches that are sustainable and practical.
In what ways can we coexist with the stress that invariably enters our lives?
Coexisting with stress requires a fundamental perspective shift from stress being the enemy to our stress system being our first line of defense. Our survival and the quality of our lives require us to work with our nervous system and the notion of getting rid of stress is truly going against our nature. We want to find sustainable and realistic practices that help tend to all aspects of who we are and how we show up in the world. My work invites us to look at each of the realms of well-being and think about how to ensure we spend even just a wee bit of time and attention on the things that matter most and get the best return on our investment of time. Stressing wisely is really learning how to make what matters most, matter most. Here are some examples:
Physical wellness is all about taking care of your physical body now and for the future. It involves recognizing the importance of sleep, proper nutrition, physical activity, and listening to your body. It is also about how we recover. Research shows a daily walk, of 30 minutes, reduces all-cause mortality by 50%. This translates to approximately 5,000-7,000 steps a day, yet many believe they need at least 10K steps to get any benefit and if they cannot get 10K steps daily, they don’t really get any! Emotional wellness involves navigating both the high and low-frequency feelings and emotions, effectively and efficiently. It allows us to identify, understand, and respect our feelings, as well as the feelings of those around us. Our emotional wellness makes up how we feel about the world and ourselves within it. Many people have a complex relationship with their feelings. We have feelings about our feelings! What feelings do we want more of instead of trying to get rid of certain feelings? If you want to feel more connected, talking with a close friend versus doom-scrolling is a start. If you want to feel calmer and more grounded, what habits can you add that will make these feelings more possible?
By integrating sustainable habits that add value for each of the realms, you could establish practices that you will ‘miss’ if you missed doing them. 
Living in such divisive times, it can seem that we have very little in common with our neighbors. From your perspective, what continues to unite us all, and how can acknowledging our own struggles help us reconnect with other people?
In times of divisiveness, it's important to recognize that despite our differences, there are fundamental aspects of the human experience that unite us all. Stress is part of our shared experience yet may experience it in vastly different ways. Acknowledging our own struggles can serve as a bridge to connecting or reconnecting with other people when we are open to the idea that everyone is doing the best they can with their current set of tools, skills, and energy. When we recognize and accept our own vulnerabilities, we become more attuned to the humanity and vulnerability in others. An example of this would be operating from a place of ‘generous assumptions’ versus judging harshly. The world is very unwell. And I believe there is such a need for collective and personal responsibility for doing our parts as community members and individuals to add as much compassion, kindness, and authenticity as possible. The world needs helpers and we are best positioned to be helpers when we are truly well.