Lee Ann Monfredini

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A Year of Good Books II

“Read any good books lately?” That used to be a common conversation starter among adults of all ages and walks of life.  Yet, despite exponential growth in overall publishing and expanded access via the web, reading in general seems to be on the decline.

Ironically, one of the primary causes of this selective illiteracy may be the Internet, itself.  Living life with a smartphone permanently attached to one’s palm has proven overwhelming for many, and constant bombardment by hundreds of random posts has significantly diminished our attention span.

As cultural guru, Seth Godin, recently pointed out, best-selling books of the 1950s were often over 500 pages and readers couldn’t get enough. By contrast, some of last year’s best sellers were actually coloring books for adults.

Even so, even in this age of instant entertainment, there’s still something to be said for unplugging a while (at least figuratively) and losing oneself in the words of a master.

With that in mind, here are twelve of the best books I’ve read over the last twelve months, along with publisher’s summaries; enough to keep you busy and curious for the rest of this year (if you don’t rush).

Best of all, they’re all available online through iTunes and Amazon – or quality local bookstores like my favorites, Books Inc, BookShop West Portal and Green Apple Books.

Have one to add to this list? Please share it with the rest of us in the Comments section.



Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Ruth Jefferson is a delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a checkup on a newborn, only to be told that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. But the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene? With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers.


Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.  Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of all those involved. Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, it is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories; a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.



Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration.


Thank You for Being Late by Tom Friedman

We all sense it―something big is going on. Our lives are being transformed in so many realms all at once―and it is dizzying. In a work unlike anything he has attempted before, Thomas L. Friedman exposes the tectonic movements that are reshaping the world today and explains how to get the most out of them and cushion their worst impacts.


Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

An illuminating debut memoir of a woman in science; a moving portrait of a longtime friendship; and a stunningly fresh look at plants that will forever change how you see the natural world. Acclaimed scientist Hope Jahren has built three laboratories in which she’s studied trees, flowers, seeds, and soil. Her first book is a revelatory treatise on plant life—but it is also so much more.  It is a book about work, love, and the mountains that can be moved when those two things come together.


Snowball in a Blizzard by Steven Hatch

There’s a running joke among radiologists: finding a tumor in a mammogram is akin to finding a snowball in a blizzard. A bit of medical gallows humor, this simile illustrates the difficulties of finding signals (the snowball) against a background of noise (the blizzard). Both humbling and empowering, Snowball in a Blizzard lays bare the inescapable murkiness that permeates the theory and practice of modern medicine to show how, by recognizing rather than denying that uncertainty, we can all make better health decisions.


The Surrender Experiment by Michael Singer 

The author of The Untethered Soul tells the extraordinary story of what happened when, after a deep spiritual awakening, he decided to let go of his personal preferences and simply let life call the shots. As Singer takes you on this great experiment and journey into life’s perfection, the events that transpire will both challenge your deepest assumptions about life and inspire you to look at your own life in a radically different way.


Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Just when Glennon Doyle Melton was beginning to feel she had it all figured out, her husband revealed his infidelity and she was forced to realize that nothing was as it seemed. Love Warrior is a gorgeous and inspiring account of how we are born to be warriors: strong, powerful, and brave; able to confront the pain and claim the love that exists for us all. This chronicle of a beautiful, brutal journey speaks to anyone who yearns for deeper, truer relationships and a more abundant, authentic life.


Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable or to dare greatly. Based on twelve years of pioneering research, Dr. Brené Brown dispels the cultural myth that vulnerability is weakness and argues that it is, in truth, our most accurate measure of courage. Daring Greatly is a practice and a powerful new vision for letting ourselves be seen.


Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

Using surprising studies and stories spanning business, politics, sports, and entertainment, Grant explores how to recognize a good idea, speak up without getting silenced, build a coalition of allies, choose the right time to act, and manage fear and doubt; how parents and teachers can nurture originality in children; and how leaders can build cultures that welcome dissent. The payoff is a set of groundbreaking insights about rejecting conformity and improving the status quo.


The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis

Amos Tversky was a brilliant, self-confident warrior and extrovert, the center of rapt attention in any room. Daniel Kahneman, a fugitive from the Nazis in his childhood, was an introvert whose questing self-doubt was the seedbed of his ideas. They became one of the greatest partnerships in the history of science, working together so closely that they couldn’t remember whose brain originated which ideas, or who should claim credit. In the process, they may well have changed mankind’s view of its own mind.


American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin

The saga of Patty Hearst highlighted a decade in which America seemed to be suffering a collective nervous breakdown. Based on more than a hundred interviews and thousands of previously secret documents, Toobin portrays the lunacy of the half-baked radicals of the SLA and the toxic mix of sex, politics, and violence that swept up Patty Hearst. American Heiress examines the life of a young woman who suffered an unimaginable trauma and then made the stunning decision to join her captors’ crusade.  Or did she?

Adventures in Real Estate Part V: The Secret Life of Clients

Real estate agents like myself have all sorts of stories to tell – and I’ve already shared several in this blog.  Some are amusing.  Others are downright frightening.  The nature of our business often draws out the most personal feelings and aspirations of our clients; the fear of purchasing something new; the sadness of selling something old.

These aren’t always easy stories to tell because not all of them have a happy ending.  But once in a while we witness a little miracle or work a little magic by doing something that only happens on HGTV: Finding the perfect fit for the perfect clients.

I always remember such clients with a smile and sense of satisfaction. After working in real estate for more than fifteen years, these are the stories that help me appreciate this crazy business and fortify me when I’m questioning my own sanity.

Several years ago, I represented a wonderful multi-generational family looking to purchase a new home and began our first appointment by asking for their “wish list.”  How many bedrooms and baths did they need? Did they need a backyard? Was a large kitchen or formal dining room important? In what area of San Francisco would they like to live?

The members of this family were perfect buyers and answered every question with ease – since they had discussed a definite plan before even calling me. My final question was the same as always: “Is there anything else we haven’t discussed? Something that would make or break a deal?”

The father responded immediately: “Yes. We have a grand piano in storage and I want a living room large enough for that piano.”

If you know anything about the average size of grand pianos and the average square footage of San Francisco real estate, you know the two rarely fit together well.  But I agreed to show them only homes that would have family rooms or living rooms large enough for their piano – and went right to work.

Another thing that only happens on HGTV: Buyers seeing just three homes before making their decision. The reality is that most buyers tour for at least three months and view a minimum of 15 homes.  In San Francisco, it’s not uncommon for buyers to spend 4-6 months on their property search due to a lack of supply and high demand for single-family homes.

Weeks passed and I began to wonder if we’d ever find a suitable property. I also wondered if a large living room was really necessary. After all, that piano had been in storage for years. How important could it be?

But finally, after four months of relentless searching, the perfect home was identified. It had everything on their list – including a large living room – with the unexpected bonus of a fireplace. The whole family was delighted and could hardly wait to make an offer, but the father of the family seemed particularly pleased.  It wasn’t until after they had actually moved in that I learned the real reason why.

Several days after closing, I stopped their new place to deliver flowers and a basket of goodies from a local bakery. It was a beautiful, warm day and I noticed a few of their windows were open – then suddenly stopped in my tracks.  Flowing from the windows of that large living room was some of the most incredible music I had ever heard. The patriarch of the family was playing his coveted piano and this was no casual picking at the keys.  This was perfectly interpreted classical music played by a trained pianist.

I stood silently on their stairs as time seemed to stand still and simply listened. Throughout all our time searching for properties together, he had never mentioned his masterful skills.  This was clearly a very personal pleasure for him and something he shared only with close friends and family.

And although it may have sometimes seemed like an insignificant factor or nearly insurmountable challenge to me, to him it was the only thing that would make a new house a real home.  I had not just provided a place for this family to live; I had been part of granting a wish.

Whether you’re a real estate agent or receptionist or something else, you have “customers” and you never really know what’s in their hearts.  You never know everything they’re dealing with, what they really care about or what will make them truly happy.  So, sometimes the secret is to simply grant whatever wishes we can and, in doing so, create a little “accidental magic.”

New Year’s Eve: Watch. Listen. Act.

New Year’s Eve always seems to hold special promise for most of us.  There’s a sense of anticipation and excitement regarding what the next year might bring.  Unfortunately, New Year’s Eve is also one of the most dangerous nights of the year for women; both in the United States and worldwide.  The number of calls to domestic abuse hotlines usually increases as the evening progresses, and we’ll never know about all the women who don’t call or don’t reach out to their neighbors or family members due to fear or misplaced embarrassment.

So, as you celebrate with friends, I encourage you to watch what’s happening around you and listen for unusual noises in your neighborhood or apartment building.  Do you hear someone crying for help? When you get in an elevator, does the woman next to you have bruises?  Does she appear to be purposely covering her face?

If you suspect something, please do something.  Do not try to come between a victim and her abuser. Do not attempt to calm a drunken spouse or partner.  Call 911.

Most cities are expecting to receive these calls on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  Offer that woman in the elevator a chance to use your phone to call for help or help her flag down a cab so she can leave the area immediately.

If you or someone you care about is experiencing abuse – of any kind – you’ll find a number of Resources on our site, including the National Domestic Abuse Hotline (1.800.799.7233) and the Crisis Text Hotline (741741).  They’re free, confidential and readily available.

Be careful.  Be safe.  And be confident knowing that we’re listening.  Let’s all do our part to ensure a truly happy New Year.

The Holidays & The (Still) Homeless

Last December, I sat down to pen this simple blog post, oblivious to the prospect that it could become one of the most read and shared ever (which it did).  So, based on its apparent appeal – and the sad fact that still seems to be plenty of homelessness – we’ve decided to share it again.  My hope is that it might have a more lasting impact this season and I’d love to hear how you’re helping in the Comments section below.  I wish you peace.

I was standing in line at a Walgreen’s in Santa Rosa and the women a few spots ahead of me had a cart filled to the brim with toys and cozy, warm socks – lots and lots of toys and lots and lots of cozy warm socks. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ve already guessed I couldn’t help but ask this women about her purchases and if the gifts were all for her family.

Her response humbled me.

“I’m from Trinity County,” she said, “and my husband and I are committed to supporting a soup kitchen that feeds many homeless families in our community. I came to Santa Rosa to have Thanksgiving with my mother and stopped in to pick up her prescription. I was amazed by the incredible sales, so I bought the socks and toys for the people at the soup kitchen.”

The couple behind me had the same reaction I did; which was the same reaction as the person ahead of me and the checkout clerk. We all commented on her generosity.

Our comments caught the attention of the store manager who was walking towards the checkout station and had heard snippets of our conversation. She stopped, turned around and asked the woman about her purchases. Hearing of her donation and commitment, the manager didn’t miss a beat and offered this angel of mercy an additional twenty-percent discount to help support her cause.

This is not an advertisement for Walgreen’s, but I’ve included their name because I was impressed that the store fosters the freedom for managers to issue discounts for worthy causes without having to check it in a manual or get permission from the corporate office.

I will repeat this story often to my friends, co-workers and family members this season and for many seasons to come. We all talk a lot about helping those less fortunate in our communities and many of us donate to charities that help homeless families.

But meeting this woman randomly last weekend was a wake up call for me. Writing checks is easy. Being with men and women during the most challenging times of their lives, when they’re really struggling not just to feed their families and keep their children warm, but to keep their families together, calls for a special kind of person with a selfless soul.

Each homeless person we encounter on the street has their own story, their own history, and it’s unlikely that any of them ever anticipated their current fate. No one plans on being homeless. Homelessness is not in their business plan, nor is it part of their dreams for the future.

The holiday season often takes our thoughts away from shelters and soup kitchens. We’re busy decorating our homes and buying presents for loved ones. We go to cocktail parties and dinners and clink champagne glasses. We rush from one event to another, dressed in warm coats, bright scarves and pull out our gloves when the temperature drops.

This season, I’ll be starting a new tradition; one I learned from a lovely woman I met in a drug store. I’ll look for sales on warm socks and knit caps, fill brown paper bags with non-perishable foods and quietly donate them to a shelter in San Francisco. I invite you to join me.

These are the most needed items at food banks:

  • Peanut Butter
  • Granola Bars
  • Cereal
  • Beans
  • Rice
  • Canned Tuna
  • Canned Soups
  • Canned Stews

These are the most needed items at homeless shelters:

  • Socks
  • Knit Caps
  • Children’s Pajamas
  • Plastic Bandages
  • Deodorant
  • Feminine Hygiene Products
  • Nail Clippers
  • Baby Wipes
  • Tooth Brushes
  • Tooth Paste
  • Dental Floss
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Cortisone Cream

I may never again see the women who inspired me last weekend. My hope is that telling of her generosity will nudge us all to remember those that need our help. You’ll find a number of worthy organizations in the Resources section of our site.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one.”Mother Theresa