Wise Up: Irreverent Enlightenment from a Mother Who’s Been Through It by Karen Duffy

Anyone who grew up on MTV has a soft spot for its V.J.’s, those impossibly cool yet slightly goofy hosts who delivered the patter between Dire Straits and Madonna videos. Karen Duffy was a particular favorite, and her latest is an idiosyncratic and highly entertaining self-help book inspired by this quote from the Stoic philosopher Epictetus: “If you make beautiful choices, so too, will you be.” Duffy imparts her life lessons via letters to her son, Jack, who at book’s end writes his own letter back, thanking her for all the wisdom she has shared with him over the years (and lots of fascinating trivia). He signs off with another quote from Epictetus: “Make the best use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.” Like mother, like son.

The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty by Ellen Warner

This is a very different kind of advice book from Wise Up, as it focuses on 40 women speaking about what life is like over the age of 50. The black-and-white portraits are intimate and revealing, and the interviews, ranging from Yo-Yo Ma’s mother to a Filipino housekeeper to actress Leslie Caron, are never less than fascinating. In fact, Ellen Warner’s The Second Half is not so much an advice book as it is an eloquent chronicle of what very different women have experienced and endured during their lives. And its magic rests in the portraits, which are so wondrous that one is drawn irresistibly into the words.

Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention—And How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari

If you have trouble concentrating, please take the trouble to concentrate on Stolen Focus. Johann Hari expertly dissects why our attention spans have shrunk so dramatically over the years, and the good news is that it is not entirely our fault. It’s not just social media that has shredded our ability to focus; our desire to acquire information more efficiently, as illustrated by the popularity of Evelyn Wood speed-reading classes in the 1960s, has resulted in less understanding of what we read. Hari is a born storyteller, and by the end of his book, you too will sign up for what he dubs his “Attention Rebellion.”

The Second Half and Stolen Focus are available at your local independent bookstore, on Bookshop, and on Amazon. Wise Up will be available beginning April 12