Book Reviews [2022 Q1]

Book Reviews [2022 Q1]

In Q1, I read 23 books. We took two trips with lengthy car rides which really helped me achieve this. [Audio books on long car rides are my favorite.] Most of these are real winners, some are just “meh,” but here’s the list and my thoughts about each one.

[Warning: these reviews often digress into soapboxes. Sorry.]

January

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Unfortunately, the first book I read in 2022 was not my favorite. This memoir of Paul Kalanithi’s life, career, and struggle with the cancer that would ultimately claim his life was interesting, but so sad, mostly because I was aware at the outset that he was going to die. But I really can’t even say anything critical about it because I know that the man spent his last dying days writing this book, and I am grateful to him for doing so. He lived what we all fear—a fatal diagnosis—and as a doctor himself, of neurosurgery no less, he has important things to say about life and the role of medicine in it.

“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”

Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

10% Happier by Dan Harris

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“Your demons may have been ejected from the building, but they’re out in the parking lot, doing push-ups.”

Dan Harris, 10% Happier

Dan Harris is really funny. Since I had never watched him on TV [honestly, I didn’t even know who he was], I was completely surprised by how great this book was – both for entertainment value and for providing real talk about mindfulness and practical advice about meditation. Of course, I am also insanely jealous of Dan Harris, who because of his position within the media, was able to just schedule interviews with all the great spiritual leaders of our time [Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama] any time he had a question. Geez, wouldn’t that be nice.

I especially appreciated that this was not a spiritual journey, but more of a journey toward centering oneself around meaningful principles through mindfulness. It actually reminded me a little of Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, about psychedelics, which seem to ultimately provide someone with the same result as meditation: a loss of the ego. As someone who is highly spiritual, but anti-religion, this book was just another reminder that I simply must start a meditation practice.

“Meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel.”

Dan Harris, 10% Happier

I definitely recommend this book. It is entertaining and interesting and liable to convince you to sit on the floor in silence for at least 10 minutes a day.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I listened to this audio book while driving back from Florida after our vacation in January and it was the perfect book for a road trip. And the reader, Wil Wheaton, is EXCELLENT. [I just recently finished listening to the sequel, Ready Player Two, which is also ready by Wil Wheaton and it was just as good.] I’m not a big “gamer” per se, but I love a great quest adventure and this one was interesting enough to keep my attention for the full 12 hour drive.

The story is set in the future, when climate change has ravaged the planet and overpopulation has led to huge ghettos [called “stacks”] and all the people on earth spend most of their time escaping the real world through a virtual simulation called the OASIS. [This is all sounding a bit too plausible, am I right???] Living in one of the stacks is Wade Watts, who spends all of his free time searching for a hidden Easter Egg left by the original creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. And of course, the kicker—the finder of the egg inherits Halliday’s company and fortune.

As far as futuristic fiction goes, this one is good. [The movie by the same name is also pretty decent, but as always, the book is better.]

Die with Zero by Bill Perkins

⭐️⭐️

Well, this book was a huge disappointment. I picked it up in the library because, after reading the back, I thought that Perkins was going to recommend that everyone stop hoarding a ton of money until the day they die and instead, using all that money to improve the world. Sadly, that is not what he recommends. This book’s whole agenda is to encourage people to spend all their money on themselves, specifically on experiences that will provide happy memories that they can think about when they are eventually bedridden. I could not disagree more with this idea; however, I do agree that everyone should use their money in such a way as to die with zero. I agree that it makes absolutely no sense to save up money your whole life just to leave it behind in a bank account to be distributed by whoever is left behind. Actually, I don’t think we should be hoarding money no matter how you intend to use it. I mean, how insane is it for me to amass wealth while millions of children die every year from diseases I could easily prevent with all that money? Which is why, Brett and I only save a little money and give the rest away.

I mean, it’s not that he didn’t have any useful information in here. I thought that some of his practical points were good, like about annuities, which I had never heard of, and about spending more when you are young and less as you age. And there is information in here for every income level.

Honestly, this book kind of made me angry as Perkins writes about spending his millions on his favorite past time—poker tournaments! For the love of all that is good and holy. What a fucking waste! [Please excuse my language.] Maybe I’ll just have to write my own book about how to use your money to create real and lasting happiness. And trust me, it’s not by purchasing yachts or traveling to fancy destinations or owning massive homes or driving obscenely expensive cars. Happiness has always been found in compassion for others. I kind of thought we all knew that by now.

Decision Points by George W. Bush

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book was a real trip through the past for me since I vaguely remember the major events of Bush’s presidency, but not with any real detail. I was in junior high and high school for most of his time in office, and not particularly interested in politics at the time, so it was fascinating to read about the backgrounds and circumstances of each of these historical events.

As you may know by now, I love a political memoir. There is something about hearing a first person account of historical events that I really appreciate. It also humanizes these leaders and shows how they are normal humans with feelings, just trying to do their best, like we all are. We may judge them and criticize them and disagree with them [or, more rarely, adore them], but the position of President isn’t a cake walk. If you need a reminder of that, read this book.

Holy cow, Bush had a miserable presidency. All of the worst events of modern history [with the exception of the COVID pandemic] seemed to occur during his time in office — including the only two wars that the US has fought in my lifetime. Here’s a short list of the highlights [or should I say low-lights]: the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which led to the “War on Terror,” the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and of course, the stock market crash, housing market collapse and great recession of 2007. Yikes. And there are more, like No Child Left Behind, the biggest tax cut in history [which of course favored the wealthy], and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US military. This book started sounding like one long apology to the American people as President Bush explained his reasoning for all of his decisions. And I actually believe him. He seems like a very decent, kind man. He is a man who came from money, a man who was in the oil industry, a man whose father was also the president—with all of those limitations, I would say he did the best he could.

A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love this woman and I’ll just get it out of the way right now: Elizabeth Warren is not a socialist. [I mean, really, it is almost embarrassing how American politics has basically turned into a name-calling sport with the left hurling “Trump-lovers!” while the right screams “Socialists!” Geez, louise.] Anyway, in this memoir, Warren shares how she rose from a mom who dropped out of college to a tenured professor at Harvard to a congresswoman serving in the United States Senate. Warren was also the first female to be elected to the Senate in Massachusetts. Basically, this woman is a rock star.

This book is especially interesting when read simultaneously with Decision Points by President Bush and A Promised Land by Barack Obama, because she provides a different perspective of the financial crisis of 2007. As a specialist in bankruptcy law, Warren had been fighting for more protections for ordinary people from big lenders who take advantage of vulnerable people through obscenely high interest rates and risky loans. In this book, she tells the story of being asked to speak to the board of a large bank about how to reduce the number of clients who are filing for bankruptcy. [This was years prior to the bursting of the housing market “bubble.”] When she told them that they shouldn’t lend to people who are already in financial trouble, they told her, “Look, lady, we’re not going to stop doing that—that’s how we make our money!” [My paraphrase.]

All I can say is, if we had listened to this woman earlier, the recession could have probably been avoided altogether.

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Honestly, I was really drawn to this book because of the cover art, but in the end, I was a little disappointed because it felt too predictable and too similar to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I did, however, appreciate that this novel featured homosexual main characters while not making it a thing. Thanks to this book, our society is one step closer to treating everyone like they are normal, because, of course, they are.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This murder mystery by Lucy Foley has everything I love in a good novel: great use of flashback and foreshadowing, characters full of secrets, slow unraveling of the mysteries, and plenty of suspense to keep me reading. I listened to the audio book which was also really good and used different readers for each of the different characters.

As always, with fiction, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you should definitely read it.

February

Mine! By Michael Heller and James Salzman

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book was very interesting because it made me think about things I’ve never thought about before, sometimes totally blowing my mind. For instance, did you know that when you send in a DNA sample into one of those ancestry companies, they keep the sample and own the rights to that DNA [YOUR DNA] forever. That might not be a big deal, but it could turn out to be pretty lucrative for these companies in the future. And they actually convinced YOU to pay them to take your DNA.

Anyway, this whole topic is especially interesting for two reasons: #1: The two most valuable words in America are “money” and “mine” and it turns out if you have enough money, you can make anything yours. #2: Our laws set the ownership rules and our judicial system interprets them, so our government is really important for defining all these weird gray areas of ownership. It might sound pretty straight forward. What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. But in actuality, it is far from that simple.

Read this book and you’ll understand what I mean.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love Malcolm Gladwell, and I loved this book even more than Talking to Strangers, which I read last year. Strangely enough, I’ve read around this topic enough to have heard some of these studies quoted in other books, but that did not make this any less of a riveting read.

I don’t remember how I first came to recognize that my own success in life—in everything, actually—is not a result of my hard work, or my perseverence, or my skillset but, rather, is a product of random chance. I just happened to win the cosmic lottery and be born to a white, middle class family in the wealthiest nation in the world. I happened to be born to parents who loved me, who paid for me to have a private education, who taught me to work hard and manage my money wisely. I mean, yeah, there are people who made out better than me, but they are very few compared to the number of people who are born on this planet without any of those privileges. The moment I realized this fact, my life changed because I was no longer the victor enjoying the fruits of my labor, I was just like every other person on this planet, except I got lucky.

The strange thing is that we actively teach the opposite to people. We tell people to work hard and they will succeed and as a result, we imply that people who are not successful simply aren’t working as hard as you are. We could not be more wrong. And I love this book because it is proof that we are products of so many outside forces, so many factors out of our control, and so few of us are getting lucky. We have to stop the arrogance of thinking we are better just because we were born in a better position than the people around us.

“Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

If we, in America, could recognize this truth, then maybe we wouldn’t find it so offensive to give equal opportunities to everyone. Maybe then we could be more gracious to those lower on the social ladder than ourselves. Maybe we could finally believe that our success is tied to everyone around us and that we can’t achieved anything on our own.

11/22/63 by Stephen King

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m a Stephen King fan. I used to always associate King with horror stories like It and The Shining, but he clearly can do more than that. What I like best about his writing is that while reading his books, I get so engrossed in the story that I completely forget about the author and honestly, that is really rare for me. This is partly the curse of studying writing and literature in college, but I often find myself thinking of the author when I’m reading fiction. She made this foreshadowing too obvious.[In Five Complete Strangers] or Why does he use the word “untoward” so frequently? [In The House in the Cerulean Sea]

But Stephen King writes so seemlessly, so naturally, so convincingly that I literally forget that there is an author, that this is a work of someone’s imagination, that I’m reading a story and not a real man’s account of travelling back in time to stop the assassination of JFK.

This book is incredible. It is an undertaking, but totally worth it.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a great little book with very practical tips for how to make or break habits. I shared previously [in my March health goal post] that I have a planner with a list of daily habits that I try to accomplish every day and this book provided some really helpful ideas for achieving some of my less desirable goals—like yoga. Here are some of my favorite tips from the book: habit stacking, habit tracking, temptation bundling, and gateway habits. I used habit stacking to re-develop a yoga habit, by stacking yoga with a habit that I already do every day, in this case, my regular workout. [You’ll have to read the book if you want to know what the rest are. I can’t give all his secrets away.]

The book also contains a lot of motivation for getting your shit together, and it’s a quick read.

“The first mistake is never the one that ruins you. It’s the spiral of repeated mistakes that follows. Missing once is an accident, missing twice is the start of a new habit. This is a distinguishing feature between winners and losers…when successfull people fail, they rebound quickly.”

James Clear, Atomic Habits

Career & Family by Claudia Goldin

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is an important book about the gender wage gap in the workplace. In it, Goldin examines the careers of five groups of women based on their birth years and draws the conclusion that the gender wage gap is not due to explicit sexism in the workplace, but rather a societal issue we have with who handles childcare and how it is handled. When it comes to couples with children, women more often opt for the more flexible position so that they will be available for the children, but that prevents them from taking positions that require more hours and therefore more pay. As someone who is about to go back to school full-time and then hopefully back into the workplace full-time, childcare is a major challenge—the biggest obstacle in the way of me having a successful career.

My most prominent thoughts throughout reading this book, were gratitude for the generations that have gone before me and paved the way for me to go to college, get a masters degree, have a career, all while I have a husband and children. This has not been a possibility for very long and I am indebted to everyone who has helped to make it a reality for me. And now my job is to make these things, including equal pay, even more attainable for my three daughters.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is my favorite book of the quarter. To love this book, you have to have just the right mix of religious background, liberal politics, philosophical thinking, and a love of ethics and morality. But I’m clearly not the only one, because this book has been published and [I assume] purchased by other people.

[Please, if you are out there and you have read this book and you loved it, reach out to me. You are a part of my tribe.]

This guy, whom I had never heard of before reading this book, is a moral psychologist. I didn’t know that was a career choice back when I was eighteen and choosing “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” but if I had, I think my life would have been very different.

Anyway, this book discusses the moral foundations underlying American politics. Fascinating stuff. I took notes from this book and typed them all into a word document and my document is over 7 pages long! [And that’s single-spaced ya’ll.] It is practically impossible for me to choose my favorite quote from my seven-page document, but I will try…

“Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth.”

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

That’s a really great quote, but it’s not my favorite, that was just the shortest one…

“Morality binds and blinds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects…Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”

Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind

Ahh I can’t choose a favorite quote from this book. I guess my favorite quote would be the whole book.

Lost and Found by Kathryn Schulz

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Gotta love journalists. They can take three simple words and write a full-length book about them. [And I can poke fun at them because I used to dream of being a journalist.] In this case the words are “lost,” “and”, and “found.” This book is poetic and interesting and…hard to describe. Schulz talks first about losing her father and then finding the love of her life. But along the way she spend a lot of time discussing losing and finding in general.

Here are four quotes that I found to be really profound and meaningful:

“…This may be why certain losses are so shocking. Not because they defy reality, but because they reveal it. One of the many ways that loss instructs us is by correcting our sense of scale, showing us the world as it really is—so enormous, complex and mysterious that there is nothing too large to be lost, and, conversely, no place too small for something to get lost there.”

“Most of us alive today will survive into old age, and although that is a welcome development, the price of experiencing more life is sometimes experiencing less of it too. So many losses routinely precede the final one now: loss of memory, mobility, autonomy, physical strength, intellectual aptitude, a longtime home, the kind of identity derived from vocation, whole habits of being, and perhaps above all a certain forward tilting sense of self, the feeling that we are still becoming, that there are things left in this world we may yet do.”

“The first problem that love presents us with is how to find it. But the most enduring problem of love, which is also the most enduring problem of life, is how to live with the fact that we will lose it.”

“No matter what goes missing, the object you need or the person you love, the lessons are always the same. Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience urging us to make better use of our finite days.”

Kathryn Schulz, Lost and Found

But outside of these thought-provoking paragraphs, it felt at times like she was just trying to fill pages.

March

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You’ll notice that I’ve started reading books about happiness, not because I am unhappy, but because I’m SO HAPPY that I’m looking for a book that actually gets it right. This book, in my opinion, gets it mostly wrong. In it, Gretchen Rubin endures a self-imposed “happiness project” for a year, doing the things she lists on the cover..and many more. I don’t know why I keep finding myself reading these “challenge books” where the author has to live like a Biblical woman for a year [A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans] or give up sugar for a year [Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub] or limit themselves to seven of everything for a year [7 by Jen Hatmaker] because I don’t really like these books. [Also, why are these types of books always written by Christians?? Can Christians not stick with anything for more than a year???]

But anyway, I did find this interesting tidbit from this book:

“Spend Out. Don’t think about the return. ‘It is by spending oneself,’ the actress Sarah Bernhardt remarked, ‘that one becomes rich.’ What’s more, one intriguing study showed that Sara Bernhardt’s pronouncement is literally true. People who give money to charity end up wealthier than those who don’t give to charity. After doing complex number crunching to control for different variables, a researcher concluded that charitable giving isn’t just correlated with higher income, it actually causes higher income.”

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

FINALLY! Proof of what I’ve been telling Brett for years! [Of course, Rubin conveniently forgets to mention the source of this “intriguing study.”] I knew this to be true based on the Karmic principle and on my own life experience. The more you give away, the more you get back. It takes some faith in the beginning, but in the end, it makes you happier and gives your life more meaning, which is of course, the real secret. When you give money away, you care less about having money, which actually makes you more rich.

As one of my favorite quotes goes:

“I make myself rich by making my wants few.”

Henry David Thoreau

Sustainable Happiness edited by Sarah Van Gelder

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a great little book that is direct and to the point and [rightly] ties the happiness of the planet to our own. In the intro, Gelder inspires us to a new way of looking at happiness:

“The good news is that sustainable happiness is achievable, it could be available to everyone, and it begins by assuring that everyone can obtain a basic level of material security. But beyond that, more stuff isn’t the key to happiness.

 “It turns out that we don’t need to use up and wear out the planet in a mad rush to produce the stuff that is supposed to make us happy. We don’t need people working in sweatshop conditions to produce cheap stuff to feed an endless appetite for possessions. We don’t even need economic growth, although some types of growth do help.            

“The research shows that sustainable happiness comes from other sources. We need loving relationships, thriving natural and human communities, opportunities for meaningful work, and a few simple practices, like gratitude. With that definition of sustainable happiness, we really can have it all.”

Sarah Van Gelder, Sustainable Happiness

This pretty much sums it up. I mean, I think she misssed an important part of happiness in the last paragraph, but everything else is spot-on. She and the other contributors have a lot of other great things to think about when it comes to happiness.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I wish I had read this book earlier, but I don’t really read much YA fiction anymore. This is a really important book for everyone to read. It is so close to reality that it is scary…and heart breaking. Thomas uses a fictional story to share the struggle, frustration, defeat and hope of the black community in America. We still have so much work to do.

The United States of Arugula by David Kamp

⭐️⭐️⭐️

A very interesting historical account of how we went from adoring all things French cousine to creating our own American food culture with our own American celebrity chefs. As a lover of the Food Network, I enjoyed reading the history of some of my favorite chefs. However, I’m not a foodie so a lot of this was outside of my wheelhouse.

The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

FINALLY, a book on happiness that gets it right. It’s no surprise that the Dalai Lama knows the secret to happiness, but considering how many books I’ve read on the topic that get it wrong, I think more people need to read this book.

The main points can be summarized in this one quote by Abrams:

“As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy. Four were qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance. Four were qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. On the first day, the archbishop had touched the fingers of his right hand to his heart to emphasize its centrality. We would end up ultimately at compassion and generosity and indeed both men would insist that these two qualities were perhaps most pivotal to any lasting happiness.”

Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy

I could not agree more that compassion and generosity are the keys to happiness. I came upon that conclusion from my own life and I wasn’t searching for happiness at all. I was searching for meaningfulness—and happiness was just the byproduct.

This is a great book and a challenge for anyone who is searching for true and lasting happiness.

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner

⭐️

I’m sorry, but I did not like this book at all. Just not my cup of tea, I suppose. Nearly everything was a metaphor and felt very forced. [I have to stop accidentally reading this superficial fluff by Christian women.] I was hoping it would be about paring down life and enjoying simple pleasures, but it seemed like it was mostly praising superficial American consumerism.

I did however, like this one quote about a time when she visited an underprivileged community in Africa.

“I do not understand what it is like to live in a place where a drink of clean water is not readily available, where education is not accessible, where my basic needs are either not met or fought for with every ounce of my being. Where I live, we are after silver spoons. Here, there is no soup to slurp.”

Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow

You can kind of see what I mean about the metaphors…and of course, when she came back home she went right back to retail therapy and obsessing over her all-white kitchen [which is apparently all the rage on her hugely-popular website.]

For me this book, is down there with Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Both are directed at wealthy, white American women and are basically pats on the back for superficial, self-righteous, self-centered living.

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Byrson, Ph.D.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a very good book with lots of practical information that I put into practice right away with my own kids.

I’ll give you an example. When I took my kids to see Sing 2 in theaters, my middle daughter [4 years old] was terrified at one point, screaming and kicking in her seat. After that part was over, she was fine for the rest of the movie so I forgot all about it. Then last week while we were at someone’s house, they were going to play the movie and Jo immediately started freaking out and saying that she was so scared of that movie and she didn’t want to watch it. Normally, I would have just suggested we watch another movie and moved on; however, because in this book they say to “name it to tame it,” I asked Jo to tell me about the scary part of the movie. As she was telling me what scared her, she started laughing and said “It’s actually pretty silly.” And we talked about how the lion who appeared scary in that part wasn’t really scary in the end and how he just didn’t want anyone to come to his house. Putting her fears into context and talking about them made her see that there was nothing to be afraid of. And, just like that, her fear of the movie was gone.

This is a total game-changer in my home where two of my kids get scared easily and tend to obsessive over their fears.

And there’s lots more great advice where that came from.

“It’s also true that feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits. They’re like the weather. Rain is real, and we’d be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren’t actually raining. But we’d be just as foolish to expect that the sun will never reappear.”

Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child

I recommend this book for all the parents out there [it’s even helpful for adults].

The New Rules of Aging Well by Frank Lipman, M.D. and Danielle Claro

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I loved this book and immediately put into practice many of it’s practical tips like foam rolling [which I know I should be doing regularly, but dang it, it hurts!] and having a swig of vinegar before a meal and eating more fermented foods [sauerkraut anyone?] and extending my overnight fast to sixteen hours…and plenty more.

I don’t consider myself to be old yet, but it’s never too soon to start preparing for the future. Am I right? It’s interesting to me that people plan for their financial future [obsessively, it seems], but totally ignore their physical future. I for one, want to be rock climbing, hang gliding and deep sea diving at the age of 88. That requires some prep work….starting NOW.


Well, there are the books for Q1! Some really keepers. I think I may start posting monthly reviews because these are getting so long…

What have you been reading? Let me know in the comments!

📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2021 Q4]

Book Reviews [2021 Q4]

In Q4 of 2021, I read 19 books. That might be a quarterly record for me!

In 2021, I read 66 books [68 if you count my two school textbooks]. Of those, 16 were about health [my reading goal for the year], 14 were memoirs [my favorite genre], 13 were about racism or social justice issues, and 11 were fiction.

Also, I should mention that I give star ratings for these books just for fun and based solely on my own enjoyment of the book. Also, a four star rating means that I really, really liked the book. These are books that I definitely recommend and think are absolutely worthwhile reads. The only reason they don’t get five stars is because I reserve five stars for my absolute favorites – either for their entertainment value or the value of their content.

After I list my Q4 reads, I’ll share a list of my five star reads and my absolute favorite book(s) of 2021.

Here are the books I read in the final quarter of 2021:

October

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Fabre and Julie King

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Eh. This book was just okay for me. It was very similar to the parenting advice book, Now Say This, which I LOVE and have read several times. But, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen was [in my opinion] not nearly as helpful or practical. Both books have similar content about affirming kids feelings and avoiding harsh reprimands and all of that, but many of the recommended responses did absolutely nothing to sway my stubborn toddlers.

🤷‍♀️

So I would recommend that you skip this and go read Now Say This.

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Brett bought me this book to read when I took my kids on a trip to my aunt’s lake house. Maybe it was more about the setting – getting up early and reading with a fresh cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the lake – but I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely not my preferred type of fiction, but it’s on Oprah’s book list, so I knew it would be worth a read. [Brett did not know that it was borderline erotic when he gave it to me, but I don’t think he was upset about it].

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Probably one of my favorite reads of the entire year – and definitely my favorite book about health and nutrition and food and animals and life and family…

This is the story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family buying a farm and growing/raising their food and committing to only eating local for a year.

It is just such a good book! Of course, it’s about topics that I am SUPER interested in: healthy food, sustainable farming, homesteading, eating local, environmentalism, the ethical treatment of animals, cooking, baking, raising, growing, and making food from scratch.

Basically, this book is about rethinking all of the aspects of our food that we currently view as unnecessary inconveniences – such as raising animals, growing vegetable from seeds, and knead bread by hand – and realizing that all of these things reconnect us to the earth, to its finite resources, to its shared inhabitants, and ultimately, to our own humanity.

This book is also largely responsible for me becoming an omnivore once again, after a year of veganism – although I now have much, much higher standards for the meat and dairy I am willing to consume. Here’s an excerpt from her very insightful views on veganism/vegetarianism:

“A hundred different paths may lighten the world’s load of suffering. Giving up meat is one path; giving up bananas is another. The more we know about our food system, the more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.”

Barbara Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

But that’s not all. There is SO MUCH good information in this book, I could quote the whole thing! So you just have to read this book!!

Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

⭐️⭐️

“Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes

So, I’ve been reading tons of books about health, and then it all took a rather morbid turn and I started reading books about death. This, however, turned out to be especially depressing because she’s basically saying that everything I’m doing to be healthy is a total waste of time.

I didn’t really like the book for obvious reasons. She may have very good points about how worthless preventative screenings are or how pointless it is to avoid wine and chocolate or to frequent the gym when your body is withering away regardless – but she seems to imply that the only reason for healthy habits is to lengthen one’s life. I disagree. I think that a healthy life is a more fulfilling, more useful, more productive, more enjoyable life, even if that does mean a little less chocolate and wine. And, heck!, I frickin love my time at the gym.

Stop trying to take that away from me, Barbara!!

But I will say this: as a result of this book, I am a lot less likely to undergo a colonoscopy in the future. So, I guess I can thank Barbara for that!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Now this book, on the other hand, was a really helpful, practical book about how to make the most of your time at the end of your life. In particular, I came away realizing how hospice is not just a death warrant that you take on when all else has failed and you’ve totally given up hope of having any meaningful time left, but rather it is a means by which you can experience a full end of life – one that keeps you out of the hospital, away from painful or debilitating treatments, and allows you to enjoy the things that matter most in life for as long as you have left.

It’s hard to imagine an end of life scenario where I don’t want to fight for more time, but truthfully, we need to come to terms with the fact that some fights in the end are simply not worth the trade off. A quiet passing, surrounded by loved ones, without pain or ambulances or defibrillators…that would be my preference in the end [if I am someone who knows in advance that the end is near]. I can’t decide whether I would prefer to know I’m going to die or to die unexpectedly, but if I’m lucky enough to live a long life and die of typical old age ailments, then this book will prove very helpful for me. It has already dramatically changed my view of the medical world and it’s role in the human experience of dying. But I will probably want to reread this book in thirty years or so – assuming I’m still kicking.

“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

“…Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”

Atul Gawande, Being Mortal

Though I’m only thirty-five years old, this book has really valuable advice and information about how to make the most of my life all the way to the very end. I mean, the end is coming for all of us. We should be prepared for it.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a great book. I read Colson Whitehead’s book, The Underground Railroad, which was good, but The Nickel Boys is excellentgut-wrenching, poignant, suspenseful, and even has an unexpected surprise at the end. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.

As with all fiction I read, I don’t like to give very much away, but it’s worth mentioning that this story is based on a real boys school, which made it all the more powerful for me.

November

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love this book! Bill Bryson is so entertaining as he recounts the adventures that he and his friend, Katz, have while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m pretty sure I was laughing out loud at times, mostly at Katz’s expense [and as I’ve said before, when I start responding to books audibly while reading, that is a very good sign]. You just can’t make this stuff up…well, actually Bryson totally could have since most of it happened on a completely isolated trail through the woods – but if he did, I don’t want to know. It is too perfect the way it is.

“It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”

Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods

I’ve always wanted to hike the AT – but not so much shit in the woods – and I actually can’t decide if this book made me want to do it more or less…but either way, it was a great book.

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (⭐️) for audiobook

Talking to Strangers is a fascinating book and the audiobook is phenomenal. Gladwell introduces the audiobook by saying that he wants it to sound like a podcast – a podcast with a production budget. And it definitely does.

In the book, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how to understand the people we don’t know, or maybe more importantly, how to not misunderstand them. By using high profile people from world history and recent events – Adolf Hitler, Sandra Bland, Amanda Knox, Larry Nassau, to name just a few – and the stories of how these people were misunderstood, for good or bad, Gladwell paints a complex picture of how we interact with one another.

I learned A LOT. I was at least vaguely aware of most of these stories, but had never heard them in detail and I was riveted. I was also fascinated to learn of our natural default to truth, how sitcoms like Friends has impacted our understanding of each other, why cops are trained to use aggressive policing methods, how computers are better able to predict a criminals behavior than a judge, and much more.

“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”

Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers

Overall, this book teaches us to be more humble and compassionate in our interactions with the people we don’t know. And we all need more of that.

This book is worth a re-read – or, better yet, a re-listen.

Clean and Green by Nancy Birtwhistle

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m all about green cleaning, but my favorite part of this book was all of her British-isms like “worked a treat” and “boiled on the hob” and, my personal favorite, “bung up the hole.” [I’m just assuming these are British sayings because I’ve never heard them before.]

But in all seriousness, this book is full of brilliant ideas for cleaning without all the chemical-laden, aquatic life killing, toxic fume filled cleaners you find at the store. I decided to earmark each recipe/method that would be useful to me….omg check out the book now:

[Do you see all the earmarks?? It’s about half the book…]

I should have saved the poor pages and just put the whole book in the “to-do” pile. Anyway, I intend to go through the book systematically using every recommended swap.

I’m especially anxious to try setting my oven racks in the lawn overnight to see if they are magically cleaned in the morning. [This is a real tip that she provides and since it’s in print, it must be true.]

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

What a sad story. It was actually kind of creepy for me in a way because I am not entirely unlike Christopher McCandless in my worldview. The major exception, of course, being that I haven’t rid myself of all my possessions and heading out into the Alaskan wilderness. I’m not that crazy, at least not yet. But, truthfully, the idea is kind of intriguing to me. [Thank God I have kids who keep me from doing anything too rash.]

This book was not entertaining like A Walk in the Woods, but I love how Krakauer slowly unravels the story, or should I say mystery, of McCandless’s final few months of life. Of course, the ending is written right on the cover of the book, but it’s the how and the why that are intriguing.

Anyway, I enjoyed it, but with a sort of sadness that weighed down the experience of reading it. I don’t quite know how else to describe it.

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder

⭐️⭐️⭐️

[I listened to the audiobook and do not recommend it. My low rating is largely because of the reader. Get the actual book.]

As someone who dreams of selling all my earthly possessions and living out of a van, I thought this book would be right up my alley. However, it painted a pretty bleak picture of #vanlife. Instead of praising the nomad lifestyle like was hoping, this is the rather depressing story of an apparently large number of homeless…I mean, “houseless” retired people being worked to death and taken advantage of by big companies who need seasonal labor.

[Seriously. Amazon has a whole department called “CamperForce.” Here’s the enticing info on Amazon’s CamperForce hiring page:

“Want to keep enjoying life on the road? Join an enthusiastic team of like-minded travelers and adventurers at Amazon CamperForce. It provides great seasonal jobs at a growing number of state-of-the-art Amazon warehouse locations across the US.”

hiring.Amazon.com

Uh…tempting, but no thanks.]

I was totally unaware that this subculture, which I always assumed to be full of young hippies in their twenties who smoke a lot of pot, is also populated by folks my parents age and older who have fallen on financial hardships and taken to the road.

But the idea of life on the road is still appealing to me and the book was very helpful in explaining how to live out of your van, make a pee bucket and not get caught by the police. But I guess I was envisioning a more…I dunno…lawful and sanitary version of the nomad life.

Anyway, it will mean pretty wild changes for our economy and our communities if more people leave their houses for the new frontier – Boon-docking [and her close cousin, Wally-docking].

Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I only read this book because it was the library’s book club pick so I didn’t have to wait to borrow it. Definitely not my favorite fiction book. The genre was right, but the story was lacking [almost non-existent] and the whodunit was way too obvious – though they hadn’t actually done anything yet. I knew the antagonist a few chapters in and was incredibly disappointed when I was actually right, still clinging to some hope that there would be a surprise or twist or something.

But, alas. Just a book about a girl who takes a ride through a blizzard with five strangers – one of whom is a creep.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Loved this book. What a beautiful story!

Ultimately, I think this is a story about regrets. Everyone has things in their life they would like to go back and change. And the magic of this story is that it reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect life, only our own unique experience based on our choices – our personal opportunity to make the most of what we have.

“It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out. But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

My friend who recommended it to me described it as a “feel-good” read, and I couldn’t agree more. I listened to the audiobook while traveling to Chicago for my kidney surgery and it gave me all the feels. Life is a series of choices and all we can do is make the best decisions we can and enjoy the ride.

“The only way to learn is to live.”

Matt Haig, The Midnight Library

What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“We all have the ability to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who don’t agree with us politically. We can keep an open mind and be willing to change our minds from time to time. Even if our outreach is rebuffed, it’s worth it to keep trying. We’re all going to share our American future together. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”

Hilary Rodham Clinton, What Happened

As you know, I love a political memoir. And I have serious respect for this incredible woman. Unfortunately, at the time she was running for President, I was not at all interested in politics and I didn’t vote at all [to my everlasting shame]. And she is correct in her perspective on public opinion because all I really remember about her and her campaign can be summarized in one word: emails. How sad and pathetic that such an innocent and commonplace thing could turn into the media firestorm that it did and cost someone a president election. It’s painful to think about, especially in light of the terrible repercussions of our collective stupidity in that election.

Anyway, in this book Clinton is as gracious as ever. I especially love that she recorded the audiobook so that we could hear her share her story. My favorite part is when she shares what a day on the campaign trail looked like for her. I love this sort of “backstage pass” to the lives of political leaders.

If I could go back to my 2016 self, I’d slap myself across the face and say “Wake up! A woman is a primary presidential candidate!Rally the troops and head to the polls!” But, I can’t do that. Not certain what kinds of “troops” I could have rallied anyway since my circles are almost exclusively sexist and republican…but I would have tried. For my daughters. For me. For all women.

Despite the fact that she didn’t win, she definitely paved the way for a female president in the future and I am SO STOKED that I will be able to see it happen in my lifetime.

So, thanks, Hilary. [Is it okay if I call you Hilary?]

December

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I listened to this audiobook as I recovered from surgery and I think the pain meds I was on made it hard to concentrate…or maybe put me to sleep while I was listening, because I don’t have many memories of reading it. I will have to re-read it in the future.

Though I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I only read this book now because I was trying to determine whether my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. [From what I remember of it, this book would be fine for them – ages 4, 5, & 7.]

One thing I do remember clearly about this book is being a little disappointed. There are a lot of Harry Potter fanatics out there, so I guess I was hoping to be really blown away by the book, and I wasn’t. But I was also drugged and had other more pressing concerns at the time of reading it.

Ok, I’m definitely going to re-read it. And I think I’ll read the actual book which always sticks better than the audiobook anyway.

How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love Michael Pollan and this book was interesting, but it seemed to be so different from his usual writings on healthy eating [then again, maybe it’s not that different after all]. He begins with a history of LSD and psychedelics, which was fascinating, and then moves on to describing his own experimentation [in safe and controlled environments] with various psychedelic drugs.

I still don’t have any interest in trying psychedelics – not because I’m a prude, but more because I have a stronger fear of a “bad trip” than a desire for a “good trip.” Strangely enough, in Waking Up by Sam Harris, which I read a few months back, Harris wrote that if his kids never experienced psychedelics in their lifetime, he would think they’ve missed out on something important. There seems to be an element of spirituality found in the “loss of self” or “silence of the ego” when using psychedelics, and I am very much interested in experiencing that. However, I’ve since read Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and it seems you can find a similar feeling/experience from meditation, which feels less risky…and also controversial.

But suffice it to say, Pollan succeeded in making me curious.

The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Unfortunately, it seemed way too unrealistic for me to accept the ending. There is no way that would have worked out the way it did. It’s a nice idea though.

I read the whole thing in two days, so it was an interesting book, suspenseful enough to keep me reading, but ultimately a disappointment in the end.

Don’t want to spoil it for you, so if you’re so inclined, read it yourself and see if you agree.

Think Again by Adam Grant

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book reminded me a lot of another book I read a few years ago called Talking Across the Divide. In that book [which was also excellent], Justin Lee taught me for the first time about “echo chambers” and how to be open to listening to opposing views in order to communicate effectively with the people I disagree with. Think Again is like the second part of the lesson. Now that I have learned how to talk to people with different views, next I need to learn how to be open to change my own own views.

“A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.”

Adam Grant, Think Again

I think of myself as a life-long learner. And I believe myself to be pretty good at questioning my own beliefs. After all, I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life being a sexist, homophobic, conservative, religious zealot. And look at me now, a liberal feminist agnostic-leaning quasi new-age hippie. It took A LOT of rethinking to change my beliefs on literally everything. And even now, all my beliefs are fluid and always changing. And since 99% of my connections are still religious conservatives, my beliefs are always being challenged.

BUT Adam Grant has shown me weaknesses in my own thinking and habits that reinforce rather than question my beliefs – quite literally with his story about the debate on the topic of free universal preschool – but also through important lessons about wisdom and humility.

“It’s a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It’s a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart.”

Adam Grant, Think Again

This is a great book. Two thumbs up!

👍👍

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

⭐️⭐️⭐️

At the time of reading, I didn’t really like this story because of the ending, but now looking back on it, I think it is a good story. The book is about a family who, like all families, has history and secrets and complexities that are slowly unraveled throughout the story. The major events always seem happen on or around Easter [hence the egg on the cover].

For me personally, it didn’t have any redeeming qualities beyond the horrors of hoarding [when I finished the book, I immediately felt the need to purge my excess crap – of which there isn’t much since I’m already a minimalist] and the damage that secrets can do. But I enjoyed the way the story was told.

Similarly to other fiction books I read this quarter, the end of the story was slightly disappointing.


Five-Star Reads from 2021:

Fiction:

  • Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
  • The Shining by Stephen King
  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Nonfiction:

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Lost Connections by Johann Hari
  • Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
  • White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  • How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
  • How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone
  • Night by Elie Wiesel
  • Persist by Elizabeth Warren
  • A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
  • Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen
  • Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
  • Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
  • Think Again by Adam Grant

Favorite Read(s) of 2021

Despite my best efforts to choose only one favorite book of the year, it is a tie between these two:

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

&

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

You’ve GOT to read these two! And if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.

Happy reading!

📚📚📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2021 Q3]

Book Reviews [2021 Q3]

In the past three months, I read 16 books, making my total so far for this year 46! Not too shabby.

I’ve tried condensing down my blurbs about each book since, geez Louise, I get exhausted writing these things, I can’t imagine how bored ya’ll must be reading them! This post is still too long, but I did my best.

🤷‍♀️

[As usual, my star reviews are just to indicate how much I personally enjoyed reading the book. They are not to be taken too seriously.]

July

How To Avoid a Climate Crisis by Bill Gates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have mad respect for Bill Gates, not just for being a brilliant mind and exceptional business man, but for being a philanthropist who has focused a lot of his wealth and resources on saving lives around the world. I love the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and follow the work that they do around the world because they ensure that every dollar does the most good possible.

That aside, Bill Gates is also super intelligent and usually right [like when he predicted an air-borne virus would ravage they world], and when I heard he had a book about climate change, I knew I wanted to read it.

I will say this, though, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is not exactly a riveting read. It is often scientific and talks about technology that I have absolutely zero understand of – BUT, what I appreciate the most is his commitment to protecting the planet and protecting the underprivileged. He has a unique perspective in the environmentalist camp that calls for new technology to end climate change, rather than trying to hold back progress around the world. In fact, his whole perspective seems to be one of progress as a human population. And he puts his money where his mouth is, supporting many new companies that are testing out creative solutions for climate change.

Ultimately, this book gave me a lot of hope for the future. And we all need some hope right about now.

She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As a feminist, this story and the Me Too movement are so important to me and I loved reading the back story of how these persistent journalists exposed Harvey Weinstein and, as the subtitle says, ignited a movement. This is the perfect example of how powerful good journalism is. It has the power to change society, as these two women’s reporting did. I’m so glad that they pursued the truth and exposed – not only one sexual predator – but a culture of abuse that had been hidden from view for as long as we can remember.

That being said, I liked this book mostly for its subject matter and relevance to current feminist issues, but I wouldn’t say it was the most riveting book I’ve read. I still would recommend it for anyone who wants to know more about why the Me Too movement is so important because this book clearly shows the lengths to which powerful men will go to keep their sexual predation and abuse hidden.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In this book, Isabel Wilkerson draws parallels between American racism and the caste system in India [and even the caste system established by Hitler in Nazi Germany]. Well, I am no historian or social expert, so I have no comment on whether racism in America is more like a caste system. But I will say that racism is a huge problem that continues to plague our society and denial of its existence is only making things worse.

My favorite part of the book is when she compares racism in America to owning an old home. We might not have built the house, but it’s ours now and whatever problems it has, we are now responsible to fix.

“The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.”

Isabel Wilkerson, Caste

Let’s stop denying the house is falling apart, stop blaming it on the previous owners, stop putting it off or wishing it away. Instead, let’s get to work.

Other parts of the book that really moved me are the true stories of racism throughout. Some are Wilkerson’s personal experiences, some are infamous stories from history like the murder of Emmett Till, some are stories of horrific lynchings, some are current stories of prejudice and injustice, but all are heart-wrenching and angering.

I don’t know how it is possible for anyone to believe that racism isn’t alive and well in this country, but if there is, they need to read this book.

Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Before reading this book I didn’t know anything about what it’s like to grow up in a poor rural working-class white community like the one that J.D. Vance did – like nothing. Most of my understanding of poverty is in relationship to racism or single parenthood. So this book was an education about a group of people that I haven’t had a chance to cross paths with. I have always lived in the suburbs and been squarely middle class. It was eye-opening and sad and all the things that I’m sure it was meant to be. However, whether it be due to the distance between me and Appalachia or just my general ignorance, I found this book to be a little disappointing. I’ve had it on my list for so long because I love a story of rising out of humbling beginnings, but I think it was maybe too sad for me. It was extremely upsetting to read about a mother that threatens her child. And I know that many people today grow up in struggling communities, in broken families, in less-than-ideal situations, but…I guess it just breaks my heart.

The book is also more political than I expected, but since Vance appears to be a right-leaning moderate, I benefited from his “see-it-from-both-sides” perspective – which I personally am woefully lacking. He also acknowledges that much of what the right views as “laziness” is actually hopelessness.

“Psychologists call it “learned helplessness” when a person believes, as I did during my youth, that the choices I made had no effect on the outcomes in my life.”

J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

This is really key to the struggle we all face to help new generations rise above their circumstances. And neither the left nor the right are doing it very well right now. We need to instill in young people – no matter their race, class, social status, grades, or abilities the belief that they can be successful and that their choices do make a difference. But, of course, we also have to make sure that it’s true. I think that is the big takeaway [for me anyway] from this book.

“I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”

J.D.Vance, Hillbilly Elegy

We can’t just give people money, but neither can we just tell them to stop being lazy bums. We have to give them hope.

The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m just going to give a warning here at the beginning: most people I know would be offended by much of the content in this book. BUT this is Tiffany Haddish telling her truth and I love her for it.

I have been a Tiffany Haddish fan since I saw her in Girls Trip. She is hilarious and so natural that I instantly fell in love with her. Turns out, she just is naturally that funny. I listened to the audio version of this book which I highly recommend because it’s basically a one-woman stand-up show.

Ok, ok. I take that back. There is a lot of stuff in her story that is really rough. At times, it sounded like she was literally crying and it made my heart break for her. She has not had it easy. But, oh my goodness, she finds a way to make you laugh the whole way.

I have a newfound respect for this woman. And I am still a super fan!

August

Night by Elie Wiesel

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve had this book on my list for several years, and I finally read it. This book is right up there with The Diary of Anne Frank for being a true and truly horrifying account of what the Jews suffered during the Holocaust. In fact, I think Night is even more powerful because it is a first-hand account of a man who survived Auschwitz, the infamous nazi concentration camp.

It might sound morbid, but I like to read books like these every so often as a reminder of what humans are capable of when they start following one another instead of their god-given conscience. Remembering these events, as painful as it may be, is necessary to avoid repeating our mistakes.

As Elie Wiesel said,

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

Elie Wiesel

It is also important to remember that, though the Holocaust is not currently happening, other injustices exist today. The slave trade, sex trade, racism, xenophobia, and extreme poverty are some of the injustices that we should be protesting today.

Two other great books about the Holocaust that I read a few years ago are The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Number the Stars. And a good movie is The Zookeeper’s Wife.

Meat: A Love Story by Susan Bourette

⭐️⭐️⭐️

It was strange reading a book praising the unusual customs surrounding meat consumption – like eating whale blubber in Alaska, frying bull testicles in Texas, and eating all raw meat in Wisconsin – especially as a vegan.

I totally agree that eating meat is a cultural experience. But now that I think about it, the cultural traditions are really just about consumption in general, not specifically meat. Pretty much any geographical place in the world can be defined by certain types or methods or traditions surrounding the foods they eat, but they do not always include meat. However, even with the exploration of the various cultures surrounding meat in this book, none of them lead me to believe that eating meat is necessary. They also don’t prove that eating meat is healthy. They also don’t prove that vegetarian and vegan meals can’t also be a celebration of culture – albeit a different and more modern culture. But, hey. I’m all for progress.

I will say, I loved the writing in this book. There is just something about the works of journalists that I find so well written, no matter how mundane the topic. It takes me back to my college days of studying journalism and dreaming of some day joining the ranks of these inspiring writers. So it’s always a pleasure to pick up a book like this one…

But I’m still not into meat.

🤷‍♀️

Persist by Elizabeth Warren

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Just like Kamala Harris, I didn’t know anything about Elizabeth Warren when she appeared as a candidate in the 2020 presidential race. But, man oh man, I wish I had read this book before the primaries. I would have been on the Elizabeth Warren bandwagon for sure.

If all you know about Elizabeth Warren is what you’ve heard second-hand or through the media, I highly recommend you read this book and hear her story and what she’s passionate about.

Reading Elizabeth’s personal story of becoming a lawyer and then tenured professor all while struggling to find childcare for her kids gave me the motivation I needed to get back to school. I’d been wanting to go back to school for nursing so I can become a midwife for several years, but it always seemed so challenging while I was taking care of four little kids. But Elizabeth Warren showed me that I can do it. I don’t have to wait to get busy working toward my dreams.

She is an inspiration – and her plans for improving the lives of Americans are so awesome, I can only hope that she will make another run for the presidency someday. She will have my vote.

Food Matters by Mark Bittman

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is one of eight books about nutrition that a friend lent me, and it is my favorite so far. [Funny enough, I didn’t even realize until after I finished this book that I have on my shelf Mark Bittman’s cookbook, How to Cook Everything – which I have never touched.]

The first half of this book serves as a great summary of the many fascinating things I’ve learned about food from Michael Pollan over the past few years. So if you don’t want to read all of Pollan’s books, pick this one up and you’ll get the overall idea. This book also provides lots of great whole food recipes. I personally have been cooking with whole, natural foods for the past five years, so I’m comfortable with preparing meals this way, but I will be gifting this book to friends and family who are always asking me about healthy eating. This book is short, to the point, accessible and practical.

Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

You know I love me a book about feminism! And although I don’t agree with everything in this book, I do know that if women are going to continue to make progress in this world, we cannot leave an entire demographic of women behind. The complaints in this book are valid. And the leaders of the feminist movement need to listen to the women who have, as she says in the subtitle, “been forgotten.”

However, I disagree with Kendall’s apparent accusation that feminists are willfully being elitist and entitled. The problem is that women on opposite ends of the spectrum have a difficult time understanding the position of the polar opposite. Both may still be women, but that doesn’t mean that their concerns and issues within the feminist dialogue are the same. Different women want to see different changes. But, in general, yes, mainstream feminism needs to be more inclusive of the huge range of women’s needs – not just those at the top.

But let me tell you, I read Gloria Steinem’s book and I don’t for a second believe that she left out women intentionally. [Kendall never speaks about Steinem specifically, I’m just using her as my own personal example here.] Those who have been “forgotten” need to also show a little grace to those whose perspectives may be different and not automatically vilify them as only self-serving.

Anyway, disagreements aside, she does discuss important feminist issues that affect colored minorities such as cultural appropriation, code-switching, colorism/texturism, femicide, and respectability. Each of these issues were educational for me and and tremendously insightful. If you are unfamiliar with any of the topics above, I highly encourage you to read this book.

A Path Appears by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Last year, I read Kristof and WuDunn’s book Half the Sky, which focuses on women’s suffering around the world and was really moving. Now, A Path Appears is here to help show the way forward. I’m extremely interested in the topic of humanitarian relief and how the wealthy countries [and individuals] in the world can [or rather, should], be helping to end poverty. I’ve read many books on the topic, and truthfully, this book repeated a lot of information that I learned in Peter Singer’s book, The Life You Can Save, and Melinda Gate’s book, The Moment of Lift – but there is one important difference which is exactly what makes Kristof and WuDunn so successful in this area: they share stories.

This book is filled with stories of real people – wealthy and not – who are helping to change the world for the better. Kristof and WuDunn completely destroy the myth that you have to be a millionaire or a politician to change the world. In truth you just have to see the problem and want to change it.

“Let’s recognize that success in life is a reflection not only of enterprise and willpower but also of chance and early upbringing, and that compassion isn’t a sign of weakness but a mark of civilization.”

Nicholas D. Kristof, A Path Appears

Love, love, love this. I hope this book inspires many, many more people to join the fight to end poverty on this planet.

Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Oh my gosh, I love this book! This author is hilarious. It is such an easy and entertaining read.

Locally Laid is about how Amundsen and her husband decide to start a pasture-raised commercial egg company, without any farming experience whatsoever. Of course, they are successful in the end [the company is also called Locally Laid], but not without a lot of struggles, unexpected expenses, hassling from inspectors, and chickens who don’t know how to be chickens.

I’ve been dreaming of my own backyard flock of chickens for years, and this book gave me hope. If the Amundsens can go from zero to 8,000 chickens, then I can surely manage five or six.

September

America for Americans by Erika Lee

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I wish this book was a more engaging read, but unfortunately, it reminded me of my high school history textbook – which is to say, very informative, but not exactly a book I get excited about reading.

Still, I learned a lot of interesting things about how xenophobic America has been from its inception. Of course, a lot of this can be gleaned from history books if you read between the lines, but this book is straight to the point. Turns out that our southern neighbors were not the first to receive the good ol’ American shove back-to-where-you-came-from. They also aren’t the first to be called “criminals” in order to stir up fear of immigration. We’ve actually been doing that to people groups all over the world since we founded this country: Irish Catholics, Chinese immigrants, Italians, Jews, Eastern Europeans, Mexican Americans, Japanese Americans, and now Muslim Americans. America has always been xenophobic, racist, and fearful of other religions. We’ve been deporting people, closing our borders, and refusing refugees since America was founded, we have simply become better at politicizing our reasons, so as not to appear xenophobic.

Am I surprised? No, not at all.

America has always been for Americans. And apparently no one in America seems to see the irony and delusion behind that belief.

Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I wanted to read this book before watching the Netflix show with the same title and based on this true story of a woman who leaves Hasidic Judaism.

As someone who also left the religion in which I was raised, I could relate to A LOT of this book. I didn’t know anything about Hasidic Jews or their beliefs, customs, and traditions before reading this book, but it is so similar to my own personal experience leaving mainstream Evangelicalism, and the book I read earlier this year, Educated, in which Tara Westover leaves Mormonism. Though the religions could not be more different, with varying levels of strictness, they are all equally difficult to leave behind…and also impossible to remain as a woman who wants to be seen as more than a womb and a “helpmeet.” I mean, the feminist thing isn’t the only reason I left, there was also a lot of logic and reasoning involved, but in addition to that, I simply could not accept that I must be subservient to men my entire life just because I happened to be born without a penis.

[Let’s be real. Penises haven’t done anything other than cause trouble for as long as they have existed.]

Ok, this took an unexpected turn…

Back to the topic, I thought the book was enlightening about this mysterious religious subculture that I was quite honestly completely unaware of. And I’m glad to know there is another brave rebel out there willing to leave her roots in search of freedom.

Real Food by Nina Planck

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I have a real love-hate relationship with this book. On the one hand, I’m 100% for eating real foods. I’ve been harping on that for five years now, frequently doing long stints of not buying or eating a single processed thing. So I totally agree with the premise of this book. However, I don’t fully trust Plank’s health assertions, especially after reading How Not To Die by Dr. Greger, and I feel like she basically wanted to do battle with the vegetarians and vegans of the world [of which I am one]. She makes good arguments for eating fish and beef, but misses an important caveat regarding moderation.

In the end, though, I have been convinced to eat local, grass-fed beef, local pasture-raised. poultry, and wild-caught salmon – so I guess she got what she wanted.

🤷‍♀️

Waking Up by Sam Harris

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a little too New Age-y for me, but I do think that starting a practice of meditation would do me good. I may add that to my New Year’s resolution list…we’ll see.

I’d didn’t love this book overall, but oh man, when I got to the part about the split brain theory…

🤯

I mean, that was WILD. I recommend this book just for that part alone.


Well, that’s a wrap for 2021 Q3 books!

As always, if you have book recommendations, please share them!

Happy reading!

📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2021 Q2]

Book Reviews [2021 Q2]

In the last three months, I read twenty books! That is way more than usual [hence why it’s taken me so long to put this review post together]. I think some other parts of my life have suffered as a result of all this time spent reading [sorry, Babe] — but then again, a lot of my “reading” is done via audiobook while I am cleaning, folding laundry, and chopping vegetables. So, on the bright side, maybe all this reading has made me a better homemaker [my least favorite of all the jobs I have ever held, if I’m being honest].

Regardless, these books have definitely taught me a lot. I’ve learned things about mental health, racism, healthy eating, politics, and Matthew McConaughey’s wet dreams [I may have learned a little too much].

Anyway, here we go!

April

The New Health Rules by Frank Lipman and Danielle Claro

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This super quick book is basically a list of tips to be your healthiest self – from what to eat, to how to exercise, to what chemicals to avoid. It’s a great place to start for someone who has no clue about how to be healthy. I didn’t learn anything new; however, and I disagreed with a couple of suggestions [for instance that everyone is somewhat gluten intolerant and should avoid gluten].

The trouble with claiming to share “health rules” is that there are very few things in the health industry that are agreed upon by everyone. And the information is constantly changing [hence the “new” part]. Still, this is an approachable guide…until the new new rules come along.

Four Pack Revolution by Chael Sonnen and Ryan Parsons

⭐️⭐️⭐️

First, I want to say that I am not a fan of MMA, UFC, boxing or any other “sport” whose goal is to bash another persons brains in. Also, I didn’t even know who Chael Sonnen was when I checked out this book from the library [he is a UFC fighter, for those who don’t know]. I chose it because I was curious what this “revolution” was that I had never heard of in my six years as a fitness professional.

This is basically a diet book; however, it is probably one of the best diets I have ever heard of because it sets attainable goals [the “four-pack”] and reminds you that the fitness professionals you see live unrealistic and largely unhealthy lives to achieve that chiseled look. I also really loved the idea of a weekly “reset meal,” as opposed to a cheat day. The line between “cheat day” and “binge day” is very blurry, so a “reset meal” allows you to eat a meal that you love, but only once a week and only one meal. After all, we need to be able to enjoy a special meal with friends and family sometimes.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book blew my mind. On the one hand, it affirmed what I instinctually knew – that I have not suffered from depression because my life has been privileged and easy – and totally shocked me by proving that depression actually may not be due to a chemical imbalance.

Now, I should explain that I’ve never had mental health issues, I’ve never seen a psychiatrist, or been to therapy of any kind – all of which are extremely common [and becoming more so] in our society. Sure, I’ve been sad at times and definitely experienced my share of postpartum “blues,” but I always understood that people who are truly depressed fall into a different category. Despite never having been depressed, I absolutely believed that people with “clinical depression” were those who had a chemical imbalance which made their depression so severe that they required drugs to “even them out.” I really believed this.

The United Nations—in it’s official statement for World Health Day in 2017—explained that “the dominant biomedical narrative of depression” is based on “biased and selective use of research outcomes” that “cause more harm than good, undermine the right to health, and must be abandoned.” There is a “growing evidence base,” they state, that there are deeper causes of depression, so while there is some role for medications, we need to stop using them “to address issues which are closely related to social problems.” We need to move from “focusing on ‘chemical imbalances’ to focusing on ‘power imbalances.’”

Johann Hari, Lost Connections

Say WHAT?!

I know that was a long quote, but oh my god, when we realize that the pharmaceutical industry has been selectively sharing research results in order to make medications appear more effective than they actually are, I mean, this changes everything – especially for the millions of people taking antidepressants and, as a result, suffering from all kinds of side affects like weight gain, low libido, and more depression!

According to the evidence in this book, the root of much of the depression in our society is a result of our lost connections—connections with purpose, respect, the natural world, meaningful work, a secure future, and each other. So, it turns out, there isn’t something broken inside of us, there is something broken in our society, in the way we live, in the things we value.

I was shocked that this book, which started out about depression, turned into a book about how to live a meaningful life—the same journey that I have been on for the past five years. While this book may be especially insightful if you have personal experience with depression, it is also just a great book for anyone who wants a joyful, meaningful life.

I highly, highly recommend it.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I really, really wanted to love this book, but it turned out to be awkwardly written. Or, at least, not what I expected. It was written as if it was trying to be a novel; however, it is non-fiction and lacking the historical details to make it flow naturally. It turned out to be a strange mixture of the two genres. Obviously in historical fiction, the author is able to take liberties to write a creative story. This author took no such liberties.

Still, I was fascinated by this story of young women in the 1920s who suffered absolutely horrendous illnesses and deaths due to painting radium dials. And I was shocked and horrified at the extremes that these dial companies went to in order to avoid being responsible for the suffering of these women.

This is a fascinating piece of little known history [at least, I had never heard of it before] which showcases how expendable female workers were at the time, and how important our workman’s compensation laws are today — in fact, these women are to thank not only for the discovery of how dangerous radium is, but for the improvement of the laws protecting workers rights.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“The beautiful thing about the piano is that you got white keys and you got black keys. And the only way to make the most beautiful, magnificent, and poetic noise is with both sets of keys working in tandem. You can’t just play all white keys, because you won’t maximize what the instrument has to offer. You can’t just play all black keys, because you won’t maximize what the instrument has to offer. But integrate the white and black keys together, and that is when the piano makes a joyful noise. That’s what this “we” is all about. If we can truly integrate white people and black people together, working in tandem, that’s when our world will make its joyful noise.”

Emmanuel Acho, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man

This is a great book for white people to read because it is like sitting down with a black friend [which most white people don’t even have to begin with] and asking the tough questions you have about the black experience in America. Questions about cultural appropriation, “black” vs “African American,” protesting and white privilege —he hits all the hot topics with clarity and candor, and he really does come across sounding like your best friend.

In my opinion, the great divide on the issue of race in our society is a result of the two sides not understanding one another. From my own experience talking to my white friends and family, I get the impression that white people simply do not understand what racism is or how seriously it affects people of color or how deeply embedded in society [and in us] it is. And since white people are to blame for this whole system and have remained adamant about their own innocence ever since, it is our responsibility to hear out our fellow Americans of color [without crying “reverse racism!” every five seconds].

This should not be so frickin hard.

A good place to start is with this book. In fact, I’m giving a copy of it to my white, ultra conservative, republican father-in-law for his birthday [because we frequently discuss race issues] – it is that accessible. I’m hoping Emmanuel Acho will become his friend too.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s no secret that I love Fredrik Backman. A Man Called Ove was one of my favorites until I read My Grandmother Told Me to Tell You She’s Sorry and now I can’t decide which I like better. But I have also read a book of his that I didn’t enjoy as much, so I didn’t know what to expect.

My verdict: it’s not my favorite, but I liked it a lot. It kept me guessing and at one point did genuinely surprise me, which I always love in a book. But, the end seemed to drag on…like, for a loooong time. I got a little bored at the end, honestly. This is a bit of a “who dunnit,” so after the big reveal, I felt like the book was pretty much over. Only it wasn’t.

Still, Backman writes with a unique style that I really love. He manages to be profound and funny, in a way that makes you want to laugh and cry at the same time. He really cuts to the heart of the human condition with these novels, which I absolutely love.

May

Every Day is Earth Day by Harriet Dyer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I love this title because it’s so true—everyday IS earth day, or at least it should be. This short book contains tons of facts, diagrams, and images that explain carbon emissions and how to reduce them. I would consider this a great starter guide. It’s short, uncomplicated, and very informative.

“It is estimated that, by 2030, that five billion people will belong to the “consumer class,” a type of lifestyle revolving around accumulating non-essential goods. Considering this, it’s clear to see that we have a slight obsession with buying material things. If we are going to stop climate change in its tracks, we need to re-evaluate our habits and focus on purchasing fewer but better items that are sustainably and ethically made.”

Harriet Dyer, Every Day is Earth Day

This is the commitment that I made five years ago when I purged 80% of my belongings and stopped mindlessly buying the cheapest crap I could find.

This book has many other tips, ideas, and even recipes to help everyone easily switch to a more sustainable life.

Climate change has become such a political issue these days, but it really shouldn’t be. Stewardship of the planet’s resources is just common sense and morally responsible. To do anything less is to stick one’s head in the sand. So, if you’re interested in damaging the planet less, this book is a great place to get started!

Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich goes undercover into low wage jobs around the country to see if she can afford to live on what she earned as a waitress, cleaner, and Walmart associate. I’m sure no one would be surprised with the answer. From shady motel rooms, to unreasonable bosses, the low-wage work scene circa 2001 was no picnic.

“It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition—austere perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are ‘always with us.’ What it is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: the lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog buns, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The “home” that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be “worked through,” with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle…They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that’s how we should see the poverty of so many millions of Americans—as a state of emergency.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, things have only improved nominally in the twenty years since this book was written. Yes, wages are higher now, but so is the cost of living — especially housing and education. And, since I read Maid, which is a recent version of the same low-wage struggle, I know that things have not changed as much as they should.

This book is great because it opens the eyes of middle-class Americans like me to the struggle of the people who clean our hotel rooms, serve our food, and stock the store shelves —and all the other low-wage workers who work hard to make society nice for all of us, and yet suffer for it.

“Today, the answer seems both more modest and more challenging: If we want to reduce poverty, we have to stop doing the things that make people poor and keep them that way….But at least we should decide, as a bare minimum principle, to stop kicking people when they’re down.”

Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

⭐️⭐️

This is my second Brené Brown book. I found it to be full of wisdom once again; however, I listened to the audiobook while driving twelve hours to Virginia Beach, and I felt like I couldn’t absorb all the information. I needed to actually read it. So, when I got home, I immediately requested it from the library. One look at the book, though, and I couldn’t read it. I had some PTSD from all my years of going to church bible studies [I even worked in the design department of a bible study publisher for a few miserable years] and this book wasaaaay too much like a book that a bunch of women might sit around to discuss over a cheese ball and crackers. I never even tried to read it, I just returned it.

The major concepts of the book stuck with me, like how to cultivate courage, compassion, and connection in your life, but the little details are all fuzzy. I think there were good things in the book, it just didn’t really stick with me.

Sorry, Brené.

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Despite their fame, I have only read one other Agatha Christie novel: Murder on the Orient Express. Probably because back when I was reading a lot of fiction [from childhood to high school], I was limited to the Christian fiction I could find in my church library. But a reader recommended And Then There Were None on my last book review post, so I picked it up from my library and took it on my beach vacation.

This was a great beach read, the only problem was that I finished it in two days and had to read my partner’s book selection for the rest of the trip [as you’ll see below].

Overall, I enjoy mysteries and though I prefer the ones where I can try to guess the culprit, Agatha Christie isn’t called the Queen of Mystery for nothing.

The Shining by Stephen King

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve never seen the movie, other than the snippet that plays at the drive-in movie theater in the movie Twister, so I really had no idea what I was in for when I picked this book up. My partner had brought it on vacation and since I had finished my Agatha Christie in record time, it was my only other choice.

And it turned out to be a really good one. I didn’t finish it until we were home from vacation, but I was pretty riveted the entire time, even having occasional dreams [or maybe nightmares] about it. You can tell I’m really into a story when I start talking out loud while reading it. And I was practically yelling at some points in this book. “DON’T DO IT, DANNY!!” When Brett asked if we would watch the movie now, I said, “If the movie actually shows the stuff in this book, there’s no way I’m watching it.”

But I definitely loved this book. I’m thinking about reading a few other Stephen King books now, though I’ve never thought of myself as a fan. I think the sequel, Doctor Sleep, will be up next—but I’m still not watching any of the movies. No way.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve spoken to so many of my white friends and family about race issues over the past five years [since the problems first became apparent to me], and it never ceases to amaze me when I read a book like this that literally quotes every rationalization I have heard from white people on the subject of race. In White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo breaks down these excuses from white America.

“For those of us who work to raise the racial consciousness of whites, simply getting whites to acknowledge that our race gives us advantages is a major effort. The defensiveness, denial, and resistance are deep.”

Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility

This is a struggle that I know well, and I find it so incredibly frustrating. I wish more white people would read this book [actually, I wish all white people would read this book], but even the title of the book is offensive to many white people who believe that they cannot be racist because they “are nice” or “have a black friend” or [worst of all] “don’t see color.”

C’mon, white America. We are better than this!

How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It all began with Barack Obama’s memoir, A Promised Land, which I started reading in February and didn’t finish until June [which is not to say it wasn’t a great book, but I’ll tell you about that later]. I was learning so much about American politics and the processes that are required to make change happen—and I’m not talking about learning the branches of government and how a bill becomes a law of any of those things I learned in high school. I’m talking about the real stuff: the fight for every vote, the filibuster fiasco, the pressure from constituents, the refusal to work with the opposing party, the role of midterms in literally making or breaking any opportunity for change. The whole thing is SO MUCH MORE COMPLICATED than they made it sound in government class.

So, anyway, I’ve had all this in my mind since February and I’ve become keenly interested in politics—not about fighting with people over which parties and policies are right, and not even about following everything happening on capital hill, but the theory behind politics. I became curious about the individual people in politics and how they plan to change America through a system that seems so broken.

And that led me to this book.

The authors, Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky, are political scientists and professors at Harvard University who study democracies [especially their demise] around the globe, but this is the first time when American democracy has come under their scrutiny. And, despite what you may assume, they do not blame all of America’s political woes on Donald Trump or the conservative right.

This book was probably the most educational book I’ve ever read. I really didn’t know so much of America’s political history, having ignored it completely until just the past few years. And like anything, the past matters. The political shift in the Reagan era had a huge impact on what is happening today. The race issues in America that were highlighted during Obama’s presidency helped pave the way for the Trump presidency. And so on. Understanding our history is so important.

This book explains political roles like “watchdogs” and the electoral college and others who are meant to safeguard our democracy against threats from individuals or the population as a whole.

But this book also explains the signs and symptoms of failing democracies, using examples of countries where democracy has fallen to dictatorship. And, ya’ll, we should be concerned, we should be very concerned. A lot of what is happening today in America is a precursor to the dismantling of democracy—deeply divided political views, false accusations and slander of political opponents [aka McCarthyism], suppression of voting rights, and so on.

“The fundamental problem facing American democracy remains extreme partisan division—one fueled not just by policy differences but by deeper sources of resentment, including racial and religious differences. America’s great polarization preceded the Trump presidency, and it is very likely to endure beyond it.”

Steven Levitsky, How Democracies Die

It’s not that they don’t talk about Trump, but they don’t blame Trump solely for the problem. They do, however, point out how many things Trump has in common with other authoritarians. Even the methods he used to win the presidency [casting doubt on our political system and politicians and democracy in general] has been happening around the world for ages, allowing powerful and popular men to overthrow governments. For instance, his tolerance and even encouragement of violence. At one point in the book they quote the violent things that Trump has said. Quite frankly, it is totally crazy to hear the man who was the leader of the free world say, “If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of them, would you? Seriously. Just knock the hell out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees. I promise. There won’t be so much of them because the courts agree with us.” This book was written before the capital riot, but I bet these guys were thinking, “we tried to warn you guys…”

This book also addresses the racial divide and the challenge we face to be a truly multi-racial democracy, which has apparently never been done before. Since our democracy was established and sustained by racial exclusion from the beginning, we have to find a way to bridge this chasm that has come between us as Americans and work together to repair our democracy for all Americans.

I could say a lot more, but…just go read this book.

The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Please, please, please read this book.

I don’t know what else there is to say other than that this book made me fall in love with Kamala Harris. I truthfully didn’t know anything about her when she was named Biden’s running mate, but now I can confidently say that she is absolutely 100% deserving of the position of Vice President and I really hope that she becomes President someday—preferably right after Biden so we can get and maintain some good momentum in the federal government for a while.

“For too long, we’d been told there were only two options: to be either tough on crime or soft on crime—an oversimplification that ignored the realities of public safety. You can want the police to stop crime in your neighborhood and also want them to stop using excessive force. You can want them to hunt down a killer on your streets and also want them to stop using racial profiling. You can believe in the need for consequence and accountability, especially for serious criminals, and also oppose unjust incarceration. I believed it was essential to weave all these varied strands together.”

Kamala Harris, The Truths We Hold

This is the kind of wisdom she brings through this book. I would quote the whole thing if I could.

“Democracy just cannot flourish amid fear. Liberty cannot bloom amid hate. Justice cannot take root amid rage. America must get to work. . . . We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust.”

Kamala Harris, The Truths We Hold

Amen, amen, amen!

Even if you don’t know her at all, even if you don’t like Biden at all, you’ve got to read this book so you can get to know our Vice President better. She has a heart of gold and has been fighting to protect and empower underprivileged groups in America from the beginning of her career. She is truly brilliant and amazing and I can’t say enough good things about her.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

If you’re going to read this book, do yourself a favor and get the audio book. It’s like listening to the one-man Matthew McConaughey show.

He starts out by saying that it’s not a memoir because he’s not sentimental enough. He says it’s more like a book of lessons, a guidebook of sorts. Either Matthew McConaughey has never read a memoir or he changed his whole plan after the intro, but this book is 100% a memoir. It’s about as memoir-y as they come.

The first half especially is very entertaining. He shares about his family growing up, the twenty-story tree house he built, his adventures in Australia, and how he wound up in the movie business.

Half way through, it starts to get weird though, as he starts following his wet dreams around the world [and it turns out he’s not great at geography].

I do, however, like how he says “green light” after every good thing that happens to him [like finally finding the Amazon River].

“We all have scars, we gonna have more. Rather than struggle against time and waste it, let’s dance with time and redeem it. Cause we don’t live longer when we try not to die. We live longer when we are too busy living.”

Matthew McConaughey, Greenlights

He’s not half bad as a philosopher with southern charm. I can’t say that I found the book to be as profound as McConaughey clearly does, but it definitely was entertaining.

June

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

After reading Michelle Obama’s memoir last year, I was so excited to read A Promised Land. When it first came out, I put a hold on it at my local library, but there were already OVER 500 HOLDS on it!!! At that rate, it would take me years to get my hands on a copy. So, Brett surprised me with my own copy. He definitely knows my love language.

This was a looooong book. It took me five months to finish it. It is 700 pages, so not exactly a short read, but it definitely wasn’t a quick read for me either, and also, I don’t have as much time to sit down with a physical book as I do to listen to audio books. So, I didn’t rush it, and taking my time allowed me to learn so many things that I never knew about running for an elected office and running a country. While I don’t think it needed to be quite so detailed, I also learned a lot about this incredible man. He continually shows grace and humor and kindness in a position that is stressful and exhausting, is constantly under scrutiny and bombarded by criticism. I took pictures of many, many pages [which is my way of saving quotes from physical books], and there are many, many excellent excerpts I could include here [though they are all very, very long, because Barack Obama is apparently not know for his brevity], but my favorite quote is actually from the very beginning of the book, in the preface, which he wrote in August of 2020.

“And so the world watches America––the only great power in history made up of people from every corner of the planet, comprising every race and faith and cultural practice––to see if our experiment in democracy can work. To see if we can do what no other nation has ever done. To see if we can actually live up to the meaning of our creed….If I remain hopeful, it’s because I’ve learned to place my faith in my fellow citizens, especially those of the next generation, whose conviction in the equal worth of all people seems to come as second nature, and who insist on making real those principles that their parents and teachers told them were true but perhaps never fully believed themselves. More than anyone, this book is for those young people––an invitation to once again remake the world, and to bring about, through hard work, determination, and a big dos of imagination, an America that finally aligns with all that is best in us.”

Barack Obama, A Promised Land

Crippled America by Donald J. Trump

⭐️

You may be surprised to see me read a book by Donald Trump, but let me explain. As I said earlier, I was on this political memoir kick and was really enjoying learning about these political leaders. So, naturally, I was interested in reading about Donald Trump.

When I began looking for a book, I immediately realized that there is no shortage of books on Donald J. Trump, all of them overwhelmingly pro-Trump [such as The Case for Trump by Victor David Hanson, whose audacious title appears to be a play on the popular Christian book series, The Case for Christ, as if Trump and Christ are one and the same] OR overwhelmingly anti-Trump [such as Everything Trump Touches Dies written by Rick Wilson, a Republican political strategist, no less––though I doubt the Republican party will let him in now.] As entertaining as it is to look through all the options, they were all so obviously biased from the outset and that wasn’t really what I was looking for.

Then I had an “ah-ha” moment, when I realized how much I appreciated hearing from these political leaders through their own books. I loved learning their sides of the stories that we so often get second, third, or even fourth hand––through media, friends, co-workers, and [god forbid] Facebook. It was refreshing to hear these people, who are so often cast as terrible and doing terrible things for our country, speak for themselves. So, I thought, Man, I wish Trump had a memoir. And turns out, he does––several, in fact. I chose Crippled America first because it was published in 2015 during his political campaign. I thought this would maybe let me see that Trump isn’t the devil that the liberal world paints him to be.

But I was wrong.

Besides being incredibly arrogant throughout the entire book, reading it was the exact same as hearing him speak in public, a lot of mockery of anyone who doesn’t agree with him and a lot of claiming everyone else’s ideas are terrible and calling all of his opponents [and half of his friends] weak and [his favorite insult] losers, and yet, not offering a single specific alternative to correct anything.

[It’s worth noting that the book was updated with a new title and new photo, even after he defended the photo in the book because he wanted to show how mad he is about America. And this is the man who won the Presidency…]

I did make a discovery about Trump and what I think the root of his problem was in office. He lacks diplomacy. As much as people thought it would be great to have a so called “brilliant businessman” in office instead of those so called “crooked career politicians,” we forgot one important thing. America is not a business. It is a government. The President is not the “boss” who gets to order everyone around. The President is also not the ruler of the entire world, and he doesn’t get to order around other countries like they are little minions. I mean, I get love for your country, but let’s be real, Americans take that patriotism way too far if they agree with Trump that the President gets to tell other world leaders what to do and then pull out the “big stick” on anyone who doesn’t obey. Things are not as simple as “winners” and “losers” when it comes to the world. What Trump calls weakness––that desire to see everyone get along and work together for the greater good––that’s what I call the mark of a great leader. And that, to put it simply, is why I don’t believe that Trump is one.

How Not To Die by Michael Greger

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

How Not To Die is right up my alley because, well, I love books about nutrition [and I don’t want to die, obviously]! And this one lined up perfectly with all the things that I have already learned over the past ten years and taught me some new things. Since reading it, I have bought turmeric and ground mustard for my spice cabinet, and keep fresh berries around at all times.

I really believe that food can be medicine. But in order for us to heal ourselves, we have to know what and how to eat. Unfortunately, as Greger points out in the beginning of the book, you’re not going to get that information from your doctor who has only been trained to treat diseases, not prevent them from happening. So, this book is absolutely necessary for anyone who wants to have their very best shot at a long and fruitful life.

“The top reason doctors give for not counseling patients with high cholesterol to eat healthier is that they think patients may ‘fear privations related to dietary advice.’ In other words, doctors perceive that patients would feel deprived of all the junk they’re eating. Can you imagine a doctor saying, ‘Yeah, I’d like to tell my patients to stop smoking, but I know how much they love it’?”

Michael Greger, How Not to Die

In the book, he breaks down the leading diseases causing death in America and explains what to eat to avoid these [seemingly inescapable] ailments. We often want to blame our bad health on genetics, but did you consider that, as Greger states, “the primary reason diseases tend to run in families may be that diets tend to run in families.” Food for thought…

Plant Paradox by Steven R. Gundry

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I read this book right after finishing How Not to Die, and wow, there could not possibly be two more different opinions on nutrition. According to Gundry, lectins are the cause of all your health woes and your weight gain and your bloated belly. Therefore, you should never eat any fruit or any vegetable that is an anatomical fruit [which means has seeds inside], no legumes, definitely no peanuts [because they are actually legumes], no processed foods [well, on that point he agrees with every other nutritionist] and no, or minimal, animal products [except four ounces of salmon a day]. I mean, seriously, what does this man eat??? But, he claims to have healed many, many people from debilitating diseases and autoimmune disorders––even claiming he helped Usher [yes, THE Usher] to get fit for a movie role, which I’m assuming happened because he couldn’t eat anything other than salmon, broccoli, avocado, and macadamia nuts. But who knows?

“Quite simply, plants don’t want to be eaten—and who can blame them? Like any living thing, their instinct is to propagate the next generation of their species.

Steven R. Gundry, Plant Paradox

So, what you’re saying is that the plants are sabotaging our health? Sounds like The Happening to me, which we all know is just a thriller and not real at all…right?

Well, I could do a lot more research on it, but I’m no scientist or doctor so I probably wouldn’t even know how to go about deciding if this book is telling me the truth and I should really never eat peanut butter again [I mean, really, I might prefer to be sick rather than give up peanut butter, just sayin’]. But I will say this, in How Not to Die, Michael Greger uses tons of evidence to support his nutrition recommendations. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time he said “double blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial,” I’d be able to go buy myself a new set of skillets [which I desperately need]. On the other hand, though, Gundry never cites any studies or scientific data. His sources are his patients, which he treats like guinea pigs.

Now I’m not saying the book is all bad. I like hearing differing opinions, so I found this book to be fascinating and I did find many of his recommendations to be in line with all the other sources of nutritional advice I have heard over the years. But some of this stuff seems to come out of left field. Only dairy of the casein A-2 variety? Good luck finding that at the grocery story. But, hey, why not just do what I do and skip the dairy altogether? Who knows? Maybe he is right and that’s why I feel so great without dairy?

Educated by Tara Westover

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was a fascinating first-hand account of a woman [who happens to be my age] who was raised “off the grid” and completely out of any form of education and, also, totally out of the doctors office, in the name of religion––that religion being Mormonism, but really the specific religion doesn’t matter that much. For me the major takeaway here is how few people actually believe what their religion teaches them. That’s a strange thing for me to get from this book, but the whole time I was thinking that people would call Westover’s family “extreme” even within their own religion. Her family refuses to see doctors or get vaccinations or go to hospitals despite truly terrible injuries and accidents because they believe their god will heal them. I mean, most people I know believe in the healing power of god [and pray for it all the time, though quite selectively], but they still all go to the doctor when they get sick, they take pain killers when they have a headache, and they get their vaccines. Most people I know don’t consider this a contradiction. But now that I’ve learned about the Westovers, I wonder whether the contradiction has just been lost on everyone because we don’t encounter people who really do believe what they say they believe.

I mean, in the end, Tara Westover makes the same discovery that I made when I was twenty-seven. But it must have been much harder for her after seeing how strong her family’s faith was. But, then again, doesn’t matter how strong your faith is in something, if that something is a lie.


Well, I am so relieved to finally be done with this post [my apologies for the length].

As always, drop me book recommendations! Two from this quarter were recommended by a reader and I really appreciate them!

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2021 Q1]

Book Reviews [2021 Q1]

One of my New Years resolutions for this year was to [re]focus on my health – getting rid of my late night snacking hobby, cutting out added sugars and processed foods, embracing veganism, getting all my needed nutrients, drinking more water, and, in general, rebuilding healthy habits. I am health obsessed normally, but last year’s Covid quarantine got me sidetracked a bit, so I needed to get back at it ASAP. To that end, I’ve added quite a few books about health and nutrition and food in general to my list, the first of which was Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, which led me down quite a rabbit hole of discovering where my food comes from [let me just say – yikes!].

Beyond that I also read a great book about racism [probably the best of the 10+ books I’ve read on the subject], a book about poverty in America [giving me all the feels with a hefty side order of guilt], a book about loneliness [which I read because I thought I was lonely, but it ended up teaching me to be a better person], an awesome memoir that changed my life forever [Glennon Doyle is my new hero], and one really good fiction book.

My reading tastes are clearly very eclectic.

Top reads so far this year:

  • How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
  • Untamed by Glennon Doyle
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Maid by Stephanie Land

These books couldn’t possibly be more different, but they each taught me valuable [even life-changing] lessons about life and love and health and politics and humanity and faith and forgiveness – and they all give me hope for a better future.

January

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I was already a vegan when I began reading [or listening to] Eating Animals, but if I hadn’t been, this book would have definitely sealed the deal. I wrote previously in Another Reason to Be Vegan how this book made veganism morally compelling, when before that, I was only in it for the environmental and health benefits. The book was really eye-opening, and for all you meat-lovers out there, pretty fair. While painting an accurately horrifying image of how meat is produced today, he also acknowledges [through a quote from a factory farm management employee] the difficulty [or impossibility] of feeding a billion people with just small, ethical, family farms. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to change our ways. The answer lies in eating less meat – or, even better, none at all.

My favorite quote from the book is not specifically about eating meat, but more broadly about our natural tendency to be willfully ignorant about issues that we know will demand a difficult change. We prefer to turn away rather than to do what is right. This has irked me about a million different causes, not just the animal welfare. This quote is so good, I stopped after reading it and repeated it it to my partner. Needless to say, he didn’t appreciate it as much as I did – but I hope you will.

“While it is always possible to wake a person who’s sleeping, no amount of noise will wake a person who is pretending to be asleep.”

Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals

Our society needs to stop pretending to be asleep.

If you are ready to face the truth and make changes, read this book. And then watch some powerful documentaries: Eating Animals, Meet Your Meat and Dominance.

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”

Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist

This is the most comprehensive, thought-provoking, and convicting book on racist ideologies that I have ever read. There is so much information in this book that challenged my understanding of racism – even being decently well-read on the subject – I can’t even begin to explain it all. It challenged so many of my previously held antiracist ideas and showed me how even in many of my attempts to be antiracist, there was still a racist idea at the center.

This is simply a must-read for every American…possibly every human.

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I decided to read this because I wanted to see the Netflix movie [which I still haven’t gotten around to yet], and I really enjoyed it. I don’t read much fiction, but I love a good story and this served as a sort of break from my intense [and largely depressing] nonfiction books. One of the best parts of the book was how skillfully Jordan used foreshadowing to imply the ending, but leaving enough unspoken to still surprise me in the end. It’s a sad story, and of course, it doesn’t have a happy ending – but it ends with hope.

February

Unknown Valor by Martha McCallum

⭐️

[Fun fact: I was actually in the middle of this book when Martha McCallum praised the capital rioters and was promptly demoted by Fox News.]

I don’t watch Fox News, and I had never heard of this woman before receiving this book from my in-laws. When I looked her up, I already knew I wouldn’t agree with her opinions on the war, but I gave it a chance anyway and read the whole thing. It was very informative, but in a dry history textbook sort of way. And, as expected, I disagreed with much of her perspective about war in general, like her belief in “total annihilation” as the only effective way to win a war, her insistence on painting everything about the Japanese as terrible and everything that America did as flawless, and also her repeated use of racial slurs to describe the Japanese. There was only one sentence in the entire book about the Japanese internment camps, which seemed to me like a terrible oversight in a book exclusively about our relationship with Japan. The one thing I agreed with was her admittance that America only joined the war because we were butt hurt after the attack on Pearl Harbor and wanted some revenge. [But all of this could be easily learned through a quick Wikipedia search.]

Anyway, I appreciated the book because it forced me to read a different perspective. And I did learn something new – that there apparently are still Americans who are big fans of war.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

My feelings about this book are so strong that I’ve had trouble putting them into words. I think what moves me the most was that this book made me feel, for the first time in seven years, like I’m not totally alone in my worldview. Like, omg, this woman gets me. Of course, Glennon Doyle has no idea that I even exist, but knowing that she exists has given me a sense of hope that I haven’t had since I embarked on my own spiritual journey [my own “untaming,” if you will]. Leaving behind what I was trained to believe and how I was trained to live has been a sad and lonely experience. But Untamed gave me hope that there are others like me. It also reinforced what I have come to believe about the world because [yay!] someone else out there actually agrees with me!

Such an awesome book. I listened to the audiobook twice in a week and I will definitely be buying my own copy to proudly display on my bookshelf [which as a minimalist only contains my 5-10 absolute favorite books].

I don’t know what other reactions will be since mine was so personal, but I do know that this book is full of truth and everyone should read it.

In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I watched Pollan’s documentary with the same title years ago and finally got around to reading the book. And it was a great book. [The documentary is also good, so if you have the time, go watch that too.]

The basic principles in the book are so simple and yet vital to healthy eating and, as a result, healthy living. I don’t really want to give away the three rules…so please read this book.

“All of our uncertainties about nutrition should not obscure the plain fact that the chronic diseases that now kill most of us can be traced directly to the industrialization of our food: the rise of highly processed foods and refined grains; the use of chemicals to raise plants and animals in huge monocultures; the superabundance of cheap calories of sugar and fat produced by modern agriculture; and the narrowing of the biological diversity of the human diet to a tiny handful of staple crops, notably wheat, corn and soy.”

Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

This is the root of the issue – and this book contains the key to healthy eating in our modern times of industrial agriculture.

[And it’s so good, I would later pick up another of Pollan’s books, which I’ll share with you below…]

How We Eat with Our Eyes and Think with Our Stomach by Melanie Mühl and Diana Von Kopp

⭐️⭐️

This book was interesting. Maybe two stars is too low of a rating because I did think it was interesting, but it was more a compilation of all the psychology studies surrounding eating than actually helpful to me as an eater. How should a restaurant describe its menu items? There’s a study about that. What music should be playing during dinner? There’s a study about that. What affect does an overweight server have on restaurant patrons? Yes – there is even a study about that. Like I said, it was interesting [ok, I’ve said that three times now], but I didn’t find it all that practical, which is, I suppose, what I was hoping to find.

March

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In The Omnivore’s Dilemma [a precursor to In Defense of Food] Michael Pollan traces the path of three different types of meals: an industrial/processed meal, an organic small farm meal, and a foraged/hunted meal.

For me, this whole exercise just gave more background [or proof, if you will] of what I already knew [and what I believe most of us intuitively know] about food. Food that is processed is not good for us. Food sprayed with pesticides is not good for us. Food that is fed antibiotics and growth hormones and lives knee-deep in its own shit is not good for us. Food grown in nutrient depleted soil, sprayed with chemicals, taken to laboratories and broken into its component parts then put back together into an unrecognizable [by nature] food-like substance is definitely not good for us.

It shouldn’t require this much research or a book of this length to convince us not to eat processed junk like McDonald’s cheeseburgers. And yet, here we are – continuing to eat [and in increasing quantities] what we know is not good for us.

Anyway, the book is really interesting. I learned a lot about our complicated history with corn, which is perfect timing because I live in a town surrounded by farmland and, of course, it’s all used to grow corn and soybeans. I’m literally in the middle of America’s farm belt and I can’t find a single organic family farm from which to buy my produce. Frustrating to say the least. But at least now I know how this conundrum came to be.

The Secret Life of Groceries by Benjamin Lorr

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

So, now that I’ve learned about the industrial meat business and industrial agriculture, I picked up this book [at the recommendation from a friend] to learn about the great American waste…er, I mean, food machine: the supermarket.

This book is a little bit all over the place. It covers everything from how Trader Joe’s came to be [at one point I thought that the book was only about Trader Joe’s because this seemed to go on for quite a long time], to the trucking industry [it’s as bad as we all assume, by the way], to getting product on supermarket shelves [all a giant money-making scam], to human trafficking in the fish industry [yep, think about that next time you order fish], to cutting off one eye from each female shrimp [this random little tidbit just stuck in my head for some reason].

Looking back on it now, it all seems rather random and boring, and yet, it never felt random while I was reading it and I was never bored. Only an excellent writer could make this topic so interesting that I looked forward to reading more…

And let me tell you, Benjamin Lorr is an exceptional writer.

Maid by Stephanie Land

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the first time that I have read a first-hand account of an adult living in poverty in America. Honestly, beyond what she writes here, I don’t know a thing about homeless shelters or food stamps or section eight housing or school grants or anything about it. And I recognize that it’s because I am incredibly privileged.

But I do know that a lot of people like me [who lack any real experiential knowledge of our welfare system] have very strong opinions about it – and everyone who benefits from it. This book brings us face-to-face with our prejudices, with our false stereotypes, with our wrongful assumptions – with Stephanie Land, to be exact.

I didn’t know that it was so much work to get help, or that some programs have waitlists that last years, or that there is such a strong stigma around receiving help, or that people can be so openly rude about it, or that it’s all just so…difficult. I have always been a supporter of welfare and all government programs that help people who are underprivileged, and if anything, this book has reinforced the fact that we don’t help nearly enough.

None of us can help the situation we’re born into and even if our problems are due to our own mistakes [like, in Stephanie’s case, falling for a guy who ends up being abusive] – we all make mistakes. Should we really have to suffer forever without help? Should we have to feel judged by society? Should we have to feel guilty about any leisure time or hobbies? Should have to do it all alone?

Stephanie’s story has a happy ending, obviously, but most stories don’t end that way. We the privileged few have the responsibility to help those who need it.

Ok, getting off my soapbox now…

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is the first book I’ve read by Brené Brown and I was drawn to it because I identify with the subtitle. I often feel like I am searching for true belonging, but always end up standing alone. I am always bucking the system, causing a stir, swimming against the current, and don’t have a tribe of my own. I don’t fit neatly into any group.

Though it’s comforting to know that Brené Brown also feels like she is standing alone, it didn’t really do anything for my “quest for true belonging,” but this book definitely holds a lot of wisdom that I will carry with me forever.

My favorite lesson learned:

“People are hard to hate close-up. Move in.”

Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness

It’s easy to make harsh judgments about groups of people without knowing the individuals, but this is damaging because it perpetuates lies and further divides us into categories of “us” vs. “them.” This is especially true when it comes to politics today. I don’t like it when I hear someone say that people on welfare are all lazy, so I shouldn’t say that republicans are all selfish. [Even though I really want to.] Neither of these are true or fair statements. Getting to know individuals allows us to see more clearly that people are not so bad after all.

Other important takeaways for me include:

– We have to stop de-humanizing people [no matter how much we dislike them], which is something I have to work on. [I have a tendency to call men who honk at or catcall me “pigs.”]

– The meaning of true belonging is different than fitting in. Belonging is being accepted for who you are and fitting in is changing who you are in order to be accepted. My whole life has been an education in “fitting in” and conforming to what was expected of a good Christian girl. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel true belonging anywhere. [And also why Untamed was such a helpful book for me]

– Give people the benefit of the doubt. It’s easy to assume that people are intentionally hurting us [or others], but it may be ignorance. I know some people who are very loving and wonderful individuals, but are also extremely sexist. Because I know that they are good human beings, I give them the benefit of the doubt. So the best response is educating rather than attacking. [On the flip side, I also have to accept criticism and be willing to learn. There is much that I am ignorant of as well.]


You know what I love most about reading? It allows me to hear different perspectives, meet different people, and understand different worldviews than I would ever come across in my daily life. It expands my understanding of the world. And even if I don’t agree with everything I read, every book adds to a more inclusive and well-rounded perspective of the world.

It’s an education in life.

And reading is also a quiet break from my kids. So that’s good too.

Let me know if you have book recommendations!!

Happy Reading!

📖 📖 📖

Karis

Book Reviews [2020 Q4]

Book Reviews [2020 Q4]

It’s almost time to post my 2021 Q1 book reviews, and I realized I never posted by reads from the last quarter of 2020!

🤦‍♀️

Better late than never, as they say! I read some really great books [and some not so great books] and I’m excited to share them with you!

October

Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha

⭐️

Truthfully, this book was a huge disappointment, but I know it’s my own fault for having different expectations. I was hoping for profound purpose-seeking, life-changing, minimalist, back-to-the-earth wisdom to come out of this woman’s misery [and let me tell you – there is a lot of misery in this story], but instead it left me feeling miserable.

Fashionopolis by Dana Thomas

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“This is how the fashion business has functioned on a grand scale for 250 years: creative thievery, indifference for others, corruption, pollution.”

Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis

As someone passionately opposed to the current fashion ecosystem, I am always interested in reading any books that shed light on this worldwide problem – a problem that we are all complicit in. So, of course I loved Fashionopolis.

It has now been four years since I have bought new clothes [save ethical underwear from a gift card two Christmases ago], and I have only bought used clothes twice in all that time – both times in order to meet a new job dress code. By now, my desire for new clothes has completely evaporated, and reading books like this remind me of why I quit buying clothes in the first place.

“We imagine ourselves as more learned, more egalitarian, more humane than our predecessors. More woke. That by procuring $5 tees and $20 jeans by the sackful, we aren’t causing grievous harm. We might even be creating good jobs on the other side of the world for those in need. Having visited many offshore factories and spoken to dozens of workers, I can assure you this is not reality.“

Dana Thomas, Fashionopolis

But Dana Thomas also reminds us that, though things are bad, we are not without the ability to make changes. Using our collective willpower and moral compass we can course correct. And, honestly, when we face the reality of our fashion industry as it stands today – we have no choice but to change.

Notorious RBG by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was nothing short of a total badass. Growing up in my conservative religious circle, her name was always associated with negative things like feminism and liberalism [both of which I have since had the maturity to form my own opinion of], so I never really knew anything about her. I just had a negative idea of her.

All that changed when I watched On the Basis of Sex, which is based on the true events of RBG’s career of leveling the playing field for women. I began watching and reading everything I could get my hands on about her.

I am so indebted to this woman. And if you are a female, you are indebted to her too. When she died on September 18 of last year, I was devastated – not because of any of the political drama that surrounded her passing, but because we lost from this earth such an amazing woman.

So, of course, I loved this book. If you don’t know anything about her life and career, you simply must read this book and watch the documentary about her life. If you are like I was and have been influenced by conservatives at home or in the media, I implore you to study this woman’s life and see for yourself how indebted we are.

I want my daughters to grow up knowing that the opportunities they have, the dreams they can achieve, the endless possibilities available to them as women are largely due to a woman named Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Notorious RBG.

November

Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“When we require that all people must say the same words or subscribe to the same creeds in order to experience God, we underestimate the scope and power of God’s activity in the world.”

Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled

Another great book by Rachel Held Evans about religion. Her books, including Searching for Sunday and Inspired, have been slowly coaxing me back to a new understanding of God that I lost back when, after twenty-five years, I finally recognized how errant and misguided my religion was. This book is a reminder that it’s not religion that defines God, try as it might. She is so much bigger than that.

“When we know how to make a distinction between our ideas about God and God himself [or herself], our faith remains safe when one of those ideas is seriously challenged. When we recognize that our theology is not the moon but rather a finger pointing at the moon, we enjoy the freedom of questioning it from time to time.”

Rachel Held Evans, Faith Unraveled

Evans’ books have all helped me to see that I don’t have to be a part of the Christian cult or culture in order to know God. And that realization has changed my life.

Rachel Held Evans died in 2019, which is a HUGE loss for the Christian world. Who is going to challenge all of the hypocrisy, pride, and false beliefs of the American Church now???

Superlife by Darin Olien

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’m a total health fanatic, so this book is right up my alley. It is also very similar to my own experiences of a healthy lifestyle. Darin Olien is not a doctor or health professional, which would probably cause many people to toss out this book as unfounded [though it provides plenty of resources and statistics], but my own journey to health and wellness has followed a similar path of trial and error. For instance, I, like Olien, am a vegan because I just feel better when I’m eating a vegan diet. Do I need a doctor to justify this for me? Or to tell me medically or scientifically that being a vegan is better? No, I don’t. [Plus, no one will because the meat industry runs this country.] I have found what works best for me and the proof is in my body. I think we often rely too much on what the nutritionists say and too little on our own intuition. After all, the “professionals” have gotten it wrong plenty of times.

“Rather than sending us to the pharmacy with prescriptions, our physicians should send us to the farmers’ market.”

Darin Olien, Superlife

The basic gist of this book is that our bodies suffer from chronic illness, pain, fatigue and disease because we aren’t taking care of our bodies at a cellular level to prevent or treat the issues. Instead of fueling, hydrating, oxygenating, detoxing and exercising, we medicate, which masks the problem [and often causes new problems].

“With our eager cooperation, food manufacturers and restaurant chains and fast-food giants get rich by making us sick. Then the pharmaceutical giants and the insurance companies and hospitals and other health care providers get rich by making us better. Not healthy, mind you, but well enough to work and pay the bills we’ve just run up. If we ate our broccoli and quinoa and salads and berries and almonds and drank our water and green tea and took long, vigorous hikes and got enough sleep, we might feel great, but who would profit? Nobody. What kind of system is that?”

Darin Olien, Superlife

I can say this about Darin Olien, he is definitely healthy, fit and eternally awesome, so I’ll have what he’s having, thanks!

The Call of the Wild + Free by Ainsley Arment

⭐️⭐️⭐️

“A magical childhood isn’t about having the best toys, gadgets, and vacations. It’s actually the opposite. It’s about simplicity. A magical childhood is about freedom. Freedom to explore, discover, and play.”

Ainsley Arment, The Call of the Wild + Free

I’ve been homeschooling my preschooler and first grader this year [due exclusively to covid], and so I picked up this book to try to be a better “homeschool mom.” Truthfully, reading this book made me realize how much I am not cut out to be a homeschool mom. And I am confident that I will put my kids back into the traditional classroom next fall.

But, that being said, there was a lot of beautiful ideas in this book like the quote above, which I love. Freedom and creativity and imagination and play are all so important for children. I’ve been lucky to spend this time with my kids to explore the outdoors and make nature art and study the stars by actually studying the stars and read books in our backyard while soaking up sunshine.

However, there are still very real things that my kids need to know, and as far as I can tell, they won’t learn to read by osmosis. I have to do some legit teaching. The imagination, play, freedom, exploration – that I can do. For me, the teaching is the hard part. I’m too much of a planner, organizer, task-lister. The very idea of a “daily rhythm” instead of a “daily to-do list” kind of makes me twitchy. If I’m going to teach, it has to be structured. I just can’t do it any other way.

But, anyway, I digress.

For this [hopefully] brief time of homeschooling, this book was at least an encouragement to keep on keeping on.

Saving Capitalism by Robert B. Reich

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I stumbled upon the documentary by the same name on Netflix and decided to watch it one night while Brett was in Florida for training [he does not like documentaries, unfortunately]. It was so good that I immediately borrowed the audiobook, in which the movie is based, and started listening.

And let me tell you, I learned A LOT. In fact, ever since I finished it, I’ve talked about it so much people are probably sick of hearing about it. It’s the first book I’ve ever read about capitalism and the economy and it simultaneously reinforced what I already knew and blew my mind.

The opposing arguments about capitalism in America today are basically, government deregulation vs government oversight [Republican vs Democrat respectively]. This is constantly being debated by both sides. Republicans want less government “interference” and democrats want more government regulation. But as Reich clearly shows throughout the book, the very concept of a “free market” is a myth since government rules are what creates the market to begin with and the real question is not whether the government should regulate the market, but how the government should regulate it.

A market—any market—requires that government make and enforce the rules of the game. In most modern democracies, such rules emanate from legislatures, administrative agencies, and courts. Government doesn’t “intrude” on the “free market.” It creates the market.

Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism

And even more important than “how” is the question “for whom.” Reich also makes it clear through plenty of examples [such as in the quote below] that the government is no longer regulating capitalism in an effort to protect the working class or the majority of the population, but that they are largely serving the wealthiest people and businesses who have the greatest means to influence regulations in their favor.

“Lehman Brothers’ Repo 105 program—which temporarily moved billions of dollars of liability off the bank’s books at the end of each quarter and replaced them a few days later at the start of the next quarter—was intentionally designed to hide the firm’s financial weaknesses. This was a carefully crafted fraud, detailed by a court-appointed Lehman examiner. But no former Lehman executive ever faced criminal prosecution for it. Contrast this with the fact that a teenager who sells an ounce of marijuana can be put away for years.”

Robert B. Reich, Saving Capitalism

In the end, the most frustrating part is that I see most political opinions being based solely on party allegiance, rather than on actually understanding the system or caring about what helps the most people.

This is an important read for anyone interested in the economy of America or who believes themselves to be strongly political [on either side] because this book could be the bridge that unites America once again.

December

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I just realized that I started out the year with Roxane Gay’s book, Hunger, and then closed out the year with Bad Feminist. Very different books, but both very compelling.

I love Roxane Gay because of her bravery. Even the intro to this book is a brave confession of how hard it is to be a feminist – with everyone’s false stereotypes and negative associations with the word. I love her for being a bad feminist.

“When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement. In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed.”

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

[Ironically, this is the same excuse Christians make. Who know Christians and feminists had so much in common!]

Two years ago, I probably couldn’t even tell you what feminism was, but over time I’ve pieced together my own version of feminism, which pretty much lines up with Roxane’s.

No matter what issues I have with feminism, I am a feminist. I cannot and will not deny the importance and absolute necessity of feminism. Like most people, I’m full of contradictions, but I also don’t want to be treated like shit for being a woman.

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

Damn straight.

👏 👏 👏

Well, there you have it.

I read 42 books in 2020, four of which were fiction. The rest were nonfiction books that challenged my worldview and [hopefully] helped me become a more compassionate, empathetic, and loving member of our global society.

What have you been reading lately??? I welcome any and all book recommendations!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2020 Q3]

Book Reviews [2020 Q3]

First of all, how exciting is it that we are in the final quarter of 2020!!! I cannot wait to bid this entire year “Buh-bye!”

Anyway, here are the reviews of the books that I read in July, August, and September – and, folks, these are some GREAT books! Just wait til you get to the middle where I read four back-to-back books by AMAZING women. I can’t possibly give them enough stars to show how much I valued the wisdom and insight they have shared through these books.

[As always, my star reviews are just for fun and only represent my personal opinion of how enjoyable, informative, and/or transformative the book is – there is no specific judging criteria. And as you will see, most books get a lot of stars because I love books and rarely finish a book I don’t enjoy.]

July

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I LOVE Maya Angelou. Though my list of inspiring female heroes gets longer every year, she was one of the first on the list. Years ago I read her book, Mom & Me & Mom, and I have enjoyed learning about her life and activism and reading her poetry ever since – but what I think is so extraordinary about Maya Angelou is her ability to overcome all of the obstacles of racism and sexism to become the wise and inspiring woman that she was.

“People whose history and future were threatened each day by extinction considered that it was only by divine intervention that they were able to live at all. I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed.”

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is the story of her childhood and a powerful reminder of how recently racism was legal in this country. Of course, racism is still prevalent in America today – albeit more surreptitious – and we still have a lot of work to do.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,

of things unknown, but longed for still,

and his tune is heard on the distant hill,

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Naturally Tan by Tan France

⭐️⭐️⭐️

As I said in my last review, I ADORE the show Queer Eye and every single one of the “Fab Five” so when I heard that Tan France, the fashion guru from the show, had a memoir out, I of course added it to my list. Took FOREVER to get my hands on it at the library, though, because every other sane human being is also a huge fan of Tan.

Anyway, I finally was able to borrow the audiobook [which I preferred anyway because who doesn’t want to listen to Tan France’s beautiful British accent for seven hours?!?] and it surprised me in a few ways.

First of all, France writes a lot about racism. I had picked up the book because I love him. I honestly hadn’t given any thought to his race. I also naturally assumed that the themes in his book would revolve around the struggle of being gay and coming out, but instead, he writes very openly [and painfully] about experiencing racism while growing up in England and wishing that his skin was lighter and seeing very little representation of people from Southeast Asia in the media.

Like this very insightful bit about racial profiling around the events of 9/11, quoted below.

“Every year, on the anniversary of 9/11, and in various places around the United States, I see the words ‘Never Forget.’ I understand that sentiment. I completely agree with honoring those who lost their lives. We must never forget them, and we must always be vigilant. But there is another side to this, too. It means we never forget to see my people as a potential threat. We haven’t stopped racially profiling… these feelings of loss and fear and anger and tragedy affect all of us, regardless of the colour of our skin.”

Tan France, Naturally Tan

I had never once considered what our “remembrance” might mean to all of the brown people who were suddenly treated as if they were potential threats, rather than as fellow citizens who also suffered in the tragedy.

And you’ve got to appreciate Tan’s humorous way of enlightening us about the struggles of being a minority…

“There are two things a brown person cannot do, and those are to scream or run through an airport with a backpack on. We struggle to catch flights, too. But we’re not allowed to run, because that would alarm all the white people.”

Tan France, Naturally Tan

I am so glad I read [or listened to] this book for the simple reason that it has made me a more racially aware member of the human species – and for that I am very grateful.

The second surprise was how judgmental his fashion advice sounded. France is the fashion police [er…I mean “expert”] of Queer Eye, so obviously his book is going to contain fashion advice, but I didn’t agree with a lot of it and most of it was delivered rather harshly. On the show, I have never heard Tan say anything like “you should never wear that” or telling someone that he hates their style choices — but he does in his book. I’m just not a fashion type of gal, so the short bits of fashion advice sprinkled throughout the book didn’t appeal to me at all. [Hence the three stars.]

But none of that changed my opinion of Tan France or my undying love of him and the other men on Queer Eye. Overall, I thought his book was informative about cultural issues [you’ve got to read his educated opinion on America’s healthcare scam…er…I mean “system”] like racism and relationships and homosexuality and growing up different than everyone else around you.

I mean, really, we are all different from one another. Some of us are just more easily able to blend into the crowd.

Thanks, Tan!


Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Well, it looks like I will read every book by Rachel Held Evans this year. [I read another one of hers this quarter which only leaves me one more to go.] I find her books to be so helpful because they speak to my soul in a way that no other person or book ever has. It is like she really understood all of my struggles with the church and god and religion.

My favorite quote from this book represents the basic gist of the entire thing [and all of her other books as well].

“Millennials aren’t looking for a hipper Christianity. We’re looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity.”

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

My issue with Christianity is not that it is too strict or that it interferes with my “carnal desire” to live selfishly and only care about myself. I didn’t leave the church because I wanted to become a lazy, lascivious fornicator, or because I just want to sleep in on Sunday mornings. Quite the contrary. I can’t stomach religion in America because it is a sad farce that doesn’t come close to actually representing the book that it claims to believe. In the past five years that I have distanced myself from the church, I have realized that it is much easier to believe in god [and live a moral life] apart from the watered-down, fluffy, feel-good, money-obsessed, pandering church of America.

“We millennials have been advertised to our entire lives, so we can smell b.s. from a mile away. The church is the last place we want to be sold another product, the last place we want to be entertained.”

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

Anyway, read this book if you are struggling with the church’s complacency, judgement, perfectionism, entertainment, promise of prosperity, or any other lie that is commonly promoted within those hallowed halls.

Amen.


Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry

⭐️⭐️⭐️

As a mother myself, I felt a lot of things while reading this books. As a woman who is considered white, a lot of the content was hard to relate to for obvious reasons, but all the more important because of it. My intention in reading is to gain perspective, and this book definitely provided perspective. Just as Between the World and Me, which I read earlier this year, helped me to see the struggles of being black in America, Breathe, helped me to see the struggles of being a black mother in America. And it is heartbreaking. I hope I always acknowledge and appreciate my privilege – and use it, not for my own advantage, not to live a life of wealth and ease, not to protect my own children, but to right the injustices that remain between races in our world.

“Something distinct has happened in your time. It is he product of camera phones, the diminishing whiteness of America, the backlash against a Black presidency, the persistence of American racism, the money making weapons industry, the value added for murder in police dossiers, law and order policing. The epistrophe of our era: hands up, don’t shoot, can’t breathe, can’t run, can’t play, can’t drive, can’t sleep, can’t lose your mind unless you are ready to lose your life, dead dead dead. We wail and cry, how many pietás? We protest their deaths; we protest for our lives.”

Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

I also really appreciated her spiritual perspective, which is very similar to mine.

“That is another answer to the question why I don’t go to church even though I do love church. Because I respond to everything that feels like God. Living is church.”

Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

Preach it, sister.

August

Becoming by Michelle Obama

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One of my favorite things about growing up has been changing my views on…well, everything. I’ve been able to form my own opinions, free from the influence of institutions and churches and communities and family. It has been a freeing journey. Many [but not all] of my previous strongly-held beliefs have taken 180° turns. By intentionally exposing myself to opinions that differ from my own [something that was expressly prohibited when I was growing up] has allowed me to gain perspective and perspective changes everything. I’ve learned that people are all pretty much the same and they mostly disagree with one another because of ignorance [and this applies to both sides – which I can attest to, having now been on both sides of many issues].

One of the major perspective changes in my life has been regarding politics. Having been raised in a home where Democrats were always spoken of negatively and I never heard a single positive thing about Obama or the Obama administration, it was so refreshing to open my eyes and form my own opinions of Barack and Michelle Obama. And of course, it was only after their time in the White House was over that I truly appreciated how pivotal their leadership was in our country.

“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

In many ways, I have been becoming too.

Anyway, I loved Michelle’s book – because I am now free to love whatever and whomever I choose. It was inspiring and profound and full of all the meaning and hope that I needed to cope with our current sad political condition [and I’m not only referring to the presidency, but also the polarizing and infighting of the American people].

“Dignity had always gotten us through. It was a choice, and not always the easy one, but the people I respected most in life made it again and again, every single day. There was a motto Barack and I tried to live by, and I offered it that night from the stage: When they go low, we go high.”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

If for no other reason, the motto above should be proof that the quality of our county’s leader cannot be solely measured by their campaign promises or their political party designation – but some part of our choice should depend on the character of the individual we are endorsing.

I, for one, would rather pay higher taxes and hell, I’d even vote for a socialist if they were a person of character who cared more about the lowliest citizens of this country than their own power and prosperity.

But then, I am not a lover of money. And I believe that capitalism is one of [if not the] greatest evil in this world.

“Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?”

Michelle Obama, Becoming

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Part memoir, part call to action, The Moment of Lift, is so important for today’s humanitarian and charitable work. I have so much respect for Melinda and Bill Gates for their generosity [which I first heard about in the book The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer] and commitment to lifting people out of poverty. Melinda’s book is especially powerful because it shows how empowering women is the key to economic advancement. [Score one for the feminists!]

Speaking of feminism, I have read many different definitions of the term. This is Melinda’s:

“Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential, and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.”

Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift

This might be my favorite definition yet – though I still like mine better [someday I’ll post a long rambling rant about feminism]. This actually informs my idea of what feminism is and how I can support the important work of feminism around the world.

“As women gain rights, families flourish, and so do societies. That connection is built on a simple truth: Whenever you include a group that’s been excluded, you benefit everyone. And when you’re working globally to include women and girls, who are half of every population, you’re working to benefit all members of every community. Gender equity lifts everyone. Women’s rights and society’s health and wealth rise together.”

Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift

It has been proven over and over again – empower women, and you’ll empower their entire community. This book shows us how and gives us the example of an inspiring woman who is literally changing the world for the better.


The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s been a minute since I read a book about the fashion industry. I believe the last one was last year when I read Elizabeth L. Cline’s other book, Overdressed. While Overdressed went into detail about all the problems in the fashion industry today – injustice, exploitation, pollution, greed, corruption, thievery, to name a few – The Conscious Closet serves as a guidebook for cleaning up your closet so you can clean up you conscience.

I’ve said before [in my many “Clothing Ban” posts from a few years ago] that I began this journey to ethical shopping – and particularly ethical clothing – because I was interested in minimalism. At the time I was more concerned about how much clothing I had, not how my clothing was made. Well, it turned out to be a rabbit hole that has launched me into the lifelong personal activist category. And I continue to learn new things, pick up new practices, and become more and more passionate about creating an ethical and sustainable fashion industry.

This book has challenged me to [further] reduce my clothes washing routine, wash by hand when possible, hang dry more, don’t give up on stains, mend my own ripped seams and do everything else in my power to extend the life of my clothing [which it turns out, is a lot].

Elizabeth L. Cline also shares the hard truths that we all need to face about our clothing – our clothes are one of the greatest sources of injustice and pollution in the world today. Even a “Made in America” tag does not guarantee a living wage, as the clothing companies scramble to increase profits and, at the same time, to feed the American consumer’s constant demand for lower prices.

If you haven’t already, please, I beg of you, get off this insane merry-go-round of clothing consumption. CLOTHES ARE NOT MEANT TO BE CONSUMED. Do not throw them in the trash. Do not buy more clothing when you have things to wear in your closet. And when you do buy something, do your conscience a favor and make absolutely certain that our fellow humans and our Mother Earth were not harmed in the process. [Good luck.]


Digital Minimalism

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The content of this book is timely and necessary; however, I found it very dry — maybe because I listened to the audiobook and the term “digital” is not exciting enough to keep me awake at 2am on my way into work.

Ironically, I finished this book a few weeks before the Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma, came out and they basically contain the same information. If you want to hear the scary truth about your social media accounts [and why it is so frickin hard to put your phone away], I recommend just watching the documentary. But if you want more depth and perspective, by all means, pick up Cal Newport’s book.

Since I personally gave up social media four years ago, I don’t feel like I am very susceptible to many of the issues discussed in this book, and reading it only made me all the more grateful that I’ve already kicked the social media habit so I can enjoy a full and meaningful life without it.

One of the most eye-opening things I learned was that the big social media tech giants make money by selling out attention to advertisers. We are the product. So, it serves these companies to keep us on our phones for as long as possible. They want us to keep scrolling, keep liking, keep reading, keep watching for as long as possible. All of the advances to the apps and phones were built around the goal – not to make our lives easier, or to benefit us in any way – but to keep our attention longer so that they can make more money.

Now that explains a lot…

If any of us gave them the benefit of the doubt, we were fools. We all know that money runs this world and the root of all evil is always a love of money. [The Bible got this one right, though most Christians want to explain away this verse while taking everything else in the good book literally. Also, I will add that this same concept is readily found in most religions around the world because – let’s be honest, everyone knows thy greed is a terrible thing.]

“The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.”

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

September

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️

In general, I hate books like this – books that have some sort of “challenge” for the author to complete and document along the way. I don’t like them mostly because I like to see real change, not temporary change for a book contract. Ya know what I mean? BUT, I do love Rachel Held Evans, so I read this book.

It was pretty ridiculous – which is exactly what the Bible’s teachings about womanhood are, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course, I still love Evans and I think she did the best that could be expected with this…er…project. But no one in their right mind [not even all the pious bible thumpers out there] would ever even consider following all the rules for women found in the Bible, which beautifully illustrates the modern church’s pick-and-choose theology. Geez, it would be so nice to believe in a book inspired by god where I get to keep all the “god is love” stuff and toss out all the “women must be silent” stuff.

“I’ve watched congregations devote years and years to heated arguments about whether a female missionary should be allowed to share about her ministry on a Sunday morning, whether students older than ten should have female Sunday school teachers, whether girls should be encouraged to attend seminary, whether women should be permitted to collect the offering or write the church newsletter or make an announcement . . . all while thirty thousand children die every day from preventable disease. If that’s not an adventure in missing the point, I don’t know what is.”

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood Womanhood

Though it wasn’t her intent, this book just made me more irritated with the modesty, purity, WWJD Christian culture I was raised in. I mean, I just want some consistency. Is that so hard? If you believe the book should be interpreted literally, then you have to interpret it all literally – not just the parts that are culturally acceptable. Biblical Womanhood proves that no one takes the Bible literally anymore, at least not in its entirety.

“If you are looking for verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for for verses with which to liberate or honor women, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to wage war, you will find them. If you are looking for reasons to promote peace, you will find them. If you are looking for an out-dated, irrelevant ancient text, you will find it. If you are looking for truth, believe me, you will find it. This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not “what does it say?”, but “what am I looking for?” I suspect Jesus knew this when he said, “ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.” If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm.”

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Rachel Held Evans is so wise – maybe the wisest human I have ever known [not that I really knew her]. If only she were still alive. I would be writing her letters saying “help my unbelief.”


Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

I may even buy a copy.

Because of my complicated religious history, I was concerned about how to raise my kids to be ethical, moral, generous, loving, compassionate, and full of character without the creepy, all-seeing “Dad” upstairs sending car accidents for people who don’t obey all the rules, and giving money and crowns to people who do. Threatening with eternal damnation seems to be really effective in correcting bad behavior [as does beating your children, aka “spanking”] – but fear is such a terrible motivator and doesn’t encourage critical thinking or moral independence. According to this book, this type of behavior correction [through fear] actually has the opposite affect in the long run because it does nothing to shape a kid’s moral character. And on the flip side, promising earthly and heavenly rewards for good behavior might work for the short game, but living in the world for any amount of time will show you that rewards [at least on earth] are not at all dependent upon behavior.

Well, this book contains the answer in the form of secular humanism – which basically takes the moral view that all humanity [and all living things] are best served when we take care of one another. This is a new type of morality that I have never heard of before, but makes a lot of sense. Just as we need the planet in order to survive, we also need one another.

“Seeking, without religion, the best in, and for, human beings.”

Definition of “Humanism” from Chambers Pocket Dictionary

Though I am not exactly secular in my beliefs [at the time of this writing], I do appreciate all of the parental advice about raising free thinkers found in this book. I’m not certain what I want my kids to believe when they grow up, which is why I am raising them unencumbered by some religious dogma or even my own personal opinions. I just want them to think for themselves. I want them to believe something because they believe it, not because I believe it or because Brett believes it or because all their friends believe it or because 75% of their country believes it. I am trying to give them the freedom to find their beliefs. And I truly believe that if their faith choice in the future doesn’t line up with my own, that will be fine.

As a result, I recently bought them several children’s anthologies about religions – all different religions – Christian mythology, different stories about how the world began, a book about different gods that people have believed in [past and present], and a book compiling 52 different stories from different religions and cultures around the world.

None of these books teaches a “truth” or speaks about facts. They just tell stories – many, many stories from all over the world. My hope is that they will give my kids some perspective. There is no way for me to hide them from the dogma of Christianity that will inevitable result in some kid on the playground telling them they are going to burn in hell, but I can help them understand that there are many beliefs in the world and it is up to them to search out truth and form their own beliefs.

There are so many quotable passages in this book, so many “ah-ha!” moments, I couldn’t possibly share them all. I highly recommend this book – and not just for secular parents, but for all parents because even if you raise your kids within the confines of your religion, you can’t guarantee they will stay there.


The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Wow. Just wow.

Ok, well I have a few other things to say about this book too. The Color of Compromise could not be more important for this moment in history when the white church in America is trying vehemently to deny any participation in racism, all the while racism is raging across our nation – which is largely made up of the white church. I mean, c’mon, just plain common sense would tell us that not all white Christians throughout history were abolitionist, northern liberals, and Underground Railroad conductors – despite what church leaders want us to believe. In fact, the white Christians who did support the abolition of slavery and the end of the Jim Crow era and the civil rights movement and the desegregation of schools – they were the extreme minority. Most white religious leaders did not even support Martin Luther King Jr, who during his time leading the Civil Rights Movement was viewed very much in the same way that the conservative white community currently views the Black Lives Matter movement.

Hindsight is 20/20 folks. Trust me. [Side note: No matter who you are, you are going to want to be on the Black Lives Matter side of history. The other side will most definitely not be remembered positively.]

Tisby’s brief survey of the racial [and racist] history of Christianity in America was eye-opening and draw-dropping and at the same time so obvious that I can’t believe I didn’t connect all these dots myself.

For instance, growing up in a white church, I always thought [and was expressly told] that black Christians have their own churches because white and black people prefer different styles of worship, as if it was just a cultural difference. I failed to recognize [and I was never told] how the black church came to be as a direct result of racism within the church. Omg. Everything is making so much more sense now.

Of course the church excluded them. White people excluded black people from everything! If the church had been different then all of our churches would be racially mixed right now. Take a look around your church. If it’s not racially mixed [and I mean more than a handful of families of color], then you can bet it’s a result of the church’s complicity with racism.

This book also explains the evangelical revolution of the 1970’s [which explains why my father became an evangelical at that time – it was the cool thing to do!], the republican revolution which led to the promotion of capitalism and law-and-order policing – two economic systems which may have sounded good at the time, but have wreaked HAVOC on minorities and immigrants and the poor and disenfranchised and, oh yeah, anyone who isn’t a white, male Christian.

Since leaving the church, I have been puzzled about why everyone within religion tries to pretend that they are the minority. I believe this is partly because according to the Bible, true believers must experience persecution [and let’s face it, no Christians are being persecuted in America]. But I also think that this line of reasoning came about in order to claim innocence of racism and all of the evil it created. It is hard to look at the historical facts of racism and admit that the legacy of the white church in America played a role in this great evil. I mean, it is SO HARD that while Tisby describes two lynchings, I literally sobbed in my car. Some evils are so great that it is hard to face them – but face them we must.

“Christians complicity with racism in the twenty-first century looks different than complicity with racism in the past. It looks like Christians responding to ‘black lives matter’ with the phrase ‘all lives matter.’ It looks like Christians consistently supporting a president whose racism has been on display for decades. It looks like Christians telling black people and their allies that their attempts to bring up racial concerns are ‘divisive.’ It looks conversations on race that focus on individual relationships and are unwilling to discuss systemic solutions. Perhaps Christian complicity in racism has not changed after all. Although the characters and the specifics are new, many of the same rationalizations for racism remain.”

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise

You have GOT to read this book!


Well, that’s it! Great books! I’ve learned a lot, been challenged to change, been given great advice, been asked tough questions, been brought to tears, and been made to laugh out loud, all from these books.

What on earth would I do without reading?!?

📖

Karis

Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

Well, I was supposed to post these reviews at the end of June…oops. Better late than never, I suppose.

I read some really, really great books over the past few months. My reviews are lengthy because I love to add in my favorite quotes. If you don’t read any of my words, I hope you will at least read the words from these amazing authors and their amazing books that have helped to shape my understanding of the world and have inspired me to do more, give more, be more, and love more.

April

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I am SO grateful that I have been introduced to Peter Singer [through one of the books in my last review – Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts]. In fact, I can’t believe I have lived for so long without even hearing of this brilliant ethicist. I love the straightforward, logical thought process that he uses in this book to confirm what I already know, but is very hard to live out as a privileged American: that we are morally responsible to ease the suffering of the poor around the world.

If you are paying for something to drink when safe drinking water comes out of the tap, you have money to spend on things you don’t really need.

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

Though I had already started on the path to giving more to the world and taking less for myself, this book was like a friendly pat on the back and a gentle push forward. By providing statistics and arguments that only further fueled my growing desire to change the world through giving.

If it is so easy to help people in real need through no fault of their own, and yet we fail to do so, aren’t we doing something wrong? At a minimum, I hope this book will persuade you that there is something deeply askew with our widely accepted views about what it is to live a good life.

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

Being an ethical human being – especially as an American – is challenging and complicated and much harder than one would think given all of our technology and wealth and luxury. But if you want to live a moral and ethical life, I have three words for you:

READ THIS BOOK.


Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is another book that every man, every woman, every American must read. By sharing stories of real women they have encountered during their years as journalists for The New York Times, Kristof and WuDunn expose the terrifying truth of what women around the world endure. From ritual killings to genital cutting to slavery and forced prostitution – this book was a wake up call.

More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. More girls are killed in this routine gendercide in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the 20th century.

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

I also watched the documentary with the same name, which takes you into these remote parts of the world and introduces you to a heinous form of sexism that my feminist western mind can’t even comprehend. And, in my experience, the wealthy western world has completely turned its back on these women.

As someone who spent the majority of my life practicing Protestant evangelicalism and received my bachelors degree in biblical studies, I have been so puzzled by the pious, religious American perspective that the only lives to be saved are the unborn lives. In my experience, which is extensive, very little emphasis is put in the millions of children who die daily from preventable diseases or the half a billion people who don’t have access to clean water or the millions of women who die in childbirth or the refugees or the orphans or the widows….

Americans of faith should try as hard to save the lives of African women as the lives of unborn fetuses.

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

Besides just sharing the horrors, this book also shows how educating and empowering women holds the key to improving economies, ending extreme poverty, and elevating developing communities.

After finishing this book [which was so compelling, I cannot stress it enough], I began rethinking how we can prioritize women in our efforts to ease suffering around the world.

Seriously, these stories are so important to hear. I HIGHLY recommend this book.


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Published eleven years before the emancipation proclamation, this classic was undoubtedly influential in ending slavery in this country. It is impossible to read this story – much of which is based on true accounts of slavery in the south – and not be completely ashamed of America’s history of slavery. I wish it had been mandatory reading when I was in high school, but it probably contains too much “uncomfortable content” for my conservative religious high school to even have in the library.

Still, I’m glad that I finally read it. [Actually I listened to the audiobook, which was PHENOMENAL because the narrator, Susie Berneis, was one of the best I have ever heard.]


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The four stars are purely because this was a challenging read that left me feeling so sad and hopeless. But that’s not to say it wasn’t good or important or necessary. Sometimes we have to sit with the discomfort of our own privilege before we can really move toward action.

There is SO MUCH TRUTH in this book – truth that is very hard for white America to hear, but that just makes it all the more important to listen [with an open mind and A LOT of humility]. I completely agree with Toni Morrison’s statement: “This is required reading.”

My personal experience in this world has been that the people who believe themselves to be white are obsessed with the politics of personal exoneration.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The quote above is so sad because, in my personal experience in this world, it is so true.

I have been reading many books about race and racism in America over the past few years [I read this book before George Floyd’s murder], but this was the first time that I read a book about race that made me feel like black people must hate me just for being white AND I can’t even blame them for it. I kind of hate myself a little too. That might sound harsh, but the only person I can blame for my own ignorance and callousness is myself.

The history of oppression and suppression and mistreatment and injustice is so long and goes back so far and runs so deep. These are wounds that will not heal quickly. No little acts of kindness or trite platitudes, no promises of equal pay or equal opportunity will erase what white Americans have done [and continue to do] to black Americans.

One of the things I appreciated the most was that Coates always refers to white people as “those who believe themselves to be white” because the very concepts of “white” and “black” are just social constructs – a way of dividing people into two distinct categories, when in reality, skin color is a range not an “either/or,” not an “us and them.” We all have skin and our different shades fall on a range, not within two distinct categories. And worst of all, the whole system was created in order to perpetuate and justify slavery.

White people drew the line to divide the culture into white and black for the purposes of slavery. …There is no “white” and “black” just the beautiful ombré of humanity.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

The other thing that I loved about this book was how Coates talks about the Dream. As a believer in god and goodness and morality and ethics, I have often thought that there is a major moral failing in our love and commitment to the American Dream and in this book, Coates totally calls us out on it.

The forgetting is habit, is yet another component of the Dream. They have forgotten the scale of theft that enriched them in slavery; the terror that allowed them, for a century, to pilfer the vote; the segregationist policy that gave them their suburbs. They have forgotten because to remember would tumble them out of the beautiful Dream and force them to live down here with us, down here in the real world. I am convinced that the Dreamers, at least the Dreamers of today, would rather live white than free.

Ya-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

In today’s world, with our constant access to information, there is definitely a willful ignorance involved in the white American’s attempt to claim innocence.

To acknowledge these horrors means turning away from the brightly rendered version of your country as it has always declared itself and turning toward something murkier and unknown. It is too difficult for most Americans to do this. But that is your work.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

Coates is writing to his son, but this is work that we all must do to guarantee a more just and equitable future for everyone – which is what we all want…right???

Never forget that we were enslaved in this country longer than we have been free. Never forget that for 250 years black peoples were born into chains—whole generations followed by more generations who knew nothing but chains…

You cannot forget how much they took from us and how they transfigured our bodies into sugar, tobacco, cotton, and gold.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

May

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This excellent book was recommended to me by a friend [Thanks, Katie!] while she was reading it. You can tell by the title that this is something I would love – and I definitely did. Even though I have read many, many, many books on simplifying my belongings and my life, I hadn’t read a book about simplifying parenting. So this book contained a lot of brilliant advice for how to simplify my family’s time and routines, our toys and belongings, and our food choices.

With simplification we can bring an infusion of inspiration to our daily lives; set a tone that honors our families’ needs before the world’s demands. Allow our hopes for our children to outweigh our fears. Realign our lives with our dreams for our family, and our hopes for what childhood could and should be.

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

I love how this book provides practical tips about how to reduce the amount of choices in my child’s life and also provides important wisdom about how my life as the parent affects them. It challenged me to be more cautious about how much of the adult world I allow them to see and how much of my own negativity or criticism I show in front of them.

The most practical tip that I learned was to take an intentional season off from sports and activities for my kids. Nowadays, all activities go year-round and it is always a race. There is an underlying fear, even if it isn’t spoken, that if your child doesn’t start in soccer early enough or if she doesn’t practice her drama skills in the off season that she will be left behind.

First of all, why do we believe this to be true anyway? And secondly, free time is extremely important to a child’s development and when we over-schedule their lives, we rob them of their ability to explore the world on their own, discover their own passions, and rest.

Another great take-away for me was this quote from Lisa M. Ross:

Before you say something, ask yourself these three questions: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?

Lisa M. Ross, Simplicity Parenting

This is so practical and simple, but so important – especially as a parent with little ears listening and learning from everything we say.

This is a GREAT book! I highly recommend it for all parents!


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I simply ADORE Trevor Noah. Since Covid began and his talk show moved to his home couch [now “The Daily Social Distancing Show”], I have only grown to love him even more. When I discovered he had written a book about growing up in South Africa, I immediately got it from the library [digitally, of course, because at the time all libraries were completely shut down] and read the whole thing in just a few days.

Born a Crime is such an amazing book because it combines humor [like literal laugh-out-loud-while-reading kind of humor] with really serious truth about apartheid and racism in South America. Of course, that’s exactly what Trevor Noah is famous for – speaking the truth with humor.

I mean, some of these stories he tells about his childhood are so funny and others are so tragic, but altogether they provide this perfect picture of how we got this amazing man, Trevor Noah.

For example, in the quote below he is talking about what he believed about Jesus as a child, and it’s both funny and sad because it hints at the deeper, more terrible truth of racism.

My grandmother always told me that she loved my prayers. She believed my prayers were more powerful because I prayed in English. Everyone knows that Jesus, who’s white, speaks English. The Bible is in English. Yes, the Bible was not written in English, but the Bible came to South Africa in English, so to us it’s in English. Which made my prayers the best prayers because English prayers get answered first. How do we know this? Look at white people. Clearly they are getting through to the right person.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

There is also a lot to learn from this book about prejudice and poverty and racism and the hard work and lucky breaks that it takes to overcome these obstacles. As someone who is deeply concerned and completely committed to humanitarian work around the world, I found this book to be even more compelling than I anticipated as Trevor writes about what it is like growing up in a poor community as a half-white [or “colored”] person under apartheid in South Africa. So much of this truth translates to every other country on this planet where poor people are marginalized and oppressed.

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing. Working with Andrew was the first time in my life I realized that you need someone from the privileged world to come to you and say, “Okay, here’s what you need, and here’s how it works.” Talent alone would have gotten me nowhere without Andrew giving me the CD writer. People say, “Oh, that’s a handout.” No, I still have to work to profit by it. But I don’t stand a chance without it.

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

This book is SO GOOD! It will make you laugh and it will make you cry and you will never be the same again. These are all the qualities that I look for in a good book.


Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I listened to this audiobook [so I don’t have any quotes for you – sorry] and when I finished, I immediately started listening to it again. So, technically, this book should be on the list twice. It was that impactful.

She begins by writing about a little girl who had a magic book. I related 100% to that little girl. I was also once a little girl with a magic book that contained stories of heroic princesses and little boys defeating giants and a single man calling down fire from heaven and walking on water and good vanquishing evil. But, like Evans, I grew up and the magic faded when I saw all of the other things in my magic book – the slavery and sexism and genocide and racial cleansing and violence and hatred – and it became less magical for me. It was the biggest disappointment of my life – to let go of all the promise and wonder and magic of that book.

I have been on a spiritual journey for nearly ten years now that has lead me away from the Bible and it’s teachings and, strangely enough, back again. This book was the first step toward understanding the Bible as it is meant to be, rather than what the American church has distorted it into.

I can not recommend this book enough – especially for anyone who has been told that homosexuality is sin or that women can’t lead or that you have to dress up for church or close your eyes when you pray or any other false teaching that uses the Bible as a means to perpetuate hatred and prejudice and encourage pharisaical piety. This book will open your eyes to the true God, who I first found apart from the Bible, but who I am now able to see once again through this book of magic.


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The question is whether any civilization can wage relentless war on life without destroying itself, and without losing the right to be called civilized.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

This book is a classic in the environmental world because it was [apparently] the first book that woke people up to the terrible things we have done [and are still doing] to the planet with chemicals. It’s pretty technical, which is why I gave it only three stars, definitely not a super exciting read. It is also terrifying and by the time I was done I totally changed my family’s policies about spraying bugs around our house and even wearing mosquito repellent. I started reading the labels on all the bottles of bug and weed killers we have.

Seriously, this stuff is terrifying.

I also began to view our crab grass and “weeds” as just other plants, rather than pests that must be destroyed. And the huge spiders that hang out around our house are actually helping to balance our mosquito population [and also making beautiful webs]. We used to pay a service to spray our home, which I regret so profusely now that I wish I could tell every one of our neighbors NOT to hire any of these companies. Spraying bugs just creates the need to spray more because the insect world is already in balance. WE are the ones throwing everything off by being annoyed by the creatures that share our planet with us.

When we were driving in southern Illinois through a field of crops being sprayed, I literally made my husband roll up our van windows [despite broken A/C and 90° heat] “because we have no idea what they are spraying!” – and more than likely it is not something safe for humans.

Because we live in a very wooded area near a fresh water river, we have an excessive amount of bugs and mosquitos. But I have come to see bugs [and even weeds] as a necessary part of our ecosystem that deserve respect rather than the indiscriminate spraying of chemical killers. And because I attract mosquitos like a moth to light, I am on the look out for natural mosquito repellents.

The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and the earth, between plants and other plants, and between plants and animals. Sometimes we have no choice but to disturb these relationships, but we should do so thoughtfully, with full awareness that what we do may have consequences remote in time and place. But no such humility marks the booming “weed killer” business of the present day, in which soaring sales and expanding uses mark the production of plant-killing chemicals.

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

This book is insightful, so if you want to dig deeper into the why chemicals have changed our planet, I recommend it.


June

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

As a woman, one thing that I am definitely familiar with is being objectified. I was raised to believe that I had to cover my shoulders, my knees, and especially my midriff or I would cause some man to lust after my body. So, naturally, I blamed myself for all the cat-calls and inappropriate comments I have received from men over the years. It took me until I was twenty-five to realize how insane this way of thinking is.

By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity, rape is the absence of consent.

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

Here’s the truth:

Men’s lust and lack of self-control is THEIR OWN DAMN PROBLEM. Also, women are NEVER “asking for it.”

There was another line of argument that nagged at me: the suggestion that boys simply could not help themselves. As if he never had a choice…You went to a frat and got assaulted? What did you expect? I’d heard this in college, freshmen girls compared to sheep in a slaughterhouse. I understand you are not supposed to walk into a lion’s den because you could be mauled. But lions are wild animals. And boys are people, they have minds, live in a society with laws. Groping others was not a natural reflex, biologically built in. It was a cognitive action they were capable of controlling.

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

This book is so important for today’s world because it shows how damning it is for a woman to experience sexual assault – how much emotional damage and physical damage and how socially stigmatizing and career-impacting and life-altering it is to be a victim of rape.

This is about society’s failure to have systems in place in which victims feel there’s a probable chance of achieving safety, justice, and restoration rather than being re-traumatized, publicly shamed, psychologically tormented, and verbally mauled. The real question we need to be asking is not, Why didn’t she report, the question is, Why would you?

Often it seems easier to suffer rape alone, than face the dismembering that comes with seeking support.

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

Chanel Miller had to deal with the kind of sexist bullshit that allows men [especially privileged, wealthy, white men] to get away with sexual assault by putting the blame on the women. This is so insane I can’t believe I have to actually write it, but that is exactly how it works. Women get harassed, assaulted, and raped and they have to prove that they didn’t want any of those things to happen. I mean, SERIOUSLY?! What the heck is wrong with our world?

If you don’t believe me, read this book. You will find out all the ways that Chanel Miller had to prove that her rape was unwanted – from extensive physical examinations, to pictures of her half-naked body displayed in court, to recounting everything she had to drink and every little thing she did, to proving her character and insisting that she’s not some hussy interested in having sex with a stranger behind a dumpster at a frat party.

Meanwhile, her rapist just had to say “she wanted it” and he got off with three months in county jail. And some people felt bad for him! FELT BAD FOR HIM!!! “Oh, poor kid.” “He doesn’t get to go to the olympics now.” “Just one mistake and his whole reputation is ruined.” WHAT?!? What is wrong with people????

When a woman is assaulted, one of the first questions people ask is, Did you say no? This question assumes that the answer was always yes, and that it is her job to revoke the agreement. To defuse the bomb she was given. But why are they allowed to touch us until we physically fight them off? Why is the door open until we have to slam it shut?

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

All I can say is, THANK YOU, Chanel Miller. Thank you for having the guts to put yourself on display so that we can [hopefully someday] stop allowing men to abuse women without any consequences. Thank you for telling your story so everyone knows all the life-changing consequences of being sexually assaulted. Thank you for shedding a light on how absolutely AWFUL our justice system is and how hard women have to work for justice and how rare it is actually achieved.


12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Brett and I watched the movie [based on this book] shortly after it won an academy award. It was on my list at the time mostly because I was [and still am] obsessed with Brad Pitt and see everything that he is in. At the time, I was unaware of the book and the story and the man, Mr. Northup, and how powerful and important his story was at the time it was written and, sadly, still is today.

Unfortunately, in America today we want to gloss over the horrors of slavery and all of the evils that have continued as a result through the entire history of our country. It is hard to look at this evil directly in the face, but it is necessary. I was always told that learning history is important so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Well, as we learned earlier this year, there is still a war raging against black lives in his country and we must take a stand to put an end to this evil. It is more subtle and insidious than the transatlantic slave trade ever was – but that only makes it more dangerous.

This account, written by a free man who was sold into slavery and sent south because of the color of his skin, shows a first-hand account of what it was like to live in slavery in the south.

It is terrifying.

This should be mandatory reading for every high schooler taking an American history course and standard reading for every American.

And if you are not a reader, watch the movie.


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

Bryan Stevenson is a modern day hero. This man has done so much for the marginalized and oppressed in our society. He has changed the justice system to protect kids and defend the mentally disabled and exonerate the wrongfully accused. I am in awe of how his life’s work has literally changed our country forever. This book inspired me to think differently of how we treat prisoners and criminals in our society, about how we use hatred and prejudice to justify cruel consequences, and how we throw people behind bars and then forget them.

I thought of the many ways we’ve legalized vengeful and cruel punishments. How we’ve allowed our victimization to justify the victimization of others. We’ve submitted to the harsh instinct to crush those among us whose brokenness is most visible. But simply punishing the broken, walking away from them or hiding them from sight only ensures that they remain broken – and we do too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

This book is another one that should be MANDATORY READING for Americans.

I have always been against the death penalty [despite being taught that God used the death penalty and therefore, it is ok to inflict the death penalty for certain crimes]. Something about it didn’t seem right. How can we choose to take someone’s life? Wasn’t it Jesus himself who said “Let him who is without sin throw the first stone”? But after reading this book, I can’t believe we have ever done it. We have even executed minors [as recently as 2003]! And we have undoubtedly executed people for crimes that they didn’t commit, as many of these stories that Stevenson shares prove.

Seriously, we MUST put an end to capital punishment.

I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

I gave this book an extra star [6 out of 5] because it is SO POWERFUL AND IMPORTANT.

I BEG OF YOU: READ THIS BOOK.


The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I heard about the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, I was shocked. It was the first openly racist murder [that I knew of] since I became racially aware a few years ago. Though I have been educating myself about race relations in America for a while, I was unaware of how bad things were and how deep the prejudice was embedded in our society and how angry Then, when George Floyd was murdered, I knew that there had to be more that I could do besides read some books and watch some documentaries and give money to racial justice organizations. I wrote about a lot of things I’m doing now that I wasn’t before, but I started by reading this book.

This book helped me to examine my own feelings about race – my own white race and the races of others – and learn how to become a racial justice advocate. In order to advocate for anything you have to learn about it, and then you have to speak out about it. This was a great book for me to begin to do both.

Although the journey to liberation and healing is an admirable goal, the steps needed to be taken are not easy ones. Many White Americans, for example, have difficulty acknowledging race-related issues because they elicit guilt about their privileged status, threaten their self-image as fair, moral, and decent human beings, and more importantly, suggest that their “unawareness” and “silence” allow for the perpetuation of inequities and harm to people of color. As Sara Winter (1977) suggests, it is simply easier to let such topics fade from consciousness, to not listen or hear the voices of the oppressed, to enter into a “conspiracy of silence,” and/or to dismiss, negate, and minimize the experiential reality of people of color. Acknowledging the existence of bigotry, bias, prejudice, and discrimination and hearing the voices of socially devalued groups in our society is the first step in a long journey to healing.

Anneliese A. Singh, The Racial Healing Handbook

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

⭐️⭐️[⭐️⭐️⭐️]

I am totally obsessed with Queer Eye. Each time a new season comes out, I binge the whole thing as fast as I can – usually two or three days because, hello, I have kids ya’ll! I can’t be watching television for nine hours straight! [But I am secretly very envious of everyone with that kind of time!]

I love every single one of the fab five [I really couldn’t choose a favorite], but there has always been a special place in my heart for Jonathan Van Ness. My partner tends to think that he is too…well, over the top. But I love it.

In one episode of the show, each of the guys is telling the story of how they came out to their families. Some of the stories were quite sad, but in Jonathan’s clip he simply shrugs and says something like “Was there ever any doubt that I was gay? I mean, c’mon honey! Is the grass green? Is the sky blue?” Oh my gosh. I died laughing. He is so unapologetic and I love it.

But, of course, his memoir isn’t as peppy as he is on the show. There is a lot of tough stuff in this book – a lot of hard, painful stories. But what I love the most is how our views of other people are based on our small window of exposure to them, when in reality everyone has a long story, a long history, and long journey that has made them into so much more than whatever glimpse we may get.

I don’t think there is anything that could make me love Jonathan Van Ness any less, and his honesty in this book only made me love him more.

[I gave this book 2 stars because I wouldn’t recommend it to many people because of the mature content, but then I added 3 more stars because I could never give Jonathan Van Ness anything less than a perfect score.]


Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It is certainly no secret by now that I LOVE PATAGONIA! If I weren’t committed to ethical and sustainable clothing practices, I would have a closet full of patagonia clothing by now. Fortunately for me, patagonia is just as committed to ethical practices as I am, so they intentionally try to get consumers to consume less!

The more you know, the less you need.

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

This book was GREAT. It begins as a history of Yvon Chouinard, how and why he began the business that would become the brand patagonia, and what he learned along the way. I love that it was never his goal to be a big company. He created this business to solve a problem. Wow, wouldn’t it be great if every business solved a problem, rather than just trying to make as much money as possible by cutting into new markets and undercutting current prices and not caring who [and what] is hurt along the way?

Then, he writes about all the ways that patagonia does business in an employee-centered way – providing childcare for working parents, flexible time off so that employees can go surfing when the waves are good [he seriously says that!], and providing benefits that prove that patagonia and Chouinard are not just saying that they care about people, they really do!

And on top of that, they care about the planet. As outdoorsy people who love to surf, rock climb, trail run, fly fish, this company is made up of people with a vested interest in protecting our natural world. As a runner, cyclist, and swimmer, I also care about these things. This is why I love patagonia so much. Finally, a company that cares more about doing the right thing than about making money. [I can barely find individual humans who would sacrifice money to do what’s right, let alone businesses.]

Our mission statement says nothing about making a profit. In fact Malinda and I consider our bottom line to be the amount of good that the business has accomplished over the year. However, a company needs to be profitable in order to stay in business and to accomplish all its other goals, and we do consider profit to be a vote of confidence that our customers approve of what we are doing.

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

We need more business people like the Chouinards and more businesses like Patagonia and more books like Let My People Go Surfing.


Well, there you have it. Over a month late and way too long, but these have been extremely impactful books for me over the past few months. I hope you find a book from the list that inspires you and helps you see the world in a new and enlightened way.

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2020 Q1]

Book Reviews [2020 Q1]

In the past three months, I have read some of the most profound and transformative books of my entire life. So, rather than wait til July, I’m switching to quarterly book reviews.

But first, I want to preface my reviews by saying that I don’t pretend to be an expert on…well…anything and these comments are just my own personal responses to reading the books.

I’ve come to see how books are a huge part of my journey and that the timing of reading a book makes a big difference in how I will receive it. I think this is true for most people. For instance, several years ago I read many books about minimalism, simplicity, and decluttering. Each of these was helpful at the time in teaching me how to simplify and organize my life. They served as an important first step toward a more intentional and less egocentric existence. I found many of these books to be transformative [such as The Year of Less by Cait Flanders and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo and Slow by Brooke McAlary]. However, I tried to read another one a few weeks ago [When Less Becomes More by Emily Ley] and I just couldn’t do it. I’m at a different place in my journey now and while these books set me on the right path, I’m ready to move to the next level of intentional living. [You’ll see what I mean as you look at the books I’ve read so far this year.]

All that to say, I have read these books because they challenge my worldview and challenge me to change and that is what I love most about books.

[Also, the star ratings are purely for fun and only reflect my own personal enjoyment of the book.]

So here we go…

January

milk and honey by rupi kaur

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is a very short book of poems which is on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list. Clearly, I really enjoyed it [hence the five stars]. It was beautiful and powerful.

One of my favorite things about Kaur’s poetry is that “I” is never capitalized [actually nothing is capitalized]. It reminded me of a brilliant guy I dated in college who always used a lowercase “i” to refer to himself in writing because he didn’t think it was right for us to only capitalize the word referring to ourselves, but not the other pronouns. I LOVE that. I don’t know if it was Kaur’s intent, but the lack of capitalization created a unique, visual equality in her work.

I definitely recommend this book – but I also know that some people will be offended by it [as people are offended by anything feminine and frank] and that others will think it’s plain nonsense.

Truth is uncomfortable sometimes.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This was another book from Emma Watson’s book club list. I had anticipated it being feminist, but I wasn’t prepared for how it would affect me as a personal trainer. Everyone needs to read this book to better understand the complexities surrounding body image in our culture. Although I have always been a strong advocate of “healthy over skinny” and “strong is the new sexy” kind of stuff, I have never experienced what it is like to be obese in our culture. This book was eye opening into the pain and discomfort that comes with living in a world designed for skinny people.

The most important lesson of all, however, is the age-old and yet still unmastered rule of etiquette: stop judging people by their outward appearance! [Geez. You would think we would have this one down by now!] This applies to so many people today. No one wants to be instantly judged because of the way they look – even if their appearance is their choice. We don’t know the whole person and the small glimpses we get are just tiny fragments of the whole reality. Roxane’s story is proof that sometimes even the people closest to us don’t know the whole truth.

“He said/she said is why so many victims (or survivors, if you prefer that terminology) don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”

Roxane Gay, Hunger

And, then, if that wasn’t enough of a reason for this book to be awesome, it is also full of amazing truths about how frickin sexist our society is.

I was angry because young men in politics were treated like rising stars, but young women were treated like — well, young women. I was angry about all the women candidates who put their political skills on hold to raise children — and all the male candidates who didn’t. I was angry about the human talent that was lost because it was born into a female body and the mediocrity that was rewarded because it was born into a male one. And I was angry because the media took racism seriously — or at least pretended to — but with sexism, they rarely bothered even to pretend. Resentment of women still seemed safe, whether it took the form of demonizing black single mothers or making routine jokes about powerful women being ball-busters.”

Roxane Gay, Hunger

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

⭐️⭐️

This is the only book I’ve read all year [so far] that I didn’t really like. I chose it because I love to read books that are being made into movies before I see the films. Unfortunately, this one was just like The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, which was also totally predictable. I don’t know if this is a result of all of those creative writing courses I took in college, studying how to create a good plot twist, but I have read very, very few books that have legitimately surprised me. I should probably just give up on the suspense/thriller genre altogether, as it is usually a disappointment.

[Some exceptions are The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton and Where the Crawdad’s Sing by Delia Owens – both of which I loved and highly recommend.]

My sincere apologies to Mr. Finn…

February

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg, PhD

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Everyone who has kids should read this. Even if you are thinking right now that you don’t need to read it because you would never lose your shit with your little angels [you’re totally lying to yourself], you should read it anyway because it’s HILARIOUS. This author is the funniest I have ever read [though I am severely sleep-deprived due to having four little “button-pushers” so I may be very easily amused].

Last year I read Now Say This [for the second time], which was all about how to respond to your children and nurture them and empower them and teach them a sense of morality etc. Well, How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t is basically all about how to nurture yourself.

It was AWESOME.

It is also so full of wisdom that I would love to quote the ENTIRE BOOK right here, but you should really just go read it for yourself…because that’s obviously why it’s in a book form. In fact, I will probably start buying this book for new parents because it is that essential.

Many parenting books focus on how to get kids to stop with all the [button] pushing already. While it is technically your job as a parent to teach your children to keep their hands to themselves, both literally and figuratively, this is not the best tactic for managing your shit. Do you really want to hinge your sanity on the behavior of someone who licks walls and melts down over the shape of a piece of toast? Yeah, I didn’t think so.”

Carla Naumburg, PhD How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids

Since I can’t quote the whole thing, I’ll share one of the impactful nuggets of wisdom for me personally: STOP MULTI-TASKING! It seems so obvious to me now, but as soon as she said it I realized that I get super irritated with my kids any time I am trying to get something done AND spend time with them. In these situations, I think I’m being productive [and I highly value productivity], but in reality nothing gets done with quality and I just get upset more easily. So, I’ve been practicing being completely present during my time with the kids – setting the phone far, far away, focusing on my kids instead of running through my mental to-do list, engaging in activities with them instead of setting them up to play and walking away.

This was just one of the major helpful tips, but trust me, this book has TONS of excellent advice. You will definitely find your triggers and learn how to manage them, which is essential to avoid losing your shit.

“Screwing up and being awesome are not mutually exclusive.”

Carla Naumburg, PhD

Carla, I freaking love you.

Religion As We Know It: An Origin Story by Jack Miles

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My relationship with religion is very complicated. In spite of that [or maybe because of it], I enjoy reading religious books of all sorts. I picked this book up because I have been studying philosophy and world religions in my spare time and this book [which is apparently the expanded preface to Norton’s Anthology of World Religions] piqued my curiosity.

In the end, this book turned out to be different than I expected, but had a profound effect on my belief system regarding religion.

“Religion seems to me to bear one aspect when considered as a special claim of knowledge and quite another aspect when considered as a special acknowledgment of ignorance.”

Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It

I don’t really want to get into my history with religion, particularly Protestant evangelicalism which was the most important part of my life for twenty-seven years, but I will say that while I have intentionally rejected religious practice in my own life and don’t hold any religious work as the “inerrant word of god,” Jack Miles made an excellent point that even fiction can be used to teach spiritual truths.

“Religious truth can be conveyed as well through fiction as through history. Patristic and medieval Christianity were content for centuries to search the Bible for moral allegories rather than for historical evidence…But because Protestantism, rejecting allegorical interpretation, had consistently emphasized and valorized the historical or “plain,” non-allegorical content of the Bible, Protestant Christianity has particular trouble entertaining the notion that the Bible could be historically false in some regards and yet still religiously valid.”

Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It

This kind of blew my mind. I’ve been wandering in this strange unfamiliar space of not believing the Bible to be without error, and yet not really being able to throw it out entirely. Of course, I was raised just as he stated, that the Bible is to be taken literally and believed as the final word on everything – scientific, historical, and spiritual. So I reasonably believed that if I can’t accept a part of it, I have to toss the whole thing. But, turns out, hermeneutics really are everything. [I learned that in Bible college —but unfortunately I also learned the wrong hermeneutic.]

If this is all sounding a little deep, well, it is. I enjoy academic books, but geez, I had to reread each sentence in this book about three times! Still a worthwhile read for anyone interested in religious studies.

Now let’s move on to something more light and fluffy…

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Fredrik Backman

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Please read this book.

Well, first, read Backman’s first novel, A Man Called Ove, which still might be my favorite fiction book of all time.

After that, read this book.

Just when I thought Backman couldn’t possibly be any more brilliant [no seriously, I read his third novel and was disappointed so I thought he exhausted his brilliance writing Ove], he writes a book that is so beautiful, so imaginative, so powerful that I literally cried. [Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to make me cry, but still…] This man has a way of telling a story that I simply ADORE.

I cannot WAIT for the libraries to reopen so I can get my hands on Beartown!

March

Waking Up White by Debby Irving

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

This book is an absolute must read for every white American who has ever said that they aren’t racist, mentioned “the race card,” complained about affirmative action, stereotyped someone from a non-white race, or believed that they earned their wealth and status by hard work and determination. In other words, this is book is an absolute necessity for every single white American.

A few years ago, I read Where Do We Go From Here, by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was simultaneously inspired and ashamed —inspired to continue the important civil rights work that began over sixty-five years ago and deeply ashamed to find myself among the white population of America that thought the work was already done. While the idea of racism has always been utterly appalling to me, I finally realized that I was complicit in the ongoing inequality that people of color endure in America simply by believing that we had done enough to right the wrongs.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I’ve been working since then to unpack my own biases and trying to truly and genuinely and humbly understand the issues surrounding racial inequality in America – including the implications of my own whiteness. However, I have continually hit brick walls when trying to discuss the topic of race with any of the white people I know – all of whom believe themselves to be entirely free of any guilt and without any obligation to right anything because nothing is wrong.

“The story emerging for me, however, tells a tale of black and brown people being held down so long that white folks have come to believe they got there on their own. The removal of legal barriers that once separated the races has done little to change the distorted belief system that lives on in the hearts and minds of millions of individuals. At this point, the only thing needed for racism to continue is for good people to do nothing.”

Debby Irving, Waking Up White

Then came Debby Irving, who I don’t know at all, but feel like is a kindred spirit because we are so much alike [and I listened to her read the audiobook so I felt like she was talking directly to me].

Let me tell you, no book has ever been so transformative for me. Maybe it’s because I was prepared by other race related books and documentaries and television shows and biographies, that I could easily soak up every truth in this book. I don’t know if I would have accepted it in previous years. It is not an easy truth to accept about myself. But I hope beyond hope that more people will read this book and discover like I did that my own whiteness has shaped my identity and just because I live in a white world doesn’t mean that everyone should have to do things the white way.

“In policy after policy, act after act, the United States has reaffirmed its commitment to being a melting-pot society adhering to Anglo-Saxon standards, as opposed to a mosaic nation built on the diversity of multiple cultures.”

Debby Irving, Waking Up White

We still have a long way to go, but we can get there if we stop denying that there is a problem and start working toward a solution. And the place to begin is by understanding the culture of whiteness.

Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

It’s impossible to read this book – a compilation of true stories from all over the globe – and not be moved with compassion for the half a billion people on this planet who live in extreme poverty.

This book led me to Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save and these two books combined have changed me forever – starting with the commitment to donate 100% of my income to charitable work easing poverty around the world. I’m not the sole breadwinner in my family, obviously, but I want to give whatever I have so that fewer children will die because of drinking unclean water, fewer young girls will be kidnapped and sold into prostitution, fewer women will be raped and impregnated and infected with AIDS, fewer kids will drop out of school, fewer people will live on less than $2 a day.

“Too often we want to settle for a god who knows and loves everything about us. A god who takes care of us, who makes all our dreams come true, and who keeps us safe. And we are comfortable letting god keep the hurt and pain in the far corners of the earth all to himself. He can keep all of that; just let us keep living in our world – our cool, clean, and comfortable world.”

Noel Brewer Yeatts, Awake

We are so privileged in America that we can actually forget that these tragedies are every day realities in some places in the world right now. But we cannot turn a blind eye to these desperate needs, no matter how far away they may be.

We have the power to change these things, if we choose….and really, there is no other choice.

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

When I saw that Harrison Ford was going to be in the new film version of The Call of the Wild, I was SO EXCITED, so I decided to re-read the book [by listening to the audiobook] before seeing the movie. About halfway through, it dawned on me that I’ve never read the book before. I thought I had read it in high school but maybe I had it confused with White Fang. Honest mistake…now that I’m fifteen years out of high school. [What?!?]

Anyway, I loved this story. As a nature lover and a dog lover this was a very enjoyable read [though at times sad]. I listened to it while running through my local forest preserve during this pandemic quarantine and it provided a nice escape.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I am SO EXCITED about it. [I’m a little bit of a Ford fanatic.]

Well, that’s what I’ve been reading. I’m always open to book recommendations!

Happy reading!

📖 📖 📖

Karis

Semi-Annual Book Reviews

Semi-Annual Book Reviews

In the past 6 months I read fourteen books and enjoyed them all – but of course, some more than others.

Here is my list and my star reviews [purely for fun].

July

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Beautiful story and quick read since it is young adult [historical] fiction. I don’t know how I missed reading this when I was in school. I, like the author, am moved by the story of how the Danes smuggled nearly their entire population of Jews to Sweden during World War 2 and this fictional portrayal of those real heroes is profound and beautiful.

The Happiness Paradox by Richard Eyre

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I don’t even know why I picked this up at the library – I think I was hoping that he was going to say that all our stuff or maybe our money was getting in the way of our happiness. Unfortunately, that’s not what he said, but it was still worth reading. The premise of the book is that three things that we are all pursuing are the very things that are making us unhappy: control, ownership, and independence. I wouldn’t recommend the book though because it is painfully repetitive.

Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book was helpful for me to assess my own parenting and think through ways I can change to be more efficient and more effective. Parenting is broken down into four quadrants with the acronym PART: Provide, Arrange, Relate, and Teach. Biggest take away from the book was that I don’t have to finish every book I start. I have a problem with this. I will spend precious time reading a book that doesn’t even interest me anymore because I don’t like leaving things unfinished. But I see now how that is a waste of time and after reading this book, I actually stopped reading a few books in the middle!

Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

One of my favorite books of the year. I listened to this book as I got back to running after having my baby. I was so engrossed in this book that I often ran longer than I had intended. I want to read it again [the hard copy way] so I can really let this information sink in. As someone who is already committed to ethical and sustainable clothing, this book opened my eyes to just how challenging – and CRUCIAL – that goal really is.

You Can’t Go Wrong Doing Right by Robert J. Brown

⭐️⭐️⭐️

I liked this book. Honestly, I had never heard of Robert J. Brown, but this slice of history was important to learn about through the eyes of a man who knew some of the greatest leaders of all time [and some not so great leaders].

August

Why I’m No Longer Talking [to White People] about Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This book is on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list [which I am still working my way through] and it was eye-opening. It was obviously written for the British population – but if anything, American history of racism is even more deeply-rooted and upsetting.

“Racism’s legacy does not exist without purpose. It brings with it not just a disempowerment for those affected by it, but an empowerment for those who are not. That is white privilege. Racism bolsters white people’s life chances. It affords an unearned power: it is designed to maintain a quiet dominance.” – Reni Eddo-Lodge

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is another book from Emma Watson’s book club. It is no doubt beautifully written, but looking back on it, I don’t really know the purpose of a lot of it. Still, Lee writes with such an effortless style that I was sucked in from the beginning and read it really quickly [considering the book is lengthy]. I wanted it to wrap up with something profound or have some unexpected development to tie everything together – or at the very least, provide some sort of moral lesson…but I was disappointed.

September

September was a great month for me physically, but a bad month for reading. The baby was finally old enough to need more attention and I was back to working out twice a day, but I had no time for reading. At this point in the year, I adjusted my goals and aimed to read at least one book each month for the rest of 2019.

October

Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Probably my favorite read of the year and one of only two books that I actually want to go buy [I don’t own physical copies of books unless I literally want to read them over and over and over again].

November

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I loved this book. It was meaningful and beautiful and it had my three favorite elements in fiction: a profound moral theme, a surprise, and a satisfactory resolution. You know it’s a good book when I am literally yelling out loud while reading. What was so great was not that there was a surprise, but that it kept me guessing the whole time.

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is easily my favorite fiction book of the past six months. Ironically, it wasn’t on my list. I had never even heard of this book [or author]. I only read it because it was listed as a free kindle book through Amazon and I was bored. I read the first half in a day before my Amazon subscription expired and I had to wait TWO WEEKS to get it from my library. I was dreaming about this book and literally yelling out loud so much while reading that my husband was concerned for my sanity. I guess I respond to books just like I do movies – I laugh, I cry, I try to tell the characters what to do, I get super invested in the story.

It’s a blessing and a curse.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

⭐️⭐️⭐️

This is another on Emma Watson’s feminist book club list. It has a very slow [and quite frankly boring] start for me – so much so that I almost stopped reading it. But it definitely got better as it went. It was very strange to read things in direct opposition to what I was told in my conservative, evangelical, Republican, and 99.9% white upbringing. It was strange…and liberating.

“I began to see that for some, religion was just a form of politics you couldn’t criticize.” – Gloria Steinem

Thank you, Gloria.

December

Now Say This by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I wrote about this previously in one of my motherhood posts [Lessons in Motherhood and Practicing Parenting], but I’ll say it again. I LOVE this book. I will reread this book over and over again.

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I kept seeing this book so I placed a hold on it at my local library. Took a few months, but finally got it and read the whole thing in a few days. I LOVE this author. I enjoyed the story, as hard as it was to read at times.

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

⭐️⭐️

This is a great pep-talk, and let’s be real, we all need a pep-talk every once in a while. But unfortunately, it felt too fluffy and egocentric for me. I’m all for reaching for your dreams, but I sincerely hope that your dream is not wrapped up in a Louis Vuitton handbag…or a vacation home in Hawaii…or even a thriving business. I would hope that your dreams are not in any way related to accumulating more expensive stuff, but rather, about giving more away.

Of course, that’s probably just me – which is why Rachel Hollis has 1.7 million insta followers…and I have 60.

😆

Anyway, I’m looking forward to more great reads in 2020!

📚 📚 📚

Karis