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

Semi-Annual Book Reviews

Semi-Annual Book Reviews

At the start of 2019, I resolved to read two books per month – one fiction and one non-fiction.

Here are the books I’ve read:

[The star ratings are for my own amusement and only reflect how much I personally enjoyed reading the book.]

January

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those classics that I hadn’t read previously – so it was time. My favorite part of the book was actually the opening paragraph which contains great advice and is quite profound.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. ‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.‘”

7 by Jen Hatmaker

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book restored my faith in fundamental Christianity – to a degree. I already wrote a whole post about this book: Environmentalism isn’t just for Liberal Tree-Huggers. If you consider yourself to be a Christian, you should read this book.

February

I Want It by Jill Soloway

⭐️ ⭐️

I randomly picked this book up at the library. An interesting memoir, though not what I expected – it challenged how I view the transgender issues our country is currently grappling with.

Letter to a Christian Nation by Sam Harris

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book has been on my list for a long time. While I don’t agree with everything Harris writes [I am not an atheist], I do agree with many of his observations about religion in America.

The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I LOVED this book! It’s much better than the movie – read it!

“Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.” -Rahim Khan in The Kite Runner

The End of Reason by Ravi Zacharias

⭐️

This book was written in response to Sam Harris’s book above (Letter to a Christian Nation). Unfortunately, Zacharias comes off as an emotional kid who has had his feelings hurt. He also commits the same mistakes he accuses Sam Harris of committing. The truth is, both books were written for the people who already share their worldview. Neither will be effective at changing the others’ mind – so why did they even bother?

The Unstoppable Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Antonia Felix

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is a FANTASTIC book. This woman has become my hero for being just plain brilliant and for dramatically improving the rights of women in America. [The documentary, RBG, and the movie, On the Basis of Sex, are also great.] Ginsburg’s story impacted me so profoundly that I almost named my baby Ruth…almost.

“In striving to drain dry the waters of prejudice and oppression, we must rely on measures of our own creation – upon the wisdom of our laws and the decency of our institutions, upon our reasoning minds and our feeling hearts. And as a constant spark to carry on, upon our vivid memories of the evils we wish to banish from our world…May that memory strengthen our resolve to aid those at home and abroad who suffer from injustice due to ignorance and intolerance, to combat crimes that stem from racism and prejudice, and to remain ever engaged in the quest for democracy and respect for the human dignity of all the world’s people.”

– Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Amen.

This woman has restored my faith that someday America may be great again – not because our economy is booming and our unemployment rate is low. Not because we have abundant wealth and prosperity, safety and security – but because we once again are concerned for “the human dignity of all the world’s people.”

March

Pussy by Regena Thomashauer

⭐️

I stumbled upon this book in my search for works on modern feminism – and it is just plain weird. I think Mama Gena might really believe that the source of life is in her who-who. Of course, she prefers to use the “p” word…

To each their own, I suppose.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Another great book! Fiction, though loosely based on a true love story that is both terrifying and inspiring.

Weconomy by Craig and Marc Keilberger and Holly Branson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is a great book that taught me to use my current sphere of influence to impact the world. For a year, I had been begging Brett to move to a clothing retailer that is transparent and committed to ethical and sustainable practices, but this book showed me how he is able to use his position in his current company to encourage the business to be more socially and sustainably minded. And I have realized my own responsibility to use the spaces I have been given [my part-time job and my children] to make a difference in the world.

I learned so many other things from these three leaders in the charitable world. You really should read this book!

A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book was a gift from my cousin and I am so grateful for it because it really helped me to understand the people around me so much better. I highly recommend this book for everyone who wants to help end poverty here and around the world.

Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

An easy read – I think I read it in one afternoon – but I don’t really understand the point. I wish I had read it in school and could have benefited from a classroom discussion.

April

Posture Alignment by Paul D’Arezzo

⭐️ ⭐️

I’ve had this book for a long time as a resource for my personal training clients, but never read through it. While it contains useful information, it is boring. Not my favorite read this year – but I did have a client with some posture alignment issues shortly after reading it and recommended many of the corrective exercises in this book.

The Rough Guide to a Better World by Martin Wroe and Malcolm Doney

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is a free ebook [read it here] that was funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). In only 112 pages, there is a TON of information here about how to help end poverty in our world. The issues facing developing countries are complex and challenging, but we are not powerless to help. This little book showed me the importance of fair trade, charitable giving, volunteering, and even eco-tourism [which I had never heard of before].

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I picked this up because it is on Emma Watson’s book club list. I can’t believe I had never read it. There is a lot of beauty and wisdom in this story.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.” – The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Now I have to watch the movie.

The New Homesteader by Bella and Nick Ivins

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

While it was fascinating to read how the Ivins have turned this beautiful property into a self-sufficient Homestead, the best part of this book is definitely the gorgeous photography!

How to be a Woman by Caitlyn Moran

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is another book from Emma Watson’s book club list. Caitlyn Moran is hilarious – and I listened to her reading it on the audiobook, making it even funnier. Sometimes it really does suck to be a woman [ok, more than sometimes], but this book helps. Though I don’t agree with her definition of feminism [or some of her other viewpoints], I like her unapologetic style.

101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book is super practical and makes waste reduction super simple. I already wrote about the book here: My 34 Ways to Go Zero Waste.

“In today’s world, one of the most radical things you can do is find contentment.”

101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg

The Backyard Homestead edited by Carleen Madigan

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Riveting reading – just kidding. But a super useful resource that was so educational I will have to borrow from the library again when we get ready to plant our garden or raise chickens or make our own cheese.

May

The HIIT Advantage by Irene Lewis-McCormick

⭐️

This is a textbook about using high intensity interval training for women. I read it for my personal training recertification. First of all, I learned nothing new. Secondly, there was absolutely nothing gender specific in the book. Third, there shouldn’t be anything gender specific because HIIT workouts are the same for male and female. 😡

Thirst by Scott Harrison

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

LOVE this book! What an inspiring story about an inspirational non-profit working to provide access to clean water to everyone in the world! I am proud to be a supporter of this organization.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One of my favorite books on childbirth [and I have ready MANY]! A must read for any woman who is even considering having a baby.

Letters to the Church by Francis Chan

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I have a lot of respect for Francis Chan and I am grateful for this book which I hope will help to change the American church.

“We must stop creating safe places to hide and start developing fearless warriors to send out.”

– Francis Chan

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Another book on Emma Watson’s book club list. It was strange and not my favorite. I like my fiction to have deep philosophical themes – but more about love and peace and good virtues – and less about a creepy future dystopia. Maybe that’s just me. 🤷‍♀️

June

Wardrobe Crisis by Clare Press

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This book was fascinating – and terrifying. I’m afraid to buy any clothing ever again… but that fear leads to greater resolve to make more intentional, informed choices when it comes to what’s in my wardrobe. We shouldn’t want to be willfully ignorant.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

I have to admit, I got impatient during this book [which is sad because it is short]. But the payoff in the end was worth it. There are several great themes and lessons in this story.

“When you’re on a journey to fulfill your personal legend, the whole universe conspires to help you achieve it.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

And from now on, I will refer to my life’s purpose as my “personal legend” because that sounds cooler.


Wow – that was a long list. I doubt I’ll be able to read as much now that the baby has arrived. But these first six months of 2019 have been very educational for me and I have even enjoyed the fiction books!

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis