It’s been over six months since my last book reviews, so it’s high time I share what I’ve been reading. Strangely enough, for the first time since I was in high school, I’ve been reading more fiction than nonfiction. I’m not quite sure what the reason is, but I’ve enjoyed picking books from best seller lists and finding new authors with new stories.
A little later I’ll share my favorite fiction and non-fiction books of last year. But first, here are the books I read in the final quarter of 2022.
We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza
This is the story of best friends Riley and Jen, who are both impacted when a black teenager is shot by the police in their hometown of Philadelphia. On opposite sides of the racial divide, they are challenged to protect and defend the people they love…including each other.
I appreciated how this story provides a view from both sides of this all-too-common occurrence. The reader, whether black or white, is able to see things from the other’s perspective. The collaborative work between Pride and Piazza is very evident and works well.
However, it is easy to carefully curate the perfect story about racial prejudice in America when you’re writing fiction and can make the whole thing up. At times, the story felt unrealistic in it’s perfection and I could almost feel the author’s political motivations. Much of the content in this book can be found in other non-fiction books about race in America. Is it nicer couched in a novel? I don’t know. I think I prefer the direct, to-the-point approach, personally.
The Butcher and the Wrenby Alaina Urquhart
The best thing about this book is the cover.
“The Most Dangerous Game” re-makes are overdone, in my opinion. There was a twist, and even though I didn’t know what it would be exactly, I knew it was coming which took most of its shock value away.
Eh…Not my favorite.
Food Politics by Marion Nestle
Though it’s pretty old at this point, Food Politics is still a wealth of historical information about how our food system came to be what it is today. There are new developments that the book doesn’t cover, but I was fascinated by the history of the food pyramid and the legislation surrounding labeling and other such topics which might bore the normal reader, but was absolutely delightful for a food-obsessed, politics-loving, fitness enthusiast like me.
Billy Summers by Stephen King
I am quickly becoming one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers, and I liked Billy Summers. It’s not exactly what King is known for [in other words, it’s not a horror, slasher, dark, or demonic novel], and it is shorter than everything else I had read of his [up to this point in time]. There is a life of crime, a damsel in distress, questionable moral reasoning, and of course death…I mean, it’s King after all. But still good.
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
As is my habit, I insisted on reading the book before I watched the movie. It was actually Brett who first told me about the movie because he had seen buzz about it on social media and said I would probably like it because I’m a feminist and passionate about the subject matter. And, of course, I was interested, but it had to be book first. [Always book first, am I right?]
As it turns out, I didn’t really care for the movie at all, but the book was really good. I think sometimes this subject matter [which I don’t want to ruin for anyone who might be going in blind] is overdone and trivialized, but this book felt big and powerful and, honestly, the book was a really good on its own—without the shock value and controversy. The use of flashback is at its most effective in this book.
The only negative thing I have to say is that I actually really disliked the protagonist. I mean, I feel for her and everything she went through, but she’s self-obsessed, totally vain￼, and quite frankly obnoxious. [And I obviously know that she’s fictional.] Maybe that was the point? But everyone has a choice about who they want to become—in spite of their past. [Well, except fictional characters, I guess.]
And a note about the movie—some people were upset that it was “graphic.” The book is also graphic. But, seriously, maybe graphic is what we need to finally MAKE IT STOP. As a girl who’s dealt with my fair share of sexual abuse and harassment, I don’t think it can possibly be graphic enough.
We are the Brennans by Tracey Lange
I love books about family secrets. Family secrets make such great stories, and since every family has its secrets, they are so relatable. I felt that this plot line was a teensy bit obvious, but that didn’t make me enjoy it any less.
Also, I listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Barrie Kreinik, was excellent.
The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter
The Comfort Crisis is basically a call to step outside your comfort zone, embrace physically demanding experiences, seek out mental challenges, and find new health and vitality as a result. I LOVED IT. Of course, I’m a bit of a physical fitness fanatic, so the idea of scaling mountains in sub-zero temperatures and carrying huge stones along the bottom of the ocean is quite exciting to me already, but the insight that Easter shares about how easy our lives have become here in the western world is so timely.
“We are living progressively sheltered, sterile, temperature-controlled, overfed, underchallenged, safety-netted lives.”
Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis
I mean, think about this: our entire lives now are temperature controlled. We go from heated house to heated car to heated workplace. We are total wimps when it gets too cold. But cold is actually good for us [to an extent obviously, but a greater extent that we feel comfortable with]. This is just one of many excellent points that Easter makes about how discomfort would actually improve our lives.
“But a radical new body of evidence shows that people are at their best—physically harder, mentally tougher, and spiritually sounder—after experiencing the same discomforts our early ancestors were exposed to every day. Scientists are finding that certain discomforts protect us from physical and psychological problems like obesity, heart disease, cancers, diabetes, depression, and anxiety, and even more fundamental issues like feeling a lack of meaning and purpose.”
Michael Easter, The Comfort Crisis
I highly recommend this book, and I recommend the physical book over the audiobook.
Fairy Tale by Stephen King
This might be my favorite Stephen King so far. It is at least tied with The Shining and 11/22/63. But either way, it’s really good. For being such a long book, I read it in a surprisingly short time [though I had borrowed it from the library and I had to read it in two weeks before it was due back, so I didn’t have much choice]. I must say, it was definitely worth the hype and the ridiculously long wait to borrow it.
Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
This is my first Liane Moriarty novel and I loved it. It’s the story of a tennis family whose secrets and dysfunctions are constantly being uncovered, and yet, there is a constant theme of love and hope. I found it incredibly relatable and also touching.
I already have Moriarty’s other bestsellers— Nine Perfect Strangers and Big Little Lies—on my list to read in the future.
In 2022, I read 62 books: 24 fiction and 38 nonfiction.
I read some great fiction, like Stephen King’s 11/22/63, Katie Atkinson’s Life After Life, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, BUT my favorite fiction book of the year was definitely Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Ready Player One is everything I want a fiction story to be—an exciting, easy-to-read, can’t-put-it-down, non-stop adventure with great characters you can root for and an imaginative world you can escape into [though the futuristic setting isn’t really all that far from reality].
As for nonfiction, it’s much harder to choose a favorite since they are all very different. I could probably organize them by sub-genre and pick a favorite of each, but I’ll spare you.
I loved Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Ben Rosario and Matt Fitzgerald’s Run Like a Pro [HIGHLY recommend for runners], and Hunter Clarke-Fields’ Raising Good Humans. But my two favorite nonfiction books of the year were The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger and The Happiness Hypothesis by my favorite author, Jonathan Haidt, with The Happiness Hypothesis winning in the end, mostly because of my love of psychology.
Overall, 2022 was a great year of books. What are your favorites from last year?
A while back I mentioned that I was going to try to cut down on the amount of books that I read [particularly audiobooks] so I can be more present with my family. And true to my word, this is the shortest quarterly review I have ever done!
Let’s talk about DNFs. I’ve only heard this acronym for “did not finish” in reference to race performances, but I recently read a book blogger post about DNF books.
Confession: The old me pushed through every book I ever started no matter how painful. I simply could not leave something incomplete. However, a few years ago I read a book [ironically] that convinced me to stop finishing all the books that I’m not enjoying. So, I began DNFing [is that a word?] books.
This past quarter I DNFed [is that a word?] a record number of books. Here are all the books that almost made it on this review list, but I gave up on for one reason or another:
The Dinner by Herman Koch
Mindful Work by David Gelles
Fat Chance by Robert H. Lustig
The AnthropoceneReviewed by John Green
You, Happier by Daniel G. Amen
The Nurses by Alexandra Robbins
This Time Tomorrow by Emma Straub
Unbound by Tarana Burke
Homeland Elegies by Ayad Ahktar
On Animals by Susan Orlean
How to Be Alone by Lane Moore
These books weren’t bad or anything [necessarily]. For some of them, it just wasn’t the right time. For instance, I tried to listen to Lustig’s Fat Chance on a six-hour road trip and it was just putting me to sleep. But someday I would like to read the physical book.
So what you’ve got left here are the real gems. Some of these were better than others, but they were all at least enjoyable or insightful enough for me to read all the way to the end.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley
This is a charming book that is both lighthearted and powerful. I thought it would be a fun, easy beach read — and it was fun and easy, but it also surprised me with its depth and lessons about love and loss and moving on and accepting oneself. It was really beautiful.
This was a great road-trip audiobook.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
Loved this book, but I especially loved the audiobook [the extra star is for the audiobook] because Tom Hanks is an absolutely phenomenal reader [which I’m sure surprises no one]. I could listen to him read to me FOREVER! A great story about the bond between a brother and sister — and between a family and a house.
The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt is becoming one of my favorite authors. His books probably only appeal to people with very specific interest [such as moral psychology, politics, and ethics] and I am definitely one of those people. But everyone cares about happiness and of all the books I’ve read on the topic, this book is the best.
The Emergency by Thomas Fisher
This book was really eye-opening about how hospitals work and how underprivileged communities continue to be underserved by our health care system. It is also a very personal story of a man trying to help his community in a time of crisis. I really enjoyed it.
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris
Truthfully, I only gave this book four stars because Dan Harris is such a funny writer. His books are very entertaining. But I didn’t enjoy this one nearly as much as I liked 10% Happier [which I LOVED]. The structure of the book seemed forced and followed the story of a meditation publicity road-trip, which I just didn’t particularly care for.
The Choice by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
Easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. It is so powerful and beautiful, full of the darkest horrors and yet so full of hope and life. This is the most inspiring story with the most timeless and encouraging message I have ever read. We all suffer in some way and we all have a choice in how we will live.
“Here you are! In the sacred present. I can’t heal you—or anyone—but I can celebrate your choice to dismantle the prison in your mind, brick by brick. You can’t change what happened, you can’t change what you did or what was done to you. But you can choose how you live now. My precious, you can choose to be free.”
Dr. Edith Eva Eger, The Choice
I agree with Oprah [quoted on the cover]—I will also be forever changed by Dr. Eger’s story.
Normal People by Sally Rooney
I heard so many good things about this book from a book blogger I follow…but I just didn’t care for it. I’m not sure why. Maybe I didn’t get it. But it was at least interesting enough to finish. Or maybe I was just curious enough to keep reading.
Josie’s Story by Sorrel King
This was recommended reading for my nursing program and I thought it was another really insightful look into the hospital system. Of course, it is a heartbreaking story [and as a mom, it is my worst nightmare], but ultimately it is about improving safety in the whole system. I’m so glad I read it and I want to remember Josie when I am a nurse someday.
The Stand by Stephen King
This was my least favorite of King’s books so far. It wasn’t even bad, of course, because Stephen King is a amazing at telling a story, it was just too long. I mean, it’s a 1200 page book and I felt like the story could have been told in half that many pages. I realize this is the expanded and uncut edition, but I kind of wish I had read the original shorter version because I think this one was just excessive with the details. I also felt like there were missed opportunities to create some really cool “ah-ha!” moments, but…who am I to tell Stephen King how to write a book.
Overall, I liked the story and I enjoyed the characters and as always, I am in awe of this man’s ability to write such sweeping novels.
As always, share your book recommendations in the comments! I love to read books that other people have enjoyed.
In April, because of being in school and having to read chemistry, microbiology and anatomy, I spent my fun reading time mostly on fiction, which provided a much needed mental break. I don’t know what came over in me in May [maybe because of the semester ending and summer break ahead], but I read exclusively non-fiction. And then I started reading less in June in order to focus more on giving my attention to my kids. All that to say, hopefully this review post won’t be as long as they usually are.
Let’s get started…
Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
Loved it. I haven’t seen the stage production or the movie [I intend to see both eventually] but for me the book was a good place to begin, even though it came after the Broadway hit. And, I’m happy to say, it did not disappoint. I listened to the audiobook, which was read by three people — Ben Levi Ross, Mike Faist, and Mallory Bechtel — and was really good.
Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline
After reading [or rather listening to] Ready Player One, I was very interested in this sequel, but I was a little doubtful that it would stand up against its predecessor. The first book was such a fun adventure and very unique [at least to me], that I didn’t know how he could do it again. In the first book, the contest had been won and the hero was enjoying the spoils…I mean, what could happen next?
Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Cline manages to come up with another great nail-biting story. Is it as good as the first? Nope. Pretty much impossible. But it is definitely really, really good.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I’m not sure I quite understood the point of this novel and I felt like I just kept waiting for something surprising, or some sort of resolution at the end — but it never came. Though it was an enjoyable read and I actually flew through it [I think because I kept anticipating something exciting happening], I don’t really recommend it because of the disappointing [or non-existent] ending.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is a beautiful and powerful novel. I listened to the audiobook which was read by Zach Appelman and it was fantastic, but I do wish that I had read the physical book because I felt like some of the small details were lost on me. Maybe I was distracted at times, or perhaps all the back and forth in time with dates and such made it harder for me to keep track, but regardless, I recommend the physical book. But it obviously didn’t win the Pulitzer Prize for no reason.
You Deserve Better by Tyler Cameron
Confession time: I watch The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and even Bachelor in Paradise. So, I know of Tyler Cameron from The Bachelorette and when I saw he had written a book, I thought it would be interesting.
It kind of felt like he got this book deal because during his season people were calling him some sort of “feminist icon.” Which is just ridiculous. He made one comment during the season about Hannah being allowed to sleep with whoever she wants to [or something like that] and all the women went gushing about this handsome hunk who understands women’s rights. He doesn’t ya’ll. He might be a nice guy [or nicer than most guys] but he’s no hero for women.
Besides that, when I looked through my list of books that I had read, I couldn’t even remember what this book was. So, I definitely don’t recommend it.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
I love Stephen King. This book was masterful. It’s just so…HUGE. I don’t know how he manages to write these really big novels. This one doesn’t span as much time as 11/22/63 and it’s not a horror like The Shining, but it does have some messed up stuff in it, so its not for the faint of heart. But I loved it. I would get up at 5am just so I could have an hour of uninterrupted time to read it. And I read the physical book which was a pleasure in and of itself.
I have two more Kings on my shelf to read and I can’t wait.
Run Like a Pro by Matt Fitzgerald and Ben Rosario
Oh man, it’s been a LONG time since I’ve read a book about running. In fact, it’s been a long time since I took my own running seriously. But this book did give me that itch…if you have ever run a race, you might know what I’m talking about — that itch to see how fast you can go, how far you can go, how much you can handle. I used to love that about running.
Anyway, this book was great. I’m trying to get Brett to read it. It breaks down training, recovery, nutrition, etc and explains how the pros do it. If you are a runner, this is really helpful, practical stuff. And there are drills and training plans included. I have actually added the physical book to my Amazon wishlist because I want to own a copy and re-read it occasionally.
No Drama Discipline by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
I read this book because I had enjoyed The Whole-Brain Child so much. Unfortunately, it repeated a lot of the same information and also overlapped with other parenting books I have read like Now Say This. And this one didn’t make it into my list of Top 5 Parenting books [which you can find here]. I still love Siegel’s scientific [neuroscientific, to be exact] approach to parenting and found a lot of the information in this book and The Whole-Brain Child to be fascinating, especially as I was studying anatomy and physiology and psychology at the time of reading.
The Foie Gras Wars by Mark Caro
Honestly, I’m still in shock that I read a whole book about foie gras [not to mention my surprise that such a book even exists]. Despite living in the Chicago suburbs for 14 years, I was totally unaware of the “war” surrounding this French delicacy. In truth, I didn’t even know a thing about foie gras — other than that it is some kind of fancy food I can’t afford to eat — and I had to look up the pronunciation [“fwah grah” you’re welcome].
The book turned out to be very entertaining and surprisingly complex, as Caro weighed in on the fight between animal rights activists and celebrity chefs. And, even more surprising, it rather becomes a discourse on reclaiming responsibility as a society for the foods that we produce, sell and consume. Of course, Caro, ever the journalist, doesn’t exactly take a side on the debate [and if he leans one way, it is definitely towards the consumption of foie gras], but I appreciate hearing the truth from someone who is not on the bankroll of either side. I’m sure it will surprise no one that I won’t be eating foie gras [besides the fact that I have never been, nor will likely ever go, to the kinds of establishments that serve foie gras] since I’m not a big fan of eating any animals, even those who have not been force-fed. But, it doesn’t hurt to read a book like this to be reminded that, in the very least, we have a responsibility to know what we put in our mouths.
My other favorite quote that I can’t help but include:
“…The popular image of animal-rights activists is radicals who splash red paint on fur-clad women and otherwise would rather provoke than persuade. In some cases the shoe fits, but other times that association becomes a convenient crutch for the unconverted. We want animal-rights activists to be crazy because we don’t want them to be right.”
Mark Caro, The Foie Gras Wars
I don’t consider myself an activists…more like a subtle dissenter. If you come to have dinner at my home, I won’t serve you meat [though possibly some cheese, if I happen to have any], but we won’t make a big show of it. You may not even notice the omission.
This is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
I, once again, have to take beef with Pollan’s title here. I find it misleading. The book isn’t really a scientific discourse on how certain plants affect the mind, but is rather a recounting of Pollan’s personal experience trying three different drugs: opium, caffeine, and mescaline. Maybe it should be titled, This is My Mind on Three Plants, which would be more accurate and actually more clever since it’s mostly his personal opinions and experiences.
But don’t get me wrong. I love Pollan. Always have. I’ve read nearly every book he’s written. And this is really interesting information about these three drugs. However, I disagree with his anecdote of the one drug on the list that I have extensive personal experience: caffeine. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he’s wrong. His experience is his experience. But I think it is safe to say that his experience does not account for the full range of human experience possible on these drugs. Maybe he didn’t mean that…except that he literally titled the book, This is YOURMind on Plants.
Anyway, I found the book entertaining–especially about his attempt at growing illegal poppy plants in his backyard.
Give and Take by Adam Grant
In Give and Take, Adam Grant basically takes the old adage “’tis better to give than to receive” and applies it to business, arguing that “givers” actually get ahead in an area where most people believe “takers” will be more successful.
“This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Adam Grant, Give and Take
This book provides plenty of evidence that giving is the fastest path to happiness, success and personal well-being. I especially loved the overlap with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and Angela Duckworth’s Grit and how all of these ideas tie together to provide a cohesive picture of what is ideal in so many [if not all] aspects of life.
In my own life, I have found that giving [particularly financially] is a tremendous source of happiness–much greater than spending money on myself. Grant agrees and provides evidence that this is true.
“Most people think they’d be happier spending the money on themselves, but the opposite is true. If you spend the money on yourself, your happiness doesn’t change. But if you spend the money on others, you actually report become significantly happier…Economists call it the warm glow of giving, and psychologists call it the helper’s high.”
Adam Grant, Give and Take
I highly recommend this book, particularly for business people, but really for anyone who wants to know the how and why of giving more than receiving. This book is a balm to our selfish souls.
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman
This parenting book repeated a lot of the typical advice…however with a side of sexism that, quite frankly, pissed me off. I thought there were some good things in here, however they can all be found in other books that don’t encourage stereotypical gender roles, or explain them as “nature.”
On the whole, I didn’t hate the book, but I don’t recommend it either.
Do Nothing by Celeste Headlee
I loved this book about doing nothing. Of course, I’m about to enter the busiest season of my life as I return to school full-time + clinical rotations in the fall, but as I wrote about in a previous post, this book helped me to scale back some areas of my life that were running me ragged. And it taught me the importance of play and leisure time. As a result, I’ve enjoyed taking time this summer to relax with my family, and I’m not going to punish myself for it.
“In many ways I think we’ve lost the sight of the purpose of free time. We seem to immediately equate idleness with laziness but those two things are very different. ‘Leisure’ is not a synonym for ‘inactive’ – idleness offers an opportunity for Play, something people rarely indulge in these days.”
Celeste Headlee, Do Nothing
Brett actually took a lateral position instead of a vertical one recently because he doesn’t want to work more hours and miss out on any more living. This is a choice that I think way too few people make. Just because upward seems to be the best way to go, doesn’t mean it is, if it is costing you hours with your family, sleep, hobbies, simple pleasures, vacation time or anything else that brings you joy. Of course, some people love their jobs or consider their careers a “calling” and so get a lot of joy out of the rat race. But, for most of us rats, we should work a little less, and play a little more.
Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing by Lauren Hough
This audiobook was recommended by People Magazine, because part of it is read by Cate Blanchett, and I must say, she does a great American accent and is an excellent reader [of course, that surprises absolutely no one].
Besides the reading, I appreciated the book for the unique perspective Hough provides as a lesbian, ex-military, cult survivor. It’s entertaining, but in a kind of sad way. And strangely, her upbringing in the Family cult is not all that different from my own upbringing in Protestant Christianity–minus all the sex stuff, of course.
There are a lot of great quotes in this book, but here are two of my faves:
“If there’s a useful side effect of homophobia, it’s that most people who find gays abhorrent find it rude to assume someone’s gay, despite all obvious signs… It’s not gaydar. It’s the ability to see reality without the constraints of judgment.”
Lauren Hough, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
“I didn’t accept abuse. I expected it, welcomed it. It’s the lesson not only of asshole step-dads or cults, but also evangelical Christianity. You’re nothing without a relationship with Jesus. You’ll take anything; form a healed flu virus to a pretty flower as evidence your love is reciprocated. Shit luck is the devil testing you, or punishment for sin because a loving god hits you sometimes. He hurts you because he loves you, to teach you, to make you better. Or he had a bet with the devil (see the entire book of Job).”
Lauren Hough, Leaving Isn’t the Hardest Thing
Grit by Angela Duckworth
This is a great book about developing passion and perseverance, the recipe to create “grit” according to Angela Duckworth. We need both to find and pursue our life’s purpose.
“Without effort, your talent is nothing more than unmet potential. Without effort, your skill is nothing more than what you could have done but didn’t.”
Angela Duckworth, Grit
I really appreciated that she also addresses how to develop grit in our children, which is something really important to me and, I assume, all parents who want to see our children succeed in the things that matter most to them.
Arms Wide Open by Patricia Harman
I was drawn to this book because it is the memoir of a midwife [which is my ultimate career goal] so I thought it would be interesting. It definitely was interesting, but was a lot less about midwifery and a lot more about hippies and communes in the 60s and 70s. I was quite surprised to learn about hippie life from an actual hippie. It didn’t sound appealing to me. Everyone running around naked, sharing partners, no running water, watching each others’ kids [ok, that part sounds pretty nice]. Brett often teases me saying that I want to live on a commune, which did sound idyllic to me at one time–before I read this book. But it was a different time back then and I like how honest Harman is about it.
“TV and movies portray hippies and protestors as kids going crazy with love and drugs, but in reality there was pain everywhere. Pain, on our families’ parts, when they lost their children to a world they didn’t understand. And pain, on our part, when our parents rejected us for not believing what they believed and not wanting to live as they lived.”
Patricia Harman, Arms Wide Open
Well, I can definitely relate to that.
Entitled by Kate Manne
In the beginning, I was a little put off by Manne’s formal tone. It came across overly harsh for some reason. After all, I have a feminist husband and Brett is exceptional at balancing the sexist scales for me. But, by the end, I was used to the almost academic writing style and agree with the majority of her assessment of sexism’s affect on women.
“Entitled tackles a wide range of ways in which misogyny, “himpathy,” and male entitlement work in tandem with other oppressive systems to produce unjust, perverse, and sometimes bizarre outcomes. Many of these stem from the fact that women are expected to give traditionally feminine goods, such as sex, care, nurturing and reproductive labor to designated, often more privileged men, and to refrain from taking traditionally masculine goods such as power, authority and claims to knowledge away from them.”
Kate Manne, Entitled
The book breaks down the things that men feel entitled to receive from women: love, sex, nurturing, childcare, motherhood, free labor, etc. Even I wanted to come to the defense of men at several points, thinking to myself, surely not all men. But I had to recognize that this was my own case of “himpathy” – a term I had never heard used before but which I now LOVE and recognize EVERYWHERE.
“Recall that ‘himpathy,’ as I construe it, is the disproportionate or inappropriate sympathy extended to a male perpetrator over his similarly or less privileged female targets or victims in cases of sexual assault, harassment and other misogynistic behavior.”
Kate Manne, Entitled
If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone defend a man in the case of sexual misconduct, so help me I’d be so frickin rich right now.
And it turns out that I had my own [incorrect] ideas about what I owe to Brett. Even the very common belief that you better give your husband sex or he will cheat on you is so ludicrous. Let the asshole cheat on you, ladies. He ain’t worth it.
I wish more people would read this book…but they would have to have an open mind, because sexism runs deep in all of us, even women.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
I loved this book. Such a great story told in such a fascinating way…or rather a fascinating story, told in a completely standard sequential way…either way, a wonderful book. The characters are developed so well. I’ve even taken away a common catch-phrase of the protagonist’s mother. “Needs must.”
I highly recommend it.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
This is the most complex story of race and class I’ve ever read. This one story contains so much discourse on American life right now that…quite frankly, it’s hard to describe it. It breaks down so many stereotypes, which is what I think I like the most about it. The characters don’t fit into the typical type-casted roles that you would expect.
We need more books like this one.
Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
Love, love, love this book because it is the first parenting book that actually provides a legit recipe for keeping your cool so you can use all the excellent parenting tools you know you should be using. This is similar to How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg, but goes a step further and provides specific mindfulness meditation exercises. Maybe a few years ago I wouldn’t have been receptive to the idea of meditation, but in the past few years I’ve read several excellent books on the topic and even wrote a research paper on the health benefits of meditation for my psychology course, and I have been totally convinced of it’s effectiveness, even importance, for everyone, but especially parents.
“So mindfulness meditation is intentionally training our attention to be in the present moment, nonreactive, and nonjudgmentally curious. Mindfulness is a quality we are aiming for; mindfulness meditation is the tool for building that quality in ourselves.”
Hunter Clarke-Fields, Raising Good Humans
Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica
This was another recommendation by People Magazine [I don’t actually read the magazine, but my MIL has a subscription and I rip out the book recommendation from each issue], and I liked it….but there were some things I didn’t like. Overall, it was a good book.
There are some plot surprises, but also some plot holes. I was surprised at the end, but that’s only because there was absolutely no indication throughout the book and, to me, that felt a bit like cheating. I don’t like when it’s so obvious that I can figure out the “whodunnit,” but I also don’t like it when the answer is so hidden that it doesn’t even come across as plausible. What can I say? I’m picky about my mysteries…
In the end, I still think it was a good book.
I think this may be my last book review for a while. I hope to still do some fun reading, but I can’t really tell how busy I will be when school starts in the fall and I doubt I’ll have time to post much at all. I graduate [IF I graduate] in May 2024…so, see ya then!
Over the years, I’ve read a lot of parenting books in a never-ending attempt to become the best parent I can be. Some books have been amazing, others have been so terrible I couldn’t even get past the first chapter. Some have been life-changing [like the one that said I don’t have to finish every book I pick up, which is why I stopped reading some parenting books mid-chapter] and some have been only minimally helpful.
Of course, whether a books is “good” is totally subjective. I’m not trying to say that I am some authority on the topic [or even on books in general], but I will tell you the kind of parent I want to be, and that should give you an idea of the types of parenting books that I appreciate the most.
The Parent I Want to Be
When I had kids, I knew one thing for certain: I didn’t want to raise my kids the way I was raised. And, initially, that was the extent of my thoughts about it. I knew I didn’t want an authoritarian, “my way or the highway” approach that demanded immediate, unquestioning obedience from my kids, and I didn’t want to dole out humiliating corporal punishment for disobedience, disrespect, or even questioning authority. [I knew by the time my firstborn was one-year-old that I was absolutely against spanking.]
Don’t get me wrong. My parents loved me very much. They would probably be appalled to read what I wrote above. They would insist that they had done what was right…not to mention what their religion told them was the only way to rear a child. “Spare the rod, spoil the child” and all that ancient bullshit. But, hitting a child is still hitting a child, no matter how good one’s intentions. And regardless of who is “right,” that’s just never going to be my parenting style.
I want more than just obedience, I want a relationship with my kids — one built on love, respect and trust that is mutual. I want my kids to trust and respect me because I’ve earned it. I want my kids to question my rules and decisions because I’m not always right. I want my kids to be a part of solving problems and finding solutions because I believe they are capable. When they grow up, I want them to say, “My mom’s my best friend.” I want them to call me if they’ve had too much to drink at a party. I want them to come to me for advice when they’ve messed up and know that I won’t punish or threaten or even judge them. I will love them.
But, heck, I’m a mom of four kids [ages seven and under]…and so I also need cooperation. I can’t just let them do whatever they want. I have to have some order, some structure, some firm guidelines. Sometimes I just need my kid to put on her frickin shoes so we can leave. But the only way I knew how to get kids to behave themselves was the way that my parents did it with me: through fear, threatening, and hitting.
So, I had to read some books. Turns out, there are non-violent, non-threatening, non-authoritarian ways to get kids to behave themselves. This is the path I have chosen.
In the end, all I’m really trying to do is raise competent, compassionate, independent adults. That’s really it. If they grow up and become these things — kind to others, capable of contributing to the world and taking care of themselves — then that’s a win in my book. And if I can teach them to do that without instilling fear, using intimidation, or teaching them that it’s the right of the powerful to strong-arm the weak, then that’s how I want to go about it.
I have definitely not arrived, but these five books have helped me tremendously on my way to calm, compassionate, mindful parenting.
Top 5 Parenting Books [Best to Very Best]
#5. How To Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg
First of all, this book is hilarious. Well, it’s hilarious for parents. If you don’t have kids, I’m not sure you’ll get the humor. [But if you don’t have kids…why are you reading about parenting books anyway? 🤨]
In How to Stop Losing Your Sh*twith Your Kids, Naumburg gives the BEST tip to prevent your kids from pushing your buttons [and you know those grubby little fingers are always reaching for buttons]—make your buttons harder to push! It’s so simple and yet so BRILLIANT!
“Many parenting books focus on how to get kids to stop with all the 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 the walls and melts down over the shape of toast? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Fortunately, there’s a better plan.
Carla Naumburg,PhD How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids
This book basically taught me that to be a good parent I have to be good to myself, as well.
#4. Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne
I was reading this book while I was in the process of becoming a minimalist for my own reasons and I learned that simplicity is just as important for my kids as it is for me. All the struggles I was having with consumerism and clutter and excess and wastefulness and feeling hurried and glorifying busy and losing creativity and being stressed…all of that affects kids too. [Maybe even more so.]
This book helped me with intentionally structuring our family life and thinking through all the things I want for my kids and, more importantly, all the things I don’t. If it hadn’t been for this book, I think I would have been swept up in middle class American family life—filling my house with cheap plastic toys, allowing screens to babysit my kids, constantly trying keep them entertained, dragging them from one program to the next, and ultimately missing out on the joy, beauty, and wonder that simplicity fosters.
Instead, I learned that I had to be intentional about making space for my kids to be kids.
“Children need time to become themselves–through play and social interaction. If you overwhelm a child with stuff–with choices and pseudochoices–before they are ready, they will only know one emotional gesture: More!”
Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting
#3. The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
The Whole-Brain Child helped me to better understand my children’s developing brains which it built on all the great advice I learned from Now Say This [the next book on the list]. For instance, there is no point in trying to reason with a toddler in the middle of a meltdown because their “upstairs brain” has been hijacked by their “downstairs brain” — their strong emotions. So, instead I “connect, then redirect.”
A lot of the actual parenting advice is the same as in other books, [including the “connect, then redirect” tip above] but it makes a lot more sense when given with the context of what is physiologically happening inside your child.
“It’s also crucial to keep in mind that no matter how nonsensical and frustrating our child’s feelings may seem to us, they are real and important to our child. It’s vital that we treat them as such in our response.”
Daniel J. Siegel, The Whole-Brain Child
The book also has helpful cartoons to illustrate these concepts for your kids [or in my case, my partner, since he refuses to read any books].
#2. Now Say This by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
Now Say This has been my favorite parenting book for YEARS. I’ve read it multiple times and I intend to read it many more times before my kids are grown. [It was just recently moved to my second favorite by another book, but I’ll get to that in a minute.]
This book helped me understand my kids on a deeper level and marked the beginning of my long journey toward more skillful communication. I learned how to accept my kids’ feelings without condoning their actions. I learned how to see the underlying need my child was expressing, rather than just seeing them as being difficult and disobedient. I learned how to sit with my kids through their big feelings so they would know that I won’t shame or isolate them for having emotions. I learned how to stop threatening, accusing and punishing my kids. [I still do all of these things sometimes, which is why this is an ongoing practice and I re-read this book frequently.]
This three-step method of handling behavioral issues [or any issues at all] has become the backbone for how I communicate with my kids [and even my partner] – though I am still far from perfect at it. First, I attune to my kids’ feelings. Then I set the limit. And then we problem-solve together. This shows my kids that I care about how they feel [even about trivial things like the color of their plate] but that there are limits to how we can behave [we don’t throw our plate because it is not yellow] and I am open to suggestions of how to solve the problem [you can have that plate tomorrow, maybe?].
Ya’ll, this process works! I have seen it in my family. But like all things worth doing, it also takes a lot of work. It’s definitely not an instant, miracle cure for all parental aggression. But, trust me, it really works.
#1. Raising Good Humans by Hunter Clarke-Fields
I just finished reading Raising Good Humans and it has surpassed my previous parenting favorite [Now Say This] because this is the first parenting book that makes mindfulness a priority. The first part of the book is dedicated solely to the work we must do on ourselves before we can even hope to change our responses in heated moments.
This was the key I was missing from all the other parenting books that tell you to speak softly and get down on your child’s level and give them a hug and say with empathy, “I see that you are really upset about that” — when all I have the emotional fortitude to do is scream and storm off to my room. How the heck am I supposed to put all this great parenting advice to good use when my nerves are frayed and I’m low on sleep and high on caffeine and hanging on to my sanity by a thread?!?
The answer is mindfulness meditation.
Meditation may sound daunting [or maybe even ridiculous] to people first considering it, but I’ve read many books about meditation over the years and I am totally convinced in the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I just haven’t started it…til now.
This book shows how mindfulness meditation is necessary for skillful parenting because it calms down the emotional waves inside ourselves, allowing us to be there in a calm, nonjudgmental way for our kids.
Guys, this is a game changer.
I’m going to write more about it next week because [surprise, surprise] my health goal for July is to prioritize a regular meditation practice.
Honorable Mention: Parenting Beyond Belief
I have to mention Parenting Beyond Belief, which is actually a collection of essays from secular parents about how they handle religion and ideas about god with their children. As I was in the process of leaving the religion I was raised in, this book was an absolute life saver.
It IS possible to raise kind, compassionate, moral kids without god or religion. If you want to try it, I recommend this book.
Let’s face it, parenting is tough. Parenting intentionally is even more tough. It takes a lot of work and effort and practice…and in my case, reading.
All of these books have impacted my parenting in big ways and I highly recommend all of them. I’ve tried many, many times to get my partner, Brett, to read these books, but he won’t [books are not his thing]. So, maybe I’ll have better luck convincing one of you that these books are worth reading.
Final word of encouragement to all parents out there: you don’t have to raise your kids the way you were raised. You can find your own way. It may even be a better way.
In Q1, I read 23 books. We took two trips with lengthy car rides which really helped me achieve this. [Audio books on long car rides are my favorite.]Most of these are real winners, some are just “meh,” but here’s the list and my thoughts about each one.
[Warning: these reviews often digress into soapboxes. Sorry.]
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
Unfortunately, the first book I read in 2022 was not my favorite. This memoir of Paul Kalanithi’s life, career, and struggle with the cancer that would ultimately claim his life was interesting, but so sad, mostly because I was aware at the outset that he was going to die. But I really can’t even say anything critical about it because I know that the man spent his last dying days writing this book, and I am grateful to him for doing so. He lived what we all fear—a fatal diagnosis—and as a doctor himself, of neurosurgery no less, he has important things to say about life and the role of medicine in it.
“Science may provide the most useful way to organize empirical, reproducible data, but its power to do so is predicated on its inability to grasp the most central aspects of human life: hope, fear, love, hate, beauty, envy, honor, weakness, striving, suffering, virtue.”
Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air
10% Happier by Dan Harris
Dan Harris is really funny. Since I had never watched him on TV [honestly, I didn’t even know who he was], I was completely surprised by how great this book was – both for entertainment value and for providing real talk about mindfulness and practical advice about meditation. Of course, I am also insanely jealous of Dan Harris, who because of his position within the media, was able to just schedule interviews with all the great spiritual leaders of our time [Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the Dalai Lama] any time he had a question. Geez, wouldn’t that be nice.
I especially appreciated that this was not a spiritual journey, but more of a journey toward centering oneself around meaningful principles through mindfulness. It actually reminded me a little of Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, about psychedelics, which seem to ultimately provide someone with the same result as meditation: a loss of the ego. As someone who is highly spiritual, but anti-religion, this book was just another reminder that I simply must start a meditation practice.
I definitely recommend this book. It is entertaining and interesting and liable to convince you to sit on the floor in silence for at least 10 minutes a day.
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I listened to this audio book while driving back from Florida after our vacation in January and it was the perfect book for a road trip. And the reader, Wil Wheaton, is EXCELLENT. [I just recently finished listening to the sequel, Ready Player Two, which is also ready by Wil Wheaton and it was just as good.] I’m not a big “gamer” per se, but I love a great quest adventure and this one was interesting enough to keep my attention for the full 12 hour drive.
The story is set in the future, when climate change has ravaged the planet and overpopulation has led to huge ghettos [called “stacks”] and all the people on earth spend most of their time escaping the real world through a virtual simulation called the OASIS. [This is all sounding a bit too plausible, am I right???] Living in one of the stacks is Wade Watts, who spends all of his free time searching for a hidden Easter Egg left by the original creator of the OASIS, James Halliday. And of course, the kicker—the finder of the egg inherits Halliday’s company and fortune.
As far as futuristic fiction goes, this one is good. [The movie by the same name is also pretty decent, but as always, the book is better.]
Die with Zero by Bill Perkins
Well, this book was a huge disappointment. I picked it up in the library because, after reading the back, I thought that Perkins was going to recommend that everyone stop hoarding a ton of money until the day they die and instead, using all that money to improve the world. Sadly, that is not what he recommends. This book’s whole agenda is to encourage people to spend all their money on themselves, specifically on experiences that will provide happy memories that they can think about when they are eventually bedridden. I could not disagree more with this idea; however, I do agree that everyone should use their money in such a way as to die with zero. I agree that it makes absolutely no sense to save up money your whole life just to leave it behind in a bank account to be distributed by whoever is left behind. Actually, I don’t think we should be hoarding money no matter how you intend to use it. I mean, how insane is it for me to amass wealth while millions of children die every year from diseases I could easily prevent with all that money? Which is why, Brett and I only save a little money and give the rest away.
I mean, it’s not that he didn’t have any useful information in here. I thought that some of his practical points were good, like about annuities, which I had never heard of, and about spending more when you are young and less as you age. And there is information in here for every income level.
Honestly, this book kind of made me angry as Perkins writes about spending his millions on his favorite past time—poker tournaments! For the love of all that is good and holy. What a fucking waste! [Please excuse my language.] Maybe I’ll just have to write my own book about how to use your money to create real and lasting happiness. And trust me, it’s not by purchasing yachts or traveling to fancy destinations or owning massive homes or driving obscenely expensive cars. Happiness has always been found in compassion for others. I kind of thought we all knew that by now.
Decision Points by George W. Bush
This book was a real trip through the past for me since I vaguely remember the major events of Bush’s presidency, but not with any real detail. I was in junior high and high school for most of his time in office, and not particularly interested in politics at the time, so it was fascinating to read about the backgrounds and circumstances of each of these historical events.
As you may know by now, I love a political memoir. There is something about hearing a first person account of historical events that I really appreciate. It also humanizes these leaders and shows how they are normal humans with feelings, just trying to do their best, like we all are. We may judge them and criticize them and disagree with them [or, more rarely, adore them], but the position of President isn’t a cake walk. If you need a reminder of that, read this book.
Holy cow, Bush had a miserable presidency. All of the worst events of modern history [with the exception of the COVID pandemic] seemed to occur during his time in office — including the only two wars that the US has fought in my lifetime. Here’s a short list of the highlights [or should I say low-lights]: the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which led to the “War on Terror,” the Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and of course, the stock market crash, housing market collapse and great recession of 2007. Yikes. And there are more, like No Child Left Behind, the biggest tax cut in history [which of course favored the wealthy], and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US military. This book started sounding like one long apology to the American people as President Bush explained his reasoning for all of his decisions. And I actually believe him. He seems like a very decent, kind man. He is a man who came from money, a man who was in the oil industry, a man whose father was also the president—with all of those limitations, I would say he did the best he could.
A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
I love this woman and I’ll just get it out of the way right now: Elizabeth Warren is not a socialist. [I mean, really, it is almost embarrassing how American politics has basically turned into a name-calling sport with the left hurling “Trump-lovers!” while the right screams “Socialists!” Geez, louise.] Anyway, in this memoir, Warren shares how she rose from a mom who dropped out of college to a tenured professor at Harvard to a congresswoman serving in the United States Senate. Warren was also the first female to be elected to the Senate in Massachusetts. Basically, this woman is a rock star.
This book is especially interesting when read simultaneously with Decision Points by President Bush and A Promised Land by Barack Obama, because she provides a different perspective of the financial crisis of 2007. As a specialist in bankruptcy law, Warren had been fighting for more protections for ordinary people from big lenders who take advantage of vulnerable people through obscenely high interest rates and risky loans. In this book, she tells the story of being asked to speak to the board of a large bank about how to reduce the number of clients who are filing for bankruptcy. [This was years prior to the bursting of the housing market “bubble.”] When she told them that they shouldn’t lend to people who are already in financial trouble, they told her, “Look, lady, we’re not going to stop doing that—that’s how we make our money!” [My paraphrase.]
All I can say is, if we had listened to this woman earlier, the recession could have probably been avoided altogether.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune
Honestly, I was really drawn to this book because of the cover art, but in the end, I was a little disappointed because it felt too predictable and too similar to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. I did, however, appreciate that this novel featured homosexual main characters while not making it a thing. Thanks to this book, our society is one step closer to treating everyone like they are normal, because, of course, they are.
The Guest List by Lucy Foley
This murder mystery by Lucy Foley has everything I love in a good novel: great use of flashback and foreshadowing, characters full of secrets, slow unraveling of the mysteries, and plenty of suspense to keep me reading. I listened to the audio book which was also really good and used different readers for each of the different characters.
As always, with fiction, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but you should definitely read it.
Mine! By Michael Heller and James Salzman
This book was very interesting because it made me think about things I’ve never thought about before, sometimes totally blowing my mind. For instance, did you know that when you send in a DNA sample into one of those ancestry companies, they keep the sample and own the rights to that DNA [YOUR DNA] forever. That might not be a big deal, but it could turn out to be pretty lucrative for these companies in the future. And they actually convinced YOU to pay them to take your DNA.
Anyway, this whole topic is especially interesting for two reasons: #1: The two most valuable words in America are “money” and “mine” and it turns out if you have enough money, you can make anything yours. #2: Our laws set the ownership rules and our judicial system interprets them, so our government is really important for defining all these weird gray areas of ownership. It might sound pretty straight forward. What’s yours is yours and what’s mine is mine. But in actuality, it is far from that simple.
Read this book and you’ll understand what I mean.
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I love Malcolm Gladwell, and I loved this book even more than Talking to Strangers, which I read last year. Strangely enough, I’ve read around this topic enough to have heard some of these studies quoted in other books, but that did not make this any less of a riveting read.
I don’t remember how I first came to recognize that my own success in life—in everything, actually—is not a result of my hard work, or my perseverence, or my skillset but, rather, is a product of random chance. I just happened to win the cosmic lottery and be born to a white, middle class family in the wealthiest nation in the world. I happened to be born to parents who loved me, who paid for me to have a private education, who taught me to work hard and manage my money wisely. I mean, yeah, there are people who made out better than me, but they are very few compared to the number of people who are born on this planet without any of those privileges. The moment I realized this fact, my life changed because I was no longer the victor enjoying the fruits of my labor, I was just like every other person on this planet, except I got lucky.
The strange thing is that we actively teach the opposite to people. We tell people to work hard and they will succeed and as a result, we imply that people who are not successful simply aren’t working as hard as you are. We could not be more wrong. And I love this book because it is proof that we are products of so many outside forces, so many factors out of our control, and so few of us are getting lucky. We have to stop the arrogance of thinking we are better just because we were born in a better position than the people around us.
“Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed. If it were, Chris Langan would be up there with Einstein. Nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities — and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
If we, in America, could recognize this truth, then maybe we wouldn’t find it so offensive to give equal opportunities to everyone. Maybe then we could be more gracious to those lower on the social ladder than ourselves. Maybe we could finally believe that our success is tied to everyone around us and that we can’t achieved anything on our own.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I’m a Stephen King fan. I used to always associate King with horror stories like It and The Shining, but he clearly can do more than that. What I like best about his writing is that while reading his books, I get so engrossed in the story that I completely forget about the author and honestly, that is really rare for me. This is partly the curse of studying writing and literature in college, but I often find myself thinking of the author when I’m reading fiction. She made this foreshadowing too obvious.[In Five Complete Strangers] or Why does he use the word “untoward” so frequently? [In The House in the Cerulean Sea]
But Stephen King writes so seemlessly, so naturally, so convincingly that I literally forget that there is an author, that this is a work of someone’s imagination, that I’m reading a story and not a real man’s account of travelling back in time to stop the assassination of JFK.
This book is incredible. It is an undertaking, but totally worth it.
Atomic Habits by James Clear
This is a great little book with very practical tips for how to make or break habits. I shared previously [in my March health goal post] that I have a planner with a list of daily habits that I try to accomplish every day and this book provided some really helpful ideas for achieving some of my less desirable goals—like yoga. Here are some of my favorite tips from the book: habit stacking, habit tracking, temptation bundling, and gateway habits. I used habit stacking to re-develop a yoga habit, by stacking yoga with a habit that I already do every day, in this case, my regular workout. [You’ll have to read the book if you want to know what the rest are. I can’t give all his secrets away.]
The book also contains a lot of motivation for getting your shit together, and it’s a quick read.
Career & Family by Claudia Goldin
This is an important book about the gender wage gap in the workplace. In it, Goldin examines the careers of five groups of women based on their birth years and draws the conclusion that the gender wage gap is not due to explicit sexism in the workplace, but rather a societal issue we have with who handles childcare and how it is handled. When it comes to couples with children, women more often opt for the more flexible position so that they will be available for the children, but that prevents them from taking positions that require more hours and therefore more pay. As someone who is about to go back to school full-time and then hopefully back into the workplace full-time, childcare is a major challenge—the biggest obstacle in the way of me having a successful career.
My most prominent thoughts throughout reading this book, were gratitude for the generations that have gone before me and paved the way for me to go to college, get a masters degree, have a career, all while I have a husband and children. This has not been a possibility for very long and I am indebted to everyone who has helped to make it a reality for me. And now my job is to make these things, including equal pay, even more attainable for my three daughters.
The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt
This is my favorite book of the quarter. To love this book, you have to have just the right mix of religious background, liberal politics, philosophical thinking, and a love of ethics and morality. But I’m clearly not the only one, because this book has been published and [I assume] purchased by other people.
[Please, if you are out there and you have read this book and you loved it, reach out to me. You are a part of my tribe.]
This guy, whom I had never heard of before reading this book, is a moral psychologist. I didn’t know that was a career choice back when I was eighteen and choosing “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” but if I had, I think my life would have been very different.
Anyway, this book discusses the moral foundations underlying American politics. Fascinating stuff. I took notes from this book and typed them all into a word document and my document is over 7 pages long! [And that’s single-spaced ya’ll.] It is practically impossible for me to choose my favorite quote from my seven-page document, but I will try…
That’s a really great quote, but it’s not my favorite, that was just the shortest one…
“Morality binds and blinds. This is not just something that happens to people on the other side. We all get sucked into tribal moral communities. We circle around sacred values and then share post hoc arguments about why we are so right and they are so wrong. We think the other side is blind to truth, reason, science, and common sense, but in fact everyone goes blind when talking about their sacred objects…Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.”
Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
Ahh I can’t choose a favorite quote from this book. I guess my favorite quote would be the whole book.
Lost and Found by Kathryn Schulz
Gotta love journalists. They can take three simple words and write a full-length book about them. [And I can poke fun at them because I used to dream of being a journalist.] In this case the words are “lost,” “and”, and “found.” This book is poetic and interesting and…hard to describe. Schulz talks first about losing her father and then finding the love of her life. But along the way she spend a lot of time discussing losing and finding in general.
Here are four quotes that I found to be really profound and meaningful:
“…This may be why certain losses are so shocking. Not because they defy reality, but because they reveal it. One of the many ways that loss instructs us is by correcting our sense of scale, showing us the world as it really is—so enormous, complex and mysterious that there is nothing too large to be lost, and, conversely, no place too small for something to get lost there.”
“Most of us alive today will survive into old age, and although that is a welcome development, the price of experiencing more life is sometimes experiencing less of it too. So many losses routinely precede the final one now: loss of memory, mobility, autonomy, physical strength, intellectual aptitude, a longtime home, the kind of identity derived from vocation, whole habits of being, and perhaps above all a certain forward tilting sense of self, the feeling that we are still becoming, that there are things left in this world we may yet do.”
“The first problem that love presents us with is how to find it. But the most enduring problem of love, which is also the most enduring problem of life, is how to live with the fact that we will lose it.”
“No matter what goes missing, the object you need or the person you love, the lessons are always the same. Disappearance reminds us to notice, transience to cherish, fragility to defend. Loss is a kind of external conscience urging us to make better use of our finite days.”
Kathryn Schulz, Lost and Found
But outside of these thought-provoking paragraphs, it felt at times like she was just trying to fill pages.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
You’ll notice that I’ve started reading books about happiness, not because I am unhappy, but because I’m SO HAPPY that I’m looking for a book that actually gets it right. This book, in my opinion, gets it mostly wrong. In it, Gretchen Rubin endures a self-imposed “happiness project” for a year, doing the things she lists on the cover..and many more. I don’t know why I keep finding myself reading these “challenge books” where the author has to live like a Biblical woman for a year [A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans] or give up sugar for a year [Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub] or limit themselves to seven of everything for a year [7 by Jen Hatmaker] because I don’t really like these books. [Also, why are these types of books always written by Christians?? Can Christians not stick with anything for more than a year???]
But anyway, I did find this interesting tidbit from this book:
“Spend Out. Don’t think about the return. ‘It is by spending oneself,’ the actress Sarah Bernhardt remarked, ‘that one becomes rich.’ What’s more, one intriguing study showed that Sara Bernhardt’s pronouncement is literally true. People who give money to charity end up wealthier than those who don’t give to charity. After doing complex number crunching to control for different variables, a researcher concluded that charitable giving isn’t just correlated with higher income, it actually causes higher income.”
Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project
FINALLY! Proof of what I’ve been telling Brett for years! [Of course, Rubin conveniently forgets to mention the source of this “intriguing study.”] I knew this to be true based on the Karmic principle and on my own life experience. The more you give away, the more you get back. It takes some faith in the beginning, but in the end, it makes you happier and gives your life more meaning, which is of course, the real secret. When you give money away, you care less about having money, which actually makes you more rich.
As one of my favorite quotes goes:
Sustainable Happiness edited by Sarah Van Gelder
This is a great little book that is direct and to the point and [rightly] ties the happiness of the planet to our own. In the intro, Gelder inspires us to a new way of looking at happiness:
“The good news is that sustainable happiness is achievable, it could be available to everyone, and it begins by assuring that everyone can obtain a basic level of material security. But beyond that, more stuff isn’t the key to happiness.
“It turns out that we don’t need to use up and wear out the planet in a mad rush to produce the stuff that is supposed to make us happy. We don’t need people working in sweatshop conditions to produce cheap stuff to feed an endless appetite for possessions. We don’t even need economic growth, although some types of growth do help.
“The research shows that sustainable happiness comes from other sources. We need loving relationships, thriving natural and human communities, opportunities for meaningful work, and a few simple practices, like gratitude. With that definition of sustainable happiness, we really can have it all.”
Sarah Van Gelder, Sustainable Happiness
This pretty much sums it up. I mean, I think she misssed an important part of happiness in the last paragraph, but everything else is spot-on. She and the other contributors have a lot of other great things to think about when it comes to happiness.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I wish I had read this book earlier, but I don’t really read much YA fiction anymore. This is a really important book for everyone to read. It is so close to reality that it is scary…and heart breaking. Thomas uses a fictional story to share the struggle, frustration, defeat and hope of the black community in America. We still have so much work to do.
The United States of Arugula by David Kamp
A very interesting historical account of how we went from adoring all things French cousine to creating our own American food culture with our own American celebrity chefs. As a lover of the Food Network, I enjoyed reading the history of some of my favorite chefs. However, I’m not a foodie so a lot of this was outside of my wheelhouse.
The Book of Joy by His Holiness the Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams
FINALLY, a book on happiness that gets it right. It’s no surprise that the Dalai Lama knows the secret to happiness, but considering how many books I’ve read on the topic that get it wrong, I think more people need to read this book.
The main points can be summarized in this one quote by Abrams:
“As our dialogue progressed, we converged on eight pillars of joy. Four were qualities of the mind: perspective, humility, humor and acceptance. Four were qualities of the heart: forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity. On the first day, the archbishop had touched the fingers of his right hand to his heart to emphasize its centrality. We would end up ultimately at compassion and generosity and indeed both men would insist that these two qualities were perhaps most pivotal to any lasting happiness.”
Douglas Abrams, The Book of Joy
I could not agree more that compassion and generosity are the keys to happiness. I came upon that conclusion from my own life and I wasn’t searching for happiness at all. I was searching for meaningfulness—and happiness was just the byproduct.
This is a great book and a challenge for anyone who is searching for true and lasting happiness.
Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner
I’m sorry, but I did not like this book at all. Just not my cup of tea, I suppose. Nearly everything was a metaphor and felt very forced. [I have to stop accidentally reading this superficial fluff by Christian women.] I was hoping it would be about paring down life and enjoying simple pleasures, but it seemed like it was mostly praising superficial American consumerism.
I did however, like this one quote about a time when she visited an underprivileged community in Africa.
“I do not understand what it is like to live in a place where a drink of clean water is not readily available, where education is not accessible, where my basic needs are either not met or fought for with every ounce of my being. Where I live, we are after silver spoons. Here, there is no soup to slurp.”
Erin Loechner, Chasing Slow
You can kind of see what I mean about the metaphors…and of course, when she came back home she went right back to retail therapy and obsessing over her all-white kitchen [which is apparently all the rage on her hugely-popular website.]
For me this book, is down there with Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis. Both are directed at wealthy, white American women and are basically pats on the back for superficial, self-righteous, self-centered living.
The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. and Tina Payne Byrson, Ph.D.
This was a very good book with lots of practical information that I put into practice right away with my own kids.
I’ll give you an example. When I took my kids to see Sing 2 in theaters, my middle daughter [4 years old] was terrified at one point, screaming and kicking in her seat. After that part was over, she was fine for the rest of the movie so I forgot all about it. Then last week while we were at someone’s house, they were going to play the movie and Jo immediately started freaking out and saying that she was so scared of that movie and she didn’t want to watch it. Normally, I would have just suggested we watch another movie and moved on; however, because in this book they say to “name it to tame it,” I asked Jo to tell me about the scary part of the movie. As she was telling me what scared her, she started laughing and said “It’s actually pretty silly.” And we talked about how the lion who appeared scary in that part wasn’t really scary in the end and how he just didn’t want anyone to come to his house. Putting her fears into context and talking about them made her see that there was nothing to be afraid of. And, just like that, her fear of the movie was gone.
This is a total game-changer in my home where two of my kids get scared easily and tend to obsessive over their fears.
And there’s lots more great advice where that came from.
“It’s also true that feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits. They’re like the weather. Rain is real, and we’d be foolish to stand in a downpour and act as if it weren’t actually raining. But we’d be just as foolish to expect that the sun will never reappear.”
Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, The Whole-Brain Child
I recommend this book for all the parents out there [it’s even helpful for adults].
The New Rules of Aging Well by Frank Lipman, M.D. and Danielle Claro
I loved this book and immediately put into practice many of it’s practical tips like foam rolling [which I know I should be doing regularly, but dang it, it hurts!] and having a swig of vinegar before a meal and eating more fermented foods [sauerkraut anyone?] and extending my overnight fast to sixteen hours…and plenty more.
I don’t consider myself to be old yet, but it’s never too soon to start preparing for the future. Am I right? It’s interesting to me that people plan for their financial future [obsessively, it seems], but totally ignore their physical future. I for one, want to be rock climbing, hang gliding and deep sea diving at the age of 88. That requires some prep work….starting NOW.
Well, there are the books for Q1! Some really keepers. I think I may start posting monthly reviews because these are getting so long…
What have you been reading? Let me know in the comments!
In Q4 of 2021, I read 19 books. That might be a quarterly record for me!
In 2021, I read 66 books [68 if you count my two school textbooks]. Of those, 16 were about health [my reading goal for the year], 14 were memoirs [my favorite genre], 13 were about racism or social justice issues, and 11 were fiction.
Also, I should mention that I give star ratings for these books just for fun and based solely on my own enjoyment of the book. Also, a four star rating means that I really, really liked the book. These are books that I definitely recommend and think are absolutely worthwhile reads. The only reason they don’t get five stars is because I reserve five stars for my absolute favorites – either for their entertainment value or the value of their content.
After I list my Q4 reads, I’ll share a list of my five star reads and my absolute favorite book(s) of 2021.
Here are the books I read in the final quarter of 2021:
How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Fabre and Julie King
Eh. This book was just okay for me. It was very similar to the parenting advice book, Now Say This, which I LOVE and have read several times. But, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen was [in my opinion] not nearly as helpful or practical. Both books have similar content about affirming kids feelings and avoiding harsh reprimands and all of that, but many of the recommended responses did absolutely nothing to sway my stubborn toddlers.
So I would recommend that you skip this and go read Now Say This.
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Brett bought me this book to read when I took my kids on a trip to my aunt’s lake house. Maybe it was more about the setting – getting up early and reading with a fresh cup of coffee while watching the sun rise over the lake – but I really enjoyed this book. It is definitely not my preferred type of fiction, but it’s on Oprah’s book list, so I knew it would be worth a read. [Brett did not know that it was borderline erotic when he gave it to me, but I don’t think he was upset about it].
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
Probably one of my favorite reads of the entire year – and definitely my favorite book about health and nutrition and food and animals and life and family…
This is the story of Barbara Kingsolver and her family buying a farm and growing/raising their food and committing to only eating local for a year.
It is just such a good book! Of course, it’s about topics that I am SUPER interested in: healthy food, sustainable farming, homesteading, eating local, environmentalism, the ethical treatment of animals, cooking, baking, raising, growing, and making food from scratch.
Basically, this book is about rethinking all of the aspects of our food that we currently view as unnecessary inconveniences – such as raising animals, growing vegetable from seeds, and knead bread by hand – and realizing that all of these things reconnect us to the earth, to its finite resources, to its shared inhabitants, and ultimately, to our own humanity.
This book is also largely responsible for me becoming an omnivore once again, after a year of veganism – although I now have much, much higher standards for the meat and dairy I am willing to consume. Here’s an excerpt from her very insightful views on veganism/vegetarianism:
“A hundred different paths may lighten the world’s load of suffering. Giving up meat is one path; giving up bananas is another. The more we know about our food system, the more we are called into complex choices. It seems facile to declare one single forbidden fruit, when humans live under so many different kinds of trees.”
Barbara Kingsolver. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
But that’s not all. There is SO MUCH good information in this book, I could quote the whole thing! So you just have to read this book!!
Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich
“Being old enough to die is an achievement, not a defeat, and the freedom it brings is worth celebrating.”
Barbara Ehrenreich, Natural Causes
So, I’ve been reading tons of books about health, and then it all took a rather morbid turn and I started reading books about death. This, however, turned out to be especially depressing because she’s basically saying that everything I’m doing to be healthy is a total waste of time.
I didn’t really like the book for obvious reasons. She may have very good points about how worthless preventative screenings are or how pointless it is to avoid wine and chocolate or to frequent the gym when your body is withering away regardless – but she seems to imply that the only reason for healthy habits is to lengthen one’s life. I disagree. I think that a healthy life is a more fulfilling, more useful, more productive, more enjoyable life, even if that does mean a little less chocolate and wine. And, heck!, I frickin love my time at the gym.
Stop trying to take that away from me, Barbara!!
But I will say this: as a result of this book, I am a lot less likely to undergo a colonoscopy in the future. So, I guess I can thank Barbara for that!
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Now this book, on the other hand, was a really helpful, practical book about how to make the most of your time at the end of your life. In particular, I came away realizing how hospice is not just a death warrant that you take on when all else has failed and you’ve totally given up hope of having any meaningful time left, but rather it isa means by which you can experience a full end of life – one that keeps you out of the hospital, away from painful or debilitating treatments, and allows you to enjoy the things that matter most in life for as long as you have left.
It’s hard to imagine an end of life scenario where I don’t want to fight for more time, but truthfully, we need to come to terms with the fact that some fights in the end are simply not worth the trade off. A quiet passing, surrounded by loved ones, without pain or ambulances or defibrillators…that would be my preference in the end [if I am someone who knows in advance that the end is near]. I can’t decide whether I would prefer to know I’m going to die or to die unexpectedly, but if I’m lucky enough to live a long life and die of typical old age ailments, then this book will prove very helpful for me. It has already dramatically changed my view of the medical world and it’s role in the human experience of dying. But I will probably want to reread this book in thirty years or so – assuming I’m still kicking.
“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone. Medical science has given us remarkable power to push against these limits, and the potential value of this power was a central reason I became a doctor. But again and again, I have seen the damage we in medicine do when we fail to acknowledge that such power is finite and always will be. We’ve been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive. Those reasons matter not just at the end of life, or when debility comes, but all along the way.”
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
“…Our most cruel failure in how we treat the sick and the aged is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters of everyone’s lives.”
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
Though I’m only thirty-five years old, this book has really valuable advice and information about how to make the most of my life all the way to the very end. I mean, the end is coming for all of us. We should be prepared for it.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
This was a great book. I read Colson Whitehead’s book, The Underground Railroad, which was good, but The Nickel Boys is excellent – gut-wrenching, poignant, suspenseful, and even has an unexpected surprise at the end. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it.
As with all fiction I read, I don’t like to give very much away, but it’s worth mentioning that this story is based on a real boys school, which made it all the more powerful for me.
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
I love this book! Bill Bryson is so entertaining as he recounts the adventures that he and his friend, Katz, have while hiking the Appalachian Trail. I’m pretty sure I was laughing out loud at times, mostly at Katz’s expense [and as I’ve said before, when I start responding to books audibly while reading, that is a very good sign]. You just can’t make this stuff up…well, actually Bryson totally could have since most of it happened on a completely isolated trail through the woods – but if he did, I don’t want to know. It is too perfect the way it is.
“It would be useful (I wasn’t quite sure in what way, but I was sure nonetheless) to learn to fend for myself in the wilderness. When guys in camouflage pants and hunting hats sat around in the Four Aces Diner talking about fearsome things done out-of-doors, I would no longer have to feel like such a cupcake. I wanted a little of that swagger that comes with being able to gaze at a far horizon through eyes of chipped granite and say with a slow, manly sniff, ‘Yeah, I’ve shit in the woods.’”
Bill Bryson, A Walk in the Woods
I’ve always wanted to hike the AT – but not so much shit in the woods – and I actually can’t decide if this book made me want to do it more or less…but either way, it was a great book.
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (⭐️) for audiobook
Talking to Strangers is a fascinating book and the audiobook is phenomenal. Gladwell introduces the audiobook by saying that he wants it to sound like a podcast – a podcast with a production budget. And it definitely does.
In the book, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how to understand the people we don’t know, or maybe more importantly, how to not misunderstand them. By using high profile people from world history and recent events – Adolf Hitler, Sandra Bland, Amanda Knox, Larry Nassau, to name just a few – and the stories of how these people were misunderstood, for good or bad, Gladwell paints a complex picture of how we interact with one another.
I learned A LOT. I was at least vaguely aware of most of these stories, but had never heard them in detail and I was riveted. I was also fascinated to learn of our natural default to truth, how sitcoms like Friends has impacted our understanding of each other, why cops are trained to use aggressive policing methods, how computers are better able to predict a criminals behavior than a judge, and much more.
“We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues. We jump at the chance to judge strangers. We would never do that to ourselves, of course. We are nuanced and complex and enigmatic. But the stranger is easy. If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy.”
Malcolm Gladwell, Talking to Strangers
Overall, this book teaches us to be more humble and compassionate in our interactions with the people we don’t know. And we all need more of that.
This book is worth a re-read – or, better yet, a re-listen.
Clean and Green by Nancy Birtwhistle
I’m all about green cleaning, but my favorite part of this book was all of her British-isms like “worked a treat” and “boiled on the hob” and, my personal favorite, “bung up the hole.” [I’m just assuming these are British sayings because I’ve never heard them before.]
But in all seriousness, this book is full of brilliant ideas for cleaning without all the chemical-laden, aquatic life killing, toxic fume filled cleaners you find at the store. I decided to earmark each recipe/method that would be useful to me….omg check out the book now:
I should have saved the poor pages and just put the whole book in the “to-do” pile. Anyway, I intend to go through the book systematically using every recommended swap.
I’m especially anxious to try setting my oven racks in the lawn overnight to see if they are magically cleaned in the morning. [This is a real tip that she provides and since it’s in print, it must be true.]
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
What a sad story. It was actually kind of creepy for me in a way because I am not entirely unlike Christopher McCandless in my worldview. The major exception, of course, being that I haven’t rid myself of all my possessions and heading out into the Alaskan wilderness. I’m not that crazy, at least not yet. But, truthfully, the idea is kind of intriguing to me. [Thank God I have kids who keep me from doing anything too rash.]
This book was not entertaining like A Walk in the Woods, but I love how Krakauer slowly unravels the story, or should I say mystery, of McCandless’s final few months of life. Of course, the ending is written right on the cover of the book, but it’s the how and the why that are intriguing.
Anyway, I enjoyed it, but with a sort of sadness that weighed down the experience of reading it. I don’t quite know how else to describe it.
Nomadland by Jessica Bruder
[I listened to the audiobook and do not recommend it. My low rating is largely because of the reader. Get the actual book.]
As someone who dreams of selling all my earthly possessions and living out of a van, I thought this book would be right up my alley. However, it painted a pretty bleak picture of #vanlife. Instead of praising the nomad lifestyle like was hoping, this is the rather depressing story of an apparently large number of homeless…I mean, “houseless” retired people being worked to death and taken advantage of by big companies who need seasonal labor.
[Seriously. Amazon has a whole department called “CamperForce.” Here’s the enticing info on Amazon’s CamperForce hiring page:
“Want to keep enjoying life on the road? Join an enthusiastic team of like-minded travelers and adventurers at Amazon CamperForce. It provides great seasonal jobs at a growing number of state-of-the-art Amazon warehouse locations across the US.”
I was totally unaware that this subculture, which I always assumed to be full of young hippies in their twenties who smoke a lot of pot, is also populated by folks my parents age and older who have fallen on financial hardships and taken to the road.
But the idea of life on the road is still appealing to me and the book was very helpful in explaining how to live out of your van, make a pee bucket and not get caught by the police. But I guess I was envisioning a more…I dunno…lawful and sanitary version of the nomad life.
Anyway, it will mean pretty wild changes for our economy and our communities if more people leave their houses for the new frontier – Boon-docking [and her close cousin, Wally-docking].
Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards
I only read this book because it was the library’s book club pick so I didn’t have to wait to borrow it. Definitely not my favorite fiction book. The genre was right, but the story was lacking [almost non-existent] and the whodunit was way too obvious – though they hadn’t actually done anything yet. I knew the antagonist a few chapters in and was incredibly disappointed when I was actually right, still clinging to some hope that there would be a surprise or twist or something.
But, alas. Just a book about a girl who takes a ride through a blizzard with five strangers – one of whom is a creep.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Loved this book. What a beautiful story!
Ultimately, I think this is a story about regrets. Everyone has things in their life they would like to go back and change. And the magic of this story is that it reminds us that there is no such thing as a perfect life, only our own unique experience based on our choices – our personal opportunity to make the most of what we have.
“It is easy to regret, and keep regretting, ad infinitum, until our time runs out. But it is not lives we regret not living that are the real problem. It is the regret itself. It’s the regret that makes us shrivel and wither and feel like our own and other people’s worst enemy. We can’t tell if any of those other versions would of been better or worse. Those lives are happening, it is true, but you are happening as well, and that is the happening we have to focus on.”
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
My friend who recommended it to me described it as a “feel-good” read, and I couldn’t agree more. I listened to the audiobook while traveling to Chicago for my kidney surgery and it gave me all the feels. Life is a series of choices and all we can do is make the best decisions we can and enjoy the ride.
“The only way to learn is to live.”
Matt Haig, The Midnight Library
What Happened by Hilary Rodham Clinton
“We all have the ability to break out of our echo chambers and engage with people who don’t agree with us politically. We can keep an open mind and be willing to change our minds from time to time. Even if our outreach is rebuffed, it’s worth it to keep trying. We’re all going to share our American future together. Better to do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.”
Hilary Rodham Clinton, What Happened
As you know, I love a political memoir. And I have serious respect for this incredible woman. Unfortunately, at the time she was running for President, I was not at all interested in politics and I didn’t vote at all [to my everlasting shame]. And she is correct in her perspective on public opinion because all I really remember about her and her campaign can be summarized in one word: emails. How sad and pathetic that such an innocent and commonplace thing could turn into the media firestorm that it did and cost someone a president election. It’s painful to think about, especially in light of the terrible repercussions of our collective stupidity in that election.
Anyway, in this book Clinton is as gracious as ever. I especially love that she recorded the audiobook so that we could hear her share her story. My favorite part is when she shares what a day on the campaign trail looked like for her. I love this sort of “backstage pass” to the lives of political leaders.
If I could go back to my 2016 self, I’d slap myself across the face and say “Wake up! A woman is a primary presidential candidate!Rally the troops and head to the polls!” But, I can’t do that. Not certain what kinds of “troops” I could have rallied anyway since my circles are almost exclusively sexist and republican…but I would have tried. For my daughters. For me. For all women.
Despite the fact that she didn’t win, she definitely paved the way for a female president in the future and I am SO STOKED that I will be able to see it happen in my lifetime.
So, thanks, Hilary. [Is it okay if I call you Hilary?]
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
I listened to this audiobook as I recovered from surgery and I think the pain meds I was on made it hard to concentrate…or maybe put me to sleep while I was listening, because I don’t have many memories of reading it. I will have to re-read it in the future.
Though I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve never read the Harry Potter series, I only read this book now because I was trying to determine whether my kids are old enough for me to read it to them. [From what I remember of it, this book would be fine for them – ages 4, 5, & 7.]
One thing I do remember clearly about this book is being a little disappointed. There are a lot of Harry Potter fanatics out there, so I guess I was hoping to be really blown away by the book, and I wasn’t. But I was also drugged and had other more pressing concerns at the time of reading it.
Ok, I’m definitely going to re-read it. And I think I’ll read the actual book which always sticks better than the audiobook anyway.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
I love Michael Pollan and this book was interesting, but it seemed to be so different from his usual writings on healthy eating [then again, maybe it’s not that different after all]. He begins with a history of LSD and psychedelics, which was fascinating, and then moves on to describing his own experimentation [in safe and controlled environments] with various psychedelic drugs.
I still don’t have any interest in trying psychedelics – not because I’m a prude, but more because I have a stronger fear of a “bad trip” than a desire for a “good trip.” Strangely enough, in Waking Up by Sam Harris, which I read a few months back, Harris wrote that if his kids never experienced psychedelics in their lifetime, he would think they’ve missed out on something important. There seems to be an element of spirituality found in the “loss of self” or “silence of the ego” when using psychedelics, and I am very much interested in experiencing that. However, I’ve since read Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and it seems you can find a similar feeling/experience from meditation, which feels less risky…and also controversial.
But suffice it to say, Pollan succeeded in making me curious.
The Last Thing He Told Me by Laura Dave
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. Unfortunately, it seemed way too unrealistic for me to accept the ending. There is no way that would have worked out the way it did. It’s a nice idea though.
I read the whole thing in two days, so it was an interesting book, suspenseful enough to keep me reading, but ultimately a disappointment in the end.
Don’t want to spoil it for you, so if you’re so inclined, read it yourself and see if you agree.
Think Again by Adam Grant
This book reminded me a lot of another book I read a few years ago called Talking Across the Divide. In that book [which was also excellent], Justin Lee taught me for the first time about “echo chambers” and how to be open to listening to opposing views in order to communicate effectively with the people I disagree with. Think Again is like the second part of the lesson. Now that I have learned how to talk to people with different views, next I need to learn how to be open to change my own own views.
“A mark of lifelong learners is recognizing that they can learn something from everyone they meet.”
Adam Grant, Think Again
I think of myself as a life-long learner. And I believe myself to be pretty good at questioning my own beliefs. After all, I spent the first twenty-seven years of my life being a sexist, homophobic, conservative, religious zealot. And look at me now, a liberal feminist agnostic-leaning quasi new-age hippie. It took A LOT of rethinking to change my beliefs on literally everything. And even now, all my beliefs are fluid and always changing. And since 99% of my connections are still religious conservatives, my beliefs are always being challenged.
BUT Adam Grant has shown me weaknesses in my own thinking and habits that reinforce rather than question my beliefs – quite literally with his story about the debate on the topic of free universal preschool – but also through important lessons about wisdom and humility.
“It’s a sign of wisdom to avoid believing every thought that enters your mind. It’s a mark of emotional intelligence to avoid internalizing every feeling that enters your heart.”
Adam Grant, Think Again
This is a great book. Two thumbs up!
The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell
At the time of reading, I didn’t really like this story because of the ending, but now looking back on it, I think it is a good story. The book is about a family who, like all families, has history and secrets and complexities that are slowly unraveled throughout the story. The major events always seem happen on or around Easter [hence the egg on the cover].
For me personally, it didn’t have any redeeming qualities beyond the horrors of hoarding [when I finished the book, I immediately felt the need to purge my excess crap – of which there isn’t much since I’m already a minimalist] and the damage that secrets can do. But I enjoyed the way the story was told.
Similarly to other fiction books I read this quarter, the end of the story was slightly disappointing.
Five-Star Reads from 2021:
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
The Shining by Stephen King
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
Lost Connections by Johann Hari
Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanuel Acho
White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
How Democracies Die by Daniel Ziblatt and Steven Levitsky
How Not To Die by Dr. Michael Greger and Gene Stone
Night by Elie Wiesel
Persist by Elizabeth Warren
A Path Appears by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
Locally Laid by Lucie B. Amundsen
Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell
Think Again by Adam Grant
Favorite Read(s) of 2021
Despite my best efforts to choose only one favorite book of the year, it is a tie between these two:
Untamed by Glennon Doyle
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
You’ve GOT to read these two! And if you do, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
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.]
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 Saidby 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 Elegyby 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!
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.”
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 Mattersby 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 Feminismby 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 Appearsby 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 Laidby 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.
America for Americansby 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 Upby 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!
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!
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 clueabout 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
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 notunderstand 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.
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 Nickeland 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.
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.
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.
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?
Educatedby 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!
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.
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 Antiracistby 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.
Unknown Valorby 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.
Untamedby 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 Foodby 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.
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 Groceriesby 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.
Maidby 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.
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!
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.
Fashionopolisby 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 RBGby 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.
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???
Superlifeby 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.
Bad Feministby 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
👏 👏 👏
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!