Book Reviews [2020 Q3]

Book Reviews [2020 Q3]

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

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

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

July

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

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

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,

of things unknown, but longed for still,

and his tune is heard on the distant hill,

for the caged bird sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Naturally Tan by Tan France

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

Tan France, Naturally Tan

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

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

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

Tan France, Naturally Tan

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Tan!


Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

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

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

Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday

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

Amen.


Breathe: A Letter to My Sons by Imani Perry

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

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

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

Imani Perry, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons

Preach it, sister.

August

Becoming by Michelle Obama

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Michelle Obama, Becoming

In many ways, I have been becoming too.

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

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

Michelle Obama, Becoming

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

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

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

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

Michelle Obama, Becoming

The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift

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

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

Melinda Gates, The Moment of Lift

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


The Conscious Closet by Elizabeth L. Cline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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


Digital Minimalism

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

Now that explains a lot…

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

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

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism

September

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood Womanhood

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

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

Rachel Held Evans, A Year of Biblical Womanhood

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


Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I LOVE THIS BOOK.

I may even buy a copy.

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

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

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

Definition of “Humanism” from Chambers Pocket Dictionary

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

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

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

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


The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Wow. Just wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jemar Tisby, The Color of Compromise

You have GOT to read this book!


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

What on earth would I do without reading?!?

📖

Karis

Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

Book Reviews [2020 Q2]

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

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

April

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

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

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

Peter Singer, The Life You Can Save

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

READ THIS BOOK.


Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

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

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

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

Nicholas D. Kristof, Half the Sky

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

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

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


Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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


Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

Ya-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

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

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

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

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me

May

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Kim John Payne, Simplicity Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

Lisa M. Ross, Simplicity Parenting

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

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


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

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

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

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

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

Trevor Noah, Born a Crime

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


Inspired by Rachel Held Evans

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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


Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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

Seriously, this stuff is terrifying.

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

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

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

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

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

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


June

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

Here’s the truth:

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

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

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

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

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

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

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

Chanel Miller, Know My Name

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


12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

It is terrifying.

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

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


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

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

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

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

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

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

Seriously, we MUST put an end to capital punishment.

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

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

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

I BEG OF YOU: READ THIS BOOK.


The Racial Healing Handbook by Anneliese A. Singh

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Anneliese A. Singh, The Racial Healing Handbook

Over the Top by Jonathan Van Ness

⭐️⭐️[⭐️⭐️⭐️]

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

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

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

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

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

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


Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

The more you know, the less you need.

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

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

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

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

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

Yvon Chouinard, Let My People Go Surfing

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


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

Happy reading!

📚 📚 📚

Karis

Book Reviews [2020 Q1]

Book Reviews [2020 Q1]

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

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

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

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

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

So here we go…

January

milk and honey by rupi kaur

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Truth is uncomfortable sometimes.

Hunger by Roxane Gay

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Roxane Gay, Hunger

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

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

Roxane Gay, Hunger

The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

⭐️⭐️

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

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

My sincere apologies to Mr. Finn…

February

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

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

It was AWESOME.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carla Naumburg, PhD

Carla, I freaking love you.

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

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It

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

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

Jack Miles, Religion As We Know It

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

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

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

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

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Please read this book.

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

After that, read this book.

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

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

March

Waking Up White by Debby Irving

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️(⭐️)

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

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

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

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

Debby Irving, Waking Up White

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

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

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

Debby Irving, Waking Up White

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

Awake by Noel Brewer Yeatts

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

Noel Brewer Yeatts, Awake

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

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

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

📖 📖 📖

Karis

Semi-Annual Book Reviews

Semi-Annual Book Reviews

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

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

July

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

The Happiness Paradox by Richard Eyre

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

Time to Parent by Julie Morgenstern

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

Overdressed by Elizabeth L. Cline

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

August

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

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

September

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

October

Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

November

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

It’s a blessing and a curse.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem

⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

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

Thank you, Gloria.

December

Now Say This by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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

Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

⭐️⭐️

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

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

😆

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

📚 📚 📚

Karis