Reading: January 2021

My reading year started strong with two non-fiction books that offer important, striking social criticism, both 5 stars in my opinion. I finished out the month with four novels, the best of which was a book I hadn’t expected to read (Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld).

What books have surprised you recently?

Book titles link to Amazon for more info + easy purchasing. Please note: As an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…our simplistic definition of racism–as intentional acts of racial discrimination committed by immoral individuals–engenders a confidence that we are not part of the problem…”

This book is so clear, with so many applicable examples. If you’re open to self-examination, this book is a must.

Ask:
Why does this unsettle me?
What would it mean for me if this were true?
How does this lens change my understanding of racial dynamics?
How can my unease help reveal the unexamined assumptions I have been making?
Is it possible that because I am white, there are some racial dynamics that I can’t see?
Am I willing to consider that possibility? If I am not willing to do so, then why not?

Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol by Holly Whitaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“…alcohol is addictive to everyone. Yet we’ve created a separate disease called alcoholism and forced it upon the minority of the population who are willing to admit they can’t control their drinking, and because of that, we’ve focused on what’s wrong with those few humans rather than what’s wrong with our alcohol-centric culture or the substance itself.”

Eye-opening. Big Alcohol is guilty of marketing the way Big Tobacco is no longer allowed to because our society has fully bought into alcohol as a good thing, a proper and helpful – even healthy – way to unwind and celebrate. Society has blamed the victims rather than accepted appropriate responsibility. And AA, which obviously has helped many people, was created by and for white Protestant men; it has defined what alcohol abuse means, what those who abuse it look like, and it has become widely accepted as the only viable treatment option…even though it doesn’t take into account the real and different needs of marginalized people, including women.

This book takes on everything we think we know about alcohol and addiction recovery and turns it on its head in helpful, practical ways. It should be widely read beyond those who suspect they might have a drinking problem. Because almost everyone drinks, and many people have addiction issues in other areas – eating, bad relationships, technology, etc.

The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“It’s about the kind of love that doesn’t ask you to be anyone but who you are.”

That about sums up the theme of this book: love accepts us as we are. Good point, well told. But the book didn’t rock me like When You Reach Me.

Stead is a fantastic writer, so I wanted to like this book more than I did. I adore Bea, but her character also confused me. I wish the author had been clearer about the nature of Bea’s struggles – I think that would have helped readers identify with her and feel more empathy for her. Beyond her family, the adults surrounding Bea are total tools and that frustrated me. But I think this story will be helpful for young people living through anxiety, divorce, remarriage, and having a family that looks different from others.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“For the rest of her life, when asked to recall her earliest memory, Kate would remember watching [Peter] run around the side of his house with a red ball in his hand and already knowing his name.”

This multi-generational story of two families, beginning with two young men who meet in the NYC police academy, is chock-full of every family’s struggles while being completely unique. It’s pain-full and that alone took me two tries to get through. In the end it wants to tell us that we can survive most anything life throws at us. But if you’re reading for a fun, literary escape, this isn’t your book.

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This gothic-styled book, haunting like a bad fever dream, is mostly just strange. The characters aren’t fully fleshed out. The events feel disjointed and like they should have meant more than they do. Even the climax, predictable as it was, I just didn’t care. All the while I kept thinking, “John got himself into this mess and he can just as easily extract himself.”

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I didn’t expect to read this, but it was available when I was looking for something to fill the gap between other books. I wasn’t sure I’d like it, as I’ve felt hit-or-miss about Sittenfeld’s books. I’ve had mixed feelings about Hillary for years – pity, confusion, ambivalence, respect.

Up to a point, we know the general outlines of the narrative (I’ll admit it felt voyeuristic to read about Hillary and Bill, yet it served the author’s purpose of humanizing Hillary…). Sittenfeld’s interpretation of what might have happened if Hillary had left Bill takes interesting twists and turns and I couldn’t put it down. Mostly, she paints Hillary in a respectful light that creates empathy – for who she is personally and politically as she faces the particular challenges a would-be glass ceiling-shattering woman must.

“But as much as I wanted to be president, I wanted a woman to be president – I wanted this because women and girls were half the population and we deserved, as a basic human right and a means of ensuring justice, to be equally represented in our government…. Some presidents cared about improving the world, and all of them had egos; but none of them had run because they hoped to gain entry to the highest office of power on behalf of an entire gender. Yes, I was me, Hillary, but I also was a vessel and a proxy.”


View all my reviews

Cover image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

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