Books Read in October 2017

I read seven books in October (five were audiobooks), which brings my 2017 total to 96.

I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.

Highly Recommended

1) What Happened, Hillary Rodham Clinton

Description: For the first time, Clinton reveals what she was thinking and feeling during one of the most controversial and unpredictable presidential elections in history. Now free from the constraints of running, Clinton takes you inside the intense personal experience of becoming the first woman nominated for president by a major party in an election marked by rage, sexism, exhilarating highs and infuriating lows, stranger-than-fiction twists, Russian interference, and an opponent who broke all the rules.

I voted for Hillary last November, and I’ve long respected her history of service and activism, but this book made me like her even more. I sought out the audiobook because I wanted to hear her read it, and I’m glad I did.

I listened to a portion of this audiobook while sitting at my dining room table, writing postcards to encourage registered-Democrat voters in Virginia to get out and vote on Nov 7. (When a friend told me about the 100 Postcard Challenge, I immediately signed up. I was born and raised in Virginia, and lived in the state for more years than I’ve lived elsewhere. I’m not the type to knock on doors, but postcards I can do.)

I appreciated Clinton’s honesty. She speaks candidly about how she felt in multiple difficult situations, leading up the election and also its aftermath (like attending the inauguration as a guest instead of being the honoree).

She has biting words for Trump: she addresses his demeanor, his inability to stay on topic during debates, how incomprehensible it was to lose the election to someone with his history of sexism and misogyny. She refers to him as an “unqualified bully,” among other things.

During the town hall-style debate where Trump memorably loomed over her while she spoke, Clinton said all she wanted to do was turn around and say, “Back up, you creep.” She chose to ignore him but later wished she had spoken up. I wish she’d said something at the time, too, and I bet a lot of other women feel the same.

She includes personal details, like her relationship with Bill, and how she buys him gifts when she’s on the road and calls him every night before bed. She calls him her “partner and champion,” and says he never once asked her to put her career on hold for his, even when he was President. They’ve weathered their storms through the years and emerged strong.

There are also lighthearted details, with examples of life on the campaign trail, what her team did to pass the time, what kind of food they liked to eat, and people they met along the way.

Closer to the end of the book, she talks about why she lost the election (but not the popular vote…may we never forget the popular vote). Of course she talks about THE EMAILS. I started typing out a long paragraph about the idiocy of people focusing on THE EMAILS but ultimately deleted it; I agree when she said, “It was a dumb mistake but an even dumber scandal.”

Oh my goodness, there are so many other things: Her thoughts on how Bernie Sanders handled himself during the primaries. Her stance on guns. There’s also a section on Russian hacking and their interference in the election, which, as we know, has not been fully resolved, so it’ll be interesting (and likely devastating) to see how all that plays out.

I found myself wishing that some of the non-Hillary fans I know would read this book and see if it changes their opinion. She isn’t perfect – she freely admits to things she wishes she’d handled differently – but neither is she a villain.

This book is both heartbreaking and inspiring. It was difficult to read certain parts (I was close to tears when she read something she’d planned to include in her acceptance speech after the election; it’s about her mother and it’s so very beautiful). But if you want to be inspired to step up your activism and support causes that advance women, this is the reading material for you.


2) Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America, C. Nicole Mason

Description: Born in the 1970s in Los Angeles, Mason was raised by a beautiful but volatile16-year-old single mother. Early on, she learned to navigate between an unpredictable home life and school where she excelled. While showing us her path out of poverty, Mason examines the conditions that make it nearly impossible to escape and exposes the presumption harbored by many—that the poor don’t help themselves enough.

Mason details her troubled upbringing: being born to a 15-year-old mother; her father going to jail for selling drugs; her stepfather’s sexual abuse; food insecurity. She attended many different schools while growing up, and became the first in her family to graduate high school.

Even though she escaped poverty and obtained a PhD, Mason refutes the belief that this is possible for everyone, arguing that the systems we have in place make this kind of advancement very difficult.

3) A Fighting Chance, Elizabeth Warren

Description: As a child in small-town Oklahoma, Warren yearned to go to college and become an elementary school teacher—an ambitious goal, given her family’s modest means. Early marriage and motherhood seemed to put that dream out of reach, but 15 years later she was a distinguished law professor with a deep understanding of why people go bankrupt. Then came the phone call that changed her life: could she come to Washington, DC to help advise Congress on rewriting the bankruptcy laws? Thus began an impolite education into the bare-knuckled, often dysfunctional ways of Washington.

I didn’t know anything about Elizabeth Warren until she campaigned for Hillary Clinton last year. This book introduced me to a lot more, and unsurprisingly, she’s a very impressive woman. She married young, got pregnant early, and became a homemaker. But she decided to get a law degree and soon after graduation became a law professor, ultimately working at Harvard years later.

I learned a bunch of details I didn’t know about the 2007 financial crisis and the bankruptcy legislation she worked on. There’s also a chapter about her decision to run for Senator of Massachusetts against long odds (and her ultimate victory).

4) Bonjour Kale: A Memoir of Paris, Love, and Recipes, Kristen Beddard

Description: Unable to find “le chou kale” anywhere upon moving to Paris with her new husband, and despite not really speaking French, Kristen launched a crusade to single-handedly bring kale to the country of croissants and cheese.

This is another (but still enjoyable) memoir about a non-French speaking American lady who moves to France with her French-speaking husband. I’ve read a fair number of these but I’ve liked them all. This one is a little different due to the author’s focus on kale. I don’t understand loving one vegetable so much (I like kale just fine, but if I’d moved to France and it wasn’t there, I would have just eaten something else). She is (spoiler!) ultimately successful in her quest to reintroduce the green veggie to France (which is apparently a cabbage…who knew?).

Luckily the entire book isn’t about kale, and throughout, she addresses the typical actions involved in learning a new culture, like difficulties fitting in and attempting to learn French.

5) Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud: The Rise and Reign of the Unruly Woman, Anne Helen Petersen

Description: You know the type: the woman who won’t shut up, who’s too brazen, too opinionated — too much. She’s the unruly woman, and she embodies one of the most provocative and powerful forms of womanhood today. Here, Petersen uses the lens of “unruliness” to explore the ascension of pop culture powerhouses like Lena Dunham, Nicki Minaj, and Kim Kardashian, exploring why the public loves to love (and hate) these controversial figures.

We all know women who have had labels applied to them, deserved or not. Petersen explores some of these labels in-depth and offers insights into why these women are seen that way.

6) Around the Way Girl: A Memoir, Taraji P. Henson

Description: From Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner Taraji P. Henson, comes an inspiring and funny book about family, friends, and the hustle required to make it from DC to Hollywood. Taraji reflects on the world-class instruction she received at Howard University and the pitfalls that come with being a black actress.

I think the first time I become aware of Taraji’s name was when she starred in the movie Hidden Figures (although I haven’t seen it yet), but I realized I’ve probably seen the actress in a few other things and just didn’t know her name. I’m glad I chose the audio version, since Taraji reads it herself and is quite theatrical and enthusiastic with her narration. (She does a great imitation of her dad’s voice.)

It was interesting to hear how she was mostly raised by a single mother in poverty-stricken southeast DC, so she really had to hustle to reach her level of fame. Taraji always had a lot of energy and attitude, and was extremely motivated to make a career in acting, so having a baby during her junior year of college didn’t stop her momentum at all. When she moved to Los Angeles in her mid-20s, she moved as a single mother with a toddler son and made it work. Quite impressive.


7) American Fire: Love, Arson, and Life in a Vanishing Land, Monica Hesse

Description: The arsons started on a cold November midnight and didn’t stop for months. Night after night, the people of Accomack County waited to see which building would burn down next, regarding each other at first with compassion, and later suspicion. The culprit, and the path that led to these crimes, is a story of twenty-first century America.

What would possess a couple in rural Virginia to burn down over 70 buildings? That’s the question Hesse attempts to answer.

This was a bit hard to follow on audio (there were a lot of names, and I find it easier to follow names if I’m physically reading them rather than hearing them spoken). I wish I could say the story is worth it, and parts of it were entertaining, but the ending fell flat so that sealed the deal with not being put in the “Recommended” category.

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