I read seven books in March (three were audiobooks), which brings my 2018 total to 22.
There was one book I started reading in March but decided not to finish:
- Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process, John McPhee
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir, Patrisse Khan-Cullors
Description: Raised by a single mother in an impoverished neighborhood in Los Angeles, Patrisse experienced the prejudice and persecution Black Americans endure at the hands of law enforcement. For Patrisse, the most vulnerable people in the country are Black people. Deliberately and ruthlessly targeted by the criminal justice system, Black people are subjected to unjustifiable racial profiling and police brutality. In 2013, when Trayvon Martin’s killer went free, Patrisse’s outrage led her to co-found Black Lives Matter with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi.
This book didn’t leave me riveted, but I felt like it was important to read and understand. Patrisse’s story about her brother’s mental illness, his stints in prison and the way he was mistreated (both physically and emotionally when he was denied proper mental health treatment) was powerful and moving.
The idea for the Black Lives Matter movement started taking shape after Trayvon Martin was murdered and became a force after his killer was exonerated. She covers the birth and growth of the movement and how important it is to keep it going.
2) Waking Up White: Finding Myself in the Story of Race, Debby Irving
Description: Irving is an emerging voice in the national racial justice community. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, she found herself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide she observed in nearby Boston. Her career began in a variety of urban performance-art and community-based nonprofits, where she repeatedly found that her best efforts to “help” caused more harm than the good she intended.
Before studying racism in depth, Debby would have vehemently resisted being defined as racist. However, once her eyes were opened to all the ways systemic racism infiltrates our lives, she realizes there were many ways she’d unknowingly been contributing to the status quo. (One of her chapters is called, “Why saying ‘I don’t see race’ is as racist as it gets”). She also explores how her upbringing as a WASP in New England contributed to her worldview.
While a few chapters came across as redundant and/or unnecessary, most of it was informative and eye-opening.
3) The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story, Diane Ackerman
Description: Jan and Antonina Zabinski were Polish Christian zookeepers horrified by Nazi racism, who managed to save over 300 people. Ackerman vividly re-creates Antonina’s life, a woman responsible for her own family, the zoo animals, and their “guests”: resistance activists and refugee Jews, many of whom Jan had smuggled from the Warsaw Ghetto. Jan led a cell of saboteurs, and the Zabinski’s young son risked his life carrying food to the guests, while also tending to an eccentric array of creatures in the house. With hidden people having animal names, and pet animals having human names, it’s a small wonder the zoo’s code name became “The House under a Crazy Star.”
I heard about this quite a while back (it was published over 10 years ago), but decided to pick it up when I was searching for something to listen to on audio. It was better than I expected, but also different from what I thought it would be. The book was made into a movie last year and I’d be interested in seeing it.
4) We Are All Shipwrecks: A Memoir, Kelly Grey Carlisle
Description: Kelly always knew her family was different. She knew that most children didn’t live with their grandparents, and their grandparents didn’t own porn stores. What Kelly didn’t know was if she would become part of the dysfunction that surrounded her. Would she end up alone and dead on Hollywood Boulevard like her mother? Kelly goes back to the beginning, to a mother she never knew, a 25-year-old cold case, and two of LA’s most notorious murderers.
This book started off slow for me, but I warmed up to it. There was more of an emphasis on Kelly’s childhood than I expected (from the description, I thought it would be more like half childhood / half exploration as an adult), but the adult portion didn’t start until 84% of the way through (thank you, e-book percentages). Her story is definitely atypical though and it was interesting to read.
5) Brave, Rose McGowan
Description: Rose McGowan was born in one cult and came of age in another, more visible cult: Hollywood. This is her raw, honest, and poignant memoir/manifesto — a no-holds-barred, pull-no-punches account of the rise of a millennial icon, fearless activist, and unstoppable force for change who is determined to expose the truth about the entertainment industry, dismantle the concept of fame, shine a light on a multibillion-dollar business built on systemic misogyny, and empower people everywhere to wake up and be Brave.
I like Rose McGowan as an artist and activist, but she’s not a very good writer. She has a captivating background (her parents were members of a cult in Italy; she was sent to rehab as a young teen after doing just one hit of acid; she ran away and became homeless for a time). There’s also a chapter on her long-term relationship with goth rocker Marilyn Manson.
This could have been a better book but she has a very abrupt, matter-of-fact writing style and jumps all over the place. If you want the short version, here are 11 big revelations from the memoir published in the Washington Post.
6) Flat Broke with Two Goats: A Memoir of Appalachia, Jennifer McGaha
Description: Just as the Great Recession was easing in some parts of the country, Jennifer experienced an economic crisis of epic proportions. Here she takes readers on a wild adventure from a Cape Cod-style home in the country to a 100-year-old, mice-infested, snake-ridden cabin in a North Carolina holler. With humor and honesty, Jennifer chronicles the joys and difficulties of living close to nature, and in the process she comes to discover the true meaning of home.
Jennifer found herself in a deep financial crisis when the IRS caught up with her self-employed husband for not paying their taxes for years (and he was an accountant!). She acknowledged her role (her husband handled all the bills and she should have insisted on being more involved, etc), but I found the book hard to read. It’s understandable why couples list financial incompatibility as a reason for divorce; if I found out my husband had done something like this and our financial life was in shambles (which would never happen because I am very involved in our monetary affairs), I would find it very hard, if not impossible, to stay married. What a huge slap in the face. The author really struggles with the decision, too, but in the end they stay together.
This book was mostly about unsettling financial matters and raising goats. The author is a good writer but I didn’t find myself fully invested in either subject.
7) Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake: A Memoir of a Woman’s Life, Anna Quindlen
Description: Quindlen uses her own past, present, and future as fodder to examine marriage, friendship, parenting, body image, work, growing older, and more in her signature graceful style.
These are nice essays. I was initially comparing them to the modern essays I read most of the time (written by women half Anna’s age) and judging these as a little too sweet and non-controversial, but she redeems herself later when she delves into topics like losing her Catholicism and not believing in the concepts of heaven and hell. Other topics: too much clutter, the importance of girlfriends, solitude, and aging.