I read 10 books in September (six were audiobooks), which brings my 2020 total to 91.
I rank my books with these categories: Highly Recommended, Recommended, Okay, and Not Recommended.
1) Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, Isabel Wilkerson
Description: The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Warmth of Other Suns examines the unspoken caste system that has shaped America and shows how our lives today are still defined by a hierarchy of human divisions.
I’d never thought about the treatment of Black people in terms of caste, but that’s exactly the point. Wilkerson notes that the comparison has been made before, but she writes about the subject in an accessible, not-dry type of way, and includes personal observations and experiences.
Description: Since the 1970s, an important new figure has appeared on the center stage of American evangelicalism — the celebrity preacher’s wife. Although most evangelical traditions bar women from ordained ministry, many women have carved out unofficial positions of power in their husbands’ spiritual empires or their own ministries. Bowler offers a revealing portrait of megachurch women celebrities, showing how they balance the demands of celebrity culture amidst conservative, male-dominated faiths.
This book was interesting to me because I grew up in an evangelical household — and it made me really glad that I stepped away from it. I recognized some of the names of the older women (names that were big during my childhood); the newer ones I’m less familiar with because I’m not in that circle anymore. Bowler writes about how hard it’s been for women to get recognition in evangelical ministries. She notes that “Almost all of the largest churches in America are headed by men but evangelical women have carved out extraordinary influence for themselves nonetheless.” There’s a good interview with Bowler here.
Description: An impassioned and irreverent argument for dismantling our cultural narratives around pregnancy.
I recommend this book but it took me a while to get through — it wasn’t a quick read. I will say it’s not just for mothers or people who want to become mothers (although mothers will definitely relate to the physical aspects more so than I did). It’s about women’s bodies and the way women are treated in society. You can read excerpts from the book on Elle and Medium.
4) All the Rage: Mothers, Fathers, and the Myth of Equal Partnership, Darcy Lockman
Description: Lockman sets out to understand why, in households where both parents work full-time, mothers’ contributions—even those women who earn more than their partners—still outweigh fathers’ when it comes to raising children and maintaining a home.
This is really infuriating. I don’t have to deal with unequal household labor because my husband and I are child-free (and as Lockman explains, and I agree, most households usually don’t become super unequal until kids enter the mix). I still rage at what all the mothers put up with.
As Lockman says in the book, “Reports of the modern, involved father have been greatly exaggerated.” And the book was described in this blog post thusly: “The book doesn’t shame fathers so much as make it incredibly clear—through a mix of data, surveys, analysis, and interviews—that what we’ve come to understand as an equitable split of domestic labor is, in nearly all cases, wildly inequitable.”
Lockman also wrote this NY Times opinion piece: What ‘Good’ Dads Get Away With.
5) Entitled: How Male Privilege Hurts Women, Kate Manne
Description: An urgent exploration of men’s entitlement and how it serves to police and punish women, Cornell philosopher Kate Manne offers a radical new framework for understanding misogyny.
This is about the many ways in which males feel entitled (included: Kavanaugh, Ansari). She also covers topics like restrictive abortion policies. Read more here.
6) Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters, Dominique Crenn
Description: By the time Crenn decided to become a chef at age 21, she knew it was a near impossible dream in France. So she left her home and moved to San Francisco, where she trained under the legendary Jeremiah Tower. Almost 30 years later, Crenn was awarded three Michelin stars for her restaurant — the first female chef in the U.S. to receive this honor and no small feat for someone who hadn’t gone to culinary school or been formally trained.
Crenn grew up in France but didn’t see a way forward as a chef in that country because they’re very restrictive in who they allow to advance (most chefs are still male) and it can take a long time to pay your dues. Unlike the many other chef-authored books I’ve read, this one was more about Crenn’s life than specific details of working in the kitchen (although there was some of that as well). I like how, once she finally opened her own restaurant, she’s been focused on paying fair wages, treating her employees well, and advocating for the hiring of women and minorities in her kitchens.
7) Let’s Never Talk About This Again: A Memoir, Sara Faith Alterman
Description: From writer and producer Alterman, a poignant memoir about love, loss, Alzheimer’s, and reviving her father’s pornographic writing career.
I felt a kinship with Sara when she wrote about how super-strict her parents were during her childhood. But unlike my father, she discovered that her dad wrote racy books on the side, and later developed dementia. She’s very honest about the difficulty of dealing with her father’s illness — feeling frustrated when he repeated things all the time, how he often didn’t remember when he’d just had something to eat, etc. She owns up to her guilt but the reality is that you can’t always be as understanding as you want to be.
8) Eat a Peach: A Memoir, David Chang
Description: In 2004, Chang opened a noodle restaurant named Momofuku in Manhattan, not expecting the business to survive its first year. In 2018, he was the owner and chef of his own 15-location restaurant empire, the star of a hit Netflix show, and was named one of the most influential people of the 21st century. In this memoir, Chang shares the story of his culinary coming-of-age.
Chang admits that he lucked into his success — there are so many restaurants that don’t make it. He also acknowledges his sometimes uncontrollable temper (not anything I’ve ever witnessed on his shows, understandably) and shares how he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his 20s.
Description: From an acclaimed cultural critic and New York Times bestselling author comes a powerful story of her journey to understand her northern and southern roots, the Great Migration, and the displacement of black people across America.
I really liked Jerkins’ first book, but this one was hard to follow (there were a lot of names and family history). You can read an excerpt here.
10) Weird but Normal: Essays, Mia Mercado
Description: Navigating racial identity, gender roles, workplace dynamics, and beauty standards, Mercado’s essays explore the contradictions of being a millennial woman, which usually means being kind of a weirdo.
Mercado is half white, half Filipino, and grew up in the Midwest (she still lives there). I liked the first half of the book better than the second half. She covers what she dealt with growing up (people assuming she was Chinese), her struggles with depression, and working as a card editor for Hallmark. But then she started to include stuff I really disliked, like a piece written from the perspective of her dog. Just…no. And of course, she had to include an essay about shit. (Why do so many humor writers insist on including a shit story?)