Books Read in Jan-Feb 2021

I read 15 books in January and February.

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


1) Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America, Ijeoma Oluo

Description: From the author of “So You Want to Talk About Race,” this is a history of white male America and a scathing indictment of what it has cost us socially, economically, and politically.

Very good, eye opening, learned more than I knew before. Read more about the book here.

2) Infidel, Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Description: Ali burst into international headlines following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist who threatened that she would be next. She made headlines again when she was stripped of her citizenship and resigned from the Dutch Parliament. This book shows the coming of age of this political superstar and champion of free speech as well as the development of her beliefs, iron will, and extraordinary determination to fight injustice.

This book was recommended to me by my Aunt Annette. She read it several years ago and it infuriated her — I could see why. What Ayaan went through was maddening, and even more maddening is the treatment that women in her situation continue to go through.

3) Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World, Olga Khazan

Description: Atlantic staff writer Olga Khazan reclaims the concept of “weird” and turns it into a badge of honor rather than a slur, showing how being different — culturally, socially, physically, or mentally — can be a person’s greatest strength.

There are upsides to being different!

4) She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, Sarah Smarsh

Description: The New York Times bestselling author of “Heartland” focuses on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton.

This book came out of a four-piece series that Smarsh wrote for a print publication several years ago. There’s a good review here.

5) I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts On Being a Woman, Nora Ephron

Description: With her accessible voice and dry sense of humor, Ephron shares her ups and downs in these essays: a candid look at women who are getting older and dealing with the tribulations of maintenance, menopause, empty nests, and life itself.

I first read this book in 2012 and it turns out I liked it better this time — probably because some of the essays concern aging and, well, I’m nine years older now.

6) I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, Nora Ephron

Description: Ephron takes a hard look at the past, present, and future, bemoaning the vicissitudes of modern life, and recalling with her signature clarity and wisdom everything she hasn’t (yet) forgotten.

Enjoyable essays.

7) Let Love Rule, Lenny Kravitz

Description: This is the story of a wildly creative kid who, despite tough struggles at school and extreme tension at home, finds salvation in music.

I’m not a huge fan of Lenny’s music, so everything I read about him in this book was brand new to me (minus the fact that he was married to Lisa Bonet, which I knew). It comes to an end just as he’s hitting it big in the music industry, in a “to be continued” sort of way. It was entertaining enough that I’d read the follow-up, if one arrives.

8) Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas, Alexi Pappas

Description: Pappas — Olympic athlete, actress, filmmaker and writer — shares what she’s learned about confidence, self-reliance, mental health, embracing pain, and achieving your dreams in this memoir-in-essays.

Fun fact: She had lice for two years as a kid. Eek!

9) Blue Nights, Joan Didion

Description: This is an account of Didion’s thoughts, fears, and doubts regarding having children, illness, and growing old. As she reflects on her daughter’s life and on her role as a parent, Didion grapples with the candid questions that all parents face, and contemplates her age, something she finds hard to acknowledge, much less accept.

Always a pleasure to read Joan Didion’s nonfiction.

10) Strong Like Her: A Celebration of Rule Breakers, History Makers, and Unstoppable Athletes, Haley Shapley

Description: Journalist Shapley takes us through the delightful untold history of female strength to understand how we can better encourage—and celebrate—the physical power of women, presenting the awe-inspiring account of women’s athleticism throughout history.

This is a good look at how strong women have been viewed over time (often not in a positive light, as you can imagine).

11) Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurants, Ann Hui

Description: In 2016, reporter Ann Hui drove across Canada to answer two questions: Why is there a Chinese restaurant in every small town? And who are the families who run them? It was only after the story was published that she discovered her own family could have been included—her parents had run their own Chinese restaurant before she was born. This discovery set her on a time-sensitive mission: to understand how her own family had wound up in Canada.

I liked how Hui used the story of her travels to Chinese restaurants across Canada, and the owners she met there, to frame her own family’s experience.

12) The Little Book of Living Small, Laura Fenton

Description: A comprehensive guide to small-space secrets and real-life solutions for living in 1,200 square feet or less.

A small house (or apartment) suits me. I lived in a 1500 sq ft house for a few years and it often seemed like too much space. Then again, my husband I are weren’t both working from home full time at that point.


13) Mobile Home: A Memoir in Essays, Megan Harlan

Description: Harlan explores the emotional structures and metaphysical geographies of home as inspired by her globe-wandering childhood.. In linked essays, she examines cultural histories that include Bedouin nomadic traditions and modern life in wheeled mobile homes, among others.

I liked some of this but my mind kept wandering during the historical parts.

14) Why We Swim, Bonnie Tsui

Description: An immersive, unforgettable, and eye-opening perspective on swimming—and on human behavior itself.

I think I would have liked this better if I were a swimmer. (I don’t swim.)

15) Frontier Follies: Adventures in Marriage & Motherhood in the Middle of Nowhere, Ree Drummond

Description: From her beginnings as an early blogger, Drummond has become a household name. On her blog, in her magazine, and on her cooking show, she shares recipes, tales of her adventures in the country, and stories of everyday life with her four children and cowboy/rancher husband.

Ree is very…wholesome. At least that’s the persona she’s created for herself. There are a few wink-wink references to add some “spice,” but it’s…wholesome spice. The one area I could find solidarity was when she talked about her misophonia.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Chris Abraham March 1, 2021 at 9:23 pm

    I could have told you how mediocre we white guys are!

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