I'm a white woman who has called the Midwest home for most of my life. That life of mine is what it is because I was born white. I didn't always know this, but I certainly do now. And I know it's my responsibility to continually educate myself on my blind spots.
I needed to learn the language and the history of race in America so I can confidently articulate what needs to be said, when it needs to be said, in my day-to-day life. Maybe you do, too. The work of Ijeoma Oluo and Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson were foundational components of my education.
It's not the job of any black person to educate me - it's my job to get educated - so I'm especially grateful for these books.
So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo
"In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from intersectionality and affirmative action to "model minorities" in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race and racism, and how they infect almost every aspect of American life."
"Generous and empathetic, yet usefully blunt . . . it's for anyone who wants to be smarter and more empathetic about matters of race and engage in more productive anti-racist action."--Salon
White Negroes: When Cornrows Were in Vogue And Other Thoughts On Cultural Appropriation, by Dr. Lauren Michele Jackson
"American culture loves blackness. From music and fashion to activism and language, black culture constantly achieves worldwide influence. Yet, when it comes to who is allowed to thrive from black hipness, the pioneers are usually left behind as black aesthetics are converted into mainstream success—and white profit. Weaving together narrative, scholarship, and critique, Lauren Michele Jackson reveals why cultural appropriation—something that’s become embedded in our daily lives—deserves serious attention. It is a blueprint for taking wealth and power, and ultimately exacerbates the economic, political, and social inequity that persists in America."
What books are you reading or have you read that have helped shape your understanding of and participation in conversations about race? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Following in the footsteps of March, April was another reading-heavy month. If there were any doubts as to how I'm managing self-quarantine, let this clear that right up: I'm reading. A lot.
April's selections were split 50/50 across fiction and non-fiction. Not something I did on purpose, but in retrospect I can see how that makes sense. I bounce around between the need to escape from reality and a curiosity for how other people handle life. Do you tend to favor one genre (or sub-genre) over another, based on what's happening in your life?
My two favorite books this month were The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley and Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. The Authenticity Project is a work of contemporary fiction that follows the intertwining lives of six strangers brought together by a green notebook making its way across London (and a bit beyond). Each person who comes into possession of the notebook writes his or her deepest secret and then passes it along. The notebook brings each of them together in unexpected (and sometimes, not so unexpected) ways. It also included a couple of twists that kept me on my toes, along with a satisfying ending. Pooley's writing style is fluid, and she injects a lot of humor and heart into this story.
Books for Living was published in 2016, and I stumbled upon a used copy at my favorite neighborhood bookstore (Cream and Amber, in downtown Hopkins, MN if you're wondering). This work of non-fiction is a follow-up to Schwalbe's best-seller, The End of Your Life Bookclub, and I hoped it would be the perfect thing to pick up and put down before bedtime. It was. In each chapter, Schwalbe introduces a book that provides context and texture to his own life. The books span genres and include a mix of classics and contemporary selections. What really stole my heart and made this a book I looked forward to opening each night was Schwalbe's affable tone, vulnerability and openness to sharing personal stories and insights that wove into the books he chose to highlight.
The two books I liked the least this month were It All Comes Back to You by Beth Duke and Marketing Made Simple by Donald Miller and Dr. J.J. Petersen. I read Marketing Made Simple as part of a book club at work (my job is in marketing for a tech company). I had moderate expectations for the book and it didn't manage to meet that mediocre bar. I know this is lazy, but I don't really care to expend much more energy talking about it, so I'm not going to. If you're interested in marketing and want to know more about why I can't even with this book, let me know in the comments and we can chat about it there.
It All Comes Back to You on the other hand...whew. This one is complicated. The book is set in both present day to tell the story of Ronni, an assisted living nurse who has been left a life-changing amount of money if she writes the life story of one of her favorite residents who has died; and the past, as it jumps back in time to tell the story of that vivacious resident, Violet. I stayed up late (11:00 p.m. on a work night!) to read the book because the story was engrossing and well-written, with plenty of twists and turns for the two characters for whom it was mostly easy to root for. I say mostly because Ronni's story at times became a little muddled, especially a life-changing romance that just never quite felt right to me. One of those major plot twists came at the very end of the book, and it left me with such an overwhelming sense of ickiness and dismay that I couldn't possibly encourage anyone to put themselves through it. Unless you like that kind of thing, in which case by all means.
What I Read in April
March was a prolific reading month; it's evident how I'm coping with COVID-19. I can't recall any other period in my life when I've consumed 14 books in 4 weeks. (We'll see what April looks like!?) I definitely went for "comfort" selections, leaning heavy on two specific genres: romance and cozy mystery.
This month, I dove deep into the Maisie Dobbs mysteries by Jaqueline Winspear and couldn't get enough of them. The research and writing are outstanding - the books are set in London, post World War I - and I really enjoy Maisie as a protagonist. She's smarter and more empathic than I'll ever be, that's for sure. The stories are multi-layered and so satisfying, but what I love most is that Maisie is such a dimensional character, with flaws and issues that fold into every mystery she solves in new and fulfilling ways. For example, Maisie struggles to balance a desire for companionship and the lifestyle society says she should want with maintaining agency as a woman with a career - relatable.
From the romance side, I really enjoyed Red, White and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. It took me a few tries to get into the novel, because I didn't click with one half of the romantic duo: First Son, Alex Claremont-Diaz. So glad I stuck with it, though, because I came to appreciate him more - and his depths were revealed - as the romantic foil to England's Prince Henry. Reading the book placed me right back into how it feels to discover new love - the highs, the lows, the vulnerability of giving your heart to someone and asking for theirs in return. (Sigh) The story was exactly what I needed - I laughed; I flipped pages, goofy grin on my face, heart melting as the relationship developed between the two men. The pace was excellent, the writing style smart and fun, without falling into the trap of being tedious and "too cool."
Of everything I read in March, there was only one selection that was not for me: In the Woods, by Tana French. I'll revisit French as an author sometime down the road, because I appreciated her writing style and ability to weave a complex story. But In the Woods was too dark, and offered too little resolution at the end for where I am in life right now. At this particular moment, I need massive doses of hope and happiness tied up in nice little bows by the time I get to the end of a book.
What I Read in March
Have you read anything from my March list? If so, what did you think? What's on your nightstand right now? And do you find that your reading preferences have shifted over the past few weeks, or are they unchanged? (So many questions!)
If you're like me, you're starting to get that Christmas itch. I've been not-so-secretly watching Hallmark movies since they began airing back-to-back in October. And with Thanksgiving days away, the official start of the holiday season is upon us. Which means it's a great time to start stocking your eReader with books to carry you through long car rides, air travel, and much-needed quiet moments to yourself. I hope you'll add my short story, Christmas at the Cosmo, to your reading queue.
It's a story I wrote while living in downtown St. Paul at an apartment complex called - you guessed it - The Cosmopolitan.
Christmas at the Cosmo follows Dave and Lila, a couple who have hit that "next step" point in their relationship. One hangup? Christmas. She doesn't know why Dave objects to all her favorite Christmas traditions, and he doesn't understand why Lila is so crazy about the holiday. Secrets from the past are affecting their present. With five days to go until Christmas, can Dave and Lila find common ground and get back on track towards, "I do?"
(Spoiler: Yes. Only happy endings up in here. But it's still fun to read how they get there!)
Download a copy of Christmas at the Cosmo to your Kindle (or the free Kindle app if you have a different eReader), for $2.99. And if you have any holiday-themed book recommendations, I want to hear all about them down in the comments.
This is a place to celebrate all the parts of yourself that come with age and experience. I'm here to share with you what I know and to explore with you the many (many) things I don't.