Category Archives: Nonfiction

This Promise of Change

Finished This Promise of Change by Jo Ann Allen Boyce and Debbie Levy. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In 1956, one year before federal troops escorted the Little Rock 9 into Central High School, fourteen year old Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve African-American students who broke the color barrier and integrated Clinton High School in Tennessee. At first things went smoothly for the Clinton 12, but then outside agitators interfered, pitting the townspeople against one another. Uneasiness turned into anger, and even the Clinton Twelve themselves wondered if the easier thing to do would be to go back to their old school. Jo Ann–clear-eyed, practical, tolerant, and popular among both black and white students—found herself called on as the spokesperson of the group. But what about just being a regular teen? This is the heartbreaking and relatable story of her four months thrust into the national spotlight and as a trailblazer in history. Based on original research and interviews and featuring backmatter with archival materials and notes from the authors on the co-writing process.”

Schools being desegregated feels like centuries ago, at least to me. It’s not that far, though. My mom was in high school when her school was integrated (in Delaware), and while she doesn’t remember any problems, I’d be very curious what her new classmates felt and if they would agree.

This is an astonishing book full of incredibly brave people. Jo Ann Allen was one of twelve people in her Tennessee high school to go to the formerly all white school. There were protesters outside and there were mean people inside, but some were nice. I can’t even imagine the courage it took to walk to school every day, with people yelling (on good days) and throwing things (on bad ones). But they kept going. Sometimes they were accompanied by police and once by a white preacher, but they kept going. If school was open, they were there.

There are also snippets of newspaper articles and pictures of Jo Ann and the others, and there are pictures of some of the protesters. I sometimes wonder how they feel about the fact that they’re on record as being racist. Does that bother them? I hope so.

This is an amazing story, and I hope I would have even a tenth of Jo Ann’s bravery in her situation.

Highly recommended.

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On the Other Side of Freedom

Finished On the Other Side of Freedom: The Case for Hope by DeRay Mckesson.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the internationally recognized civil rights activist/organizer and host of the podcast Pod Save the People, a meditation on resistance, justice, and freedom, and an intimate portrait of a movement from the front lines.

In August of 2014, twenty-nine-year-old activist DeRay Mckesson stood with hundreds of others on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, to push a message of justice and accountability. These protests, and others like them in cities across the country, resulted in the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Now, in his first book, Mckesson lays out the intellectual, pragmatic political framework for a new liberation movement. Continuing a conversation about activism, resistance, and justice that embraces our nation’s complex history, he dissects how deliberate oppression persists, how racial injustice strips our lives of promise, and how technology has added a new dimension to mass action and social change. He argues that our best efforts to combat injustice have been stunted by the belief that racism’s wounds are history, and suggests that intellectual purity has curtailed optimistic realism. The book offers a new framework and language for understanding the nature of oppression. With it, we can begin charting a course to dismantle the obvious and subtle structures that limit freedom.

Honest, courageous, and imaginative, On the Other Side of Freedom is a work brimming with hope. Drawing from his own experiences as an activist, organizer, educator, and public official, Mckesson exhorts all Americans to work to dismantle the legacy of racism and to imagine the best of what is possible. Honoring the voices of a new generation of activists, On the Other Side of Freedom is a visionary’s call to take responsibility for imagining, and then building, the world we want to live in.”

It’s very easy to get discouraged with what’s going on in the world and the way that different marginalized groups are constantly being targeted. It’s overwhelming and it’s hard to keep going. This book is amazing and a good antidote to that.

DeRay Mckesson points out how to stay hopeful and how to keep fighting. He discusses the events in Ferguson and how protesters stayed there for a year; how Ferguson led to so many other deaths of unarmed black men (including Freddie Gray, here in Baltimore). This isn’t a cheerful book but it’s the book we need right now. There’s a lot of work to do but hopefully a lot of hands to help get it done.

I highlighted a lot of things on my Kindle but especially this one: “I am reminded that to have faith that a world of equity and justice will emerge does not relinquish one’s role in helping it emerge.”

I borrowed this from the library but am hoping to get my own copy soon.

Highly recommended.

The Case of the Golden State Killer

Finished The Case of the Golden State Killer by Michael Morford and Michael Ferguson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In 1976, a serial rapist terrorized Sacramento County in California. The masked predator made his way into the homes of his unsuspecting victims, leaving a trail of devastation and destruction behind him. He moved on to other areas in Northern California, and then onward to Southern California where he sank to an all new level of depravity, and his evil urges drove him to murder; again, and again.

In Northern California, he was known as the East Area Rapist. In Southern California, he was called the Original Night Stalker. When his crimes all over California were finally connected, he would become known as the Golden State Killer, and by 1986, he had racked up a staggering tally of over 100 home break-ins or burglaries, 50 or more rapes, and at least 12 murders.

On the heels of their wildly popular 2017 Season One podcast series on the Zodiac killer, veteran podcaster Mike Morford, and true crime research/blogger Mike Ferguson, the hosts of true crime podcast Criminology teamed again in Spring 2018 to unmask this killer in a story that spans more than 40 years. Joined by the investigators who hunted him, the witnesses who saw him, and the survivors who lived to tell their stories, Criminology Season Two: The Case of the Golden State Killer examines the story of the most prolific serial rapist and murderer in American history.”

I wish you could’ve seen my face when I saw this on Netgalley. As you know, I have been…we’ll go with “very interested” in this case since I started listening to My Favorite Murder and then read I’ll Be Gone in the Dark and THEN when he was caught.

I haven’t listened to the Criminology podcast yet, so I don’t know how similar that is to this book. On its own merits, though, this book is definitely a must-read. It’s more detached than I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, and there is new information in this. It also benefits from the fact that we now know who the Golden State Killer is. (Allegedly.)

A lot of the information is the same, granted, but this book has interviews with survivors and investigators (as did I’ll Be Gone in the Dark) but it still is a completely different reading experience.

If you have true crime fans to buy presents for, pick this up. Recommended.

Becoming

Finished Becoming by Michelle Obama.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African-American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.

In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same.”

I absolutely loved this book. You probably already know if you want to read it (you’ve probably either already at least started it or put it on your holiday gift list) but this isn’t a particularly political book. If you’re put off at the thought of political snark, there isn’t much here. (She does point out that the Republican-led Congress tried to block everything her husband tried to do, but they would say that, too.)

I’ve loved Michelle Obama for years but somehow I love her more now. I am a huge fan of people who strive for things and who want to change the world, but she’s even better than I already thought.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year and actually in general. Highly recommended.

 

Glimmer of Hope

Finished Glimmer of Hope: How Tragedy Sparked a Movement. This is one of the four books I got as part of a four-book Audible trial.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The official, definitive book from The March for Our Lives founders about the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, the March for Our Lives, and the ongoing fight for sensible gun control legislation in the United States.

GLIMMER OF HOPE: HOW TRAGEDY SPARKED A MOVEMENT chronicles in first person essays the events of February 14th and the creation of the March for our Lives from the founders of the movement, including Emma González, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin, and more. The book also features oral histories of both the first day back to school following the shooting and the March for Our Lives, one of the largest marches in America’s history.

On February 14th, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in American history, in which 17 students and teachers were killed and 17 more were injured. Instead of dwelling on the pain and tragedy of that fateful day, a group of inspiring students from MSD channeled their feelings of hurt, rage, and sorrow into action, and went on to create one of the largest youth-led movements in global history.”

This is such a powerful anthology. The students are clearly passionate and are incredibly well-spoken. As someone who sometimes has a lot of vocal tics, I absolutely appreciate this.

These kids have a huge platform and are using it. They’re the first students from a massacre that have really taken the forefront and demanded change and an end to these mass shootings. They’re absolute heroes and I am in awe of them.

They’ve turned their trauma into something amazing and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Highly recommended.

Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom

Finished Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom by Ariel Burger. I received a copy for review at ALA.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“Elie Wiesel was a towering presence on the world stage—a Nobel laureate, activist, adviser to world leaders, and the author of more than forty books, including the Oprah’s Book Club selection Night. But when asked, Wiesel always said, “I am a teacher first.”

In fact, he taught at Boston University for nearly four decades, and with this book, Ariel Burger—devoted protégé, apprentice, and friend—takes us into the sacred space of Wiesel’s classroom. There, Wiesel challenged his students to explore moral complexity and to resist the dangerous lure of absolutes. In bringing together never-before-recounted moments between Wiesel and his students, Witness serves as a moral education in and of itself—a primer on educating against indifference, on the urgency of memory and individual responsibility, and on the role of literature, music, and art in making the world a more compassionate place.

Burger first met Wiesel at age fifteen; he became his student in his twenties, and his teaching assistant in his thirties. In this profoundly thought-provoking and inspiring book, Burger gives us a front-row seat to Wiesel’s remarkable exchanges in and out of the classroom, and chronicles the intimate conversations between these two men over the decades as Burger sought counsel on matters of intellect, spirituality, and faith, while navigating his own personal journey from boyhood to manhood, from student and assistant, to rabbi and, in time, teacher.

“Listening to a witness makes you a witness,” said Wiesel. Ariel Burger’s book is an invitation to every reader to become Wiesel’s student, and witness.”

This book is one of the most profound things I have ever read, and that actually doesn’t do it justice.

When I was in college, my sociology professor said something along the lines of how we need to always believe that one person can make a difference in the world. “Look at Rosa Parks,” she said. And it’s true that one person can make a real, permanent difference, although most of us won’t. Elie Wiesel did, and he devoted his life to showing others how to do the same.

He told this to a student who survived Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe: “I told you in class that you must tell your story. This is because, if even one person learns from it how to be more human, you will have made your memories into a blessing. We must turn our suffering into a bridge so that others might suffer less.”

I have a friend who talks about her struggles with mental illness and I have always found her to be so eloquent and so brave in discussing something that still has a little bit of a stigma but she’s turning her suffering into a bridge. That’s a powerful and beautiful thing, and I admire that so much.

But Elie Wiesel turned his suffering into making the world more compassionate. This book—and the ones he wrote—serve as a call to arms. If he, and other survivors of the Holocaust, could still be open and compassionate while at the same time being fierce in protecting other people, what choice do any of us have but to do the same?

I needed this book. It’s a hard and scary time and we have to save each other. Highly recommended. Could everyone please read it so I have someone to discuss it with?

I Might Regret This

Finished I Might Regret This by Abbi Jacobson. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the co-creator and co-star of the hit series Broad City, a hilarious and poignant collection about love, loss, work, comedy, and figuring out who you really are when you thought you already knew.

When Abbi Jacobson announced to friends and acquaintances that she planned to drive across the country alone, she was met with lots of questions and opinions: Why wasn’t she going with friends? Wouldn’t it be incredibly lonely? The North route is better! Was it safe for a woman? The Southern route is the way to go! You should bring mace! And a common one… why? But Abbi had always found comfort in solitude, and needed space to step back and hit the reset button. As she spent time in each city and town on her way to Los Angeles, she mulled over the big questions– What do I really want? What is the worst possible scenario in which I could run into my ex? How has the decision to wear my shirts tucked in been pivotal in my adulthood? In this collection of anecdotes, observations and reflections–all told in the sharp, wildly funny, and relatable voice that has endeared Abbi to critics and fans alike–readers will feel like they’re in the passenger seat on a fun and, ultimately, inspiring journey. With some original illustrations by the author.”

Confession time: I haven’t watched Broad City (although it’s been on my radar and I do want to watch; I’ll probably binge pretty soon) and I accepted a pitch for this because Cheryl Strayed blurbed the cover. (And because I tend to love memoirs by funny women, regardless of my familiarity with their work.)

I said that to say this: I am now a huge fan of Abbi Jacobson. This book is as funny as you’d expect (maybe even funnier; suffice to say it’s a fantastic read) but she’s also incredibly honest. I’m not sure I’ve ever related to a stranger as much as I’ve related to her in this.

(Her sleep study chapters, you guys. I feel like if you’ve ever had any problems sleeping, you’ll know where this is coming from.)

I expected to enjoy this book and I expected it to make me even more excited to watch Broad City. I didn’t expect to completely love it and read it in a day.

Highly recommended.

Almost Everything

Finished Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

From the bestselling author of Hallelujah Anyway , Bird by Bird , and Help, Thanks, Wow , comes a new book about the place hope holds in our lives. 

‘I am stockpiling antibiotics for the Apocalypse, even as I await the blossoming of paperwhites on the windowsill in the kitchen,’ Anne Lamott admits at the beginning of Almost Everything. Despair and uncertainty surround us: in the news, in our families, and in ourselves. But even when life is at its bleakest–when we are, as she puts it, ‘doomed, stunned, exhausted, and over-caffeinated’–the seeds of rejuvenation are at hand. ‘All truth is paradox,” Lamott writes,  ‘and this turns out to be a reason for hope. If you arrive at a place in life that is miserable, it will change.’ That is the time when we must pledge not to give up but “to do what Wendell Berry wrote: ‘Be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.'”

In this profound and funny book, Lamott calls for each of us to rediscover the nuggets of hope and wisdom that are buried within us that can make life sweeter than we ever imagined. Divided into short chapters that explore life’s essential truths, Almost Everything pinpoints these moments of insight as it shines an encouraging light forward.

Candid and caring, insightful and sometimes hilarious, Almost Everything is the book we need and that only Anne Lamott can write.”

This isn’t going to be a normal review and I think that’s OK. You already know if you should read this or not; hopefully you’ve already read it anyway.

I read this book in one day, most of it after learning a man took a gun and murdered at least 10 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t a good day, but I trusted that Anne Lamott was what I needed to be reading.

For years now, a new Anne Lamott book will emerge at the time I most need to read it and that is definitely true this time, as well. It’s very easy to sink into fear and distrust and frankly dislike—why don’t people care about the things I care about? Why are people posting recipes and stupid videos on Facebook while supporters of someone they voted for are murdering people?—but she reminds me to breathe, stay the course and listen to hope.

One of the things that she constantly repeats is that grace bats last. This is an awful and a scary time, but it isn’t forever. There are more of us, and we will ultimately win. We will especially win if we don’t become the people that we’re currently afraid of.

This book feels like an incredibly needed conversation with a good friend, and it made me laugh and ugly cry in equal measure.

Highly recommended.

Hey, Kiddo

Finished Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Hey, Kiddo is the graphic memoir of author-illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Raised by his colorful grandparents, who adopted him because his mother was an incarcerated heroin addict, Krosoczka didn’t know his father’s name until he saw his birth certificate when registering for a school ski trip. Hey, Kiddotraces Krosoczka’s search for his father, his difficult interactions with his mother, his day-to-day life with his grandparents, and his path to becoming an artist.

To date, nearly one million people have viewed Krosoczka’s TED Talk about his experience. Artwork from his childhood and teen years will be incorporated into the original illustrations for the book.”

This book is both incredibly personal and incredibly universal. Jarrett grew up mostly being raised by his grandparents; his mom was in and out of his life (she was a drug addict) and he didn’t know his dad until he was in high school.

So where’s the universal part? It’s that we all have to come to terms with the fact that our parents aren’t perfect and they did the best they could. Jarrett does this with a great deal of maturity and grace. I wouldn’t say that he makes it seem easy but he also understands that it doesn’t have anything to do with him.

The best part of this is the fact that it also includes cards and letters that he got from his mom. It’s clearly a graphic memoir anyway, but seeing those artifacts is a stark reminder that this isn’t a story; it’s Jarrett’s childhood. It’s a choice that makes this particularly poignant.

I also love that Jarrett chose to tell this memoir with pictures and words, not just through prose. It’s clear that art was one of his sanctuaries as a child (and probably still now). I haven’t read his other books but I want to. He’s a solid artist and author. (His others seem to be fiction, but I hope there’s another memoir.)

In Pieces

Finished In Pieces by Sally Field. I received a copy for review.

Summary (from Goodreads):

“One of the most celebrated, beloved, and enduring actors of our time, Sally Field has an infectious charm that has captivated the nation for more than five decades, beginning with her first TV role at the age of seventeen. From Gidget‘s sweet-faced “girl next door” to the dazzling complexity of Sybil to the Academy Award-worthy ferocity and depth of Norma Rae and Mary Todd Lincoln, Field has stunned audiences time and time again with her artistic range and emotional acuity. Yet there is one character who always remained hidden: the shy and anxious little girl within.

With raw honesty and the fresh, pitch-perfect prose of a natural-born writer, and with all the humility and authenticity her fans have come to expect, Field brings readers behind-the-scenes for not only the highs and lows of her star-studded early career in Hollywood, but deep into the truth of her lifelong relationships–including her complicated love for her own mother. Powerful and unforgettable, In Pieces is an inspiring and important account of life as a woman in the second half of the twentieth century.”

I’m a huge fan of Sally Field and have been since I saw Steel Magnolias. I haven’t seen all of her movies, but I’ve definitely hit the highlights and she’s been good in everything I’ve seen. (Regardless of the movie’s actual quality.)

I’m now an even bigger fan.

Her writing style is incredibly evocative. You can picture everything she’s telling you, and it’s clear that she’s got a real gift for storytelling.

One caveat: if you’re here for celebrity gossip, you won’t love this. There’s some, of course, and we learn her perspective on her relationship with Burt Reynolds. But it’s not the core of the book.  Incidentally, the fact that she’s still asked about Burt Reynolds makes me really annoyed—there is so much more to her than that.

(Should you be curious, though, the core of the book is her relationship with her mom. Like many mother-daughter relationships, it’s complicated to say the least. But it’s also fascinating and heartbreaking and oddly sweet.)

I am blown away by this book and I’ve been talking it up to everyone I know. I hope there’s going to be a second memoir. I get the feeling there’s a lot more to learn.

Highly recommended.