Friday, March 2, 2018

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening

Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s AwakeningDaring to Drive: A Saudi Woman's Awakening, by Manal Al-Sharif

I loved this book. I listened to it on audio, narrated by Manal Al-Sharif herself.

Growing up in Mecca, Al-Sharif was pretty devout and religious for most of her life. But three things awakened her to the plight of women and spurred her to become a driving activist:

1. She is smart and wanted to make something of herself professionally, instead of being limited by her gender.

2. The Saudi ban on women driving completely paralyzes women and places them in unsafe situations.

3. She got divorced, making it even harder to make it in Saudi Arabia as an independent woman and single mom.

She became the face of the movement, risking her own life and livelihood to do the right thing. This included jail time.

Al-Sharif now lives in Dubai, but tragically she has been separated from her oldest son, Aboudi, who still lives there with her ex-husband and his family, who will not allow him to visit her in Dubai. Men get full custody of children in Saudi Arabia when couples divorce. Read this sad update in the New York Times: I Left My Son in a Kingdom of Men.

I loved this book. I learned so much about Saudi Arabia. I recommend you listen to it if you can.

Top books of 2017

I'm a little late! But here it is.

I started out this year resolving to read as many women and people of color as possible. It was the year of memoir, and the first year I’ve ever read more nonfiction than fiction!

You'll find reviews of each of these books on this blog...just search the title.

  1. The Forty Rules of Love, by Elif Shafak
  2. The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey
  3. The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
  4. Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
  5. Our Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf*
  6. Unbound, by John Shors*
  7. The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez
  8. Prayers for the Stolen, by Jennifer Clement
  9. I Found You, by Lisa Jewell
  10. Version Control, by Dexter Palmer
  11. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon
  12. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie
  13. The Separation, by Diana Jeffries


  1. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, by Trevor Noah
  2. Daring to Drive: a Saudi Woman’s Awakening, by Manal al-Sharif
  3. Born to Run, by Bruce Springsteen*
  4. Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women, by Marianne Monson
  5. Surpassing Certainty: What My 20s Taught Me, by Janet Mock
  6. Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, by Pearl Cleage
  7. Find Me Unafraid: Love, Loss, and Hope in an African Slum, by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner
  8. Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story, by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh
  9. Forward: A Memoir, by Abby Wambach
  10. Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God, by Amber Cantorna
  11. Giant of the Senate, by Al Franken (ugh!)*
  12. Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  13. The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young*
  14. Sex Object, by Jessica Valenti
  15. Carry On Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton
  16. I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, by Luvvie Ajayi
  17. This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection, by Carol Burnett
  18. The Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher
  19. Holden Village—A Memoir, by Werner Janssen

*White guys--only five!

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs

Things I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love AffairsThings I Should Have Told My Daughter: Lies, Lessons & Love Affairs, by Pearl Cleage

2017 was my year of discovering audio memoirs. I'm much more of a visual learner and processor, so until recently I did not often listen to audio books. But I've found I like to listen to memoirs that way, especially when they are read by the author. That's how I found Pearl Cleage's autobiography.

All I knew about her was she'd written What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, which I'd read years and years ago. Now Cleage is a bestselling author and playwright, but this book starts back in her early days, struggling and striving as a young mom and political activist.

She shares her personal stories of racism and sexism, often entertwined, and her struggles with being a working mom and writer. I found it to be educational and inspirational.

Unbound, by John Shors

UnboundUnbound, by John Shors
I've read nearly all of John Shors' novels, which are mostly based in Asia (one of my favorite locations).

My favorite, still, is his first one: Beneath a Marble Sky, about the building of the Taj Mahal. Part of why I loved it so was because Mike and I spent a couple of days in Agra visiting the Taj in 1989.

Unbound is about the building of the great wall, replete with a love story and depiction of how tough it was to be a woman in China during those times. The novel's name comes from the fact that the protagonist, Meng, did not have her feet bound (unusual during those times).

Meng's kind and storytelling husband Fan has been conscripted to help build the wall, but she stops hearing from him. Concerned about him, she decides to take an extremely risky trip to go see him. The story is about her adventure, combined with the horrible situation Fan was in, working for a psychopathic, sadistic leader.

Shors does an excellent job sensitively portraying women of color in history--not always easy for a white man! And I always love learning about history through novels like this.

Highly recommended!

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at NightOur Souls at Night, by Kent Haruf

An unexpectedly beautiful, tender, sad love story between two older adults...I loved the spare, unfolding writing and the delicate unraveling of what these two people created with each other.

My book group loved this book, but we also found ourselves getting agitated at some of the characters.

It's a quick read, and Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are excellently cast in the Netflix movie version.

Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God

Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of GodRefocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God, by Amber Cantorna

Before I read this book, all I knew about Focus on the Family was that it is an extremely conservative, LGBTQ- and feminist-bashing, political organization that uses the Bible as a weapon. Either you're in, or you're out and rejected completely. But I knew very little about the culture in the organization.

Amber Cantorna was raised deeply embedded in this strict religious tradition; in fact her dad was an executive in the Focus on the Family organization. As she grew older, she found something missing in her life as she realized she was attracted to women. At first she felt great shame about this, but eventually she realized that coming out and being true to herself was the best way to honor God and who she was made to be.

She bravely outed herself to her family and they rejected her. I'm glad Amber has found love, but her story is another reminder of how many ways people are hurt by the church. It breaks my heart. Fortunately she has found another church that welcomes her with open arms.

Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women

Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women
Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women, by Marianne Monson

I loved this collection of badass frontier women! I listened to this book while on a business trip to the Bay Area, which made the story about San Francisco Chinatown all the more poignant. As a fan of Abigail Scott Duniway (Oregon's suffragette, who we paid tribute to on Election Day 2016), I was grateful to see her in this collection.

Monson curated and told stories of women of color and all sorts of walks of life. It's a truly intersectional collection of women who were tough, hearty, fearless, and ground-breaking.

These stories will make you want to know more about these daring pioneer women and might make you feel tired, looking at your own life!

I'm Judging You: the Do-Better Manual

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better ManualI'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual, by Luvvie Ajayi

Luvvie Ajayi is another author I got to hear on the Together: Live! tour last year. I have followed her blog regularly. She is a sassy, spirited, insightful writer and I find her writing to be entertaining and biting.

I listened to I'm Judging You on audio, because I love Luvvie's voice. But in some ways I wish I had read it instead. I liked some of the chapters better than others. For example: she goes on and on about women who rarely wash their bras. I would have totally skipped ahead if I hadn't been listening while driving my car. Why do I care how often other women wash their bras? What a waste of time to judge other women for something as inconsequential as that.

She talks extensively about her friend with the clueless, no-good boyfriend Carlos. And her "do-better" essays on racism and sexism were fairly basic for someone who tries to stay up to date in these matters.

I hope that her next book goes deeper. She's a wonderful storyteller and I found the book entertaining. It just could have been so much better. After seeing her live, I expected more.

The Hate U Give

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Although this is billed as "young adult," everyone should read this book to understand why #BlackLivesMatter.

Starr Carter is a badass young hero. She is trying to fit in at a predominantly white high school when one of her old friends is shot and killed by a police officer in a racially biased search. Starr struggles whether she should come forward publicly as a witness because of her tenuous position in her high school in addition to her family's gang ties. Family, friendship, and loyalty--all important themes.

It's a complex story, beautifully told. Read it.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song

The Carter Family: Don't Forget This SongThe Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song, by Frank M. Young and David Lasky

Told in graphic novel style, The Carter Family tells the story of how this country's Americana grandmothers and grandfathers got their start in music. I enjoyed reading about the history of this talented musical family.

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age StoryMuslim Girl: A Coming of Age Story, by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh

Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is a phenomenal young woman. She founded her website,, when she was just 17 years old, and now it has millions of hits.

Of Jordanian and Palestinian descent, Al-Khatahtbeh and her family moved to Jordan after 9/11 because of the extreme Islamophobia here in the United States.

I listened to Muslim Girl on audio, which I would recommend so you can hear Al-Khatahtbeh read her own words. Everyone needs to read this book and understand what it's like to grow up in a religion that is so misunderstood and mischaracterized by many ignorant people. She is brave, honest, unflinching, and funny. A woman to watch in coming years!

Forward, a Memoir

Forward: A MemoirForward, a Memoir: by Abby Wambaugh and Karen Abbott

After reading Glennon Doyle's memoir, I dove into her wife's!

Abby shares her struggles in growing up Catholic and gay, and she how she went a bit wild as a professional soccer player. She actually lived in my hometown of Portland, Oregon, when she received her highly publicized DUI.

The biggest weakness of this book was at times I felt some of the other people in the book (like her first wife) came across as one-dimensional. We didn't really get to know them very well, perhaps because this was a memoir.

But I enjoyed this story of her life--how hard she worked to be the greatest soccer player in the world, what drove her passion, and how hard she fell when she finally did fall.

It was particularly great to read this memoir after seeing Wambach live on stage with Glennon Doyle. She has a magnetic personality, and I'm sure she'll continue to do great things with her life.

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life UnarmedCarry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, by Glennon Doyle

I decided to read Glennon Doyle's first book after seeing her on a Together Live! tour (which was great!!). Many things have changed in her life since she published this book, the most significant being that she divorced her philandering husband after falling in love with soccer player Abby Wambaugh. Wambaugh and Doyle told their riveting and beautiful love story on stage to each other.

I had read Doyle's blog Momastery occasionally but was not an active follower. This book is mostly a collection of her early blog posts, talking about her substance abuse, bulimia, unexpected motherhood, and marriage problems.

Doyle is raw, honest, flippant, and funny. She bares her soul on the page, and I wonder how her family members feel about her writing so candidly about them. Her husband does not come out very well!

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot #4)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, by Agatha Christie

Last year my book group stayed in the Agatha Christie room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel, but somehow we never confessed to the fact that none of us had read much Agatha Christie.

In the Agatha Christie room, pretending to read!
I've seen a few of her plays, but, believe it or not, had never actually read one of her novels. My husband, on the other hand, has read a ton. So it was time!

Christie introduces Hercules Poirot in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. This book is supposedly the classic mystery.

I tend to be a mystery lover only when there's a twist (usually when the detective is an interesting woman). I enjoyed this book, especially the surprise reveal of the murderer at the end, but I wouldn't say I LOVED it.

One thing I found particularly funny was how when Roger Ackroyd died, they were all very English and stiff-upper-lip about it. "Oh dear! He's died!" or something like that. Highly amusing.

Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me

Surpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught MeSurpassing Certainty: What My Twenties Taught Me, by Janet Mock

Mock's second memoir of her coming out process as a trans woman is just as great as, if not better than, her first book (Redefining Realness). If you have not read Redefining Realness, I strongly suggest you start there.

Janet Mock is an extraordinary woman with a highly colorful journey, full of obstacles and accomplishments. I enjoyed listening to her read the book in her rich, creamy voice.

I felt a little sorry for Troy. He simply could not keep up with her or be as honest and authentic as she is. But I'm glad she has found real love.

Mock pushes through the prejudice that tries to get in her way (racism and transphobia) and also owns her own privilege (being drop-dead beautiful allows her to "pass" more easily as a cisgendered woman than other trans women). I love the fact that she's chosen to live her life out loud, being a role model for other biracial trans women along the way.