Thursday, August 30, 2018

Exit West

Exit WestExit West, by Mohsin Hamid

I read this book as part of the Multnomah County Library "Everybody Reads" program, which culminated with a lecture by Mohsin Hamid at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Hamid has written a beautiful, evocative tale of anxiety, immigration, asylum, the need for sanctuary, and love. Full of magical realism, the novel follows the path of two young people from an unnamed Muslim country. It's a heart-breaking journey, but also full of small miracles.

I recommend this book to anyone who would like to better understand the immigrant experience.

You Don't Have to Say You Love Me

You Don't Have to Say You Love MeYou Don't Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie

I've put this review off long enough.

I listened to Alexie's memoir at the beginning of the year, and I cried all the way through it, along with him. The book is a beautiful, painful tribute to his mom and his incredibly complicated relationship with her. I couldn't wait to put it the very top of my "Top Reads of 2018" list.

He shared deep, difficult revelations about rape and sexual abuse throughout his family history, including his own abuse. Since his mother died, Alexie had been seeing signs of his mother wherever he fact, he cancelled his book tour because it was so traumatic for him.

And then, before I had gotten around to writing my book review, the news broke. At least 10 women writers accused Alexie of sexual harassment, many of them Native women. Worse, he took advantage of the privilege he had as the preeminent Native writer. He actually forced his affections on women in exchange for supporting their work through reviews and endorsements...all the while presenting himself as an advocate for Native writers. Tragically, Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other American women, and they have experienced a legacy of abuse (which  Alexie wrote about). He is the worst kind of hypocrisy.

Sadly, I am on a two-year run of reading great nonfiction by men who would turn out to be abusers or harassers. Last year it was Al Franken (and no, I do not equate what these two men have been accused of doing...but they are both hypocrites). I hope I can break this unfortunate run in 2019! So disappointed in Sherman Alexie.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Drop Dead Healthy

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily PerfectionDrop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs

I have a bit of a thing for "one-year experiment" books! For example:

Julie & Julia 
Living Oprah
Not Buying It
Eat My Globe
The Unlikely Disciple
The Year of Living Biblically

A.J. Jacobs pioneered the idea of one-year experiments, beginning with deciding he would read the entire Encylopedia Brittanica in 18 months (okay, more than a year) (The Know-It-All). The other book of Jacobs' I've read is The Year of Living Biblically, when he tried to follow many of the Old Testament's laws for another interesting year. (His poor wife!)

For Drop Dead Healthy, Jacobs decided to get healthy and slim down by exploring and experimenting with every health or fitness fad he came across.

In his classic, funny, self-effacing way, Jacobs takes the reader on a journey toward health, finding a few snake oil salespeople along the way!

Here he is talking about the book:

The Pope’s Cat

The Pope's Cat, by Jon M. Sweeney and Roy DeLeon

This delightful children's book was illustrated by my dear friend and former coworker, Roy DeLeon. It's a heartwarming story showing the humanity of Pope Francis and how his heart was touched by a stray cat. I highly recommend it for children and adults alike, especially cat lovers!

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.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Princess Diarist

The Princess DiaristThe Princess Diarist, by Carrie Fisher

We listened to this on a road trip, after starting out with Postcards from the Edge. We abandoned Postcards because it's written in epistolary form and not as conducive to listening. The Princess Diarist worked better.

It is pure Carrie Fisher--self-effacing, funny, biting, sarcastic, acerbic--and reveals both her uncertainty as a young woman and her feeling of being overwhelmed when she suddenly became famous.

Harrison Ford doesn't come across as particularly endearing, having an affair with the much-younger Fisher during the filming of the first Star Wars movie. He didn't treat her very well.

Fisher is candidly open about her mental illness and alcoholism. She is refreshingly honest in a Hollywood culture that is all about image. She appears not to give a f*ck what anyone thinks, although the truth is a bit deeper than that.

These quotes from the book exemplify it well:

"What’s the riddle? Me talking so much And saying so little"

"I wish that I could leave myself alone. I wish that I could finally feel that I punished myself enough. That I deserved time off for all my bad behavior. Let myself off the hook, drag myself off the rack where I am both torturer and torturee."

"I act like someone in a bomb shelter trying to raise everyone’s spirits."

"I am someone who wants very much to be popular. I don’t just want you to like me, I want to be one of the most joy-inducing human beings that you’ve ever encountered. I want to explode on your night sky like fireworks at midnight on New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong."

"My panic is rising again. My sense of isolation and worthlessness. And no other senses worth mentioning apparently. It's not nice being inside my head. It's a nice place to visit but I don't want to live here. It's too crowded; too many traps and pitfalls. I'm tired of it. That same old person, day in and day out. I'd like to try something else. I tried to neaten my mind, file everything away into tidy little thoughts, but it only got more and more cluttered. My mind has a mind of its own. I try to define my limits by seeing just how far I can go, and I find that I passed them weeks ago. And I've got to find my way back."

"If anyone reads this when I have passed to the big bad beyond I shall be posthumously embarrassed. I shall spend my entire afterlife blushing."

"It’s not nice being inside my head. It’s a nice place to visit but I don’t want to live in here. It’s too crowded; too many traps and pitfalls."

"Anyway, I suppose in part I'm telling this story now because I want all of you - and I do mean all - to know that I wasn't always a somewhat-overweight woman without an upper lip to her name who can occasionally be found sleeping behind her face and always thinking in her mouth."

Monday, January 8, 2018

Sex Object

Sex Object: A MemoirSex Object, by Jessica Valenti

This was a hard book to read. Valenti is a famous young feminist, and she founded the blog Feministing in 2004.

Much of this book, a series of essays, reads like a doesn't always fit together very well. But the essays are powerful, searing, deeply honest, and at times shocking.

First off, I had no idea of the amount of harassment girls and young women encounter on New York City subways and streets on a regular basis. No wonder she feels like she is under attack. And then there's the sheer vitriol and hatred Valenti has received for being a public online feminist. The last chapter contains a sampling of the hate mail she has received. This is typical for women who bare their souls and opinions in the public sphere, thanks to the anonymity of the Internet and misogyny in society.

Valenti's daughter was born prematurely, and she writes openly about her angst and terror associated with that and motherhood in general.

I wouldn't exactly say I enjoyed this book, but I'm glad I read it.

Giant of the Senate

Al Franken, Giant of the SenateGiant of the Senate, by Al Franken

In a year when I committed to read women or people of color, what a tragedy that this was one of the few books I read by white men. Only a tragedy now in retrospect, because I actually loved listening to this book.

Franken is funny, insightful, self-deprecating, and wise. One of my favorite anecdotes was the way he and his assistant would talk about hide-a-beds to throw off journalists in their wake.

He clearly loves his wife and family and is called to serve. He had an excellent working relationship with his colleague, Amy Klobuchar.

I enjoyed all the stories of how he ended up in the Senate and how he attempted to work with other senators with which he staunchly disagreed. This was an excellent book, and I believe it stands alone on its merit.

I was so disappointed to learn that Franken is just one more of the old boys who disrespected women and treated them as his plaything. Toxic masculinity can be a byproduct of men in power. This doesn't make Franken a bad person. He made some serious mistakes, and it breaks my heart because he was an excellent senator.

I would have given this five stars before the scandals hit. Now I'll downgrade it to a two, simply
based on my disappointment and his hypocrisy.

I Found You

I Found YouI Found You, by Lisa Jewell

What a great read! I loved the way the mysteries unraveled. Three different stories, woven together masterfully. Colorful characters with complicated histories. A setting in Yorkshire and elsewhere in England. Couldn't put down.

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection

This Time Together: Laughter and ReflectionThis Time Together: Laughter and Reflection, by Carol Burnett

I recommend listening to this book, because it's read by Carol Burnett herself. I recommend this book for long-time fans of Burnett. I grew up watching her hilarious variety shows, so it was like curling up with a long-time friend.

I especially enjoyed the tales of her early days, breaking into show business. She had a patron--a wealthy woman who gave her money to go to New York City to get started. Her only rules were (1) that she would be anonymous, and (2) that Burnett would pay it forward to another young woman once she made it. And so she did.

Burnett was a feminist at an early age, fighting for equity and parity in the men's world of entertainment. One TV executive told her that comedy was a "man's game." She sure proved him wrong!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Widows of Malabar Hill

The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry, #1)The Widows of Malabar Hill, by Sujata Massey

I'm excited about this new series by one of my favorite authors! It's due out next week on January 9. I was lucky to get a sneak peek!

I first became a fan of Sujata Massey through her Rei Shimura detective novels about a Japanese-American antiques dealer turned detective. Sujata Massey, half Indian and half German, lived and worked in Japan around the same time that I did. Rei Shimura was spunky, independent, and curious about the world, and she's my all-time favorite detective.

Cornelia Sorabji
Cornelia Sorabji
Now Sujata Massey has branched out into writing about India, and I love these books even more! In 2013 she published The Sleeping Dictionary, a historical novel about a poor Indian girl without a family, leaving her few options for survival. It was one of my favorite books in 2013.

Next up is The Widows of Malabar Hill, the first in her Perveen Mistry series. An Oxford-educated, multilingual Parsi woman in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1921, Perveen is one of the first female lawyers in India, partially inspired by the real life of Cornelia Sorabji.

Perveen has modern parents who encourage her education and career, but they do still want her to get married. The novel covers the travails of her personal life as well as her professional work.

She helps her dad with a case of a rich Muslim mill owner who has died and left three widows behind. The women are in full purdah (exclusion from men), so Perveen is best suited to speak to them. She soon becomes concerned because their husband's agent plans to give away their inheritance and leave them with nothing. When she begins to investigate the situation, a murder occurs and things escalate.

I am excited about reading more of this series. Massey does an exquisite job exposing the reader to many facets of Indian culture and religion--in this case Islam and Parsis, who are descended from Persian Zoroastrians. I've actually read quite a lot about Parsis; it seems that, although their population is fairly small and rapidly diminishing in India, their culture is a popular and fascinating subject in fiction!

Check out Massey's excellent website to read the first chapter, peruse recipes from the book, see photos from real places in the book, and read her Q&A.

Excellent historical fiction + setting in Asia + a spunky heroine + mystery and adventure = the perfect combination for me!

Bring on the next one!

Version Control

Version ControlVersion Control, by Dexter Palmer

This book is an excellent example of why I value my book group! I'm a time travel and dystopian fiction fan, so I was intrigued to dive into this one...especially with such an intriguing premise.

It moved a bit slowly for my taste, and at times I thought he had too many details about science, religion, and the Causality Violation Device (the time traveling machine that is "not a time traveling machine"). Palmer's commentary and reflections on race, alcoholism, and our blind reliance on technology were spot-on. Some of the book was speculative fiction rather than pure sci-fi, because I could actually imagine many of the things happening.

But the characters were wholly unlikable (which is often a problem for me). My book group friends helped me uncover brilliant strategies and nuances of Palmer's as we discussed it, and I grew to appreciate it much more.

I'm not much of a sci-fi fan, though, so that probably turned me off a bit. I'd describe this as literary sci-fi. The book grew on me during our discussion, so much so that I was tempted to re-read it. But life's too short!

Prayers for the Stolen

Prayers for the StolenPrayers for the Stolen, by Jennifer Clement

This was a beautiful, heartbreaking novel about Mexico, written by poet Jennifer Clement, who was the president of PEN Mexico.

"The best thing you can be in Mexico is an ugly girl."

Ladydi Garcia Martinez dresses as a boy, because in her mountain community near Guerrero, girls are constantly kidnapped and sold into prostitution to support the drug trade. The mothers dig holes for their daughters to hide in when the black SUVs come to their homes to search for new girls to snatch.

Every day in Mexico, adolescent girls and young women are abducted from their homes and either never heard from again or found dumped dead and abused. Some become sex slaves to drug lords, and others are sexually trafficked to brothels in Mexico and abroad. Sexual abuse in Mexico has exploded as the drug trade has soared.

Although difficult to read, this novel is a wonderful story about women and daughters who have to survive on their own wits, resiliency during a time of great trauma, and fierce love that is hard to comprehend in our white, American existence.


AmericanahAmericanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Author Roxane Gay describes this book as a "beautiful mess," and I agree. I started and stopped it several times. It wasn't because it made me uncomfortable (as a white woman, I think it's important for me to feel uncomfortable). It's because I wasn't captivated by the book as a novel.

But I am glad I read it, in my year of "read mostly women and people of color." Giving a voice to Nigerian-American main character Ifemelu is so important...both for other Nigerians as well as for other white Americans like me.

Adiche writes brilliantly about race and racism, colonization, immigration, journeys, hair, assimilation, self-invention, corruption, and family. I just wish it held together better as a novel.

Holden Village--A Memoir: New Life, Endless Stories

Holden Village - A Memoir: New Life - Endless StoriesHolden Village--A Memoir: New Life, Endless Stories, by Werner Janssen

I happened across this book a few weeks before I went to our beloved Holden Village this summer after 5 years away. It's written by one of the early villagers and one of its first operations managers, Werner Janssen. In all the rooms at Holden, a different, older memoir awaits: Surprising Gift, by Charles Lutz. Janssen's book holds more of an insider perspective.

Independently published and written by an engineer, it could have benefited from a really good edit. But I enjoyed reading the story of how the village got started and Janssen's personal insider perspective. He lived in the village longer than anyone else has, starting at age 24.

One thing I found troubling about this memoir is that according to Janssen, innovative visionary and long-time executive director Carroll Hinderlie (who my dad knew from PLU) was a sexual predator. He was well known for harassing women on staff and those who were visiting the village. Eventually, the board did something about it, suggesting that Hinderlie take a leave of absence and write a book (paid leave!). Apparently another executive director was guilty of what the board calls "sexual misconduct" as well.

The Holden Village board acknowledged this issue in 2013 with a statement of apology (sort of) and they also created a sexual harassment policy and rules for staff and villagers. But they never named the executive directors (like Janssen does in his book).

On the FAQ portion of the page, the board refuses to provide names, instead saying "Our interest is in promoting healing and not promoting more pain. We are not disclosing the names of those involved, but it was decades ago that this occurred."

I find this troubling. Why not name names? I can only imagine what it must feel like to be a victim of these assaults and know that these men's reputations are still being protected.

Greater healing would take place if their names were brought forward and if Carroll Hinderlie were not still held up as a great icon of Holden Village. Yes, he did amazing things for the village. But he preyed on women. That is unacceptable and needs to be acknowledged--by name.

I am glad that Janssen did this in his book.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong PeopleAccidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People, by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I read this back in June, before going to Holden Village in July and getting to listen to Pr. Nadia several times that week. It was the second time I'd heard her speak, and I soaked up every opportunity to learn from her.

One of the fun memories of that week was listening to her read her completely raw draft of the book she's working on right now--about sex and the church. Simply put, she is a brilliant and colorful writer. She was all full of apologies that it had not yet gone through an editor, but it was a real privilege to hear her read from her first draft (which did NOT seem draft quality).

I enjoyed Accidental Saints as I always get a great deal out of Pr. Nadia's writing. She makes me see things in new ways.

But I am always a little stunned by how honest she is, and at times I think she's a bit too honest. For example, one story in Accidental Saints is about a man in her church who she just wasn't crazy about--he was hard to love. It was only after he died that she realized her mistake. In one of her talks at Holden Village, she spoke dismissively about someone who had applied to be the pastor at her church (she is unable to be a full-time pastor now that she's also an author and speaker). The Lutheran world is a small one, and I couldn't help but wonder how people related to these individuals would feel if they heard or read her words.

I am of the type who believes it's better to be kind than to always be brutally honest. Sometimes when I read memoirs or essays like this book (Anne Lamott is another author who comes to mind), I realize that I wouldn't want to be friends with the author. I don't think I could trust my authentic self with them. Pr. Nadia also has extremely strong opinions (for example, about church music), and I don't always agree with them. I imagine that some people in her church are more than a bit intimidated by her and might not feel comfortable speaking up.

With that said, Pr. Nadia is brilliant and fascinating. I love the way she pushes the envelope with her potty mouth and out-of-the-box thinking. This book is worth a read. 

And especially the last chapter--her modern Beatitudes--which brought me to tears. Here it is:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are the agnostics. Blessed are they who doubt. Those who aren’t sure, who can still be surprised. Blessed are they who are spiritually impoverished and therefore not so certain about everything that they no longer take in new information. Blessed are those who have nothing to offer. Blessed are they for whom nothing seems to be working. Blessed are the preschoolers who cut in line at communion. Blessed are the poor in spirit. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.Blessed are they for whom death is not an abstraction. Blessed are they who have buried their loved ones, for whom tears are as real as an ocean. Blessed are they who have loved enough to know what loss feels like. Blessed are the mothers of the miscarried. Blessed are they who don’t have the luxury of taking things for granted any more. Blessed are they who can’t fall apart because they have to keep it together for everyone else. Blessed are the motherless, the alone, the ones from whom so much has been taken. Blessed are those who “still aren’t over it yet.” Blessed are they who laughed again when for so long they thought they never would. Blessed are those who mourn. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who no one else notices. The kids who sit alone at middle-school lunch tables. The laundry guys at the hospital. The sex-workers and the night shift street sweepers. Blessed are the losers and the babies and the parts of ourselves that are so small. The parts of ourselves that don’t want to make eye contact with a world that only loves the winners. Blessed are the forgotten. Blessed are the closeted. Blessed are the unemployed, the unimpressive, the underrepresented. Blessed are the teens who have to figure out ways to hide the new cuts on their arms. Blessed are the meek. You are of heaven and Jesus blesses you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the wrongly accused, the ones who never catch a break, the ones for whom life is hard – for they are those with whom Jesus chose to surround himself. Blessed are those without documentation. Blessed are the ones without lobbyists. Blessed are foster kids and trophy kids and special ed kids and every other kid who just wants to feel safe and loved and never does. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are they who know there has to be more than this. Because they are right.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are those who make terrible business decisions for the sake of people. Blessed are the burnt-out social workers and the over worked teachers and the pro-bono case takers. Blessed are the kids who step between the bullies and the weak. Blessed are they who delete hateful, homophobic comments off their friend’s Facebook page. Blessed are the ones who have received such real grace that they are no longer in the position of ever deciding who the “deserving poor” are. Blessed is everyone who has ever forgiven me when I didn’t deserve it. Blessed are the merciful for they totally get it.