Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Catching Up: Great Nonfiction Reads

I seem to have read even more nonfiction than fiction in the last several months!


Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert

Yes, it's a bit woo-woo, but it was just what I needed at the right time, as my dear friend Caley knew as she chose it for our book group. I loved the story about Gilbert's idea for a novel, landing with Ann Patchett after she let it go. Gilbert believes that ideas have a life of their own, and they are demanding to be expressed.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”

Her comment that “It might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you!” reminds me of my entrepreneurial hero, Marie Forleo, who exhorts her students not to worry if someone else is doing the same thing as you...because you will do it in your own unique way. People don't just hire a service or product...they hire the person behind the creative idea.

Judging from the reviews, people either love or hate this book, and this was also the case with my book group. I loved it, but mostly because I read it at the right time in my life...when I had a creative idea (starting and working on my own business), just urging me to believe in it.

Educated, Tara Westover

This story was so astonishing it seemed almost preposterous, but it certainly demonstrates the power and resilience of the human spirit. Tara Westover was raised in an isolationist Mormon family in remote Idaho. At times it was difficult to read, especially trying to understand her desire to maintain connections with her dysfunctional, violent, and gaslighting family members after she escaped and made a life for herself, but that's what abuse does to a person. A great read, and a great true story.


Getting Started in Consulting, Alan Weiss

A friend who had started her own business recommended this book to me. I found it to be a great start in setting up my own consulting business. I haven't followed everything Weiss recommends (for example, he recommends you mark up your subconsultants by up to 50 percent!), but I used it for the basics. I especially appreciated the way he inserted words of wisdom from other people who had set up their own consulting firms.

It tends to be more male focused, while much of what I've been reading and the people I've been following have a more female-centered approach, but still a valuable resource.


In Pieces, Sally Field

Growing up on "Gidget" and "The Flying Nun," followed by "Norma Rae," "Places in the Heart," and "Steel Magnolias," I've always loved Sally Field, especially playing the matriarch in "Brothers and Sisters" and seeing her impassioned speeches in support of LGBTQIA rights.

I listened to In Pieces on audio so I could hear Field tell her story. I was taken off guard to learn she had been sexually abused by her stepfather...somehow I had not seen any information about that before I read the book. She hated "The Flying Nun" and "Gidget," and Burt Reynolds was a complete tool and waste of space.

Listening to Sally tell her story felt like an old friend sharing her intimacies with me.


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Bryan Stevenson

I wanted to read Stevenson's book before seeing the movie. Bryan Stevenson is a hero for the neglected, the abused, the convicted without a fair trial, and those who are forgotten on Death Row. Just Mercy relates his stories of working tirelessly on their behalf, combined with facts and historical context about the prison industrial text and racism in this country. I found this book to be tragic, moving, inspiring, and infuriating. Highly recommended.


My Love Story, Tina Turner


Another book I listened to on audio, Tina Turner's memoir begins with heryears she has had to stop touring because of extensive health challenges...but I read that she's publishing another book this year. Tina Turner is a rock star in more ways than one...she has endured horrible hardships in her life, including the suicide of her beloved son a few years ago, yet she still remains hopeful and resilient at age 80.
wedding to the love of her life in Switzerland...and then three weeks after this highly awaited day, she suffered a massive stroke and had to learn how to do everything all over again. She looks back on her life, beginning with her birth as Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee, and describes her awful existence with the abusive Ike. In her later


Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love, Jonathan Van Ness

Of course I had to listen to this one on audio. It's Jonathan Van Ness! I love this guy, although I know some people find him a bit hard to bear. He pours his guts out in this memoir, and I loved his raw vulnerability, honesty, and truth. Watching "Queer Eye," what many people would not imagine is that Jonathan Van Ness was pretty damn poor before he landed that gig. Trigger warnings for sexual and drug abuse, drug use, eating disorders, cancer, and homophobia. I love his podcast too ("Getting Curious"), in which he interviews experts on a wide variety of topics...essentially anything that piques his interest.


Shameless: A Sexual Revolution, Nadia Bolz-Weber

I feel extremely lucky that we were at Holden Village when Nadia Bolz-Weber was writing the first drafts of this book, and she workshopped them with us in large sessions. Of course, she's Nadia Bolz-Weber, so even her first drafts were brilliant. Of all the books she's written, this one is my favorite. I have to laugh, reading all the negative reviews on Goodreads, with people claiming her book is not biblical or adhering to Lutheran doctrine, etc. They are completely missing the point.

“It doesn't feel very difficult to draw a direct line between the messages many of us received from the church and the harm we've experienced in our bodies and spirits as a result. So my argument in this book is this: we should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine, or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to people. If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings.”

The church has a major problem with sex. Until we solve this problem and embrace the fact that God created sexuality as a gift, not a sin, Christianity will continue to alienate and harm people.

The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, Maarten Troost

Maarten Troost moved to Tarawa, a tiny South Pacific island in the Republic of Kiribati, with his then-girlfriend, now-wife. Travel writing? Count me in! I was intrigued. This was a book group choice, and many found it to be an interesting read. I, however, would not recommend it.

I found Troost to be a whiny, full-of-himself bore who feels sorry for himself, hardly writes anything about his girlfriend's very different experience of the island, and treats the islanders themselves like pariahs. The titles of his books--The Sex Lives of Cannibals, Getting Stoned with Savages, and Headhunters on my Doorstep--are meant to be tongue in cheek, but they speak more of his personality. He never gets to know any of the I-Kiribati or makes much attempt to appreciate anything about living on the island.

After leaving Kiribati, he lands a plum job back at the World Bank. Reading this book reminded me why I prefer to read books by women and people of color. Troost represents exactly the type of privileged, overpublished white guy whose books I do not want to read.


White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo

Every white person needs to read this book, as soon as possible. I have recommended it repeatedly. Until we white people face our "whiteness" problem, we will never be able to begin to fix our own racism. This book is a great start. That is all. 

We Are Displaced, Malala Yousafzai

Malala has written a beautiful collection of essays about others who have been displaced from their countries of origin because of war, terrorism, famine, or other challenges that make it dangerous for them to stay home. 

According to the United Nations, "an unprecedented 70.8 million people around the world have been forced from home by conflict and persecution at the end of 2018. Among them are nearly 30 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18."

These figures are mind-boggling. No one chooses to be a refugee. It's one of the worst things that can happen to a person, or a people. It breaks my heart when Americans, sitting in their comfortable houses with plenty to eat, do not understand that people do not flee here unless they have no other options available. These stories will move you and remind you of how far we have to go as a civilization. 

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life, Jen Sincero

I began listening to this book at just the right time in my life, when I had a serious case of imposter syndrome.

Some may say it's just another self-help book, but I found it helpful. I remember driving down the freeway, shouting out loud "YOU ARE A BADASS!" and it actually felt healing for me.

“You are perfect. To think anything less is as pointless as a river thinking that it’s got too many curves or that it moves too slowly or that its rapids are too rapid. Says who? You’re on a journey with no defined beginning, middle or end. There are no wrong twists and turns. There is just being. And your job is to be as you as you can be. This is why you’re here. To shy away from who you truly are would leave the world you-less. You are the only you there is and ever will be. I repeat, you are the only you there is and ever will be. Do not deny the world its one and only chance to bask in your brilliance.”

“You are loved. Massively. Ferociously. Unconditionally. The Universe is totally freaking out about how awesome you are. It’s got you wrapped in a warm gorilla hug of adoration. It wants to give you everything you desire. It wants you to be happy. It wants you to see what it sees in you.”

If you need a shot in the arm or a boost in your self-esteem, give this book a try. I liked Sincero's funny, flippant style.


Thick and Other Essays, Tressie Cottom McMillan

One (white male) reviewer on Goodreads used the term "firebombing" when describing this book. He thought that McMillan wasn't nice enough, I guess, and how dare she criticize David Brooks? That attitude (Black women need to be nice) is telling, given the fact that firebombing has been used for mass destruction of Black people since the Civil Rights Movement.

This book by sociologist Dr. Tressie Cottom McMillan, contains a number of incisive, insightful essays about race and racism, white people, Black girlhood, academics, sociology, beauty, and other topics. The most powerful essay for me was about the high mortality rate for Black women in labor and childbirth, when McMillan shared her own heartbreaking story. Dr. McMillan is a writer and wise voice to follow.


Untamed, by Glennon Doyle

I loved this book. First of all, if you cannot abide Elizabeth Gilbert or Brene Brown, steer clear. Glennon Doyle is not for everyone.

I first found Doyle when she was getting known as a "mommy blogger," writing about her "littles." (Aside: I hate the term "littles" when referring to one's children!) She was also an evangelical Christian at the time and had a long history of anorexia/bulimia, addiction, and anxiety. She continued to pour her heart out on the web after she learned her husband had been unfaithful. (Talk about being public about what a jerk you are...being unfaithful to a well-known blogger!) Through therapy, she found a way to forgive her husband and wrote about their continuing journey in Love Warrior. Then, while on the road to market that book, she met and fell in love with soccer superstar Abby Wambaugh.

I got to hear Glennon and Abby tell their story on stage a few years ago. It's clear they were made for each other. Now they have formed a co-parenting team with Doyle's ex-husband, Craig.

Untamed is about Glennon's journey back to herself, after a lifetime of trying to please everyone else and becoming the image of what she thought God and her parents wanted her to be. Yet again, this book came along at the right time for me, at the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown. I rarely read books a second time, but I might reread this one.

“When women lose themselves, the world loses its way. We do not need more selfless women. What we need right now is more women who have detoxed themselves so completely from the world's expectations that they are full of nothing but themselves. What we need are women who are full of themselves. A woman who is full of herself knows and trusts herself enough to say and do what must be done. She lets the rest burn.”

The Yellow House, by Sarah M. Broom

Sarah M. Broom's book, The Yellow House, is a story about her family of 12 children, born to Simon and Ivory Mae Broom. Sarah (born as Monique) was only six months old when her father died, leaving Ivory Mae, who did not know how to drive at the time, with several children at home and a rambling, ramshackle house she bought with her own money at a very young age.

It's also a story about New Orleans, specifically New Orleans East, where the yellow house, with a life of its own, stood until it was split in half during Hurricane Katrina.

It's about a family displaced, and about a young writer who can't stay away from New Orleans for long, trying to recover from great losses, even traveling to work in Burundi to grieve and rediscover herself...and seeing many parallels between wartorn Burundi and hurricane-torn New Orleans.

It's about the Black, working-class experience on the outskirts of New Orleans, and the glaringly obvious distinction between the touristy French Quarter. It's about a failure of infrastructure and corrupt leadership, a failed safety net, and the displacement of people who cannot afford to live in New Orleans any longer.

And still, it's a love affair of sorts for New Orleans. All wrapped up in a towering, split-in-two Yellow House.

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