books

What Can We Do?

I cried for several days because of the news of Ahmaud Arbery. It felt very similar, to me, to Trayvon Martin’s murder and it just gutted me. And George Floyd happened. And everything escalated.

I woke up to text messages from coworkers about the Justice Center in downtown Portland being set on fire, staff trapped in the building. I spent days glued to news and twitter and watching as protests, which started peacefully, turned violent all around the nation.

Portland loves a protest. They’ve been protesting everything for as long as I’ve lived here. I’ve participated in several protests. YEARS ago I marched against George W Bush and the war and I remember we shut down the freeways near downtown. I marched in the Women’s March. I am 100% in support of protests and marches and using your voice FOR CHANGE. My sincere hope is that the protests in the last week will spark some change. We need reform, we need checks and balances in police departments and police unions. We need good cops to stand up to shit they see, we need bad cops to be punished, and not protected by bad unions and bad contracts.

This is my opinion. I know not everyone will agree with it, but at this point, my heart hurts and I kind of don’t care. Black Lives Matter. Period. That is not a statement against anyone else, or a statement against military. It’s just a fact.

I wanted to do something positive, share something in my area of expertise. I know a lot of people feel stuck or lost or not sure how to help. You can start with knowledge. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. So here are some of my favorite books, written by African American authors. These are just a few of my favorites and I included two newer books that are very important reads and I recommend everyone pick up.

1- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said ‘You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.'”

Heavy, heavy stuff. I teared up a lot during this book. I definitely recommend this book for everyone!

This book is short. It’s a collection of short stories/essays/letters to the author’s son about race in America and his experiences growing up African American in Baltimore. It also talks about current events like Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. He talked a lot about police and his fear for his son with the police.

This book was so heartbreaking and very eye-opening to the African American experiences and how current events are effecting their day to day life. It’s a hard book to read, but an important one, I think.

Despite the heavy, heartbreaking topic, the author did not come across as angry. The theme was sadness, grief and fear.

2 – Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin by Sybrina Fulton, Tracy Martin

I wrote a lot about this book when I reviewed it awhile ago. I won’t rehash it here. But I recommend you reading it. It’s written by his parents and it will gut you.

3 – Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is an outstanding feminist writer. I loved this book in particular, but she has a lot of other great books, too. This is an autobiography of her life in New York, growing up in the 50’s as a black, gay poet and activist. She is absolutely amazing and her writing is stunning!

4 – Native Son by Richard Wright

Wow, I don’t even know what to say. I read this book for (I think) Sophomore English class and it left such a lasting impression on me I kept the book and I’ve reread it half a dozen times over the years. It’s a compelling story, one you CANNOT PUT DOWN. It is shocking. It is horrific.

It takes place in 1930’s Chicago. It’s about a race revolution, about a relationship between a white woman and a black man, a mistaken death, race, poverty, wealth, communism, social issues… It is such a good book, so worth reading.

5 – Another Country by James Baldwin

I have been a huge fan of James Baldwin since I was a teenager. I read this book in high school (on my own, not for English class or anything) and it left a really lasting impression. It takes place in the 1950’s. But it’s not a love story…it’s…about race and jazz and art and booze, and sexuality. There is racial tension, sexual identity tension. Pretty much anything by James Baldwin is worth a read.

More authors to check out:

Angela Davis

Alice Walker

Roxane Gay

Michelle Obama (her memoir was OUTSTANDING)

Here are some book lists to check out:

The 100 greatest books ever written by African American women

20 Best Books About Anti-Racism to Educate Yourself

14 books by black authors that are shaping our conversation about race

Instead of Amazon, please support a local business owned by African Americans. Here is a list you can try. And here is another list.

Stay safe, keep reading, keep listening and learning and trying to understand. Join the conversation.

Books #52

I am so thankful that I have access to library books on my kindle right now! If I didn’t, and had to rely on picking books up at a library during these closures, I would be losing my mind! πŸ™ I think I read on Facebook that Audible is offering some free books on their platform right now, so check that out too.

Here are some recommendations if you need some new things to add to your list:

#1 The Wife and the Widow by Christian White

I liked this book a lot. It took place on an eerie island in Australia, somewhere. The “Widow” is Kate. She thinks her life is going a long with no bumps in the road, when she goes to pick up her husband at the airport with their 10 year old daughter and he doesn’t show up. She tries to find him, he was supposed to be at a work conference, but it turns out he hasn’t worked in awhile.

Eventually, her husband’s body is found and she wants answers. She goes to the island where he was found and tries to find out what happened. Abby, the “Wife” has a story of her own. The story was a unique one and it was well done. The twist was unexpected. The ending was a bit obvious, but it was still a good book.

#2 In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

I could not put this book down. I started reading it after I read a few pretty heavy books and it was JUST the right type of story I needed. It was well written and pulled me in immediately. I read 60% of it in one sitting and had to force myself to go to bed.

In the end, it’s a story about love and friendship, grief and loss and learning to love and live again after tragedy. It was such a good story. The characters were all so well done. Loved it!

#3 Boundary Waters (Cork O’Connor #2) by William Kent Krueger

This was a solid mystery/thriller. A young country western singer is missing in the wilderness. Cork is no longer the sheriff. But he’s approached by the singer’s father to help him find her. The story has twists and turns and I liked the survival skills aspects of the story.

#4 Mercy House by Alena Dillon

This is an EXCELLENT book. It’s timely for the MeToo Movement.

Evelyn has been a nun in Brooklyn for most of her life. She runs Mercy House with a few other nuns for women who need help. Women who are victims of rape, abuse, domestic violence. Mercy House is a safe place for them to heal, find their footing and figure out their life.

But Evelyn’s past is coming back to her present to disrupt her good work and threaten to close Mercy House. The book is so so good. There are so many hot topics and it will make you so mad when you read it. Excellently done.

#5 In The Barren Ground by Loreth Ann White

This was an interesting good first book. I liked it because it was different and took place in a very remote area of Canada that was on the border of the Arctic Circle. The town is so remote, they have to rely on each other. A plane flies in once in awhile with supplies, but you are basically locked into the icy wilderness for months on end.

Tana is a new cop, and part native, so she is “Sort of” accepted by the community, but she has to police this community, cut off from everything, all by herself. And when some student scientists studying the local wildlife are mauled by wolves, Tana investigates but starts seeing things that are not quite right.

The story is pretty unique, the environment is creepy and remote, so good for a thriller. There are some pretty gory parts and in-depth descriptions, so if you are squeamish, maybe skim those parts, but it’s mostly in the beginning of the book, so if you get past that, you’ll be fine.

#6 Open Book by Jessica Simpson

I’ll be honest, what I new of Jessica Simpson was minimal. She wasn’t really on my radar except for what I read in tabloids back in the day (the body shaming, etc) and that infamous clip of “chicken of the sea” from her reality TV show. But when she became a big pop star, I was more of a Britney Spears fan, and even then I was on the tail end of that because of my age group so it wasn’t really for me. So I missed out on all of that.

This book was definitely a TELL ALL. She really did open up and because I didn’t know a lot about her going into it, it was all pretty new to me. I commend her openness. She really revealed a lot of stuff that is hard to talk about. She reveals she was sexual abused as a child by a family friend, she suffered from anxiety from a very young age and used medications (like Nyquil and Tylenol PM) to manage it and eventually a cocktail of alcohol, speed and Ambien. She opened up about her alcoholism and the failures in her marriage, her career, how much the public body-shamed her, and how she eventually found herself.

“The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at nightβ€”Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman.”

She went into detail about how she signed with Sony and as a young girl, barely 120 pounds, was told she had to lose 15. And that started the endless cycle of crash diet, dieting pills and body hating.

I immediately went on an extremely strict diet, and started taking diet pills, which I would do for the next twenty years. Off the diet, I obsessed over how I looked 24/7; on the diet, I was also hyperfocused on food. It made me nervous. My anxiety had something to hold on to, and instead of examining my emotions, I could just block them out by focusing on carb counts and waist sizes.

“..had managed to get myself down to 103 pounds. Everyone went on about how great I looked, but I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so freaking hungry. I envied people who could eat whatever they wanted, while I had to microwave slices of turkey with Velveeta cheese on top and call it a meal. But when I ate anything, I yelled at myself, asking why I was getting in my own way and why I hadn’t gone to the gym.”

I really appreciated and related to all the parts she wrote about her struggles with her weight, dieting, gaining 10 pounds and going into a shame spiral and then she had the added FUN of dealing with the public shaming (the whole “mom jeans” drama).

The book was definitely on the Jesus-leaning, which is not for me, but that’s where she found her strength. She probably should have gone into country music or Christian pop/rock, that seems to be where her heart is, but she clearly wanted to be a star and make money and at the time those were not the money-makers–pop music was.

I liked the book a lot. I appreciated her openness. I think a lot of people would enjoy it, even if her music is not your thing (I’ve never actually heard one of her songs)!

#7 The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The new “theme” for books now seems to be dual timelines. Most of the time this isn’t done very well. There are rarely books that do this format that hold my interest in both time lines. There’s usually a story or time period that I prefer and it drags on.

This book did a pretty good job holding my interest in both the current time and 1982. I did find myself confused a few times as to which time period I was reading but overall it was a good story. It kept me captivated and there was a lot of good creepy build up. There was a “supernatural” factor to the story, but not in a cheesy, unrealistic way.

I liked the book a lot.

Happy Reading!

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