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In recent years, I have read more books, thanks largely in part to an express interest in feminism and so by extension, politics, history, sociology, and more. Last year with the election of a zealous bigot masquerading as the president of the U.S., and alas, many of those with the power to do something going along with this farce, my mind fell into…well, not despair, but certainly a more stressed state than usual. Only a few days before the election, I had started reading Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online by Bailey Poland, one of the many writers I respect and follow on Twitter. Even within my thread of my reading, I note in December my difficulty in mentally continuing. By the end of February, I managed to finish and shared more thoughts into early March.
In any case, from March onward, I somehow made time for books, more in comparison to past years, thanks in part not just my interest inf feminism but by finding a list of diverse books on DonorsChoose.org for a fourth grade teacher at my daughter’s future school. Unfortunately, her project did not receive enough funding though I sent my $5 I donated as a gift card hoping she will put it to good use.
I did save the list so I could examine the books on my own time. I feel I should note that “diversity” in this case means putting forth the effort to find the reality we live in, to go beyond an overwhelmingly white or assumed-white default setting. In particular, I am thinking of the many times Daniel José Older has shared his thoughts on “diversity” on Twitter and think this particular tweet puts it well:
which gets at how positional the word ‘diversity’ really is. We use it as a kind of euphemism for non-dominant cultures/experiences…
Some of the books on my lists here will be from white authors or have white-default racialization. My apologies for this long-winded introduction, but here’s an overview of the books I read this year. I will go over the ones targeted to older age groups first.
Systemic Online Abuse
I read two books about systemic online abuse that are closely related and relevant to the changing times of new technology and social media. They are, as mentioned earlier, Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online by Bailey Poland and Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoë Quinn. They go over prevalent abuse and make the point of systems ignoring that abuse because those systems find it beneficial, or at least preferable to taking action that needs to be done.
I acknowledge that both the authors are white and suggest to any listening/reading publishers or people in power that this subject deserves analysis from trans Black women, as in full actual book deals, who were targeted first, if one can find any willing to do that work. Reliving one’s trauma to warn others is not at all pleasant though many who work toward social justice find it necessary. I would also like to put in a good word for Shafiqah Hudson (@sassycrass on Twitter), a cis Black woman who is cited by both Bailey and Zoë in their books for different reasons and is a generous and well-informed person on this particular subject. Fiqah started the “Not All Men” featuring interrupting men meme, pointed out her erasure from Wikipedia (which is now updated) in being the origin, and demonstrated alt-right organizing tactics with the hashtag #YourSlipIsShowing.
What Happened by Hillary Clinton includes examinations of several issues that go beyond Clinton’s campaign such as talking to people about opioid problems, the lead in the water of Flint, Michigan. If I ever have the time and energy, I would like to go back to this book and share more thoughts on a lot of things. I appreciate the several points that I find significant in the lead up and results of the election and understanding how so many factors came together.
The third and final installment of the post-apocalyptic Broken Earth series, The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin, came out this August, and since I’d read the first and second last year, I wanted to wrap it up this year. To me, it is an in-depth look on many levels of many things, including thorough examination of oppressive structures though the author herself has pointed it is ultimately a tale of a mother and daughter. Indeed, I re-read the ending an extra two times to take it all in all over again and think about them. After all, I am a daughter and now a mother too for going on four years this year.
Dragons: A Natural History by Karl Shuker is a book that retells various stories about different types of dragons as well as descriptions for the. I like dragons and figured I’d take that interest another step by reading this book. I enjoyed author’s bombastic writing, to use a word I felt fitting from another Goodreads review on it.
I usually don’t seek out poetry on purpose but The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran had a really good quote in What Happened and was short, so I put the book on hold from the library.
The quote I liked from the Prophet in Clinton’s book was:
Your children are not your children. They come through you but not from you. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you, for life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
For the record, this quote is actually cut up and re-formatted. In full, it actually goes:
Your children are not your children.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
I liked the story’s simplicity, and it has many quotable quotes though I also was a little bored pushing myself to finish.
When I put The Prophet on hold through my local library, the recommendation system said maybe I’d like to check out The Colossus and Other Poems by Sylvia Plath. Since I follow Anne Thériault on Twitter, and she often shares important interesting things about Sylvia Plath, I decided to give the book a try. Unfortunately, I did not like most of Plath’s poetry in that book. The ones I did note down as liking are The Ghost’s Leavetaking and The Disquieting Muses.
I learned that as with many other things, I need to set aside time for poetry when I am in a more welcoming and accepting mood for it. I’ve found reading shorter things first helps me with my reading, but when I put poetry as one of those shorter things to read sooner than later, I become bored.
These essays were specifically available through the library to borrow as books. I am making that distinction because I read essays online all the time, many more than these two, and will not be covering them here.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin is excellence I can only ever put into the words as striking me to the core.
We Should All Be Feminists is an essay adapted from a TEDx Talk. I appreciated the good points but feel as though the cis exclusive framing is significant in a harmful way. There are only two genders in this essay along with a completely wrong point about men being built physically stronger.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – This book was hard for me to read, partly boredom and partly traumatic experiences detailed. It definitely has some memorable moments that will stick with me in ways many other books won’t, and so it will endure and probably be appreciated all the more with time.
The Tale of Genji is another book I read but to be clear, I read the version with artwork by Yoshitaka Amano for the main purpose of seeing that artwork and it was short. As I stated in my Goodreads review, the artwork had many beautiful colors between flowing lines.
Children and Young Adult
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park tells two intertwining stories, the main one being about Salva’s journey seeking refuge from the war in Sudan, eventually what will be South Sudan. The story was gripping, powerful, and moving.
Across the Alley, written by Richard Michelson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis, is about two boys learning from each other and their differences and how their talents and experiences intertwine. I had to re-read the beginning a few times to understand who was better or learning what. It was nice to read their growth together.
Baseball Saved Us, written by Ken Mochizuki and illustrated by Dom Lee, is about Japanese internment and having baseball to help endure through the times. It was interesting and intense.
Grandfather Gandhi, written by Arun Gandhi and Bethany Hegedus and illustrated by Evan Turk, is about coping with anger as advised by Mahatma Gandhi to his grandson, Arun (one of the authors). I read this book with narration as an e-book, and it had some memorable moments. I went to explore the I must acknowledge that Gandhi’s memory includes a racist history. You can read more about that on RaceandHistory.com: The Myth of Mahatma Ghandi. Grandfather Gandhi touches on apartheid and race but does not acknowledge or include any of Gandhi’s own racism toward Black people.
I Am Not A Number, written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and illustrated Kathy Kacer, Gillian Newland, is about the experience of a young girl named Irene and what she and her First Nations family went through with the residential schools in Canada. The story and illustrations evoked powerful emotions and experiences.
Last Stop on Market Street, written by Matt de la Pena and illustrated by Christian Robinson, is about a young Black boy, CJ, and his grandmother taking the bus from church to the soup kitchen and appreciating what one has and recognizing the people around us as full living breathing humans and beautiful. Sometimes I felt the grandmother’s responses were dismissive. For example, when CJ says he wishes he had one of “those,” meaning something like an iPod, she says “What for?” and points out they can listen to live music from a guitarist on the bus. The “What for?” is what I found dismissive. The whole point could have been made, and in my opinion, better made, without it.
Love Monster and the Last Chocolate by Rachel Bright was a book my 4-year-old daughter randomly picked on our way out from the library. It is actually the third in a series though we did not know that. I had a lot of fun narrating it, she enjoyed my narration, and I found the ending to be very sweet. I hope to read the other books someday.
The Other Side, written by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E.B. Lewis is about a young black girl who plays with her friends on one side of fence that separates them from the white families and so one white girl in particular on the other side. The white girl doesn’t cross but instead sits on the fence. Over time, the protagonist befriends her as do the other girls. It is a sweet and simple story with a dash of hope at the end that maybe one day the fence will go down. The watercolor illustrations were very good.
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh, to repeat something I said on Twitter, is a story wish I had learned in school, especially as a young girl of Mexican descent who didn’t have to face these segregation challenges and did not know they were endured until this year of my adulthood. The main thing we learned about segregation in school was that it happened and supposedly doesn’t happen anymore (it does, largely helped through the likes of charter schools). This book is about intentional segregation of Mexican children, whether they were actually from Mexico or not, and the local and state-level organizing involved in one family’s efforts to have their kids integrate into the better school.
The Story of Ferdinand, written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, is a popular straight-forward tale about a bull who likes to smell flowers. I didn’t really hate or like it and was more interested in reading about the response to it at the time it was released. The illustrations were very striking too.
We’re All Wonders by by R.J. Palacio was what I think of as standard fare in telling kids to appreciate each other’s differences with the addition of seeking escapism and hoping for something better. It was okay.
Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky was a real treat with borrowing the hardcover from the library. This book came out this year so was fresh and new and not missing any pages. Most of this book includes 1 page with an illustration and another page with a synopsis about who the girl or woman was and what she meant to the sport she was in or even more broadly to the people around or watching her. Both pages included side notes. I liked this format because it made the reading episodic and I could then relay a given story easily to my 4-year-old daughter and/or husband.
Haters: Harassment, Abuse, and Violence Online by Bailey Poland
Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win the Fight Against Online Hate by Zoë Quinn
What Happened by Hillary Clinton
The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin
Dragons: A Natural History by Karl Shuker
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
A Long Walk to Waterr by Linda Sue Park
Love Monster and the Last Chocolate by Rachel Bright
Separate Is Never Equal: Sylvia Méndez and Her Family’s Fight for Desegregation by Duncan Tonatiuh
Women In Sports: 50 Fearless Athletes Who Played to Win by Rachel Ignotofsky
This year, I read a lot more books than I have since my high school days because I did prioritize shorter reads first. Something happened at the end of October to send me into another stressful mindset, so my main reading since has been Twitter, articles, and essays I’ve bookmarked, no books for awhile. The nice thing to know is that I have an organized list for when I am ready to read full books again.