3 Mini Reviews

February is Black History Month in the United States, and while the current administration claims they are going to be commemorating it, well…

Oh! It wasn’t until I pasted that tweet that I realized it was from Brit Bennett. How fortuitous, as I was planning on including her book “The Mothers” in this mini review roundup. Basically, I want to share some of the best books by black authors that I read in 2016.

The Mothers, Britt Bennett. I listened to this book on audio in December, and it is really well done. The themes of motherhood are explored in diverse and interesting ways. Some of the Mothers referenced are church mothers, who converge like hens when there is a crisis. There was a moment when I could imagine them as the chorus, both in the church choir sense and in the “preaching to” sense. There are some flashes of pure brilliance here that make me want to pick up whatever Bennet does next.

Wench, Dolen Perkins-Valdez. I checked this out as an e-book from my local library. I live in a pretty conservative area, and I was worried that this book would be some type of master-slave apologist BS, since it deals with white men who bring their black slave mistresses with them on holiday. I googled the author before committing, and what I saw was incredibly encouraging. Perkins-Valdez is a respected academic and a serious thinker. The novel bore that out. Each of the women were drawn as distinct, fully fleshed out characters, each with their own motivations and concerns. Highly recommended.

The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead. This one has had plenty written about it, and with good reason. I’ll admit – as a child, learning about the Underground Railroad, I thought it was an actual railroad. Nice to know it seems I wasn’t the only one. This alternative history is even more chilling considering the current state of affairs in this country. Cora’s plight reminded me of the true life horrors of Harriet Jacobs, as recounted in her narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (which you should also read).

Why I read “Diversely”

After the disastrous 2016 US Presidential Election, I had a conversation with a friend in which she asked me how I went from growing up in a house with incredibly conservative values to being an adult who is very left leaning.

I thought about it, and the shift really did begin in college. I took a class, and really, I have no idea which one it was, where I was required to take an Implicit Bias Test (IAT). I was shocked to see the results, which were that I had significant racial bias. This began my journey towards engaging around issues of race, and then sexuality, and gender until I became the annoyingly progressive intersectional feminist that I am today (and hope to be even more tomorrow).

Think you are colorblind and are raising your kids to be the same? I encourage you to take a test. Why? See what the test makers say:

Why Should I Care About My IAT Score?

It is well-established that implicit preferences can affect behavior. Implicit preferences have been shown to be related to discrimination in hiring and promotion, medical treatment, and decisions related to criminal justice.

What Can I Do About an Implicit Preference That I Do Not Want?

Right now, there is not enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged “diversity trainings” generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases. Therefore, we encourage people not to focus on strategies for reducing bias, but to focus instead on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate, such as blind auditions and well-designed “structured” decision processes. Investment by federal and private funding sources in research to develop evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases is, right now, quite minimal.

Implicit bias affects behavior. Implicit bias affects behavior. IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR.

I know so many people who would swear they are not “racist.” I don’t care if you don’t use the “n” word – chances are, you are biased. And that bias affects your behavior.

Lest you think I consider myself immune – I don’t. I took the Race-Weapons IAT just before writing this blog post. Shocker: my data suggests that I have “a moderate association for Harmless Objects with White Americans and Weapons with Black Americans.”

So, what does that mean? It means, among so many other things, that I’m more likely to find it “reasonable” that a harmless pack of skittles is a weapon when it is in the hands of a black hoodie wearing teenager. Maybe I can’t change that automatic assumption, but I can recognize that I have it and work to correct any chance it has to operate.

So what does this have to do with reading? Well, even though the IAT creators said the research is still out on whether you can reduce implicit bias, I read (and I can’t remember where, but I think it was a Malcolm Gladwell book, and if anyone recognizes this anecdote please tell me where it’s from) where a guy took the IAT every day. And every day, he was still biased. Then one day, his results changed. He was pleasantly surprised, and tried to figure out what caused it. Turns out, before he took the test, he had watched Michael Johnson win a race.

michael johnson.jpg

Michael Johnson being a badass

So he looked into this. It turns out there is some support for the idea that positive exposure to marginalized groups makes you see them more favorably. Which, um, makes sense. Since a HUGE part of negative associations with groups such as black people, LGBTQ+ individuals, muslims, etc is because of negative press.

I have made a concerted effort to expose myself to a diversity of marginalized voices in order to basically retrain my brain and its automatic assumptions. (Because again, IMPLICIT BIAS AFFECTS BEHAVIOR, and I don’t want to be an asshole.)

And guess what? There is AWESOME ART being created by people in all kinds of groups! I am never lacking for good book suggestions. And if I can read books by women of color and queer people and Arab men and immigrants and feminists and talk about those books and suggest those books and ENJOY those books, and by doing so make the world a teensy bit more fair and make myself recognize and grapple with my own bias a bit more, then why the heck wouldn’t I do that? And if I don’t like a book by someone in one of those groups it is easier to say “I didn’t like that book” and not “I don’t like books written by black women” because I have read LOTS of books by black women and I don’t think that one is representative of the whole.

So I’m hoping to be blogging more about what I’m reading. And lots of those books will probably be from authors that aren’t cisgender straight white able bodied men. And I hope you’ll join me.

And seriously, before you get all annoyed or whatever, take any one of the tests. Take. The. Test.

October Readathon

End of Event Survey

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Well, I fell asleep at about 10pm EST, so…
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year? I didn’t have any ready this year, but I do like to read graphic novels during a readathon. The “Aya” series by Marguerite Abouet are a good go-to.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next season? Nope! I was a pretty casual participant this year, and I can’t think of anything I could add to the pros that put it together.
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
  5. How many books did you read? No entire books, but I finished one and made progress with three others.
  6. What were the names of the books you read? I finished “Ready Play One” on audio, started the audio of “The Maze Runner,” got over halfway through the ebook edition of “This is Where it Ends” and made progress with “Eileen” by Ottessa Moshfegh.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most? “Eileen” is definitely the book that’s most “me.” I get most of my audiobooks and ebooks from the library, and a lot of the time they aren’t my first choice, but I read what’s available. That means that often I’m not in love with the books I get.
  8. Which did you enjoy least? Probably “This is Where it Ends.” The depressing subject matter and jumping perspectives mean it’s not my favorite. Although I do often read pretty dark books. I don’t know. It’s just not really working for me. Though I will say it’s a pretty quick read.
  9. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time? I’m sure I will participate again, probably as a reader and cheerleader. I did some cheering this time, but I didn’t sign up for it in an official capacity.

1pm Update:
Still listening to Ready Player One. I’m on Chapter 37 of 39, so I should have my first book completed soon. I am going to be taking a bit of a break to go for a walk with a friend soon, so we’ll see. I’ve also been doing a little bit of cheerleading, mostly on twitter.

Starting! Well, actually, I was already reading before 8am, as I had “Ready Player One” playing on my phone. I was supposed to be in yoga at 8:30, but it was cancelled. So I went to breakfast, where I downloaded “This is Where it Ends” by Marieke Nijkamp. It’s available from my library as the current Big Library Read. Now, I’m back home, putting up this blog post and listening to Ready Player One.

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? East Coast of Florida
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I’d like to finish “The Professor and the Madman.”
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I’ll probably be breaking into some Halloween candy. Oh well!
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! Lawyer, feminist, rescue-dog mama.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I’ve participated once before. I don’t know that I’ll do much different today. Read, listen, do some mini challenges. Breaks as necessary.

24 Hour Readathon

I’ll be cheerleading for sure, and doing a decent bit of reading. I do have a coureadathon1_lgple commitments tomorrow, but considering I am WAYYYYYYYYYYYYY behind on my reading goals for the year, I’m hoping to boost my “read” number a bit.

I’ll be updating periodically with my progress.

Check out 24 Hour Readathon to see who else is participating , and all the fun events that will be happenning for the full 24 hours.

The Scarlet Gospels

Clive Barker, The Scarlet GospelsClive Barker
The Scarlet Gospels

My only real exposure to Clive Barker’s work was when I sneaked reading The Thief of Always back when I was probably like, twelve. And that book is super creepy. Beyond that, I somehow knew he was associated with Pinhead and the Hellraiser movies, but the closest I ever got to watching those was walking by the cover of the VHS at my local Blockbuster, not able to stop staring despite the fear that the devil would somehow get into my soul through my inability to look away. (I may have been slightly brainwashed by an extreme Christian upbringing.)

When I saw this book was available to download from the library, I figured it would be a a perfect kick-off to R.eaders I.bibing P.eril. Demons and witchcraft and talking to ghosts? Why not.

The book starts with a resurrection of a powerful witch who learns that since his death the last majority of witches have been killed off, forced to reveal their secrets to the not-so-affectionately nicknamed Pinhead. The remaining witches have brought him back in hopes of him somehow helping them escape his fate.

No such luck. Bloody mayhem ensues.

From there, Pinhead is basically trying to take over hell, with only supernatural detective Harry D’Amour and a couple friends to stop him.

I liked the descriptions of hell, and all its various inhabitants. I wasn’t sure, exactly, how Harry and his plucky team were going to be up for the task of taking down the MOST POWERFUL PRIEST OF HELL EVARRRRR, but I guess that’s pretty much any David v. Goliath book. I do want to know more about the characters, especially Harry. What is he like in Barker’s other works? I guess anytime you are wanting more it’s a sign the author has done at least something right.

Peril the First

Joining in R.I.P.

I’ve decided to join this year’s R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge. I had in my head I was going to, as I’ve been wanting to read some spooky, creepily atmospheric books this season. In fact, I may have started the reading before I actually officially joined. Somehow, I don’t think this crowd will hold it against me.

I’m jumping all in, joining at the highest level: Peril the First

Peril the First: Read four books, any length, that you feel fit (the very broad definitions) of R.I.P. literature. It could be King or Conan Doyle, Penny or Poe, Chandler or Collins, Lovecraft or Leroux…or anyone in between.

I’ve already read The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker and The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel. I just started Graveyard Shift  by Angela Roquet, which is already grabbing my attention and making me want to curl up on the couch and not come up for a breath until I’ve finished.

I have never read anything by Lovecraft, and have been wanting to, so maybe I’ll meet Cthulhu during this challenge. Anyone have any other suggestions? This genre is definitely out of my comfort zone.


I am *finally* reading If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. This is one of those books that I knew I’d love from the moment I heard about it. Fortunately, I haven’t been disappointed. Phelps Lake

Inspired by the title poem, and a recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I sat down and wrote a poem of my own:

Long summer days

So many hours in the hot sun

Burning skin

Until refuge is taken in the shadow of a mountain

If not, winter

With its crisp icy beauty

Broken by the crunch of our feet in the snow

Cold puffs of hot breath

Anticipating your hands

Building a fire

My Year in Review

2014 was quite a year for me, in many respects. My reading patterns reflect this in many ways. The first part of the year was incredibly stressful. When I was reading, I was drawn to comfort type books that didn’t require much work on my part. I finally read the Harry Potter books – well, 2-7, as I did read the first one a couple years ago. Then there was Tamora Pierce, who I pretty much always love. The middle of the year found many middling type books, and it wasn’t until September and my discovery of Alison Lurie’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Foreign Affairs” that I found myself excited about reading. Of course, that was just in time for me to give my notice at work and start a new business. So there really wasn’t much reading from October through the end of the year. When goodreads told me I’d ended the year only 8 short of my 100 book goal, I was shocked.

Another shocking aspect of my reading in 2014: I read more books on audio and in ebook form than I did physical books. I’m still not a huge audiobook fan in general. I think some books really work in that format, while others might not.

One that worked great as an audiobook was “Frog Music” by Emma Donoghue. I’m certainly no expert, but I thought the accents were great – very fitting for the characters. And the songs were so lovely! I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much out of it as I would have had I read it in print. 


year in books
On to the stats!

92 books total

Audio:                           17     18%
Ebook:                          41     45%
Fiction:                         78     85%
Non-fiction:                 14    15%
Female authors:         70     76%
Male authors:              22    24%
Authors of color:         22    24%
Books in translation:    1       1%

Obviously some of these categories are overlapping. The one stat I knew was going to be bad was my books in translation. I usually read a lot more than one a year, but not this year. One of the things about translated books is that they take more effort to seek out, and my efforts this year went places besides my reading.

Despite the upheaval in my personal life I still managed to keep reading and read a lot of good books. Here’s to 2015!

Currently Listening to…

Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird Song.”

And like woah.

I heard about this album on npr (where else?), while I was driving to work one day last week. I went ahead and downloaded the album, which has Dr. Angelou reading her poems to hip hop beats.

Dr. Angelou said this about who she wanted to reach with this project:

“Some young woman, who had decided that life owed her nothing and she owed nothing – she had decided that life had no promise for her. But she’ll turn on the radio or pass a car with the radio booming and it will be playing something that came out of our meeting. And the young woman’s eyes will open, and her heart will be lifted up.”

So in addition to listening to it myself, I had it playing in the car today when I was with my “little.” While I hope that she doesn’t feel that low, I’m all for all young women’s eyes being opened and hearts being lifted up. So often they are broken down instead.

My favorite song on the album is “Ain’t That Bad.” I dare you not to do a little dance in your car when it plays.

Listen to “Still I Rise,” which is less hip hop and more a blend of gospel and Motown: