nonfiction

Nonfiction Friday: Burnout, The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski

For a term I had never heard of before, “Burnout” is my new go-term term for being at the edge of insanity. This engaging and insightful book is a must read for women everywhere who are just about to give up.


SYNOPSIS

Burnout. Many women in America have experienced it. What’s expected of women and what it’s really like to be a woman in today’s world are two very different things—and women exhaust themselves trying to close the gap between them. How can you “love your body” when every magazine cover has ten diet tips for becoming “your best self”? How do you “lean in” at work when you’re already operating at 110 percent and aren’t recognized for it? How can you live happily and healthily in a sexist world that is constantly telling you you’re too fat, too needy, too noisy, and too selfish?

Sisters Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, are here to help end the cycle of feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Instead of asking us to ignore the very real obstacles and societal pressures that stand between women and well-being, they explain with compassion and optimism what we’re up against—and show us how to fight back. In these pages you’ll learn

• what you can do to complete the biological stress cycle—and return your body to a state of relaxation
• how to manage the “monitor” in your brain that regulates the emotion of frustration
• how the Bikini Industrial Complex makes it difficult for women to love their bodies—and how to defend yourself against it
• why rest, human connection, and befriending your inner critic are keys to recovering and preventing burnout

With the help of eye-opening science, prescriptive advice, and helpful worksheets and exercises, all women will find something transformative in these pages—and will be empowered to create positive change. Emily and Amelia aren’t here to preach the broad platitudes of expensive self-care or insist that we strive for the impossible goal of “having it all.” Instead, they tell us that we are enough, just as we are—and that wellness, true wellness, is within our reach. from Amazon.


burnout
“Burnout” Pink Cover with ripped page

REVIEW

Burnout is defined in this book by three components: (1) emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much, for too long; (2) depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion; and (3) decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility; feeling that nothin you do makes any difference.

Upon first reading this, I felt I’d been spotted. There must be cracks in my facade!

But I am in good company. According to the authors, “burnout” is a phenomena affecting whole groups of people who work in positions of, “people helping people.” Teachers, medical professionals, humanitarian aid workers, and parents are all suffering from burnout in large numbers. Oddly, women are more deeply and specifically impacted.

Now, as a die-heard feminist I like to believe that men are just as susceptible to things as women are capable. However, in this case, I have to agree with the authors. As they walk the reader through historic gender problems, most specifically “human giver syndrome,” it is difficult to argue that differing treatment in childhood wouldn’t have some impact. I can accept that women who are raised to believe that being thin is good and looking pretty is important will result in burnout just as easily as toxic masculinity has roots in “boys will be boys” and “real men don’t cry.”

Be nice, be strong, be polite. No feelings for you

The chapters are broken down into manageable chunks of pertinent information. It was clear to me that the authors had taught because each chapter laid the foundation for the one before it and built on the prior. And, for those who need reminders or who are too busy to read the details they provided a Too Long Didn’t Read (TLDR) at the end of each chapter. By using personal anecdotes, stories from friends, and those from popular fiction, the book was as fun to read as it was informative. Although, I could have done with a lot less Moana references (but that’s just me!).

Chapters one and two clearly lay out what is causing stress in most women’s lives and how to deal with it. Some of the information was new to me but the fact that really stunned me was the notion that our bodies need to get rid of stress. Whether that it through exercise, affection, or even creative measures, we are biologically programmed to need that outlet. Sounds simple enough but they way they explained it resonated with me so deeply I have completely transformed the way I work out and how I prioritize sleep.

Things were a little less solid for me in certain sections. For example, chapter three was about meaning, as in the meaning of life. While your life having “meaning” is one of the main elements that promotes happiness finding your “Something Larger” is important for feeling that your life has a positive impact. Initially I struggled with this section because how can you have “something larger” and avoid falling victim to “human giver syndrome?” But, I suppose being a stay-at-home Mom because you want to be is entirely different than being one because society limits you to that role. Similarly, I can make monetary sacrificing in my career if I want to do that kind of work as long as I am not limited to my choice of jobs by what is appropriate for a woman.

The remainder of the book explains why what sounds simply is so difficult for women. From acknowledging that the game is rigged, fighting the patriarchy, and gaslighting, being a women is fundamentally difficult. And if you don’t get a chance to read the book just know this fact,

“The body mass index (BMI) chart and it labels – underweight, overweight, obese, etc. – were created by a panel of nine individuals, seven of whom were ’employed by weight-loss clinics and thus have an economic interest in encouraging use of their facilities.'”

For every woman out there who is feeling crushed under the weight of the world, this book really helped me. I used to look around at my male friends and wonder, “Why are they so carefree, what’s wrong with me?” There is nothing wrong with me. I was just experiencing burnout.


Tell me, please!

Do you ever feel uniquely stressed?


 

nonfiction

NonFiction Friday: Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Neil Gaiman

A nonfiction look at the science fiction Multiplatform phenomenon that is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy told by master storyteller Neil Gaiman. Whether you are just a minor enthusiast or consider yourself full fledged fun, this book will make you fall just a little more in love with The Guide.

 


 

The first time I experienced The Hitchhiker’s Guide was via the 2005 movie starring Martin Freeman and narrated by Stephen Fry. The only time I had laid eyes on the book it was a compendium at a friend’s house that was approximately four inches thick and, at the time, I had no desire to read a sci-fi bible. I didn’t know that it was actually six books!

Fast forward: the movie was accessible, weird, and hooked me. I’m a fan. Since then, I have enjoyed the stories and even ventured into Dick Gently territory. During a bought of insomnia I spotted Don’t Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by none other than Neil Gaiman. Two obsessions in one! Would it be worth a read?

Spoiler: It was amazing


dontpanic


SYNOPSIS

Douglas Adams’s “six-part trilogy,” The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy grew from a blip of a notion into an ever-expanding multimedia universe that amassed an unprecedented cult of followers and became an international sensation. As a young journalist, Neil Gaiman was given complete access to Adams’s life, times, gossip, unpublished outtakes, and files (and became privy to his writing process, insecurities, disillusionments, challenges, and triumphs). The resulting volume illuminates the unique, funny, dramatic, and improbable chronicle of an idea, an incredibly tall man, and a mind-boggling success story.

In Don’t Panic, Gaiman celebrates everything Hitchhiker: the original radio play, the books, comics, video and computer games, films, television series, record albums, stage musicals, one-man shows, the Great One himself, and towels. And as Douglas Adams himself attested: “It’s all absolutely devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies.”

Updated several times in the thirty years since its original publication, Don’t Panic is available for the first time in digital form. Part biography, part tell-all parody, part pop-culture history, part guide to a guide, Don’t Panic “deserves as much cult success as the Hitchhiker’s books themselves” (Time Out via Amazon)


REVIEW

The biggest surprise for me? That these stories began as a radio program, then were books, then a play, a television show, then video games and finally movies. I think. There were also records in there somewhere. In hindsight, it’s all so clear now. These wonderfully weird stories makes so much more sense when you know that they were originally intended for radio and radio alone. It was Adam’s curiosity and desire to do things he deemed “interesting” that spurred him to change platforms so frequently and to seek the best manner to do it.

Adam’s may have been known for his ingenuity but he was equally infamous for his inability to get a writing project in on time. As Gaiman puts it, “This not-writing quality was to become a hallmark of Douglas’s later work.” If you are a writer and you are feeling that procrastination picks on you, please read this book. Adam’s ability to put off his writing projects until past due and then lock himself up and finish the work is legendary. I, however, do not recommend some of his coping mechanisms or the lengths to which his friends would go to in order to seclude him until he finished his work.

Adams may have developed amazing world building and loved his many projects but this quote about writing fully encapsulates his feelings about his chosen profession, “Writing comes easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until your forehead bleeds.” He even made notes for himself on his writing telling himself to find a regular job and then later noting that this was after a “regular day” of writing, not a bad one. And still the stories came.

Reading this book put the fear of God in me about the lengths publication companies would go to in order to get a book finished. Even though his publisher knew that he would turn in the second book late and they planned for it in their schedule, they still moved him out of his shared apartment and into a flat all his on one afternoon. As Adam’s remembers it,

“It was extraordinary. One of those times you really go mad…I can remember the moment I thought, ‘I can do it! I’ll actually get it finished in time!’ (Everything) contributed to the sense of insanity and hypnotism that allowed me to write a book in that time.”

How Gaiman manages to keep this book light and funny is a testament to his own writing because Adam’s struggle with writing and procrastination continued for the remainder of his life. Further complicating his path was the bold statement after the second Hitchhiker’s book that it would be his very last. But, then he wrote four more. Four more. And after each additional story he would boldly state that he would never again write another. But the story just had to come out. Or, you know, Adams needed a paycheck.

If you enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide in any of the formats available to the general public you will undoubtedly enjoy Don’t Panic and the adventures of being Douglas Adams.


Tell me, please!

Who is your favorite Hitchhiker’s character?


 

Audio Book · FrighteninglyGoodRead · nonfiction · Over 18

NonFiction Friday: Me by Elton John

Elton John has been a major star my entire life. I remember him singing at Princess Diana’s funeral and I have always been impressed by the work his AIDS foundation does for the world. I love all of his popular songs and I was aware of his struggle with addiction. But I wouldn’t have considered myself an Elton John fan. That is, until I read Me, his new autobiography. All of the things that knew or liked about Elton John have been transformed into full blown admiration.

me
cover of Elton John book “”Me” featuring Elton wearing rainbow sunglasses

Here are the Top Ten things I learned and love about Elton John.

10. Elton John was born Reginald Dwight in Pinner, Middlesex. Pinner sounds like every small town everywhere in the developed world. His talent in music was evident from an early age and he quickly went from playing his grandmother’s piano to winning a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

9. Elton John only met his long time writing partner Bernie Taupin when he was rejected for a job with Ray Williams. Even though Elton had been in Bluesology and working as a studio musician for years, he was really going nowhere until he met Bernie. Rejection + Happen Chance meeting = the success we know today. The mega-star Elton John we know today is a direct result of a failure.

8. Elton John was a late bloomer and didn’t understand sex or that he was gay until he was 21.

7. Elton John has a terrible temper and he knows it. I know a lot of people with terrible tempers but the ones that are aware of this defect in their nature have always been near and dear to my heart since I myself fly off the handle like a cartoon character on occasion.

6. Elton John is always looking for a new challenge and this desire for self improvement has led him to say yes to numerous opportunities he intially thought were outside of his comfort zone. The Lion King is just one of those projects. I can only hope that one day my growth mindset leads me to such an opportunity.

5. He maintains a strong connection with all the performers that inspired him and believes that artists should support the next generation of performers. Lady Gaga has changed his children’s diapers and he is Eminem’s sobriety sponsor. He found artists that inspired him and recorded with them, performed with them, or found them jobs when their jobs ran out. This open door policy didn’t always mean that he got along with everyone (ahem, Tina Turner), but it does mean that his mind is always open to the possibility of collaborating. This open door policy also applies to people who hold different ideals than Elton.

4. Even though Elton John is a gay man who lived through the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and 90’s and he sang on, “That’s What Friends are For,” in 1986, he didn’t become the fundraiser and humanitarian for AIDS that I always thought he was until the 1990s. His inspiration for getting involved was after the death of Ryan White in 1990 and Freddie Mercury’s subsequent death in 1991. In 1992 he founded the Elton John AIDS Foundation and, to date, it has raised over $450 Million dollars. It is never to late to get involved and make a difference.

3. Elton John loves his hometown football team of Watford. At one point he was a chairman for the team and he still takes his boys to games.

2. He knows that the surest way to failure is to surround yourself with people who always agree with you.

1. “There’s really no point in wondering ‘what if?’ but instead to focus on ‘what’s next'” is the quote Elton puts at the end of his autobiography. This sums up his life so perfectly.


I had the pleasure of listening to this as an audiobook and Taron Egerton is absolutely perfect as the narrator. I haven’t seen the biopic of Elton’s life starring Taron but it is clear that he really understands Elton John at his core. If I was going to make one criticism it is that now I am having a difficult time not picturing Taron Egerton as the real Elton John.

This will definitely be one of my top audiobooks of 2020.


Tell me, please!

Which autobiography is your favorite?


 

nonfiction

NonFiction Friday: January 3, 2020 The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss


This post contains affiliate links. For more information please see my disclosure.

I first read The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas in high school during a period of time when I fantasized almost constantly about revenge. I complained one too many times to my Dad who recommended I read what he called, “the ultimate book of revenge,” and I have been a fan of The Count since. I re-read it every five years or so and I am always struck by the sheer power and fortitude of Edmond Dantes. 

In 2018’s NonFiction November I saw The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. It was recommended for all fans of Dumas’ fiction work and I knew I had to read it. Sadly, it joined my shelf for more than a year until I pulled it off for 2019’s NonFiction November. But I must say, if you enjoyed the tale Dumas wove in The Count you will love the true story of his grandfather and the unbelievable life he lead that inspired so many of the author’s larger than life characters.

blackcount


Synopsis

WINNER OF THE 2013 PULITZER PRIZE FOR BIOGRAPHY

“General Alex Dumas is a man almost unknown today, yet his story is strikingly familiarbecause his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used his larger-than-life feats as inspiration for such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

But, hidden behind General Dumas’s swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: he was the son of a black slavewho rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time. Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas made his way to Paris, where he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolutionuntil he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. TIME magazine called The Black Count “one of those quintessentially human stories of strength and courage that sheds light on the historical moment that made it possible.” But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.” The Black Count from Amazon.


Review

I had the pleasure of listening to this book as an audiobook and reading it in tandem. If you, like me, love a good accent, the narrator of the audiobook does the most glamorous and beautiful French pronunciation of all the individual’s names and geographical locations. Meanwhile, my brain reads everything like, “Alex-an-der Doo-maah.” For that reason alone, the audiobook is worth a listen.

I loved the characters that Dumas created but the deep and profound respect I have for his grandfather, Alex Dumas, cannot really be described. A man of honor and romance is hard to find but a powerfully built one who is a master sword fighter and dedicated family man? This is the stuff of legends. Apparently, his grandson agreed because between GeorgesThe Three Muskateers, and The Count of Monte Cristo, the author Dumas retolded his grandfather’s heroic feats again and again using him as inspiration for a range of characters.

Honestly, I assumed before reading The Black Count that many of Dumas’ tales and deeds had become wildly exaggerated. But the meticulous research done by Tom Reiss proved that there was more fact than familial fiction in these stories. The want-to-be historian in me was wildly applauding the length that Mr. Reiss went to in order to get his hands on the Dumas family documents. Listening to how he managed to get those documents out of the locked safe had me applauding as I walked down the street.

But, The Black Count didn’t just provide me with a well researched history of the Dumas family, it also gave me a real understanding of French revolutionary history. Balancing the economics, the wildly swinging social changes, and the general upheaval of the era Reiss brings the day to day craziness of the period alive. And, while economics are my least favorite part of history, the author brings bouts of humor in to break up any monotony. The confusion in France as to who were the ‘brigands’ was especially memorable and had me laughing every time the narrator said “brigand’ again for the remainder of the book.

Another aspect of The Black Count that will stay with me forever are the powerful letters Alex Dumas wrote to his wife. The loving way he addresses her, “my beloved,” and “to the only person I care about in the whole world,” is matched only by the manner of his signature, “your friend for life,” and “your best friend.” It set my romantic heart aflame. Just picturing this larger than life figure writing such beautiful things gave real depth to the character Dumas the author later created and renewed my adolescent crush on Edmond Dantes.

All of this aside, it should not be ignored that much like the Lone Ranger, this iconic character’s ancestry has been (white) washed away. General Dumas was born in present day Haiti and, as the son of a black slave, his rise to his own personal military history is fraught at every turn by changing social acceptance of black people. The range of thinking about the children of slaves or individuals with any black ancestry seemed to change on a whim during that time. The fact that General Dumas was able to rise so far with the addition of Napoleon and the social racism of the day just makes this individual even more unbelievable.

In deed, General Alex Dumas’ life and his place in historical is so audacious and fantastical that there were many times I could not believe I was reading a book of nonfiction. But not matter the fantasy feel, Reiss’ The Black Count is a masterfully researched historical piece that will now live alongside my copy of The Count of Monte Cristo.


Tell me, please!

Who Would You Cast as Edmond Dantes in a Remake of The Count of Monte Cristo?


 

nonfiction

NonFiction Friday: Factfulness: Ten Reasons We Are Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling

factfulnessThis is, quite simply, the best and most uplifting book of nonfiction I have ever read.

Before reading this book I made the mistake of reading the news on a daily basis and I knew, in my heart, that everything was terrible. I could feel the terribleness of our tragic world in my bones. Around the world, people are worried about war, disease and the environment. Food shortages and genetically modified supplies haunt my dreams. Equality for all seems like a far-off goal. Let me add to that that I am an American. As an American, my country is deeply divided and, whatever your politics may be, people have become comfortable with name calling and outright lying. The drama is at an all-time high and nothing is getting accomplished. It’s all terrible. Worse, I cannot find facts on anything and so I worry about everything. 

One night, I awoke with a start, heart pounding. I reached for my middle-of-the-night buddy, my faithful Kindle. I searched for something to read and found Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund. I remember thinking, “I would like to be both full of facts and wrong about the world.” I plunged into this book and I cannot stop thinking (and talking about it.)

It turns out, I’m not “wrong” about the world so much as I was using old information. I was letting the news convince me that there was nothing but horrors around every corner. And, I couldn’t distinguish between facts and overly dramatic editorials. If you want a quick look at how the facts can make you feel better and simultaneously change the way you see the world, watch this twenty minute Ted Talk given by Hans Rosling.

He refers to his questions a number of times in this video. At the beginning of the book there is a test to see how much you know about the world. I scored….poorly. A few things I knew had changed from my childhood, but I was shocked, shocked, by how quickly the world has changed when I wasn’t looking. It was like I met the world as an adorable toddler during my early educational experience, I went on with my life and now, twenty years later, I am all “Look how big you’ve gotten!” When I wasn’t looking whole countries went from mud-soaked poverty to looking like my hometown.

But, perhaps, you are not an American. Many Americans are well aware of how little we know about the world. Perhaps you are a well-educated world traveler and aren’t surprised at all by how everything is going. But, you find yourself still scared about the state of things. That might be because it is easy to find bad things happening in the world, good things are difficult to find. For example, 40 million commercial airplanes took off and landed safely in 2016 and ten crashed. Each crash was covered extensively. This gives the perception that air travel is not safe when, in fact, 2016 was the safest year on record to fly (this is also the last year of available statistics for the book so, don’t panic). We see this pattern repeated ad nauseam. Bad news gets people attention.

So we have copious amount of bad news. Some of us are using old information. Then there is the feeling that when there is more to do, we cannot talk about the successes we can see. We have dramatic instincts and we combine that with an overly dramatic worldview. It is no wonder we are sure we are all doomed.

To combat this, Factfulness has ten rules of thumb all designed to get our brains used to analyzing data and learning new things about our world everyday. The environment needs work, some people will always need help, and we can always do better. But, honestly, its not as bad as I thought it was.

I still read the news everyday. But I look for the facts. I watch for gaps, straight lines that are just assumed, and resist that feeling of urgency without knowledge. And I look for what isn’t being reported because that is where the good news is hiding.


Tell me, please!

Have you ever had a book radically change the way you look at the world?


nonfiction

The Book of Joy by his Holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams

thebookofjouyThis book has taken me quite some time to consume. It has been described as a three layer cake with the personal stories and teachings of joy from these two remarkable religious leaders, current studies on joy and the daily practices to root yourself in joy. But I found it to be more like a deliciously well rounded meal. There were parts I struggled to read – healthy bites I knew I needed but didn’t completely enjoy. Then there was the bulk of the book – the lovely meat and potatoes if you will. The background information about these two fascinating leaders and how they have continued to find peace and joy despite their personal difficulties and challenges is nothing short of remarkable. Finally, there was the decadant dessert. These two men may be some of the most well respected religious leaders in our world but they are naughty and hilariously engaging!

At times, I didn’t enjoy the application the author, Douglas Abrams, made of the teaching to his own life. However, there were moments when his astute explanations bolstered and clarified the messages. I also appreciated that, as a Jewish person, Abrams brought a fresh and neutral perspective to the discussions. At times, he made several comments which indicated that he was better acquainted with the Dalai Lama than the Archbishop and that may be why there was more information about Buddhism than Christianity woven into the book. Or, perhaps it was because the Archbishop had travelled to Dharamsala and therefore the meeting took place surrounded by Monks.

Regardless of the reasons, I was deeply humbled by the teachings of the Dalai Lama. While my religious background alines me more naturally with Archbishop Tutu, my fascination with other religions created a greater interest in the Buddhist teachings of this magnificently humble leader. The history of the Dalai Lama and his exile were vaguely in my brain but hearing of his isolation from family and country brought me greater understanding of the trials and tribulations of the Dalai Lama and his people.

Similarly, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a well known figure. However, his experiences in Africa during a tumultuous time coupled with his fascinating personal history made for such an interesting read.

Both men seem to almost casually mention death, fear, anxiety, depression and struggle only to use that experience to show the impact of choosing joy. Next to their experiences I felt unworthy of any unhappiness. Yet, just when I started to believe that perhaps this was a spiritual quest outside of my own abilities, the authors acknowledged that they have not always felt this deep sense of control over their joy. This allowed me to feel that I am still on my path.

I am a spiritual and religious person. There were parts of this book that seemed to be religious dogma and that did not bother me because religion is woven into my life. However, if you are searching for a message of hope without religious entanglement this book may not be for you. I believe that these amazing men are using their religion to explain how they choose joy. But, by comparing and contrasting their religious applications to life to support choosing joy they open the discussion to a more secular approach.

This book is full of solid advice, anecdotal stories and current scientific information about how joy can be found and held onto. The last section of the book includes options for daily practice to find joy in your own life should you want some specific direction. If you are struggling with finding joy I encourage you to read this book. It is far and beyond the best of all the books I have read regarding happiness, gratitude and finding joy.


Tell me, please!

Do you read self-help books? If so, what are you searching for in them?


nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday: The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell by W. Kamau Bell

theawkwardthoughtsNo one likes to admit to judging a book by its cover but I will freely admit that I picked this book up for two reasons (1) The word awkward in the title and (2) The front matter description on the cover: “Tales of a 6’4″, African-American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian.” How could I resist?

After reading Awkward, The Science of Why We’re Socially Awkward and Why That’s Awesome I have come to embrace my own awkwardness as a gift (and a curse) and find myself on the lookout for other awkward people. Truthfully, I had never heard of Mr. Bell until I read his book. This is certainly not a statement on his popularity, rather on my being approximately five years behind on television shows and without access to anything but basic cable and some instant gratification internet platforms. Except, now I have Hulu and therefore access to his fantastic CNN show United Shades of America.

Mr. Bell is extremely funny in my most favorite manner – smart funny. He observes, ponders, and pours over issues that the rest of society either doesn’t notice or spends no time reflecting upon. I wouldn’t call him awkward but I like that he used the word awkward to spark important conversations.

For example, “Awkward Thoughts about Superheroes and Doc McStuffins.” I remember wondering why there were so fewer black superheroes when I was a kid. Really, I was only into the female superheroes (early feminist) and so I only knew Storm. And when they came out with a Black Barbie I was so happy that kids would have a beautiful doll that looked like them. But, these little tiny burst of awareness didn’t extend to imagining what everyday life was like for a nerdy black kid (hello privilege!). I was surprised to find that Mr. Bell’s favorites were The Incredible Hulk and Spider-man because he could easily picture himself under their green skin or red and blue costume. He also points out that the world is changing and including more representation which is essential for his daughters to see. He credits Doc McStuffins, a Disney show I am aware of but have never seen, as one of the most important shows on television because his daughter’s reality includes a female Black doctor. I don’t love Disney but kudos to them for this show.

I volunteer at my neighborhood elementary school that has a high population of Black children. I love to read and they all know it. When I first started volunteering there years ago I would give book recommendations to the kids. And I was shocked (and then embarrassed again by my privilege) by the lack of representation in children’s literature. Have you ever tried to find a book for a Black kid that wasn’t about the Civil Rights Movement? The remaining books seem to only feature a child who lives in the wrong / dangerous / graffiti-ridden neighborhood and is being raised by their grandmother. Or books about sports heroes. In the past two years things have improved slightly in the publishing world. Kids (white ones too!) need to know about racism. But it is vital that all kids are able to imagine themselves as heroes, magicians, time travelers and powerful people. I do not think, as Mr. Bell put it, that white people are uncomfortable imagining themselves as Black heroes. Instead, we just never had to do it. Pick up a book. Oh, this features a child of color? Put down that book and peruse the one hundred next to it with kids that look just like you! We haven’t practiced it like Black children have had to for generations.

I do agree with him that many white people are uncomfortable with Black people playing a role previously held by a white person. He uses James Bond and Idris Elba as an example and he is right. Every time it comes up it becomes a stupid controversy. I vote that we just stop making Bond films altogether. Bond is boring.

The chapters “My Most Awkward Birthday Ever” and “My Awkward Joking Around with the KKK” really struck a chord with me because they directly confront the continuing and pervasive racism in America. Every chapter is woven with the theme of racism but these two in particular stand out in my mind.

In “My Most Awkward Birthday Ever” Mr. Bell is the center of a coffee shop controversy not unlike the one that just unfolded at Starbucks. He was literally shooed away from his wife and daughter in front of a group of her friends (new friends too), on his birthday after he had eaten there earlier in the day. The stand out part for me was how many of his so-called white friends said, “How do you know it was racism?…I mean that sucks, but how can you be sure?”

This statement has been said or thought by, I would guess, all white people at one time or another. We think it and say it because we don’t understand and, perhaps more importantly, we aren’t trying to understand or empathize. We just want it to not be racism. But, it is.

And that brings me to “My Awkward Joking Around with the KKK.” While filming, Mr. Bell was put in close proximity at night to a barbershop owned by a KKK member and proudly flying the Confederate flag. His show runner was telling him repeatedly to get closer without any comprehension of the fear that Mr. Bell must have felt.

When I read this chapter I wanted to punch his show runner. How anyone could be so unfeeling is beyond my comprehension. I find the KKK terrifying and they would never even give me and my bland Irish looks a second glance. In the first five minutes of the episode (which I watched after finishing the book) Mr. Bell walks along a dirt road to politely greet a man dressed in full klan gear with his voice disguised. The klansman is clearly a coward – show your face, let me hear your voice! But Mr. Bell had every right to be terrified and he still shook his hand. I had two hopes after viewing this exchange: I hope his Mother isn’t watching and I hope he washed his hands. But again, here is Mr. Bell putting into action something he has probably practiced over and over again throughout his life – being polite to a racist.

This book really showcases what I have come to learn is W. Kamau Bell doing what he does best: socio-political comedy. I am working my way through all of the United Shades of America backlogs and they are excellent. However, if you want to hear the more unfiltered awkward thoughts of W. Kamau Bell, pick up his book.


Tell me, please!

What non-fiction book jolted your awareness even a smidge?


nonfiction

Ask an Astronaut by Tim Peake

Let me be clear, I am never going to space. Nope. Can’t make me. I went to an exhibit years ago about life on Mars. On the way into the exhibit you had to choose whether you would want to go live on Mars or not and the same question was asked on the way out. Upon entry I was all “Meh, no thanks.” After the exhibit I was a firm, “Hell no. Can’t make me. Never happening.”

askanastronautBut that is the beauty of books! In Ask an Astronaut, My Guide to Life in Space Tim Peake answers all of our questions about traveling to and living on the International Space Station for six months. I get all the fun learning without having to leave the safety and comfort of my home.

The majority of the questions to Tim were asked by children but, honestly, they were all things I had pondered. Questions like, “How do you go to the bathroom in space,” were answered with equal sincerity as, “What is the best advice you ever received?” I quickly learned to appreciate the depth of knowledge possessed by the author as well as how humble he continued to be in the face of his enormous accomplishments.

As to his accomplishments, Tim Peake is the first British ESA astronaut and the first British person to spacewalk wearing the Union Flag. When asked what souvenirs he brought back from space he listed his space cutlery, a crushed Russian coin and the Union Flag patch. Then, almost as a side note he mentions that this flag represents a new chapter in the UK’s long and distinguished history of exploration and scientific research so he had the “honor of presenting this Union Flag to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II” so that it could be placed in the Royal Archives and Royal Collection. So very wonderfully British and modest.

The book is a delightful read and is probably appropriate for all ages. However, the science and technology reference made by the author (again, in that easy breezy manner) are a little more complex. I learned a tremendous amount about the methods for getting to and from the ISS, what arduous work is being done on the space station as well as how much scientific research is being performed on a daily basis as they revolve around the Earth in microgravity. I have a lifelong awe of astronauts but I always considered them elite athletes. Now I understand how incredibly intelligent and multi-talented an astronaut needs to be, as well as fairly lucky, to actually have the opportunity to travel outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Also, astronauts know a lot of acronyms.

Tim Peake’s book will give you a taste of life on the ISS and the adventure of traveling into, walking among the stars, and returning back to Earth. He does so with intelligence, a lovely dry British humor and an unbelievable amount of modesty. I’m still not traveling to space but I loved reading about it.


Tell me, please!

Would you want to travel to space? Where would you go?


 

nonfiction

Non-Fiction Friday: I Work at a Public Library… by Gina Sheridan

I have had a serious dry spell in good non-fiction! I read and read but haven’t loved anything enough to recommend it. Then, I picked up I Work at a Public Library, A Collection of Crazy Stories from the Stacks, by Gina Sheridan. I initially chose the slim book because I needed one that could be read in a day for one of my reading challenges. Then I enjoyed it so much I wished it was longer! Imagine my joy when I discovered that it began as a blog and she continues to add entries. You can find the blog here.

iworkI was also interested in reading the stories because my first, third, fourth and fifth jobs were all at libraries. I worked as a page (that person who re-shelves your books), a reference assistant and later a legal reference librarian (worst.job.ever – no books!). I loved being a page because I spent my days looking at the books and seeing what people loved checking out and returning. And, in case you haven’t visited one lately, the public library is amazing people watching. Amazing. There are very few things in life I enjoy more than people watching.

Gina Sheridan embraced the people watching without making me feel like she was mocking the patrons of the library. From innocent questions about internet porn to the crazy antics of the usual customers, it was clear that these people were important to the author. And, I was incredible impressed with her diplomatic answers to some truly rude and probing questions.

For a small taste: One entry on her blog from December 2017 reads,

“Today a patron brought in his own (large) TV and game console and set them up in a study room. He played for hours with no explanation or disruption.”

This is what I love about the public library. It’s public but for many people it is their home away from home. And they treat it just like it belongs to them – for better or worse.

I really enjoyed this funny quick read but the last chapter, the one that focuses on the patrons that return to thank their librarians, made me happy-cry. Librarians are heroes and Gina’s humurous book and blog embrace the beautiful and sometimes weird things our librarians do for all of us.


Tell me, please!

Do you love your public library?