Archive for the ‘Nonfiction Review’ Category

Review of Keep Moving, by Maggie Smith

Saturday, November 28th, 2020

Keep Moving

Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change

by Maggie Smith

One Signal Publishers (Atria), 2020. 214 pages.
Review written November 6, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This is a book I wish I’d had when my husband left me and my life was falling apart. But ten years after the divorce was final, these words still encourage me greatly. I expect I will buy copies of this book to give as gifts in case I ever have friends in tough situations where their expectations for what their life was going to be crumble. Even in the present, reading these words keep me moving. I’ll be posting lots of quotes from it on my Sonderquotes blog.

The bulk of this book is inspirational encouragement on each page, finished by the words – on every page – “KEEP MOVING.”

Here’s an example:

Focus on who you are and what you’ve built, not who you’d planned on being and what you’d expected to have. Trust that the present moment – however difficult, however different from what you’d imagined – has something to teach you.

KEEP MOVING.

Here’s another:

You are not betraying your grief by feeling joy. You are not being graded, and you do not receive extra credit for being miserable 100% of the time. Find pockets of relief, even happiness, when and where you can.

KEEP MOVING.

There are three main sections: Revision, Resilience, and Transformation. Within each section, in between these inspirational sayings made to be quoted, we’ve got pages here and there of smaller text, giving us the context of when the author had to deal with loss, in more than one way.

She began this book by writing daily goals for herself as her life was falling apart — and she kept going.

After writing this review, I decided to buy my own copy so I can come back to it again and again. Every day I’m reading a page to encourage me and keep me moving.

SimonandSchuster.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Know My Name, by Chanel Miller

Monday, November 9th, 2020

Know My Name

by Chanel Miller

Viking, 2019. 357 pages.
Review written October 3, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Know My Name is a memoir by the victim in the famous case where she was raped while she was unconscious on Stanford campus by a member of the swim team. He was found guilty and then given a light slap-on-the-wrist sentence. Chanel wrote a letter as Emily Doe to her rapist that was published on BuzzFeed and went viral and touched hearts and lives across the world. (I love the little detail that Joe Biden wrote to her after reading it and said, “I see the limitless potential of an incredibly talented young woman – full of possibility. I see the shoulders on which our dreams for the future rest.”)

Chanel Miller is an incredibly skilled writer. She takes the story of her own rape and explains its terrible impact on her life. She doesn’t excuse it. She doesn’t take it lightly ever. She explains that it impacted her life every single day since the event and will continue to impact it. She points out the many, many failures in the system that made things worse for her. She explains how wonderful it was that her life was saved by two Swedes who happened to bicycle past and took the time to save her. But she gets all her readers wondering what would have happened if they hadn’t come along. You’d think with such witnesses, it would be an easy conviction, but it wasn’t. Not easy in any sense at all.

And yet she leaves us with hope. Her letter, which is included at the end of the book, touched lives across the world. Her book cover design represents the Japanese art of kintsugi, “in which pieces of broken pottery are mended with powdered gold and lacquer, rather than treating the breaks as blemishes to conceal. The technique shows us that although an object cannot be returned to its original state, fragments can be made whole again.”

I checked out this book after I’d already learned I was going to be a panelist for Young Adult Fiction and Speculative Fiction for the Cybils Awards, but I thought I’d read it slowly, a chapter at a time and just draw it out. Instead, I ended up binge-reading it to finish it the night before Cybils nominations opened. Even though I knew what happened, the book ended up being impossible to put down. She makes you understand how it felt to be violated in this way and how difficult it was to put her life back together and go on.

I’m going to finish this review by quoting her final paragraphs. I’m not giving anything away. Most of you will have heard of her story. But I’m quoting her to show how powerfully she brings hope to victims everywhere, and to people everywhere who ever wonder what their own lives are worth.

I began this story alone as a half-naked body. I remembered nothing. There was so much I did not know. I was forced to fight, in a legal system I did not understand, the bald judge in the black robe, the defense attorney with narrow glasses. Brock with his lowered chin, his unsmiling father, the appellate attorney. The obstacles became harder, I was up against men more educated, more powerful than me, the game rougher, more graphic, serious. I read comments that laughed at my pain. I remember feeling helpless, terrified, humiliated, I cried like I’ve never cried before. But I remember the attorney’s still shoulders as guilty was read. I know Brock slept ninety days in a stiff cot in a jail cell. The judge will never step foot in a courtroom again. The appellate attorney’s claims were shut down. One by one, they became powerless, fell away, and when the dust settled, I looked around to see who was left.

Only Emily Doe. I survived because I remained soft, because I listened, because I wrote. Because I huddled close to my truth, protected it like a tiny flame in a terrible storm. Hold up your head when the tears come, when you are mocked, insulted, questioned, threatened, when they tell you you are nothing, when your body is reduced to openings. The journey will be longer than you imagined, trauma will find you again and again. Do not become the ones who hurt you. Stay tender with your power. Never fight to injure, fight to uplift. Fight because you know that in this life, you deserve safety, joy, and freedom. Fight because it is your life. Not anyone else’s. I did it, I am here. Looking back, all the ones who doubted or hurt or nearly conquered me faded away, and I am the only one standing. So now, the time has come. I dust myself off, and go on.

I recommend many books. Let me urge you to read this one. It will leave you with more compassion than you had before, and with more power, and more hope.

chanel-miller.com
penguinrandomhouse.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The New Testament: A Translation by David Bentley Hart

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

The New Testament

A Translation

by David Bentley Hart

Yale University Press, 2017. 577 pages.
Review written October 18, 2020, from my own copy.
Starred Review

It seems so presumptuous to write a review of The New Testament! Rest assured this is a review of this particular translation in order to recommend it to other students of the Bible.

I was interested in this translation because of reading the author’s book on universalism, That All Shall Be Saved. The translation came first, and I’ve found that many proponents of universalism have an in-depth knowledge of biblical Greek. This author is no exception.

He does claim to have approached the text without theological bias, admitting that there will always be some, but trying to be faithful to what is written. Here’s a segment from his Introduction:

I should note that this is not a literary translation of the New Testament, much less a rendering for liturgical use. If it conforms in any degree to any current school of translation theory, it is certainly that of “formal,” rather than “dynamic,” equivalence – though, in fact, I believe that no translator should entrust his or her choices to the authority of any “theory” whatsoever. Again and again, I have elected to produce an almost pitilessly literal translation; many of my departures from received practices are simply my efforts to make the original text as visible as possible through the palimpsest of its translation…. Where the Greek of the original is maladroit, broken, or impenetrable (as it is with some consistency in Paul’s letters), so is the English of my translation; where an author has written bad Greek (such as one finds throughout the book of Revelation), I have written bad English.

I’m writing this review after finishing the entire book – for many months, I’ve read one two-page spread per day as part of my devotions. I may start up again on this, but I will also keep the book on hand for times when I’m curious about how this author renders the original Greek, to get another perspective on a biblical passage and, I think, a clearer idea of how it was written in the original text.

I have to say that in all my reading of this book, there was one verse that made me cry out in delight at his clear rendering. It was Philippians 2:10-11 –

So that at the name of Jesus every knee – of beings heavenly and earthly and subterranean – should bend, And every tongue gladly confess that Jesus the Anointed is Lord, for the glory of God the Father.

The insertion of the word “gladly” means you can’t pretend this verse means that one day God’s going to force knees to bow.

But I also enjoyed the many footnotes (Really!) with explanations for why he translated things a certain way. And I especially enjoyed the section at the back titled, “Concluding Scientific Postscript.” It includes some particular notes on the Prologue of John’s Gospel and some details in the Greek that can’t really be expressed in English. Then he includes notes on translating nineteen specific words, beginning with aionios, “which in most traditional translations is rendered as ‘eternal’ or ‘everlasting,’ except in the many instances where such a reading would be nonsensical.” He goes on for several pages about why this is not an appropriate translation, referencing extra-biblical Greek sources as well as the Greek-speaking church fathers, besides giving other reasons for his choices. Of course this is a crucial point for universalists, and he makes a strong case. The second word he looks at in depth is gehenna, and he explains why “hell” is not an appropriate translation for that. The rest of the words do not apply so particularly to universalism, but it’s all tremendously interesting and enlightening, and gives insight into what the Bible says.

David Bentley Hart finishes up this volume with these words:

I do hope this translation will, for many readers, help to cast new light on his or her understanding of the origins and contents of Christian faith. And I repeat my assertion, which may seem slightly incredible, that I have tried not to advance my theological or ideological agenda, but rather to capture in English as much of the suggestiveness and uncertainty and mystery of the original Greek as possible, precisely in order to prevent any prior set of commitments from determining for the reader in advance what it is that the text must say (even when it does not).

Why review this book? To let other students of Scripture know about this amazing resource. I hope some of you will seek out a copy to aid in your own study.

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of The Women of the 116th Congress: Portraits of Power

Friday, September 11th, 2020

The Women of the 116th Congress

Portraits of Power

Foreword by Roxane Gay

Portraits by Elizabeth D. Herman and Celeste Sloman

Abrams Image, 2019. 208 pages.
Review written September 5, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

Here’s a lovely book that fills my heart with pride in our nation. It consists of 130 portraits of the 131 women (one was not available) serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States of America after the 2018 elections.

The portraits are presented alphabetically by the state each woman represents. A list of firsts that woman has achieved are presented, many of them being the first woman from their state or their district in the House or the Senate, or the first woman of their ethnicity or religion or sexual orientation. And there’s a paragraph quote from each woman talking about what it means to them to serve in the United States Congress.

Throughout the book, there are short interruptions with spreads about historic women who paved the way for these ones, such as Jeannette Pickering Rankin: “I may be the first woman member of Congress, but I won’t be the last.” Or Shirley Anita Chisholm: “In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.”

I never thought of it as an important cause to elect more women to Congress – until I looked through this book and it made me so happy and proud. I love to think that the day will come when we can look back on the 116th Congress and think how relatively few women they included back then.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds, by Ian Wright

Saturday, August 29th, 2020

Brilliant Maps for Curious Minds

100 New Ways to See the World

by Ian Wright
illustrated by Infographic.ly

The Experiment, 2019. Originally published in the UK. 192 pages.
Review written July 29, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

This book is a collection of maps from the author’s website, brilliantmaps.com. As the subtitle suggests, these maps are able to help you see the world in a different way. Most of the maps shine a spotlight on one aspect of the world and make you see that aspect differently.

The 100 maps are broken into 9 chapters: People and Populations; Politics, Power, and Religion; Culture and Customs; Friends and Enemies; Geography; History; National Identity; Crime and Punishment; and Nature.

Some of the maps you might consider silly – for example, longest place names, countries whose flags contain red or blue, and world plug and socket maps – others more serious, such as Homicide rates: Europe vs. the U. S.

Some maps I enjoyed included Probability of a White Christmas map (except that the probability is low where I live); European countries that have invaded Poland; How the North American population fits into Europe; and Countries without McDonalds.

This book is well titled. Yes, these maps are brilliant. Yes, you are sure to enjoy them if you have a curious mind.

brilliantmaps.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me, by Jason B. Rosenthal

Tuesday, August 11th, 2020

My Wife Said You May Want to Marry Me

by Jason B. Rosenthal
read by the author

HarperAudio, 2020. 7 hours on 6 CDs.
Review written August 11, 2020, from a library audiobook
Starred Review

On March 3, 2017, beloved children’s author Amy Krouse Rosenthal (okay, she wrote things for adults, too, and even made films, but being a children’s author is what I loved her for) had a column published in the New York Times, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.” It told about her impending death from ovarian cancer, which indeed happened ten days later, but also about what a wonderful man her husband was, how beautiful their life together, and hoping that he would start a new love story after her death, because she wanted him to have a happy life.

This book is Jason’s follow-up. It tells about his life with Amy and their joyful partnership, about the two years he cared for her after her cancer diagnosis, and about dealing with grief. Amy gave him the gift of a platform to talk about end of life, the grieving process, and meeting life after loss with resilience.

As a divorced woman, I’ve dealt with loss. I’m glad that Jason acknowledges that he was lucky to have the loving relationship he had. And Amy blessed it with her last loving act of writing that column. Divorced people (especially those blind-sided by a spouse who leaves before they realize anything’s wrong) don’t get that benediction, but we still have to deal with the absence of someone we love. I appreciated that Jason doesn’t shy away from telling about the good times as if to avoid pain. And his insights are helpful for anyone dealing with loss, even if on the surface, your loss seems quite different from the too-early death of a beloved spouse.

Another thing I have in common with Jason is a succession of losses. Both my parents died, two months apart, last Fall. In the two years since Amy’s death, both Jason’s father and Amy’s father died, as well as the dog that was their family’s companion for many years. Loss piled on top of loss has its own difficult impact. Jason expresses so well the process of dealing with loss upon loss while remembering the love and joy. He doesn’t pretend to have it all together. He talks about times of weeping. And he is again and again thankful to Amy for urging him to fill those empty pages with a new love story.

Listening to Jason’s own voice makes it all the more personal. Listening to this audiobook feels like a brother or a close friend sharing their life and offering encouragement. I understand why hundreds of people have written to him. Amy’s column alone makes me wish it just so happened that I was right for him. (For starters, I don’t live in Chicago.) I have no doubt he’s going to again be a wonderful husband to some lucky woman. (And he has started dating someone. I’m a little envious that he was able to find someone “organically” without using online dating, but hey, everyone’s life is different.)

The part about his life together with Amy was full of joy. I drooled at the description of the home they built – with a wall covered with bookshelves from the basement to the third floor. And I love that they set goals for their relationship while on their honeymoon. They traveled the world together. They made room for quality time with their children and with each other. And they were each other’s biggest fans.

But he’s also got encouraging and uplifting things to say about his life now and about dealing with loss and having resiliency. This is not a sad book, even though it’s centered around a very sad event. It’s the story of a joyful and loving partnership and about someone learning to continue to live a joyful and meaningful life after that partnership ended far too soon.

Like I said, it feels like the author is talking to you personally. I will resist the urge to add to the pile of letters he’s received. Let me just say it now: Jason, thank you for this book. Thank you for telling Amy’s story and your story. Thank you for giving others a window into navigating the journey of loss and new beginnings.

jasonbrosenthal.com

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Source: This review is based on an audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A More Christlike Way, by Bradley Jersak

Monday, July 27th, 2020

A More Christlike Way

A More Beautiful Faith

by Bradley Jersak

CWRpress, 2019. 252 pages.
Review written July 27, 2020, from my own copy
Starred Review

A sequel to his wonderful book, A More Christlike God, here Bradley Jersak takes a look at how Christians live out their faith – and how they can be more like Jesus as they do.

This work rests on the foundation that God is a God of love, and that Jesus displayed that. Within that, he looks at some counterfeit ways of doing Christianity, and then seven facets of a more beautiful faith: Radical self-giving, radical hospitality, radical unity, radical recovery, radical peacemaking with radical forgiveness, radical surrender, and radical compassion with radical justice.

He presents the Jesus Way as a journey – not something anyone will ever accomplish perfectly. This means that every Christian can find something to work on in this book.

I love his Finale. He took passages from Isaiah, from Micah, and from Jesus’ words to tell us about the dreams our Abba dreams for us.

Our focus is to be single-minded and clear-eyed on Abba’s dream for our world as our first agenda. Our now agenda.

It has nothing to do with grandiose claims of outer-galactic revivals or “the next big move of God.” It’s about watching the mustard seed grow by Grace and participating in what Grace is up to . . .

One poor person at a time,
One naked person at a time,
One prisoner at a time,
One stranger at a time,
One hospital visit at a time.

ptm.org

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of A Game of Birds and Wolves, by Simon Parkin

Monday, July 6th, 2020

A Game of Birds and Wolves

The Ingenious Young Women Whose Secret Board Game Helped Win World War II

by Simon Parkin

Little, Brown and Company, 2020. 310 pages.
Review written April 23, 2020, from a library book
Starred Review

A Game of Birds and Wolves is the story of how Great Britain used an elaborate war game to strategize and win the war against the U-boats during World War II.

I hadn’t realized how important the Battle of the Atlantic was. Britain came perilously close to starving. During World War II, 2,603 merchant ships and 175 naval vessels escorting merchant convoys were sunk. More than 30,000 merchant seamen and more than 6,000 Royal Navy sailors died in the Atlantic, mostly because of attacks from U-boats.

The subtitle is a little bit misleading. This book is mostly about the man, Gilbert Roberts, who developed the giant board game and taught it to British naval officers. But his staff, the people running the game, were indeed women, officers in the Wrens, the branch of the British navy for women.

I’ve been reading a lot of children’s nonfiction, so I did get impatient with the extreme level of detail in this book. We hear about the establishment of the Wrens, about specific ships getting sunk in the Atlantic, about the glamorous lives on shore of U-boat commanders, and how Gilbert Roberts had been rejected by the navy. It seemed like the first half of the book was establishing the many, many different characters and the situations for both the Germans and the British.

But the tension does heighten as the WATU – the Western Approaches Tactical Unit – begins deducing the strategies that U-boats were using and developing ways to combat it. At the same time, we read about an admiral asking for more U-boats and finally getting them. It all builds to a dramatic battle where one of the Wrens charting the position of the ships in a giant sea battle is aware that her fiancé is in the thick of things.

As a gamer, it made sense to me that playing strategy games helps admirals devise effective strategies in real-life scenarios. They developed a 6-day course and captains coming in from time at sea would go through the course. They simulated visibility at sea by putting the captains behind a canvas screen and plotting the positions of small models of ships on the linoleum floor. They used green chalk for the U-boats, which couldn’t be seen from an angle. They made a dramatic simulation before computers could be used to do it.

The Wrens on staff were responsible for moving the models and marking the courses of the ships and U-boats involved. I enjoyed the scene where they had a young Wren play a scenario against a high ranking naval officer. She was experienced with the game and soundly defeated him.

It all gives an interesting side of World War II that I’d never heard about before.

simonparkin.com
littlebrown.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of Defying Gravity, by Tom Berlin

Sunday, June 21st, 2020

Defying Gravity

Break Free from the Culture of More

by Tom Berlin

Abingdon Press, 2016. 108 pages.
Review written January 9, 2020, from my own copy

This little book was given to me when I joined Floris United Methodist Church, where the author is the lead pastor. It’s a book about giving generously, which might make you suspicious coming from a pastor. However, Tom Berlin tells a personal story of how giving changed his life – and he expresses that he hopes that others will find the same joy.

He told the story when I went to the membership information night of how his young bride insisted that they give a tenth of their income – much to his dismay. But as the years went by, her example eventually changed his attitude, and he discovered that an attitude of generosity can set you free from the gravity of this world and this culture, that you need to hoard and you always need more.

The book is short, with only four chapters. They talk about the pull of money in our lives, and how to break free of financial gravity and realize that we are stewards of God’s money.

So it may be short, but these are big lessons. I’m still absorbing if there are some changes I can make to be more generous.

All of us can defy gravity. It doesn’t take lots of money. It does take time. It takes sacrifice. It takes a shift in our view of the world. We must learn to see our lives as belonging to God and trust that God will direct our lives in a generous way that will bring us joy and significance.

God longs for us to experience a life in Christ that will make us generous in all ways, with our kindness, compassion, and love as evidenced in the use of our time and money. Such a life enables us to break free of the world’s gravity and enjoy the pull of God’s kingdom so that the Spirit of God will be evident in our own.

abingdonpress.com

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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Review of So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo

Thursday, June 18th, 2020

So You Want to Talk About Race

by Ijeoma Oluo
read by Bahni Turpin

Blackstone Audio, 2018. 7 hours, 41 minutes.
Review written June 17, 2020, from a library eaudiobook.
Starred Review

I wish I already knew the things talked about in this book. I wish the topic wasn’t so timely in 2020. And I wish it hadn’t taken timely current events to get me to listen to this book. However, all things taken together, I’m very glad this book exists to educate me about issues of race and how black people in America have many very different experiences than I do. And I’m glad I finally listened to it.

This book is a black person telling things like they are. She doesn’t hold back to spare your feelings. So much of what she says was eye-opening for me. I hadn’t thought much about how the world responds to black people, because the world doesn’t respond to me that way.

I was surprised by how long the book was. It turned out that she had plenty of things to cover, and covered them well. Whatever else I was feeling as I listened to this book, I wasn’t bored for even a second.

I liked the way she approached explaining privilege. She first talked about ways in which she herself is privileged. One of those ways is by having a college degree. Yes, she worked hard for that degree. It did help that she was born into a family that valued education. But once she got the degree, she was able to get better-paying jobs, even when they didn’t use anything she learned while gaining the degree. Just having the degree got her a higher income. Then she encourages the listener to consider their own privilege.

Something disturbing happened during the week I was listening to this book. There have been many protests going on, and some friends of mine actually posted things that exactly fit what Ijeoma Oluo had talked about. One was accusing protesters of “making everything about race.” Another said “I want my country back!,” and yet another posted a video of a white man who’d traveled across America and said what good people he’d found throughout this country and that we should all calm down. That story was nice, but he seemed completely oblivious to what I’d just learned, that if a black man traveled throughout this country, he couldn’t count on a positive and helpful attitude in every neighborhood where he shows up as a stranger. The very idea that black people and people of color have very different experiences in America than white people do was an insight I became much more aware of from listening to this book.

I still have a long way to go. This author, like others, said that you’re going to make some mistakes. But better that than continuing on my oblivious path. And she finished the book with some practical steps those of us with privilege can take.

ijeomaoluo.com

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Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library eaudiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?