A Reading Journey in Books: 2017

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I have always like to read. At times in my life I read a lot. Other times, I read very little. Some years, I read nothing other than cereal boxes, school supply lists, and the day to day things we all need to read in order to navigate our lives. Sometimes life gets busy as a single parent. I started reading more as a graduate student and remembered how much I cherished reading. Near the end of my dissertation work, I craved reading. The summer after completing my doctorate, I read 27 books…27 books in approximately 12 weeks. I read fantasy, young adult, academic books, basically anything I could get my hands on. I vowed, then, to read more. However, my reading has ebbed and flowed over the last seven years. Most of my reading is related to my work. I assign books I haven’t read yet for classes I teach and read along with my students. Most of this is enjoyable reading for me but some is utilitarian.

After an abominable election, I made two commitments to myself: 1) to read 2 books per month and 2) to read more in order to gain knowledge. Generally, I read a lot every day and have stepped it up after this election. I find myself reading across a wide range of news sources (more than at any other point in my life). I read The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Atlantic, various newspaper articles from different cities across the U.S. I read the written news stories from ABC/CBS/NBC/CNN and local television news stations, Al Jazeera, The BBC, and several newer news and information sources like TruthOut, the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. I also read academic journal articles in the many academic fields I represent, teach, and/or study: higher education, foundations of education, education history, writing studies, research methods, qualitative research methods, postcolonial theory, critical race theory, and recently in areas related to trauma studies. I am well read but want more, need more. This year, in 52 weeks, I read 57 books, far beyond my 2/month goal – approximately 1.12 books per week for 2017. Not too bad for my New Year’s Challenge.

I set out this year to learn more about civil disobedience, African American literature and history, current events and understandings of the U.S. and the world. I was a member of three book groups – partly for the social aspect and partly to get my knowledge on.  I started in January and have continued to challenge myself. Some books were longer, some shorter; some academic, some for fun and entertainment; some for classes, others for book groups. I’ll try to give a brief explanation of the books along with my big take aways; however, more thorough descriptions are on Amazon. Also, because of the complexity and density of some of the books, my explanation and take aways ended up being lengthier than I originally intended. I am also highlighting the books that have stuck with me, that I continue to think about, that changed my thinking or provided a new depth to my understanding in a way that I continue to consider. So, this is my record of the books I read in 2017 in list form – for a review of each book, keep scrolling (sorry, I am not as technologically savvy as I wish I was in order to make this a clickable list):

  1. The Sunset Limited – this was a play by Cormac McCarthy
  2. Their Eyes Were Watching God – by Zora Neale Hurston
  3. Notes of a Native Son – a collection of essays by James Baldwin
  4. Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools –  by Monique Morris
  5. The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account – by Bartolomé de las Casas
  6. We Should All Be Feminists – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  7. American Copper – by Shann Ray
  8. Beloved – by Toni Morrison
  9. Big Little Lies – by Liane Moriarty
  10. We Gon’ Be Alright – by Jeff Chang
  11. How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America – by Moustafa Bayoumi
  12. The Light Between the Oceans – by M.L. Stedman
  13. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide – by Carol Anderson, Ph.D.
  14. Persepolis – by Marjane Satrapi
  15. Hillbilly Elegy – by J.D. Vance
  16. Bullied: Tales of Torment, Identity, and Youth – by Keith Berry
  17. You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down – by Alice Walker
  18. Persepolis 2 – by Marjane Satrapi
  19. Critical Understandings of Research – Author unknown for the moment
  20. Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip Hop in the United States – by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer
  21. Qualitative Inquiry: Past, Present, and Future – by Norm Denzin and Michael Giardina
  22. Invisible Man – by Ralph Ellison
  23. Citizen: An American Lyric – by Claudia Rankine
  24. The Hate U Give – by Angie Thomas
  25. Milk and Honey – by Rupi Kaur
  26. Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin – by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin
  27. The Devil in the White City – by Eric Larson
  28. Multiple Wounds – by Alan Russell
  29. …But I’m Not Racist! Tools For Well Meaning Whites – by Kathy Obear
  30. Men We Reaped – by Jesmyn Ward
  31. Where’d You Go Bernadette? – by Maria Semple
  32. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – by Sherman Alexie
  33. The Bell Jar – by Sylvia Plath
  34. Learning from Each Other: Refining the Practice of Teaching in Higher Education – by Michele Kozimor-King and Jeffrey Chin
  35. A Man Called Ove – by Fredrik Backman
  36. All American Boys – by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
  37. Ready Player One – by Ernest Cline
  38. The Fire Next Time – by James Baldwin
  39. Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party – by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr.
  40. Night – by Elie Weisel
  41. Dawn – by Elie Weisel
  42. Day – by Elie Weisel
  43. Tulalip: From My Heart – by Harriette Shelton Dover
  44. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories – by Kathleen Collins
  45. The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man – by James Weldon Johnson
  46. 13 Reasons Why – by Jay Asher
  47. Who We Be: The Colorization of America – by Jeff Chang
  48. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – by Maya Angelou
  49. Lilac Girls – by Martha Hall Kelly
  50. The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B – by Teresa Toten
  51. The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options – by Walter D. Mignolo
  52. Race Frameworks: A Multidimensional Theory of Racism and Education – by Zeus Leonardo
  53. Hitching Rides With Buddha – by Will Ferguson
  54. Gabi, A Girl in Pieces – by Isabel Quintero
  55. The Rose that Grew from Concrete – by Tupac Amaru Shakur
  56. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – by David Grann
  57. Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit – by Daniel Quinn
  58. Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times edited by Carolina De Roberts

January

  • The Sunset Limited – this was a play by Cormac McCarthy, who wrote No Country for Old Men. This was my social book club January reading. At first I didn’t like it. It had too many religious overtones for my taste and I critiqued the stereotypes of the two characters in the book. After discussing it as a group, I had a better appreciation for the story the author was trying to tell. Still, not my favorite but it was a quick read – just over 2 hours approximately.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God – by Zora Neale Hurston. My daughter had read this for her AP English class. Since I’m a high school drop-out and books by people of color were rarely assigned in my k-12 days, I felt like I should read this classic piece of literature. It did not disappoint. Right now (at the beginning of June), I am still thinking about and haunted by the story. Hurston wrote so beautifully that I could smell the trees and ocean, I could see the conversations, and witness the events she wrote about. I think this might be one of my all time favorite books.
  • Notes of a Native Son – a collection of essays by James Baldwin. This book, what can I say. It was eye opening, excellent, and still timely 60+ years later. Sadly in 2017, the issues Baldwin wrote about could have easily been written today. The struggles, the violence, the disenfranchisement of Black people and people of color in this country is still prescient. This is another of my favorite reads.

February

  • Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools –  by Monique Morris. This was a book I assigned to my qualitative research methods class as it is a qualitative research study. It was timely and eye opening. The ways in which the stories of the girls in this book highlight how they are being failed in their families, schools, and in society connects directly to the history of this country and the lack of value we place as a society on young girls of color. Morris clearly defines how many of these girls are being sex trafficked and gives a definition that further clarifies rape culture. Heartbreaking and hard to read at times but essential to continuing to understand how certain segments of young people are being disenfranchised in modern society. The tools are old, the methods are sadly, still the same.
  • The Devastation of the Indies: A Brief Account – by Bartolomé de las Casas. This book was suggested by a friend. de las Casas was a 16th Century historian, social reformer, and Dominican friar (taken from Wikipedia). He documented how Spaniards colonized South America and the Caribbean, the atrocities committed on the indigenous peoples of what was then known as the Indies – Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, the eastern parts of South America. There is much to be said about de las Casas and the accounting of history he documents, suffice it to say that it became very clear to me that the atrocities visited upon Native Americans through the many classes I have taken and all I have learned were extensions of this project. It was a difficult read because it was written sometime in the 1500s, has been translated, and parts were just devastatingly emotionally painful.
  • We Should All Be Feminists – by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I picked this book up because I had read Americanah, loved Adichie’s writing, and had heard about this book. I have read essays from her about this topic and thought, “eh, why not?” It is a very short read – approximately 1 hour or so. It was good and kind of disappointing in some ways. It wasn’t as hard hitting as I would have liked and know she can deliver. It definitely defines women in a way that forestalls transgender women and that has its own problematics. However, it also raises topics important to explore and build upon. I think for young women it can show them that they should not make themselves or their lives small to accommodate a man – perhaps the biggest take away from this brief book.

March

  • American Copper – by Shann Ray. This was a historical fiction book chosen for my social book club. It was enjoyable to read. The author attended to some of the economic, systemic, and plain social racism of the time (and still existing) in regards to Native Americans. It was well written – some parts jumped around a bit – but overall, a very good read. It also described the lay of the land of Montana which seemed fairly accurate, with my limited knowledge about Montana. This is a lengthier read but worth the time investment.
  • Beloved – by Toni Morrison. This classic piece of literature was chosen my Black Graduate Student Association book group. It is a powerful read and haunting. Morrison explores the lasting consequences of slavery on the recently freed or runaway slaves and their families. Given what we are learning about generational PTSD, this book was definitely before its time in exploring this issue. This is another new favorite read. And Morrison’s writing is fluid and eloquent.
  • Big Little Lies – by Liane Moriarty. It was a loooong read. It was suspenseful, not predictable, and mostly enjoyable. I did feel it was a little too long but kind of necessarily so. The characters were well developed. The story explored friendship and the relationships women have with one another, leaving little complexity out. It is also a new HBO series. I started watching it right after reading the book but wasn’t into it. I think after some distance, I may enjoy the show – the cast looks amazing.
  • We Gon’ Be Alright – by Jeff Chang. I chose this book because I like Jeff Chang – his Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop history of hip hop was an excellent book that connected hip hop to wider U.S. history and the history of African American struggles. So when I saw this for $5 at a conference and had the cash, I jumped on it. It is a good read, a short read (approximately 2-3 hours because of the depth of his writing.) He explores the current moment of police violence, the police state, etc…All things right up my alley. This book did not disappoint.

April

  • How Does it Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America – by Moustafa Bayoumi. I had bought this book several years ago when it was first out with every intention of reading it right away. A friend also recommended it after I had already bought it. This year, I assigned it to my qual class so I would have to read it. This book, whoooo! Bayoumi chronicles several participants – each participant has his own chapter. It was a qualitative study exploring Muslim men from what we understand as Middle Eastern countries (Northern Africa and Southeast Asia), U.S. citizens, recent immigrants (well what we call 1.5 generation immigrants). It is so illuminating, so humanizing, so real. I highly recommend this book and hope people can read it to get an understanding that there are far more commonalities between humans and human experience than there are differences. My students enjoyed this book and learned a lot about so many things: a little bit of history about other places around the world, Muslims, the Middle East, etc…
  • The Light Between the Oceans – by M.L. Stedman. This was a selection for my social book club. A good book, historical fiction based in Australia after WWII, or was it I? Anyways, it was an enjoyable read – joyous and happy, painful and sad. Stedman captured the pain I would imagine war veterans experience returning from war to carve out a new life for themselves, dysfunctional families, and the healing that love can give. It was kind of what I would consider an epoch. It was a good book.
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide – by Carol Anderson, Ph.D. This was one of the most important books I have read this year. I chose it at a conference I attended and it was on sale there for $10. I had been eyeballing it for a while, liked the reviews, and it was right up my alley. It is an incredible book that documents and highlights the history of progress made by African Americans and white backlash from the Civil War to present times, ending with the candidacy of the 45th President of the United States (I shall not write his name as he is an abomination to all that is holy and good in this world and country.) Anyways, some of what she covers is covered in Ava DuVernay’s 13th, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy but with a slightly different slant and different moments in history analyzed. She covers education, housing, and policing. I highly highly recommend this book. In fact, I will use this book as one of my social foundations of education texts the next time I teach that class and bought a copy for a friend (which I have never done until this book) and gave my copy to my mom and bought another copy for me. This was a quick but dense read – approximately 4 hours.
  • Persepolis – by Marjane Satrapi. This is a graphic novel. Several of my secondary English students had planned lessons around this book years ago. I have wanted to read it in the past and when it popped up on my Amazon recommendations list, I thought, “why not now?” It was an excellent book and described the modern history of Iran as told through the lens of one girl, her family, and her growing up. It was very eye opening (I keep saying this about many of these books and this is why I wanted to read more this year.) It was a quick read – approximately 3 hours. The illustrations are so rich even though they are black and white. I feel like I learned more about the colonization of Iran and the many colonizing forces of Persia, how Islam is practiced in Iran and evolved within the country, and the life of real people on the ground in Iran during some of these changes.

May

  • Hillbilly Elegy – by J.D. Vance. This was a memoir that I selected for my social book group. I didn’t really care for it. I think some of the lines he draws between Appalachian culture(s) and the dysfunction he experienced growing up are tenuous at best and speak to a lifestyle many of us experienced to lesser or greater degrees who have no Appalachian ties. It does also chronicle the life of a person subjected to such high degrees of dysfunction who made it out and built something new for himself and his family. That last part is important to recognize and Vance acknowledges his good fortune – opportunity, luck, and the investment people made in him for his success. He also recognizes that he is one of the lucky ones who made it out. I relate to so many parts of his story; that might be why I am so blasé about it.  And it is a fairly quick read (5 hours or so.)
  • Bullied: Tales of Torment, Identity, and Youth – by Keith Berry. I selected this book for my doctoral qualitative research methods course. It sounded interesting, a current topic, and was focused on k-12 experiences – mostly secondary experiences. The book is an auto-ethnographic account relying on student auto-ethnographies in a communications course and interlaced with the author’s own auto-ethnography about his experiences with bullying. The students and I enjoyed the read. It explored tensions and the normalcy of bullying in families and school settings as well as the lasting effects of bullying. It was a good book with many good lessons to learn. It was a bit longer read – probably around 8-10 hours, the print is small, and it was kind of dense but accessible.
  • You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down – by Alice Walker. I hadn’t read any Alice Walker and have been wanting to read more literature written by African American authors. As one of the preeminent Black feminists and having just read an article written by her daughter about her parenting, I thought I would pick up this little book and learn more about Alice Walker’s writing. The essays were mesmerizing and layered with complexity and meaning making. I can see why she has been such a powerful force. I can see some of the feminism of the 60s/70s resonate through these essays. She tackles some complex topics related to Black women, race, gender…it was powerful. It was a short read – approximately 3-4 hours. Walker gives the reader much to think about.
  • Persepolis 2 – by Marjane Satrapi. This is the sequel to the first (no duh). Since the first book left off with a bit of a cliffhanger in Marjane’s youth, this book follows her through her teen years into adulthood and from one country to another. This book covers some of the history of Iran that I knew a bit more about because this occurred during my life. However, it also illuminated for me how little I heard, learned, and know about Iran and contemporary history of the region. Again, a short read, approximately 2-3 hours and great illustrations.
  • Critical Understandings of Research – Author unknown for the moment. This was a manuscript review for Sage. The book should be forthcoming so I will say nothing more than it is a fairly comprehensive volume, weighing in (at least when I read it) around 400 pages. It would be an excellent book for a doctoral level intro to or principles of research methods course as it covers a lot of ground that is too often taken for granted and not explained well to graduate students. I’ll be happy to provide more insights once it is published and available for course adoption.

June

  • Muslim Cool: Race, Religion, and Hip Hop in the United States – by Su’ad Abdul Khabeer. I selected this book for my doctoral qualitative research methods course. It is an ethnographic account of Black Muslims and hip hop in Chicago, Illinois. I selected this book because this is peripherally connected to my dissertation research, sounded interesting, and since many of my students for this class were Muslim, I thought it might be interesting for them. Anyways, there is a lot of good history here about hip hop, Chicago, and African Americans. The connections Khabeer draws between Islam and hip hop are on point. I feel like this book and Jeff Chang’s book on hip hop provide a good history of this genre of music. This was an easy read, took about 8 hours or so, and was illuminating.
  • Qualitative Inquiry: Past, Present, and Future – by Norm Denzin and Michael Giardina. I selected this book, you guessed it, for my doctoral qualitative research methods course. I selected it because it looked like it would help the students push beyond the basic qual reader, gave some critical perspective to the topics we would cover, and was an edited volume so the students could get a survey of the field of qual studies. There are so many good chapters in this book, every one of them sharing new insights and critiques. I highly recommend this as a more affordable option to the Qual Handbook.
  • Invisible Man – by Ralph Ellison. Originally my son and I were going to read this book together, a couple chapters at a time, and discuss as we went. He picked the book out from the stack on my coffee table I had set out for myself to read this year. I had bought this book as a classic piece of American literature written by an African American. The book is on the lengthier side. As I read, I was imagining Malcolm X and his coming of age in some ways. I think in some ways, at some junctures, it mirrors what I think I know about Malcolm X and his coming into the Nation of Islam. At any rate, there were two major take aways for me: 1) Do we ever really see each other. The character (whose name we never get throughout the book) comes to realize he is invisible to his white colleagues but also realizes he is invisible to his black friends. This has me questioning if we really take the time to see one another or do we just project on others what we wish to see, what we want them to be, and/or how others can best serve us at any particular time. 2) The second thing I took away from this book is the history, as Baldwin highlights in Notes of a Native Son how black people have served, and in many ways continue to serve, a white imaginary. We are both their fears and their hopes. We serve as a means by which white people can assuage their liberal guilt and utilize us as the reason and trophy to fight for equality – in the ways in which they want to fight. If we start getting our own ideas or start fighting for ourselves, it too often turns to us being radical and trying to rush things. Anyways, the book is worth a read.
  • Citizen: An American Lyric – by Claudia Rankine. This was a short read packed with insights, questions, and beautiful artwork. Rankine takes on many of the overt ways in which micro-aggressions work toward the black body and the weight of that. And as a reader, I felt every brick. Some, I have experienced myself. The book is sectioned off – some are brief interactions with friends, co-workers, people in lines; some are critiques of contemporary raced situations, some are plays or essays about contemporary issues affecting black people in different areas of public life. All of it is interspersed with beautiful, jarring, and evocative artwork.
  • The Hate U Give – by Angie Thomas. This is a young adult book so is a fairly quick read. It is heavy, heady, and timely. This book centers on Starr (the main character) who witnesses her friend murdered by a cop. The book engages with the current (ongoing with a lengthy history) spate of police murdering black men and women. It is multilayered in that the reader gets a sense of what it might be like to live with this experience and the struggles of a young person trying to make sense of such a thing, parents both worrying and fighting for their kids against the backdrop of a society that demonstrates a lack of care for what happens to people in these communities; how white people can be allies and how they can’t be allies; and it picks up on many of these tensions while covering poverty, why some kids end up in gangs, and the role gangs serve within the community. There is so much to think about in this book – all of it timely, all of it relevant, all of it urgent. Thomas also weaves in some Tupac, Black Panther Party 10-Point Plan, and current events. I highly recommend this book.

July

  • Milk and Honey – by Rupi Kaur. This is a memoir in poetry and is eloquently beautiful. Kaur chronicles abuse, love, loss, and healing. Each poem is beautiful and illustrative. I can see some of my past experiences within her words as if she was writing about my life. I wish I could express my my inner feelings so cogently in any genre. It was a quick read which I will likely read again to digest and process the depth of the poems and the book in its entirety.
  • Rest in Power: The Enduring Life of Trayvon Martin – by Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. This book was a difficult and painful read. The first third of it was the most difficult to get through. I cried, sobbed really, reading Trayvon’s parents’ words and memories of the days leading up to and immediately following his murder. This book is as much a story of Trayvon’s life as it is about his parents coming into activism as they worked through their pain, brought Trayvon’s case to the media, and pressed the police and prosecutors to bring the murderer to account. The entire case was a tragedy and huge injustice from start to finish. In the end, as difficult as it was to read, it was a story of a family forever changed and their path through grief to find some justice and the work they are engaged in now. It is also a beautiful story about familial love and support, community rallying around and coming to the aid of a family experiencing incomprehensible pain. While difficult, it is well worth the read. It took me longer to get through this book because of that pain. I had to read it in pieces over 3 or 4 days but probably took about 5 or 6 hours overall.
  • The Devil in the White City – by Eric Larson. What can I say about this book? It was an exceptional read. This is the true history of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and one of the world’s first serial killers active at the same time. It is written like a novel so reads well. It is a well researched book that illuminates some Chicago history as one of the United States major cities. The book is nearly 400 pages, so a little bit longer read and well worth the time investment.
  • Multiple Wounds – by Alan Russell. After so much heavy reading, I needed a break so picked up a fiction crime novel. You can read a description of the book on Amazon.com. What I found unique and particularly fascinating about this book was the depth in which the author addressed dissociative identity disorder and Greek mythology. I found both fascinating and an interesting twist in this murder mystery. The book was suspenseful to the end; it held my attention. It was kind of long. In total, I think I spend about 5 hours on it or so.
  • …But I’m Not Racist! Tools For Well Meaning Whites – by Kathy Obear. I read a lot about race, racism, anti-racism, oppression, etc…I was curious about this book. It was one of my free Amazon Prime monthly books and it looked like a short read. It reminded me of Alan Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference book that was really popular in the mid 90s. However, it was a little more pointed and critical than that. At first I thought it wasn’t critical enough, however, after finishing it, I better understand Obear’s positionality. She is approaching the topic of exploring our implicit bias and racist beliefs and actions through mindfulness. Obear asks many critical questions for readers to explore, offers her own experiences of saying or doing something racist and how that made her feel, and she provides many tools for the reader to make use of in addressing their own racist behaviors and confronting racism. My two take aways from this book are: 1) it is not about intent, it is about impact and 2) when someone steps up to tell me that I offended them, they care about me enough to make themselves vulnerable. It was a short read – about 3-4 hours. I highly recommend it to all people and believe that it provides a framework for white people to begin building coalitions to address racism in a variety of communities.
  • Men We Reaped – by Jesmyn Ward. This is Jesmyn Ward’s memoir. It is a testament to systemic poverty and racism, the generational forms of both, and beautifully crafted. It is painful yet insightful and I think speaks to many of the inconsistencies and contradictions that remain in many communities throughout the United States in relation to race and class. The structure of the memoir is unique and engaging. It is hard to read at times yet left me with greater insight and thoughts about how to effect change for people who feel hopeless.
  • Where’d You Go Bernadette? – by Maria Semple. This was an enjoyable read, humorous, suspenseful, and fun. It was fun for me because it is based in Seattle so I could visualize some of the locations and streets mentioned in the book.
  • You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – by Sherman Alexie. This is Alexie’s memoir about his complicated relationship with his mother. As I read this book, I felt a little vouyeristic. From alcoholism, violence, and sexual assault, this book covers many problems that have affected Native American communities. He does a good job of placing these problems within the larger context of history and colonization, which is critically important to understanding how and why these issues have been so prevalent on reservations. It is a heartbreaking read yet pieces felt oddly familiar to much of my own experience and knowledge of friends on the rez I grew up on. I hope that this book can open conversations in the places they need to happen and I worry that non-Natives might read the book and justify their assumptions about Native Americans. This was an uncomfortable read. Alexie’s memoir was beautiful and I was humbled that he shared so much of his inner soul and pain with me as a reader. Because it reads as such a tender piece of his soul, I feel like I want to protect it. I feel as if he confided something precious and deep with me as a reader. A mix of poetry, lyrics, and narrative, sometimes the book sang out and at times it was incredibly funny.
  • The Bell Jar – by Sylvia Plath. This is a feminist contemporary classic that I had been eyeballing for a while. It was a fascinating read that reminded me of the ways in which women were pathologized for having ambition, butting up against stereotypical and social expectations, and becoming depressed because of the glass ceiling. And sadly, I think this is still all too prevalent in modern times. While a good historical piece, it is also current. It is also a sad view into Plath’s world and the personal struggles (and supports) she experienced. Definitely worth the read.

August

  • Learning from Each Other: Refining the Practice of Teaching in Higher Education – by Michele Kozimor-King and Jeffrey Chin. This was another manuscript I reviewed for publication so I will not say much here except for it is an edited volume that covers a lot of ground regarding college teaching, learning, and assessment in Sociology. While centered on Sociology, the chapters draw from the wide body of literature on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, therefore its emphasis extends beyond the discipline. I am happy to share more once it is available for purchase and course adoption.
  • A Man Called Ove – by Fredrik Backman. This was a sad and warm and wonderful book. There isn’t much I can say that won’t give the book away. It was a book with heart that explored the many ways in which humans give and receive love, how community develops, and how love can heal and shape people. It was an enjoyable read that I highly recommend.
  • All American Boys – by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. This book was wow! It was written by two authors in the voice of two teenaged boys. The book gives the reader a window into the complexity of thoughts and self discussions that many of us go through as we struggle with the weight of societal and personal struggles related to equity, social justice, race, police brutality, and so much more. While this is young adult, I highly recommend reading this book alone, with one’s children, as a book group and discussing. There are so many themes to pick up on and discuss. I think this book provides an avenue to bring up some of the difficult conversations too many of us conveniently avoid. This book was for the Young Adult research study book group.
  • Ready Player One – by Ernest Cline. I read this book because it was my university’s Common Read for this academic year. I wasn’t really looking forward to reading it – it is coming out as a movie in early 2018. It was a good book that I ended up enjoying even if it wasn’t my first choice. It is dystopian fiction, set in the future, where corporations run the United States and citizens live their lives within a virtual reality world to escape their miserable existence. The detail of video gaming will captivate some readers while the pop culture references of yesteryear captivated me.
  • The Fire Next Time – by James Baldwin. What can I say? Can one ever have enough Baldwin? I’m thinking not. This book was on fire! The first section was a letter to his nephew about the beauty and struggle of blackness. The second section is more memoir. It is both revelatory and revolutionary. And as usual, Baldwin captures the essence of the racial divide that still plagues the U.S.
  • Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party – by Joshua Bloom and Waldo E. Martin Jr. This is an essential read for anyone wanting to learn about revolution. That must be why it is on the list of books banned from prisons. Black Against Empire is touted as the definitive story of the Black Panther Party. Bloom and Martin spent more than a decade combing through newspapers, talking with former members, and reconstructing the history of the politics of the party, how they gained momentum, how the FBI coordinated with state police to undermine and discredit them, and how the party eventually fell apart. It gives a very thorough accounting of the actors, events, social service projects, and violence that eventually tore the BPP apart. For me, the things that were most important included the founding principles of the party – still quite relevant today, the federal government and local authorities assassination of Fred Hampton and persistent sabotage of the BPP, the alliances made with other groups – across lines of race and class, alliances made with dispossessed and oppressed people around the world, and the community services that were started by the BPP still in existence today. It was a powerful read that highlights how the government can work in clandestine ways to quash resistance and uprising.
  • Night – by Elie Weisel. My English undergrad students would often create lesson plans around this book so it has been on my reading list for many years. This short book is a memoir of Elie’s teen years and life in Buchenwald and Buna concentration camps during Nazi Occupation. This book explores the humanity in inhumane times. How young Elie survived the camps and the horrors he survived are…there really is no way to describe that. Weisel illuminates the shift from life to walking death, love and joy to pain and fear. He shows us how people had hope and underestimated the evil that soon visited their little town. He shows us the darkest part of humanity. I think, especially as the U.S. sits at the precipice of fascism, this book is a must read at this very moment.
  • Dawn – by Elie Weisel. When I bought Night, I bought a volume that included two of his other books. Dawn is Weisel’s first novel. It is grounded in part of his experience and explores what he could have been struggling with. I think more importantly, I think he explores what many Jews who recently relocated to Palestine had to struggle with in the creation of Israel. The tension between maintaining one’s humanity and losing it, life and death, the weight of the decisions we are presented with are all themes that run through this book. It is every bit as powerful as Night.
  • Day – by Elie Weisel. This was the third book in the volume I purchased. This, too, was a novel and a fantastic read. While fiction, it parallels his own life experience and deals with the larger issue of love, loss, death, and self-awareness. This novel picks up years after the protagonist left Buchenwald concentration camp. He has found love but has a hard time giving and receiving/accepting love. He feels the loss of his family and friends deeply and spends his life consumed by memories thus denying himself love, joy, and happiness. How does one move forward after harrowing loss and violence? Is that even possible?
  • Tulalip: From My Heart – by Harriette Shelton Dover. This is Western Washington University’s Common Read for the 2017-2018 school year. Since I grew up on the Swinomish Reservation and in Western Washington, this book intrigued me. The book is a transcription of Harriette Shelton Dover’s memories of her life and the stories she heard her family and community talking about when she was growing up. She recalls memories from her father and other tribe members who were at the signing of the 1855 treaty that established reservations in WA State. Her memories include religion, boarding schools, education, hunting/fishing, how the area changed with development. There is so much in this book to understand and learn from regarding Indian rights, how white settlers stole Native lands, how whites interacted with Natives, displacement and dispossession. It is a powerful read and it reminded me of listening to family and regional history stories from my grandparents. It also offered me an opportunity to reflect on my own family history since my family settled Gig Harbor and made a living off of logging. I had rarely considered who might have been displaced because of my family’s migration to Western WA and the economic displacement of Native peoples to which my family contributed. Definitely worth a read as there is so much to learn about the PNW tribes – the Tulalip, Snohomish, Skykomish, Swinomish, Skagit, etc…
  • Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?: Stories – by Kathleen Collins. This volume of short stories by Kathleen Collins is resplendent in the ways in which she pulls the curtain back on a number of issues related to being black. She explores the shades of blackness, the femininity of black women, our hair, and of course interracial love, amongst other topics. The title of the book is but one essay in this book. Collins’ writing and this compilation of stories reminds me of Alice Walker’s You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down. Each story is mesmerizing, evocative, and probing. A short and insightful read.

September

  • The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man – by James Weldon Johnson. This insightful small novel is eloquently written. It is a story of a biracial man beginning in his childhood. He is as fair skinned as his mother and doesn’t know who his father is until one day a white man, bearing gifts, shows up on their doorstep. He also doesn’t know he is black until he is told to stand with the other black kids in his northeastern progressive school. The story takes place during Jim Crow and follows the protagonist through trials, travel, love, and loss. Johnson raises many questions still relevant today about race, humanity, equality, love, and desire.
  • 13 Reasons Why – by Jay Asher. This book was made into a popular Netflix series and raises many questions about suicide. I haven’t seen the series, my daughter watched it and I caught some parts. I found the critique around the series insightful and on point. I have lost many people close to me by suicide. My experience and that of mental health professionals is that few leave suicide notes behind and revenge suicide is not a thing. As troubling as all of that is and as troubling as the current infatuation this generation seems to have with youth death, the book brings up many things worth conversation with teens – sexual assault, objectification of women, parent/child communication, bullying, amongst others. The book was a suspenseful read. I couldn’t put it down and read through it in one day. I’ll have to watch the series to see if my thinking holds up. As a side note, this is a book (and I suspect a series) that parents should read/watch with their kid and have discussion about. If nothing else, we should all learn more about suicide and how to identify some of the signs and help those in need. This book was for the YA research book group.
  • Who We Be: The Colorization of America – by Jeff Chang. This book is so good. I love Jeff Chang’s work (I believe I mentioned this earlier). This book is a deep dive collating art social justice movements, activism, and race. Chang shows how the arts have ebbed and flowed as racism has shapeshifted. There is so much to say about this book but the one thing I will say is it is delightfully constructed with beautiful images of artwork by people of color trying to push through the all too white art world. Well worth the time to read this book and digest the many messages.
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – by Maya Angelou. A literary classic, this memoir stands heads above so many others. The prose is poetic, the memories so clear. This book is a series of heartbreaking memories of Maya and her brother’s childhood and their relationship with their parents, grandparents, uncles, and communities. There is so much love, so many challenges bordering on desperation, and situations with few easy answers. Maya Angelou had as good, yet difficult, a childhood in the Jim Crow south as could be expected in that time period given the circumstances surrounding why she and her brother came to live with their paternal grandmother. As the reader, I could feel the love and respect Maya has for her brother and grandmother, her own insecurities about her appearance, the tension between her and her mother, and the desire for her father to love her as a father should.

October

  • Lilac Girls – by Martha Hall Kelly. This was a book for my regular book club, a historical novel about a WWII women’s concentration camp, Ravensbrück. The book followed three women through various aspects of their lives leading to a point where their lives intertwine: an American woman who was a philanthropist and was the inspiration for the book, Caroline Ferriday; a German woman who was sufficiently propagandized into Naziism and became a Nazi doctor at the concentration camp, Herta Oeberheuser; and a Polish woman who ended up in the concentration camp, Kasia Kuzmerick. The book is grounded in the real lives of Caroline and Herta, Kasia is more composition of many of the women who survived the concentration camp. The book was well researched and exquisitely written, a real tour de force.
  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B – by Teresa Toten. This was a book for my YA research group. It was an excellent book that dealt with a group of teens/young adults dealing with OCD and learning to cope in a sometimes chaotic world. The book made me laugh and cry. It was raw in moments and full of hope in others. It was well researched and really seemed to capture some of the tensions of someone dealing with mental health issues and balancing their meds and complications in life. It opened my eyes to some of the anxieties that some of my friends and family deal with – although at a lesser level than the characters in the book. For me it highlighted some of the magical thinking that can occur when someone with some of these problems faces in a very real and raw way.
  • The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options – by Walter D. Mignolo. I have been wanting to read this book for some time. I have read a lot of postcolonial literature and firmly place my thinking within the postcolonial realm. However, this book takes a slightly different turn. Mignolo traces colonialism to approximately 1500 and then illuminates the shifts and turns of coloniality/imperialism – colonialism being the darker side of imperialism. And here “darker” serves a couple of different purposes: 1) darker as in more nefarious because of the violence and atrocity that was colonialism and 2) darker as in imperialism was for Europe and those aligned with whiteness, thus colonialism was for the brown and black people. Colonialism as it emerged in the 16th Century defined time/space, Dark Ages/Enlightenment, human/barbarian…anyways, the list can go on. A couple of things that I got out of this book beyond more deep history (which is always a welcome addition to my thinking about how the world works and why it works in the way it does) involve the colonial matrix of power which involves defining knowledge and subjectivity, race, gender, and sexuality, authority, and economy and who controls these things; a break from Cartesian thinking (the mind over body and “I think, therefore I am”) to expand and reorient that thought with “I am where I think and do” – basically our thinking is grounded by who we are in relation to Empire/geo-graphic location of our thinking/and all of our intersectional identities; and that decolonialism is grounded in action. It seems one of the primary take aways from this dense and lengthy book is that decoloniality calls for a pluriversality rather than universality – we can all be different and exist as equals within our spaces and the world (I’m way over simplifying here) and decoloniality can exist in the same space with rewesternization, dewesternization, etc…and Mignolo thinks this is where the world is heading because it is not possible to lock the subaltern out of knowledge acquisition and construction any longer. Now previously colonized peoples are creating their own intellectual theories that rely upon their own indigenous epistemologies, meaning the Western epistemologies are moving from center to sharing space with a growing body of  knowledge. Overall, this is a very hopeful book if one is looking at the chaos of the world right now and is dismayed at the way things are going. Further, this book, while dense, is I think pretty accessible to non-academics.
  • Race Frameworks: A Multidimensional Theory of Racism and Education – by Zeus Leonardo. First, I love Zeus Leonardo’s work. I have been a huge fan of his thinking and scholarship for some time now. When I saw this book, I knew that I had to read it. And it did not disappoint. He very carefully works through his thinking about some different theoretical approaches to understanding and exploring race: Critical Race Theory, Marxism, Whiteness Studies, Anti-Racism, Cultural Studies. He hits on some of the strengths from these theoretical foundations and discusses the shortcomings of these theories that leave us all a little less critical of race and racism and that do not push the discussion toward some form of resolution. What Leonardo is calling for is a post-racial world, in fact, he sees this coming in some ways – from racial ambivalence to what could be summarized as the global movements of people. By post-racial, he is not talking about the nonsense post-racial “America” that was touted after Obama’s election but decentering race or “pigmentocracy” (p. 164) as a social organizing principle. We have a ways to go toward this, however, his argument makes sense in light of the racial anxiety we are witnessing within and outside of the United States. The times are calling for the demise of race and racism as societal organizing principles. Overall, this was a hopeful book and aligned well with Mignolo’s The Darker Side of Western Modernity. It is a dense academic read that I would recommend in a graduate level course.

November

  • Hitching Rides With Buddha – by Will Ferguson. This was a book for my regular book club. It was a lengthy and enjoyable read. I would call it a travel memoir of sorts. Will Ferguson chronicled his hitchhiking travel from the southern tip of Japan to the northern tip, following the cherry blossom blooms. Along the way he meets many interesting Japanese people who always tell him that the Japanese do not stop for hitchhikers. His travels bring about many humorous moments, descriptions of landmarks, some regional history, and some Japanese mythology. It is insightful to Japanese culture in some ways yet more importantly, it illuminates traveler culture (if either of these things can be earnestly described.) Definitely worth the read, although not my first choice. I think after reading this book, I will be more likely to read more travel logs.
  • Gabi, A Girl in Pieces – by Isabel Quintero. This book was one of my Young Adult research group books. It was so good. This book covers a lot of ground exploring racial identity, anti-Mexican attitudes, a girl trying to find her place in the world  and figure out who she is amid dysfunctional family relationships and complex friend issues. Gabi has high aspirations for her life beyond high school as she is learning to navigate the complexities within her family and amongst her best friends. Her two friends, one male one female have a lot on their own plates. One friend has come out as gay to his parents, the other is pregnant. Gabi’s mom holds fairly conservative views based upon her own upbringing and experiences that Gabi, herself struggles to reconcile. I think some of the conflict and struggles in the book are relevant to many teens, while other parts of the book might speak more to Mexican American youth or youth of color. A very good book.

December

  • The Rose that Grew from Concrete – by Tupac Amaru Shakur. This book of poetry was compiled by Afeni Shakur (Tupac’s mother) and his manager Leila Steinburg. Through learning a little bit about Tupac and his life from a recent motion picture (All Eyez on Me), when I ran across this book in Urban Outfitters (I know, I am just learning about their business practices and am now no longer shopping there), I bought it. From the movie I learned that Tupac was a thespian, a poet, insightful, generous, sincere, and sensitive. So I really wanted to read his poetry. His poetry, like his raps, give a glimpse into his brilliance, life he saw around him, his deep emotion for those around him. His words are truths – some so deep and moving that as the reader, I felt some of the weight on his shoulders as some of that weight is similar to weights that have been on my shoulders from time to time.
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI – by David Grann. What can I say about this book? Wow. The depths of human depravity are awesome, in the greatest sense of the word – not wonderful, just awesome depravity. This book illustrates two intertwining moments (or eras, rather) in U.S. history – one too easily forgotten and rarely told and the other, etched into communal memory for those with knowledge of criminal justice, criminology, and the history of law enforcement in this country. Grann does a deep dive into primary and secondary documents, and interviewed family members of the Osage that were murdered during the Reign of Terror. Just when the (a) crime is solved, there is more to the mystery, to the story, to the book and Grann digs deeper, returns to the evidence he unearthed on his journey, revisits family members, and widens his circle to learn more and share it with his audience. Without giving anymore away, I can say these few things: I feel that the work he did might bring about some closure, some peace to the family members still struggling with the murder or mysterious death of family members. I also think he contributed a significant work to our understanding of U.S. and Native American history. This book illuminates, once again, how Native Americans were and still are viewed by dominant society and how the poor treatment of the first peoples has long reaching consequences for, I would argue, all of us.
  • Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit – by Daniel Quinn. A friend and colleague suggested and loaned me this book to read. He said it changed the way he thought of his place within the world. Having read many books like this, I was intrigued. So I read it. And it is a wonderful and powerful story. Quinn explores how modern society came to be as it currently is, the consequences of that “progress”, and how to avert the overwhelming evidence that suggests we are heading toward an extinction event. And I think he is absolutely correct in his analysis. One big take away for me was the idea of cultural amnesia – whoo damn! That is the hallmark of modernity. Our history as modern humans is pretty shallow as compared to the totality of human history and we have managed to do so much damage in such a short time (anthropologically speaking). While the book is about 25 years old, it is all the more relevant as we sit at the precipice of world wide extinction due to climate change and Quinn gives us so many things to consider about speciation (I’m not sure that is the correct term but I’m sticking with it.) This was a fairly quick read and well worth the time if one is considering what is going on, how we got here, and what can we do about it now. It also aligns well with Mignolo’s The Darker Side of Western Modernity and as a novel, it could be used for academic ends or just for pleasure reading.
  • Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times – edited by Carolina De Roberts. It has been one year after the abomination of the 2017 Presidential election. I picked up this book at a time that I needed to refill my cup of hope and had started it months ago but put it down. I was/am still too angry. The first few chapters I read were too painful. I was still grieving a rational and human presidency. However, I picked it up again to close out my reading for the year and I’m glad I did. Yes, many of the chapters are still painful. Yes, I’m still angry. Yes, my cup of hope is still low. Many chapters in the book are letters, letters written to children, friends, long gone relatives, yet to be born relatives, friends, historical figures. It is a beautiful compilation of the thoughts of leading contemporary writers, scholars, activists, and more. The rainbow of humanity is represented within this volume and it is a glorious, mournful, and yes, hopeful compilation. There are so many take aways in this book but I will leave you with this: “Please know I see our salvation in the Democratic Party, in centrist liberalism, hardly more than in the Republican. Our salvation lies in our grasping the connection between us and the power it confers, and in understanding the self-deceit involved in handing it over to a man like [45 or BLOTUS (Biggest Liar of the United States) as I prefer to call him] (even as, I agree, Hillary Clinton would not have shifted the bedrock of what ails us).” (Boris Fishman, p. 117). And this quote: “Now is not the time to fake it. If you don’t know, spend some time getting to know yourself and what you like to do. And whatever your career path, one of the best things you can do to ensure your future is to be a politically engaged citizen at every level: electoral politics, community activism, and direct action” (Aya De Léon, p. 138). So, if you, like me, are mourning the recent past when we were taking strides to protect the planet from increasing climate change, putting a dent in sexual assault – from backlogs of rape kits to campus sexual assault, doing right by the most vulnerable amongst us, working to realize the modest dreams of DREAMERS, or any other human, social justice, science and evidence based rationality, pick this book up, mourn, recharge, and get busy.

And after all this reading – extensive reading – one would think I spent all of my free time this year reading. I did not. I watched a lot of TV, went on several trips for work (Spokane, Portland, San Antonio, DC, and Chicago), attended my great uncle’s funeral in Gig Harbor, organized my daughter’s graduation event, had family over, took my kid to her college orientation in Western WA, returned again to move her in a month later, and returned a month after that for family weekend. I hung out with friends, went to the movies, had surgery and was laid up on meds, worked my full-time job, dealt with legal issues related to two different Trusts, sold two properties related to one of the Trusts, moved my son out of his house and into mine, watched some college football, hung out with my dogs, reviewed manuscripts and articles, prepared 6 scholarly presentations, advised a student group, participated in orientation counselor interview and selection, drove over 3000 miles within Washington State, and so much more. I led a full life. This year I read niche history books, poetry, arts/multimedia types of books, graphic novels, young adult novels, historical novels, regular adult novels, academic works…I read a lot of really great stuff. If I can up my reading game, so can you. It was not hard or laborious and once I got into the roll, I read much more and much more quickly. I’m not sure if I’ll continue to challenge myself but I do know I will keep up some level of reading above what it previously was. I learned so much about a wide array of topics. The books I read forced me to delve deeper into history, race, the arts, activism, and so many other topics. And out of all these books, I only felt 2 were a waste of my time while about 2/3 of the list were unbelievably amazing. Even the majority of the 1/3 that I didn’t highlight as being some of my favorites were still very very good. This was a journey so worth taking.

Books I am slowly reading:

  • Orientalism by Edward Said
  • A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World’s Most Intractable Conflict by Gershon Shafir
  • Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity by Jeffrey Alexander, Ron Eyerman, Bernhard Giesen, Neil Smelser, and Piotr Sztompka
  • Out of Place: A Memoir by Edward Said

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