I’m always on & on about how reading shifts a person’s perspective, gives them insight into feelings, struggles, and points of view that they’d never otherwise know.
But, still, it’s shocking, that jolting moment when I’m reading a book that forces me to reckon with how much I don’t know.
I came out in the mid-1990s. It was tough in various ways. But nothing, NOTHING like what the young gay men chronicled in this book experienced. I don’t often consider my whiteness in relation to my queerness—and how much privilege it gives me. I do know that racism is alive and real in the gay community, just like it is in America at large. But DAMN, I didn’t realize how vulnerable, often alone, and at-risk ALL gay youth are—but especially young folks who are BOTH LGBTQ and POC.
The author conducted hours and hours of interviews with the young gay men living in NYC, so each of them comes across as multifaceted and complex (instead of whittled down to a “victim” stereotype). He doesn’t pull any punches outlining the ways the gay community, in our rush to assimilate and convince straight folks there’s nothing to see here, has failed our own young people.
This book is sobering. But it’s eye-opening. And it’s real. If you happen to be a white, LGBTQ person, I urge you to go pick up this book at the library. Then let’s talk about how we can do better.
Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn lays out a meandering history of two prominent Atlanta families: the Allens and the Dobbs.
Both instrumental in guiding Atlanta toward living into its promise. Both local royalty in their own right. Both produced Mayors of the City Too Busy to Hate.
One was white. One was black.
Through this whopping 550 page narrative, Gary M. Pomerantz masterfully wove storytelling and history. Each page was a delight.
Reading this tome beefed up my understanding of Atlanta history. And it laid bare the wounds of racism that, at times, have almost torn the city apart. But it also uncovered brave acts by members of each family-that lead Atlanta toward a more egalitarian footing. But the little glimpses of the BIG names in Atlanta being so utterly human—for better and for worse—are what really immersed me in the saga.
I was completely taken with both these families. I admire Ivan Allen, Jr. wholeheartedly for the way he shifted his views on race through his life. The quiet ways he did the right thing resonated with me.
And Maynard Jackson, Jr…. Let me tell you, I would give almost anything to zip back in time to be at his first inaugural address—to see him do what the old school white establishment said he could not. To see him win.
But I’ll have to settle for sending my daughter to the Southeast Atlanta High School that bears his name. And that feels pretty good, too.
True confession time: I’d never read a graphic novel before Hey, Kiddo.
But, of course, the first graphic novel I grab is a memoir that tackles super-heavy stuff like addiction, loss, and belonging. Because tights and capes are overrated.
I picked Hey, Kiddo specifically because it addresses addiction. I often wonder about how to talk to my own kid about recovery (I’ve been sober for 10 years). And I was eager to see if a graphic novel could stand up to the challenge of representing the ugly, heartbreaking side of having an active addict as a parent.
It did. And it was brutal.
But it was often hopeful. And funny.
I loved Jarrett’s emotional journey toward finding his peace with his family as-is. Because, addiction or not, we all have to reckon with the family we’ve been dealt. We can embrace their idiosyncrasies, forgive their faults, own our part in the whole giant mess, and love them anyway…or not. We can create our own families with friends we collect along the way. And, no matter who we are or how we grew up, we can break the cycle of abuse, addiction, neglect.
My ultimate takeaway (a pretty powerful one for teenagers reading this book): Your family contributes to who you are. They do not define you. They are part of your story. The beginning. Only you can decide what happens from there.
Hey, Kiddo is not always a happy story. But it’s a real story. I respect that.
Amy Bloom’s collection of stories, Where the God of Love Hangs Out, sucked me in right away. I didn’t even mean to read the dang book. I was just moving it to a new location and, on a whim, flipped open to the first page. By the end of the first paragraph, I was hooked.
It’s not magical writing. Quite the opposite. The realism of her prose that drew me in. Not gritty. Just straightforward. The simple moments that slip into big ones. The miniscule choices we make that amount to a life upturned, broken wide open to make room for something else. In Bloom’s stories, things don’t turn out like you want them—they turn out the way they likely would if they were unfolding in my life or your own. I found myself nodding, thinking “yes, yes, that’s the way things are sometimes.” It was therapeutic to read a world so unromanticized. Bloom seemed to be nodding at her readers, reminding them that they aren’t alone, that no one’s life works out exactly as they had planned. But still, we all press on. And manage to live vibrant, imperfect lives.
Some of Bloom’s stories build off each other. Those were my favorites. The ones that explored grief, loss, parental relationships, and the ways that love is both more than we expected and so much less. But they all brought forth a nugget of truth for examination. And I loved them for that & for their utter relatability.
I didn’t even mean to read this book. Not really.
I meant to read one of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, because I think they’re Urban Fantasy, and I’m supposed to be checking that out. Like field research for the bookstore.
But this one caught my eye instead. Because Shakespeare’s Trollop is about the best title ever. So, I read it. In just over 24 hours.
This is the kind of book people like to pigeon-hole as frivolous reading–“beach reading” people call it when they’re being polite. But all reading is important… because books will speak to you, if you let them. They’ll meet you where you are and teach you.
Shakespeare’s Trollop made some pretty strong observations about human nature: our willingness to judge others without considering the life events that shaped them; our desire to be in control constantly battling with our need for connection; our drive to categorize and label other people, without acknowledging that people can be multifaceted, complex, and human.
The truth is I didn’t love the protagonist, Lily Bard (but what a GREAT name for a book set in Shakespeare, Arkansas), or feel any real connection to her. Which is usually a deal-breaker for me. But there I went, turning one page after another because I needed to know who had committed the murder in Shakespeare and WHY. Ultimately, I appreciated Harris’ glimpses into human nature (including my own). And her writing. Which is smooth as butter.
The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%.
24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.
But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.
Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.
Sometimes I get too big for my britches. That’s just cold hard truth.
In a short, succinct, and damn powerful book, Austin Channing Brown managed to make me take an honest look at my relationship to whiteness and how I manage that in spaces where I’m working toward racial justice—hell, in any spaces at all. And she kinda took me down a peg.
This book is a hard read. Because it’s honest. But it’s crucial for white folks invested in ending racism. Because that shit is pervasive. And difficult to stamp out, even with the best of intentions. And what will render me totally ineffective–and even harmful–is thinking I understand what it’s really like to move through America as a person of color. And thinking that the systemic racism that pervades America culture has somehow been washed clean from my psyche. This book fully disabused me of that notion. And reminded me that it is a fight every day to undo the assumptions, the misconceptions, the prejudice engrained in me as a white woman.
I champion reading because I believe it changes us to our core. Books can offer perspective entirely different from our own. And because books expect nothing of us, we can process our feelings, our confusion, our defensiveness in the quiet of our own mind. Which is what, if you are white like me, you are going to want to do with this book.
Read it. You’ll be better for it.
I was in the library, minding my own business, when Capitalism in America: A History called out to me. No kidding. I saw it and tried to walk away. But I was pulled back to the shelf—completely against my will.
I am whole-heartedly uninterested in economics. And I’m skeptical of capitalism, in general. Also, it was written by Alan Greenspan, so I figured I’d die of boredom before finishing all of its 450 pages.
Good news! I’m still in the land of the living. And I couldn’t get enough of this book. It’s strong history component keeps it infinitely readable. Which, co-author, Adrian Woolridge likely deserves the credit for—since he’s a historian and a journalist. Capitalism in America broke down the basics of the upward and downward trends of a capitalist economy in a way I could digest without my eyes glazing over.
But the best part was that the argument so skillfully posited in the book ran counter to some of my most deeply held beliefs. So, it did what great books should do: it made me think and question my position. Ultimately, it made me want to know more and prompted a desire to seek out an alternative viewpoint to Greenspan’s. Which means reading more about economics. By choice. How very odd.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this one. It’s a great primer on both American History & economics. And it’s surprisingly engaging. And you’ll feel smarter if you read it. Pinky swear.
Stephen King has been a favorite of mine since I was 12. I was spellbound then, as I am now, by his masterful storytelling (I mean, c’mon, The Shining is second to none). I fell in love with his horror stories, but I’ve come to realize that he can write anything. And that’s real talent.
The Bazaar of Bad Dreams offers a collection of Stephen King’s short(ish) stories. The bizarrely imaginative plots range from a monster car (which is very different than a monster truck, trust me) to an ill-fated fireworks display. My favorites, though, were about an otherworldly Kindle and a sanity threatening Cookie Jar. Really.
Each story has a brief intro, where King explains his inspiration for the story (literary or otherwise). I love that these intros acknowledge that other writers have influenced King’s craft over time… and none more so than the ones he really immerses himself in. Which is likely why so much of the creative work I’ve done recently is heavily Stephen Kingesque. He’s the kind of storyteller whose style and way of envisioning the world colors your own reality. Or at least it colors mine.
I get drawn back to King for the power of his stories but I stay because he’s a magician with words. I didn’t love every story in this collection. But the ones I did love return to my consciousness over and over again. They have staying power. And they are something to aspire to.
I pulled this novel out of a stack being cleaned, sorted, and packaged for the bookstore. I try not to do that very often. If I did, we’d be inundated with books (we already are, truthfully). But I’ve heard about this book since high school, and somehow managed not to have read it yet. So, out it came.
I guess I expected fireworks. The book is pretty famous, after all. But it took me a minute (or a few chapters) to get into it. And then, I was in.
It’s not a page-turning, wait with baited-breath kind of story. It is honest. And uncomfortable. It’s sweet and rough, gut-punching and tender. It’s human. Painfully and beautifully so.
What makes A Tree Grows in Brooklyn so brilliant–and powerful–is the unflinching deconstruction of deeply held notions about poverty, simply by describing daily life for the working poor. Smith constructs a compassionate (but still relatively neutral) narrator to traverse class customs and behaviors, breaking down stereotypes and offering the reader insight.
Francie, the child of an alcoholic father and a work weary mother, feels injustices deeply. She can also get “drunk” on a flower or a perfect night sky. My favorite line in the book is Francie’s: “The last time of anything has the poignancy of death itself.”
Yes! I’ve felt this my whole life, but I’ve never known anyone else to give voice to that feeling. Until now. And that might be one of the best gifts of a good book.