Books

Books: Becoming

Michelle Obama describes herself as an “ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey.” I enjoyed her book Becoming, because it was really about her with just a small amount of politics thrown in to add context. Michelle is an ambitious person, but not necessarily in the political realm.

She was a reluctant first lady, but was, and continues to be a fierce promoter of women’s rights, education for girls throughout the world, and childhood nutrition. I related to her stories of being a working mom of two young daughters, trying to balance career and motherhood. Whether you’re a former first lady or not, we all just want safety, love, and opportunity for our children.

She had a simple childhood in a lower class Chicago neighborhood with hardworking parents who did everything they could for Michelle and her older brother. She was a good student who worked hard and got into Princeton with a scholarship. She writes of her childhood “I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it.”

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(Image from amazon.com)

In Becoming, Michelle does not shy away from the challenges of being married to a politician who eventually would be president. There were many missed dinners while she was alone at home with two young children. She was thrown into being publicly criticized about superficial topics like a sleeveless dress she once wore. There was exhaustion to the point of tears.

She writes of trying to give her daughters some level of normalcy during their time in the White House. She shares stories of stressing out about finding a warm hat for Sasha before the inaugural address, and of her and Barack (both barefooted) greeting Malia’s prom date in the White House with Malia begging her dad not to embarrass her. She writes of the Secret Service accompanying her to Target.

At the end of the day, we all face our various challenges. Becoming does not seem like a cry for pity or political support, but rather a heartfelt reminder that we are all works in progress. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.

Books

Books: The Moment of Lift

Before I read The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates, I knew two facts about the author: She is married to Microsoft legend and billionaire Bill Gates, and she is extremely wealthy.

What I did not know, but would soon find out, is that Gates is a compassionate, kind, and strong woman. She is a hard-worker, who, like her husband, has had a great deal of success. Probably most meaningful to me is that she goes to the far ends of the world to use that success to help others.

The Moment of Lift is about what happens when women are empowered throughout the world. Gates writes that empowering women is not only beneficial to women, but to everyone. The Gates Foundation works with underprivileged women in many countries. Gates is passionate about making vaccines and contraceptives accessible, and breaking down barriers to gender equality.

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Gates also writes about the failure of economists to acknowledge unpaid work, especially by women. Statistically speaking, in no country do men contribute the same amount of household (unpaid) work as women. She also writes about even more troubling topics like laws allowing women to be abused and misogynistic practices like female genital mutilation, still widely practiced throughout the world.

Gates tells about her own experiences with sexism, especially within her first few years at Microsoft. She was fresh out of college, a 22-year-old woman in a male-dominated company. Yet, she also acknowledges how fortunate she has been.

She writes “Some of you might be thinking “Oh no, the privileged lady is tired of being the last one in the kitchen all by herself. But she doesn’t have to get up before the sun. Her kids don’t have to take the bus. Her childcare support is reliable. She has a partner who is willing to help with the kids and do the dishes. I know. I know. I’m describing my scene not because it’s a problem but because it’s my vantage point on the problem.

The Moment of Lift brings to light the fact that women are still second-class citizens in much of our world. Yet, there is a great deal of hope for improvement when people seek to empower one another. That’s not something we need to be billionaires to do.

Books

Books: The Testaments

How about a little feminist dystopian literature to kick off the holiday season? I am ashamed to say I only just read The Handmaid’s Tale for the first time a few months ago. It rocked my world in a way only the genius of Margaret Atwood can. I have read some of her other work, and the woman is just downright amazing.

I haven’t watched any of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale (and likely won’t) so this review is strictly based on the two books. Despite being late to the game to read Atwood’s classic novel, published in 1985, it did prepare me to read The Testaments, the follow-up novel published this summer.

The Testaments places the reader back in the dystopian world of Gilead (formerly the United States) and alternates between the points of view of three different women. You might think from the beginning that one of them is Offred, the main character of The Handmaid’s Tale, but that would be wrong. Gilead is a place where women are regarded as objects merely for reproductive purposes. They are executed regularly and abused on a daily basis.

Atwood creates this place and the characters in it with dark artistry. Her dialogue is clever, like one narrator saying: “Torture is like dancing. I’m too old for it.” After finishing The Handmaid’s Tale, most of us were left wondering what happened to Offred and if she was ever reunited with her family.

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Mild spoiler alert:

Just when Atwood has us thinking there’s no hope, she has an evil character do good, and reunites a mother with her two children in some of the most beautiful writing I have ever encountered.

“She smelled right. It was like an echo of a voice you can’t quite hear.”

In true Atwood style, much is left up to the reader’s interpretation, but I finished the book certain that Offred’s fate was a relatively happy one and that Gilead would surely fall.

 

 

Books

Books: Three Women

I wasn’t far into Three Women by journalist Lisa Taddeo when I knew I was reading something very important in the world of women’s studies and feminist literature. I felt it immediately belonged on my shelf next to The Feminine Mystique and Fear of Flying. The book was published this summer and I grabbed a copy as soon as it hit shelves.

Three Women tells the stories of three real women in various stages of life, navigating relationships in three different parts of the country. There is Maggie, a 20-something recovering from the trauma of having an affair with her teacher while she was in high school. Then there is Lina, a housewife whose husband refuses to kiss her. Finally there is Sloane, a successful restaurant owner whose husband suggests they bring other people into their bedroom.

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Taddeo followed these women and interviewed them extensively over several years. This immersion into their lives made the narrative very relatable and descriptive. I found myself really rooting for these three women, even with their flaws. After all, it is our flaws that make us real.

There is a great deal of sexual content in the book as told through the three women’s points of view, so be forewarned if you’re offended by that kind of thing. I found it critical to understanding the point Taddeo makes in the book when it comes to sexism in the world of male and female desire. Although all three of these women’s stories seem a bit extreme, there are pieces I believe any of us can relate to as human beings. We want to be loved. We want to be important to someone.

Books

Books: Where the Crawdads Sing

I had been wanting to read Where the Crawdads, the debut novel by Delia Owens, for almost a year. It came out last August and has been on my running “books to read” list since then. I finally got around to it this summer, and it did not disappoint.

The novel tells the story of Kya Clark, the “marsh girl,” living by herself in rural North Carolina in the 1960s. After a local man is found dead, Kya is arrested for murder. Owens’ background in nature and ecology is evident in her writing.

I really loved this book. The characters are interesting and well-developed. I was struck by the beautiful imagery combined with the underlying theme of how society treats those who are different.

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I have been caught up in the emotional throes of sending my firstborn to kindergarten this week, so stay tuned for more on that. She is doing great. Me? I’m all out of Kleenex.

Books

Books: Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love

Maybe it’s the South Dakota ranch girl in me or my years as an avid 4-H member, but the origins of our food sources have always interested me. Regardless of where we live, I think it is important that we are aware of where our food is coming from and that we instill that knowledge in our children. It was only natural, then, that Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love by Simran Sethi caught my eye at the local library.

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Before you get depressed just looking at the cover, Sethi is not talking about the real, complete loss of these foods, but rather the loss of diversity in our cultivating and marketing of foods like coffee, chocolate, and wine. Worldwide, when huge corporations are taking over, we lose that diversity, not to mention we put the livelihoods of many at risk.

Sethi encourages us to be aware of where our food is coming from, and be willing to, at times, spend a little more to sustain small food producers. She describes sitting down to an elegant meal and truly thinking of all the people involved in bringing that dinner to her plate.

Sethi also speaks to the self-described foodie in me. I love trying new foods and have yet to find one I would shy away from. I eat Rocky Mountain oysters straight off the branding fire.

Sethi writes: “Great tastes are everywhere. Sometimes they’re fancy, but most of the time they are not. Finding those tastes requires less of an open wallet and more of an open mind and heart.”

Sethi finishes the book with a chapter on octopus and its place as one of the most memorable meals in her life. She writes: “To most a solo meal isn’t a courageous act, but to me, it was because it revealed my vulnerability around being alone and, in being by myself, feeling like I was settling. Now I know I’m not I was not actually alone. I was with myself, having one of the very best meals I have ever tasted, surrounded by people celebrating the same.”

Bread, Wine, Chocolate provides an interesting and educational look at food. It explores the science of our food sources as well as the economic impact our decisions have. Above all, it encourages us to be aware as we purchase and enjoy the foods we love.

Books

Books: If You Only Knew

I will confess that I was not in love with the first half of Jamie Ivey’s If You Only Knew. She seemed to wallow in guilt and judgment. Rather than promoting positivity and moving forward, she seemed obsessed with reliving her past mistakes.

Then came the chapter on sin shock and acceptance and I said “wow.” Ivey writes about how we say we accept others and believe we can be forgiven for all sin, but when someone really confesses, we are shocked. We have an “I would never do that” mentality when it comes to accepting and forgiving others.

Despite being happy in her present life, Ivey is ashamed of many parts of her past. She also writes about perceived perfection and our need to free ourselves from it. I particularly liked the chapter in which Ivey writes about confessing about shameful parts of her past to a new friend. The woman loved her and accepted her no matter what, and became one of closest friends. She writes “something beautiful happens when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.” I love that statement and it is something I need to work on in my own life.

If You Only Knew is a quick read and, at least for me, it was completely worth powering through the wallowing part of the book to get to the messages in the second half. Ivey surrendering to self-pity makes her story of hope more relatable, because we have all done that at one point or another. Now I’m onto some historical fiction so I’ll post that review soon. Stay tuned.

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(Image from amazon.com)