Happy Near Year! I read so much good nonfiction in 2023. It has been difficult to cull through and name a few favorites.
I think it’s especially hard because different books meet different people in different ways—or even meet the same person in different ways at different times. I’m very aware that for a book to really impact me, my mood and circumstances and the things that happen to be on my mind at that point of time all need to align with something the book is saying. Sometimes perfectly lovely books just aren’t what I need in that moment; it doesn’t mean they aren’t awesome in their own awesome ways.
Anyhow, all the caveats aside, I do have five totally-biased, highly personal favorites. In no particular order, along with a quote I jotted down from each one:
- Equal Partners: Improving Gender Equality at Home, by Kate Mangino
Mangino writes: “Yes, caregiving can be exhausting, painful, and tedious. But caregiving can also be one of life’s more beautiful and rewarding experiences. Caregiving for various people in my life has taught me patience, love, appreciation for a range of gifts and abilities, and the understanding that finances are not the only indicator of success. Caregiving triggers a sense of selflessness and humility that, I believe, make us better people. I would not be the person I am today had I not been a caregiver in my life, and I am sad that our culture discourages men from having these experiences” (29).
I reflected a little more on this book—and on a particular group discussion about it—over here.
- In Defense of Witches: The Legacy of the Witch Hunts and Why Women Are Still on Trial, by Mona Chollet
This one was a little on the denser side, but totally mind-blowing. To understand where we’re at in our patriarchal and misogyny-soaked world, we have to understand the history of witch hunts. (Actual witch hunts, not when powerful white men claim there’s a “witch hunt” against them. Which is not cool. At all.)
Chollet writes: “The witch-hunts’ toll of human lives remains deeply disputed and will probably never be established with certainty. In the 1970s, there was talk of a million victims, or possibly many more. These days, we talk instead of between 50,000 and 100,000. These figures exclude those who were lynched, who committed suicide or who died in prison—whether from the effects of torture or due to the poor conditions of their imprisonment. Others who did not lose their lives were banished instead or saw their reputation and that of their family ruined. Yet all women, even those who were never accused, felt the effects of the witch-hunts. The public staging of the tortures, a powerful source of terror and collective discipline, induced all women to be discreet, docile and submissive—not to make any waves. What’s more, one way or another, they were compelled to assume the conviction that they were the incarnation of evil; they were forcibly persuaded of their own guilt and fundamental wickedness” (17).
Witch hunts were total terrorism, specifically designed to terrorize women into not straying from a diminished, oppressed, subordinate position in Western societies.
Hella sobering and disturbing. Also so, so important.
- Rest is Resistance, by Tricia Hersey
Hersey writes: “The body has information. The trauma response is to keep going and to never stop. Grinding keeps us in a cycle of trauma; rest disturbs and disrupts this cycle. Rest is an ethos of reclaiming your body as your own…What miraculous moments are you missing because you aren’t resting?” (81)
My goodness, I think about this one a lot. The idea of emotional labor—that it’s real, and really valuable, and yet really really devalued in our hyper-capitalist, sexist, racist world where women and people of color are expected to do so much of it. All the time.
Hackman writes: “With these ongoing emotion-geared performances, our position as women in both professional and personal settings is firmly established in the world: the caregiver, the appeaser, the listener, the empath, the subordinate. Is it bad to express empathy? No. Is it bad to use emotions to help others? No. But the expectation that we as women, and we alone, are the main bearer of this burden is no longer sustainable. Our emotional bank accounts are overdrawn, and yet our survival and advancement in this society continue to depend on us doing this invisible work. Such expectations point to an unsettling and enduring distribution of power we have become inured to. These expectations are not only the consequences of living in a male-dominated society. In many ways…they are one of the main reasons we are still in one” (5).
Harper writes: “There is no way around it: we must wade in, face the realities and costs of the hierarchies of human belonging that we constructed in our nation’s earliest years. We must face the cost and figure out how to pay it. If we don’t wade into the water, we will find ourselves in this same place ten generations from now, with new interactions of control and confinement for people of African descent on the basis of Whitewashed Jesus read through the lens of empire” (32).
Well. I wrote down a few more reflections on Fortune here.
So those are my totally-biased personal top five. But there were so many other good ones, too. A few other standouts:
- I read The Sun Does Shine recently—Anthony Ray Hinton’s memoir of spending thirty years on death row in Alabama for a crime he didn’t commit. Riveting and mind-opening. Can we go ahead and abolish the death penalty now?
- I read Elizabeth Weinberg’s Unsettling: Surviving Extinction Together and found it so lovely that I wrote some reflections on it for Sojourners.
- I really enjoyed Angela Garbes’ Like a Mother, as a feminist, social-justice-minded take on all things pregnancy-related. (Which feels important because, as Garbes writes, “there aren’t any easy answers to questions about pregnancy—they are all political. To deny this is a luxury we can’t afford” .)
- I found myself taking tons and tons of notes on Sensuous Knowledge: A Black Feminist Approach for Everyone by Minna Salami. A little more academic, but a great read for anyone ready to question the most basic underpinnings of (Western patriarchal white supremacist) ways of thinking about knowledge and philosophy and all the things.
- I always appreciate indigenous theologian Randy Woodley’s voice, and I thought Decolonizing Evangelicalism was well worth reading for anyone who wants to, well, do exactly that.
- I appreciated the perspectives offered (especially by people from communities on the front lines of the climate crisis) in Not Too Late: Changing the Climate Story from Despair to Possibility, edited by Rebecca Solnit and Thelma Young Lutunatabua. So much so that I reflected on it for Christians for Social Action here.
Have you enjoyed some of these? Interested in reading them? Have thoughts or questions? I’d love to hear.
Wishing you a 2024 full of learning, growth, and good books,