Photograph of the cover of "The Water Dancer" displayed on a tablet.
Photograph of the cover of “The Water Dancer” displayed on a tablet. The tablet sits on red sheets.

My brain has been pretty good so far this year, which is always just a roll of the dice. I’ve probably been able to read at some point every week. I always count my books in the year I finish them, which is a little bit of a cheat, since I read the bulk of my first book this year in December. But, at least I’m consistent.

I don’t make up rules about my reading; I’m grateful to be able to read anything, and what I can read changes based on my cognitive abilities. But I do try to be conscious of whose voices I read. Part of that is about making sure that I’m reading books by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) folks. If you’re a white person who reads, and you aren’t currently paying attention to this, I recommend you do an inventory and some noticing.

Here’s my list so far this year:

On The Come Up by Angie Thomas

I’ll admit, I didn’t love Angie Thomas’s second novel as much as her first. But it was still a good read.

Bri is a 16 year old Black young adult with big dreams of making it as a rapper and changing her future, and that of her family. She’s living in the shadow of her deceased father, who was a local rap legend. She idolizes him, yet also wants to stand on her own, and be seen as her own person. Her dreams are big, and the kind that others often brush off as impractical.

Her voice is her power, but it is also a thing that can get her into trouble. Being a talented Black woman being bussed to a predominantly white school creates a lot of opportunities for conflict and misunderstanding.

Her Aunt has her back, but makes a living as a drug dealer, and affiliates with a gang. Bri wants a world where her aunt has a different life.

Hey mother and brother and friends are there for her, but of course they each have their own agendas and opinions.

Bri isn’t going to let anyone hold her back.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I was excited to read this, and encouraged by a friend who raved about it. The first couple of chapters were hard for me, and might be harder for folks with more brain fog. But I’m so glad I stuck with it.

I would describe the book as an imagined story of slavery and the underground railroad. It is heavy and magical. Full of intrigue, spy craft, analysis of power and inequity. A deep dive into slavery, and to emerging magical abilities.

I’m not sure what else I can say, I think it’s better for the reader to see it unfold.

It’s definitely one I recommend, and my only 5 star rating so far this year.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)


Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

I love memoirs. I don’t generally like collections of essays, just like I don’t like 22 minute television episodes. This was deeper than some, which I appreciate. But something about it didn’t quite capture me. I love that it dove into topics that are real, hard, and not often spoken about, like addiction, sexual assault, family trauma, infertility.

“Publishing these essays has not made me a different person. I still listen too frequently to my inner critic. I still get angry. I still get afraid. But in writing about all the things I felt I could not say, in breaking the unspoken rules of shame, I have changed how I tell my story. And in doing so, I have learned that breaking the silence is not about bravery. It is about what we choose to do with our vulnerability. Vulnerability is not one thing, healing is not one thing, authenticity is not one thing; they are individual, and they are complicated, and they are radical.”

But I tend to seek out those stories, and I guess I’ve liked how others tell them a bit better. I read it partly because of Glennon Doyle’s recommendation, but it was a little disappointing. If you haven’t read much in memoir form on those topics already, you might appreciate it more.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)


So B. It by Sarah Weeks

“Another thing I found out right around that same time is that not knowing something doesn’t mean you’re stupid. All it means is that there’s still room left to wonder.” – Heidi

I like to read some young adult novels once in a while, as they can be easier on my brain. This was such an interesting ride! A young teen, Heidi, lives with her mentally disabled mother, and survives with the help of a kindly agoraphobic neighbor. Heidi has a lot of questions about her history, but her mother has an extremely limited vocabulary, and can’t answer any of them. A quest for those answers, to know who she is by where she came from, ensues.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates

“If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.”

The Moment of Lift was a major player in my library roulette game over a period of six months. I put it on hold, got it, they took it back, I put it on hold, go ti, they took it back, repeat. Maybe six times. I am glad I stuck it out.  It is denser reading than some, so brain fog folks beware.

I do not know how to describe or summarize this book. Part of it is a memoir of Melinda’s life, including her childhood, time at Microsoft, and relationship with Bill.  Part of it is a story of how she, and Bill, have decided what is important to them. Part of it is a story of privilege and humility. And part is a story of the very real impacts of changing women’s access, education, resources and social standing changes the world.

Some of the anecdotes really stuck with me. I appreciated the ways in which Melinda learned that people know more about their place, their community, and what appropriate solutions are than she ever can as an outsider. I enjoyed the stories of when The Gates Foundation chose to allow scope creep in their funding, because they discovered the problem and solution were not what they thought.

My favorite story was at the end of the book, and since I don’t have it here to reference it, my telling will be questionable.  But the gist of the story was a series of learnings in attempting to work with female sex workers in India to reduce HIV transmission. One learning was that condoms weren’t the answer, but what was really needed was a community solution to violence. The women organized a system for a phone tree that could be triggered when a woman was dealing with violence. A group of women would immediately assemble to witness and provide public pressure, accountability, and probably shaming on the perpetrator. I’ve wondered how community solutions like that might work here in the US in our community for various issues.

“When women are trapped in abuse and isolated from other women, we can’t be a force against violence because we have no voice. But when women gather with one another, include one another, tell our stories to one another, share our grief with one another, we find our voice with one another. We create a new culture—not one that was imposed on us, but one we build with our own voices and values.”

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)


All in all, it’s been a good start to the year. And I’m already into another book that’s gotten rave reviews, with a few more in the queue.

Reading List: January and February 2020
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