“The Fated Sky” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Sequel to The Calculating Stars

Elma York goes to Mars. Like in The Calculating Stars, the characters in this book do not flinch from talking about racism and sexism in a system and society they can’t fight or escape.

The plot is more action-driven than the first book. Some characters grow and change in surprising ways. Grief is included as a major emotional force, rather than being glossed over as happens in many books.

The subject is brought up directly in the book, but there is still a big hand-wave on the impracticality of evacuating even a small percentage of the earth’s population to another planet, and how the resources required for that would take away from resources to address problems on earth. Of course the usual biases would affect who stays, who goes, who gets help and who doesn’t.

I still love that Elma’s Judaism weaves through the book with an ongoing cascade of familiar details. I love the conscious inclusiveness of Black characters, a Muslim character, a relationship between men, (minor) characters with disabilities.

I can’t imagine that an organization would put people with known major relational stresses on a 3 year mission together in a small ship. I can’t imagine that people would be able to manage that. Makes me wonder how sailors handle it on long trips.

My suspension of disbelief wobbled on this book. The contrast between doing calculations by hand and making a colonizing mission to Mars was too big. Still a fun read!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Choosing Gentleness” by Robyn L. Posin, Ph.D.

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Subtitle: Opening Our Hearts to All the Ways We Feel and Are in Every Moment

Recommended to me by: reading Robyn Posin’s website for the last 15+ years. Also I was an advance reviewer for this book.

This is a collection of line drawings and wise words that have appeared on Robyn Posin’s website over the years, along with some more recent essays. It was lovely to see the vibrant drawings of dancing, struggling, resting women and the encouraging words gathered in one place.

Robyn Posin’s work has been a big inspiration and support over the years. Most of her messages resonate powerfully for me. At the same time, I’m still arguing with a few of them.

The idea that our love-starved little ones inside can only get love from us, not from anyone outside us now that we are no longer children makes a lot of sense, and I still have a “Yes, but…” response. What about adult attachment? What about friendship, and care? I’m not saying she’s wrong, but something in me is still hoping.

I love the parts about accepting all our feelings, not just the warm fuzzy ones, and the firm rejection of the idea that acknowledging our anger just brings more of the same into our lives. Feelings are meant to live and move through, not be shoved down and frozen in place.

In this book, I found a message that I had remembered all this time, but not been able to find again on her website: “It does not matter whether how we are in the moment is born from our woundings or our wholeness.” What a revolutionary, liberating message! Even if we are “broken” in some way because of abuse or trauma, that’s how it is. We still have to exist in the world, with both our damage and our wholeness.

Living in the thinnest slice of now and trusting that my future self will be able to handle my future circumstances has also been a liberating idea.

Another idea I struggle with is that the Grandmothers (or other higher/deeper powers) are guiding my life. I’d love to feel so cherished and protected, but life seems too random, and too catastrophic for a lot of people, to believe that someone is in charge of what happens to each individual.

Highly recommended as a comforting and thought-provoking compilation of Robyn Posin’s many years of healing and helping others heal.

Available at Amazon.

“The Tightrope Walker” by Dorothy Gilman

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Recommended to me by: Rachel Manija

A well-plotted murder mystery story plus a quickly developing romance plus a young woman main character who is healing from childhood trauma. It’s not nearly as grim as all that makes it sound. I like the way the main character, Amelia Jones, observes the world and herself from slightly outside it all, and moves from conversation to conversation as she unravels the mystery.

Highly recommended as an entertaining read with an underlying understanding of the effects of neglect on children.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Calculating Stars” by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

Elma York is a math whiz with a Ph.D. in math and physics now working as a computer (as in, one who computes) for the space program in the US in the 1950’s. She deals with run-of-the-mill, life-is-just-like-that sexism, and also I’m-out-to-get-you intentional harassment. By the way she’s also a crack pilot who can land a plane after the motor goes out.

She’s also married to the lead engineer of the program, and they have a lovely supportive passionate relationship. She has a supportive relationship with her brother, too. I find myself reading for supportive relationships these days.

Also they are both Jewish, and the book addresses both the positive details and the negative anti-semitism that arises from that. Also they stay with an African-American couple, and they learn to recognize their racist biases and notice when a group “just happens” to be all white.

This book is both old-time spaceflight science fiction, and modern inclusive science fiction, which means it grapples with all the ways that women and people of color are kept out, and still manage to succeed despite that. It addresses global warming and the lack of political will to do something about it. It addresses anxiety as an illness that deserves compassion and treatment. The world-building details are satisfyingly solid.

I was also a Jewish younger female student who was really good at math. (Not as good as Elma!) It feels good to see myself reflected in a book like this, even if I responded differently to the stresses of the situation and took a different turning in my life.

Recommended as a quick, exciting read that’s both heart-warming and heart-rending in the ways it reflects minority and marginalized experiences.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Unlocked” by Gerald Zaltman

book coverRecommended to me by: Received a copy from Asakiyume who edited it

Gerald Zaltman is a marketing consultant for corporate executives and a professor emeritus of business administration at Harvard. The idea for this book came out of interactions with his young grandchildren. I do not belong to these target audiences, and the book did not resonate with me. I realized as I read the first few sections that the author had not won my trust, so I was engaging with the thought exercises warily, waiting to be tricked and tripped up.

The book starts off with a couple of ethical dilemmas, and then the rest is about many ways our thinking can be influenced that we might be unaware of, and unconscious assumptions we might be making. There was no mention of racism, sexism, or any other -isms that lead to unconscious biases affecting our thinking and responses.

While there is a section on embodied cognition, it is more about how, for example, holding a warm drink can make us perceive a person more warmly, rather than about how our bodies and minds are integrated. The rest of the book is very much disembodied, based on the premise that, “You are how you think.”

There were links to a couple of interesting related videos:

Selective Attention Test: Count the number of passes between players dressed in white.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

A Portrait Session with a Twist: 6 photographers, one subject, 6 different stories.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-TyPfYMDK8

The ebook contains live links and color illustrations. In one exercise, color names are printed in non-matching colors and the instruction is to say the color of the text rather than read the word. The gray-scale illustration in the printed book does not do the exercise justice.

Available at Amazon.

“So You Want to Talk About Race” by Ijeoma Oluo

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Recommended to me by: Ijeoma Oluo’s twitter feed

Ijeomo Oluo is a writer, speaker, and editor at large at The Establishment. She is also a queer Black woman, the single mother of two boys. Her writing is kind, direct, and clear, with practical suggestions on how to talk about race and dismantle racism.

Through both personal anecdotes and statistics from research studies, she lays out what racism is, how it affects people of color, and what we can do about it.

First, she addresses some of the objections white people have to discussing racism at all. Just because white people don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening. No, it’s not just about class. Yes, race affects how people are treated in a long-term targeted effort to use Black people’s labor and keep them from competing with white people. Racism is prejudice + systemic power. Calling a white person a cracker does not have the far reaching effects and historic resonance that calling a Black person the n-word does.

With care and clarity, she addresses privilege, intersectionality (don’t leave more marginalized groups behind), police brutality, affirmative action (yes it works, no it’s not a panacea, and sadly it’s being dismantled), school-to-prison pipeline (all kids deserve to be seen in a positive light), cultural appropriation, using the n-word (if you’re not Black, DON’T), touching Black people’s hair (DON’T), microaggressions (when and how to address them), model minorities (still racism), and taking action.

Carefully, at the end of the book, she addresses that we’re all racist (yes me, yes you) because we are all immersed in a racist culture. We can do our best to become aware of our racist thoughts and habits and change them. We are better prepared to have conversations about race with our friends of all races with Ijeoma Oluo’s explanations and detailed advice.

Highly recommended as a no-nonsense, compassionate guide to what white people need to know about racism. I imagine Black people would find it validating as well. Please read this book!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Wild Edge of Sorrow” by Francis Weller

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Subtitle: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief

Recommended to me by: Kristin

This is a wise, kind, perceptive, affirming, healing book about grief. It warmly includes childhood triggering, shame, and shared grief for the planet among the burdens that we all carry. It emphasizes the importance of both a village to share our grief, and the capacity to turn toward our grief with compassion when we are alone.

“Turning toward the suffering and into the marrow of our grief with the attention and attunement of a caring adult helps to dilute and transmute the trauma and shame into the kind of sensitivity that can inform our compassion for others.”

The writing is lyrical, poetic, and includes well-chosen poems sprinkled through the book.

Francis Weller recommends group rituals, or perhaps solitary ones, as an anodyne for grief. One simple one is to put a small stone for each grief into a large bowl of water. When everyone is done, the water is given to a plant for nourishment, and the stones are returned to a river or lake or ocean, or buried in the earth, to be washed clean again.

A central part of grief work is to have a daily practice in meditation or something similar that allows us to hold space with ourselves rather than becoming overwhelmed.

Highly recommended.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Trauma and Memory” by Peter Levine

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Subtitle: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past. A Practical Guide for Understanding & Working with Traumatic Memory

The first part of this book is a thorough introduction to different kinds of memories. There are explicit and implicit memories. Explicit (conscious) memories include declarative (like the times table) and episodic (stories with emotional content). Implicit (subconscious) memories include emotional and procedural memories. Implicit emotional memories are “flags.” Procedural memories are impulses, movements, and internal body sensations. Procedural memories can be further divided into skills like riding a bike, hardwired emergency responses, and basic approach/avoidance.

The writing is warm, engaging, informal, and filled with anecdotes.

The second part is an introduction to Levine’s trauma healing method of Somatic Experiencing, with several case studies, some including stills from videos of the sessions.

The third part is rants against more cathartic modalities of trauma healing, including support for the idea of false memories being induced by the “wrong” kind of trauma healing. I have only tentatively recommended Levine’s first book “Waking the Tiger” because it includes a section about false memories, and unfortunately I have to make the same caveat here.

Yes, false memories occur, just like false accusations of rape occur. Neither occur with enough frequency to deserve being addressed at length in a healing book, and both topics do a great deal of harm by undermining survivors’ already fragile hold on their truth.

Levine’s deeper point is to support trauma survivors to listen to their own bodies, and that is a message I can get behind.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Deepest Well” by Nadine Burke Harris, MD

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Subtitle: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity

Recommended to me by: listening to Nadine Burke Harris’s TED talk

This is a skillful blend of memoir and scientific information about the effects of trauma, presented for the layperson. Nadine Burke Harris shares how as a newly licensed doctor she founded a pediatric clinic in Bayview, the poorest section of San Francisco with the most at-risk patients, and how that clinic came to focus on trauma as the underlying cause of a lot of medical issues, especially for children. Later she founded the Center for Youth Wellness, also in San Francisco.

She does not dwell on the effects of being a Black woman, but she does not skip over them either. She notes the benefits of networking with other women and offering each other support. While marginalization and racism contribute to people’s load of trauma, trauma is not only a “poor, Black issue.” Privilege does not exempt people from trauma or its long-term effects.

There is a strong correlation between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and health issues caused by the body’s ongoing stress response. The stress response can be buffered by strong relationships with caring adults.

Nadine Burke Harris developed a screening tool that asks a parent about the number of a child’s ACEs, but does not ask them to disclose the stories involved. She advocates for this screening tool to be used everywhere, just as infants are now universally screened for hypothyroid and jaundice.

The treatments for a body dysregulated by trauma are sleep, mental health, healthy relationships, exercise, nutrition, and meditation. Schools that help children regulate their nervous systems rather than punishing them for “acting out” enjoy both a more peaceful atmosphere and higher success rates by every measure.

(While screening is catching on in medical offices, I hear from nurses that treatment is catching on less quickly, leaving them in the frustrating position of knowing that people’s issues are caused by trauma, but not having the time and resources to help them.)

Highly recommended both for the information about the effects on trauma, and the memoir of a groundbreaking scientist and doctor who is radically improving how we care for both children and adults affected by trauma.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Dynamic Aging” by Katy Bowman

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With: Joan Viginia Allen, Shelah M. Wilgus, Lora Woods, and Joyce Faber
Subtitle: Simple Exercises for Whole-Body Mobility

Recommended to me by: Amy Bennett

This is a kind, gentle book aimed at “goldeners” – also known as senior citizens – who don’t move much (anymore, or yet) but it can apply to any of us, since we’re all aging, and few of us move fluidly in all our joints. Katy Bowman is the teacher and main author, and four of her longtime class members, all in their seventies, contribute their experiences.

The first lesson is that fear and negative expectations can contribute to stiffness and immobility, which is why the people in Katy Bowman’s class choose to step away from the usual language for their age group and invent the new term “goldeners.” If we can’t imagine ourselves in motion, or we expect that motion leads to pain and injury, then we don’t move.

The book has easy, gentle exercises for each part of the body, starting at the feet, moving through knee and hip alignment and hip mobility, rib alignment and shoulder mobility. Balance, rising from a chair, confident walking, and movements needed for driving are emphasized. Line drawings help clarify each movement.

A note: Just because these exercises are simple and gentle, doesn’t mean you can’t overdo it. Start a little at a time!

The book is set in larger than usual type, double spaced, for ease of reading by older eyes. First the exercises are presented as part of a narrative about how they can fit into your life. Then a whole exercise routine is shown. Then each exercise is illustrated and described in a reference section. It’s a quick, enjoyable read, and has a lot of material for further exploration.

Recommended for anyone who wants to move more easily for more years, and especially for older people who need a reassuring re-introduction to movement.

Available at Powell’s Books.