“Me and White Supremacy” by Layla F. Saad

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Subtitle: How to Recognize Your Privilege, Combat Your Racism, and Change the World

In this book for people with white privilege who want to take the next step in anti-racism, Layla Saad guides the reader on a brilliantly organized 28 day exploration of internalized white supremacy and how to address it.

The first week explores the basics of how we benefit from white privilege while avoiding acknowledging it, including white privilege, white fragility, tone policing, white silence, white superiority, and white exceptionalism. The second week looks at anti-Blackness and racial stereotypes. The third week explores both true and false allyship. The fourth week is a call to action to speak out about anti-racism with friends, family, and others.

The book is accompanied by several supplemental videos, available online. Layla Saad created them during the original 28 day Instagram challenge, encouraging people doing the challenge to be honest, dig deep, and do the work, rather than retreating to shallow cliches. The videos are well worth watching for her clear explanations of some of the pitfalls for white people beginning anti-racism work.

I appreciated her insight that participation in white supremacy requires numbness to all the suffering it causes. That goes a long way toward explaining the dissociation and lack of empathy I see in the world.

Layla Saad uses language carefully and precisely throughout the book and videos. In particular, she distinguishes between people who are white, and those who are white-passing, and therefore are both the bearers and the targets of white privilege. Being white and Jewish is at an uncomfortable border, where I clearly hold white privilege, and at the same time Jews are a target of white supremacy.

While I started with a basic understanding of white privilege, working through each day’s topic deepened my understanding and clarified my thinking about the subtle ways we learn to reinforce it. I struggled the most with the last few days where we are encouraged to confront friends, family, and others about racism. I am happy to discuss white privilege with like-minded people, and mention that I’m learning more in hopes of sparking someone’s interest. I get stuck when someone flatly disagrees that privilege exists or refuses a suggestion to acknowledge their privilege.

I’m sitting with the question of when and how engaging in conflict might be useful. The softer non-confrontational approach always looks more appealing, because it’s hard to break ranks with the assumed camaraderie of white privilege.

Highly recommended! Even though it always seems like we’re too busy to do this kind of deep work, the best time to start is right now. The more each of us learns and unpacks our participation in white supremacy, the sooner it can be fully dismantled.

Available at Amazon.

Please note: The various “Workbooks” now popping up are published by scammers attempting to profit from Layla Saad’s popularity. Make sure you get her book, which was already a workbook even though that is not in the title.

“Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

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Subtitle: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants

Recommended to me by: Amy Bennett

A set of essays loosely tied together in chronological order, with themes of sweetgrass and braiding all the way through. Each essay braids together personal memoir, Native American (specifically Potawatomi) ways of living, and colonialist ways of living.

Potawatomi ways developed over generations as people saw what works to live in balance with nature, as a part of nature. Humans are considered the young ones, the newcomers, learning from their more experienced plant and animal family members.

Sweetgrass is harvested in specific ways. Not the first plant you find, because that might be the only one. Take only what you need, up to half of the plants there, either by cutting half of each bunch, or taking whole bunches. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a Professor of Botany, and one of her PhD students showed in a set of careful experiments that sweetgrass thrives when harvested this way, and fails to propagate if it is left completely unharvested. Humans and sweetgrass have a cooperative, collaborative partnership.

White colonialists disastrously interrupted Native American ways of living by stealing Native Americans’ lands and pushing them into entirely different ecosystems, and by taking their children to residential schools and forcibly preventing them from speaking their own languages or practicing their spirituality. The Potawatomi people and other tribes are gathering together the fragments of what remains, and braiding them together anew.

The book ends on a hopeful note, that perhaps enough of us will turn toward collaborative, cooperative ways of living that we will not entirely destroy the ecosystems of this green earth. Fitting right in with that hope, the current Great Pause of this pandemic gives us time to consider what we want to add back in to our lives, and what we want to leave behind to allow cleaner skies, safer streets, and more sustainable lives.

I read this as an ebook, because that’s what I can get from the library in this time of pandemic. It’s an odd way to read a book so rooted in physical experience, and I would have much preferred to have a physical book in my hands. This is a long book that wants to be appreciated slowly, essay by essay, section by section, exploring how all the parts fit together to support each other.

Highly recommended!

Robin Wall Kimmerer: ‘People can’t understand the world as a gift unless someone shows them how’ interview by James Yeh, May 23, 2020

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Silver in the Wood” by Emily Tesh

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Recommended to me by: Becca

A fantasy story set in 19th century England and harking back further than that, with woods magic and relating with care and ultimately a positive resolution to a haunting past. The story pours swiftly forward with clear, liquid language. The characters could be stereotypical but instead are resolutely, surprisingly themselves.

Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Outside the Charmed Circle” by Misha Magdalene

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Subtitle: Exploring Gender & Sexuality in Magical Practice

Recommended to me by: Sam L-G

Misha Magdalene (they/them pronouns) asserts that magic is queer. In writing by turns academic and conversational, they explore viewing magic through the lenses of gender and sexuality.

They describe their experience with growing up queer, as well as their gradual introduction to magical practice, including the whisper networks that say, “Avoid this established teacher, he’s creepy.” Of course Misha went and found out for themselves, fortunately without being harmed.

They talk about consent, and how important it is in matters both sexual and magical, and definitely in the mix of both. As a practitioner of the Feri tradition, they directly address some of the deep issues with consent in that tradition.

They list some gender-queer and non-heterosexual gods and goddesses in various flavors of paganism.

In the end, magic is queer because it is non-mainstream, not the default religion, outside a lot of people’s lived experiences.

The book includes practical writing and magical exercises to explore the covered topics.

Highly recommended as an interesting, eclectic, and principled exploration of gender, sexuality, and magical practice.

Misha Magdalene’s blog at Patheos, Outside the Charmed Circle explores some of the same ideas. There are posts that forthrightly challenge the pagan community to address its problems with racism< homophobia, and lack of consent, sexual predation and abuse.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Miss Rumphius” by Barbara Cooney

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Recommended to me by: Cathy, who mailed me her copy in this time of social distancing

This children’s book with delicate, detailed, delightful illustrations follows Miss Alice Rumphius through her adventurous life, encounter with disability, and the achievement of her life goal to do something to make the world more beautiful.

Young Alice says to her grandfather, “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” Her grandfather never doubts her.

It’s wonderful to see a story take for granted that a single, independent woman can move forward with courage and determination to achieve her goals, which do not include marriage and children. It’s wonderful that the story shows her in middle age and old age, not just as a young woman. An injury keeps in her in bed for a while, and she uses a cane, all as part of the matter-of-fact flow of the story.

Miss Rumphius is white. She befriends people of color in other countries. My only disappointment with the book is that the children visiting her at the end of the book are all white.

Highly recommended! Be sure to spend some time with the details of the illustrations.

From the Powell’s listing, About the Author:
Like Miss Rumphius, the late Barbara Cooney traveled the world, lived in a house by the sea in Maine, and, through her art, made the world more beautiful.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Recovering from Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD

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Subtitle: Practical Tools to Establish Boundaries & Reclaim Your Emotional Autonomy

Recommended to me by: Reading Lindsay Gibson’s previous book

This book repeats some material on emotionally immature parents from the previous book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, in a way that is more focused on how the adult child feels rather than focusing on the parents. It develops more material on how to resist emotional takeovers and how to develop a more functional relationship with emotionally immature parents in adulthood.

The premise is to be sure of your own value, and relate from that place, rather than hoping the parents will recognize and nurture your value. There are some good detailed suggestions for how to build a trusting relationship with yourself. The process could take a long time, even with therapeutic support.

There were occasional mentions of creating more distance from emotionally immature parents, but for the most part this book focuses on staying in relationship. I would have liked to see more about danger signs that indicate it’s better to stay far away.

I’ve been mentioning this book to lots of clients. Recommended for great analysis and ideas for how to regain autonomy and heal from immature parenting.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Steering the Craft” by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Subtitle: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

Recommended to me by: Justine Larbalestier

A writing manual about the tools of the writing trade: punctuation, grammar, voice, point of view. This compact book is carefully detailed, wryly kind, deeply knowledgeable. It arose out of writing workshops that Le Guin offered, and has been revised for the 21st century with references to twitter and online workshops. She includes sample passages from classics, and tells us what she admires about them. Each chapter ends with a writing exercise and how to learn from it.

I felt in safe hands. I’d like to go back and do the writing exercises sometime, especially with a group. I write essays, not stories, so not everything applies, but I’m sure it would still be helpful.

Highly recommended for anyone who writes stories, or anyone (like me) eager to read anything written by Ursula K. Le Guin, who is sorely missed.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Catfishing on CatNet” by Naomi Kritzer

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Recommended to me by: Marissa Lingen

This book is based on the short story Cat Pictures Please, which touches on serious issues but is basically lighthearted and positive.

The book, less so. Yes, there’s a benevolent AI (artificial intelligence) who loves cat pictures. There are delightfully depicted internet friendships, and in-person friendships. Some of the characters are non-binary, and (almost) everyone is respectful about pronouns.

There’s also an 11th grader whose mom moves them all the time to keep away from her stalker dad, and some just barely off-screen domestic violence. It all comes right in the end, and I’m glad the book addresses those topics. At the same time, it felt jarring to me to have these deadly serious issues juxtaposed with a lighthearted cat-picture-loving AI who can fix all the problems.

It’s well-written. Recommended if you don’t mind fictionalized, simplified domestic violence. For me it was too realistic to be fun but not realistic enough at the end of the book about how difficult it is to escape.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Gluten-Free Flavor Flours” by Alice Medrich with Maya Klein

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Subtitle: A New Way to Bake with Non-Wheat Flours

Recommended to me by: runpunkrun

A detailed investigation of gluten-free flours, with a chapter for each with a description plus well-suited recipes. It includes rice, oat, corn, chestnut, nut, coconut, teff, buckwheat, and sorghum flours. There’s a resource section at the end with places to order ingredients.

About half the recipes have beautifully composed photographs. The recipes look clear and easy to follow (although I haven’t tried any yet). Amounts are given in cup measures and grams.

Alice Medrich ran a bakery called Cocolat on Shattuck Ave in Berkeley. A lot of her desserts are far more fussy and elegant than the baking I tend to do. I looked through the book and marked a few simpler recipes I might try.

Recommended for the serious baker who wants (or needs) to branch out into gluten-free baking.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Structures and Movement of Breathing” by Barbara Conable

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Subtitle: A Primer for Choirs and Choruses

Recommended to me by: reading Conable’s previous book What Every Musician Needs to Know About the Body

A brief book (45 pages) with lively, pithy anatomical details about breathing for singing. Illustrations show breathing anatomy from lips to pelvic floor, including where are lungs are (from slightly above the collarbones to the bottom of the sternum, and filling the space front to back) and aren’t (no lung whatsoever below the diaphragm doming up from the bottom ribs).

Reminders for singers include

  • How are your ribs moving as you sing?
  • Remember to organize around your spine like an apple around a core.
  • When you take air in, your psine gathers, like a cat preparing to spring.
  • When you are using air to sing, your spine lengthens, like a cat springing.
  • Your diaphragm works on inhalation. Leave the area along to dome back up on exhalation.

Highly recommended for singers and anyone else interested in the anatomy of breathing.

Available at Amazon.