“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.

“Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents” by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD

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Subtitle: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents

Lindsay Gibson tells it like it is. There is a lot of clear analysis of the ramifications of dealing with emotionally immature parents, without any waffling about, “Maybe the kid is the problem after all.” Emotionally immature parents are held responsible for falling down on the job.

“Emotionally immature parents fear genuine emotion and pull back from emotional closeness. They use coping mechanisms that resist reality rather than dealing with it. They don’t welcome self-reflection, so they rarely accept blame or apologize.”

“Understanding their emotional immaturity frees us from emotional loneliness as we realize their neglect wasn’t about us, but about them. When we see why they can’t be different, we can finally be free of our frustration with them, as well as our doubts about our own lovability.”

“If they don’t make a solid emotional connection with their child, the child will have a gaping hole where true security might have been.”

Two chapters cover characteristics of emotionally immature people in themselves and as parents. There are some interesting insights here, for example, “They have an inconsistent sense of time,” which leads to issues with accountability, responsibility, and planning. At the same time these chapters feel harsh and angry, very much “them” vs. “us.” Since we all behave in emotionally immature ways at times no matter how hard we try to be considerate, it makes for uncomfortable reading.

The book later notes that we naturally respond with anger at an attachment figure who is non-responsive or abandoning.

Four types of emotionally immature parents are described: Emotional/anxious, driven/perfectionist, passive/avoidant, rejecting/mean. These types are not revisited in later chapters.

Children of emotionally immature parents create healing fantasies about what will finally let them receive the connection, nurturing, and emotional responsiveness they crave. They also create a role-self which is their best effort to get what they need from difficult parents, rather than living as their true self.

Children of emotionally immature parents tend to be either internalizers or externalizers (locus of control, but without using that phrase). There is some lip service here to people combining both styles and balance being the goal, and at the same time a clear preference for internalizers as being more emotionally mature and capable of growth.

To heal, release self-defeating roles, for example being small and self-effacing in an effort to elicit a caring response. Acknowledge true thoughts, feelings, and opinions, whether or not you choose to share them with parents or others.

As an adult, avoid getting hooked by an emotionally immature parent through detached observation and maturity awareness (estimating people’s probable level of emotional maturity). If someone is showing signs of being emotionally immature:

  1. Express boundaries, feelings, etc. and then let it go
  2. Focus on the outcome, not the relationship
  3. Manage the relationship rather than engaging.

Emotionally immature parents may feel safer and respond better to this more distant approach – or not. It is still calmer and emotionally safer for the adult child to alter their expectations to better match the parent’s capacity and skills.

The books answers objections people may have to the maturity awareness approach, and then details how it feels to be in relationship with an emotionally mature person.

In this book’s example stories, on the positive side, the men and women seem like real people, not gendered stereotypes. In the second half of the book, there is some variety of names that includes different cultures. On the negative side, as far as I could tell, there were no same-sex couples nor trans nor non-binary people.

Lindsay Gibson clearly brings a wealth of thought, research, and experience to this book. There is a lot of great information here, and at the same time it can be uncomfortable to read. Recommended.

The publisher New Harbinger has a download available of all the exercises in the book (pdf) which give you a great summary of the content as well.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Minor Mage” by T. Kingfisher

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Recommended to me by: Redbird

This novella has a similar structure to T. Kingfisher’s The Raven and the Reindeer. A young person sets off on a mission through empty countryside, encounters a solitary farmhouse whose inhabitants are dangerous, has or acquires a talking animal companion, acquires a human companion, encounters a bandit camp, and eventually succeeds in the mission.

In this book, the twelve-year-old titular minor mage Oliver sets off with his armadillo familiar to bring rain to his drought-stricken village. The underlying theme of his adventures is the ethics of power and responsibility. There is some violence, which is considered and regretted afterwards, not simply ignored or taken for granted.

It’s a quick, enjoyable read. Recommended!

Available at Powell’s Books.

“The Rabbit Listened” by Cori Doerrfeld

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Recommended to me by: Leah K. Walsh

A heart-warming children’s book with few words and spacious illustrations that perfectly convey emotion through body language. Young Taylor (gender unspecified) has a creative disaster, and all the animals have ideas about how to offer comfort. Finally, the rabbit sits nearby and listens, and Taylor begins to feel better.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Uncomfortable Labels” by Laura Kate Dale

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Subtitle: My Life as A Gay Autistic Trans Woman

Recommended to me by: a friend

Laura Kate Dale’s detailed, matter-of-fact autobiography addressing the intersection of being trans and autistic, from early childhood into adulthood. She discusses why early signs of being both autistic and trans obscured each other so that she did not receive accommodations until she was diagnosed and came out in her late teens.

She does not flinch from difficult topics like depression, addiction, and suicidal feelings and actions, both in herself and in close friends. Much of the book is dark and depressing, but she ends on a positive note about her current life at age 26, with a great living situation, stable job, and fiancée.

Recommended for anyone who might be or know someone who is autistic and trans, or anyone who wants to know more about what that’s like.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

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Subtitle: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging

Recommended to me by: Robyn Posin

Rachel Naomi Remen writes about wisdom, meaning, connection, grief, compassion, and how to live with authenticity in a series of vignettes from her life and the lives of her patients. She works with people dying of cancer, and their grieving survivors. Some stories are about her childhood conversations with her Orthodox Rabbi grandfather, a wise and gentle man. Some are about her own struggle with Crohn’s disease. She was a pioneer in medical school and in practice as a woman and someone living with chronic illness. She was a pioneer again talking about the mind/body connection and the need for healing rather than (or in addition to) curing people.

Many of the stories touched something in me and made me cry, perhaps out of longing for the kinds of connection and meaning she describes. I like that she says service is between equals, people recognizing and supporting the wholeness in each other, as opposed to helping or fixing, which requires one person to be less than another.

Recommended as a dose of wisdom and hope.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Dreyer’s English” by Benjamin Dreyer

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Subtitle: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Recommended to me by: Jesse-the-K’s rave review

This book is both a useful guide to writing well in English, and an entertaining quick read that includes the occasional jab at the current occupant of the White House. Benjamin Dreyer is persnickety and opinionated, as befits the Copy Chief at Random House. He holds forth on grammar rules that can be safely ignored and ones that can’t, easily misspelled words, easily misspelled names, and words that tend to be confused with each other.

One can see his process of becoming more educated on social justice issues. There is one inexplicable balk at using work-hours instead of man-hours (seriously?!) but otherwise his language in the book is inclusive of women. He admits that he also balked at using singular they until he had a colleague who uses they pronouns.

Recommended for writers and others interested in the vagaries of the English language.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“To Become the Sun” by Ani Rose Whaleswan

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Subtitle: Natural, Living Metaphors for Truama, Healing and Spirit

Recommended to me by: Ani Rose Whaleswan. I’ve known the author for a long time online, and I contributed an essay to her collection We Have Come Far.

A lyrical, grounded, wise, hopeful book that shares Ani Rose Whaleswan’s connection to nature and positive metaphors for healing.

Each chapter explores a metaphor in depth and ends with questions to think about and a note about non-violence. The metaphors are: Mountain, Pearl, Unfolding Flowers, Stones, Compost, Hummingbird, Wave, Embers, and Shadow. The book is about healing rather than trauma, and while it discusses some of the effects of trauma, it does not have explicit traumatic material.

There are also a lot of quotes and references to other wise people’s work, including one of my favorites from Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (see below). Unfortunately the quote is (presumably accidentally) misattributed to a white man. The book is double spaced and has not been professionally edited.

Highly recommended for new ways to think about the process of healing from profound trauma.

I first encountered this quote on the English AP exam and loved it so much I made sure to remember the author and title to find it later, even in the middle of taking the exam.

When god had made (the man) he made him all out of stuff that sung all the time and glittered all over. Some angels got jealous and chopped him into a million pieces, but still he glittered and hummed. So they beat him down to nothing but sparks but each little spark had a shine and a song. So they covered each one with mud. And the lonesomeness in the sparks made them hunt for one another.—Zora Neale Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Available at Amazon.