“The Tightrope Walker” by Dorothy Gilman

book cover
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

book cover
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

book cover

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

book cover

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

book cover

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

book cover

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

book cover

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.

“Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown

book coverSubtitle: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Recommended to me by: reading Brene Brown’s other books

I liked this book a lot better than I liked Rising Strong. There is less material, but it is more coherent, and it directly addresses crucial tools we need for the current political situation.

There is only one cutesy acronym, which was also in Rising Strong. It repeats as a theme through the book and is even included in the title.

The seven elements of trust:
B – boundaries
R – reliability
A – accountability
V – vault (confidentiality)
I – integrity
N – needs, non-judgmental about needing help
G – generosity, ascribing good intentions

Brene Brown addresses the harm being done as we fracture into more and more homogeneous groups both in person and online. Homogeneity increases isolation, and loneliness is on the rise. Homogeneity also supports acrimony and hating the Other.

She also addresses the longing to belong in her own life. She has always forged her own path. With the exploration and research around this book, she realizes that belonging is an internal quality, not dependent on outside approval. We are beholden to Spirit and our shared humanity, not to the rules of one particular social group.

Her suggestions for finding belonging inside ourselves:

  1. People are hard to hate close up. Move in.
  2. Speak truth to bullshit. Be civil.
  3. Hold hands. With strangers.
  4. Strong back, soft front, wild heart

She includes Dr. Michelle Buck’s suggestions for conflict transformation (rather than resolution). Stay in the conversation. Look for underlying intentions. Why is the topic so important to each person. Focus on the present and the future, rather than the past and who said what when. Have the goals to learn more about the other person and find new possibilities. Hold both-and rather than either-or. Listen!

The prerequisites for staying in conversation with someone we disagree with: no threats to physical safety, and no dehumanization. We do not have to tolerate being erased and dehumanized in the name of tolerance.

I disagree with her assertion that face-to-face connection is key, and the internet is only useful to find new people to connect with in person. I agree that in-person connection is lovely, but connection over the internet also has value, especially for people with limited ability to get together in person.

Highly recommended as a thoughtful approach to the unfolding catastrophe of disconnection in modern life.

A worksheet on Brene Brown’s website that contains the main points from Braving the Wilderness.

Available at Powell’s Books.

“Redemption in Indigo” by Karen Lord

book cover

Recommended to me by: reading Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds

I bought an e-book bundle on the strength of this book being included. I tend to read e-books a little at a time while waiting for appointments, so it took me a long time to get through the book.

This is a retelling of a Senegalese folk tale. For once, the cover is not white-washed. I wish I had been reading a physical book so I would have had the ongoing reminder that of course the characters have brown skin. Even with the clearly Senegalese names, I realized after I finished the book that I had vaguely visualized the characters as white by default. I want to change my internal defaults!

I wasn’t sure I would like the book until quite a way into it. At the very beginning, a wife is pursued and appears to be in danger. Then it focuses on ridiculing a man for eating too much, and I’m not interested in watching people be shamed. After a while it focuses on a strong woman (the wife who is well able to take care of herself) and the story hit its stride for me. I loved the epilogue.

Recommended as a thought-provoking story about different angles on duty, where you get to know and appreciate the characters.

Available at Powell’s Books.