Books in Review Q2 2020

Remember that one time when I said I was going to review books every month? And then a worldwide pandemic hit and I stopped reading as much? Yeah. So that’s why I’m combining my book reviews into a quarterly review for this quarter, because why not be inconsistent?

(Listed in order of reading)

  • Celebrating a Christ-Centered Easter
  • The Hobbit
  • LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • LOTR: The Two Towers
  • LOTR: Return of the King
  • The Happiness Advantage*
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
  • The Priesthood Power of Women
  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism*
  • How to Be an Anti-Racist*
  • O Alquimista (The Alchemist)

*Audiobook

Educational

Before I jump in here, I want to say that I am grateful for people who have recommended some excellent books to help me better understand current issues with racism. I felt like I was pretty educated on a lot of matters and knew how I could make a difference, but my eyes were opened to ways that I can be more active in being anti-racist personally as well as in my profession and in my community involvement. These books and voices and concepts are important. I don’t always know what to say (I’ve messed up more conversations on this topic in the last month than I’ve gotten right), but I have learned more about standing up. And as we all know, you don’t have to agree with 100% of any book to learn from it and develop empathy, but I do agree with much of what I learned and hope you will consider learning more, too.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism

By: Robin DiAngelo

Audiobook reader: Pretty good

I think this is a very important read and definitely recommend it. DiAngelo helps define why those of us who are white feel uncomfortable talking about race. DiAngelo confronts some of our issues with the idea that we see ourselves as either good or bad people and nobody wants to be seen as a bad person and racism often is seen as being a “bad person” so we don’t confront it in ourselves. So she shifts the conversation.

I listened to the book so I couldn’t capture all the great quotes, but this article has a great summary I pulled quotes from it (that sound like they probably came from the book anyway).

Foundationally, [we] have to change our idea of what it means to be racist. As long as you define a racist as an individual who intentionally is mean, based on race, you’re going to feel defensive. When I say you’ve been shaped by a racist system–that it is inevitable that you have racist biases and patterns and investments–you’re going to feel offended by that. You will hear it as a comment on your moral character. You’re going to feel offended by that if you don’t change how you’re interpreting what I just said. And I would actually agree with anyone who felt offended when I say, ‘It is inevitable that you are racist,’ if their definition of a racist is someone who means harm….

When we understand racism as a system that we have been raised in and that its impact is inevitable, it’s really not a question of good or bad. It’s just, “I have it. I have been socialized into it.” And so, “What am I going to do about it?” is really the question...

Change how you understand what it means to be racist, and then act on that understanding.

How to Be an Anti-Racist*

By: Ibram X. Kendi

Audiobook reader: Good

This is another really important book and definitely recommend it as well. Even as I’ve felt up-to-date on many issues with racism and worked to help with these issues, I was not up-to-date on the current rhetoric that the term “anti-racist” is a helpful, useful term to those engaging in the fight against racism.

From the book: What’s the problem with being “not racist”? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: “I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.” But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of “racist” isn’t “not racist.” It is “anti-racist.

Kendi’s book addresses ethics, history, law, and science to address how to rethink our beliefs and move us toward a more equitable society. I was really intrigued by his own personal journey of discovering and rethinking his beliefs over many years and how he’s come to a better understanding of more helpful ways to address racism. And saying it like it is helps us find it and root it out.

“Racist” is not—as Richard Spencer argues—a pejorative. It is not the worst word in the English language; it is not the equivalent of a slur. It is descriptive, and the only way to undo racism is to consistently identify and describe it—and then dismantle it. The attempt to turn this usefully descriptive term into an almost unusable slur is, of course, designed to do the opposite: to freeze us into inaction.

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

By: Shawn Achor

Audiobook reader: good

This book was recommended to me at work and it took a long time to come through on my library hold–not necessarily the book I really wanted in a pandemic because happiness died! JK, JK.

This was a really interesting book, but I recommend listening to it only when/if you’re back in the workplace because so much has changed from working at home that it’s skewed my perception of some of the stressors. But basically, this book talks about being positive, and that’s something I need to work on, so I probably need to listen to this one again.

I did like these quotes:

Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change; it is the realization that we can.

For me, happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential.

Religious Books

The Priesthood Power of Women: In the Temple, Church, and Family

By: Barbara Gardner Morgan

Several months ago, I went to an evening devotional (remember those?) where Barbara Morgan Gardner spoke on this topic. Her ideas were enlightening and motivating and I’m glad I spent a few months studying through her book and being reminded of how I can more fully use priesthood power.

There’s a lot to consume here, but I’ve thought about this concept a lot over the years and appreciate the insights:

I’ve often thought how different our understanding of the priesthood would be, especially as women, if the emphasis of the leaders of the Church were on the family rather than on the Church. What might happen if we focused more on the patriarchal/familial structure of the priesthood rather than on the hierarchical/ecclesiastical system when discussing the priesthood in leadership training, in our various meetings, and in our gospel-related classes? How different would things be if we as members of the Church focused more on the family and the order entered into by Eve and Adam, Sarah and Abraham, Rebekah and Isaac, even Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father?

… We would be likelier to recognize the critical role of women, and how both men and women really do work together…We would realize that women who have been endowed with priesthood power in the temple have priesthood in their own lives and in the lives of their family members, and that the priesthood resides in their homes, regardless of their marital status or their husbands’ activity level.

Celebrating a Christ-Centered Easter

By: Emily Belle Freeman

I usually read this every Easter because Easter is an extraordinarily important holiday for my faith and beliefs–because I believe in a resurrected Christ. But I don’t often spend as much time preparing for or pondering Christ as I do at Christmas time. This is just a simple book that helps remind me of things I can do to make Easter more meaningful.

Fiction

O Alquimista/The Alchemist

By: Paulo Coelho

I have heard about this book for SO LONG and been told I have to read it many times. It was originally written in Portuguese so I thought I’d read it in Portuguese, which was way fun! It is truly a beautiful book. The book is an allegory about a young shepherd who has a vision of a hidden treasure. His journey leads him through many lands over many years and he is educated along the way about fulfilling his personal mission. The universe “conspires” to lead him the right way in every step. I really felt this book and recommend it.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

By: Gabrielle Zevin

This was a random read someone recommended and I liked it. It is a great book for book lovers because A.J. Fikry is a bookstore owner! He is in a dark place due to his wife’s passing and then a subsequent robbery of a very rare book. As they work to discover who stole the book, A.J. enters into an opportunity to make his life different through the gift of an unexpected package. I quite enjoyed this book, but it did take me a few chapters to really get into it (and then I zipped through the rest).

The Hobbit; LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring; LOTR: The Two Towers; LOTR: Return of the King

By: J.R.R. Tolkien

One does not simply read one of these books without reading them all in rapid succession. I love these books. I have long used them as one of the answers to the “favorite book” question. I haven’t re-read them in a LONG time and I just needed some familiarity and hope that we can conquer evil. I love Tolkien’s words and although he didn’t view his writings as allegories, I do.

And this quote, because I FEEL this right now.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

And of course the quote in the banner for this blog.

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.

And as Bilbo said:

The road goes ever on and on

Out from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

Let others follow it who can!

Let them a journey new begin,

But I at last with weary feet

Will turn towards the lighted inn,

My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

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