Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly Quick Lit post, where we share brief reviews of what we've been reading. I haven't done a Quick Lit post since March, so I have a decent-sized list of books to share here: one fiction and six nonfiction.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones.
This novel is about a young couple, Celestial and Roy, who have been married for a year and whose lives are turned upside down when Roy is wrongly convicted of a crime and sentenced to prison. (It is really unnerving to realize that this can happen so easily to a black man who has done absolutely nothing wrong.) They try to maintain closeness through the letters they exchange, but as months and then years pass, Celestial finds herself struggling to hold on to her marriage and relying more and more on her childhood friend Andre. Roy's unexpectedly early release brings the situation to a crisis point. Jones' technique of using alternating first-person chapters and the texts of the characters' letters allows us to understand all of the characters' perspectives and makes us hopeful for a resolution that will somehow satisfy all of them and us as readers. I think she succeeds. I really enjoyed this novel.
Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I've Loved by Kate Bowler.
Bowler, a professor who (ironically) studies the prosperity gospel, finds her own beliefs about success and entitlement challenged when she is diagnosed with colon cancer at age 35. This book tells the story of her coming to grips with her diagnosis and the prospect of suffering and death, her Christian faith, what (and who) helps and doesn't help her, and her struggle to refocus her life without reliance on platitudes. Bowler is a real character: funny, endearing, show-offy, and very honest. If you've read and enjoyed books like When Breath Becomes Air (Paul Kalanithi) or Being Mortal (Atul Gawande), you'll probably like this one. I'd highly recommend it.
Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Coming Home by Amy Dickinson.
Amy Dickinson's "Ask Amy" column is the first thing I read in the newspaper every morning, so I was eager to get my hands on her latest volume of memoir (she has a previous one, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, which I haven't read). I thoroughly enjoyed this book about Dickinson's mid-life move back to her home in rural New York State and her unexpected romance with a local building contractor. Her descriptions of love in mid-life, blended families, and grief over the death of parents are very engaging and moving.
Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America by Michael Wear.
In his twenties, Wear worked on former US President Barack Obama's faith-based initiatives in his first term and on his reelection campaign in 2012. Wear provides a behind-the-scenes look at Obama's reception by American Christianity (it's brutally ironic to read of Franklin Graham challenging Obama's Christian "cred," in light of Graham's current obsequious support of Trump); the faith-based office's work in disaster relief, food distribution, combating human trafficking; and the controversies over abortion and Obama's changed stance on gay marriage. Wear is honest in both his admiration for, and disappointment in, Obama, but he never lapses into cynicism; the last section of the book entreats readers to put politics in its proper perspective -- not to put our hope in politics but to bring our faith to bear on all aspects of public life.
So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo.
This book is a great primer for anyone who honestly wants to engage in conversations about race but doesn't know where to start, is afraid of offending or being offended, or just doesn't quite understand the issues. Oluo addresses topics like white privilege, intersectionality, the school-to-prison pipeline, cultural appropriation, and more. Informative, challenging, and a little uncomfortable.
Ask a Manager by Alison Green.
I enjoy advice columns and occasionally read "Ask a Manager" questions and answers on Twitter -- so when I saw this book at the library I picked it up. It has tons of helpful advice for bosses dealing with staff, suggestions for employees dealing with bosses and co-workers, and tips for interviewing. I enjoyed the down-to-earth advice (applicable to many areas of life, not just the workplace) as well as the oddball stories about the boss who ate his employee's lunch every day, the woman who referred to her partner as "Master" and wanted her co-workers to call him that too, the woman who threatened to put a curse on her colleagues, and more.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by Jordan Peterson.
Psychologist/professor Peterson has become one of the most sought-after speakers and celebrated intellectuals of our day. All I really knew about him was his highly public refusal to be "compelled" to call students at U of Toronto by their preferred-gender pronouns and his complaint to Camille Paglia in an interview that a man can't have a reasonable conversation with a woman because he's not allowed to hit her. So I got this book out of the library to see what all the fuss was about.
12 Rules for Life is almost unreadable, frankly. It is nearly 400 pages long, broken up into chapters with bossy titles like "Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world" and "Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today." These bits of folksy, sort-of-common-sense advice are buried in long (and long-winded) chapters discussing such topics as
* the hierarchy of lobsters (stand up straight like a lobster! be a winner! although why lobsters are chosen as models for humankind is unclear)
* Peterson and his wife force-feeding a child they were babysitting (whose caregiver had been hit by a car) and relishing their victory -- a victory over the child's mother, really -- in a very creepy way
* a lengthy description of a woman he counseled in clinical practice, complete with sarcastic comments about her uncertainty about whether she'd been raped
Peterson comes across as a grandiose, pompous dilettante. I honestly don't know if his discussions of Jung, or Marxism, or even lobsters, are accurate -- and I confess I skimmed many of the chapters just to try to get the gist of what he was saying rather than being bogged down in the prose. The writing is wordy and overblown, as in this passage: "I was speaking recently with a client whose husband had been engaging in a successful battle with cancer for an agonizing period of five years. They had both held up remarkably and courageously over this period. However, he fell prey to the tendency of that dread condition to metastasize and, in consequence, had been given very little time to live." This could be written as "The husband of a client of mine had battled cancer courageously for five years, but the cancer had metastasized and he was given little time to live." Or the laughable "As the infamous father of the Simpson clan puts it"; why not just "As Homer Simpson says"? These may seem like minor criticisms -- but if a 60-word passage could be reduced to 30 words, and a 9-word passage to 4, then why is this book so long? Because Peterson's editor thinks he's a genius or because they're afraid to stand up to him? This book needed a strong editorial hand, someone with the confidence to say "This makes no sense. Rewrite it."
As to the book's subtitle, Peterson states clearly in his introduction ("overture") that order is male and chaos is female. He half-heartedly says that we need both -- yin and yang and all that -- but if female is chaos and we need his rules to provide an antidote to it, then female is clearly bad and inferior. His book may be received as bracing encouragement by disaffected men who are uncomfortable with changes in and challenges to the accepted social structure and who want to believe that a straighter back and a good dose of rugged individualism will transform them from losers to winners -- but for the rest of us, it doesn't seem to have much to offer.