Book Review: Eloquent Rage-A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper

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Already a fan of Brittney Cooper’s work at the website Salon I was pretty excited to get my hands on her book of essays Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower. I was especially thrilled after I read all the praise this book was garnering from notable women like Joy Reid, Rebecca Traister, and my beloved Roxane Gay, who calls Cooper’s work “provocative and engaging.”

Provocative and engaging? Yes, and so much more.

Cooper is a professor of women and gender studies, and Africana Africana studies at Rutgers University. She is also co-founder of the Crunk Feminist Collective.

Eloquent Rage focuses on black women and black women’s feminism. Her essays offer commentary on topics like politics, pop culture, relationships, sex, and other things affecting the black community. Much of these topics reflect Cooper’s experience but she invokes the experiences of others.

Cooper’s writing is both academic and accessible. And these essays are a much needed education for this white feminist.

To give you a sneak peek into the pages Eloquent Rage, the essays focus on topics like bothersome sassy black woman stereotype, strong female leads in pop culture, Michelle Obama’s silent defiance of the Trump regime expressed through her hair and body language, and the problem with white feminists.

Eloquent Rage is a treasure of a book and should be used in both the classroom and at book discussion groups.

 

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Book Review: Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land

Over the past few years I’ve read several books on what it is like to live in the richest country on low pay, back breaking work, while striving to make a better life for oneself and perhaps one’s family. Some of these books include Hand to Mouth by Linda Tirado, We Were Witches by Ariel Gore, The Broke Diaries by Angela Nissel, and of course, Barbara Ehrenreich’s classic, Nickel and Dimed.

I didn’t think I could handle reading another one until I came across Stephanie Land’s memoir, Maid-Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive. (Introduction by Barbara Ehrenreich)

Not quite 30, Land found herself leaving an abusive relationship with a young daughter in tow. What followed her was a nightmare of homelessness, deplorable apartments, low wages working as a housekeeper, and a very unpleasant journey through the so-called safety net when it came to acquiring government assistance. Unlike some fortunate souls Land lacks a supportive family who help her in her time of need.

Land decides to clean houses to support herself and her daughter while also attending college. She works for a local housecleaning company but also takes on freelance gigs. Not surprisingly, housekeeping is truly back breaking, horribly paid, and demoralizing. Some of her clients don’t see her fully human and worthy of respect. And then some of them just don’t see “her.”

Not making enough money to buy even the basic necessities, Land has to go on government assistance, a tangled weave that is often very difficult unravel with its endless paperwork and noxious questioning of Land’s eligibility and worthiness. If one earns a few extra dollars, one can find their benefits slashed or lose them in their entirety.

Keep in mind, not only is Land taking care of her daughter and cleaning houses, she’s also attending college. I just dare any reader to call her a slacker. She is the antithesis of lazy. In fact, due to my research, most people receiving some type of assistance are working and/or going to school. They are not cheating the system and most are not lazy losers.

But back to the book…

Maid is searing with brutal honesty. Land’s love and devotion to her daughter is undeniable as is her willingness to make a better life using various options. Her resourcefulness is both admirable and clever. I couldn’t help but root for her. Does she at times feel sorry for herself? Well, of course. She is human, after all. There certain times in one’s life when you just got to cry over your lot in life, and then you move on.

In the end people who are struggling like Land deserve respect, not empty pity or utter derision lacking any type of empathy.

In the end Maid convinces the reader to look beyond the stereotypes you may have swirling in your brain when it comes to the poor, anyone on benefits or those faceless, nameless heroes and heroines who make our lives much easier through their blood, sweat and tears.

Maid is a treasure of a memoir. Land should be very proud of herself, and I hope she keeps writing. I expect more from her. She’s one to watch.

Book Review: Leading from the Roots-Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World by Dr. Kathleen E. Allen

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“Leadership today is about unlearning management and relearning being human.” – Javier Pladevall, CEO of Volkswagen Audi Retail

You know I like a book when I mark it up with post-its, write notes in the margins, highlight certain passages and nod my head along like one of those bobble-head figurines. Which is exactly what I did while reading Dr. Kathleen E. Allen’s fascinating, timely and revolutionary’s book Leading from the Roots: Nature-Inspired Leadership Lessons for Today’s World.

This book implores organizational leaders (and pretty much anyone else with a stake in the workplace) to look beyond the confines of the physical spaces where we toil to nature and how it can help us and our companies thrive.

Leading from the Roots is divided into 11 well-researched,  and finely-written chapters on concepts like cooperation, diversity, lack of waste, curbing excess, the power of limits and so much more.

Each chapter gives ample evidence on how nature can help worker’s productivity and commitment to their jobs and how simple it is to work these practices into the workplace that won’t break the bank, take up too much time, or distract us from our tasks at hand. Dr. Allen provides ample evidence through both her extensive end notes and bibliography. And each chapter concludes with a summary of the chapter’s main focus and points to ponder and discuss.

Simply put, Leading from the Roots inspired me. Dr. Allen’s lessons are doable, practical and very audience-friendly. It’s ideal for everyone-managers, workers, students and grads, religious leaders, politicians, activists, teachers, creative types, social workers, medical personal, entrepreneurs, and so on.

Leading from the Roots is a great addition to my book shelf. I highly suggest you add it to your book shelf.

Book Review: The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree-Words from the Heart edited by Mrs. Fields


Note: Over 10 years ago I reviewed this book for a U2 fansite. In honor of Poetry month, I decided to dust it off, make a few revisions, and publish it here at The Book Self.

U2 fans are not your typical rock and roll fans. Sure, they buy the CDs, download their music, and go to the concerts, but being a U2 fan is so much more than that. U2 fans are motivated. They are inspired to open their minds, learn new things, and get involved in causes bigger than themselves. However, they are also inspired to use own creativity. This is evident in a slim, yet powerful book of poetry and short stories called The Little Red Book of Poet-ee-tree: Words from the Heart.

The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree is a volume containing heartfelt prose by a collection of U2 fans throughout the globe. Their love of U2’s music and the written word lead these fans to The Heart. The Heart was an Internet poetry forum where writers cultivated their writing skills, shared their work with others, and got their creative juices flowing. Sadly, it shut down in 2003, but fortunately for the Heart community, U2 fans, and lovers of good writing, the works created for the Heart are not lost forever. They are compiled into The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree.

All the royalties of The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree went to the African Well Fund, a charity founded in 2002 by a group of U2 fans to provide a clean water sources to many African communities. The African Well Fund has built and supplied clean water and sanitation projects in Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree was just one part of the African Well Fund’s comprehensive vision to help others.

The poets published in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree write about love and loss, heartbreak and joy. They write with clear-eyed optimism and downcast despair. These poems take us on a journey of both the writers’ hearts and souls, and our individual interpretations to their work. Some poems a mere few lines, whereas others nearly tell a story.

Jennifer’s startling “Modern Day Warfare” uses the frightening images of mustard-gas lies and biological-warfare thoughts, along with rat-ta-tat fists to chillingly describe abuse both emotional and physical.

Kel, in the poem “Africa” describes the continent as a living, breathing human female, inhaling her warm earthy air. This poem puts a very personal face on one’s personal journey throughout the African landscape.

Mrs. F. conveys the love a mother has for her children in the poem “Earth and Angels.” Phrases like “He darts in dizzy zig zags…Listens wide-eyed, hoots at the owl” and “Head filled with fairies and music…She skips and sings” give us an intimate look at the special qualities that make our sons and daughters so special to us.

All the poems, whether short or lengthy, are very strong, and open to many interpretations. I don’t know how these poets came to their words. Sometimes a poem just comes to someone and easily flows out onto paper. Sometimes constructing a poem is like throwing a bunch of words into the air, and then constructing a poem using the scattered words. However the poems came to be in this book, they came through what Allen Ginsberg once called, “ordinary magic.”

Several short stories are also collected in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree. When writing a short story, writers also face challenges. Writers need to grab the reader and tell a complete story in a short amount of words. And these stories have to be engaging, draw the reader in, and achieve a believable conclusion without seeming to be tacked on in haste.

This is expertly done in Laurie CK’s “Pennycake.” In this story, carefree memories of a 1970’s childhood are recalled with its birthday rituals and lazy summer days. The brief mentions of Noxzema, Keith Partridge, and 8-Track tapes give the reader a strong idea of a certain place in time. This story also evokes what it is like to be a child facing real life unexpected grief and a subsequent loss of faith.

The one quibble I do have with this book (and it is a minor one) is the limited amount of writers. I don’t know if this is because only a few writers were accepted or only a few writers chose to submit their work. This could also be because the Heart was a small group to begin with. If anything this book begs for a sequel.

 

Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

Book Review: The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America by Sarah Kedzior

When not being ignored by the two coasts, flyover country is being celebrated as where the “real Americans” live, usually by conservative pundits. And to these pundits, real Americans are defined as white and for the most part living in the suburbs or rural areas who define themselves as conservative Christians.

But not so fast, living in flyover country, I know we are a much more diverse bunch and so does Sarah Kedzior, which she sums up in her collection of essays The View from Flyover Country-Dispatches from the Forgotten America.

A reporter for Al Jazeera America and residing in St. Louis, Missouri, Kedzior’s essays focus on such thorny topics as race, income inequality, the friction among generations, education, foreign policy, the media, women’s issues and so much more.

Kedzior starts off The View from Flyover Country with an introduction rolling out what her collection of essays is all about, giving the reader a clear idea on what to expect among its six parts.

In Part One, Flyover Country, Kedzior defines flyover country and topics such as how expensive cities are killing creatives and hipster economics.

Part Two, Post-Employments, explains issues of survival, how workers are paying a steep price, zilch opportunities and how sometimes these issues make people do extreme things like lighting themselves on fire.

Race and religion define Part Three, where Kedzior writes about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin’s murder, Black Lives Matter, and what happened in Ferguson in the wake of Mike Brown being gunned down by police.

In Part Four Kedzior examines the broken promise of a higher education, and how school debt has crippled countless smart, hard-working and talented graduates. She also decries the deplorable pay of adjunct professors who work tirelessly to educate our students.

Part Five is a careful examination of our media and how gaining access seems to be only available to the well-connected elite (don’t I know it!) and the problem of fringe media in the Internet age.

Foreign policy makes up Part Six when it comes to gender, Edward Snowden, the situation in Iraq and basic human rights.

Finally, Kedzior sums things up with a standout essay on the importance of complaining. If people didn’t complain, women wouldn’t have the right to vote, black people would still be at the back of the bus, and gay people wouldn’t be able to marry those they love.

While reading The View Flyover Country, I marked several pages with post-it notes and wrote down some key quotes and passages in my well-worn notebook. Kedzior writes in a down-to-earth way with smarts and clarity. She truly cares about these issues and implores us to also care about them.

The View from Flyover Country is a treasure of a book and is ideal for both the college classroom and book discussion groups everywhere.

Book Review: Braving the Wilderness-The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brené Brown PhD, LMSW

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I first head of Dr. Brené Brown when she was mentioned during a sermon at my church, First Union Society of Milwaukee several years ago. Intrigued, I decided to read Brown’s books and check out her now classic TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability.” I’m now a huge fan of Brown’s work so I was only too happy to read and review Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. *

Braving the Wilderness is about being courageous enough to strip us off all pretenses and face an often critical world being our true, authentic selves. It’s also a reminder that by doing this we might find ourselves standing alone is ways that may make us uncomfortable. To do this Brown gives us four practices to guide us, which include.

  1. People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.
  2. Speak Truth to BS. Be Civil.
  3. Hold Hands. With Strangers.
  4. Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart.

After several chapters summing of the context of Braving the Wilderness, which includes stories about Brown’s personal stories of a rough childhood and several notable luminaries, we get into the crux of the book.

The practices Brown advises are clear as can be. We often hate what we don’t know, especially people we deem as “others” so it’s important to move in and get to know then as living human beings. However, sometimes we must speak out when other tell lies, just don’t be a jerk about it. Don’t be afraid to extend a hand to someone you don’t know, and finally have a back bone, a compassionate soul and a heart that is brave enough to survive the rough and wild world out there.

In print, this seems easy, but in actual practice they might be quite difficult. So thank goodness for Brown’s wisdom in imparting her advice throughout Braving the Wilderness using her gifts as a storyteller and academic. She touches on the issues that divide us, but also reflects on issues that unite us.

While reading Braving the Wilderness I often found myself nodding my head, saying to myself, “Yes, I get this. This is my truth!” And at times I was faced with passages that challenged me in ways where I had to put down the book a take several moments to reflect on Brown’s words. I also read passages I wanted to revisit once I finished reading Braving the Wilderness long after I finished it, which is obvious from all the post-it notes I placed in my copy.

I must admit I was a bit hesitant in writing my review of Braving the Wilderness. I was afraid I’d come across an over-enthusiastic fan girl of Brown’s or this review might be more of a marketing piece than a legitimate review. I also didn’t want to give away too much of the book’s content either. It is a book that should be read and savored as personal experience.

Most of all Braving the Wilderness is a very important book in our modern age of “MAGA cap wearing deplorables” and “pussy hat wearing snowflakes.” We are so polarized. Is there a way we can become less “Us vs. Them” and more “We the People?” A very timely book, Braving the Wilderness is just one soothing and wise elixir that might make that possible.

*Braving the Wilderness is currently being sold at the Book Tower in the Common Room at First Unitarian Society of Milwaukee.