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Books to Watch | April 7, 2020

April 07, 2020

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Each and every week, our marketing team—Marketing Director Blyth Meier (BRM), Digital Marketing Specialist Gabbi Cisneros (GMC), and Editorial Director Dylan Schleicher (DJJS)—highlights five new books we are most excited about.

This week, our choices are:

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Acting with Power: Why We Are More Powerful Than We Believe by Deborah Gruenfeld, Currency

In Acting with Power, Deborah Gruenfeld teaches us how to understand and own the power we have, and to use it more consciously and with intent, so we don’t default to the instinct we all have to simply protect ourselves. She explains how real influence is not achieved by hoarding power, but by using what power you have to further the interests of the group. 

That is because power is not a personal trait you either have or you don’t, but a social phenomenon and construct, a part of the social contract. That is, “it lives and dies in the context.” You cannot be powerful on a desert island. Power depends on “the degree to which you are needed” by others, the degree to which you are useful to the group. And in that way, you are probably more powerful than you imagine, because more people need you than you know, because power is based on your connection to them rather than how dominant you are or seem to be. It is about existing in and understanding a shared reality, and playing your part in it as well as you possibly can. In that sense, power is not really about you, not about controlling a narrative and setting the course. As Gruenfeld writes: “Power is a part you play in someone else’s story.”

How and to whom are you connected? What do they need from you right now? How can you step out of the fear that pervades the present moment and show love, hope, and generosity of spirit to others? This moment makes it more evident than most that power and leadership are best used in the service of others, in getting them what they need to (literally) survive, and in overcoming fear and division and enlisting everyone together. (DJJS)

 

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez, The MIT Press

What does humankind’s traditional pattern of segmented sleep, now mostly lost to time, have to do with quartz clocks? What did Louis Armstrong teach us in Jazz that Albert Einstein enumerated in his theory of relativity? What can Toni Morrison and Alan Lomax teach us about taking a more inclusive approach to science, technology, and innovation? Materials scientist Ainissa Ramirez has written a remarkable book that answers all those questions and more, focusing on the humanity of the individuals who helped shape the technology that has in turn shaped our humanity—for better and worse. 

One of my favorite stories is of Caroline Hunter and Ken Williams, two Polaroid employees who discovered that the photos used in South Africa’s apartheid-era passbooks, documents used to monitor and control the movements of black South Africans, used Polaroid cameras. The two of them launched the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement to get the company to withdraw its business from the country, which eventually led them to testifying before the United Nations Special Committee on Policies of Apartheid and garnered the personal thanks of Nelson Mandela when he visited the United States for “preventing the further capture of black South Africans.” It is a powerful illustration of how the physical sciences can and do affect social science, and an example for today’s tech workers of how proximity to that powerful influence can be used to shape history. (DJJS)

 

In Search of the Wild Tofurky: How a Business Misfit Pioneered Plant-Based Foods Before They Were Cool by Seth Tibbott with Steve Richardson, Diversion

If you've paid attention to the books I've written about for Porchlight's weekly Books to Watch, I often choose those relating to environmentalism/sustainability/wellness–all topics that intertwine the individual's health with society's and the planet's health. Coupled with the fact that I'm a huge fan of Tofurky brand Italian sausage, In Search of the Wild Tofurky seemed like an easy choice to write about this week.

However, I'm also slightly nervous around autobiographical, company-made books/videos that present a more optimistic reality than other sources may attest to. I'm thinking of the type of artificial messaging that a customer service trainee might be taught to repeat without needing to understand either the customer's questions or the reason behind the scripted answer. 

I'm happy to report that In Search of the Wild Tofurky is uniquely down-to-earth and, as promised in the introduction:

"It's the story of working very hard, living on very little, and diligently striving to become less stupid, mistake by mistake, year after year. It's the story of struggling for twenty years to become an overnight success."

Author and Tofurky Founder Seth Tibbott recounts the growing pains of making it in (or just making) an industry that didn't quite exist yet, and perfecting his product along the way. He was a new vegetarian and then a college drop out. He quit student teaching, learned to make tempeh, "But then", as this fun sentence on the first page states, "I had my Tofurky moment."

Watch the book trailer if you still need to be convinced to read this quirky and impressive business story. (GMC)

 

More than Ready : Be Strong and Be You . . . and Other Lessons for Women of Color on the Rise by Cecilia Muñoz, Seal Press

It's a lot of pressure for anyone to be the sole voice of an entire community, but author Cecilia Muñoz shares her story from Michigan-born Latina to Director of the Obama Administration's director of the Domestic Policy Council confidently yet only as an example among many other women's stories that she quotes throughout the book. Some of these are empowering reminders that people are successfully breaking stereotypes and that communities are embracing change. Other examples in the book include bleak reminders of the unchanging ways of gender inequality:

"She [Tyra Mariani, an African American woman who is the president and COO of New America] and Kathy Ko Chin, the petite, dynamic leader of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, agree with me that being short is also a thing that can prevent us from being taken seriously. We have all compensated for it in the same way, too, by wearing suits and heels. Kathy even wore a suit and heels as a college student."

More Than Ready acknowledges these handicaps but offers alternatives that will redirect your energy to empowering yourself and thus communicate your power and passion without the need for any facade. Muñoz's overarching advice is to quash doubt, to broaden confidence, and to uplift others through it all, because if you're a woman of color, you likely will be or already have been "a first or an only in the room," but you shouldn't be the last.

If you’re unable to get a copy of this book just yet, listen to Cecilia Muñoz on Latina to Latina podcast. A transcript of the interview is also available. (GMC)

 

My Korea: Traditional Flavors, Modern Recipes by Hooni Kim with Aki Kamozawa, Norton

Continuing my world travels-by-way-of-cookbooks during an era of limited movement, this week I visit Korea via New York chef Hooni Kim, whose restaurant Danji was the first Korean-American restaurant to earn a coveted Michelin star. Raised in both the UK and the US, his annual trips back to his birth country of Korea with his mother imprinted the cuisine deep inside him, as he ate his grandmother’s homemade jangs (sauces), his uncles’ fresh caught seafood, and the staggering range of spicy stews found in Seoul. His first cookbook is an essential collection of both traditional and modern Korean cuisine, focusing on top quality ingredients upon which to build authentic flavor through time-intensive techniques. “True, complex flavors come with time, effort, and attention to detail, and, most important, from using the best ingredients that you can lay your hands on.” Forming the backbone of Korean cuisine are naturally fermented homades jangs (sauces)—spicy, tangy, sweet, and salty—which are “so important and fundamental to the well-being of a household that Koreans still have a saying that if your jangs go bad, your household will have bad luck that year.” In fact, the centrality of fermented foods in the diet is so profound thak most Korean households have at least two refrigerators; one devoted entirely to optimal storage of various kinds of kimchi. With a helpful pantry section and stunning photography throughout, the list of recipes I want to try is long: Spicy stir-fried squid, Spicy soft tofu stew with seafood, Spicy cold buckwheat noodles (are you sensing a theme yet?), Spicy rice cakes, and rounding it all out with a Spicy ginger margarita and Misugaru (seven-grain) ice cream. “The final, and most important part of Korean food, as any Korean mother will tell you, is the concept of cooking with jung sung—to cook with heart and devotion.” Kim’s bold and joyous cookbook was clearly written with plenty of jung sung as well. (BRM)

 

What we're reading away from work:

Phoebe Reads a Mystery Podcast “I don’t know if a bit of Agatha Christie will appeal to anyone else, but the podcast Phoebe Reads a Mystery is a nice thing to wind down with before trying to go to sleep." —Sally Haldorson, Managing Director

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