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Books to Watch | August 4, 2020

August 04, 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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My Time to Speak: Reclaiming Ancestry and Confronting Race by Ilia Calderón, Atria Books

Ilia Calderón is the first Afro-Latina to anchor a national weekday evening newscast for a major Hispanic broadcast network in the United States. That network was Telemundo, perhaps the only one I can remember my father watching in our household growing up, which I imagined was a way for him to feel less secluded in our rural Wisconsin village that severely lacked diversity in its population. 

Calederón's own story echoes this feeling of otherness and search for community. While my father found sufficient solace in hearing his first language, Spanish wasn't enough for Calederón whose skin tone kept her alienated:

There’s no doubt: I, Ilia Calderón Chamat, am black. Colombian, Latina, Hispanic, Afro-Colombian, mixed, and anything else people may want to call me or I choose to call myself, but I’m always black. I may bear Castilian Jewish and Syrian Arab last names, but I’m simply black in the eyes of the world.

In My Time to Speak, she calls out the racism that has threatened her and others into staying silent for decades—whether those threats are as overt as a Ku Klux Klan member threatening to burn her or as difficult to trace as the lack of soccer coaching opportunities available to children in certain areas of a city. Calederón's skin color didn't complicate her childhood in Istmina, Colombia, but when she moved to pursue a job as a news anchor, her life began to morph into a version of "the grass isn't always greener." However, My Time to Speak is a reminder to us all that we are the reason the grass on our side of the fence is withering, so we can also be the ones to bring it back to life for all who wish to live and prosper in our communities. (GMC)

 

Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger: A Memoir by Lisa Donovan, Penguin Press

Nashville pastry chef turned James Beard Award-winning writer Lisa Donovan starts off her memoir in Costa Rica, at a time when the restaurant industry had nearly swallowed her whole. Fed up with how she had allowed her environment to change her so drastically and exhausted with pretending to be happy, she had walked away from restaurant work and packed away her pastry tool kit in the attic. 

I had lost the narrative. I was trying to fit myself into something that was not built for me, and I had tried to do that for a really long time. The world that men made had finally used up and exhausted every bit of me.

The heartache she felt after leaving the world she once loved festered until a friend coaxed her into teaching a joint yoga and baking retreat in the jungle, where she tried to heal from her years spent in the “pathetic underbelly of the hospitality industry.” Baking barefoot, learning to eat guava pods, climbing trees to harvest juicy mangoes, and experimenting with freshly ground green banana flour, her body remembered why it so loved this work. She set out to create a new, healthier path for herself. A path that would reject the food world’s insistence on using women as props and supporting players, never getting the full recognition they earned.

Donovan’s memoir is exactly what we need while our world is undergoing a massive self-examination. Like so many others, the restaurant industry is being faced with unfathomable economic challenges, while at the same time being forced to reckon with the unjust underpinnings that have been laid bare. Where will that industry come out on the other side of this? Can it create a way to value and truly care for talented chefs and other workers to sustain life-long careers that include having families? Hopefully the industry can use Donovan’s story, and so many others like it, as a warning signal to find a better way forward. Let’s not “go back to normal.” Rather, let’s use this time to create something better; something new and just and full of care and love. Like this book. (BRM)

Read an excerpt from Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger on Eater.

 

Tales of Two Planets: Stories of Climate Change and Inequality in a Divided World, edited by John Freeman, Penguin Books

Confronting the realities of climate change as an individual—to understand and internalize what is happening to our planet on a personal level—can be devastating. But if we don’t come to that understanding as individuals, we face devastation on a global scale, and as a species. There are many steps in between to literally turn the tide, but it starts with opening our own eyes to reality. One of those realities, John Freeman writes, is that:  

Climate change is affecting us all, but it’s going to hit the poorest parts of the globe first, and hardest. 

It has already begun doing so. Freeman has brought together a collection of essays, poems, and stories from across our changing planet, from some of the world’s best writers, that document just some of the catastrophe beginning to unfold: what it looks and feels like, documenting life and lives we’re leaving behind, large things being washed away underneath us, small things disappearing from the air around, and the anxieties and anger within us. From South Florida to Sierra Leone, Iceland to India, from Canada to Columbia to Kenya and so many other locales all over the world comes a glimpse of the reality we face. Perhaps these stories can help us face it, first as individuals, and then as a global community that acts in unison to avoid the most apocalyptic of outcomes. (DJJS)

 

Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots by Morgan Jerkins, Harper

One big idea that Americans are realizing right now is this: our country's history is a lot more complex than we have been taught. Our communities are filled with profound personal histories, and only now is there space being made to tell and listen to them. Morgan Jerkins reveals each layer of her life to the reader as she uncovers it herself. With the tone of a mystery novel in which the main character is the mystery, Wandering in Strange Lands is a bewitching book that speaks to finding (or maybe crafting) a connection between one's many identities.

Because I didn’t have a full narrative from either of my two families, I was not confident in my identity and culture. A sense of loss defined both components. My half-baked statements about my heritage stemmed from a particularly insular Northern upbringing.

Jerkins literally retraces the footsteps of her ancestors who migrated from Georgia and South Carolina to Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California to reconstruct the memories of migrants. With the inclusion of many photos and interviews, reading Wandering in Strange Lands is a hopeful and engaging journey to undertake from wherever you are and wherever you come from. (GMC)

Read an excerpt from this book here.

 

What Girls Need: How to Raise Bold, Courageous, and Resilient Women by Marisa Porges, PhD, Viking 

Marisa Porges has flown jets off aircraft carriers as an aviator in the U.S. Navy, and has served two presidents in counterterrorism and cybersecurity. Those accomplishments would have undoubtedly been easier if she were a man, but encountering overt sexism along the way taught her lessons and honed certain life skills that have aided her since. Combined with talents more typically associated with, perhaps even intrinsic to, women—like empathy, collaboration, and communication—they were lessons that helped her, even to …

survive wandering through southern Afghanistan, conducting interviews with former Taliban and local tribal leaders during the height of fighting season, despite travelling solo, with no security detail by my side or weapon in my handbag, and being one of the only Jewish American women my Afghan contacts have ever met.

And all of those experiences sound less daunting to me than her current job—leading a school. Hers is an all-girls school of almost 600 students, spanning from pre-K through high school, which makes the job different from most school leaders’. Her new book combines the skills and life lessons she brought to the job with what she has learned from it, and helps us understand how to better nurture young girls and young women and prepare them to succeed in a world still too often stacked against them. It is not about making them more like men, but in large part how to nurture traits we traditionally undervalue that are becoming more important, like empathy, or that we tend to teach out of girls, like competition. (DJJS)

 

What we're reading away from work:

A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi"A Very Large Expanse of Sea hits you right in the heart in tiny, unexpected ways in every chapter until it's over and you realize that all of those tiny moments have built themselves into one big profound feeling. You just have to sit with it and absorb it and hope that some of it sticks around. This book has quickly lodged itself into my top five favorites of all time."

Lauren Kohlenberg, Digital Support Specialist

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