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Books to Watch | September 8, 2020

September 08, 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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The Good Book of Southern Baking: A Revival of Biscuits, Cakes, and Cornbread by Kelly Fields with Kate Heddings, Lorena Jones Books

My good friend Angela moved down to New Orleans a handful of years ago, and while I’ve only visited once (stupid quarantine!), that city is ever-present in my mind, as she sends me photos of her Mardi Gras costumes, Krewe updates, and “I’m okay” check-ins after hurricane warnings. So when I get a chance to transport myself down the Mississippi to “pretend visit” my friend in her new city with the colorful houses, distinctive balconies, and mouth-watering cuisine, I’m gonna take it every time. This week, Kelly Fields of Willa Jean bakery in New Orleans’ Central Business District is making my heart sing with The Good Book of Southern Baking. No crazy flavor combinations or hard-to-find ingredients here, just superior versions of all of your Southern favorites: Seven-Layer Bars, Snickerdoodles, Blueberry Pie, Angel Food Cake, Red Velvet Cake (made with beet juice!) and of course, multiple kinds of cornbread and biscuits. “I wrote this book to bury y’all in cornbread and biscuits.” Consider me dead and buried! Nearly any version of these two southern icons is good for my soul, but Fields takes them to an entirely new level, resting the cornbread batter in the fridge overnight, and using Italian-style 00 flour to make extra flaky biscuits. There’s even a guide for us lazy pants for gussying up that favorite instant pantry staple, Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. Alongside these classics, she shares family recipes such as her Mom’s Haystack Cookies, Grandma Mac’s Apple Cake, and Aunt Jean’s Lemon Chiffon Pie. But what most fans of her bakery are looking for here are recipes from her own bakery, and she does not disappoint: Willa Jean’s famous cornbread, chocolate chip cookies, and praline brownies are all here, waiting to make your home kitchen smell like heaven. (BRM)

 

Head, Hand, Heart: Why Intelligence Is Over-Rewarded, Manual Workers Matter, and Caregivers Deserve More Respect by David Goodhart, Free Press

Giving our children a chance to pursue higher education has been a primary objective of working class parents for generations. There is a pride in being the first in one’s family to go to college that is felt as much by the parents who provide the opportunity as the children who seize it. But there used to be more status (and, therefore, chance for self-respect) in doing the mostly manual (“Hand”) work that not only provided that opportunity, but powered so much of the larger economy. David Goodhart’s new book, Head, Hand, Heart explains how the devaluation of that work (in both prestige and pay) and the rise of a supposed “cognitive meritocracy” has brought our economy to a breaking point. And, also, as he writes, how:

At the same time, many aspects of the caring (Heart) work, traditionally done by women in the gift economy of the family, continues to be undervalued even as care work has become an increasingly critical part of the public economy and was so widely applauded (literally) at the height of the crisis.

An economy that provides the opportunity to obtain a higher education to more people is an undeniable good. But not only is that kind of social mobility in decline, what that education provides is changing. Obtaining a college degree does not mean as much as it used to, but not getting one means a whole lot more. As Goodhart writes:

[I]nclusions often require new exclusions, in this case those who do not have the good fortune or aptitude to acquire a university degree—which is a majority of adults in most rich countries. And people no more earn their upbringing or innate intelligence than they earn being born into a rich family. 

It is also true that, even as Goodhart defines these three separate forms of work, there is overlap among and within them. What we build (with both code and construction material) is improved when those building it have empathy and care for those who will be using it. Care work requires an extraordinary amount of knowledge to perform well—which of course we all want for the family members we entrust to their care. 

The best business literature I’ve read in recent years discusses how important cognitive diversity is within organizations. But the way the economy is currently organized rewards one kind of cognitive ability (specifically acquired through the attainment of a higher education) over, and at the expense of, generosity, hard work, and wisdom. How we can recalibrate that to build a more balanced and stronger economy is the task at hand, one that honors manual and care—“Hand” and “Heart”—workers as much as all the pronouncements of them as “heroes” during this epidemic does. (DJJS)

 

Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World by Tom Burgis, Harper

“It’s the economy, stupid.” I was 11 years old when James Carville put those words into the political lexicon. And, though—even under the president he worked for—things have not improved economically for the majority of Americans for the past 40 years or so, I still considered it a fundamental truth. 

So, a few years ago, I was having a really hard time understanding the political motivations behind so many of our country’s elected representatives’ behaviors—behind who and what they supported. Home for Christmas discussing this with my family, my brother replied, simply, it’s all about the money. Which, I get. I’ve read the research that not only suggests, but clearly shows, how policies are guided almost entirely by the interests of the largest campaign donors rather than in what policies are supported by the vast majority of constituents any given politician was elected to represent. But it seemed to me that so much of what they were (are) doing was (is) not only not in most people’s interests, but undermining the very economy—all to curry the favor of an economic elite that relies on that economy for their own wealth. At some point, the jig would have to be up. It just didn’t compute. 

Then I read Oliver Burrough’s Moneyland: The Inside Story of the Crooks and Kleptocrats Who Rule the World. It was then that I understood the profit principle I saw as undermining our economy—even our national security—was mostly hidden from view because it was often based on ill-gotten gains. And we can’t really understand what we don’t see. Tom Burgis’s Kleptopia: How Dirty Money Is Conquering the World takes us even further inside that reality and helps us see the picture even clearer. It reads like a thriller, so even amidst the despair, you won’t want to put it down. Through real stories and real characters, Burgis explains how enmeshed our system—and its ruling class—is in a global system of money laundering and corruption that once seemed relegated to the “developing” world. 

But, when corruption becomes so pervasive that it corrodes the economy it is supposed to be grifting off of, what then? And when the perceived legitimacy of the systems that have been used to hide corruption are themselves exposed as lacking integrity, as open to fraud, what then? What happens when kleptocracy is accepted as “normal business,” when theft becomes the law? (DJJS)

 

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom by Brittany K. Barnett, Crown 

A few months ago, Porchlight shared an adapted excerpt from Open Season by Ben Crump that explains how the current criminal justice system preserves the prejudiced power structures put in place by slavery. Crump's work as an attorney for the families of African-American men attacked by police (Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice, and most recently, Jacob Blake, among others) lent another layer of engagement in the fight for social justice. And this week Brittany K. Barnett brings her own experience as an attorney outside the courtroom, sharing the emotional story of Sharanda Jones.

Jones was sentenced to life in prison for a drug offense despite having no other criminal record and despite "the obvious lies from the witnesses and the sympathetic glances the jurors shot her" throughout the last week of her trial. Her elementary-aged daughter grew into a young woman while Jones was still in prison.

Barnett's own mother was also sentenced to prison years earlier, caught up in the drug war in Dallas, Texas. Her mother's struggles with addiction provoked young Barnett's own coming-of-age struggles to understand drugs, rehab, failure, and forgiveness. And then she began to understand law enforcement:

We were a rural Black family in East Texas, where the arm of the law had quickly replaced the slave owners' shackles as a method of social and economic control of its Black population.

Barnett and Jones are not alone. They are part of a community still being treated as worthless to our society. The injustices touch so many lives, not just those in prison or even their immediate families. The expansiveness of the criminal justice system's inhumane practices can be overwhelming, so I greatly appreciate Barnett's focus and engaging, often poetic, prose in A Knock at Midnight. (GMC)

 

Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future by Margaret Heffernan, Avid Reader Press

Planning out and navigating the future is as much a significant privilege of the 21st century as it is an anxiety-inducing one. Margaret Heffernan provides a better understanding of why we become so averse to the world as soon as it throws something unpredictable our way (i.e."Trump. Brexit. The end of history. The fall of idols. A new virus. Booms and busts and out of the blue, #MeToo"). Uncharted exposes the well-repressed truths about the future: it is predictable to varying degrees, but ultimately, it is uncertain. This wake-up call is not just important for keeping our own perspectives realistic, but also for the health of our communities. 

Overwhelmed by complexity, we seek simplification and too quickly reach for binary perspectives, just at the moment when we need broader ones.

We sometimes shun people based on oversimplifications of their characteristics (likes, dislikes, skin color, clothing choices, etc.), and we don't want to bother thinking ourselves out of this behavior. We sometimes overly rely on GPS to get us from our house to the grocery store, and we lose the ability to function without that technology. We're dependent on misleadingly undependable technologies. "We become addicted to the very source of our anxiety.”

Uncharted helps us understand this reality, and hopefully begin to overcome it. Heffernan provides valuable examples for productively engaging with uncertainty in our everyday lives and friendships, our businesses, our science fields, our government and more. The more I read, the more I am becoming okay with embracing uncertainty, and learning how to be happier and more successful along the way. (GMC)

 

What we're reading away from work:

Pale Rider by Laura Spinney“I'm reading Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World. I’m about a quarter of the way in & it’s covering the history of some flu outbreaks dating back to 412 BC when it was first documented in northern Greece by Hippocrates. Real interesting stuff.”

— Meg Bacik, Customer Service Manager

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