Audio book: The End of Policing

by Alex S. Vitale
Read by Michael Butler Murray
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Content: There is some description, none graphic, of abuses by police officers over the history of policing in the United States. It’s in the sociology section of the bookstore.

When all the protests started happening around the death of George Floyd, one of the things I heard and saw was a call to defund the police. I had no idea what that meant, and so (as I do), I found a book — the author was in a story on NPR — to explain it to me.

Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College, collects data in various areas, from homelessness to the war on drugs to protest policing, about how effective the police force and criminal justice system is in the United States. The short answer: the police are completely and utterly ineffective in dealing with problems in communities. They are there to protect those who have property (usually white people) from those who don’t (usually poor, non-white people). And the methods they use are, to be frank, racist and ineffective.

The data in the book is a bit old; the most recent is from 2014-2015, but I don’t think much has gotten better. Vitale asserts that without real reform — and not just more “diversity training” — to communities and the way they tackle things like poverty, joblessness, mental illness, and immigration then searching for “criminals” and arresting Black and brown youth are not going to solve the problems. In short: defund the police and send the money into the social programs that we have been starving for 40 years.

The thing is: this isn’t a Republican/Democrat thing. Vitale reminds readers that Clinton and Obama were as bad promoting policing as the answer to being “tough on crime” as Reagan and the Bushes were. It’s a policy thing. Which reminds me of something else I’ve seen: the system isn’t broken. This IS the system. The way policing has developed in this country is inevitably skewed against the poor and the non-white. And to change it will take an overhaul of not just policing, but the whole system. It’s not going to be fixed with short-term, “look at us we’re doing ‘reforms'” bills, but a constant holding politicians and elected leaders accountable for the money that is going into the policing system.

And I think Vitale has convinced me that we really do need to #defundthepolice.

Audio book: Me and White Supremacy

by Layla Saad
Read by the author
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Content: There is some mild swearing. It is in the Self-Help section (I think?) of the bookstore.

I am going to say this up front: I read this book wrong. It was meant to be an interactive 28-day journey with journaling and extensive deep reflection. However, that just doesn’t work (for me) in audio format. I listen in the car or doing a puzzle, and it’s just not conducive to a lot of serious reflection. So. I am going to purchase this book (when it’s reprinted; it’s on backorder now) and do the actual work.

Some thoughts though:

This book, by a Black woman, centers on how white people are privileged by the system we live in. Saad asks some tough questions, explains some tough concepts (like white privilege and white fragility), and encourages readers to do the work to become anti-racist and more inclusive. She also asks about concrete commitments we (white people!) can make in order to continue the lifelong pursuit of becoming anti-racist. It’s a challenging book to read, if only because she (very calmly and eloquently) challenges the very fabric of the society white people are used to.

And for that, it’s very much worth reading.

Audiobook: Over the Top

by Jonathan Van Ness
Read by the author
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Content: Jonathan has not lived a PG-13 life, and his book reflects that. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Much like Tan France’s memoir, I listened this for the sheer pleasure of getting to “know” another person’s story. Jonathan grew up in Qunicey, Illinois, as one of the few out gay people in the town (as he said: “Hunny, I was never in!”). It wasn’t easy. He’d experienced sexual abuse at a young age at the hands of a family friend, and spent most of his childhood and 20s trying to suppress the shame and trauma that came along with that abuse. It doesn’t make for a light, fluffy, fun book, but that’s the point. JVN is known on Queer Eye for being the positive, optimistic one, and he sets out in this book to share all the parts of himself with us. Part of that is bubbly and optimistic, but there’s a lot that isn’t. He’s been through a lot. And I’m glad he’s talking about it.

He was absolutely delightful as a narrator, as well. I liked that he made himself giggle at times and that his voice was choked with emotion at other times (the death of his stepdad, whom he loved, was particularly hard). It’s a very personal story, and I’m glad I chose to experience it in this personal way.

It’s not high literature, but I never expected it to be. It is engaging and entertaining and enlightening, though. And I loved it for those reasons.

Why We’re Polarized

by Ezra Klein
First sentence: “‘I’ve spent a part of every day since November 8, 2016, wrestling with a single question,” writes Hilary Clinton in What Happened.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the Current section (it’s where we put all political books) at the bookstore.

I don’t usually read political book. I leave that to my husband, who then (sometimes) summarizes them for me. But the title of — and the idea behind — this one captured my attention. I have noticed over the past four years (though probably longer, if I’m really honest) that we’re just getting more and more polarized politically, and I wanted to know what to do about it.

Well the bad news: Klein doesn’t have a whole lot of ideas about “what to do about it”, and what ideas he does have probably don’t have much chance of getting passed (get rid of the Electoral College, increase the Supreme Court to 15 people, and so on). But what he did do was help me understand how we got to this place. And the reason? It’s actually a logical growth from the way politics has been headed since the 1960s. In short: political parties could agree and compromise more because they both basically agreed that black people were the worst. Change things so black people have rights, and suddenly (well, over time), one party becomes a haven for everyone who thinks that’s a Bad Thing and the other party becomes more open to diversity. Sure, that’s simplifying, but it has a lot to do.

There are other reasons: how politics have become national (can you name your state representative?) instead of local, and that’s more polarizing. Or how parties have become less about politics and more about identities and how we identify. It’s less about concrete policies and more about ideologies, which isn’t a great way to run a country.

So, even though it’s not terribly helpful on the action end of things, it was quite fascinating to understand how we got to this point. Especially for someone who doesn’t read a lot of political science scholarship.

Audio book: Mobituaries

by Mo Rocca
Read by the author.
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Content: There may be some mild swearing. And sometimes the topics are kind of gross. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up because I like Mo Rocca on Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. Which is also the reason I picked to listen to it rather than read it. I enjoyed listening to Mo tell these stories — some of which I knew, most of which I didn’t — about people and ideas that have passed on. The problem? In audio, while it was going, I was interested and entertained. Afterward, though, I couldn’t tell you a single thing about what I heard. Maybe it’s just how I retain knowledge, maybe it was a bit the way the book was structured (it was more a trivia book than anything else), but I didn’t retain a single thing. It’s very much a bathroom book: read a story while you go to the bathroom, and then put it down.

That does’t mean it was bad. Mo is very entertaining, both as a writer and a reader, and some of these stories were quite fascinating. But it just didn’t stick with me in the long run.

So: entertaining, but not really informative.

Stamped From the Beginning

by Ibram X. Kendi
First sentence: “Every historian writes in — and is impacted by — a precise historical moment.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including a few instances of the f-bomb and many of the n-word. It’s in the history section of the bookstore.

I picked this one up after listening to Stamped, which is a remix for younger readers of this history. I didn’t know what to expigect, but what I got was a book that made me rethink my perceptions of race, race relations, and class, and rethink what I was taught in history classes.

The basic idea that Kendi sets out to demonstrate is this: racial discrimination leads to racist ideas which lead to ignorance and hate. It’s the reverse of everything I had been taught which is: ignorance and hate lead to racist ideas which lead to discrimination. It’s a lot to wrap a (racist) brain around at first, but over the course of the 500 pages, Kendi does an excellent job showing how, throughout history, racism starts with racist people being self-interested and creating racist policies. I learned a ton.

I don’t know if there are any solutions to be found in the book. Except for the conclusion that self-sacrifice (of Blacks) and uplift suasion (Black people being “more like White people”, which is a racist idea), and educational persuasion (if white people just had “all the facts” about racism they wouldn’t be racist) don’t work. It will take a concerted effort of White people and Black and Brown people to realize that it’s in the best interest of ALL people to do away with racist policies.

I don’t know what the political and economic solution for this is (except maybe tax the wealthy and refund all the social programs that have been axed over the years). But I do know that it is important for corporate media (!) and White people to stop generalizing and stereotyping Black people.

As for me, this book made me rethink ideas I’ve had in the past, rethink the way I interact with the media and politics, and perhaps made me a little more antiracist. I can only hope.

Audiobook: Catch and Kill

by Ronan Farrow
Read by the author
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Content: This book is about sexual predators, and Farrow doesn’t pull back from descriptions of sexual harassment, assault, and rape. It’s not prurient and it’s not graphic, but it may be triggering. There is also swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the True Crime section of the bookstore.

I heard a story about this book somewhere, in a report about the Harvey Weinstein trial. The report said that they were having trouble finding neutral jurors, mostly because so many of them had read this book and had already made up their minds about Weinstein.

And they’re right. You come out of this book knowing that not only is Weinstein and evil man, every single person, corporation, or entity that protected him and enabled him (and other predators, like Matt Lauer) are also completely and totally corrupt.

This book is Farrow’s story about getting his 2017 New Yorker article about Harvey Weinstein published. See, it didn’t start out as a New Yorker article; Farrow was an on-air reporter at NBC news when he first started looking at leads and conducting interviews about Weinstein’s history of sexual predation. Farrow interviewed several women, corroborated their stories, and was set to put something on air, when NBC pulled it. It goes deeper than that: Weinstein had private investigators tailing Farrow, looking for dirt that he could use to kill the story. NBC has its own history of talent and others harassing, abusing, and raping women in vulnerable positions. It all adds up to not only a toxic male culture, but one in which I end up mistrusting corporate journalism. I don’t blame the journalists — Farrow (and others) did his job to the best of his ability. But, at many points, his bosses were telling him to cancel interviews and tried incredibly hard to kill the story, and if Farrow hadn’t 1) been a male and 2) he hadn’t had a couple people on his side urging him to keep going. It’s so easy for corporations and advertisers and powerful individuals to kill stories they don’t like.

It wasn’t an easy book to listen to because of the subject matter, but Farrow was a compelling writer and an excellent narrator. I know it sounds odd to say I enjoyed every minute of this, but I really did. I kept wanting to know what happened next, and Farrow’s narration kept me engaged.

It’s not only an important book, it’s a good one.

Recollections of My Nonexistence

by Rebecca Solnit
First sentence: “One day long ago, I looked at myself as I faced a full-length mirror and saw my image darken and soften and then seem to retreat, as though I was vanishing from the world rather than that my mind was shutting it out.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some mild swearing and talk of rape, but nothing graphic. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I had no idea what to expect from this book. I’ve never read any Solnit before, though she’s been writing for decades. I only picked this up because we have this Pick of the List program at the bookstore, and this was one of our picks (booksellers more sophisticated than me picked it!). What I got was a beautifully written, lyrical, loosely chronological memoir of a woman’s professional life. It’s not a strict memoir, per se: Solnit only briefly touches on her childhood, and it tends to jump around in time. “Recollections” is really the best word for it, as it feels as though she’s sitting with you just kind of musing about the paths her life has taken. It is a feminist work: the “Nonexistence” part is about how men have often tried to diminish her thoughts, her work, herself and her perseverance in the face of that.

It is so beautifully written though. A couple passages that struck me: “I believe in the irreducible and in invocation and evocation, and I am fond of sentences less like superhighways than winding paths, with the occasional scenic detour or pause to take in the view, since a footpath can traverse steep and twisting terrain that a paved road cannot.” I feel like this could be the book’s thesis statement. And yet, the paths she takes us down are both lyrical and interesting and I found myself wanting to take the time to wander with her.

A second passage: “I was arguing that the wars of the future and the past were overlapping in the present, and that they were largely unrecognized because of how we thought about things like war, and the West, and nature, and culture, and Native people.” Even with her musings, she is political and radical, and reminded me so very strongly of some of the Western writers I’ve read, like Terry Tempest Williams. I’m not hugely drawn to the West or the Southwest in writing (or in nature, preferring my lush green trees and water — and yes, humidity — of the East and South), but I admire writers like Solnit for their passion for wide open spaces and their understanding of how Native peoples fit into the larger picture.

I’m actually curious about some of Solnit’s other books now. And perhaps I will actually read them. I’m glad I read this one.

Audiobook: Stop Missing Your Life

by Cory Muscara
Read by the author
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Or listen at libro.fm
Content: There were two f-bombs and some mild swearing, which seemed odd and out of place. It’s in the mindfulness section of the bookstore.

I’m not entirely sure why I picked this up, other than to satisfy a category in the #ReadICT challenge, but I’m kind of glad I did. It’s a how-to and a why book on meditation, something I tried for a while (about a year, I think) and then dismissed as something “too hard” (sitting still is quite hard for me). I do yoga kind of regularly, once or twice a week, but meditation? Not so much.

But, in this crazy world (and especially after the insanity surrounding COVID), I really kind of needed this. Yeah, it’s another Buddhist mindfulness book, but I liked that Muscara is practical about the whole thing. He does impart Buddhist philosophy: that the idea to “happiness” is to be able to sit with emotion and situations as they are, whether “good” or “bad”, and be able to interact with them without trying to control them. That’s not how I usually think of “mindfulness”, and I appreciated thinking differently. He also gives a huge variety of meditation practices, from what you traditionally think of “meditation” to a practice with your phone (or any technology) in order to interact with it in a more present and mindful matter. I think, for me, the simple question of asking why am I doing things has made the most difference. Why am I scrolling through Facebook? Why am I eating the cake? Why do I feel anxious? It’s helped. That, and doing a body scan practice, which, yes, is a form of meditation, every night.

And I highly recommend it on audio. Cory is a good reader, and it’s beneficial to be able to go through some of the practices as he reads them. It’s a very conversational book, which works well in audio form.

It’s probably not drastically changed my life, but I do have a wider perspective on things, and maybe that will, in the long run, be a good thing.

Audio book: Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You

by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Read by Jason Reynolds
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is frank talk of slavery and rape and they use the n-word a couple of times. It will be in the Middle Grade History section of the bookstore.

The publishers — and Reynolds himself — are calling this a “remix” of the National Book Award- winning Stamped, by Kendi, and a brilliant remix it is. Reynolds takes the ideas in Kendi’s book — which is a look at racism from the first recorded instance in the 14th century to the present day — and distills them down so that kids == it’s aimed at the 10 and up crowd — can easily grasp the ideas and the history.

And Reynolds makes it fun. It’s a “not history history book”, one where Reynolds talks about IDEAS and how they fit into the grander scope of history. It’s incredibly engaging to listen to (and read!) — Reynolds is a fabulous narrator — and it made me look at history in a new light. It’s an important book — I’ve checked the original out from the library because I’m interested in what Kendi’s research — especially in this day and age. It’s incredibly helpful as a white person to understand that racism is systemic and built into the framework of our society. And maybe by understanding that, we can all become a bit more aware.

Excellent and highly recommended.