Everything Happens for a Reason by Kate Bowler

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: A woman’s first year living with stage IV, incurable cancer and the insidious aphorisms she has always told herself that she now must confront – like the book title.

What made me pick it up: I was scrolling through Twitter and saw her TED talk. So I watched it and then I googled and learned about this book.

My favorite parts: In the vein of other books which I have loved, like When Breath Becomes Air and The Bright Hour, this is a beautiful examination of life, and figuring out the important parts, and learning how to go forward even though you won’t necessarily live to see the grown up dreams from the seeds you’ve planted. Unlike those other two books, this isn’t about someone who is dying – at least not yet. It is about someone who is living with a disease that will likely end her life sooner than she ever expected, but maybe not as soon as she thinks. You will cry along with Bowler as she lives for two months at a time, between scans, and as she decides what legacies to start building for her young son and beloved husband. More than anything it will remind you to live more fully in the present since it is truly all the precious time we are guaranteed.

Who it’s great for: Anyone, especially those looking for truth after a difficult diagnosis.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: Oh, just another woman who got ignored by doctors because she had pain in her lady bits.

What made me pick it up: Honestly, I saw the title and thought it’d be like a funny how-to guide to women’s reproductive health. It was more of a memoir about one woman’s experience with chronic pain and endometriosis.

My favorite parts: It’s hard to have favorite parts from such a heartbreaking book, so I guess it would be just having yet another example for doctors to see that points out their obvious dismissal of women and their symptoms. Also, there is good information here on how disparate the health information and research are on these issues including the almost total lack of training in medical disciplines. Endometriosis is a debilitating disease most women find hard to even have properly diagnosed, let alone treated with care. It ruins lives, as this story makes abundantly clear, and women deserve better.

Who should read this: Medical professionals, of any stripe. Men. And women who want to find or provide solidarity to those suffering.

Erica’s rating: four shells

The Woman’s Hour by Elaine Weiss

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The long, long road to the enfranchisement of women in the United States.

What made me pick it up: Voting is so important to me. My great-grandmother, who I knew for many years, was born a decade before women could legally vote. I have always recognized the great responsibility voting is, and the work that went into giving us that right. But I had no idea just how long and hard and how many heroes worked to make it possible.

My favorite parts: This is written like a novel where you follow a series of main characters from the old guard of Susan B. Anthony to the next gen suffragists like Carrie Catt. You also meet a series of anti-suffragists and will likely recognize some of their rhetoric from current political arguments. The story builds up to the last state to ratify (Tennessee) and even though you know eventually that it will get passed, it is still such a dramatic story and close call. In the end you will be so grateful for your opportunity to participate fully in our democracy and want to hug that one politician’s mother who sent a last minute letter imploring him to give women the vote. May we all be so vocal about our need for equality, and hopefully may many more lawmakers listen and act.

Who it’s great for: Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four and a half shells

Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: I’ll let the subtitle speak for itself – “The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick”.

What made me pick it up: A while ago one of my friends added it as to-read on Goodreads and then I eventually put a hold on it and here we are.

My favorite parts: I guess my favorite part is the validation this book provides many women with serious conditions who find it very hard to get adequate, and sometimes any, treatment from medical professionals. The book is well written and informative but sheesh, it’s 2019 and we’re still being written off as hysterical women. It’s very upsetting. I spent the entirety of the book being grateful for not having had most of these experiences yet and being saddened by all the friends I have who suffer from MS, thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, undiagnosed Lyme, vulvodynia, and vaginismus and all the insufficient remedies they’ve been given. I have certainly been given ridiculously dismissive medical treatment like being told my dysmenorrhea would get better after I had a baby – advice no 16 year old needs to hear. “Don’t worry, you only have to suffer through these symptoms for at least another decade but once you give birth all will be resolved! In the meantime here is a cure-all oral contraceptive!” I know what it’s like to go to doctor after doctor hoping someone will listen and offer actual, helpful treatment. I also know the joy and relief of finding one who does. Women’s whole health and lives are being affected by this poor treatment – from employment to relationships to the will to go on living. The medical profession must do better. Believe women. Trust women. We know our bodies. It’s not all in our heads.

Who it’s great for: All women. And also everybody else, especially doctors.

Erica’s rating: four shells

 

Squeezed by Alissa Quart

queezed

Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: The disappearance of the middle class in America, or as the subtitle puts it: Why our families can’t afford America.

What made me pick it up: Because I saw the author was coming to our beloved book festival in a couple months. And also because I had to work for a decade after earning two degrees to even be considered mathematically middle class based on income and I know so many others struggling as much or worse than I am.

My favorite parts: The best parts are honestly the hardest to read about because affirmation of a bad situation doesn’t improve it. Wages have not really grown in 40 years for the working and middle classes of America, while wealth at the top has grown exponentially. That math is making just living untenable. College is more expensive, full time benefited work is harder to come by, and housing rates are simply unaffordable in many areas. Social safety nets are underfunded, or failing, and basic needs like universal child and healthcare and support of working parents are missing entirely. This book will spark some tough conversations about the way forward, but that will probably involve following the lead of our European neighbors and raising taxes to support our people.

Who it’s great for: Anyone working hard just to stay afloat and wondering why.

Erica’s rating: four shells

Calm the F*ck Down by Sarah Knight

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Originally published in: 2018

What it’s about: Tackling anxiety’s penchant for overthinking and spiraling by focusing on what you can control.

What made me pick it up: I’ve tried in the past to get into these books and not managed it but turns out the key was the audio! This came up on OverDrive and I checked it right out.

My favorite parts: The author as narrator, honestly. Her brand of humor is just my style and I appreciate her advice to use logic to organize and tackle the parts of whatever problem you have that are within your control. She understands the struggles of those with overactive minds or diagnosed general anxiety disorder and genuinely wants to give you some big sisterly advice that will maybe help. If you also need drugs or want to try mindfulness, good on you. Mostly, I think the more books we have openly discussing mental health issues, the more normalized they can be – and that can sometimes be half the battle. If you don’t know many others are struggling the same way you are it can really compound your suffering. We’re all in this together, so let’s learn some tools to help us through.

Who it’s great for: Anyone who struggles with anxiety and rumination and wants some effective solutions.

Erica’s rating: four shells

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir is Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: A memoir told through reflections on life-shaping relationships and interactions with animals.

What made me pick it up:  This book is SO CUTE!

My favorite things: I was pleasantly surprised by how effortlessly readable this was. Montgomery’s anecdotes vary between heartwarming and heartbreaking, but always highlight the importance of connection and family – even when your family doesn’t fit the traditional mold. I also found Rebecca Green’s illustrations to be absolutely charming.

Who it’s great for: Fan’s of Sy Montgomery’s other work. Readers interested in memoirs with unusual structures.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

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Originally published in: 2015

What’s it about:  The author recounting the horribly debilitating deep depression he unexpectedly sank into in his mid-twenties and the ways he learned to cope with it and eventually, mostly, got better.

What made me pick it up: It was recommended by a blogger on her Instagram.

My favorite things: Haig somehow manages to describe what it feels like inside your head and your body when you are struggling through the heavy darkness that is depression. As someone who has also been nearly lost in the fog before I really appreciated how well articulated this depiction was and the twenty years of distance he needed to be able to write it down. If you’ve never been depressed and have difficulty truly understanding how it could be “that bad”, please pick up this book. He tells what he found helpful for him while emphasizing that mental illness is as individual as we each are, so all treatments should be on the table.

Who it’s great for:  Everyone.

Erica’s rating: four shells


For those who regularly dip into deep depression or are only recently out of one reading this book may be a bit of a trigger. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or other mental health concerns please seek help. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-273-8255. It can sometimes be hard to believe, but the darkness will not last. It does get better.


 

Gmorning Gnight by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jonny Sun

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about: 100 bits of encouragement from Lin-Manuel Miranda in the form of pairs of morning and evening tweets with illustrations by Jonny Sun.

What made me pick it up: A better question is what took me so long to pick it up?

My favorite things: I love that you can flip to any page in this book and find something inspiring to lift your mood and affirm your self-confidence.

Who it’s great for: Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and/or Jonny Sun. Anyone in need of a little pick-me-up.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).


 

American Hate: Survivors Speak Out Edited by Arjin Singh Sethi

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Originally published in: 2018

What’s it about:  Sethi met with a variety of survivors of hate crimes and those that lost family members to hate crimes, drawing an explicit link between the rise in hate-inspired violence with the rhetoric of the current administration.

What made me pick it up: I saw this arrive at our library and said: “I do not need to read that.” So a colleague promptly put it on hold for me and I couldn’t resist when it appeared on my desk.

My favorite things: Sethi clearly lets the survivors drive their own narratives rather than shaping the interviews with leading questions. He is completely invisible in each interview. I also appreciated the recognition of the variety of people impacted by hate crimes. Sethi includes the voices of people marginalized based on religions (Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish identities), race and ethnicity, gender, and ability.

Who it’s great for:  Readers interested in learning more about the realities of violence based in hate in the United States as told by those who have survived it.

Abby’s rating: four shells


Find this in your local library or on Amazon (affiliate link).