Recent Reads: Nonfiction Edition

After my last post in which I talked about how I get out of a reading slump, I decided to peruse my library’s Libby collection and ended up picking a few nonfiction books to read. This past year, I have grown to absolutely love reading nonfiction books and memoirs more than ever before. There is something about going back to basics and reading to learn that makes me feel like I’m doing something productive and refreshes my mind to get back into fiction. I decided to write mini reviews of my three most recent nonfiction reads because they were truly great books written by diverse authors that helped me to actually start to get over my slump.

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America by James Forman Jr.

Audiobook, 329 pages

★★★★☆

One of the major reasons that I read nonfiction books is so that I have a bank of knowledge to reference when discussing and dealing with important social issues facing us today. Institutional, systemic racism is an undeniable fact backed up by history. The more we know about the intricacies of what got us to this point, the more we are able to pinpoint what we need to speak up against. This book is a great resource for just this. James Forman Jr. meshes history with the opinions and backgrounds of key figures in the the racist policing of people of color in the US. It is an easy to understand read that is not overly complicated to follow despite the inundation of information. I haven’t read another book that is completely focused on Black America and the justice system, so I don’t have much to compare it to. I will say that it adds a thick layer of nuance to a complicated subject since it discusses the viewpoints of people of color who supported the racist war on drugs and policies that focused on the heavy policing of primarily black neighborhoods. It’s awful to think about how many people of color have been charged with heavy, life-altering convictions (accompanied by a possibly lifelong difficulty obtaining jobs, housing, and education) while people participating in the same crimes in other more wealthy or suburban areas were able to do so with much less fear of even being caught or convicted with the same brute force. If you are interested in dipping your toes into this subject, I would recommend starting with this book since it isn’t too dense and is shorter compared to other books on the same subject.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Audiobook, 254 pages

★★★★☆

Caitlin Doughty is the creator of the YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician, where she advocates for death acceptance and reform of Western funeral industry practices. In this memoir, she discusses modern funeral practices and how she dealt with her first job in the funeral industry, which was at a crematory. I enjoyed her accounts of the different grieving processes she encountered while there, death practices of ancient peoples, and her journey to “death acceptance”. When I was a kid, I used to lie frozen in bed thinking about death and what comes after (especially since Catholic school had instilled in me a healthy dose of fear in a plethora of topics). Since then, I have experienced quite a a few deaths of people that I love, ones that I was a little more ready for and others that were tragically unexpected. The point is that I have become a person that is much less terrified of whatever it is that comes after life because I know the routine of what life after death looks like for the people that are left behind, difficulties and all. It’s something that we all will have to deal with and being a little more knowledgeable of what we can control is immensely empowering, even if you have yet to deal with the loss of a loved one. It’s all a bit morbid, but I think I would rather know more about funeral practices and such than be blissfully ignorant and completely unprepared. One of my favorite tidbits that I have learned from her is that death is natural, but the anxiety revolving around death is a modern concept that is not. This is probably not a book for the faint of heart, but I would still recommend it. I also listened to the audiobook, which the author herself narrates, and I would also recommend doing so if you choose to pick this up.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Kindle, 247 pages

★★★★★

This memoir by Carmen Maria Machado chronicles her abusive relationship with a woman. It shares the oddly haunting quality that is present in her previous short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, which I also loved. Machado makes a clear statement with this memoir that abuse in queer relationships exists just like in any other kind of relationship and needs to be discussed much more among the community to destigmatize it. The thread of “archival silence” that she weaves throughout the book is one that also truly struck me. She notes that archival silence exists when people’s stories, in this case queer stories, only exist in between the lines or have been destroyed by history. Rarely has queer experience been clearly recorded for future generations as other non-queer experiences have. Letters among lovers have been thrown into the fire, tales of abuse in queer relationships have been kept a secret. This does not mean that these stories did not exist, just that they were never spoken. This is where Machado comes in, to break this silence and give her account of abuse within a lesbian relationship, a kind of abuse that is not readily accepted as “real” both in the community and out of it. She writes for those before her who could not speak out or were not listened to when they did. Her memoir is ultimately a gripping piece of literature that poses so many questions about the stereotypes of abuse in lesbian relationships and how they need to be confronted. Note: abuse trigger warning, sexual themes.

“But the nature of archival silence is that certain people’s narratives and their nuances are swallowed by history; we see only what pokes through because it is sufficiently salacious for the majority to pay attention.”

Let me know any nonfiction books you have read lately or look forward to checking out. I’m always on the search for new nonfiction!

Getting Over a Reading Slump

Ever since quarantine began, I have been reading much at a much more slower pace than usual. Books that would usual take me 4 days to read have taken me up to two weeks to read. I just haven’t felt that magical spark to read lately and at this point, I really want to get back into my reading groove. Considering the state of things and the issues finally being discussed by the world and the country I’m in regarding racism and discrimination, this is really not much of an issue. But reading is the way that I arm myself in these discussions. The Knowledge!!! The Facts!!! The Viewpoints!!! Which is why I have to get myself out of this slump! Because of this, I decided to use all the tricks I have used in the past to get back into reading regularly and I’m here to share them with you, along with some books I plan on reading to go along with them.

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