Friday, January 5, 2018

Naomi's 2017 Reading List

I started a new year's resolution of reading 50 books a year for the first time in 2012. The first year I actually achieved that was 2014, the first year I significantly surpassed that was 2016 (87 books) and so for 2017, I set the loftier goal of 100--I closed out 2017 having finished 138 books in total. This is the first year that I spent the entire year not in school or in full time employment, so I found myself with a bit more time to read.

I thought about doing one sentence book reviews but then I saw Roxane Gay's post about her reading list from 2017, and I liked that format better, so here we go! (138 books is a lot and several were re-reads or not really noteworthy enough so I'm not going to literally write about each one)

Favorite Book of 2017
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
This book is SO GOOD. I love novels that follow many generations of families, which this is, so I was already predisposed to like this book. But it blew me away with the fascinating interwoven stories of these characters and a look at the struggles of Black families in the US as descendants of kidnapped Africans who were enslaved and also the stories and struggles of African families who are descendants from the families that weren't kidnapped and enslaved, and sometimes benefited from the transatlantic slave trade themselves. It's such an epic novel and if you are a fan of good stories and beautiful writing--highly recommend.

Second Favorite Book of 2017
Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit
This book was important timing. I read it in March 2017, as things were not looking too good. Originally published in 2004, it outlines reasons for hope in what often seems like a very bleak world. Solnit writes about times when organizing and campaigning and working hard for positive change actually made a difference. It helped me re-frame where we are right now in terms of social justice and remember one of the most important tools we have is the hope that things can change for the better.

Other Favorite Books
I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
The Book of Joy by Dalai Lama XIV & Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Crunk Feminist Collection by Brittney C. Cooper (Ed.)
Radical Hope: Letters of Love and Dissent in Dangerous Times by Carolina De Robertis (Ed.)
Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson
Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine & the Foundations of a Movement by Angela Davis
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward (Ed.)

In My Continuous Quest For Self-Improvement, I Read:
Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Rising Strong by Brené Brown
Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson
Grit by Angela Duckworth

Books I Read Before Traveling To Japan & Taiwan
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Third Son by Julie Wu
The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
The Setting Sun by Osamu Dazai
Vignettes of Taiwan by (This was probably my least favorite book I read this year mostly because it was just dumb. But it was hard to find books in English about Taiwan so I finished it anyway.)
Lost Japan by Alex Kerr

Books I Read Before Traveling To Mexico City
Black Dove: Mamá, Mi'jo and Me by Ana Castillo
Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

In-Depth Look At Why More Women Than Ever Are Choosing to Stay Single (And Not In A Way That Looks At That As A Bad Thing)
All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister

A Look At How [Traditional] Women's Labor Has Been Devalued In Capitalism But Y'all Couldn't Have Done All This Without Us
Who Cooked Adam Smith's Dinner?: A Story About Women & Economics by Katrine Kielos

Klein Really Tears Into The Whole Idea Of Disaster Capitalism And Shock Doctrine As A Viable Economic Strategy And I Read This Right After Hurricane Harvey Hit And Got Very Angry Because You Could Already See It Happening Again
The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism by Naomi Klein

A Horrifying Intimate Look At The FLDS Church From A Woman Who Escaped And Helped Put Warren Jeffs In Prison
The Witness Wore Red: The 19th Wife Who Brought Polygamous Cult Leaders to Justice by Rebecca Musser

Another Book About Women In Fundamentalist Religions, But Islam This Time
Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Very Well Articulated Argument For Ethics Outside Of Religious Belief Framework
Beyond Religion by Dalai Lama XIV

A Book That Made Me Really Mad Because It Is Still So Accurate And It Was Written Over 20 Years Ago
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen

I Wish Everyone Would Read This Book Because It Explains The Moral Argument For Accessible Abortion The Best I've Ever Seen
Life's Work: A Moral Argument for Choice by Dr. Willie Parker

Beautiful And Powerful Poetry By Beautiful and Powerful Women of Color
Citizen by Claudia Rankine
Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur
Salt by Nayyirah Waheed
Nejma by Nayyirah Waheed
Bone by Yrsa Daley-Ward
Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth by Warsan Shire

Historical Fiction Based on the Plantagenet and Tudor Women (All by Philippa Gregory--I had read about half of this series before 2017 but re-read them and read the others for the first time. Philippa Gregory is one of my favorite historical fiction writers--she bases her books in historical facts and though she takes strange creative license choices sometimes, mostly I really appreciate her imagining of these moments lost to history behind the real stories of these women. And her whole approach is centering women in her stories--some more well-known than others, but all part of pivotal historical eras.) 
The White Princess
The Kingmaker's Daughter
The Lady of the Rivers
The Last Tudor
Three Sisters, Three Queens
The King's Curse (This one was my favorite of hers I read this year, maybe my favorite out of all of them. It follows the story of Margaret Pole, one of the last Plantagenets and the oldest person executed by Henry VIII in 1541, at age 67. It's a morbidly fascinating look at how insecure Henry VIII felt on the throne and how tyrannical he became--having any dissidents and practically all of his extended family executed.)

A Book I Read Because I Was Trying To Better Understand The Complicated Plantagenet Family Tree But I'm Not Sure I Do Even Though I Read This
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England by Dan Jones

A Really Long Novel About WWII That I Got In An Audible Sale But Ended Up Really Liking Though Turns Out It's Only Part 1 of 2 Books Which Irritated Me Since I Had Already Listened To It for 55 Hours And We Only Got Up To Pearl Harbor
The Winds of War by Herman Wouk

I Got Into Historical Graphic Novels
A.D.: After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld
The People's History of Empire by Howard Zinn
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Deslisle
Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984 by Riad Sattouf
Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984-1985 by Riad Sattouf
Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan by Shigeru Mizuki

YA Book That Got A Lot of Praise And It Was Well Deserved
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Enjoyable Fiction With Interesting Characters 
Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by Ntozake Shange
Who Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
Who Asked You? by Terry McMillan
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende
Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
Stella By Starlight by Sharon Draper

The Rare Case Where the Film Adaptation is Better Than the Original Novel
Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
If you haven't watched the TV adaptation on OWN, do it! Such a good show with really interesting stories and characters. It was based on this book, but I think the changes they made actually really improved the story.

A Novel By An Author I Love That Was Sort Of Interesting But Also Felt A Little Too Preachy About Climate Change
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Dystopian Futuristic Novels That Eerily Predicted The Current World We Live In (That Most People Read In High School But I Didn't)
1984 by George Orwell
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Other Books I Finally Got Around To Reading (I started Maya Angelou's autobiography collection many years ago, but finally finished it in 2017.)
The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou
A Song Flung Up to Heaven by Maya Angelou
Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
An Autobiography by Angela Davis
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

A Book That Very Accurately Describes Life as a Twenty-Something Without a Mom
Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This Book Is So Painful To Read, For All The Parts I Identified With And All The Parts I Didn't. Vulnerable, Raw, Powerful, Beautifully Written.
Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

Powerful Feminist Essay Collections
Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Sex Object: A Memoir by Jessica Valenti
The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
Lost in Language and Sound by Ntozake Shange

Interesting Autobiographies/Biographies on Important Women
This Child Will Be Great by Ellen Sirleaf Johnson
Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird
I, Rigoberta Menchú by Rigoberta Menchú
Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Dust Tracks on a Road by Zora Neale Hurston

And last but not least,
Carrie Fisher Memoirs Because I Miss Her
Wishful Drinking
The Princess Diarist

Monday, August 14, 2017

We are like this. We ARE like this. We are LIKE this.

And we have to mourn this and we have to be sad that we live in a town, a state, a country where shit like this happens. I mean, these are people trying to distance themselves from this crime. And we need to own this crime. I feel. Everyone needs to own it. We are like this. We ARE like this. WE are LIKE this.
Time and time again, this quote from The Laramie Project pops back in my head. Every time there's an extreme act of violence, the "good" people have a knee-jerk reaction: they say "this is not us" or "we are not like this." It's the "good" cishet people that condemn murders or discrimination against LGBTQ people (such as the source of this quote--a reaction to the hate crime murder of Matthew Shepard.) It's the "good" men who condemn the sexual violence that women face daily (#NotAllMen). It's the "good" Christians who condemn violence done in the name of Christianity. And it's the "good" white people who condemn white supremacist rallies and violence, attempting to distance themselves from them, saying #ThisIsNotUs.

But you know what? We are like this. We ARE like this. We are LIKE this.

I understand this reaction in a visceral way. In February 2015, when three Muslim students were murdered in Chapel Hill--in a community where I'd spent most of my life, I not only mourned their loss and felt anger at the occurrence--I was also offended and horrified, that indeed, this HAD happened in MY community, a place I'd thought was better than that. It was a stark reminder that, yes, it could happen here. It could happen anywhere. And it does happen everywhere.

Because we live in a patriarchal, sexist, racist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic (etc., etc.) society and all of us "good" people benefit from our privileges every day.

We are like this. We ARE like this. We are LIKE this.

We live here. We participate in this society.

We have to own it. We have to reckon with it.

We must not look away.

When we try to ignore what is happening in front of us, we are actively ignoring and participating in the oppression in marginalized people. And I write this today in response to the "Unite the Right" white supremacist/neo-Nazi rally that occurred in Charlottesville this past weekend. No, as a white person, I absolutely do not want to be categorized in the same sentence as Neo-Nazis. But it is vital that I, and other "good" white people recognize that if Neo-Nazis got their way, we would be protected, simply by the color of our skin. That we ARE protected, daily, by the color of our skin.

You want to be an actual good person? Listen to people who are suffering from oppression. Do not discount their experiences and for the love of God, do not make it about your feelings. Take what they tell you and share with the other "good" people. Use the resources you have to actively dismantle the structures of oppression that exist. Recognize that you are sacrificing preferential treatment due to your privilege, but if we are going to a build a more just world, you have to do it. Also recognize that the people who are currently marginalized OWE YOU NO THANKS for making that sacrifice. Because it is your DUTY as a human being and a good person to do so.

We don't have to be like this. But we cannot pretend that we aren't right now. As they say, the first step of recovery is admitting you have a problem.

We are like this. We ARE like this. We are LIKE this.

But there is a different way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Dear Governor McCrory (On HB2)

Dear Governor McCrory,

I am writing to express my frustration that you are still upholding HB2 as having a positive impact on the state of North Carolina. I thought maybe you and the GA would finally back down when the economic impact hit--but even after PayPal, the NBA, multiple smaller events including concerts by well-known artists, other states limiting all official state business with NC and now the NCAA have pulled their business away from North Carolina, not to mention the effects on the tourist industry and small businesses... You have still not backed down. You are still supporting a heterosexist, transphobic, classist, racist law and further alienating more and more of the citizens of North Carolina and the rest of the country.

And! You saying that the federal government is acting outside of their power in challenging HB2 is just ridiculous. The whole point of HB2 is overreach over local government!

HB2 can't even be enforced when it comes to the bathroom part... We can't spare law enforcement to bother with checking birth certificates in every bathroom in the state. Nor would it make any sense to hire security guards. And despite what you and the GA seem to imagine, you can't actually tell someone's gender based solely on what they look like. We've been taught that but it's not true. It's one thing to be ignorant because no one's ever taught you differently. But you have no excuse at this point. You are willfully defending discrimination, claiming that you are looking out for the people of North Carolina. This shouldn't, but might, come as a shock to you--you don't get to choose who lives here. 

You are further marginalizing people that are already some of the most marginalized in our society. You are pathologizing gender nonconformity. You have made a "solution" for a problem that doesn't exist.

See, one of the oft repeated justifications of Hate Bill 2 is that it is meant to protect women from sexual assault. Sexual violence is a VERY real problem that is pervasive and incredibly damaging. It does happen in bathrooms sometimes. You know who gets assaulted a lot in public restrooms? Trans and gender nonconforming people. You know who is usually doing the assaulting? Straight, cis-gender men. 

Cis-gender women are indeed sometimes assaulted in restrooms, but here's the thing--HB2 is not going to have any effect on that. Why? Because perpetrators of sexual violence that might be looking for someone to prey on are not going to change their behavior. HB2 does not create an invisible barrier for anyone walking into a restroom. Perpetrators of sexual violence seek out victims in vulnerable situations. A person alone in the restroom, where no one will witness the perpetrator going in--fits the bill. 

But as I mentioned previously, we are not going to have bathroom police at every public bathroom--so is a perpetrator really going to change their mind about following a victim into the restroom based on the sign outside the door? How does that even make logical sense? You are selling the illusion of safety. HB2 is not protecting anyone from sexual assault. Realistically, it could very well increase assaults, because you are sanctioning discrimination. You are telling the bigots of North Carolina that they have the right to know anyone's genitalia and then police where they use the bathroom. When did our genitalia become information we are required to make public? HB2 encourages vigilante justice in one of the most private matters there is--using the restroom.

I know you think you're right. I know how big a deal it is to admit being wrong. I suspect you think this will help you win re-election (of course, had the discriminating voting laws remained in effect, that might even have been true). 

But you are on the wrong side of history. Already in the last six months, HB2 has brought on lasting damage to the state. We will not forget that you led this fight. (Nor will we forget all the other damage you've done to NC, but I don't have time for that in this letter.) Historically, you will be remembered as the governor of North Carolina that cared more about being "right" and maintaining your bigotry than providing a safe and equitable environment for the people of your state.

Is that really what you want your legacy to be?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Good Girls

In no particular order and no attribution to who said these things to me or in my hearing, here are some things I was taught about good girls:

Good girls don't have sex until they're married.

Good girls don't wear tight clothing, short skirts or low cut shirts. Good girls don't show too much skin.

Good girls don't sit with their legs open.

Good girls eat their greens so they will grow Barbie doll hair.

Good girls don't hang upside down from trees or monkey bars so you can see their underwear.

Good girls are polite and say things like, yes ma'am, no ma'am, yes sir, no sir, please and thank you.

Good girls don't talk back.

Good girls are nice.

Good girls don't walk alone at night. 

Good girls go to church.

Good girls follow the rules and keep quiet.

Good girls are pretty but only because they don't put effort into it.

Good girls are patient.

Good girls keep secrets.

Good girls aim to please.

Good girls will get married and have children.

Good girls want to get married and have children.

Good girls respect authority.

Good girls do what they're told.

Good girls get the highest grades.

Good girls don't stay out too late.

Good girls dont make trouble.

Good girls don't have a problem doing the right thing. They're good. They do what's expected of them.

Good girls don't let their bra straps show. Good girls never go out in public without a bra on.

Good girls dress feminine.

Good girls don't laugh at fart jokes. Or crude jokes.

Good girls don't curse.

Good girls are only friends with other good girls.

Good girls use proper grammar.

Good girls know that if a boy picks on you, it's just because he likes you.

Good girls play hard to get.

Good girls aren't physically violent.

Good girls don't get into arguments.

Good girls know how to and like to cook.

Good girls don't cheat.

Good girls call their grandparents.

Good girls don't laugh too loud.

Good girls don't complain.

Good girls don't get in arguments with their parents.

Good girls don't spit.

Good girls are princesses.

Good girls aren't aggressive.

Good girls don't brag about themselves.

Good girls don't drink or do drugs.

Good girls conform to conventional beauty standards.

Good girls don't kiss and tell.

Good girls don't have one night stands.

Good girls don't even like sex.

Good girls aim to please.

And if someone has sex with another person without consent, that may be called rape, but only if you're a good girl. If you're not, it wasn't rape, it was just sex. 

Monday, July 25, 2016


This morning I accidentally stumbled onto some "pro-life" web pages and got extremely irritated. Because, I'm sorry, but you cannot call yourself "pro-life" if you are only "pro-life" for unborn fetuses (which apparently these websites like to call "preborn children") aka anti-abortion. (The other "pro-life" issues addressed on this website are birth control and euthanasia. I searched for "death penalty" on the website. No results.)

Here is what being "pro-life" means according to the American Life League:

  • Anti-abortion
  • Anti-Planned Parenthood because they have facilities that provide abortions
  • Anti-abortions of fetuses that have been screened and found to have a disability
  • Anti-birth control because then the possibility of fertilization is prevented, thereby "killing the preborn child inside of her" (Note: every time I type "preborn" it gets autocorrected to "reborn" because PREBORN IS NOT A THING)
  • Anti-euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide (I wondered if maybe this was where they would talk about the death penalty; maybe euthanasia was meant to include lethal injection, but turns out, no, that's not a life issue they are concerned about.)

Here is what being "pro-life" reportedly does NOT include:

  • Pro-healthier environmental practices to slow climate change
  • Pro-universal basic income
  • Pro-universal childcare
  • Pro-free college
  • Pro-paid maternity leave
  • Pro-"welfare" (in quotes because that includes several programs, such as TANF, SNAP, WIC, Medicaid, etc.)
  • Pro-living wage
  • Pro-gun control
  • Pro-comprehensive sex ed
  • Pro-immigration/pro-refugee
  • Anti-police brutality
  • Anti-mass incarceration
  • Anti-capital punishment
  • Anti-war
  • Anti-imperialism

Because, you know what? It is EASY to be "pro-life" when that means demanding someone else carry a pregnancy to term. But if you are not creating a better, cleaner, safer, more equitable world for that child to live in once they are born--HOW is that considered being "pro-life?"

Thursday, July 7, 2016

On Privilege

It is privilege that makes me a third generation graduate student.

It is privilege that my ancestors made the choice to immigrate and were not brought against their will as slaves.

It is also privilege that my ancestors stole land and resources from the people already here.

It is a privilege that I have been able to travel so much in my life.

It is a privilege that I have had very little to do with law enforcement (I may be generally law-abiding but that makes little difference to POC).

It is a privilege to learn about racism and oppression instead of experiencing it yourself.

It is a privilege to be welcomed into spaces occupied primarily by people of color and seen as a friend.

It is a privilege to have friends and community spanning all colors of the spectrum and residing all over the country and the world.

It is a privilege for me to choose to be a freedom fighter. I truly believe that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, but it is also a fact that I do live in a country with systems designed to protect people like me.

It is a privilege to choose to fight against injustice when it does not personally affect you. And I mean, personally, as in your person. Because I do take it personally when my friends and community are affected... but that does not mean it happened to me.

As non-members of marginalized groups--and today I am talking about race, so I mean us white people--we have the privilege to choose to take action, but we also have the responsibility. No, maybe we ~personally~ aren't racist (look at all our black friends!), but we still benefit from systems designed for us to prosper at the expense of our non-white community. And if we do not work to change that, we are complicit. We are complicit in the gunning down of POC, especially black men, in state-sponsored violence. We are complicit in the school to prison pipeline.

We will not dismantle white supremacy in one day. But if we make the mistake of thinking just because we don't believe we are racist or the problem is just too big, nothing will change.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

I don't expect this post to make a huge difference. But I am making public my commitment that I will use my privilege and responsibility to fight back against oppression. What about you?

If you need ideas, click here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I'm back!

I'm dusting off this blog! I am currently interning at the NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault for the summer of 2016 and am planning on taking some time to blog on topics related to sexual violence prevention and response, rape culture, intersectional feminism, systems of oppression, and more! Fun stuff, right? The two main reasons I have not written much in this blog in the last few years are

1. I have been very busy with graduate school
2. Writing is a lot harder for me than it used to be. I could go into more detail but the short version is that grief combined with my continuous companions of anxiety and depression for more than ten years has had an effect on my writing.

That second reason has had a lot more to do with my not writing than the first. Yes, I've been busy but writing became such a chore, not just for school but I stopped writing in my personal journal as well. Anyway, at a leadership retreat I attended this spring, one of the goals I set was to seriously work on my writing problem. So this summer, I thought a good way to do that would be to start blogging again. After all, a big part of what I need is just practice!

So watch this space for the summer of 2016! I'll also be posting a long overdue reflection on my trip to Cuba this past winter (and hopefully also even more overdue reflections on the Justice at the Border trip I took to El Paso/Ciudad Juarez in February 2015). And I'll probably post about silly things too, even if it's just to break up the heaviness of a lot of the topics I'll be writing about. And I'll probably also write about how great Beyonce is, because, well, she is.

Welcome to Summer 2016! Thanks for reading!