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  • Taylor Elise

February 2021 Reads

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

Waking Up | Sam Harris | 2014 | Audiobook | *****

Nonfiction, Philosophy, Spirituality

Though I hadn’t read any of Sam Harris’ other books (I think I may have Letter to a Christian Nation on one of my bookshelves), I picked this one up from my library app because it looked interesting and was a pretty quick read for an audiobook. If you are new to the concepts of nonduality and meditation practice, I wouldn’t recommend this book and I’d say to reach for 10% Happier by Dan Harris (their names are so similar!) instead. Sam Harris spends a lot of time trying to scientifically explain what we know, and more importantly do not know, about consciousness. This is really interesting, but it can be a pretty laborious slog if you are first hearing about nonduality and the illusion of the self.

I think he may spend so much time on the scientific aspects of this because he doesn’t want to lose his reputation of being a skeptic which he has built up over the years. He did begin to lose me when speaking about gurus and spiritual leaders, because of the very things he cautions about—past abuses that have happened with gurus. Though this isn’t the best book that I’ve read on the subject of nontheistic spirituality, it was definitely a valuable look from another’s perspective and experience and has again sparked my curiosity about the nature of consciousness. My favorite central quote: “…charity, community, ritual, and the contemplative life, we need not take anything on faith to embrace these goods.”

This is How you Lose the Time War |Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone | 2019 | eBook | *****

I’ll admit I borrowed this eBook from my library app because of its gorgeous cover and provocative title, but its contents were equally satisfying. It’s set in a science fiction landscape, where two major factions vie for control of the timeline. Both sides deploy time agents, armed with ruthless tools and skills, to alter various timeline strands. The narrative focuses on two agents from rival factions who begin to covertly share letters with one another while thwarting each other’s missions. The agents, Red and Blue, become increasingly attached to each other, despite warring against one another. While this framework for a story isn’t particularly groundbreaking, the settings and details really make this a magical story. For example, they hide their words to each other in things like an owl pellet, the scales of a fish, a glob of lava. The way they speak to each other is very poetic, full of a tension that is both romantic and violent, expressing their desire for closeness while also trying to fulfil their duties to their respective factions.

The use of color in their names is also a really cool element—they refer to each other as red and blue objects, like Strawberry, Blood, Lapis, etc. Because the novel is formatted largely from the letters to and from on another, it makes for a cool structure for the two authors to play off of one another (Amal El-Mohtar takes on Blue’s parts, while Max Gladstone writes for Red. All in all, a great read that really ramps up toward the end with some cool “timey-wimey” twists.

Hood Feminism | Mikki Kendall | 2020 | Audiobook | *****

I rented this audiobook from my library app and it is one of those audiobooks that was so dense with good information that I will have to buy the paperback and read it again to really absorb it all. One more note about the format too—narrators really do make or break an audiobook and this author is also an excellent narrator.

The main crux of this book is that “a one size fits all approach to feminism is damaging” and that feminism (read white feminism) has failed to address intersectionality issues, including race and class differences. Mainstream feminism assumes that basic needs are met (food, safety, healthcare, education). Kendall raises issues that are not commonly thought of as feminist issues like gun safety, healthcare, housing, poverty, hunger, and food insecurity and frames them in a way that they can’t be anything but feminist issues. She talks about intent versus impact, and that the impact of individuals and institutions matters just as much as intent. She speaks about respectability politics and its ineffectiveness to protect women of color from white supremacy. Even though I felt like I had some understanding of these terms and concepts and the history behind them, Mikki Kendall really puts these problems into a coherent story of how broad feminism has failed women of color. Here are a couple of quotes that really got to me:

“Tetris is a game meant to be played with blocks, not people.”

“[Women of color are] canaries in the coal mine of hate.”

“When some victims are seen as disposable, then eventually all victims are seen as disposable.”

The essays inside this book are clear and organized, with the perfect balance of data/statistical analysis and personal stories. I think it is effective and really sheds light on the women that feminism left behind.

Have a suggestion for what I should read next? Join the conversation with me and let me know what you think:

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Taylor Elise

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