January 2021 Reading Update

I rarely have a reading plan at the beginning of the month. I read what interest me, and usually have a nonfiction book, I’m always looking for fun fiction to balance my reading. I didn’t plan on this month being full of female authors, but that is how it turned out. This month I read 8 books.

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent by Isabel Wilkerson – I heard about this book for the last few months, and knew I would appreciate reading this and would learn from it. Wilkerson compares America’s race history with that of India’s caste system and with Nazi Germany.  She shares elements of history from all three nations that are not taught in our typical history books. It is clear how much Americans still need to learn about our own history, and until we recognize the atrocities that we lawfully allowed to happen, especially in the American South as she details, we cannot truly move forward. This was a powerful, engaging book that every American should read.
  • Leading While Female: A Culturally Proficient Response for Gender Equity by Trudy T. Arriaga, Stacie L. Stanley and Delores B. Lindsey – It’s interesting to me that my first two books of 2021 were both nonfiction.  I actually started reading both of these books in December and just happened to finish them at the beginning of the month.  I have heard two of these authors speak before and I’m familiar with the Lindsey’s Cultural Proficiency work.  Over the last decade I’ve learned more about the staggering statistics of female versus male educational leaders and am constantly grateful to have worked with and for many strong leaders, including more women than the statistics of the nation represent. I appreciate the authors desire to educate and empower both women and men to mentor and support more female leaders. They weaved cultural proficiency throughout their lessons, along with real talk from participants in their leadership retreat. They also addressed intersectionality, because a woman and can have more elements to her identity than her gender alone.  This was a quick read and good for leaders already in position to be mentors and supports, and those seeking to move up in their careers.
  • The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister –  I LOVED this book!  Thanks to my friend Shelley for telling me about it on one of our recent walks (one of my other hobbies!). Emmeline was raised by her father on a remote island, taught to live by scents. As she grows and her life changes, taking her to new worlds and experiences, her sense of smell helps her get to know people and find what matters to her. It was a bittersweet, beautifully written story that I didn’t want to end. I wanted to smell the amazing scents she created!
  • The Last House Guest by Megan Miranda – I enjoyed this book! There were a number of twists and turns, some of which I didn’t expect at all, which is always fun. When Avery’s best friend Sadie dies, no one is sure what happened or why.  The story flashes from the summer of the death, to the summer afterwards, with some other elements mixed in as well.  There are a lot of lies told throughout this story, so it’s hard to trust anyone. I love how the author continued to surprise me up until the end.
  • The Survivors by Jane Harper – This was one of my January Book of the Month Club books and I enjoyed it! It started out a little slowly, but I became invested in this small beach town in Australia and all of the hurt and suffering due to a sudden death, and the memories of a tragic accident more than ten years previously.  Kieran and his wife and baby return to his hometown to help his mother prepare for a big move. Little does he know that a new death will bring up the memories of his brother’s sad passing, and all the guilt people are carrying with them about that event. All of the characters face heavy burdens as they hide their own secrets from one another. I appreciated the intricacies of the relationships and the hidden secrets revealed throughout the story.
  • Tweet Cute by Emma Lord – This was such a fun YA read! I needed a palate-cleansing, easy fiction read over the long weekend and this was perfect! Two teens, Pepper and Jack, end up in a Twitter war over their parents’ dueling businesses. As they fight it out over memes and GIFs, they get to know each other through the usual high school drama, with some sweet twists in between.
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennett – After loving Bennett’s recent novel, The Vanishing Half, I heard that her first book was just as good. I had also heard that this book had a more satisfying ending, and while I enjoyed this book a lot, I found the ending equally open-ended.  In this story, Natalie and Aubrey are two teens who form a friendship founded in the fact that they are motherless, yet surrounded by know-it-all mothers in their community. Half of the book takes place when the girls are 17 and half a few years later, when Natalie returns to town from college. I enjoyed that the story took place in Oceanside, which is in northern San Diego County, where I live. The local references were fun to read, including a nod to our May Grey June Gloom summer weather, with an addition I had never heard: “No Sky July. Fogust”! Natalie and Aubrey’s relationship with Luke follows them through the story. What I appreciated here, as I do more and more often, is how flawed each of the characters was in their own way. They were each keeping secrets that hurt themselves and each other. They had a hard time being honest, even with themselves. They didn’t seem to like themselves much, which made them painfully human and real. It was a bittersweet story about a small community and well worth the read.
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. – This book was highly recommended on my favorite podcast, so I’m disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it very much. It was very long, very dense with research studies and scientific facts, and very focused on PTSD and childhood trauma.  The last few chapters addressed what I was really interested in: mindfulness, yoga, biofeedback, and other holistic ways to heal our brains and our bodies. One of the last chapters delved into the role that theater can play to support children and adults recover from trauma. It reminded me the year my 8th graders and I participated in a grant called “The Opera Project,” where my inner city students, many of whom came from trauma-filled childhoods, worked with opera educators to write and perform an opera. It was a powerful experience for them to learn a new artform and to express themselves in this unique way. I saw the connections between their growth throughout that year and the research behind that called out in the book.  If you, or someone you know, suffered significant trauma, this might be interesting for you. If you love details about brain activity, and how by changing our brains we can change our mental and physical beings, you would be interested in this book. Otherwise, typical educators would probably not be interested. There wasn’t enough connections to education for me.

Fiction: 5

Nonfiction: 3

Young Adolescent: 1


Author is of or plot addresses a different race/ethnicity, orientation, religion than me: 3

Female author: 9

Male Author: 1

Nonbinary Author: 0

Library books: 4

Currently reading or my my TBR list soon: A Promised Land [audiobook] by Barack Obama, The Prophets by Robert Jones, Jr.

About Amy's Reflections

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services in Southern CA, taking time to reflect on leadership and learning
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