I hope you all had a wonderful Independence Day! And now, we are kicking off the new week with some book reviews. Let’s get right to ’em!
What Kind of Woman, by Kate Baer: I have had a growing interest in poetry in the last few years and was eager to dive into this collection that received oodles of positive attention this past year. Through spare, stream-of-conscience type poems, Baer offers bite-sized commentaries and reflections on what it is to a be a woman, a wife, and a mother. On its surface, a collection of accessible poems dedicated to the exact life stage I am in seems perfect for me, but I did not love this collection. In fact, I actively disliked it.
I admire Baer’s ability to capture so much emotion and meaning within such few words, but her pragmatic style is not to my taste; these poems are all function with little thought paid to flourish (I prefer more flowery poetry—more of a rainbow of words, whereas these poems are very monochromatic). I did not resonate with Baer’s described experiences of womanhood, which are heavy on feminism and victimhood and light on character, and the poems relating to marriage portray the marital dynamic in a negative light that I neither relate to nor aspire to. The final section’s poems on motherhood are much more uplifting and reflective of both the positives and negatives of being a mother and raising tiny people, and there were a few poems here that I truly loved, as they offered plenty to ponder, savor, and remember. As a whole, though, this collection just wasn’t right for me.
While I clearly am not “the kind of woman” who jives with Baer’s poetry, I have no regrets about reading this collection, as I did find some of the poems insightful and memorable; but I am glad that this was a library book, as it is not one I feel the need to keep on my shelf or recommend to others. That said, I really would love some recommendations for more beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring poems on the subjects of life as a woman, wife, and mom; if you have any in mind, please share them with me!
My Rating: 2.5 Stars (Rounded down to 2 Stars on Goodreads.)
Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know, by Adam Grant: In an era where polarization is pushing individuals and groups to double down on our beliefs and close our minds to alternate perspectives, Organizational Psychologist Adam Grant offers a new approach: what if we were to enter into our own minds with an assumption that we just might be wrong? What if we were to stop defending our beliefs with the hard-headed convictions of a militant preacher, the antagonism of a prosecutor set on disproving the other side, or the shallow zeal of a campaigning politician? What if, instead, we were to broach our own beliefs like a scientist set on identifying the truth—even if the truth is inconvenient? In Think Again, Grant makes a strong case for the potential of rethinking, demonstrating how a willingness to unlearn can be just as powerful as natural intelligence.
I have been eagerly anticipating this book for months and it did not disappoint. Grant is an insightful thinker and teacher and I love his perspectives on the human mind, as well as his ability to add practicality to psychological and sociological concepts. The book follows an easy-to-follow format, dividing the material into three parts: Individual Rethinking (how we update our personal views); Interpersonal Rethinking (how we can help open other people’s minds); and Collective Rethinking (how we can create communities of lifelong learners). These sections are fleshed out through engaging stories and case studies as well Grant’s personal observations. At times Grant’s own political or cultural biases are revealed, but he seems to practice what he preaches regarding an open mind toward differing opinions and perspectives.
I don’t agree with Grant’s entire premise in that I do see the merit in holding a (very) few beliefs we are unwilling to compromise on (Grant does address this a bit in his conclusion). But I think we all could benefit from some guidance in learning how to reevaluate the ideas we are holding onto, how to teach our children how to think well, and how to compromise and effectively communicate with others. This book is filled with surprising stories that themselves caused me to rethink my expectations and opened me up to thinking again about so many things.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet, by John Green: I’ve read several of John Green’s books and always admired his writing style and ability to pull thoughtful insights and a compassionate, authentic perspectives into his YA books. I was intrigued to learn that his newest book was a nonfiction essay collection—and one centered around reviews. As an enthusiastic reviewer myself (it’s in the byline of my blog!), I knew this was a book I couldn’t miss. And yes, I see the irony of reviewing a book of reviews. . . but here we go! (I hope I can do it justice.)
The word “Anthropocene” was new to me with this book. It refers to the current geological age, in which humans have had an impact on the planet and its biodiversity. So as the title suggest, this book contains reviews of items found within “the Anthropocene”. Everything is fair game: sunsets, geese, Diet Dr. Pepper, teddy bears, movies, sporting events, board games, and more. Green expounds upon each item’s history and cultural impact, as well as his personal relationship to it, then rates the items on a 5-point scale.
The format of this collection is brilliant, allowing Green to share parts of himself and his ideas without being a traditional memoir. We learn some about his life, his work, his neurosis and his beliefs, but we also get deep-dives into a broad range of fascinating (or fascinatingly mundane) topics. I loved the diversity of the subject matter and was astounded by the meaning Green gleans from seemingly inconsequential events and happenings within the world around him.
My specific reviews would look very different from Green’s, in that we have vastly opposing opinions on faith, politics, and science (though we both agree that Diet Dr. Pepper is pretty great). But Green shares my appreciation for philosophy, meaningful observation, and the process of exploring, questioning, and marveling at all things big and small. This book is sure to help you see the world in a whole new way, and be prepared to both laugh and cry along the journey.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars (Rounded down to 4 stars on Goodreads.)
Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things, by Sara Hagerty: Sara Hagerty first encountered Jesus as a youth. It was an instant love affair that manifested itself in impassioned evangelism and a flurry of well-intentioned service. But the infatuation was built on shallow impressions and misinterpretations of faith. It wasn’t until life grew difficult, first in a struggling marriage then in a decade of infertility followed by four international adoptions, that Sara came to truly know God. As so often happens, the Lord met Sara in her pain. It was through tears and brokenness and desperation that Sara came to a truer, deeper, more Christ-dependent understanding of the Lord; in life’s bitterness, she learn to lean heavily into the sweetness Jesus offered. Through adoration of Him and steady dependence on His goodness and provision, she discovered healing—for her body, but also for her mind, her heart, and her spirit.
This is a complicated book for me to review. The prose is breathtaking: beautiful, profound, perceptive, and intensely intimate. I adored Hagerty’s poetic style and ability to capture the deepest of emotions through such lovely imagery; unfortunately, the writing is almost too pretty (something you will rarely hear me say!), with sentences so flowery and reflections so veiled that I struggled to understand the ideas she was attempting to convey. Entire years of Hagerty’s life are buried so deeply under lyrical writing that I couldn’t quite extract the story or message from the metaphors. This might be a symptom of overwriting, or it might be how Hagerty herself makes sense of her personal world; regardless of why she chose to share her story this way, she does not do her readers any favors with this style of storytelling.
I was inspired by Hagerty’s devotion to the Lord and her commitment to continually adoring, exploring, and knowing Him. It takes courage to share the intricacies of one’s spiritual life with such candor, and though this felt almost TOO intimate at times, I felt honored to be witness to such a beautiful love story between Sara and her Father and came away with a longing for a similar communion with the Lord. I don’t know that I agree with every one of Hagerty’s conclusions about God and the lessons she felt He was teaching her, but I appreciated the chance to see her process in making these new discoveries about God, faith, life, and Scripture.
Much of the book is dedicated to Hagerty’s journey through infertility, something I myself have experienced. I resonated with the pain she felt and the emotions and lessons that accompanied the years of waiting. (Many reviewers have been critical of Hagerty’s attitude and reflections of her woundedness in this area; yes, her own discussion of this part of her story is less than flattering, but I don’t know many woman who have gone through infertility who haven’t shared similar “icky” thoughts, and I was thankful to Hagerty for her openness, even if it paints her in a negative light.) Our reasons for feeling pain in our barrenness were very different, and it was hard for me to understand Hagerty’s frustration with the brokenness of her own body over an actual longing for a child; her desire for healing came more from a place of wanting to see God heal her “broken” femininity and know He was capable of doing so, whereas my desire was rooted in a longing for more children; it was interesting to think how similar circumstances can evoke such different feelings, and it was helpful for me to read a different perspective on an issue I thought I understood.
Adoption is another big part of Hagerty’s story, and I didn’t love her portrayal of her children’s difficulties (I couldn’t help but worry for her children as they read this book in the future). I am not an adoptive parent, so I don’t want to speak too harshly on this aspect of the book, but I would be remiss not to mention that I have a very different understanding than Hagerty of the purpose of adoption, and her savior mentality, her portrayal of rescuing her children, and her belief that adoption was always God’s Plan A for her children did not sit well with me.
Despite some frustrations with this book, I am so glad that I read it. I love the message of finding sweetness in life’s bitter circumstances, which is something I have learned again and again in my own life; and the book’s more specific messages of adoring the Father and growing in knowledge of Him have already had a profound impact on my own spiritual life. I am excited to read Hagerty’s more recent book, Adore: her passages that dive into the topic of adoring the Lord were my favorites, and I am eager to dig deeper into this subject!
My Rating: 3.5 Stars (Rounded up to 4 Stars on Goodreads)
Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy, by Aundi Kolber: Most self-help books are built on the idea of pushing readers to, well, PUSH: to do more, work harder, and pour everything we have into becoming our best selves. In Try Softer, therapist Aundi Kolber takes a different approach, modeling how to work through trauma and overcome anxiety and stress by trying less, not more. Building on the science of the mind/body connection, along with her personal experiences and her work with patients, Kolber paints a picture of an integrated life that is achieved through self-kindness, mindfulness, and acceptance.
Try Softer incorporates ideas I’ve read in similar books from psychologists, childhood experts, and trauma therapists, but I liked the unique spin Kolber puts on the concepts, particularly her incorporation of specific Biblical principles and Scriptures that align brain science with faith. I appreciated the balance between practical and emotional—neither too scientific nor too touchy-feely. The chapter on identifying and working within a window of tolerance was especially helpful for me as I navigate my personal mental health challenges. I also really resonated with the chapters on trying softer with our bodies and with our inner critics. If you are looking for a book that addresses anxiety, trauma, and depression from a Gospel-centered viewpoint, this is a book you will want on your shelves.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Crying in H-Mart, by Michelle Zauner: In this memoir of food, family, love, and loss, we follow the life of a Michelle Zauner, a Korean-American woman who struggled with her identity throughout her childhood as the only Asian-American student in her Oregon school. Her frustrations with an inability to fit in played out in a strained relationship with her mother, whose high expectations and standards for beauty and etiquette Michelle resented. She attempted to run from her family and particularly her Korean heritage after college, moving to the East coast and living the life of a musician. But when Michelle’s mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer when Michele is just twenty-five, she returned home to care for her mother, rekindle their relationship, and reconcile parts of her self and her life she had never accepted.
This is a touching story that reads a lot like fiction and paints a powerful portrait of family, culture, and the challenges inherent within multiethnic families. The redemption story found in the dynamic between Michelle and her mother is both heartbreaking and inspiring, and I admire the author’s willingness to share such intimate details of their relationship. I loved watching Michelle grow up through her grief, coming into a willingness to see her mother in a new and more favorable light.
I wasn’t quite as blown away by this memoir as many seem to be, and I can’t quite name why. I am always moved by stories of grief and family, and this book is no exception, but something about the writing style or tone kept this from being a 5-star read for me. (Maybe it would have been better if I hadn’t done it on audio, or if I had gone into it with lowered expectations.) Still, it is quite a remarkable tribute to food and family and the connections between them.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Next week I’ll be sharing reviews of the six novels I’ve read recently. Until then, have a wonderful week, and happy reading!