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We’re halfway through October, and while I’ve been running (and writing about running), I’ve also been reading. Here’s the latest roundup:

Total Recall, Sara Paretsky
V.I. Warshawski’s 10th adventure finds her investigating a man who says he’s a Holocaust survivor. Worried by the man’s behavior and its distressing effect on her friends Max and Lotty, V.I. tries to figure out if he’s legit. This one dragged a bit, though the historical angle was interesting.

The Secrets of Bones, Kylie Logan
Cadaver dog trainer and admin assistant Jazz Ramsey is stunned when one of her demonstrations turns up a real body. She begins investigating the skeleton, which may belong to a former colleague. This was an engaging enough mystery plot, but not as good as Jazz’s previous adventure.

The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found, Karina Yan Glaser
It’s fall in Harlem and the Vanderbeeker kids are caught off guard when the mysterious person sleeping in the garden shed turns out to be a friend of theirs. I love this series; this installment is sweet and funny, and a thoughtful take on a complicated situation faced by a lot of children. (I scored some fun swag since I pre-ordered my copy from NYC’s Books of Wonder. Support indie bookstores!)

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years, Julie Andrews with Emma Walton Hamilton
I’ve loved Julie Andrews’ work since I was a little girl; The Sound of Music is one of my all-time faves. This memoir covers Andrews’ early years in Hollywood (including Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music) and her next two decades in film, plus her marriage to brilliant, mercurial director Blake Edwards. Warm, charming and really fun for Andrews fans.

Poppy Redfern and the Fatal Flyers, Tessa Arlen
Aspiring screenwriter Poppy Redfern is sent to an airfield to interview several “Attagirls” – female pilots. But when two of the squad’s most experienced members die in crashes, Poppy and her American beau, Griff, suspect foul play. I love a British mystery and this one was really fun. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 1).

West Wind, Mary Oliver
It’s no secret I’m an Oliver fan, and these poems/prose poems are lovely and luminous and tinged with melancholy. I especially love “Morning Walk” and the last one, “Have You Ever Tried to Enter the Long Black Branches.”

How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi
This is definitely one of the books of 2020 – I’ve been working on it for two months. Kendi shares his own story of coming to grips with his internalized anti-Black racism, along with defining and exploring terms like assimilationist, segregationist, etc. It gets dense at times, but is strong and thought-provoking. It’s increasingly clear to me that racism goes far beyond overt harmful acts, and it’s up to all of us to reckon with that.

The Last Mrs. Summers, Rhys Bowen
Newlywed Lady Georgiana O’Mara (nee Rannoch) is at a loose end when her husband is traveling. But her best friend Belinda turns up and they take off down to Cornwall together, to look at a property Belinda has inherited. Before long, they find themselves staying at the local great house and caught up in a murder mystery. A fun homage to Rebecca and an engaging entry in this series.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos
I love de los Santos’ warm, thought-provoking novels about family, and I loved revisiting this one. It is the story of Taisy and Willow, estranged sisters who finally discover each other (and themselves), but it’s about more than that: love and second chances and the stories we tell about our lives. So good.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: TridentFrugal Bookstore and Brookline Booksmith.

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My antiracist reading list this summer includes some of the usual suspects (White Fragility and How to Be an Antiracist, among others). But just as crucially, I’ve been spending time with Mildred D. Taylor’s Logan family.

Outspoken, whip-smart Cassie Logan entered my life in the fourth grade, when I first discovered her story in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Unusually for Depression-era Mississippi, Cassie’s tightly knit Black family owned their land, and the book tells of a year when they fought to keep it. I adore Cassie and her brothers, their no-nonsense grandma and their wise, thoughtful parents. I remember extensive classroom discussions about racism, and it was also important for me to encounter a Black protagonist who was not a slave.

Back then, I also read and loved Taylor’s powerful sequel, Let the Circle Be Unbroken. I’ve reread both books this summer, and they are as rich and compelling now as they were 25 years ago. But there’s more to their story, and I’ve been relishing and learning from the new-to-me chapters of the Logan family saga.

Taylor’s 2001 prequel, The Land, chronicles the childhood of Cassie’s biracial grandfather, Paul-Edward Logan, and his quest to acquire his own land. Born to a plantation owner and a slave woman, Paul-Edward has to reckon with his heritage and make his own way, and he does both with strength and spirit. I also picked up The Road to Memphis, which follows the teenage Cassie, her brother Stacey and several friends as they spirit a friend out of town after a racially charged altercation with three white men. (Bonus: the reissued paperbacks feature covers by 2020 Caldecott Medalist Kadir Nelson, who recently illustrated a New Yorker cover featuring George Floyd.)

Taylor’s concluding Logan novel, All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, picks up Cassie’s story in adulthood. She travels the country as part of the postwar Great Migration, finds both love and grief in California, and goes back home to Mississippi to participate in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Taylor returns to her perennial themes of justice, equality, fierce pride and the Logans’ deep love for their land and one another. Their strength and dignity in the face of discrimination are a potent reminder that Black people have suffered long enough: it’s time for white Americans to do better.

I originally wrote most of this column for Shelf Awareness, where it ran last week. I love the Logans and I highly recommend these books for older kids and adults alike. 

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We’re deep into summer heat and summer reading over here. Here’s what I have been reading:

From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Janae Marks
My friend Kari recommended this middle-grade novel, narrated by aspiring baker Zoe, who begins writing to her incarcerated birth father. She has lots of questions for him, and becomes determined to clear his name. I loved Zoe’s narrative voice and the other characters, especially her grandma. Bonus: it’s set in Boston/Cambridge and contains many references to neighborhoods I know well.

Dead Land, Sara Paretsky
Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski gets caught up in a tangled case involving two murders, a mass shooting several years before, a plan to redevelop some public lakeshore property, and a mentally ill homeless woman who might hold the keys to all of it. This is Paretsky’s 20th Warshawski novel but the first I’d read; I really enjoyed both the plot and V.I.’s smart, snarky voice.

Infused: Adventures in Tea, Henrietta Lovell
Lovell is the founder of the Rare Tea Company, and this charming memoir chronicles her journeys to source and brew the best teas. Each brief chapter focuses on one tea/location, and they’re packed with travel anecdotes and useful information about all kinds of tea. Found at Three Lives & Co. during my last NYC trip, back in January.

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, Sarah Smarsh
Dolly Parton is indisputably a cultural icon, but there’s more to her than rhinestones and big boobs and twang. Smarsh delves into Parton’s long career, her business empire and her smart-but-subtle feminism, adding anecdotes from her own life that help illuminate Parton’s appeal. I loved Smarsh’s first book, Heartland, and this is a strong follow-up. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Oct. 13).

Not Like the Movies, Kerry Winfrey
Chloe Sanderson is used to taking care of everything: her coffee-shop job, her online business classes, her dad (who has early-onset Alzheimer’s). But since her best friend Annie wrote a rom-com inspired by Chloe’s life, it’s getting harder to hold things together. I loved this sequel to Waiting for Tom Hanks, which forces Chloe to confront her past pain and is also a sweet love story with great characters.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
A friend lent me this classic memoir, which I’d never read. Angelou chronicles her childhood in Stamps, Arkansas, the trauma of being raped by her mother’s boyfriend in St. Louis, and her eventual move to California. Vivid and arresting, with lots of colorful characters, including Angelou’s family.

Indemnity Only, Sara Paretsky
After enjoying Dead Land, I went back to read V.I. Warshawski’s first adventure. It involves a missing college girl, her murdered boyfriend, crooked union men, insurance fraud and lots of wisecracks. A solid mystery and a good setup for the series.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Brookline Booksmith and Frugal Books.

What are you reading?

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Earlier this summer, I spoke with Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, cohosts of the podcast Call Your Girlfriend. Longtime friends and media professionals who live on opposite coasts, they explore the phenomenon of “Big Friendship” through their own experience in their first book, Big Friendship, which came out this week.

I loved talking with Ann and Aminatou about the joys and challenges of friendship for Shelf Awareness, and I want to buy their book for half a dozen of my female friends. In celebration of the book’s publication, here are some excerpts from our conversation:

You’ve been co-hosting Call Your Girlfriend since 2014, so you are known on the Internet for being friends. How does your book explore friendship–specifically yours–in different ways than the podcast?

Aminatou Sow: Like many of our collaborations, none of it is calculated. The book asks: What does life look like when the people at the center of your life are your friends? That’s a meta-conversation the two of us have been having for a long time. We wrote this book as a way of explaining our own relationship to each other, but also opening up a robust conversation around what it means to really choose your friends and have them be vital parts of your lives.

Early in your friendship, you created a “story of sameness,” and later, you discuss the need to upend that narrative. 

Ann Friedman: The term “story of sameness” belongs to the linguist Deborah Tannen. We didn’t even realize, early on in our friendship, how we had created this story of all the ways we were similar. Some of it was superficial: we both like to eat dinner at the bar! But it happened very subtly, as part of the larger process of falling in love with each other as friends. We only realized later that we had made a practice of choosing to focus on these similarities. Our ability to recognize and deal with our differences became very important later on.

All friendships go through challenges: discrete moments that cause pain, a gradual growing apart, or a combination of those. You use “stretching” as a metaphor for tough times in a friendship.

AF: The “stretch” is a phrase both of us have uttered when things were difficult, as in, “I’m feeling really stretched by this relationship and what it is asking of me.” I think the metaphor also has a normalizing effect. We understand that our romantic partners are going to hurt us, and there’s emotional support for working through that. But there’s not the same kind of support or expectation for working through conflicts with friends.

AS: We are both words people, and I have real discomfort expressing my negative feelings. I was trying to find the gentlest way to say, “I feel hurt. I don’t want our relationship to end, and I would like to talk about it.” We reach for metaphors to try and explain our feelings.

You also address the challenges of being in a close interracial friendship.

AS: We are a Black and white friendship, which is very different than any other racial pairing. There is a direct correlation between the relationships white people have with Black people and the policy that governs how Black people are treated. It’s a painful reality to understand that if you are not understood in an intimate way in your relationships with white people, it will manifest itself in incredibly dangerous ways with white people whom you do not know, like police officers.

AF: The particular dynamics of interracial friendships for adults are really under-researched. It is also not an experience of close friendship that, statistically, a lot of white people have had. We really wanted to center that in the book, because not having interracial friendships is mainly a white experience. Thinking back to when we talked about stretching: it feels important to normalize conversation about the hard things. Just because you ignore the conversation [about race] doesn’t mean it goes away.

Tell us about the process of writing “every sentence together,” as you say early in the book.

AS: Ann looked up at me toward the end of this project and said, “Wow, we really did this the hard way.”

AF: That was about all our life choices, not just writing the book! [laughter]

AS: [The process] was informed by the way we work on other things. We knew it could not be a book where we wrote in a duelling voice, because we were trying to arrive at a joint truth of what our relationship was. It opened up another line of communication for us to dig through some past incidents and make decisions about the stories we were trying to tell. We would outline, make decisions, go away separately to write about those, come back together and knit them into the text you have. It was really hard! But we are also very practiced at being in conversation together.

AF: It feels really good to me that no one can say “I’m Team Ann” or “I’m Team Aminatou.” And since we were telling a story that feels emotionally risky, this was a way for both of us to feel protected. We could agree on stories to use as examples of bigger themes we are talking about. And there’s a lot of respect for each other: we could say, “I don’t want to tell anything you’re not comfortable sharing.”

AS: Though I want the record to reflect that I am 100% Team Ann.

What would you tell readers who are not sure how to nurture their own Big Friendships, or where to start?

AS: It’s an interesting conversation, because people define for themselves what a Big Friendship is and what it looks like for them. The thing I have learned in writing this book, and in my relationship with Ann, is that communication is very important! So: Talk to the people you’re in Big Friendships with, and define that bond and those values for yourself, because no two friendships look alike.

You can buy Big Friendship wherever books are sold – please consider supporting an independent bookstore. You can also read my full review at Shelf Awareness

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I’ve been reading up a storm this month, so far. Here’s the latest roundup:

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
I loved Emily Nagoski’s previous book, Come As You Are, a brilliant exploration of women’s sexuality. This book, co-written with Emily’s identical twin sister Amelia, explores the stress we experience as women, and shares strategies for naming and dealing with it. Witty, insightful and thought-provoking. I especially liked the parts about completing the stress cycle (so it doesn’t just build up in your body) and befriending your inner madwoman. Will be thinking about this one for a while.

The Women and the Men, Nikki Giovanni
I picked up this poetry collection at Manchester by the Book and have been reading it slowly. I find Giovanni’s work powerful and engaging – I love her imagery and the way she plays with language.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations, Mira Jacob
I loved this wry, warmhearted, piercingly honest graphic memoir about what it means to live in the U.S. as a person of color, a woman, an artist and a part of an interracial family. Jacob is American-born to Indian parents; her husband is a white Jewish man. Their son, Z, is funny and smart and asks really good questions. This memoir chronicles many of their conversations as well as Jacob’s personal history. Fantastic.

Right of Way: Race, Class, and the Silent Epidemic of Pedestrian Deaths in America, Angie Schmitt
Pedestrians are dying in the U.S. at a truly alarming rate – especially older folks, disabled people and people of color. Schmitt delves into the urban planning, car design and systemic inequalities that created this epidemic, and offers some solutions for reversing it. Incisive, accessible and thought-provoking. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 27).

Float Plan, Trish Doller
Ben and Anna had planned to sail the Caribbean together, until Ben’s death by suicide. But Anna, in a desperate attempt to move forward somehow, decides to take their boat and sail anyway. She meets Keane, a handsome Irishman, and still has to deal with her grief. Funny, sweet and romantic. To review for Shelf Awareness (out March 2021).

The Road to Memphis, Mildred D. Taylor
Cassie Logan and her friends all know to keep their cool around white people – but one day her friend Moe has had enough and severely injures three white men. Cassie, her brother Stacey and two of their friends flee town with Moe, hoping to get him to Memphis so he can head north. A powerful installment in Taylor’s Logan series.

All the Days Past, All the Days to Come, Mildred D. Taylor
This book picks up Cassie’s story in the 1940s, when she’s a young woman and her brothers are also reaching adulthood. It spans two decades, as Cassie moves from Mississippi to Toledo to California and finally back south, to participate in voter registration drives. I love Cassie’s honesty, her stubborn sense of justice and her warm, fiercely loving family. I wanted her adventures to go on and on.

Yes No Maybe So, Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed
Jamie Goldberg gets roped into political canvassing by his cousin, the campaign manager. Maya Rehman is missing her best friend, her parents are separating, and she grudgingly agrees to canvass with Jamie. To both their surprise, the work isn’t that bad – and they like each other’s company, too. A sweet, funny YA romance about dealing with big change and standing up for what’s right.

Native: Identity, Belonging, and Rediscovering God, Kaitlin B. Curtice
Curtice is a Potawatomi woman who is also a Christian, and she explores that tension in this book. It’s beautifully written, and at times it’s clear and powerful. At times it didn’t quite land for me. Still important, as we continue to face tough, long-overdue conversations about race and discrimination.

Watson & Holmes: A Study in Black, Karl Bollers, Rick Leonardi & Larry Stroman
My guy lent me this graphic-novel reimagining of Watson and Holmes as black men fighting crime in 21st-century NYC. I’m not a huge comics reader but I liked their witty banter. It amazes me how Conan Doyle’s characters are endlessly being reinterpreted.

The Fountains of Silence, Ruta Sepetys
I love Sepetys’ gripping YA novels about largely forgotten corners of history. This one explores the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War and the effects of Franco’s regime on young people in the 1950s. I loved the two main characters: Daniel, a visiting Texan who is half Spanish, and Ana, who works as a maid at his hotel. Compelling, lushly described and very romantic.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident and Brookline Booksmith.

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manchester-by-the-book-canoe

We are nearly through June – which has felt endless – and I’ve been reading a lot. Here’s the latest roundup. (Photo from Manchester by the Book, where I popped in for a properly masked/distanced browse with a girlfriend recently. It was so nourishing to be in a real bookstore again.)

I’m Fine and Neither Are You, Camille Pagán
Penelope Ruiz-Kar loves her husband and kids, but she’s exhausted from juggling it all, and secretly envious of her put-together best friend Jenny. When tragedy strikes, Penelope is forced to examine her misconceptions about Jenny’s life, and take a hard look at her own. Funny and breezy with surprising depth – Pagán does that combination so well.

Two Truths and a Lie, Meg Mitchell Moore
When Sherri Griffin and her daughter arrive in Newburyport, Mass., they’re running from more than just a “bad divorce.” The local Mom Squad is curious, but it’s the former squad queen, Rebecca, who actually connects with Sherri. Recently widowed, Rebecca has struggles and secrets of her own, and so does her teenage daughter. Fast-paced and compelling, full of summer sunsets, compassion and snark.

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer in New England and the Penderwick sisters (with their widowed father and big dog, Hound) are staying at a lovely estate in the Berkshires. All sorts of adventures ensue, as they make friends with the resident boy, try to dodge his snooty mother, and do their best to take care of each other. This series is a little bit precious, but the characters are so much fun.

The Poet X, Elizabeth Acevedo
I loved Acevedo’s second novel, With the Fire on High, and finally picked up her debut novel-in-verse. Xiomara Batista is a Dominican-American teenager living in Harlem. She has lots of questions about God, boys and life (and her strict Catholic mami doesn’t want to hear them). She starts writing poetry, then gets invited to join her school’s slam poetry club. I loved reading Xiomara’s powerful, honest, fiery words, and seeing how she cares for her twin brother and friends.

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth, Barbara Neely
I read about Neely in a recent Shelf Awareness obituary, and picked up her second mystery (for $3!) at Manchester by the Book. (Serendipity!) Blanche White is a domestic worker who’s spending a well-earned vacation at an all-black resort in Maine. Two dead bodies turn up, and she gets mixed up in a nest of secrets, while dealing with tricky interpersonal dynamics. A well-plotted mystery and an incisive look at colorism in the black community.

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwick girls are back at home, dealing with school, sports, new neighbors and – to their chagrin – their father’s attempts at dating. This sequel is sweet and funny, and I love the ending.

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite
When Alaine Beauparlant’s journalist mother makes a scene on the air, and Alaine herself gives a disastrous school presentation, they both end up back in Haiti with Alaine’s aunt Estelle. Alaine is a sassy, snappy narrator who’s trying to figure out some family business (a curse?) while working for her aunt’s nonprofit (where something definitely smells fishy). This epistolary YA novel, written by two sisters, was so much fun.

Atomic Love, Jennie Fields
Rosalind Porter enjoyed success as a scientist, working on nuclear projects during World War II. But she’s haunted by the destruction caused by the atomic bomb. When her British ex-lover turns back up, so does the FBI: they think he might be selling secrets to the Russians. Rosalind walks a fine line as she tries to help the FBI and protect her own heart. A compelling, twisty story of love, science and conflicting loyalties. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 18).

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
I read this book back in fourth grade and it has stayed with me all these years. It’s the centerpiece of Taylor’s family saga about the Logans, a black landowning family in Depression-era Mississippi. Narrated by Cassie, age nine, this book tells the story of one year when racial tensions erupt, with disastrous consequences, but it’s also a story of love and strength. I adore Cassie – opinionated, headstrong, with a firm sense of justice – and Taylor’s writing is so powerful.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
This book is everywhere right now, and for good reason: so many of us white folks are waking up to conversations about race. DiAngelo (who is white, and has been doing inclusion/antiracism work for years) pulls no punches in her examination of white supremacy as a system, the ways it shapes all of us, and how we can begin to interrupt that system. Powerful and thought-provoking.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, Jeanne Birdsall
It’s summer and the three younger Penderwick girls are off to Maine with Aunt Claire. Before long, their friend Jeffrey turns up too, and all sorts of adventures ensue while Skye tries to wrap her head around being in charge. Sweet and funny, like its predecessors.

Why I Wake Early, Mary Oliver
I love Oliver’s poetry and have been reading a few of these each morning. Her luminous imagery is helping me to pay attention in these strange days.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken, Mildred D. Taylor
Taylor’s sequel to Roll of Thunder (above) picks up the adventures of the Logan family in the 1930s. A friend of theirs stands trial for robbery and murder; their biracial cousin comes to visit and tries to pass as white; and Cassie and her siblings continue learning what it means to be black in America. So compelling and vivid.

The Penderwicks in Spring, Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks are back, and Batty is finding her singing voice, starting a dog-walking business, and dealing with some really tough emotional stuff. Some sad parts in this one, but I love Birdsall’s fictional family.

The Penderwicks at Last, Jeanne Birdsall
Rosalind is getting married – and all the Penderwicks are back at Arundel, the estate where the series began. Eleven-year-old Lydia takes center stage in this last book, and it’s so much fun.

A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside, Susan Branch
My friend Kate sent me this book months ago, and I’ve been dipping into its pages at night when life feels too hard. Branch and her husband, Joe, sail on the Queen Mary 2 for an extended tour of charming English villages, and her illustrated travelogue is cozy and sweet.

Links (not affiliate links) are to local bookstores I love: Trident, Brookline Booksmith and Frugal Books.

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Like millions of Americans, I’ve spent the past few weeks doing a lot of reading, listening and processing. The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, the ensuing protests, and the waves of activism and helpful resources popping up everywhere have all been rightfully demanding my attention.

I’m a few chapters into White Fragility (“like all the other white people,” my friend Ally joked last week). I’m listening to podcast interviews with Black leaders, finding Black-owned businesses to support and following new-to-me accounts on Instagram run by Black folks. (One of my favorites: Black Librarians, which highlights – what else? – Black librarians doing excellent work in their field.)

It’s tempting to think that is enough: that exposing myself to new ideas, information and voices will root out my own biases. It will help, of course, but it is not nearly enough. I keep thinking, too, about a poem I found back in early 2016: Veronica Patterson’s “A Charm Against the Language of Politics.”

Patterson’s poem begins:

Say over and over the names of things,
the clean nouns: weeping birch, bloodstone, tanager,
Banshee damask rose.

Patterson’s poem talks about pleasant things, beautiful things: spiderwebs, apples, okra, calendula. Racism and violence are not nearly as appealing, but they are real, and we have to stop ignoring them.

If we are to face racism and work to end it, we must name it, and that means naming a host of other things: specific laws and policies that discriminate against Black people; instances of violence and murder (historical and present-day); our own sometimes-hidden biases against (various) people who do not look like us. It also means, for me, naming my own whiteness, and working to understand how it has shaped me.

In conversations with friends and family, I am trying to stop vaguely referring to “everything that’s going on.” If I mean my ongoing anxieties about the coronavirus pandemic and states reopening, I say that. If I mean the sadness, outrage and drinking-from-a-firehose overwhelm of trying to process all this new information about race and racism, I say that. Sometimes I think about Albus Dumbledore, gravely reminding Harry, “Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

I was taught to ignore or sidestep race, especially the racial identities of brown and black people, and thus to ignore racism (or insist that it had been solved). But we cannot hope to solve a problem we don’t name. So, for me, it starts (in part) with naming.

Where are you finding yourselves these days, in the work of acknowledging and working to end racism in the U.S.? I’m still overwhelmed (and ashamed at how long it’s taking me to catch up), but I’m here for the work. Let’s learn together.

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We’re halfway through June, somehow – and what a ride it has been. Here’s what I have been reading:

The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy’s Vanishing Explorers, Emily Levesque
Most people imagine astronomers gazing into a backyard telescope, discovering new stars or trying to make contact with aliens. The reality is a little different, and Levesque’s memoir tells that story with humor and heart. She traces her own journey from backyard stargazer to Ph.D.-holding astronomer, and gives readers a tour of some of the world’s most powerful telescopes. Plenty of fun anecdotes about her colleagues and the field, too. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Aug. 4).

Song of the Trees, Mildred D. Taylor
I love Taylor’s series about the Logan family. This novella, narrated by Cassie, tells the story of a white landowner threatening to cut down some of the trees on her family’s land. Short and powerful.

Black History in Its Own Words, Ronald Wimberly
My guy gave me this book a while back – a collection of powerful quotes and portraits of black leaders, past and present. Some were familiar to me (bell hooks, Nina Simone, Muhammad Ali), others less so (Kimberly Bryant, Emory Douglas). Made me want to learn more about all of them.

The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living, Louise Miller
I needed a cozy, familiar story, so I picked up my friend Louise’s lovely debut novel. Boston baker Olivia Rawlings escapes to Vermont after setting her workplace (literally) on fire. Once there, she finds herself with a baking job, some new friends and a possible love interest. I love Livvy’s story and its warm, good-hearted cast of characters.

The Nesting Dolls, Alina Adams
Spanning eight decades, from Siberian work camps to 1970s Odessa to present-day Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, Adam’s saga follows three protagonists in the same Soviet family: Daria, her granddaughter Natasha, and Natasha’s granddaughter Zoe. It’s a compelling look at how the Soviet state’s ideas affected every aspect of its citizens’ lives, but it’s also a really good family saga – so good I flew through it, even on the Kindle. To review for Shelf Awareness (out July 14).

I Think You’re Wrong (But I’m Listening): A Guide to Grace-Filled Political Conversations, Sarah Stewart Holland and Beth Silvers
We are living in polarized times – and it can feel difficult and daunting to have conversations with people who think/vote/believe differently than we do. Sarah and Beth, hosts of the Pantsuit Politics podcast, share what they’ve learned through several years of digging into the issues together, and trying to do it with humility, curiosity and grace. So thoughtful and thought-provoking. Highly recommended.

The Scent of Murder, Kylie Logan
School admin assistant Jazz Ramsey spends her spare time training cadaver dogs. But she’s not prepared to find a body one Saturday night – much less one that belongs to a former student Jazz knew. Troubled by Florie Allen’s death, Jazz searches for answers while dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her personal life, including her detective ex-boyfriend. A solid entry in a new mystery series.

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones
Jones’ breakout novel tells the story of two girls who share a father, but only one of them knows it. In 1980s Atlanta, Dana and Chaurisse navigate both their teenage years and the complications of their family’s story. I loved (and was stunned by) Jones’ An American Marriage, and am glad I finally read this one.

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy, Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Grace Ellis
Jaclyn sent me the first two volumes of this highly entertaining comic, which follows five friends at an unconventional summer camp. I loved their exclamations (“Holy Mae Jemison!”) and the ways they band together. Lots of setup in this volume for whatever is coming next. So much fun.

The Late Bloomers’ Club, Louise Miller
Nora Huckleberry is mostly content running the town diner in Guthrie, Vermont. But when she and her free-spirited sister inherit some land from an acquaintance, Nora’s life suddenly gets complicated. Miller’s second novel features some familiar faces and lots of new ones, and a protagonist wrestling with big life questions. Full of charm and heart.

Keep It Moving: Lessons for the Rest of Your Life, Twyla Tharp
Anne recommended this follow-up to Tharp’s The Creative Habit, which I loved. Tharp, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer, gives practical advice for building stamina and maintaining creativity and vitality as you age. She’s no-nonsense and wise, and this was a worthwhile read.

Spiderweb for Two, Elizabeth Enright
Randy and Oliver, the two youngest Melendys, are lonely without their older siblings. But a mysterious scavenger hunt fills their winter with adventures. I like the Melendys best when they are all together, but this final book in the quartet is charming and fun.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstores, Brookline Booksmith and Trident. I’ve also linked to Frugal Bookstore, a black-owned bookstore here in Boston. Y’all know I love independent bookstores, and I am also trying to support black-owned businesses more often as part of my commitment to anti-racist work.

What are you reading?

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I posted this book stack the other day on Instagram – it was/is the result of a quick scan of my shelves, pulling off books by black authors that have been (for me) powerful and thought-provoking. Some are longtime favorites, some newer discoveries.

Like any book list, it is only a small beginning. I am reading and listening to black voices on social media: Osheta Moore, Austin Channing Brown, Well-Read Black Girl. I am ordering and placing library holds on books by black authors. I signed a NAACP petition calling for an independent investigation into the murder of George Floyd, and broader police reform. I donated to my local bail fund after more than 50 protesters were arrested this weekend in Boston.

None of this is “enough” or gets me off the hook for doing more. I share what I’ve been doing because so many of us white folks don’t know where to start. But we have to start, if we haven’t already. Until everyone is able to thrive in this country, the work will not be done. And we have to look hard at our own hearts – our biases and hesitation and fear – because the real work happens internally, too.

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