Like most of you, our SENREVE team has been looking for ways to spend this newly found time indoors with enriching activities. For some of us, that includes baking our mom’s chocolate chip cookie recipe, exercising indoors every morning, or binge-watching all the TV shows that Netflix has “recommended for you” with a glass of wine (Love is Blind, anybody?)
During these tumultuous times, one of my personal favorite activities is to curl in my bed or armchair with a cozy throw and open a really good book. Books are my temporary escape from our current reality as well as a way to contextualize and process it. I love the feeling of stepping out of my old Edwardian San Francisco apartment to immerse myself in a completely new world or to learn more about new, interesting subjects that I never had the time to dig into. Here is a compiled list of all our favorite reads from the SENREVE team this month.
Educated by Tara Westover. It seems like the whole world was reading this book last year, and the whole world is still reading this book—as are several members of our team— with good reason. Tara’s story is a one-of-a-kind journey. As the youngest daughter of seven children, Tara spent her mornings as a young girl helping her father collect shrapnel from the junkyard and evenings preparing years worth of canned peaches for Doomsday. Nearly all of her siblings are homeschooled and her conspiracy theory-laden parents are anti-everything government-provided (healthcare, public education, you name it). It’s hard to fully capture the bizarre events of this family, but her family’s story is an intersection of socioeconomic issues, domestic violence, mental disorders, religion, social isolation, and so much more. Each page is gut-wrenching (you’ll know what I mean) and you feel that something even more bizarre is going to happen. And it does, without fail again, and again, and again.
Tara’s journey of unearthing and exposing the hypocrisies of what she grew up believing, what she now believes, and how she continues to reconcile such opposite truths is fascinating and mindblowing. This is an incredible choice for your next (virtual) book club. Bring out the wine, Zoom with your friends, and have an extremely rich discussion unpacking the hypocrisies of Tara, her family, and ultimately ourselves too.
Untamed by Glennon Doyle. A motivational speaker and activist, Doyle shares her raw and unadulterated experience of divorcing her husband, finding love with Olympic soccer player, Abby Wambach, and coming out to family and friends in this inspirational memoir. We personally loved it because in this time of great uncertainty, she reminds us that it’s up to us to reevaluate what we identify with in order to be grounded in who we are. We often become what we surround ourselves with, both intentionally and unintentionally. Doyle reminds us that it’s important to take the time to evaluate what we were taught to subscribe to and what we want to subscribe to. She unpacks gender roles, work roles, and what we subconsciously deem good or bad. Doyle shares her journey of how she took the hard decision of reconnecting with who she was and staying true to that. Our identity is fluid and changes over time with new experiences and new people. Glennon Doyle’s latest memoir is both highly readable and deeply provoking. In this time of social isolation, her story of becoming the unapologetically strong and empowered woman she is today serves as both an inspiration and encouragement to reflect on our own values and what keeps us grounded in this time of uncertainty. Her first memoir, Love Warrior, is up next on our reading list.
Uncanny Valley by Anna Weiner. For those of us who live and work in Silicon Valley, we know all too well the idiosyncrasies that define tech culture in the Bay Area. I was a huge fan of the early seasons of Silicon Valley, and Uncanny Valley takes the countercultural critique of tech to a new level of sophistication and wit. Weiner, formerly a junior assistant at a New York publishing firm, moves to San Francisco and embarks on a journey through various fast-growing startups. Her writing is beautiful, hilarious, and relatable. I love the way she articulates her experiences from an outsider’s point of view—some of the things that have become second nature to me after living here for eight years are the same things she points out that should not be overlooked and ignored. She has a uniquely feminist point of view as well; one of my favorite parts of the book is when she and her coworkers were talking about flow states (I had actually discussed achieving flow state with my roommates the week before...guilty as charged). By the end of the book, she is both an outsider and insider of Silicon Valley, she’s both a product of the system and a voice that challenges it. And like most of us in the Bay Area, we simultaneously criticize and embrace the unique tech culture of our generation.
Image courtesy of @the_litedit
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid. I just finished and loved this book. This debut novel from Kiley Reid is highly readable yet nuanced. The story is told from alternating perspectives of Emira, a 25-year old black woman who makes a living from babysitting, and Alix, the white working woman who employs Emira. The story starts off with Emira being wrongly accused of kidnapping a white child she was simply babysitting, and the events that follow it. The stories feel so real, likely drawn from Reid’s own experience of caring for wealthy Manhattanite children for six years.
Reid covers the same event from two different perspectives and comically shows how the same interaction can be interpreted so differently based on the cultural, racial, and socioeconomic lens you have. Alix buys extra frozen food for Emira to take home when she’s leaving her shift, while Emira observes that she didn’t ask for the help but simply gets it because Alix believes she needs the help. It’s a story of how good intentions can be interpreted differently, and how we’re all trying to do the best with what we can at the moment.
The dialogue is full of millennial terms and concepts—I mean who hasn’t gone through their ex-boyfriend’s Venmo history to see what he is up to these days—and the writing is light and entertaining.
Image courtesy of The Newsline Magazine
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. I’m biased because I’m related to the author of this book, but the National Book Award and Barack Obama both loved the book, so I think you might too. This historical fiction novel starts in a Korean fishing town in the early 20th century before Japanese annexation of Korea. A series of unfortunate events lead Sunja, the main protagonist and daughter of a poor widowed innkeeper, to move from Korea to a new life in Japan. The novel covers four generations of characters who have very different perspectives on the struggle of assimilating to a foreign land that needs you but does not want you. It’s a classic immigrant story set in a less-than-usual historical context that unpacks the issues of ethnic racism (even within the “Asian race”), gender roles, and the fluid identity of uprooted populations.
Pachinko is named after a Japanese pinball game that many Korean shop owners operated as a means to make a living in Tokyo and Yokohama. Like the pinball game, Sunja and the characters you meet in this multi-generational saga require both skill and luck to navigate life. I loved the book, and hope you do, too!
Image courtesy of @bmbookcase
Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. The book is an amazing quick read that really tackles societal pressures, race, and class. I liked it because I felt like the main characters are pretty complex, which makes it hard to pick “sides”. From the parents to the children, no one is 100% good or bad, everything is just slightly questionable. Plus, we also love that it’s written by an Asian-American author (like our founders!).
Image courtesy of @tarheelreader
The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. This historical fiction novel is set in Troublesome Creek, Kentucky, one of the most remote parts of the Appalachian mountains during the Great Depression. Cussy Mary Carter, the 19-year old protagonist, is based on a real woman who was a one of the Blue Fugates of Kentucky. This family had an extremely rare skin condition that caused excess methemoglobin levels in red blood cells, which turned their skin indigo blue, lips purple, and blood a chocolate brown. It’s wild.
Needless to say, the “blue people” were highly discriminated against by folks of all races back then. Priests thought they possessed the devil and needed to be exorcised or killed, and town members did not even want to touch them. Cussy Mary decides that she will be an independent woman without a husband and becomes a pack-horse librarian that brings library books to isolated Kentuckians who have very little means for things like books and education.
Cussy Mary is such a lovable character, the work she does is admirable, and most importantly, this story brings to light the story of marginalized people who faced psychological and emotional trauma simply due to the color of their skin. The writing was not my favorite, but everything the story represents is inspirational.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. We’re also re-reading some of our favorites because who doesn’t love a good classic? When I read this book as a teenage girl, I remember identifying more with Jane, the older sister with a gentle nature and good heart. As a grown woman almost in her 30s, now, I am rooting for the opinionated Elizabeth and her proud Mr. Darcy. This masterpiece truly whisks you away to a different era but the romance, high society, and witty banter are timeless today.
What are your favorite good reads these days? We want to hear them!