African-American, Autobiography, Graphic Novel, History, Read Diverse 2017

March: Book Two

Cover image for March: Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydinby John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Art by Nate Powell

ISBN 978-1-60309-400-9

“The fare was paid in blood, but the Freedom Rides stirred the national consciousness, and awoke the hearts and minds of a generation.”

Politician and civil rights leader John Lewis has been representing Georgia’s fifth congressional district for the past three decades. Before that, he enjoyed a long career as a civil rights activist and organizer, and served on the city council in Atlanta. The script for the March graphic novel was written with his congressional aide, Andrew Aydin, who wanted to capture some of the memories Lewis had shared with him in their time working together. This is the second volume in what has become a highly-acclaimed trilogy since its 2013 release. Catch up with March: Book One here.

March: Book Two opens on Inauguration Day 2009, and then transitions back to Nashville in November 1960. After successfully integrating the city’s department store lunch counters, Lewis and the Nashville Student Movement continued in the same vein by trying to integrate cafeterias and fast food restaurants. They also turned their attention to segregated movie theatres. However, the heart of the second volume focuses on the Freedom Riders and the March on Washington, as Lewis rises to national prominence within the civil rights movement. Despite covering several climactic events, tension remains high, as the volume closes with the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.

Book two recounts the increasing force with which non-violent protests were met as the civil rights movement gained momentum. Powell continues to walk the fine line in depicting the events truthfully but without exploiting the horror. However, the severity of the violence undeniably increases in this installment. The violence did not come as a surprise to the activists. In fact, Freedom Riders signed wills before undertaking their journeys, which were designed to test whether the Supreme Court decision that integrated interstate buses was being upheld in practice. Lewis also describes watching news coverage of protests in Alabama, where activists faced fire hoses and police dogs, resulting in what “looked like footage from a war.”

As in the first volume, Lewis is not afraid to chronicle philosophical differences within the movement, and his worries that as the number of protestors swelled, the new recruits lacked the discipline to adhere to the principles of non-violence. At the back of the book, the original draft of his speech for the March on Washington is included. The comic itself depicts the intense negotiations that surrounded certain aspects of his wording, which led to him delivering a highly revised version. While Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is the most famous address from this event, Lewis’ speech is powerful in its own right, and receives a six page spread. Yet the book also highlights the many other players and contributors, while also remaining Lewis’ story. Malcom X makes a brief appearance, though Lewis clearly disapproves of his philosophy. Dr. King is depicted respectfully but sometimes critically, without the idolatry that often surrounds his legacy. But Lewis is most interested in A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the architects of the March on Washington. Rustin, in particular, was the logistical brains of the operation, but could not play a prominent public role because of his communist connections and homosexuality. March memorializes his key contributions.

March continues to move back and forth between Lewis’ life story, and Barack Obama’s inauguration. The first volume used a slightly stilted frame narrative of Lewis recounting his childhood to two boys who visit his office with their mother, who wants to teach them about the history of the civil rights movement. The second volume is purely Lewis reflecting alone on his experiences as the inauguration progresses, which works more smoothly, and also creates some interesting juxtapositions. Lewis’ election as chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee is placed alongside Obama taking the oath of office. The scenes depicting famous speeches given at the March on Washington are followed by the opening words of President Obama’s inaugural address. Aretha Franklin sings “My Country Tis of Thee” in 2009 as Freedom Riders are beaten in the streets of Alabama in 1963. This creates an effect that conveys the breadth of history, even as the closing on the church bombing creates a sobering, cautionary finish. There is always a backlash.

African-American, Autobiography, Graphic Novel, History, Non-Fiction, Read Diverse 2017

March: Book One

Cover image for March Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin

Art by Nate Powell

ISBN 978-1-60309-300-2

“The thing is, when I was young, there wasn’t much of a civil rights movement. I wanted to work at something, but growing up in rural Alabama, my parents knew it could be dangerous to make any waves.”

Politician and civil rights leader John Lewis has been representing Georgia’s fifth congressional district for the past thirty years. Before that, he enjoyed a long career as a civil rights activist and organizer, and served on the city council in Atlanta. The script for the graphic novel was written with his congressional aide, Andrew Aydin, who wanted to capture some of the memories Lewis had shared with him in their time working together. This is the first volume in what has become a highly-acclaimed trilogy since its 2013 release.

March opens on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, as the march from Selma is about to be confronted by troopers armed for a riot, then flashes forward to Inauguration Day 2009, when Barack Obama is about to be sworn in as the first African American president of the United States. The frame narrative takes place in Congressman Lewis’ Washington D.C. office when a black woman from Atlanta arrives with her two sons to see the office of their representative. The congressman begins to tell the boys about his early life, and the beginnings of the civil rights movement, and continues through the desegregation of Nashville’s lunch counters in 1960. The transitions between past and present are not always smooth, but have the effect of emphasizing the currency of the narrative, and its continued relevance to the present moment.

March is part autobiography, and part civil rights primer. It both chronicles Lewis’ childhood on an Alabama farm with former sharecroppers for parents, and his early involvement in civil rights with the Nashville Student Movement. The early days are particularly interesting, as they show differences within the movement, and how the younger generation of activists made an impact by refusing to accept the more modest rollbacks of segregation that some older leaders were pushing for. The book also depicts the organizing and training that goes into building an effective and coordinated strategy for a movement. One particularly powerful scene shows activists roleplaying, insulting and abusing one another in order to prepare for the challenges they will face at the lunch counter sit-ins.

The graphic memoir format is particular suitable for illustrating the abuses faced by early civil rights activists, and Nate Powell powerfully captures the fear and tension in his art. The decision to illustrate the book in black and white renders these events in all their stark ugliness. The violence is not sugar-coated, but nor is it gratuitous. Notably, part of John Lewis’ introduction to the civil rights movement was the 1956 comic Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Story, which was an educational comic designed to teach the principles of non-violent resistance. March carries on in that tradition.


You might also like The Outside Circle by Patti Laboucane-Benson

Autobiography, Challenges, LGBTQIA+, Memoir

Redefining Realness

Cover image for Redefining Realness by Janet Mockby Janet Mock

ISBN 978-1-4767-0913-0

“What I want people to realize is that ‘transitioning’ is not the end of the journey. Yes, it’s an integral part of revealing who we are to ourselves and the world, but there’s more to life afterward.”

In 2011, magazine writer Janet Mock found herself the subject of a profile in a magazine article, rather than the writer. Working with her friend and colleague Kierna Mayo at Marie Claire, Mock stepped forward for the first time to publicly identify as a trans woman. Although everyone in her native Hawaii had known about her past and her transition, it was not something she had shared with the majority of her new friends and colleagues in New York. A number of suicides by trans teens prompted Mock to do the profile, and make an It Gets Better video. However, the Marie Claire profile was framed as a happy success story, one that elided many of the darker realities and challenges of Mock’s early life. In Redefining Realness, she steps forward further, sharing the difficulties she faced to get where she is today.

Mock’s parents were divorced, and she spent her childhood shuttling between them, variously living in Oakland, Texas, or Hawaii with one or the other, as each put their own romantic lives ahead of their children. Mock writes about her parents with love, and compassion for their failings. Of her father she says, “I’ve come to realize that he simply loved me and wanted to protect me, even from myself. He was grappling with fears that involved my safety and how my outward femininity would make me a target of bullying, teasing, and other dangers her felt lay ahead.” Mock, however, does not minimize the resulting damage. “My adult understanding of my childhood with my father doesn’t erase the effects of his policing,” she writes. And those consequences were dire. One of the major omissions in Mock’s Marie Claire profile—one she admits she hesitated to include even in her memoir—is how her father’s gender policing of her femininity led her to hide the fact that she was sexually abused by the teenage son of her father’s girlfriend, for fear that she would “get whipped for acting like a girl again.” She eloquently fights back against any suggestion that the abuse caused her to be trans, arguing instead that isolation and repression made her an easy target.

Mock locates her memoir at the intersection of race, gender identity, and poverty, particularly highlighting the difficulty poor trans women of colour face in accessing the medical services necessary to transition. She zeroes in on the tug of war between pathologizing trans people with a diagnosis of gender dysphoria, and the reality that such a diagnosis may activate insurance coverage that enables transition. Interspersed with her recollections are asides on the political and social context of transition, gender policing, and the relationship between gender and sexuality. She clearly defines her terms, opening up her memoir to a general audience rather than one that is already educated about trans issues. She is also in a position to share an insider’s perspective of a unique culture.  In the relatively accepting environment of Hawaii—compared to her earlier childhood in California and Texas with her father—Mock began her transition as a teen, had a trans best friend, and a community. “What we were blessed with was being in the right place at the right time,” she writes. “Hawaii’s community of trans women was vast and knowledgeable. There was a deep legacy of trans womanhood passed on to us by older women who had been exactly where we were.” It was this community that provided Mock with the knowledge and the means to transition at a relatively young age.

Mock defies invasive cis interest and the traditional trans narrative by, among other things, refusing to provide before and after photos of herself. She is clear about the desire to tell her story on her own terms. Given this emphasis, I was surprised by the strong focus on bottom surgery in the second half of the book, since trans advocates have spent a long time discouraging prurient interest in such a private decision. However, Mock emphasizes that it was a very important step for her personally, and this focus becomes relevant to understanding a crucial stage of her life. While she was in her first semester of school on a full scholarship at the University of Hawaii, she was also engaged in the sex trade, desperately trying to save up enough money to go to Thailand for surgery. Though Mock describes the decision to do sex work as a “non-event at the time,” Redefining Realness grapples lengthily with the fall out, and how an “entire system that failed us and a society that refused to see us” forced many trans women of colour down this path to transition.

Though the focus on surgery becomes understandable in light of the great lengths Mock went to in order to secure it, the greater disappointment is that, apart from a fourteen page conclusion, Redefining Realness essentially concludes with the operation. Mock briefly circles back to her opening hook, where she met her partner and made the decision to reveal her past to him, but she reveals little about her time at university, or her move to New York to pursue her career. Perhaps these events are still too current for Mock to be ready to write about them, or perhaps she is saving them for another book, but I wanted to read about the “more to life afterward” that Mock so elegantly emphasizes in her conclusion, but ultimately declines to delve into.


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African-American, Autobiography, Biography, Challenges, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Social Justice

Men We Reaped

Cover image for Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Wardby Jesmyn Ward

ISBN 978-1-60819-765-1

“If Demond’s family history wasn’t so different from my own, did that mean we were living the same story over and over again, down the through the generations? That the young and the Black had always been dying until all that was left were children and the few old, as in war?”

Between October 2000 and June 2004, no less than five young, black men died in DeLisle, Mississippi, Jesmyn Ward’s hometown. Of course, there were more than five, but the loss of these particular young men, beginning with her brother Joshua, and ending with her friend Roger emotionally devastated Ward. The causes of death ranged from drug-induced heart attack to car accident to murder, but though they were unconnected on the surface, Ward lays bare the reality of life in the South, exposing the invisible threads of poverty and blackness that unite their untimely deaths. These deaths and a confusing homesickness called Ward home to the South again and again, even as she was trying to escape by attending college on the West coast, and then grad school in Michigan.

Men We Reaped is a series of obituaries, hung together by the context of life in the South, and a deep sense of foreboding about the next inevitable death. Ward begins with her family history, leading up to the marriage of her parents, then switches off to recount the life and death of the final victim, Roger Eric Daniels III. Returning to her own family, she shares her childhood and her parents’ troubled marriage, and continues to switch off biography and autobiography until the two timelines meet, and her story culminates with the first death, the loss of her younger brother, Joshua Adam Dedeaux. This unusual structure means that those who died first are ghosts in the stories of those who died later, but covering the deaths in reverse chronological order has the peculiar effect of bringing those ghosts back to life, only to relive their tragic deaths once more.

Though the litany of deaths make clear the extent of the problem, Ward writes most movingly about her own family’s history, and her relationship with her brother. There is no surprise or admonition when thirteen-year-old Joshua, three years her junior, reveals that he is selling drugs to help make ends meet in their father’s household. It is simply the inevitable stop-gap for most young men in the depressed Southern economy. Ward herself is sixteen at the time, and living with their mother, being slowly lifted away from her brother as she is educated at a private Christian school paid for by the white man whose house her mother cleans. The gulf between them continues to widen until Ward feels like the naïve and sheltered younger sibling in contrast to her hardened and street smart younger brother.

Writing this book is part of Ward’s struggle to make sense of make happened and come to terms with it, and the events are clearly still quite emotionally raw even a decade later. The list of tragedies is grim and unrelenting, “it’s a list that silences people. It silenced me for a long time,” Ward writes. The spectre of her own substance abuse—self-medication for grief and despair—hangs over the narrative, but is never completely addressed. But by setting the women of her family—two sisters, her mother, and grandmother—against the short and violent lives of the men in the community, Ward is able to draw an incisive portrait of the gendered consequences of racism and poverty in the American South.


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Autobiography, Non-Fiction, Psychology, Science

Brain On Fire

Cover image for Brain On Fire by Sussanah Cahalan by Susannah Cahalan

ISBN 978-1-4516-2137-2

Though she attempts to communicate some deep, dark part of herself in her writing, she remains incomprehensible, even to myself.”

In 2009, at the age of 24, New York Post reporter Susannah Cahalan seemed to be losing her grip on her life. She found herself suddenly forgetting to do the necessary preparations for her job, snooping through her boyfriend’s things, and having emotional breakdowns at work. All of this was out of character, but then she went suddenly and inexplicably mad, suffering from auditory and visual hallucinations, and paranoid delusions. Her physical symptoms, including numbness and tingling, seizures, and catatonia all suggested that there was something neurological rather than psychological at work, but doctors struggled to find anything physically wrong with her, and a transfer to a psychiatric facility seemed inevitable. Then a new doctor joined her team, and made a life-saving diagnosis of an autoimmune disease discovered only two years before. But when Cahalan finally woke up in the hospital, she didn’t remember any of this, and Brain On Fire constitutes her effort to piece together her own story from the available medical records, videos, and accounts from family and friends, all presented in the clear and straight-forward prose of a talented journalist.

Cahalan initially reported on her own story in the New York Post in an October 2009 article entitled My Mysterious Lost Month of Madness. Brain On Fire expands on this telling, with considerably more polish and detail than the original article, with Cahalan delving deeper into records of her illness. Some of the memories reported in her initial article turned out to be hallucinatory or misremembered after further investigation. Though she had made leaps and bounds in her recovery at the time of the article, her increased re-mastery of language is evident in Brain On Fire. The only drawback in comparison to the article was that the nearly three hundred page book didn’t contain many more direct quotes from her friends and family. Although Cahalan’s own descriptions are incredibly emotionally resonant, her family remains somewhat at a remove as a result of this choice.

Cahalan’s story is a real-life episode of House, complete with misdiagnoses and unsuccessful treatments.  One of her early doctors, assuming that she was lying in her medical history, estimated that she was drinking several bottles of wine per day, and was thus suffering from alcohol withdrawal and job-related stress. However, what is most incredible about Cahalan’s story is the number of pieces that had to fall into place in order for her tale to be inspirational rather than tragic (though it is frightening regardless). Cahalan is candid about how lucky she was to finally receive a correct diagnosis. Just three years earlier, no one would have known what was wrong with her, despite the fact that doctors believe her disease is not a new one. Even after the disease was discovered, only those up to date on the most current medical literature would have read about it. She also had medical insurance to cover her one million dollars of medical expenses, and a supportive family that fought to ensure that she received the best treatment when she was unable to advocate for herself.

Although the dark part of this tale is supposed to be the threat of misdiagnosis and slipping through the cracks of the system, another feature was more disturbing. Working beneath the surface of this narrative is an incredible fear of mental illness. Cahalan recounts incidents in which her parents positively bristle at the suggestion that she might be mentally ill or developmentally disabled. Yet in her case, and some others, it was the right thing for her parents to fight against a psychiatric diagnosis. After writing about her illness, Cahalan received letters from another family whose daughter was saved by their refusal to believe their child had schizophrenia after reading about NDMA autoimmune encephalitis. Despite the evident stigmatization of mental illness, Cahalan’s diagnosis also hints at the as-yet undiscovered physiological causes that may underlie some of these conditions, and perhaps ultimately lead to better treatments.

Autobiography, Challenges, Humour, Non-Fiction

Heads in Beds

Cover image for Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky by Jacob Tomsky

eISBN 978-0-385-53564-9

That was the first time I heard the term ‘heart of the house,’ which refers to the back offices and hallways, the storage closets and freight elevators, the white-painted rooms filled with dirty off-white sheets to be cleaned, as opposed to the ‘front of the house,’ meaning the polished marble foyers, vacuumed Oriental rugs, gold-plated railings shined to perfection, and the lobby’s center table sagging with fresh-cut flowers that cost the hotel thousands of dollars a week.”

As a rootless military kid “Tommy Jacobs” was perfectly suited for the hospitality industry. Hotels provided the familiar sense of movement, but allowed him to stay in one place. Starting out in New Orleans as a valet, then a front desk agent, and finally a housekeeping manager, he learned the many ins and outs of the business. Initially bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and dreaming of becoming a general manager, the demands of middle management began the slow decline into disillusionment and drinking, so he dropped everything and moved to Europe for a year. When the money ran out, he moved to New York, and tried desperately to get any job outside of hospitality. But when the bills came due, back to hospitality he went, only to find that the New York hotel business was leaner and meaner than anything he experienced in laid-back New Orleans. Heads in Beds takes us into the “heart of the house,” allowing travelers to catch of glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors.

Tomsky offers helpful tips, hair-curling horror stories, and hilarious anecdotes in this no-holds-barred memoir. You’ll learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do to ensure you receive the best service on your next hotel visit. There are a lot of things a hotel agent can do to make your visit better, but a complimentary bottle of wine or a free upgrade hardly compares to the subtle and imaginative vengeance an angry agent can exact upon you without ever leaving the front desk. While Tomsky dishes some anonymized dirt about quirky hotel guests, the bulk of the narrative concerns the hotel staff, such as the female co-worker who cornered him in the men’s room and forced him to sign the union card which later saved his job. He names only a couple of celebrities, and his attitude towards Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is almost paternal—protective rather than gossipy.

Woven into Tomsky’s more humourous tales are the darker notes of his job. He’s seen mean parents, bratty children, controlling spouses, and racist guests who expected his sympathy as they disdained coloured cab drivers. There are guests who don’t understand the difference between service agents and servants, and management companies that are hostile to unions. Tomsky simultaneously displays questionable ethics—this book will help you steal from the mini-bar, dispute your pay-per-view charges and acquire extra amenities—and admirable loyalty to his fellow hotel employees. This part of his book is more plea for respect for your fellow human beings than entertaining memoir, but it also lends greater substance to what would otherwise be a purely fluffy book of humour. You will definitely think twice about declining to tip a bellman or raising your voice to a desk agent on your next hotel visit, and the service industry will thank Tomsky for it.


Already read and enjoyed Heads in Beds? Check out these other humourous memoirs: Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff and A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornstein.


2013eclecticreaderThis title fulfills the Humour requirement for my participation in the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out. (Others may wish to use it to fulfill their memoir requirement).


Autobiography, Challenges, Humour, LGBTQIA+, Non-Fiction

A Queer and Pleasant Danger

Cover image for A Queer and Pleasant Danger by Kate Bornsteinby Kate Bornstein

E-ISBN 978-0-8070-0166-0

“I don’t want to lie, so before I sat down to write the first full draft of this book, I got five words tattooed onto the back of my right hand. They’re done in white ink, with shadowing the colour of dried blood. They look like they’ve been carved into the back of my hand and healed up as scars: I must not tell lies.”

To say Kate Bornstein has had an interesting life would be an understatement to the point of inanity. Yet Bornstein manages to  neatly sum up the basics in the subtitle of A Queer and Pleasant Danger: The True Story of a Nice Jewish Boy Who Joins the Church of Scientology and Leaves Twelve Years Later to Become the Lovely Lady She is Today. Of course, the reality is even more complicated. Along the way, Bornstein married a fellow Scientologist, and fathered a daughter who she hasn’t spoken to in thirty years.  And although she transitioned to, and lives as a woman, Bornstein conceives of herself as more of a “gender outlaw,” the title of one of her other works. Bornstein’s daughter and her children remain members of the Church of Scientology, so A Queer and Pleasant Danger is Bornstein’s way putting her story on the public record in case they ever want to find her. Luckily for the rest of us, we can all read this illuminating exploration of faith, gender and parenthood. Indeed, the only criticism I can offer of this book is that it occasionally feels as if we are intruding on Bornstein’s personal conversation with her daughter.

Bornstein’s journey through Scientology is in fact intimately tied up with issues of gender identity; the concept of being a genderless being called a thetan helped Bornstein find a modicum of relief from the confusion of our cultural gender binary. That said, A Queer and Pleasant Danger is not primarily a story of scepticism or religious doubt. Scientology was merely a stepping stone on Bornstein’s gender journey, but ultimately it was not able to offer answers or acceptance—Bornstein’s gender-bending behaviour was one of the factors that led to her departure from the Church. Nevertheless, it proves an interesting prism through which to examine issues of sex and gender.

Bornstein’s writing style is open and conversational, often running off into tangents and side stories. She speaks to the reader in a manner that is very similar to her It Gets Better video—open, honest, and funny, even about the dark things. Bornstein lays herself bare in sometimes excruciating detail in her quest to tell her story honestly. As she relates in the book, she had “I must not tell lies” (a Harry Potter reference) tattooed on the back of her hand before she began writing. Out of courtesy to the reader, she offers the option to skip over some of the more detailed portions, with the e-book providing a direct link to the next part for those who prefer to skip the smutty/gory details. Some of the sections—from suicidal ideation to cutting and sadomasochism—are difficult and potentially triggering reading, but it is that commitment to honesty that makes this book shine.


2013eclecticreaderThis title fulfills the memoir requirement for my participation in the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out. (Others may wish to use it to fulfill their LGBT or humour requirements).

Autobiography, Business, Criticism, History, Non-Fiction, Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Top Picks

Top 5 Non-Fiction Reads of 2012

These are my favourite non-fiction titles read (not necessarily published) in 2012. Click the title for links to full reviews, where applicable. You can see my top 5 fiction titles for the year here.

Quiet (978-0307352149)

Cover image for Quiet by Susan CainThis title is at the top of a number of booklists for 2012 with good reason. Bookish folks, myself included, related powerfully to Susan Cain’s passionate message about the undervaluation of introversion in Western culture. The book cuts a broad swath, from outlining the rise of the extrovert ideal, to the psychological roots of introversion, to the perception of introversion in other cultures, to tips on how introverts and extroverts can work better together. Cain strips away the cultural stigma attached to introversion and examines the unique and underutilized skills of the quiet folks. This title was incredibly well written and researched, and Cain’s voice is passionate and compelling. You can watch Cain’s TED Talk on the power of introverts here.

Categories: Psychology

Joseph Anton (978-0812992786)

Cover Image for Joseph Anton by Salman RushdieSalman Rushdie thinks of himself first and foremost as a writer, but for over a decade, his life was dominated by disparate public perceptions stemming from the aftermath of the fatwa in which Ayatollah Khomeini issued a death sentence for the blasphemous contents of his 1988 novel The Satanic Verses. Rushdie gives a compelling account of his struggles to hold on to his identity as a writer, and to continue to produce fiction under the incredibly trying circumstances of a protection. He filled many roles during this time, planning safe houses, engaging in free speech advocacy, lobbying the British government to intercede on his behalf, and struggling to secure a paperback edition of the book. I picked this book up because I admire Rushdie’s commitment to intellectual freedom, but I came away with much more respect for his integrity and determination as a writer, even as I felt I had seen the darkest and least flattering parts of the man.

Categories: Autobiography

The Portable Atheist (978-0306816086)

Cover Image for the Portable Atheist by Christopher HitchensStretching from Greek philosophy to contemporary humour and science writing, The Portable Atheist contains a broad selection of essays chronicling the evolution of atheist, agnostic and humanist thought in Western culture. The essays are selected and introduced by “New Atheist” writer Christopher Hitchens, but the pieces demonstrate that some of our currents ideas about atheism have very old roots indeed. This volume was slow, hefty reading, but extremely rewarding.

Categories: History, Philosophy

Elizabeth the Queen (978-0812979794)

Cover image for Elizabeth the Queen by  Sally Bedell SmithWhether you are a royalist, and abolitionist, or simply indifferent to the British royal family, Elizabeth Windsor has had a long and interesting life and reign, presiding over six decades of rapid change. Queen Elizabeth II is simultaneously one of the most public figures in the world, and yet intensely private, so it is fascinating to catch in glimpse into her world, particularly in a way that so humanizing. Sally Bedell Smith profiles the Queen with the same attention to detail she is known for in her previous works on the Kennedys and the Clintons. This title focuses on Elizabeth’s time as queen with little attention to her childhood, and the author is certainly friendly to her subject, but overall this was a well-written and informative read.

Categories: Biography

The Storytelling Animal (978-0547391403)

Cover Image for The Storytelling AnimalThe storytelling phenomenon appears across time and cultures, raising the questions of what purpose, if any, it serves in human evolution. Gottschall examines contexts in which our desire to impose narrative order on the world is useful (recognizing patterns) and detrimental (eyewitness testimony is unreliable due to the plasticity of memory). Dreams and daydreams, the pretend play of children, and the relationship between empathy and fiction are all examined in this brief and tantalizing introduction to the neuroscience behind our narrative impulses.

Categories: Literary Criticism, Science