6 Feminist Reads for Trump’s Term


I took the image above in Nashville, TN during the Women’s March Saturday, January 21st.

As always, when something bothers me, I read. And write. So here are 6 recommendations for feminist books to read during Trump’s term. Read, talk, argue, and be heard!

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

A dystopian novel where the U.S. reverts to rigid patriarchy and women’s reproductive rights are taken away. Sound a little too plausible right now? Many people agree. Trump’s term has been compared to the novel many times, and several signs during the Women’s March on Washington referred to the novel (including mine). If you haven’t read this before, now’s the time to do it. Hulu has adapted it into a TV series and it airs April 26th. Here’s the trailer.

2. Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay

“The world changes faster than we can fathom in ways that are complicated,” Gay opens. “These bewildering changes often leave us raw. The cultural climate is shifting, particularly for women as we contend with the retrenchment of reproductive freedom, the persistence of rape culture, and the flawed if not damaging representations of women we’re consuming in music, movies, and literature.” Bad Feminist is the most approachable nonfiction feminist text I’ve read. It combines commentary on pop culture, politics, academics, and the personal in essays that seemingly meander, yet always reconnect to some main point. As the title suggests, feminists can’t be perfect, and we shouldn’t even be trying to. I’m currently co-reading this with a friend, and may post our combined thoughts when we finish. You can also listen to Gay’s TED talk.

3. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Another dystopia. I notice a lot classic dystopians are selling well on Amazon lately, and this is one that needs to be read. It was also one of my top reads of last year. Why I think this particular dystopia is currently relevant is because it deals with race, religion, and gender, and how those intersect. Also, the apocalypse is brought on by the refusal of politicians to acknowledge climate change, and that eventually leads to economic, political, and social collapse. The main character is a black teenage girl who founds her own religion. In book 2, Parable of the Talents, the white supremacist presidential campaign is “Make America Great Again.” I cannot tell you how shocked I was when I read that last year!

4. Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks

This one’s cheating because I haven’t read it yet, but it is on my TBR list for this year. I have read bell hooks before, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom, and I know she’s considered a must read contemporary feminist. She’s also the best-selling feminist author at the bookstore I work at. I will give my review on this blog when I’ve read it!

5. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.” Okay, if you’re a feminist, then you have to read this. Yes, it’s written in the 18th century. It’s not an easy read. But it is one of the earliest feminist texts (written before the term feminism was coined), and essential in understanding the history of feminism. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman defends women’s right to speak, and calls for equal rights in education between the sexes. It’s in conversation with male philosophers of the time — mainly Edmund Burke, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau — but you don’t need to know their arguments to read this. It stands well on its own. And fun fact, Mary Wollstonecraft was Mary Shelley’s mother, the author of Frankenstein, though Wollstonecraft died shortly after giving birth. Actually, that’s not really fun.

6. The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection by Judith Butler

Key to grappling with feminism is understanding how patriarchy and authoritarianism subjugates and creates subjects, and our own complicity in that process, whether we desire to be complicit or not. “But if the very production of the subject and the formation of that will are the consequences of a primary subordination,” Judith Butler argues, “then the vulnerability of the subject to a power not of its own making is unavoidable. That vulnerability qualifies the subject as an exploitable kind of being. If one is to oppose the abuses of power (which is not the same as opposing power itself), it seems wise to consider in what our vulnerability to that abuse consists.” (bold my own.) This seems obviously relevant to our political climate. As a warning, this is no easy reading. Judith Butler is super smart; I never feel like I understand everything she’s trying to say. However, I always feel a bit smarter after reading her, and she definitely makes me look at the world differently.

What feminist texts do you recommend reading?

2016 Favorite Novels and Reading Stats


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I exceeded my expectations in 2016 and read a total of 105 books (goal was 100). Yay! Before I list my favorites, here are some stats, for those interested:

  • 70% women writers, 35% men writers (overlap due to some collections having multiple editors)
  • 25% people of color writers (aiming for 33%)
  • Longest book Middlemarch by George Eliot at 904 pages
  • 20 the Library of Congress labels as nonfiction
  • 15 Young Adult and Middle Grade
  • 24 published in 2016
  • 9 published before 1950

Without further ado, here’s my top 10 list of favorite books I read in 2016, in no particular order. I’ll list my favorite short stories next week.

Books

  1. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy and Apocalypse. If I had to pick one favorite book of the year, this is it. It won the Hugo award, so I’m not the only person who feels this way. The magic in this world is orogeny, the ability to manipulate geologic formations, and the ‘fifth season’ occurs when a massive upheaval of the earth causes an apocalypse by wiping out most of humanity until the survivors rebuild once more. It’s book one of The Broken Earth trilogy, and book 2 — The Obelisk Gate — was released earlier this year (I enjoyed it though not quite as much as Book 2), and book 3 is forthcoming in August of 2017.

 

  1. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho. Published in 2015. Adult Fantasy. This one’s a super fun read. I wrote a full review on this blog. While book 1 of a series, it stands on its own well. Two magicians try to save England’s magic, but they both have very different ways of going about it. Zacharias, a freed slave and now a Sorcerer Royal, likes to follow the rules, but Prunella, his magician-in-training, chooses efficiency over obedience, especially since the ‘rules’ have never included her anyway. A lot of fun ensues. Book 2 is slated to be published in 2017, though I couldn’t find an exact date for release.

 

  1. Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. Published in 1993. Adult Apocalypse (though could be read by teens). This is such a page-turner. I’ve been remiss for a while in failing to read Octavia Butler, so this year I finally sat down and read 3 of her novels, and this is my favorite of the 3. Lauren Olamina is not your normal teenager, even compared to the other teens in the gated community she lives in during an economic and social apocalypse. After the community fails, Lauren starts a new religion and collects followers as she travels. A must read, especially in the current political climate. I didn’t like book 2 as much — Parable of the Talents — but notably in book 2 a presidential candidate emerges whose campaign slogan is “Make America Great Again” (seriously), and though he never admits to being racist and bigoted, his followers commit hate crimes with his support. Super scary.

 

  1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Published in 2015. Adult Nonfiction. I wrote a joint review of this and Kindred by Octavia Butler earlier this year. Written as a letter to his 15-year old son, it explores what it means to be a black man in America, where your body can be taken, beaten, and killed without repercussions. It’s a powerful and essential read.

 

  1. Beauty and the Beast Tales From Around the World edited by Heidi Anne Heiner. Published in 2013. Fairytale Collection. I wrote a full review earlier this year. Any fairytale lover needs to read this, and especially “Beauty and the Beast” fans. But even if you’re not a B&B fan, there are versions collected here that I like much better than the most popular tale.

 

 

  1. Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Published in 2005. Poetry. Mary Oliver may be my favorite contemporary poet (I really hate picking favorites), and this collection is excellent. If I hear anyone say they don’t like poetry because it’s too inaccessible, this is the collection I will give them. These are lovely, clear and poignant nature poems.

 

 

  1. Roses and Rot by Kat Howard. Published in 2016. Adult Fantasy. This debut novel explores sisterhood and art with the fae as a backdrop, and it’s a rare stand-alone fantasy. I wrote a full review of this one on this blog too.

 

 

 

  1. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. Published in 2016. Adult Genre-mashup. I wrote a full review on this blog — but for the low-down: AI + witchcraft + apocalypse + 2 quirky nerds = super original read.

 

 

 

  1. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black. Published in 2015. YA Fantasy. Hazel and Ben, sister and brother, live in what would be an ordinary small town — except that the faeries live there too. Another fun, fast read, and a stand-alone fantasy.

 

 

  1. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Published in 2009. MG fantasy. This is an adorable mix of Chinese folktales, with fantastic illustrations. It’s book 1, but it stands alone fine, and the entire series is now complete.

 

 

 

Runners up

What were your favorite reads this year?

 

Reading Railroad: August’s Reading


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Everything I read in August.

Novels

A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan. Published in 2013. Dragons! ROAR. Sorry, just wanted to roar right there. This book takes place in a country much like England, during a time much like the Victorian era. Lady Trent describes her beginnings as a dragon naturalist, and her first trip to study dragons in Vystrana. But she finds more to study than just dragon biology, for the dragons have mysteriously started killing people, and there are other mysteries besides. Overall, fun book. I read it for a book club, and liked it enough to eventually check out book 2. My full review is on Goodreads. 3.5/5

Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. Published in 2010. Yay, folklore I’m unfamiliar with! Paama is a marvelous cook who’s married to a glutton. When some djomba notice how deftly she deals with her husband, they give her the chaos stick, and from there magic happens. Redemption in Indigo is based on Sengalese folklore. It’s told a bit simply for my tastes, but has that oral folklore feel. 3.5/5

 

 

Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. Published 1998. Post-apocalypse, book 2 in a series. Wow. So much rape. I mean, far more than book 1, Parable of the Sower, which I really liked despite the darkness. Book 2 was too much for me. And the politics were frighteningly relevant. Jarret has some disturbing parallels to Trump. Here’s one of the Parables of Earthseed from this novel, for all of us to think about during election season:

 

 

Choose your leaders
with wisdom and
forethought.
To be led by a coward
is to be controlled
by all that coward fears.
To be led by a fool
is to be led
by the opportunists
who control the fool.
To be led by a thief
is to offer up
your most precious treasures
to be stolen.
To be led by a liar
is to ask
to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant
is to sell yourself
and those you love
into slavery.

Overall, I didn’t like this one near as much as book 1, for several reasons. You can read my full review on Goodreads. 2/5

Nonfiction and Other

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling. Published in July 2016. Mainly, I enjoyed being back in that universe again. I wrote a full review right here on this blog. Check it out, but only if you’ve already read it. 3/5

 

 

 

 

Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom by bell hooks. Published in 1994. “When we, as educators, allow our pedagogy to be radically changed by our recognition of a multicultural world, we can give students the education they desire and deserve. We can teach in ways that transform consciousness, creating a climate of free expression that is the essence of a truly liberatory liberal arts education.” An excellent discussion of teaching, that certainly got my mind revved up for the fall semester. I wrote a detailed review over on Goodreads. 4/5

Poetry and Short Story Collections

Roofwalker by Susan Power. Published in 2004. Highly recommend for anyone who enjoys short stories, magical realism, and Native American history. This collection includes seven short stories and five histories. The short stories explore how Native Americans have adapted to Anglo-European America, both in the past and the present. Power tells stories about the mythic roofwalker that eats dreams, stories of love and betrayal and death, a story about a man who finds a talking saint statue in a thrift store, another about a college student that finds unexpected friendships. They’re all really lovely, sweet and sad (but not bittersweet in any way; there’s no bitterness here, it seems to me). The histories shed light on where Power as a writer comes from, and centers around Chicago, where she was raised. Mostly, she explores how her mother gave her a voice to tell stories, and how her father circled their lives and gave her a different kind of ancestry. If you haven’t read Power before, also check out The Grass Dancer and Sacred Wilderness, her two novels. They’re both so wonderful. 4/5

Bone Swans by C.S.E. Cooney. Published in 2015. Bone Swans collects 5 novellas/novelettes by Cooney that explore storytelling and folklore in unique and lyrical ways. My favorites were the two fairy tale retellings, and the collection is worth picking up for just those two stories alone: The Bone Swans of Amandale and How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One. In fact, the milkmaid story is my favorite Rumpelstiltskin retelling I’ve read (up until now, of course). I’ve read C.S.E. Cooney before, different stories and poems than in this collection. I was unsure whether I liked her writing or not, but this collection puts her on my read list. Her style is sort of similar to Catherynne M. Valente and Maria Dahvana Headley, so if you like those authors, you should like this. I reviewed each story on Goodreads. 4/5

Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver. Published in 2004. If I hear anyone say they don’t like poetry because it’s too inaccessible, this is the collection I will give them. These are lovely, clear and poignant nature poems. I plan on returning to this collection whenever my heart needs a little boost. Here’s the opening and title poem:

 

Why I Wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety–

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light–
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

5/5

Short Stories

Terminal by Lavie Tidhar. Published in April 2016 by Tor.com (free online). Terminals are those at the end of their lives who decide to go into space, alone in their jalopies, and travel to Mars. This short story revolves around three characters: as Mei travels, she listens to earth music; Haziq decides to leave his wife and family to venture to Mars though he is not dying; and Eliza, a nurse orbiting Earth, listens to Mei’s and Haziq’s conversations as they journey on the long trip to Mars. It’s a good short story overall. 3.5/5

 

Santos de Sampaguitas by Alyssa Wong. Published in 2014 by Strange Horizons (free online). Tin’s mother is a witch that serves the dead god, but when the dead god begins visiting Tin at night while she dreams, and tries to convince her to serve him as her mother does, she has a life-changing decision to make. This short story explores sisterhood, relationships, and disability, and also includes some Filipino folkloric elements. 4/5

Happy reading in the month to come!

 

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Reading Railroad: July’s Reading


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Everything I read in July. 

Novels

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Published in 2009. A pretty darn adorable middle grade novel that’s also illustrated by the author. It would be perfect for reading aloud to 6-10 year olds, but it’s also a lot of fun to read as an adult. It’s based on Chinese folklore, and tells of how Minli travels to find the Man on the Moon to discover how to make her family a fortune, and on her way rescues a dragon, frees a talking goldfish, and meets a king, among other adventures. Read my full review on Goodreads. 4.5/5

 

The Book of Heaven by Patricia Storace. Published in 2014. This book has a wonderful premise — feminist retellings of women in the bible, yet, if it weren’t for the synopsis, I would have no idea that these tales were from the Bible. Also, the 4 parts lack development, though there is some interesting and well written stuff. Read my full review on Goodreads. 2.5/5

 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Published in 1993. What a page-turner! It’s a post apocalyptic novel about a minister’s daughter, Lauren, who creates a religion and decides that surviving is more important than prayer. I’m surprised more people haven’t read this, with survivalism being such a hot theme. It’s such a compulsive read, both thought-provoking and energetic. Read my full review on Goodreads. 4.5/5

 

Someplace to Be Flying by Charles de Lint. Published in 1998. According to some Native American mythology, the world began when Raven stirred his pot, pulling out the earth, the sky, and the animal people. In Newford, the animal people still walk the earth. And some humans have animal people blood running through their veins. A complex urban fantasy. Note that while this is book 5 in the Newford series, they can be read in any order. Read my full review on Goodreads. 4/5

 

Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle. Will be published in September 2016. What happens when the mythic intersects with the mundane? It changes everything, of course. Full review coming soon.

 

 

 

Nonfiction and Other

Modern Life by Matthea Harvey. Published in 2007. Poetry collection. The poems in this collection were hit and miss for me. They’re much more, well, modern than I’m used to, lacking the nostalgia (both in terms of form and content) of most collections I read. Obviously, given the title, that was Harvey’s intent, but honestly, a poem about ham flowers? (Look it up if you don’t know.) But there were some really intriguing poems in here as well. Harvey is certainly an inventive writer, and I’d read more from her despite feeling mostly iffy by the collection. Read my full review on Goodreads.  3/5

 

Short Stories and Collections

The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman. Published in 2015. Wonderful novelette that turns the passive Snow White and Sleeping Beauty into not so passive agents of their own futures. Chris Riddell does the artwork, and it is lovely. 5/5

 

 

Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances by Neil Gaiman. Published in 2015. Short story and poetry collection that’s full of the creepy and unsettling, but also some fantastic characters. It would make a great entry point for those unfamiliar with Neil Gaiman. For a more detailed review discussing favorite stories, check out my Goodreads review. I may post a more detailed review on this blog as well. 4/5

 

Uncanny Magazine Issue 11. Published in July 2016. Usually I notice a thread between stories in Uncanny’s issues, but I didn’t notice one this time around. My favorite pieces were: “Travels with the Snow Queen” by Kelly Link, a popular fairytale retelling I’ve read many times; “So you want to run a podcast” by Erika Ensign and Steven Schapansky, an essay about podcasting; and an unsettling poem about witches and neighbors by Jessica Wick called “Good neighbors”. This may be my least favorite issue, but I still enjoyed reading it. Read my full review on Goodreads. They’re also running a Kickstarter right now. I highly recommend the magazine. 3/5

 

“Balin” by Chen Qiufan. Read free online in Clarkesworld Magazine. Published April 2016. A father gives his son a paoxiao for his birthday, a creature that mimics others. The boy and his friends abuse the paoxiao, but when the boy becomes an adult he defies his father by becoming a scientist and the paoxiao becomes central to his research. 2.5/5

Response to Censorship, and a Joint Book Review of Between the World and Me and Kindred


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Title & Author: Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Publication Date: July 2015

Genre: Nonfiction, Journalism

How I got it: Bought used from McKay’s 

Title & Author: Kindred by Octavia Butler

Publication Date: 1979

Genre: Science Fiction

How I got it: Bought used from McKay’s

 

Review:

“The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man.”

This line from Between the World and Me gave me chills when I read it, and still does. Yesterday, when I tried to post a review of this book to Amazon, which included the above quote, Amazon rejected it because it failed to “adhere to the following guidelines.” While Amazon did not specify which guideline I broke, I believe this is the one:

 

Hate Speech & Offensive Content – We don’t allow reviews that express intolerance for people belonging to identity groups including race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or nationality. Customers are allowed to comment on products and question the expertise of authors, sellers, or other customers as long as it is in a non-threatening manner.”

 

Anyone moderately familiar with Between the World and Me knows that it’s a treatise on racial intolerance in the United States. What I did to deserve censorship was to quote directly from the book. But if a book concerns “intolerance for people belonging to identity groups,” then how can I or anyone else quote from it without using the ‘offensive content’ the book discusses?

Here’s the quote again:

 

“The nigger, the fag, the bitch illuminate the border, illuminate what we ostensibly are not, illuminate the Dream of being white, of being a Man.”

 

By censoring the review, Amazon has unintentionally proven Coates’ point with this passage: that to be a bitch, a nigger, a fag, is to exist on the borderline of what is human, is to be offensive, and thus in need of censorship. Notably, there are no derogatory terms for Amazon to censor for being a white man. Bastard? White Trash? These terms lack the horror of bitch, fag, and nigger because they lack the societal implications of these terms—much as Coates argues that being ‘black’ is a social construct, a status society has arbitrarily given to specific people that is otherwise meaningless.

 

“But race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of naming “the people” has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy. Difference in hue and hair is old. But the belief in the preeminence of hue and hair, the notion that these factors can correctly organize a society and that they signify deeper attributes, which are indelible—this is the new idea at the heart of these new people who have been brought up hopelessly, tragically, deceitfully, to believe that they are white.”

 

Between the World and Me is ostensibly a letter from Coates to his 15-year old son exploring what it means to be a black man in America, where your body can at any time be taken, beaten, and/or killed. But it’s also much more than a letter—it’s a philosophical treatise, memoir, investigative journalism. In addressing his son’s distress over Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin, Coates describes his own internal struggle when, in his twenties, a friend dies after a police officer shoots him, and his struggle to answer Why, both in terms of the death but also in broader terms, why there’s race at all, why the black body can be taken, used, destroyed. More than anything, Coates wonders how to raise a black son under these conditions and have him still be him.

 

“So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to “be twice as good,” which is to say “accept half as much.” These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.”

 

I have mixed feelings about Amazon’s censorship. I want to read reviews that engage critically with a text and give accurate portrayals of what I can expect from a book. It would be impossible to write an engaged review of Between the World and Me without writing about how it confronts “intolerance for people belonging to identity groups.” Obviously, there’s a difference between hate speech and discussing a book about hate, a difference Amazon does not distinguish between. At the same time, some guidelines seem appropriate. If Amazon hypothetically eliminated their guidelines, how many racist comments would this book receive? Given the current Republican candidate for president, I fear the number would be far higher than I can imagined. Yet, part of me still thinks there should be no guidelines, that everyone should have the right to say what they want about a book, even if it’s hateful.

Interestingly, my review posted without issue on Goodreads, even though they have a similar policy, and are owned by Amazon. Goodreads must be doing something Amazon isn’t. I’m sure both use a computerized system to catch offensive language, but perhaps Goodreads adds a human element to it? Does someone actually read a tagged review before it’s rejected?

On a similar note, immediately after reading Between the World and Me I picked up Kindred by Octavia Butler. Butler is considered a grand master of sf, and Kindred to be one of her most beloved novels. Goodreads also says it’s the first science fiction novel written by a black woman, which seems almost impossible considering it was published in 1979. That’s less than forty years ago. Wow. As Coates argues, we are still living with the repercussions of slavery.

Kindred relates to many of the same themes addressed in Between the World and Me; primarily, the physicality of the black body and the legacy of slavery.

The novel begins in 1976 as Dana—a black woman—unpacks with her husband—a white man—in their new home. Then, suddenly, Dana’s not there. She’s time traveled to the worst possible time for a black woman: early 1800s America, though she doesn’t know that yet. What she does know is that a boy is drowning, so she saves him, and when his father puts a gun in her face she time travels again, back home and to her own time of 1976.

She’s not finished with time traveling. She fazes back and forth in time over the course of a month, to the same boy, each time having to save his life even as she’s forced to work as a slave on his father’s plantation. At one point her husband grabs her as she fazes out of the present, traveling with her, but when she returns to 1976 he fails to reach her in time to come too, and is stuck in the 1800s for 5 years before Dana returns to the past after what’s been only 8 days for her.

Kindred asks, how would you survive if you were a slave? (I would not have been as strong as Dana, I know that.) What would you do now if you were suddenly a slave? How did some good white people come to condone or manage to ignore the horrors of slavery? It’s a compulsive read, full of bodily danger and horror.

While Between the World and Me addresses the physicality of the black male body in current society, Kindred looks at the physicality of being a black female slave. Not only is her body owned as a slave, but in order to return to her own time, her body must be put into danger. She must believe that she could die. Thus Butler depicts the many ways the black body was abused: rape, whipping, suicide, violence. (Disgustingly, my used copy came with some art work—the previous owner had drawn a penis right after a rape scene.) But even outside of Dana’s horrific experience, Kindred depicts how the black body was owned: families are torn apart on the whim of their owners, children sold to keep people ‘in-line.’

Reading both Between the World and Me and Kindred  back-to-back was emotionally wrenching, but so worth it. They’re both tough reads, ones I want everyone to tackle. I’ve passed on my copies to a friend, and hope they both keep on passing.

 

Rating for Between the World and Me: 5/5

Rating for Kindred: 4/5

 

What are your thoughts on censoring reviews, as Amazon does?