Uplift: Books I love in the words of the folks who wrote them

I started a reading journal this year, and one thing I’ve been doing is copying down passages in books that especially move me/challenge me/call me to action. It’s useful to be able to go back and reread these passages, especially since so many of the books I read come from the library.

I can go on and on about how much I loved a book and the ways that a book inspired or moved me, but sometimes, it’s more important simply to share those smart and powerful words. Sometimes the most compelling reasons to recommend a book come from the writer, not from me.

Uplift is the newest repeating feature on the blog. Every month (or so), I’m going to share passages from books I’ve read recently and loved. I don’t have time to write and review every book I read; consider books mentioned in Uplift posts books that I recommend urgently and completely.

I am a white woman with a lot of privilege. I have a lot to say about books and reading. Sometimes, though, I’m not going to write about my feelings, my thoughts, my reactions to books. Instead, I’m going to uplift the voices of writers from marginalized communities, and let their words act as the most powerful recommendation for their books.

Without further ado, the best nonfiction books I read in January, in the words of those who wrote them.


From The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race, edited by Jesmyn Ward:

Though the white liberal imagination likes to feel temporarily bad about black suffering, there really is no mode of empathy that can replicate the daily strain of knowing that as a black person you can be killed for simply being black: no hands in your pockets, no playing music, no sudden movements, no driving your car, no walking at night, not walking in the day, no turning onto this street, no entering this building, no standing your ground, no standing here, no standing there, no talking back, no playing with you guns, no living while black.

-Claudia Rankine, “The Condition of Black Life is one of Mourning”

A foot leaves, a foot lands, and our longing gives it momentum from rest to rest. We long to look, to think, to talk, to get away. But more than anything else, we long to be free. We want the freedom and pleasure of walking without fear—without others’ fear—wherever we choose. I’ve lived in New York City for almost a decade and have not stopped walking its fascinating streets. And I have not stopped longing to find the solace that I found as kid on the streets of Kingston. Much as coming home to New York City’s streets has made it closer to home to me, the city also withholds itself from me via those very streets. I walk them, alternately invisible and too prominent. So I walk caught between memory and forgetting, between memory and forgiveness.

-Garnette Cadogan, “Black and Blue “


From Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth, by Warsan Shire:

Well, I think home spat me out, the blackouts and curfews like tongue against loose tooth. God, you know know how difficult it is, to talk about the day your own city dragged you by the hair, past the old prison, past the school gates, past the burning torsos erected on poles like flags? When I meet others like me I recognize the longing, the missing, the memory of ash on their faces. No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark. I’ve been carrying the old anthem in  my mouth for so long that there’s no space for another song, another tongue, or another language. I know a shame that shrouds, totally engulfs. I tore up and ate my own passport in an airport hotel. I’m bloated with language that I can’t afford to forget. —from “Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Center)”


From Bad Feminist, by Roxanne Gay

I embrace the label of bad feminist because I am human. I am messy. I’m not trying to be an example. I am not trying to be perfect. I am not trying to say I have all the answers. I am not trying to say I’m right. I am just trying–trying to support what I believe in, trying to do some good in this world, trying to make some noise with my writing while also being myself: a woman who loves pink and likes to get freaky and sometimes dances her ass off to music she knows, she knows, is terrible for women and who sometimes plays dumb with the repairman because it’s just easier to let them feel macho than it is to stand on the moral high ground.



From The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson:

Eve Kosofsky wanted to make way for “queer” to hold all kinds of resistances and fracturings and mismatches that have little to nothing to do with sexual orientation. “Queer is a continuing moment, movement, motive–recurrent, eddying, troublant,” she wrote, “Keenly, it is relational, and strange.” She wanted the term to b a perpetual excitement, a kind of placeholder–a nominative, like Argo, willing to designate molten or shifting parts, a means of asserting while also giving the slip. That is what reclaimed terms do–they retain, that insist on retaining, a sense of the fugitive.


From Gender Failure, by Rae Spoon and Ivan E. Coyote:

I don’t think that gender retirement need only be available to people who identify as trans. Ideally, some sort of opt-out plan would be implemented for people who want to accept only part of their roles in the binary, but not buy into everything expected of them. There is no retirement home for gender, but I like to think that the less I expect others to conform to the expectations of the binary and the more I refuse to participate in it, the closer my dream of true gender retirement is to reality.

-Rae Spoon


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