As a reminder, here is how I rate my books:
- (★★★★★): Loved it
- (★★★★): Really liked it
- (★★★): Liked it enough
- (★★): Didn’t care for it
Another few notes: I will warn if there are any spoilers with (start spoiler) and (end spoiler) so you know when to stop reading and pick up again if you don’t want to ruin the book for yourself. I no longer go out of my way to watch adaptions, but will continue to mention them and their general critiques (from Rotten Tomatoes) in my reviews. Finally, you can always check out my book review index page if you’re looking for my extremely important opinion on any book in particular.
Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, religion
GoodReads rating: 3.92 / 5 (25,000 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Warning: This book contains themes of child rape, incest, domestic abuse, miscarriage and stillbirth and attempted suicide.
Summary: Elissa Wall is a “courageous former member of Utah’s infamous FLDS polygamist sect whose powerful courtroom testimony helped convict controversial sect leader Warren Jeffs in September 2007. At once shocking, heartbreaking, and inspiring, Wall’s story of subjugation and survival exposes the darkness at the root of this rebel offshoot of the Mormon faith.”
Thoughts: Extreme religious experiences fascinate me. I’ve seen a documentary on fundamentalist Mormon churches and have been curious for more firsthand information. I got a lot out of Megan Phelps-Roper’s book about life in the Westboro Baptist Church Unfollow, but didn’t feel much with the extremely popular Educated, which takes place in the same church as this book. This book gave me what I feel Educated was missing: a bigger sense of empathy and confliction. Her religion and community was all she knew and did love it for a long time but over time was able to break free of the brainwashing and I loved watching that journey. The writing is amazing, it played just like a movie, even though the story is hard to read (seriously, everything horrible you can think of happens, head my warning at the beginning of this review). This book is long (about 700 pages) but well worth it. To me, a non-fiction book is top tier when I walk away from it wanting to learn even more, and I felt just that. I followed this up by listening to The Last Podcast on the Left series on Mormonism and the first few episodes that cover Joseph Smith’s life are quite dry but the final episode (no. 385) about more modern crimes in the Mormon community is really good.
Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir, humor
GoodReads rating: 3.89 / 5 (162,000 ratings)
Medium used: Audiobook (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Warning: This book contains mention of suicide, miscarriage, drugs, eating disorders and animal death.
Summary: Blogger Jenny Lawson takes us through a journey of a childhood filled with taxidermy and especially awkward high school years in rural Texas to an adulthood of chronic illness, marriage… and even more taxidermy.
Thoughts: This book is marketed as an “if you enjoyed David Sedaris, you’ll also enjoy…” However, after popping my David Sedaris cherry last week (which I thought was just okay) and having consistently meh experiences with “humorous” memoirs and essays (Amy Schumer, Sloan Crosley, Kristen Newman, etc.), this book was all the same: kind of a let down. I really enjoyed the parts about her eclectic childhood and adolescence, but the adult years were mostly one-note. Why do married people insist on making marriage sound horrible in every memoir I read? Half this book is just her arguing with her husband and calling him an asshole. In the true fashion of every seemingly “unapologetic” comic, she of course apologizes to her mom in the text about anything slightly sexual. While her voice is really sweet, the writing annoyed me sometimes with the constant addressing of the editors to fake outs (making a statement and then immediately telling us it’s actually false). It was kind of exhausting to read. Also, as someone who works in commercial fishing and has a potty mouth myself, I’m no stranger to swearing, but the “fucks” in this book were too excessive even for me. Maybe the text in the book is different, but each one lost its impact. Finally, I’m really sad I missed out on the pictures by reading the audiobook version.
This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell
Genre: Non-fiction, race
GoodReads rating: 4.85 / 5 (2,500 ratings)
Medium used: E-book (borrowed from library via OverDrive)
Summary: Accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Aurélia Durand in kaleidoscopic, this workbook helps young people understand privilege, microagressions, instersectionality and more.
Thoughts: The beautiful illustrations immediately caught my eye in the “new” section of my OverDrive account. I didn’t read the summary before picking up the book. If I had known it was for a younger audience, I might not have read it but it was lovely. This book should be in school curriculum as it teaches a lot of lessons I had to learn over a long period of time and university-level courses that I wish I knew earlier. This is a great resource for everything inclusive in one place with thoughtful activities and I did learn a few things of my own too.
The End of Faith by Sam Harris
Genre: Non-fiction, religion
GoodReads rating: 3.92 / 5 (34,000 ratings)
Medium used: Paperback (purchased from Powell’s in Portland, Oregon)
Summary: “[Harris] offers a vivid, historical tour of our willingness to suspend reason in favor of religious beliefs… even when these beliefs inspire the worst human atrocities. While warning against the encroachment of organized religion into world politics, [he] draws on insights from neuroscience, philosophy, and Eastern mysticism to deliver a call for a truly modern foundation for ethics and spirituality that is both secular and humanistic.”
Thoughts: Riding on the coattails of other religions books I’ve been enjoying, I decided to pick up this book I got for my birthday. I was disappointed with God Is Not Great (Hitchens) and actually read Harris’s response to this book Letter to a Christian Nation first and loved it… but now we’re back to disappointment. This book was immensely dense and hard to read, much like God Is Not Great it felt like I was reading a textbook. This book felt like a work for fellow academics whereas Letter… felt more down to earth and easy to follow. My favorite parts of this book was the first chapter and afterward (which had a similar format to Letter…). A lot of other points went over my head unfortunately. However, I’d like to share some passages I’ve marked just so they stick better in my own mind and to give my readers something to think about:
- “What is the alternative to religion as we know it? As it turns out, this is the wrong question to ask. Chemistry was not an “alternative” to alchemy…” (p. 14)
- “… you will not hear a moderate Christian or Jew arguing for a more “symbolic” reading of passages… (In face, ones seems to be explicitly blocked by God himself in Deuteronomy 13:1 “Whatever I am now commanding you, you must keep and observe, adding nothing to it, taking nothing away.”)” (p. 18)
- “… so many of us are still dying on account of ancient myths is as bewildering as it is horrible, and our own attachments to these myths, whether moderate or extreme has kept us silent in the face of developments that could ultimately destroy us.” (p. 25-26)
- “How do we know that our holy books are free from error? Because the books themselves say so.” (p. 35)
- This one hit a little too close to home (remember, this was published in 2005). “In our next presidential election, an actor who reads his Bible would almost certainly defeat a rocket scientist who does not.” (p. 39) Apparently the actor doesn’t even have to be a genuine man of faith, not that that should matter.
- “… extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence…” (p. 41)
- This one is also relevant today given the few but loud Christian anti-maskers in the U.S. media. “… we can no longer tolerate a diversity of… beliefs of epidemiology and personal hygiene… Do we “tolerate” these beliefs? Not if they put our own health in jeopardy.” (p. 46)
- “The problem with scripture, however, is that many of its possible interpretations (including the most literal ones) can used to justify atrocities in the defense of faith.” (p. 83)
- “Men eager to do the Lord’s work have been elected to other branches of federal government… [Tom DeLay] claims to have gone into politics “to promote a Biblical worldview.”” (p. 156). Good to know our government has its priorities straight.
- “Credit goes to Christopher Lichens for distilling… “what can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”” (p. 176)
- “… in a blind study… all three institutions concluded that the shroud [of Turin] was a medieval forgery dating between 1260 and 1390.” (p. 251)
Have you read any of these?
Photo by Radu Marcusu.