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We Were Eight Years in Power

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narrated (audio book) by Ta-Nehisi Coates

publisher: Penguin Random House (audiobook version, 2018)

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What I learned from this book

Coates offers to us a deep understanding of what it is like to be living as an American through the eyes of a much different viewpoint than many are accustomed to hearing – that of the African-American male .  It is an eye-opening discourse on the “flip” side of the American dream and its historical remembrances – as well as many other accounts of the events that took place in this country over the past 400+ years. It really offers a brand new angle for the American public in how we might finally want to address both the answers (and new questions going forward) concerning our legacy.

What I liked about this book

It is a sharply-witted, wake-up call containing more than a few ‘shots across the bow’ that many Americans will find stunning and difficult to digest.  That said, it also offers answers to so many questions that have been chalked up to much shallower explanations and inaccurate guesses as to some of our “social conditions.”  One shining example is: for those of us who thought America should be considered ‘post-racial’ after eight years of hosting one African-American president (Barack Obama) in the White House, Coates presents a convincing case of the polar-opposite viewpoint; drawing from his knowledge of James Baldwin and others. Coates suggests how we can choose to sincerely address our relationships with race (and each other) going forward – or not.  It is a testament to how distant issues can become when virtually ignored for so many centuries. He is calling us out when we label the simple passage of time erroneously as “progress.” He informs us that we indeed have a long way to go.

What I disliked about this book

There is very little for me to dislike about this book.  It is equal parts thoughtful, unique, expressive – and also uncomfortable.  Coates’ forthrightness is one good reason to explain why this book has been touted with such an array of awards and other literary recognition.  In my opinion, for many educational reasons, it is arguably “one for the ages!”

Whom would I recommend to read this book

I understand how important it is to a large swath of America to feel pride and nostalgia concerning America’s history. However, what Coates does is he tries to share with us that it is much more important is to check ourselves to ensure that the history we are told (and that ultimately we pass on to the next generation) is factually accurate and balanced.  Without it, he tells us we are essentially just living in a 330 million-person fantasy world of, well, ‘fake news …’

Your thoughts?

-A.N.

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Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

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pronounced “Eeky-guy”

Authors: Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles

Publisher: PenguinRandomHouse Books (e-book, 2017)

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 What I learned from this book

One of the reasons I decided to weave this review into my book blog fabric is that I just came off editing my own first non-fiction work, and I noticed this book, Ikigai … , might provide some of the answers to several of the questions I touched on obliquely in my book (but, of course, had no intention of providing my readers with any helpful answers!)

I’ve always been curious as to what ingredients comprise mixing the “best cocktail for an extended and fruitful existence.” Unfortunately, at least in my experience of life in the U.S., I’ve seen mostly the opposites – those that shave away years and good health (i.e. a sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet, poor air and water quality, unhealthy climate, congested cities, dangerous crime rates, etc.)

It was nice to learn that there are actually areas of the world where the odds are favorable to a long and happy life!  Learning about “Blue Zones” (areas of the world where the average lifespan is elongated) was eye-opening and a relief to learn about. Perhaps, one day, I will make the effort to integrate some of these locations as stops on future global treks of mine!

What I liked about this book

One of the best qualities of this book is its simplicity. Not to sound patronizing, but, I’ve found that this is the type of book that could easily have lost most readers by using an abundance of unnecessary data, which could very easily have bogged it down and lost the value of making so many of its points clearly and succinctly. 

What I disliked about this book

I had a tough time finding much to dislike about this book.  At first, I thought it might be a bit too general for my taste.  However, once I read the part that recommended to always “try to challenge yourself, but not to the point where it overwhelms you or causes stress” – I knew we had passed the point of a “dull read.”   At that point – early on in the book –  I realized it would be best not to prejudge it as simple, but rather absorb it (like a sponge) with all of its subtle brilliance.

Whom would I recommend to read this book

I think this book should be required reading for most any age.  If you’re a young whippersnapper and want to get the edge on some of the secrets of life, then read it!  If, however, you are getting up in age and want to make some changes in order to have a better chance in a longer and happier life, read it likewise!  It would have been nice to have read it when I was much younger and clueless about how to embrace the “simpler things in life.”

Any thoughts?

A.N.

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Dreams from My Father

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Dreams from My Father – by Barack Obama

 Audiobook narration by Barack Obama, publisher: Random House (audio, 2005)

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 What I learned from this book

If anyone has ever taken the time to listen to Barack Obama publicly speak, I think he or she would agree with me that he has an extraordinary way with words.  What I didn’t know (and what most people probably don’t either) is that he also has the ability to transform his voice into a wide array of characters – much like a talented voiceover actor. 

I’m not talking about one or two voices, but rather something that numbers in the double digits!  He uses this ability to paint a creative canvas with different voices/characters that he unveils to us are his family and/ or friends.  Whether it was his curmudgeonly (yet likeable) Anglo grandfather from Kansas; the velvety assortment of Kenyan-Kikuyan dialects depicting his late father – as well as other Kenyan relatives (both male and female); his African-American friends and teammates in the mainland U.S.; his Hawaiian peers and other locals; a pinch of Indonesian tongues; and on, and on and on.

What I liked about this book

No matter how impressive I found Obama to be prior to listening to the audio version of his inaugural autobiography, I cannot understate how much more impressive (and relatable) this work made him to me.  I certainly had my doubts as to how he could/ would build the foundation of “an understanding of the dreams of someone he barely knew (i.e. Barack Sr.).”  He also didn’t have access to the recollection of his mother; who also died very young in life.

Yet, I quickly became convinced at how he “filled in all of the blanks” by taking us on his journey to track down those who knew his father best – the side of his family still residing in Kenya.  Without being much of a spoiler, let’s just say he was able to keep from having to “guess” or “manipulate” the details of his father’s life.  He was able to track down how his father became who he was, what was important to his father, what made him tick, and what frightened or distracted him. For those of us who are familiar with absentee, enigmatic and/ or abusive parents, it is a unique and crafty approach to discovering the “secrets of the past” without having to create them from his imagination like most of the rest of us do. 

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Becoming Michelle Obama

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  • written by Michelle Obama (pub. 2018), 415 pp.

Becoming Michelle Obama

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What I learned from this book

Actually, I was shocked at how much of the book was apolitical.  I thought going in it would be much more concentrated on White House events, but, much to my relief, there were many more life experiences in the overall mix.  My expectations were for 80% politics and 20% personal.  In fact, it was more like 90% personal!  It is much less a book about living in America’s equivalent of a “Royal Palace,” and much more about one woman’s “journey in its totality.”  It is about identity, the struggle, self-doubts and the dream.  It is about perseverance.  It is also about letting go when you need to let go. But, most of all, it is about family, good friends and, most importantly, always standing firmly alongside the ones you love the most – warts and all!!

What I liked about this book

I’ve read hundreds (if not thousands) of books in my lifetime.  However, rarely have I run across an autobiography that is this honest and forthright.  Seriously, one would think that autobiographies are meant to be the most candid, but, for the most part, most fall dreadfully short of this goal.  I know it sounds cliché, but Michelle Obama really knows how to “put the reader in her shoes.” She understands how to make the reader feel the way she felt in a specific moment, to hurt in her personal moments of real pain, and to feel joy when she was uplifted in one of her finer moments.  She is a real person, a “one-of-a-kind” – and that is a rare find!  (And I’m a poet and didn’t know it!)

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Winners take all: the elite charade of changing the world

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by Anand Giridharadas, pps. 263, (pub. A.A. Knopf,2018)

Follow this author on Twitter – @anandwrites

More on this work by Anand Giridharadas

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What I learned from this book

The author lays some eye-opening stats on us in the Prologue. It does as much to shed light on the financial anxiety most Americans are and have been feeling for quite some time – that contribute to much of the division and fear mongering that has become an American staple for others to ‘swoop in on’ and take full advantage of.

Giridharadas references a study that discovered:

“…middle and lower class Americans (born from 1984 on) now have merely a 35% chance of achieving a comparable lifestyle to their parents (down drastically from previous generations).  He goes on to mention that the top tenth of earners income has doubled since 1980, the top 1% has tripled – and, if you’re in the top .001%, you earned 7x.”  (paraphrased from Prologue, pg. 4) 

The author tells us it is time to examine how income disparity numbers like this arose, and to take an honest look at how the crushing impact it has on the majority of us. 

The author also suggests that the general population would be foolish to (think and hope) that it can sit back and allow the super wealthy and super influential to save us all from this situation.  The reasons, as so carefully laid out in this book, are that many of the same individuals (and companies) who orchestrate, participate, fund, and preside on speaker panels are, in fact, the ones responsible for creating many of the global issues they claim to be solving.

This book is a very eye-opening exposé on what the author terms to be “a charade” that the rich and famous carefully play on the rest of us.  It shows repeated demonstrations as to how and why some very important social problems are to be addressed (as outlined by the super-rich), but fail to ever be resolved. The author informs us that this all appears to be more by design than by circumstance.  It is a harrowing thought– but one he insists is real and that we need to examine.

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