Book Review: ‘Wallet Activism’ offers lessons for all consumers

What we do with our money has more consequences than we might realize. What we buy, how we invest and/or bank, and the organizations we support tell a story we might not know is being written.

The book Wallet Activism: How to Use Every Dollar You Spend, Earn and Save as a Force for Change (BanBella Books, 2021) by Truckee resident Tanja Hester lays out a strong case that we all ought to be paying better attention to where our cash is going.

What we spend money on makes a powerful statement—whether we consciously acknowledge it or not. That’s part of the problem; we are not paying attention. Hester makes is clear why we all ought to be aware of what we are spending money on, that we need to understand the true cost of something—what is it made out of, who made it, what did it take to get to a store and then to your home.

We have choices. And those choices matter. What we do with our money can be more consequential than how we vote because it’s something we are doing almost on a daily basis.

As she wrote, “Companies spend billions of dollars on advertising and marketing to attempt to persuade us in  our decision-making, but ultimately it’s up to us in our role as consumers—not as voters—to determine where society and the planet are headed.”

It’s about having our spending choices match our values. That could mean not buying whatever is cheapest. It could mean buying less. It could mean just not buying whatever it is.

This book was thought-provoking. I’m not sure what changes I will make in my life. But there will be some.

I’m going to guess most people will be better off reading Wallet Activism.

Book Review: ‘After the Flood’ a novel that could be prophetic

With headlines continually saying the sea is rising and now a super El Nino is coming this winter, it made the premise of After the Flood: Courage is a Force of Nature (HarperCollins, 2019) even more plausible.

Author Kassandra Montag takes readers on a journey of what life could be like after flood waters cover most of the world as we know it. What’s left of land is what used to be mountain tops.

As with most disasters, it brings out the good and bad in people.

This book is about how people learn to adapt after the floods. Myra, the main character, is a single mom literally navigating the waters in order to stay alive and make a life for the two of them.

While it’s no secret I’m not a huge fan of fiction, what I liked most about this story was it got me thinking about what life might be like if the land were inundated with water.

The characters are believable. The story interesting.

I’m sure there will be plenty of people who love the book. I’ll say it was interesting. It’s good for escaping into a different realm.

Book Review: Peace Corps volunteer relives life in China

Learning is not limited to the classroom.

While Peter Hessler was in China to teach English and literature, what he learned isn’t in any textbook. His was a journey of life experiences, with many lessons coming from his students, while others were from being a stranger in a foreign land.

Hessler’s book River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze (Harper Perennial, 2001) captures his two years (1996-98) as a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Fuling in the Sichuan region of China.

While this area is much different today than it was when Hessler was a teacher there, that matters little as a reader. It’s easy to imagine other areas of China today resembling what the author describes. And if they don’t, it’s about his life at a certain time.

This book is captivating with its almost conversational tone. While it is a memoir, it is somewhat like a travelogue.

The people Hessler introduces us to are interesting in their own right. The cultural differences—and they seemed endless in a non-tiring way—were fascinating to read about. He shows how difficult it can be to be different when you are just being yourself. Acceptance of outsiders, well, does any city or country do it well?

Reading this so many years after it was written and after Hessler’s experience didn’t matter. It felt like it could be 2023. Time goes on and in many ways little changes.

This book took me on an unexpected journey that I am grateful for experiencing.

Book Review: ‘Four Winds’ a heart-wrenching historical novel

I was crying, smiling, shaking my head in disgust, and rooting for love and survival. These were only some of the emotions I felt reading The Four Winds (St. Martin’s Press, 2021) by Kristin Hannah.

Actually, I listened to the book. That was enjoyable because the reader does a great job with the various characters in capturing their inflections as the author probably wanted. Plus, at the end there was a Q&A with the author that gave insight into her research and writing processes.

This historical novel takes place during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in the United States. I realized I don’t much about the Dust Bowl. Was it more than a paragraph in history books?

What made this so interesting is the main character is a woman. So often history is about men told by men; almost as if women were not there, wherever there was.

With this being a work of fiction, Elsa isn’t a real person. Hannah’s research included reading memoirs from women, so her Elsa character is a compilation of real people. The whole story was believable.

The struggles people found when they arrived in California were most unnerving. It made me better understand the cycle of poverty because of the greed of growers. The hatefulness of those who discriminated against these migrants was unconscionable.

Sadly, many issues in the book are still relevant today. When are we going to learn to do better?

Hannah has such a great way of bringing characters and places to life; I could picture them in my mind. Her descriptive words made me feel the dust, the pain, the love.

Every opportunity I could find I was listening to the book. I’m sure people thought something was really wrong as I was on walks and tears were coming down. I was done with the book well before I had to return it to the library.

Book Review: ‘What Sports Teach Us About Work and Life’

I don’t have what it takes to be a professional athlete, but some of what makes them successful are the same traits that others have to succeed in their own professions.

I recently finished listening to a fascinating book—The Right Call: What Sports Teach Us About Work and Life (Gallery Books, 2023) by Sally Jenkins.

Jenkins’ 20-plus years as a writer for the Washington Post has allowed her to have a front row seat to some of sporting world’s biggest moments, which in turn means she has had countless interactions with athletes, coaches and others in the industry.

In this book she shows how there are multiple lessons to be learned from athletes that translate to the board room and more important, to everyday life.

In some ways this was like a self-help book, but not in the true sense of that genre. So don’t let that deter you from reading. But it will undoubtedly have you thinking about your interactions with people, and perhaps how to implement better decision-making. You don’t have to be working to get something out of this book. After all, we all have plenty in our lives to improve upon.

The book definitely provides insight into what makes athletes and coaches tick; and how they deal with success and failure.

Jenkins says the seven principles behind success are:

  • Conditioning
  • Practice
  • Discipline
  • Candor
  • Culture
  • Resilience
  • Intention.

Book Review: ‘Are You There God?’ a classic worth revisiting

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret (Atheneum Books, 1970) is a classic coming of age novel by Judy Blume that this year was made into a motion picture.

I think I read the book when I was kid, but not 100 percent certain. I certainly knew of it. This spring I saw the movie and last month read (re-read?) the book.

There really isn’t much more to say about either the book or the movie. Reviews and commentary have been written by so many others. But I’m still going to give my 2 cents.

After leaving the movie, in the parking lot I heard a guy say the film was “weird”—he was walking with who I presumed were his wife and daughter. I wish he would have said it was “insightful” or “I understand more now”—but, weird, well, that was an unfortunate description.

Maybe he meant he was “uncomfortable” or maybe he was embarrassed to admit he just didn’t get it. I give him credit for going, but perhaps a bit more introspection might get him to be able to have an open discussion with his wife and daughter about their thoughts on menstruation.

Menstruation and the search for religious clarity are the dominate topics.

The former is that weird rite of passage that young girls look forward to and soon wonder why.

The religious component of the book is thought-provoking.

This is a book and movie that could and should start a lot of dialog between child and parent (or some meaningful adult in their lives). It’s a good reminder that being a pre-teen isn’t easy—no matter the generation. My guess is with social media life is worse for this age group than it was for me.

All the more reason books and movies like Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret remain available for girls to know they are not alone. Sadly, the book is banned some places.

Book Review: ‘No Ordinary Assignment’ proves importance of journalists

No Ordinary Assignment (HarperCollins, 2023) is almost an understated title for Jane Ferguson’s memoir.

Ferguson is an award-winning journalist who has traveled from one war-torn country to the next all in the name of providing viewers the truth.

While news executives often want what’s known in the TV world as the “bang-bang” of war, she wanted to show the human side of what happens when there is all that “bang-bang” of military might going off.

Ferguson grew-up in Northern Ireland where gunfire and political unrest were the norm.

Today, she is a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour and a contributor to the New Yorker.

Her personal journey is worth noting—she had humble beginnings, had to prove herself as a woman, and didn’t take no for an answer.

It’s sad to think 38-year-old women are still having to break barriers, having to fit a certain physical image to be on the air, and that they are not taken as seriously as male colleagues.

While the book isn’t a feminist rant, it does point out the realities of the news business—especially television.

What No Ordinary Assignment also offers readers is a look at war-torn regions of the world that don’t always make the front pages of U.S. newspapers or the lead story on TV unless it’s something that involves the U.S. like the fall of Kabul.

Ferguson points out where the U.S. media fell short in telling foreign stories.

She explains why we all need to be paying attention to conflicts around the world.

I was enthralled with this book. Ferguson’s personal story is gripping, while the reporting she has done is even more captivating. If this book doesn’t convince you of the need for foreign correspondents and the necessity to support quality journalism, well, I don’t know what will.

Book Review: Book brings clarity, depth to Cuban missile crisis

So many people find history uninteresting. Even worse, there are those who don’t see the importance of learning it. Those people scare me.

It’s so important to keep being educated. Books are one of the ways I continue to expand my understanding of things in the past.

Above and Beyond: John F. Kennedy and America’s Most Dangerous Cold War Spy Mission (Hachette Book Group, 2018) by Casey Sherman and Michael Tougias kept my attention from the get-go.

This isn’t just about the Cuban missile crisis. It’s about the people involved in that scary time when the the U.S.-Soviet Union were on the brink of nuclear war.

It goes beyond Kennedy and Khrushchev. U-2 pilots Rudy Anderson and Chuck Maultsby’s stories are key to this whole story. I had not heard their names before now.

The authors do an incredible job of character development, which isn’t always easy to do in non-fiction because you can’t be creative. You only have the truth to write. But the words you choose and the manner you convey what’s going on can grab a reader—or not.

They set the scene. Even if you know the outcome (and you should), the book was riveting.

This book delves into nuances around that crisis that I didn’t know. It quotes from private meetings that were recorded by the president.

It made me understand how close we were to war.

And it made me realize, again, how important it is to have someone rational in the White House and ideally the Kremlin as well.

Book Review: Angela Davis’ autobiography a lesson in injustices

When I was growing up, and I’m guessing this is true for many people, I thought anything in the past was ancient history and had little relevance to me. I graduated high school and college in the 1980s, so anything that occurred in the 1970s or earlier was practically the Dark Ages.

That’s the fallacy about history—it does matter. Assuming it had little or no bearing on my life now means there is so much more still to learn.

And, so, yet another book opened my eyes to racial and political injustices in the United States. This time it was Angela Davis—An Autobiography (Haymarket Books, 1974). The first edition was edited by Toni Morrison.

The book is captivating. While I knew something of Davis, the book put many of the pieces together. While this is an autobiography, it’s only a small—though extremely significant—chunk of her life.

She lost her job teaching at UCLA because she was a member of the Communist Party. She was on the FBI’s Top 10 Most Wanted List. She was a force to be reckoned with.

While there will be plenty of people who won’t read this book, I ask you to ask yourself: “Why won’t you?” It provides plenty of examples of racism, social injustice, prison injustice, and a society that is so full of hatred.

I feel like I am more knowledgeable for having read the book. That is a good thing. Sometimes it’s good to be uncomfortable.

The audio version of the book was released in 2022, with Davis doing the reading. Today, she is 79 years old and still active in racial justice issues.

Book Review: Starting to read books that others want to ban

It amazes me that people have banned a book about book banning. Such is the case with Fahrenheit 451 (Simon & Schuster, 1951) by Ray Bradbury.

This was my first time to read it. I wasn’t even sure what it was about until I opened it. The title comes from the fact that 451 degrees F is when book paper catches fire and burns.

While this is a work of fiction, the premise is alarming. The fact it was published 72 years ago, well, it’s almost like the author was clairvoyant.

To me, this is must reading. It paints a horrific picture of what happens to people when there aren’t books, when there isn’t free thought, when the powers that be control us in more ways than a free, democratic society should ever allow.

If you don’t think the United States is on a scary path, you aren’t paying attention.

There are so many categories of books that I want to read, with banned books a recent edition. I’ve now read six of the books mentioned below. Clearly, I have more work to do, especially since this is only a partial list of banned books.

The following is from Barnes & Noble:

“Top banned and challenged books you should probably read immediately:

  • Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • They Both Die at The End by Adam Silvera
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez
  • New Kid Jerry Craft
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Pin It on Pinterest