Book Snap #113: The Anthropocene Reviewed

My last post was a year ago. That seems likely, and also sort of sad. It was a long, drawn-out, painful year.

We went back to school hopeful: cheeks shining from summer’s kiss– masks firmly affixed over mouth and nose. It paled in comparison to the promise of the new year: a jumble of in-person learning, quarantines, lock-downs, sickness, and even a strike. My desire to read dwindled in lock step with my depleted energy and my To Be Read pile lay dormant and dust-covered. (1 star).

I, optomisitically, agreed to participate in a book relay hosted by our district literacy leads, but more often had to pass the novel onward at deadline before making it completely to the end. I repeatedly fell in bed exhausted after reading Isaac his bedtime stories, (I could review and recommend a multitude of Gordon Korman’s novels for fourth-graders!) neglecting the books calling to me from my own night stand. However, one of the books offered in the relay was John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. I just purchased a copy, because, like many of the relay titles, I didn’t get to finish before the deadline. But what I did read, I loved! And thinking about it again inspired me to write this post, a year since my last.

When it first arrived in school mail, I had been setting my students up to write reviews of their own. We had been exploring all kinds of mentor texts: we read reviews of songs and albums; video games; movies and TV shows; sports plays; and books. This has always been one of my favourite pieces to write with my students. Two reviews that remain my past-all-time-favourites include one that analysed Matthew McConaughey’s performance in Dazed and Confused. The essay begins with the perfect hook: All right, all right, all right. And second, the review of Steph Curry’s basketball acumen where I first discovered what a G.O.A.T was; and the criteria with which to evalute one. Green cracked open yet another realm of choice and I couldn’t have been more excited to share these ideas with my students.

I had noticed the title in passing (it remained on best-seller lists and was promininetly displayed in many book-selling venues), and wondered: “what the heck is an Anthropocene?” Green explains: “The Anthropocene is a proposed term for the current geological age, in which humans have profoundly shaped and reshaped the planet and its biodiversity” (p.6). Green imparts that having been employed for several years at Booklist, reviewing hundreds of books, he became well-versed in the style and format of a review (they specifically hold a tight word count of 175 words or less.) He then started to notice that “everyone had become a reviewer, and everything had become a subject for review” (p.7). Indeed. I often seek out reviews of: restaurants (hello, Yelp!); vacation ideas and accommodations (hmmm, TripAdvisor?)… A small gripe: 1 star for the review in the Fodor’s guide of Japan (print edition from forever ago when I was there) that recommended (and convinced my genki companion and I) to “slide down” the volcanic ash of Mt. Fuji, which turned out to be terrible, awful, dreadful advice. But I digress. Of course, Facebook and Twitter have become platforms for all kinds of verciferous reviews — of products, services, businesses, opinions, politics, behaviour– everyone is a reviewer and everything is a subject for review!

Green walks through what he knew and what he discovered about review writing, which was powerful in helping my students create strong reviews themselves. When he reviewed books, “I” was never in the review: How many times have students also been told to use this disinterested observer stance? Too many. And the result is wooden writing. It was his wife who {thoughtfully} surmised: “…in the Anthropocene, there are no disinterested observers; there are only particpants… when people write reviews, they are really writing a kind of memoir— here’s what my expereince was eating at this restaurant or getting my hair cut at this barbershop” (p.8). And so, amidst a global pandemic, Green wrote about songs, comets, scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers, Diet Dr. Pepper, teddy bears, air-conditioning, the Internet, sunsets, CNN, whispering, Kentucky Bluegrass, Googling strangers, and so much more of what the anthropocene has to offer. Each essay embodies Green’s quirky vibe, lots of thoughtful details and compelling support, and a final 5-star rating. I highly reccommend you listen to my favourite essay (from what I have had the opportunity to read so far), “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” on John Green’s podcast: The Anthropocene Reviewed; my students and I read this together to inspire our writing. They wrote thoughtful and passionate reviews on all kinds of artifacts from the anthropocene, including: soccer shoes, french fries, napping, roadtrip-playlists, movie scenes, and more!

I offer you my own Anthropocene-inspired reviews using the tight Booklist word count! (A fun quick write exercise for students (or playful writers) too):

This Morning. I was fully prepared to do Teddy’s morning walk: I had a podcast cued up and earbuds charged; a tank top and joggers, left conveniently, on the floor next to my bed– ready to wear collection. But, Teddy-the-adorable-fluffy-personal-trainer is in high demand! He trotted off with Ben before I could get my feet on the floor. Awake, and rested, and presented with new possibilities for the morning, I hopped on my yoga mat. Delicious stretch! Deep, centering breaths. Letting (more) go. Enjoyed a hot coffee with my Starbucks Almond and Oat Non-Diary Caramel Macchiato Liquid Coffee Enhancer (that name is so gob smackingly pretentious, but it’s so delicious!). Got the Wordle in three tries: impressive! Overall, I’d give this morning a solid 4 and half stars (for the missed the walk in the woods!)

Beach vacation. Sand flats, flip-flops, tide is high, salt water, time off, barefoot. Northumberland Strait, lobster rolls, read and fetch, Tomohawks, bonfires, freckles. Marshmallows, peaceful place, reading books, swimming. Breathe the air! Sea glass, local brews (Tatabrew & Leo), poker-face, Isaac’s omlettes, hose your feet, Jerk chicken, tired doggy, lighthouse! Birthday lunch, old friends, haskap berries, sweet earth, doodle duo. Beach vacay? 5 stars! (Writer’s craft move: all evidence, unexplained: A list of what makes a perfect 5!)

Walks with Teddy. It has been scorching lately– 39 degrees Celcius (literally, in the shade.) That calls for a leisurely walk through the woods so as not to overheat Teddy (or me, for that matter), but he is only minimally slowed by heat. Slow walks are for flip-flops instead of sneakers– I like barefoot, or as close to it, as much as possible, all summer. I listen to a podcast (Arm Chair Expert is my clear favourite), moving slowly and feeling part of the conversation. I breathe more deeply; inhaling fresh air, earth, flowers. When coaxed to (finally) slow down, Teddy gets busy sniffing it all in too! Walking with Ted is always 5 stars, although accumulated evidence may vary by season, weather, or location.

Lunch with a special friend. I needed to connect with someone special in person yesterday, because texting doesn’t give hugs, and sometimes you really need them, and I have really missed hugging, and it was truly lovely. The day sizzled but we were cool ladies in sundresses (love an excuse to get a little more dressed up on a summer day!) the waitress complimented us as we arrived. We had a nice umbrella-ed table at The Lighthouse, with a view of the Wolastoq, enjoyed a Tickle Fight and savoured every last morsel of lunch; watermelon salad and flatbreads. We shared recommendations for documentaries to watch and podcasts to listen to. We connected, we talked, we hugged. A blistering hot 5 stars.

Book Snap #102

Title: Dare to Lead: Daring Greatly and Rising Strong at Work

Author: Brene Brown

Date Read: Daring Educator Faculty Book Club, May 2021

Two (very loud) snaps.

Brene Brown has been accompanying me on my walks, in my earbuds, via Spotify, within her two amazing podcasts, Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us. I have been thoroughly enjoying the interviews and conversations. This led me to apply for a grant and launch a faculty book study for #daringeducators. Myself and 28 colleagues read, discussed, and bonded over the reading and weekly work of Dare to Lead. It was exactly what I needed in May of this year. I am grateful for our shared experience, and the amazing co-workers who committed to it.

Divided into four parts: rumbling with vulnerablity; living into our values; braving trust; and learning to rise– Brown shares two decades of research and experiences inside hundreds of organizations, to give a practical, actionable book on what makes a daring leader.

She defines a leader as: “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential” (Brown, p.4).

The heart of daring leadership?

1. You can’t get to courage without rumbling with vulnerability. Embrace the suck.

2. Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead.

3. Courage is contagious. To scale daring leadership and build courage in teams and organizations, we have to cultivate a culture in which brave work, tough conversations, and whole hearts are the expectation, and armor is not necessary or rewarded.

Through the work, I defined my two values (she insists you must narrow down to only two) to: balance and learning. These are the values that define me. If I am at my best, I am learning and I am also in balance. These values also provide a filter to make hard decisions: am I leaning into my values? I lean into balancing work, play, and parenthood. When I must, I evoke Walt Whitman’s quote, to remind myself to lean into my value to learn: “Be curious, not judgemental.” Seen also in one of my favourite Ted Lasso clips, an Apple TV series that should not be missed. You want feel good entertainment? Ted Lasso is your man.

I’m ready to rumble (with vulnerability and courage), and so are my colleagues!

“Tell me more— what are you thinking?” and respect his truth as a full truth, not just an off version of my truth.” (Brown, Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts.)

Book Snap #101

Title: Let That Sh*t Go: Find Peace and Happiness in Your Everyday

Authors: Nina Purewal and Kate Petriw

Date Read: Spring 2021

Two snaps.

Finding peace and happiness within a global pandemic wasn’t always easy– so this just sorted of landed when it needed to. Nina and Kate share stories and advice to put your life in perspective, take each day one step at a time, and find calm amid the chaos. It really is not worth holding onto that sh*t.

Visit the pure minds book site, where they explain:

Let That Sh*t Go has over 100 tips on how to find more peace and happiness in your everyday, a no-filter approach to mindfulness. The chapters are as follows:

Awareness: Goodbye Past & Future Worries

Self-love: What You Didn’t Learn in Middle School but Probably Should Have

Acceptance: You Can’t Control the Number of Instagram Likes You Get

Perspective: You Are Made of Fucking Stardust

Authenticity: There’s Only One Magical You

Forgiveness: It’s Time to Use the F-word

Behind the Screen: Finding Your Tech Zen

The Reveal: What the Fuck Did You Just Do? (Mindfulness)

Next Level: The Mind Workout (Meditation)

I am currently practicing yoga and the mantra of: leave it on the mat, while also practicing next level mind workouts by meditating. A good reminder to keep things in perspective.

Also helpful, this chart on when to give a f*ck:

If any of this sounds up your alley, may I also suggest:

I believe I am on the journey to fully master the subtle art of not giving a f*ck. Join me.

“Imagine if life were always simple and easy. You wouldn't appreciate the good times in the way you do if you haven't endured the bad. You wouldn't be who you are today without your challenges. It's what built your character. It's what made you value life the way you do. It wasn't fair that you had to go through what you did, but you are a different person because of what you experienced.”(Petriw & Purewal, Let That Sh*t Go). 

Book Snap #99

Title: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Author: Reni Eddo-Lodge

Date Read: Spring 2021

Two snaps.

Reni’s book is a deeper exploration of her 2014 blog post of the same title. She explores issues from eradicated black history to the political purpose of white dominance, whitewashed feminism, to the inextricable link between class and race. Born of her frustration with discussions with white people about race, she offers solutions of how to counter racism. Hard not to judge a book by it’s cover here: the white washed and embossed “to white people”, from afar can look as if the title is “Why I’m No Longer Talking About Race” a visual representation the way white people are blind to the structural racism that benefits them. It’s that clever all the way through.

“Not seeing race does little to deconstruct racist structures or materially improve the conditions which people of colour are subject to daily. In order to dismantle unjust, racist structures, we must see race. We must see who benefits from their race, who is disproportionately impacted by negative stereotypes about their race, and to who power and privilege is bestowed upon - earned or not - because of their race, their class, and their gender. Seeing race is essential to changing the system.” (Lodge, Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race). 

Book Snap #97


Title: Broken (In the Best Possible Way)

Author: Jenny Lawson

Date Read: Sometime last spring, 2021

Two Snaps.

Jenny Lawson is a vulnerable, courageous, and hilarious memoirist. I love the way she openly discusses depression and anxiety, and the hilarious way she does it. There are tough stories there too, but they are honest and brave. Jenny is relatable but eccentric– her life is broken, in the best way possible.

Jenny has written two other memoirs: Furiously Happy and Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and they are amazing for all the same reasons. These memoirs are mirrors for those who struggle with mental health and wellness and windows in to the world of depression and anxiety for those who are reading to learn.

“I can tell you that ‘Just cheer up’ is almost universally looked at as the most unhelpful depression cure ever. It’s pretty much the equivalent of telling someone who just had their legs amputated to ‘just walk it off.’ ” (Lawson, Broken). 

Book Snap #93


Title: Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

Author: Christie Tate

Date Read: December 27, 2020

One and a half snaps.

It is a trope in several films you have likely seen. Pan by the long table with donuts and black tar coffee poured from a large silver urn into small white styrofoam cups; move toward the middle of a large, nondescript room– an abandoned classroom or a large hall in the basement of a church… land on a circle of chairs in the middle. This is group therapy. It is also the central setting of Christie Tate’s memoir: Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life.

Tate’s invitation to her own personal experiences with years of group therapy, under the direction of Chicago’s Joseph Rosen, is unadulterated and unashamedly honest. Tate was a top-of-her-class lawyer and workaholic that just could not seem to get her personal life in order. Dr. Rosen promises healing from several hours of weekly group meetings. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure. You need a witness.” She has witnesses in the circle, but each reader adds to those who will attest to her unravelling and the miraculous arc of her healing journey.

We do bear witness to Chrsitie’s bulimia, her childhood sexual trauma, her relationship disasters, and sex that makes her feel bereft and dirty. The group has no rules around disclosure or fraternizing with others from group. Indeed, we find out that Tate had an affair with a married man from group– a relationship she subsequently points to as evidence that Dr. Rosen is not helping her as he promised. But Rosen’s aloofness, his quirky prescriptions, and the weight of the group puts Christie right again.

Christie Tate is a writer and essayist. Her work has been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, Pithead Chapel, McSweeney’s, Motherwell, Entropy Magazine, A Perfect Wedding, Together.com, Brain, Child and others. Now married and a mother of two (see Epilogue in Group), she wrote a viral essay about her daughter asking her to stop writing about her on the internet. Read it here.

Book Snap #90

Title: White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White Poeple to Talk About Racism

Author: Robin Diangelo

Date Read: August 27, 2020.

Two snaps.

White people can’t really talk about racism. Racism is a loaded and pejorative term that white people go out of their way to shun. The fragility arises in attempting to deflect hard conversations about race by insisting they are ‘colour-blind’; ‘that they don’t see race’; ‘that they were taught to treat everyone equally’; ‘that they have black friends.’

DiAngelo addresses her book mostly to white people, and she reserves her harshest criticism for those whom she sees as refusing to acknowledge their own participation in racist systems. She makes clear that: “[r]acism is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society. It is not limited to a single act or person. Nor does it move back and forth, one day benefitting whites and another day (or even era) benefitting people of color. The direction of power between white people and people of color is historic, traditional, and normalized in ideology. Racism differs from individual racial prejudice and racial discrimination in the historical accumulation and ongoing use of institutional power and authority to support the prejudice and to systematically enforce disctiminatory behaviours with far-reaching effects.” (DiAngelo, 22).

One of the most potent ways that white supremacy is propagated is through media representations which have a profound impact on how we see the world. The people who write and tell these stories (and who are predominantly white, upper class, males) help shape our worldview. All of our societal systems create an inequity that favours and privileges white people. “At the most general level, the racial frame views whites as superior in culture and achivement and views people of color as generally of less social, economic, and political consequence; people of color are seen as inferior to whites in the making and keeping of the nation. At the next level of framing, because social institiutions (education, medicine, law, government, finance and the military) are controlled by white, white dominance is unremarkable and taken for granted (DiAngelo, 34).

Most white people have limited information on what racism is and how it works. But they almost always have predicatable reactions to the suggestion that they benefit from, and are complicit in, a racist system. These reactions are characterized by emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and by behaviors including argumentation and silence. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium and prevent any meaningful cross-racial dialogue.

Watch this quick video in which DiAngelo explains how white fragility reinforces racism.

The current climate in the United States makes this book extremely important and timely. We need to be open to real conversations about race.

In some ways, what has unfolded on the streets of Kenosha, Wis., over the past week has had a wearying sense of familiarity. There was another demoralizing shooting of a Black man by the police, another angry outcry in the streets, another disturbing trail of destruction that had the potential to overshadow the message of the need to end police violence and racism.

Trevor Noah asks in this video: “Why was Jacob Blake seen as a deadly threat for a theoretical gun, while this gunman, who had already shot people, was arrested the next day and treated like a human being whose life matters?”

Simply, white supremacy. Which means white people need to start having real conversations about race. Use DiAngelo’s book as a tool to help navigate real ways to start these important conversations with an open heart and a willingness to accept feedback with grace and a desire to move us toward equality instead of division.

Book Snap #89

Title: A Mind Spread Out on the Ground

Author: Alicia Elliott

Date Read: August 25, 2020.

Two snaps.

Powerful.

Smart.

Gripping.

Alicia Elliott’s collected essays explore a large array of topics that include but are not limited to: poverty, domestic violence, sexual abuse, inter-generartional trauma, colonization, gender, parenthood, mental illness, and racism. Elliott writes with searing precision and a captivating prose. She makes clear perspectives and positions that are often overlooked and underexamined.

Her work posits essential questions about the treatment of Native people in North America while drawing on the intimate details of her own life and experience with intergenerational trauma. What is the relationship between depression, colonialism and loss of language — both figurative and literal? How does white privilege operate in different contexts? How do we navigate the painful contours of mental illness in loved ones without turning them into their sickness? Elliott skillfully navigates these complex problems with intelligence, thoughtfulness, and honesty.

Not only is this an enjoyable read– it is necessary for your anti-racist education; your better understanding of mental illness and a clear vision of how poverty and colonialism link them all.

This book will make it’s way to my classroom bookshelf to be shared widely.

Two very loud snaps.

Book Snap #85

Title: Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Author: Brene Brown

Date Read: June 26, 2020

Two snaps.

You have likely heard of Brene Brown from her powerful TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston who studies and writes about courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. This book picks up on the vulnerability thread.

While vulnerability is the birthplace of many of the fulfilling expereinces we long for– love, belonging, joy, creativity, and trust, to name a few — the process of regaining our emotional footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged.

Brown, p. xviii

In each of our lives we face situations where we need to rumble with our emotions, and the enivitable stories we make up as we work to handle them. The emotions we feel in response to the shame, guilt, anger, and heartbreaks in our lives require that we address our thinking about the situation, how we feel and how we are behaving– and know that all of these are connected.

Brown writes that our desire to make up stories is a primitive survival wiring. In the absence of data, we make up stories. Meaning-making is our biology. This struck a chord for me. I don’t know about you, but I have (on more than one occasion) written the screenplay dialogue between myself and a person with whom I was in disagreement with. I could tell you why my boyfriend acted a certain way; the response my roommate would give to my complaints; the story behind a co-worker’s behaviour; and on and on. Truthfully, I wasn’t often very good at it. The second thing that seized my attention was her own row with an idea given to her by her psychiatrist in response to a situation she had been in. Instead of taking sides (as Brene had hoped she would) she instead asked her if she believed that people are really just doing the best they can. Brene shirked this explanation with fury but set out to test the theory. The best summation came from her own husband: “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.” (p.113). I love that thinking, and it was a true take away from this book.

As Brown notes, “We make up hidden stories that tell us who is against us and who is with us. Whom we can trust and who is not to be trusted. Conspiracy thinking is all about fear-based self-protection and our intolerance for uncertainty.” Problem is, these stories distort how we relate to others.

But it isn’t that we should not capture these first stories– we should. But we need to interrogate them more closely and look at what’s really there. We need to be honest about the stories we make up about our struggles, to revisist, challenge and reality check them. This is rumbling with a problem– owning it, looking at the stories we are making up, and getting curious about why we are thinking and feeling that way. This spoke to me. I had written lots of “shitty first drafts” (Brown, p.85) about all kinds of things– but many of them did little capture the real essence of the situations I found myself in. In fact, they often distorted reality and caused further damage.

The Rising Strong Process is really quite simple, but transformative. The goal is to rise when we fall, overcome our mistakes and face our hurt in a way that brings more wisdom and wholeheartedness to our lives. First, we need to recognize our emotions and get curious to figure our how they connect with how we think and behave. Second, we need to get honest about the stories we make up and challenge confabulations and assumptions. Last, write a new end to the story based on what we learned from our rumble. Then, use this new story to transform how we live, love, parent, and lead. (Brown, p.37).

This book came highly recommended to me, and I highly recommend it to you.

Book Snap #84

Title: Untamed

Author: Glennon Doyle

Date Read: June 22, 2020

Two snaps.

I think I would like to be friends with Glennon Doyle. She is thoughtful, intelligent, and fierce. She reminds me of many women I am lucky to call friends.

She also has a unique back story that make her all the more interesting to listen to. She suffered with bulimia, alcoholism and drug addicition. She became pregnant and vowed to overcome her addicitons and be the best mother she could. What followed was a prescribed Chrsitian path; she married, had more children and then became a Christian mommy blogger and successful writer.

But, after her husband cheated on her and threw her marriage in to closer inspection , she fell in love with Abby. She is now in a loving marriage with a woman and sharing the raising of her children with her ex and her new partner, whom the children refer to as a bonus mom. I love this picture of Abby’s sweatshirt proclaiming her status.

Untamed begins with an explanation of a metaphor that she weaves throughout several of the essays contained in her book; about Tabitha the Cheetah. She talks about visiting the Cheetah Run at a zoo. The zookeeper explained the training they gave Tabitha, and Glennon felt sick to her stomach as she thought of how Tabitha had been tamed– and that she must miss the wild.

She writes:

“I knew what she’d tell me. She’d say, “Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagine fenceless, wide-open savannahs. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink-black sky filled with stars. It’s all so real I can taste it.

Then she’d look back at the cage, the only home she’s ever known. She’d look at the smiling zookeeepers, the bored spectators, and her panting, bouncing, begging best friend, the Lab.

She’d sigh and say, “I should be grateful. I have a good enough life here. It’s crazy to long for what doesn’t even exist.

I’d say:

Tabitha. You are not crazy. You are a goddamn cheetah.” (Doyle, xv-xvi).

It is in this spirit that Doyle uncovers what tames us– what keeps us from what we are longing for. Our work to be good mothers, partners, daughers, employees, friends– we strive so hard to be good, and deny that this work actually makes us feel weary, stuck and overwhelmed. Doyle offers her insights in a series of short essays where she unpacks the thinking that blocks women– the cultural conditioning and institutional allegiances– they are cages, and we don’t have to stay in them. Untamed is a feminist manifesto; a parenting handbook; an introspection; a love story; marriage counselling; and thoughtfully and beautifully written. It should be on every woman’s to be read pile.

Glennon Doyle is also the founder of Together Rising. Together Rising exists to transform collective heartbreak into effective action. It has raised over $20 million for people in need with a most frequent donation of $25. They have taken on projects such as pulling children out of the sea outside of refugee camps in Greece, providing a single mother access to breast cancer treatment, or reuniting families at the U.S. border. She speaks of the foundation’s work in her book, but you can also find and follow on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.